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Lions Roar : November 2016
Old pirates, yes, they rob I; Sold I to the merchant ships, Minutes after they took I From the bottomless pit. Bob Marley Bob Marley’s version of a rough patch is that pirates snatch you from the slave pit, and then they rob you and sell you to a mer- chant ship. “It’s always something,” as Gilda Radner said when she got her cancer diagnosis. How to meet the times we are in is a real question, and every- body feels the force of it. It is an ancient question. It comes with being human. Here is an ancient koan suitable for our time: A student asked, “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we meet them?” The teacher said, “Welcome.” In hard times, we long to touch and feel the vastness and blessing of life. Welcome might open some blue sky in the heart. How do you feel about losing the Twin Towers? How do you feel about losing the library of Alexandria, or Baghdad, or Chang An, the City of Perpetual Peace invaded during the An Lu Shan rebel- lion when two-thirds of the population of China died? And how do you feel about losing your parents, and about losing your dog? In the U.S., even though our country is based on forgetting the dark karma of the old continents, and in some sense we disap- prove of history as a jumble sale of old wrongs, we too are accu- mulating and being deepened by history. We suffer from wrongs done to our ancestors and done by our ancestors. Simultaneously, our efforts consciously and inadvertently repeat the past. So like other countries, we are going through a rough patch. There are different kinds of hard times; sometimes we’re poor and don’t eat and get shot by the police. Sometimes gun- men burst into a church, or a movie theater, or a parade, and shoot us or the police. And beyond the violence coming to a city near you, the whole world is unavoidably connected to us. There’s the gap between rich and poor, refugees throwing their children into boats, certainly a desperate measure, and did I mention Zika and climate change? In difficult times, we disagree about reality. So we are drenched in false descriptions, verdicts, reasons that make no sense—we need to build a wall against Mexicans because, well, ISIS. Yes, that’s what delusion is like. If I’m outlining the obvious here, it’s because I’m about to say that the inner life counts, and is the beginning of addressing our condition. The inner life is objective, and for that matter, more objective than the outer life. I say this with full awareness of all the aforementioned bad news. So the first task of the inner life is not to amplify the delu- sions, not to add hatred to hatred but to head in a different direction, to be openhearted without being gullible. The little story about welcoming the times we are in offers a path when we don’t know what to do. It’s not about drawing conclusions as a way to freedom. Instead, this koan is an envi- ronment. You can repeat it to yourself or just live in it and find out how you and the world change. Our lives are full of loss, and also songs. Marley wrote the lyrics above while in pain from his cancer. Paying attention to the inner life is a practice that naturally rises to meet our actual world, the life we have now. I will die, those I love will die, bad people will get elected, diet plans will fail, I might be kidnapped or shot, strangers will certainly be kind, I will get a blessing from unexpected places, an apricot tree will be my friend. Here’s Bob Marley again: Won’t you help to sing These songs of freedom? Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. It’s worth noting that the lines about emancipation from mental slavery are quotes from Marcus Garvey, another Jamai- can passionate about freedom. What is a practice of welcoming? Here is a list of pointers: 1. Emptiness is real All the ways welcome appears are manifestations of the famous Zen idea of emptiness. This means that if you look, you’ll find that welcome doesn’t come from somewhere. It doesn’t come from good intentions or desire. It doesn’t come from impressing anyone. Welcome just appears, which makes it seem like a gift or a guest. But if you look inside, you’ll find it’s always been there. We are inside the mysterious light of emptiness, which can’t be described but is painting the world into being. We are never apart How to Welcome the End of the World What is the best response to difficult and uncertain times? Welcome. JOHN TARRANT, ROSHI offers 10 Zen pointers on the practice of welcoming. JOHN TARRANT, ROSHI directs the Pacific Zen Institute, writes the online koan course Zenosaurus, and publishes the online Zen magazine Uncertainty Club. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 52