Of Partridges and Slugs

A monk asked the teacher in all earnestness, “Both speech and silence are concerned with form and emptiness. How can we transcend them?”

The teacher responded, “I often think of South Lake in March, where partridges chirp among the hundred fragrant blossoms.”

~ The Gateless Barrier, Case 24

Awakening in Zen is coming to realize that we have a deep and personal relationship of interdependence with all things. And when we realize we are not alone, that we are not two, we begin to gain a sense of freedom. Then the world becomes less oppositional; rather than weighing on us, we feel its alliant support beneath and beside us.

For me, this a koan is about interdependence: I often think of my vegetable garden in April, where the slugs chew on the French Breakfast radishes and course their way through the Roma tomato starts.

The stay-at-home order has allowed me to visit my vegetable garden several times a day, even if I don’t do much this early in the year. In the morning, my shoes get wet in the damp of the night’s spring rain or heavy dew. At mid-day, I look to see if the sun is yet warm enough to start the plants pushing in earnest. And at night, I go hunting for slugs, snails, and pill bugs to keep reasonable my tithe to the god of pests.

This year has not been as bug-busy as previous seasons, when I have sometimes captured over 40 slugs and snails in a single night. Ten days ago, I found two, and through a math that has become familiar to us in recent months, the next night that number surged to four, and then eight. Apparently, the curve has since flattened; last night I only got one slug and one pill bug. I pray that by late May, I will find none.

The interdependence we experience is pre-existent, and not bound by ideas and conclusions, not dependent on speech and silence, form nor emptiness. Without words, that relationship, which all things enjoy with each other, supports, defines and reaches to vast and wide spaces. Knowing neither good nor evil, it includes heroic doctors, nurses and EMT staff. It also includes COVID-19, vaccines, and politicians lost in their own self-importance. In that wide wide world, not one thing is out of place: not partridges, nor fragrant blossoms, slugs, nor even us.

Print: Mayumi Oda



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