Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good luck with that, huh?`

Both Sides / No Sides Zendo
Summer Morning after an Unexpected Rain
Beings are numberless, we vow to save them.    
A Journal Note

(Egad, I wrote the in June 2015, a year and a half ago. I forgot to push the publish button. Oh, well. Better now than never. Things have changed, of course. Polly lives in Las Cruces with her partner Steve, I talk to her and see her from time to time, but we all miss her. I don't see Matthew anymore. I miss seeing him. He's a good guy. I hope he walks through the door again sometime soon. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the post.)

One Tuesday night when I was out of town, Matthew Torres—the young man with the curly hair who comes when he can—brought the Zendo a gift, a little paper dolphin he had made, origami style, from thick paper marbled with many pastel colors. I was out of town and my fellow priest Polly Perez was in charge. Knowing Polly, she received the dolphin with a joyful smile. She placed it in the arms of the bronze teaching Buddha who sits on the altar. But then it was time to ring the bell. She lit the oil lamps and the incense, and the services began, as always, with the voices of those gathered together to sit zazen, atoning for the harm we cause in the world.

So this morning, back in town—the smell of dampness in the air from the little bit of rain we had last night—I went out to the zendo. Lucky me, the zendo is in my backyard. The little building is a 90 year old stone garage that Lee and I, with a little bit of extra cash, transformed 25 years ago into my office. Now it’s the Both Sides / No Sides Zendo, a 12-seater. Buddhism does things like that, letting one thing become another. I bowed to the bronze Buddha. He still carries the dolphin in his arms. This makes me happy. I lit the lamps and a stick of incense. I too recited the Prayer of Atonement for the harm I cause in the world. I bowed to my zafu and began chanting in preparation to sit zazen. Ernie the black cat walked in. He strolled up to me for a scratch behind the ears, and then he slowly went from zabuton to zabuton, sniffing at the wonderful places full of human smell to lay his body down. He chose, finally, the zabutons stacked beneath the altar. He climbed inside the little cave and immediately went to sleep, so black you cannot tell cat from zafu until he opens his golden eyes.

Stephen Batchelor, toward the end of his book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, says Gautama contributed four basic elements to the Dharma, elements that were not derived from the Indian culture of his time.

  1. The principle of “this conditionality, conditioned arising.”
  2. The process of the Four Noble Truths.
  3. The practice of mindful awareness.
  4. The power of self-reliance.
So there we were—the Buddha, the paper dolphin, the black cat and the old man sitting zazen. We felt the breeze seeping into the stone zendo, and we listened to the mockingbirds and the mourning doves. By sitting zazen, Dogen says, we express our true nature. Ideas and words are irrelevant. Just pieces of trash floating past. But the bell does ring, sooner or later. Like always, I recited the Four Great Vows, vowing to save the numberless earth beings, ending all delusions, entering all the boundless Dharma gates, and becoming one with the Buddha’s Way.

Good luck with that, huh? But that’s what we vow. Over the years, the roots of these vows, watered by the daily practice of zazen, grow deeper into our heart-mind. I blew out the lamps, bowed to the Buddha and the dolphin in his arms, scooted Ernie out of the zendo, and went about my life. As one more of the numberless beings, I carried along the little bit of freedom I realized within those old stone walls—the morning light, the open door, the fresh but damp spring breeze and the happily dissonant songs of mockingbirds and mourning doves.

Bobby Kankin Byrd 
June 2015

Ernie, the Dolphin & the Buddha
A lousy photo but you get the picture!

Ernie opens his eyes!

No comments:

Post a Comment