I stumbled upon this blog post titled, “Wind Teaches Dharma.” I read the post with great interest. After I completed reading the post, I became lost in thought. I began to think about the joy which I feel when I am “in nature” or “one with nature.” I began to think about what it is which attracts me to the solitude of nature. I began to think why I am attracted to solitude. What does it teach? What is there to learn?
“One monk said that the wind was moving, while another monk said the banner was moving. They argued on and on, so I went forward and said, ‘It is not the wind that is moving, and it is not the banner that is moving. It is your minds that are moving.’”
Huineng (638-713), Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism
The wind, nature doesn’t use words when it teaches for it does not have a decipherable language with which to transmit the wisdom which it contains. Nature can be subtle in its teachings it can also be direct and harsh if we choose not to listen to its teachings. Nature teaches us the Dharma. Dharma” means “protection”. By practicing Buddha’s teachings we protect ourself from suffering and problems. All the problems we experience during daily life originate in ignorance, and the method for eliminating ignorance is to practice Dharma.
Many of us overlook the teachings of the Dharma as they are available through a medium such as nature. Those of us who prefer or enjoy this method of teaching are identified as “strange.” We look for a form of language with which we can easily identify; with which we can easily recognize such as a spoken word, a text message, an email, a song or a book.
We might understandably wonder what form this language takes if it doesn’t involve words. Well, we humans use languages that have no words when we pull a face to indicate displeasure, produce or listen to music to inspire pleasure, or construct a building in a specific style. (A Gothic cathedral with all its angels and devils communicates very different messages to us than a modern, shiny hospital. Although the inhabitants of both would claim to deeply care about people.)
So, how exactly does the wind teach us? We can’t even see the wind, although we can hear it, especially clearly in a gale, for example. We can also feel it on our skins & in our hair as it blows past us. And, although we can’t see it directly, we can see the effects of the wind, which I am enjoying as I write these words, occasionally glancing up to see the treetops waving back and forth as the gentle breeze plays with them.
Now, accepting that all this is the ‘language’ of the wind, why would interpret it as pertaining to the Dharma, particularly. Surely, we can understand this language in a variety of ways, not necessarily in terms of the Dharma. This is true, as it it of anything in life. We can look at the surface of an act involving thought, word, or deed and understand it in that specific context, so that those rustled trees over there simply mean that it’s a windy day. But, we can look a little deeper into the implications of what we are seeing, and this what we do when we listen to the Dharma rather than to other aspects of life’s many modes of communication.
Returning to those trees for a moment, I will pause in this commentary…the wind manipulates them, and teaches of the continual flux of this universe. They aren’t still for a moment, swishing this way and that, in a kind of existential dance. Sometimes they slow down, only to speed up and become almost manic in their movements, all directed by the invisible wind. This characteristic of the wind, that it is unseeable, speaks of another important fact of life, which is that there are unseen forces at work, which we are usually (if not constantly!) unaware of. They are not only active in the wind, but also in everything else that exists in this wondrous cosmos, including in these bizarre constructions that we call our bodies, and which we normally (mistakenly, according to the Dharma), identify with.
Back to this present moment, and the wind softly caresses the skin of this body that sits on the balcony typing with its tapping fingers. It soothes the mind within this body, like an amorphous masseuse tenderly kneading limbs and head. It teaches that the body is part of nature, linked to it in invisible connections that include the wind’s breath. But, learning the Dharma is not all pleasant feelings, and when the wind blows over those garments hanging from a clothes horse, annoyance arises in the mind. This too, is a teaching, for it is the same wind that blows on those clothes and this body. So, too, should the mind reflect the balance between what it deems good and bad, for such ideas do not always correspond to the way the world actually is.
Taking a moment to reflect on the quotation from the Platform Sutra at the top of this piece, Huineng’s wisdom shines forth as if born on the wind itself, blowing away our delusion. He points to the discriminating mind that will argue over just about anything, including whether the wind is moving or those treetops over there are moving. Pointing directly to the mind that is moving, Huineng brings our attention to that which never moves, what he called our ‘Original Face.’ This Face, we might call it Buddha-face or even No-face, is what sees the waving trees; it is the space in which those branches and leaves have their being.
All this talk of wind-blown trees takes me back to my childhood and early teens when I used to gaze out of my bedroom window at the tree in my family’s front garden. Bathed in the yellow light of street lamps, it was a real attention-grabber. Somewhat hypnotic in its movements, the tree flowed in the wind, its disparate parts unified in a graceful undulation of golden leaves. I would find my mind silenced in these moments, awareness tied to the tree’s fluctuations. A state of what Buddhism calls samadhi, or concentration, would ensue. This was my meditation at that time, long before I explored the teachings of the Buddha. And, what the wind taught on those quiet evenings long ago isn’t so different from the Buddha’s own words of wisdom that I later came to discover.
A bell tinkles in the wind, bringing attention back from the mind’s reveries and to this actual moment. It was the mind that was moving after all! The shadow of a flag catches attention, reminiscent of an early satori, or enlightenment, experience from my late teens, when a fluttering plastic bag caught on a branch of a tree brought about a sudden awakening. Each moment, which is of course this moment, is a chance to glimpse, or better still rest in, this ‘Original Face’ that watches fluttering leaves, bags, or banners. And those trees, that bell, or a fluid shadow can all call to attention the Dharma, the way things really are, as they arise and dissolve in this No-face, this ‘Buddha Space.’ Time to go ‘inside’ now, the wind’s getting cold!