Like a little duck in the ocean

In Zen practice we speak of “no gaining idea.” However, we obviously have something that draws us to practice and some aspiration that encourages us along this sometimes difficult and challenging path. This lovely little poem by the philosopher Donald C. Babcock, “The Little Duck,” is contrasted with a piece by Emerson. The two sides of practice are shown here — the energetic engagement in embodied life as well as the willingness to rest in the always present absolute.

Inquiry recording:

Dare to quit the platform,
plunge into the sublime seas,
dive deep and swim far,
so you shall come back
with self-respect,
with new power,
with an advanced experience,
that shall explain
and overlook the old.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Little Duck
Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet
beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.
A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles
in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.
There is a great heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is a part of it.
He looks a little like a mandarin,
Or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree
But he has hardly enough above the eyes
to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what
philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves,
because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large
the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you.
He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were
infinity – which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
He has made himself a part of the
by easing himself into it just where it
touches him.
I like the little duck.
He doesn’t know much.
But he has religion.
—Donald C. Babcock, 1947