a little bit karma, a whole lot dharma

Karma starts with a little face in window.  It sits there day after day, looking in.  Not longingly. That’s a projection of what I’d likely feel if I sat on the other side of bug mesh and glass.  But it’s a cat, so I feel free to project a modicum of manipulative abilities into its intention.  At the time, we had three cats in the house and had made a pact that soon we would be a feline-free zone.  Given the average lifespan of a cat, it was a pointless pact as at least two of them are likely to out live us.  We also made a pact to honour the universal truth that not only should one never feed a stray, one never names a stray.  To name a creature is not to own it but to form a relationship with it that commands responsibility.  Unfortunately, naming a cat is pretty much a non-reciprocal command of responsibility.

Pumpkin, then, became a fixture on the porch by the kitchen door.  We learned from the neighbour that she is 11 years old and has a tendency to get pregnant a lot.  But as an older cat none of her litter survived.  I think visiting us has been a bit like collecting Air Miles or some Feline Point process because she’s not only earned ear-scratching rights but also her own food bowl – which she shares with the occasional blue jay and raccoon.  And she’s socialized a little too. But kitty karma is a tricky thing.  Well-fed and topped up with love, Pumpkin thrived – which means other things can happen that were not part of the original deal.  Meet Sprout. I’m beginning to understand a fine point of the first Bodhisattva vow: Beings are numberless, I vow to save them.  True, at one level it is very much about fostering relationship in this moment, a relationship that in itself fosters transformation.  But it is also generational.  Those ten directions – in front and behind, to the left and right, above and below – are also temporal.  That moment in which a cat became Pumpkin began a karmic accelerator to this moment when a pair of eyes stared up at me, fierce and willing to take me on (I have the scar to prove it).

Steve Hagen writes in Buddhism is not what you think:

Zen is not about arriving at some end point in the future.  In fact, there is no such thing.

The future is immediate, here.  There is no way to understand or grasp what is about to happen, now or at any time + now.  There is no way to truly know what we set in motion, except that we do.  And that kitten, about a hand span of feisty fur, is the best authority on that Truth I have.

center’s punky

The oak tree in the north field came down in a windstorm.  It stands inverted in the ripening soya beans, the shredded base blaring a trumpet solo into the sky as the branches hold it up.  Systems break down.  It’s inevitable.  And yet we find ourselves surprised when our favourite selected systems shatter. We’re offended because that system, that process, that particular set of interconnections which was meant to service us, let us down.  Even in a farming community, which by definition embodies the never-ending process of births and deaths, neighbours expressed shock and dismay that the oak toppled.  Perhaps, it’s only oaks in other communities that are supposed to fall.  But NIMBY!

I’ve been starting to feel that way about many things around me.  Things that seem to keep toppling over.  Saving all beings, transforming inexhaustible delusions, penetrating innumerable dharma doors, embodying the Great Way.  Don’t even get me started on the Great Matter and dharma teachers of varied ilk.  

Yet, I say, “Oh, this is good – for things to topple over.”  A knee jerk response.  A good Zen Response.  A good Buddhist Response.  It parades my familiarity with buzz-word-dharma: impermanence, equanimity, emptiness, not knowing.  It even impresses some teachers – who immediately topple over from the weight of my willful ignorance, my refusal to see what’s really in front of me.

The man who cuts down trees looked at the oak and said, “Center’s punky.”

It was an impressive executive summary of the Four Noble Toppling Truths.

It works like this: though we experience Reality directly, we ignore it. Instead, we try to explain it or take hold of it through ideas, models, beliefs, and stories. But precisely because these things aren’t Reality, our explanations naturally never match actual experience. In the disjoint between Reality and our explanations of it, paradox and confusion naturally arise.
If it’s Truth we’re after, we’ll find that we cannot start with any assumptions or concepts whatsoever. Instead, we must approach the world with bare, naked attention, seeing it without any mental bias—without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations. 

Hagen, Steve (2009). Buddhism Is Not What You Think (pp. 4-5).
Harper Collins e-books. Kindle Edition.