When a leaf leaves the tree it falls precisely where it should. When a flower petal is carried off on a strong wind it comes to rest in the proper place. When you smell the sweet aroma of next summer’s roses use the nose you had before your parents were born.
A reflection on case 32 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye) Koans
The clouds this evening are the deep gray that so long to be black, but the retreated sun just below the horizon lingers long enough to deny them.
The space, shrinking, between the clouds, is the gray of promise that the night will soon deny, and the birds who take over the preserve, chant their vespers, each in his or her own language, uncommon tongues singing their hymn punctured, punctuated by the flapping of wings, as the night encloses us in a cocoon that will carry us into the coming morning.
Tonight, if all goes well, I will be a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple. I am hoping it will be in Nara, at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere in Kyoto, although it might well be in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere deep within the Laotian highlands.
One problem with that world is that I have no control over it, which, come to think of it, leaves it like the waking world which has never hewn to my direction.
I’ve had this desire for weeks on end, and I suspect tonight will be no different, and I will spend eight hours sorting files, writing cease and desist letters and trying to convince myself that even that is a form of mindful meditation and abiding kensho will arrive in the next rapid eye movement.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
So many of the late arrivals tonight are egrets, the Cattles long in among the reeds and brush sharing space, only reluctantly, with the ibis.
It is their snowy cousins who arrive as the horizon is a fading band of orange gold dissipating under the faint, unyielding eye of Venus, and seem shocked when they are turned away with flap of wing and cry, warned by the perching anhinga that in this preserve the inn fills quickly, and in January there is no nearby manger to be found, so you’d best make avian friends, for morning arrives all too quickly enough.
My first inclination, in fact my strong desire, when he asks me what time it is, is not to consult my watch, but to say that we live in an age of unprecedented uncertainty, an era of division and incivility, and days fraught with risk that each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour and the minute, but if he is late, the moment wasted in knowing just how much so merely adds marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks that import to him, then time is no more than a human construct, malleable despite our demand of rigidity, and subject to the whims of Popes and politicians, and all the rest of nature can only marvel at our absurdity.
He says he cannot believe in angels because he has never seen one. I do not believe in his sort of angels, but not for lack of visual confirmation, rather that I live in a world that now is so deeply in need, that an angel might be our last, best hope, but the scope of angelic miracles is not likely wide enough to encompass the utter disaster which we have created.
I tell him that I do believe in angels, that I have met several in my life, and scowl when he laughs so that he must consider that I am serious, and then he asks what an angel looks like, so he will recognize one when and if he ever sees one.
I advise him that you don’t have to search all that hard, that you merely need to be aware, and watch the face of the baby when you stop and coo at him or her as they lie in their stroller, staring up at the always welcoming sky.