Requiem for a Tree Part I: The Struggle with Words and Chan Buddhism


One of the fir trees that I share the mountain with has died.

It died over a year ago but only today has its passing touched me. Why?

I have been so caught up in the human practicalities of the death, the recent worry that it’ll fall onto my neighbor’s cabin, the inconvenience and expense of having it removed, that I nearly missed a profound moment of realization and sharing.

I’m having difficulty translating my thoughts and feelings into words today. Language fails me. But I need to struggle with this, I WILL struggle with this. There is something good here to be experienced and to be shared. I don’t just write to write. Writing is living. Not “A” living, but living itself. There is both sadness and joy, loss and origination. The duality of my thought is beginning to break down the more time I spend amongst the trees, away from the artificial world.

Today I recall the many Dharma talks given by my teacher and Dharma Master JianHu, then Abbot of the Zen Center of Sunnyvale California, on this topic of duality of thought. He would often state that the duality of though was “empty”. Today, July 5th, 2013, I would equate “empty” with “an integrated wholeness that defies reductionism – for in the reduction the very thing/concept being observed is lost. Irreducible wholeness that can contain both the thing/concept and its opposite”. But these are just words that by their very nature create duality. This is important!

The Chan Buddhist concepts of emptiness and duality are difficult to understand and accept when an entire lifetime has been spent thinking in contrarian ways, thinking in ways that create and perpetuate duality and that destroy emptiness. But I have a sense of the deeper meaning of something I have missed before today. I may have inched a little closer to grasping the concept that sadness and joy are not opposites at all. They are words that are “empty” and they are simply the names we give to facets of the same jewel (the Buddhists use the word “jewel” in many ways, this being one). Is the jewel one thing or many things? When we refer to one of the facets of the jewel, are we still talking about the same jewel, or something different?

The death of a fir tree…no wait that’s the wrong way to think about it. I feel the words are so limiting right now – I must be careful in what I’m trying to express.

Embracing, sharing and settling into the death of the fir tree, a tree that is an extension of me, a part of me, hell – it IS me, may be one of the most significant events of my life.

1 Comment

Filed under Nature

One response to “Requiem for a Tree Part I: The Struggle with Words and Chan Buddhism

  1. clementinegoesusa

    Black and white thinking is rooted so deeply in my entire grasp of the world, that this took five reads to kind of get. I blame my dad for incapacitating my brain to a lot of fundamentally inclusive thinking. I really like the idea of being one with things around me, just a bunch of atoms. Might make tolerance and forgiveness much easier to muster.

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