“Monks, form is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really is, ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ (Pali Canon, 2300 or so years old.)
“When subject and object are facing one another, opposing one another, we can say that this is a condition within the condition of the origin. Neither one of the activities are harming the other. Neither one of the activities have any thought of good or evil. There is no good and there is not evil in this situation. It’s a completely will-less activity. The true condition of meeting is a beautiful condition, but if, when meeting takes place, thinking arises, such as, “I wonder where this guy comes from. I don’t really like the look of him,” that sort of thinking makes it not the true meeting.” (Joshu Sasaki, Feb., 1997)
Commentary by Gendo
I want to say two things. One is impermanence. The other is goblins. Impermanence is the goblin. Death is the goblin. The teaching of Halloween, an ancient teaching that is also the Buddhist teaching, the teaching of waking up to the reality of our situation, is that goblins come. Suffering comes. And when the goblins come, greet them that at the door. Treat them honorably. They are our teachers. They are us.
Goblins are the face of what is tricky and dangerous, threatening to me. Yet Goblins are immaterial. They are not of “this world.” Buddhism, this ancient tradition called “awakening,” is, like Halloween, waking up to recognize the goblin at your door as yourself; the scary skeleton at the door as your own.
Sasaki says, you and the goblin are of one origin; an origin divided into subject and object, into life and death. Halloween (older than Buddhism) is this moment in the dying of the year, the dying of the plants that grow and sustain life, when, it is said, the veil that separates the living from the dead thins, and the dead walk among us.
Impossible! we say. From the standpoint of the world of material form, that is impossible. But goblins are not of this world of material form. And the awakening of Buddhism is that what is ultimately true lacks material form. In a culture deeply tied to technology and the daily news, that is indeed scary.
But all the time the dead are walking with us. In the fullness of life, the dead are with us. Like the patient who said, “Cancer gave me my life.” Life becomes precious in the light of death. Death derives its meaning from a life lived.
Life and death are impermanent, and it is that impermance that makes their distinction as object possible. Each arises in contrast to the other, in dynamic relationship that includes both. Implicit in the material form of life and the form that is death, is a relationship that is ungraspable, that is immaterial. Therefore it is said in the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
“…subject and object facing one another … within the condition of the origin,” speaks of an origin that is emptiness, empty of separate identity; a meeting that is genuine because it is willess, without judgment of good or evil. When someone steps into the situation with their preferences, ‘I like this one, I don’t like that one,” then the origin is lost sight of, and the object nature of each becomes the focus of attention.
In that moment a goblin knocks at the door. “Trick or treat!” Which will it be? Hide in the dark of your preferences? Or turn on the porch light and open the door?
The inevitability of impermance asserting itself was in ancient times called Karma. Karma, the activity of impermanence, will find us even if we hide in the dark. The willless activty of impermanence inevitably makes itself known. Ignore the goblin and they will soap your windows.
Greet the goblin and something beautiful occurs. Behind the mask is the kid next door, a kid like your own, like the kid you are.