It’s a very strong thing to be human, you can be subjected to all sorts of great forces. And sometimes you can win through, and sometimes you die. But we’re all of us doing that, all the time. So I was thinking about how good it is to love each other, to meet each other, and to make peace in our hearts. Sunday talk with John Tarrant, recorded June 14 2020.
We’re just backstage hanging out. Waiting for the universe to reveal itself. Doing nothing. Sitting silently, doing nothing. Maybe we’ll just begin, while people are ticking on, you know the little wheels are bringing us on. We’ll just sit a bit. Doing nothing at the center of everything. Harmonizing with the universe. [bell]
So welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming. It’s one of the great things we can do in tumultuous times, is sit. Meditate. And have some kind of peace in our hearts for whatever we’re doing in the world. And sometimes just holding a place to sit is what we can do, or is enough, or it’s the right thing. That’s sort of what I’m doing, really. Other times we can sit and just take the clarity and empathy of that out into the world. And some of you are doing that.
So, feeling the time. Kind of like sorrow and difficulty and hope. I just read—Bob Dylan just gave an interview that I read in Rolling Stone and he was asked about mortality and how he feels about it. And he said, “Well, I’m not really worried about mortality for me, I’m worried about it for human beings.” And he wanted to talk about the Sands Creek massacre in Colorado, which was something before slavery happened. It was sort of touching to hear what he was concerned about and feeling, oh, I do notice that myself. Life and death don’t seem that different. That there’s the coming and going. Getting born and dying, when will you stop, you know. So there’s a certain sense of humor about the way that we come into the world and we live between and then we go out. Where do we go? Into another between. We go back into the greatness of it all. But we are always a part of the greatness of it all. So there is that. That each molecule of the universe contains the universe and that that includes us.
A couple of things coming on. I notice that over a long course of practice I’ve had different phases of meditation, and today I want to talk some about our time and I want to talk some about meditation and what its value is, because I think it’s a precious thing. And it’s something we can do no matter what our circumstance. If we’re dying and can’t speak, meditation’s still there. If we’re just born in a certain way, the universe is just holding us and doing the meditation for us.
I remember when I first started meditation—you know I learned to meditate in the forests and mountains in Australia, and in a way they taught me because I had to go out there and stop doing things with my mind, which actually I wasn’t capable of stopping doing. But eventually the forest, the lake just cleared by itself, the lake of the mind. Then when I was working—I had this passion for indigenous land rights in Australia and I was working for that. I noticed that that’s where I learned meditation in action because I noticed that because otherwise I was so consumed with sorrow and rage that I wasn’t very effective.
In fact, everyone was so consumed with sorrow and rage that everyone was always getting into fights all the time. I thought, one thing I can do, I can not do that. You’d be in a room with everybody scheming and plotting and giving speeches, and whatever else people were doing—getting drunk, fighting with each other. Not that I objected to any of that, but I could somehow not get tangled with it. You’ll notice that this is the great old charm, the great old solution: Try not to get tangled with things so much.
There’s a certain modesty about that. What we can do in this life is what we’re deeply called to do. Faced with the beauty and the sorrow of the world, we won’t know what to do immediately. If we have some kind of openness and peace in our hearts, the universe, in a way, uses us and comes through us and out of us. So it’s like that … it comes through us, it holds us, in a way. We are, we are just the hands and the eyes of the universe. I like that. And then I thought, wow, I like this meditation stuff but I can tell I’m really caught by everything that comes into my mind. I kept believing what’s in my mind, and things like that. Getting enraged or getting grief-stricken. Nothing wrong with that but it seemed to take up a lot of bandwidth.
So, then I decided I’d try to get enlightened. That seemed like a good thing—I’d heard of it. Actually, before that I’d just heard of meditation instruction and didn’t know anything about meditation, but just knew I wanted to do it. I decided to work with koans and concentrate. The style at that time was to just have no other thought but the koan—the one word of the koan. Sort of let my mind fill itself with the koan, and naturally my mind wasn’t very good at that. So then I had a long sense of failure about what was happening in my mind until at some stage I realized that the sense of failure itself was just something else happening in my mind, and I didn’t need to worry about it. It was just an opinion, inherited no doubt from ancient days.
That was kind of good and the beginning of compassion. The compassion for what happens in one’s own mind and what happens in other people’s mind, and therefore for the things they do, is a profound thing in Chan. That’s why the temples in the old days were places of refuge during a war. Sometimes they got burned or things like that but when—the great story that [PZI Roshi] Sarah Bender told the other day, that when in Kamakura the city got burned but all the fire and destruction had spread to the neighboring villages. What the temples could do was take in the villagers and feed them and everybody would work together on the land to feed people.
And so there was that kind of attitude of trying to have a place of refuge and calm—a green glade, we’d have called it here. A way to appreciate the sacredness and the sanctity of this moment. That’s a beautiful thing. Then I had whatever experiences I had with the koan. Somebody asked me to be a teacher, to teach zen one day in the middle of a retreat. For reasons still not clear to me I said yes and so that determined the rest of my life. I thought I was just saying yes to a day of teaching. But here I am.
Recently I’ve been thinking of those very early times when I really worked with my mind in a very disciplined way. Just the koan. I’ve noticed that when I wake up in the morning, the four great vows are with me. Partly it’s because we’ve been attending a lot of meditation, going most nights. I try to sit when I can. It’s a great thing. I found that that’s what appears and for me it’s the second vow particularly. “I vow to set endless heartache to rest.” In a way—there are a lot of things to say about that. There are things to do. Shelter people who need shelter. Also, there’s an inner path with that, where we realize the whole universe is this vast being. The old teachers used to think of it as a golden-haired lion on the tip of every hair was a galaxy. And on the tip of the tip of the tip…there’s us. I liked the modesty of that and also the inclusiveness.
And we can feel the truth of that if you look at the night sky and you feel yourself falling up into the stars. Or if you look at grass and the insects and the bees. I was watching a big black bumblebee carefully going over her pot of flowers and just taking every little bit of lavender pollen that it could get. And then five minutes later, along comes a hummingbird to exactly the same flowers. It’s like, oh, they’re all us. With the hummingbird, with the lavender, with the sky. Another image for the totality was that it’s a brocade. That we are part of—when we wake up and see our true place in the universe, it’s as if we had stepped out of the painting and then were willing to step back into it. We go back into the brocade. So then we have our true place in the universe. We can see, oh, we’re being held by these vast forces. We’re not different from them, we’re not separate from them. So, that’s to say.
Another thing that sort of struck me recently, was sort of the intimacy of things. I like the fact that whenever I look in my mind and I reach for a thought, actually what I get is one of the four vows. I was looking for a thought, and I got that. It’s sort of nice. It shows that my meditation practice is doing me, rather than me doing it. Which is always nice.
I remember a story that Rilke, the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke told after the horrible First World War where people were just massacred by the millions, bodies stacked up. Then he came back to Paris, he’d lived in Paris, been a secretary to Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. Then after the war, he’d written some marvelous poems but they’d sort of gone into abeyance. Then, after the war, he came back to Paris and he found the same humble, small people. They’d survived the war. They’re still selling flowers on the street corner or they’re blind and they’re still singing, or they’re holding out their cup on the same street corner. And he was very moved by the humbleness of life and the parisian flower seller
of the humbleness of life. Something I wanted to say, you know, that’s really important. And that every piece of the world and every being in the world is alive with some kind of illumination.
And so the tenderness of things and the fragility and the tenderness is very present, I think, and I notice in my dreams and memories and people I knew long ago or people who are dead now—they appear. I feel a welcoming quality towards them. I knew people who had been in that First World War and had been gassed and things like that. I grew up with people who had been in the Second World War and had been tortured and had been on the Burma Road and things like that. Very strong thing to be human, you can be subjected to all sorts of great forces. And sometimes you can win through, and sometimes you die. But we’re all of us doing that, all the time. So, I was thinking about friendship and how good it is to love each other and how good it is to have friends and to make peace in our hearts to meet each other.
This is Li Bai, the great Chinese poet, of the Tang Dynasty. “Seeing Off A Friend.” His friend is the great Du Fu. The two greatest poets of Chinese history.
Green mountains lie across the outskirts of the city,
white water winds around the eastern city walls.
Once we make our parting here in this place,
like a solitary tumbleweed, you will go
ten thousand miles.
Floating clouds are the thoughts of the wanderer,
setting sun is the mood of my old friend.
With the wave of the hand now you go from here,
your horse gives a whinny as it departs.
That’s the great Li Bai. And here’s his friend, thinking of him later. “Dreaming of Li Bai,” in this poem this is Du Fu. What happened to Li Bai, and dreaming of Li Bai—in this poem. This is Du Fu. What happened to Li Bai—who was fairly often in trouble for not keeping his mouth shut, basically. It just wasn’t his strength. He was a wonderful poet and he just sang and said what he wanted and wrote what he wanted. He’d have to apologize. Then he got exiled to the far south and there was more sickness and things like that. This was the person who set off with his horse giving a whinny.
Dreaming of Li Bai
Death at least gives separation repose,
without death its grief only sharpens. (So, he doesn’t know about his friend.)
You drift malarial south lands beyond the Yangtze’s distances,
and I hear nothing, exiled friend.
Knowing I think of you always now,
you visit my dreams, my heart frightened.
It isn’t a living spirit I dream.
Fathomless miles, you’ve come so far from bright Asia green maples,
night shrouds pass when you return.
Entangled as you are in the nets of the war,
with what birds wings could you fly?
Flooding this room to the roof beams, the moon sinks.
You linger in its light.But the water’s deep and into long swirls, dark dragons.
Take good care, my friend.
He’s pretty sure his friend is dead but he says, “Take good care, my friend.” He’s still here in his dreams. I guess I wanted to do another little thing on friendship. This is actually about love. This is Czeslaw Milosz, the great Polish poet. I think it was translated by Robert Haas with Milosz.
Love means to learn to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things
for you’re only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals their heart
without knowing it from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to them ‘friend’.
Then they want to use themself and things
so that they stand in the glow of rightness.
It doesn’t matter whether you know what you serve.
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
The great impartial quality of love and intimacy.
The other thing that really has struck me—here’s an old meditation instruction used as a koan in the Book of Serenity [Case 45] and it was a sutra. The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, the sutra says, “Don’t give rise to delusive thoughts.” Sure, ok. “When delusive thoughts do arise, don’t try to get rid of them.” Mmm … ok. “When you find yourself in a realm of delusive thought, don’t add explanation to knowledge.” When you don’t know about a realm of delusive thought, don’t jump to the conclusion that that’s the truth either. You can tell that this is one of those great things like, “There’s no true foundation to rely on, we all rest walking on emptiness.”
We’re walking on light really, I suppose, but light doesn’t really hold us up or solidify things. So, don’t give rise to delusive thoughts but as soon as you say ok that immediately gives rise to delusive thoughts. Then don’t try to get rid of them. So, you can see there’s a sense of humor about this, that they’re all empty anyway. And when you find yourself in a realm of delusive thought, don’t start explaining it to yourself. Don’t add knowledge, it says, but you know how annoying it is the way the mind explains itself and justifies itself—”Well, the way I felt that way was … or the reason was this that and the other,” or “The real solution to the current crisis is …” You just know that you yourself are going to disagree with everything else in there. So, don’t add delusive thoughts.
We’re going to sit a bit, I’m going to give you a koan to sit with. We’re going to get two koans today. But here’s the first one coming up, ok? [bell]
Who is hearing?
Who is a bell?
Who is a sound?
Just feeling, what is it like being you?
Even though you know what a you is or what a me is. What is it like here. What flows through. What is the universe doing with me at this moment? What is my true destiny here at this moment? It’s all in the sound. What is that sound? The only thing over and over—one of the greatest things you’ll find meditation does is you notice that, oh, just don’t find fault, don’t attack what comes up in the mind. And then freedom will appear. And it’s not just freedom. You’re not making a war to make a “me.” You’re not making a you or a self or a me by conflict, usually with oneself. Whatever comes up, not to find fault and to just return to the koan and here’s the koan:
In Japan long ago a great minister called Yu Di asked a master who was called Xi Yu Daotang about a line in the scripture. So the minister, a high government official, asked the master about a line in the scripture.
“What is meant by ‘Because of unfortunate circumstances, fierce winds blew the ship off course and set it drifting toward the land of the flesh-eating demons?’”
Rakshasas, they call them. They are demons whose existence is to eat human beings.
“What is meant by ‘Because of unfortunate circumstances, fierce winds blew the ship off course and set it drifting toward the land of the Rakshasas?’”
And the master replied, “Minister, why are you so ignorant? Why are you asking about that?” And the minister’s face turned white.
And the master said, “Because of unfortunate circumstances, fierce winds blew them off course and set them adrift toward the land of the flesh-eating demons.”
And the minister understood.
Just let yourself keep company with that story without necessarily trying to sort it out too much. What happens when the ship is blown off course toward the land of the flesh-eating demons? There is a secret laughter inside this koan. And you know peace is not something I’m very good at manufacturing. But if I stop sailing toward the land of the flesh-eating demons, peace just takes care of itself. So, it’s good when I realize that there are larger forces than me that I’m depending on. The other great thing is, it’s not just to get rid of the drifting toward the land of the demons, it’s that even those forces are themselves the gate. It’s like, “I’m reaching for the light, please help me. Never mind the light, give me the reaching.” I’m drifting toward the land of the demons, please help me—give me the drifting. What is it like? Even that drifting. The vast peace and spaciousness, the kindness. When suddenly, you can’t find the land of demons even if you’re looking. [bell]
Okay. There we go. The land of the flesh-eating demons. A bit of a high wire act for the zen teacher allowing his patron to get in, who could certainly harm him a lot. His patron could get enraged in order to teach him koans. This is what it feels like, as opposed to explaining it.
The other thing I wanted to refer to is friendship. It came to mind to read you another story. This is a great man called Primo Levi, whom I’m sure you must know. He wrote a book called, If This Is A Man, which was translated as Survival in Auschwitz in the US. He was Italian and was in the Resistance, and he was betrayed and picked up and he also was Jewish, which was another significant problem at the time during the war. He ended up in Auschwitz but he actually survived, through luck. Also he was a remarkable, luminous person. He has this passage I want to read you where he’s got a friend who’s got this very minor official position like getting soup from the kitchen and bringing it back for the laborers in the camp, and who then gets him to help. So they have all the usual hazards of a concentration camp. [reads]
“Halt, attention. Take off your beret. Filthy brutes.”
That sort of thing going on from the wandering German soldiers. But his friend has arranged it so that they’ll walk with the buckets of soup to the kitchen, but they’ll walk the long way around where they’ll look really busy. But they’ll have a long stroll and they’ll be able to have a conversation which is an incredible luxury. So they can be friends for the time it takes them to walk there. And then a spy comes by and his friend says he would like to learn Italian. He doesn’t know Italian and he is very fluent in French and German and languages are easy but he doesn’t know Italian and he would like to know. It’s a way for them to be friends where Primo Levi can teach him Italian. Then the spy comes by and his friend repeats, just says aloud some words in Italian, just this gobbledygook to put the spy off. To indicate they’re not actually talking about anything.
“We quicken our pace, the spy passes, we quicken our pace. One never knows, he does evil for evil’s sake. But I’m thinking, how to teach my friend. I’m thinking of the Canto of Ulysses. Who knows how or why it comes to my mind, but we have no time to change. This hour is already less than an hour. If Gene is intelligent, he’ll understand, he’ll understand today I feel capable of so much.”
Who is Dante? So he’s going to teach him Italian by teaching this mythical text, the Divine Comedy, most of which is in his mind. But not all of it.
“What is comedy? That curious sensation of novelty which one feels if one tries to explain briefly what is the Divine Comedy. How the inferno, the hell section, is divided up. What are it’s punishments? Virgil is Reason, Beatrice is Theology. Gene pays great attention and I begin slowly and accurately. Then of that age-old fire the loftier horns of fire (the people in hell were flames) began to mutter and move as a wavering flame. Wrestles against the wind and is overworn.”
And then I stop and I try to translate, disastrous poor Dante and poor French. All the same, the experience seems to promise well. Admires the poor simile of the tongue of flame and suggests the appropriate word to translate “age-old”. And after, when I came, nothing. A hole in my memory, before Aeneas ever named it so, another hole. A fragment floats into my mind not relevant, even correct. So, on the open sea I set forth. “Oh, Piccolo, I can point out why I set forth”, is to be translated a certain way. It’s very strong and audacious, it’s a chain which has been broken, it is throwing oneself on the other side of the barrier. We know the impulse well, the open seas. Piccolo has traveled by sea and knows what it means. It is when the horizon closes in on itself—free straight ahead and simple. There is nothing but the smell of the sea.”
And then, ah, the open sea, I know that well. And then he says, “I don’t want to tell it in prose, I must remember the verse.” And then he remembers the section where Ulysses is in hell and gets interviewed and he gathers his men, he says,
“At the end of his life he gathered his men and set out beyond the Pillars of Hercules, out of the Mediterranean, to find out what was there. And his ship sank and he ended up in hell.”
Meanwhile, he’s got this great spirit of adventure and he says to his sailors,
“Think of your origins, think of your begettings”, (simensor is the Italian word), “think of your origin, you were not made to live like brutes but to follow after knowledge and excellence.”
And it’s one of those things like, Oh, even though he’s in hell, he’s saying something marvelous and it lifts the spirits in Auschwitz, you know.
“Piccolo begs me to repeat it. How good Piccolo is. He is aware it is doing me good. Also, perhaps it is more. Perhaps, despite the bad translation, despite the pedestrian, rushed commentary, he has received the message. He feels that it has to do with him, it has to do with all who toil with us in particular, and it has to do with us too, who dare to reason of these things with the poles with soup on our shoulders.”
So, that’s another example of friendship, I think. That in the worst circumstances, you think of the great things and you share them together. You think of the great matters and you share what is deeply in your heart. So the other kind of friendship thing, from popular culture that is in my mind today is that, I read—I’m sure other people saw this—LeBron James, the great player, he put on Twitter this great tweet, “Why Doesn’t America Love Us!?” with question marks and exclamation marks and sorrowing emoji’s and prayers and strength and fists and things. It was very touching, and his hashtags were “We’re all we got.” Yes. “Head high and stay strong,” was the other hashtag. And, “Why doesn’t America love us?” seems a good question. A wonderful question, and I feel in my heart a love for him and love for everyone who’s suffering.
But particularly—I could make a cheap joke about that and say I’m a Warriors fan, how to love LeBron—but that’s not it, actually. I feel such love for him that he’s doing something and that he’s starting a voting-rights organization, and how marvelous that he too wants to be loved like we all do. And we can do that. The thing that comes, to hold people in our hearts with love is such a different thing from holding people coldly. Or not holding them. And to hold anybody in our heart with love. Somehow again it opens that spaciousness, a vastness that’s in every moment.
I have lots more to say and then we have another mediation to do. But before we do that, I thought I’d just bring on a couple of comments or questions or stuff from some of the teachers here. Tess [PZI Sensei Tess Beasley], would you like to say something?
Tess: Sure, a couple things, maybe. Your thing about friendship…for some reason what flashed in my mind was when I was a little girl, I used to love to go to haunted houses. Like, half the experience was huddling up with your friends and seeing if you could get through this thing. Feeling the bodies close around you and feeling the terror and the suspense and all the things together. And even if the danger wasn’t nearly as real as sailing off to the flesh-eating demons, it sort of felt that way. And, I don’t know…what you said about friendship is really touching. I can feel that right now, in my life, and in the friends of the actual people that I’m close to, but also the friendship of the flowers or the birds or the proximity or intimacy of what feels like this scary thing that’s happening.
And the second thing, I guess, is [that] the beautiful poems you were reading reminded me of something I was thinking about this morning—a Native American fiction book. There’s a line in there about the way that the songs carry the things that are too difficult or too heartbreaking to carry. The songs carry them for us. And the way that one of the things that feels sometimes hard right now is so much is focused on the problems. I love the piece on Bob Dylan because it’s like there are these pieces of art or culture kind of woven through what’s happening that are also carrying what is hard to carry for ourselves right now. So, maybe just that. Meditation is carrying things we can’t carry for ourselves right now.
John: Yes, and also sometimes you know, not carrying is carrying. I know I said this before but Nanao Sakaki, whose life was actually saved by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombs, but who spent his life as an activist against war as a result. Somebody asked him, “How do we survive?” Humans survive, you know, nuclear holocaust, whatever it is we’re doing to ourselves lately. And he said, “No need survive.” [sic] It’s like, the galaxy survives for us. And sometimes, if we can’t bear it, there’s no need to bear it. There’s something bigger than even bearing it. Sarah [PZI Roshi Sarah Bender], do you have anything to say?
Sarah: I’ve been thinking of the story of a little girl who had no friends, whatsoever, and had no parents, whose parents died in a cholera epidemic in India. She set off to the moors of England friendless, and not friendly. What really opens her heart is the friendship of a robin, discovering that the robin likes her. There are wonderful little descriptions about discovering that the robin likes her and just how miraculous that is. The power of that and what it opens up.
John: That’s beautiful thank you. Jon Joseph, do you have anything that you want to say?
Jon: Yeah, you know the background of the constant companion of death, and Bob Dylan and this covid time. So about a month ago, I had a video exam with my doctor and he said, “Well, you know you’ve got a history of melanoma and skin cancer is in your family, so be careful for that.” So, within a couple weeks I felt this bump on my head and I asked my wife to take a picture of it. She took a picture of it and it was pretty gnarly looking. And I sent it to him and my self-diagnosis was pretty much “99% advanced stage melanoma.” And I lived with that for like three days and with “What is this,” you know. I started up a conversation with my mother who had passed away about ten years ago. At any rate, he said, “Do you have any other pictures because what you sent me was completely ugly but benign.” I became a little angry because he was messing with my karma. My dialogue with my mother reminded me of a prison guard in the Bataan Death March, where in 1942 all these American prisoners and Australian prisoners hiked across the Philippines, and most of them died. The guard said, “It’s interesting because the Americans ask for the same things when they’re dying that we Japanese ask for when we’re dying. There’s so much death around on both sides. They ask for their mothers.” So that was a very sweet thing to remember, for me.
John: Thank you. Allison Atwill ?
Allison: This spring I’ve been watching the birds, and because I’ve been sequestered here, I’m not moving. For months and months I’m just not moving. And the birds—so I see the migration of these flocks of birds and different species of birds and coming to know them and coming to know them in a way I never have. And I was thinking about something you said about the large forces carrying us, forces larger than myself. How incredibly moving it is to me to think of these small birds, something in them being able to find their way. Being carried by some forces hundreds or thousands of miles and somehow knowing how to find their way. We still don’t understand migration. We still don’t know how they do it. And we don’t know how we do it.
I was thinking about how in the eighteenth century, before they knew anything about migration, they didn’t even know where birds went when they disappeared in different seasons. They had all these theories about it, like one—they didn’t even call themselves scientists, they called themselves natural philosophers. They thought that they would go into the mud, kind of like bury themselves into the mud kind of like amphibians do, and then reemerge in the spring.
But one of the things they began to notice is when they had some birds that were in cages. At a certain time of the year, at night, they would throw themselves against one place in the cage, always the same direction. And no matter where the birds were they would always be moving in that direction trying to get there. So that made me think of something in us knows the direction. We’re moved, the forces are moving through us in that same kind of mysterious way. I can see it in myself and I see it in other people, this movement towards our place in the mandala.
John: Thank you. What I’m going to do now is do another meditation, see how we do. This is like the other side of going to the Land of the Flesh-Eating Demons so let’s try that, see how we do. [bell]
The sound of the bell, you know, the ancient sound. From before time. From before thought. There was a student who asked a teacher, the teacher was Dalong—long means dragon, dragon teacher.
The student said, “This physical body perishes, decays. What is the imperishable, what is the hard and fast body of reality? What is the body that doesn’t decay? This physical body decays, what is the everlasting body of the real?”
And the teacher said, “Mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The valley streams run deepest indigo.”
Mountain flowers bloom like brocade. Valley streams run deepest indigo.
And just let any part of the koan, just let it into your heart and whenever you notice your mind is somewhere, just let the koan appear.
The mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The mountain streams run deepest indigo.
And if you’re grasping for a state of mind just have the grasping. If you’re criticizing yourself, don’t criticize that. We notice even in the criticism, there’s some movement toward the light. Mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The valley stream runs deepest indigo. Be very patient with yourselves, you know. Impatience is a way of finding fault with being here, with this. And perhaps you are already perfect, you’re already not wrong.
PZI Cantor Amaryllis Fletcher: [plays violin]
John: The mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The valley stream runs deepest indigo. The stars appear like brocade, the thoughts in our hearts are the brocade. We appear and go back into the brocade. The mountain flowers, the valley streams run deepest indigo. And in this moment … everything is here. The peace and the vastness and the light. Here in this moment, light! [bell]
Feeling the mountain flowers and the valley streams. And feeling the peace of being here with all the turmoil going on in the world. And feeling empathy and love for people in Atlanta and people in Oakland, and people right here, right now. Mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The valley stream runs deepest indigo.
Here’s Du Fu again—he’s the one who wrote the letter remembering his friend, and he saw his friend in a dream and thought perhaps he was a spirit now, which I think might have been true. Li Bai—somehow Li Bai came back and the emperor had changed and he came back into favor. And the emperor sent out a note asking for him to come and bring his brilliance back to the court but nobody knew where he was. And here’s Du Fu, himself faraway and somewhat in exile. [reads]
River blue, the birds seem whiter, mountains green,
flowers about to flame.
Spring, I see, has passed again.
What year will it be when I go home?
And here’s Li Bai saying farewell again to a friend. Li Bai sort of loved so strongly and part of it was always having to say goodbye to people. It seems to come with the deal of being human, being born. And loving. Having to set endless heartache to rest.
At Yellow Crane Tower Seeing Off Meng Haojan on His Way to Kuangling
[Kuangling is an old name for the city of Yanghzhou in China—Ed.]
My old friend bids farewell to me in the west at Yellow Crane Tower,
in April’s mist and flowers he goes down to Yangzhou.
The distant image of his lonely sail disappears in blue emptiness,
and all I see is the long river flowing to the edge of the sky.
So, it goes out into eternity, you know. Once again, to read Milosz’s poem:
Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things
for you are only one thing among many.
Whoever sees that way heals their heart,
knowing it from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to them “friend”
and then such a person wants to use themselves and things
so that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter if they know what they serve.
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
A couple of people have written to me recently about their animals dying. A friend, her cat died. And someone else’s beloved dog. The cat I know, actually. And how that kind of love, the love of an animal is love for the universe, really. It’s love for the particular buddha nature in all things, you know. I think, every night, a little fox, a little thin fox comes to the deck and we feed her. And that’s a tender thing somehow. We two, the fox and us, we two are in the same community. I was told one of the early Japanese zen teachers, Senzaki Nyogen, used to say “in the same nose-hole society.” We too have nostrils. And the same buddha nature right there. Little grey fox is always worried that the hawks are going to get her young or that the dogs will get them and then the bobcat comes through and she spends the whole night up barking trying to keep it off. And, you know—she’s just like us. I vow to wake the beings of the world. I vow to set endless heartache to rest.
Amaryllis, and Ryan, we have a new “four vows,” right? You can both unmute yourselves. I’ll unmute you, Ryan. Very good, go for it. Do you want me to do the bells?
Amaryllis: [sings] The Four Boundless Vows
Ryan: [plays guitar,sings] I vow to wake all the beings of the world…
John: Thank you, Ryan. So, every night we’re still holding zazen if that’s to your fancy. Come along to the temple, come along to pacificzen.org if you’d like to support us, we’re for that. So send us money, send us anything. Send us messages, send us love, send love to the world. Thank you so much everyone for coming. We have a retreat coming up, too. If you look on pacificzen.org, we’re doing a kind of three-ring circus with a whole bunch of wonderful teachers and ones you’re familiar with. We’ll be doing private interviews and talks and sitting in zendos together and just going through all that passionate release out of delusion into the beauty of life that happens during sesshin. So, being held by, as we say, forces greater than ourselves.
So come along and try it. Okay!
—John Tarrant Roshi
The Everlasting Body Runs Deepest Indigo: Meditation for Troubled Times
The Green Glade of Meditation Sunday Meditation & Dharma Talk, June 14 2020