It is a well-known teaching of Zen Buddhism that one should strive to maintain one’s consciousness in the here and now. Doing that certainly improves your awareness and your reaction time. But how do you be here, now, with love — especially when the world around you has every appearance of going to hell in a hand basket? The answer is to first be everywhere, always. Then you’ll be free to be here, now — with love.
Originally published 2007
Imagine a luscious red apple. Beautiful, isn’t it? Luscious and lovely.
Now, take a seed from that apple…
- Look at the seed. You can’t eat it, you know. It’s poisonous. Truly bad for you. That’s not very pretty. And it certainly isn’t an apple.
- Plant the seed. Look at the bare ground it’s under. It’s not very pretty, either. (Real gardeners know that the actual process is a little different. See the note at the end. For now, work with me here.)
- Look at the shoots beginning to emerge. Looks nice. But it’s not very big. So, it’s not doing much.
- Now the tree gets bigger. Takes up a lot of space and water, that one. And it’s not giving anything back.
- Lots of green leaves, now. The branches are strong enough to climb, and it gives you some nice shade.
- And then flowers. Lots of them. Beautiful flowers. Very pretty. But you can’t eat them. The tree is all show, and no go. But it brightens up the place.
- Then the fruits form. Hard, green things. Inedible, they are. Still taking a lot of water, and giving nothing back.
- Then apples start to ripen. They turn red. Now they’re beautiful, delicious, and wonderful to eat.
Now let’s examine our emotional reactions at each stage of the process:
- When you look at the apple. You know it is wonderful, and you love it. That is enlightenment.
- When you look at the flower, it’s beautiful, but it isn’t nourishing. You
love it, but know the flowers will soon fade. That is strength, youth, and optimism. But if you look ahead just a little, you know where it’s headed.
- When you look at the green leaves, you may not even know if what you’re seeing is a flowering tree. It may or may not develop into anything of value. You just don’t know. This is doubt and wondering. To have love at this stage you have to look deeper, know what the tree is, and be confident in the process.
- When you look at the sapling emerging from the ground, you have hope. This is the child, not yet blighted by drought, harried by storm, or warped by circumstance. But you know in your heart that it is good.
- When you look at the bare ground covering the seed, it takes great faith to know that it will rise again. That faith comes from vision — from having seen it. As a child, we place great trust in our elders. So if they tell us, we will go along with them. And we will hope. But we won’t know it to be true until we have seen it. After that, we will have faith when we plant the seed. We’ll know we aren’t just throwing it away — burying it, never to be seen again. But when we look at that bare ground, it’s hard to feel much love. It’s more of an empty feeling. One hopes, but one can never really be sure until the shoot emerges. That’s the empty feeling you have when you have no spiritual connection in your life.
- When you look at the seed, knowing it came from the apple, you have some of the same feeling of love that you had for the apple. You know it will take a long time. You know that many obstacles lie in the way. But you know that the seed is the beginning of a process — a process that will unfold, in time, to become the apple. It may be thwarted by outside events, but there is no questioning its inner drive.
If you look at each stage by itself, isolated from all of the others, there isn’t much to love. But when you connect the stages together and visualize the entire process, then you can view each stage with love and understanding, and devote the same care and attention to that process as the farmer, for that is what the farmer does.
The trick is look at the world in the same way. To do that, start by examining yourself.
How has your life been going? Have been growing and gaining wisdom? Even your worst experiences taught you something, didn’t they? Looking back over your life, you’ve been getting smarter, not dumber. If you once had a spiritual connection and have lost it, you ache for it. If you’ve never had one, you’d like to experience it, even if you’re afraid to wish for it for fear it’s not real. And if you currently have a spiritual connection, you know how wonderful it is and how much you cherish it.
So, when you look back over your life, what do see? You see the seed becoming the apple, don’t you? In other words, you see an unfolding process that leads to beautiful fruits.
My martial arts teacher, great grandmaster Tae Yun Kim always taught us: “Be the farmer in your life”. What makes a farmer, if not their awareness of the entire, unfolding process that leads to a tree?
The farmer cares for the seed, preserving it until it is time to plant. The farmer plants the seed, waters the ground, and clears the weeds. But in doing these things, the farmer knows he is doing all he can to help the process. He is not making the apple tree grow. He has absolute confidence that, in effect, the apple tree wants to grow, and the apple is going to emerge. That’s just the way things work.
In the same way that your life has been about growth and becoming, so too is every life on the planet, everywhere it exists. People may get wrong ideas and do the the wrong things for a very long time. But their own unhappiness makes them wish for a better way. (As one sage put it, happiness is the key. At the very least, it tells you whether you’re on the right track.)
When you’re here, now you see a moment in time. You see your own failings, and you see the failings of others. But if you expand your awareness to encompass all time — to imagine the process and see the end result — you can see the strong, arrogant person becoming old and frail, and learning humility in the process. You can see the weak, timid person begin to achieve success in their life and develop self-confidence. You can see the drunken cynic stumbling across a spiritual connection, hanging on to it for dear life, and then throwing the lifeline they found to everyone they meet.
Now expand that vision to encompass every person on the planet, no matter where they are. In other words, be everywhere, always. Don’t just see what people are doing now, see where they’re going in their lives. When you see your own life, you know that the trend is towards becoming smarter, more spiritual, more connected — no matter where you were at any given moment in your life. When you see that same process unfolding in every person you meet, and realize that it is true for everyone on the planet, then you can begin to follow the advice of the Tibetan Buddhist:
See every sight as nirvana, hear every sound as mantra, see every being as Buddha.
In western terms, everything you see is heaven, every sound you hear is a meditative sound (so the rhythmic thumping of the pile driver becomes the sound of the meditation drum), and every person is enlightened. Of course, if you look at what the person is doing today, you may not think so. But when you expand your awareness to see the entire unfolding process in your mind’s eye, and use your own experience as a guide, you know it to be true. And then you can be in here, now, in the present time, and have your heart filled with love.
Note for Gardeners:
In reality, a new apple tree is created by taking a cutting and planting it, rather than by planting a seed. The reason is that when the flower is pollinated, the pollen could come from almost anywhere. The DNA of the pollen mixes with the DNA of the flower to create the new seed. And that seed may well produce hard, bitter fruits, depending on where the pollen came from. But the apple that forms around the seed is a product of the tree’s DNA. So we reproduce the tree by taking a cutting — slicing off part of a branch and grafting it to a root stock that was grown from a seed. The fruits that emerge from that graft are then identical to the originals. So that’s the way things really work. It is the very same process: a quest for continual improvement. But the story is a lot more complex!
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