January 2016 - Welcoming a New Year
Every year is a good year, to paraphrase Ummon. Our daily life koan is to fully awaken to this. When we’re swamped by waves of emotional turmoil, we can remember the opening lines of the “Bodhisattva’s Vow”: “When I, a student of Dharma, look at the real form of the universe, all is the never-failing manifestation of the mysterious truth of Tathagata.” All!
When we turn to the strength and profundity of our practice to meet challenging circumstances, we are less likely to get caught up in self-righteous justification or fear-based anger. Remembering that the reactivity of dualistic, judgmental mind simply perpetuates our own and others’ suffering, we return to this “real form.” We can see all that arises as a reminder not to take superficial appearances for the real, the essential matter, this One Mind. Our practice is to respond from the awareness of our interconnectedness and mutual responsibility.
So as we begin 2016, let’s have as our guiding theme opening up, our arms outstretched in welcome, to everyone and everything. Let’s vow to face what needs to be seen and acknowledged; to respond with the wisdom and compassion that flow from the practice of returning again and again to silence, to that “mysterious truth.”
In Case 89 of the Blue Cliff Record, Ungan asks Dogo, “Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has 1,000 arms, and on each hand there is an eye -- how does she function with all those hands and eyes?”
Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva of compassion, whose name in Japanese is Kannon, or Kanzeon, which means “hearing all cries.” With one thousand arms outstretched she accepts all, embraces all, and offers one thousand ways of liberation to beings without number.
To Ungan’s question, Dogo answers, “It is like a person asleep in the middle of the night, reaching out to straighten the pillow.” How natural, without a thought given to it!
Ungan understands and says, “The whole body is hand and eye.” Dogo replies, “The entire body is hand and eye.”
Whole body, entire body -- fundamentally they are the same, yet the implication is that there can be a difference in the depth of understanding. Is it merely conceptual, or is it fully embodied?
This whole body, this entire body -- what is it? Words like “original face,” “the absolute,” “our true nature,” are but the finger pointing at the moon. What about this very body that is supporting each of us right now? What about this temporary and unique form we call “the self”? When we fully realize the whole body as hand and eye, we respond to whatever is called for, without adding anything extra: just seeing, hearing, offering.
Every day we chant Namu Dai Bosa, the mantra composed by Soen Nakagawa Roshi when he lived on Mount Dai Bosatsu in Japan. Namu means “homage to, being one with”; Dai, “vastness beyond great and small, nothing excluded, inconceivable, unlimited.” Bosa is Japanese for “bodhisattva,” an enlightening being. When we truly dedicate ourselves to this Namu Dai Bosa, we are moving toward and leading others toward full realization. We are vowing at every step on the way to live a life worth giving: in a word, compassion.
In so doing, we start within. We have to be willing to hear our heartbreak, our lifelong struggles. Because of painful incidents in our past, we may be carrying embarrassment and shame, and when we feel we are unjustly targeted by others’ recrimination and blame, the immediate impulse may be to become angry, or to shut down.
But our practice is to plumb the depths. We sit with courage in the midst of fear, eyes wide open to all the subtle variations of our own karmic impediments. Here they come, circling round again -- but now we can see them with new understanding, see their close relatives lurking, their rootedness in past suffering that we couldn’t face directly.
Instead of reverting to the old grooves -- closing down, walling off, blocking out -- we can soften into the pain, open to the teachings as they arise. When we don’t believe in the illusion of permanence, the illusion of a separate self, we find there’s no need for reactivity. We can accept, radically, circumstances as they are, and not get stuck in any particular form, knowing that it, too, is temporary.
With compassion and tenderness toward ourselves when we stumble and fall down, instead of getting stuck in self-recrimination we pick ourselves up and renew our vow to realize who we truly are.
President Abraham Lincoln once noted: “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, ‘And this too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” Indeed, how consoling.
There’s a Zen saying, “Though the wind may blow, the moon in the sky does not move.” As Shodo Harada Roshi commented, this “describes the state of mind of not being moved off-center by anything. People are often moved around by a fear of being insulted, either behind their backs or to their faces. They are even more often moved around by happiness and sadness.”
The moon of our true nature -- the real form of the universe -- is always present. All we have to do, hard as it may seem at times, is to return to this, with full attention. Wandering off, moved around by anxiety and old habits, we return to one: to the center. That’s practice. When we realize that whatever we are fixated on is nothing more than a reflection in a mirror -- just a temporary form blowing this way and that -- what wells up is a natural compassion. We can feel self and others as one; we can hear, see, and respond with our one thousand hands and eyes as naturally as reaching up and shifting a pillow while asleep.
There are so many cries -- of homeless ones, habitats rendered inhospitable by global warming, victims of war and terror, exploited by those abusing power. What is needed, desperately, is for each of us to open our arms, our eyes and ears -- an openness that comes not from opinions and preferences, but from the experience of “the real form of the universe” as it manifests in this one, that one, you, me. Then, inconspicuously, what needs doing gets done. Then, there’s no doer, no one seeking acknowledgment or credit. Then, each of us is a simple servant of this open heart.
That’s Namu Dai Bosa; that’s Avalokitesvara, Kanzeon, responding to the cries of the world; that’s acting with the whole body, without artifice, without dualism of self and other. As Dogen said, the whole earth is my body.
May we begin 2016 with great resolve to function with all our hands and eyes on behalf of this earth and all the beings upon it.
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