It’s summer at Green Gulch Farm, and my one year old loves nothing more than to chase birds. Does he fail to catch them? They hop off, they fly up, they fly off… he shrieks and points and shrieks with delight.
I remember as a child somewhat older than he is balancing a shoebox on a stick attached to a string – ingenious way to catch birds. I too failed, but I don’t think it discouraged me. Bird caught or not, the afternoon was well spent.
Now still older, I’m less absorbed and in different mysteries. I’m chasing birds but as a hopeless grown up I’ve by and large forgotten that it’s chasing birds. Perhaps in proportion to the alarming beauty of the birds that I’m at present stalking – Huayan Dharma, Dogen Zen, the Awakened Way itself – I’m all the more discouraged when they slip through my hands, fly up to the next tree and then out of sight. I don’t just point and shriek with delight, but I slump. At some level at least feel I’ve missed again. I’ve failed again and I’m failing again to live my impossible ideals.
So can we fail at the Dharma? Are we failing now?
I say an afternoon chasing birds is an afternoon well spent. I say birds aren’t for catching; I say birds live in sky, not in boxes. I say point, and shriek, and point again. There is nothing to hold to, nothing to catch, in this world of unceasing hoppings and flittings. Much less a bird and much less a vast vow.
We can say I fail, or you fail, or I succeed, or she succeeds, but isn’t that getting the game wrong? Let’s not ruin our beautiful afternoons with such nonsense.