A friend of mine went to Harvard as an undergraduate. Actually, she went to Radcliffe College because at that time Harvard only accepted men, but that was an achievement because Radcliffe didn’t take too many Jewish students. She finished and went on with her life, and about ten years later applied for a job through a headhunting firm. They looked over her resume, unimpressed by her early years.
“But I went to Harvard,” she pointed out.
“Yes,” said the interviewer, “but then you had potential.”
Now, 10 years later, there was no more potential.
She and I met last night for dinner, years after she told me this story, many years after the job interview. Were there changes? Of course. Physical and mental constraints, the food so-so. But sparkle in the eyes and sparks of conversation leading nowhere and everywhere. No automatic moaning and groaning over January 6 hearings, no headshaking about what will happen in the midterms, what will happen in the elections. Instead, an exchange of looks that pose the same excited question: So what now?
Sometimes, in these gorgeous June days in New England, I feel that question all by my lonesome. Headlines blare that all Lower 48 states (what a funny phrase!) are baking, but that’s not true. Here it’s warm and breezy, hemlock and spruce leaves loving the sun, dancing with the breeze.
Do I feel at peace? Yeah, but not as some nice, superficial layer. The stirrings of the leaves invigorate the stirrings in the heart. It’s a subtle process, you don’t know what, if anything, comes out of this, maybe nothing at all, and you can’t be too ambitious. You have to just sit with it and harbor those stirrings much like the phoebe sits on the eggs in the mailbox. Does it know for certain that they’ll hatch? Does it have hopes or expectations? Maybe neither; all it really needs is patience.
Slowly I go through Bernie’s notes of his early koan study with his teacher, Maezumi Roshi. He wrote them out in handwritten notes in soft pencil (somewhat faded now) on lined paper:
“December 26 1970 5:30 am.
The koan: At the bottom of the deep ocean there is a stone. Bring it up without wetting your sleeve.
BAG [Bernard Alan Glassman]: I became a stone.
Roshi: Yasutani Roshi used to explain this koan by diving down quickly into the ocean, swimming fast to the bottom, bringing up the stone and presenting it to the student. The important thing is in the stone. Everything is one.
12/28/70 5:30 am.
Koan: The name of the maker of the stone is hidden in the stone. What is the name?
BAG: Examining the stone, I found the name: Tetsugen [Bernie’s dharma name.]
Roshi: That’s right.
12/30/70 5:30 am
On the stone is written the phrase, Not wet. What does this mean?
BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore it is not wet.
Roshi: That’s right. This is called the wisdom of equality. Everything is Dharmakaya and yet everything is different. To see this clearly is the goal of our training.
12/30 8:30 am
On the stone is written the phrase, Not dry. What does this mean?
BAG: Although the stone and water are one, there is stone and there is water. Therefore, the stone is not dry.
Roshi: You have the point, but you do not see it clearly. Look again, considering the wisdom.
1/4/71 5:30 am
BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore not wet and also not dry.
Roshi: Look at it from the standpoint of the functioning of wisdom.
1/6/71 5:30 am
BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore there is no wet or dry. Seeing the functioning of wisdom, there is a difference between stone and water. Therefore, not dry.
Roshi: What is the water? What makes the stone wet?
1/8/71 5:30 am
BAG: I am the water. I make the stone wet. Basically, the stone and water are me.
Roshi: This should be considered from the standing of compassion. The functioning of wisdom is compassion. The enlightened one feels the world’s pain as his child’s pain, as his own pain.”
I sit with this exchange for a long time.
What reverberates in my mind? You have the point, but you do not see it clearly. Also, I am the water, I make the stone wet.
Also, the hour of the day when so many of these exchanges took place. At that time Bernie lived an hour away from the Center. I imagine that meditation began at 5 am, interview with Maezumi Roshi at 5:30. He left his home every day at 4 not to miss one opportunity.
Also, the interplay of wisdom and compassion. Even as in later years,Bernie worked his head off (and worked our heads off) in works and projects benefiting homeless families and people with HIV, for him compassion was as basic as sweating when you’re hot, shivering when you’re cold.
I see the leaves outside waving in the wind, compassion at work, and think of him.
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