The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bones, Impermanence, Living

     For the past several weeks, I have been focusing on impermanence.
Though Spring is in full swing, (and because of it!), dharma talks after meditation point to our fleeting lives on this planet, and the law of all living things: we are here in the blink of an eye, some for only an hour, others for many, many years.
Yet all that lives, dies.
     This past week, students in the Ceramics and 3-D Studios met Friday night to make clay bones, so that we could add our bones and our voices to the One Million Bone Project.
The Project is a collaborative installation of 1,000,000 handmade artwork bones to be installed Spring 2013 on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  This powerful social arts project is intended to bring awareness to genocides and atrocities currently being perpetrated around the world.
Please visit:
     During our bone making session, people came and went.  As the evening ended, we counted 520 bones: leg bones, ribs, vertebra, knuckles, toes, jaws, sculls and scapula.  All were life sized, from baby to adult, and even though we all talked and laughed and took a break for dinner cooked on the grill, there was a definite note of solemnity to our gathering.
     The next day, I began the task of loading all 520 clay bones into the kiln to be bisqued.
And I moved slowly, with mindfulness, because my bones are now susceptible to breakage--I have Osteoporosis, which only a few days before our bone making workshop, had been diagnosed as "advanced".
     My Dr.s and I have been keeping a keen eye on the loss of bone over the past few years, and we've treated it with the usual array of drugs and recommended physical activity, and I pride myself on being relatively healthy and active.
Yoga, walking, weigh lifting, a decent diet, supplements and common sense have prevailed, yet the spine continues to deteriorate, to the point where 2 vertebra in particular would like to simply fracture.
     What a place to practice!
     As it turns out, I can not tolerate one huge class of effective drugs, so we are going to try something else....but what exactly?  The alternatives are poison, truly.  Without the drugs, a compression fracture or the spine is highly likely.  With the drugs, I may build more bone, but the side effects are chilling.  Either way, there are no promises.
     Welcome to life!
     So I move with great care.
     I handle each clay bone as I handle my own body.  At this stage of drying, the clay bones are terribly brittle, and some break.  More life-like, I think.
     The pile of bones is impressive, and in their heaps they appear as piles of bones in a mass grave.  They appear as the bones of those who ran from terror, only to be discovered and murdered.  They are quite moving and life-like.
     I find myself chanting the Nembutsu as I lay bones into the kiln.
     The body falls where it will, and all that enabled us to be upright, moving and conscious, loving and thinking also falls away.  Bones are bleached in the sun, or scrubbed clean by water, rain, rivers and oceans, or begin to rot beneath layers of leaf mold and mud.
But from our falling new life is born.  The organic richness of what was once our living bodies supports seedlings and insects and small mammals...our death supports the universe.
     Someday, my ashes will support a white pine, a bramble bush, dung beetle and earth worm.
     This is our living, as undeniable as each breath we inhale and exhale.  Whether we grow old gracefully and live out our days in relative safety and happiness, dying in our own beds with those we love surrounding us or are hunted and killed like animals and left where we drop, we will all die.
     Without exception, for all, we offer Metta.
     In our practice of appreciating each breath, we "sweep the mind", as Jakusho Kwong Roshi says, and open the heart-mind to the Universe of wisdom and compassion for all sentient and non sentient beings.
     This is the way of the Bodhisattva and you are welcome to discover exactly what this means!

Please check out Breath Sweeps Mind by Jakusho Kwong Roshi

And for more information on osteoporosis, please visit

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