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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 67 out, the tendency in our age is either to reject the traditional and remain isolated, secular individualists, or cling to religious forms and ideals and become fundamentalists. But the truth, like all truths, lies somewhere in between: We can’t do it on our own, nor can the tradition do it for us. When the individual and the tradi- tion are perfectly wed, intermingled and indistinguishable, a spiri- tual heavy hitter—a genuine master—is born, and an institution is revitalized. in short, the tradition must be dissolved within the individu- al, and the individual must dissolve within the tradition. that’s the middle way. toward the end of our strange, harrowing “vacation” in the hospital, i opened an Odwalla juice, poured it into a paper cup, delivered it to his bedside, and flat-out asked my teacher, who was swathed in a nest of blinking lights and wires and looked, with his soft pink skull and silvery hair net, like an alien life- form preparing to return to his home planet (the “space fetus,” i dubbed him that day): “Roshi-sama: are you afraid of dying?” it didn’t take him long to answer: “not afraid of dying. afraid i die and no one understand my teaching!” Over the next two days i watched him literally come back from the dead. “hospitals where people go to die!” he shouted at us. “i not die till i one-hundred-twenty-eight!” Resurrecting, he calls it: “there is no true religion without resurrection.” i have watched him do this time and time again. get sick, slip into an exhaustion-coma, loiter on death’s door—and then a day later he is reborn, fresh life rippling through him as he waves his gnarled manzanita stick in our private meeting. This is why I stick around, don the robes, participate in the rituals, i think, ducking. because some teachings transcend tradition. Roshi has often said that he will not die until true Buddhism is born in this country, but what will an american Buddhism look like? What does it look like? if my practice is the proverbial raft to the other shore, then which of the customs and rituals will i take with me when my teacher dies, and which will i throw overboard? these questions were haunting me on the final evening of Rohatsu, as i drove Roshi from the sutra hall back to his cabin. But my worries cleared when the clouds briefly parted above and below, and a twinkling vista of stars and city lights opened up. i studied Roshi’s one exposed hand, liver spot-marbled and grip- ping the handle above the door for support. is there anything more beautiful than old, banged hands that have been put to good use over a lifetime? a tradition, i thought, is like an old man: it must be taken care of; taken with a grain of salt; taken for what it is: precious, limited, a window into the past and, properly plumbed, a door to the future. there we stand at the hinge, mak- ing it all happen—or not... When the time comes, i decided, I’ll leave off noodle-slurping but bring with me every last one of my bows. noodle-slurping i can live without, but the practice of taking the cosmos above and the metropolis below—“the whooooooooole world”—into my arms, and sheathing them in my heart? that is nonnegotiable. ♦