February 23, 2008

She said: Do something.

My girfriend survived a terrible collision when skiing in Austria. We were on our sunny, blue sky, crispy snow skiing holidays near Salzburg when this thing happened. I learned a lot from it and feel very happy the consequences are basically nothing compared to the horror of the sight. We were practicing some carving turns with Jitka, my girlfriend on a piste where we were almost alone. I was watching Jitka from the other side of the piste. Before she started her turn somewhere in the middle of the slope's length she checked there was nobody coming from above and set off. When she was about half way through the turn, I spotted this dark rocket of a girl running at about 50 kph straight into Jitka's turning area. It took about two seconds before the two girls collided, body hitting body and screaming flew about 15 meters before falling down. Within the two seconds between I spotted the fast running girl and the crash, it occured to me: This can't be true, they are not going to collide, there is so much room for the girl to avoid Jitka. But before I could really think, maybe I yelled something but then the crash happened. It happened much quicker than a snap of fingers. I got to Jitka who was lying on her belly not moving and asked in a terrified voice: What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you? And she said: I don't know. DO something. DO something.

I had never before felt so useless. I knew I could not undone what had happened. And I knew I could not make Jitka healthy right there. I knew we could only wait and that she should not move. I said: I am not going to do anything. We are waiting for the paramedics. Don't move, don't move. Don't worry, the help is on their way.

And Jitka said and I thought she was going nuts, but later it turned out she was thinking clearly, she said: "We should have gone to lunch instead." About 5 minutes before the accident I suggested going for a lunch in a restaurant at the piste but Jitka wanted to ski some more. So that is what she meant.

The other girl was sitting there above Jitka bleeding from her nose and sobbing a bit. Paramedics arrived in 5 minutes or so, carefully checked both girls, carefully put Jitka on a stretcher and we skied with the stretcher to the road that was next to the piste and waited for the ambulance. I talked to Jitka a bit, she had problems breathing and felt pain all over her body, legs, arms, shoulders, chest, back... We thought some of her bones were broken and she - as it turned out later - suffered a mild concussion. She was wearing a helmet, but the ten year old girl hit her into her goggles rather than the helmet. We drove in the ambulance to the nearest town where a doctor could not say much without x rays and other stuff and sent Jitka to the nearest hospital that collects all kinds of ski accident patients from the area. So it took about 4 hours between the accident and the final x ray pictures and other checks before at last we found out to my huge relief that Jitka got away with bruises and mild concussion. This result compared to the picture of the crash that was replaying in my head for another day or so over and over again seemed fantastic. The other girl's mother took her daughter to Salzburg where they lived. Later she called and asked about Jitka and said her daughter only had bruised chest. She was hurt mentally though, crying all the time as she felt bad having skied so fast and hit Jitka so hard.

Jitka stayed in the hospital for two days to make sure nothing worse happens. I spent one day driving around the local towns and police stations and Red Cross to arrange formalities. It was a day of intense German practice for me. I only speak simple German but when things are necessary to be done, grammatical mistakes don't matter.
Jitka is back at home and slowly recovering.

How does the whole thing relates to Buddhism. It is all Buddhism. In Buddhism, actual, real life is what matters much more than opinions. Actions are more important than opinions or how clever you are. When Jitka said to me: Do something, it was the greatest Buddhist teaching you can ever get. She was not interested in my ideas or feelings at that critical moment. Do something was all that was necessary to do. And ironically, the best thing to do was to do nothing but be there, making sure Jitka does not do something either, waiting for the professional help. But the rest of the day, all people involved, the skiing paramedics, the ambulance driver, the local doctor, the hospital staff, the x ray staff, the janitors in the hospital, the administration, it was all DO SOMETHING, it was all pure Buddhism.

That was an accident that looked terrible and might have ended up as a tragedy. That was an accident that provided loads of Buddhist lessons in one day. That was an accident that made me a simpleton without much interest in intellectual matters for a day or so. It made me cry as I couldn't help but recollect the picture of the two girls crashing and flying through the air. It could have been much worse. If I believed in personal God, I would say God gave us a wonderful gift - a gift of life, love, caring, fun, sun, blue skies, laughter. As a Buddhist, I feel there is an immense gift in the present so positive as it is now for me and Jitka, so much luck. But it applies to everyone, everyone in the world, when things are going more or less okay, is given this immense gift of joy.

I bow to all people who DO something beyond their limited opinions, who work hard to help those who need help, who provide what is necessary to survive in the modern world. Beyond our opinions and feelings, there is immense love. We cannot see it or touch it as it is everywhere. We can do something for others and help them, not because we love them, although we often do, but because we are, essentially, love itself and our sincere actions express this original love.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your story. I hope you are both well.

While I share the strong emotional situation that this fortunately not serious accident caused I can see more what differs between our pick on Buddhism.

Buddhism is not against some "intellectual" way of approaching things. It's about the right approach.

Sometimes it's right to act, to do something. Sometimes the DEED you have to DO is thinking about something.

Many Zen friends "reject" thinking altogether - and fail indeed. That's terribly wrong.

It's about "right" thinking.

If you think something like "Where can I get help?" or "I have to be careful not to move her body, she could be injured." it's an absolutely great and adequate thought. A necessary thought.

If you think something like "Why does this happen to us? I hope she will survive!" - that's indeed not a "healthy" way of usage of your brain. It will still happen, and that's normal. Shakyamuni cried when he heard about a war in his home country.

My teacher used to say that self-referential thinking can be problematic, not thinking itself. As soon we make something OUR story it makes it hard to stay "objective" or "calm" in the midst of anger, aggression, excitement, fear...

That is more difficult to accomplish when you encounter extreme situations. Sometimes it actually gets easier.

I hope you mean the same thing. I pretty much feel it. But I met too many people who were focussed on "not being intellectual" denying the greatness of our mental capabilities. Therefore I don't enjoy people stressing to "not be intellectual" to much. A better wording could be "personally/emotionally involved" in my opinion.

I think Dogen wrote something like: "Not-thinking" is beyond thinking and not thinking.

Kind regards

roman said...

I enjoy reading and thinking about Buddhism intellectually. I don't deny that at all. All my writing is based on some intellectual activity of my brain. It is just that this intellectual aspect of Buddhism is not enough. There can be mistakes in how we understand or explain Buddhism and that is what I sometimes write about critically. For example when we read Bendowa, there are parts we don't understand or don't get or may disagree with, but to understand Dogen it is necessary to try to study and practice what he taught and practice. I think Fukanzazengi, Bendowa and Genjo Koan are pillars of Dogen's teaching and in our tradition they are really important texts that we should try to study and understand both intellectually and practically, I mean do what they teach. Of course, they have little value for other Buddhist traditions, as those schools have their own philosophical streams and texts.

roman said...

Dogen Zen or the way Dogen Sangha practice and study Buddhism is just one of very many schools of Buddhism. Anyway, we can say it is true Buddhism, authentic Buddhism. If we have doubts about its authenticity or when we have doubts Dogen was a true Buddhist, then it is impossible to do the bold step and act in accord with Dogen's teaching. When our understanding is a bit flexible, we cannot hit the target. The arrow of our efforts must be straight. An arrow that is bent is useless. So when Nishijima roshi exclaimed that THIS is true Buddhism, he means that the path to the truth must be straight. There must be bodai shin, will to the truth. This will to the truth is something that must not be tainted by our intellectual choices. It is beyond our choices and sounds quite totalitarian. The truth is something clear and there is no room for our interpretations. So the truth is not a question of democracy or voting or tolerance. But nobody forces us to choose this path. And we can always give up. But as long as we are pursuing the truth, the efforts must be beyond our personal, intellectual choices.

Anonymous said...

"If we have doubts about its authenticity or when we have doubts Dogen was a true Buddhist, then it is impossible to do the bold step and act in accord with Dogen's teaching."

Is this dogmatism necessary? For what? Even if all of Dogen's work is forgery and even if he never lived at all, what does that change for you in this current moment?

Personally, I positively don't care about whether I doubt this or that teacher, this or that teaching.

And more: Did you act "in accord with Dogen's teaching" in your difficult situation? Do others? Do I? All the time?

What difference do you imply, and I am sorry - you repeatingly do.

Your posts and your comments sound like someone (me?) contradicts to what you say. While it could be true for some people, one can never be sure if it is not just a matter of language usage and definition.

I feel uncomfortable when I read so much about "real" and "truth". I could call my experiences, my ideas, my conceptualizations of what I have seen "truth" - and I admit, I did. My teacher encourages to go beyond this "definitive" truth. Personally, I read this in Dogens work, too.

But it's even beyond THAT. It's truth without someone calling it truth. It's truth without being recognized by everyone. It's truth even we I don't preach it.

Do you live by what you write?


roman said...

Do you think it is possible to explain one's experience or life in a post on the internet?

Contradictions are part of Buddhist philosophy, that is no problem. But these contradictions are something that, when put together, complete the whole picture. When you read Genjo Koan there are contradictions, in Fukanzazengi, there are contradictions, everywhere in Dogen. But reality consists of these opposing views that together make the complete picture.

Do I live according to Dogen's teaching? I can only say I practice zazen in the morning and in the evening every day without looking for something, I study Dogen's philosophy and try to understand it and I try to live my life realistically.

The clear difference between me now and 15 years ago is just that I used to look for some kind of personal enlightenment, and was totally confused about terms like mind, buddha, truth, God etc. Today I am trying to help myself and others clarify Buddhist philosophy following Dogen's principles. This would be impossible without years of study and zazen. The longer I practice, the more connections of real life and Dogen's teaching I see. The whole accident of my girlfriend only confirmed that Dogen's teaching applies to all kinds of situations. The philosophy of Buddhism helps people practice and live wholeheartedly and realistically. That is the best we can do no matter how hard our life is. I would go away from Dogen's teaching if it was not about my actual life and life of others even in this modern, complicated world. Dogen's teaching is about our actual life and that is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

"Do you think it is possible to explain one's experience or life in a post on the internet?"

Not at all, but I am quite sure you were judging my situation whether I were too intellectual from a post.

"This would be impossible without years of study and zazen."

Some people actually see it differently.

When I went to the monastery and something "happened" to me, a friend there said: It would have happened anyway. You knew it before, and went to some adequate place.

No merit.

Take care.

roman said...

yes, it is impossible to judge what kind of experience other people have or what kind of life they lead from a post, but it is possible to judge their understanding of some part of Buddhism - if it was not possible to judge understanding, it would not be possible to correct other people's mistakes when they try to understand Buddhism

Anonymous said...

Nice article..., you should check irregulars (hit-hit-hit)...,"but when things are necessary to be done, grammatical mistakes don't matter". Good luck to you and Jitka ;-)

roman said...

thanks for the grammar note - that was a good hit!

already corrected