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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Jiryu Abels’

As I study the great Zen patriarchs and I come to Huineng I am reminded on this National day of Remembrance another great man who not only said but lived this question: Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Dr. King experienced discrimination in this life he set out to do the things he could do to eliminate it—not just in his life but in the lives of all Americans.  And then there was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, who was poor and illiterate and one day as he was delivering wood to a home he heard the words of the “Diamond Sutra” and it is said, “his mind cleared and he understood.”  That led him to seek a teacher.

Janet Jiryu Abels in her book Making Zen your Own (2012) writes this about Huineng’s journey to find his teacher.

“So it was that after what must have been an arduous journey, this poor, insignificant, illiterate, twenty-four-year-old man of lowly birth found himself before Master Hongren himself.  Here is their exchange in an abridged version:

‘Where are you from?  What are you looking for?’

‘I come from the south.   I wish to be a Buddha.’

‘If you come from the south, you must be a barbarian.  How can you be a Buddha?’

‘People may be southerners or northerners, but in Buddha nature there can be no south or north.  I may be a barbarian but what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’

Indeed, what difference?  It is a question to ask ourselves of all whom we meet.  What difference is there in our common essentialness (page 23-24)?”

This is the ancient question that Dr. King grappled with each and every day.  Although he was born into a family of educated parents and was taught to read by his mother, who was a teacher, before he entered school, he too wanted to know why things were not open to him and others of color like him.  He wanted everyone to know that there was “no difference” in their “common essentialness” so much so that he was willing to give up his life for his mission.

I am sure that he, like Huineng, had been called a “barbarian” and worse in his life time, but it did not stop either of them from seeing the truth about themselves and all others.  All men and women are created equal and deserve such equal treatment in the law and everywhere.

Jiryu writes, “Let us leave the sixth patriarch as he gives his last talk before his death:  . . . ‘This is the great way.  After I die, just go on practicing as before, as though I were still here.  If you go against this teaching it is as though my life here as abbot were meaningless.  And so Huineng died.’  The year was 713.  He was seventy-five years old. Today, because of him we can each say to ourselves: ‘I seek the great teaching.  Why should I stop halfway (page 32-33)?’

Dr. King did not stop half way either he gave his life for freedom and justice for all people regardless of their birth, low or high, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, black or white.  He once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”[1]  Today we follow in his footsteps as we continue to work for freedom and justice for all, and as we follow in the footsteps of Huineng and live a life where there is “no difference” in our “common essentialness.”

We too can make a difference in the world in which we live. Today is a very special day to continue on our current path or begin anew.  Not only is it the day we celebrate the life of Dr. King it is the second inauguration day for the first black president ever elected in the United States of America—a feat that could not have been won without the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through the example of these great men’s teachings and lives we too can help transform the world around us.  So why should we stop halfway—Huineng, Dr. King, and President Obama did not and neither should we.

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At the end of Ronald and Mary Hulnick’s wonderful book Loyalty to Your Soul The Heart of Spiritual Psychology they write “. . . spiritual evolution slowly seeps into every crack and crevice of your life, and you slowly shift from saying the true answer to living the true answer (page 203).”  This adventure in living is a special opportunity to learn how to live a spiritual life instead of a material life.  It is for each of us in this New Year an opportunity to live a life of love, peace, joy, compassion, and forgiveness: Forgiving others and more importantly forgiving ourselves.

The Hulnick’s like to refer to an analogy of carrying a backpack filled with rocks on our backs every day.  These rocks are a symbol of our anger, hatred, fear, rules, rights/wrongs, must does, and self-recrimination that have built up throughout our lives.  Life is hard, just like the rocks we carry around, the rocks that are dragging us down in our jobs, relationships, health, and most importantly our ability to arise to a place of positive self-realization.

Many of us may have experiences such as Emperor Wu did when he mourned the passing of the venerable bodhisattva, Bodhidharma,  as described in Janet Jiryu Abels book, Making Zen Your Own Giving Life to Twelve Key Golden Age Ancestors (2012).

Alas, I saw him without seeing him.

I met him without meeting him.

I encountered him without encountering him.

Now, as before, I regret this deeply.

She asks us to ponder these questions:

  • Who do we see without seeing?
  • Who do we meet without meeting?
  • What do we encounter without encountering?
  • Do we regret this deeply?
  • And if we do, what are we going to do about it (page 20)?

These questions brought to mind an experience I had in Target as I was checking out one day.  I ran in for a few simple things and was so engrossed in my own thoughts and to-do list that I did not pay attention to the person who was checking me out until I saw this beautiful hand reach out to me to give me my change.  I realized I had made him “invisible.”  I had not looked at him, no less made eye contact with him.  Had I left the store before this thought came into my mind I would not have been able to tell you if the clerk was a man, woman, young, old, black, brown, or white.

So I took the opportunity to slow down, to look him in the eyes, smile, and thank him for his help and I wished him a good day.  Jiryu goes on to write at the end of this passage, “Where is Bodhidharma right now? Wake up! Bodhidharma is sitting on your cushion.”  He or she is serving you in the department stores, teaching your children; putting out your fires, answering your 911 calls, mowing your lawns, nursing your sick, or painting your house.  He or she is you and you are him or her.

I felt like I had dropped a great big rock from my backpack after that encounter.  I’d like to drop many more of them as I work my way through 2013.

This realization also helped me move in my life from just “saying the true answer to living the true answer.”  I hope that this means that each day I can actually see spiritual evolution slowly seeping into every crack and crevice of my life…that I can meet Bodhidharma on the cushion and in the grocery store.  Wish me luck!

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