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.
Lao Tse, venerable one you would be pleased as I sit here drawing closer to the center quested for my Buddhahood be not seeking it amid the rain of fire from the hills above the blood congealing in the streets. I know not to ask and am unseen by the child and mother running through the street and untouched by the hail of ammunition biting at their heels. I smell the lotus mixed with the cordite giving scent to the morning and in the clouds see the approach of understanding.