20 August 2006
Mustard and Life
Since my doctor has told me not to practice yoga following the surgery, and since its Sunday, it seems like a good day for a Zen sermon or teisho.
"You know, there was a Zen master who loved his teacher. He was a Zen teacher who studied with his teacher for many years and became a very famous Zen teacher himself. He had a deep personal relationship with his teacher and he was supposed to conduct a funeral ceremony for his dead master. He was famous and his teacher was very famous. A big community was assembled at this famous temple and he was going to do the eulogy. And he just started crying, and one of his students said, "You are supposed to be a Zen master. Why are you crying?" And then the master said, "Listen, when I want to cry, I'll cry." I think that this response shows great courage and great trust in life. "
This long quote comes from a teisho, or talk, given at Cold Mountain Sangha several years ago. I don't know who the teacher was, but it is a wonderful teisho on seeking safety in the world where no real safety is possible, and how the seeking of safety interferes with our abiltiy to find peace because we spend so much time seeking that which cannot be found: safety or, to put it another way, a guarantee of no suffering. We create suffering by trying to avoid it, by trying to create a place where no suffering is possible. Trying to create an impossible place - well - imagine how much suffering that causes!
The story is told of woman stricken with grief at the death of her child, and she brought the dead child to the Buddha seeking medicine to bring him back to life. He told her, I need a mustard seed from a house where no person has died in order to bring him back. She went from house to house in grief, but could not find a house where no one had died. When she came back to the Buddha, he said: "Gotami, you thought that you were the only one who had lost a son. As you have now realized, death comes to all beings; before their desires are satiated death takes them away."
I cannot create a world where I will not lose my job, where I will not fall sick, where I will perhaps not recover, where my children will always love me. I live in a house in a forest that could burn and so burn my house, I drive a car that could crash, I work for a good company, but many good companies have come and gone. How much money will save me from any of these things, how many locks on my doors, how many mustard seeds can I find?
There is no safe place, and when we stop trying to find the safe place or the mustard seed, we can be at peace, we can rest, we are finally free to just be in this world. To be the humans we are.
When I lose something important, I will cry like the Zen master did because that is what humans do.
But I will not have wasted my days searching for mustard seeds.