This is a verse we have been recently chanting before bed. There are many things that this Buddhist verse is pointing
to, but mainly it is the fact that we are going to die. That our lives, no
matter how permanent they may seem, will one day come to an end. Inevitably and
unpredictably. We have been told this over and over again throughout our lives.
But how easily we become numb to this truth. How easily we go about the world
in delusion that there is constancy, a stability, to our being, to this
particular narrative, that we forget entirely how vulnerable and absolutely
fleeting we truly are.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy, a death that cuts too close to
home, to remind us of this tremendous fact. I know words can’t change or heal
the sadness that many of my friends and family, myself included, have had to
face with the loss of Peter Carver, but I feel like it is important to write
about, especially given the happenings here this past week here at the monastery.
Right after the news reached me (aka 10 minutes) I had to go into a 2-hour
meditation sit with the Zen Community of Oregon followed by a dharma talk. It
was interesting to have to sit down with such awful news and look directly how
it was transforming my body— at the level of sensation. In some ways this was
incredibly hard, because my gut reaction was first: to cry and second: to run
away, escape at all possible costs. But I could not move my body, I was forced
to sit perfectly still as the waves of emotions passed through me. In
retrospect I am not sure if there was a better way to deal with it, because it
forced a direct interaction with my emotions, rather than a stuffing away of
them as per the norm. The dharma talk that followed was, ironically, about
losing a dear one and how to deal with that from a Buddhist point of view.
Again, difficult to hear, but also probably the best thing the universe could
offer at the time.
The next day was the first of a 7-day silent retreat on the
theme of Pari-Nirvana (the death of the Buddha). The week was centered around
death meditation and looking at what happens when this particular-body mind
composition takes its last breath, and in turn, what it means to be still
breathing. Where is the life? Where is the looker, the viewer, the self that is
aware and thinks about the breathing, that thinks about the thinker? Given the
circumstances there was a lot of energy behind this investigation. I haven’t
had to face death very much in life, especially of someone who I have known
since preschool. One interesting part of this investigation was looking at the
birthing and dying of self, self notions, and reality between moments. In
short, we die all the time. Knowing this on a conceptual level is one thing,
being still enough to look at it from a point of quiet awareness is quite
It is particularly difficult to talk about experience,
especially those of the religious or spiritual type. So I will spare much of this
detail. I think that this retreat, however, has marked a significant change in
my understanding of Buddhist practice with regards to the pervasiveness of
awareness, that that is undying. Over the working meditation period of the day
during the retreat I was in charge of rebuilding a wall that forms the base of
the Buddha statue at the front gate of the monastery. Much of the things that I
find are shifting in vantage at the moment can be paralleled to this endeavor:
reconstructing foundation. Which, if there is confusion, is a very good
(whatever that actually means) thing.
Another realization I have had is there may be a need for me
to stop writing this blog for awhile. This one is also hard to explain, but it
has to do with being able to let go of some thinking-tendencies that I can see
may be obstructions of my current place in practice with Zen. I am feeling this
one out, and it may mean shorter and less “event-related” (like the fact that
the Roshi threw a snowball at someone during breakfast last week! And that there is no snow to been seen in all of Clatskanie) passages or
maybe a prolonged break. Either way I look forward to sharing the coming days
with you all in whatever way feels fit. I have just recommitted for two more
months here and have been given an option for work-exchange that may allow me
to stay here longer that originally planned. We shall see how the cookie
crumbles, however. I am still awaiting hearing from graduate programs and am
still feeling out what the next best step may be for this small amount of time that has been given to me.
With all of that said, I guess my primary point is:
Rest in peace Peter.
And please, friends, give those you love an extra call/kiss/hug today if you can. Our time is short together.