Monday, February 27, 2012

Tripping Over Uncertainty: No Skillful Means

I thought “constant change” (mujo = not-always) would be an inspiring theme for the new year, but impermanence is a big pain in the oshiri when you need to make travel plans. I didn’t want to blog about my personal issues, but my being away from Chicago does affect the people at the temple. I’m scheduled to do a 4-week course “Brief Introduction to Buddhism” in March, but at this point, I’m wondering when I’ll be back in Chicago.

Back in mid-February my sister’s health took a turn for the worse and she asked if I or my brother could come down to Texas to help her settle her affairs (which included setting her up on a hospice program). I paid for a one-week round trip ticket to Austin but it looks like I definitely can’t go home that soon since it’s taking time to set up all the hospice care arrangements. In some moments my sister is busy putzying around and seems able to do most things herself (she expressed that she does not desire the constant company of me and my brother) but other times she’s weak and in pain and I would hate to go away even with a caregiver visiting her daily.

In the daily e-mail I receive from Tricycle magazine, they had a quote from (one of my big idols) Thanissaro Bhikkhu saying we should keep up the intention to be skillful in our every thought, word and deed. It hit home with me in my present situation – I’m pretty clueless and clumsy dealing with all the things my sister needs to have done. I’m so bad at making efforts and so easily distracted by entertaining trivia (like watching the Oscars).

At one of the Maida Center retreats, Rev. Ken Yamada of the Berkeley Higashi Honganji Temple told his story of driving his wife to the hospital when she became critically ill. He was speeding but it seemed like the route was full of traffic jams and aggravations and he was getting more anxious and swearing at all the other drivers. Then Naomi told him, “Whether we make it to the hospital quickly or not – it’s all up to Amida.” To hear her calm settling into true entrusting (shinjin) helped Rev. Ken let go of his anger and drive more sensibly. Everything turned out okay – Naomi received treatment and recovered.

As Amida means the unbounded power of conditions and events beyond our control, then Amida includes the reality of one’s own limitations and inabilities. We can’t will ourselves to suddenly become strong and competent and without years of intense monastic training, even our intention to be skillful goes off track more often than not. I’m finding out that the Namu in “Namu Amida Butsu” doesn’t just mean “bowing down” – sometimes it means tripping over and falling flat on your face.

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