August 23, 2020

“Like vanishing dew,
a passing apparition
or the sudden flash
of lightning — already gone —
thus should one regard one’s self.”
― Ikkyu, Japanese Zen Master, 1394-1481

“Nothing endures but change.”
― Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)”

Every spiritual tradition that is worth its salt has struggled with the notion of impermanence. In a way, the transient nature of the world is obvious to every human being. Things are constantly changing. Something new arrives, and something old passes away. Everything is a state of flux. The universe is dynamic by its very nature. Nothing is static.

However, many of us try to deny this fact.

If some random person asked me, “Do you know that all things must pass away?”, I might agree, but I would probably add, “except for myself and the things that I love.”

Change implies a death of some sort. It also means a new sort of life.

The scary part is that any new sort of life might not include me. 

There is the rub.


Yesterday we emptied out the Zen Center. We put everything into storage. It made total sense to do so. Our Zen group (sangha) has not met together in that space for meditation practice since before the pandemic struck. We did Zoom meetings, but that was all. We were paying rent for a place that we never used. So, we gathered up, as best we could, our accumulated belongings. Some people brought pick up trucks and trailers. Some of us just brought our strong arms and backs.

Be advised that the Great Lake Zen Center is not a large organization. Buddhism, especially Zen, is not particularly popular in the local Milwaukee area. It’s a rather esoteric activity/philosophy. I was impressed that so many people actually showed up to move all of our crap. Much of it had already been boxed by willing volunteers, but there was still a lot of stuff to be transported to a storage facility.

Yesterday morning was very warm and humid. That made it a bit difficult to move large, heavy objects. We had a number of large, heavy objects. It is noteworthy that the age of the Zen Center members tends to skew old. I am sixty-two years of age. I was one of the youngest and most physically able of the movers at yesterday’s event. I’m not complaining. I am simply stating that we did not have many young people to do the heavy lifting. I did a lot of the heavy lifting. I’m glad that I was there and able to do so.

After the end of two hours (more or less), I was coated with sweat and I felt exhausted. I had been wearing a mask during this whole process. We had already completed the lion’s share of the work, so I felt okay about leaving. There was another load of stuff to transport, but it was made up of the residual things that people usually have at the end of every move. The folks remaining there told me that they could handle it.

I left.

Did we do wrong by abandoning the site? No. I don’t think so.

The location of our meditation center was in central West Allis. I grew up in West Allis (an old industrial suburb of Milwaukee). It was basically a ghetto fifty years ago, and that hasn’t really changed since then. We were never in a place that might attract a budding Buddhist. I don’t think we ever attracted anybody in that space. Maybe if we had also operated a liquor store and/or a gun shop, we might have introduced a few new people to the dharma, but certainly not in the place as it was.

I was loading some furniture into one of the trailers when a local resident asked me,

“Hey, are you guys finally giving up and moving?”

I answered out of breath, “Yeah.”

The man looked a bit ragged, and he was a smoking a cigar at a rather early hour. He had that “low life hustler” vibe to him. I’d seen that before. Actually, he didn’t really look much different than I did. It was just a matter of degrees.

The man carefully scoped out our belongings on the curb, and asked,

“Do you want those lamps you got there? I could take care of those.”

“Yeah, we want them.”

The man looked a bit hurt. He said,

“Things are rough here. The real estate guy on the corner, he just folded. Lots of places going out of business. It’s bad.”

I nodded. I felt for him all of a sudden. He walked away puffing on his cigar.

He was right: “It’s bad.”

Where will the Zen Center relocate to? Will it relocate at all? Or, are we done?

Things change. It’s all transient.

Nothing is permanent.










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