September -21 2019 Barry Magid September 21st 2019

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I hope you’ll understand if I need to talk some more about my dog Sono. Mourning is one of those things that just takes as long as it takes. The image that has stayed with me in particular is that of his last few minutes when we held him as he was given an IV injection that put him to sleep, and his eyes remained open through the whole process, looking up at us. I learned that dog’s eyes don’t automatically close at death, so he went in a smooth transition from being alert and looking up at us to sleeping and to death.

What stays with me was the sense of complete trust he had in us in that moment. At first, I was wondering whether at some level I felt guilty because in that moment of complete trust we were putting him to death. Is that a betrayal of the trust? As I thought about it, I don’t think so. I think that he knew we cared for him right up through his end. We were doing everything we could for him. But what I finally realized was I think I envied him that level of trust, that complete letting go, to being held and taken care of at the end.
It’s hard to know if I trust anybody as much as he trusted us in that moment. But it also made me think about the way we talk about trusting in the Dharma, or trusting in life. What does that mean? Can it mean the same kind of thing? I think too often it means wanting to trust in something equivalent to God’s plan, something greater than us that is watching over us in that same kind of way, or some way that it’s all going to work out all right. I don’t think that’s much different than trusting that the market will come out fair in the end. But it seems to be a deeply human wish, a projection of that kind of longing for trust onto the world.

I was talking to Jessica about this a bit and she was saying how she and a Jungian friend of hers were talking about how so much of spirituality seems to be about getting in touch with something bigger than ourselves. The Jungian had a fascination with the image of the great mother for a long time, but always there’s this sense of something bigger, of Life with a capital “L” personified. She said they were joking about even calling it the big soup that we’re all part of. She said to me, I never hear you talk that way, about getting in touch with something bigger than you. And I said, No, I am the big soup. I’m not trying to get in touch with the big soup. And certainly the big difference in Zen is that we don’t talk about being in touch with something outside ourselves, separate from ourselves that we try to unite with. We’re it. For better or for worse.

We chant “The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.” Well, that’s what this is about. You see yourself as the embodiment of something rather than having to get in touch with something out there. I think when we talk about trusting in the Dharma, it’s a very different kind of trust. Our other vows about “Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher,” there we can absolutely trust life to teach us about impermanence and dependency. No matter what else happens, we will see that change is inevitable, autonomy a myth, and that can be in some contexts good news or bad news. If you feel very stuck, a reminder of change can be liberating. If you feel alone and that you have to do everything on your own or for yourself, a reminder of interdependency is a reminder that we’re in this together.

I think there’s an element, though, added in Zen, which you can say is the Morning Star factor, that experience of the absolute as the perfection of things, just as they are, when we rest in the moment regardless of its content. When we experience that, there is a way in which we feel a basic completeness or safety or even delight in life as it is, and in a certain sense we can trust in that aspect of life always being there for us.

We might see that in our readings of Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, he expresses that kind of immersion in and delight in life. In every form it takes, he’s part of it, not separate from it, and it’s just constantly blooming, and he delights in all the ways it manifests, big and small. We should remember that a few years after that was written came the Civil War and in the midst of that carnage, it’s very hard to sustain a picture of the perfection of life as it is, very hard to talk about trusting life in circumstances like that. Yet what Walt Whitman did was become a nurse, a volunteer nurse, and he tended to the wounded, of which there were thousands, many of whom were undergoing horrific amputations as a result of war wounds. and he went around, man to man, all through these endless camps of war wounded in Washington, offering just a tender touch to each the best he could.

My takeaway from this is that trust, like love, is something that we can give to each other. I don’t think it makes sense to abstract it into trusting the Dharma or trusting life. Trust and love seem to me an animal phenomena that I can give and receive from Sono and that we can give and receive to each other. If we’re going to say we trust in the Dharma, it should just come down to a reminder to give that to one another because we ourselves are its only true source.

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