June 04, 2009

Continuous Practice

In the photo you can see the dragon sculpture by Aryadaka with the Spanish lavender below it delighted to be having such glorious weather.  Every day the weather people tell us that it's going to cool off, but the summer heat continues.  I'm not complaining, but we easily dry out in the Pacific Northwest despite the amount of rain, and now the sneezing has begun with so much pollen in the air.  Yesterday, I checked out at the supermarket, and in answer to the clerk's question "So how's it going?" I said, "It's really hot out there today."  He immediately answered, "You people are never satisfied!"  He had probably heard someone speak of the heat 108 times.  I just burst out laughing and we went on with the transaction.      

The pleasure of this summer weather is in complete contrast to the difficulty many of us are feeling about the fate of Air France flight 447 off the northern coast of Brazil.  I only recently crossed the Atlantic on a more northerly route on a 330 Airbus.  I'm not particularly conscious of the equipment I ride in when I take a flight except to check out the closest exits during the safety demonstration.  But there is an interesting and subtle experience that happens when the plane leaves sight of land and starts out over the ocean.  It's a sense of being out of touch with the earth, of losing contact with terra firma and being beyond the possibility of rescue.  When flying to Japan from Seattle, the plane skirts the rim of the small islands or ice bridge across the Bering Strait.  If you look down, you see icy desolation and you realize you are sitting on an aluminum floor, encased in a hunk of aluminum, 35,000 feet above this frozen tundra traveling at 550 mph.  You look back into the plane and people are happily eating the last of the brownie from lunch and the flight crew are running around on this aluminum floor filling up cups of tea or coffee inside this capsule floating above the earth.  It's hard to carry in the mind that these two situations could be happening together.  And, in a moment it could all break apart.  The vulnerability of it is something we can't look at, or don't look at so that we can manage to take ourselves to faraway places.  The Air France loss is a difficult one because it took place in that no man's land where we are beyond rescue and we have no choice but to enter Nirvana. In the midst of that simple moment of travel it is suddenly over, suddenly blown away.   A particular life is finished and that's so difficult for the families waiting for their loved ones to step off that plane at the airport.  I've been chanting Daihi Shin Darani for each one.  We've offered ceremony for the merit of those lost and we will continue to mourn as we do each day for all those unnamed ones who die in the myriad ways that we can.

On Wednesday evening after reminding us of locating the self in the body rather than in the mind, I spoke of another teaching of the Buddha.  The Buddha consistently reminded us of our own responsibility for our lives, for what we practiced, for what we thought, for what we said and did.  He reminded us that in our practice there is no old man or woman in the sky to whom we appeal for supplication.  As much as we'd like that sometimes, it's not how we practice in Buddhism.  That makes Buddhism difficult because we are thrown back on ourselves again and again.  We must keep our own counsel and remember the beginning spirit of practice is within ourselves.  Naturally we are encouraged by others and we ourselves encourage others by our practice, but it is within ourselves that we have to keep the field clear in deepest honesty.  As we all remember, even at the last moment of his life, the Buddha counseled us to find out for ourselves, to bring about realization through our own effort.  And, as we see from the sudden happening of an air flight gone wrong, life can be taken away in a moment.  It's wise to not waste time.