Seeing Water

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Once there was a fish who had heard tales of the Source of Life, which would bring whoever found it their heart’s desire. The fish swam to every corner of the ocean, asking: “Where is the Source of Life? How can I find it?” She kept getting pointed toward different tasks and to more remote parts of the sea—farther, deeper, higher.

After many years of seeking, the fish arrived back at the place where she had first started. Entering her home waters, she encountered an older fish who asked, “What is going on with you, my friend? Why do you look so worried and dejected?”

“I’ve spent years looking for the Source of Life,” the fish explained. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve tried or the number of places I’ve searched—all in vain. I don’t suppose you know where I could find it?”

The old fish smiled and said, “I’ve heard many names for the Source of Life in my day, but the simplest is ‘water.’” (Loch Kelly, Shift into Freedom)

I know we can all relate to this and even profess to how hard it is to see! The path of Zen is fairly simple and straightforward. Sit quietly, unmoving even, so as not to create waves, and water will be revealed. Once we see water, a radical shift in perspective has occurred, and we now know for ourselves that everything, everything is water. And that includes the waves themselves. In fact the waves may even show you the way to water.

The blessing here is that once we see, we can’t not see. Even if our view becomes clouded at times, we still know water. We know we are swimming in it.

And I’d like to suggest that in the same way our Zen practice opens or exposes the way of water, it is long past time to acknowledge the waters of racism that our culture has been swimming in for centuries. Once we see it, we can’t not see any longer. That is a radical shift. And as with any first glimpse, it is just the beginning. Immense work, dedication and ruthless honesty will need to follow. This is our Work, the Way of courage, humility, patience, listening, and genuine inquiry. Will we still be stupid, insensitive, oblivious, hurtful at times? Yes. But we now know this water and we’ll begin to behave and act differently, for it is the natural consequence of true seeing.

We can change. It is absolutely possible to change these tides. It happens again and again in the practice of awakening. In an instant eighty thousand teachings are fulfilled.

There is finally a deep crack in the structure of systemic racism because, at last, enough of us see. Cracks have occurred before, but this time we will not allow it to be covered over again. May we forgive and be forgiven for how long it has taken. From this right view, with openness, inquiry, and letting go over and over of unfounded defensiveness (ego clinging) we will step into water that holds and cares for us all and always has.

Diamond Sangha Teachers’ Circle

Two ZCD teachers, Peggy Metta Sheehan and Karin Ryuku Kempe, recently attended a meeting of the Diamond Sangha Teachers’ Circle at Palolo Zen Center, near Honolulu.

This was the fourth DSTC meeting that I have had the privilege to attend. As you can imagine, it is rare to be able to share the ins and outs of Zen practice, training and teaching with such wise and wonderful friends in the dharma.

Our meeting was rich and full of laughter, insight, warmth and sharing. Our agenda included daily koan study, translation topics starting with the Four Vows (more to come on that), history of the Diamond Sangha with wonderful stories of Robert Aitken, a bit about our strengths and weaknesses, and a few business topics.

We began each morning with zazen together in their beautiful zendo listening to the dancing calls of the thrush and rooster. (Their zendo, by the way, is around 900 square feet, a very nice size and food for thought as we embark on our journey.) We had the opportunity to share meals with sangha members each day. These meetings are not possible without sangha and we are tremendously grateful for their hard work, organization, delicious meals and steady presence.

One evening was a sitting with the whole sangha, followed by a panel of five teachers addressing various topics with questions and answers. Karin Sensei was one of the panelists. The topics were timely and brought forth by the Honolulu Sangha and included suggestions for strengthening lay practice, how is the current mindfulness trend impacting Zen and how we deal with the self that needs bolstering while simultaneously forgetting the self. Apparently there were a few first-time attendees to the Honolulu Diamond Sangha sitting that evening who wondered if this happens every Wednesday night. Good timing on their part, and too bad it doesn’t!

The week ended with a lovely celebration at Clark and Kathy Ratliff’s home that overlooks Honolulu and the ocean. Clark was one of the original group leaders at the Denver Zen Center on Columbine in the 1970s. There was a bit of entertainment at the celebration that included our own Sara Bauer, who has quite a voice, as many of you know. She was joined in harmony and on guitar by Sarah Athanas, who is her good friend and the DSTC assistant. Sara B. sends her good wishes and a big “Aloha!” to the Sangha. We are happy to be home, feeling inspired and enriched. Aloha!

-Peggy Metta Sheehan