Sangha Member Post:
It was a little before sunrise in the Great Vow Zen Monastery forest. I was sitting on a bench that had become a usual haunt over the week of meditation.
Shortly after sitting down 2 owls started calling in the forest. I couldn’t decide if they were hunting or if these were calls of love but the calls permeated and penetrated the forest. My meditation focused on those calls…deep, repetitive, shifting trees every few calls.
Suddenly another sound caught my attention. About 10 feet down the path I heard some scampering. It was hard to distinguish in the pre-dawn light and now I regretted leaving my glasses back at the zendo.
A leaf would pop up…then silence. Suddenly the next leaf over would stir. It was still too dark to distinguish but I thought it might be a frog.
This zazen period would fly by as I peered deeply into the darkness. A few minutes later someone started walking my direction. My brain was shouting for them to go away so they didn’t disturb my entertaining frog; but, I could say nothing. Fortunately they turned and headed a different direction.
More staring. More shuffling leaves as the forest creature moved closer.
Pre-dawn light picked up momentum and my creature friend looked less frog-like. More scampering and frolicking leaf play brought this tiny being closer. It seemed fuzzy and about half the length of my thumb. For nearly an hour I watched as the play grew ever closer.
Finally I was able to distinguish that my friend was a tiny forest mouse. It was adorable; but, in the growing light its behavior seemed more erratic…almost like it was blind.
A hazy thought occurred that baby mice are born blind – I wasn’t sure but given its small size this seemed like a logical explanation. I watched as it cavorted to within a couple of feet. More leaf play. Tumbling…ending up on its back and struggling to roll back over. It would grab its tail and tug almost desperately. Then it would lie quietly for a few minutes before repeating this play.
I knew zazen would be over soon but I hoped to see one more burst of activity before the bell. My little friend was on his back…lying still. I could see his little stomach expand and contract with each breath. Come on…my brain quietly screamed. The bell rang.
I stood up expecting my friend to startle and scamper under the nearby ferns. No movement. I slowly approach – still no activity.
I’m on my knees now directly over the mouse but there is no movement. I search for a twig to waken my friend from the path. A gentle nudge. No response. My heart fills with shock and grief. What I had mistaken for playful activity was actually the death throes of this tiny, beautiful creature.
I gently moved its small little body onto a leaf and place it off the path near where I first noticed its presence. This little creature’s drama still reaches deep into my heart.
During our next session of zazen I hurried back to where I left the mouse hoping I was wrong and that it had recovered…but its little body greeted me…still…lifeless.
That evening as we chant about firewood not becoming ash but having a before and after my heart croaked it’s rough, off-key music to my mouse friend’s…before and after. There is no promise of a tomorrow – just this opportunity to be eternally present.