One of our Abbots was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. There is no stage 5, he said. He gave a dharma talk last night and sang Blind Lemon Jefferson's words:
Feelin funny in my mind lord I believe I'm fixin to die
Oh funny in my mind I believe I'm fixin' to
I don't mind dying but I sure hate to leave my children crying
He's a lot of things to a lot of people, but I know him like this: I was standing at work circle and this mountain of a monk asked to see my harvest knife. What does this abbot want to see my harvest knife for? I hand it to him; it's caked with clay and mud, the edge rusting just over night from being put away wet. He hands it back, says nothing. Next week, he shows up at work circle with two brand new steel brushes. End of story: my harvest knife is clean and sharp, 7 days a week. He never said anything about it to me. I didn't even have to try, I just knew what he meant.
Despite his pain and diagnosis, he'll continue to attend to Zen Center as he can, for as long as he can (3 months to 1 year). He said he was grateful for it all and that the practice of Zen would carry him through to the last moments of consciousness.
He sat there like a mountain last night, big smile, like he swallowed the moon. He told us of his walk with Shodo Spring through South Dakota at Pine Ridge with the Lakota people. He remembered harvesting wheat when he was a boy. He reminded us of Dogen's poem: What can we liken the world to?Dew drops reflecting the moon, shaken of the beak of a heron.