by CJ Daiyo Sensei
Here in the South winters are mild but even here during this time of year the overnight low frequently dips below freezing and there are long stretches lows in the mid forties. People from New York or Chicago would laugh at our idea of cold and in fact many birds who summer up north spend their winters here. Still nothing grows in abundance at this time of year and January in particular is bird feeder month.
Our bird feeder hangs from an oak in our backyard, easily seen from most of the house. In the vernacular of Bright Dawn, it is one my SPOTs, Special Places of Tranquility. It reminds me of such concepts as generosity, the relative nature of things, the fleeting nature of impermanence and the importance of cultivating patience. I regard the visitors to it as little, feathered Buddhas.
Maintaining a bird feeder is, from my point of view, a small act of generosity. From the point of the view of the birds themselves, it is considerably more important; starvation is a leading cause of death among birds. I say this not as a matter of pride or accomplishment but rather as an observation that even small acts of kindness can have profound influences and that we need more of them in the world.
The birds themselves are testament to impermanence as they come and go like our thoughts during meditation or nembutsu practice. There is a flock of chickadees that visits in the morning, as the yellow hammers and morning doves forage on the ground. Technically wood peckers, yellow hammers supplement their diet with seeds that have fallen from the feeder and whatever worms or grubs they can find. Occasionally the blue jays launch an aerial assault or the squirrels will begin a tree based operation to gain control of the feeder; the red birds seem to pay no heed to such shenanigans and continue to come and go as they will.
I have to gassho discretely to these beings from the secrecy of my sun room or else they quickly vanish. It is almost magical how quickly our backyard can go from being a scene out of Disney cartoon with all the singing wildlife to completely vacant if you open the back door. In addition to the birds and squirrels, we have foxes, anoles, raccoons, opossums, occasionally the neighbor’s cat, deer and chipmunks.
This is my ‘trans species community’ in Small Town, USA. Sometimes we encounter each other a little more closely than planned. It seems that animals in general expect humans to behave in certain ways and if you step outside of their expectations, weird things happen. One day, after chanting the nembutsu for maybe twenty minutes, I felt something brush my hand. I opened my eyes to see a chipmunk sniffing my thumb. One night, while I was doing the same, a raccoon sat down beside me and looked at the cat food bowl as if to say ‘I don’t mean to interrupt but are you going to eat or am I?’
Patience is one of those often overlooked Buddhist virtues which is to say, it is one that I often overlook. There is something counter intuitive about trying to learn patience for patience is at it’s heart about non-effort. Patience goes hand in hand with learning to wait and I realized a few years ago that learning to wait is one of the most important skills that we as adults can develop; regardless if we are waiting on the children to get home from school or waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for an oil change for our car or waiting for the rice cooker to ding to let us know dinner is ready, we are always waiting on something.
When we learn to wait every little moment becomes an invitation to Dharma practice and to express gratitude to this ever present present moment, a moment over which we have amazingly little control. It is the same with my bird feeder. I cannot make the birds come to it. All I can do is set the conditions and then patiently wait and without fail, the birds come. As I watch the little feathered Buddhas fighting over a sunflower seed, I suspect the same is true of Awakening.
CJ Daiyo Sensei is a Lay Minister with the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. To learn more please visit us here.