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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
28 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 the moment before death, or at the moment of receiving news of a terrible illness, it might be a bit too jarring. It’s easier if we have some preparation. Maybe easier. In this story, Daowu is not sick. He is tending the sick. So it might appear, as Guishan suggests, that Daowu is the one not sick who is tending the ones who are sick. But Daowu knows better. He is beyond the ones who are sick and the ones who are not sick. He includes them both, is them both, and transcends them both. Being well acquainted with this person, Daowu doesn’t accept the concept that he, Daowu, is not sick and others are sick. Being sick and not sick are temporary expedient designations. If we have a body, then we are, by definition, sick. Having a body is being sick. But also, if we have a body and we are alive, we are not sick. There is more right with us than wrong with us or else we would be dead. Is being dead being sick or not being sick? Maybe when we’re dead we’re finally cured of our sickness! I don’t mean to joke, but this seems true, doesn’t it? Sick and well are temporary designations on top of a much more intense and poignant situation. Such designations are important, of course, and need to be taken seriously. Maurine knew she was sick. She accepted that temporary designation as crucial to her life path at that time. But also, when she said she was not sick, she was pointing to the poignant and intense situation that she had always been in—and that everyone who was listening to her talk was also in. So she could use the power of her life and her illness to practice and teach. She had the strength and the wisdom to be able to do that, a gift to us all. I often bring up these Zen stories when I am with hospice workers—doctors, nurses, chaplains, or volunteers. The fiction that they are well and that the patient is unwell, dying, is shortsighted and not helpful to the patient or the caregiver. If the It is okay to be ill. There can be joy in it from time to time. But first we have to practice being ill. We can’t get around it. up from being dead and ordered a big feast for the community. He called it “A Feast for the Stupid.” He joined in the feast and lived for seven more days, after which he passed away for good. Once Daowu came back from tending the sick. Guishan asked him, “How many people were sick?” Daowu said, “There were the sick and the not sick.” Guishan said, “Aren’t you the one not sick?” Daowu said, “Being sick and not being sick have nothing to do with him at all.” —Book of Serenity, Case 83 This “him” whom Daowu refers to is the same person Dongshan refers to as the one who’s not sick, and Yunyan, in another story, refers to as the one who’s not busy. I don’t know what to call this person. Because Daowu and Yunyan and Donghshan are men, they call this person “he.” Maybe it’s better not to call this person anything, but we could use a word like Buddha or maybe something more abstract like buddhanature or absolute being or dharmakaya, or God, something like that. This is the person who is so intimate with us that she is us: closer to us than we are to ourselves. Yet this person is not us. This person completely depends on us, and we completely depend on this person. We reach out to this person in our need, but also we can be quite frightened of this person. When we come close to this person, we touch our own radical vulnerability and the folly of our human constructions, including our identity, so maybe we don’t want to get too well acquainted. This is the person we are coming out to meet when we sit on our meditation cushions. Zazen is really wonderful because though at times it can be daunting, it gives us a fairly safe way of meeting this person, of getting used to meeting this person. If we only meet this person suddenly, let’s say, at