I stooped and spoke to a stone, asking the question. I was here before you arrived and I will be her long after you leave. I held the sand in my hand warm from the sun, asking the question. I came after your arrived and I will leave long before you are gone. I held the winter wind on the tip of a finger, asking the question. I am not here now and I have never been here. I touched the waters to my lips, asking the question. I was above you when you came and I will be below you when you go. I saw the flames dance before me, asking the question. You were ashes once and you shall be ashes again. I stood mired in the clay clinging to my legs, asking the question. It is of me you were formed and it is to me you will return. I sat at the foot of God blinding light, asking the question. You cried to me at birth and you will cry to me at death.
If you are able to speak maintain silence, If you can bear the silence, listen to the song the sea sings. If you can sing with the sea count the grains of sand that wash in on the next wave. If you lose count, begin again before the wave recedes. If the wave recedes before you finish counting, bid it farewell. After you bid farewell return to your cushion and listen to the silence which is the body of the dharma.
“There is an art,” the old monk said, his samu-e belted tightly, “to spreading peanut butter. Consider this carefully for it is a matter of gravest importance. Spreading peanut butter requires care just as meditation does. You wouldn’t think so, but try it in your robes and see how unruly your sleeve can be. It is like raking the sand in a dry garden. It seems easy enough to do, but you know how hard it is to ensure that your presence is unseen and unfelt when the job is done.”
Along the shore, this morning, the clouds piled up, refusing entry to the promised sun, which hung back forlorn. The waves charged onto the sand like so many two year olds in full tantrum, banging against all in sight and retreating, only to charge again, pushing away any and all in their path. The wind pummels the sand, and as we walk along the street the wind borne sand tears against our skin urging us to take shelter, reminding us that nature does not bend to the weatherman, and will from time to time play havoc with their forecasts because nature speaks, she never listens.
It will arrive before you know it, will be gone again before you realize it was even here. This is how it is supposed to be, Even if not how we want it. We will know it had been there and that needs to be enough for we would try and grasp it, try to contain it, hold it. But we are a sieve to water, an hourglass to sand, and satori would have no other way.
As you search for the source of all wisdom, will you stop along a beach and consider that it can be found, fully in a single grain of sand. Be careful, for the beach contains countless grains of sand, so choose carefully. If you are uncertain which one contains the source of all wisdom select one at random and it will be the correct bearer of wisdom, but only if you look deeply within it, and then cast it back onto the beach, carried on the gentle morning breeze.
A reflection on Case 19 of the Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record)
The saffron robed monks stoop carefully, dropping single grains of colored sand onto the mandala of peace. They rock gently as the intricate wheel takes shape and form. They are drawn to its center, closer day by day, countless hours focussed to a singularity. They interlace fingers bow a collective head and pray silently for a strong wind.
Day one, and they are hunched over the mat meticulously drawing faintly on its deep blue surface. Day two and sitting, leaning forward they precisely place the first grains of sand. Day three, the same and the picture begins to emerge though they dare not breathe. Day upon day, minute upon minute hours on end they place the sand until the almost electric mandala rises off the mat, and even we can imagine Buddha’s home, only wishing we could enter any of its four gates and find the compassion within. Today, day six it is done, and they gently sweep all the sand and carry it to the river where its blessing may go wherever the river carries it, and we bid it a sad and joyous farewell.