Friday, April 22, 2005

Return home.

"The brothers usurped." That's what Will said after chapter one of Aurobindo's translation of the Bhagavad Gita begun tonight at the shop. Those that usurp are particularly odious.

Mind is the root of the myriad phenomena. All phenomena are born from mind. If you can completely comprehend mind, the myriad practices are complete. It is like a great tree: all the branches and flowers and fruits grow based on the root. The tree grows only if the root survives. If the root is cut, the tree is sure to die. If you cultivate the Path by comprehending mind, you save effort and success is easy. If you cultivate the Path without comprehending mind, then you waste effort and there is no benefit. Thus we know that all good and evil come from one's own mind. If you seek outside of mind, it is impossible.
- Bodhidharma

Morning teaching. Then conversation in afternoon. It was a long day at prison. In his article a man named Sparrow said that only when he is writing is he a writer. We are reminded that it is not a state of being in which we remain fixed; it is an engaged activity of participation that whiles our existence moment to moment changing.


There was an apple tree in the yard --
this would have been
forty years ago -- behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from tennis courts --
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

(Poem: "Nostos," by Louise Glück, from Meadowlands (Harper Collins).

Arjuna fights because his home and resources have been usurped by those without regard.

The seduction is not to look. Or, if we happen to look, to explain away what we see.

I think David's complaint in his psalm is the complaint of someone ready to turn and smile at his adversity and its source.

Is it for the dead that you perform your wonders?
Will the ghosts rise up and proclaim you?
In the tomb, will they tell of your kindness?
Will they tell of your faithfulness in the place of the lost?
Will your wonders be known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of oblivion?

(from Psalm 88)

The final frame is fresh in our minds. We watch the character as he watches those questioning him, those waiting for a response.

"Yes," he answers.

"Yes they will."

Return home.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Can we travel through the negative? What dwells between what we call the negative and the positive?

Iraq remains a troubling place. The temptation is to run away or explain away the difficulty of the issue that has taken up residence within our hearts, minds, and country. Is there a way to dwell in peace with the horror of Iraq and our involvement in it?

With proliferation of words and sophistication of spin it becomes ever more difficult to discern simple truth. Simple truth, (if there is any), is on its own, as it is, transparent and self-revealing, present and pertinent here and now.

I notice car-bombs exploding in Iraq, military helicopter crashing and burning, 50 bodies of kidnapped Shiites pulled from Tigris River, assassination of political leader, death of human rights worker, attempt to kill prime minister, two US soldiers killed, four wounded in car bombing in the Al-Amil area of Baghdad.

The War News report for April 20 is somber:
Nineteen Iraqis soldiers shot to death in a soccer stadium in Haditha. One child and one adult killed, at least five wounded in car bomb attack aimed at a US patrol in the Amiriyah district of Baghdad. Eight wounded in car bombing near the Bilat police station in Baghdad?s Dora district. Three civilians wounded in a third car bombing in Baghdad. A driver working for the health ministry killed, another individual wounded in attack by gunmen in east Baghdad. One Turkish truck driver killed when his truck struck a mine near Shorjat. Two Iraqi soldiers killed, three insurgents captured in clashes near Dujail. One Iraqi soldier killed, another wounded by mortar fire near Duluiyah. Basra tribal leader assassinated in Zubair. A 50-strong group of guerillas unsuccessfully attempted to overrun one or more local police stations in Mosul on Monday.

It's not only war that is troubling. It's the disspiriting explanations and brushoffs made by those who say it is the price of democracy, the cost of freedom. It simply might be the result of ideological blindness, reactionary, self-serving, and power-wielding aggression by one country over another. You can't be sure which it is. You can, if you wish, trust your conscience if it is informed, as well as your heart, if not hardened by cynicism.

It is a long slog from ill-informed conscience and cynical heart to simple truth. I suspect the majority opinion is that there is no simple truth. Here's one: the pope, president, mailman, pet dog, Atlantic salmon, spider, black fly, and early spring ant -- will each die. In fact, as far as we know, every living thing will die. (Absent speculation about afterlife, what we are most conversant with is the duration between birth and death. "Life-Itself" might be the ever-present reality undergirding and transcending temporal existence -- nevertheless, everyone dies.)

Do not imagine that an integral being has the ambition of enlightening the unaware or raising worldly people to the divine realm. To her, there is no self and other, and hence no one to be raised; no heaven and hell, and hence no destination. Therefore her only concern is her own sincerity.
(# 27, from Hua Hu Ching, By Lao Tzu, Translated by Brian Walker)

Is one's own sincerity the only concern? It's an interesting thought. The Latin word "sincerus" means genuine. The genuine actually possesses the alleged or apparent attribute or character. It is questionable, even doubtful, that genuine sincerity is the driving motivation in those perpetrating the chaos in Iraq -- whether American government or insurgent rebels.
sincerity: n 1: an earnest and sincere feeling [syn: earnestness, seriousness] 2: the quality of being open and truthful; not deceitful or hypocritical; "his sincerity inspired belief"; "they demanded some proof of my sincerity" [ant: insincerity] 3: a quality of naturalness and simplicity; "the simple sincerity of folk songs" [syn: unassumingness] 4: the trait of being serious; "a lack of solemnity is not necessarily a lack of seriousness"- Robert Rice [syn: seriousness, earnestness, serious-mindedness] [ant: frivolity] (

A basic ingredient is lacking.

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever
again, this soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin -- I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

(Poem: "Reconciliation," by Walt Whitman.)

Are we in danger of making "enemy" anyone not us? As individuals, is this true? As communities? Is it true of us as a nation?

Have we forgotten, or choose not to remember, who we are? In the sphere of Truth (with a capital "T") are we dificient thinkers, forgetting what Being, Life, Love, and Truth call to us to remember?

We have substituted false thinking, saying, they are enemy, they have what we want and we will take it from them, they are other, alien, ungodly, not freedom loving, anti-christs, un-american and thereby inferior, unimportant, and expendable. But more than this false reasoning is a subtext -- even the poor, the sick, the hard-luck folks, the racially religiously ethnically and economically deficient are those who are not white, Christian, Anglo-Saxon, and wealthy.

It is a dangerous opinion and a volatile cynicism that criss-crosses airwaves and jingoistic pages.

It is a troubling time. We are troubled.

A Christen theologian. Anselm of Canterbury, Archbishop, Doctor of the Church, 1033-1109 A.D. -- has his feast celebrated April 21.
He said, "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand."

O Lord, through your Son you command us, no, you counsel us to ask, and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete. Lord, I am making the request that you urge us to make through your Wonder-Counsellor. Give me then what you promise to give through your Truth. You, O God, are faithful; grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete.
Meanwhile, let this hope of mine be in my thoughts and on my tongue; let my heart be filled with it, my voice speak of it; let my soul hunger for it, my body thirst for it, my whole being yearn for it, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, who is Three in One, blessed for ever. Amen.

(From the Proslogion by St Anselm, in Office of Readings)

He hoped for what is promised through Truth.

Do we remember? Do we have memory of the call that once echoed within us? Are we capable of dwelling in that call? Do we possess the courage to live in the midst -- in the middle place between running away and explaining away what is difficult and troubling?

The idea of the call, is, perhaps, Heidegger's most theological concept. He defines the call in Enowning* [*see below] as the "essential swaying of the truth of be-ing in the shape of the last god", a phrase which calls for careful exegesis. "Truth" for Heidegger is something which is always in a state of becoming. It is the "there" [Da] of Dasein: that which is, at once, closest to Dasein's own authentic being, but also furthest away and most difficult for us to grasp. "Truth never 'is' but rather holds sway". As such, it is neither something "out there" to be discovered, nor something "in here", created by subjective and arbitrary opinions, but rather the "midpoint" in a mutual mirroring of call and belonging. Truth is that kind of being which is most fitting to a being in its originary givenness. It is genuineness, "a creative strength for preserving what is given along with . . . creative strength for effecting what is given as a task". This last point touches upon Heidegger's views about how one way aspire to being truthful. Certainly not by the assertion of opinion or perspective. Certainly not by assuming the powers of a Cartesian subject, which makes itself the measure of all things. No. For Heidegger, truthfulness has more to do with the capacity for a "deep awe" in the face of the inscrutability of being. And this is not a comfortable thing at all. Because awe requires that we relinquish our onto-theological passions for objectification, possession and mastery. It requires a recognition that the truth of being actually withdraws from us in proportion to the force of our desire for mastery. Rather than the desire for mastery, Heidegger recommends an aptitude for contemplation: "We must give up the habit of wanting to secure this essential swaying of be-ing as representable for everyone at any time one chooses . . . Rather, we always achieve the uniqueness of the resonance . . . [in the] essential sway of stillness, the most finite and the most unique". In silence, says Heidegger, there is both a capacity to "listen" for the call of authentic being, and an appropriate reticence to name the content of that call with too much inflated certainty. And silence, he says, is "nearness to the last god". But who, or what, is this "last god?" And what has "god" to do with the call to truthfulness?
(from "Martin Heidegger: a theology yet to come,"

No easy answers here -- not in the middle-place. The task is to become what Heidegger was pointing to -- to respond to the call of authentic being and become an authentic being.

God, truthfulness, and authentic being are not Three.

Life and death are not Two.

No country, belief, or ideology is the One.

What remains? Where, or to whom, do we belong? Is human dwelling that which dwells in the middle place between negative and positive? Is there room for hope?

Ask, sincerely.


*The only marginal note by Heidegger to this piece in his hand written copy is to be found here and reads 'en-own-ment'. This marginal note says that the memory of being is to be thought out of en-own-ment. Human being belongs along with that which, as the crossing through of being+, calls forth existence, and that thinking which emerges out of existence, in the claim to an original, that is, originating (in distinction from beginning) proposal [Geheißes]. 'Belonging' as that which in appropriating projection turns being toward the essence of human being tells us what 'en-owning' [Ereignen] means. The primary meaning of enowning is, as can be gleaned from Beitrage zur Philosophie: human being conceived as the property [Eigentum] of being (50). Out of the appropriating turning toward of the truth of being+ as the fourfold, the being of human being is determined as 'belonging' to being+ so that human being becomes the being enowned of projection and covering uncovering. Being enowned [Ereignetsein] means: being determined as the 'property' of being. The enowning of turning toward and the being enowned of revealing-concealing have to be understood out of this primordial meaning.
(from TOPOLOGY AND TOPOGRAPHY OF NIHILISM, From the debate between Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger, by Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Introduction: 'On the Line' -- "On: 'The Line'"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nominees stall, or are laureated, or become pope. It is great sport to put names forward. Then we investigate.

As world takes measure of new pope, I wonder about everyday language and memory. As nominee for US/UN post hears his name bobbing downstream over rocks, I wonder whether patronage pockets are the only political option remaining. As the new poet laureate sits back in his chair surveying the universe through his pencil, I wonder whether my sub-atomic particles are wandering around Rome, DC, and Nebraska on their own and happy to be so dispersed.

At the Cancer Clinic

She is being helped toward the open door
that leads to the examining rooms
by two young women I take to be her sisters.
Each bends to the weight of an arm
and steps with the straight, tough bearing
of courage. At what must seem to be
a great distance, a nurse holds the door,
smiling and calling encouragement.
How patient she is in the crisp white sails
of her clothes. The sick woman
peers from under her funny knit cap
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward
and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

(Poem by Ted Kooser)

Particles in hospital practice slowing down. I pass rooms where compressed air, like lives exhaling their final few breaths, remind me that all the fuss about this and that will soon be over. The drama of holding on then letting go is never taken for granted. It is our theater. Mere glance is applause.

After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

(Poem by Ted Kooser)

Carol's mom dies. The ride back and forth, for now, is done. Tea water steam rises into morning at kitchen table for the two minute recollection her busy life allows.

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

(Ted Kooser, Published in Flying at Night)

We manage a little system of our care.

In this system nominees for prayerful attention are articulated and passed on to the inner dwelling of life itself.

What I call "I" is a nominee attempting to appear in forms wherever particles that have passed through and passed on have temporarily come to be. What I mean by that is that the sub-atomic transfer of what we call "me" and "mine" is taking place every instant of this existence. We are everywhere we have ever been, everyone we have ever been near, and geometrically, exponentially visiting by proxy everyplace there is to be.


"There's never an end to dust
and dusting," my aunt would say
as her rag, like a thunderhead,
scudded across the yellow oak
of her little house. There she lived
seventy years with a ball
of compulsion closed in her fist,
and an elbow that creaked and popped
like a branch in a storm. Now dust
is her hands and dust her heart.
There's never an end to it.

(Ted Kooser, from Sure Signs, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980)

Goethe wrote that, "Names are but noise and smoke / obscuring heavenly light." I like to think that "obscuring heavenly light" means that heavenly light obscures.

Readings of "obscure" include:
-- "So faintly perceptible as to lack clear delineation; indistinct."
-- "Not readily noticed or seen; inconspicuous;" or,
-- "Of undistinguished or humble station or reputation."

I know we like clear and distinct ideas with similar words seriatim. We're not fond of symbolic, metaphoric, or dusty references.

In fact, we prefer not to think of ourselves as dust.

That's the odd thing about nominees -- we share, dustily, the name and the presence of anyone or anything called into being.

As I am, that thou art.

Your name again?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict the 16th, or, in Rome, the XVI. Hans Kung says he should be given a chance. I like the irony.

Contemplative emptiness:
The moon suspended over
The village at midnight.
Suddenly, my soul is startled
By the howl of an ape.
Who could know that it would
Arouse me beyond my senses,
And bring me an inner vision from
Mount Sumeru?

- Kita Genki (1664-1698)

It doesn't matter what does it, but the fact of being startled is useful. What inner vision is brought? At Buddhist Conversation tonight I wish the new Pope well, a healthy productive reign.

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, "How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus replied:
"I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father's name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one."

(John 10:22 - 30 )

I like that Jesus was walking back and forth, up and down the portico. Such repetition helps mindfulness. In that mindful state he adds, as afterthought, "The Father and I are one."

This pope will end the sanctioning of war. He will end the reign of abusive priests. He will end the falling away from the church. He will change his view that only the Catholic Church is that of Christ. He will preach that God is beyond any one faith -- and that we must relinquish snide separative superiority and embrace the spirit of truth in all its manifestations.

Am I too optimistic? No one can steal from the Father -- the Father gives it all away.

The Father has taken away Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and given instead Benedict XVI. (His street name will be Benny16.)

There is always an open space at the beginning of anything.

Into that space we send our fond hope and cheerful heart -- for a good start without fear and with courage.

Many of us bow in solitary silent respect.

May he live and reign in the Light of One!

Monday, April 18, 2005

At origin.

From atop Midcoast Maine mountain we look out at Penobscot Bay, its islands, sunshine over water, tree, and hills. The credit bank is selling its vast holdings in the area, and we'd never been to their summit. So much money, so much power, so much remodeling of nature.

It is nearly always about money, isn't it? Who has it; who collects it; who spends it?

Who is the benevolent person, the one who gives all without counting or costing out?

Holding his stick, he points directly to a person,
Yet, originally without form, this portrait is not true,
His form cannot be seen as form,
His benevolence is merely his natural benevolence.
If, all of a sudden, you can understand this law,
Then your spirit can roam beyond this world.

- Mokuan (1676)

We've been thinking about hermitage. It is a queer notion to live the hermit's life in the open. Such a life entails each person being with one another as they are, with reverence, attention, and surrender.

RL: I do give a damn about what everybody thinks. Because I think we all should care about what all of us think. It's good to think of other people's feelings, and its good to check on what they're thinking about you too. The gift of seeing ourselves as other people see us is a gift.

PF: But doesn't this modify the way you are?

RL: Maybe so, but it doesn't give me a false persona. We're all part of one sea of consciousness, and I think that any tips we can get from each other on how we're moving along in it probably help us. We check with each other, and I suppose that if you really were too far from the sea of consciousness you might -- anyone might -- get pretty quirky and you might be glad if somebody reminded you to put your hat on when you should, or tie your shoe laces and things like that. If you're doing something offensive, you won't mind if somebody sets you right.

(p.202, ch.8, "A Hermit for Our Time: Robert Lax on Patmos" interviewed by Peter France in his book Hermits The Insights of Solitude, c.1996)

We're already brothers and sisters of nature, of our common humanity, of God. We'd grown accustomed to the metaphor calling us children of God. A new metaphor asks if we'd be willing to consider ourselves members of the family if we were brother and sister of God. We come from the same origin God comes from. That origin is ever-present. It is our origin too. It has no name. It cannot be known. It is mystery itself. It shares kinship with island and tree, sky and mountain, dogs and humans, breeze and silence. It is what is. Each and all of a piece, endlessly reminding each other that we are not to separate out what is not to be separated out. What is of a piece is original not-twoness.

Maine and Massachusetts took the day today.

In 1775 on this day, Paul Revere took the famous ride that was immortalized in poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. At the time, the British regulars wanted to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams (who were in Lexington) and made what they thought were secret plans to capture the two men. Their plans were discovered, however, and Revere had made arrangements to signal the patriots by lighting two lanterns in Boston's North Church steeple if the British were coming by sea, and one if they were coming by land. Revere rode out on the night of April 18th to warn Hancock and Adams that the British were on their way. Longfellow immortalized the day with these lines:

From, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light -
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country fold to be up and to arm.


Hancock and Adams lived to other days. Those wishing to continue the movement of independence and keeping things flowing freely, prevail that day, and still do.

From the mountain top it is easy to see what approaches and recedes. Robert Creeley was able to say it:


come and go.
let them.

(Poem by Robert Creeley, in Pieces, c1969)

Poet Jared Carter in an interview is quoted: As Robert Creeley says, "Nothing just happens. It depends on who comes along." (

We're just looking out.

Seeing who comes along.

Brother. Sister. Let them.

All of a sudden.

Set us right.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Someone said we are made in the image of God. But God is no thing, therefore has no image.

What does that make us?

One who strives to make Truth their home
May at times be lonely.
Peer deeply into transcendent reality
And think about the body you will have
After this one is gone.

- Hung Ying-ming (~1596)

We sat in cabin, ate at table, now those once here are gone. There is something very basic, something elementary we are missing. Why do we have such difficulty with what is here and not here?

So Jesus spoke to them again:
"I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture..."

(from John 10)

At St. Bernard's this morning after Gospel reading I say to Saskia, "How lovely; Jesus is quoting from the Heart Sutra of Wisdom, saying he is the 'gate'."

The Sanskrit ending to the Heart Sutra is "gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha" -- "gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, awake, rejoice!" (Or, as another translation by The Engaged Zen Foundation has it, "gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond the idea of gone beyond the awakened state of mind.")

What does it mean to be gone?


The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,

Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling --
True believers in liberty, and also security,

And of course sex -- cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,

Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.

They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.

You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
--Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud --

The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost

That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable

So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.

(Poem: "Fix" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from No Heaven. © University of Pittsburgh Press)

At Mass today the priest said the difference between sheep and cows is the difference between shepherd and cowboy. The shepherd leads by walking ahead of his sheep. The cowboy stays behind and drives the cows from the rear. I'm sure he didn't mean to suggest we have a cowboy pushing us to war in this country, but it sure was a reasonable application of his words.

We've had enough of cowboys pushing war. Our need is for something far more real and far more loving. We need one gone beyond the moon-shaped blankness engulfing this country these days.

If Jesus is what is gone beyond, are we willing to follow?
If this body, as Hung Ying-ming suggests, is gone, do we think about what body we will have when transcendent reality is upon us?

What has been broken might not be able to be fixed. We might have to drop off broken mind, drop off broken body, and make Truth our home.

Forget the cowboy.

Pray for shepherd.