Burn It All
Te Shan brought all of his notes on the Diamond Sutra before the Dharma hall and held up a torch saying ‘Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like letting a single drop of water fall into an enormous valley.’ Te Shan then burned all his notes and making his bows, he took leave of his teacher.
~ Gateless Barrier, case 28
Burn the papers. Burn the hurtful memories. Burn the shame. Is it really so damned important to hold onto these things? Te Shan was a great scholar and walked all the way from the north of China to the south pulling a hand cart loaded with his notes on the Diamond Sutra. Within that cart were all his career and probably his life hopes, fears and knowledge. Stacks of proofs and reasons. In the end, it was for
him useless baggage, and he burned it all.
You don’t know her, but Karen Jackson, my childhood neighbor, died a couple of days ago. Pancreatic cancer. Two months. Two grown daughters. A teacher. She had a lovely laugh. I can hear her now. In recent weeks, she was not seeing anyone outside of immediate family. I had wanted to laugh with her about the trees in Montana, the state in which she was born.
It was the summer of 1969, she was a freshman and I was a sophomore in high school. We were all on Tommy’s ski boat together; Tracey was there too. Karen was absolutely beautiful that day, with long strawberry-blonde hair. In contrast with her confident womanliness, I was a boy, shy and a bit pudgy. In the boat, I thought I would start a conversation with her, so I asked: ‘What kind of trees do they have in Montana?’ The other kids looked at me stunned for an instant, and then they all started to laugh. I had utterly flopped in the big try, and it really hurt as I revisited the scene a hundred times in my head over the following months. Of course I can laugh now, but I can also still feel a little bit of that boy’s pain. I guess like Te Shan, I have carted it around all these years. But unlike Te Shan, now I don’t want to burn it. When I think of Karen, I want to remember her lovely laugh and the dopiness of the trees in Montana.
In cottonwood leaves
Just a feelin’ in the wind
In yesterday from days gone by
Can I have tomorrow
From yesterday, that I borrow?
~ Henry Real Bird, State of Montana Poet Laureate 2009~2011