Vol. XLX, No. 8                              August 2004
A Chicken Hat

Several months ago a member gave me a chicken hat that looked like a chicken was sitting on my head
with its feet dangling over each ear. One Sunday morning, I put it on while giving a sermon about attachment
to exterior things. I went on for about a minute and a half, took off the hat, and asked the audience what I had
just said. No one in the adult audience could remember anything I said after I put on the chicken hat. They
could not get beyond the appearance of me with my robes on and a chicken on my head.

Two weeks ago, during our Saishin Dojo summer program for children from 1st through 6th grades, I did the
same thing during my morning talk after the children have their omairi. I put my chicken hat on, gave a short
talk, took the hat off, and asked if anyone remembered what I said. To my real surprise, a sixth grader raised
his hand and repeated what I had just said. Why is it that a child was less distracted by outer appearances than
an adult who has been told again and again about the pitfalls of being overly concerned with appearances?
Children are better listeners, or maybe children saw the chicken as talking and paid more attention. In any case,
adults seem to be more strongly programmed to take the outer appearance of a person as an indication of what’s
inside that person. No matter how many such experiences I have, I can’t seem to shake off being attached to the
exterior of things rather than stopping to consider the interior of a person.

In our recent trip to India, a man followed us around at the Ajanta rock-cut temples to watch our shoes as
we took them off and went into the temples. He was obviously very poor, and not so obviously a member of the
scheduled classes. He offered to watch our shoes for a few rupees. After about the fourth or fifth stop, he
began to speak to me in Japanese. I asked him if he could read Japanese too and he replied that he was
illiterate. I asked him how many languages he spoke in order to make his living speaking to the many
foreigners who came to see the rock-cut temples. He replied to me in very polite Japanese that he spoke 10
languages – an illiterate man who spoke 10 languages. For the rest of the day a least, I saw everyone around me
at Ajanta in a very different light. And yet, back in L.A. I find myself have the same reactions of pre-judgement
that I fancied myself cured of by my encounter with the 10 language speaking illiterate at Ajanta. It never gets
better, but the view gets clearer. Namanda, Namanda, Namanda.

Rev. Mas