using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 53 lated cell growth, gave off animal smells. He seemed to be struggling up to the surface of a pool, in pain and at the same time overmedicated. He gazed at me and pretended not to know who I was. I pretended not to know who I was either, we laughed, and that opened a gate to our last time together. I think of moments of pressure and difficulty as like that— as gateways, the beginning of a journey. Everyone around my father was anxious and sad, and I started to feel that way too. It seemed obligatory, even courteous. As I got to know him in his dying self that week, he was often in pain, sometimes afraid, and I could feel helplessness rising in me. It’s easy to forget to be curious, and to grab an off-the-shelf knowledge, something like “This is awful.” Not reaching for off- the-shelf understandings, though, is an important skill. Visitors were often cheerful. My father, though, didn’t want to be told he was looking fine (it all depends on what “fine” means) or treated with anxious kindness. He would play the role of the dying man if he thought that was requested, but when the visitor left he would shrug and go back to his conver- sations—about when he swam horses across the river, and how he kept trying to make his marriage make sense but didn’t ever find a pattern to it, and sometimes about how discouraged he got in the long night hours. Small details and large meanings. He was just dying, and wanted to live it as far as he could, with whoever showed up. He didn’t like to have a lot of painkillers on board because he wanted to be there for his life. The whole of the ancient, master teachings on suffering come down to this: Suffering is the notion “This isn’t it,” and its vari- ants, such as “I can’t bear this, it shouldn’t be happening,” and “I have to know how this will turn out,” and “What if it gets worse?” Freedom, waking up, and fearlessness come down to the simplicity of “Wait a minute, what if this is it?” and its variants “No need to bear it” and “I don’t know.” The thing to do at the beginning of a journey is to take a step. Any step will do. I have another hospice story: A friend was dying, a family doc in his thirties with a young wife and a young child. I flew in to see him too, and as I walked down the halls of that hospice, I heard voices announcing my arrival. I began to feel grief and a terrible, jittery obligation to make things bet- ter. I couldn’t imagine what I could say to help. It became hard to breathe. And as I walked down that hall full of good people, all of us wanting suffering to be relieved and feeling at a loss to bring that about, it was clear that I didn’t even know if my friend would be coherent, or what I would say to him if he were, or if there was any way to help. This not knowing was a good thing, because it was possible and true and the only door out of the building of pain. Anything else wasn’t possible or real. I burst happily into the hospice room, and my friend asked me to listen to music with him (Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs”). He delivered a rhapsody on oxygen, he offered me a swig, and I agreed: Oxygen is a fine, fine thing. And now, the famous story of Bodhidharma—the red- haired, blue-eyed, pierced and tattooed barbarian from India—and Emperor Wu of China: “What’s the first principle of the holy teaching?” asks the Emperor. “Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” says Bodhidharma. “Well, who are you then?” “I don’t know,” says Bodhidharma. There’s a layered quality to suffering and intense emo- tion. As you become interested, a tiny, elf light appears in the darkest dungeon. That’s the gate of emptiness. As you become more interested, you walk deeper into the forest and everything looks different. Sometimes it becomes joyful right away, but it doesn’t need to. It’s become a path and that is enough. So, no first principles, but a few rules of thumb can be fun: 1. You don’t have to know. 2. If you take a step, any step, and feel about, you’ll find ground. 3. Whatever happens is your journey; what to do is given. 4. It’s for your benefit, honorable reader. It’s for you. No one was ever given another now. 5. Curiosity saves the cat. 6. The question “What is this?” is a koan and always reveals a gateway. 7. No need to bear it. 8. When we want something to be over, we lose compassion for ourselves, now. 9. What if there’s nothing wrong? 10. Not having a first principle. My father and I still talk sometimes, in dreams and in the spaces opened by a koan. We talk about the weather, what I have in my garden, how my daughter’s doing. We’re all hurtling through our lives, and the planet is hur- tling through space without a seat belt. We have to discover successively more freedom inside the terrible things that have happened and the terrible things that certainly will happen, and the whole of it is also a mysterious splendor, full of kind- ness, welcome, and cups of tea. ♦ JOHN TARRANT ROSHI is director of the Pacific Zen Institute. A frequent contributor to the Shambhala Sun, he is the author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros and The Light Inside the Dark. PHOTOBYPENNYKLEPUSZEWSKA/GALLERYSTOCKPHOTOBYROGERJORDAN