What is not a mistake?

Today I’m sitting at home feeling quite fatigued. My partner and daughter Lily both have Covid and I potentially have it. Apart from tiredness and the occasional cough, we are all doing ok. I’m feeling a great sense of gratitude to all those scientists, researchers and all the other people that worked so hard in a short amount of time to come up with the vaccines that have enabled us to get by with the virus and not get too sick or lose our life. And so it is with many illnesses, we can just go to the doctor and there is sure to be some sort of medicine to help alleviate our illness, or to help manage it. And with everything we experience, many hands have worked to produce our food, our homes, our workplaces, and so on. Many hands support our well-being. The living organism of which we are depends upon a billion things, our parents, our community, the air we breathe, the early lifeforms on earth that created the atmosphere we have today, the warmth of the sun, the rain. When I think of Covid, the little virus in our blood, I feel that we are shaking hands with the first person who caught the virus. How many people has the virus passed through, how many continents has it travelled through, how many people have passed away or had their lives changed? And now it is touching our lives, its roots going all the way back through the hundreds of thousands, millions of people, to that first person. By reflecting upon this we can understand the interconnectedness of all things. One person gets sick in Wuhan, and the whole world is changed, and that cause and effect, goes on endlessly. I’m sure the virus has no intention; it simply does what it needs to in order to survive. In the context of this interconnection, and interdependence, what about our own actions? Considering cause and effect, do we know where the effect of a kind action ends, or does it go on endlessly? We see the same thing with war and aggression. Who is to say that today’s wars are not the result of previous wars, where the foundations of distrust, suspicion and fear have been laid? The distrust, suspicion and fear in the world is growing. Countries are building up their militaries, countries threaten to use nuclear weapons. What if nations reached out in compassion, and sought to understand each other? At a personal level, is it really that much different? At a micro level there is the same mind states at play. Lack of a willingness to understand, distrust, fear and anger. ‘Me’ and the ‘other’. It is our practice to be aware of our reactions, and thoughts, and to find our commonality. When we truly understand that we hold hands with the first person who had Covid, we also understand that we are holding hands with all of humanity, with all living creatures.

In Wu-men’s comment on case 1 of the Wu-men kuan, when we resolve the koan Mu, we will walk hand in hand with all the ancestral teachers in successive generations of our lineage, the hair of our eyebrows entangled with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. This is no small thing. It is not to be just understood on a conceptual level, it is to be experienced as our reality. It is the realisation of our place in the world. Naturally we become more compassionate, more understanding, when we realise the other as myself. Then naturally, each act of kindness, or compassionate response ripples out across all things endlessly.

If we want to realise this truth in ourselves, not just momentarily, but integrated as a living experience, we need dedication to our practice. Returning over and over to ‘just this’, the breath, the sound, our koan. Self-centeredness drops away. We become intimate with this moment, our idea of separation dissolves, and we walk hand in hand with all beings.

This essay is written by Will Moon, apprentice teacher, and is published in the August/September Newsletter.