All living things are one seamless body,
And pass quickly from dark to dark
~ PZI Dedication: Remembrance
My father, “Buck” Joseph, a news photographer for forty years, would often would say to his kids (a captured audience of six): “Though the names and faces change, the story is always the same.” There is some Zen in that. The Zen story is unchanging, but the words we use to describe it, the scenes we employ to illustrate it, are always different. Maybe we don’t need words to explain the story at all.
One Seamless Body is a fragment of a Pacific Zen dedication ceremony that took hold of me in the last days of our recent January retreat at a Dominican convent in San Rafael. As with a koan, I found myself repeating the words over and through the day, into the night, and into my sleep. On the last day of the gathering, as I was walking down some gravel stairs outside, I heard the call of an American robin: cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. It was the gentle call of a common bird on a spring morning. But to me, the call was almost absurdly content and gluttonously happy, streaming from a fat bird almost certainly stuffed with worms.
That call was also intensely personal. On hearing it, I knew that the cheerily, cheer up was my call. It was content and happy because I was so. Once more, name and face changed. Though One Seamless Body is forever unchanging, it appears one beautiful spring morning as the song of a fat robin; or a old guy walking down the stairs. The distinction is not necessary. That call is our call, and though we may pass quickly from dark to dark, the seamless body remains.