A Piece of Stuck Vegetable
Pic: Dharma Hall at Kong Meng San
After lunch, just before the next round of the Pureland retreat recitation, I realised I had a piece of vegetable wedged between two teeth in a corner of my mouth. I tried to extract it with the tip of my tongue, but to no avail. I took a few sips of bottled water and gargled discreetly. But nope, it stayed stuck. The chanting began and I had to make peace with the irritant. A trip to the restroom to pick it would be disruptive. But as the chanting resumed, the presence of the stray food felt more conspicuous, as the aversion increased. At one point, I tried to use my fingers to dislodge it. But still, it remained fast.
Then I realised I really had to make peace with it – till the session was over – or I would be wasting this precious practice session by being preoccupied with it. The truth is, I could leave for the restroom at any time, but I wanted to train in discipline, in making do with whatever situational ‘constraints’ I faced. Counter-intuitively, it was by being mindful of Buddha’s name that would allow me to make peace with the discomfort, as I take my mind off it by being wholehearted with the chanting. To fret physically and mentally over a disturbance that can’t be helped then would only keep peace at bay.
Many idealistically imagine that all our worldly concerns and even physical discomforts will be timely resolved before we lay on our deathbeds. But that all loose ends could be tied up in time would really require a lot of effort, wisdom and good karma. Chances are, there might be some dissatisfactions left. This was probably the case in the last moments of our previous lives, which made us crave to return to Samsara. Even a piece of vegetable can dislodge your mindfulness of Buddha – if you allow it to! When you should let it all go, you should. If not, welcome back to Samsara… where the momentum of your dissatisfactions perpetuate.
‘Perfect’ moments without any physical dis-ease or trouble in mind for practising the Dharma are few and far in between, if any at all. Dharma practice is especially for the moments when we have much dissatisfactions. If the moment already seems ‘perfect’, there might be less conviction to practise instead. Dukkha should drive us towards the Dharma, not away from it. And time is always running out. Miss the golden opportunities to practise the Dharma it’ll be too late… till the next life. If we do not start breaking our samsaric habits now, not only are they likely to continue in future lives, they might be further fortified.