Monday, January 24, 2011
As the focus of our two week intensive practice experiment at the zen center - not a full retreat, but 2 or more hours of group practice six out of seven days - we are studying two small teachings from Dogen. It's funny. Having written awhile back about how us Soto folks seem to over-emphasize the founder at times, it seems I've been swamped with Dogen almost ever since. I can almost hear The Zennist's shit talking turning up a notch.
Seriously, though, there's room for questioning any teacher or teachings, while also deeply appreciating the jewels within the offering. And so the eclectic spirit I have always had, as well as a love of discovering forgotten or marginalized wise folks, gets to take a back seat for a few weeks in favor of good old Dogen.
One of the pieces we're studying is Shoji, or "birth and death." And as I sat in zazen this morning, the question came to me "What is birth and death?" It was interesting that it came as "is" and not "are" - and when I rephrased the question as "what are birth and death?" it didn't feel right. So, I left it as "is."
A few minutes after the question came, I heard water run through a nearby pipe. After it had gone, I thought "Is the sound dead now that I can't hear it? Can a sound be born and die? Does it even matter if "I" hear it or not?" Perhaps these questions seem silly. Maybe they are.
But consider human birth and death. When is a person born? How do you know? When is a person dead? How do you know? Even if you just consider the fluctuations of the physical body, it's pretty hard to determine a fixed birth point and a death point. Taking a last breath is a convention marker that helps us navigate death territory, but I think it might be foolish to say "that's it."
What is birth and death? There's your question for the day (or for life). Enjoy!