Saturday, September 24, 2005

Zazen in cabin with Sando and Britta. Saturday dusk -- a good description of my mind. Bow to two dogs. Extinguish heart-glass candle below icon. Sound bell-chant. Walk path to house and this room.

For all these years, my certain Zen:
Neither I nor the world exist.
The sutras neat within the box,
My staff hooked upon the wall,
I lie at peace in moonlight
Or, hearing water splashing on the rock,
Sit up. None can purchase pleasure such as this:
Spangled across the step-moss, a million coins!

- Ryushu Shutaku (1308--1388)

There are only few days of meditation remaining with Sando. Her body weakens with cancer. This good dog fourteen years sitting partner!

There are times I cannot read anything having to do with spirituality, theology, or "isms" with any prefix. These hermit days I read novel about philosophy, nap, soak, take short walks, and sit in silence on zabuton or cabin porch swivel chair -- merely listening, simple watching. The trees are good company. The path meandering up to brook is moist brown. I cut grass. Britta, (the visiting young German Shepherd), paces back and forth eyeing wheels; Sando stretches out and watches.

Jesus Christ, although he shared God's nature, did not try to seize equality with God for himself; but emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and became like a man -- not in appearance only, for he humbled himself by accepting death -- even death on a cross. (Philippians 2)

What is "like a man?" Of course we accept death. Is there a choice? To accept death is one thing, but to want to die is frowned upon. It is curious that the one thing in life we are certain about -- that we will die -- is something we should not want to happen, work hard to put off, and never choose to suicide.

"Quotidie morior" -- I die daily. Poetry helps.

While my bowl is still half full,
you can eat out of it too,
and when it is empty,
just bury it out in the flowers.

All those years
I had in my pocket.
I spent them,

Each clock tick falls
like a raindrop,
right through the floor
as if it were nothing.

In the morning light,
the doorknob, cold with dew.

(Poems by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser, from Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry, Cooper Canyon Press c.2003)

As if it were nothing, the day disappears into itself. Dogs are fed. Red Sox win. Yankees lose.

If there is a tomorrow, and things go as they might, the Sunday New York Times will be brought into the dooryard.

Tota Pulchra est...


Wisp of smoke extinguishes Saturday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The form of the Buddha is empty. The body of Christ is not-to-be found. Two bird bodies lie still under hibiscus tree, their whatever-you-call-it no longer within them propelling wings and song.

There's no telling where everything's going. It's anyone's guess. Some say there's no need guessing. What matters and what counts is awareness of life that attends with grace and hospitality that which and those who present themselves. Awareness and presence -- close and far. Something that resides in a place we know not.

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
(the world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

(from "For a Dancer" by Jackson Browne)

Water breaks over and through levees in New Orleans flooding again as new hurricane blows over Gulf toward Texas and Louisiana. Bus catches fire fleeing toward higher ground killing twenty-four elderly people on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston.

She is like white clouds rising from the mountains,
No-mind from the start.
She is like the roosting bird who feels no longing
For the woods of home.
Because this person of the Way happens to enjoy
The mountains and streams,
She wanders among them unconcerned about how deep
Into the lakeside mountain peaks she goes.
She has gone to the empty cliffs to pay respect to
The hundred thousand forms of the Buddha.

- Su Dongpo (1037-1101)

We pay respect to the hundred thousand forms of the Buddha. We pay respect to the hundred thousand forms of the Christ.

"Do not be afraid! For the Lord of Hosts says this: 'A little while now, and I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and the treasures of all the nations shall flow in, and I will fill this Temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts. Mine is the silver, mine the gold! -- it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old, says the Lord of Hosts, and in this place I will give peace -- it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks.'"
(Haggai 1:15 - 2:9)

This notion, this promise there will be a surpassing of the old sits quietly off to the side of history. For thousands of years human consciousness attempts to convey sense and order on events that occur. We form opinions, weave theories, and create systems of belief with no seeming clarity of existential or empirical verification. In short -- we simply don't know. We don't know how life came to be, from where, by what means, to what end, or whether our deepening consciousness will ever come to know and even effect change that will have permanent and ontological significance.

Poet Wendell Berry gives two poems for us to consider:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

(Poem by Wendell Berry)


The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

("Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, c.1973 by Wendell Berry)

Perhaps marriage is the affirmation that everything we've believed is inaccurate. Revisiting what we've called marriage, the country of marriage, we make tracks over tracks looking for new direction.

Marriage is where individuals say aloud in the presence of others: "We are not two; we are not one -- we are nuptial being; we are ground itself."

Perhaps marriage is what once was called life but now is called resurrection. Resurrection -- that which is -- beyond separation; that which is -- before union.

Is this "joyful sound?" Beyond separation/before union?
Joyful sound dwells between silence and stillness. It is resurrection within.

If we listen with conversation in this place, in this thin place, we begin to hear now something new.

Go ahead, practice resurrection.

Praise not-knowing.

Be empty form found.

Be loving-place.

As you are.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Always retiring, today feels like solitary celebration of retirement. From what? To what?

v. re·tired, re·tir·ing, re·tires
v. intr.
1. To withdraw, as for rest or seclusion.
2. To go to bed.
3. To withdraw from one's occupation, business, or office; stop working.
4. To fall back or retreat, as from battle.
5. To move back or away; recede.


Today, at least, I retire from summer.

Far away, steep mountain paths,
Treacherous and narrow, ten thousand feet up;
Over boulders and bridges, lichens of green,
White clouds are often seen soaring,
A cascade suspends in mid-air like a bolt of silk;
The moon's reflection falls on a deep pool, glittering.
I shall climb up the magnificent mountain peak,
To await the arrival of a solitary crane.

- Shide (8th century)

Reading Cynics, Stoics, Epicureans, Neoplatonists, and Mysticism in Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, A Novel About the History of Philosophy. (A light tapping on door; opens; small bowl of fruit placed on bookshelf, thank you.) I am retiring today. Considering Cynic's and Stoic's attitudes to sickness and death -- with fruit to boot!

To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane's bill.

(-- Dogen)

In prison Tuesday, eighteen students of ethics listened to Dogen's take -- then wrote theirs. Plato's cave and neo-Platonist sparks of light vied with one another. Split? Or, solid?

Herod said, "John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?" (Luke 9: 8)

It happened twice -- in morning prison college class and again in afternoon university college class one town away. It had to do with the use of the word "part," as in -- I am part of this or that. "You are not part of anything," was the response. (Silence. Waiting. It's only words, but they're all we have.) We're not part; we're it -- the whole. It's not what you think. We're not part of anything -- except in our thinking mind and scientific-analytic sorting out one from the other. There is the whole. We are not other than the whole. We are the whole.

"So what?" someone asks. Indeed, so what?

Herod was right to be confused -- and so was the woman in afternoon class. John? Jesus? Herod? You? Me? -- the whole of it.
Even so, "Who is this?" and "So what?" -- are reliable questions.

Last week I had a fever
for four days and the world
took on a kind of flickering darknessÂ?
it seemed so thin, so insubstantial,
not the kind of place a person could live.
This guy who came to the card game
last night, he says he dreams
of a dead friend all the time,
this friend walks out of a black alley,
walks always in a kind of shadow.
I asked him what it's like to be dead,
the guy said, fumbling a face-down card,
and he said it's not a place, heaven,
it's a feeling, the feeling of knowing
everything you never knew. Then the friend
told him one of the numbers to play
this week in Megabucks.

(Excerpt from Poem: "Something Else" by Christian Barter, from The Singers I Prefer.)

There is much I don't know, have never known. At times the feeling inside this apprehension lacking comprehension is fear. As when intimation of impermanence, glimpse of death, or sense of deterioration rooting into physicality. But then there is Dogen -- moonlight, drop of dew, shaken loose, life-flight-passing.

Flight takes fright. Or is it: Fright takes flight?

"The number," the poet said at poem's end, "was eight."

That seems right.




Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The bell, invited by breeze, tolls lightly, slowly.

I cannot find the Monastery of Heaped Fragrance,
Miles up now into the clouds of the summit.
There is no footpath through the ancient woods.
Where did the bell sound,
Deep in the gorge, deep in the mountain?
The voice of the torrent gulps over jagged stones;
Sunlight hardly warms the bluish pines.
As dusk deepens in these unfathomable mazes,
I practice meditation
To subdue the dragon of desire.

- Wang Wei (701–761)

Richard Rorty calls for redescription. He says not to refute ideas, rather, make a redescription of the reality, the thing itself, underlying the idea.

Sunlight returns to midcoast Maine. It accompanies solitude. A dogbark up hill. Car engine approaches and ascends Ragged/Bald Barnestown Road incline. The moment might be filled with discomfort, but it is the moment itself allows the written words, "The bell, invited by breeze, tolls lightly, slowly."

Poised between what once was called birth and death, listening to bell, the sunlit day makes its way up Ragged and Bald with no noise, no sound, no hurry.

Makes our way, thus.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Petals fall from flower; words fall from language. Friends visit from Boston. They'll wed in two weeks. They wish petals and words to weave through Metta Sutra and Beatitudes.

"On the field of sunyata each thing becomes manifest in its suchness in its very act of affirming itself, according to its own particular potential and virtus and in its own particular shape." (Keiji Nishitani, in Religion and Nothingness, p.131)

Taitetsu Unno adds, "This is the "in-itself" of reality, the be-ification of emptiness. Each being, thus affirmed on the field of sunyata, becomes the center of a circle without a circumference, free of fixation in any form, without subject or object." (from talk given at Amherst College, "Encounter with Emptiness" conference, 1984)

The bay is gray today. Damp breeze blows through screen door in Harbour Room. Karl has arranged upstairs computer. Another set of eyes looking out at horizon beyond Curtis Island.

In everyone it towers like
A mile high wall,
Flashing a great precious light
In everyone's presence.
One thought ten thousand years,
Ten thousand years one thought,
Eating when hungry,
Sleeping when tired,
Who worries about the alternation
Of light and dark,
The change of the seasons?

- Daio (1235-1309)

Each person tries to learn the language necessary to respond to another person. We try to learn to respond, not to a person's problem, but to the person herself.

At Sunday Evening Practice the question is asked whether powerful men who do what is considered evil actually believe they are right and doing good. The question is put to rest. No, they don't believe they are right and are doing good. They know they are wrong, they know they're in it for the power. And they lie. They lie to themselves. They lie to others. They don't think they're right. They only think they won't be stopped.

We need a language inseparate from that which falls from it. Only words intimate to, and extension of, their source can be true. Source. Where good knows no other.

The Japanese word for language, "koto-ba," was defined by Martin Heidegger as "flower petals that flourish out of the lightening message of the graciousness that brings forth." (in The Way to Language, p.53)

It is only from the thing itself can we learn of the thing.

From the pine tree
learn (the koto) of the pine tree.
And from the bamboo
(the koto) of the bamboo.

-- Basho

We are at heart good. When we think or do what is not good we deceive, we think, sometimes others, but not ourselves. Never ourselves. Why not ourselves? Because it is not possible to deceive oneself. There is only this to rely on. There is no other. It is a trick of mirrors and smoke to pretend we do not understand. We understand. We have to pretend not to. The clever disappear behind their deceit. Soon enough, we can only hope, we'll all tire of the pretense.

Authentic presence does not know it is good and doing good. It is simply what is itself doing what is itself to be done.

We forget how to speak. There are only tears in our eyes. We carry on wordless and humbled by the only good remaining in the world. What is that remaining good? Yes?

It is not so much what we say -- it is that we are there, saying or not saying anything. It is not so important to convince someone we are right or wrong -- it is best merely to be there, as we are, inseparate from source. We seldom remember anything more than presence.


In sophomore year the great philosopher,
Then ninety, out of retirement came, to pass
His wisdom on to one more generation.
Reading his last lecture to our class,

That afternoon the mote-filled sunlight leaned
Attentively with purpose through the tall
Windows in amber buttresses that seemed
To gird the heavens so they wouldn't fall.

The blaze of his white mane, his hooded eyes,
The voice that plumbed us from reflection's skies
So far above temptation or reward --

The scene has never left my mind. I wrote
His lecture down, but, in an old trunk, my notes
Have crumbled, and I can't recall a word.

(Poem: "Philosophy" by Daniel Hoffman, from Makes you Stop and Think)

We are good.

Isn't that beyond all?