Saturday, December 15, 2001

I visit the monastic desert of the maximum-security prison. It is Advent. Harold speaks of his life before and since his near-death experience. He says we're all an integral part of God. He says that there are fundamentalists who emotionally hijack Islam and Christianity, who demand a separating and hateful discrimination against those who don't believe what they believe.

He says that God wishes to enter this world, through us -- so that we might enter heaven with God. Jesus, he says, has much more to teach -- this time, and all times -- if we'd allow him out of the cultural and conceptual box we keep him. He says what is needed is perceptual freedom -- the personal expression of each person's spiritual intuition. In the meditation and silence of this work, we come to the love of understanding. He says that's what God is -- love of understanding. There's no discrimination with God.

I visit this monastic desert for the silence and meditation of our conversation. Harold surprises himself, and me, with what he is saying. Visit heaven, he says, and you speak this way.

At Lectio this morning at the hermitage, Matthew's words of Jesus: "Go tell John what you hear and see..."(Matt.11:5). This resounds with the invitation to listen and watch -- in one's own way -- then share with a safe community of attentive and appreciative friends -- what it is you hear and see. And I hear Harold's insight in the next verse, "And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." (Matt.11:6)

With tea and coffee after Lectio, Saskia, Erika, Delia, Jim and I listen to the sound of our invisible guest from his monastery -- his longing to communicate -- that freedom can’t be created for or given to anybody. It comes from us. Our task is not to earn it, but realize it.

Someone prepares the way, as John did. Someone realizes the way, as Jesus did. Someone holds both these to the light and bows, with respect, to their work -- then gets on to their own expression of this good work. What work? The work of realizing the freedom of one's own expression of spiritual intuition -- with love, with understanding and with love-of-understanding.

This monastic practice helps proceed in peace -- in and out of prison – with prayer for each traveling their own way.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

This is not about Hamas; this is not about Al Qaeda. This is about you and me. This is about the question -- Could you or I place a bomb under a bus and then shoot people who try to run away from the fire? If inclined to say --No! -- consider the possibility that you and I are just that right now. This consideration is not about complicity and guilt; neither is it about psychological empathy nor imagination. It is about fact; it is about right now.

Eckhart Tolle's book Practicing the Power of Now is being read every other Wednesday Evening Conversation. In chapter 2, read last evening, he writes:
Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now? Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now? The answer is obvious, is it not?
Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.
The essence of what I am saying here cannot be understood by the mind. The moment you grasp it, there is a shift in consciousness from mind to Being, from time to presence. Suddenly everything feels alive, radiates energy, emanates Being.

Titmouse and chickadee stop on wire outside window before flying to feeder hanging from discarded ski pole extending from side of house. It rains. Water visits, well received.
One of the arguments we are not interconnected is we do not feel what the other feels. I wonder if this is our great delusion. The illusion is that we are disconnected. We don't feel what is taking place because we are not dwelling in the Now. Our minds keep us dispersed and distracted, going from past to future, constantly diverting us from our true home. That home is Here. That home is Now. We don't feel what and who we are because we are never at home. No one is there to feel. Our busy and worrisome minds are a perpetual travel itinerary sending us out into ten thousand amusements and ports of other illusory fears dressed and disguised as self-identity, roles, and beliefs. If we were ever to return home for even an instant to the Now, we would stop, smile, laugh, turn, watch, listen, and cry.

Earlier Tolle writes:
Here is the key: End the delusion of time. Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops -- unless you chose to use it.
To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.

I remember hearing that our central nervous system plays the important function of allowing in to our consciousness only one or two things (feelings, energies) at a time. Essentially it keeps us from experiencing everything at once. There is a sequential admittance that occurs -- so as not to be overloaded, overwhelmed, and paralyzed by the input. (Much like the "freezing" of computers when over-tasked.) That's a good thing at, some would say, the current stage or structure of our consciousness. Perhaps we're not yet able to receive all that is there to receive.

It is for me, in prayer and meditation, a curious possibility -- to actually be there, be here, now. This possibility does not mean being isolated and in a trance-like bliss. Nor does it mean being taken over by God in a protective bubble and ceasing to exist in this current reality. Rather, this possibility places me squarely in the fact of existence -- with all its joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, facts and feelings. Squarely there. Present.

With one additional observation, namely, I am there as a transforming presence, a healing and compassionate presence. I am not a reactive, retaliatory force, nor am I a passive disinterested bystander. I am there, the possibility suggests, as who and what I am. And if I am there, fully there, I will do what is there to do. I will feel what is there to feel.

Retribution, revenge, prevention, elimination, making sure (as if that were possible) that no one ever again does mindless, hurtful things -- "righting" the world according to their religious belief system, "securing" the world according to their political belief system. These things, while arguably rational steps in a disturbing world disorder, do not have the same power as returning to our true home with true presence. At times I feel that there is not a great battle waging between good and evil, but that the real struggle is between presence and absence. We are mostly absent. We long for presence. Awakening, returning to the Now, admitting God as "I AM" -- these expressions of the possibility of Being-Here have greater attraction than any campaign -- military, political, religious, or economic.

The kicker, and not an insignificant one, is that this possibility entails suffering. We don't know what suffering is, or how to suffer with joy. Some have tried to teach us. But until we enter the presence of Now we will not learn the expansive consolation and compassion that Here awaits us. This possibility somehow cheers me.

It is not by closing your eyes that you see your own nature. On the contrary, you must open your eyes wide and wake up to the real situation in the world to see completely your whole Dharma Treasure, your whole Dharma Body. The bombs, the hunger, the pursuit of wealth and power - these are not separate from your nature….You will suffer, but your pain will not come from your own worries and fears. You will suffer because of your kinship with all beings, because you have the compassion of an awakened one, a Bodhisattva. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Better than a thousand
Hollow words
Is one word that brings peace.
Better than a thousand
Hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.
Better than a hundred
Hollow lines
Is one line of the law,
Bringing peace.
It is better to
Conquer yourself
Than to win a thousand battles.
Then the victory is yours.

- The Dhammapada (from

Here in hermit room this morning. Mini undercover on my chest when I wake. Sando bedside licks my hand. Saskia jingles bells at door bringing oatmeal with yogurt and walnuts from her kitchen. Dogs bark from next dooryard. Windchimes toll. Sun on windowframe. Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego's tilma (cloak) has opened, flowers fall from an other geography, and a beautiful image of the Aztec princess who identifies herself as the Virgin Mother of Jesus is imprinted on it. Seeing, they say, is believing.

Jacket notes to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment say: "The theme of this profound work is that man's crimes against man are paid for through suffering, and only by the acceptance of suffering can he find salvation and purification." (c.1959, Dell)

In Thomas Merton, Cornelia and Irving Sussman write about Merton's views in the 1960s:
As usual, Thomas Merton could not run with the pack. "For my own part, I consider myself neither an extreme conservative nor an extreme progressive. I would like to think I am what Pope John [23rd] was -- a progressive with a deep respect and love for tradition."
But if he had to choose, he would choose the extreme progressives over the reactionaries because the reactionaries were fanatically incoherent, and he never sensed in the extreme progressives "the chilling malice and meanness which comes through in some of the utterances of extreme conservatives."
Buddhist monks told Thomas Merton that the same conflicts were going on in Buddhism. These stresses and strains within his own communion gave Father Louis a deeper comprehension of Buddhist renewal.
"This new Buddhism is not immersed in an eternal trance. Nor is it engaged in a fanatical self-glorying quest for political power. It is not remote and withdrawn from the sufferings of ordinary men [and women] and their problems in a world of revolution. It seeks to help them...."
(pp.145,6) [brackets added]

In the story from Mexico, tradition has The Lady saying consoling words to Juan Diego which have come down to us through the years since 1531:
Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or affliction, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of hope? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Our need, now and always, is for one unmanipulative word, verse, one unmanipulated line of the law that brings peace. It is ourselves -- our true self -- we need to conquer, non-violently and with lovingkindness.
The first meaning of the word "conquer" is defined as , " seek for, search for, procure..., attain to, to acquire by effort." (OED). To conquer is to ask for and seek together what we long to see.

To find what and who we truly are is to move through suffering to an acceptance and letting go of what is found. It is a chilling course to hunt down and put to death that and those considered enemy. These may have more to tell us about who we are than we seem willing to accept. It is not sufficient to be right, being right is irrelevant. Eradicating wrong is an insufficient promise. We cannot eliminate who and what we are -- but we can invite and enter into a flowering and transforming deeper consciousness -- the seeing of which is love. Consequently, it is better to drink from a fountain of hope, and offer healing water to the rest of us who deeply thirst for freedom, benevolent justice, and yes, the love our true self invites here. Here is so lovely, wherever here is! And here we are.

At Buddhist studies last night, a sentence in For a Future to be Possible from Annabel Laity, "We follow a path that we know from our direct experience brings happiness."
Later, during the hour on metta, a talking stone went hand to hand. Out of the silence came Charlotte's voice, "I don't believe in killing!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

The quote from dailyzen is perfect today:
Though I think not
To think about it,
I do think about it
And shed tears
Thinking about it.

-- Ryokan (1758-1831)

Saskia leads the way up center path passing cabin, site for chapel, rusted '38 Buick, under pine boughs to bend in brook coming down Ragged mountain there turning east to tumble into rising sun. In hand she carries wooden box with ashes & bones of Kotoba our Belgian shepherd, since Feb 2000 resting in meditation room, now being brought to earth by brook to lay near Norwegian elkhound Jitai buried there in April '93.

Erika follows with psalm books. Sando and Vera bounce alongside with sticks in mouth for the simple ceremony. I bring vigil lantern to be lighted at burial site. From next dooryard Daisy and Welby bark their choral processional from their enclosure. Chickadee stay behind at feeder's return outside kitchen window.

To earth falls Koto! Yellow and red tugboat toy is placed with her. Snow, which she loved so much, joins her. Some leaves, then the good earth fills the space she will stay. Sando's and Vera's sticks are laid in form of cross on fresh earth. Sando returns to the stick and the earth where Koto now dwells and plays one more time with her dear friend before stepping off. Lantern is lighted and set next to cairn on sloping hill. Brook speaks whispers of welcome as it falls over stone & around felled branches.

We chant the psalm "Like a deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is longing for you my God" (Ps.42) and read from Nan Merrill's companion renderings of "Hear my prayer, O Merciful One; let my cry come to you!" (Ps.102), and "Praise the Beloved! Praise be to you in earth's sanctuary..." (Ps.150). Hands together, we bow to the reverence she has shown.

With gratitude for this dog, this "Kotoba" (petal fallen from flower), we bow again, wash linen shroud in brook, and return down path with two dogs bouncing, two dogs barking recessional, and three humans in silent joy and wonder at how valuable we are each to each this Tuesday returning to earth.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, born 1915, died this date in 1968. War raged then; war rages now. And with war, death. Some 3300 (estimated to date) dead in September 11 terror attacks in the United States; some 3700 (estimated to date) dead in post-September 11 bombing in Afghanistan. And these, civilians. Another undeclared war. We grieve for the deaths, all of them.

Thomas Merton, monk and hermit, was willing to speak to those unpopular voices opposing the war in his time. In their book, Thomas Merton (Image Books, Rev.Ed.c.1980), by Cornelia and Irving Sussman, (a book summarized for the Library of Congress as "A biography of the Trappist monk and Zen mystic who gained fame as a writer, social critic, and radical peace activist.) -- the Sussman's write:

Many of the Movement People were baffled when he spoke of such things as "purity" in their non-violent action, and detachment from results and said that: "We must act only because the act itself is true and expresses the truth... as for results: truth needs only to be manifested. It can take care of itself." But their bafflement was no greater than that of some of the religious who also did not understand when he compared the monks at prayer to atom bombs. The monks were bombs stored in silos -- as death bombs were stored in silos, so monks were life-bombs stored in silos. "These are the monks of the twentieth century: the fellows cloistered in the bomb silo, with their communal life, their silence, their austerity, their separation from the world." They dug into the earth to find the sources of life as the bombs of death dug into the earth with the power of death.
He told them (the contemplatives): "Whatever I may have written, I think it can all be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ, in the Church, which is his Mystical Body. It is also a witness to the fact that there is, and must be, in the Church a contemplative life which has no other function than to realize these mysterious things, and return to God all the thanks and praise that human hearts can give Him."
This was why prayer was of the essence, and becoming a hermit was of the essence. All had to go together.

Merton saw and understood the separation and the union. With war, death. With prayer, life. Sometimes prayer is witnessing bodies of the dead. Sometimes prayer is witnessing bodies of the living. Practicing Catholic Zen we are practicing union with God, a practice with no other function than to realize and return to life.

Sunday, December 09, 2001

Wording Our Way
These three promises, Contemplation, Conversation, Correspondence were first spoken publicly 3 years ago on December 10, 1998. We choose this time each year (December 8,9,10) in that it corresponds with the shared feast on 8December of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Buddha’s Enlightenment Day; 9December is Blessed Juan Diego’s feast; and 10Decmber is the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death in 1968. . These are promises we hold here at Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage as, what we call, “monastics of no other, (m.o.n.o.).” We speak them again tonight for the 4th time:

1. Contemplation is the promise of simplicity.It is a gift of poverty inviting open waiting, receptive trust, attention, and watchful presence. It is a simple Being-With.
It is attentive presence.

2. Conversation is the promise of integrity. It is a chaste and complete intention to listen and speak, lovingly and respectfully, with each and all made present to us. It is a wholeness of listening and speaking.
It is root silence.

3. Correspondence is the promise of faithful engagement. It is responsible attention and intention offered obediently to the Source of all Being, to the Human Family, to Nature. It is a faithful engagement with all sentient beings, with this present world, with existence with all its needs & joys, sorrows & hope.
It is transparent service.

I will hold these promises. I will pray these promises. I will practice these promises.

MeetingbrookDogen & FrancisHermitage invites & welcomes anyone interested in the practice of these 3 promises in their life to reflect on them. Whether the interest is in conversing, praying, deepening, learning, or even holding these 3 promises, we invite anyone to enter the inquiry and stillness. Our invitation is to reflect on these promises in the hermitage of your own heart, or wherever the longing to be alone with the Alone occurs.
May the loving light and the compassionate peace of the Christ and the Bodhisattva accompany and support the efforts of each one of us!

. ………………………………………………………………..
1. We are going to have to create a new language of prayer. (Thomas Merton, Calcutta 1968)
2. When you go apart to be alone for prayer…see that nothing remains in your consciousness mind save a naked intent stretching out toward God. Leave it stripped of every particular idea about God (what he is like in himself or in his works) and keep only the awareness that he is as he is. Let him be thus, I pray you, and force him not to be otherwise. (Anonymous)
3. It is not by closing your eyes that you see your own nature. On the contrary, you must open your eyes wide and wake up to the real situation in the world to see completely your whole Dharma Treasure, your whole Dharma Body. The bombs, the hunger, the pursuit of wealth and power - these are not separate from your nature….You will suffer, but your pain will not come from your own worries and fears. You will suffer because of your kinship with all beings, because you have the compassion of an awakened one, a Bodhisattva. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
4. He who truly attains awakening knows that deliverance is to be found right where he is. There is no need to retire to the mountain cave. If he is a fisherman he becomes a real fisherman. If he is a butcher he becomes a real butcher. The farmer becomes a real farmer and the merchant a real merchant. He lives his daily life in awakened awareness. His every act from morning to night is his religion. (Sokei-an)

Fragrance of bread and semmels comes upstairs. Eggplant, leek, & tomato soup simmers -- with spicy Italian sausage added separately for non-vegetarians. An Apfel Kuchen waits for oven. Erika and Vera arrive. Erika peels apples. Vera looks longingly at door for walk. Mini peers from desk waiting for me to vacate her chair. First snow whitens woodpile and rough wood cabin. Jim brought two more windows-in-casing from Paul last night.

Tonight we pronounce for the 4th time at December 10th the three promises we've formulated for our life and practice at Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage. The wording will take place within our Sunday Evening Practice. The promises contain several expressions of our core longings at the hermitage -- and whether they are expressed in one or the other set of threes, the promises help us remain faithful to the gracious call we hear:

-- Contemplation, Conversation, Correspondence
-- Simplicity, Integrity, Faithful Engagement
-- Poverty, Chastity, Obedience
-- Attentive Presence, Root Silence, Transparent Service

We pray that all beings might benefit by these promises. But mostly, for the gift of life and our life, it is gratitude we feel.
Gott sei Dank!