Ocean of Bounty (written 2005)
“The ocean of bounty, forever and pure.” A snippet from the Flower Ornament sutra, scriptures in the Zen tradition. I think of dropping below the surface. Into what is. Forgetting what has been and what will be.
While I cannot drop into the real ocean like this, the metaphor moves me. Dropped into even the warm waters of the Caribbean, I can't let go. I fight the waves. I struggle. I dislike the salt in my mouth and eyes. Too often this is how I live my life. Struggling when surrender would serve me better. But, I've found that if I walk in, slowly, mindfully crossing the sand and letting the water lick ankles, then shins, finding my way one step at a time, I can appreciate the wildness that welcomes me.
So with life then, the changes come moment by moment, day to day. Move along with the push and pull of what is. “As green leaves turn in the wind,” Robert Aitken says in one of his gathas. Shifting and moving. This is what happens in life. I'm getting old. I see it in the mirror now. My mother's hands, my mother's face. The eyes may be the blue of my dad's, but I see my mother when I look into my face.
These days I know in my bones that life is exceedingly brief. A wink. A flicker. Moving now into the second half of a century of living I think of my grandmother who lived till 101. And how I imagined her changed inside as she had changed outside over time. Yet both these things are true: I am still the me I was and I am not. There is no age for whatever morphs moment to moment. There is nothing but change.
Is age only a decaying? Physical only. Asking this, it is easy to see where the idea of “soul” comes from. Something different and apart from this exterior. This aging body that makes me what I seem to be in this moment and then this, is ephemeral and fleeting. But the “I” I struggle to define is nothing. Only this finger pointing at the moon. “I” is just that pointer. There and then there, without substance.
At this moment I see the age spots on my hands, and the wrinkles at my throat, but hair that hasn't greyed yet, and the birthmark I've had all my life. This body I know so well. How it moves. Responds. What it can do. What it resists. How it reacts. Stomach lurches in elevators. Cringing from loud noises and jarring music. How it moves toward water, stills in a breeze. How it sinks into blankets when it shivers.
I can close my eyes and look into this well-known mind. The familiar rivers of thought, the landscapes of memory, the storms that move through, the constellations of bright insights that arise from time to time.
And meditation has helped me to discover the open near-emptiness of awareness. “The ocean of bounty, forever and pure.” The undulations of the mind, the trials of the body, are surface waves. The deep, mostly unknown waters stretch wide, all undisturbed beneath a frothy surface. Touching that then. Submerging into that. Letting this be where I dwell. A small and integral drop in the ocean.
These glimpses, whether on my cushion or moving through the world, give me perspective when small bumps in life seem like mountains, when winds of fear or sorrow seem to have such strength. A breath away, the ocean of bounty is accessible.