"Just to be is a blessing
Just to live is holy.”
The second precept that we take in Soto Zen is “do not take what is not given.” At the San Francisco Zen Center they added a line to each of the precepts to give them a positive spin. “2. A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.”
Perhaps it should be, “we should take what is given.” Someone suggested that I should add an only to that: "we should take only what is given."
In any case, I thought it would be an interesting generosity practice to focus on taking rather than giving. Rabbi Heschel's statement suggests that being on earth is a blessing. Appreciating that seems transformational. I feel, “Thank you, universe, for letting me be. Thank you for the innumerable gifts that you shower on me every moment.” (This may introduce a dilemma: as a generous and loving person, do we thank the coyote/universe who enjoys our neighbor’s yelping dog for supper?)
I imagined myself starting to focus on these blessings. How lucky I am to be surrounded in my life by so many jewels! How lucky to live in an environment so conducive to my interests!
The second line of the Heschel quote, is “just to live is holy.” In Buddhism we talk about the rarity of being born human. It is the rarity of the possibility that one tortoise would rise to the surface of the ocean and its head would go through one floating oxen yoke. That's how lucky it is to be born in human realm.
In the Torah, God says that you shall be holy for I'm holy. Here, too, it is a recognition of what it is that which makes us special. It doesn't matter what you call that which created us. It also says that we should revere our mother and father. We revere holy things, and that makes us holy, for we came from holy parents. And our mother and father, metaphorically, are everything that comes together to give us this life.
What a great tattoo this would be, with each line of Heschel’s quote on a different arm! Then the words could be easily shared when we reach with both hands to accept what is given to us.
And we can smile and say thanks.