Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Happened to Mother's Day?

My mother
Charlotte Stanage Byrd (1913-1997)
at Five Years Old in Memphis, TN

On Mother’s Day two weeks ago, I was alone in New York City without the women in my life. My mother is dead and Lee had returned home to El Paso with our grandson Little Eddie. Daughter, granddaughters, daughter-in-law, women friends, colleagues, students—everybody was elsewhere. It was a good day to think about mothers. And I was in luck. I went to the Village Zendo where Pat Enkyo O’Hara gave a remarkable teisho about Mother’s Day and about mothers and the practice of Zen. [You can listen to the whole Dharma Talk here, but I thought it would be nice to have the texts Enkyo Roshi refers to on our blog.] First she bemoaned that the celebration of Mother’s Day has become little more than another reason—like most of our Holidays—to spend more money and buy more crap. She said, in a little history lesson, that the origin of Mother’s Day in the United States can be found in Julia Ward Howe’s 1872 “Mother’s Day Proclamation” that followed the terrible carnage of the Civil War:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. 

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

—Julia Ward Howe

When President Woodrow Wilson, in his manly fashion, declared in 1924 Mother’s Day a National Holiday, he stripped the day of Howe’s intentions. Instead, he asked that people celebrating Mother’s Day fly an American flag and buy gifts for their mothers. So, instead of a day of peace, we have more jingoism and commercialism. Oh well. What’s new? Enkyo then read “Your Mother and My Mother are Friends” by the great Sufi poet Hafez.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

For your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse again tomorrow.
We'll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world -
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Your soul and my soul
Once sat together in the Beloved's womb
Playing footsie.

Your heart and my heart
Are very, very old

A remarkable poem. Hafez, of course, speaks from the Muslim Sufi tradition of the Lover seeking out the Beloved, the two becoming one. And then Enkyo Roshi spoke of the Prajna Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom, as the Mother of All Buddhas. Its essence is found in the Heart Sutra that we chant, like Zen practitioners around the world, at our services. Here I will insert the Village Zendo’s translation of the Heart Sutra. It’s from the Maezumi lineage which incorporates both the Soto and Rinzai traditions—

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, doing deep Prajña Paramita, 
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions 
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain. 
Oh Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness, 
Emptiness no other than form; 
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. 
Sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness are likewise like this. 
Oh Shariputra, all Dharmas are forms of emptiness: 
Not born, not destroyed; not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain. 
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, conception, discrimination, 
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, 
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness, no ignorance and no end to ignorance, 
No old age and death, no end to old age and death, 
No suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, 
No path, no wisdom and no gain. 
No gain and thus the Bodhisattva lives Prajña Paramita, 
With no hindrance in the mind. 
No hindrance, therefore no fear. 
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana. 
All past, present and future Buddhas live Prajña Paramita 
And therefore attain Añutara-Samyak-Sambodhi. 
Therefore know Prajña Paramita is the great mantra, 
The vivid mantra, the best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra 
It completely clears all pain. 
This is the truth not a lie. 
So set forth the Prajña Paramita mantra, 
Set forth this mantra and say: 
Gate Gate Paragate! Parasamgate! Bodhi Svaha! Prajna Heart Sutra!

It’s different from ours, no? But it’s the same. I’ve chanted theirs now several times, and I enjoy ours more. Probably because ours is now ingrained in my heart. I’m sure if one of their practitioners visited with us, they would feel the same, except vice versa.

All that said, I hope you listen to Enkyo Roshi’s talk about Mother’s Day. And, whenever you have the opportunity, visit other Zen Centers. It broadens and supports your practice. And I especially recommend you go and sit at the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces and hear my teacher Daiho Roshi’s Dharma talks. His understanding of the Dharma has long been elemental to my own practice.

A deep bow to you for your continued practice.
Bobby Kankin Byrd