Honing Our Skill

I have fond memories of working alongside my grandfather as he fired up his forge and made something out of iron. He was a farmer, which means he had to be a jack of all trades. If he needed a bolt to repair a farm implement, he often made it from a piece of bar stock he found outside in his ‘firch’ pile. Firch is colloquial term referring to a pile of useful junk. He had a wonderful firch pile composed of various metal pieces from broken equipment and other things. He never threw anything out, only onto his firch pile.

So, I was amazed how he could make almost anything out of almost anything. When he had a mind to make a cutting tool, he began by searching his collection for just the right piece of steel. He then heated  it in his forge to glowing red and hammered, heated again, hammered again, quenched it in water, and finally shaped and sharpened it into a knife edge. I think this is where I received my inspiration to become proficient at sharpening tools. This continued as I applied my talents to wood carving. But that is another story.

I realized how a sharp tool not only helps with the tasks at hand, but is actually safer than a dull edge. A dull tool will more likely slip and therefore more likely to cut you. Even if a sharp tool cuts your finger, it will heal more quickly than a ragged cut. Sharpness helps to fashion wood, vegetables, or anything more efficiently. But it requires some skill to hone the perfect edge. If done properly, an edge will stay keen for a long time and only require an occasional touch to the stone or strop when needed.

This is the same with Dharma practice. We start with what appears to be a piece of junk—our illusory sense of self. Then we shape it into something useful with a bodhicitta forge. But we are sometimes challenged by all the heating and hammering it takes to get to the point of refining our ‘edge’ on a sharpening stone. Eventually our skills become keen and we can cut through any obstacle. We sharpen our skills so that we can make something useful of ourselves to help others. And, if called upon, we are capable of teaching others how to hone their skills. Assuming they have the patience.

Ultimately, we see there is nothing to sharpen. Natural insight is keen from the beginning. But we need to refine our awareness to recognize it.

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