What we see when we encounter and interact with the world around us depends so much on the weather we’re navigating inside. Have you ever noticed that face in the crowd, that one face in a dusty, busy, chaotic city interchange, that is as bright as this one? At once, just seeing that kind of face, you feel a bit of that brightness transmitted directly to you! Ah.
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!
Everything is given. However, because of the transient nature of all phenomena, nothing can ever belong to us. As a mother, as a wife, this can be a tough pill to swallow. But this is the insight of our meditation practice. It warrants a lifetime’s examination and celebration—in the midst of coming and going, everything is given.
What bounty is spilled out before our eyes, our hearts and minds. What unexpected potentiality and occurrences.
It must be said that the Zen teaching of letting go is not, by any means, a teaching of loss. Letting go means releasing our mind’s fixations so that we may participate, fully, in this wondrous parade of being. May it be for the benefit of all.
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.
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!
but, we are a captive audience of standardized icons and story lines! What to do? Tell it new. Show it fresh. What else could we ever authentically do? Tricky parts: trusting that, trusting that, trusting that.
I’m reminded of drawings that my daughters did in their early childhood. Such conviction and surety (and purity!) in those portraits.
I’m reminded of a few of the earliest raku Buddhas I made and realize now, that it might be a good idea to revisit that squishy, likeness-free realm!