If you love the sacred and hate the secular, you will float and sink in the sea of birth and death…

If you love the sacred, what is sacred is not more than the name ‘sacred’.

~ The Record of Linji, Discourses XII and XV

Of the ancients, Linji Yixuan (d. 867) has always been a reliable shit stirrer. While teaching In the largely Confucian society of 9th century China, he was recommending, should they be met, slaying buddhas, patriarchs, parents, and kinsman, in that order. (I don’t know for certain, but we must assume as a Buddhist monk he himself was vegetarian). My mother had a saying for his type: “He would kick if he were in swimming.”

Recently, the notion of “sacred” arose for me as I was reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, by Timothy Egan, about the life of photographer Edward S. Curtis. Curtis worked for several decades at the turn of the 19th century to document Native American life in the West before it disappeared. My spirit collapsed when I read a quote by his Absaroka (Crow) translator, who when told by a government agent that he must adopt the manners of White Men, said: “Do you expect us…in the quarter of the age of an old man, to have changed our whole life, and even to have forgotten the days of the old freedom, when we were lords of all the great plains and mountains?” What struck me was the line days of the old freedom.

I have often dreamed of pre-European California, the days of the old freedom, and that time has taken on a sacred quality for me. While in high school, I worked as a dishwasher and janitor at the Walnut Creek Elks Club. The club had a massive set of Tule elk antlers, used in their ceremonies, with a brass plaque that read, “Found on the slopes of Mt. Diablo in 1875”. Where had the Tule elk, the California grizzly, the gray wolf, steelhead and Chinook salmon gone? When imagining the sacred days of the old freedom in my land, I float and sink into my own sea of birth and death.

Yet, if I hate the secular ~ the world I have now ~ I will not know the sacred in this moment and place. I wouldn’t see the waxing crescent moon and or hear the clicking of the barn owls as they pass in the dark. I couldn’t notice the onion starts as they begin pushing up in my spring garden. Nor would the crisp clear days of returning drought bring me dread as I fear a long fire season will follow. Floating and sinking in the sea of birth and death are the days of freedom.