Editorial: The Stuff of Life

Featured in Mountain Record 26.4, Summer 2008

Suppose, monks, a dog tied up on a leash was bound to a strong post or pillar: it would just keep on running and revolving around that same post or pillar. So too, the unistructed wordling regards form as self... feeling as self... perception as self... volitional formation as self... consciousness as self... As he keeps on running and revolving around them, he is... not freed from suffering, I say.”

-Shakyamuni Buddha

Jump roping. Saint Rose of Lima grammar school when the days got warm and long. This was it. I remember rushing to get to school early so I could be part of the game. We would take turns holding the ends while the lucky ones swayed before the rhythmic rope, slowly drawn in by the flow of it, until it was time to jump. Then encircled by it—up and down, up and down, to the pace of the snap on the ground. Even with all the tripping and lost turns, there was nothing more delightful and enlivening and simply perfect.

Somehow the predictability of our lives can grow tiresome as we get older. Maybe we feel we don’t get a turn anymore. And where’s the excitement, anyway? Are we stuck in the game? Have we forgotten how to be joyful?

Karma is the stuff of life—what we do, think, say, and its multiplicitous effects across time and space arising in dependence on everything else. Reginald Ray says, “The fact that I am this way and no other, with all of my problems and potentials, is an attestation to the entire realm of being. To understand myself, I need to understand this vast web of conditioning that I represent.”

When we fully enter into spiritual practice, we bring ourselves with us—overweight or thin, happy or sad, trusting or rigidly stuck—along with the effects and further causes of all our actions and attitudes. Practice is an opportunity to open ourselves to the real circumstances of our lives and to accept them all as our own. Atonement, at-one-ment, as Daido Roshi teaches, is a moral response to karma, whereby we transform greed into compassion, anger into wisdom, and ignorance into enlightenment.

Shugen Sensei clarifies that as the past and future exist only in our minds, “To understand the past, the only place you can look is here, now. To understand delusion, the only place you can look is here, now. To understand life and death, the only place you can look is here, now. ” To realize this present moment is to realize karma.

We can live as if on the sidelines—as commentator, judge, or dreamer—but has this brought us real change or happiness? We can choose to just be where and who we are. We can fully enter into what this life is right now. Then maybe what we thought we were bound by is not so tight. What was weighty may lighten. What was impossible...

Karin Jinfu Connelly, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor