Concerto In Ego Minor

By: Rev. David Astor, OEB

[This piece was originally published in Buddhadharma magazine Winter 2012 issue in the First Thoughts section]

I was watching a documentary about the late pianist Glenn Gould, perhaps the greatest interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach of any generation, and was struck by how he seemed to disappear behind the work he was performing, especially when he played Bach. It was as if he removed his human form completely and let the music come through him. The transformation encompassed his entire body and you could tell his mind was in another space. His playing reminds me of the line in a Zen poem: “Barn’s burn down — now I can see the moon.”

The lesson I took away from watching this video is that, like Gould, who let his ego fall away so he became a conduit for the music, when I let my ego fall away, honed by my practice, I can connect with how I am conducting the activities of the moment and thereby maximize the karmic results for promoting good.

It seems that there are two aspects within each of us —the functional being who learns to master the technique required for excellence and the ego that wants to control the process and is hard to get out of the way. In other words, one part of me — the reservoir of knowledge, the muscle memory, and the overall life experience that influences how I act —is a conduit for energy. The other part is the self-centered egotist who wants to critique, take credit for his accomplishments, and accept the appreciation of others.

I tell my students that it is important to learn to get out of the way of what you are doing, and just let your practice shine through. This takes some perseverance and it’s not easy to do with a lot of grace in the beginning.

Consider the words by Shunryu Suzuki from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “When we do something with a quiet simple, clear mind, we have no notion or shadows, and our activity is strong and straightforward. But when we do something with a complicated mind, in relation to other things or people, or society, our activity becomes very complex.”

It takes a great deal of practice to be a “beginner”. A beginner’s mind means one has no agenda for any outcome. The energy that arises from a beginner’s mind flows from letting go of all the personal preferences, the attachments, and the distorted worldview we come to think is reality. When we learn to touch the spiritual element of our being, we bring happiness and harmony into a world full of awakened potential.


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