Monday, August 02, 2004

Instructions for the Doc

Dogen's "Instructions for the Tenzo," the cook in a Zen monastery, is a great Monday morning text. As I look down a five day stretch of week, I'll often imagine a nightmare scenario: an unbroken string of patients complaining of low back pain. It's a common enough complaint, one of the most common, common to the point of dreariness. Lumbago.

It hurts to move. I can't sleep. Tylenol does nothing for me, doc. My orthopedist died. I can't even pick up my baby. I tried ice and heat. Nothing works. Except -- what was that pill my doctor used to give me -- perco -, perco- ?

Dullsville. Never much on exam. Often the subtext of narcotic-seeking.

How much better to have an articulate, stoic, grateful patient with classic symptoms, great findings on exam, and an exotic, curable disease ! Zounds ! What a brilliant physician I am ! Let me tell you about my Great Case !

But Dogen says:

When making a soup with ordinary greens, do not be carried away by feelings of dislike toward them nor regard them lightly; neither jump for joy simply because you have been given the ingredients of superior quality to make a special dish.

He could be talking about low back pain. And the purpuric leg rash that points to the strep bovis endocarditis which in turn points to the colon tumor.

Handle even a single leaf of a green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf.

A single leaf of a green. A human being.

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