A while ago, I wrote that Zen master Dogen taught that the practice of zazen is like a circle. Each time we take our seat in meditation we are taking our place in a circle with all others who practice and have practiced, including the ancients and the Buddhas. A person wrote in back that the aborigines called us moderns the “line people” because in our progess madness we have forgotten that life is a circle–and to the aborigines that we are not just linked with other humans but with everything alive, including presumably the living waters. As I mentally prepare for the “Parabola Live” event that will be happening tomorrow evening at the Orchard House Cafe (from 7-9 pm, at 58th and First Avenue in Manhattan), I can’t help thinking that we will all be sitting in a cafe that is just about on the banks of the East River. We will be breathing in air that contains water from that river…and from the Hudson River…and from the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, we will be breathing in air that includes water and other elements that existed in Neolithic times in China, when the first Taoists studied the way the Yellow River flowed. Nothing remains the same yet none of the elements that make up this world disappear completely. The ancient Chinese Taoistsread the river like a book. They made notes about it in the straight and wavy lines of “Water Script.” This became the straight and broken lines of the hexagrams that make up the I Ching: The Book of Changes. Everything changes. Yet, amazingly, we breathe the same air made up of the same elements that have been here since the world began. We live in a circle with the ancients, with the animals, with all life.
Taoism teaches people to be like water, without ego, intention, fixed characteristics. It teaches people to be like water and not avoid “the low places,” humbling experiences, pain. When I was just out of college and struggling to be a grown up in Big City, I was cut to the quick to learn that a friend compared me to water behind my back. The point was that I lacked a distinctive persona, that I flowed into situations, assuming the shape of whatever container I happened to be in. At the time, I longed to be more dramatic, more memorable, less, well, wishy washy. Now I wish to be able to be like water which…to come full circle to Dogen Zen terms is not dependent on mind, nor body, nor karma, is dependent only on its own nature…is liberated. Amazing what the ancients have seen in water. May we connect with it and draw strength from it.