Friday, March 08, 2002

When I was in the field of human ecology, engaged in work with youth in care, there was a tension formed by two schools of thought, or beliefs, about what the work was to be done. Some believed it was working with individuals one to one. Others believed it was working with the group as a whole.

Then there was an enlightened view, and wording of it, that grasped the experience as working with the individual in the group.

In one of his short stories Camus describes how a painter who had not much faith in his own talents anyhow, is suddenly besieged by friends and “fans” who successfully prevent him from doing any worthwhile painting at all. In despair he finally retires to an attic where he works at what is to be his masterpiece in complete solitude. Finally he collapses, and the masterpiece is found to be a perfect and absolute blank, except that in the center of it one word is written in a microscopic hand; and this one word was clearly enough written except for one letter. Had he written solitaire or solidaire? (p.40, Zaehner)

In the chapter “Solitary or Solidary,” in his book Matter and Spirit, Their convergence in Eastern Religions, Marx, and Teilhard de Chardin (c.1963), R.C. Zaehner continues,
This is true of religion too. Does it concern itself primarily with individual salvation (however this word is understood) or with that of the “nation,” the “Church,” and beyond that of the whole human race?

One letter difference – and the whole perspective shifts. Solitaire or Solidaire?
What was the artist’s insight?
Alone? All together?

What captures my attention is the beliefs we hold. Beliefs – that which we hold as true -- are usually what separates us from each other: ideas fastened to systems; ideals nailed to floors; received opinions laden with pedigree and family crest. These beliefs are trotted out like cute children at Sunday picnics to prove the fertility and fidelity of their parents.

It seems a strange choice -- we’d rather live by belief than by direct perception or apprehension. My sense is we do fine sipping tea or coffee, noticing the weather, feeling the ground underfoot, touching the arm near us with our extended fingers.

What would life be like experiencing without belief? Or, is everything as it is because we believe it to be that way?

The dirt road, the dog crossing from side to side, the water in the ditch moving downhill – these observations take place in their own light. We, each one of us, take place in our own light. That light, whatever we name its source, is felt belonging.

What shows itself in that light is worth looking at. Never mind trying to fit what you see into a belief that intends to carry experience somewhere else. Each experience belongs where it is, at its originating spot, in its own light.

Solitaire? or, Solidaire? Alone, or, All together?
An enlightened view would see the experience as living alone together, being alone with others.

It’s not a matter of belief. It’s the spirit of felt experience.
See for yourself. Allow what arises to converge.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Most times, just sitting is enough.
One's own words are as senseless as are the words of others.
Silence helps.

Light rain–the mountain
forest is wrapped in mist,
slowly the fog changes
to clouds and haze.
Along the boundless
river bank, many crows.
I walk to a hill overlooking
the valley to sit in zazen.

- Ryokan (1758-1831)(dailyzen)

A letter from Sam saying he hopes something concrete comes from the idea of the laura, "but it does sound a little vague."
I try to email him thanking him for putting his finger right on it. It is returned several times. Bad address. Just like him.

He's right. It's vague. It's not a piece of sculpture hardened by fire and form. It's not a poem tight inside meter and rhyme. It's not jell-o cohering to itself.

Zazen isn't vague. Nothing comes of it.
That's something to sit with.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

What remains when everything falls away?
Adrift, does God, still, remain? Or, is it our singing?

As for me, I delight
in the everyday Way,
among mist-wrapped
vines and rocky caves.
Here in the wilderness
I am completely free,
with my friends,
the white clouds, idling forever.
There are roads,
but they do not reach the world;
since I am mindless,
who can rouse my thoughts?
On a bed of stone
I sit, alone in the night,
while the round moon
climbs up Cold Mountain.

- Han Shan, (

At night a character wakes in the film saying, “I have no face!”
He is coming to the conclusion of a long story.

In the film “Sunshine” by István Szabó, a Hungarian Jewish family wrestles with assimilation during the troubling times Nazi, Fascist, Communist, and reactionary forces brought. They’ve lived and died through the corruption of culture, human life, and politics when ideals were both a crime and a curse.

Ivan Sors, the 4th generation son in the film, passes beyond the facts of desolation and deceit experienced by his family. In a letter found at end written by his great grandfather he reads:
Never give up your religion, not for God; God is present in all religions. But if your life becomes a struggle for acceptance you’ll always be unhappy. Religion may not be perfect, but is a well-built boat that could stay balanced and carry you to the other shore.
Our life is nothing but a boat adrift on water balanced by permanent uncertainty. I think of you with all my love. Your father, Emmanuel Sonnenschein

When Ivan delivers graveside remarks for a colleague turned victim of harsh political justice, he recalls a quotation from his father’s desk, We are afraid of seeing clearly and being seen clearly. He begins to understand what remains when all falls away.

His grandmother, Valéria Sors, tells him, Politics has made a mess of our lives. Still, life was beautiful. I’ve enjoyed waking every morning. I’ve always tried to photograph what’s beautiful in life, but it hasn’t always been easy.
This practice -- appreciating each thing in its own light!

At end, alone, returning to the family name Sonnenschein (Sunshine), Ivan walks away. Everything lost, but one thing. He realizes the family gift was preserved by his grandmother, the only one in our family who had the gift of breathing freely.

Here, I think about what remains when everything is lost. Loss is full of fear – like waking faceless. Yet, it is an ongoing gift, a subtracting gift taking from us all we’ve added, changed, or accumulated. What is the source of this gift? Why do we fear the night?

We are each alone in the night. There -- free from the tempting twosomes of victory and defeat, success and failure, popularity and disgrace, profit and loss, approval and disapproval – we encounter what is alone there to be seen.

Monks pray at night. Hermits sit in dark silence. In the wars we wage, those on watch pace their posts with sharp awareness expected from those trusted to acknowledge and attend every sound.

Attending alone every sound, you disappear.
Alone, what remains?

What remains attending? Consider this!
Do so breathing freely!

This consideration is similar to Ivan’s. It moves from “I have no face,” to facing what is freely there waiting to be realized. This consideration is not about doing something or nothing, not about finding the one thing. Ivan, like his father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great great grandfather, loses everything, just as others lost everything they were promised. But now he feels he no longer hides. He goes on, realizing the family gift.

When all else falls away, what, still, remains?
God? Or our singing?

What would we call it?
Did I hear myself say something?
No. Nothing.

As film credits roll, a final song is sung, “Please God, May We Always Go On Singing.”

Nothing, but singing, please God!

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Allah and Yahweh, two names of God, are disappearing.

Question: Where is God not found? Answer: Where you are not looking.

Filed at 4:40 a.m. ET
JERUSALEM (AP) -- In back-to-back attacks early Tuesday, a Palestinian man opened fire on a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub, a suicide bomber blew himself up on an Israeli bus and gunmen ambushed Israeli motorists in the West Bank. In all, five Israelis and two Palestinian assailants were killed.

In the past four days of fighting, 32 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed, one of the sharpest escalations since violence erupted in September 2000.
(nytimes, web edition, 5Mar02)

Theology is flawed. Theology’s flaw is that it hides the name of God. God’s name is and has been more obvious and accessible than the guardians of God have admitted. Now, danger and misperception threaten.

God’s name is missing in the report of 59 killed in four days. Allah and Yahweh are missing in action.

The danger and misperception is that two peoples, Arabs and Jews, mispronounce the name of God. The mispronunciations, “shooting” and “bombing,” are used in fervent prayer. The Middle East has abandoned the true name of God for these substitute names. Loading the substitute names of God with bullets and nails, shells and powder, tanks and bulldozers, the faithful in Israel and Palestine pray for God’s death. God is worried. God is dying.

God has true names, many true names. God has more true names than there are stars or grains of sand, or even sets of arms and legs in the billions upon billions of creatures that have ever, do now, or will ever live. Allah and Yahweh are but two names.

There is a curious reality that surrounds these names. Because God is beyond human comprehension, theology tries to make comprehensible to our limited human intellect what we can understand about God. Of course any theologian worth his or her salt would admit (off the record) that what we can understand is very little. But they neglect to tell us something we can understand.

They neglect to tell us that God uses our name. Your name, my name, everyone’s name – these are also the names of God. There it is! Your name is God’s name. So, what are you going to do with your name? What will you do with God?

What about Allah and Yahweh? Two perfectly good names! Two perfectly good expressions of God!

Allah and Yahweh are dying – much the same way words and names die from misuse, overuse, or abuse. To many people, this is sad.

And it is sad. It would seem more honest if the Arabs and Jews – or for that case, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans, Salvadorans, Columbians, etc -- were to proclaim that they kill and maim in the name of property, or military dominance, or even in the name of ethnic superiority. No, they kill and maim in the name of Allah and Yahweh, in the names of their prophets and anointed ones. This is a great strain on names of God. So much so that these names are crumbling and deteriorating under the weight of so much hatred and dishonor.

And without a name, can God (whether Great or G-d) continue to dwell in our midst, in what we consider our land? Allah and Yahweh, two fine names, are being abandoned.

If they are abandoned, what remains? What names will be invoked before detonating explosives, dropping bombs, or squeezing triggers? Will each person call out his or her own names? Moshe be praised? Abdul is great? Benjamin is one? Yosef is most high? George is the man? Miguel is macho?

In my youth I was taught that the Name of God was Holy. I was told that at the name of God every head should bow, every knee bend, and every heart be glad. I feel I am growing very old, too forgetful, a wide distance growing between that teaching and the raw experiences perpetrated in the name of God. I’m afraid that God has changed. God is turning away from these names, is turning away from our names, and returning to the Silence Beyond the Void.

(The Judeo-Christian West, having abandoned its contemplative tradition, wonders and worries senselessly why so many are turning to Buddhism, meditation, and Zen. Perhaps one reason is that Buddhist practice suggests a clear roadmap to the silence beyond the void. The longing is deep for what we’ve called God, and has no end! It might be that the practice of silence, going beyond, and emptiness, is a way of following the way of abandonment, surrender, and conversion of life. A way between what was and what will be – practicing looking to, listening for, and finding the sacred & wholly ordinary – right here, right now.)

Without God’s names able to be heard by our ears and spoken by our mouths will we be able to hear anything, to speak anything of value or worth? Or will our hearing and speaking become that of the stone deaf and iron mute? Will our communication be reduced to dollar signs, real estate signs, stock market symbols, and body counts? Some, I’m certain, would make the claim that such pragmatic semiotics of contemporary culture would be an improvement over desiccated syntactics of ancient religion.

I don’t know. I’d rather hear “Allah is Great!” and, “Yahweh is One!” than either of the other substitutes saying, “Allah murders,” “Yahweh destroys,” “I martyr myself,” “I sacrifice you,” “The asking price is,” “Stocks fell today,” “The euro and peso are up,” and, finally, “59 expressions of God are dead today.”

Will Allah and Yahweh be dead tomorrow? Will anyone even notice?
Where is God not found? Where are you not looking?

Monday, March 04, 2002

It rained most the day. Mushroom soup in bowls. A single vigil candle in lantern outside by steps, grounded, shows way for Sunday Evening Practice. Sangha sits. Six people, one dog, one cat.

If you ask me to tell what community is, I say this: Community is ordinary contact, ordinary connection, ordinary conversation.

Form is fragile; emptiness holds nothing. Around table, water and bread -- and soup. Bakery goods circling talk of community.

Community is simple. Intend it, there it is. See it there, it is created. Call it, the eyes of those there, loving where they are, turn to see what you are asking.

I invite community the way an owl invites moonlight. Only the call. Just the call. If moon stays behind passing cloud; if cloud lets hide night mouse; if tumbling water runs down mountain furrow where snow disappears under last autumns leaves in silver light -- these phases of glowing fact assure -- every call received.
Even ladybug crawling along wire has no other thought but to crawl along the wire.

This is the contemplative's calling -- no other thought.

What we've known as the complex world of human affairs and ideas -- a world strewn with desolate illusion and fractious impertinence -- that world is no more.

Ladybug makes her way along lengthy loop returning to crossing point from which she departs. This is a clue.

Bells under cedar tree wrangle with wind. Night tucks asleep tired bodies, exhausted minds.

My prayer, if that is what it is called, follows: You who live, live here, live who you are with love!

No country, no church, no membership card, no documented paperwork, no protest, no affiliation, no this, no that -- only prayer. Prayer is all of community one receives.

You who live, live here, live who you are with love!

The call to no other, to be no other, to live alone what we are -- this call is heard finding all form fragile, emptiness holding nothing, returning open graciousness. Love.

I resign. I turn in. I enter the non-existing country of nescience. I surrender disappearing into the words ama nescire -- love to be unknown!

The moon, the owl, the mouse, and the mountain stream -- each lives there -- each dwells silent recognition. What once I was is gone unknown there.

Therefore will I be whole again,
And be made new again,
And again be made as a child.

For the night is dark.
But off in the east I see low light.
I smell the dawn.

And will find my God in the thwarted love that breaks between us!

(--final lines of poem "In Savage Wastes" by Brother Antoninus, {William Everson})

Receiving -- all one receives -- community.

No one is alone.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

A woman sat by the fire in the shop yesterday, crying.

Daily activity is nothing
Other than harmony within.
When each thing I do is
Without taking or rejecting,
There is no contradiction anywhere.
For whom is the majesty
Of red and purple robes?
The summit of the inner being
Has never been defiled
By the dust of the world.

- P’ang Yun (dailyzen)

She didn’t know what or how to think about the war the United States is fighting. She’d been exchanging emails with her sister, always in a series of twos:

One series is personal – the love and laughter they share with each other.
The second is philosophical, a moral and ethical complaint. They voice their strong difference about Mr. Bush and his rhetorical, secretive posture toward military, governmental, and conflicting private benefits from his policy direction in matters of energy, money, and political survival.

Her tears come with the ambiguity and consternation surrounding the second consideration. She wants to trust the president and his advisors in the grave matters of anti-terrorism and setting firewalls of greater security for Americans and all peoples committed to freedom. But she is confused by this administration’s tainted relationships with Enron as well as other secret deals, corporate interests, and smell of greed and private benefit, not to mention the odor that remains from the last election with its flagrant Rhenquist/Scalia Supreme Court selection of Bush over a more measured judicial process.

She said she cried because when you want to trust and you sorely doubt the object of that trust, there is a deep wound to the heart and the soul.

Someone else said the nation is reeling not only from the Sept.11th attacks, but also from alienation of affection and breach of promise. The others looked at him. Well, he said, the switch from flag as symbol of sorrow for victims of the terrorist attacks, to the flag as let’s go kill evildoers. And, he said, the confusion our leaders seem to be capitalizing on – are we brandishing our supreme power to assist democracy and freedom or to make the world safe for power-brokering millionaires and royal families in Saudi Arabia and Texas?

It was time to close the shop for the day – not because of the turn of conversation, but because I, too, was weary of the day and the issue. Another woman shook her head saying that as with all instances of relationship and domestic matters, she felt to allow love and deceit to occupy the same space in mind and heart – even in a household – much less in a nation, makes you punch-drunk crazy.

The elderly man visiting his daughter pulled at his white whiskers. He’d been telling us the difference between methane, propane, natural gas, coal, oil, and firewood as energy issues. And he actually seemed to know what he was talking about – science, able to concentrate on real and verifiable data, does seem to have a clarity missing from political issues. He wondered just what right those in the G.A.O. had trying to force Dick Cheney to disclose the names advising the administration about how best to run the country.

He too felt that a divided heart and split mind is cause for grief and sorrow. The confusion, he felt, is real.

After flashing the shop lights and throwing everyone out -- much to their enjoyment -- I tallied the register receipts and made a mental note to get rid of the business and live as a hermit.

The fire was grousing under a single charred log with no place to go. Rent was overdue. And aside from dozens of people all day talking and confiding, laughing and sharing dreams and dilemmas, family concerns and artistic breakthroughs, tales of personal history and resolutions for future change – aside from all this, we’re broke, without prospect, and tired.

I took in the flag, turned the open sign to closed, shut the lights by the bookcases, locked the back door, rang the bell once, and pulled the outside door closed and locked.

At French & Brawn, where I stopped for vegetarian bullion and sea salt for the next day’s soup, I met Jim M. of tides research at checkout counter.
“How’re things going down there at the shop?” he asked. I muttered something about quiet; this time of year; we’re still open -- fishing for something to say that would nail it. Jim said, “Well, it’s staying lighter latter!” and looked for some appreciation of the fact from me. I agreed that was good. “Spring is coming,” he said in that knowing hopeful way.

I had to respond, so I said quite by surprise, “I guess you just have to stay on your feet and soon enough the bell will ring,” He looked at me, and smiled. “You don’t mind if I use that, do you?”

“No, Jim, its yours,” I said,

Like someone with glazed eyes listening to the crowd’s muffled shouts, aware of a thirst for water, a blurred figure throwing gloved fists at his face, uncertain of a ghost sound clanging its approach through a rainy wind -- thinking with what is left of thought – surely, certainly, soon it will be heard.

Even so -- in the meditation room next morning, another woman finishing her morning prayers, another hand wiping eyes -- the sound of tears.

“The fragility!” she says.