You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver (b. September 10, 1935 d. January 17, 2018)
I left meditation this evening thinking about cats and what a comfort they can be. Since I don’t have one living close by I thought I’d publish this photo of Ms. Marple, an American cat. It makes a good lead into the teaching of Nanzan and the cat.
There is a famous koan about a Chinese Chan master called Nanquan or Nanzan, who cut a cat in two in order to teach his students about grasping. It appears in many different koan collections and is the ninth case of the “Shoyoroku” :
“One day the monks of the western and eastern halls of Nanquan’s monastery were squabbling over a cat. When Nanquan saw this going on he seized the cat and held it up before them and said, ‘Say one true word or I’ll cut it.’
“No one could say anything. Nanquan cut the cat in two.” (sadly the link I published in 2007 no longer points to this quote.)
One will never know if this event actually took place. It was after all a long time ago and far away. However the koan (problem) is still alive because it is, like all the koans, an expression of the condition of the human mind which grasps at things, concepts, ideals. At base the purpose of koans, and the naturally arising koan of daily life, are presented to propel the mind past the grasping.
The answer to all of the koans, and problems of daily life, is faith. The faith to let go of even this. And then attempt to be the best person one can be.
Today at Shasta Abbey, Northern California, we celebrated the Festival of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, the Healing Buddha. I was honoured to be asked to give the Dharma Talk after the ceremony. The title is: Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path.
Towards the end I mention three people by name: Michael Stone (who died mid July), Will Pegg and Rev. Master Meiten all from (or near) Vancouver Island British Columbia Canada. I dedicated the merit of the talk to them, and although I didn’t say it at the time, the merit extends to all those who have supported them, learnt from them and continue to be inspired by them. All three clearly exercise faith and walk the Bodhisattva Path. The world is full of people, Bodhisattvas’, who each in their own way inspire others to live a life of faith and generosity.
That is enough for tonight.
Rev. Meiten and I were novices together in the early 1980’s at Shasta Abbey. Training together we got to know our fellow novices rather well, not that we chatted a lot about our lives before ordination. Mostly we trained along side each other; washing dishes, sweeping, walking the cloister, informal ‘teas’, learning how to use a computer and enter ‘data’. We knew each other on a deeper level than our personal individual ‘stories’.
I took over Rev. Meiten’s job as Journal Department Assistant and keeper of ‘Master Mailing’, the hand written record of the monasteries contacts. Addresses were kept on 3 x 5 inch cards and stored in shoe boxes on my desk. We used an Addressograph machine, goodness, that thing was heavy, each address was typed onto a custom stencil card, primitive by todays standards of course. We’d use the machine to stamp addresses onto Journals and publicity pamphlets for mailing.
Those were our early days. As I sit here and think of Meiten all sorts of memories sift up to the surface. Perhaps the one upper most is how she would buy me a chunk of Baclavar and leave it, anonymously, in my mail slot when she knew I was in need of a treat. I just knew it was from her. Later still I’d visit her when she lived in Victoria heading up Vancouver Island Zen Sangha.
Anyway this is a long way around to introducing you to her writings which are available now in various formats, including for reading on Kindle. Originally the sangha published three books, now out of print. My last memory is waking to the sound of rapid typing, tap, tap, tap, either answering emails or writing more articles. She was fast and prolific. There is probably enough material for several more books.
Many of the people who gathered around Meiten still meet each week in Victoria. My love and bows to them. Oh and I have something particular to be grateful for, Meiten encouraged me to express myself especially writing. Thank you dear Meiten, you will not be forgotten.
On our kibbutz, Kibbutz Yekhat, there lived a man, Zvi Provizor, a short fifty-five-year-old bachelor who was given to blinking. He loved to convey bad news: earthquakes, plane crashes, buildings collapsing on their occupants, fires, and floods.
The King of Norway
By Amos Oz