Following the Scent of Flowers

Description

So, there’s a spaciousness inside all situations, is what I’m saying. We’re walking through them, and underneath our feet there’s space and light around us—and we’re walking through space and light. And knowing that then is the source, I think, of empathy and love—but we accompany each other. And we don’t have to take ourselves or each other so seriously. We don’t have to advocate for the direness of the human condition, which is something we find a lot of. [laughs]

Link to Audio: Following the Scent of Flowers

John:

Hi, everyone, we’re just waiting for people to gather. Nice to see you. “Sitting silently, doing nothing, spring comes, the grass grows by itself.” [chuckles] 

So, welcome. People are still coming on, so I think what we’ll do is just-–let’s start sitting a little bit, for no good reason [laughs]—which is always true about sitting. And so as people come on, we’ll sit for a little short piece of time. And then when people come on-—we’ll stop when we think people are pretty much on, okay? I have the—I lent my usual bell to a friend—to Michelle, who’s teaching on Fridays sometimes. Because I didn’t like her bell, [laughs] I have the timekeeper’s bell from the zendo. So if you can recognize it—if you’ve ever sat sesshin with us, you might—it’s kind of nice. [rings bell] 

The sound of the bell, the whole universe in the sound of the bell—[rings bell]—like that. [laughs,rings bell] Just hearing the sound, isn’t this life? Just enjoying the moment. And in this moment, everything’s here—everything we need. Everything we don’t need is here, too. [laughs] In a sense, there’s a translucence or a spaciousness about the moment. Not in a sense—there is a translucence and spaciousness. And here we are.

Feeling the time, feeling the moment, enjoying—enjoying the moment. Enjoying what it is like to be you! All the great questions, you know, “Who am I?”—all those questions—come down to, “Oh, what is it like to be me?” [laughs] It’s kind of thrilling, really. What is it like to be carrying this vast consciousness—stars and trees—in this small body? Memories, feelings, ancestors, and children… Here we are, here… Here that never ends.

The thing, you know, about meditation—if you’re worried about your meditation, try just a little bit less hard. [laughs] Let it come to you. [rings bell] 

So—welcome! It’s lovely to be here in this vast temple we’re in and—(can you hear me okay? Yeah? Thumbs up, thank you!)—and one of the things I’ve been thinking about today—you know—we’ve been feeling a lot of the confinement, compression, and the dark fate of our time. And one of the things today I want to talk about, is empathy—and the transparenceh of things that’s inside us, and inside all of us. And, one might say—the lightness and delight that’s here anyway, underneath it all. So, wish me luck. [laughs] That’s what we’re going for today. 

And I wanted to start out with the great—a couple of things, from the great Daoist teacher Lao Tzu—who was a mysterious person, who was a kind of government archivist actually, in an important city in China—Central China. And he just thought—he was sick of doing that. And he went off wandering, and he wandered west. 

And there was a wise—there was a sage in the town he was heading toward, who dreamed that somebody very wise was coming. And the dream didn’t give him any other hints than that. But [the sage] went—there was a pass that everybody had to pass through—and he thought, ”Perhaps I’ll recognize him.” And so he went down and waited at the pass for a few weeks. And indeed, Lao Tzu came through, and he did connect with him. And so then, Lao Tzu wrote down the Dao De Jing—”The Book of the Way and its Virtue” or “the Way and its Power.” And so, another kind of fun backstory. And then he disappeared off into the mountains. [reads]

The Dao that can be told, the Way that can be told, is not the eternal Dao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The unnamable is eternally real
Naming is the origin of all particular things
Free from desire, you realize the mystery
In desire, you see the manifestations
Yet, mystery and manifestations arise from the same source
This source is called darkness
Darkness within darkness is the gateway to all understanding 

That’s Stephen Mitchell’s translation. And here’s another one I want to—that’s the first verse of the Dao De Jing, and this is the sixth verse—and this is David Hinton’s translation. “The valley spirit never dies”—that’s a wonderful way to—the valley spirit—that she’s what’s under everything. You know, we think emptiness is a feminine form. There are actually—in India, the Bodhisattva of Emptiness is sometimes shown as a woman dancing. [reads]

The valley spirit never dies,

She’s called the dark feminine
and the gateway of the dark feminine enigma is called 
the root of heaven and earth.

It’s a gossamer so unceasing it seems real, and you can use it—it’s effortless.

The idea, that what holds us all, is so gossamer-like—and so translucent and transparent—but it’s also dark—not that it’s—just, it’s beyond all the things we use to understand things. Sort of like that. 

I remember being introduced to the Dao De Jing by a friend of mine, who was a poet in Australia long ago. And I was sort of, kind of, a private secretary—a rather incompetent private secretary, because I kept objecting to the letters [laughs] and thinking, you know, “This person doesn’t understand your poetry.” “Yes—that’s why I’m writing them back!” [laughs] It was sort of funny. 

But when I was very young, she told me to read the Dao De Jing because, she said, the nice thing about Lao Tzu is, it didn’t matter what your circumstances were. You could be driving for Uber, you could be staying at home with your children, you could be a physician in an emergency room, you could be anything—and anything at all—and the Way was open to you. The spiritual practices—no matter what you do and where you are—the spiritual practices are available to you, and I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” In other words, it doesn’t depend on you, like, “holding your mouth right” or—you know—thinking the proper thoughts, or things like that. It’s just here before all that. 

“The valley spirit never dies, holds us all.” And so—one of the things to say about that, is kind of—you know—delight is “a thing” if we’re not resting on anything. If we’re resting on something we don’t understand, then it’s also possible to be delighted! 

I’ll read you a couple poems. This is Marie Howe, who is a very interesting poet. And this is called “The Moment,” and it’s an incredibly plain view of “lightness” and the ecstatic. [reads]

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment 
when,   nothing 
happens 
no what-have-I-to-do-today-list 

maybe   half a moment 
the rush of traffic stops. 
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be 
slows to silence, 
the white cotton curtains hanging still.  

No improvement is needed in this moment. [laughs] Here’s another one of hers where it shows a sort of sudden reversal that happens when—Oh!—the world becomes transparent, and we see through it. “Hurry,” it’s called. [reads]

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,    

as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.     

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?  

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,    

Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—    
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.     

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands. 

[laughs] So, right in the midst of this “Hurry, hurry, we’ve got to get through it,” they’re having a lot of fun, [laughs] and it’s very, very light. And so, even dark times—you know, when we’re sick or get a diagnosis or something—in the middle of that, maybe—the lightness is there. 

Some of you may have heard this story, but it comes to mind—I’ve been thinking about him today. I had a friend who was a kind of well-known local clergyman—big congregation—and he used to come “on the lam” to the zendo, to just be able to be himself, and not be adored and things—because nobody cares who you are in a zendo. [laughs] Even the teachers don’t care who they are. [laughs] So, it was kind of sweet—and kind of rather lovely giving him a refuge. And I liked him, and we’d go for walks and talks sometimes. 

But then he came in to see me one day, and said, “I have a diagnosis.” And he had prostate cancer, and it was an aggressive one. And I don’t know—anyway, I could tell somehow—it wasn’t—you could just feel the fate of it. It wasn’t one of those ones, where it’s a deep dark initiation, and then you’re changed. But it was one of those ones—it was probably going to get him. I didn’t know, but it just felt like that, but it turned out to be true. 

I said, “How do you feel?” and he said, “GREAT!” and I said, “Do tell!” [laughs] And he said, “Well, I don’t have to talk bullshit anymore.” [laughs] “I don’t have to say the things that I don’t quite believe, that I think will help people—be pleasing to them.” And I said, “What do you want?” and he said, “I want to get enlightened,” [laughs] and I said, “We can probably provide that!” [laughs] So, he did. He worked very hard in his meditation and—I don’t know—his talks probably changed a bit—and he realized that he had to do them for himself, not for other people. And people still loved him when he stopped—like—trying to please them. Because people do—they love you anyway, in spite of you. And then he died, but it was kind of nice. 

I remember that, “It’s great, I got a diagnosis!” [laughs] It’s like that little story about the little kid who fails his math exam, and hopes he dies before he gets home and has to tell his parents. [laughs] So, that kind of sweet thing. 

So, there’s a spaciousness inside all situations, is what I’m saying. We’re walking through them, and underneath our feet there’s space and light around us—and we’re walking through space and light—and knowing that then is the source, I think, of empathy and love—but we accompany each other. And we don’t have to take ourselves or each other so seriously. We don’t have to advocate for the direness of the human condition, which is something we find a lot of. [laughs] We don’t have to advocate for, “Yes, but all these terrible things happen.” But nonetheless, you can enjoy the moment, and in a way we might say, it’s the Bodhisattva’s obligation to enjoy the moment and have the “delight of now,” and then that delight might touch other people. 

So, okay. So—what I want to do now is a little more meditation, if you’re ready. You’re never ready for—you never need to be ready for meditation! So, we’ll take a stroll. 

[rings bell] The sound, you can just sink away with the sound—until there’s no sound, and not really the “me” I thought I needed to be—the “should and could and would have.”

[rings bell] Everything I need to do will be waiting for me, so I don’t have to remember it. 

[rings bell] 

So, here’s a little Zen story. Once upon a time, a teacher—it was in the late afternoon, it was still spring light, and the birds still chasing each other about—came back to the temple. The teacher lived in a temple, and the person who ran the temple said, “What have you been up to?” “I’ve been strolling about in the hills, strolling about in the spring grasses…strolling about in the hills.” “How was that, how was it?” asked the friend. “I went out following the scented grass, and came back chasing falling flowers.” [recites]

I went out following the scented grass, and came back chasing falling flowers.

So, you don’t have to make yourself feel anything, you don’t even have to make yourself enjoy this beautiful saying. [laughs] Just let it into your heart as you do with a koan, you know? Let your heart make up its own mind about life, let the koan make up its own mind about you. You don’t have to do anything with it—wandering about in the hills, strolling about in the hills. “I went out following the scented grasses, and came back chasing falling blossoms.” And just where—obviously this is not a meditation you can do wrong—you can’t stroll the wrong way in the hills. [laughs] It’s for you. 

So, just—if you notice your mind is somewhere, don’t complain to yourself about that—but just have “strolling about, following the scented grass, chasing falling blossoms.” Just let it come to you. Wherever your mind goes is not a problem. And then when you notice, just have—don’t even bring it back. ”Strolling about” is already there. “Where have you been?” “Strolling about in the hills.” “How was it?” “Well, I went out following the scented grasses—the fragrance, the butterflies, the small birds singing.” [recites]

I went out following the scented grasses, and came back chasing falling blossoms. 

“Yes, I went out following the scented grass, along by the sounds of the creek, and the little pools where the otters come up sometimes, through the oak trees, and the deer not bothering to move away. I went out following the scented grass, came back chasing falling blossoms.” Chasing falling blossoms! [laughs] And what do you do when you catch a falling blossom? [laughs] You just catch another one. We’re always running through the moment. [rings bell]  

Well, thank you. The—something about—I think the thing I want to say, that’s about the idea of the Bodhisattva path—is the idea of empathy. And the idea of empathy comes up to—it begins with the mind, the heart-mind—and it’s not even your mind—it’s just mind, you know. And in a way, not insisting that your mind be calm or free, or you don’t—you know—get annoyed, or you don’t get frustrated, or you don’t—you know.  And, so there’s a kind of “bearing with” and accompanying that’s good to have. 

When your mind is doing something you disapprove of, then you can enter the disapproval. [laughs] The problem, is not to get back to the thing you approve of—which is GONE forever! [laughs] Which is its job, really—just like everything else. Like, yesterday went forever—and we have no evidence that it really existed. And you notice that. “Oh!” And then you can turn into that. 

There’s a koan, I think, is kind of a pair with “Went out following the scented grass, and came back chasing falling blossoms,” that goes, [recites]

A student asked the teacher, “When cold and heat visit us, what should we do?” You know—your fire in the heart—sorrow, grief, rage, disapproval, fear—you know, “Cold and heat visit us, what should we do?” The teacher said, “Why don’t you go where there’s no cold or heat?” and the student naturally said, “Um, where’s that?” And the teacher said, “When it is cold, the cold kills you. When it is hot, the heat kills you.” Or it’s, “When it’s cold, kill yourself with cold—and when it’s hot, kill yourself with heat.”

So, not literally, but when you’re sad—everybody’s had the experience, it’s alright sometimes to be sad—and inside that, there’s a luminosity and a freedom. Pablo Neruda has a great poem that starts out, “Sadness, today I need your dark wing.” [laughs] Sometimes the blues are just great!

But whatever it is—particularly if it’s something that’s uncomfortable [that] you’re feeling—you don’t have to disapprove of yourself for feeling it. And then you notice, that well, “What’s really wrong with feeling it?” And, uh, you know—“I’d rather not.” But—I don’t know—it’s a bit like saying, “I’d rather not pay my mortgage.” But actually, I’d rather live in my house, so I’d rather pay my mortgage! [laughs] That kind of thing. So—or like, “I’d rather not be feeling upset the way I am, but I’d rather be alive and here.” I am alive, feeling upset. So, it’s a fairly simple equation. “I’d rather have a different life from the one I have”—I don’t think so. 

So, the freedom, the compassion begins there. And when—it’s a leadership point really—but everybody who meditates, in some way is creating a space for other people to step into. When you begin to meditate, you become a leader without putting on a hat or jacket, saying, “I’m a leader,” which is always obnoxious. But in a way, you become somebody who’s a little bit freer, and that allows a little bit more freedom in the world. 

And one of the things you can be free of, is thinking you should have a different life. Because if you look at the worst thing that happened to you, and the best thing that happened to you—they brought you to the now. And if you don’t have this “now,” you’re not alive. So, given that we’re alive—let’s have it, you know! And so, there’s—the delight comes, the enjoyment, of even the predicaments we have. 

You know, I think that there’s a marvelous moment that kids have, that you notice sometimes. You may notice—sometimes when I wake up—perhaps I was exhausted, and I took a nap or something like that—and I wake up, and I don’t know what time of day it is, but I don’t even know who would ask that question! I don’t really know if I’m a “something” or not. And then gradually the light filters in, and I realize it’s morning, or it’s dawn—I can hear the birds, and I realize they’re birds. And then—but I haven’t yet put on my “me,” but I gradually do that, and I realize, “Oh! I’m ‘me’.” Before that, I didn’t know how old I am, what gender, any of that stuff. I put on my “me” and then, I put on my troubles—it’s the last jacket I put on. [laughs] Or my to-do list, or my worry, or the predicament that I favor in my life, and “My god, we’re living in the middle of an epidemic!” 

So you notice that the “it shouldn’t be thus” is a kind of jacket we put on, and it’s not like we don’t think, “it shouldn’t be thus”—that’s fine. But then, we have to be kind with that thinking, “it shouldn’t be thus.” “I’d rather be somewhere—on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” or something like that. We have to be, in a way, welcoming to what comes up in our hearts, and that way you’ll notice that it gives other people courage—because you’re not afraid of the dark places in yourself, and you don’t think they shouldn’t appear. 

You’re not trying to get rid of them which is the problem with meditation techniques. “I’ve got to be calm, I’ve got to get rid of my ‘X’—my past, my history, my childhood, my bad karma, my anxiety, my whatever it is, my dread, my cancer, my—whatever it is.” We don’t need to do any of those things to be here. We’re just here, and it’s good enough. Good enough for a human being. And it’s our path. 

And when we can do that, then other people will be able to feel that we’re not afraid of the dark places. And we’re not afraid of the cold and heat that arise in us, and so then you’ll see that—”Oh!”—strolling about in the hills becomes its own… Kind of beautiful—you can stroll about in the hills in a hospital, you can stroll about the hills if you’re confined to bed, you can stroll about in the hills when you’re dealing with your most difficult child, your most difficult elder, your most difficult whatever—the thing in yourself that you keep thinking, “I’ll stop doing that and I’ll change that,” you know. And in a way, we have to love the whole of our lives, including those delusions that we keep falling into—or even plan to fall into, [laughs] hope to fall into. So in a way, we can just—”Oh!”—and there’s always that space for now and the space for now is always infinite. Just to say, “the hereness of meditation is infinite” and—it’s really not “hereness,” and meditation’s got nothing to do with it. Really, it’s just that meditation is life, when we stop stacking stuff onto it—living in “could-have-, should-have-, would-have-ville”—things like that. 

So, I wanted to read you a fun poem that I thought—this is—it’s about the role of the imagination, those kind of turn-arounds like in Marie’s poem about—where the little daughter plays Mummy, by saying, “hurry, dear, hurry” in a really loving way. [laughs] 

This is Nanao Sakaki, who’s, you know—he’s been dead for a while now—but was a very interesting guy, who was in Japan during the war and being trained as a kamikaze pilot, you know. And so he was meant to go out, and sort of fly his plane into a ship or something, killing people and killing himself. That was the virtuous thing to do. You can see why meditation might be a good thing for cutting through delusions. [laughs] But anyway, Nanao was supposed to do that, but then the war happened—the war ended three days—the bomb on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki—three days before he was due to fly his first mission, his first and only mission. And it changed him, and he thought a lot about war and anger and hatred and things, and he decided that what he would do was oppose war. And he became a poet, and he had very long hair and he was a very, sort of, elfin kind of a person, kind of funny and then he lived—and he traveled a lot, and he knew people here and would come to California and things. 

I remember somebody asking him in an audience, “But how will we survive nuclear war?” and he said, “No need survive nuclear war.” [sic] [laughs] Which I thought was a good response. [laughs] It’s like, “How will I survive life without dying?” No need to survive life without dying, that’s not what life is for. And he liked his appearance, he was gay—but anyway, regardless of that—he was a sort of elegant-looking person, in a very ancient Japanese-sage-looking way, with the long hair and everything—and he was great. [reads]

“Break the Mirror”

In the morning
After taking cold shower

—-what a mistake—-
I look at the mirror.

There, a funny guy, grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin,
—-what a pity—-
Poor, dirty, old man,
He is not me, absolutely not.

Land and life
Fishing in the ocean
Sleeping in the desert with stars
Building a shelter in the mountains
Farming the ancient way
Singing with coyotes
Singing against nuclear war—
I’ll never be tired of life.
Now I’m seventeen years old,
Very charming young man.

I sit down quietly in lotus position,
Meditating, meditating for nothing.
Suddenly a voice comes to me:
“To stay young,
To save the world,
Break the mirror.”

[laughs] So yeah, no need to do that, old man. So there’s something about embracing the “lifeness” of life. I guess that’s what I want to say—that it’s just always here. 

And I’ll give you another person—another poem I want—(if I can find—I put it aside where I’d find it, so I may have lost it forever—ah, here it is!)—this is Tony Hoagland, again, he always had a strong suit on being present. He was sort of present and acerbic at the same time, as a poet. And as he got cancer—actually he never stopped being acerbic. But you could tell that the love of presence just grew stronger and stronger as he was dying. This is called, “A Color of the Sky.” [reads]

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
                   when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

This is the classic Tony Hoagland place for an epiphany, [laughs] “outside the youth center, between the liquor store and the police station”—you know something good’s going to happen. [laughs, reads]

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

So, that’s Tony Hoagland chasing falling blossoms [laughs] scented with—in his case it’s between the police station and the youth justice center. [laughs] So you see, you can be wandering in the hills anywhere at all. 

So I have some other things to say, but I think what I’d like to do is get another voice in the room—or two—and see what other people are thinking, and reacting to the koans. And I’m not sure who’s on the—I’ve been trying to meditate rather than scrolling through and seeing who’s here—because I feel universes, we’re all here. Allison Atwill, I know is here, so I’m going to call on her. Do you have anything to say, Allison?

Allison Atwill Roshi: Well, I’ve been—we have a tremendous amount of bird activity on the property—and in the last few days, we’ve had this battle going on, between a pair of red-shouldered hawks—which are these magnificent, really fierce characters—[laughs] and a local pair of jays—blue jays—the ones with the sort of top hat, and the deep, deep blue. And I don’t know what’s going on between them, but the hawks have been landing on the barn, and the jays have been dive-bombing them with this kind of incredible courage. And then the hawks swoop down, and in my mind, I think they’re trying to get to the nest of the jays and steal their babies. So I was thinking, “It should not be thus.” [laughs] 

And I was on the side of the jays, and I thought that the red-shouldered hawks were the dastardly characters in this battle. But then this morning I look out, and the pair of the hawks—the red-shouldered hawks—are next to each other on a branch, and you almost never see hawks close to each other, they’re always solitary. And the jay has taken the—is swooping around and attacking, and then I see that actually the red-shouldered hawks had built a nest, and they’re mating. And then suddenly my allegiance switched, [laughs] and I was for the hawks, and I thought the jays were the culprits. And then you read that line from the Tony Hoagland poem, about “what I thought to be an injustice turned out to be the color of the sky”—and it was like that. The translucence of what I thought was reality—my opinions—turned out to be the color of the sky.

John: Thanks. Taking sides in the bird world. [laughs] Jon Joseph, I think you’re here, you were here?

Jon Joseph Roshi: Hi, yeah. Um—you were talking about finding, sort of, light and spaciousness inside of darkness. And I’ve thought a lot about that lately. In talking with some people, they feel a little guilty because it’s so beautiful outside. The sun is shining, and they’re enjoying this beautiful spring. But anyway, I sent out a note a few days ago, and I got a response from an old Zen friend. And it’d been a long time since I’d heard from him. And he’s an emergency room doctor, and it’s interesting—because his response was almost like a koan response.

The note was about falling and flying, and he says, “Thanks, Jon, love this. Hope you’re all well.”  And then in the next line—sort of, I think—tells us where he is, where he says, “I appreciate all you are doing.” And I think he’s not just talking about me—but, I think—about PZI. And just that line is telling me that his heart is very, very open. And he says, “I’ve been at the hospital, dealing with the virus, falling every day, but learning a lot and trying to have a little fun along the way.” [laughs] Which just made me feel—you know, he’s falling a lot—he’s in a world of sickness and death, and probably coolers out back where they’re stacking up bodies. And he’s falling a lot, but he’s learning a lot, and trying to have a little fun along the way. So, I really love that note. To me it was really very much finding spaciousness and light, even in the most dark of places. Thanks.

John: Yeah, that’s it, isn’t it? A little while ago, you told me you’d been dreaming a lot about the virus. I didn’t know if you’re still dreaming—do you just dream pictures of the virus or are there, like, plot lines?

JJ: [laughs] It takes very many forms. Sometimes it’s like—one time I got this big shipment of PPE—you know, the masks and the gowns, and the like. So that was a great relief, because then I could distribute. But then along with the PPE, came about a half dozen sick people, you know [laughs] —and then I got a little angry. Because now I have to deal with the sick people plus the PPE. But then it was okay, and I helped distribute the PPE—but there’s always kind of the sense of the virus in the background, you know. And not always a threat, but just always very much present.

John: That’s beautiful—I think that’s that whole thing about “kill yourself with heat,” too. It’s like we always have to get inside things to be helpful, not just ship off masks [laughs] and ignore the sick people. Beautiful thing.

JJ: Yeah.

John: Well, thank you. Sarah Bender, I saw you were on here. Anything you want to say?

Sarah Bender Roshi: Um—yeah, yes. I was really struck by those lines—I might not have it exactly right, but—“Without desire, you see the mystery. And in desire, you see the manifestation.” I have really been noticing how those two things run along together. It’s not an either/or—but that, especially, I think keenly, in this time for me—the odd sensation of noticing how they’re both present at the same time.

John: Can you give an example?

SB: Talking with my sister every day—sometimes it’s…she’s living alone in a little apartment in the Boston area, and she’s meeting this confinement and the discomforts of it, and the uncertainties of it. So we talk, and I say mine and she says hers. And she sent me a packet of little seeds to sprout on the kitchen counter. And so I notice, as we’re talking, that—just that—the beauty of her is present throughout, and the mystery of being sisters halfway across the country, and how our lives have brought us here. It’s something about knowing someone for that long. And then at the same time, the desires that arise for her to be well, and not get this virus—which would be hard for her to live through, I think—and the desire for her to just be well in all the ways. So there’s both the mystery of all that is going on—that sort of whole great sphere of just being with my sister, you know? [laughs] How big that is already, and there’s also the presence of the desire. Yeah, that’s as close as I can get.

John: Good enough. [laughs] Thanks, that’s great. Yeah, that mystery of, like—the thing we’re trying to get rid of, actually, we don’t need to get rid of. Because the idea that we need to get rid of what we love, and even what torments us, you know—somehow it too is the gateway. Your worry for your sister—good you’re worried for your sister! [laughs] Like that. So, that’s part of the freedom of the meditation, freedom of awakening. David Weinstein?

David Weinstein Roshi: Yeah, thank you. I noticed that I think the koan was saying that I was rushing or hurrying back from catching the falling flowers. And I noticed I did not want to rush or hurry, and I found myself remembering how yesterday I spent time bagging up zafus and zabuton in heavy-duty garbage bags from Rockridge, and stacking folding chairs in the storage space in our basement—remembering how, seven years ago, we went out smelling the fragrant grasses of spring, when we carried them into Rockridge from our previous place. As I was putting them away downstairs, the fragrance was incense—the fragrance of those falling flowers. And it was comforting, as I sat with the koan, to feel the rhythm of the natural progress from spring, through summer, into fall—and appreciate that there is another spring coming, and the scent of grasses will be here again. Thank you.

John: Thanks, very good. Yeah, that thing about how the light, that illumination, is inside everything, you know is…and in a way, that’s the spring. The idea that—in the tradition, the idea, you know—autumn—autumn is peace, peaceful, the stillness of autumn. You know, that thing that happens—you know when you feel like the whole season’s not moving, before the storms come, and the rains, and things like that—the autumn. And that’s often thought of as the deep states of meditation, a metaphor. But then the Zen thing says, [reads]

Though you find clear waters ranging out all the way to the vast blue skies of autumn, how can that compare with the hazy moon of a spring night?

Some people want it pure white, but sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.

So the Bodhisattva path is, “Ride the horse the way it’s going.” [laughs] And you can tell, it’s trusting life. Trusting all the things—the wandering, all the different realms we pass through. So, I want to do a little bit more meditation and, you know—that thing I said about “Try a little bit less hard!” [laughs] like, “Quick, don’t get ready!” was another one of our sayings. Maybe, you know, meditation is not separate enough from… It’s all the heart-mind unfolding, and the beauty of life, and the love of life unfolding in us. So—[rings bell]

And—perhaps, indeed—we have to make the contribution we make, and perhaps to make the contribution of, “Just letting everything fall away.” That’s a practice. If we’re here for something—[it’s] to let life have us. To enjoy it, to trust it, and welcome it. [recites]

I went out following the scented grasses and came back chasing falling blossoms.

That’s what I did with this life. [laughs] I went out following scented grass and came back chasing falling blossoms. 

Jordan McConnell: [plays guitar]

John: [narrates] I went out following the scented grasses, the fragrant grasses, all through the hills and then down along the creek, the path across the meadow, climbing over the fence. And I came back chasing the falling blossoms. And that’s all I did with this life. Chasing falling blossoms, hearing the birds. [rings bell]

So, um—that’s it, isn’t it? That we can have delight, we can have some space, we can have some fun in the midst of everything. The great Szymborska has a poem— Wislawa Szymborska, the great Polish poet—she has a poem in which she apologizes for having a good time in the midst of war and starvation. [laughs] Although she went through all that herself, you know—and, because it becomes a sacred obligation, there’s nothing self-indulgent about it. I think it’s just, like—there’s a great purity about not clinging to the things that rise in the mind, and just keeping wandering through. 

So, I wish you that in the coming week. And notice that we have meditation every night, pretty much—except Saturdays—with wonderful teachers, some of whom you heard speak today. So, tune in. I find I do—for me, in a way—because somehow, then, I feel the whole of the spring—the whole joy and sorrow of the world, like, running through me like the dogwood tree, “losing its mind with blossom.” It’s not a bad way to live. [laughs] Do a meditation if you can, it will help. [laughs] And also, if you want to donate money to us, we’ll be thrilled—grateful —and put it to good use. We’re the “Little Engine that Could,” as an organization. We do a lot with very little, and work hard, and we’ll be grateful for that. 

What we’re going to do now is the “four vows,” and yeah—it’s a grand thing! Thank you for coming. It’s good to be here in the temple together—it could be worse. [laughs] Okay, “four vows!” [rings bell]

SB: [sings] “The Four Boundless Vows”, 

Amaryllis Fletcher: [plays violin], SB: [sings the four vows four times, with bells]

I vow to wake the beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartache to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way

SB: [rings bell], AF: [plays violin]

John: Thank you, everyone. It’s a grand thing.

(Thank you, Jordan in Winnipeg, and Amaryllis in Denver, and the other band member, and Sarah in Colorado Springs, and Allison, and Dave Weinstein, and whoever else—who did I leave out?)

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