The Teaching of the World Trade Center Destruction

A Teisho by Enkyo Roshi given on September 16, 2001

It has been five days now since the attack that caused such devastation and suffering just a few blocks from here. We were not able to enter the building until yesterday, so we have been sitting and having council in the park and at my home. It is wonderful to be back in our Zendo this morning with such a big gathering. In times like this we realize how much we depend on a spiritual practice. And in our case, it’s a practice that tells us that there’s nothing to depend on. It’s a practice that does not tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. It does not tell us what to love and what to hate. Our practice forces us to have great courage, great daring. To participate in each moment, and to act appropriately in each moment — without a set of rules, a set of ideas, that will dictate our actions and our response to what’s around us. It’s a very daring and courageous act, to practice in this tradition, to directly face suffering, anger, and fear.

Remember the story of Kisagotami who ran crying and distraught to Shakyamuni Buddha, holding her dead baby boy, begging him to give her medicine to bring him back to life. The Buddha said that he did know of a medicine, but that she must find it herself. He told her to bring him a handful of mustard seed from a household where no one had died. She went to the first household, and they said: “Oh, we’ll bring you mustard seed. But — oh, no … grandfather died last year; we can’t give you the mustard seed.” And so, as you might imagine, Kisagotami went to every home in the village, asking for a mustard seed from a family which had not experienced death and suffering, and at each home she was told that someone in that household had died. Very, very slowly the wisdom of the teaching of the Buddha began to sink into her. Finally, she walked back and still holding the dead infant, said to the Buddha: “The teaching of the mustard seed is complete. I now see that all people face death and suffering.”

We grieve for those who were killed in our city, and for their loved ones — and we also grieve for all the people that are dying today all over the world. For the people who are dying in Africa of AIDS; the people who are starving to death in impoverished regions of the world. Today, at this very moment, there are babies that are dying of malnutrition, young children maimed by violence and greed. We must also be aware of that. And we must remember that this great earth that we sit on is in agony from the unskillful plundering of earth, air and water.

And so the teaching of the mustard seed reminds us of the dying and suffering that is going on all the time in this world. No one is untouched by these aspects of life. In another sutra, the Buddha is reported to have said that people come to Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, in three different ways. There are those who, upon hearing of a tragedy in the next village, realize the truth of suffering and death. And they vow to accomplish the way to raise their awakened mind. But that’s a very few number of people.

For most people it’s when someone in their own village is afflicted. Which is the case with us. This is our village.And, so, upon hearing about the suffering and death of so many people here, we can raise the Bodhi Mind — and realize that we must end our own suffering, and that of others, by seeking the truth within ourselves.

And the third group — the most hardheaded of the lot — must wait until the suffering touches them personally. Until it is they, themselves, who carry the illness or the loss of another. And only then can they truly realize The Way.

But does it really matter, as long as you see the way, whether or not you realize it because you have a diagnosis, or your loved one has a diagnosis? Or whether or not you realized it today, as we were chanting the names of many of those who died in the tragedy? Or whether it was when you heard about Bhopal, many years ago, that you realized that suffering is everywhere?

And what is that Bodhicitta? What is that Mind of Buddha that we raise? It’s the teaching of Prajna, of Great Wisdom, which excludes nothing. Which includes everything — the black smoke and the blue sky. Did you notice that the names of the perpetrators weren’t on the list? Oh, they didn’t die in the crash? Why were the names of the perpetrators not on the list? Did you notice that when the Ino gave the dedication, that he included the suffering of those who caused this event? Because nothing is left out. You cannot leave anything out.

And we can¹t leave out the anger and sadness we may be feeling right now. We must acknowledge our feelings, because not acknowledging them is what splits them off from our experience of consciousness and creates ideas of an Other¹ which embodies what we cannot acknowledge: the bad, the evil, the separate-from-me. This is what creates a great and horrible suffering in the world.

Maybe that doesn’t seem to make sense — and, yet, that is it. Of course it doesn’t make sense. What’s this about making sense? It’s a paradox — it’s a reality. We are, at once, a form that experiences emotions — fear, and anger and delusion. We experience desire, craving, hatred, aversion. But as long as we don’t solidify around these things — solidify by raising them up as truth, or repressing them as nonexistent, then we can be fresh and free in each moment, acknowledging and letting go in the flow of natural reactions. By not solidifying around our emotions, by not giving them a name and a rationale and an ideology, we refrain from creating Oisms¹ ­ racism, nationalism, yes, even Buddhism. The Oisms¹ become our prisons.

There’s nowhere to stand — there’s no place to hold onto. And in that “no place to hold onto” is our complete and utter freedom. So we read these names of those who were lost on Tuesday, and then we sit — and for each one of us different things arise. And let’s say that rage arises. And we see it arise, and we just watch it — and it falls away. And fear arises, and we just look at it — and it falls away. And maybe it doesn’t fall away for weeks. And, yet, we know we have to continue to sit, and we have to continue to observe it — because, eventually, it will fall away. If we’re awake, and aware, and we haven’t started believing the story line. And that’s why we sit.

Trust it — the power of the practice. It changes us. And as Dogen Zenji tells us, even a single person sitting changes the world. As I look around the room, almost every other person I see has been involved in some kind of volunteer activity. And those of you who were not, please don’t fall into the ultimate kind of neurotic story about how you weren’t of help. You were of help, you are of help. By being present … by listening, by standing in the street. By looking in the eyes of someone who can’t look. By listening to someone who’s filled with rage and wants to kill. Simply to bear witness — to really listen to them. These are the acts of a Bodhisattva — to truly serve in that way. We have to drop our striving, desiring and clinging ego. Drop that for a moment and simply listen to what you don’t want to hear. Because nothing is excluded from our life. Everything that appears in our life is our life. This tragedy is our life. We are implicated and responsible. Because we’re here — because we’re interconnected with all of the people involved. With everyone who was involved. And only by owning that responsibility can we begin to make things change — to make a difference.

It is all connected. There’s this tragedy; there’s our own Buddha mind; there’s the reality of suffering in the world. There’s our rage; there’s our fear. All of it is within the one great bright pearl of the world.

Can we see that bright pearl in the midst of the soot, and the black smoke, and the choked feelings that we all feel for those that died? And realize there is nothing that is left out of this. And that our work is to be as spacious as we can be. To open our hearts as greatly as we can, and not deny our feelings or those of others around us. Do not deny them their experience — but see that as part of the great, precious, bright pearl of our lives.

This is our opportunity to practice deeply, in everything that we do. Soon enough, the television sets will start with their endless programming and commercials again, the Hudson will fill up with tour boats, and as Chijo very humorously said, after he had his rakusu and robe stolen yesterday, he knew that New York was getting back to normal again. Yeah, things will get back to normal. Will you? Will you?