By Sensei Alex Kakuyo
I witnessed a murder last night.
It happened in my kitchen while I was making tea. I had just finished boiling water and I was perusing my collection of tea bags. As I leaned over the counter, trying to choose between, Red Nectar and Peach Perfection, I noticed movement out of the corner my eye.
I looked to my right, and saw my cat, Enso, moving slowly across the floor on his stomach. It occurred to me that if he were 300 pounds bigger, he’d look just like one of those lions you see stalking prey on Discovery Channel.
Then my attention went back to making tea.
Moments later, I heard a loud meow, followed by a crash. I turned just in time to see Enso leap off the counter top and sprint from the room. The place on the counter where my precious Buddha statue normally sat was empty and the floor was covered in pieces of twisted metal and broken plaster. It took me a moment to realize what had happened.
I noticed one piece of plaster that looked like the fractured head of a Buddha, and it hit me. Enso had been playing his “knock things over” game, and he had taken it a step too far.
He killed the Buddha.
I stood there for a moment (many moments in fact) wondering what I should do. How do you respond when there’s a dead Buddha on the floor?
Mechanically, I grabbed a broom and swept the remains into a dustpan, placed them in a plastic bag, and set them in the corner. Over the years, I’d meditated for countless hours in front of that statue. I cried in front of it, I found inner peace in front of it and I looked it to it for an example of calm during difficult times. Now it was a pile of rubble. Is this why Buddha taught non-attachment; because everything we love passes away?
Feeling dejected, I put away the broom, and finished making my tea. I settled on Peach Perfection for my drink, but the hot water was tasteless as it went down my throat. I was too lost in thought to be mindful of its flavor, choosing instead to ponder a Zen saying which states, “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him.”
I thought I understood that saying. I thought it meant that we shouldn’t look to spiritual teachers for salvation. Was I wrong? Was there more to it than that?
As I continued to think about the evening’s events, I couldn’t find where I’d gone wrong. I placed my Buddha in a clean, safe place per the the guidelines of my temple. I started making tea, and then he died.
“Everything dies,” I realized.
It doesn’t matter how careful I am, or how far I plan ahead. The institutions I have faith in, the relationships I cherish, even my physical body will fail me at some point. That’s how life works.
Things break, we clean them up, and then we go back to making tea.
That’s the cycle of samsara. It’s not enough to kill the Buddha. We have to kill everything. We have to remind ourselves that this life, while beautiful, is temporary. Everything dies, everything disappoints, and if we should happen to forget that fact, the cat will swoop in to remind us.
At this point, my phone alarm began blaring. It was 10:00; time to start my “going to bed” routine. Dutifully, I set my cell phone to airplane mode, and shut down my lap top. I wouldn’t look at either again until morning. Next, I pulled my cushion and zafu out of the closet, and sat down for evening meditation.
Enso the destroyer chose that moment to emerge from one of his hiding places. In typical cat fashion, he showed absolutely no remorse for what he had done. Instead, he stretched out on my left-hand side and looked up at me.
“You’re a pain in the ass,” I muttered before gently scratching the top of his head. Enso just purred in response.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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