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Three Questions

Know-how: do you know what to do?

Nasrudin once worked as a ferryman. One day, he was taking a scholar across the river.

“Have you ever studied grammar?” asked the scholar.

Nasrudin shook his head, to which the scholar replied, “Too bad. You’ve wasted half your life.”

A little while later, the wind rose and waves began to rock the boat. Nasrudin asked, “Have you learned how to swim?”

The scholar shook his head.

“Well, you’ve wasted all your life,” said Nasrudin. “We’re sinking.”

In today’s world, in most major cities, you can meet and study with a teacher in virtually any of the major traditions of Buddhism. You can pretty well take your pick from an abundance of meditation practices and other tools that Buddhist teachers have developed over that last 2,500 years. Yet the availability of teaching doesn’t ensure that you know how to practice or how to use these teachings to be present in what you experience.

How do you acquire know-how? The Chinese have a saying: to learn how to do something, do it 10,000 times. You learn a lot when you do something over and over again. Carl Ripkin Jr, the legendary shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, fielded 1,000 balls every day. That’s why he knew how to field a ball.

Know-how also comes through the struggle to find your way. It doesn’t come from listening to a talk, or even from receiving personal instruction. You can learn a lot from a teacher, but real know-how comes from working through your own difficulties yourself. As Suzuki Roshi says, “In your very imperfections, you will find the basis for your firm way-seeking mind.”

Before you swim, you need to learn how to swim. But then, how far can you swim?

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