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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
24 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 7 Perhaps humanity has never before faced such a moment. But it’s quite likely that at other times in history as well, people felt quite convinced that the end of the world was at hand. Perhaps during the Black Plague in Europe, when people believed that every third person died for no apparent reason other than collective human sinfulness. Or perhaps at the time of the demise of the Mayan civilization, when it seemed everything would come to a sudden halt as the cycle of cosmic time ended. We think we have better information now than we had then, so this time it’s really serious. Maybe we are right. Or maybe a hundred years from now, when we have even better information, we will look back at the fears we have now and consider them naive. Anyway, this story reminds us that in ancient Buddhist cosmology, the end of the world and of the many worlds was considered an ordinary every- day inevitability. Universes were destroyed all the time, giving way to new universes. In the story, the inquiring monk is assuming this and wondering whether the thing in which he has ultimate faith— what he calls this—will be destroyed when the universe is destroyed. And Dasui very harshly says, yes, this too will be destroyed. Nothing lasts. As they used to say on storefront posters at liquidation sales, everything must go. Later, a monk asks the same question of Longji, who answers in the opposite way: this is not destroyed. Why? Because this is the same as the uni- verse, which is destroyed. Which doesn’t make any sense, at least according to the way we understand things. So the story is giving us problems. It is casting doubt on our idea of the world. If there is a world, there must be something beyond the world: this. But no, we learn that this and the world are not different. Which means that the world and what is beyond the world are not different. So what is the world? Not the world we think we know. The story further casts doubt on the difference between destroyed and not destroyed. This is not destroyed because it is destroyed, or so we learn. But this also makes no sense at all! Unless, of course, the way we are used to making sense doesn’t make sense. And then, on top of these problems, we have the two Zen masters seeming to contradict one another, which also casts doubt on the reliability of Zen, which perhaps we have been depending on. As always, these stories are not theoretical. For Zen students, they are personal. It isn’t just the world that is beyond the world: my life is beyond my life. It isn’t just the world that is destroyed and not destroyed: my life will end but it will not end. We sit in meditation with these truthful paradoxes for as long as it takes to feel them deeply in our bodies, minds, hearts, and breath. In Zen Master Wansong’s traditional commen- tary to this story is another story worth telling: A monk asked, “When the fire at the end of an aeon rages through and the whole universe is destroyed, is this destroyed or not?” This ques- tion originally comes from the Scripture on the Benevolent King Safeguarding the Nation: King Kalmashapada, believing in the words of the non-Buddhist Rata, took the heads of a thousand kings to sacrifice them in a graveyard to the god Mahakala, the Great Black One, hoping to pro- long the fortune of his nation. King Samantaloka begged a day’s reprieve and provided a meal for a hundred (Buddhist) dharma teachers, in accor- dance with the teaching of the seven buddhas. The first dharma teacher spoke a verse for the king: “In the raging of the aeonic fire the whole universe is destroyed....” The verse is thirty-two lines in all. As King Samantaloka was going to his death, he recited it for the other kings. Kalmashapada, in doubt, asked about it, and he too heard this verse. When he did, his mind opened up to understand- ing; he gave the kingdom over to his brother, left home and society, and attained forbearance. noRMAn fisCHeR is the founder and spiritual director of the everyday Zen foundation. He is also a senior teacher and former abbot of san francisco Zen Center. ©christinealicino