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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
17 spring 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly kIMSCAFURO airports, on commuter buses or trains, or in medical offices? These are all places where we could settle down and rest our minds for a while. I have a completely different rela- tionship with airports now that they’re places where I practice (using my coat as a support cushion). sitting With dead critters Zen teacher Yvonne Rand explains why she contemplates the decomposition of dead animals. My first encounter with maggots happened one night when I woke up and checked on my beloved old dog, Mazie, who was dying. I had put her out in the sun in the afternoon in hopes of drying up her bedsores. When I looked at the sores that night, I saw a tangle of white moving wormlike things. I realized then that flies had laid maggot eggs in Mazie’s wound when she was out in the sun and that what I was now seeing were maggots clean- ing up the wound. I then remembered that maggots have been used for this purpose for centuries. As you know, a central tenet in the Bud- dhist teachings, especially in Zen, is “no pick- ing and choosing.” The smelly part of decay goes hand in hand with the sweet smell of the spring roses. They’re inseparable. In our culture we keep trying to skew to what we want, what we like, what smells nice. We shun being present with whatever is so in each moment. I’ve learned an enormous amount from my fascination with different dead bodies and watching the decomposition process. My husband, Bill, will say to me, “Yvonne, if we are going to have a sitting in the zendo, you might think of removing so-and-so from the altar, because the smell is rather strong.” But I decline. I see no need to take the corpse of a bird or a sturgeon off the altar on account of a little unpleasant smell. The stink goes with the territory. The cogent meditator ceases to be afraid. I give up turning away and cease picking and choosing. In turning toward what is ini- tially repellent, I’m cultivating a capacity to be present with whatever arises in any given moment. Any parent knows that you have a differ- ent relationship to your own baby’s feces than to the feces of someone else’s child. The dif- ference flows from the sense of connection. So if what we are training for in our Buddhist practice is the capacity for relationality with all beings and things, then training in becom- ing able to be present is essential. I see my connection with these creatures as part of an ongoing process of studying con- ditioned mind in service of dismantling con- ditioned patterns. If I keep opening the box and sitting with a dead fox every day, a cer- tain kind of reactivity arises and is available for examination. I give myself access to the reactivity so that I can bring more awareness to it. And if I can see what the reactions are, change occurs, just in the seeing of them. I can’t emphasize enough that what inter- ests me is completely connected to being alive. There is no separation. Part of being alive is being open to dying, death, decomposition. We are ourselves part of the cycle, though not everyone wishes to know this. From “the CritterS projeCt: an interView with yVonne rand,” in inquirinG Mind, Fall 2008 What are you Worrying aBout? Before you answer that, be sure to examine your assumptions, says Bhikkhu Jayanto. These days it’s easy to worry about the world. But what is the world? The Buddha’s ap- proach was not to believe in the perceptions and views we hold, but to look into what it is we actually experience. We can learn to see what the world, as we experience it in the present moment, is made of. Our percep- tions, our assumptions, ideas, feelings, and sensations—whatever the relative truth of the picture of the world they provide us—all these can also be seen just for what they are: the fundamental experience of form, of feeling, perception, mental fabrication, sensory con- sciousness happening right now. The world can be seen for what it is, not something “out there” within which we live (that’s an idea in the mind), but as physical and mental pro- cesses we are experiencing in awareness. From FOresT sanGha newsleTTer, oCtober 2008