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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 63 It is easier to trust Dogen’s statement when things are running smoothly, but they seldom do. When we are faced with the loss of our home or the death of our child, or when we or a loved one develops a fatal illness, the jewel can be hard to find. And yet we can trust it. By sitting down again and again, by “opening the hand of thought” during zazen, by practicing mindfulness in formal practices like chanting and oryoki, by staying with “one-thought, one-action” at a time during our daily activities, we can acquire the trust to respond to whatever situation life brings us. If we do not just respond or react but live fully in that moment, even in the midst of so-called adverse circumstances, the jewel reappears. It takes on the most beautiful color it has to offer— the one that perfectly matches here and now. Because it is not the coming and going of life and death, it is the coming and going of life and death. Dying is not what we think it is or what it sometimes looks like. After twenty-three years of caretaking, having witnessed countless brave ones enter a path from which no one ever returns, I am not sure I know more about life and death than I did in the beginning. There is a moment after death when everything—the deceased’s shoes, glasses, smell, the sound of his or her particular voice, the smile—is still there. And yet, what happens? Dying is a precious experience that is deeply embedded in human existence, and as physicians we can try to cultivate an inviolable awe toward the grand miracle of death. I hope to continue holding deep respect for death’s unstained integrity even amid the benefits and challenges of hi-tech Western medicine. And maybe, when the day comes, I too can bow to it with an attitude of calm and curiosity. The entire body is radiant light. The entire body is the entire body. The entire body is radiant light even if it seemingly deserts us, which eventually it will. We might become too weak to walk. We might become morphine dependent. It might take us half a day just to get up and dress. We might be unable to leave our bed, with only a few days left. Yet we can always heal. We owe this healing to our humanness—the part of us that has been waiting so long to be invited in. We owe it to the ones who underwent much harder challenges and extremes than we face today to hand down this precious practice to us. Think about your spiritual heroes. How long ago did they live? Under what conditions? What did they have to risk to stick with their vows? Their flame is still burning. They consumed the wind of their lives so fully that their flame now reaches everywhere. We owe this healing, plain and simple, to the ones who seek our help and whom we have vowed to care for. If you try to avoid this transmission, theremaybeawaytodoso. Dogen is so modern in his understanding of my weakness. Looking at the many things happening in this world, it appears that there may be a way to avoid the dharma. Looking at myself, I see how many times during just one period of zazen I, more or less willingly, give myself permission to go astray and wander off into the land of dreams and worries. This seemingly strict Zen master who led such a focused life says we might try to avoid awareness in the moment. Dogen thereby shows great sympathy for my countless weaknesses and habitual tendencies. Yet even with my worst conditioned patterns, in my darkest moments of entanglement, because I made it onto the cushion one time, I cannot get lost again. Looking back at my own crooked path of Zen practice, the most important thing I ever did was to sit down once. Everything else followed from there. This experience can’t be erased. Whether or not it is continued and developed further, it sets something in motion that cannot be stopped. This is not because of trust in something but because of experience—an experience so many of us, now and then, have had. The snow of dharma covers everything, whether we see it or not.