“Never Ending“ Canadian Spring
(by Dhammavaro Bhikkhu (Matthias Jordan) , ArrowRiverHermitage, Canada, July, 2000)
My old friend Punnadhammo Bhikkhu welcomes me at Thunderbays’ airport.
Then we drive with Jay to arrow river hermitage - Buddhist Monastery, about an hours drive. It is already evening and after having a cup of tea at Punnadhammos Kuti we drive right to ridgehouse - which will be my Kuti for the time being here. It is surrounded by a lawn and a forest - about 5 minutes walk to the Arrow River.
After a good deep sleep I walk to the pavilion - about 20 minutes away. A simple wood-construction, a simple Buddhashrine, Mealtime in the pavilion, a good meal, I feel immediately at home.
It’s the end of April and the temperature is around zero - but the sun makes the thermometer rise quickly - up to 8-10° Celsius. The Meditation room offers space for about 10-12 people. At the moment the community consists out of 2 laypeople and us 2 monks. A big iron stove - and around the Sala (as we call the pavilion) enough firewood. For the next 3,1/2 month I can stay here, on retreat - sometimes conversing and sometimes working, which is a welcome physical exercise.
But in general - breathing in and out and being in the present moment as good as possible.
I get to know my neighborhood: Some woodpeckers and other birds, a beaver-family who have constructed those amazing dams not far from my Kuti, some deer, one! moose, and later the tracks of a wolf at the creek. But then - one morning I see them - the black bear - a family: mama-bear and three cubs, almost right in front of my Kuti. And as time will show, they will become my regular visitors and wayfarers until the beginning of July.
The foliage trees are still bare and also the brushwood hasn’t got any leaves yet.
This allows a far ranging view into the Canadian bush and helps to keep oriented on my occasional hikes through the forest.
And then at the end of May - the time has come for the first leaves to creep out of their buds, slowly and leisurely, as if they would have all time of the world - the first flowers start to blossom.
Beginning Spring - and it seems that this spring stretches far into the month of June.
Beginning July, the first hot days - which is called Summer.But as long as I was here I had the feeling that I was experiencing a seemingly never-ending springtime. Flowers came, but they also withered away again - but still there was always something blooming.Those same flowers reached the peak of their beauty, and then they laid their heads down toward the ground and were gone.Well - that’s how it is with everything - an always Coming - Staying and Leaving again. The Law of Impermanence actually operates everywhere.
Was it not because of this law, that the Buddha went forth into homelessness and later made his teachings known, about the Unsatisfactoriness and insufficiency inherent in all conditioned phenomena? One cannot criticize the working of natural laws, neither avoid them nor can one move above them, but one has to accept them just as they are.
Practically this means - that we have to surrender to those laws and we should learn to organize our lives in accordance with them. Who doesn’t want that things which are regarded as ‘beautiful’ always remain that way? Who does not want to own Youth, Health and Beauty for ever? How many of our actions have the aim maintaining that which is Pleasant, and avoiding that which is Unpleasant? A constant struggle - and at the end of the day - we are all standing there - as losers, especially when sickness or death knocks on our door (it’s actually always the same old song - every flower sings it for us.)
No - it doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with pessimism but with realism.
The Buddha advises us not to develop any attachment towards any phenomena, material things, our own body or other people, but rather to see them as a part of nature and to let them move on when the time has come.
what does attachment actually mean? It means: I take possession of something, hold on to it firmly, and do not give this thing the permission to change according to its natural course.
The Ven. Ajahn Buddhadasa once said: “If we hold on to ‘things’ they will eventually be a foundation for suffering one day...“ He also said: “... to give up unskillful holding on to things is the key to all Buddhist Practice....“
By contemplating this clinging or holding on to we can actually say, that this is a violation of Natural Laws and the result is what the Buddha called Dukkha, often translated as Suffering or Unsatisfactoriness. We are actually not suffering because things are changing, but because we do not want them to change. Only if we do not want them anymore, then we welcome this change - but also here we can experience that things develop in accordance with their own nature and are usually unmoved by our personal desires.
Everlasting spring, eternal happiness, and good moods - life doesn’t function in this way. We all can attest to that. Because of the fact that we finally have no control or power (only influence, in a limited way) over the impermanent nature of our bodies, our feelings etc., the Buddha says that we cannot regard those things as I or Mine or as a Self. Furthermore he advises us to contemplate and consider the facts of old age and death and of impermanence.
If we do this, something happens to our mind - we start to develop wisdom - we start to see things as they are. And then we slowly begin to empty our package of attachments and clingings. We get lighter and also develop wholesome mental qualities, because we are no longer willing to harm ourselves and others for things which are instable and shortlasting anyway.
Every beginning is difficult - because we are afraid of letting things go, which means allowing them to follow in accordance with nature. (They might not return again). But also the fear of giving up an apparent security. Perhaps also the fear or Angst of an unfamiliar freedom, the Unknown, where maybe nothing belongs to me anymore or nothing is mine anymore, no-thing what I am.
And finally when death comes, we have to give up everything anyway, we have to leave it behind. Am I prepared for this? We make preparations for our old age in the form of pension-insurance, for sickness - in the form of health-insurance, etc. How many activities, strategies and methods are we employing to make our life safe and secure?
But how do I assure myself of reaching a peaceful death, a calm and collected mind and heart which is so important in this moment of transfer? Old age is not a sure thing, sickness isn’t sure either - the only thing that is sure is my own death. Few people are prepared to face this event. Those reflections are also meant as a preparation for death.
But the most important thing is to live a wholesome life and to get knowledge and develop insight into the real nature of phenomena, to see them as they are. And how are they? They are impermanent - if we cling to them we experience suffering - and they don’t belong to us, don’t belong to anybody.
Every withering flower is a messenger of this truth - Look and see.
But the Buddha does not leave us standing hopelessly in the rain with this appalling revelation, but offers practical advice in order to lead a wholesome, peaceful and satisfying life and teaches a path which leads away from all attachments, step by step. The Buddha named the highest goal Nibbana - the Deathless, being freed from all conditions, the Unconditioned, the highest security and happiness, the Unborn, the Unmade, the Freedom beyond - the end of Birth, Old-age, Sickness and Death.
It is an invitation which one does not have to accept. But when it is accepted, it becomes a challenge to walk this path as good as possible.
The wind still blows in the trees and the leaves move along with it.
Flowers bloom but also wither away again. The bears have left and moved at the beginning of July to another area, on the road I see dead butterflies - and the seemingly endless Canadian Spring will change into a cold, white snow-desert in a few month- but even this is going to change ...
And somewhere between Heaven and Earth we Human Beings are standing with a deep longing in our hearts - what are we longing for?
The journey has started a long time ago already - may it end for all of us in the Deathless state!