There is a beautiful path in Springbank park, it's a tree-lined walkway along the river that is often dotted with mom's and baby carriages, joggers, bikers and other such people. All in all, it is a very scenic and tranquil place. It does however feel too fairy-tale like, in a Thomas Kinkade painting kind of way, for my taste.
This morning, not feeling scenic and tranquil and not looking to feel that way either, I ended up up there - I was in the neighbourhood. As I was waking down the pathway I noticed two young women standing talking together, when they saw me they both made a beeline towards me. It was all rather sudden and then they were in front of me wanting to talk.
My first thought was that they were Jehovah Witnesses, turns out they were Mormon missionaries, one from the States and the other from the Philippines. They wanted to know if I knew of the Book of Mormon. I told them I hadn't read it, but I was a big fan of the TV series "Big Love". A banal reply, but looking at the both of them together - it came from an honest place in me. They laughed said they only had one mom and that they get that all the time. Classy response.
The girls had a job to do - and so the questions started. Did I have relationship with Jesus Christ? What was the purpose of my life? Would I be interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon, etc., etc., etc.? Usually I would have been polite and moved on, but my energy was different and when I looked into their eyes I saw something I have seen many times in dokusan, a certain kind of warmth, so I stayed.
They asked if I had questions, and so I did find myself in dokusan. I was happy to be there. I immediately liked them and was touched by their dedication to their practice, I sensed something real about them and found myself wanting to get a sense of who they were, to see if we could connect for a moment.
I asked what their relationship with Jesus is like? How does it feel, how does it interact with their life? One woman said for her that when she feels incomplete or has messed things up, it comforts her to know that because Jesus died for our sins, she will be OK. With Jesus in her heart she knows everything is OK. I said, I get that, even when things get messed up, things are still OK and we’re still OK. I got the sense she feels she messes things up a fair bit - that's a pretty real response.
Then, they told me, in detail, where we come from. That God created the world so our spirits could come here, learn and evolve, and after a while die and go back to God where they are judged. I asked if they know this to be personally true, do they have an actual experience of this? One woman looked at me for a while and said, no she doesn't actually know this to be true. The other woman said it’s faith for her, its OK not to know for sure, not knowing for sure was just part of it. I told her I liked that, not knowing is most intimate.
Our conversation moved to shades of grey. One woman said she did not like all the talk about shades of grey in life. It seemed deeply important to her that truth was black or white, you were either for God or not. I could tell this touched something deep in her. I asked a bit more and she said she knows darkness, and it’s not shades of grey - it is black! I know, I said, you are either turning towards the light or towards the darkness, towards awakening or away from that. She seemed very happy that I was with her and gave me a slightly startled look and asked - what do you do?
I told her that I teach Zen, she didn't really know what that was, and so I mentioned something about stepping into awakening and living out of that. That didn’t help either, so I added that meditation was involved. "Oh!" she said. I need to do that. Then they said, happily, we are going to send everyone over to you. I asked for their cards and told them I would put them on our bulletin board. Big smiles, warmth, real connection. Just like dokusan.
So bodhisattvas* hang out in the pretty and scenic places too, they look a little different but are bodhisattvas none the less.
I have been carrying the following koan with me recently.
BCR Case 89: Yunyan’s Hands and Eyes
Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the Bodhisattva Guanyin use all those hands and eyes?”
Bodhisattva* - a Buddhist archetype of compassion.