SEARCHING FOR WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
A Zen Meditation for the Fourth of July
Edward Sanshin Oberholtzer
Joseph Priestley Zen Neighborhood
Every Tuesday morning at 7:30 Jap time, I give what the Higher Boston Zen Middle has, in its knowledge, designated as an encouragement discuss. A lift to get you up and going in your every day rounds. Wanting about me, paying maybe extra consideration than I ought to consideration to present occasions, I’ve been discovering it more and more troublesome to seek out phrases of encouragement or of consolation.
It places me to thoughts of that second within the Christmas Carol, for me a go-to nineteenth century Buddhist compendium, that second when Scrooge addresses the ghost of his late associate, ’Communicate consolation to me, Jacob!’ implored Scrooge. `I’ve none to present,’ the Ghost replied. `It comes from different areas, and is conveyed by different ministers, to other forms of males.” I want, with all my coronary heart, that I didn’t really feel in my bones, the reality of Jacob Marley’s ghost, true for so long as I can keep in mind, however particularly these days, that fact lies chilly, onerous, and unmoving earlier than my eyes, even when I might by no means say that any of you might be modern-day Scrooges.
There are moments in our lives when outdoors occasions so stand up and overwhelm us that we will solely see our lives shifting from inflection level to inflection level, from disaster to disaster. I recall as a baby, being dwelling with the flu, watching morning recreation exhibits on TV when the announcement of Kennedy’s assassination was delivered by Walter Cronkite over CBS information, being a young person in Atlanta when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, adopted intently by Bobby Kennedy. I used to be ending up a gathering with a fellow librarian in my cubicle on the Tisch Library of Tufts College on September eleventh, 2001 when distraught coworkers got here to my desk and instructed me to tug up information broadcasts on line exhibiting the collapse of the dual towers in Manhattan. A bit over per week in the past, I used to be in a Zoom assembly with fellow Zen practitioners planning their upcoming summer time sesshin when all three of us skilled the simultaneous pinging of a textual content alert on our iphones telling us of the Supreme Court docket’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. That this was not an entire shock is a testomony to the rising crescendo of stories concerning the more and more speedy erosion of our democracy, an erosion rooted in tendencies manifesting a long time in the past and persevering with as now we have seen within the week and a half since that information, an erosion we’ll, I concern, proceed to look at unfold within the days, weeks and months to come back.
Two factors right here. I do know that there are those that discover no place for political commentary in Zen observe (I’m not one in all them). I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and after I say Sangha, I imply not merely the Sangha of my fellow practitioners, however the Sangha of all beings, no, of all issues. I can’t, we will’t, carve off part of that huge, interconnected infinite boundlessness. What occurs on Capital Hill occurs as nicely on the cushion. Like Walt Whitman, we every include thousands and thousands: you, me, the child subsequent door, the cop on the beat, the younger man being crushed by that cop, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the Proud Boys. Stacy Abrams and Rudi Guilani, all right here, all part of John Donne’s primary. If, like Whitman, I sing myself, I’ve to sing all of the bits, even these cacophonous bits. And if this isn’t politics, if this isn’t the Dharma, then what’s? That brings me to my second level, to my conundrum, for my approaches really feel as if they apply to true believers (of the dharma and of democracy.
Preaching to the choir has its charms, however I’m nonetheless trying to find methods to convey it, successfully, to my fellow residents who want it most, and, in truth, I’m usually at a loss. When fellow practitioners come to me and ask, “How do I face every morning? The information is so grim, the chances are so dire. Our civilization seems to be coming aside at its seams. The way forward for the earth is hanging by a thread and the powers which have any affect on it appear blithely unconcerned ( and that’s an excessively charitable strategy to put it.) I do know the recommendation I might give myself. I do know what I might say to fellow vacationers on the best way. “The place it’s scorching, the warmth kills you, the place it’s chilly, the chilly kills you” Should Zen sound so dire when telling us to show in direction of our fears and anguish? Our not possible vow is to save lots of all beings, even Michael Flynn, even Donald Trump.
It may be a tough promote for me, how way more so for my neighbors, to your neighbors, who have a look at the trail the earth is careening down and, consumed by their very own concern – concern of lack of standing, of lack of privilege (one would possibly nicely ask, what standing and privilege have they ever had?) they see it and understand it as simply high-quality. Eyes they’ve and see not. What am I to say to the remainder of the world? What can I do about the remainder of the world? I keep in mind Mel Weitsman responding to a query of what you do about individuals who come and sit for per week or two after which vanish, one thing now we have all seen. Mel stated to not concern your self with it – so simple as that.
And that’s all nicely and good if you find yourself speaking about somebody not coming again to a sitting. Now we have a big, a considerably massive a part of the nation who appear content material with letting the nation, and your complete world, crumble on the seams, for the sake of all of these lies, political, financial and environmental which they’re being fed every day. And that is our world, the world during which we observe, that’s the world falling aside. The Buddha understood that we observe in these our bodies. One would possibly say, we observe on this earth of ours. A physique wants rice gruel to see it by to the morning star. What if that morning star is obscurred by clouds of smoke from a coal fired energy plant? What if that rice gruel won’t suffice?
As practitioners, what can we do? Somebody who merely doesn’t present up on the cushion tomorrow is one factor – I can perceive shrugging my shoulders and turning to work with the practitioners at hand. However individuals actively supporting the dissolution of our neighborhood, of our world, how will we take care of that?
I do know I’m outdated, that the worst to come back will, little doubt, come lengthy after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, however this isn’t about me. It’s concerning the maha-sangha, the better neighborhood, together with, particularly, those that appear actively to undercut their very own and our futures.
Alasdair Macintyre, some 45 years in the past, set out the instance of Saint Benedict and the Benedictine order for instance of women and men of excellent will turning inward and preserving the shards of civilization within the face of the approaching darkish ages. Right now, we glance, not merely to a coming darkish age which MacIntyre was warning of, however to the destruction of our democracy, no, extra, to the destruction of our planet.
The kalpa fireplace of nuclear annihilation remains to be a chance, however the slower, extra insidious degradation of the environment abetted by the dismantling was no matter protections the Federal authorities may have afforded will greater than suffice. Turning inward is a temptation. There’s a sure irony in that the novelist so usually lauded by the far proper, Ayn Rand, wrote a bloated door stopper of a novel primarily based on simply that premise, that individuals flip inward, away from what they noticed as a decaying society, although, strive as I’d (and I don’t spend an excessive amount of time making an attempt) I can’t see the characters of Atlas Shrugged as trendy neo-con Benedictines.
I’ll by no means have the ability to change all of these hearts and minds on the market; maybe I can change only one. Right here’s a narrative that bears retelling, particularly in its unique, non-hallmark playing cards model, stripped of the dancing youth on the sand, and the lovable punchline ending, a narrative with only a seed of hope.
The story, as Loren Eisley instructed it, goes:
One can see within the hour earlier than daybreak on the ebb tide, electrical torches bobbing like fireflies alongside the seaside. After a storm one can see the skilled shellers hurrying together with bundles of gathered starfish, clutching luggage of residing shells. Following one such episode I met the star thrower. As quickly because the ebb was flowing, I arose and proceeded on my morning stroll up the shore. Every now and then a stooping determine moved within the gloom or a rain squall swept previous me with mild pattering steps. There was a faint sense of coming mild someplace behind me within the east.
Quickly, the solar behind me was urgent upward on the horizon’s rim — an ominous purple glare amidst the tumbling blackness of the clouds. Forward of me, over the projecting level, a big rainbow of unbelievable perfection had sprung shimmering into existence. Someplace towards its foot I discerned a human determine standing. He was gazing fixedly at one thing within the sand.
Finally he stooped and flung the article past the breaking surf. I labored towards him over half a mile of unsure footing. By the point I reached him the rainbow had receded forward of us, however one thing of its colour nonetheless ran rapidly in lots of altering lights throughout his options. He was beginning to kneel once more.
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its physique away from the stifling mud. “It’s nonetheless alive,” I ventured. “Sure,” he stated, and with a fast but light motion he picked up the star and spun it over my head and much out into the ocean. It sank in a burst of spume, and the waters roared as soon as extra.
“It could stay,” he stated, “if the offshore pull is robust sufficient.” He spoke gently, and throughout his bronzed worn face the sunshine nonetheless got here and went in subtly altering colours.
“There usually are not many come this far,” I stated, groping in a sudden embarrassment for phrases. “Do you acquire?”
“Solely like this,” he stated softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. “And just for the residing.” He stooped once more, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped one other star neatly throughout the water. “The celebs,” he stated, “throw nicely. One may help them.” He appeared full at me with a faint query kindling in his eyes, which appeared to tackle the far depths of the ocean.
“I don’t acquire,” I stated uncomfortably, the wind beating at my clothes. “Neither the residing nor the useless. I gave it up a very long time in the past. Demise is the one profitable collector.” I nodded and walked away, leaving him there upon the dune with the nice rainbow ranging up the sky behind him.
I’ll depart the punchline to the Talmud which put it so significantly better “in the event you save one life you save the entire world.” Fengxue stated, “In case you elevate a speck of mud, the nation prospers. In case you don’t elevate a speck of mud, the nation perishes.” A special perishing, however you get the image.
Now, maybe, simply maybe, this can be a means ahead, one step, one coronary heart, one starfish, one speck of mud, one neighbor down the road, one after the other, one foot in entrance of the opposite.
One phrase of encouragement in a bleak panorama.