November 30, 2012

Chopping Onions

Elizabeth Bastos

Cleaning the bathroom or chopping the onions is no less important than sitting in deep meditation. Grasping this and acting on it is called waking up.

—Janet Jiryu Abels, “Participate Fully”

"Chop wood, carry water" is a Zen saying. In other words, just do what you are doing, nothing more, nothing less.

As Yoda would say, Simple it is not. Chopping onions, I almost chopped off the tip of my left index finger. I had to wrap my hand in a tea towel and sit down, and reconsider my entire life while the tea towel bloomed red.

Chop onion. That simple directive, the one that is in every cookbook repeated about a thousand times is actually quite complicated. Nowhere does it say, "Be careful and don't chop your finger off, dumbass."

"I'm chopping an onion," is what I say now, when I'm chopping an onion. I have to really concentrate on this. I'm. Chopping. An. Onion. Who is this "I"? What is the action called chopping? And what is an onion? What is this appendage called a finger?

You can go kind of deep, but it's not necessary; what is necessary is half a cup.

Elizabeth Bastos is a stay-at-home mother of two in the Baltimore suburbs. Her work has appeared at The Smithsonian, McSweeney's, The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog, and she is a contributor at Book Riot. She went to Smith for English and Marine Biology so she knows a thing or two about spinelessness and buoyancy. Her personal blog is Goody Bastos.

More from the author: The Zen Master Goes Black Friday Shopping | Walking Meditation or 'How to Get the Shpilkes Out' | Swamp Marigold | Taking The Dog For A Walk


Image: Justin Parmelee/Flickr

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
mahakala's picture

"What do you think, Anuradha: Do you regard form as the Tathagata?"

"No, lord."

"Do you regard feeling as the Tathagata?"

"No, lord."

"Do you regard perception as the Tathagata?"

"No, lord."

"Do you regard fabrications as the Tathagata?"

"No, lord."

"Do you regard consciousness as the Tathagata?"

"No, lord."

"What do you think, Anuradha: Do you regard the Tathagata as being in form?... Elsewhere than form?... In feeling?... Elsewhere than feeling?... In perception?... Elsewhere than perception?... In fabrications?... Elsewhere than fabrications?... In consciousness?... Elsewhere than consciousness?"

"No, lord."

"What do you think: Do you regard the Tathagata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?"

"No, lord."

"Do you regard the Tathagata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?"

"No, lord."

"And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, 'Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death'?"

"No, lord."

"Very good, Anuradha. Very good. Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress."

Dominic Gomez's picture

A reality check for Buddhism, which at times goes off the theoretical deep-end. After all, "buddha" is life itself.