Just a post of some working files that people want to hear.  Cary on...

I spent the past Sunday up at the monastery. Very happy day. Gorgeous weather. Kids running around being kids, filling the air of this re-purposed grade-school with old, familiar sounds. Mother's day. The Buddha's birthday. A celebration. I drove home leisurely, stopping in Longview for a bottle of water and a stretch, watching the classic, puffy white clouds as they appeared to scrape the top of the Lewis & Clark bridge. I started to think about joy and entropy for some reason. I don't know why. Maybe something to do with the apparent impermanence of clouds. Note the word "apparent".

When I got home, I took off my malas and set down my wagessa on my altar. I'd just sat down at my laptop to answer an email when my phone rang. It was one of our most senior students. She asked if I could get down to the dharma center double-time. Then the horror. One of our sangha members--someone who looked up to me at times and who I had been helping learn and grow confident in a service position--had very suddenly and tragically died. The specifics are not for me to go into here, but the sadness I felt is something I can talk about.

And sad doesn't cover it. I felt like I'd suddenly had fifty pounds put on each shoulder. I didn't know this person very well, but that had been changing recently, and I was actively enjoying getting to know her. To hear of this abject tragedy was such a blow, it felt a bit disproportionate to the personal connection that had been between the two of us, at least intellectually. Sad as it was, what made it sadder still was that there was something unsurprising about this as well. There are things tied in with Mother's Day that make it sadder yet. I grabbed up my wagessa and other things and headed to the zendo.

Shussho was there, looking like someone had just punched her in the face. I wanted to hug her immediately--she looked like a dam about to burst--but the hugs would start flying soon enough, and I wanted to support her efforts at noble stoicism by not punching a hole in her just then. Within ten minutes of arriving, about a dozen of us were gathered, including our two teachers. I found it interesting, and somewhat reassuring that even in their noble bearing and upekkhā, something was radiating a perturbation, as if a unanticipated wind has disturbed the perfect rake marks of the sand of a rock garden.

We sat.  We talked.  We cried.  We asked questions.  A friend with a strong Christian background offered up a song, and I allowed myself to just be present with it, letting its universality touch me.  Afterwords, we tried as best we could to simply go about the business of the night's service, which would be different than the regular sanzen because of the significance of the day.

The ceremony, a symbolic bathing of the baby Sidhartha with sweet tea under a bower of flowers, is always lovely, yet this time tinged with the sadness that someone who would typically be there that night, would not be pouring tea over the tiny statue with us, nor would she ever again.  It was harsh.

After I made my bows and poured the tea, my sensei silently motioned for me to go take the doan spot.  I often have this honor (and I do consider this an honor) because I have, as he has recently said to me, "a generally imperturbable nature in those roles", and the ability to 'wing it' rather well, which is helpful when a ceremony calls for something other than our boilerplate form.  I sat down on the cushion, and waited for cues from the ordained monastic.  But the perturbations were still ringing through time and space.  It was a bit bumpy on the way out of the ceremony, but we got through, as we always do.

On the way home, I was thinking about entropy again.  I stopped and thought about my lost friend in that light; how she was gone before she should have been, all because the Universe overwhelmed her.  I thought about the Dharma, and how it has made my life so much more manageable, and suddenly, I started feeling an anger welling up inside me.  If this worked so well for me, through my father's death, through my illness of mind and spirit, through the trauma of separation from my daughter, her return while in the throes of a serious addiction, my divorce after 9 years with someone... if the Dharma was so damn all-powerful, why couldn't it have changed this awful outcome for my friend and Dharma sister?

I sat a bit more when I got back.  It presented itself to me readily.  I posted it on my Facebook status, as is my practice after returning from the zendo, as a way to share that energy.  Typically it's a pithy or quirky inside reference to something said in a Dharma talk, or a little insight I may have had about practice.  But there was no pith here.  This felt like something solid.  Something carved in stone that I suddenly was faced with, as if I was walking a mountain path, turned a corner, and saw this carved into a giant edifice:

The Dharma cannot save you from pain and suffering. This is not because the Dharma is impotent; it is because 'to be saved from something' implies that there is someone to save, and something to be saved from. The distinction is subtle, but that distinction is true Dharma.
For the next few Thursdays, I will be taking over her service position, as a tribute to her.  I will do my very best to encourage her on as she goes through the bardos to whatever her karma has aimed her towards, but it will be with a somberness that I haven't felt in a long time.

She hugged me the night of my 5-precepts ceremony, just a few days ago.  It felt weird.  Now I know why.

Goodbye, Asia.  Move on.  And may your next life go well.