It’s now less than a week since dharma transmission took place, recognizing two new lineage holders in the gorgeous Green River Zen Center in Western Massachusetts; it feels like a world and age away.
Temperatures outside are in the high 60s and the sun in Jerusalem is a lot closer to the families, in Sabbath finery, walking from the synagogue back home for the Sabbath lunch. The sunshine glare bounces off the tall windows, so white I can’t see through them. The frigid blue air in Montague, always icy when skies are clear, feels far, far away. I sleep late because I fall asleep only around 2 or 3 in the morning, something I never do back home, and I benefit from the Sabbath hush that descends on this part of Jerusalem from Friday to Saturday evenings.
I think of one of the chants invoked by the two new teachers during the retreat:
Good people, carefully make an effort in the Way and meticulously practice. Do not base understanding on texts, nor discern the spiritual on the basis of ordinary understanding. Smash such distinctions as heaven and earth, worldly and holy, and personal and environmental karmic consequences. Even if you move back and forth between the past and the future, there will not be a shred of obstruction. Even if you exit and enter above to enlightenment and below in service of living beings, there will not be an atom of difference. Paint divisions on empty space and raise waves on the flat earth. Thoroughly see the Buddha’s’ face and thoroughly experience awakening and your bright original Mind.
Paint divisions on empty space. In this relaxed Shabbat morning, I still see how conditioned I and others here are by our identities, which often cause divisions. The radio in the background continually interviews people to get their opinion on the matzav, the situation, pouring the fuel of conjecture, suspicion, doubts, trauma, and opinion on the fires burning both inside and out.
I want to leave that enclave and find the empty space that contains everything, including divisions. Part of me wants to go to the desert in the south, down to the Dead Sea whose hotels we’re not frequenting this time because they’re full of refugee families from areas around the Gaza border to the south and the Lebanon border to the north.
I can’t go down there, but I don’t have to. Empty space is everywhere, including in the bright yellow picture my niece painted so many years ago of sunflowers falling over a yellow vase hung on the wall across from where I sit. Such a space doesn’t need my six senses to be recognized or experienced.
Raise waves on the flat earth. Jerusalem is full of hills. Usually, you’re either walking up or walking down, much of the time doing both. Last night, Ruth, my sister, and I discuss our brother walking over for dinner, then walking back home (he’s orthodox so he won’t drive).
“Getting here for dinner is the hard part,” she says. “At least it’ll be downhill when he goes back home.”
“First it’s downhill,” I remind her, “but to get back to his home on Palmach St. he has to go uphill again.” Years ago, I’d do the same walk when visiting my parents on Saturdays.
Downhill and uphill. No avoiding them, not in this city.
I ask if it’s okay to go into the Old City because there had been stabbings there over the past few months. I love going there, not just to buy beautiful ceramics or smell Biblical spices, but because in that cluttered, crowded, cramped space full of old stone buildings and hundreds of stalls, your face enveloped by the folds of long Arab dresses on sale and hanging above the passageways where you walk down steep, primordial steps, the narrow, cool alleys curving between the stones—there is empty space. It’s there between the Haredi Jewish men in their black hats and coats hurrying to the Western Wall for prayers, in the black robes of Greek Orthodox monks hurrying to the Holy Sepulcher, and the jeans crowd of young men and women—Arab and Israeli alike–talking loudly to their phones.
So many waves crashing on the flat earth, so many divisions in empty space. Endless, endless landscape going everywhere, even as so much of the time we cling to the tiny stories told by a tinny radio voice coming from the bedroom in back.
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