The simplest spiritual joy begins with recognition and rejoice of the worthy.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha was recorded to have remarked, ‘Pleasant, Ananda, is Vesali; pleasant are the shrines of Udena, Gotamaka, Sattambaka, Bahuputta, Sarandada, and Capala.’ Yes indeed, the Buddha enjoys inspiring scenery too. Although he is at times imagined to be numb or uninterested about the things of this samsaric world, this cannot be further from the truth. The Buddha is ever mindful of his environment, and the universe itself. In fact, as he perceives everything in its entirety with heightened awareness and clarity, he appreciates all more deeply. Contrary to popular belief, the Buddha is no killjoy when it comes to harmless pleasures of the senses. What he advised against was mindless indulgence in them, to the extent that the Middle Path of moderate living is veered away – from advancement in the spiritual life.
When the average unenlightened person comes across a scenic view, one is likely to become attached to it, to the extent that, ironically, it might be missed in part – due to being mindless of its fine details in the midst of excitement. Think over-enthusiastic photo-taking and such to hang on to the memories. Even if every detail is eventually savoured, there is a bittersweet aftertaste when one has to part from the great view, and pining to return later. Such disturbing emotions that cause suffering would never arise in the liberated mind of the Buddha. What he does is only the treasuring of the wonders in the moment as they present themselves, without being bound to them for even a moment while and after doing so. Everything the Buddha utters is meaningful. Even such a ‘simple’ exclamation reminds us to rejoice in the worthy here and now.
In a loosely related incident, Suzuki Roshi once asked a student to drive him to a park to see cherry blossoms in bloom. On the way, he remained silent while looking calmly at the passing scene. When the flowers came to view, he simply gazed at them for a moment, and said, ‘Very beautiful. Let’s go back now.’ This probably came as a shock to the student, who might have been attached to expectations of some ‘normal’ reactions of longing and elation from his teacher. Perhaps Roshi was teaching him an important lesson – that it is alright to appreciate and enjoy what is pleasing to the senses. Yet, what you cannot hold on to forever, you should willingly let go of in good time. A single second of deep mindful appreciation beats prolonged unmindfulness. Just as there is no need to ignore the wonderful, there is no need to feel torn from it either. (As cherry blossoms are delicate and bloom only for a short while, the Japanese use it to symbolise transience. This accords with the significance of offering flowers at Buddhist shrines, as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.)
Because everything changes from moment to moment, we should treasure everything in this moment. Because everything changes from moment to moment, we should not be attached to anything in this moment.