October wind crosses the world-Ikkyū
in this field moist grass bends to itself and to the sea
from Crow With No Mouth
Some say that there may be a vaccine next year and that only in spring of 2022 the pandemic will have settled. If the restrictions are taken off too soon, there may be new cases appearing. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms while they could infect others. We do need to reflect upon our wisdom, if we were to get sick, how we can deal with this situation in the best possible way.
What this means for us in our training is that we do need to have patience. It is not about yesterday and today only, but we need to continue our efforts. We need to see how we actually can live within challenging situations. We receive the wisdom of Vimalakirti.
Vimalakirti says, “because society is sick, that is why I get sick. We need to have a huge mind and not only see our own life.” Vimalakirti taught us how we can greet and support someone who is sick. Now how about if we ourselves get sick? This is what Vimalakirti is teaching us now.
Monjusri visits Vimalakirti, yet both encounter each other with a bright mind, that it is hard to know, who is the sick person. When we get sick, we easily get depressed, we cannot go outside and depend on others support. We feel this as a heavy burden. Yet Vimalakirti does not even look as if he is sick. His state of mind is bright and clear, and the person visiting him does not feel any pressure put on him.
Monjusri asks him: “You are sick yet you do not look sick. How are you managing?” Vimalakirti answers: “If sickness catches us and we fall into sickness, that becomes a heavy weight for us. Of course, I am actually sick. I have symptoms of sickness. Yet what truly makes us sick in mind are those attachments, memories, grudges which we carry around from the past. And because of these arising, that is why we feel the pressure. It is because of those past unclarities, that we feel heaviness.”
These are not extraneous thoughts, yet they do colour our experience of the moment. We cannot get stopped by them. Our physical body which we have received from our parents may get sick, and since we identify with this body, that is why we create our own heaviness. We of course may get sick, yet it is not our body alone that feels the sickness, it is mainly our mind that feels the sickness.
Ikkyu Zenji said in his death poem:
The body that I have borrowed, today I do return it.
Because we only see the physical body, we are not aware of the huge mind, which uses this body. Of course, we do not want to get sick, yet going through the experience of sickness, we need to bring forth wisdom which helps us rise above this physical experience. We cannot stay stuck in our body only, this would be a big mistake.
It is important that we do not feel stuck in our sick body, or else we create an even greater sickness than our physical one. This is what we need to awaken to. We may feel bad, have pain, have difficulty breathing, have no appetite or sense of smell, yet we cannot let our mind get drowned within this experience.
Over 100 years ago in Japan the poet Masaoka Shiki lived, he practiced zazen from a young age. He said that Zen was about being prepared to die anytime, yet later in his life he said that he realized when he was sick, when he did not know how long he had to live, he said that Zen is not about being prepared to die anytime but Zen is about receiving this life energy anew each moment, receiving the energy to live.
Masaoka clearly looked at his own sickness, and when the end neared he called his students and gave this poem:
The Hejima flower is blooming
The mucus is filling up my throat
Is this the Buddha?
This is a flower that blosoms in June in yellow colours, this flower must have been all around, in this season he was ready to face his last moment of being sick with tuberculosis. The pain must have been huge, while the students gathered around only wished to give their teacher some relief. In this uncertain situation, he gave the first two lines of the poem, then again was struggling to get some air, the students had tears running down their cheeks. They wanted to take the pain onto themselves. They quietly sat by his bed side, waiting, when Masaoka Shiki gave the last line of the poem: Is this the Buddha?
Someone who has died is said to become a buddha yet also someone who is awakened is called a buddha. Masaoka gave this poem, his breathing must have been difficult, when this mucus fills his throat, that is the last moment. He speaks about himself as if he is watching himself from high above. It is about himself, yet his state of mind is quiet and filled with wisdom.
That is what Vimalakirti is saying, that we cannot stay stuck in our body, that we cannot drown in our suffering, if we down then we are at the end. That is not how it should be. From a high level we can reflect upon our state of mind, we can review our state of mind. It is the mind which uses this body, the mind is not stuck in this body. It does need to depart from this body at one point, yet we can awaken to our true nature and share this experience with many.
I may be suffering but there are others who suffer even more. If there is a chance, I would like to use my life to help others, to support others. That is what we need to see as important in our life, Vimalakirti is teaching us.