Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Dying

A star at dawn
A bubble in a stream
A flash of lightening in a summer’s cloud
A flickering lamp
A phantom and a dream
So is this fleeting world.
--The Diamond Sutra

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 another.

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.


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