When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.
Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.
“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”
Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”
Bankei was not impressed with the Shinshu priest’s story because, to Bankei a true miracle is Zen. Bankei understands that when Zen is present one performs at their best and that is when a true miracle can happen. Kayaking teaches one this by the way we mentally approach a certain play move, rapid, or river. In Zen a kayaker can perform at his/her best by being totally focused on the task at hand. On the other hand, if one focuses on an entire rapid he/she will loose focus and perform under their natural ability. For example, Gorilla rapid on the Green River was one of the first true class five rapids I ran. When I first starting running it I was extremely intimidated because all I could see was one huge, scary rapid with lots of potential for carnage. With more kayaking experience I realized that Gorilla was like three, “smaller” rapids instead of one huge rapid. Further down the line I started focusing on particular moves within these three smaller rapids. Next, I learned to focus on each individual move within the rapid. Once, I learned to be in the moment and focus on the present task at hand I started having more success in paddling Gorilla. Not to say that it doesn’t still make me nervous but it is more manageable when taking a Zen approach.
What is Zen? To me, Zen is a state of mind where the mind is relaxed yet focused. Zen is living in the moment thinking about neither the past nor the future. Because the mind is focused entirely on the present this allows one to perform above their natural ability. Eastern culture calls this Zen as where western culture would say being in the Zone.
Anyone can find themselves in a Zen state or the Zone. It could be a musician playing a hard piece of music, a machinist shaving off the last 1/1000 piece of metal off a part, a teacher giving a lecture, a Buddhist Monk meditating, or a kayaker paddling a rapid that is challenging his/her ability. In speaking of kayaking, or other extreme sports there are three things that must be present to enter Zen or the Zone; a commitment, confidence, and control.
If you kayak long enough you will find yourself in company with someone who is like the Shinshu priest. This person will be telling you of some miraculous trick they know of and will challenge you to do the same. It may be paddling a certain river, a particular rapid, etc. I have found that just because a certain someone can paddle a clean line through a rapid, it doesn’t always mean that I can. Why is this important? In kayaking and life it is important to be honest with yourself about your skills and what consequences you are comfortable with. When you can honestly judge your own skill level you will find yourself with more control that leads to more confidence and this allows total commitment. When you have control, confidence and commitment you will find Zen more often.
One can find Zen in anything they do. For me kayaking has been a terrific gateway because kayaking is where I spend the majority of my time. The Zen I find in kayaking has allowed me to find it more often in other aspects of life. If you are interested in learning more about Zen I recommend three books. The first one is, “The C Zone Peak Performance Under Pressure.” The second is, “The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance.” The third book is, “Chop Wood Carry Water.”
– Jason Aytes
The Real Miracle|Jason Aytes
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