May 2003 Dharma Talk by Still Point Founding Teacher P’arang Geri Larkin.
In The Flower Ornament Sutra, a good part of the ninth chapter is about Buddha helping us to wake up. He keeps throwing truths out into the crowd, right and left. So much energy is generated by his teachings that the bodhisattvas surrounding him can’t keep their mouths shut! So they also start shouting teachings right and left. It is hilarious. They are just too happy to sit still.
Then a wonderful sentence appears: “Always rejoicing, they go to all lands to explain such a teaching for all.”
When I first read it, it stopped me in my tracks. Always rejoicing. Not, “sometimes rejoicing”, or “occasionally rejoicing”. Always.
Rejoicing is about making glad or happy. When I was in China, years ago, I am embarrassed to admit how surprised I was by how happy people were. I don’t know exactly what I thought I would see, but having read novels and history books about the cruelties of the communist regime I didn’t expect to hear laughter but I did. Uproarious laughter. I didn’t expect to see smiles but grins were everywhere.
Finally, well into the trip, I asked a young tour guide about it. We were standing outside of a temple, at its front door. He pointed to a sign over the entrance. “It says, “Ten thousand joys, ten thousand sorrows.” While it was true that the Chinese people had their share of sorrows, they also had an equal amount of joy in their lives. After our conversation I saw the sign everywhere. Joys and sorrows. Many. Both.
In this society it feels like we have the sorrows part down. We are skilled at being sad, pissed, depressed, angry, despair filled. I see these on a daily basis. What I don’t see as much is laughter, belly chortles, grins, smiles. Somehow, even when the news is good, even when a situation has beauty in it, we seem to have forgotten about rejoicing.
Maybe we all need “rejoice teachers”, people and animals (and plants) who can remind us that life is about sorrow, yes, but also about joy. I think of my granddaughter, Patty. She is still little. Three weeks ago I was in Portland, Oregon, teaching a “Building a Business the Zen Way” class for Dharma Rain. Patty lives near Portland. About twenty minutes before the end of the class I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly this little kid came racing straight at me, leapt onto me and velcroed herself to my hip. She was so thrilled to see me (as I was to see her!) that she wouldn’t move, wouldn’t stop laughing and hugging. She was filled with joy and her joy made the rest of us laugh and fill up with wide-grin-energy. A rejoice teacher.
My friends Sansae and Sanho have a tiny dog that cannot believe his good luck when you walk into their house. Every time I visit he literally jumps a couple of feet straight up, runs around me like there was no tomorrow, and does back flips because he just can’t keep his happiness inside. We always laugh at him. He always makes us laugh. Another rejoice teacher.
Or last weekend, at Still Point’s first ordination, Kogam was so happy when he received his kasa that he literally picked me up off the ground in a bear hug! I am fairly confident that his action was a first for an ordination. The whole room laughed with him. We were, in that moment, together rejoicing.
The sign over the Chinese temple didn’t say ten thousand sorrows, six hundred joys. Or ten thousand sorrows, one thousand joys. We get both. We get to rejoice. Let’s get out there and practice. Before we forget what it is like to be genuinely happy, to find reasons to rejoice, even in the middle of tough times.