You are Born
By Karen Maezen Miller
In honor of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, on the anniversary of his birth Feb. 24, 1931
You are born.
Let's consider the facts before we get carried away.
You are born and no one—neither doctor, scientist, high priest nor philosopher—knows where you came from. The whole world, and your mother within it, was remade by the mystery of your conception. Her body, mind and heart were multiplied by a magical algorithm whereby two become one and one becomes two.
You inhale and open your eyes. Now you are awake.
By your being, you have attained the unsurpassable. You have extinguished the fear and pain of the past, transcended time, turned darkness to light, embodied infinite karma, and carried forth the seed of consciousness that creates an entire universe. All in a single moment.
Now that you are here, you manifest the absolute truth of existence. You are empty and impermanent, changing continuously, turning by tiny degrees the wheel of an endless cycle. Just a month from now, your family will marvel at the growing heft of your body. They will delight in the dawn of your awareness. You will grab a finger and hold tight, turn your head, pucker your lips and eat like there's no tomorrow. You will smile. Six months from now, the newborn will be gone. Within a year, you will be walking the earth as your dominion. And although your caregivers might think that they taught you to eat, walk and talk, these attributes emerged intuitively from your deep intelligence.
You are born completely endowed with the marvelous function of the awakened mind. You are a miracle. You are a genius. You eat when hungry and sleep when tired.
You are a Buddha. But in the same way you will forget the circumstances of your birth, you will forget the truth of your being. And by forgetting what you are, you will suffer in the painful, fruitless search to become something else, striving against your own perfection to feel whole and secure. By your attachment to desires, you will squander the chance of infinite lifetimes: the chance to be born in human form. Luckily, the chance to be reborn—to wake up—arises every moment. Your body is the body of inexhaustible wisdom. When will you realize it?
Every moment is the birth of enlightenment and the death of delusion. If you don't believe it, have a baby. Or, simply notice in each instant that you are giving life to a world that is brand new. Mothers face fear, sickness and pain to be handed a crowning glory: the opportunity to bring a new life home and leave an old life behind. We are each, no matter what, given this gift right now.
To be sure, birth is not apart from death, not its opposite, not its foe, but synchronous: one thing.
In giving birth, we lose what we no longer need: the beliefs of who and what we are and what we can and can't do. Parents learn, by a painful transformation, that life is not ours alone, not measured by centimeters, not defined by what we like, want or think. We get a good look at how much trouble we cause; how stubborn, selfish and terrified we are; and how much growing up we still have to do.
I have so much growing up to do.
We learn the true nature of love as effortless and abiding, flowing naturally and forgiving everything. This love is compassion, and it is born when we are no longer deceived by appearances: the illusion that "I" exist separate from "you," the "you" that I blame when I am selfish and angry. Compassion is the fearless essence of life. It endures, enhances and sustains itself. It is good.
As a parent, I have learned that I have limitless love to give, and I can start by loving myself. I can love, trust, and care for my own body. I can illuminate my own mind and open my own heart. I can change habits, practice discipline, overcome fears, and quiet my criticism. I can be generous. I can give myself away. Above all, I can keep from harming my child and anyone's child. After all, we are the children of one another, interconnected and interdependent. By our practice, we learn to parent ourselves and care for everyone.
The facts of life keep reappearing even while we are carried away by blind fear and distraction. So here is another chance.
You are born. You inhale and open your eyes. Now, are you awake?
Karen Maezen Miller, sensei, is the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life.