Sirens of the Morning
Life is always calling. Sitting this morning my heart was pierced by the call of the Mockingbird, the morning chorus soon joined — Cardinal and Jay; now the plaintive coo of the Mourning Dove sounds across the field. These Sirens of the morning call in song: “Abandon ship!,” “Forget the you you think you are!” “Surrender to the day!” The birdsong is a call to coherence, to the whole, opening right here, in the midst of it all. The natural course of things moves like the tide, ebb and flow, give and take. Life calls and my heart is broken in the beauty, in the expansiveness of this moment, too big to hold, too vast to explain. Tears come without words, breaking into sobs.
I sometimes think of such transcendent times of beauty are times worthy of self-surrender and opening into the seamless. Enlightenment proceeds from beauty into beauty. Practice has another view — it is all beauty, even this…
Once when Dongshan was washing his bowls, he saw two birds fighting over a frog, tearing it in two. A monk nearby asked, “Why does it come to this?”
Dongshan said, “It’s only for your benefit, Honored One.”
A Dark Passage
Dongshan and a monk were down by a stream washing their bowls. Two birds come flying down to where they were and at exactly the same time grab a frog sitting on a nearby rock. They tussle over the frog, and finally they fly away in different directions, ripping the frog in two. The monk, feeling the pain of life as if he were ripped in two — broken aspirations and dreams, the grief experienced in the loss of a loved one, the myriad disappointments that come in life — asks, “Why does it come to this?” This is the place in the Bible where Job finally speaks up, first to neighbors and friends, then to God, “Why?” This is any mother who has lost a beloved child, or perhaps it could be coming upon a pack of coyotes chasing down and feeding upon a deer.” “Why does it always come to this?”
As Job found as he queried his friends, there is no satisfactory answer to the “Why?” of suffering. There is no solid footing upon which to stand against life’s inevitable slings and arrows. There is only the fact, the pain of being torn asunder. And usually we leave it at that. But Dongshan takes a turn from what’s usual, “It is for your benefit,” he says. With this Dongshan darkens life’s course, the path now a “dark passage” through which life’s events are lost to explanation and knowing. There is only this naked “Why?” an expression of pain which will not find an answer nor submit to explanation. As the path darkens, the heart cracks open and yielding personal identity and preference, surrendering to “I don’t know.”
A Call to Coherence
Just as in beauty, in pain there is a call to coherence, to the whole. All of life is a gate — beauty, pain, joy and sorrow, cows, horses, enemies and friends, the whole ball of wax; and it all opens right here. In his Praise Song for Meditation, Hakuin Ekaku put it like this:
The gate opens: Cause and effect are one,
there’s no two, no three.
The formless form comes into form;
going or returning, we are in the right place.
Thinking thoughts without thought,
singing and dancing are the voice of the Way.
Not holding on to a separate self, a bulwark against everything I would rather not, I notice my life, large now, in the right place, in accord with what is here. Singing and dancing, I flow in the natural course of things, ebb and flow, give and take. It is like that, “…for your benefit.”