Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I don't know about angels. I don't know about anything. Today is the feast of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. They are archangels. I expect they know who they are. I don't.

But that's the thing about life and belief. There's no knowing. Even if your sure of something, there's no knowing.
One narrow path surrounded by a dense forest;
On all sides, mountains lie in darkness.
The autumn leaves have already fallen.
No rain, but still the rocks are dark with moss.
Returning to my hermitage along a way known to few,
Carrying a basket of fresh mushrooms
And a jar of pure water from the temple well.
- Ryokan (1758-1831)
So I sip water. Chew pizza. Watch a drama. Spell some words. Breathe and exhale. The wonderfully absurd practice of living is done day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. The practice could end in a second.
15
I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord."
16
Stricken with fear, the two men fell to the ground.
17
But Raphael said to them: "No need to fear; you are safe. Thank God now and forever.
18
As for me, when I came to you it was not out of any favor on my part, but because it was God's will. So continue to thank him every day; praise him with song.
19
Even though you watched me eat and drink, I did not really do so; what you were seeing was a vision.
20
So now get up from the ground and praise God. Behold, I am about to ascend to him who sent me; write down all these things that have happened to you."

(-- NAB - Tobit 12)
I like the idea we are safe.

I don't know I am safe. But I'm told.

It's good that some know who they are and they are safe.

It's also good that others practice breathing for the time being.

I'm glad there are archangels. I'm glad that everything else is too.

It doesn't matter what I think. Nor my opinion. What matters is the reality of what is.

When the question "What is reality?" is asked, remember it is a self-answering question. The answer is the question understood as its own response.

This is how I see the one we call God.

No more.

No less.

Exactly as it is.

Friday, September 28, 2007

If you hear the voice, you've got the call. Some of us don't hear, and don't get it. This news doesn't disappoint me. I'm not afraid of being an outsider.

What truth am I talking about? I am talking about truth of the ground of mind, which can enter into the ordinary and the sacred, into the pure and the polluted, into the absolute and the conventional, and yet is not the absolute, conventional, ordinary, and sacred, but is able to give names to all the absolute, conventional, ordinary, and sacred. Someone who has realized this cannot be labeled by the absolute or the conventional, by the ordinary or
sacred. If you can grasp it, then use it, without labeling it any more. This is called the mystic teaching.

- Lin Chi (d 867?)
Epictetus puts things this way:

XVIII
And to this I reply:
“Friends, wait for God. When He gives the
signal, and releases you from this service, then depart to Him. But for the present, endure to dwell in the place wherein He hath assigned you your post.
Short indeed is the time of your habitation therein, and easy to those that are thus minded. What tyrant, what robber, what tribunals have any terrors for those who thus esteem the body and all that belong to it as of no account? Stay; depart not rashly hence!”


Tom tried the metaphor of puppet. I objected. Rather, we are given, and life passes through us, cooperating in the invitation into one's own beauty and essence. In prison today John reflected John O'Donahue's words about humus beings, our being made of clay and given to listening.
So let them all be in the one shepherd and speak with the one shepherd’s voice, for the sheep to hear and follow their shepherd – not just any shepherd, but the one. Let all shepherds speak with one voice in him and not with separate voices: I beseech you, my brethren: say the same thing, all of you, and let there be no divisions among you. May that voice, cleansed of all division and purged of all error, be the voice that the sheep hear as they follow the shepherd who says 'The sheep that are mine hear my voice and follow me.'
(--from St Augustine's sermon On Pastors)
We must let one another alone.

The one we call God dwells alone.

With each.

And every.

One.

Of us.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Between true and false is emptiness. There, each is as it is. No leaning to more or to less. Each person's name is "at home."

When water is pure and sparkling clear
You see straight to the bottom
When your mind holds no concern
No circumstance can turn you
And once your mind doesn’t stray
A kalpa has no changes
From such awareness nothing hides.

- Cold Mountain
There is so much anguish about this or that. Our freedom is not this or that, but either and neither, it doesn't matter. So much worry about life and death. Between the two is this moment. More precisely is the awareness that between life and death is an unknowing instant -- now without name -- wherein we see the fact of things.

A writing of St Vincent de Paul
Serving the poor is to be preferred above all things
Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.
(--from Office of Readings, Feast of Vincent)
On Monday nights in Bensonhurst my father would meet with other men to hear the needs and serve the people who needed help. It was their Saint Vincent's meeting. He didn't speak of what they did or who they helped. They just went out and came back.

Between the going out and the coming back is the revelation of being dead in life and alive in death -- nothing other.

The hole in our lives, the whole of our lives, is the emptiness of God.

Don't try to fill it.

Nor try to pour it out.

Find yourself there.

At home.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A sudden rain.
If your ears see,
And eyes hear,
Not a doubt you’ll cherish
How naturally the rain drips
From the eaves!

- Daito Kokush
Passing.

Through.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Moon hangs lightly above Curtis Island. Puffs of white cloud accentuate. Waters of Penobscot Bay calm and smooth. Voices from deck and restaurant carry on. This lovely September night.
Nothing and Everything
The great Indian teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj once said, "Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows." "I am nothing" does not mean that there is a bleak wasteland within. It does mean that with awareness we open to a clear, unimpeded space, without center or periphery--nothing separate. If we are nothing, there is nothing at all to serve as a barrier to our boundless expression of love. Being nothing in this way, we are also, inevitably, everything. "Everything" does not mean self-aggrandizement, but a decisive recognition of interconnection; we are not separate. Both the clear, open space of "nothing" and the interconnectedness of "everything" awaken us to our true nature. This is the truth we contact when we meditate, a sense of unity beyond suffering. It is always present; we merely need to be able to access it.

(-- Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith)
Late yesterday afternoon rowing skiff out northeast channel around bell buoy, then across to number 2 bell buoy, beyond Coast Guard tender, back around Curtis, in to tie up at dock by shop. Lovely liturgy of oar and wave.

I like the notion that all teachers have gone away leaving just us. Gods have disappeared beyond clouds. All saviors, masters, saints, and bodhisattvas have gone silent. It's just us. And community is teacher. One another is hope.
Che fece ... il gran rifiuto

Translated by
Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It's clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he'd still say no. Yet that no-the right no-
drags him down all his life.

(--Poem by C.P. Cavafy)
Between yes and no is not maybe.

Between the two is emptiness.

I dwell there.

Tonight.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I mourn the death of a woman I knew. She died of lung cancer. Five years ago. I've just read her obituary.

Everyone dies. Fathers, mothers, relatives, friends, and strangers. Every day. That's not a surprising statement. The fact of it must be affirmed. And yet it's always a surprise when someone we know dies. Why is that?
What is the truth? The truth is the reality of mind. The reality of mind is formless and pervades the ten directions. It is being used presently, right before your eyes, yet people do not trust it sufficiently, so they accept terms and expressions, seeking to assess Buddhism conceptually in the written word. They are as far away as the sky is from earth.
- Lin Chi (d 867?)
For a moment let's do away with both original sin and karma.
From: St Augustine's sermon On Pastors
The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. In one way or another, we go on living between the hands of robbers and the teeth of raging wolves, and in light of these present dangers we ask your prayers. The sheep moreover are insolent. The shepherd seeks out the straying sheep, but because they have wandered away and are lost they say that they are not ours. “ Why do you want us? Why do you seek us?” they ask, as if their straying and being lost were not the very reason for our wanting them and seeking them out. “If I am straying”, he says, “if I am lost, why do you want me?” You are straying, that is why I wish to recall you. You have been lost, I wish to find you. “But I wish to stray”, he says: “I wish to be lost”.
So you wish to stray and be lost? How much better that I do not also wish this. Certainly, I dare say, I am unwelcome. But I listen to the Apostle who says: Preach the word; insist upon it, welcome and unwelcome. Welcome to whom? Unwelcome to whom? By all means welcome to those who desire it; unwelcome to those who do not. However unwelcome, I dare to say: “You wish to stray, you wish to be lost; but I do not want this”. For the one whom I fear does not wish this. And should I wish it, consider his words of reproach: The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. Shall I fear you rather than him? Remember, we must all present ourselves before the judgement seat of Christ.
I shall recall the straying; I shall seek the lost. Whether they wish it or not, I shall do it. And should the brambles of the forests tear at me when I seek them, I shall force myself through all straits; I shall put down all hedges. So far as the God whom I fear grants me the strength, I shall search everywhere. I shall recall the straying; I shall seek after those on the verge of being lost. If you do not want me to suffer, do not stray, do not become lost. It is enough that I lament your straying and loss. No, I fear that in neglecting you, I shall also kill what is strong. Consider the passage that follows: And what was strong you have destroyed. Should I neglect the straying and lost, the strong one will also take delight in straying and in being lost.

(from Office of Readings, 24Sept2007)
I prefer: No one is lost. And Christ's "judgment seat" is more likely a "welcome, sit, rest, we'll talk" kind of thing. It is a curious belief that holds everyone liable for some past mistake or infraction. I'd rather the teaching be abandoned. Matthew Fox counters with "Original Blessing." My preference is the point of view that we dwell, always, at origin. Right now -- are we present cultivating kindness, healing, and trust? Or do we cultivate separation, harm, and mistrust. (Today is not a good example for me. I'd rather have nothing to do with anyone. The saving grace, though, is that I wish none harm.)
The theory of karmic rebirth is that one’s past life determines the circumstances into which one is reborn in this present life. If you were lustful in a past life, you might be reborn as an animal for example. Or if you led an exemplary past life, you might well be reborn as a god or demi-god. The point is that you get what’s coming to you, and if you want a favorable rebirth in your next life, you better watch how you behave in this one. At its best, it’s an odd and unnecessary elaboration of simple consequence. At its worst, it’s a means of citizen control and institutional support, extracting alms from the citizenry in return for merit favorable to a fortunate rebirth. I find little distinction between this disingenuous practice and the marketing of pardons and indulgences in medieval Christian traditions. In Buddhist practice it has served primarily as a way to sustain priestly authority and exact a living out of people’s fears and hopes regarding rebirth.

What’s particularly distracting about this teaching is that one can devote one’s entire life to acquiring merit for a future life. And what’s positively ugly about this teaching is its application to the misfortunes of people born into lives of present suffering. A child who’s born crippled or blind is by this theory assumed to be suffering a consequence attributed to past life behavior. While Buddhism encourages compassion for such a child, it’s nonetheless understood that the unfortunate child is a victim of his own doing. I don’t know about others, but to assume that a child born deaf or blind or suffering from aids or a child badly burned in a fire or struck down in a crosswalk or starving to death in some poverty ridden slum somewhere is simply getting what’s coming to him is a judgment I simply can’t stomach. Those Buddhist teachers who can — and this includes not entirely teachers from devotional Buddhist traditions but many Zen teachers as well — place great emphasis on purifying past karma, a notion so reminiscent of the biblical tradition of original sin as to be almost indistinguishable. Not only that but the anxious quest for a favorable rebirth is little different from a theist’s hope for a reward in heaven. Devoting one’s efforts to cleansing karma is a notion that renders present life to the status of a mere means to an end, and not something in its own right. The hope for reward distorts and undermines the simple modesty of living one’s life as compassionately and harmlessly as possible.

(from Choice, By Lin Jensen, in Tricycle, The Buddhist Review, 8/8/07)
Karma is perhaps best seen as consequences of present actions in present life.

The difficulty with original sin and karma is unknown past determinant of current reality. In the Christian metaphor a divine being is posited as savior of all. I'm fond neither of being condemned nor saved. And with the Buddhist metaphor there's a temptation to think you have to go about doing good for some rewarding next birth -- rather than good being its own delight.

The twin motif of crime and punishment is rife in our psyche.

Mary, my friend whose obituary of five years ago I've just read, is in herself an example of someone who came to be seen in this existence, smiled and cried, then disappeared. We looked at life together twenty eight years ago, ate pasta, and ran Fairmont Park because we could.

We feel sad at some news, and something deeper than that at confirmation of news.

In the war, the never-ending reminder of what original sin and karma used to try to account for -- we bait and condemn each other.
Under a program developed by a Defense Department warfare unit, Army snipers have begun using a new method to kill Iraqis suspected of being insurgents, planting fake weapons and bomb-making material as bait and then killing anyone who picks up them up, according to testimony presented in a military court.

The existence of the classified “baiting program,” as it has come to be known, was disclosed as part of defense lawyers’ efforts to respond to murder charges the Army pressed this summer against three members of a Ranger sniper team. Each soldier is accused of killing an unarmed Iraqi in three separate incidents between April and June near Iskandariya.

(--September 24, 2007, Soldiers Describe Baiting of Insurgents in Iraq, By Paul Von Zielbauer, New York Times)
Soon anyone who even thinks wrongly in anyone else's opinion will be killed. It is, it seems, the way we are. We kill. We see death as a solution.

Today I sequester myself at the harbour room. Earlier this morning I hiked Ragged Mtn with Cesco -- a good, long hike. Then here. I watched the big schooners -- the Angelique go out, the Lewis B. French come back, the Grace Bailey go out; and the small schooners -- Lazy Jack, Surprise, and Appledore, take passengers for two hour sails. The wind is stiff. Sun and sky clear and bright. Flags flutter with resolve.

I read Don DeLillo's novel Falling Man. I'll work on students' papers and read for Wednesday's class. It's autumn. Leaves have been seen underfoot.

Luckily, the oars and life jacket are in the skiff.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sound in rural Maine is specific.

Wind along mountain through cedar, car beginning ascent between Ragged and Bald, longing loon call from pond, red squirrel nervous bravado as cat passes below, critter turning in wall, soundless moon through leaves, three sets of chimes in sudden gust, a cricket's solitary call.

Sages do not want anything
And do not avoid anything.
When you want something,
That may make you lose it;
And if you try to avoid something,
That may just bring it about.
When you desire something in your heart,
Then you forget what you are doing.
Therefore sages carefully examine the
Changes of action and repose,
Adjusting the measures of
Receiving and giving suitably,
Governing feelings of
Like and dislike rationally,
And harmonizing degrees of joy and anger.

- Lao-tzu

I'm angry. It's not so specific.

It has its own sound.

Tonight it's silence.
The world is full of renunciations and apprenticeships, and this is thine; thou must pass for a fool, and a churl for a long season. And this is the reward; that the ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like summer rain, copious, but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable essence."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Long, untitled.

Silence.