Sunday, August 25, 2013

House on Fire

Zen Master Linji
Something I enjoy very much is reading with the windows open, seeing the light and feeling the breeze, and hearing trees moving in the breeze or children playing outside or birds singing. Maybe sipping some wine too. I'll pause in my reading, look out the windows, and get this sudden feeling of deep, deep happiness. I don't need to do anything. Although I'm very alert, there's no need to analyze or plan or think. I just sit there and soak in the moment like it's a warm bath. This is when I am the most happy.

Sometimes there also is a sadness that creeps into these moments. I'll suddenly think how the moment must pass. Light will fade, warmth will pass as winter comes, windows will have to close, children will grow up, trees will die, and so will I.  Everything eventually ends. It seems terrible that so much life and beauty should be so temporary. It doesn't dilute the moment for me, but the reaction always struck me as curious.

Years ago, I found a wonderful book called Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom edited by translator Thomas Cleary. It contained insights Cleary pulled from the writings of various Zen masters over time.  There is one from Zen Master Linji (? - 866 CE) that encapsulated and spoke about my feeling of sadness about the impermanence of things:

There is no stability in the world; it is like a house on fire. This is not a place where you can stay for a long time. The murderous demon of impermanence is instantaneous, and it does not choose between the upper and lower classes, or between the old and the young. 
If you want to be no different from the buddhas and Zen masters, just don't seek externally.  The pure light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's essence within you. The non-discriminating light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's wisdom within you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's manifestation within you.

All things around us are on fire, on fire with impermanence. They - and we - will all die away or end. All that they can give us or that we have is this moment, even if it's only for a few minutes or a couple hours.  This is why direct perception is stressed in Zen. The flames comes and things change, but if we do not seek beyond the flames we can learn from each moment we have. If we do not, there is nothing else to have that is real.

I return again and again to this concept of the house on fire in my Zen thinking. It can be applied to our experiences, relationships, and view of ourselves.

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