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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 43 their feelings. Yet what are we if not our feet, hands, face, voice, and the way we move? Instead of our bodies, what we know of each other in the ordinary world is our stories, our social words and beliefs, our wants and needs and com- plaints. A relationship operates across the divide of two people’s needs and wants and opinions, which may or may not, at any given moment, harmonize. And when they don’t harmonize, then what? No wonder relationships are so rough! In contrast, the relationships in these Zen stories are pristine in their clarity and simplicity. What- ever conflict or controversy there may once have been has been worked out through years of mutual practice. Willing, finally, to be present with what is, the protagonists can be perfectly present with one another as they are. Sharing mutual commitment, they can share life. They can know each other with an intimacy that goes beyond the abstraction of storyline and desire. They seem to appreciate each other enough to feel comfortable bringing up life’s most challenging questions. NEW YORK TIMES columnist and tele- vision commentator David Brooks has written a book called The Social Animal in which he summarizes the plethora of recent studies about the brain and emotion. He quite wisely finds this research germane to his inter- est in politics and society. Most of what goes on between us, he says, isn’t what we think is going on. Unconscious and unintentional, our interactions are subtle and by and large unknown to us. Our relationships really are as mysterious and resistant to explanation as the Zen masters of old under- stood they were. We stand in each other’s presence; we drink in each other’s being; we know and influ- ence each other; and we turn each other inside out simply by being in each other’s presence. We are always breathing, sitting, walking, and standing together—the togetherness is just more noticeable in quiet meditation halls. It’s true that the Zen masters of old lived lives of silence, meditation, ritual, lore, and teaching that created a nonordinary atmosphere in which their needs and desires could be clearly seen and seen through. So over time they could realistically hope to come to a feeling of living at a more basic, vis- ceral level, and, at this level, relationship is heartfelt and clear. You drink in the other’s presence, their hands, feet, face, and voice, and they become a true friend. Then, over years and decades, this friend- ship ripens and deepens into brotherhood and sis- terhood—true kinship of the spirit. You are living the same dream, and you know it. You don’t need to explain or contend. Recently, I attended a funeral at the San Fran- cisco Zen Center for the priest Shuun Mitsuzen, Lou Hartman, who had died at the age of ninety- five. He had been married for sixty-three years to Zenkei Blanche Hartman, who was co-abbot of the center with me a decade ago. To open the cer- emony, as is the Zen custom, Blanche carried Lou’s ashes into the buddha hall and placed them on the altar. Though there are probably very few people who appreciate the Buddhist teaching of imperma- nence as much as Blanche does, she cried quite a bit as she placed the ashes down. So did I. Lou had been quite famous around the Zen cen- ter as a talker, curmudgeon, and great doubter. He was absolutely faithful to daily meditation and ritual practice and he took care of altars and small repairs constantly, but he was outspoken in his scorn for any sort of falseness or cant, was almost incapable of taking anything on faith alone, and didn’t have Poem You are ill and so I lead you away and put you to bed in the dark room —you lie breathing softly and I hold your hand feeling the fingertips relax as sleep comes You will not sleep more than a few hours and the illness is less serious than my anger or cruelty and the dark bedroom is like a foretaste of other darknesses to come later which all of us must endure alone but here I am permitted to be with you After a while in sleep your fingers clutch tightly and I know that whatever may be happening the fear coiled in dreams or the bright trespass of pain there is nothing at all I can do except hold your hand and not go away — AL PURDY From Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Harbour Publishing, 2000.