A monk asked Baizhang, “What’s the most extraordinary thing?”
Baizhang said, “Sitting alone on this sublime peak.”
The monk bowed, whereupon Baizhang hit him.
– Case 26 in the Blue Cliff Record
To misquote Thomas Paine: These are the times that try our souls.
Nothing like this has happened before, not in American history, not in the history of the entire world. Why? The world has become one through electronic communications, the internet, and mass air travel.
For the very first time it can be said of the whole world, “We are all in this together.” And yet, paradoxically, many feel more isolated and alone. How do we deal with this as citizens and as a sangha? Where is our practice in a time of fear and scarcity? It’s really very simple. It doesn’t require any great insight to respond with common human decency. The opposite of fear is courage. The opposite of scarcity is generosity.
We have, willy-nilly, been thrown into a virtual cyber-universe. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be real. After all, the human mind creates its own virtual reality all the time. And if we truly understand our virtual realities, we can make good use of them, for in the end, even they are nothing but the Truth itself. It’s all in how you look at it.
I’ve seen news stories of young people banding together to offer food and transport to the elderly. We have young people in our sangha, and we have older people. Most of us have computers and smart phones. There are many of us in this sangha who will be financially strapped from loss of jobs and income. There those who are at high risk because of age and underlying health conditions.
Let us be sensitive to Baizhang’s blow. Moving off the 100-foot pole and reaching out, making contact has never been easier. Let’s not be shy in offering help or in asking for help. On the internet there is no “social distancing.”
When Baizhang says, “I sit alone,” he is expressing this great truth: He is All-in-All. Each of us is All-in-All. Alone, we nonetheless sit, stand and walk with each other.
Finally, recall the story of the Sultan’s Ring: A great sultan commanded his court magician to create a magic spell that would turn sorrow into joy and joy into sorrow. So after much thought, the magician created a simple gold ring on which were inscribed the words: “In time, this too shall pass.”
Regarding that cyber-universe, we are rolling out several new avenues for practice and sangha connection online. First, members should have already received invites to a new sangha listserve and web forum on Google Groups. Please read that email for more details; if you did not receive an invite to the listserve and would like one, contact the office.
Second, we will be having our first online sangha circle meeting this Sunday from 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. via Zoom. To join the meeting on Sunday, just click the link: https://zoom.us/j/4261850389 . Note that you will have to install Zoom and permit it to access your camera and microphone (installation only takes a minute).
Third, we will be conducting dokusan (and daisan with Dennis Sienko) via phone and Skype. We will be using Signupgenius to make fifteen-minute appointments for dokusan; invitations for members will follow.