Two crossed swords, neither permitting retreat.

Dexterously wielded, like a lotus amidst fire.

Similarly, there is a natural determination to ascend the heavens.

~ Five Ranks, Tung Shan, poem four 114

This is the our fourth of five verses written by the 9th century monk, Tung Shan, who with his successor, founded the Tsao-tung (J. Soto) school of Zen. As mentioned, these poems are among the finest verse in all of Zen, and are an expression of the mystery and beauty of the awakened mind. Last week, we shared the third of the five verses, which is the realization of emptiness: “In the middle of nothing, there is a road that has no dust…” In this fourth stanza, we step out of emptiness and meet the duality inherent in the world, but now see it in a different light.

Two crossed swords, neither permitting retreat. When I read this line, fresh video images of demonstrations, with police in full riot gear facing off against masked demonstrators, come to mind. Tear gas canisters arc over the crowd, and stun guns go off. Teams of young men carry through smashed windows armloads of clothes and appliances to their cars. Rather than enemies, however, I see these two swordsmen in a relationship of inter-dependence: the demonstrators give rise to the police, and the police the demonstrators. They are dancing together.

Dexterously wielded, like a lotus amidst fire. Two days ago, we parked on a side street, pulled on our masks, and began walking up the El Camino Real in San Mateo to the City Hall, where our local congressperson and others were speaking out against the death of George Floyd at the hand of the Minneapolis police. The crowd swelled to thousands, as rivulets of people poured in from side streets and main streets. This river of humanity was a moving sight for me, and seeing it, tears welled up. Teams of local police, not in riot gear, waited at the edges, here and there. I tipped my hat to them several times, and they nodded. Later, I read that some of the policemen took a knee as a sign of solidarity for the marchers. When the crowd became too dense for us, we left early. It was a peaceful march, the papers reported.

Similarly, there is a natural determination to ascend the heavens. I like that line. As human beings, there is a chance that we will be touched by the better angels of our nature. Somebody said the demonstration that day was organized by a coalition of high school students. On the edge of the crowd, which extended some distance from the speakers as many people tried to socially distance, there was a group of four young Asian girls speaking into a large megaphone: “If you need a mask, we have masks,” holding up plastic bag of surgical masks. “We are students from San Mateo High,” they said. Proud of their efforts to take care of their community, the crowd spontaneously began to clap and cheer, for their activism, their spirit, and their youth. They blushed, as they showed us how to naturally ascend the heavens.

Print: Angel’s Time. Thank you Mayumi Oda, the Original Goddess!