Tendai Buddhist Institute is in a beautiful rural area nestled in the Berkshire foothills. The bird feeders are always packed with goldfinches, barn finches, blue jays, red winged blackbirds, mourning doves, red breasted grossbeaks, and many more, while the barn swallows perform acrobatics overhead.
This summer there are so many rabbits feasting on the grass, thyme and clover on the lawn that we have discussed renaming the temple the Tendai Buddhist Rabbit Sanctuary. Sitting at the kitchen table we see the rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks gambol about with a several deer periodically joining this Disney like assemblage.
When Nikita, our dog, first goes out in the morning to do her business and surveys her territory, the rabbits and others critters scatter away just far enough to be safe. When she settles on one side of the hondo (the sanctuary) while we are inside doing the gongyo the rabbits are still munching breakfast on the other side. They seem to know she’s old and slow, and they have learned her habits.
I can spend uncounted time just sitting and being absorbed by the flora and fauna surrounding me.
There are times too when my eyes see not only the critters, who are unaware of my presence, while thinking about the ethology of these delightful vertebrates.
Then I see their gamboling not so much as carefree play, but as very choreographed displays for dominance, mating, and other much more intense activities. Those colorful birds are not merely cooperative cohabitants. They are in a constant struggle to acquire food, territory and nesting materials. Some of the birds, such as cowbirds will take over a robin’s or bluebird’s nest, push out the other bird’s eggs, laying its own in the newly emptied nest.
When I see the abundance of rabbits this year it means that the predator populations, the foxes, coyotes, bobcats, racoons, hawks, weasels, etc. will increase with a more abundant food source. The cyclical increase/decrease in prey and predator is the most visible aspect of the well documented population carrying capacity cycle, that involves not only the mammals and birds, but also, the grasses, trees, berry bushes, nematodes, worms, and many other living organisms.
Amazing as it may seem, we can hold these two very dissimilar visions in our minds simultaneously, the charm of the small playful creatures, and the life and death drama of population cycle. Taken together they represent what may seem very different. But they are both true, both realities. There is a sense of equanimity to holding these two very different images in our minds simultaneously.
This is analogous to the Three Truths in Tendai teachings. Namely the two, absolute reality (śūnyatā) and the provisional reality are not a duality, but two realities synthesized into a positive statement about the Middle. The impermanence and interdependence of all phenomena is the ultimate truth about them.
With Love and Gassho. . . Monshin