Saturday, May 01, 2004

Note: The bookshop/bakery is closed today. No conversations. We will re-open Tuesday.

Two ways of hearing Sam Manning's oft-spoken words:
"It is too nice to be inside today."

"It is,
nice --
to be,

Charlie and Llamar, Saskia and I read Kunitz's "Reflection" in prison conversation Friday.
Part of it goes:
Poems would be easy if our heads weren't so full of the day's clatter. The task is to get through to the other side, where we can hear the deep rhythms that connect us with the stars and the tides.

I keep trying to improve my controls over language, so that I won't have to tell lies. And I keep reading the masters, because they infect me with human possibility.

Our poems can never satisfy us, since they are at best a diminished echo of a song that maybe once or twice in a lifetime we've heard and keep trying to recall.

(In The Collected Poems, by Stanley Kunitz)

We are talking about 'being,' 'existence,' and what Kunitz calls 'the pool of energy at the core of one's existence.' Charlie says at one point, "It makes sense that it is what it is, but it doesn't say what it is."

We speak about what everything in existence shares in the deep unknown. Llamar says, "I think we give God too much credit and too much blame."

Saskia speaks about conversation as the way we invite one another both into and out from that common core of energy so many names try to capture.

Camus assumes Sisyphus to be happy -- even in the unrelenting and absurd tasks he must perform. How so? Because he is alive, able to reflect on his very being, and capable in the pauses to delight in the fact of it all.

If God is nothing else, there is nothing else to do but what we are doing, nothing else to be but what we are in our profoundly ordinary existence.

The Varaha-Upanishad (II.18-23) states:
The eye of gnosis beholds the all-pervasive Being-Awareness-Bliss The eye of nescience does not see the Resplendent, just as a blind person [does not see] the sun. That Absolute, characterized by truth and awareness (prajnana), is awareness alone. It is only by thus fully knowing the Absolute that a mortal becomes immortal. Upon knowing for oneself that Bliss of the Absolute, which is non-dual, devoid of opposites, filled with truth and awareness, one does not fear any form wherever. The position of the knowers of the Absolute is that clearly nothing exists but the Absolute alone, which is pure Awareness (cit), all-pervading, eternal, full, blissful, and imperishable. For the ignorant person the world is inundated with misery, whereas for the sage it is full of Bliss. To a blind person the world is dark, whereas for the clear-sighted it is bright.
(--from p.190, in Wholeness or Transcendence? Ancient Lessons For The Emerging Global Civilization, by Georg Feuerstein, c.1992)

Being-Awareness-Bliss, {Sat-Chit-Ananda}, like Sam's sentence above, can be read several ways. Llamar uses the word 'existence' -- to stand out from what-is. So too, 'insistence' -- to stand in what is. Thus, to say, "I must insist," takes on new meaning -- namely, "I must stand within -- who, what, and where -- I am."

What part of "I Am" do we not yet see?

Look there.

Look here.

Speak now!
What do we hear? What do we see?

A TV news show late Friday night read the names and showed the faces of most of the 725 Americans killed so far in the war with Iraq.

We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

(-- ending lines of poem "Epilogue" by Robert Lowell)

How it becomes controversial to read names, show faces, or pictures of coffins returning from Iraq, is not easy to decipher. Do we dishonor the dead by acknowledging their deaths?

I listened for my name.

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 watched for my face.

It is with great honor and deep sorrow that name was heard and face seen.

Yours was there too.

The war ends with our recognition.

Come home.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Note: Shop is closed today. No conversation this evening.

Nor is disease what we think it is.

"When ordinary and sacred
Feelings are forgotten,
Being is revealed, real and eternal.
Just detach from arbitrary involvements,
And you awaken to Being as it is."
Although these are the leavings
Of an ancient Zen master,
There are many people who
Cannot partake of them.
I've lost considerable respect
Just by bringing them up.
Can anyone discern? If you can,
You will recognize the disease of "Buddhism"
And the disease of "Zen."

- Huanglong

Is there a way out of war?

Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death's fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.

(From a sermon by Saint Ephrem, deacon, from Office of Readings, Friday, Third Week of Easter)

This meditation on our way to prision today.

by the love of your Spirit,
may we who have experienced
the grace of the Lord's resurrection
rise to the newness of life in joy.

(Prayer completing Lauds)

Being is revealed, real and eternal.

And we awaken to Being as it is.

The newness!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

War feeds secrets with falsity.

Secrets are better not kept.

The secret of war is that it doesn't care. It doesn't matter for war who lives, who suffers, or who dies. The only interest war has is to keep itself and its manipulators fed with the force of blood, secrets, and fear.

Secrets are best unveiled.

The sixth ancestor of Zen
Said to someone who had
Just been awakened,
"What I tell you is not a secret.
The secret is in you."
Another Zen master said to a companion,
"Everything flows from your own heart."

- Fayan

When the heart opens, the flow of learning appears, and secrets disappear.

Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God?'. Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:44 -45)

God-life is flowing learning that yearns for opening to dissolve secrets -- and appear in full sight. This inner reality arrives at outer reality. At the thin place of arrival, inner and outer glance across to the edge of the other, and disappear in the glimpse. Edges gone, hearts inform one another.

God-life is another name for silent-seeing. Intuitive grasp is another expression for open heart.

War is blind. Men who advocate violence, who believe in war, seldom come to see the dissolution of secrets. These men live in secrets. Secrets not only mute those who live in them, secrets also maim the spirits of those who hold them tight.

Keepers of secrets are kept by them.

We long for another life. We long to open and release what no longer needs to remain hidden.

Silently, free captor and captive.

God's life is silently seeing.

Be this unveiling.

Fast from war.

Breakfast peace.
Note: The bookshop/bakery is closed today, Thursday. There is no evening conversation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

See our way through?

It is worth contemplating that God is never other than where God dwells.

Where does God dwell? God dwells in the void, where nothing other is.

It's not that we are nothing -- it's that the void, emptiness, is where God dwells, and we would rather God dwelt elsewhere. The notion -- the very idea of the void, is off-putting. We want to fill that void with something, anything, in order to escape the fear engendered by the void. A French philosopher said, "All sins are attempts to fill voids." (Simone Weil, d.1943).

When something is not there, can we learn to let it not be there? If we cannot allow such an absence of what is not there, then can we simply become exactly who we are in that place we find nothing?

In the sabbath sanctuary, God and self meet, and the self rests and listens in the hushed silence, free of human discourse and filled with God's presence. Holiness is the consummation and counterbalance of all activity, human and divine. Sabbath is the temporal context of Israel's "imitatio Dei." As the approbation of "goodness" denotes creation's ecological integrity, in which all life is preserved and promoted before God, holiness points to an ecology of restoration, in which the integrity of community is formed and reformed before God. (p.387, in The Ethos of the Cosmos, The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible, by William P. Brown, c.1999)

To contemplate the forming and reforming of community is not an easy contemplation. Nor is the meditation an easy one that suggests were we to dwell in community with one another, something might disappear. What something? The something that impedes convergence into union might have to disappear. We each have a sense what that 'something' might be for us.

If we were to dwell in community with God, something would disappear. Which something in this case? The something we have tried to insert into the void, namely anything that is not (our) true self. Is genuine community the absence of everything which is not God?

In other words -- Is there only God in the void?

Do we avoid God by attempting to place something there in order to make God other than the presence of our true self?

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90: 1-2, NRSV)

The Hebrew Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad, opens with words translated as either "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord alone," or, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one." A more colloquial saying of it might be, "Only God is, nothing else is!"

Is God nothing else? And is 'nothing else' the same as or different from 'everything'? Many have attempted to place God in the word 'everything' or the phrase 'in everything' -- as in the phrasing "God is everything," or, "God is in everything," or "Everything is in God." Is our desire to say 'everything' a greater comfort than the phrasing 'nothing else'?

The Takbeer, the Islamic prayer, "Allahu Akbar min kullisay," means, "God is greater than everything."

'Namaste' is the most popular Indian greeting. It means "You and I are one. I bow down, honor and worship the divine within you." The Hindu greeting Namaste, loosely means "the divine in me recognizes the divine in you" -- or, divine sees divine. This might be rendered -- As it is, so it sees.

If God is nothing else, then community with God is the absence of what is not God. In that void of unity there is nothing we can call our own.

What is is what is. Life is life. I am I. God is God. You are you. This is this. And that's that. The words 'same' or 'different' do not apply nor do they compute. No matter how many people tell you how you measure up against someone else or some standard they have in mind, there is no such measurement to be made.

If you want to perceive
And understand objectively,
Just don?t allow yourself
To be confused by people.
Detach from whatever you
Find inside or outside yourself.
Detach from religion,
Tradition, and society,
And only then will you
Attain liberation.
When you are not
Entangled in things,
You pass through
Freely to autonomy.

- Linji (d. 867)

'Autonomy' -- (from Gk auto=self, or one's own; and nomos=law) -- means not just 'a law unto oneself,' but the law itself, or standing within itself.

To stand within itself -- for each to be one's own dwelling place -- is to live alone with the Alone.

Not for nothing -- but for nothing else -- do we dwell here cherishing community.

Where God dwells is God dwelling.

As it is, so it sees.

Passing through.

Freely dwelling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Who cries these days?

"For the tear is an intellectual thing." (William Blake)

Just put thoughts to rest;
Don't seek outwardly anymore.
When things come up,
Then give them your attention;
Just trust what is functional
In you at present,
And you have nothing
To be concerned about.

- Linji (d. 867)

John Joseph was raking leaves with Margarite in Port Clyde. We saw him as we drove by. We stopped. He had his toy tractor in his small hand. The three and a half year old and the sitter in her seventies stood and talked with us and two dogs as fog gathered off shore for dusky assault. Poppa arrived. Margarite and I waved to the rest off in the station wagon and talked a spell on the front lawn. After fifty-six years of marriage five years ago her husband died. "Park here whenever you want," she said. "I will," I told her.

Years ago I came to the realization that the most poignant of all lyric tensions stems from the awareness that we are living and dying at once. To embrace such knowledge and yet to remain compassionate and whole -- that is the consummation of the endeavor of art.

At the core of one's existence is a pool of energy that has nothing to do with personal identity, but that falls away from self, blends into the natural universe. Man has only a bit part to play in the whole marvelous show of creation.
(Stanley Kunitz, "Reflections" -- in preface to his own The Collected Poems, c.2000)

We have a few days left. Some write and wonder where we are with our decision. Kevin wants to make pizza. What do we think? It is late as we watch for deer on winding roads. A red squirrel ran under tire mid-afternoon. We go back a little while later. Blood from mouth. Lifeless. I lift him to side of road, bow, and return to car.

At my age, after you're done -- or ruefully think you're done -- with the nagging anxieties and complications of your youth, what is there left for you to confront but the great simplicities? I never tire of bird-song and sky and weather. I want to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare. I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world. (Kunitz at age 95, in "Reflections" in Collected Poems)

If it is true that anything kept too long goes wrong -- (a truism for contents of refrigerator) -- then, only an emptying out of the contents of mind will serve us right.

Kunitz; All power does not flow from the top. Since I've thought a good deal about this subject, I'd like to add some further reflections:

-- To live as a poet in this culture is the aesthetic equivalent of a major political statement.
-- Beware of manifestos: they are the death of poetry.
-- A poet is a citizen, like any other. One of the obligations of citizenship is participation in the political process.

Kunitz: I do not subscribe to any organized religion, yet I think of myself as a religious person, and that's independent of any kind of faith or practice, or belief in God. While I was still in college I fastened on the phrase "the holiness of the heart's affections" in one of Keats's letters, and it has stayed with me ever since. To me, that's religion. "I am certain of nothing," he wrote, "but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination." Though I am in no danger of conversion, the poets you mention as early influences--Herbert, Donne, Blake, Hopkins--still speak to me and light the way.
(Interview: Stanley Kunitz. By Stanley Kunitz and By Mark Wunderlich. From

If we have nothing, what is there to be concerned about?

If we are fools, functionally, we trust what is present in us.

Knock knock!

Come in!

(No joke.)

Trust the heart's affections and the truth of imagination.

Light the way!
Note: The bookshop/bakery is closed today, Tuesday. There is no conversation.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Tears through the hurtling wind.

"In a dark time, the eye begins to see," wrote poet Theodore Roethke. It is a dark time. Are we beginning to see?

It seems very hard for some people--especially those in high places, but also those striving for high places--to grasp a simple truth: The United States does not belong in Iraq. It is not our country. Our presence is causing death, suffering, destruction, and so large sections of the population are rising against us. Our military is then reacting with indiscriminate force, bombing and shooting and rounding up people simply on "suspicion."
(--from, "What Do We Do Now?" by Howard Zinn, published in the June, 2004 issue of "The Progressive ")

The dark time is shadowy chronicle of mistrust and disdain. Hussein had it for Iraqi's. Bush and Cheney have it for Americans and other peoples drawn into the lightless mind that wages war and deception.

Reinhold Niebuhr said, The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism.

In America, for the next six months, we are distracted by the appearance of a campaign to choose a president for the next four years. It is, we are told, a serious time. One man, some say, has a frightening resemblance to a religious fanatic intent on Armageddon messianism. With him, others say, we have a strong decisive leader who will rid the world of evil and evildoers.

The campaign is a distraction. The real focus of attention is needed elsewhere.

The subtlety of seeing and hearing
Transcends mere colors and sounds.
The whole affair functions
Without leaving traces,
And mirrors without obscurations.
Very naturally mind and dharmas
Emerge and harmonize.

- Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157)

It is a fool's seduction that tries to replicate itself by copulating with itself. When I was a kid in the city the strongest words of putdown heard were, "Go screw yourself!" (Words have been interchanged to protect the innocent). To screw yourself, (so went the putdown) seemed the ultimate stupidity and degradation. A replica of yourself (the inference went) would be the worst outcome imaginable.

The United States is not making love to the rest of the world in hopes of fathering freedom. It is, rather, something more like date-rape. First you ply Iraq with intoxicants and toxins, and then you have your way with it because you can. Of course, we first interchange words, not calling it what it is, but substituting words like "liberation," "democracy," and "the will of the Almighty."

Enthusiastic but foolish followers of fundamentalist muscular Christian mythology swoon over the rhetoric of divine missionary messianism preached by Mr. Bush and his ministers. These Christians forget the recent pageantry of their Holy Week remembrance when Jesus, as God's very communication-in-flesh, took the peaceful route of healing and forgiveness to absurd lengths by going through the delusion of the world for power and control, by allowing his own demise at the hands of regal rulers and resolute religionists. Perhaps for contemporary savants Jesus was not the God they can be.

On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. (from John 6)

Did Jesus miss the boat? Or, did his disciples then and now get on the boat without him because they knew the way better than he? The confusion about where Jesus is, where he goes, and where he will show up baffles and crazes many.

What to do about the rest of the words of John in this scene:
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal". (John 6)

The food that perishes in this dark time is the illusory seduction and use of force and might to extract benefit for ourself. Whether it is rape, assault, hostile takeover, or invasion -- it is a food benefit that rots and spoils. In this metaphor the Son of man is not a replica of arrogant ambition masked as righteous revenge and ransoming from evil. In this metaphor the Son of man is not killing Iraqis, not stealing their resources, not lying about intentions, not taking the presence of God for personal possession, not planning and coveting the elimination of neighbor's goods and belongings because their bad behavior nullifies any rights they do have, not remembering that holiness is indigenous to the indecipherable emergence of God in ways beyond us.

What is the Son of humankind in this metaphor? What is it that endures to eternal life? The answer is as plain as our very face. The answer resides in the very air we breathe. Right now, right where we are -- do we see the face before us? Can we hear the still, silent voice saying: To these, the least. Whatever is done to anyone is done to me. See me, only me, every me. I am not replicable. Each man, woman, and child is my residing place. Everywhere, without exception, without end.

Roethke, in the poem, asks:
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance?

This country's circumstance of 9/11 has had consequence to its noble soul. The madness embarked upon by its leaders is advancing on devastation. It is at odds with the deeper wisdom it needs to transcend the current darkness.

The madness must cease.

Can ordinary men and women see their way through? Which self, which country do we wish to live through?

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

(final lines, poem "In a Dark Time," by Theodore Roethke)

Can we see our way through and out of fear?

Pray the tearing wind!

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Who's really keeping time?

At 39 minutes 58 seconds into the 40 minute sitting Sunday Evening, a sudden sound -- the falling to wood of the mechanical floor sweeper -- thumped sharply in the loft of meditation cabin. Startle! I invited the bell to sound. We walked for 10 minutes before chanting the Heart Sutra.

Whose hand sounds the echo replacing time?

I climb these hills
As if walking on air
Body too light to fall
Bamboo staff resting
Against a great stone
Torn cloak snapping in the wind
A lone bird soars the azure depths
Far distant springs reflected in its eye
Carefree, singing a timeless song
Gone, on a journey without end.

- Shih-shu (17th century-early 18th)

Earlier along mud-hardening path up blueberry fields on Appleton Ridge we hiked in sun and wind through words about our work these eight years. At round table back in hermitage another's words before chicken soup was ladled.

Perhaps the one question that we don't ask often enough is "What do I have to offer?" We are so intent on analyzing what we can get from a job or an occupation that we rarely consider the sense of satisfaction that comes from offering our unique contribution. We could take the question "What do I have to offer?" as a koan, leaving the world of mental analysis in order to enter into the experience of not knowing. Simply raising the question and focusing on the gestalt of the moment may not bring any immediate answers. Nor is it particularly pleasant, since it brings us once again face-to-face with the experience of no ground. However, there is something about being in the moment that is compelling, real, and far removed from the confused spinning of the mental world.
(p.96, in Being Zen, Bringing Meditation to Life, by Ezra Bayda, c.2002)

How much of our work life do we picture and story as failure? Even our work as member of a family? Maybe a glorious failure? Perhaps mere preface for the real work in life.

We often forget what our real job -- our life job -- is. Our life job is to become awake to who we really are. When we remember this, we will be less likely to separate our work from our practice. We'll begin to understand that it's possible to practice with everything we encounter, even at work. (Bayda, p.98)

Work practice. We dwell in the between. We carry on in the vacant space between work and practice. The more and closer we look we glimpse who we are in the betweens of ordinary existence. We occupy -- (to use the descriptives of the Iona Community's founder George McLeod) -- the slash/space between work/worship, prayer/politics, secular/sacred, and whatever additional dyad that we include in our descriptive attempts to locate ourselves.

We cannot keep out of the middle of everything. We can only pretend to move off to one side or another. Time terrifies us into seeking refuge at extremes where we arrive and find not refuge, but desolation. Our home is in the midst.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

(from poem "Burnt Norton" by T.S. Eliot)

We cannot keep time. It is already gone. Snow that fell on frozen ground has melted into softened mud which hardens dry with sun and wind near thin thicket of blueberry stem.

Other echoes inhabit our stillness facing the broad ridge silence beckoning.

Some unseen gracious hand sounds our way.

Shall we?