Erecting a Temple Here

Attention! As the World Honored One was walking with his disciples, he pointed to the ground and said, “It would be good to erect a temple here.” The god Indra took a blade of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, “The temple has been erected.” The World Honored One smiled. [from The Book of Equanimity, trans. by Gerry Shishin Wick]

Shinshu’s Commentary

The Buddha is walking along a familiar path, he points to the ground and says “Why not build a temple here?” Indra, a powerful Hindu god, sticks a blade of grass in the ground and says “Here it is.” Is Indra mocking  the Buddha? Is the Buddha suggesting his donors should get busy and build a grand temple in his name? What exactly is happening here?

A commentarial verse to this koan is “Everywhere life is sufficient in its way – No matter if one is not as clever as the other.” It is often said in Zen that our ability to practice is not predicated upon a dull or sharp mind. We may not be as clever as Indra who was quick to point out that even a common blade of grass, stuck in the ground, right where we are, is a temple. Furthermore, we may not be famous or working to find a cure for cancer.

This very life is sufficient . . . in its way. What is its way? I would suggest it is the way of all beings practicing together in one Buddha field, building a sanctuary called everyday life. This is the Bodhisattva Path. Yet, it doesn’t feel like enough . . . sometimes. In Zen we say “this very life is Buddha.” Our work is a temple, our home is a temple, our mistakes are a temple: everything you can call something is a temple and a teacher. Dogen writes it is the song of the valley stream. Can you hear it? Nothing special. When we can’t hear it, can we still change our view based upon our faith in the truth of practice? Can we make our best effort to nurture, respect, and honor each moment as a temple?

Try to remember this teaching when you are fed up, tired, and feeling shabby. One blade of grass. Has it occurred to you that this one blade of grass might look dried, dead, and limp? Is this a temple? Yup! Please come on in . . . the door is always open.

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