"May all beings be happy
May they be joyous and live in safety....
Standing or walking, sitting, or lying down
During all one's waking hours
Let one practice The Way with gratitude
"Not holding to fixed views
Endowed with insight
Freed from sense appetites
One who achieves The Way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death"
From the "Metta Sutta" or "Lovingkindness Meditation" as found in the San Francisco Zen Center's Chant Book
It is said that Siddhartha Gautama's encounter with sickness, old age, death, and a begging monk led to his leaving home, searching for The Way from other teachers, and not finding it from without, commenced to meditate with great determination under the Bodhi tree until he awakened, from within, with what had been there all along, merely covered over by layers of delusion. Self-indulgence didn't work, self-denial didn't work, but coming upon the denial of self worked.
It's Vesak season. I say season because the actual day celebrating the birth of the Buddha (and the Awakening and Paranirvana as well) happens in the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, and that seems to fall anywhere from April 8 to June 1 this year. I practice in an American Zen order in a Korean lineage, so I'm going with China and Korea celebrating May 25.
The reason I bring up Vesak, the Metta Sutta, and the pursuit of The Great Way is because were it not for the Buddha having been born physically, and basically doing the heavy lifting for the rest of us, I'd probably be a mess right about now. In a nutshell, my partner has been diagnosed with breast cancer. And the unexpected thing is that we're both OK with it. Maybe OK isn't the most accurate way to describe it, but we are OK with it in the sense that neither of us is in panic mode, there's been no wailing and gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, or any other biblical-referenced behaviors pertaining to what people do when they freak out.
On a personality/idiosyncratic level, I'm typically pretty neutral. I don't really go that overboard when something "good" happens, or, well, do all that biblical stuff when "bad" happens. People have told me that I should be grateful for any number of things, and it's not that I'm un-grateful, I'm just sorta... well, neutral. I've been that way for a while too. Maybe cynicism and suspicion were used as a coping technique in the past. Somehow now, there doesn't seem to be that "waiting for the other shoe to drop" attitude that had permeated my standard operating procedure.
I have to say, that it really seems like the years of practice have had an impact. This isn't how I handled things like cancer a few years ago. To some extent, it feels like I really haven't wrapped my head around it, and maybe that's OK too. I really don't try to be a mind reader or fortune teller so much. Right here, right now, she's sleeping, I'm typing, and that's OK.
In this Vesak season however, I'm actually grateful. I'm grateful that Gautama was born, I'm grateful he spent time as an ascetic, I'm grateful he found out that didn't work any better than being a rich kid, that he remembered that feeling from under the rose petal tree, I'm glad he sat under the Bodhi Tree, and I think I'm most grateful that he got up from under that tree, turning the wheel of Dharma, and sharing it.
I'm grateful to Mahakasyapa, to Asvagosa and Nagarjuna. I'm grateful to Bodhidharma and Huangbo. I'm grateful to Seung Sahn and Wonji and Doshim. I'm grateful for the sanghas of my past and present, for giving me the opportunity to take refuge, to support me in my practice, and perhaps the opportunity to be of some help to them in their practice.
I've found that practice is what happens when I take the meditation cushion with me into the world of birth, old age, sickness and death. And so far, that's OK.
Deep bows to the Buddha, to his teachings, and all sentient beings throughout the world. Thanks for being around for me to take refuge in, and helping me see that it is OK to feel happy and sad, and all the other transient emotions.
"May all beings be happy." No, really, it's OK.