Is there a Truth greater than any particular tradition or way? Is it possible that a kind of guide rope was/is given to us that isn’t invented by us, that precedes human beings? I once asked this of John Daido Loori, the founder abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. Tall and imposing in black robes, a tall rugged American Zen master, he answered in a surprisingly gentle and personal way. He told me about sitting with his mother as she lay dying. He was reciting the Heart Sutra, that extraordinary incantation of the Truth in us that goes beyond all human constructions. But he saw that his mother, who had dementia, was very agitated so he began saying the Lord’s Prayer and she calmed down. As he eased into the Lord’s Prayer in Italian, her native language, he saw her relax completely into sleep, into death. I pictured her letting the deeply remembered rhythms of the prayer carry forward out of this world. Daido Loori told me he realized that as much as he loved the Heart Sutra, the Christian prayer was doing exactly what prayer is really meant to do, which is help us prepare for death….help us go beyond this form. This was told to me in the midst of a Buddhist conference at The World Trade Center and within a couple of months those huge forms were gone…now Loori is gone…for now, the trace those words that day left in me is that there is indeed a rhythm, a pattern, a force of compassion beyond words reaching out to us. Madame de Salzmann saw this Truth behind human forms. I once heard that many decades ago she visited a venerated Zen monastery in Japan. The abbot studied her and announced “She sees.”
In the lastest issue of Parabola, The Future, the Brooklyn born scholar monk Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi describes taking a walk on the campus of the University of Wisconsin one morning many years ago and seeing a Buddhist monk for the first time in his life: “I was struck with wonder and amazement at the sight of this serene, self-composed man, who radiated a lightness, inner contentment, and dignity I had never seen in any Westerner.” Many years and many large and small decisions later, Venerable Bodhi encountered that monk again and he was now a monk himself. “The workings of karma are indeed strange and unfathomable!” he writes.
Usually I go around full of thoughts and cares, trying to control life. But sometimes, when conditions are just right (like when it’s clear that circumstances are beyond my control), I can glimpse for myself that there is a rhythm to life and that we if could only learn to be quiet and attentive enough we could follow it, be with it, contribute our small lives to a larger Truth.