Wednesday afternoon in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Tomorrow our retreat begins, ending on Sunday with a ceremony recognizing and honoring a new Zen teacher. Later that same day, on to Bern with friends, and on Monday there will be time for discussions about the Zen Peacemaker Order with co-spiritual director Jorge Koho Mello, who’ll arrive from Zurich. Later the next day, Tuesday, a return flight to Boston. If I’m not super exhausted when I arrive, I’ll drive home that same night.
Still in the same room overlooking St. Gallen, its big cathedral to the south, heavy clouds crossing beneath blue skies, reminding me of my day-to-day life, blue skies crisscrossed by gray clouds sometimes frequently, sometimes rarely, sometimes not at all. From Lori back home I hear that Aussie, who stepped on something long and sharp last Saturday, is still limping a bit and will miss out on some walks.
In the Sunday ceremony, I will ask my new successor, Franziska, to vow not to let the Buddha seed be discontinued. Not to let the realization of awakening, and more precisely, of being awakened, fade or even come to an end. She vows to carry it on, and I vow to support her no matter what.
Traditionally, this ceremonial exchange of vows takes place very privately late at night, dating back many centuries to a time when Buddhism was persecuted and new teachers had to be recognized in secret. But in this case we will do it in broad daylight in front of some 30 witnesses. And why not? We need all the help we can get. Perhaps the ceremony will inspire more people to take on the vow of awakening to the oneness of life, the One Body, not to let gray clouds mar our view of blue, infinite skies.
It’s easy to get discouraged when we look at the world. Violence, refugees, pandemic, climate change, etc. And then I remember that in China over a millennium ago, in the 8th century An Lushan Rebellion, two-thirds of the population died due to war, drought, and starvation. Historians say that’s approximately one-sixth of what was then the total world population.
In response, a few Chan masters began to develop new skillful means for how to awaken to the essence. Enough of purification rites, enough of texts and study. A treasure hides in every single moment of life, regardless of whether you judge it good or bad, full of hate or full of love. Can we see that?
To discover and walk through that gate—that was the work, that was the practice.
We’ve been laboring hard these past days, Franziska and me, studying and reviewing documents, looking at names going back a couple of millennia, planning the retreat and ceremony. It didn’t help that I arrived with a pinched nerve that sent bursts of pain up the left side of my back for two days. But this morning I woke up, got up, walked gingerly, and felt it was almost gone.
These are the days when you realize how many shoulders you’re standing on, that you’re being carried not by your own strength and willpower but by the energy of multitudes. My great hope is that those participating in the retreat and ceremony will see that they, too, are being carried forward, that so much has been given and done for their sake and on their behalf, that a great tapestry of mutual care was born before there was such a thing as birth and our job is to sew one more stitch, or even one-half of a stitch, in that unimaginable, timeless field.
We can do it however we choose. Franziska chose to do this by teaching, but we can do this by taking care of the garden, taking care of children, doing a good job. I couldn’t be here in St. Gallen if my sister wasn’t in Jerusalem, taking care of my mother.
From my window I see two hospitals in the center of town, and every once in a while, day and night, a helicopter lands on top of one of them delivering people who need care. At the same time, a giant crane circles round and round, raising and lowering blocks of cement to cover a tunnel that crosses the city. So much attention, so much care wherever I look.
The blog will be silent till early next week.
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