By Peggy Metta Sheehan
Case 5 in the Wu-men kuan:
Hsiang-yen said, “It’s as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch by your teeth. Your hands can’t grasp a branch and your feet can’t touch one. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, ‘What’s the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?’ If you do not answer, you fail the questioner and evade your responsibility. If you do answer, you lose your life. What do you do?”
I suspect and hope that we can relate to this koan quite intimately right now. Many of our fellow beings are hanging by a breath to their lives. Many are without jobs, frightened for the future, and many are without enough food and supplies. All of us feel a deep concern, caring and grief. We are indeed together hanging from a branch by our teeth. We are united in a vast field of uncertainty and unknowing. Can you sense it, recognize it, and STAY right there?
“What’s the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?” What’s the meaning of this virus? Of my life? Of love and loss? What is it? Where is it? What should I do? Where should I turn? STAY right where you are! And you will see. There is nothing hidden and nowhere to go. DO what is right in front of you and only that.
Make yourself available to the gentle recognition of what is True, always true: the clang of the dishes, the smell of rice, steam hitting your face, sore knuckles as you wash your hands again and again. Each time the only time, each time inviting you to let go of your life, your hopes and dreams. For if you do not, you fail the questioner and evade your responsibility! It is your responsibility to STAY. How wonderful. Hold your seat, look deeply and STAY. Please STAY for the benefit of all beings. And find right there an unfathomable mystery, a gift that opens and unfolds.
It is your responsibility to stay and to respond. In so doing you may lose your life. What do you do? What are your willing to give your life for or to? Health care workers are pretty clear about this. Sure, there may be times of doubt, of overwhelm and fear, even outrage and anger, but there is an unwavering dedication to something larger. This, too, we share.
Be still and listen. Do not fail the questioner. Step into your VERY life, as it IS. Call your neighbors, sew face masks, appreciate your morning tea and the hot water that comes out of the shower head, laugh as your dog rolls in the grass, let your breath be taken by colors of spring popping forth, carefully clean your home and tenderly place your hand on your own heart while listening to news. Give up your life in each and every moment and you will have no regrets whether hanging or falling.