I remember being in church as a young lass, and coming to the realization in my early teens that the answers to many of the questions posed to us by Sunday School teachers were all the same. Questions like, “How do we strengthen our relationship with our Heavenly Father,” or other similar, almost rhetorical questions. The answers were always things like read the scriptures, go to church regularly, pray daily, give tithing, go to seminary (early-morning bible study), and go to the temple (or at least remain temple-worthy, so no hanky-panky). I forget who brought up the phrase — possibly my mother? — but these all came to be known as the “pat answers.”
I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that many related questions in a field have the same set of pat answers. How do you get better in school? Go to class, do your homework, take notes, pay attention, ask questions. How do you get better at an instrument? Practice. Practice. Practice. (Oh, and take lessons, which then applies the answers above, as well.)
Zen has pat answers, too, but I haven’t learned all of them yet. The most important seems to be: Just sit. Practice zazen daily. I need to start doing this; maybe then, I’ll learn some more of the pat answers of Zen. Maybe they involve attending sangha meetings regularly, and going on sesshin retreats, and studying koans.
What I really need to figure out, though, are the pat answers about me. I know they exist, but it’s hard to see myself from the outside. Maybe some of the pat answers for what ails me include breaking large tasks into small ones, and making lists, and going for daily walks. Maybe sitting zazen regularly should be one of my pat answers.
I’ll figure myself out eventually.