A singe egret sits calmly
on the lowest branch of a long barren tree, where hours from now a thousand birds will arrive for still another evening and night.
He stares at me as I am mindfully vacuuming, watching carefully.
I pause and ask if by chance he is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck and peers around in all directions.
I repeat my question, and he lifts one wing, which I know to be his way of saying, “I, like you, am imbued with Buddha nature, and I with mother nature as well, and if you doubt me ask one of the countless Bodhisattva who will arrive in hours to study the Dharma well into what will be a wet night.
He’d been searching for ever, or so often seemed, for no-self, and he couldn’t fathom why it was so difficult to attain simple absence, nothing must be less than something, after all. He knew, like Sisyphus, he would continue to search until he succeeded, the gods of his soul decreed it and you don’t fuck with them. It was difficult recalling how much time had been wasted in the search for mirrors and when he found one, looked, there he was selfsame, self-filled, and he imagined, selfish. He took to always carrying a hand mirror and when he thought he might have found it he glanced at the polished surface in his hand and there he’d still be, his endless self older now, but there, very much still there. One day, frustration getting the better of him he wandered deep into a massive forest, hours later sitting on a fallen trunk, he reached for his mirror, gone. There was tree and sky and earth, that was all, as night enveloped everything, even his no-self.
As you stoop to pick up fallen leaves are you cleaning spring, summer or autumn? What seasons are deep within the winter branch? How does your work and that of the tree truly differ, and what leaves do you shed?
A reflection on case 83 of the Shobogenzo (Dogen’s True Dharma Eye)
In the center of every city there ought to be a park, an expanse of green, trees older than the first European to arrive, so old they need not feign indifference to the humans who have invaded and refused to leave despite the mother (nature)’s request that they do so immediately. Some cities comply, but only partially for they place the parks on the periphery and save their core for the tall buildings, stacked cubes chock-full of small cubes, little boxes and to which people go each day before returning to their own boxes, large enough and sometimes ghastly large that surround the city. This is where the city knows the Park should be, and if people don’t like it, the city doesn’t really care.
It was draped over the fence, a bridge for squirrels who would otherwise would go through the chain. There’s a sadness to its needles, many burying themselves in the accumulated snow, cast off by the great Spruce as extraneous, an old coneless branch, “that is the reason” the trunk whispers in the wind “why I am rid of it, why now you are free to take up lopping shears and make of it what you will or just haul it to the curb, it is of no matter to me.” There is a cynicism in the old tree’s voice, as if saying, “Look, I was here before you, long before any of this,” knowing it will go unchallenged. But I remind it of the fate of the Austrian Pine that one stood two dozen yards away and the Spruce sheds another cone and lapses into silence.
“I don’t want to” is hardly a sagacious way to run a country and “just because” probably didn’t work when you were a child, why would you think adults would accept it now? And when we all expressed our displeasure, disdain and contempt, which part of “no” did you have trouble grasping, Mr. President? The apple may not fall far from the tree, but let it sit on the ground long enough and the worms will have it. Ambrose Bierce said diplomacy is lying for one’s country, Mr. President, not lying to it.
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.