Quote for Contemplation / 10 of 18
Another Kuma-sensei Quote (with commentary)
As we slowly drift into these autumn days of November — the anniversary month of my late teacher’s death in 2007 — I have been thinking a lot about the times I sat with her, walked with her, dined with her, sipped saké and tawny port with her, and laughed with her. I have found myself thinking about such topics as teachings and practice, lineage and areas of focus, and presence and absorption.
The fact that she is gone (in the bodily sense) but still present in my daily life (in the presence and practice-lineage sense) has had a dual effect of making me all the more appreciative of the times I was able to experience with her and has shifted me more and more into a permanent quality of impermanence-mindedness.
This impermanence-mindedness is, perhaps, her greatest teaching for me — which now has an imprint on my daily life in many ways. Though it would be foolish to assert that I successfully live from this quality of consciousness 100% of the time, it is an essence of awareness that I find saturates more and more of my lived hours than ever before.
There is a Japanese term for this: ichi-go, ichi-e (一期一会) which translates as “one time, one meeting”. Without writing a full discourse on Zen, the ‘zen outside of Zen’, the Zen-influenced arts (such as haiku poetry and the tea ceremony), or the impact that certain Japanese sage-philosophers had upon Kuma-sensei’s life, I’ll simply say that this transformative quality of consciousness — the mindful awareness of transience — was deeply encoded in Kuma’s way of being. Undoubtedly, her practice of Zen prepared her for her multiple brushes with actual physical death and the intrapsychic processes of facing her own death at the end.
This phrase ichi-go, ichi-e is more of a secular and aesthetic expression of a much more ancient Buddhist concept — mujō (impermanence) — one of the three observable and verifiable marks of existence in the Buddhadharma (the other two being dukkha (suffering) and anatta (no permanent, fixed, or unchanging self).
One particular Kuma-sensei rendering of the teaching of mujō is found in the quote below.
For Kuma-sensei, every teaching of merit — whether Taoist, Shinto, Zen, Shingon, Pure Land, Shambhala, Sufi, Christian, Hindu, indigenous North or South American, etc. — is like a different gateway or the end of a glowing thread. Step through the gate and it leads to an appreciation of other such ways of seeing and knowing. Tug on the thread and one soon realizes there is an affinity or — at the very least — a similarity with other teachings of merit.
Mujō, the conscious awareness that all things pass and are temporarily here (including us and this very moment), is one she felt — whether emphasized or not — is at the heart of any and all contemplative spiritualities.
The next time you find yourself in a public space with other people — whether the grocery store, on the subway, or in a restaurant — allow yourself to really take in the face of each person you encounter. Slow down long enough to really notice each person. Say to yourself: One-time, one-meeting.
The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, a conflict, or perhaps being irritated or annoyed by someone, invite yourself to pause, take a deep breath, and say to yourself: Apprentice to the moment. This moment never comes again.