“When we are born, a world is born. When we die, a world dies.” So goes a maxim of Zen truth that is now axiomatic. So, we have to claim our world, as best we can, even though, in the end, to claim it is best accomplished by letting it go.
First, we have to claim it, and then we have to let it go. Doesn’t seem like a good deal, does it? I am finally realizing that it is not about getting a good deal. It is about fully embracing the only world in town, just as it is, instead of how I want it to be.
Like many human beings, I am periodically, and even chronically, subject to confusion. Our world is ours, the only perspective we know, and yet it interfaces with so many other worlds, many of which that contradict values, and even realities, realities we would like to have shared, but which are denied.
How to live in this world as our own, without semi-permanent visits to cognitive dissonance land? I guess its “Go deep or go home.”
Zen Master Dogen Zenji is said to have said: “If you take one view, mountains are flowing; if you take another view, mountains are not flowing.” It is a superpower, and a Kryptonite laced flaw, of inhabiting this human sensory array, that we can Zoom into the microcosm that suits our fancy. What is more powerful, and more difficult, though, is to abandon the human view, and Zoom out to a view that transcends human lives, and even transcends the entire geologically and cosmologically minute extent of human life itself.
Mountains must have flowed, either as seismic lifts or molten rock for mountains to have become mountains at all. That flowing is still within the nature of the mountains; without that nature of flowing, there would never be mountains. Of course, to us they look as standing still. But part of the responsibility of having an imagination is to see things as they are as emanant from what they were, and to see what they will become, of course as well.
There is a part of a deeper view. Mountains are flowing even as they stand still before us. Mountains are in every moment in the process of becoming dust, thanks to rain and wind, which are now part of the transformative element of the mountains. Without rain and wind, there would be no dust curling off the mountains, into clouds, into air, into soil. As we know, raindrops cannot form without a mote of particulate. We could see the dust of the mountains as a a crucial element of the rain, and the base of the soil upon which the mountain “sits, dust of old mountains becoming thrones of new mountains.
Mountains, rivers, clouds, the granules of the Earth herself, all flowing, interpenetrating each other, as dust blows to the river, and the river carries the soil-dust, and the clouds feed the rivers with pearls of moisture made from an irregular speck of grit.
We are inevitably intertangled in the minutiae of human embraces. At the same time, seeking solitude, we can go big, and go home. We can find our world as part of a flowing home that celebrates the transcendence of all categories and mixes all elements without pause or bias. This unfolding freely enlightening world goes on forever. As if to say, we can even know what forever means from a human perspective.
And from the point of view of the mountain, we can. Can we imagine the mountain remembering its identity as grandfather nebula coalescing into stars, and then flowing into planets? Can such memories go back to a mysterious point that we hopefully label as a “beginning?” From the mountain’s, the star’s, the nebula’s point of view, does there need to be a beginning? Or is that just a foible of human logic, try to make tidy that which is a literally hot mess far beyond our conception?
Perhaps the most astounding element is the vast, ineffable, and intractable order of this so-called “hot mess.” Planets circle the sun with a life-giving regularity that would take your breath away, except that it gives us our breath every living moment.
Bob Dylan wishes for us to be “Forever young.” And Jay-Z and Alphaville have chimed in vocally on this one too, as if age were a wistful dirge to something lost. But given the perspective of nebulae, and mountains, and rivers, and Earth, how could we ever see ourselves as anything other than young? The long view has blessings beyond forever, even, beyond the beginning.