A Hundred Grasses


George Eliot understood something about interdependence and the mind of liberation. She said this:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

Why is it we do not hear the grass growing? There certainly is no shortage of grass.

There is a term used by Dogen called zenki, translated as undivided activity, meaning the workings of the entire universe. Dogen might say we are the undivided activity of the birth and death of grasses, and I would add a cause for great celebration this weekend. The breakfast that is now turned into fire in our bellies, animating our movement, is the life of grasses of oats and wheat and sugar cane. Their pollen bring tears to our eyes, the mating ritual of green plants carried by the wind. Green grasses, which exhale oxygen, fill our blood stream.

Grasses live everywhere, from the cracks of the inner city to the Great Plains, creating whole worlds for earthworms and antelope. Zenki is the entire working of the universe, the wholehearted, fully exerted expression of all things. This isn’t just an idea, although our global ecological view of this small planet knows this to be true. For the Zen student, this is mitsugo — intimate or secret language. We know for ourselves the sound of the grass growing and the heartbeat of a squirrel found on the other side of silence.

In Buddhism, grasses represent the 10,000 things of life. No shortage of grass means no shortage of particulars, of the stuff of our life, of delusion and moments in which to wake up. Most of us think we need some really special grass with which to practice Zen, but in truth, all the grasses of this world are embedded in the same earth, the same empty field. To simply let go is the invitation of zazen. Zazen is the invitation of grasses.

I am not sure if George Eliot was aware of what dying of that roar on the other side of silence means to the Zen student. Although it sounds grim, it is a celebration and relief that allows us to fully inhabit our place in the world of grasses. Dying here really means waking up to the interdependence of how things are already operating, all the time, without stop, without hindrance.

I would like to offer a small practice outside the zendo this weekend, and that is to quietly, without too much deliberation, question and examine how everything is helping you and supporting your practice in this moment, and how in turn you are helping and supporting everyone else’s practice. Discover how the smallest insect helps you concentrate and sparks your curiosity, how the breeze moves your blood circulation, and especially, the biggest irritation reminds you to study dukkha and our ideas of how things should be. Sit very, very still and see if you can allow yourself to let go of judgments about this. Just notice the function of those particulars we overlook in our hurried lives. If this practice here this weekend doesn’t involve the whole of your life and include the very core of your question, the grasses have no one to enlighten.

To sit zazen is to develop a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life. It is hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and delivering that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

Sit well.

~ Seido