The Things We Carry
A monk asked Matsu, ‘What is Buddha?’
Matsu replied, ‘This very mind is the Buddha.’
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 30
Zen is about realizing that this very mind ~ even at its most fragile ~ is perfect just as it is. An enlightened can only be found in imperfection, not in some notion of purity.
We can carry, in our hearts, minds, and bodies, memories of trauma and stress for years, perhaps even lifetimes. ‘The bad stuff never stops happening,’ Tim O’Brien wrote in his memoirThe Things They Carried, which is about his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. ‘It lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over.’
I have a friend who flew a Huey helicopter in that war. At 20 years old, he was promoted to aircraft commander. Part of that duty was to ferry the Major on visits to other outposts. One afternoon, the Major wanted to visit a drinking buddy in a distant fire base. The late afternoon flight out went fine. The pilot and crew of five landed at the fire base, and waited. It grew dark, and then pitch black. Finally, the Major staggered out, and my friend strapped him into his seat.
Navigating only by instruments, they took off into the deep black, with no running lights and no horizon. For the lone helicopter, the night held other frightening dangers: American F-4 fighter jets were screaming by and artillery barrages lit up the low-lying clouds. The pilot, prideful of his new position, had simply not asked for the radio frequencies to alert his command of his position. Suffering debilitating vertigo from the lack of visuals, my friend was finally able to find and land at their base in the jungle. ‘I could easily have killed all seven of us’, he said, still feeling a deep remorse and sadness after fifty years. It is a thing that he carries.