One day a student was in the hall at Sokoji [Zen center] when Suzuki Roshi approached him.
"Just to be alive is enough," Suzuki said, and with that, he turned around and walked away.
*Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Is Right Here. Ed. David Chadwick.
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This anecdote, a koan, leaves us with a question. The question is, "What is this being alive that is enough?"
Is this being alive functioning as a biological mechanism? Many believe life is this, nothing more. To such persons, you are an egg and sperm. To them, we are each a piece of meat living briefly among other pieces of meat living briefly. We are what can be seen, nothing more.
No spiritual guide speaks simply from the egg-and-sperm realm but uses realities from that realm to indicate subtle truth. So, we can proceed with the question, "What does it mean that being alive is enough?"
I suggest the key word is "alive." From a spiritual worldview, "alive" means more than existing. This aliveness, or life, cannot be registered on a heart or brain scan.
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Jesus distinguishes between biological existence and life. In the Gospel of John 6.35, he refers to himself as the bread of life, not meaning physical life alone. Another case of this teaching is the Gospel of John 14.18-20 (NRSV). Before his arrest, Jesus speaks to his students, using "see" and "live," connoting more than the physical - the consequence being experiential knowledge of unity between self and the Sacred.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Another example of this teaching is the metaphorical conjunction of light and life. Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John 8.12 (NRSV), "... I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
So, this life does not arise from the material sphere, even though this life encompasses matter and mind. The material is within it. The Gospel of John 3.6 (NRSV) has Jesus saying of spiritual regeneration, "What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the Spirit is spirit."
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Spiritual paths East and West differentiate between the life of the body and the life of the spirit. These two are not separate but a continuum. The more subtle is the life of spirit, or Spirit. We refer to this when talking of "spiritual life."
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To me, Suzuki Roshi speaks from the subtle wisdom. It can seem he is saying, "Just to be walking and seeing and hearing and breathing, eating and drinking and defecating and peeing, reproducing, working and playing, and sleeping is enough." Yet, to someone living a spiritually awakened life, to be alive includes those things and more. And receiving this life, one finds it is truly enough, and one finds existing without this life is never and would never be enough. She sees that the cravings that dominate so many are borne of a silent desperation for more than an egg-and-sperm existence. Upon awakening to this life, she might say something like, "For the first time in my life, I'm truly alive."
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.