This week, Ox Herding will focus on a few teachings attributed to Jesus in which he illuminates the practice life. Consider this passage from Matthew 15, in which Jesus says:
What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean.
But what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.
Jesus made this observation when speaking with the Pharisees, leaders of a branch of Judaism that focused on correct living (I'm pretty fuzzy on this - perhaps some of you can say more).I don't take Jesus to be unconcerned about what goes into the mouth. Certainly, we should pay attention to what goes into our mouths. It's one way to relieve some of the world's great suffering and I've written about just this point in the recent series of posts on the One-Percent Solution.
But Jesus is focused on "output." When we eat food, we get some energy. How do we use that energy?
If we fail to give close attention to output, we risk creating problems for ourselves and others.
But a word of caution: Rules won't help us in this matter. Precepts only go so far. And our ideas about "loving" speech can make matters worse.
No wonder Zen Master Seung Sahn sometimes referred to the mouth as the "number one problem gate!"
Perhaps we can start by paying attention to what goes into and comes out of mind. With that kind of practice, we might know when to open the mouth and when to close it.
Because the gate isn't the problem.
One-Percent Solution disclosure: Here's what usually goes into my mouth at lunchtime (pictured above): hominy bread (from a bakery 2 miles way), homemade raspberry preserves (made by a friend, 3 miles away), and almond butter (made in a factory in Salem, Oregon, 185 miles away); the cutting board and toaster were made in China (about 6,500 miles away) and the knife was made in Germany (about 4,800 miles away).