Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Tears from the Awakened Heart

August 30, 2016

When we understand that grief is a necessary corollary of loving, Buddha is helping us no longer to think of grief as bad.


After years of extremely long hard solo sitting late at night, Soko Morinaga Roshi suddenly came to awakening. Later he wrote: “The one thing I am sure of is that in this instant, the functioning of the heart with which I was born came into play in its purest form.”

“Why is it that the tears of an enlightened one never cease to flow?” asks one of the Miscellaneous koans.

We are grief machines, we are gratitude machines, we are humility machines, and we are compassion machines. (You might say love machines but the Miracles already took that.) The rest is distraction.

Grief has a special place in spiritual life, even though we often tend to be scared of it… the basic insight of the Buddha is that we suffer because we have placed our faith, our creedence, our hope for happiness in things that are more insubstantial than they seem, that contain far less satisfactoriness than we ascribe to them, and that don’t last. We grasp after them, then cling to them, like shipwrecked mariners clinging to wreckage that turns out to have been imaginary.

Therefore the path out of suffering is a re-orientation away from chasing “compounded things” that decay and don’t satisfy and disappear, toward instead “uncompounded things” that were never thought to be either solid or lasting to begin with. It turns out that through sitting still, through receiving guidance or coaching in the practice, and through contemplation and scrutiny of our own actual experience, we can be “liberated” from false views that have been driving a compulsive approach to the wrong things, and thus freed from suffering.

One of Buddha’s teachings is about a grieving father whose household has suffered a calamity. The Buddha asks how he would feel if the loss had struck a family the man didn’t know from the other side of town; or a cousin’s household; or a sibling’s; or his own. As the relationships gets progressively closer the man realizes he would be progressively more upset. Buddha then points out that suffering is directly proportional to attachment. Less attachment, less suffering.

One way to understand this as a straightforward encouragement to leave home and lead a life without family or relationship attachments. But there is another way, which reveals a different teaching implicit in it…

When we understand that grief is a necessary corollary of loving, Buddha is helping us no longer to think of grief as bad.

We live in a grief-avoidant culture. Today there are many teachers who encourage us not to turn away from grief. If we seek to design a life without grief, we must have a life without love. That would mean excising that ineffable but most precious element of a human being, the heart.

What I love about Zen is that in spite of the impression it may sometimes give, it is actually a practice whose purpose is in the end to free the human heart – to allow it function as it wants, without restraint, filled with gratitude, humility, compassion, and love. This seems to be its “natural” state, even though it may take a lot of practice and training to get there.

Message from Henry taken from our August 30, 2016 Newsletter

Image: Tears of the Heart, by Lady DragonflyCC, cc by 2.0, from

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