Wednesday, December 03, 2003

"At night he remembers freedom"

One’s life, lived variously, will not forget what cannot be forgotten.

At Tuesday Evening Conversation we currently read After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, by Jack Kornfield. The night was growing cold and the fire dimming. There were words about community. One woman in the book spoke about seeking communion.

It occurred to us during conversation that the phrase 'receiving communion’ expands beyond the application given it in religious parlance.

If we understand that we are already and always connected one to the other, whether or not we are aware of this connection, then to ‘receive’ this ‘communion’ means connection opens to us, we see it, we experience it, and the world changes for us.

There seems to be confusion about whether or not we should learn how to be with each other in this world. The confusion stems from arguments about which side of ‘or’ each person resides:
Rich or poor? Strong or weak? Haves or have-nots? First world or second, third, fourth? God’s people or ungodly? Good or evil? Right or wrong? White or black? Elderly or young? Intelligent or not so intelligent? Privileged or underprivileged? Male or female? Monotheists or polytheists? Law abiding or criminal?

The word “or” captures our essential freedoms as well as our frightening choices. It is small word glue holding precariously together what it intends as separate. It is difficult to live in this would free of dualisms. It is uncertain we are able to conceive this existence without dualistic references.

There are discrepancies in our thinking. Discrepancies insinuate between dualities.

[Dictionary: "discrepancies"

1. lack of agreement; difference; inconsistency.
the discrepancy between the reported figures and the actual ones.
variance (1) , difference (1) , inconsistency (2) , disparity
disagreement , difference
disagreement , incongruity , dissimilarity , divergence , deviation
2. an instance of divergence or inconsistency.
difference (2) , contradiction (3) , inconsistency (1)
incongruity , dissimilarity, lack of agreement; difference; inconsistency.


Poetry helps. Poems are glimpses through and beyond human dualistic thinking and experience.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Poem by Robert Frost)

There really is no difference: saint/sinner; host/guest; this path/that path; divergence/convergence -- we think apparently there is a difference, but really there is no difference.

The Second Patriarch Hui-k’o stood in the snow, cut off his arm, and awakened. The Sixth Patriarch heard someone recite the Diamond Sutra phrase “arouse the mind without placing it anywhere,” and he awakened. Ling-yun saw a peach blossom and awakened. Hsiang-yen heard a tile fragment strike bamboo, and he awakened. Lin-chi was given sixty blows by Huang-po, and he awakened. Tung-shan noticed his own reflection when he was crossing a river, and he awakened. In each case, these men met the Master.
- Daito (1282-1334)

We never know when we might meet the Master. Can we dare predict what event in our lives will be the openning through which we are seen through? Is this the confusing demand of faith -- to not know, but live through -- one's life in the midst of another's life?


Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

Poem by Thomas Hardy.

Awakening is as odd as the fact we breathe at all. It is like communion -- always there, always ready to be received. The task and gift of mature spiritual practice is coming to see with the heart who and what we leave out. Once seen, our practice changes. Once we come to see – anything – for what it is, the master is looking through our eyes.

Richard brought in Robinson Jeffers last night. He wanted to read in honor of Erika’s difficult decision to put her dog Vera to sleep.

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.

I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.
I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

(Poem by Robinson Jeffers)

Once unsheathed, bare and transparent, there is no place, and nothing, to hide. Dwelling openly in the realization of community --communion -- is our distinct and welcoming home. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that the Buddha of our age will be the sangha, the community. If we refuse to receive communion, that is, if we deny who and what we are in one another's lives, we fall into forgetfulness.

We cannot forget what cannot be forgotten.

We practice living one’s live, variously.

At night, usually in deep darkness, we remember freedom.

Beautiful and wild.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

"We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!"

Sunlight through cold windowpane wet with morning melting wash. Chickadee and Nuthatch look for seed-net taken down from ski pole outside room over kitchen. Squirrels have been looting. Birds ask, “Will we have to look elsewhere for our seed because some thief takes his share from here?”

All who are fortunate, set yourselves free
With the mind unbound by meditation,
And observe reality from a state of freedom.

- Godrakpa (1170-1249)

Bird and squirrel alike are neighbors to hunger. Disapproving mind binds opinion that feeder is for birds. It tells me to keep the unwanted away. While removing what is necessary to spite the offending squirrel, I deprive the birds as well. It seems a solution – but gives no joy. There are other feeders hanging elsewhere, still....

21.Then Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and said, "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.

23. Then when they were alone, he turned to the disciples and said, "How privileged you are to see what you have seen. 24. I tell you, many prophets and kings have longed to see and hear what you have seen and heard, but they could not."

(- Luke 10:21,23-4, Holy Bible, New Living Translation, © 1996.)

Deprivation and imprisonment are cousins in our world. The shoplifter and plane hijacker most likely share a common insight. It is one I catch a glimpse of, but cannot yet fully see. It has to do with the undistributed sentence, “This belongs to me!”

What, I wonder, belongs to me alone?

Nature's Questioning

WHEN I look forth at dawning, pool,
Field, flock, and lonely tree,
All seem to look at me
Like chastened children sitting silent in a school;

Their faces dulled, constrained, and worn,
As though the master's ways
Through the long teaching days
Their first terrestrial zest had chilled and overborne.

And on them stirs, in lippings mere
(As if once clear in call,
But now scarce breathed at all)--
"We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!

"Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?

"Or come we of an Automaton
Unconscious of our pains?...
Or are we live remains
Of Godhead dying downwards, brain and eye now gone?

"Or is it that some high Plan betides,
As yet not understood,
Of Evil stormed by Good,
We the Forlorn Hope over which Achievement strides?"

Thus things around. No answerer I....
Meanwhile the winds, and rains,
And Earth's old glooms and pains
Are still the same, and gladdest Life Death neighbors nigh.

(Poem by Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928)

(Note: It is curious that in an anthology edited by Milton Crane published in 1961 the final line of the poem is written differently from other published versions: “Are still the same, and Life and Death are neighbors nigh.”

With “gladdest Life Death neighbors nigh” we are invited to see an active neighboring nearness of Life Death – a non-separate joy. Whereas in Crane's book “gladdest” is gone, followed by an “and” between “Life and Death” -- effectively separating Life from Death, and this without joy.)

I’ll put back the mesh-net hanging bird feeder. Neighbor will feed with neighbor for as long as there is seed.

In dooryard, Paul and Paul Jr. talk with Saskia while looking up at tired farmhouse siding and barn roof needing more to keep the rain from passing through. Sando barks her opinion. In my mind I turn the key starting engine of bulldozer. It seems I have always lived in tired falling houses. That doesn't phase bird or squirrel. We seem to live one cracking seed at a time.

Nothing belongs to me…alone.

We wonder.

We find us.


Monday, December 01, 2003

There is no time. Like the present.

Lastly, we said that time only comes about in virtue of having an infinite openness at its bottom. This infinite openness also contains an ambiguity of its own. In a word, it can mean both nihility and sunyata in its original sense. According to the meaning it takes on, time and all matters related to time will assume meanings fundamentally opposed to one another. The true Form of time consists in the simultaneous possibility of these opposing meanings. The essential ambiguity in the meaning of time means that time is essentially the field of fundamental conversion, the field of a “change of heart” or “metanoia” (pravrittivijnana). (p.222, in Religion and Nothingness, by Keiji Nishitani, c.1982)

Play this field.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

“The Way of all beings.”

I agree with a friend who writes suggesting further reflection about fear.

I think…your analysis skips over the obvious: good old reptilian fear is an important powerful motivator for us at many junctions of our path. [F]ear is often a ‘negative’ emotion, but also, in a primitive and/or hardened situation, it can truly be the ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (JS, 30Nov03)

I’d written:
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
(Proverbs 9: 10)
If we read the line, paraphrased, as: The Lord is afraid that we have no comprehension or experience of the Holy One. The “Holy One” is our unity and familial inter-relationship and inter-dependence each with each, each with all, all with each, all with all.
It is as if the Lord was saying: “I am afraid they will not see who we are in, with, and through each other. If they understood my fear, my deep longing for each one to see and experience the truth of existence -- in, with, and through the Whole of Now – then, with that comprehension and experience, each one would begin walking the way of wisdom.
(wfh, blog, 23Nov03)

It is interesting to question whether “good old reptilian fear” is transformed into Fear of the Lord as we move and evolve through life. That fear, he suggests, saves us from harmful consequences of harmful behavior.

What if the fear involved with certain life experiences (in a transforming way) really has to do with the "Holy One" in each of us seeing the loss and devastation that might have resulted if we continued the actions and perpetuated the behaviors we were doing?

We do call it 'fear.' And 'fear' is a powerful motivator.

Still, what if fear is merely the ripples spreading away from the tossed stone breaking the surface?

The stone itself might be called our self-as-it-is plunging through the surface into the depths, seeking to find solid resting place as it falls and tumbles through fathoms -- heavier than water -- with no buoyancy.

We cannot 'fathom' the travel, the purpose, or even the fact, of the very reality of the plunge. But, we are plunging. Do we trust and surrender to the plunge?

The ripples are surface indicators that something has dropped through. 'Fear' is the unsettling of the surface broken through. Our actions are the unsettling of the water along the surface, or, perhaps, the passageway into the deep. Our actions send out ripples, reverberations, which alert others to have a look-see at what has disturbed the surface. (Enter the authorities, whether in law or psychology, to take up their intervening roles in the drama.) There is a natural inclination to stop the unfolding drama, to return to some normalcy. There is not a natural inclination to plunge through all our dualisms with their corresponding clutching and grasping, craving and reaching for what is 'out there' to save us.

What occurs next -- the actions we take, the judgments of others, the counsel of others -- determines where we go, what we change, and who we become. We can go back -- so it seems -- repair the broken consequences, and reinstate a familiar pattern that will keep us recognizable to those who know us.

And yet, and yet, and yet -- something is going on below the surface. The stone of self is plunging to the bottom. That plunge feels like nothing we know-- like emptiness itself.

What is the bottom? The 'bottom,' is the floor, the ground, the original resting place that all things seek. I would call that original resting place, or bottom, the Holy One.

Enroute there we encounter the ten thousand distractions, the ten thousand dispersions of inattention, and the ten thousand wrong directions that the seeming isolated self runs up against.

These diversions seem to be necessary. However inconvenient or disturbing, they seem to appear unavoidable. We wouldn’t consciously seek them out, but they surround us. They are, perhaps, the gateways to Annutara-samyak-sambodhi, (Sanskrit), meaning unexcelled complete enlightenment.

In Sanskrit words, Annutara means supreme, being nothing above it; samyak means equal; sambodhi means genuine enlightenment. (

Elsewhere, this description:
My guess is that the version of the precepts that was used at the San Francisco Zen Center developed from Dogen Zenji’s 13th century commentary on them. I would like to go back over these precepts, comparing the different versions to Dogen’s commentary. The first precept is, "avoid all evil" or "not to commit wrong actions," which we say as "refrain from all action that creates attachment." This has the meaning of non-harming or keeping the precepts. Dogen’s commentary is, "Ceasing from evil: this is the abiding place of laws and rules of all Buddhas, this is the very source of laws and rules of all Buddhas....

The second is, "Practice all good," which we say as "I vow to make every effort to live in enlightenment." Dogen’s commentary is "Doing good: This is the Dharma of Annutara Samyak Sambodhi; this is the Way of all beings." This Sanskrit phrase Annutara Samyak Sambodhi means an "Unsurpassed, Complete and Perfect Enlightenment." It is one of the types of enlightenment–one of the more thorough types–and it is noted in the Heart Sutra. If we replace the Sanskrit with English, we can say Dogen’s verse as "Doing good: This is the Truth of Unsurpassed, Complete and Perfect Enlightenment."

(“Taking and Receiving the Precepts” Part 3, by Taitaku Pat Phelan)

The way to what is good begins and ends right where we are. Between what we perceive to be our beginning and ending is where we experience dispersion, disappointment, and doubt. Everything is called into question. In reaction, we try to find answers – any answer, whether ours or others’. In grabbing for answers, we follow where they lead. Anything, we think, that will float us back to surface.

Answers, especially those given by and belonging to others, fail to bring us home – only serving to delay and distract us from the Holy One. The Holy One is a question “unsurpassed, complete, and perfect” in its own light.

If you trust in nature, in what is simple in nature, in the small things that hardly anyone sees, and that suddenly become huge; if you have this love for what is humble, and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems small: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent; not to your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished; but in your innermost awareness, your innermost awakeness.

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you with everything I am to have the patience with everything unresolved in you heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don't search for the answers: they could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live your questions now. Perhaps, then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers.

(-- Rainer Maria Rilke in "Letters to a Young Poet" )

When we fall to an unfathomable depth, when the seeming isolated self is dissolved in unknowing surrender, we come to see what is the real question. Without fear, with the Holy One at ground of all we are, we realize the question.

Who are you?

You are the question.

Live your way.

Live the Way of all beings.

Good for us all!