WHERE’S THE BLISS NOW
When my father found out he was dying he came to live with me. Each morning, when I’d bring him his medicine, he’d look up at me with eyes full of gratitude. He had been a hard nosed, even brutal, businessman all is life. Somehow dying had burnt off some of his outer crust. In the glowing embers that remained was something that looked a lot like love. When Zen master Kaisen Shoki was being burned up in a fire his response was:
Zen of great peace does not necessarily require mountains and rivers. When the activities of the heart are eliminated, even fire is cool.
One morning my brother and I were standing around father’s bed talking with him. We hit some sort of snag in the conversation. My father became very still, pointed one finger up in the air and said, “Where’s the bliss now?” My brother and I also became still. In the stillness I felt what was lying beneath the snag, which, as it turned out, was bliss. For the next few months of his life my father would say, “Where’s the bliss now?” whenever we got caught up in the details of living and dying, which was often because he was still an old lion.
The first line of a gatha expresses the situation; sitting down to a meal, waiting in traffic, comforting a sick friend. The second line, I vow with all beings to… , establishes us in a sincere heart space and reminds us that we are not alone; The third and fourth lines remind us of our original face. In these last two lines of the gatha we evoke the undercurrent of bliss hidden behind appearances. This is a practice of letting go of resistance to any situation we might find ourselves in. When we let the gatha enter us even fire is cool. It seems counter intuitive that bliss would lie hidden within an argument or a traffic jam or a broken heart. But this insight is one of the many gifts of our practice. The gatha makes use of the awareness that awakening is not for some after life but right here in whatever the moment holds-no exceptions. Sometimes it’s challenges and sometimes it’s our simple, immediate life. Washing dishes, rocking the baby.
Certainly meditation practice can help us bump into this awareness of the presence of awakening right here and now. Yet, sometimes people just bump into this awareness by accident and sometimes people meditate for years without encountering this bliss that is closer than their own breath. The awareness of our true nature is attached to a myriad of other insights such as our interconnectedness and the realization of how limited our minds really are in understanding life. There are many gates. A gatha is a key to the gate of relative reality. We think there is no way out of the pain but there it is, and the way out in further in-where is the bliss now?
When anger or sadness arise
I vow with all beings
To accept my emotional nature
It’s how I embody the Tao.
This is not to say the way of awareness is easy. Life can be brutal as it rips self-illusions and hubris from our clenched hand. The tighter we hold the more painful the process. Life is not “kind” but it is compassionate. It seeks to balance itself in truth. Since we humans often prefer the stories we tell ourselves to the truth underneath the story there is usually some burning involved in getting to our true natures. What is underneath that which sustains our ego is so much more beautiful than anything we can concoct. The gatha brings us right to that place, into the underneath of our stories.
So much of religious practice and self help culture focuses on making us better people. The gatha practice accepts us exactly as we are and helps us remember who we really, really
If action must wait for satori
I vow with all beings
To forget satori completely.
What a relief! Let’s go home.