This Potsu-Potsu Life
A monk asked Yaoshan, “On the plain, in the shallow grass, the elk and deer form a herd: how can one shoot the elk of elks?”
Shan said, “Look—an arrow!”
The monk let himself fall down.
Shan said, “Attendant, drag this dead fellow out.” The monk then ran out.
Shan said, “This fellow playing with a mud ball—what end will there be to it?” Xuetou commented, saying, “Though he lived for three steps, after five steps he had to die.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 81
Potsu potsu, in Japanese, is the sound of gathering raindrops. First there is big splat. Then another. And another, until the ground is darkened by the rain. In northern California, where we have been in a severe drought for several years, we have gotten lots of potsu potsu this rainy season. At least for now, the drought seems to be broken.
Potsu potsu is gathering in this season of my life, as well. It feels like the potsu potsu of older age. My friend D passed a couple of nights ago. I had been checking in on him every few weeks for the past year, as his lymphoma took hold of his weakening body. Our conversation was simple:
“How are you feeling? Ok, except for my stomach hurting sometimes.
“Are you eating and taking in fluids? Yes. The camera shines inward and it shines outward.
“Yes, it does. I just wanted you to know how much I love you and how much we all love you. Thank you.
“I lit a stick of incense for you, and the smoke is now rising through the clouds into the grand and open sky. Thank you.”
A few hours later, he died with his daughter and partner at his side.
Potsu Potsu. Last Saturday I got a call from the wife of my childhood friend, G, who is in his later 60s: I just wanted to let you know we are in the hospital. G had a heart attack. He needs a triple bypass, but he was lucky: one was a widow-maker.
Only a couple of days before, I had had a dream of G, who has hunted elk his whole life. The dream lasted the whole night, as they sometimes do for me when in sesshin. In it, he and I were standing on the edge of a large granite outcropping. Off to the east, stretching flat to the horizon, were the high-plains of the Rockies, lightly covered in snow. We were all geared up to go looking for elk: camo clothing, bright orange vests and hats, backpacks and rifles slung over our shoulders.
I didn’t want to go. Early in the night, in the dream, rules and regulations prevented me from joining the party. By the middle of the night, the rules had fallen away, and only my reluctance held me back. Finally, toward the end of the night, even my reluctance fell away, and together we headed out onto the open plains.
My friend J, in his mid-sixties, died of a heart attack the Thanksgiving before Covid. Friend C, had a stroke a few years ago, in his late 50s. They were all, in their youth, utterly invincible in traveling the North American wilderness. And now, the fat raindrops have begun to fall. And it is not a wrong thing. It is just a gathering of things: a potsu potsu.