Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One Branch

Scott Bradley

"The forest is vast, yet the cuckoo requires only one branch to build her nest." — Zhuangzi

"Unmon said, 'Look! This world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your priest's robe at the sound of the bell?'" — 16th koan of the Mumonkan
I am one of those people who has never been able to 'settle down'. No spouse, no family, no career, no home. When I felt I needed a 'home', I bought a sail boat and took off around the world. When I ask myself where, in all the places I've been, I could settle, I can think of none. Yet, here I am on a ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada of California. One must be somewhere.

There is vastness and there is the particular place or thing. There is the equality of all things and there is difference between every thing. There is transcendence and there is concrete involvement. The fullest life participates in both. The most complete life walks two roads.

The ideal and happy cuckoo participates in the freedom of the vast forest, yet concretizes herself in a specific activity, in a particular place. Were she to 'space out' in the vastness, forget her one branch and her nest, she would not be a true cuckoo.

Though "many are the ways to approach the Great Dao", we must choose one. And, in choosing, we must give ourselves to that way completely. When the bell rings, the Zen monk need not respond like a Pavlovian dog, but can be both free in the vastness and entirely committed to his life as a monk.

I have offered a piece of my story as an example of too much vastness. Kierkegaard would call it too much 'potentiality' and not enough 'actuality', one manifestation of the "sickness unto death", that is, of despair. Yet, another manifestation of despair is too much actuality and not enough potentiality. I do not regret my wandering, and would still prefer it to a 9 to 5 life in the plant, the 'burbs, and the bondage of a stale marriage. But this choice is a false one. Wherever one is, whatever one is doing, whether wandering or raising a family, it is possible to be both free in the vastness and immediate in the moment. This is wholeness.

If one is truly free in the vastness, then whatever path one chooses and however committed one may be to it, he does not lose sight of the vastness of the forest, nor forget it is full of trees. Putting on our robes at the sound of the bell, committed to one path, we do not become narrow and forget there are uncountable paths.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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