by Jim Culleny

The globe’s so rife with religious doctrine mixed with political rant it’s hard to tell a sinner from a saint. On any street corner in the world mullahs and priests pass in the robes of their pride alternately incensing, murmuring and sanctimoniously declaring while statesmen pose and promise, yet wars bloody us and justice takes a back seat to bucks in the cathedral of the world.

In the USA we have our own brands of fervor so diverse you wonder how they can all claim the same origin.  They insist we’re a Christian nation. Still, there are other modes of thought here in the USA; ways of thinking that originate in the same longing possessed by people of the book.  Ways that don’t require sheer smugness in their thinkers. There’s science, of course, but there are also others which cover some of the same ground as that proclaimed in mega-churches —simpler ways.

For instance, have you ever sweated pipe?  Sweating pipe is an enlightening experience which, if done well, will lead to nirvana.  It has yet to lead me to nirvana, but that’s what sensei Tony once claimed, and I have no reason to doubt him. 

I met sensei Tony in New Jersey many years ago on a construction site in Hackensack. He was a big affable man with a heart of gold and immense knowledge in the practice of plumbing –an unappreciated meditative technique that teaches patience and humility.  Tony was a true adept who taught, “With a little heat, flux, solder, and an imperturbable will you can join essential elements of mind together in the simplest way. 

Sweating a gate valve to a 3/4″ line is equivalent to 30 minutes in the lotus position or ten Hail Mary’s following confession —and at least as fundamental.  If soldering pipe is not done with right action Tony taught, the water will not get to the tap, and if the water can’t get to the tap we’ve got a problem.  As everyone knows, without an effective water supply there can be no body, and if there is no body there’s no mind (by all that’s simultaneously scientific and holy).  What’s more, I hope we can agree that you can’t meditate or do much of anything without a mind associated with a body. In fact, without mind my arm is not much smarter than a leg of lamb. And without my body my mind is pretty much irrelevant in space-time.

This truth was one I’d never grasped before and found hard to believe. I often argued about it with sensei.

“Sensei,” I’d say, “I always thought mind and body were distinct constituencies of a whole, but that mind directed the actions of body. I thought that mind, although mysteriously associated with body, actually transcended the physical realm and that it directed physical action without being coexistent with it.” 

“Why? Why would you think that? Have you ever experienced mind without body,” he asked?

“Uh… well no, but I’ve been told this by adults since I was very young,” I said.  “The priests and nuns taught this until my ears bled. Many philosophies suggest it too.  And aren’t most great religions based upon the idea of the duality of body and mind?  Can all these people be wrong?” 

“Let’s find out,” Tony said.  ”Hand me that 1/2″ tee, the flux, and that roll of solder there.  And fire up the torch.”

It was this that I was thinking about this past weekend in my basement, smashing my head on heating ducts, dusting cobwebs off joists with my hair, and cursing freshly sweated solder joints that chronically sprung leaks as soon as I turned the water back on –and, finally, cursing the universe that made this all so. 

If sensei Tony had seen me on Saturday afternoon after my 5oth trip to Home Depot for supplies, he would have said, “Breathe, Grasshopper, breathe.  Don’t be distracted by cobwebs.  Focus the flame on the fitting.  Remember solder flows to heat.  Soon, soon all connections will be perfectly realized.  Enlightenment lies just beyond the next 90 degree el. Attend, attend.”

Attending, I’ve found out, is a far more positive approach to the day than getting bogged down imagining heaven.  If I’m looking that far ahead for bliss I’m probably missing whatever portion of it exists here and now. And if I’m tailoring my actions for eternal reward how pure can my motives be?  In that case isn’t loving my neighbor (or god, for that matter) just camouflaged narcissism?

I think sensei Tony had it right, focus: clean, flux, and heat  —but most important, be religiously awake to the moment, it’s the only way you’ll ever know what’s really going on or what god wants.


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