Let the Mystery Be

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to Berkeley Zen Center on this rainy, chilly, late winter morning. I'm liking the rain, but I'm sure there are some parts of the Bay Area that are ready for it to be over. But it's what's happening. It's part of the mystery. That's what I'm going to speak about today. Mystery, bewilderment, maybe signs. I keep coming back to the the image of the cypress tree in the front yard that Ross spoke of last week. I mean, he just really drew our attention to it, certainly my attention.


And also this morning, When I, after the opening, when I went outside, there was a storm of crows. Did people hear that? And it was really amazing. They were sweeping through the sky. There were about 20 of them, and they were all crowing, as crows are wont to do. And they landed on the building, and then that didn't, sit right with them. And so they all got up together and flew off in a circle, still really loud, and landed in a tree across the street. It just was such a striking, it was a mysterious event. We've had a number of


more difficult mysteries to confront in the last few weeks. There's the passing of our friend Jed Appelman, Tokusan Jakusho. who sat with us here for years and Pripli was just so vividly here with us for the last few months of his life. Uh, and then he was gone and with his family, some of us were able to take care of his body and, uh, He was buried at Fernwood in Marin. It's a green burial, if you know of that.


So the body will fully return to the elements that had come together to form the body and form the person, and it just returns back into the earth. A couple of days ago, one of our Dharma brothers, Sato Lee Debaras, that some of you may know, he passed away. And in that case, people sat with his body for three days. Sochin went to see, to sit with people. And I'm also thinking of our friend, Mary Beth, who lost her partner, Terry Osborne,


not so long ago, also a matter of a month or maybe a little more. This is a great mystery. In our memorial liturgy, in the Zen tradition, there's a line that I've always thought was very striking as a As a matter of poetry, I really appreciate the line. It says, this person, he or she has taken a leap and the great mystery is no mystery to her now. The great mystery is no mystery to her now. And I was thinking about that yesterday and coming to my own thoughts.


And Sojin dropped by to chat in the afternoon and was talking about this line. And I believe you said, well, I'm not so sure. Right, not sure, so sure that that person, that the mystery is not a mystery to that person, still a mystery. And, you know, then I was thinking further when we were talking, it's like, I haven't figured out this mystery. What are we doing here? And I haven't the slightest idea whether the having taken either, you can consider it a leap, or you can consider it a small step over a threshold.


We have no idea whether that mystery is a mystery to that person. So it's a lovely line of poetry. But it's speculative. So I want to talk a little about mystery, but I'd like to sing you a song that is really kind of nails my point of view. This is by wonderful songwriter and singer Iris DeMint. People know of her? It's called, appropriately enough, Let the Mystery Be.


So I'm going to start with a chorus, and you sing the chorus through. It happens a few times, so you'll get a chance to sing. Sorry. No. Here we go. Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.


Everybody's worryin' where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done. No one knows for certain, so it's all the same to me. I think I'll just let the mystery be. So that's the chorus, you wanna try that? Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from. Everybody's worrying about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done. No one knows for certain, and it's all the same to me. Think I'll let the mystery be. Some say once you're gone, you're gone forever. Some say you're gonna come back. Some say you'll rest in the arms of your savior if in sinful ways you lack.


Some say you're coming back in a garden, a bunch of carrots and little sweet peas. I think I'll just let the mystery be. Here's the chorus. Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from. Everybody's worrying about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done. Well, no one knows for certain, and it's all the same to me. I think I'll just let the mystery be. Some say they're going to a place called glory I ain't saying that's not a fact But I've heard I'm on the road to purgatory And I don't like the sound of that Cause I believe in love and I live my life accordingly I choose to let the mystery be


Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from. Everybody's worrying about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done. But no one knows for certain, and it's all the same to me. I think I'll just let the mystery be. No, no one knows for certain. And it's all the same to me. I think I'll just let the mystery be. Does anyone have any questions? I think we're done for the day. I actually have to go on for a while but probably I shouldn't. Yeah. It was not unexpected.


It's in the nature of stringed instruments. They always go out of tune. And it's in the nature of a guitar, certain kinds of instruments, the tuning is invariably a compromise. You're always compromising. So I wanted it in tune for the main chord that I was playing. And I just had to stop and listen. You know, I listened really carefully. and come to a place where, as is often said, it's close enough for folk music. It was pretty close, I think. The musicians in the room, you can tell me, not perfect. So we like a mystery.


We like a good mystery, right? And the thing about a mystery, well, the origins of the word go back to, you know, a religious truth that's not understandable by the application of human reason or something secret or unexplainable. And, you know, we have a whole genre, a literary genre of mysteries, and it's sold unimaginable numbers of books, right? And the deal with it is that we read these books because the mystery is always going to be figured out in the end. You know, just like The detective always solves the mystery. I mean, what would happen, you know, if after 50 or 100 pages, you know, Sherlock Holmes said, you know, I'm just going to go back and and shoot up another hypodermic full of cocaine.


You know, it's like that's enough. Or Agatha Christie says, you know, I want to go back to this sweater that I'm knitting. It doesn't work that way. We have to see it through. So this is the mystery. Death is a great mystery. Life is a great mystery, even though sometimes we think we know what we're doing. Zazen is an incredible mystery. I sat Zaza in this morning and I haven't the vaguest idea what happened. If anyone can tell me what was happening, well, if you can tell me what was happening for me, then, you know, then I will do 108 bows to you. But if you can, if you can tell me what was happening for you, I'll do 108 bows to you. This is all a mystery.


And for me, I love the mystery. I'm quite content to let it be. You know, and there's something about a mystery that the call of that mystery is palpable. You know, it's not so much that I need to figure it out. It's just that I love the mystery and love the way mind and body meet it, whether it's in our daily life and relationship or in facing the wall, facing one's breath and one's posture. Last summer when I was at Upaya Zen Center, we had a course, a section of our chaplaincy training with Wendy Johnson.


People know Wendy from Green Gulch? She's a wonderful person, a master gardener, a Zen teacher, and she was talking about wildness. And she read this line from a 13th century Persian Sufi text. The verse says, Lord, increase my bewilderment. And Bewilderment means, you know, to, in conventional terms, to lead astray or to lure into the wild. And we're always, you know, the mystery is that the wild is with us.


The wild is inside of us. It's wild in there, right? Sometimes we want to think it isn't. Sometimes we want to think we've got it under control, but it's wild. And there's also an edge. What we call wilderness has a line of demarcation from what we call maybe civilization. We know where that line is. We know there's a line and we know when we've stepped over it. Gary Snyder has a poem, short poem that expresses the mystery of meeting the wilderness. So he writes,


It comes blundering over the boulders at night. It stays frightened outside the range of my campfire. I go to meet it at the edge of the light. It comes blundering over the boulders at night. It stays frightened outside the range of my campfire. I go to meet it at the edge of the light. The wilderness is disorderly, it seems. It's not ordered by conscious mind, by our conscious mind. It has its own order. It has its own hierarchies.


And we see the death of our friends and loved ones is a place where their bodies return to the wilderness. All of the systems that worked so well to sustain us, to keep us thinking and breathing and walking, talking, all of our functioning, those systems start to break down. We can think of it in terms of what we chant in the Heart Sutra, the five skandhas. forms, feelings, perceptions, formations, consciousness. These are the attributes of what we provisionally call self.


And I remember really being struck, this is quite a long time ago, when one of our early members who was priest Fran Tribe, when she was in the hospital and we went to visit her just a couple days before she died, what she said was, the five skandhas are dissolving. And that really struck me. I had to think, is that true? Is that an idealization? But what I've seen over time is that that's an accurate description. And they're not gone until they're gone. And when you see your friend lying there, all that's left is the form.


skanda. And when you place that in the ground, that form returns to its elements. The other elements of conscious, the other elements of the five skandas presumably have dissolved. So Just as they dissolve, there's also, of course, the other side. So we don't need to be too grim about this. They also come together. writes in this fascicle, Zenki, that we may study during the practice period this spring. He says, he talks about, you can say life or birth, different translations. He said life is the manifestation of total dynamic working, of everything working together.


So there's a There's a line there. Baby has spent all this time in the womb and then she emerges into the world and we call that life. We call that birth. And there's obviously a lot of ethical debate about where life begins, which we won't get into here, but certainly a line is crossed when the baby emerges from the womb. And then in the course of the years of its growth and development, consciousness and the various five skandhas are honed and shaped and turned into something that we recognize as a self, that we perceive in ourselves as having some continuity.


That's a very strong illusion. But it's coming together, and at the same time as it's coming together, things are also coming apart. We stand right at the edge of this wildness all the time. It's really, I think it's really important to grasp that we have that within us and to honor it. Without the wildness, there'll be nothing that we call civilization. And without civilization, so-called, we might not, we would have no means of comparison to recognize what is wild. So we set up these binary


definitions and move in those directions. But can we embrace the mystery as Aristomene writes in that song? I come back as I've been talking over the last few years about the three tenets that Bernie Glassman and others developed. And I find them very useful perspectives. So the first tenet is not knowing. Not knowing is really being in mystery. allowing yourself to be in the wildness, to be crawling through the tangle of the underbrush, to be sitting facing the wall with no idea of what's going to come.


Just resting in not knowing. Zazen is really resting in not knowing. And I'm so, I'm so grateful for it. You know, I'm grateful for like that this morning, just the, the quiet of Zazen. If it wasn't for the quiet of Zazen, I would not have heard the sound of the crows. And it was a wondrous wild sound. It really, it woke me up. You know, woke me up like, Ross's view of the cypress tree woke him up. And I guess I placed some value on being awake. I also really – I place a lot of value on having sleep but that's one of the conundrums of this practice.


You get a lot of time to be awake and not so much time to be asleep. But that being awake is the second tenet. bearing witness, really seeing what is in front of you, really hearing the crows, really seeing your friend in that hospital bed who has deported and returning, I don't know. I don't know what just happened. I don't know where he is. Can I be okay with that? And then the third tenet is, the way I frame it is an appropriate response.


Walking through the wilderness, walking through the mystery, Which of course, as you do that, you create a path. This is inevitable. If you walk in a direction, you'll create a path. If you walk in that direction multiple times, then the path becomes clearly defined and others can follow it. The Buddha defined a path. The fourth noble truth is the Eightfold Path. And his whole way of life was just wandering about North India. And where he went, He could see the path inside him and so it allowed him to walk on wherever it may lead for him and wherever it may lead for us.


Sometimes we stand at a crossroads. We don't know which way to go. We may have some data that points us in one direction or another. We may not. We just take a chance. It's not that the path always leads you to the place you think you want to go. but it leads somewhere and can you be there in that mysterious place wherever that is? Lord, increase my bewilderment. It's a wonderful, what a great line that is. You know, usually what we think is, Lord, give me the truth or point me towards certainty, you know, but increase my bewilderment means opening your mind.


It's like taking the lid off your skull. and just opening our minds to whatever is arising in that circumstance, whatever is arising within us, whatever is arising outside of us because they are not different. You know, this sort of, it's a digression. I wish that we actually spent more time sitting outdoors. because it's a different character of mind in meditation when you sit outside, at least for me. It really feels like there's just this expansive, vast quality that is very refreshing.


So, I'm not sure I have anything more to say, but maybe the thing to do is, let me have the guitar again. Let's just sing the chorus again, and then I would welcome your thoughts and questions. I'm just sort of, I don't think I'm aimlessly rambling, but I'm allowing myself to go sort of free form. Everybody's wondering what and where they all came from. Everybody's worrying about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done. No one knows for certain, so it's all the same to me.


I think I'll just let the mystery be. No, no one knows for certain, And it's all the same to me. I think I'll just let the mystery be. So, any thoughts or questions? Linda. Yeah. God. Right. Where did you come from?


Where are you going? Get the news from your own body. If you find a true teacher, you'll get the secret, or the mystery, a window inside. Yes. Hayekamir. That was just... It was so incredible to be there and to be listening to these songs and playing with them some. And again, being outside, we were outside on a farm and it's just like, oh, different reality. It wasn't exactly wilderness, but it was really different for a city boy like me. And I really, I loved it there. Megan. Well, there's a famous koan about that, right?


Show me your mother's face before you were born. Is it yours or your parents' face? Yeah, yeah. So that's a matter of Zen training. It's there in our training. I meant to say this and I sort of skipped it. The turning words of that song are in the second verse where she says, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly. I want to underscore that. I meant to say that. And that's the pivot. of the song, and I meant to say that because, again, I read it, I keep hearing this, and I read it on somebody's, you know, somebody's Zen, some Zen Facebook forum, you know, it's like people are saying, why don't we ever talk about love in the Zen tradition?


It's like, I just completely scratched my head because I think that that's all that we're talking about. It's just love all the way to the bottom. That's just my opinion, man. You know, but I think that's what Iris meant. It's like, how do you love when you're alive? live and love is just one letter apart. Anyway, I didn't really answer your question, but it's okay. Dean? Sometimes I'm very uncertain about my thoughts or questions. Right now I'm thinking about, you did a class, I don't know, 15, 20 years So who's Polly Hannon anyway?


And I had missed the entire concept because I had this idea that Polly Hannon was a guy. And they were all very polite and I didn't hear any chuckles or anything. They explained to me well. I'm a little wondering here, if I'm kind of in the same place, but are these things really mysteries? Because I have spent I mean, I feel the panic now, oh my God, she's going to die and I'm going to be with her.


And when she died, she just stopped breathing. I mean, there was a process and her heart stopped. And I remember thinking, oh my God, this is what I've been so afraid of. And so the experiences I've had around that since then have all been Like the crows, by the way, this time of year, if you're a bunch of crows, look around, you might see a hawk. They band together, and they will come from all directions and band together to mob a hawk if it's near a nest. Well, I think that each person has to answer that themselves.


For me, I mean, I think that part of the mystery is in the fear. fear of the unknown. And this is why this first tenet, not knowing, it's a teaching because we're often driven to know or to think we know. And so sometimes not knowing, it can be frightening to people. No, it's not knowing about it. Well, it's whatever we see is us. It's part of us, what we're seeing.


So it's fundamentally about us. Everything's fundamentally about us. But it is a mystery. You see someone that you love who you have been only recently speaking with, joking with, whatever, and that person is not there anymore. Where are they? I mean, you could legitimately call that a mystery. It's also the way things are. And I think this is what Iris Dement is saying is like, well, you know, I really, I see that people are really bothered about this. It's like my concern is how I'm living. So that's where she's pointing to. But it's, we have to find out who Polly Cannon is. Yeah.


Yeah, yeah, that's good. Alex? Yeah, I guess part of my grappling with the whole mystery thing is like, how can the Skandhas be dissolving when their nature is dissolute or anything? Great. It's, that's really good. It's, how he's asked how could the skandhas be dissolving when they're already when they already don't exist they're just a you know this is a a provisional it's a provisional theory of the self but you can see what you can see i think is particularly you see people's Those ordinary mental processes that we count on or that we expect in our communication with each other and with ourselves, they loosen.


And you see that that capacity is not there. And it's uneven. I mean, I think in the case, in Jed's situation, it was interesting because he had a really bad week the week before he died. Not a bad week, but he wasn't responsive, particularly he wasn't able to put together sentences. And then everything clicked back into focus and he was very clear for a few days. And that was pretty surprising and really encouraging. And also, I don't know how the fuck this works, which is OK. It's really OK with me. But it's like, don't make up a plan for how how your life is supposed to go or how your death is supposed to go.


Just can you meet it one by one? So I'll take two more questions and we'll end. Yeah, Liz. When you talked about love and being asked why love isn't mentioned in Zen practice, it reminded me of back in 1970 when I was living in a house with seven children. So the subject came up about love and why Zen practice doesn't talk about love or doesn't seem to be loving. Marshall?


Marshall. Yeah. Somebody asked Paul about why isn't love expressed in tenderness? And Paul said, love is expressed in And then he was never seen again, right? I don't have anything to say about that. There was one other, let's see, Bruce. Oh yeah.


And he uses wilderness as the title of his play. It's a coming of age play. And it's about being wild. Wilderness as, and it's an exploration of this idea of coming of age and how, you know, going beyond rules and how do you, it's what we would call freedom. So we don't usually think of wilderness Yeah, well, I've got lots of notes for this talk that I didn't use. And here, I'm reading a note.


If Zazen represents one side of the mystery, action is the other side. The need to be in silence in space and the need to step forth. So we rest and then we're always stepping forth. And just to leave you with one book recommendation before we close, I strongly recommend a book by Gary Snyder called Practice of the Wild. which is a book of essays and it was actually that book that convinced me to stay here in Berkeley. I had fantasies about moving to this place or that place and this is about 30 years ago. I read this book and I realized everything I need is here in Berkeley.


I should stop looking for some other place to settle. Now that doesn't mean I don't travel, I do, but it also means this is the locus that I return to and there's plenty of wilderness here to sustain me. There's crows, there's raccoons, there's children, there's marriage, there's my teacher, there's all of you. Totally wild. So let's get wild. Cherish the wild. Thank you.