Even after twenty years, I still don’t do Thanksgiving like those who were born here (it took me a few years to warm up to gratitude in the first place).
This year, though, I do have something to be particularly thankful for: a first Thanksgiving with my partner Caitlin and her dog Collin, who braved a flight over from Kansas a couple of weeks ago. As the two of us settle in together, I am happy that the apartment looks more like a home. We are buying a few new things and moving on a few old things; now there is a cosy fullness about the place. It has also been comforting to fill the fridge, with things for Thanksgiving dishes and other staples – even as we live in a neighbourhood where there are long lines for different food banks almost every day.
I wonder how it must have seemed for Collin, who has spent all his life in the midwest: one day he gets into a noisy, bumpy container, and later that day he ends up in a new space. His first act on coming in the door was to leap on the bed, where he felt safe. It took him a few hours to trust the long hallway, and he still has a tendency to want to go up a different staircase and stop at a different floor to the one we live on. He doesn’t know he is in a different state; while he had never seen the ocean before, he lived close to a large lake, and perhaps experienced Ocean Beach in the same way as he did that – though I suspect the smells were different at the ocean. Perhaps everything else in California smells relatively familiar. He is mapping out his territory around the apartment, and has his own bed, our bed, and the couch to spend his days and nights on, sufficient food and abundant love. I think he likes it.
I know it has been a huge transition for Caitlin, leaving behind much that was dear to her in the midwest, and I am deeply grateful that she felt able to make that leap, and that we have an opportunity to create a new life together, with hopefully many adventures in many different places.
‘An old buddha [Hongzhi] said, “Reach over to grasp what’s there, and bring its workings right here.”
When you take on sustaining this, all things, bodies, actions, and buddhas become intimate with you. These actions, things, bodies, and buddhas are simply covered [immersed] in acceptance. Because they are simply covered in acceptance, they are just dropped off.
The covered eye is the radiance of one hundred grass tips; do not be swayed [into thinking] that it does not see one thing, does not see a single matter. The covered eye reaches this thing and that thing. Throughout journeys, while taking on coming and going, or while leaving and entering by the same gate, nothing is hidden in the entire world, and so the World-Honored One’s intimate language, intimate realization, intimate practice, and intimate entrustment are present.’ (Shobogenzo Gyobutsu Iigi)
As I typed out the last word of the passage, my keyboard suggested the emoji 🎁 . And why not, after all? When we see things intimately, and immerse them in acceptance of what they are, they do not just become one, but they become the complete gift of themselves.
‘Student: I am so grateful to you and Tassajara and Zen Center that I’d like to study Zen. What should I do first?
Suzuki Roshi: You should do something in right time in the right way. Try to keep up with our practice.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
There is really nothing to add. This is the same as Joshu’s bowl.
‘None of the things that fill our lives is by itself false. It is only our conceptualization and attachment that make them false. Meanwhile, the perfection of wisdom transforms these obstacles into aids to enlightenment. At the end of Chapter Six, the Buddha likened his teachings to a raft and told Subhuti to let go of all teachings, all dharmas as well as no dharmas. Just as the no dharma of emptiness must be put aside, the dharma of prajna must also be left behind, lest it become a new obstruction or attachment. Thus, such a teaching not only transcends the world of language, it also transcends itself. No other teaching is so self-effacing and yet so sure of itself. It is self-effacing because it asserts nothing. And it is so sure of itself because it asserts nothing. It frees us of all assertions and opens the door to all knowledge. This is why it is called the “perfection of wisdom.”‘ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)
And there you have it. If it is not clear, keep reading it until the words have lost all meaning, and try again.
‘In the Japanese language, determination is composed of two ideographs that carry the respective meanings “to be angry” and “aspiration.” Your anger is not directed toward someone else. Indignant with yourself over your own weakness and immaturity, you employ the strong whip of aspiration; this is determination.’ (From Novice to Master)
As with other quotes from this book, it is helpful to remember that the author is reminiscing about the rigours of traditional Japanese monastic practice. In the right container, what might seem like the complete absence of self-compassion is perhaps the necessary tool to break through old patterns.
‘O let us live in joy, in love amongst those who hate! Among those who hate, let us live in love’
I have often packed my Dhammapada when I have been traveling, as it is one of the smallest Buddhist books I own, and it is comforting to pull out and read at an airport, or a train station. I pulled it down the other day ahead of doing a meditation on Chalk, as I was wanting to to find some words about what we create with our minds (the opening lines in fact), and leafed through the rest of it. These seemed like good and challenging words from millennia past. Human behaviour has not really changed in the meantime, even if the way it manifests takes a different form.
‘One thing that I have discerned from my practice is that all our different bodies are interconnected. The physical body is the central experience body for us, as it is the body that seems to be in the same time and place with us. Every other body links into our physical body, and we can work through our physical body to connect to and learn to embody our other bodies. The bodies that I identify and work with in my practice are the physical body, emotional body, subtle energy body, sexual body, spiritual body, collective body, social media body, and ego body.’ (Love and Rage)
I was reading this passage with my student group this week, and my first thought was that if we take a moment to look at all these different bodies, they have all suffered from the isolating circumstances of this year. I asked my students, and I ask you, what will you be able to do to nourish these important aspects of your being?
‘We will forever be pushed to expand the human capacity. Are we ready to keep living with an attention to how we navigate what feels like the worst of times, without closing off or covering it all up with optimism? We are collectively and constantly being given the path to transformation and awakening. We may have to walk it in our bare feet without knowing where we are going. Are you ready for such wandering with its trouble and beauty along the way? Can you be the open field of unknowing darkness that you are and discover what it means to live on this planet with all else that is alive? Can you still have visions of the freedom you know to have been granted in birth?’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘We extend our sense of inclusion even further to people we may have disagreements with, people whose actions we disapprove of, even those who may have harmed us or those we care for. We don’t have to like what they’ve done, and we might take very strong action to prevent their doing it ever again, but as our experiences of the universality of suffering grows, our sense of interconnectedness deepens, and we begin to wish others could be free in a new way- in spite of their actions, their beliefs, or their positions in the world.’ (Real Love)
Wonderful words from a wise teacher who has been doing a lot to extend loving action into the world in these difficult times.