Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Merton felt monasticism was the only venue for Marxism. From each according to their ability; to each according to their need.

Pema Chodron might agree. We are alone, she says. Merton agrees. So does the Buddha. We're on our own. (Our own what?)
Trying to find a buddha or enlightenment is like trying to grab space. Space has a name but no form. It's not something you can pick up or put down. And you certainly can't grab it. Beyond this mind you'll never see a buddha. The buddha is a product of your mind. Why look for a buddha beyond this mind?
- Bodhidharma (d. 533)
I will be staying closer to home. I suspect the return home nears. I find little reason to leave home.

And yet, I have no home.

Just feet. And boots. Along with what remains of breath.

Thomas Merton had a way of annoying some people and enchanting others:
His visit with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks impressed Merton more than all other Asian encounters. Of course, these Tibetans have experienced Marxism as a force that destroyed much of their monastic structure. And Merton is confronting Marxism also as a political force that destroyed all structures. What happens when these structures are destroyed? In the future, he says, we will not rely on structures. We cannot be sure whether any of the structures with which we are familiar will outlast even our lifetime. What then are we supposed to do? What is the essence of monastic life?
Here is the high point of his whole Bangkok talk, the background of which is the story of Trungpa Rimpoche, who moved to the U.S. and founded a number of lively, prospering meditation centers. Merton met him on his Asian journey and was impressed. When the communists invaded Tibet, Trungpa Rimpoche was abbot of a large monastery, but was out on a visitation and got caught by the invasion at some farmhouse. Now the question was, what should he do? Should he go back to his own monastery, or should be flee across the border? He sent a message to a nearby abbot-friend to ask, “What shall we do?” The abbot sent back a message which Merton found most significant: “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.”

Merton goes on to say, “To my mind, this is an extremely important monastic statement.” (Remember, this man is now speaking in the last hours of his life!) “If you forget everything else that has been said, I would suggests that you remember this for the future: ‘From now on, each one will have to stand on his own feet.’” He throws everything back on each monk personally: “Don’t rely on structure; stand on your own feet.” Then Merton expresses his relationship to structures: “Yes, we do need structures; we are supported by structures. But they may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. We cannot rely on structures. Use structures, but do not rely on structures.”

The moment we stand on our own two feet, the moment we find contemplative life at the root of monastic life, deep down in our own hearts, in our own center, we go beyond division. That is the third essential that Merton sifts out in facing the monastic identity crisis: that the Christian monastic calling is one that unites us with all monks. There again is this crack where he breaks out from the enclosed shell of a Trappist, Christian, monastic structure into universal monasticism. Monks East and West share the same quest, the contemplative quest of the human heart, in which we are all united. We go beyond division to an inner liberty which no one can touch.

Merton sees the essence: “What is essential in the monastic life is not embedded in buildings, not in a habit, not necessarily even in a rule.” (That must sound like enormous heresy to some.) “It is somewhere along the line of something deeper than a rule. It is concerned with this business of total inner transformation.” Once we have reached that last quest for total inner transformation, to quote Saint Paul, “there is no longer slave or free-born, there is no longer Jew or Gentile,” there is no longer Asian or European, but we have transcended these divisions. “This kind of monasticism,” Merton said in his last talk, “this kind of monasticism cannot be extinguished. It is imperishable; it represents an instinct of the human heart.
(from, Thomas Merton, Now at the Crack of Dawn, by Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, http://www.gratefulness.org/readings/dsr_merton-crack2.htm
The Heart Sutra, chanted at this morning's practice, has a section that says:
Therefore, O Sariputra,

in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness ;

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind ; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind ; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to :

No mind-consciousness element ; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to : There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.

There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

(trans. by E. Conze)

In emptiness, where do I belong?

Where are you?

Friday, December 10, 2010

I think of Thomas Merton's death the way I experience the 9th stanza of the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens:
IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles
We renew our promises, watch film biography, and eat pizza.
On Going to see a Taoist master
A dog barks
Amid the sound of water;
A heavy dew stains
Peach blossoms.
In these deep woods,
I see several deer;
At noon along the stream,
I hear no temple bell.
Wild bamboo
Divides grey clouds;
Waterfalls hang
From blue peaks.
No way to tell
Where you've gone;
Disheartened, I lean
Against a second, now a third pine.

- Li Po (701-762)
I lean on the realization that Merton is so right for Meetingbrook.

Love has no opposite.

Only itself nowhere not.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Viewed Hamlet from London to Rockland screen this afternoon.
To search for enlightenment or nirvana beyond this mind is impossible. The reality of your own self-nature, the absence of cause and effect, is what's meant by mind. Your mind is nirvana. You might think you can find a buddha or enlightenment somewhere beyond the mind, but such a place doesn't exist.
- Bodhidharma (d. 533)
Rory Kinnear as Hamlet was felt through and through.
There ’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes?
(--Hamlet. Act v. Sc. 2. by William Shakespeare)
Thoroughly felt.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I saw no morning star this morning. Back to shuffling feet.
Wondering if it's a winter shower,
I wake in my bed
And hear them:
The leaves that
Couldn't withstand the storm.
- Saigyo (1118-1190)
If I was born immaculately whole, something broke afterwards.

I can't imagine there's nothing to live or die for.

I've tried. It's not easy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

There is, some say, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Those who say it are in the middle. We don't hear much from before the beginning or after the end.

I'm not saying that beginnings or endings are what we call them. I like the idea that there is no beginning, only origin. I like the idea that there is no ending, only disappearance.

After his final talk on 10Dec1968 Thomas Merton said he would just disappear. And he did. By electrocution. His words remain. Lots of them. But he...has disappeared.

There's a koan question asking to see the person's original face -- the one they had before their mother and father were born.

We usually stare at the questioner when this question is asked.
"Sweep away thoughts!" means one must do zazen. Once thoughts are quieted, the Original Face appears. Thoughts can be compared to clouds. When clouds vanish, the moon appears. The moon of suchness is the Original Face. Thoughts are also like the fogging of a mirror. When you wipe away all condensation, a mirror reflects clearly. Quiet your thoughts and behold your Original Face before you were born!
- Daito (1282-1334)
When death nears, there's a question asked: "What happens at the end, what happens after death?"

I don't know.

That's what happens: "I don't know.”

Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,

Receive thy new possessor—one who brings

A mind not to be changed by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same

. . . Here at least/ We shall be free . . .

we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. (I:251-263)

— John Milton (Paradise Lost)

So says the mind. Does the heart feel a different last line? The mind has reigned in a hell of war and carnage. The heart longs to serve peace with kindness and attention.

Robert Thurman says that only monasticism is an antidote to militarism. Either you empty the mind of egoistic grasping or you attack others with a mind to possess what they possess.

I choose a lay monastic attentive life.

Monasticism sees no end. Militarism is the beginning of the end.

Right now -- ask the most important question: "What is the most important question?"

That's it!

December 8th is about us.

Happy Buddha's Enlightenment Day!

Happy Immaculate Conception of Mary!

Happy sorrow at the assassination of John Lennon!

Dogen Zenji said: “Life Is One Continuous Mistake.”

Find yourself in the middle of it. Extend your mistake.

It's alright.

Monday, December 06, 2010

We're not barbaric. We're afraid. And people afraid do the bidding of their intimidators. These are difficult times. Many fearful people will do many awful things.
“Each time society, through unemployment, frustrates the small man in his normal functioning and normal self-respect,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1945 essay “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” “it trains him for that last stage in which he will willingly undertake any function, even that of hangman. (-- Chris Hedges, Happy as a Hangman, Truthdig, 6Dec2010)
We have good reason to be wary. There seems to be, oddly, a concerted effort to widen the imbalance of those who have far more than they need and those who have far less than they need.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” writes about a close friend who served with him in World War II. Solzhenitsyn’s defiance of the Communist regime after the war saw him sent to the Soviet gulags. His friend, loyal to the state, was sent there as an interrogator. Solzhenitsyn was forced to articulate a painful truth. The mass of those who serve systems of terrible oppression and state crime are not evil. They are weak.

“If only there were vile people ... committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

(--from, Happy as a Hangman, by Chris Hedges, on Truthdig, Posted on Dec 6, 2010, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/happy_as_a_hangman_20101206/
I'm confounded by the way the economic institutions in our country and world operate with such ease of function to reap enormous profits while, at the same time, finding new ways to extract money and encourage debt from so many ordinary citizens who have no resources to counterbalance the system or money brokers in our midst.

My face feels frown furrowed, my mind incredulous, my spirit deflated. The way I live does not feel holy.
To drink up the ocean and turn a mountain
Upside down is an ordinary affair for a Zennist.
Zen seekers should sit on the site of universal
Enlightenment right in the midst of all the thorny
Situations in life,
And recognize their original face while mixing
With the ordinary world.

- Huanglong
I look at the mountain full of falling snow and ask it about its original face. It looks back at me -- frowning, furrowing, befuddled, and dispirited.

I sit on the site of universal unknowing and find the holy questioning me about what it should do.

I say nothing.
Snow

At every hand there are moments we
cannot quite grasp or understand. Free

to decide, to interpret, we watch rain
streaking down the window, the drain

emptying, leaves blown by a cold wind.
At least we sense a continuity in

such falling away. But not with snow.
It is forgetfulness, what does not know,

has nothing to remember in the first place.
Its purpose is to cover, to leave no trace

of anything. Whatever was there before—
the worn broom leaned against the door

and almost buried now, the pile of brick,
the bushel basket filling up with thick,

gathering whiteness, half sunk in a drift—
all these things are lost in the slow sift

of the snow's falling. Now someone asks
if you can remember—such a simple task—

the time before you were born. Of course
you cannot, nor can I. Snow is the horse

that would never dream of running away,
that plods on, pulling the empty sleigh

while the tracks behind it fill, and soon
everything is smooth again. No moon,

no stars, to guide your way. No light.
Climb up, get in. Be drawn into the night.
(--Poem, Snow, by Jared Carter, from Poetry, c.1999, 2003)
The mountain continues to fill with snow.

The black and white cat scratches and grooms.

I will make no noose.

Nor noise.

Near, a sigh of sorrow.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

And if the doctor says: You have a disease that will kill you." Say back: "Thank you!"
Now, in this world and in other worlds, in India and China, buddha ancestors equally carry the buddha seal and teach the practice of sitting immersed in steadfastness. Although circumstances may vary in a thousand ways, whole-heartedly practice Zen, giving yourself fully to the Way. Why give up the sitting platform of your own house and wander uselessly in the dust of a remote land?
- Dogen (1200-1253)
I consider myself a wanderer.

And useless.

Sit well.