You say all you seek is moderation, simply finding a middle way, though nothing at all would suffice for you, no pleasure, no pain, no loss or gain, you would willingly attach to nothing at all. This is not the path the Buddha would tell you, for the place you claim to seek cannot ever exist, and if you wander in search of it you will not find it, but you most certainly will lose yourself. Do not wish for death while you are living, for the state of not living now is death and it will find you without effort on your part. And what is heat and cold, anyway?
A reflection on Case 48 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)
He has been walking for hours, or, perhaps for days, it doesn’t matter since he is precisely where he should be at this moment. He is tired, so he sits in seiza and watches a colony of ants working away in a crack in the path, each doing his assigned task. He knows ants have Buddha nature for when they walk, they just walk, like he does, and when they eat they just eat and he has never seen a solitary ant wobble.
Birth, he said, is the first and only real terminal disease. You only realize that, of course, when it is far too late and there is nothing at all you can do about it. Cancer and all manner of diseases merely shift the timeline, but once you’re on the path, there is only one way off, and that is a step few are willing to take. For some, this is a source of terror, for others it is no more than a slow walk around the block, with the promise you’ll eventually arrive back at the place you began, although it is no longer the place you began but one from which you begin, not again but anew. Again. This is what the Buddha said 3000 years ago, more or less. He confirmed that the just the other day, outside the soup kitchen. “Hey,” Buddha said, “even the once or twice enlightened need to eat from time to time. Join me?”
The last stitch is sewn, the loose threads trimmed, the pincushioned fingers are swaddled in bandages, bits of brown thread plucked from sofa, rug and shirt. It is done, save for every other stitch you now want to pull and resew, the mocking voice of the needle convincing you otherwise. All that is left is the turtle sewn by another, and the inscription of a name picked from a short list that whispered to you pick me, I’m yours, I’m you. The robe of liberation is wondrous but putting aside the pins and the needle you lovingly cursed so often is awe-inspiring.
It always seems odd that the teacher asks me to think about my practice when the heart of my practice is learning how not to always think about things. But the heart of practice is exactly these oddities, for nothing is exact. In the fourth vow I strive to attain the great way of Buddha, but I know, as the Heart Sutra reminds me, that there is “not even wisdom to attain, attainment, too, is emptiness.” And so I sit in confusion each day, and bits of delusion fall away, like the hair on my ever balding scalp.