Noticing without judging

There’s an interesting Zen story about a famous master named Suibi, who was asked by one of his monks, “What is the secret teaching of Buddhism?” So he took this monk into the garden, and pointed at some bamboo trees. The monk said, “I don’t understand.” Suibi replied, “What a tall one that is. What a short one that is.”

As lore would have it, this awakened the monk.

It’s funny, we like to point at things, we like to notice things, but every time we do, there’s often an unspoked judgement hidden inside it. We notice something because it bothers us, because it could have been done better, because it’s better than another one.

We try to figure out hidden motives, we infer character flaws from the way someone dresses, for instance, or the way they chew their gum.

But what if we just notice things without judgement? It’s not easy, because most of the things we’re not judging fly under our radar. Our minds go “blank”, we simply don’t notice them. We have to become aware of our attention without listening to the mind and its commentary.

It’s like watching a sports match with the sound turned off, or a sitcom without the laugh track. We see the thing for what it is, without help from the peanut gallery.

So that person is wearing clogs, and that person is not. That one is chewing gum, that other one is laughing.

This is what’s called awareness.

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