Thursday, 28 May 2020

In These Uncertain Times

The first time I heard the phrase “in these uncertain times “ on a television commercial, I thought how sympathetic it was, acknowledging people’s fear and discomfort, across this world, as a result of a disease. Then, after the 80th time and my eyes and ears glazed over and started feeling like sympathy was being commodified so these fearful people would buy more stuff from these supposedly sympathetic merchants that somehow would be comforting, that would restore some sense of predictably, it dawned on me: When are times certain? 

Impermanence is one of the Three Dharma Seals—everything is changing, changing, changing. But if everything is changing, is that any different from it being still? Same as still? Everything is perfectly still, perfect as it is, even when that’s uncomfortable. And as it changes from moment to moment, all of this good/bad is just thinking. If everything is in constant motion, then how is that changing? If nothing is ever in the same place twice, doesn’t that become the baseline, the ground from which it all springs? If there were only light, there’d be no reason to bother having the word dark. Dark would only be a mental concept. If everything is always in flux, why do we invent the concept of static? We make our own opposites, we create duality where there is none.

Richard Clarke translated Sencan’s Xinxin Ming:
“Do not remain in the dualistic state;
avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is even a trace
of this and that, of right and wrong,
the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the One,
do not be attached even to this One.”

Shitou Xiqian, great Chan sage wrote something called CAN TONG QI—merging of difference and unity. This is part of it, as translated by JC Cleary:

“Each sense and every field
Interact and do not interact;
When interacting, they also merge -
Otherwise, they remain in their own states.
Forms are basically different in material and appearance,
Sounds are fundamentally different in pleasant or harsh quality….
The four gross elements return to their own natures
Like a baby taking to its mother;
Fire heats, wind moves,
Water wets, earth is solid.
Eye and form, ear and sound;
Nose and smell, tongue and taste -
Thus in all things
The leaves spread from the root;
The whole process must return to the source;”

So of course these times are uncertain, but only because we think times are or can be certain.we think phenomena have a self-nature, even though everything we’ve ever heard is that all conditioned phenomena have no self nature, that they are all characterized by emptiness. But we’re shocked by how that lack of self-nature comes out. Most days just slide one into the next, even when the unexpected comes along, it’s easy enough to ignore. Water is wet, but when the water cooler is out of water and it’s dry, it’s no big deal. 

But there are those other times when we feel like we’re hanging by our teeth from a branch dangling over a hungry tiger, and with a swordsman at the base of the tree in front of us. We’re standing on top of a flagpole with nowhere to go. We can hang on for as long as we can, trying to impose order when there really isn’t. But the baseline is still there, that baseline of perpetual change, that baseline of all change being no change, of uncertainty.
We can choose what we like and don’t like, we can say this is good, that is bad. It’s not good and bad, reality doesn’t need our validation to just be. Water is wet, Fire is hot, ice is cold. Uncertainty is uncertainty. 

Step off the flagpole, help all beings. Unclench the jaw, “how may I help you?” See reality for what it is, wipe out the self-centered preferences, and take on the selfless act of realizing your True Buddha Nature, return to the source that was never left, and help all beings, even in “these uncertain times.”