We’re having a heat wave. 98 today. And it’s just starting. 99 tomorrow. 101 on Monday. I don’t have air conditioning. I only need it a couple weeks out of the year. Look’s like this is going to be one of them.
It’s too hot to write, or do much of anything that requires any real thinking. It’s really tough on the poor kitty. She’s been lying on the relatively cool linoleum floor in the kitchen all day. I joined her for a while. Wasn’t bad.
No fires, but there will be. A lot of dry brush out there . . . Ah, nothing like autumn in Southern California with the smell of smoke in the air and ashes floating down to earth on gentle breezes . . . Last year we had the Station Fire that lasted two months. Each day a huge mushroom cloud of smoke towered above the hills and mountains east of the city. You can see the photos I took here.
Earlier this week I was feeling a bit melancholy. September for some reason seems to the month in which big changes in my life have always occurred: geographic changes, meeting significant people, starting new jobs, and so on. One I marked yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the day that I officially became a Buddhist. I celebrated with a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream. Let me tell you, on a really hot night, that is Nirvana.
So, I was feeling melancholy . . . or maybe pensive is a better word. Reflective. Anyway, I thought about this passage by Nichiren. I don’t often quote Nichiren because for the most part his writings are so dogmatic they aren’t very useful to anyone outside of the tradition which bears his name. Sometimes, though, he could be rather poetic.
How swiftly the days pass! It makes us realize how short are the years we have left. Friends enjoy the cherry blossoms together on spring mornings and then they are gone, carried away like the blossoms by the winds of impermanence, leaving nothing but their names. Although the blossoms have scattered, the cherry trees will bloom again with the coming of spring, but when will those people be reborn? The companions with whom we composed poems praising the moon on autumn evenings have vanished with the moon behind the shifting clouds. Only their mute images remain in our hearts. The moon has set behind the western mountains, yet we shall compose poetry under it again next autumn. But where are our companions who have passed away? Even when the approaching Tiger of Death roars, we do not hear. How many more days are left to the sheep bound for slaughter?
Deep in the Snow Mountains lives a bird called Kankucho which, tortured by the numbing cold, cries that it will build a nest in the morning. Yet, when the day breaks, it sleeps away the hours in the warm light of the morning sun without building its nest. So it continues to cry vainly throughout its life. The same is true of people. When they fall into hell and suffocate in its flames, they long to be reborn as humans and vow to put everything else aside and serve the Three Treasures in order to attain enlightenment in their next life. But even on the rare occasions when they happen to be reborn human, the winds of fame and fortune blow violently and the lamp of Buddhist practice is easily extinguished. They squander their wealth without a qualm on meaningless trifles but begrudge even the smallest contribution to the Buddha, the Law, and the Priest. This is very serious, for then they are being hindered by messengers from hell. This is the meaning of “Good by the inch invites evil by the yard.”
Letter to Niike
Actually, there is some doubt as to whether this is an authentic Nichiren writing. Regardless, it’s a nice passage.