This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.
He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.
– the Ten Oxherding Pictures
When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.
Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.
I just heard the crickets.
I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.
I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.
I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.
That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.
Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?
When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.
When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.
Oh that – that’s just a cricket.