Good Morning. I’m calling this dharma talk, “How to get permanent marker off of a white board”. Now, those of you who attended Rev. Harada’s Saturday afternoon workshop last month know exactly what I’m talking about. During the first segment of the workshop he was writing on a white board. When he went to erase the board to prepare for the second part of his talk, it became apparent that the marker he had been using was a permanent marker and not a dry erase marker. Nothing happened when he rubbed the erasure on it. During the break that followed many ideas were tossed around. People said, “This has happened before, now what did we do?” and “Let’s try this, let’s try that”. When the solution was finally recalled, it was so simple and elegant that my thought was, “Wow, I’m going to have to remember that, that could come in handy some time.”
If you were there, and if you use white boards in your life, you probably made a note to remember that trick too. If you remember nothing else about the workshop, you’ll always know how to get permanent marker off of a white board. My most distinct memory from that workshop is of Talia Marr cleaning the board. Even as I made a mental note to remember this, it struck me as ironic that here we are listening to a great teacher instruct us on what Buddhism has to say about life’s greatest challenge, the fear of death, and what I’ll remember most is how to erase permanent marker.
That is exactly how we live our lives. We are so stuck in this world of samsara that even when we are presented with the life changing teachings of the Buddha, we relate to and remember something mundane and practical. That’s just the way we are. So in an attempt to remember what was taught in the workshop, I’ve tied what Rev. Harada taught together with the trick for getting the marker off the whiteboard. If you weren’t there and have been waiting to hear the trick, here it is. You write over the permanent marker on the board with a dry erase marker. The permanent marks are absorbed into the dry erase marks and then they both wipe off just fine with the regular erasure. No special chemicals or scrubbing or anything needed. Just write over it and erase like normal. A very simple solution to what at first seems like a potentially permanent problem.
That is also what Rev. Harada provided to address the fear of death; a simple solution to what seems like a permanent problem. We fear death not only because it represents change and the unknown, but because it seems like a potentially permanent change. Whether we know it or not, all fears come from the fear of death. In my yoga training, there is a term in Sanskrit, abhinivesa, that means, the fear of death, and it is considered the root of all fears. It’s easy to see how a fear of heights, or snakes, is directly related to a fear of dying. What about a fear of public speaking, of not wanting to be embarrassed or make a mistake? There have been times in our evolution when it was potentially life threatening to make a mistake. Maybe you would have been banished from the tribe and would be unable to survive on your own. Even though that is no longer the likely result of making a simple public mistake, the unconscious fear of death can still be attached to it.
So in Sanskrit this term for the fear of death is ultimately the fear behind all fear. It’s also related to the concept of attachment or clinging. The fear of death is really the same thing as clinging to life. Rev. Harada described this life as being like a wave on the ocean. Each wave exists as a separate entity for a short period before crashing into the shore and becoming part of the larger ocean again. (And yes, he drew a permanent picture of waves across the white board.)
Our lives are just like those waves. All life comes from and is a part of the same source, just as all waves are part of the same ocean. When we limit how we see ourselves to the wave of this life, then we think we are separate, unique and individual. We become attached to the attributes of this one wave and compare them to other waves. We do not sense the ocean of oneness that connects all life. All the individual waves are interconnected and interdependent, not separate. When we do not see this, we fear the destruction of our wave at the end of its life. Yet death is nothing more than returning to the oneness of the ocean.
That was the essence of the Buddha’s awakening. We can end fear and suffering in this life by realizing that we are not separate, that we are already part of the oneness of the vast ocean. This was the teaching that Rev. Harada shared to deal with life’s greatest fear, the fear of the end of this life.
So what does that have to do with getting permanent marker off of a white board? We are like the permanent marker. We think we are stuck the way we are and the only way to get off the board is to destroy it. However, if we are fortunate, we come into contact in this life with the teachings of the Buddha; teachings of non-attachment and oneness. As we are exposed to the teachings they are like the dry erase marker writing over the parts of us that we thought were permanent. Our small vision of ourselves is disrupted and we arrive at a greater sense of oneness and connection, just like the permanent marker being absorbed by the dry erase marker. Then, when the time comes, the board can easily be wiped clean. Nothing is lost or destroyed because it was never really separate or permanent to begin with.
Please join me in gassho. “Hard it is to be born into human life and difficult it is to hear the teachings of the Buddha.” In this time of thanksgiving, we can be grateful that we have been given both a human life and an opportunity to hear the teachings. We can also be grateful that our condition here is not permanent, with right understanding, we too can be absorbed, wiped clean, and re-connected with the underlying Oneness of life.