After the meeting with my sangha in Zen Centrum Den Bosch, I return to Yvette’s home. At Yvette’s I saw that it was almost nine pm. I opened my laptop to see if David was online.
I have been in the Netherlands for two weeks. It is nice that something like skype exists so that we can keep seeing each other. David appears on my screen. As usual, he is sitting in the attic. I can see that autumn is arriving at Eleusis: the evenings are chilly there too. David is wearing his warm woollen sweater. The attic is not insulated and there is no heating. Soon it will be too cold for me to work in the attic.
David asks me what we talked about during the teisho in my sangha.
“We just started with a new text, Sandokai”, I said, “I think it is a classic old text. It begins with ‘The old Indian sage who is coming from the West, or something like that. I don’t understand it at all. Do you know it?”
“Ah, Sandokai”, said David, and he starts to recite some sentences.
“Yes, that is the text!” I said with enthusiasm.
“It is in our service book too”, said David. And he sings some of the words:
“From west to east, unseen, flowed out the mind of India’s greatest Sage and to the source kept true as an unsullied stream is clear”. I recognize the melody, like an old psalm, sung with a warm voice. I realize that I have heard the text before, but I only memorized the melody.
“Have you translated the text David?”
“No, my teacher Kennett Roshi. In the Zen monastery we recited every morning the Heart Sutra, the Jewel Mirror Samadhi and Sandokai. It was one of Kennett Roshi’s favourite’s.
‘Pling’ – David sent me the text through internet.
Early wake up
Next morning I wake up early. I open my laptop and decide to make an attempt to translate Kennettt Roshi’s Sandokai into Dutch. First I start with a rough translation. Besides me I have a Dutch translation I have got from my teacher Henk from Zen Centrum Den Bosch. I search on the internet and read more translations in Dutch and English and some background information.
In the beginning of the afternoon I have a skype meeting with David to talk about my translation and the meaning of Sandokai. After an hour and a half I start to understand a bit more of the text. I enjoy working on it this way. The text is coming more alive. I feel moved by its poetic rhythm and metaphors:
Lo! With the ideal comes the actual,
Like a box all with its lid;
Lo! With the ideal comes the actual,
Like two arrows in mid-air that meet.
I ask David the meaning about this particular part. David refers back to a sentence above. ‘Here born, we clutch at things and then compound delusion, later on, by following ideals.’
He explains the sentences. This is about human nature. We compose illusions, and we extend them with ideals, in this way you become further and further away from home, you get lost. Ah, yes, I recognize this, I tell him. Like me with all my illusions about love and romantic fantasies. O yes I am quite good in creating romantic ideals in my head.
Ideals and reality
David laughs and speaks further. Your ideals will be always confronted with reality. Like a box is complete with it’s lid. The lid is reality. Ideal and reality meet like two arrows in mid air. The metaphor of the two arrows you can find also in the Jewel Mirror Samadhi and is based on a story about a talented archer. It is almost impossible to hit another arrow in mid-air, now matter how talented you are as an archer. This will not work only by human effort. You need a miracle for this, a God's miracle if you like. It is about self-power and other power.
If, from your experience of the senses, basic Truth you do not know,
How can you even find the path that certain is, no matter how far distant you may walk?
As you walk on distinctions between near and far are lost
And, should you lost become, there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers.
Can you tell a bit more about ‘near and far are lost’?
“When you reach out in the distance with ideals and thoughts about the future you lose contact with daily life, with what is nearby. Mountains and rivers arise like difficulties in life.”
O, yes, I think I understand.
I see myself, with my romantic fantasies about love; love for an old priest, my ideals and my search on the spiritual path. Her are a few ingredients which work quite well to get you lost completely. Maybe you can imagine this a bit: Me, a Dutch, lives in a Buddhist community in France (no, I don’t speak the language very well) to start as a trainee for the Buddhist priesthood, involved in a love relationship with a British Buddhist priest, who is much older than I am. You can easily see the mountains and rivers from miles away. My ideals and reality are often far, separated from each other.
Where do these arrows meet each other?
A couple of days later David and I meet again on the internet. I am quite fascinated by the image of ‘two arrows meet in mid-air’. I ask him about the original source of this story. David does not know this either. Together we search on the net. I find two leads on the net. The first one tells us about a 2000 year old Chinese story about two archers Hiei and Kisho. These names lead us to new information. We found Shunryu Suzuki’s book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness – Zen talks on the Sandokai. I read out loud the story of Hiei and Kisho for David:
…There is an old story about this. In China, in the waring states period (430 -221 B.C.E.) there was a famous archery master named Hiei. Kisho, another very good archer became ambitious and wanted to compete with Hiei. So he waited with his bow and arrow for Hiei to come. Seeing Kisho arrive, Hiei raised his bow and arrow. He tried to hit Kisho first, but both of them were so good and quick that the arrows met in the air. S-s-s-s-t! Afterward they became like father and son.
This is a nice story, says David. This is about two humans who truly meet each other.
I tell David how I connect the images of Sandokai with my daily life, my feelings and how I discover parallels with my searching on the Dharma path and our relationship. We are both searching. We enjoy our talks about Sandokai. I love the Dharma teacher in David. I know David loves the way i am curious and asking questions.
We are a bit like these two arrows. It is not always easy to meet each other. But there, somewhere in the middle of the digital universe, we meet each other on the Dharma path. Every meeting has something unique and unexpected. Only with human effort it is quite difficult and exhausting to pass all these rivers and mountains. When I stop fantasising about the future and when I am able to follow the circumstances, we feel harmony, we meet each other truly.
A beautifully written piece Elja, thank you for sharing your process, as well as your hopes, dreams and wishes! NAB
I noticed while I was reading your beautiful essay that both you and David came and went online. I was glad to read your relationship exploration. It helps us all when you share your journey. Mahalo, Jan