In what seems to have become an annual ritual, I called up the incense company and ordered a new batch yesterday. Shoyeido is located in Boulder, Colorado, and I have always found the people there to be friendly ... people you could talk to as people and not simply merchants. It's a great merchandising tool, I think.
The woman looked up my name on the computer and I ordered four boxes of Gozan, my favored incense. Not that there is that much 'serious' use for it any more -- not that I only use it as an accompaniment to formal zazen or seated meditation -- but I light a bit of incense each day because I like it. It stands as a nice smell and a good bit of advertising. So, every day, a little bit: It's like a friend who is willing to do me a favor ... a mother tying her child's shoe ... the incense is kind and does the work and I don't have to do anything.
Anyway, we got to chatting, the incense lady and I. There had been some hard snow in Boulder and some power outages, so we exchanged sympathetic tales of the inconveniences that had struck both there and here. And then, because incense can be used to hook up with spiritual adventures, we segued into spiritual adventure. She belonged to something (I think I'm remembering this right) called the Unity Church, an organization she described as returning to the foundations of Christianity. And those foundations rested on "love." She didn't care for the arm-twisting salesmanship of some brands of Christianity. She preferred "tolerance" and ... well ... love. She believed in ... well ... love. It seemed to be her touchstone and bulwark. She wasn't pushy about it; she just spoke as best she might about what she found compelling and convincing ... the foundation, the bulwark, the beginning of things. Love. She was a very pleasant woman and I was happy to talk to someone who could talk about what she took seriously without insisting that I -- or even she, perhaps -- take it seriously.
The foundation. The bulwark. Isn't that one of the accompanying whispers of spiritual adventure. A promise that anyone might be safe and at peace and clear-headed? And perhaps "love" is as good a conversational tap root as any. But also I wonder: Having expressed the foundation as best anyone might and having raised up the bulwark in whatever shape anyone might care for, isn't there another whispering, nattering question that want's to be answered? Sometimes yes, sometimes no ... but I think yes is a more sensible course.
Having enunciated the touchstone, having unearthed the foundation, having mortared the bulwark ... well all this may be the beginning of things, but what or who preceded the beginning? Isn't uncertainty assured without considering and investigating that question? Isn't doubt a constant companion -- the kind of doubt that is woven into belief by definition and necessity? Without knowing the earth and sky on which the foundation rests, without knowing and actualizing the source of "love," wouldn't things be pretty wobbly?
I don't know, and I certainly didn't press the point with the nice incense woman, but I think that any time anyone finds the beginning of anything, it is time to consider what it is that came before the beginning, before "love." Doubt is such an unpleasant and nagging partner. Was there any doubt before the beginning? Really? Prove it.
Before the beginning: What's that like?