Friday, January 23, 2009

Illness Buddha

Master Ma was unwell. The Housemaster asked him, "How has your health been lately?"

Master Ma said, "Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha."

On Wednesday night I felt tired and went to bed much earlier than usual. A little after midnight, I woke up feeling very strange. My stomach was growling and it felt as if there were pockets of hot yellow acid here and there inside my chest. My supper had been light - brown rice and bhaji. Were these hunger pangs? I lay in bed listening to my body and pretty soon it became very clear what was happening, that everything was being thrown violently into reverse, and thus it began.

After prostrations in the bathroom, I spent the rest of the night awake, shivering through a slight fever and finding comfort in a peculiar position on the floor. For some reason, I was moved to set up a zafu on its side, and rest my face it. My hands went underneath and I tucked my knees under, in a sort of "doggy-down" position. When my stomach began to churn and heave again, I would assume this position and make figure-eights with my tailbone. It seemed to make sense at the time; and it appeared, in my state of mind, to be settling my stomach. Who knows?

It is not often that I experience illness this intense. I get a cold or two during the year and complain bitterly to myself about how unfair it is. A bad flu puts things in a different perspective. It is humbling to be unable to move. Puts our daily complaints and desires in a different light. A piece of toast sure tastes delicious and precious after a day when you can't even keep water down, a day spent on the couch, dozing and waking, looking at the ceiling, watching the sun come up and go down, hearing the neighborhood go around and around, doing lying-down Zen and trying the "Yaksa Yorae Bul" chant (that's the medicine Buddha) to stay alert during discomfort or boredom.

As Zen Master Wu Bong said, "For Zen students being sick is only another opportunity to pursue clarity, and as such it is no different from any other kind of Zen practice. In fact 'sickness practicing' is extremely valuable, because even for practicing people it often takes the threat of the loss of their body, or its ability to function well, before they can significantly slow down their desire mind."

Yesterday and oh look, another day, have been a kind of retreat. Even on regular meditation retreats, there are ways to divert one's attention. A bad flu or other illness has a way of holding you in place. Everything is set aside. What is it you were wanting? Do not be afraid of life or death.


Kelly said...

I'm sorry you've been sick. Bet you caught it from your kiddos at school.

Hope Sarah and Gabriel stay well!

Pam said...

Feel better, Alg! Flu sucks! I'm the only family member that hasn't fallen victim to it this year. The boys got flu shots and still got it from mom.

I had the shot and stayed away from them as much as possible and didn't get it.

School this week seems to be very virulent. The sneezing and coughing is reaching a crescendo!

Get well soon!

quid said...

Lordy... this sounds awful. I'm thinking it sounds like a rotavirus, but you're an adult and that's uncommon. It's probably one of those scientific-type illnesses; what do they call them? Oh, yeah, the crud.


Anonymous said...


I am sorry to hear that you have been ill. How are you feeling now? What you shared in your post about this sounds energy draining and truly awful.

Fiery Spirit can relate to this since Thursday she couldn't keep anything aside. Now she's feeling a bit better but still has an acid aftertaste,

I hope that you will feel better and like Kelly I hope that Sarah and Gabriel will stay well.


Hal Johnson said...

Interesting thoughts. I've noticed that being down with a bug leaves me feeling somehow more grounded and focused on what's important, to be sure. I hope you bounce back soon.