Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sweet honey from old failures

From Eihei Dogen's "Gyobutsus Igi (Dignified Behavior of the Practice Buddha), translated by Shohaku Okamura: 


"Stepping forward is a mistake; stepping backward is also a mistake, taking one step is a mistake, taking two steps is also a mistake; therefore one mistake after another mistake. [Whatever we say is a mistake.]"

Some teachers refer to Dogen's guidance here as the teaching of "one continuous mistake."  The first time I saw a reference to it was in Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi's book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind."  I always felt affirmed by this teaching, since I am so often a victim of self-doubt and self-criticism -- feeling so terrible when, despite my best intentions, I realize that I have goofed in some major way with people I love and care about. 

Making mistakes is part of being human.  We can never know the consequences of our actions, even if we try really hard to be careful and respectful and kind.  There will always be something we miss, something that is hidden from us.  Sometimes we realize that we have been mistaken in our actions because we see the consequences for ourselves, and sometimes other people have to point out our mistakes.  No matter how we receive this feedback, our job as practitioners of the Way is to own our failures and perhaps, just perhaps, find a way to use this greater clarity in our future actions.  This is my practice, and sometimes it comes with great sorrow, and anger and fear.  But ultimately, it clarifies the path and the Way. 

I am also inspired by the teachings of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, in his poem "Last Night As I Was Sleeping,"  translated by Robert Bly.  He suggests that this dream-like life, with all its difficulties and opportunities for error, is ultimately pointing us all to transcendence, to finding our way to what Machado calls God, and what I might call the Awakened Heart.  Whatever you call it, know that we are all capable of making sweet honey from our old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

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