Message from Karin Roshi: The Whole Universe is Medicine

In the Vimalakirti sutra, the great layman Vimalakirti transformed his house into an empty room and lay upon a solitary invalid’s couch. The Buddha asked Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, to visit him. Although a myriad of goddesses and gods, bodhisattvas and disciples all accompanied Manjusri, they were all able to fit in this empty room as Manjusri met Vimalakirti.

Manjushri asked: “This illness of yours – can you endure it? Is the treatment perhaps not making it worse rather than better? Good layperson, what is the cause of this illness? How long will it continue? And how can it be alleviated?”

Vimalakirti replied: “Manjushri, this illness of mine comes from ignorance and clinging and the thirst for existence. Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick. It will last as long as do the sicknesses of all living beings. If all living beings were free from sickness, I also would not be sick.”

Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick. Never in my lifetime, in our lifetime, has this been so obvious. Our earth has been also sick for some time, overrun by the stress of our growth, consumption and self -centeredness. We are not separate from our earth and all beings, all the myriad things, and so their distress is ours. The virus which is ravaging so many is also part of our natural connection. We will all meet it eventually, and it will become part of us for better or worse. The declining health of our economy also is a challenge we all will share for many years to come. We are together in this.

But that is one face of our life today. Master Yunmen said: “Medicine and sickness mutually correspond to each other. The whole universe is medicine.” Vimilakirti lay on his couch sick and yet at the same time was completely healthy, whole and complete, manifesting in that moment as a fever chill, a dry cough, a pain in the chest and a great fatigue.

All the unseen forces working to help us continue to live together, our neighbors going to the store for us, our doctors working long hours, even our politicians struggling to get supplies and equipment and financial support, are helping us to heal. And all of our individual efforts, even if it’s staying home so that we delay our own need, also are helping us to heal. And the earth too is breathing again, the waters clearing, the fish returning. When we sit together and touch that original place of quiet, when we hold our Mu, even through clouds of uncertainty and confusion, we take care of the one who is not sick, has never been sick.

Master Yunmen said: “Medicine and sickness mutually correspond to each other. The whole universe is medicine.” But then he asked us: “Where do you find the self?” Can you find your self in the openness of not knowing, settling into that groundlessness which is each day? In being open to “what is this?” In the crocuses, yellow and purple, one block away? In the light reflecting off water in your glass? In one breath at a time? In every aspect of our experience as medicine, even doubt, uncertainty, fear, discouragement?

Our practice is independent of causes and conditions, and yet lives as we meet them. The best medicine.

– Karin Ryuku Kempe Roshi

A Message to Bodhisattvas & Online Practice Opportunities

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: . 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.

Ken Tetsuzan