In two different contexts, a couple of emails this morning asked for or centered on the "back story" of things. What was the back story on a sassy -- or perhaps impertinent -- raksu I showed off? What was the back story on making some effort to get a book, "Remembering Soen Nakagawa Roshi," on the Internet.
The "back story," the inspiration, the context that might flesh out some present-moment experience or activity ... what was it?
Asking for the back story or the cause of which something is somehow the effect makes some sense. Things don't just arise without any connection or 'reason.' But sometimes there is an implication that if the back story were told, a more reliable truth would emerge ... a truth that spoke more clearly than the story that was told without the back story. World War II was a fact, but its back story could reasonably be traced back to World War I. The back story of the automobile might touch base with the steam engine, the industrial revolution and the desire to produce more while working less.
The trouble is, of course, that every back story has its own back story. The fact that I get the secret skinny on some political maneuver throws that maneuver into a very different light ... but is that really the whole story? Of course it isn't. The story, and its attendant back stories, doesn't stop or come to a conclusion. It is the mind that stops when it is content or runs out of energy or finds a point at which its bias is pleasantly nourished.
What is the back story on the clothes I am wearing, the grey Christmas skies, the nip in the zendo when doing zazen this morning, the house in which I am currently warmed?
I'm not suggesting that anyone dissolve into a pool or moral relativism ... the kind of everything-is-everything-else smarm or the Chinese-fortune-cookie everything-is-interconnected bon mot. But I do think that a little humility -- a perhaps a bit of effort -- might be warranted when getting the story, the back story or any other sort of story. Past 'connects' to present ... and the back story on that one is, the past is present ... except that the back story of that is that what's past is past ... etc. etc.