Destroyed or Not Destroyed: How Will We Answer?
May 18, 2019 by kojin-heath
This article was transcribed from one of Tenshin Roshi’s dharma talks and published in our Community Journal, a quarterly publication which is distributed to members of Yokoji.
There is an old Zen koan that seems particularly relevant today: Daizui’s Kalpa Fire. In this koan, a monk asks his teacher, Daizui, “In the raging of kalpa fire, chiliocosms (10,000 universes) are together destroyed. I wonder if this is destroyed or not destroyed?” Daizui responds, “Destroyed.” The monk continues, “If so, does everything go with it?” Daizui answers, “Everything goes with it.” The same monk later asks another teacher, Ryusai, the same question, and Ryusai replies, “Not Destroyed.” When the monk asks, “Why is it not destroyed?” Ryusai replies, “Because it is the same as the chiliocosms.”
I find this koan important and related to our life here at the Center. We’ve just been closed for several weeks because of unusually heavy and destructive rains.
Years ago, Maezumi Roshi attended the Rio Summit where human-caused climate change was a central topic. Scientists then and now have documented that human activities are indisputably responsible for climate change. Before the summit, Maezumi Roshi sometimes said that whether the habitable climate we have is destroyed or not destroyed is irrelevant. He would say that the dharma is always here, and there will always be something to appreciate it, whether it’s human beings or cockroaches or rocks. But when Maezumi Roshi came back from Rio, I remember him saying, “It would be a pity for humans not to understand this and then not be around to appreciate it.” Climate change has become an intimate reality for us here at the Center. Over the last few years, we’ve had five major destructive events, any one of which could have destroyed the Center. I have an obligation to say something about this.
Human-caused climate change is an expression of one of the darker aspects of our humanity. As humans we can split atoms, we can create beautiful things, we can befriend others, and we can modify our behaviors, but the question of whether we can clean up this mess that we’ve created remains unanswered. Many people don’t like to do things that aren’t sexy, or that seem to require real effort or core lifestyle changes. It seems we are unwilling to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term benefits. As I look at my own humanity, the question that arises is: Who are we leaving this to? What are the real consequences of the way we’re living? We are taking over and destroying the habitats of so many animals and plants who share this planet with us. Whatever we do, there seems to be a great cost for other species. In our own practice as human beings, we can chose to see our lives more holistically, noticing the effects of our actions on the others with whom we share this world.
Before the Buddha and his adherents settled down into monasteries, they traveled from one place to another and begged for food. They were called “home-leavers,” and they were considered worthy of receiving alms. They limited their stay to only a few days because they understood the impact on the limited resources of the people in the community that would feed them. Later, in Japanese Zen, there was a symbiotic relationship between the monks and the community. The community would donate to the temple, and the monks would go out and clean and repair homes, providing support for elders in particular.
We should look at how we live and function in our world today, seeing how we consume. Our human survival is dependent on our environment in many ways, even in ways we don’t imagine. We can choose to act when we see things that we can actually do. It will take time for us to reverse the negative effects of climate change. We may not see the results of our behaviors as humans in this lifetime.
In the movie “Eric the Viking,” a Monty Python spin-off, everyone is sitting around on Atlantis, and the water level is constantly rising. Their suit cases are floating around a pyramid, but the king is saying, “Oh, it’s a great day today!” Luckily, for him, Eric the Viking is on a ship and can float away. Where will we go? There’s no escape route. We can no longer ignore climate effects and sit in denial of our own mess as the water rises. Destroyed or not destroyed? It’s up to each one of us.
— Tenshin Roshi