Happy Birthday: A Buddhist Meditation

Happy Birthday: A Buddhist Meditation October 30, 2021




To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go

Mary Oliver

Here’s a little secret.

The spiritual life is our inheritance from before the creation of the stars and planets. No matter what else is so, there is this mysterious way and that destination where it leads. Waiting from before time for us to notice.

And here’s a companion secret. No one owns it. No religion. No culture. No person. And yet when we speak of the spiritual life, we are speaking of the most personal and intimate matter. Something the universe is constantly calling us to, whispering with the wind, demonstrating in a child’s play, inviting in every kiss.

It is that simple. And it’s all a bit more complicated. As anything intimate is.

In this project we begin with ourselves. Whatever else might be true, we need to start with us. You. Me. Our bodies. Our minds. Our hearts. And I should add, here. Now. The great way opens in this most intimate way as I turn my eyes and my heart and just notice what unfolds. Before me. Within me.

Sometime in the Eleventh century of our common era, in China, the Zen master Huanglong Huinan offered up a koan, one of those mysterious moments usually presented as a question, but are actually invitations into the intimate matter. “Everyone has a place of birth in karma. Show me your place of birth in karma.” Karma. That bundle of thoughts, impulses, and actions we name “me.” What is it? And knowing that, bring it forward.

A koan is an invitation on an engraved card. Just take it up. Just own it. Just notice. The spiritual path is about that specific, which for us is the fact of our lives as they are. Our unique place in the great flow of cause and effect, of mysteries blending with mysteries, birthing, dying, birthing anew.

There are wonderful things about this specificity. As my friend an old Zen hand and apprentice Zen teacher Tom Wardle says about this specificity and the invitation that comes with it, it means “every day is your birthday.” Actually, every moment you are birthing anew into this world. Just accept the invitation and turn into the matter.

We need no fancy equipment. We need no special clothing. We also don’t need to be physically or psychologically healthy. Wounded as we are is more than good enough. We just need to begin. A new birthday. And, even better, we can begin again. We forget. We lose track. We fall out of the way. Well. Another birthday. We can start again. No matter how far we stray, so long as we breathe, we can turn to or return to the mystery.

This moment. Happy birthday!

Or perhaps this moment. Happy birthday!

Or maybe this moment. Happy birthday!

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