I had to pleasure and blessing to meet and train with Daido Roshi a few years back. I found him a very personable and knowledgable teacher. He spent about thirty minutes one day showing me the correct form to fold a robe in his lineage. I will remember him fondly for the opening and insight into Koan work in contrast to the Korean approach I had been studying. This meeting eventually encourged me to seek out James Ford Roshi who I am now studying with. At times like these I like to share a story from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi from Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. I have never read anything with the clarity of his explanation of life and death and would offer this to all who are looking for a bit of understanding.
Nirvana, the Waterfall, Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi
“Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in life.”
I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one there is one thousand three hundred forty feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated in many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling. When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water, but when we scoop a part of the water into a dipper, we experience some feeling of the water, and we also feel the value of the person who uses the water. Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just a material way. It is a living thing.
Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is sometimes called “mind-only,” or “essence of mind,” or “big mind.” After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, and then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is only water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.
When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds perfect composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is water it must come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our own individual existence. For us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is Nirvana. That is why we say, “To attain Nirvana is to pass away.” “To pass away” is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps “to pass on,” or “to go on,” or “to join” would be better. Will you try to find some better expression for death? When you find it, you will have quite a new interpretation of your life. It will be like my experience when I say the water in the big waterfall. Imagine! It was one thousand three hundred forty feet high!
We say, “Everything comes to emptiness.” One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find the true meaning of our life. When we reach this understanding we can see the beauty of human life. Before we realize this fact, everything that we see is just delusion. Sometimes we overestimated the beauty; sometimes we underestimate or ignore the beauty because our small mind is not in accord with reality.
To talk about it this way is quite easy, but to have the actual feeling is not so easy. But by your practice of meditation you can cultivate this feeling. When you can sit with your whole body and mind, and with the oneness of your mind and body under the control of the universal mind, you can easily attain this kind of right understanding. Your everyday life will be renewed without being attached to an old erroneous interpretation of life. When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation was, and how much useless effort you had been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have difficulty falling upright from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life.
(end quote from Zen Mind Beginners Mind)
a secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
head unaware of feet,
and feet head. neither cares.
they keep turning.
this moment this love comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being.
in one wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks.
inside the needles eye a turning night of stars.
keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
don’t try to see through the distances.
that’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
something opens our wings. Something
makes boredom and hurt disappear.
someone fills the cup in front of us.
we taste only sacredness.
I stand up, and this one of me
turns into a hundred of me.
they say I circle around you,
nonsense, I circle around me.