The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life: your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away, but they’re not punishing you, they’re freeing your soul. If you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.
Driving the back roads of the Southern U.S.A., you will sometimes see signs at the roadside, advertising “RABBITS FOR FOOD OR PETS.”
We never know whether we’ll be loved and protected, or slaughtered and devoured.
Zhaozhou often quoted this saying by Sengcan:
The great way is not difficult
if you just don’t pick and choose
I read a blog post by someone describing a first visit to a Buddhist meditation center. As naturally happens, the writer separated the experience into things she liked and things she didn’t. She liked stillness and silence. She didn’t like chanting. She doesn’t like altars. She didn’t like the ritual aspects. She concluded that if she pursued meditation, she would have to find her own way of doing it, presumably a way that she liked.
I think this is the most common trap we can fall into when beginning a meditative practice, and many of us continue to get stuck in it even after years and decades. For as long as it’s about you, your ideas, your preferences, you’re separate from it. You might as well just head to a bar or turn on the TV.
To get wrapped up in what “I” like or don’t like is to miss the point. The real question is, “Who is this that likes this and doesn’t like that? Who is this that likes stillness and silence but not chanting? Who is this that doesn’t like altars? Who is this that doesn’t like ritual?”
Who is this? What is this?
Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, and one of the great Zen poets of the West. Sadly, I haven’t managed to find any vegetarian haggis in Portland.
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white - then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature. It is a way in which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness, and the length of the night, become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language.
A bow of thanks to all who’ve bought it.