Saturday, March 05, 2005

There is something practical about meditation.

Coming downstairs just before dawn this morning I bow to altar entering winter zendo. On white couch I prop myself wrapped in dark blue blanket against pillows in semi-sitting position. I was having trouble sleeping, breathing, and swallowing. It was time to meditate.

"The soul is a circle of which the circumference is in a body. God is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but whose center is everywhere."
- Swami Vivekananda, 19th C.

During this time of slowing down body cleansing (what some call illness) everything proportions itself in simple actions. I bow. Wrap blanket. Tilt night-light shining on Mary, Buddha, and Christ. Prop pillows. Attend to breath. Listen to wind in cedar tree outside window. Look at walls. Look at windows. Look at unmoving everything in the room.

"The only field in which this [oneness] is possible is the field of sunyata [emptiness] which can have its circumference nowhere and its center everywhere. Only on the field of sunyata can the totality of things, each of which is absolutely unique and an absolute center of all things, at the same time be gathered into one."
-- Keiji Nishitani, 20th C.

Breathing grows thin and small, allowing breath enough slender room to slide through. Doze in and out. Comes morning.

The entire visible world is only an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of nature. No idea can come close to imagining it. We might inflate our concepts to the most unimaginable expanses: we only produce atoms in relation to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere in which the center is everywhere, the circumference is nowhere. Finally, it is the greatest sensible mark of God's omnipotence, that our imagination loses itself in that thought.
(from Pascal's Pensees)

One dog then another enters room. Cat paws at edge of blanket. Light comes through four windows. Breath circles through four bodies in front room and one body now in kitchen. The thought passes that human existence is temporary resting place for breath on its way through.

Great Master Dogen quotes Shakyamuni as saying: "that one must turn the stream of compassion within and give up both knowledge and its recognition." This is the way one can harmonize body and mind and enter the stream of Buddhism. This giving up seems to entail the aspect of giving in trust, which has an important function of giving up control. The self no longer dictates our actions based on emotions, likes/dislikes, greed, anger or fear. This is giving up of the knowledge of the intellect and emotions without cutting ourselves off from these things and without letting them control our actions. We cannot fully understand the Buddhist teaching on giving without seeing that giving and receiving are not separate things. Koho Zenji reminds us that if we can give up something as small as the self we can know something as great as the universe. Just as with giving and receiving, we must understand that control in Buddhist practice is not exercised by holding on but by letting go. It is also helpful to see these things in terms of process not in terms of attainment or achievement.
(--from talk, "As Thunder Shakes the Universe," By Rev. Jisho Perry, Sat. 2/14/04)

Stillness finds breath. If wanting achievement, or if trying to attain something, is what we think we are doing by practicing meditation, then we are trying to imitate the way of the world to accumulate by acquisition and accomplishment. But if we are willing to let go of everything we think makes up the larger self we call the world and the personal self we call by our name -- we enter the body in and of itself.

Is there a simplicity of "no-self" we are unwilling to contemplate? On the other hand, is there an equivalence of fear and self that factors us? If we let self go, does fear go too?

When I open eyes and put feet on rug, two tails wag along quiet sunlight crossing Barnestown Road into front room. Bowing to these sweet dogs, folding two blankets (one placed there by Saskia mid-doze), walking to kitchen for grapefruit juice and asperin, there is a fluidity of moment to moment step, moment to moment mind arising and falling away.

It is the practice of Zazen. It is what Myo-O Marilyn Habermas-Scher said in a recent talk: "Zazen is not a sacred activity; it's just completely sacred activity." (Sunday Dharma Talk, 2/27/05, St Paul Minnesota)

Does breath carry nothing but itself through each one of us?

The Christian season of Lent nears Holy Week and Easter. In his life Jesus gave up everything and went the way described by Dogen Zenji as "dropping off mind and body." In this tradition, having this same mind as Christ means not reaching out, not grasping at, and not taking the bait to respectably conform with the delusions of achievement, acquisition, and accomplishment.

What is Jesus' mind? What is Christ-mind?

Breathe in, breathe out. We'll see.

First we'll have to allow our eyes to see -- really see -- what is taking place everywhere they look. And listen -- we'll have to permit ears to hear what is actually being said with each utterance made within our hearing. And speaking -- we'll have to open our mouths and suffer what longs to be said to be said, plain and simple. In these activities dwells the revelation of sacredness finding its way out and into this existence.

It pleases that meditation is practical.

March, with its pause of health, provides good opportunity to investigate the slender slip of sanity that is breath.

It is a good practice to follow the completely sacred activity of breath.

It is a particular consciousness that sees one and all as Thou.

With each breath we Thee wed.

In gratitude.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

It is odd that nothing matters.

Thirty spokes share one hub. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose at hand and you have the use of the cart. Knead clay to make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose at hand and you have the use of the vessel. Cut out doors and windows to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose at hand and you have the use of the house. What we gain is something, yet it is by virtue of nothing that it can be put to use
(Lao Tzu 1963: 31).

If we read creation myths there is a tension about something coming from nothing. We prefer to frame the argument that evil followed good, as in the Genesis story; or that good followed evil in the Tiamat and Marduk Babylonian version.

Does nothing matter? Is what we see and touch the materialization from nothing of something? Or is it turtles all the way down?

The problem is that Zen philosophy asserts that there is no difference between ego and self. Izutsu said: "One enters into the world of Zen only when one realizes that his [or her] own I has turned into an existential question mark" (1977: 65). This refers to the so-called "self" as much as to the so-called "ego." Masao Abe, the Zen philosopher of religion, has put the matter even more strongly, saying that the notion of "self" itself leads to "selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill will, conceit, pride, egoism . . . .all the evil in the world" (1992: 57-58).

What did Jesus mean when he said:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)

Deny himself? Or, deny his self?

We are now able to see why the no-self theory does not imply that our language is in need of an overhaul. For it is quite consistent with the nonexistence of the self or I that we continue to employ the words "self" and "I" in their practical everyday usage, provided we do not mistake them for denoting some particular entity at the ultimate level, or, as Hume would say, feign the existence of a fiction. This is why, contrary to what many of Hume's critics think, Hume's own use of the first-person pronoun does not undermine his theory. In Hume's statement "when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception" (p.252), the word "I" is being used at the convectional level: it is merely a generally nderstood term whose proper use is determined by mutual agreement. We should not, therefore, think that in using the first-person pronoun Hume has committed himself to the existence of a self at the ultimate level.

Some will no doubt find it paradoxical that we can use personal language correctly when there is nothing to which these terms ultimately refer. It was reasoning akin to this, it seems, that led Descartes to his famous proclamation "I think, therefore I am." I must exist, reasoned Descartes, because even when I doubt that I exist there is still an I that is doing the doubting.

But Descartes has become led astray by his own language, for there is no need for the "I" in "I think" or "I doubt" to refer to anything. What Descartes was aware of, as both Hume and the Buddha would agree, was just thinking, not an I that was doing the thinking. Consequently Descartes might just as well have said (and should have said if his concern was with ultimate rather than conventional truth) "there is thinking, therefore there are thoughts." And such a deduction, if we may call it that, does not suffice to prove the existence of an I.

(from THE NO-SELF THEORY: HUME, BUDDHISM, AND PERSONAL IDENTITY, By James Giles, in Philosophy East and West. Volume 43, Number 2, April 1993)

Body-ache, sniffles, fever, and general dizziness sit in this chair.

Goes to bed.

Hopes to sleep.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Walking frozen Hosmer Pond with two dogs after heavy snowfall in Maine, Saskia and I tread deep snow, returning via toboggan chute. Earlier, Karl comes by to wire and unwire computers. As Bruce leaves with studded-tire snowplow Karl arrives with quick-fingered laptop gear.

Original Buddha-nature, the highest truth, is free from even an atom of otherness. It is empty, calm, pure, and permeates everything. It brings peaceful joy that thrills with wonder. Awaken inwardly, enter its depths. Everything before you is Buddha, blissful and full, complete it itself. All that exists is Buddha; there is nothing else beside.
-Huang Po

Saskia crunches numbers. Classes are cancelled at University College. Snow thins after twelve hours.

Slay anger, give up pride
And overcome all fetters;
For sorrows do not follow knowers of emptiness
Detached from mind and body, clinging to nothing.
Having broken out into freedom and gone beyond all selfish desire,
Free from the world of men, even the worlds of the gods.
Try as you might to find them, their path leaves not the slightest trace.

(The Buddha)

I cut wood outside barn. Now cat curls on lap. History Channel tells of Bible Code.

It is a great misfortune for those
Engaged in learning to take the
Sayings of the sages as mere
Verbal exercises.

- Xue Xuan (1389-1464)

We live with proleptic and proprioceptive possibilities -- to take beforehand by means of sensory receptors arising.

On the other hand, it is merely Tuesday evening. Mu-ge purrs.

This existence is way beyond anything within our grasping.

Not even an atom of otherness.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Winter yawns and throws snow our way.

That's ok. We're doing other work this week to earn some money to pay some bills. The bookshop/bakery is closed until Saturday, 5 March. We'll be back for Saturday's Many Faces of Death conversation, as well as Poetry, Tea, and Literature.

At the hermitage at night, something skunky runs up between our walls.

Do away with your old habits and start fresh.
Wash away your old opinions,
And new ideas come in
- Xue Xuan (1389-1464)

My opinions are somewhat skunky. When they arise they're stinky. Their scent is hard to lose.

If I still the mind and stay attentive the skunk-odor fades into winter cold.

E. writes following a self-directed retreat
One who attends is one who tends.
One who tends is one who is tender.
One who is tender pays kind attention.
One who pays kind attention attends.

It is good to practice presence. We are so often lost and gone with thoughts and opinion. The practice is not to be lost, but to be what-is finding itself -- each and every here and now, with each and every being.

E. ends his note saying: "Just think of what we could do with pretends." It's a fine notion -- to be there even before we realize we are there.

It's like the woman said at the Zen Center in Rhode Island while giving a talk over twenty years ago. She said, "Let's stop pretending we love each other." And then repeated, "Let's stop pretending we love each other." After a long silence she continued, "Because ...we do."

Let's all tend, extend, and attend one another. Will we wed, dedicate, have, and hold each other?

Do you? "I do." Do we? "We do."

Let's hold before us one another.

Without stopping.

(In E’s words) -- Tender attention.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The inmate wants to learn what a comma is. Pause, then go on.

People who study Buddhism should seek real, true perception and understanding. If you attain real, true perception, birth and death don’t affect you; you are free to go or stay. You needn’t seek wonders, for wonders come of themselves. Just put thoughts to rest and 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.
- Sokei-an Sasaki

A woman with brain damage wants a job. Why not? -- she says repeatedly.

“If you come on your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you must lead it back to him. If you see the donkey of a man who hates you fallen under its load, instead of keeping out of his way, go to him to help him."
(from Exodus 22)

We're not asked to choose nor to judge which person to help and which one not to.

As things come up, just give attention.

Cesco barks once from front room.

Saskia attends.