Thirteenth-century Zen master Eihei Dogen writes, “If walking had ever stopped, buddha ancestors would not have appeared.” Here, “buddha ancestors” means the profound depth and reality of our human lives. He goes on, “If walking had ended, buddha dharma could not have reached the present day. Walking forward never ceases; walking backward never ceases. Walking forward doesn’t obstruct walking backward. Walking backward doesn’t obstruct walking forward. This is called the mountains’ flow and the flowing mountains.”
With walking backward, we realize the eternal awesome presence of everything, of every life, of every moment. When this realization comes, we stagger backward in awe. The universe is so immense and we marvel that we are here at all. Just look at where we are! Why is all this here? Who could imagine such a universe? People blithely talk about evolution but what are they saying? They are saying that this immense universe happened through an unbelievable process that nobody can quite imagine, let alone figure out. Knowing this mystery in your bones is taking the backward step.
Taking the forward step is doing something in our lives. Backward stepping and forward stepping depend on each other.
When you realize this unity, nothing ever goes wrong. I don’t mean that you don’t get sick or die. It is still true that if you lose someone you love, your world comes to an end. But in the deepest sense, nothing ever goes wrong because you know that life and death are just the mountains walking. Loss happens as we go forward in living, but we can get through it because gain and loss are always going on. Everybody experiences them. So we say, “I’m OK. It’s hard, but I’m OK. ” We can do anything together because we know and accept that gain and loss are always going on.
Times now on our planet are difficult. But there is never a better time than a difficult time to meditate and develop Zen practice. It is in the hard times that the depth of understanding and realization that practice delivers is fully realized. It’s funny, because I’ve noticed that when people are having a hard time they stop practicing. They tell me that they haven’t been at Sakura-ji for a while because the stuff that is happening in their lives distracts them and takes them away. They say they don’t have the time to do Zen practice.
I smile, and say, “I understand.” And I do. But actually it is the opposite. I too have been in terrible times when the only thing I could do was sit down and meditate. And meditation is what saved me because during those tough times, here I am, stable in my practice, holding a bigger vision, knowing how to manifest love and caring. We are all born with a desire to be a loving person, but it takes effort in practice. That is what Dogen is saying.
Suggested practice: When things get tough, sit down and meditate.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo. This column is part of a long essay on an essay by 13th century Zen master Eihei Dogen and is inspired by the teaching of Norman Fischer. For more information, Minogue can be reached at 250-428-6500, and previous columns are available at www.zenwords.net.