Thursday, August 19, 2004

They stand in prayer and vigil outside a woman's house. She is undergoing a change in health. Some things are dropping away. Speech, movement, length of days.

She is facing what all standing outside will face. This is why so many faces turn toward her in her house. Vigil holds her gently with light in the space she now finds herself.

Your true nature is not lost in moments of delusion, nor is it gained at the moment of enlightenment. It was never born and can never die. It shines through the whole universe, filling emptiness, one with emptiness. It is without time or space, and has no passions, no people, and no buddhas; it contains not the smallest hairbreadth of anything that exists objectively; it depends on nothing and is attached to nothing. It is all-pervading, radiant beauty: absolute reality, self-existent and uncreated. How then can you doubt that the Buddha has no mouth to speak with and nothing to teach, or that the truth is learned without learning, for who is there to learn? It is a jewel beyond all price.
- Huang-po (d. 849)

For several years I sat vigil in hospice. I learned much of nothing through the night at bedside. Nor can I remember a more powerful gift than the grace to be with someone as they went within.

I told the woman in the house something a few years ago. I said we'd always share a bit of awkwardness. We have done that, a bit from an inconsequential exchange over a passing moment. I also find that awkwardness with what many say of God. It is an unimportant and fleeting moment that is anything other than vigil.

The exchange being made now crosses edges and borders and stands silent and open, maybe empty, at each courageous movement made toward the next breath, next glance, or next stillness.

I stand with you, here, awkwardly, in this your next step.

I greet you. With love.

As you are.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

We begrudge generosity.

A family sat on patio sipping tea Tuesday. The man stood by the bakery case and spoke of his Chinese mother-in-law who accompanied the family to her birthplace small village in rural China. She was there long before Communism, when sharing with neighbor was polite and useful, not rule of law. “Did we live over the shop?” he asked. I said, “No, not yet.” He said he and his wife would like such an arrangement. He listened to the economic tightrope and juggling routine we employ – asking only donations for guests upstairs, coffee and tea by donation, grilled bratwurst by donation only -- hospitality without expectation.

What obstructs us from sharing everything we have with everyone – with no motive other than sharing goods benefits all?
Though they liberate their minds directly and develop to this state, they still are unwilling to dwell there. They sense the slightest thing as mountainous; anything that seems to cause obstruction they immediately push away.

- Yuan wu (1063-1135)

This morning after morning practice in the cabin, a visit to church. The outside swarmed with workers pulling siding, stretching Tyvek, setting scaffolding, and doing other details that was a marvel to see – a dozen or so blending into a pattern or repair without knocking each other over. It was one of those crews donated by a parishioner to do fast and needed work like a rolling thunder cloud on a sultry summer’s afternoon. They fell quiet at 8am, when Mass began.

Inside the priest read the Gospel: Matthew 20:1 - 16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you’. So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us’. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too’. And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first’. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’. But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last”.

I wondered if the final sentences had to do with the difficulty we have accepting our life as our own. Would a present day worker’s union allow the guy employed at the 11th hour to receive wages equal to the guys taken on at the first hour? Do we rebel against someone getting what we get – even as we want to get what someone else gets? Someone with millions of dollars receives the same rain and the same sun as does the man with nothing. Some woman with five homes in five states faces the threat of encroaching death, as does the woman calculating her food stamps while looking at her cupboard. Nature doesn’t distinguish.

My life, we think, is mine – for now. Is that the sum of it? Is that, conversely, the naught of it?

At 8:25am the priest exited the middle aisle out front doors to send off the attendees. The work began again. The crew re-appeared as though from another dimension, air-compressors started, ladders mounted, and choreographed ballet-dancers interweaving the staging.

“So the last will be first, and the first last”. The line could parallel the Heart Sutra – ‘First is first, last is last; no first, no last; first is last, last in first.’ It is like the line in the film Solaris when the man asks the woman, “And I alive, or dead?” She answers him, “There’s no need to think like that anymore.”

She goes on to say, “We’re together. Everything we’ve done is forgiven. Everything.”

So…will we have to wait a while longer to enter the baffling experience of life beyond expectations?

Allowing our own life to be what it is – completely drenched with generosity – with no counting the cost or measuring outcome?

Is this why we are angry with God and each other? Is this why we fear God and each other? Are we terrified about what we are?

Is it possible we are loving, generous, hospitable, enlightened, and compassionate beings -- and we are afraid of our true nature?

Unless we become, completely and generously, what we are – we will remain strangers and hostile combatants against God, each other, and ourselves.

How will we ever come to dwell in our true home? Happy? And, safe?

No pushing away.


Monday, August 16, 2004

I worry about Messer's Bush and Cheney the way I worry about unidirectional thought and emotion.

Zen is omnidirectional.

In those who attain Zen, mental machinations disappear,
vision and action are forgotten, and there are no
subjective views. Zen adepts just remain free, and are
imperceptible to anyone, either would-be supporters or
would-be antagonists. They walk on the bottom of the
deepest ocean, uncontaminated, with free minds, acting
normally, indistinguishable from the average person.

- Yuan wu (1063-1135)

Learning to pray is learning to read. It requires learning to see the words as spoken from every direction at once.

This morning’s psalm gave me pause. Were the words pointing to and from “O Lord,” or about and for the reader? Words point to and from the speaker and reader at the same time.

Take the words from Psalm 90:
So we are destroyed in your anger,
struck with terror in your fury.
Our guilt lies open before you;
our secrets in the light of your face.

All our days pass away in your anger.
Our life is over like a sigh.
Our span is seventy years
or eighty for those who are strong.

And most of these are emptiness and pain.
They pass swiftly and we are gone.
Who understands the power of your anger
and fears the strength of your fury?

(from Psalm 90)

I felt it in the gait of the man leaving the chapel – 'Enough with this angry God who has us on pins and needles like some drunk terrorizing his family!'

Then the words shifted. This is not about God. This is about humankind. Like all naïve beliefs that are unidirectional, this writer throws onto ‘God’ what he sees around him, what he perhaps feels within him.

Days that pass away in anger, in blame, or in hostile behavior toward an object of anger, blame, or hostility, are days of delusion. We have fooled ourselves into believing ‘they’ are the cause of our anger. We engage in erroneous thinking when we set ourselves up as the targets of another’s hatred or hold others in contempt for their disagreement with our thinking.

Here is where I worry about Messer's Bush and Cheney in the same way I worry about our inability to read the Psalm with wisdom.

So we are destroyed in our anger,
struck with terror in our fury.
Our guilt lies open before us;
our secrets in the light of our face.

All our days pass away in our anger.
Our life is over like a sigh.
Our span is seventy years
or eighty for those who are strong.

And most of these are emptiness and pain.
They pass swiftly and we are gone.
Who understands the power of our anger
and fears the strength of our fury?

The psalm is not about anyone other. A more profound reading is required. It is a unidirectional mistake to make God other, make enemy other, make terrorist other, and make us other. That mistake pits us as unaware adversaries whose prime response is to defeat and eliminate the other. Every 'other' is enemy. This realization haunts Western politics, theology, and philosophy. This dualistic misreading is the history of millennia -- the scourge of illiterate violence committed in the name of God, country, flag, or narrow interest.

Is anger uni-directional? Would a willingness to dwell omni-directionally change anger into compassion?

To see something from every side, as well as from below, above, outside in and inside out -- is Zen seeing. Zen seeing is transparency. We see through, and are seen through, all at once.

We live in dangerous times. Some would want to convince us there is only one way to see things, usually their way. Anyone who sees things from a different perspective is considered disloyal and a threat. Anyone willing to engage the complexity of omnidirectionality is branded indecisive and untrustworthy.

Hence, I pray for Messer’s Bush and Cheney. Like the man who walked down the path this morning mulling God’s anger, these two servants of the people must come to a more honest and profound reading of themselves and the world.

Anger points fingers and weapons. Compassion surrounds with help and hope.

We all must begin anew.

To learn to read.



Sunday, August 15, 2004

We write to Cape Breton property owners and their agent saying we wish to purchase the mountain property in the valley, bordered by pond and river, sprinkled by brooks, between warm Northumberland Strait and salty Bras d’Or Lake.

The intent is serious. We wish to have a Meetingbrook Hermitage on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. It is now time to line up and step forward to commit to this project.

What will it entail? This is an excerpt sent to the owners:
It is obvious to us that the place would make a wonderful Meetingbrook Hermitage in Cape Breton. We have begun to resurrect plans we've been sketching out for several years. We're quietly optimistic this can happen. It would be a place of prayer, meditation, and retreat (Hermitage); a place of shared learning and study with a focus on ecological and spiritual interdependence (Schola); and a place of hospitality, creativity, and a community business, ultimately on the Cabot Trail footage -- (a Center for Skillful Means and Engaged Service) -- e.g. bookshop, bakery/cafe, and community resource.

The house and property are both simple and lovely. Large acreage. House only ten years old. Quiet, with a monastic feel to it. It would be a resource for local and visiting folk. A place of respite, reflection, and recollection.

It is time to welcome the Buddha and all the Buddha-hearts to reveal their innate wisdom about how to live in these difficult times.

It is also time to invite a plunge through the surface of our lives and find at center the Christ and all the Christ-minds to engage one another in service and hospitality.

When a buddha appears in the world
And expounds various teachings
According to people’s inclinations,
All of the teachings are expedients,
Just for the purpose of breaking through
Obsessions, doubts, intellectual interpretations,
And egocentric ideas.
If there were no such false consciousness
And false views, there would be no need
For buddhas to appear
And expound so many teachings.

- Yuan wu (1063-1135)

At Lectio Divina yesterday morning we chanted and read the Heart Sutra. A fragment of it lighted up:
No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.
No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

(from The Maha Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra)

Each moment, each event, is of itself. We, with our minds, place everything in context – quantifying and locating, explaining and justifying. But, if we see each person, moment, or occurrence as in-and-of-itself, each is unique and distinct, not attached nor detached, yet completely with one another.

One of our tasks is learning how to dwell in the reality of all beings that sees, accepts, respects, and serves each person, place, and thing as if they were what they are – present and real beings: full of sangha strength, enlightenment, and compassion; mystically embodied incarnations in the community of God made human, God within creation.

This task takes skillful means and engaged service. It takes practice and study, meditation and prayer.

One of the most colorful and illuminating representations of skillful means in Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva of compassion, called Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, Chenrezig in Tibetan, Kuan-yin in Chinese, Kwanseum in Korean, and Kannon or Kanzeon in Japanese. As the bodhisattva who hears and responds to the cries of the world, the great variety of iconographic forms of this bodhisattva exemplifies skillful means responding to diverse suffering beings. One of the most memorable of the numerous forms of this bodhisattva has a thousand arms and hands, many of the hands with implements such as flowers, vases of ambrosia, musical instruments, ropes, daggers, hatchets, and wish-fulfilling gems. Each of these tools may be useful in specific situations with different beings. In addition to multiple hands, some forms of the bodhisattva have eleven heads, to observe beings from different viewpoints and respond effectively with different guises.

The practice of skillful means reminds us to listen to others respectfully, honor their differences, and recognize that others may have different needs and benefit from different teachings and practices. Following the model of the bodhisattva of compassion, we must not self-righteously cling to any particular method. We can learn various useful approaches, and as we learn to trust and respond with whatever is at hand, our skillfulness can develop.

("An Introduction to Skillful Means" -Taigen Dan Leighton,

It is August 15. We remember our early elder, Janet, who died on this day a few years ago.

The Feast of the Assumption is an important day in the Catholic religion. It is the principal feast of the Blessed Virgin, the mother of Jesus Christ. This feast commemorates two events - the departure of Mary from this life and the assumption of her body into heaven.
The Church's official doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven.
Some mistakenly believe Mary "ascended" into heaven, which is incorrect. It was Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven, by his own power. But Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven by God.
Pope Pius Xll, in 1950, defined that Mary "after the completion of her earthly life...was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven." Her body wasn't allowed to corrupt nor was it allowed to remain in a tomb.

Fr. Andrew Greeley has written:
Once upon a time the Lord God went out on patrol of heaven just to make sure that it was still a city that worked. Everything was fine, the hedges trimmed, the grass cut, the fountains clean, the gold and silver and ivory polished, the mall neat (Of course they have a mall in heaven. Where else would they put the teenagers!). He stopped by to listen to the angel choirs sing and they were in great form. Then on one of the side streets he encountered people who had no business being in heaven, at all, at all. Some of them should have been serving a long sentence in purgatory, others would not get out until the day before the Last Judgement, still others would make it into heaven only on very special appeal. So he went out to complain to St. Peter. You've let me down again, he said and yourself with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. I have not said St. Peter. Well, how did they get in? I didn't let them in. Well, who did? You won't like it. I have a right to know how they got in. Well, I turned them down and didn't they go around to the back door and didn't your mother let them in!
(Theologically this story of course is nonsense. But as a story it reflects Mary's role as reflecting the maternal love of God).

(Andrew Greeley, August 15th, Feast of the Assumption of Mary (Lady Day in Harvest),

We’re getting ready to make an offer.

Aware of uncertainty.

Yet, quietly confident.

We’ll try skillful means.


In prayer.

To see.