Friday, March 12, 2004

Thomas Merton -- undetected.

If John didn't say it, he sparked it.

John said that if we really understood the terms 'eternal life' and 'the kingdom of heaven' we'd come to understand we were talking about the everlasting present moment wherein we dwell within the undifferentiated now.

When John pulls on his black watch-cap and readies to leave, he resembles pictures of Thomas Merton. John and Tommy sat by fire last evening. We talked about what each really believed -- belief, we sensed, that resided just on the edge of belief. We spoke about what we didn't know. Delia, Emanuel, and Lea wandered in and steeped the conversation.

Like the little stream
Making its way
Through the mossy crevices
I, too, quietly
Turn clear and transparent.

- Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831)

Earlier Alena and Garrett talked about energy of another person interfusing with our own so as to be indistinguisable and no longer 'other' energy. Alena missed her mentor. He disappeared within her. We only miss what we cannot feel as other, what we think is gone. Garrett suspected this is what was meant by Dogen's 'dropping off mind and body.'

Ann Marie stopped by. She will continue doing sails with people with cancer. She received a grant. The ragged small lamb from back shelf was in her hand. It looked like it wanted to leave with her. I told them to go off and visit with each other for as long as they wished. She thought that was sweet. Besides, who really owns a three inch white stuffed lamb? It goes its own way.

Jim Knight writes about Ed Rice, Robert Lax and himself and their time with Thomas Merton:
The Merton we knew, who is still in the lives of both of us, was a different man, and monk, from the saintly person of pre-fabricated purity that has become his image these days. He was a real person, not a saint; he was a mystic searching for God, but a God that crossed the boundaries of all religions; his was not a purely Christian soul. He developed closer spiritual ties than Church authorities will ever admit to the Eastern religions, Hinduism as well as Buddhism. In fact just before his appalling accidental death in December 1968, he was saying openly that Christianity could be greatly improved by a strong dose of Buddhism and Hinduism into its faith. These are things the record needs.

For us Merton was one of the seminal figures of our time. He was deeply curious about all religions, all areas of thought and philosophy. Rice says: "The Church has not done right by him. In fact, the Church has wronged him, and continues to wrong him, by glossing over, by evading the universality of his thought. The Church wants to obscure his basic human nature, his reaching out to other people in a desire to create a common bond, not necessarily based on religion."

"Sometimes I think there are two Churches," Rice says, "one run by the Vatican and the other by Merton. The one run by the Vatican is exclusionary and cold and based on dogma. The one run by Merton reaches out to the whole world and is based on faith."

(-- from The Thomas Merton We Knew by William James Knight ©TXu838-314-2-2-98)

Saskia returns tired from day's travel and work in Bangor. Sando barks. Cesco lays back by bookshelves. Emanual is saying we should get someone to fundraise for us to keep us open. But it is late.

Just so, this morning it is early. Light wanders in as Mu-ge wanders in this room. I'm trying to find something for Charlie at the prison on the psychological impact of environment on individuals -- but I'm easily distracted.

Rice, who sponsored Merton in his conversion to Catholicism, is at odds with many aspects of today's Thomas Merton cult. "It presents Merton as a plastic saint," Rice says, "a contemporary Little Flower, a sweet, sinless individual who has a direct line to God. But the God some people see Merton communicating with is not the God that I think Merton would have been praying to. I am not comfortable with the plastic saint image of Merton; he was no such thing. I see Merton as an individual in the grand scheme, and it makes no difference whether he is approached as a Roman Catholic monk or a Buddhist lama. He was Merton, and he has his influence as Merton."

In Paradise with Merton, Rice says, are Lao Tse, Isaac the Blind, Ibn el Araby, Confucius, Thomas Aquinas, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Charles de Foucaud the Keeper of the Pass, Teilhard de Chardin, Rabia al Alawiya, the Original Sai Baba, Susanna Flying Feather (his own Susanna), Ahmad al Alawi --"an endless number, hundreds, thousands of saints of all faiths, some with no faith at all."

Such are the people Merton is associating with," Rice says. "He's a world figure. He's a man who fits into the scheme of the universal holy man with an appeal to everybody. His most important characteristic is that he is universal; anybody can approach him, pray with him, denounce him, love him; he is there. He's part of the grand scheme, helping us on the way to that mysterious summit we are all searching for."

So here we are, the two of us at at the age of 82, with nearly all our lives behind us; Rice, with his religion unique but still intact, and I, an active Protestant at a young age, having a long time ago stripped away those beliefs. Thinking of Merton. Hoping Merton doesn't forget, pretty sure he won't.
When the lights go out and the spirit streaks off into the dizzying and frightening darkness, Merton will be there. I'm counting on him to reach out for me; then I'll leave the rest entirely up to him; he'll know where to go and what to do.

I hope you have quick hands, Tom.

And strong wrists.

(-- from Knight's 'Merton') (Note: Robert Lax, poet, died on September 26, 2000. Edward Rice, editor, reporter, photographer, biographer, painter, and friend, died just short of a year later, on August 18, 2001. Jim Knight was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and completed his formal education at Columbia College in New York. He was part of the writer's group at "Jester", Columbia's humor magazine, that included Thomas Merton, Edward Rice, Robert Lax and Robert Gerdy.)

Ryokan, as stream, turns clear and transparent. He is water. As Merton is water.

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

-- ee cummings

Water catches us up with soft sweet continuance -- decidedly undetected and delightfully playful -- throughout.

Snow melts. Water trickles. Returns to source.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

What holds us together? This question began Wednesday Evening Laura Conversation.
How wonderful to go beyond wanting and fearing in your relationships. Love does not want or fear anything.
If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as she does. With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion, peace.
The ego doesn't like to hear this, because if it cannot be reactive and righteous anymore, it will lose strength.
(pp.91-92, in Stillness Speaks, by Eckhart Tolle, c.2003)

'Forgiveness' was talked about. Some disliked the memory of judgment associated with forgiveness. Dirk brought up Jesus' saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Susan said Jesus asked for forgiveness for their not knowing, their unawareness; he didn't focus on what they were doing to him.

What sages learn
Is to return their nature
To the beginning
And let their minds
Travel freely in
What developed people
Learn is to link their nature
To vast emptiness and
Become aware of the
Silent infinite.

- Huai-nan-tzu

They didn't know that killing a man or a woman, (in this case Jesus), they are killing themselves. This is what is sad -- that we do not yet understand who and what we are. Yet, in this case, Jesus finds forgiveness the longed-for response, not anger, not revenge. It's hard not to equate revenge with justice when wrong is done to us. But then, it's rare to access Christ-consciousness.

For me, the response to the question "What holds us together?" is "Nothing!"
Nothing holds us together because we are not parts of a whole, we are the whole itself. There is no 'holding together,' in that, what is whole is of a piece. A different question is required, namely: 'What can tear us apart?' The response to that question might be disturbing.

It is possible that often what we call 'love' might be 'attachment?' Someone recently said she struggled with the confusion she hears between love and attachment.

The mind, as it usually does, classifies and categorizes what it analyzes into cut pieces resembling puzzle pieces. From there the machine-like process figures what belongs where, what doesn't fit, and whether the picture emerging from the contact is worth our time and energy. We become attached to what belongs, dismiss until again expedient what does not fit, and judge accordingly whether what is emerging will benefit us in the short or long run.

'Attachment' implies something separate there to which one might attach oneself. This is our common understanding. What if there were nothing there to attach -- or, if what is there is not other than the one seeing what is there? (While some contend this is a matter of semantics, and therefore, by implication, false -- it is worthwhile to look at the way we speak and think with some benign skepticism.)

Love is aware of itself as no other is aware of itself.

A woman writes: I think it is called love. It is the only commandment Jesus gave to us. I am a simple and unsophisticated person. I do not know anything about Buddhism and am not inclined to study it. I grow by depth and not by expansion. It is just the way I am. Relationship to the person of Jesus has simply been God's way of approaching me and more and more I have only Him and the depths just keep opening out to me in silence

A young man comes in and tells about a recent drug experience. He says it made him dumb, broke down things into simple pieces he was able to deal with -- a cleansing out of his head, he says. He tells of a bus station in Florida, a Jamaican man who burst into a sermon St. Paul would be proud of, his eyes full of communication he was a believer, not like the Amish man who, when asked if he was a Christian, harrumphed, grumbled, and went to buy a Pepsi from a machine. The young man concludes he must have been CIA in deep coveralls. He leaves, both of us laughing.

Laurie brings in her ink and palette paintings on Haiti, it's hell and hope. The first ones are dark. The middle ones questioning shapes. The last set done while listening to "Orenda" CD (Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing) and a CD by Carlos Nakai -- lighter, more expansive.

Religion and relationship have to do with tying together and giving wide expression. [Latin: fero ferre tuli latum = to bear along , move forward, put in motion; latus -a -um = broad, wide, extensive]. Given -- that our mind has difficulty seeing things whole, we create religion to tie together what is already whole, we cultivate relationships to ease the fear of loneliness from a felt separation that is not there at all. So many meetings!

Ultimately, of course, there is no other, and you are always meeting yourself. (p.100, Tolle)

"Dark matter," says Susan looking at ice in harbor, "holds everything together; it's God."

Traveling freely in openness, nature the vast emptiness, becoming aware within the silent infinite!

This invitation of wholeness.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Jory wondered how it is we receive obvious sustenance from Christian contemplative practice.

If you can get through
The world by following
The Way and embracing
Virtue to the end of your years,
It can be said that you are able
To embody the Tao.

- Huai-nan-tzu

Christianity is not the religion we think it is. Not dogma, not creed, not history, not authority, and not static scripture. These things might have come to surround, and even contain, Christianity -- but they are not the soul of the Way.

The Way is person. Throughout time, as demarked by BC/AD or BCE/CE, an experience of remarkable interest has intersected time and history. Time past rolls back from it; time future ascends from it.

The Way is presence. "Present!" -- we say when our name is called. "Here," when asked our location. "I am with you," when someone in darkening uncertainty or failing health imprecates us. We are asked to be what we are when nothing else dares distract or divert us from our true nature.

And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree
planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but
found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in
search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it
for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and
fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it

(-- from Luke 13:1-9)

We exhaust the soil of Being itself when we do not cultivate or allow the fruit of our being to show and present itself.

Itself presented -- this is the fruit of human, earthly life. The 'Itself,' or, the very being of What-Is-Called-God, is both source and fruit of all life.

The Way is prayer. Prayer is longing for revelation and realization of what we call 'real,' 'truth,' and 'love.' Prayer is the abandonment of seeming separate self. It is intentional letting go of diversion, distraction, and dispersion. It is surrender into the ever-present origin, which is What-Is.

Person, presence, prayer -- this is a trinity of interwoven movement intertwining each and every moment of this existence.

This is what sustains our Christian practice -- this flowing of one into and through the other, the grace of participating in the mystical wonder, word, and water -- life now, and now, and now!

What some call God, what others call Sacred Feminine, and what a few call Way -- this is our interest.
This is our body and blood, soul and divinity, humus (earth, humility) and humanity.

Francis called each and every thing 'brother,' 'sister,' 'mother,' 'father.'
Dogen said when we forget our 'self' we are enlightened by the 'ten thousand things' -- by everything that is.

Christianity is about Christ. And Christ is about you, and me, and every person, presence, prayer in existence.
Buddhism is about Buddha. And Buddha is about you and me and everything awakening with awareness to who and what each is.

The form of religion is empty. The emptiness of religion is form. And what are we?

We are asked to contemplate what is 'going beyond.' We are invited to dwell inseparate from what and who we are. Any form that helps this contemplation and dwelling is welcome. Any emptiness that drops us into reality-itself is welcome.

We are interested, [L. 'inter' = between, among; 'esse' = to be]. That is to say, we are willing to present ourselves, or, in Thich Nhat Hanh's word, to live "Inter-Being" -- in such a contemplation and dwelling.

In the Christian metaphor -- we are willing to be the person we are, we are interested in dwelling in the ground of presence, and, we long for the illusion of separateness to dissolve so that all life and being might find happiness, safety, and home.

If we bear no fruit, we will be cut down -- that is, we will display no life, no flowering, and therefore nothing to carry on.

And yet, as practitioners of Zen, that too is just fine.

Where does a cut-down tree go?


Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Note: The bookshop/bakery is closed until evening conversation today. We hope to be back by 5pm. We're on the road Downeast for our other work.


A new day.

In the dialogue between Judas and Jesus something like the following is said:
Judas: "I thought I was special to you."
Jesus: Everyone is special to me."
Judas: "That would mean we're all the same."
Jesus: [Emphatically] "Yes, that's it, exactly."
(-- from film "Judas"...with apologies for anything inexact.)

Zen takes the more direct affirmation -- "You're nothing special to me." It is, in Zen parlance, a statement of great intimacy and appreciation. (Perhaps it should wear the warning: 'Don't try this at home. Use with caution. Know location of nearest emergency room.')

Through green fog, red clouds,
Miles of bamboo,
To a hut where quiet lasts
Just let go and worries end
Stop to think and they're back
An unpolished mirror holds millions of shapes
A bell doesn't ring until it's rung
Your basic nature is the real Buddha
Not form or space; nothing old or new.

- Stonehouse

Visiting a hermit in central Maine yesterday we perform a ritual so profound we have yet to comprehend its depth of meaning.

Which ritual?

This one: We say hello; we say goodbye; and we touch each other in passing.

It is an open ritual, available to everyone, and not the exclusive property of anyone. It celebrates the mystery of the Christ. It celebrates the mystery of the Bodhisattva. And it celebrates the open-circle mystery of every one of us, all sentient beings, everything in creation and beyond creation.

Christians immersed in the Season of Lent are re-considering whether the sacrifice, suffering, and death of Jesus are central to, or solely, the mystery of Christ.

Christ is no mystery -- a Zen view might say -- Christ is the very breath we breathe, sounds we hear, love we long for and enact.

The unpolished mirror has our shape in it; the unrung bell is sounding our names.

In passing, our prayer rises...

To new life!