A monk asked Yunmen, “How is it when the trees have withered and the leaves have fallen?”

Yunmen responded, “Body exposed in the golden wind.”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 27

Zen is not about interpreting, intellectualizing, or finding rational meaning. It is about directly exposing our bodies to life. Recently, I was thrilled (because I love to hear from my her) and amused (because I can be a snob) when my daughter, who is spending a college semester abroad in Madrid, texted me a picture of a “Zen” work by Nam Juin Paik, a Korean-American artist, showing at the Reina Sophia Museum. Mostly a hand-typed quote, it read:

Now let me talk about Zen, although I avoid it usually, not to become the salesman of “OUR” culture like Daisetsu Suzuki, because the cultural patriotism is more harmful than the political patriotism, because the former is the disguised one, and especially the self-propaganda of Zen (the doctrine of the self-abandonment) must be the stupid suicide of Zen.

Zen is anti-avant-garde, anti-frontier spirit, anti-Kennedy,. Zen is responsible for Asian poverty. How can I justify ZEN, without justifying Asian poverty??

I wrote her back, “Cool! Thanks for sending. How was Guernica?” She returned, “it was amazing. really incredible. hard to understand the gravity until you see it in person.” I responded, “That is Zen ”

Just about the same time my daughter was looking at Guernica, my brother was driving through it. Only this time, it was called Paradise, Calif., shared all the qualities of the Nazi bombing of death and destruction that was visited upon that small Basque town in 1937. Last Thursday, he fled Paradise through the late-morning darkness created by thick black smoke, with the fire burning on both sides of the Skyway, the main road out of town. In his apartment, which he later learned was burned to the ground, he left most of his clothes, a couple of kayaks, and a box of century-old family pictures, many of which had been digitized.

With so many fires these past years, we get numb to the numbers: The Camp Fire is now 140,000 acres burned, 7,600 structures destroyed, and first responders onsite unofficially estimate over 200 dead. Yet the golden wind continues to blow in both directions, and already the exiled Paradise community, staying in nearby Chico, has banded together in common cause, helping one another with housing, insurance claims and communication. Today, my brother’s former landlord returned his last month’s rent and cleaning deposit and some old friends in Truckee started a Go-Fund-Me site for him. “We are all going out and buying new socks and underwear,” my brother said. “Right now, there is a whole lot of love going around.” It is hard to understand the gravity until you see it in person.

See Dan Joseph’s escape from Paradise here