-- Harada Roshi, opening talk,
Rohatsu Sesshin, Sogenji Monastery, 2011
— Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom
|My Little Corner of the World|
Generally, at least once a night, I have to roll out of bed and walk a few steps into the adjoining room. There, I participate in one aspect of this Grand Recyling Project known in some circles as Samsara.
Then, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from things like phases of the moon, to what happens to be on my mind that particular moment, I usually plop right back into bed and meditate back to sleep, often catching a few dream bubbles along the way.
Sometimes, something else happens.
Last night, as I crawled into bed, I heard the winds howling outside the window. I then felt a bit of coolness on my skin as a draft found its way under the blanket that hangs over the window alongside my bed for nights like these.
Curious, I pulled a corner of the blanket up to take a peek.
Outside the windows, the stark silhouettes of winter's barren trees danced wildly in the moonlight as their shadows mirrored their moves across the blue-white snow of the yard behind the gardens. Under the influence of a brilliant moon that was only a sliver past full, the surreal world outside the window was luminous. It seemed to glow from within.
I was awestruck.
Thoughts, being incapable of grasping the majesty of the moment, became irrelevant. They just went on their merry way unattended -- leaving wonder in their wake. I was all eyes and ears.
Transfixed, I don't know how long I was present for that particular miracle before I let the blanket fall back across the window, rolled over, and returned to sleep through feelings of wordless wonder and soft, sleepy delight.
As beautiful as the scene outside my window was last night, I also know the stark reality. It was brutally cold out there. According to the National Weather Service, the raw temperature at 4 a.m at a small airport near here was -13°F. The windchill was -22°. Given different circumstances, that scene I gazed at outside the window wouldn't be delightful. It would be deadly.
Yet, in the grand scope of things, it is always like that, right?
Although we don't like to face it, Life itself is a deadly proposition. Without exception, our life is a terminal condition. Nobody gets outta here alive.
A Matter of Life and Death
Just as certainly as we each were born, each of us will die. Most of us have grown up in a society that tries to assiduously avoid that piece of information. As a result, an incredible amount of psychic energy is bottled up in repressed fear and grief, or dissipated in vicarious "entertainment" and adrenaline rush "recreation".
As it is, many of us continue to scurry ahead. The denial of death creates an incredible lack of perspective -- and focus. A lot of mindless activity, pettiness, and unnecessary foofaraw would dissolve immediately if the Big Picture were brought into view. When we fast-forward ahead to see that the screen reads THE END, we can decide, in that very moment, whether we are playing the current scene in a way that makes any sense at all.
In the Buddhist tradition, the inevitability of Death is seen as a fundamental truth that, once faced, enlarges and deepens our motivation and capacity to realize our True Nature. Reminders are widespread among the chants and teachings of the various schools.
When I was in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery years ago, the Eno (chant leader) would recite the Evening Gatha at the end of each day's final meditation service. With dark eyes flashing, she ardently delivered the traditional exhortation:
Life and Death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken!
Awaken! Take heed.
Do not squander your life.
|The Zendo at Zen Mountain Monastery|
I Practice because it's a matter of Life and Death.
Rather than freak me out, this realization now elicits a commitment and discipline that flows from something so deep in my heart that it is beyond me. A Truth beyond words, I call it One Love these days. Others, simply call it Life.
In its embrace, I'm blessed with Great Delight and Clarity at times -- and plenty of opportunity to explore my own ignorance, angst, and confusion at other times. More and more, although different, those moments are experienced as the warp and woof of the same Grand Tapestry. At this stage of journey, I realize that all I can do is weave together the various strands with as much diligence and kindness as I can muster each moment. It's all Practice.
I can live -- and die -- with that.
Originally Posted, January 2015. Revised.