What’s statuary combined with luminaries? Imaginaries, naturally. Whatever our faith, orientation, politics, the people who lead and inspire us are, bottom line, still people. It’s inevitable that we might imagine them to live at a “higher” level, but this would be a dangerous, even destructive course to take. So why not call them imaginaries? Calling a spade a spade, we can still love and cherish them, and be just as inspired!
A small wall hanging, abstract. Made by squishing clay up into the “collarbones”. What is it? Looks like ribs, that fragile interior now inside out.
And that shiny patch at the bottom? Stamped with wonder at the mysteries that prevail – the very nature of being.
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!
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.
When my children were little, they dreaded going to the doctor’s, especially when they knew they would be getting a shot. Maybe some of us adults still fear it? But always, that pre-suffering suffering far eclipsed that instant prick on the arm! And yet, how captivating (how apt a term) it is to imagine what the pain will be like.
Just think of the way the news is broadcast to us in a daily dose of “what if’s”. There is excitement in fear, energy stirred up in projected visions of doom – after all, that what sells the news. That’s what sells the tickets to the Big Top Show of not knowing. So what’s the difference between the dread of not knowing, and the awakened grace of not knowing? Should we simply disregard our concern for the future?
Of course we do need to prepare, in a practical sense. We need to consider the effects our actions have on the planet so that we can heal its wounds. We might well consider the possible repercussions of a political leader’s bad speech so that we do not become infected by it. But we also need to distinguish between when our minds get held “captive” by the hook of fear as opposed to a spacious wonder at the wild ride that is unfolding before our very eyes.
May we always, all of us together, be the ride and the life of the dharma.
I wonder how many of us filled with awe as the moon passed in front of the sun. While the trees, birds, animals, people and clear blue skies were the familiar objects that they had always seemed to be, for a brief space of time, all of that altered. Suddenly everything was different, and we looked a little differently at each other. We were in it, as one, together. What a wonder!
Just a day later, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, opposing sides converged. Slogans, diatribes and tear gas filled clear blue skies. Suddenly everything was different, and in that place, people looked at each other as us and them, as right and wrong. What despair, anger and fear!
The temptation to prophesize and fortify our fabricated points of view is strong. But we can take a giant step back from that kind of confrontation, and instead, see, hear and taste with courageous attention.
A monk once asked Zen Master Yung-ming, “What is the great perfect mirror?”
The Master replied, “A broken earthen pot.”
May we, all together, find wonder and truth, and the wisdom to make amends!