IMAGINE YOUR very body-mind-spirit as a company, like General Motors, Ford, or IBM. You’re a company with many employees, and not one single employee knows his job title, job description, function, what the product is, or who the CEO is. To make matters worse each employee thinks that he’s the boss, the one in charge, and all the other employees are working for him.

To make matters even worse, the company is constantly changing. Employees are being let go; new employees are being brought in. Nobody seems to have a handle on why. The product is constantly changing. One moment it might be automobiles, the next trucks, then ships, then planes, then maybe back to cars, and it goes on and on like this. And they keep changing the company’s name. In this particular company, the name has changed many times. First it was called Dennis, then it was called Sebastian, then it was called Genpo, then it was called Sensei, and now it’s called Roshi. The whole company is in flux, it’s all impermanent. So what kind of company do we have? It’s pretty dysfunctional.

Twenty-six hundred years ago, the Buddha called this dysfunction dukkha. He didn’t use the metaphor of a company, but he used similar analogies to make the same point. He said dukkha means that there’s something stuck. Dukkha is often translated as “suffering,” but actually the root of the word refers to a stuck wheel whose axle isn’t rotating. In the Buddha’s day they had carts with two wheels, and when one wheel—or maybe the whole axle— wasn’t rotating, the cart would be stuck or just spin around in circles. Basically he said that the cart is dysfunctional.

Buddha del Sol, Chris Cosnowski, 2005, oil on panel, 18 x 15 inches. © Chris Cosnowski, courtesy of the artist and Lyons Wier Ortt Gallery, NYC, in private collection
Buddha del Sol, Chris Cosnowski, 2005, oil on panel, 18 x 15 inches. © Chris Cosnowski, courtesy of the artist and Lyons Wier Ortt Gallery, NYC, in private collection

So, like one of these carts, we are dysfunctional. The worst part about it is that since we’ve never been completely functional, we don’t realize how dysfunctional we really are. If we were once completely functional, completely integrated, completely liberated and free, then we would think, “Oh my God, I used to be free, now I’m stuck, I used to be completely functional, now I’m dysfunctional.” Although most of us have never had that experience, many people have had a spontaneous awakening experience—some moment when they reach what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the “power of now,” an experience when they go beyond time and space and find themselves liberated. These people then realize, “My God, I’m operating in a dysfunctional way 99.9 percent of the time.” But if we don’t have that experience, we never realize that there’s a better, a more optimal way to function.

What the Buddha discovered is that we are dysfunctional when our understanding gets stuck in one perspective, when the wheel, or the mind, does not revolve. If we can learn to shift perspectives so that our mind is not fixed, so that no understanding is considered the right and only understanding, then we can be unstuck, free. By simply shifting perspectives we can realize that there are an infinite number of perspectives, even in a single room. If you slightly change the angle of your gaze down or up, or if you move around, you’ll see that there are infinite perspectives of this one room. Similarly, there are infinite perspectives of reality. Where we get stuck is in thinking there is only one right view. The Buddha taught Right View as the first part of the Noble Eightfold Path. In our Zen understanding Right View is mu-view, which means no view, holding on to no particular or fixed view.

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