The teacher asked a student, “What is your name?”
The student replied, “Juanita”
The teacher said, “Juanita, that is me.”
The student said, “My name is Roberto.”
The teacher laughed.
~ The Blue Cliff Record
Zen practice is about realizing more and more how we are in an intimate and supportive relationship with the many things that populate our world, including “rocks, sticks and grizzly bears”, as we chant in our sutra dedication. Human beings, of course, also fall into that category of the many things. That is why, in this koan, when we call people by our name, we realize that they are we, and we are they. This koan speaks to me (again this week) about the haunting separation of immigrant families at our southern border.
When I was 15, a sophomore in high school, I followed my older sister on The Survival Walk, a group of protesters and educators walking from Sacramento to Los Angeles in the spring of 1970. Organized by Ecology Action, a small environmental advocacy group from Berkeley, we were a traveling community of 60 people, or so, hiking through the Central Valley, visiting high schools and holding weekend fairs to highlight environmental issues. It was a new movement at the time and our goal was to finish in Los Angeles on the first Earth Day.
When we got to Delano, the Ecology Action walkers were invited to camp outside of town as guests of the United Farm Workers, who at the time were in the midst of their organizing around the lettuce boycott and union representation for farm workers. Though Cesar Chavez was away that night, a large group of Chicano farm workers brought their families to our camp and put on a Latino food and music fest that I still recall fondly. By chance, I found myself sitting next to a lovely quinceañera, with whom I sputtered along with in my high-school Spanish. The enduring memory from that night was the warmth and generosity of the farm worker families, who had very little, but shared all of it in their generosity.
Call us by our name. In Zen, there is a certain amount of forgetting. Forgetting for a moment that we are not separate from each other. Forgetting that we are not the other. Forgetting for a time that we are not farm workers and Chicanos, also. We actually have a name for that. It is called enlightenment. And in Buddhist terms, its opposite is delusion, even institutional delusion. I can’t imagine my friends from Delano having their families torn apart, young children and even babies taken from them by a government bent on making a policy point. No separation.