Saturday, May 15, 2004

Setting out, following this.

If God is the path beyond path, are there only trails foot-worn by those passing by, walking the expanse of each step along earth as though there was no place to go, no arrival envisioned, only the stretch of this next turn, this next branch hitting hat, this very telling step by step along footpath God sees fit to tumble worn stone with water, worn soil imprinted by sole on soul itself passing through, going on?

When you took on flesh, Lord Jesus, you made a marriage of mankind with God. Help us to be faithful to your word and endure our exile bravely, until we are called to the heavenly marriage feast, to which the Virgin Mary, exemplar of your Church, has preceded us. (Psalm-prayer, Saturday Daytime Prayer, Week IV, in The Liturgy of the Hours)

We are in exile, bravely wending way home where there is no home, saying when we get where we arrive, "Ah, home!" -- the sweet nothing we utter in the middle of accommodation made with familiar objects on mantelpiece where we place keys that have opened door.

On an incredibly clear day,
The kind when you wish you'd done lots of work
So that you wouldn't have to work that day,
I saw -- as if spotting a road through the trees --
What may well be the Great Secret,
That Great Mystery the false poets speak of.

I saw that there is no Nature,
That Nature doesn't exist,
That there are hills, valleys and plains,
That there are trees, flowers and grass,
That there are rivers and stones,
But that there is no whole to which all this belongs,
That a true and real emsemble
Is a disease of our own ideas.

Nature is parts without a whole.
This is perhaps the mystery they speak of.

This is what, without thinking or pausing,
I realized must be the truth
That everyone tries to find but doesn't find
And that I alone found, because I didn't try to find it.

(from "The Keeper of Sheep," in Fernando Pessoa & Co., Selected Poems Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), edited and translated by Richard Zenith, c.1998)

I try to find it. Thus it is I skirt truth the way a bird flying through wood-thick acre manages to alight unbroken, feathers frayed yet attached, on branch near feeder, a chirping prelude before swooping to nearly empty hanging gift.

Where all gifts are.

Right there.

Not whole.

Partial. As is.


Friday, May 14, 2004

If this moment was the only moment -- if there was nothing else -- what would we do?

"We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." This is a good response.

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.

Dr. [Mark] Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.

("Cold Turkey," by Kurt Vonnegut, Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2004 by In These Times)

It is a good response. Whether at prison conversation on retributive vs. restorative justice Friday morning , at Thursday evening conversation on esoteric Christianity, or Interreligious Dialogue conversation Friday evening reading about Islam -- the notion we are helping one another through is a good enough practice. It suggests no goal, no special knowledge, and no ulterior motive -- only being of service, helping without expectation.

Nature may be compared to a vast ocean. Thousands and millions of changes are taking place in it. Crocodiles and fish are essentially of the same substance as the water in which they live. People are crowded together with the myriad other things in the Great Changingness, and their nature is one with that of all other natural things. Knowing that I am of the same nature as all other natural things, I know that there is really no separate self, no separate personality, no absolute death and no absolute life.
- T’ien T’ung-Hsu (8th century A.D.)

If God had ten thousand aspects, and any one of us grabbed on to only one aspect thinking it to be the sole essence of God, we would have what we currently have in the world -- narrow, unenlightened, and fragmented ideas of God that we use as clubs against others holding other fragments.

None of us see the whole picture. Some posture and pretend omniscience -- which is both unbecoming and full of failure. Like this war in the American psyche being fought on Iraqi soil. One side says, "We are the superpower, despair ye who look upon us;" while the other side says, "We will save and protect you, trust our kindness." This intra-psychic conflict plays out in real time on Arab ground with no hope of insight or understanding. Defeat is now dismantling the sanity of the body-combatant. All suffer the disintegration.

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

A friend wrote and asked why I felt crazed.

I am crazed because this war is my war.

Each death my death.

Each despair mine.

Still, I go on as each one of us goes on -- teetering between attention to the facts of the war, and faith the war will pass through us leaving tolerable, not terminal, wounds.

On the tightrope, seeking equilibrium between news of chaos and hope of sane solution.

It is this madness we try to help get through.

And once through -- what will we see?

We'll see only that we have been helped through.

If we can let go of who we think we are, then we can become free and ready to love others. Our communities should be places of joyful commitment. Touch your heads and your robes and see something beautiful and joyful you are doing for the whole world. If you become able to see your impermanence, you will live for the moment and not miss opportunities to love by pushing things into the future. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

This moment -- whatever it is.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

No other sound. No other sense.

When it feels everything is gone away, when the only stability is whoosh of passing vehicle, flutter-chirp of blur-flight bird, swallow-gulp of well water mid-afternoon one Thursday in May -- where turn?

I could say it is the war that breaks my heart. The war at center surrounded by ugliness of leaders, perversions of behavior, deceits of arrogance, and punishment of innocent, young, patriotic, confused, and obedient fighters on both sides of the conflict.

I could say it is my inability to stand in the middle of contradiction without losing heart.

Or I could say it is the very impermanence of change – wheeled conveyance enroute elsewhere, spring birdsong on branches abloom with fresh green, the movement of water down mountain into well from spigot into bottle to mouth through body – it is this impermanence I bow to, gassho, silently step into and through which I fade away into the disappearance of life living itself without notice.

Or I could say nothing.

If you miss the mark even by a strand of hair,
you are as distant as heaven from earth.
If the slightest discrimination occurs,
you will be lost in confusion.
You could be proud of your understanding;
have abundant realization, or acquire
outstanding wisdom and attain the way
by clarifying the mind. Still, if you
are wandering about in your head,
you may miss the vital path of letting your body leap.

- Dogen (1200-1253)

I think I’ve missed the mark. No leap.

Giving up, not going on -- what a mistake!

But it is my mistake. It is embodied into whatever I am in this moment at this place. All mistakes, all falls and foment, gather into this one place I pass through with conveyance, birdsong, and water. And this place, this ephemeral embodiment, is all that remains. I am defeated, utterly.

A monk once said to Foketsu Osho: “Speech and silence tend toward separation [from It] or concealment [of It]. How shall we proceed so as not to violate It?”

Fuketsu replied with the following verse:
“I always remember Konan in the spring
The partridges crying and flowers spilling their fragrance.”

Riku No said: “The Dharma Master Jo has said: ‘Heaven-and-Earth and I have the same source; the ten thousand things and I have one and the same body.’ Is this not extraordinary?”

Pointing to a flower in the garden Nansen replied: “When men of today look at this flower, it seems to them like a dream.”

(--quoted in pp.248-9, Mystics and Zen Masters, by Thomas Merton, c.1961)

A woman on the radio says, “Sometimes we suffer from too much talk. Sometimes silence is golden.” She is speaking about the temptation to blame and slam in times of turmoil and obscene news. She may be right. Still, about some things, we have to say something.

Zen meditation is not quietist tranquility, and Zen practice is not tolerant of drifting. It repeatedly demands and even forces an active response. That is the function of the koan, of the long periods of zazen meditation (upon the koan), and the frequent interviews with the Roshi in which the student reports on his progress in koan study. What does the Roshi look for, and often provoke, even with certain violence? Personal response. The purpose of koan study is to learn to respond directly to life by practicing on the koan, that is to say, by striving to meet the koan with an adequate and living response. What the Roshi wants is not a correct answer or a clever reaction but the living and authentic response of the student to the koan. If he finally responds directly and immediately to the koan, he shows that he is now able to respond fully, directly, and immediately to life itself.
(p.249, Merton)

How do we disappear in plain sight? How remain present at the same time transparent – not there while here?

Jade is tested by fire, gold is tested by a touchstone, a sword is tested by a hair, water is tested by a stick. In our school one word or one phrase, one action or one state, one entrance or one departure, one “Hello!” or one “How are you!” is used to judge the depth of the student’s understanding, to observe whether he is facing forward or backward. If he is a fellow with blood in his veins he will immediately go off shaking his sleeves behind him and though you shout out after him he will not come back.
(p.249, Merton, quoting Hekigan Roku, quoted in The Zen Koan, Isshu Miura and Ruth Fuller, c.1965)

Is there any coming back?

(No response. No sound.)

Rolling wheels, distant birdsong, soothing water.

No other sense.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Is there a way to see without adopting views?

Three views:

America is good and loving and not to be confused with hating and evil peoples worldwide seeking to crush the freedoms and life style she symbolizes.

America has lost its way. Cruel and cynical leaders have hoodwinked its own citizens and the world into an ugly war where murder, torture, and lies abound.

There is no nation, no state, no country, no government, and no kingdom on earth that remotely understands the essence of existence or sees the heart of being-in-the-world.

These views are only perceptions. What counts are the questions:
a) What is my practice?
b) How does any one of these perceptions impact my practice?
c) Is it possible for one person to be the antidote to war and the cruelty evoked by it?

let me cleanse
in your brief,
sweet waters
these dark hands of life.

- Basho (1644-1694)

Practice prepares antidote.

It is time to practice.

Wash hands.

Reach in.

Clear out.


To see.

Monday, May 10, 2004

What does it mean to fuse monastery and marketplace?

Is it time to unveil a perception and interpretation of God’s life in the world that invites a new way of dwelling in and as the world? Is there a way to live a contemplative life in the world without the slightest intention to remove oneself from the world? But more than that – is the world itself, theologically speaking, the missing piece of the mystery Christians call the Incarnation and Buddhists call Buddha-Mind? Are all religions ready to reveal their shared commonality -- with their ethical, ecological, ontological, and aesthetic descriptive of God-Life-With-Us?

Is God -- this, now, here?

Do we have the world we want? Do we have a working image of who and where God is? Who and where we are?

Is it fair to say -- Look at where you are to find out what you want.

Erich Heller, the German philosopher and literary critic, cautioned: "Be careful how you interpret the world. It is like that."

If a pencil falls to the floor, there's a way of speaking about it that says, 'It wanted to be there.' When water breaks through any inhibition to seek lower ground, it could be said, 'It wanted to go there.' It is a question with perplexing implication that asks: Do we belong where we are?

Is where we are what we want? Is it too stark to suggest -- Where you are is what you want? Is anything ever other than what it is?

Thus the question we ask in silence, “What is this?”

Buddhas of the past and future only talk about this mind. The mind is the buddha. And the buddha is the mind. Beyond the mind there’s no buddha. And beyond the buddha there’s no mind. If you think there’s a buddha beyond the mind, where is he? There’s no buddha beyond the mind, so why envision one? You can’t know your real mind as long as you deceive yourself. As long as you’re enthralled by a lifeless form, you’re not free. If you don’t believe me, deceiving yourself doesn’t help. It’s not the buddha’s fault. People, though, are deluded. They’re unaware that their own mind is the buddha. Otherwise, they wouldn’t look for a buddha outside the mind.
- Bodhidharma (d. 533)

At Meetingbrook we are beginning to glimpse the indwelling nature of monastery within marketplace -- in our case, hermitage within bookshop and bakery. We slowly approach the insight (what some have suspected all along) that our longing for vital hermitage is the bookshop/bakery at the harbor in the midst of the marketplace. Beyond this slow arrival is the additional intuition that the place wants to dwell there in an alternative way – one that stretches both the perception and interpretation of monastery and marketplace.

Poetry has to be something more than a conception of the mind. It has to be a revelation of nature. Conceptions are artificial. Perceptions are essential.

Poetry is not the same thing as the imagination taken alone. Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations or interactions.

(--from Wallace Stevens, in Opus Posthumous, "Adagia," 1959)

The interrelations and interactions of monastery and marketplace in the forms of Meetingbrook Hermitage and Meetingbrook Bookshop/Bakery will become more obvious as we approach the Feast of the Ascension. Rather than seeing the Ascension as departure from the world, an alternative intuition sees it as a profound re-entering, a re-incarnation into the realm of existence. Retrieving the words ‘this’ and ‘now’ and ‘here’ we look again at what elements want to be where we are. This mysterious dwelling of the Christ-Reality, now engaging Buddha-Mind, and here serving an absolute gratuity permeating present and presence.

Over the years practicing contemplation at Meetingbrook we have engaged silence.

What is spiritual silence? It is not just the absence of talk. Silence has substance. It is the presence of something.

Thomas Merton claims that silence is our admission that we have broken communication with God and are now willing to listen. We can be reduced to silence in times of doubt, uncertainty, nothingness, and awe. When we have exhausted all our human efforts, experience the limitations of human justice, or the finitude of human relationships, we are left with silence. Those who have experienced the sacrament of failure are more likely to know the emptying power of silence.

(--from, A Quaker Ministry of Prayer and Learning devoted to the School of the Spirit, "Some Thoughts on Silence" by Kathryn Damiano)

Our failures have begun to take up residence alongside accomplishments in one unbroken acceptance of who we are and where we are. In this regard hermitage between two mountains enters bookshop/bakery at harbor as one undifferentiated place practicing hospitality, community, and generous gifting of one another. God returns to the world in silence.

How should we image God and the world in an ecological, nuclear age? If not in the monarchical model --God as king and the world as his realm -- what other possibilities are there?

Needless to say, there are many, for no metaphor or set of metaphors can exhaust the varied experiences of relating to God. But I would like to suggest very briefly an alternative to the picture of the world as the king's realm: let us consider the world as God's "body." While that notion may seem a bit shocking, it is a very old one with roots in Stoicism; it tantalized many early Christian theologians, including Tertullian and Irenaeus: it surfaces in a sacramental understanding of creation -- the world charged with the glory of God, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it. Moreover, remember that a metaphor is not a description. To say that the world is God's body is to use the same kind of language we use in saying the world is the king's realm. Both phrases are pictures, both are imaginative constructions, both offer ways of thinking about God and the world.

Christians should, given their tradition, be inclined to find sense rather than nonsense in body language, not only because of the resurrection of the body, but also because of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist and the images of the church as the body of Christ. Christianity is a surprisingly "bodily" tradition. Nonetheless, there is a difference between these uses of body and the world seen as God's body: the latter is not limited to Christians or to human beings and it suggests, as the others do not, that embodiment in some fashion be extended to God. It is possible to speculate that if Christianity had begun in a time less dualistic and antiphysical than was first century Mediterranean culture, it might, given the more holistic anthropology and theology of its Hebraic roots, have been willing to extend its body metaphors to God.

(--in, "The World as God's Body" by Sallie McFague,

The question whether the world is God’s body has perplexing implication. It gives, nevertheless, new meaning to the words “We live in the world,” or “I am in the world,” or “We are the world.”

What this experiment regarding the world as God's body comes to, finally, is an awareness, both chilling and breathtaking, that we, as worldly, bodily beings, are in God's presence. We do not have to go to some special place --a church, for instance --or to another world to find God for God is with us here and now. This view provides the basis for a revived sacramentalism – that is, a perception of the divine as visible and palpably present. But it is a kind of sacramentalism that is painfully conscious of the world's vulnerability. The beauty of the world and its ability to sustain a vast multitude of species cannot be taken for granted. The world is a body that must be carefully tended, guided, loved and befriended both as valuable in itself -- for like us, it is an expression of God -- and as necessary to the continuation of life. (--McFague, "The World as God's Body")

If we perceive the world as God’s body we will detect no absence, no separation of each from each. If our interpretation of human behavior is made within the context of mere sacred dwelling place, we will then approach one another – not according to theory and concepts – but with experiential intimate reverence.

To fuse monastery and marketplace is to posit generosity, gift, and grace as standard operating procedure.

If life is gift, will we allow ourselves to live the gift by giving gift, receiving gift, and being gift?

Is that what faith is?

No recompense.

Complete trust.