I agree with both you and Mat that certain meditative states are not conducive to chopping vegetables. But I’m getting this rather peculiar inclination to think that the jhanas are highly specialized wonderful tools for working on oneself. And like all tools, they can be picked up and put down. I certainly don’t walk around in daily life with my circular saw, drill, guitar, etc.
MN121 keeps nagging at me and the word used is emptiness. MN121 talks at length about emptiness:
Consider this stilt longhouse of Migāra’s mother. It’s empty of elephants, cows, horses, and mares; of gold and money; and of gatherings of men and women. There is only this that is not emptiness, namely, the oneness dependent on the mendicant Saṅgha. In the same way, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of the village and the perception of people—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of wilderness.
The Buddha and Ananda are alone in a stilthouse talking about emptiness just as you and I might over a cup of coffee. They are in daily life having a conversation. And what they are talking about is the path of seclusion, how it leads from the village, into the wilderness and beyond. This path to emptiness is a daily life path that sloughs off the non-essential, the ephemeral nonsense. When I went climbing, I went to become empty of the modern world. I went to climb in peace without needing to speak. And after a few days of this, the peace of emptiness seeped in and became my everyday reality walking about just taking care of the needs of the moment. It is that very emptiness that also emerges in cutting vegetables, that peace without a hurry, a quietness that needs nothing beyond itself.
And the Buddha continues talking with Ananda, chatting quietly, speaking from that very emptiness, describing how even the wilderness empties into the perception of earth.
Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth
54Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth.
And that too also happens out there on the cliff. Yosemite is basically huge chunks of granite. It is earth covered with a sprinkle of wilderness. Alone on the cliff, the birds and trees disappear and one simply exists with the earth, aware and present in the moment without needing anything else beyond the task of the moment.
The strange thing about this sutta is that the described experience is palpable in daily life as well as in meditation. It is the same emptiness. I can sit here as I type, close my eyes and feel that same emptiness that I once drove miles for to experience on a mountain after days of effort. It’s there because when all the noise disappears (the people, the village, the wilderness), what’s left is a certain quiet emptiness that is always there and everywhere. It’s nothing special except that we usually don’t see it because our minds are always playing the elevator music of craving.
MN121 goes further in the ladder of emptiness. And the implication that I get in reading MN121 is that one simply lives within that emptiness, at peace, living the remainder of life extinguished, aware and empty of all but the thinnest thread of bodily “stress” as Bhante Sujato translates:
There is only this that is not emptiness, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ And so they regard it as empty of what is not there, but as to what remains they understand that it is present. That’s how emptiness is born in them—genuine, undistorted, and pure.
I read this and feel quietly happy, not really wanting anything else. It is enough.