How to Save the Cat

African Buddha in Green Raku Robe

With elections coming up, how might we navigate our engagement with politics from a meditation practice point of view? Interestingly enough, we already have a roadmap for this in a famous kong-an—Nan-ch’uan Kills a Cat. It begins as follows:

The monks of the eastern and western halls were disputing about a cat. Master Nan-Ch’uan, holding up the cat, said, “Please, give me one word and I will save this cat. If you cannot, I will kill it.”

There is another segment to this story, but first, there is this critical matter, “How can you respond to Nan-ch’uan and save the cat?”

A couple of pointers (for the kong-an, and for how to find our way in contentious times): 1) if you do nothing, that is in itself a choice of action and as Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and writer, points out, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” In other words, if you do nothing, you are demonstrating an attachment to emptiness; you are evading your duty and the cat gets killed. 2) If you just join in the bitter fray, heaping slogans and slurs on top of everyone else’s, you are attached to name and form, and the cat gets killed. So what is to be done? It might be helpful to consider that the cat is a metaphor for our family, our neighborhood, our community, our country, and our planet–all of which are in our life’s blood. In other words, this is a kong-an about love, compassion and wisdom.

As Zen practitioners, we start with a before-thinking mind. Practice clarity. Keen focus and spacious awareness will help us to see, listen and understand the situation. What is going on, really? And what is obfuscation, dualistic thinking and distraction? If our minds are clear, then we can see clearly, and act with wisdom.

I hope all of us will handle language will care in these times. Emotions can get heated, but we don’t have to inflame them further by harmful speech or action. May we, each one of us, practice exercising a fitting response, moment by moment, as suits the situation and our own unique relationship to it. May we, each one of us, save the cat!

 

On Finding the Perfect Expression of Our Imperfect Love

DSC_9759

In honor of our mothers, I would like to bring forward a story that my first Zen teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, tells about the enlightened teacher, Sul, that lived during the Tang Dynasty in China. Because she was a woman she was never authorized to teach or given an official title but in spite of this, she was acknowledged in her community as an awakened Master. The following quote is taken from Seung Sahn’s book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha:

“One day, when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly during the funeral and kept crying back at her home, as the visitors filed past to offer their condolences. Everyone was shocked. Soon they were whispering. Finally one of them went up to her and said, “You have attained the great enlightenment, you already understand that there is neither death nor life. Why are you crying? Why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind?” Sul immediately stopped crying and said “Do you understand how important my tears are? They are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the Patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies.”

It might be helpful to consider that what we feel is already complete, whether the sensation is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Though we, as human beings, tend to love imperfectly, just to express it can be a complete teaching of great love, great compassion and the great Bodhisattva Way.

As spring blossoms, may we extend ourselves and give ourselves away with just this kind of Mother’s Mind.