|Birds Begging at the Wharf|
One striking aspect of THE ODYSSEY, a reading assignment for the course I'm taking, is Homer's attention to the care of beggars. There are numerous times when Athena turns Odysseus into the guise of a beggar and he goes about the community asking for help. In ancient Greek hospitality, beggars are not denied their fair share of the banquet, and they are not turned away. The beggar may represent homelessness, powerlessness, some kind of need within that is begging for attention. When we see a beggar and are repulsed, we might be turning away from some truth about ourselves, not wanting to admit we feel we are lacking something within.
It reminds of a story of one student who was scornful of my having taken visiting students to a discount shopping store for their food rather than to one of the upscale places. It said a lot about the nature of class, money and snobbery which is also about the nature of lack. If we have money, we can easily avoid mingling with beggars and needy people. We can shop at high level stores. We can stay in our cars and not use public transportation. We can avoid mixing with minorities. But, as Zen students, and particularly as students of Ryokan, we should be able to go anywhere and not notice anything other than humanity and how to be hospitable to everyone. This includes noticing in ourselves whether we are harboring a sense of lack or something begging for attention. If we are, we can turn it into spiritual activity by seeing it for what it is and recognizing there are times when we are all beggars of one sort or another.