There was a Hassidic master of the late eighteenth century named Zusya of Anipoli. He is portrayed in several Hassidic tales as humble and lighthearted. In one of the tales, told by Martin Buber in his Tales of the Hasidim (vol. 1, pg 251), Zusya was on his deathbed and those who were close with him came to be with him and to perhaps here his last words.
Sometime during this process he is alleged to have said “When I get to the Heavenly Court they will not ask me “Why were you not one of the great masters like Moses?” They will ask me “Why were you not Zusya?”
In what way are we not ourselves?
We spend a lot of time lost in thought, and to even call it thought is often charitable. We also spend a considerable portion of life outside the body–not literately, of course.
James Joyce, in one of his short stories in Dubliners, makes a mind-stopping observation about one of his characters:
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
I think what is being asked here is what if we are not truly living the life we were given? And what does this mean?
As the year comes to a close, I think it might be beneficial to look back and ask to what degree were we living a little ways off from our life?
How often do we give in to fear and slinker away from the being true to our self, from being intimate? How often do we given in to cynicism? To analyzing our life in terms of calculating the odds of gaining advantage or of losing ground?
We can talk the talk, but walking the path means to be truly human, to really live this precious, unrepeatable life. Buddhism challenges us to choose forbearance, patience and understanding over self-interest and quick solutions. The path prompts us to shake loose those aspects of our self which aren’t genuine. We get to know them very well when we take our seat and make a commitment to be with our selves.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote.
The Zen teacher Cheri Huber, in Trying to be Human, tweaked this phrase a little when she wrote “we are not human beings trying to be spiritual, but spiritual beings trying to be human.”
What if the true human being is utterly ordinary? Yet extraordinary in her utter simplicity and clarity of being? That’s the challenge and the invitation of maturing Dharma practice.