Hello All, I hope this finds you in good (enough) health and spirits especially given what is going on in our communities, nation and across the globe. Studying and taking up the vows, along with zazen in and with the maha-sangha which includes the birds, wind, trees and mountains, is one way to face with open hands and hearts what is always right before us.
Today we are looking at: I take up the Way of Not Stealing. Another translation might be “I take up the Path of Not Stealing”, or “I take up the Tao of Not Stealing.” When Buddhism came to China, the Chinese very creatively found words in their language to echo Sanskrit words. In this case, they translated Dharma as Tao or Way. At times, the Chinese also translated Bodhi as Tao or Way. I bring this up not to complicate things but to help let the vows cycle a little deeper with the implications of the many words used. And remember, these weren’t just words describing a theology or philosophy but words that replicated or pointed to the experience of what it is we are doing. I take up the Tao of Not Stealing. This is a statement of fact because from the very bottomless bottom there is nothing to steal and no one to steal just as there is no one to kill or be killed and yet…..and yet there is another side to this Path, this Way we walk that complements the ‘negative’ just as the front of your hand completes the back.
Tolstoy tells a beautiful story pointing directly to the Way or Path we travel. Two old Russian peasants took off together on a walking pilgrimage to the holy land. They walked week after week, slowly but surely, heading to the Black Sea to board a ship to Jerusalem. At one point they were separated, one stopped in a cottage for some refreshments and the other continued on. After awhile, the one who continued on stopped under a shaded tree and fell asleep. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure if his friend was behind him or mistakenly passed him by. So he continued on but coming to the Black Sea, he still hadn’t seen his friend. He waited some days but finally boarded the ship imagining he’d find his friend on the other side since they were both going to the same pilgrim holy places.
On his arrival, he didn’t see or hear of his friend but when he went to one holy place, and then another, and then a 3rd and a 4th, he kept catching a glimpse of his friend in the pilgrim crowds. His friend was always closer to the altar, or the Wall, or whatever site they were visiting but he could never get near to him as much as he tried. At nights, he asked fellow pilgrims about his friend but no one had any news
Finally, after many months he returned to his village. There he ran into his lost friend and surprisingly found that he had never gone to Jerusalem. The friend said that on entering the home for refreshments, he had come on a very sick, fragile, famished family too weak to even haul water for themselves. He stayed with them and over many days and weeks nursed them back to health. The friend said to himself each day that, “Tomorrow I will continue on my way to the holy land,” but then an event would arise which still needed tending with the nearly impoverished family. Finally, when the family was fully nursed and on their feet again, the man realized he only had enough money left to go home…so he never made it to the Holy Land. What do you think of this?
Clearly the goal is not the way, the Way is. If you commit to your practice, which includes the 16 Bodhisattva Vows, the practice will guide you because it knows the Way far better than you or I ever shall. And if you can trust this, if you can trust your practice a contentment will arise. With this contentment, you will be filled by the prayers of frogs, the gathas of geese and the demanding chant of the lone midnight owl. As you are filled, an energy will arise, the very energy which demanded that the Buddha get up from under the Bodhi tree and share the good news and you, too, will want to reach out and provide aid and comfort within your own unique way…maybe bringing soup to a sick friend, maybe staying home to help contain the virus, maybe by reaching out to phone an isolated old man.
When we are filled, there is no need to steal for what more do we need? It is all right here in a blade of grass, in sunlight dappling a new spring leaf, in the shouts of a puddle-stomping neighbor kid. And although this is difficult to understand and live with, it is also in the wheezy breath of a family member sickened from the virus, it is in the panic and fear of a friend and it is the loneliness and worry at 2:30am. This is the great mystery. It is each thing and no thing at the very same moment…and you are it so, again, what need to steal? And from who? It is all given and continually looking from your eyes and chewing with your teeth. So please do the best you can…take care of yourself, take care of your neighbor and let it take care of you…