My dear friend and close dharma brother, Nonin, just got the news that he has lung cancer. It’s a non-small cell adenocarcinoma, a more treatable form than other kinds. A few weeks ago some spots were found on x-rays when the experienced patient (he had colon surgery last year, almost died, and was in the hospital for a couple months) was having his gall bladder removed. Nonin is symptom free, feeling good, and determined to recover from this.
Nonin’s illness has evoked reflections on death this evening.
As Zen practitioners, we are trained to become death just as we become life. The Buddha said, “It is just the dharmas that combine to form this body. When it arises, it is simply the dharmas arising; when it ceases, it is simply the dharmas ceasing. When these dharmas arise, the bodhisattva does not state, ‘I arise’; when these dharmas cease, he does not state, ‘I cease’.”
I read this passage this morning while sipping coffee during a zazen break and it seemed so beautiful. I read it this evening after receiving the news of Nonin’s cancer and now it’s like holding ice in my hand.
I believe it was the poet Issa who wrote after his four-year old daughter died,
The world of dew is the world of dew.
And yet … and yet….
I remember too how Katagiri-roshi often talked about death. At least a dozen times he said, “No matter what you think about death, when the time comes and you have to die, no one knows what they will do. Even if you are a Zen master, if you are on an airplane that starts to crash, maybe you will scream like everyone else.”
And here we are togehter on Flight Birth and Death – and it is crashing. All the more reason to be tender and straight with everyone.