Life and Death, Sunshine and Rain: Accept one, Accept the Other

This morning I came across the lovely Buddha Doodles illustration with the Khalil Gibran quote: “If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.” It’s a wonderful line to think about. For what exactly does it mean? In what sense must accepting the one mean accepting the other?

I am aware of at least one other explicit version of the idea, namely, in the Daoist text the Zhuangzi, though I imagine it is surely found in some form in Buddhist texts, as well:

Suddenly Zilai fell ill. Gasping and wheezing, on the verge of keeling over, he was surrounded by his weeping family. Zili, coming to visit him, said to them, “Ach! Away with you! Do not disturb his transformation!” Leaning across the windowsill, he said to the invalid, “How great is the Process of Creation-Transformation! What will it make you become; where will it send you? Will it make you into a mouse’s liver? Or perhaps an insect’s arm?”
Zilai said, “A child obeys his parents wherever they may send him—north, south, east, or west. Now, yin and yang are much more to a man than his parents. If they send me to my death and I disobey them, that would make me a traitor—what fault would it be of theirs? The Great Clump burdens meet with a physical form, labors me with life, eases me with old age, and rest me with death. Hence it is precisely because I regard my life as good that I regard my death as good. (Emphasis mine. Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings With Selections From Traditional Commentaries. Trans. Ziporyn, 45-46.)

While Gibran may not be saying exactly the same thing that Zilai is with his, “Hence it is precisely because I regard my life as good that I regard my death as good,” it is clear that something similar is supposed to be going on.

But why would accepting one thing entail having to accept another? One obvious kind of case would perhaps be Hesperus and Phosphorus, the Evening Star and the Morning Star, both of which are Venus: “If you accept the beauty Hesperus, then you must accept the beauty of Phosphorus.” But even that could be challenged. Perhaps Hesperus is the more beautiful because of the context of the evening, or vice versa. Continue reading

Single-pointed Activity: When eating eat; when walking walk.

Satori (enlightenment?) on the cushion in all of its ineffability is said to be single-pointed; a dissolution of the self and all selves. But such dissolution could not be the way of lived enlightenment practice off the cushion. For otherwise in your attempt to be compassionate activity in the world, you would be no better off than the perverse skeptic who refuses to avoid the pitfall because he’s convinced his senses cannot be trusted. Nevertheless, off the cushion, there is still an emphasis on the single-pointedness of activities when we are told to live in the moment, not fixating on the past or worrying about the future, and that when you eat, you should simply eat, when you walk, you should simply walk, etc. —Do that which you are doing wholeheartedly.

I’m confident I understand the overall instruction and its import. However, I keep bumping my head up against the question: What makes something a single activity and not something akin to multitasking?

I understand the idea of eating when you eat and not, say, eating and talking busily with a friend, much less eating and watching tv. But what about eating and looking out the window? Is that one activity or two? One answer might be: it’s two if while you’re looking out the window you’re commenting to yourself about some aspect of the scene, particularly judging it. Presumably the same thing would be said in regard to walking down a path and looking where you’re going. And in that case there really is a oneness to the activity of walking, being present to the sensations of that, while simultaneously being open and present to the oncoming scene with your eyes and ears, the temperature and air pressure on your skin, etc. And so, too, the oneness keeps building as you come upon an animal doing something laughable and now you’re laughing heartily as you walk and take it all in—you are aware of your steps, the funny thing, the scene, your bodily laughter, etc. Might we say you are having the single-pointed experience of walking-while-laughing-at-funny-animal-whilst-taking-in-the-scene? How far can this be continued? Can one be aware in the same single-pointed way as you walk down the path, talk to a friend, and laugh together about the funny animal? If so, then why not the single-pointed activity of eating-while-watching-tv? Is there some key difference between the former and latter kinds of activities? Or did we miss the cut off point at which point single-pointedness has been left behind? If so, where was it?

Cutting Off the Finger Pointing to the Moon: A Commentary on Dōgen’s, “…when one side is illuminated, the other side is dark.”

In Dōgen’s “Genjō-Kōan” fascicle of the Shōbōgenzō, he writes:

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit dharmas intimately. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illuminated, the other side is dark.

I would venture to say that part of the value of Dōgen’s writing, like that of many good poems and prose, is that it is open to multiple readings (though that is, of course, not to say that anything goes—it’s possible to misinterpret his writings). What follows is an attempt to say something about what the above lines might mean.

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