Recently I was visiting my friend G who has a serious form of cancer and not much time left. His wife and I were on either side of him on the bed, massaging his arms and legs. The dog, a big pit mutt, managed to squeeze himself up there, too. It was dusk, freezing outside, as we rubbed in companionable silence. Then G mentioned a friend said that he should look into Buddhism because it might help; he asked his wife to get some books on it.
I told them that when I was in my early twenties I’d gone out to live at the San Francisco Zen Center started by Suzuki Roshi who wrote Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. It was a strict place. Up at 4:45 to sit on zafus for an hour and a half. If you nodded out a monk would strike you with a stick on the shoulder. Many meals in silence, rigorous cooking methods. A library of all the different kinds of Buddhism. Of course, non-spoken competition about who had taken the longest sesshins, weeklong periods of intense meditation, etc.
It was very easy to get caught up in all of it – to try to be the best student, read the most ancient texts, be the most humble chopper of carrots, sit for six hours a day, etc. But that wasn’t it – that wasn’t what Buddha was talking about under the Bodhi tree.
Buddhism was what we were doing – right then – being as present as we could. We were feeling happy to be together, enjoying the falling light outside, making G’s arms and legs feel more alive, just the three of us, ok four, in that little room. I told them that they didn’t have to look any further, buy anything else. This was it. Or as Buddha said, “All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”