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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 85 To watch this was to understand that balance is not a spread-foot, anchored-down sort of thing, but rather an exquisite, continual adjustment to shifting circumstance. All life is just such a balanc- ing act. In time I was to see Tulya’s life visited by harsh winds of the sort that would topple almost anyone, but Tulya knew when to yield and how best to turn adversity to advantage. Her equa- nimity was not the sort of even-tempered affect one might associ- ate with the term, but was rather a steadiness achieved through a near-perfect harmony with the very forces that might otherwise threaten her. She was a living witness to how one holds one’s place in the world. Unlike the Ministry President, had Tulya been of- fered Tzu Fu’s circle she would have taken him up on it. She’d somehow learned, like Zen, to let everything in. Never fond of closing doors on her life, she’d found poise in the midst of things. The path of Zen requires a great tolerance for contradiction, which is to say that life itself requires a great tolerance for contradiction. Billy Brown was exploring the outermost limits of contradiction when he sought stability in circumstances of the least possible stability. And Tulya, too, was expressing life’s contradic- tions when she went up on one foot to keep from being blown over. My mind is always urging me to resolve contradiction, to settle the issue once and for all. But it never works that way. The music doesn’t stop just because I’ve walked off the dance floor. I do much better to learn to dance to life’s tune no matter how shifting and contrary the melody might be. Life is a sort of playing with contraries. I might try to master the steps of the dance, but life’s much chancier and livelier than that, some- thing that Ma Ku, a Zen monk, learned when he presented himself to Zen masters Chang Ching and Nan Chuan. The story goes that Ma Ku, carrying his ring staff, went to Chang Ching. He circled the meditation seat three times, then shook his staff once and stood upright. Chang Ching said, “Correct. Correct.” So far so good, but Ma Ku, apparently figuring he had the thing wired, also went to Nan Chuan. As before, he circled the medita- tion seat three times, shook his staff once, and stood upright. Nan Chuan said, “Incorrect. Incorrect.” Ma Ku, in his understandable puzzlement, said, “Chang Ching said ‘Correct’; why do you say ‘In- correct,’ Master?” Nan Chuan’s response to Ma Ku was poetic. He told him, “ This is what is turned about by the power of wind; in the end it breaks down and disintegrates.” Ma Ku is not alone in this. That nameless wind of Nan Chuan’s flows down the valleys of my life as well, a veritable storm come to dislodge me from all the fixed certainties and anticipated correspondences I might rely upon. In the end, even the most reasonable expectation breaks down and disintegrates. Whatever else I might hope for, the only world I know is at once violent and loving, unpredictable in its contrary capacity for kindness and cruelty. Any one of us humans might very well pray for some lasting and comprehensible order in our lives, some saving consistency, an island of sanity amidst the savagery that lies all about. But for all our longing, it is the dharma of contradiction that shows us how to keep balance in the world we actually have. Some months after my brief encounter with Billy Brown, my wife and I traveled to Monterey, California, so that I might par- ticipate in the Monterey Bay Half Marathon. The evening after the race, we set out for a walk along a stretch of shoreline where the wind blew up waves against the flattened fingers of rock that jutted out into the sea. Out beyond the rocky shore a bell buoy sounded as it tipped about in the waves. But there was something else, and it was a long moment before it registered on me what I was seeing. Out on the rocky flat near the sea edge, a dozen or more stones stood balanced on their ends. It was Tzu Fu’s circle. I couldn’t possibly pass it by. So Karen went on with her walk while I crawled out on the rocks, wondering if I was seeing the very stones that God and Billy put in place. The stones were variable in size and shape, some quite large and all of them balanced in ways that logically denied their ca- pacity to stay upright. But upright they were, though a stiff wind blew in off the sea, sending sheets of salt spray cascading onto the rocky shelf where the stones stood on slender little points of im- possible balance. There on the edge of the great Pacific Basin, the Monterey stones recited the dharma of perfect poise, equanimity, balance. They spoke in a language too alive for anything I might ever think to say in words. But they spoke nonetheless. And so I did as the stones did. I sat down on the sea’s edge where they sat. I crossed my legs, formed the mudra with my hands, and stayed put. Overhead, the gulls wheeled about in long sweeping circles, their cries blown away on the wind. Out at sea the swells rose and fell on their journey to the coast. In downtown Monterey, shops opened. On Lighthouse Avenue above Cannery Row, customers ate breakfast at Tillie Gorts. Meanwhile, the stones and I held our place while the planet Earth turned on its axis, tracking its way round a sun whose countless sisters streamed outward in an ever-expanding universe. All that! And no digital effects. ♦