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Random Thoughts: No. 5

G Sakamoto

“It is best not to change something if changing it will not do any good.”
Essays in Idleness, The Buddhist Priest Kenko, Essay 127. Trans Donald Keene

It is interesting that the credit for the essay above is longer than the essay itself. Essays in Idleness was written by Kenko in 14th century Japan. It is a collection of short essays, most no longer the a paragraph or two, some as short as one sentence. How important the writings of Kenko are can be debated, but his writing has survived seven centuries with commentaries and now translations in other languages.

Today we say, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” I think Kenko’s observation add’s a bit more to deciding a course of action. “If it ain’t broke” merely determines whether something is functional. A decision by Kenko would seem to include a layer of value. If a tire is flat, it’s broken therefore it should be fixed. But if you are out of gas, have no spare and twenty miles from the nearest help, you may need to focus on things other than fixing the tire.

Obon will soon be here. Already, preparations have been taking place for both the fund raiser and the services. Every year hundreds of hours are consumed. The temple benefits through everyone’s effort. Decisions are made that may or may not be agreeable. In the course of the Obon fundraiser and the services people interact, respond and support each other. Through our behavior we engage and influence the world. How each of us sees and thinks about the world will result in how the world responds. We choose how we think about something and how we respond.

I am always amazed by how people think about shared experiences. In meetings I often focus on process and communication issues. Trying to find common goals that can move us forward. Often in discussions after the meeting I discover that things that I thought of as problems were not seen as problems by others. How I saw and thought about what was taking place in the meeting was very different from what someone else was experiencing. While focused on a heated conversation, actual work was taking place elsewhere. Working to resolve the differences of the two people arguing, may be helpful to their relationship but the work of the meeting was progressing in other conversations.

To determine a course of action may require looking beyond what is most apparent. If we look for what can be fixed we may be looking at specifics in a larger context, losing sight of the intended goal. When baking a cake you can worry about ingredients and not get the cake done. This doesn’t mean that the specifics are unimportant, but if the specifics become more important than the goal, the goal may never be achieved.

Whether with our Obon events or the day to day operations of the temple, the context we should function in is learning and sharing the Dharma. Even if every other activity fails, and that would be horrendous, if we continue to learn about and share the Dharma we would be fulfilling our responsibility as a sangha. Some may ask how can we share the Dharma without funds to operate. The question should be, what can we do to share the Dharma. Whether we are learning and sharing should be the fundamental question we measure our actions by.

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