The deepest things in my life seem to happen before I have a thought about anything – the way the moon is reflects in the water off Bodega Head, the yellow of the flower, the brown grass of summer. There is an intimacy in life that beckons, that includes, that, if left alone, opens. Across spiritual traditions this is called “coming home.” And though we are most intimate with our lives when we notice “home” closer to us than we can think or imagine, we search, expecting something far off and distant to complete us. Hakuin Ekaku, 17th Century Japanese Zen, noticed this and wrote his “Praise Song for Meditation:”
People miss what's in front of them and go searching far from home. It's sad, like someone standing in water and crying out in thirst, or a child from a rich family struggling among the poor.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus notices the same thing when he says,"People will say look here or look there. I tell you the realm of God is right here." (paraphrase) So, I am always standing in water. When I begin to think that I am thirsty, and I begrudge the two-mile walk to the well, I suffer. When I am surrounded and immersed in blessing, yet find hope in some far distant promise, I suffer. Fulfillment seems far off. My present life, if not cursed, is certainly without blessing.What if we turn things around?
This is what Jesus did with the Sermon on the Mount. He took the least – the poor, the grief stricken, the afflicted – and pointed to the blessing. The poor in spirit, Jesus suggests, are happy – they know the realm of God. The grieving know comfort. The meek inherit the earth. Things seem upside down, different than we have grown to expect. There is a koan from the great Chinese master Yunmen, “The teaching is upside down.” So, with Jesus.
So, what if we turn things around? What if wrong is right? What if right is wrong? Up, down? The grasp that we have on our world and our experience is loosened as we cease to so strongly identify with our thoughts, beliefs, what we have come to assume about the world.
Lest I be accused of preaching without practice, I thought I would give it a try.As he spoke on the mountaintop, Jesus said, “You are happy when people revile you and persecute you, when they tell lies about you.” In my life, I have made choices that are designed to have people like me. Engaging folks with a charming demeanor will, in my mind, ensures blessing and happiness. I might say, “I am happy when people love me and speak well of me.” Turning this around, this sentiment begins to lose its foundation, I pull myself away from it. I see my sadness and lonliness when I consider, “I am sad when people love me and speak well of me.” With this I begin to see the isolation of my “Prince Charming,” my dependence on others for self-regard. I begin to notice that I look for love in the wrong places – like a person, standing in water, calling out in thirst.
There is another way to turn this around, Christ’s way in the SOM, “You are happy when people revile you.” This leads me to a place before thinking good or bad, of being loved or reviled. I move to the koan for the day,“If you turn things around you are like the Buddha, you are like Christ.”
The moon sets over the ocean, a pathway of light leads me home.
I hope to see you this Wednesday at 6:30 for meditation. We will take up this koan, “When you turn things around you are like the Buddha.” Peace, David