Thursday, October 4, 2012

Seeing the Light

[video:  Maru sees the light.]

Understanding that we are fragile and our lives can be snatched from us any moment is a staple of Buddhist thought. Gaining that understanding is thought to be key to awakening; some monks meditate in cemetaries or worse, charnal grounds. (The link leads to an interesting Wikipedia article, but you probably don't want to know.)

During some Zen retreats a beautiful text may be intoned by a voice from the dark outside the zendo, encouraging us to to understand that the great matter is the fragility of our lives, and we should not waste one minute of our precious time on retreat.  Along this line, here's this from an article about one of the great Teachers who brought Zen to the West, and was known for a sense of humor.
Maezumi Roshi's style was warm, dynamic and direct. He lettered a sign on the zendo reading, "If you want to clarify the Great Matter of life and death you are welcome. Otherwise, better get out!"
 So I would have said I grasped this intellectually - but Zen is never satisfied with that.  Mind is only a piece of heart-mind.  And yesterday I got a body blow that took me deeper with it.

As you know if you follow this blog, we've been to four funerals in about three months - three friends, and Tom's father.  Two of these friends were way younger than me, and their deaths shocked a lot of people.

Another couple we know has had a string of frightening events.  In April the man had his first heart attack; last month the woman took a fall that fractured her pelvis, and means she is in chronic pain and has to use a walker; yesterday we learned that the man had fainted and hit his head, and is hospitalized. Why he fainted is still being investigated.  These are older (than me) people, entering their eighties but vigorous and engaged in life, who had already had to abandon a planned trip.

The woman leads the collage group I am in, and the way we work together in silence has led to a sense of intimacy in the group.  Maybe that was why the news hit me so hard.

The way it hit me was that my body feels soft, and it is as if I can see by x-ray vision my small bones and their significant deterioration. It's that sensation, and that enhanced perception of my fragility that has me reeling.  As much as I've been reminded of my age, as near as I've been to dying, first from cancer, then from kidney failure, I didn't feel it until now.  Or if I did, I'd forgotten.  Our bodies really are soft, our skin a very thin defense; we are constantly invaded by germs and viruses and cancer cells that would like to use us as a host. I knew that, but I didn't feel it.

So I find myself remembering that chant.  Here is one version. 
Let us be respectfully reminded:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by, and with it our only chance;
each of us must strive to awaken.
Be aware! Do not squander your life.


  1. Here is a woman who saw the light(enlightenment) while being stabbed. Can't get any closer to death than this.

    1. Thank you. Her idea about "trying on lives" is interesting. I wonder how I could do that today without harming the life I've got.