Saturday, April 16, 2005

Everything is on loan. Even waking.

What is better than this? Uncountable white lights in night sky. Rising before dawn. Call of starlight to prayer. For a few minutes, the stillness of slowly turning earth, the animals greeting from their doze.

People cling to their worldly possessions and selfish passions so blindly as to sacrifice their own lives for them. They are like a child who tries to eat a little honey smeared on the edge of a knife. The amount is by no means sufficient to appease his appetite, but he runs the risk of wounding his tongue.
- Sutra of Forty Two Chapters

We cut tongue each time we try to slice away opposing views. Intelligent discourse engages differing views. The temptation to ridicule and dismiss is strong in contemporary culture. There is a creeping consensus that might is right and power is perfection. We need to be cautious when the urge to pontificate and prevail overcomes the need to investigate and reveal.

At Friday Evening Interreligious Dialogue Conversation we finish Rabbi David Aaron's book Seeing God, Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah He urged we be kind to each other, that we consider community, that Hashem is beyond any narrow conceptions we might try to impose.

These days corruption is considered the right of those who have taken power from the community to themselves. Cynicism is the residue left for those who feel they have no way to change the usurpation of power and will by leaders who have lost touch with those they represent.

When the life-giving Word of God dwelt in human flesh, he changed it
into that good thing which is distinctively his, namely, life; and by
being wholly united to the flesh in a way beyond our comprehension,
he gave it the life-giving power which he has by his very nature.
Therefore, the body of Christ gives life to those who receive it. Its
presence in mortal men expels death and drives away corruption because
it contains within itself in his entirety the Word who totally
abolishes corruption.

(From a commentary on the gospel of John by Saint Cyril of Alexandria,
Saturday of the 3rd week of Eastertide)

Spending time looking up to near and distant stars this morning puts me all day in a sober quiet. The pretense and hubris of those intent on corrupting and damaging the human spirit takes on particular malaise. The smug and arrogant hold simplicity and humility in contempt.

We try to practice an antidote of open conversation where difference is suffered and revelation encouraged. Last evening Tom, Lloyd, Saskia, Richard, Michael, Tina, Mike, Pia, Jayen, Maria and I listened to one another and Rabbi Aaron. At Saturday Afternoon Poetry, Tea, and Literature, Sara, Richard, Joanie, Saskia, Michael, Jayen, Lloyd, Alana, Garrett, and I read poems and pieces of stories after Sam and Susan, Myles, Jeff, and Cheryl, Hugh, Virginia, and Karl clear out before getting trapped by the circle.

Waiting for Icarus

He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don't cry

I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying : Inventors are like poets,
a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added : Women who love such are the
Worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.

(Poem: "Waiting for Icarus" by Muriel Rukeyser, from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser.)

Sometimes there are those who fly too far from common comfort and decent retrieval. It is insufficient to say, "That's their problem." It is our common responsibility to remind one another that life on earth is not a joust and duel. We are not here to play king of the mountain or last man standing, or "Screw them, we're the best."

We're not the best, none of us. We're who we are. We have to remind one another that the night is over when we see each other as brother and sister and not as someone to be bested.

Starlight; sunlight; moonlight; truelight.

When we wake.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sliver moon disappears into morning blue; rounded sun climbs over Melvin Heights into winter zendo where sleep sits on cushions.

Only faint recollection of incense from walls and ceiling. Dogs stay upstairs. Cat stares past Buddha, empty cross draped with white, paschal candle, mother and child icon; he has movement-of-bird on his mind.

Moved by their selfish desires, people seek after fame and glory. But when they have acquired these, they are already stricken in years. If you hanker after worldly fame and practice not the Way, your labors are wrongfully applied and your energy is wasted. It is like burning a stick of incense. However much its pleasing odor is admired, the fire that consumes is steadily burning up the stick.
- Sutra of Forty Two Chapters

I calculated the number of years that have accrued to this body awkwardly seeking comfort on black cushion -- too many, too uncomfortable, too soon (some might think) to be my own cooling ash faintly sensed by snoozing sangha friends.

How long, LORD? Will you stay hidden forever? (Ps.89:47)

For many God is faint recollection of simpler apperception from more innocent times. I wonder if we ever grow comfortable with the notion of hidden God. When hidden, God could be anywhere. We want to locate God, interrogate and have God explain what we cannot understand about human behavior as well as pattern of stars in galaxies further away than a billion billion thoughts across. And yet, the hidden has a nearness to it. Hidden does not mean secret. Secret is when someone claims to own the hidden, and they don't.

Hidden is wide open. It is what we make art of, make music, poetry, make our way through the morning, afternoon, and evening. At night the hidden visits in dream. The hidden is what the artist lets out through hands given to the hidden to use.

Last evening Jayen said that "Nature is spirit made manifest." Tom, who brought article from Utne Reader by John O'Donohue, liked her words. Nature, whether of and in itself, or with modifiers Human, Divine -- is hidden within, yet manifest, coming to appearance, when invited, or when it feels like. Nature, mostly, is in and of itself. Nature looks as itself through each and every thing, through each and every being.

What You Cannot Remember, What You Cannot Know
-for Abigail

When you were two you used to say
I can do it all by myself, then when you were three
You had tantrums, essentially
Because you wanted to go back and be a baby like before,
And also to be a grownup.
It was perplexing,
It was a mini-rehearsal
For adolescence, which lurks inside your body
Now that you are almost nine,
Like a duplicate baby, an angel
Or alien, we don't know which,
Forceful and intelligent and weird,
Playing with the controls.
Fetal eyes blinking, non-negotiable demands
Like Coke bubbles overflowing a glass,
It strengthens and grows.
When you read it stares through your eyes,
It vibrates when you practice piano,
The cotton dresses hang in your closet
Like conspirators, wavering in its breeze.
We watch you turn inward, your hair
Falls over your face like a veil that hides whatever
You would rather others don't know,
You lean your head listening
For its keen highstrung melancholy voice.
Here comes the gypsy caravan,
Ding-a-ling, the icecream man,
Plenty of glee and woe up the road.
We would do anything for you,
Sweetie, but we can do nothing?
You have to do it all by yourself.

(Poem: "What You Cannot Remember, What You Cannot Know" by Alicia Suskin Astriker, from No Heaven. University of Pittsburgh Press.)

Recently I've read writings from folks relating the hurts of being human. I read each word with reverence. These are my sisters, and brothers. We gather each other in the words we use to tell where we have been, what we have experienced, what we now feel. This ceremony of appearance is not always done in common or in public. Appearance through one's nature is personal as poem and quiet as indentation before new paragraph relating "my own mythology" or "personal original pieces." The hidden longs to reveal and be revealed through watchful eyes or willing hands.

"Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute," Ramakrishna continued, "is like a shoreless ocean. In the ocean visible blocks of ice are formed here and there by intense cold. Similarly, under the cooling influence, so to speak, of the devotion [bhakti] of its worshippers, the Infinite transforms Itself into the finite and appears before the worshiper as God with form. That is to say, God reveals Himself to His devotees as an embodied Person, Again, as, on the rising of the sun, the ice in the ocean melts away, so, on the awakening of Knowledge [jnana], the embodied God melts back into the infinite and formless Brahman,,,, Therefore people compare the love of God to the cooling light of the moon, and knowledge to the burning rays of the sun.
(from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans with preface by Swami Nikhilananda, c1942, in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, metaphor as Myth and as Religion, p.69, by Joseph Campbell, c.1986)

We will be burned away. Whether by funeral pyre, cremation, supernova, or the incense stick of earthly life -- all will be burned through. We can practice this return of the manifest to the hidden by diligence and presence to what is here and what is passing. The hidden receives back what it has given -- with gentle watchfulness and comforting hands.

We have to do it by ourselves.

Still, and yet, and notwithstanding -- our solitariness is surrounded by infinite watchful eyes, gentle hands, and most of all, the hidden-forever-love that is with, through, and in our very being.

Call it what you will -- Brahman, Adonai, Buddha, Christ, Allah, Nature, Self, Mind -- it is done by itself.

Each one of us.

As itself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Some say life is a dream. Some think it is a hologram -- that we are elsewhere; what happens here in real-time is projection of inner thought and emotion.

I can't say. I haven't awakened yet.

There have been 1,722 coalition troop deaths, 1,547 Americans, 87 Britons, eight Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 21 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 17 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of April 12, 2005. (Forces: U.S. & Coalition/Casualties,

And counting.

A leaf of a boat drifts across the
Endless expanse of water,
Lifting and dancing the oars
To a different melody now.
Clouds on the mountain,
Moon over the sea:
All tossed away;
This done, Zhuang Zhou's butterfly dream
Will last forever.

- Miaozong (1095-1170)

Life is full of fancy and distraction. In fact, some say, very few live real life in real time. Most drift off in memory or worry, anticipation or fantasy -- abandoning what actually is taking place in the here and now.

The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"
(inspired by the ancient Chinese tale, 'Chuang Tzu's dream'...)

If Zhuang Zhou's (or Chuang Tzu's) dream is to last forever, will the nightmare of war also? Are we dreaming? Even with the hard steel pain of wound and illness, are we about to wake up and understand something thought and emotion have not yet revealed to us?

Thomas Friedman's column wonders why the United States has not experienced a homeland attack since 9/11:
To the extent that the Baathists and Jihadists have a coordinated strategy, their first priority, I think, is to defeat American forces in the heart of their world. Because if they can defeat America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, it will have so much more resonance than setting off a car bomb in Las Vegas - especially now that 9/11 has set the terrorism bar so high in terms of effect.

If the Jihadists can defeat us in the heart of their world, and force us from Iraq, it will have a huge impact on the Arab street and shake every pro-American Arab regime. The Jihadists have always understood that Iraq is the ballgame. Iraq is the big one. Winning there is what really advances their agendas.

(from "The Calm Before the Storm?" By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, April 13, 2005)

The thought occurs that it is a brilliant strategy to toss live bait out into the ferocity of devouring enemies rather than stay behind doors in fear of what might be approaching. Hence, administration rhetoric of "fight them there rather than here," is not so much a goal of defeating terrorism but of diverting terrorism. If true, it is a chilling dream. "Bait" (my word, not Friedman's) is hardly a word to be used about men and women called upon and responding to the call to protect America. Still, we have to decide whether the goal is defending, defeating, or diverting.

I don't know what to say about Chuang Tzu's dream. That would entail my knowing -- and I don't know. I don't know why we are at war. I don't know why those who murder, maim, and mystify one another do what they do. I don't know whether the label Christian, Muslim, Jew, Jihadist or Patriot makes any difference -- they employ the same behavior, only with varying sophistication of weapon.

I don't know why it matters that the aspiring candidate Cardinals of the Catholic Church attempt to declare the recently deceased Pope a saint-to-be by official proclamation. I don't know whether it matters that Republicans own the United States and the rest of us are aliens in this newly strange land. I don't know whether the skunk will return to the barn and the stink of unwanted presence will waft again. Or whether the putrid spray of rotten ideas and ugly war that turn us sick with disgust at the real time stench of death will morph into everlasting declaration of insouciance; and fragrance of memorial flowers becomes perennial gravesite smell; and the convoluted dream-like pronouncements everyone tries to desperately make up to justify what is happening becomes national mantra of partisan hermeneutic. I don't know

Perhaps the Monarch Butterflies are not dying from genetically modified crops.

Maybe we as a people are not dying because others "resent our freedom."

Possibly there is a dream -- a dream of justice, equality, and unity -- and this dream is one of which we are terrified.

Imaginably, all tossed away, we will never know -- but continue on in a dream of unawareness, pretending we are this person or that kind of country or maybe neither as it suits us.

I'll have none of it.

I'll stay a while with two things said by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
1. Love is the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world... Love, in fact, is the agent of universal synthesis.

2. Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

I'd rather we synthesize and collaborate in real time in real life.

With duty. With love.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where was he going?

Those who are known
As Real People
Are united in essence
With the Way,
So they have endowments yet
Appear to have none;
They are full yet
Appear to be empty
They govern the inside,
Not the outside.
Clear and pure, utterly plain,
They do not contrive
Artificialities but return
To simplicity.

- Lao tzu

He's dead. At least what we call dead. And yet the writer says he's on the road to Emmaus. So, he's not dead. Or, what we call death isn't.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. (from Luke 24)

Jesus on road and at table. The wonder of mythic writing is that it transcends yet includes magic thinking. And at a time when integral mind is a possibility more understood now than before, the story has a new twist.

And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he had vanished from their sight. (from Luke 24)

Where'd he go?

So much is made of Jesus' death and resurrection, appearances and ascension, and the anticipation on the part of his followers he will return again to end it all and sort out who should be rewarded and who punished -- you've got to be impressed at the story's staying power. Equally impressive is the way the storyteller has Jesus live, be killed, rising, showing up, disappearing, reappearing, going away, and biding time somewhere until history comes to abrupt halt.

Luke writes, "he had vanished from their sight." Just like that. Gone. The two guys look at each other, no doubt asking: Who was that? Where'd he go? The story doesn't say where he goes. We don't know where he's gone. We guess; we say "heaven," as though that pins it down. He's with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as if that explains anything but narrative construct.

Where are we going? Where have we gone? Are we waiting, like some bedtime rendition, for the story to be finished by the storyteller tucking us in for history?

He disappeared from sight.

With a mind no longer restricted to magical one-pointed now-you-see now-you-don't, a mind able to move beyond mythic interpretations that someone or something other will determine what's next, and with a mind ready to enter a new twist -- a new wholeness of appreciation -- we look at the words again.

"He made as if to go on"..."they recognized him." And they were left to themselves. Jesus leaves them to themselves. Like some odd last will and testament, he leaves them to themselves. Jesus does the same thing to them that the Buddha did to his companions. The Buddha's last words instructed his followers to work out their salvation with diligence, to be a light unto themselves, to stand on their own two feet.

Similarly, Jesus left his friends with words and bread. "Break them both," he seemed to tell them, "and find me there."

Jesus is not in sight. He is in the broken. He is in the empty space felt by hearts that long to be what they think they've lost. We're not lost. Hemingway is quoted as saying something like: The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places. It's the word 'many' that gives pause. Not all. Many. Some, by inference, are not strong, do not mend strong. Is Jesus, simply, in the broken, no matter how they mend or do not mend?

Is there new behavior we need to learn in the presence of the broken? Do we, in addition to (or instead of) nodding to the triumphant splendor of other-worldly ecclesiastical magnificence, need (also learn) to bow deeply to the everyday faces and daily experiences of this-worldly existence?

Where'd he go? That's our meditation. No matter where throughout history some have decided to put Jesus, the question remains vital for us -- especially during this time when some call him back to punish and destroy, or hierarchy plan to vote for his successor in the church they've held tight to. Where we think Jesus is -- matters.

Where'd he go? Where is he?

The letters stretch out: N- o- w- h- e- r- e.

And you and I? No where? Now here?

Don't bother looking in the mirror; step into the mirror. Don't think there's someplace else to go to look for Jesus; let's look at each other wherever we are.

Break and share a piece of that bread?


Let's be bread.

Thank you.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Just so. There is corruption. There is secrecy. There's no real place to hide. Not even in the warm glow many feel following the funeral of the recent Pope.

Reading about Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who said, "You can't run a Church on Hail Marys." He's retired from Vatican Bank he ran for a while. He's in his eighties and lives in Arizona. He didn't run the church on Hail Marys. Same say his way was far more sinister and dark. I thought of him as I was thinking about Albino Luciano (Pope John Paul I) who lived as Pope only 33 days. Some say he was poisoned. Some say he knew too much about massive corruption in Vatican Bank. But that's just rumor. Truth has a way of hiding under cloak and diplomatic immunity of rumor. Marcinkus won't talk about anything having to do with his years in power at the Vatican. That's the thing about secrecy.

I ask a man by the harbor about how he lives with corruption and secrecy. "I try to stay in the open," he says.

You should each individually clarify your own mind, getting to the root without pursuing the branches. Just get to the root, and the branches come of themselves. If you want to get to the root, just get to know your mind. This mind is basically the root of all mundane and supramundane phenomena. As long as the mind does not become obsessed with all good and bad, you will realize that all things are basically just so.
- Ta-mei (ca.805)

Sometimes there's a desire to hide away. Then I remember that mind is where I am, where each is. I must look into and through this mind.


I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

(poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins)

I'm uncertain at times whether heaven is haven or if it is open confrontation with everything as it is -- where we meet both those who have shown us the true light of love and those who've shown us the darkness of deceptive power.

Hopkins's words for describing meaning are borrowed from the scholastic philosopher Duns Scotus and they complicate any theoretical understanding of meaning in the extreme, as they are not concepts with a positive, palpable content, but merely empty slots, 'deictic words' containing an indication or, figuratively speaking, a peg marking the place where individual, local, particular meanings can be hung in actual life. Hopkins coins the English word "thisness" for Scotus's "haecceitas", the impulse behind any individual and momentary materialization of essential existence.

Annie says I'm grumpy today. "I'm always grumpy," I say. We decide that I'm in a foul mood today. That's the word. We settle on foul.

I'd prefer to be informed and aware of things -- however conflicting -- than be uninformed and asleep. This is a challenge to finding the "just so" mind -- where "thisness" is replete with every which way.

If we are to learn to stand authentically in the middle of contradiction -- just so -- we need to hear the fair and foul sides both. This, if we are to maturely settle into the center of things, the middle way. This center, or middle way -- as pointed to in Christian or Buddhist thought -- where we have to recognize the tilts and turmoil, the off-balanced and ill-fastened realities that suck us all from sacred rest in the heart of things.


Libera nos!