Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Worst Horse

I wanted to tell you about the Worst Horse!

I love it!

This is something I read in Shunryu Suzuki's book Zen Mind Beginner's Mind.

In his chapter The Marrow of Zen, he begins by referencing the Samyuktagama Sutra Vol.33, where apparently horses are categorised as excellent, good, poor and bad, according to how teachable they are. The best one, the excellent horse, is responsive to the will of the driver - speeding up or slowing down, turning right or left - with never a touch of the whip. The horse that is not excellent, not the best but still good, will respond at the crack of the whip but you don't actually have to hit it. The third horse - 'poor' - has to feel the pain of the whip before it will comply. But the bad horse, the worst horse, won't do anything for you until it feels pain to the marrow of its bones. It's almost impossiblle to teach it anything.

Suzuki goes on to say how, reading this scripture we immediately know we want to be - or are at least supposed to be - like the best horse; almost psychically responsive and teachable; and if we can't manage that we at least want to be like the second best horse.

But he says that in Zen it just doesn't matter what kind of 'horse' you are. He says the compassion of the Buddha (and bear in mind 'the Buddha' is not an external person such as the Christian means in saying 'God' or 'Jesus' - there is nowhere for the Buddha to be but in your own buddha-nature) is enough. He asks how the reader thinks Buddha will feel about the four horses - sympathy, surely for the worst horse.

So he concludes that if you practice with the great mind of the Buddha, it is the worst horse - your imperfections - that will be your most valuable asset: 'In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind'.

This is akin to one of the most beautiful teachings of Christianity: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Now I like that because it's profoundly true, but I also like it because The Worst Horse appeals to my imagination. Is it like this? Or this? Or this?

I also like it for its connection to Big Horse - whom you can find all over the place if you are bored in chapel of a Sunday morning. Bewildered? Let me show you:

I definitely remember hearing the preacher say 'We are here Big Horse we worship you...'

He is a bit of a shady character. In Genesis 3.14 - it doesn't seem to be there when I actually look, but I'm sure I heard the reader say: 'Big Horse you have done this - cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures...'

And in Proverbs 1.14: Big Horse I have called and you refused... (you see what I mean about being related to the Worst Horse!)

For those who are nervous of straying from the doctrinal straight and narrow, there is the reassurance of Edward Caswall's famous hymn: My God I love thee - not Big Horse...

Big Horse... the Worst Horse... they feel like friends of mine...

Big horse is there in the hymn book right along with all those wonderful bears:
The image bear (in Born In Song)
The dazzling body bears (in Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending)
Gladly, the cross-eyed bear (from Keep Thou My Way)

and their friends The Cross Wee Flea and the (X-rated) Bosom Fly (from Jesus Lover of My Soul )

This is not meant to be edifying. Just something to Bear in Mind.


buzzfloyd said...

I like it!

We had the Fountain Fly at church the other day. (It Passeth Knowledge.) I told them my mother would have liked it if she was there. :-)

This thing about the Buddha nature working through our weakness - since walking with a stick, I have discovered how wearying it is, and how much it hurts your hand. And in this, and in reduced mobility and ongoing pain, I have learned a great compassion for old people that I didn't previously have. This seems to be compassion learned through the power of weakness.

Ember said...