THE NOT SO SIMPLE MATTER OF ORDINARINESS
“Going forward in practice is a matter of ordinariness”
Let your mind for a moment reflect on ordinariness. What associations does this word conjure up? Would you really be happy calling yourself ordinary, or would you feel really uncomfortable were this description applied to you? Perhaps to you, it might mean normal, uncomplicated, straightforward, respectable even, or you could perceive it as an insult, tantamount to saying that you are boring, undistinguished. a non-entity ,whose of no significance to human history. Most of us, if honest, will find a delicate part of our psyche that would feel our dignity and individuality was being sullied, were the epithet ordinary applied to us. Being ordinary is not widely celebrated. We might have become resigned to being ordinary, but were never really happy about it. Though, realistically, the term 'ordinary' could successfully be applied to 99.99% of everyone alive, or dead. A human life, is commonly one of an ordinary, and obdurate obscurity.
When I look back on my life, it seems to consist of a constant search to find meaning. Generally, I envisaged myself developing into something more distinguished, unique or sexy. Until my mid twenties, I experimented with my appearance - if the way I dressed looked remarkable, perhaps I would then become it. On any urban street, in any era, you can see all manner of freakish and outlandish dress sense. All of us, physically, mentally or spiritually, have found ways to see ourselves as standing out from the dull, and dumb crowd of ordinariness. For me, it was based around an idea of being creatively fulfilled, by becoming a successful artist. An artist who would be universally recognised, for their individuality and genius.
Today, over thirty years later, though wiser about the limits of my artistic talents, this aspiration still has a lingering frisson of life to it. I can find its weakened pulse, behind the desire to launch this website. I have created a place, dedicated to my personal thoughts and responses to Dogen's writing. In doing this,I say as much about me, as I do about Dogen. Though I'm far from alone, in not being content to just be ordinary. And now, the internet has opened its egalitarian heart, and unconditionally welcomed me into its bosom. It makes no judgement or discernment, only an unguarded, eternal receptivity. Anyone's writing can be read on it, anyone's music can be heard on it, anyone's artwork can be seen on it. It has a generous uncritical soul. No one need be condemned to ordinariness, through lack of access to publicity. This is the nub of it; humanity, in the past and present, expends inordinate amounts of energy, ingenuity and resources, just on publicising our presence – in simply trying not to be ordinary.
Ordinary would be nothing without its opposite, to which it's perpetually compared – extraordinary. And extraordinary, well, it's just ordinary with something 'extra added upfront', and everyone desires something from this. Even Buddhist practitioners can find themselves, using being Buddhist, using the Dharma, using the perceived effectiveness of our practice, as a means of adding something 'extra upfront.' Buddhism has brought a meaning and purpose to our lives, so we take on the task of transforming ourselves through practice. Even this can become something 'extra added upfront', another badge of distinction worn on our jacket lapel, or as a kesa* round our necks, that we hope everyone will notice. Buddhism has a certain cache or kudos attached to it in society, and we can, unwittingly, find ourselves cashing in on it. For a Buddhist, this drift towards the fringes of self -aggrandisement, needs to be gently guarded against. One of the ways, is by recalling that 'Going forward in practice is a matter of ordinariness.' Effective practice will have nothing 'extra added upfront'.
You can't study ordinariness. Self help manuals may help you become a happier, healthier human being, but, there's not much demand yet for a book on 'How to be more Ordinary.' You can't become ordinary, in the same way you become an Accountant. Ordinary is really what we already are, beneath all our extraneous coverings. The phrase 'Going forward in practice is a matter of ordinariness' implies ordinariness is intrinsic to practice. So ordinariness can be practised. If we want to make a practice of ordinariness, we'll need to perceive with greater clarity those 'extra' things we add onto it. By weeding out, and eradicating those extraneous things, the things that obscure it, we create a space that allows our intrinsic ordinariness to blossom. Quentin Crisp, spoke as usual with great wit and perspicacity about ordinariness -
' If when you peer into your soul you find that you are ordinary, then ordinary is what you must remain, but you must be so ordinary that you can imagine someone saying'come to my party and bring your humdrum friend' and everyone knowing that he means you.'
First, observe how much time,money and effort we put into servicing and perfecting our likes, and eradicating our dislikes. How much our clothes, homes and possessions extend our egotistical extra–ordinary body & mind. Ordinary is very far from being an adequate description of the person we are often trying to be, through the lifestyles we lead. It's not going to be that easy being ordinary. We can't rehearse or act our being ordinary. Being ordinary cannot be self-consciously created. Being ordinary is simple, but not simple to achieve. It's analogous to Buddha Nature, as something we already are, but we don't know it – and must practice in order to achieve it. To achieve ordinariness we need to peel away the many extraneous layers of desires and false perceptions that conceal it. Dogen's simple phrase ' Going forward in practice is a matter of ordinariness' sets out a path for us. It is the slow and hard to win defeat of self-centred egotism. To dissipate the distinction between self and other, we start with making a practice of ordinariness, and this will take us all the way the Buddha Nature.