2021-2-10 Coronacast: Feb. 10
9:36PM Feb 15, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
Good morning, this is February 10, 2021. And I feel prompted to address all of the desperate grasping for vaccination appointments. I've been hearing this here and there -- seeing and hearing reports of how, how the lengths to which people are going to try to get scheduled for first part one and then part two. And it just occurred to me that there's a lot of commentary in this area that involves the Dharma.
First of all, let's just name it what it is. It is grasping, that is to the extent that it is has an element of desperation, then certainly, it's, it's grasping, it's where does grasping come from? It comes from anxiety. It's kind of a root anxiety. The old texts say that grasping or craving is sort of our lot as, as human beings, that we're wired, in this sense. Desire is another word for it.
Some of that grasping and in some cases could come out of a sense of entitlement. Well, there are the there are the rules, you know, with respect to age and comorbidities, underlying medical conditions, as well as the select occupations that have been designated as priorities -- given given priority for the vaccinations. But now with respect to age, I heard just just today, a few minutes ago, that children, adult children are spending hours a day trying to secure appointments for the parents. Well, good, good. Nothing wrong with that. Just because though, just because you're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for your parents doesn't make it the most noble thing in the world. If, let's see, if we were very honest about this, our parents fall in that same area of self identification. I, me and my -- even if it's not for I, for me, to go to such lengths for my parents is not the most exalted motivation. It's understandable, of course. Yes, if my parents were still alive, I would be trying to help them out in that way too. I guess it's all in the in the degree the the proportion of time one spends.
So there's this, this just underlying human condition of anxiety. I think Heidegger Heidegger said anxiety is there. It is only sleeping. Its heart beats perpetually through man's being. This is our root anxiety, of being and knowing that we will not always be --the human predicament of recognizing, well, I keep going back to Dogan -- recognizing the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time of death. Well, the certainty of death or the or rather the uncertainty of the time of death has really come into bold relief now during the pandemic. And and so people are amped up to get their vaccinations, so it is people who, who want to get vaccinations. And so there's a lot of craziness out there right now.
It's, it's a, it's a classic case of competition for limited resources. It's an old story. If we see something as in short supply, then our tendency is to want to grab it while we can -- natural human impulse. It's one that I I faced, at various times in my travels, I remember being in some small town in China, and this would have been 1985, 36 years ago, someplace in China, at small town, and we knew that the buses only came through once a day. And that was seemed to us was with two companions, it seemed to us that the bus was the only feasible way to get out of that town. We had probably been there to see some caves, some Buddhist caves, I don't remember now. But so there we are, at this bus stop or rather bus station, and the bus rolls in. Good bus, modern bus.
But then comes the crush of people who want to get on that bus. And it's quite, it's quite a test of ones -- it's quite a test, when you know, that if you if they can't get you on that bus, that is going to be another day in that little town, which might cause us to miss the next the next connection and throw off our whole itinerary on this Buddhist pilgrimage. So here we are, with the with the natives, the Chinese people pressing at the, at the door of the bus, and recognizing that either I either we exercise some some real effort in competing with these other people to get to get a seat on this bus, or we might go on day after day -- that if we were to drop back and just wait with, you know, a noble serenity until there was a no others to compete with to get on the bus that we might grow old and die in that little town. So what do we do. We we didn't throw elbows. That's always an option -- getting what we would consider too aggressive. But nor did we just hang back as good little Buddhists until our karma ripened to get on that bus. You just find the middle way. That's what's Buddhism is often called the middle way, in this case between too much passivity and too, too much aggression. We did make it out. We made it out because of the beneficence of the bus driver. He saw us as foreigners -- it was pretty obvious -- and came around, went around and somehow motioned us to squeeze in through the window or something. In other words, they were gracious enough to let these foreign devils get on the bus before the others. So we owe them for that. It's one of 1000s of reasons why I have great sympathy for foreigners, I encounter and always have had.
One more story and this was more extreme This was in India a few years earlier, probably 40 years ago. And we were on a train in India, one of the part of the great legendary train systems of India. And we had, we had been urged to buy first class tickets. Not second or third class ticket maybe was second, maybe we got second class tickets, which were, you know, incredibly inexpensive. But we knew enough, we'd been told, don't get the lowest class of seating. So here we were, on these wooden seats, crammed in with a lot of other people. And the train rolls into our destination, the place where we had to get off. But getting off was quite a challenge, because there were so many people on the platform, all wanting to get in that door, get into our car, that we couldn't get out, none of us could get out. There was, it was maddening. We were we were just beside ourselves with the how irrational it was. These these people at the doorway of a platform, pushing, pushing, squeezing, trying to get in, when there was no way to get in -- that the car was full. And but they wouldn't they wouldn't back off and allow us to get out of the car, because they're too desperate to get into the car. It was it was Bedlam. There were screaming people in in the car, babies crying. We were all just jammed together, pressed together. Finally, finally, thank Buddha. I don't know what happened. I couldn't see. But somehow, someone had the sense to yield so that those of us in the car get started getting off.
Anyway. Not to spin too many yarns now. But it's a real it's a real predicament when there are this competition competing for limited resources. There's also the frustration of of just encountering problems with the websites when we're trying to register for vaccinations. I've heard plenty about that I've experienced my share of it -- where things just take this. What is it called? That the system collapses or something you can't you can't do anything. The feeling of I can't figure this out.
So, what do we do those of us who recognize the importance of getting vaccinated, not just for ourselves, but as a public health measure, as a public health measure, as a Mahayana motivation for the sake of others as well. For herd herd immunity. I think of, again, the great Japanese master Dogan who in one of his writings, said the following. This is from a book called a primer of Soto zen, which is a translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. This is an old book 1971. So in it, this is a series of talks that Dogon gave and this is the 13th century and this is what he said. When one thinks about it, everyone has his allotted share of food and clothing while he is alive. It does not come from thinking about it. Nor does one fail to get it because one does not seek for it. And then he repeats a couple sentences later. Each person naturally receives his allotted share in life. He need not think of it. We need not search for it. The allotted portion is there. Even if you rush about in search of riches, what happens when death suddenly comes? Zen practitioners should clear their minds of these non essential things and concentrate on practicing the way.
Well, he Dogen was addressing his monks in these talks, but the principle is the same. It comes down to faith, faith in one's karma, faith and, but but not just disengagement. Now going back to scheduling a vaccine, not just passivity. But persisting and trying, without getting crazy about it.
Two of the six parameters, the six perfections, these are the qualities that are needed to come to awakening and but also are developed. These are the six qualities developed through practice. And two of those six are patience and vigor. And these two, we need to find a balance between these two. The patience is the is the passive side, the vigor is the active side. And we always want to integrate the passive and the active. Passive is maybe not the best word, the receptive, or the trusting the allowing -- to balance that with the active. And here, we have a chance to practice that. Yes, plug away at it. Go on, go on your websites, whatever that pharmacies are the New York, New York State websites and do it, do it 10 times a day. But then accept if you don't get an appointment, accept that that's the way it is. And then keep trying.
One more story from India. This was more recently, well, more recently -- 1993 -- where I was coming back from a conference with the Dalai Lama. And and we might that the two of us, Sante Poromaa, now Roshi, in Sweden, he and I found ourselves in a hotel room in the Delhi airport ready to leave the next day -- he for Sweden and me for the states. And we learned that Air India had gone on strike. Air India going on strike, I'm told is not uncommon. But there we were. We showed up the next morning, even though we'd heard it was on strike, you know, you have a choice of waiting in your hotel room or going to the airport and waiting. And we learned that there were no flights. But what do you do? Someone had told me before that very trip someone and said, Now listen, this is a pretty worldly guy who achieved a lot in his life. He said, Look, if you get stuck somewhere, you holler and scream and you, you protest that they've got to get you on that flight. But I knew that wasn't my style, to do that. But what is my style is persistence. So what I did, all through the night, and that Delhi airport was find my way back into this rabbit warren of, of Air India's bureaucracy. To this one guy, I found this one guy I explained to him, I need to be back. There's a sesshin there that is already underway. A retreat, I said. I'm leading this retreat. This is all true. I'm leading this retreat, it's already started. Please, can you help me find a flight? And he said, Oh, yes, sir, I will try to do that is, is gonna make all my efforts. And then I retreated, went back to the terminal and sat in these plastic chairs where you can't lie down. But then I would, I would just keep going back. It's like Chinese water torture. Every hour, I wend my way back to his desk and say any anything yet? No, sir. I'm sorry. Please be patient. And then the next hour and then the next hour and then next hour. I was courteous. But and then finally at five in the morning, for a long night in that airport, five in the morning, I saw the buses rolling up. And the loudspeaker said all passengers on this flight need to board the buses where you will be staying in these such and such a hotel for a few days. For a few days.
And I thought all right, all right. It's not my karma to make it back to sesshin on time. And just then this dedicated servant of Air India came running out as the other passengers were boarding buses. He came running out with a papers in his hand and said I have you a flight I have you a flight I have you a flight. And well, that's I'll just add that that was the longest, the longest flight that, the longest day of travel. It was 69 hours, 69 hours between the the Dalai Lama's palace, and the Rochester airport.
Anyway, let's wrap this up. Balancing patience, and vigor in the in the form of persistence. In this, of course, is -- applies to Zen practice as well. Make the effort. Don't sit back and wait for things to come to you. We make the effort. But we do so in a non grasping way. Well, that's the hardest thing in the world. How do we not grasp when that's our nature, our human nature, it's not it's not our best nature, but it's our human nature, to grasp at things. Well, that's where of course where the practice comes in. That in absorption, absorption in the practice, we're working on breath practice, koan practice, shikantaza. Right there is how we integrate vigor, the effort, and patience.
So really, everything I just said you can forget about as long as you're, you're dedicated to the practice you're working on. That's all. It's, you know, the Hakuin chant: upholding the precepts, repentance, and giving, the countless good deeds and the way of right living, all come from zazen. It's all distilled in zazen. We don't have to make a project out of finding this balance. We will find it. It will be found in this no minded absorption in whatever our practice is. And that and that means if your practice is, is breath practice, or shikantaza, just means not being separate from what you're doing all day long. Zen practice, of course, is more than just sitting. And when you're sitting, you do the formal practice and then when you're out and about the other 23 hours of your day, then you just notice when the mind is wandering and just shake it off. If your practice is koan, you come back to the koan while you're washing your hands or while you're shoveling snow. If it's not, if it's breath practice, shikantaza you just let go of the thought and and do your best to be fully engaged to be which means to be present -- fully embodied in a present way, to be fully presently embodied with what you're doing.
Right. Thank you.