Saturday, September 10, 2005

I like the idea that there is no opposite nor end to love.

I like the notion that what is loved is lovely.

We visit woman in closed unit at hospital last night. She wonders if they will hold her against her will if she decides, at the end of medical physical diagnosis, she'd prefer to end her life. My suspicion, I tell her, at that time she'll be rested, clear-minded, and well-sighted enough to say and do what best she can say and do with this lovely life that is hers.

Birth and death don't affect you;
You are free to go or stay.
You needn't seek wonders,
For wonders come of themselves.

- Linji (d. 867?)

Gave a talk to Lifetime Recovery Group in prison yesterday on "Spirituality: Seeing, Breathing, What Is Itself." Saskia was down the hall wrestling math with someone not interested in leaving a paper trail of calculations. Next room was a gathering of men in a science class. I'll see them Tuesday morning for Ethics course meeting. (Last one was cut short by half due to one of the many administrative issues relating to security and order that come up).

We'll be reading Robert Pirsig's Lila in the course. Came across the following from Pirsig's first novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
Nothing much happened ... He'd entered India an empirical scientist, and he left India an empirical scientist, not much wiser than he had been when he'd come. However, he'd been exposed to a lot and had acquired a kind of latent image that appeared in conjunction with many other latent images later on..... He became aware that the doctrinal differences among Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them .... great value is placed on the Sanskrit doctrine of Tat tvam asi, "Thou art that," which asserts that everything you think you are and everything you think you perceive are undivided. To realize fully this lack of division is to become enlightened. (Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p.143)

If the Sanskrit doctrine is accurate, then there is much I have to consider about my actions on a bridge between New Orleans and Gretna. Why did I fire my gun? What do I think of those who are not interested in my survival?

There's a first person account making it's way around. It is the experiences of some New Orleans people attempting to make their way out of the city. The whole piece is available on site listed below -- but here, an excerpt:
As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move. We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.
("Hurricane Katrina -- Our Experiences," Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky,

Meanwhile, in Iraq, I am found dead; I close airport because I'm not getting my fat paycheck, and I continue to kill those I consider not-me:
Some 30 miles south of Baghdad, meanwhile, police found the bodies of 18 men who had been handcuffed and shot to death in Iskandariya, a town where dozens of killings have been reported in escalating vengeance killings by Shiite Muslim and Sunni Aram ''death squads.''
''Two days ago gunmen in police uniforms broke into their houses in a Shiite neighborhood of Iskandariya,'' police Capt. Adel Kitab said of the latest victims.
In the capital, Baghdad International Airport reopened early Saturday after a day's closure in a payment dispute between the government and a British security company. Global Strategies Group said it agreed to resume security work after the government promised to pay half of what the company said it is owed.
Iraq police said two mortar shells were fired into the Green Zone that houses the U.S. Embassy, the Iraqi parliament and government offices. There was no word on casualties or damage.

(Iraqi and U.S. Forces Launch Offensive on Insurgent Stronghold, By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Published: September 10, 2005, NYTimes)

Bone-tired last night, we stared at end of film Solaris (by Steven Soderbergh) on AMC channel after returning from hospital. The character named Chris Kelvin suddenly sees the character named Rheya in final scene.
KELVIN: Am I alive or dead?
RHEYA: We don't have to think like that anymore. We're together now. Everything we've ever done is forgiven. Everything.

We are left wondering.

In an article about Solaris and our wondering, Paul Newall writes:
Although we the viewers are already aware that this Rheya is not really Kelvin's dead wife but an imitation, she is not and has to piece the realisation together herself. "I do remember things, but I don't remember being there. I don't remember experiencing those things." Obtaining her memories from Kelvin's, she has content but not context. From our privileged vantage point we watch as this inevitably leads to tragedy:

"Don't you see? I came from your memory of her. That's the problem. I'm not a whole person. In your memory you get to control everything, so even if you remember something wrong I am predetermined to carry it out. I'm suicidal because that's how you remember me. My voice sounds the way it does because that's how you remember it."

Although we can observe that Kelvin would be expected to have largely negative memories of his wife given her suicide and the part he feels he played in it, there is something more important at stake in the inadequacy of his recollections; namely, that all memories are inherently incomplete -- even those we have of ourselves. Given that Rheya is dead and therefore must be reconstructed from his memory, the question is not why this should happen but how it could be otherwise? The implication of the polytheres, it seems, is that there can be no total knowledge or understanding of another. Drawn as they are from the thoughts of the crew, they are nevertheless recognised as incomplete renderings by their "real" double; but rather than this being a comment on a supposed failure by Solaris to achieve a perfect copy, instead they speak of the failure of our own conceptions of others to match them. That is, it is we who fall short, not the polytheres or their originator.


Saturday afternoon is quiet. I will walk in to town to the bookshop. We'll read and listen at Poetry, Tea, and Literature. On Barnestown Road, Hosmer Pond Road, and Mechanic Street (three names for the same straight road) I will think of life, memory, love, and death. (A dear friend married yesterday -- she is a love that has always evaded understanding.) I'll recall the words added by Newall:
Kelvin appreciates this failure, at least in part, by rejecting the idea that his memories should dictate how life with the new Rheya must play out:

"I don't believe we're predetermined to relive our past. I think that we can choose to do it differently. The day I left and you said you wouldn't make it -- I didn't hear you because I was angry. This is my chance to undo that mistake, and I need you to help me."

He thus increasingly conceives of Rheya not as a copy of his wife but an opportunity to atone for his previous errors, with his admission ("all I see is you") pointing us in the direction of acknowledging that complete knowledge of others is both impossible and what we yearn for nonetheless. When Rheya says "I wish we could just live inside that feeling forever", it is difficult indeed to recall that she is supposed to be composed of Kelvin's memories and sustained by Solaris, rather than a new person in her own right. He is, as it were, on almost a level playing field with this Rheya because while she came into existence with an incomplete recollection of her past, Kelvin comes to realise that he is handicapped in exactly the same way as we all are. The desire of lovers to slow time or live in a perfect moment then becomes not a hopeless dream but exactly the response we should expect given that this feeling can neither be recorded as it is in our memories nor expressed in a way that has the same meaning to anyone else.

("Soderbergh's Solaris," by Paul Newall,

Newall ends his reflections by saying: "What is apparent, though, is that Kelvin has been given another chance precisely because life ends but love does not."

Finally we are brought back to poetry -- where everything arises and returns. This time it is a poem by Dylan Thomas. And this is the first stanza to his poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" --

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

(Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953)

Finis vitae sed non amore, -- Life ends, love does not.

We settle for what is lovely. All of it -- forgiven, and found -- right here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

For one thing to come to birth, everything else must go.

Every day priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters
Sent by the wind and rain,
The snow and moon.

- Ikkyu (1394-1491)

Go where?

Being humble

If a man is crossing a river and an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
even though he be a bad-tempered man he will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat, he will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again, and yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty, he would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat crossing the river of the world,
no one will oppose you, no one will seek to harm you....

Who can free himself from achievement, and from fame, descend and be lost amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen, he will go about like Life itself with no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction. To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power. He achieves nothing, has no reputation.

Since he judges no one, no one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

(20:2, 4, pp. 168-171, from Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton)

Go away. Right there, where you are, be gone.

No need to commit suicide. Just end everything considered "else" -- and abide in the singular reality of passing smile.

Some call it God's smile. Some, Buddha's. But here's what I think:

The smile, as does everything, belongs to itself.

So is birth.

Welcome back!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The male voices of local authority, breaking with anger and sorrow immediately after Katrina, were crying out to Mr. Bush and administration: "Shut up! Just shut up -- and show up!"

Like the words of the song that say "don't talk of me" these men wanted feet and action, not promises and pronouncements. If there is any proof of love in the world, it is in the hands, the pudding, and the real presence of caring attention served up.

The iris pond has flowered
Before the old temple;
I sell tea this evening
By the water's edge.
It is steeped in the cups
With the moon and stars;
Drink and wake forever
From your worldly sleep.

- Baisao (1675-1763)

A circle of women gathered around a dismayed and distressed member of their community last evening under prayer-flags and asked her how they might help. Finally, exhausted by the dishing of advice and shrugging of shoulders, she got to tell them what she felt and where she was stumbling.


My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

(Poem: "Parting," by Emily Dickinson.)

All part to their own ways. The flags float and sway their prayers in the breeze with each passing breath of presence.

What can we do? We can stand, sit, or walk with one another. We can wait until the natural opening of reciprocality and receptivity. We can fast from the exorbitance of too easy and too rapid opinions -- until the morsel crumb of authentic sustenance appears as if by miraculous manifestation.

Nourish one.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Under water, rhetoric, and our varying attention and inattention -- the people of New Orleans and environs pass through death.

"My lands are where my dead lie buried," (Crazy Horse, d.5/6Sept1877). These are his words over the impressive, unfinished work in the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota.

What I teach people just
Requires you not to take
On the confusion of others.
Act when necessary,
Without further hesitation or doubt.
When students today do not attain this,
Wherein lies their sickness?
The sickness is in not
Trusting yourself.
If your inner trust is insufficient,
Then you will frantically go along
With changes in situations,
And will be influenced and
Affected by myriad objects,
Unable to be independent.
If you can stop the mentality
Of constant frantic seeking,
Then you are no different
From Zen masters and Buddhas.

- Linji (d. 866)

Families are dismayed and seek their separated loved ones. Politicians scramble for their footing along the muddy road of self-interest. Rescue workers open doors and call out to living and dead souls.

The woman and the man dreamed that God was dreaming about them.
--God was singing and clacking his maracas as he dreamed his dream in a tobacco smoke, feeling happy but shaken by doubt & mystery.
--The Makiritare Indians know that if God dreams about eating, he gives fertility and food. If God dreams about life, he is born and gives birth.

(from Genesis, part one of Memory of Fire, by Eduardo Galeano, 1982)

It is not a mystery that men in power want mostly to safeguard their power no matter what the cost.

The mystery is that God continues being born in and through every death, every life, and every birth. We just can't figure out the right order of things.

We bless the dead, heal the living, and through it all, suffer fools tap dancing and politically posturing atop the desolation of others.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

No blame. No praise. Only to do what needs be done.

New Orleans collapses. Something else collapses. We don't know how to say it.

The ancients had a lot of complications to help you,
Such as Xuefeng's saying,
"The whole earth is you," Jiashan's saying,
"Pick out the teacher in the hundred grasses;
recognize the emperor in a bustling market place."
Take these up and think about them over and over again;
Eventually, over time, you will naturally find a way to penetrate.
No one can substitute for you in this task;
It rests with each individual, without exception.

- Yunmen (d. 949)

The whole earth is you -- that's what Yunmen said. We'll have to sit with that.

Jared Diamond - Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Civilizations collapse. That is the rule that we learn from history, and it is a rule whose implications deserve careful thought given the fact that our own civilization - despite its global extent and unsurpassed technological prowess - is busily severing its own ecological underpinnings. Thus we should pay close attention when Jared Diamond, one of the world's most celebrated and honored science writers, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, devotes his newest and already best-selling book to the subject of how and why whole societies sometimes lose their way and descend into chaos.
Diamond uses his considerable popular non-fiction prose-writing skills - carefully honed in the crafting of scores of articles for Natural History, Discover, Nature, and Geo - to trace the process of collapse in several ancient societies (including the Easter Islanders, the Maya, the Anasazi, and the Greenland Norse colony) and show parallels with trends in several modern nations (Rwanda, Haiti, and Australia).
One theme quickly emerges: the environment plays a crucial role in each instance. Resource depletion, habitat destruction, and population pressure combine in different ways in different circumstances; but when their mutually reinforcing impacts become critical, societies are sometimes challenged beyond their ability to respond and consequently disintegrate.

(from "Meditations on Collapse," by Richard Heinberg, in MuseLetter, February 2005,
A review of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed)

No blame. No praise.

Only to do what needs be done.