Diamond Sutra Fall 2020 practice period: Chapter 4

“The body of merit of those bodhisattvas who give a gift without being attached is not easy to measure.”

Once I was on Staten Island, getting ready to run the NYC Marathon on a cold November morning. I was sitting on a street curb, surrounded by thousands of other runners and, despite having dressed warmly to wait for the start, was shivering uncontrollably from mild hypothermia. Suddenly I felt something warm and heavy draped across my shoulders. I looked up to see that a man had draped a blanket over me. He gestured to me to keep it & melted back into the crowd.

I don’t remember what the blanket looked like – I had to ditch it at the start – but the look in his eyes of pure compassion and the way I felt when I realized what he had done is still here.

I never saw him again.

Diamond Sutra Fall practice period, chapters 1-3: summary

I come back again and again to the first chapter – the Buddha making his daily rounds, the simple rightness of what is described. Like Ed Gōshin said, everything after Chapter 1 is commentary.  The Buddha’s quiet daily example from thousands of years ago opens a dialogue stretching into every part of our lives today, and beyond. But it is his example that is the real teaching.

It seems to be a matter of rediscovering and liberating that same moment-to-moment rightness in myself. Supposedly it’s there. But witnessing it in others is what opens the door. How are they who they are? Envy leading to inquiry. Have to start somewhere.

But it brings up another question: how do I know if I have what they have? What if I’m wasting my time?

And the more I witness the wearing out and countless failings of the human body, the more I find myself encountering yet another question: how should I die?

And, as Phil Taiho replied: Knowing I will die, how should I live?

Lots of questions and I need to ask them. Like a child, from what arises. Why is the sky blue? Where did all this wind come from? Who am I? 

146 words

Picture of Ed Brickell

In reply to Ed Brickell

11 words

Rogue Parakeets

Rogue parakeets in our neighborhood 

Chatter like Pentecostals,

Flash from tree to tree:

A wayward pet store shipment,

An accident in Customs,

A dying widow’s friends set free?

Like that painting by Audubon:

Carolina parakeets posed in magnolias,

Faces bright with human joy.

Their voices ring in our crushing August sun,

Dance through the knife air of December –

How to exist here, or anywhere,

So cheerfully fragile, so dangerously alive?

Diamond Sutra Fall 2020 practice period, chapter 3

Chapter 3 is short and focuses on categorical thinking, perhaps as a way to explain for just who or what the Diamond Sutra is intended. Which would, if we take the Buddha at his words here, seem to be pretty much everything:

“However many beings there are in whatever realms of being might exist, whether they are born from an egg or born from a womb, born from the water or born from the air, whether they have form or no form, whether they have perception or no perception or neither perception nor no perception, in whatever conceivable realm of being one might conceive of beings, in the realm of complete nirvana I shall liberate them all. And though I liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.”

In a heavily divided nation such as the one I live in now, where the categories seem endless, often born from ideological hostility and potentially fatal, categorical thinking itself seems like the real pandemic. But sick/well is certainly a paired category on the mind of many right now. In our family alone we’re experiencing cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, sarcoidosis, severely herniated disks, an inoperable brain tumor. And the ever-present threat of COVID-19, which has exposed broader national and political illnesses and categories. Often “sick/well” in this country these days seems as much a political category as a physical one. Even our health is being politicized as “liberal” or “conservative,” and in that kind of hostile environment the truly sick are the ones who suffer.

When everything seems “sick,” what does well look like? Fortunately I live with someone who is “sick” but has connected with others in her category (lung cancer patients with the rare ROS1 gene mutation) to share valuable information and support.

Plus, she’s reached out to others in categories I would instinctively shun – our “red state” senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn – and, working with incredibly helpful staffers in their offices, has managed to help secure more money for lung cancer research next year.

It’s been an object lesson for me in how we can view categories as opportunities to connect with and help others, rather than fences to divide – perhaps a way, as the Buddha says in Chapter 3, to “liberate them all.” Maybe liberation is not about freeing something from something else. Maybe it’s about freeing ourselves from the idea of ourselves, when the categories we’ve invested in to help sharpen our self-definition are allowed to disappear. After all, they weren’t real to begin with, right? And if “liberating them all” simply means liberating the self, that sounds much more possible. Not easy, but possible.