Posts Tagged ‘Okumura’

The weir on the river Chew in Pensford

The weir on the river Chew in Pensford

It has often been observed that time seems to go faster as we grow older. Our birthdays arrive with increasing rapidity. Shortly after my fortieth birthday, I began to feel as if I were taking the garbage cans out to the curb every other morning. And with each ensuing decade this subjective sense of accelerating time, which a number of my older friends have also noted, has grown ever more prominent. It is as if we were afloat on a swiftly moving river, and each of those “important” birthdays, the ones that mark the decades of our lives, were another waterfall, whose drop and velocity have yet to be experienced.

Yet, from the vantage point of Zen teachings, neither birthdays nor waterfalls are quite what they appear to be. They are at once real and illusory. In his book Living by Vow the Soto Zen priest Shohaku Okumura has this to say about waterfalls:

A river flows past a place where there is a change of height, and a waterfall is formed. Yet there is no such thing as a waterfall, only a continuous flow of water. A waterfall is not a thing but rather a name for a process of happening. . . . We cannot distinguish where the waterfall starts and ends because it is a continuous process.*


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One thing at a time, Bud, my father used to say. For centuries, Zen teachers have said the same. Whatever you are doing, give that one thing your full attention. When you walk, just walk.

That is sound advice, but in our present culture it stands little chance of being heeded. A recent New Yorker cartoon depicts an urban couple at an intersection of trails in a state park. While the man studies the printed guide, his companion turns to a passing hiker for help. “Which trail,” she asks, “has the best cell-phone reception?” When you walk, just walk, our culture seems to be saying, but keep your cell phone on. Within this prevailing social ethos, the admonition to do one thing at a time, and to give that one thing sustained attention, comes to look like a quaintly archaic notion. (more…)

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