This morning, a nippy and frost-rimed dawn, a couple of high school students are scheduled to visit the zendo. One of them, Ben, has to do a paper about Buddhism according to the emails he sent along asking if a visit would be OK. He also asked if he could bring a friend.
This small tableau of expected activity strikes me as fitting, in one sense, yet wry in another ... 40 or so years of my half-baked efforts in spiritual matters and it boils down to a high school paper. I don't begrudge it -- in fact I quite enjoy it -- but after all my sturm und drang, it does strike me as sort of funny ... fitting, but funny. I get to laugh at myself. I will do my best to assure that Ben gets a good mark on his paper. How will I do it? I haven't got a clue.
And it makes me think, not for the first time, that among the sine qua non's of spiritual endeavor, an abiding curiosity -- unflinching curiosity -- is extremely useful. It flabbergasts me, sometimes, how incurious people can be. How the hell can you learn anything if you never ask? I understand the reluctance: Curiosity implies that you don't know something and, by extension, that you are somehow weak, if only in your own eyes. It takes courage to be weak. Many lack that sort of courage. But what better way is there to find a strong footing than to embrace and investigate a weakness?
How is it that, when meeting new people, those people seem utterly incurious about who their new acquaintances might be? It used to be polite, if nothing else, to ask about another person's interests or profession or even just sports passion. A polite curiosity is better than none, I suppose, but what about the real curiosities, the ones in which the weakness ember is fanned?
To me, these questions apply in thin-gruel social settings and also in so-called spiritual realms. And if someone can draw a line between the two, I hope they will tell me where it lies.
Anyway, I think that curiosity is invaluable in spiritual life. Unflinching curiosity. The kind of curiosity that does not settle for facile conclusions or explanations. The kind of curiosity that recognizes in itself that the minute the words "I understand" arise, it is a warning signal -- a kick in the ass to press on with ever-deeper curiosities. What, for heaven's sake, makes me think that "I understand" is a suitable stand-in for real understanding? What makes me yearn for explanations and conclusions in the first place? If I had an understanding or conclusion that really understood or really was conclusive, that would be pretty curious, don't you think?
Ask and ask and ask some more. Don't take 'yes' for an answer. Or 'no' either.
As a butterfly might light on an outstretched palm, see how beautiful it is. How fragile. How powerful. How delightful. How full of flight and rest. How curious. How assured. How poof!
What a nice day to write a paper on Buddhism.