koyo’s dragon-eating bird

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This talk was given by The Rev. Alice Cabotaje Roshi on April 1, 2021.

Good evening! It is so nice to be here with you. Thank you, Nona, for inviting me to be with your group. Thank you, all, for having me share this time with you.

Over the past weeks, I have had the privilege to listen to Asian colleagues and friends as they grappled with the spate of hate crimes against Asians, many of whom are women.

Yesterday, a black female staffer wept. She expressed sadness and anger when she heard the news of an elderly Asian woman who was beaten to near death. “They did this before and they’ve done it again. They keep doing it,” she said, referring to continued brutality against people of color.

It was interesting to note that none of those who shared their stories sought words of assurance, or words of hope.

We continue to go through this horrific pandemic. 

We continue to go through painful reminders of structural racism, systemic oppression and injustice. Despite protests, we continue to witness yet another police brutality, another violent event. Despite the progress in dismantling racism, we continue to encounter various forms of racism, racial prejudice, and bias against our friends, loved ones, and colleagues of color.

So much pain and suffering. There has been a strong sense of disorientation among many of us. The many things that we relied on for safety, for security, for survival that include relationships, jobs, homes have been upended.

And yet, having a relationship with impermanence every day, encourages us to practice abandoning hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated. 

It pushes us to have the courage to be intimate with our fears and insecurities.

This means having to stop ourselves from distracting ourselves from distressing situations by sweetening them up, by trying to smooth them over, or by offering to ourselves assurances, which may or may not happen. 

Having a relationship with impermanence asks us to surrender.

It prods us to trust the process.

It invites us to touch again and again our anger, our despair, our loneliness, our longings, our exhaustion, our tears, and our laughter at the absurdity of it all.

It nudges us to acknowledge our strengths, the depth of our resources and creativity.

It calls us to connect with honesty and authenticity.

It wakes us up.

It stretches our souls to the stars.

It opens us to grace.

It prompts us to separate the chaff from the grain in our lives.

It challenges us to let go of old notions and assumptions about ourselves, about others, about death, about life.

It urges us to offer our lives in service to all beings; and

It encourages us to give up hope of having something different than what is happening right now.

Everything that is happening to us right now, reminds me of Case Number 44, “Koyo’s Dragon-Eating Bird” in the Shoyoroku:

A monk asked the Achariya Ho of Koyo, “The great dragon has emerged from the ocean, calming heaven and earth. How will you treat it when it suddenly appears before you?”

Master Ho said, “The king of Myojicho is as large as the universe. Who can appear before it?”

The monk said, “How about when it does appear?”

Ho said, “It is like the crested eagle catching a pigeon. If you don’t realize it, you must show the truth by the ‘inspection before a balcony’.”

The monk said, “If so, I must immediately withdraw three steps with my hands clasped to my breasts.”

Ho said, “A tortoise under the altar. Don’t wait to be struck on the forehead. You’ll get hurt.”

So I pose the question to you: “The great dragon has emerged from the ocean, calming heaven and earth. How will you treat it when it suddenly appears before you?”

It feels tender that we are going through many challenges this Holy Week. It can be tempting to rush to Easter Sunday, to anticipate the Resurrection rather than walk through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

It is tempting to seek warmth, to go sleep by the fire as Hadley Basque said in the book Proverbs of Ashes. He shared a personal story, which reflects the paradox of having hope and abandoning hope.

He said: “I was a prisoner of war during the Korean War. I was in the camp for two years. The winters were the hard part. In North Korea the winters are very cold. It snows. The ground freezes. We had to sleep in drafty barracks on thin boards with one thin blanket. In winter, the guards would make charcoal fires in these barracks. They stood around the fires, warming themselves in front of us. If you wanted to, you could take your blanket and go sleep by the fire. The guards didn’t mind.

“You could always tell the prisoners who had given up hope. They would go sleep by the fire. It was warmer there. You could make it through the night without shaking from the cold. Being warmed that way lowered your resistance. The ones who slept by the fire would get sick, pneumonia or flu, or God knows what. They’d last for a while, but they couldn’t make it. They would die.

“Those of us who survived – were the ones who never went to sleep by the fire.”

So I pose the question to you: “The great dragon has emerged from the ocean, calming heaven and earth. How will you treat it when it suddenly appears before you?”