We cannot say that we would have chosen much of what has happened this past year, but when things go well, we rarely stop to ask questions about our lives. A difficult situation, however, means we can see reality in a fresh way….
In the stress and complexity of our lives, we may forget our deepest intentions. But when people come to the end of their lives and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, “How much is in my bank account?” or “How many books did I write?” or “What did I build?” or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is conscious at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple, “Did I love well?” “Did I live fully?” “Did I learn to let go?”
These simple questions go to the very center of spiritual life. When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears have limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open. Have we let ourselves love the people around us, our family, our community, the earth upon which we live? And, did we also learn to let go? Did we learn to live through the changes of life with grace, wisdom, and compassion? Have we learned to shift from the clinging mind to the joy of freedom?
Zen Master Genshu Watanabe (1869 – 1963) in his last years called to his bedside a monk who had recently become a disciple. The master asked, “How can one go straight on a steep mountain road of ninety-nine curves?” When the young disciple replied “I don’t know”, he was told, “Walk straight by winding along”.
When told to walk straight, we stupidly think we have to cross mountains, hills, rivers and the sea in a straight line. Ignoring traffic lights, we dash off like a race car, looking neither left nor right. But we only deceive ourselves into thinking we progress as we lurch forward. Instead, “Go straight by winding along”
Bodhidharma said, “Expel all concurrent causes. Do not give rise to a single thought.”
This is an important part of our training. Concurrent causes are the ones we are carrying with us when we come to sit in meditation. Not giving rise to thoughts means not letting them carry us away. You are not your thoughts.
Daniel Scharpenburg, The Essence of Buddhist Training.