Deshan, the Food Truck & the Importance of Practice

Just studying texts and not practicing is like reading cookbooks and not actually cooking. It can be fun, but you’re still going to be hungry. Or like someone who has a really nice liquor cabinet and doesn’t drink. What are you doing?

 

By Daniel Scharpenburg

 

“All the profound doctrines are but a speck of dust

In a vast void.

All the great affairs of the world are but a drop

Of water cast into a bottomless chasm.”

 

Deshan was a Buddhist monk in southwest China.

He followed what was the standard order of training in the day; study, memorization and practice and became famous as an expert in the Diamond Sutra.

He was really devoted to studying this sutra and he had heard about zen masters who taught that sutras weren’t all that important; this upset him. So, he undertook a journey to go find an iconoclastic master and engage in debate.

Traveling across the country carrying copies of the Diamond Sutra along with well known commentaries, he stopped at a roadside food truck.*

There was an old woman selling snacks and Deshan was trying to buy snacks. But this woman was the kind of person who engages you in conversation instead of just selling you the snacks. You know what I mean. She asked what these documents were that he was carrying. He told her that it was the Diamond Sutra.

She said she had a question for him and if he could answer it he could have free food. He agreed.

She asked, “In the Diamond Sutra it says, ‘the past mind cannot be attained; the present mind cannot be attained; and the future mind cannot be attained.’ What I want to know is, which mind wants snacks right now?”

Deshan couldn’t think of anything to say. His studies didn’t prepare him for riddles. So he just stood there awkwardly, and the woman told him to go see her teacher Longtan, and he did. He would end up destroying his commentaries of the Diamond Sutra because he realized that studying texts isn’t everything—that this path is about experience.

Deshan, and teachers like him, didn’t say texts are inherently bad or not worthy of our time.

This story is telling us that we shouldn’t get attached to even our own knowledge, even if it’s really vast. One of the reasons the Zen tradition arose is because people were becoming obsessed with texts. People would memorize texts like the Diamond Sutra, but they also wouldn’t really practice. There were lots of Buddhists who would spend all their time just trying to figure out different categories for the various Buddhist texts, like someone who switches between arranging their CDs alphabetically and then switching to arranging them by genre and then by year and then…well, you get it. Arranging and re-arranging over and over.

I don’t see much value in figuring out the right categories for things. That’s the kind of person Deshan was until he met that old woman and she broke through his delusion with food.

This path is more about practice than study.

Just studying texts and not practicing is like reading cookbooks and not actually cooking. It can be fun, but you’re still going to be hungry. Or like someone who has a really nice liquor cabinet and doesn’t drink. What are you doing?

Deshan also said, “Realizing the mystery is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary life.”

Study without practice is, essentially, being a person who thinks Buddhism is cool but doesn’t actually do it. I’m a bit like Deshan. I’m always reading some Buddhist text or another. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is about practice, and that practice is more important than study.

I’m glad the story of Deshan is something I can reflect on to remind me.


 

*No, it wasn’t really a food truck. It was just a lady selling food by he side of the road. I just like food trucks.

 

 

This path is more about practice than study. ~ Daniel Scharpenburg Click To Tweet

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

Did you like this post? You might also like:

 

 

Boys Don’t Cry.

  By Ty H. Phillips   Anyone who was alive and not four years old in the 80’s was aware of the Cure. One of their songs said, “and boys don’t cry..” This wasn’t a charge for men not to show emotion but a comment on how he felt we were supposed to be, or at least what...

Meditate To Awaken.

  By Daniel Scharpenburg Our true nature is within each of us. It is obscured because of layers of delusion, but it is there. Our true nature can be penetrated and understood intuitively. We just have to be willing to engage in some inner work. So, should we remain as...

Kensho: A Glimpse Into Awakening.

  By Daniel Scharpenburg Kensho is something we talk about in the Zen tradition. It represents the mystical experience, the experience of oneness, of seeing our true nature, emptiness, the absolute, whatever you want to call it. Some lineages talk about it a lot and...

If I’m So Zen, Why do I Still Get Frustrated? A Guide to Getting Over It.

  By Leo Babauta Pretty much all of us experience frustration on a daily (or even hourly) basis. We get frustrated by other people, by ourselves, by technology, by work situations, by small crises that come up all the time. You know you’re frustrated when you find...

Comments

comments

Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel lives in Kansas City. He's a Teacher in the Dharma Winds Zen Tradition. He regularly teaches at the Open Heart Project and he leads public meditations. His focus is on the mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings. He believes that these teachings can be shared with a little more simplicity and humility than we often see. He has been called "A great everyman teacher" and "Really down-to-earth"

Find out more about Daniel here and connect with him on Facebook
(Visited 84 times, 1 visits today)