midwestbuddha: (tree)
midwestbuddha ([personal profile] midwestbuddha) wrote2011-07-19 07:29 am

The Reality Bathtub

I once attended a production entitled The Reality Bathtub. The theme of the play was a wistful look at why people don’t act as they believe—openly and honestly, instead of saying one thing and doing another.

For instance, picture these scenes:

A housewife is shown, playing the Mrs. Cleaver role to the hilt, serving her family breakfast and reminding the kids not to miss the school bus, when two policemen come to the door. They inform the family that neighbors have reported a sudden rash of obscene phone calls, and they’re investigating. Shocked, the mother denies any knowledge of these events, and bids them goodbye with all the saccharin at her disposal. (In a subsequent scene, this same woman is revealed as the obscene prankster.)

In another scene, a man vehemently accuses and condemns his son as gay. (Later we see the father in a romantic encounter with another man).

And so on…..

Later, two girls appear sitting in a bathtub marked REALITY in large, red letters along one side. They briefly discuss the theme—why are other people this way? If only, etc. Then, as each character in the play is revealed as their true selves, they take off an outer garment and drape themselves on or near the bathtub with the others.

It was only afterward that I posed some mental questions to myself: “What if your bathtub is inside a larger bathtub? Or…what if everyone has their own bathtub?”

In any event, the image of the Reality Bathtub stayed in my mind, and I found myself pondering it once again at sangha the next morning. During walking meditation I began to contemplate the concept of reality For instance:

When we walk toward an object, it appears to move—not only toward us, but often up and down as well. Suppose…we didn’t know the object wasn’t moving? I mean, how do we really know what reality is? Well, I thought—the obvious way: we can feel and see ourselves moving forward, toward the object, not vice versa. And we have also been taught that this is how reality works…

But even so, what if we didn’t have this knowledge?

One of the things practicing Buddhism does is bring your awareness pointedly toward whatever concepts you cling to most fiercely, and with all the compassion of the Noble Ones, then blithely rubs your nose in them….. So it was for me, as I began to realize how often I had been judgmental of my fellow beings just because what they understood about the nature of reality was different than my own concept!

I returned to my contemplation of a tree just outside the window of the dharma center, and tried to imagine all the ways I might perceive its movement, if I had never reached my current understanding of the nature of reality. For instance:

If I walked down a street and saw a tree move, might I assume that my walking made it move? Quite possibly. But what if, on another street on a windy day, the trees moved when I didn’t, could I conclude that some other person’s footsteps had moved them? Or that I could only move the trees on the previous street?

Why yes—I might conclude anything.

There is a wonderful book by Shunryu Suzuki called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind which addresses just these issues: that, in order to become enlightened, one must fully examine every experience as though it has never happened to one before, and therefore one can have formed about it no preconceived notions.

So, now—you try. I’ll turn my back while you slip into the Reality Bathtub. Now, what do you see? Nothing yet? Well…that’s okay.

You see, being in the tub isn’t nearly as important as the realization that its sides are both flexible and transparent. That means: your reality doesn’t end when it hits a barrier called “me”—and I can see inside your tub, because when I look at you I also see myself.

Could you pass the soap, please? Meanwhile, keep looking. You never know what you’ll see next…

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