Walking around the Monastery property, we see many fallen pines. Their tops have toppled, leaving their trunks sticking up into the sky like barren poles, devoid of branches, needles, or visible signs of life. Weakened by the drought a few years ago, the pines could not fight off the invasion of beetles, and that spelled their demise. With the season's winds and rains, some have even fallen from their bases, lying on the ground with their remaining branches scattered around them.
The monks have removed fallen branches and chainsawed the trunks into "rounds" that can be rolled off the road, clearing the way for people and vehicles to pass. As we worked on one fallen tree, it was easy to feel a bit like an undertaker, physically managing the remains of something that had died, with all the respect, care, and love that is due. The physical beauty of the tree was still intact and wondrous. The rings and colors within its trunk were awe-inspiring. The pine scent it sent forth was enthralling. Its sheer size and weight were majestic. And yet, here it was, dead on the ground.
Last summer, a cat that was close to death showed up in the Monastery archway. Happily, we were able to intervene in time and she survived. The experience brought about a keen insight and a message for me from the Mentor. While recording and listening about the situation, I was railing about how casual Life seemed to be about life and death. How this beautiful animal could have easily died, just as thousands, if not millions, of living things were passing into death at that very moment, all with apparent indifference from Life! When I finished my right-handed rant, the Mentor replied calmly, "You assume you know what life is."
As I consider the toll on human life from the coronavirus, I take in the truth of those words from the Mentor. I don't know what life is. I don't know what death is. In short, I don't know. It seems that in choosing to live everything-is-the-Buddha, we relinquish our "right" to indulge ego’s push to know anything. (It's a good trade, by the way, since knowing is an illusion!)
In the Daily Recollection, we recite, "Form is not different from emptiness; emptiness is not different from form." Perhaps the opportunity here is to calibrate to the life force that animates the trees, the cat, and the humans without letting ego create an attachment to tree, cat, or human forms. Maybe that is the quintessential movement from content to process and the ultimate opportunity on this plane of existence, that is, to whole-heartedly love the form without attaching to it. In that way, we are being love-in-form.
These words from Rumi come to mind:
I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence!
In living everything-is-the-Buddha, we have the extraordinary privilege of having a front row seat for life unfolding through countless forms in countless ways, as the delighted witness to All.