This being so, it is an established way in Buddha dharma to deny that birth turns into death. Accordingly, birth is understood as no-birth. It is an unshakeable teaching in Buddha’s discourse that death does not turn into birth. Accordingly, death is understood as no-death. Birth is an expression complete this moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.
I would like to address the last sentence of this section of the Genjo Koan. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring. Please don’t live winter anticipating spring, or spring anticipating summer. Don’t live life in anticipation or in apprehension. Each is a season in itself.
Many of us live small lives because we are busy preparing for winter. For instance, we prepare for getting older. Older age is seen as a scary period of life, a time when one has no strength or resources, when one is dependent on others, lonely, ill, forgetful, demented; when one is a step away from death. It’s hard not to listen to these voices of fear.
It’s equally hard not to listen to the voices of an industry that promises to help us guard against all these terrible developments: senior citizen enclaves with no children allowed, concierge doctors, long lists of medications, disability insurance. AARP says that it’s all about giving a voice to senior citizens, but if you look at the ads that throng the pages of its magazine, the message is always the same: Plan for the worst now, take up golf, look up those special insurance policies, buy a condo in an area which has its own special gerontology unit and doctors, don’t get caught unprepared for that worst of times.
Other media give us the same message. Look at the arguments about social security and Medicare. Older people are seen as lazy drains on our economy, people who can’t pull their weight but have to be supported by the younger generation. I think it’s important to pay attention to the innumerable messages of fear that we receive, and the many solutions offered to relieve that fear.
Dogen has his own cure: Birth is an expression complete this moment, death too. Everything is an expression complete this moment. The dharma gives me the freedom and lack of fear to experience each moment completely. When we experience out life like that, we give no fear. Live each moment, express your experience of each moment. It’s never about living according to some ideal, it’s simply living in our skin, without whining, without fear.
I learn a lot about aging from my dogs. When my golden retriever, Wordsworth, got older, he started losing the use of his back legs, which would occasionally collapse. Once I walked with my husband in a preserve, and at some point I noticed the dog wasn’t with us. I turned around and saw him seated on his rump some 30 yards back. “Woody!” I called out. He whined back, his mouth relaxed and happy, as if to say nothing’s wrong, there’s no pain, I just collapsed. No more, no less. Once I returned and gave him a lift up, he bounced back on his paws and walked off happily, unconcerned about when this will happen again or what the future will bring.
I dreamt about him recently, and in the dream I go looking for him. Upon waking up, I realized I was really in search of my heart. I study, teach, write, do, and in the middle of all that I wonder, Where’s my heart? I have to search for it because I don’t feel connected to it even in the middle of all those things. How do I connect to my heart? By connecting to this moment, to this all-encompassing now. Being fully present, fully available to the one big heart/mind that always manifests now. Winter and spring, summer and fall, it’s the only refuge I know.
 Tanahashi, Kazuaki, Actualizing the Fundamental Point in Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen. North Point Press, San Francisco, 1985, p. 70.