Notes on a Buddhist path


September 2, 2011 By | 1 Comment

At last weekend’s meditation retreat with Ven. Bhikkhu Sona he told us about a nun in residence at Birken Forest Monastery. Her name is Sister Mon, but he calls Sister Maybe. If Ajahn Sona says “See you tomorrow” or “Have a good day” Sister Mon’s reply is always “Maybe.”

Impermanence, or anicca, along with dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-selfhood) are the lynchpins of our existence. This party will end. All that exists will disappear, whether it’s a great date, the most excellent job, PMS, or life itself. And where existence crosses into non-existence a space opens up for something new to arise and fill its space. We are not the same this moment as we are now in this new moment. Or this one, or the next one. Will Sister Mon see Ajahn Sona tomorrow? Maybe, maybe not. Even if both are physically around in the morning and they share a cup of coffee together, neither will be exactly the same as they were the night before.

In meditation the breath, the inhale and exhale, are our reminders of the comings and goings of the untenable grasp we have on controlling how our life will play out. Working as a volunteer with hospice patients and their families I am blessed to witness the refined clear awe of now in each person’s eyes. There are no do-overs here. No second chances or next times. Each pained breath hangs in the air, suspended by hope and the loving care of those who are witnesses, perhaps for the first time, of their own morality. A friend of mine in deep into macro photography. Being in the awe of this moment is like seeing a universe in the seed of a dandelion. What could be more magnificent.

As to whether Sister Mon has a good day or not reminds me of the Zen story of a wise old farmer who worked his land for many years with his one son. One day their one horse ran away. When their neighbours heard the news, they came over right away. “Such bad luck,” they said shaking their heads.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse came back, but this time he brought three magnificent wild horses with him. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” said the old man.

The following day, the old farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg in five places. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The very next day, military officers came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

What is good? What is bad? Any labels we apply to an experience, a person or a hair day for that matter are just our perceptions of circumstances. Each story we make up separates us from the purity of this moment and its distinct rarity.  If I blame or fuss about a person and what I think their actions did to me I am distancing myself from the present and my heart’s longing to wish myself, and that person, nothing but loving kindness. I can’t be here now if I’m retelling a story of the past over and over again. The only escape is to see the impermanence of our escapades and treasure the now with the same intensity as a dying being.

All we are asked to do is live fully each moment.  There’s so much wow in now. Why do we want to be anywhere else?

Creation means

finding the new world

in that first

fierce step,

with no thought of return.

(Excerpt from the poem Statue of Buddha by David Whyte, “River Flow: New and Selected Poems”, many Rivers Press © 2007.)

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  1. Steps to enlightenment:
    1. We hear the Dharma
    2. We remember the Dharma we have heard
    3. We actively incorporate the Dharma into our daily lives
    4. The Dharma becomes part of our very being
    5. We become/are enlightened

    Thank you Tess for helping us poor souls walk this path 🙂

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