Friday, November 11, 2005

War ages us in ways chronological time cannot. Those who've been in war are older than the rest of us. Hence the word "veteran" -- from Latin "vetus" meaning old.

Sam, Tommy, Richard, Hugh, Buzz, Dan, Hughie, John, Tom, Diane, Lloyd, Michael -- and all the others who are veterans who sometimes drop in at Meetingbrook -- we salute your service. We're also glad to acknowledge Armistice Day, or in Canada, Remembrance Day.

Subject and object from the start
Are no different,
The myriad things nothing
But images in the mirror.
Bright and resplendent,
Transcending both guest and host,
Complete and realized,
All is permeated by the absolute.
A single form encompasses
The multitude of dharmas,
All of which are interconnected
Within the net of Indra.
Layer after layer there is no
Point at which it all ends,
Whether in motion or still,
All is fully interpenetrating.

- Zhitong (d.1124)

Many conversations, some arguments, surely strong feelings -- have been aired in front of the fireplace. Veterans for some wars, veterans against some wars -- but all of them clear about one thing, namely, the men and women who serve must be looked upon and treated with respect and honor. Service, especially during war, is demanding and difficult. Only those who have been there can speak to it. The rest of us must first listen. Experience must first be heard. Only then, depending on the numbers of cups of coffee drunk, might the conversation divert into matters of controversy or politics.

The Street Sounds to the Soldiers' Tread

The street sounds to the soldiers' tread,
And out we troop to see:
A single redcoat turns his head,
He turns and looks at me.

My man, from sky to sky's so far,
We never crossed before;
Such leagues apart the world's ends are,
We're like to meet no more;

What thoughts at heart have you and I
We cannot stop to tell;
But dead or living, drunk or dry,
Soldier, I wish you well.

(Poem by A.E. Housman, 1859-1936)

Before opening the shop today we drive to three houses where men who've been in war reside. Saskia brings each a pastry-puff and wishes them a happy Veteran's Day. She reports smiles all around.

The Messages

"I cannot quite remember... There were five
Dropt dead beside me in the trench - and three
Whispered their last messages to me..."

Back from the trenches, more dead than alive,
Stone-deaf and dazed, and with a broken knee,
He hobbled slowly, muttering vacantly:

"I cannot quite remember... There were five
Dropt dead beside me in the trench, and three
Whispered their dying messages to me...

"Their friends are waiting, wondering how they thrive -
Waiting a word in silence patiently...
But what they said, or who their friends may be

"I cannot quite remember... There where five
Dropt dead beside me in the trench - and three
Whispered their dying messages to me..."

(Poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, 1878-1962))

Remembering might be all we can do. The Canadians could be spot on. Remembering, not just mental recall, but physical/spiritual recollection that re-embodies a transformed reality to exist alongside the hard, frightening experience we know of as war. This transformed reality will serve to transcend time and space, will serve to attempt to make whole with wisdom and loving-kindness what the harsh, amputated experience of war could not.

Lament (1916)

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?

A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings -
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?

(Poem by Wilfred Wilson Gibson)

Today we turn attention to these little things: blue water, smoky fire, potatoes and sausage, conversation, flag waving in wind.

Old veterans never die, they become long-winded.

We rest awhile in the heart of things.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


War is not the issue. War is defined as: “A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties.” War threatens to become fashionable. We are at war in Iraq with an enemy we cannot recognize. Before that we were in Afghanistan at war with people from another country. We are at war with terror. Every irregular behavior looks like terror and attracts wary police or military attention. We have no idea how to fight a noun, verb, adjective or adverb variant of “terror.”

Still, we are at war with terror. At home we have been at war with poverty. At war with drugs. There are wars between red and blue, liberals and conservatives, Bush-lovers and Bush-haters. There is a propaganda war. There is even a ratings war for dominance among television networks. There are battles between sports franchises. There are battles in congress, before the Supreme Court, and no one is quite sure what (if any) sensible outcome is possible or will ever result from these battles and wars. The president has recently declared war against bird flu.

War is not the issue. Greed, self-delusion, and deceit are closer to the issue. War is only war -- a means searching for a reputable end. But there is, it seems, no end to the human mind's attachment to war and the concept of war. Greed, delusion, and deceit are enders of human hope and trust -- a far more destructive effect than even the devastation mechanized war can reach.

A crowd of stars lines up
Bright in the deep night.
Lone lamp on the cliff,
The moon is not yet sunk,
Full and bright without being
Ground or polished.
Hanging in the black sky is my mind.

- Han Shan (early 9th century)

Time is out of joint. It is confusing for many of us. Time seems to be speeding up. The gulf widens between the rich and poor. Natural catastrophes, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes tear through life and property with death and destruction. Men and women, wearing or driving bombs, hurl themselves into the midst of fellow and sister human beings detonating themselves. Elected leaders of nations have no response that indicates they have a clue what is going on and how to make a difference. At least not an insightful, enlightening response. So much of the behavior we see in corporate halls is grab while the grabbing's good.

We can deal with war, the so-called traditional war. Legitimate, ethical, and proportionate response to unprovoked attack against the well being of peoples or nations is necessary when the call comes to intervene. When we send young men and women into harm's way we have a responsibility to transcend politics, ideology, and self-serving ambition. It is always young men and women whose minds and bodies are torn apart in war. Every day from Iraq we are sent dead bodies of Americans, and we watch as dead bodies of Iraqis are sent to ground. The wounded – all of them from every side – limp, half blinded, shattered into a broken future.

A New York Times columnist relates a conversation with a man serving in the military:
A captain who is on active duty, and therefore asked not to be identified by name, told me yesterday:
"The only reason I stayed in the Army was because one colonel convinced me to do it. Other than that, I would have walked. Basically, these guys who are leaving have their high-powered educations. Some are from West Point. They've done their five years. Why should they stay and go back to Iraq and die in a war that's just going to keep on going?"
Beyond that, he said, "Guys are not going to stay in the Army when their wives are leaving them."
From the perspective of the troops, he said, the situation in Iraq is perverse.
He could find no upside. "You go to war," he said, "and you could lose your heart, your mind, your arms, your legs - but you cannot win. The soldiers don't win."

(11/10/2005, NYTimes Op-Ed, "An Army Ready to Snap" By Bob Herbert)

The issue is suffering. It is time to face suffering.

The suffering of Christ is not a trademark owned by any Christian church. The suffering of Christ is the suffering of each and every being. The church is the individual willing to open mind and heart to another individual, and then another. The process of such opening illuminates the reality of Christ as the loving acceptance of the reality of each. To find the reality of Christ we must look to the individual -- i.e. the undivided -- and be willing to sacrifice the belief in what is not of the whole in order to engage the reality of what is of the whole. The world is of the whole. The world is not a mistake, not a falling from a state of primordial perfection into matter, not the booby prize in a contest of spiritualist purity. The earth and all that it contains, all the beings it supports, and the humans that unlock nature's secrets -- all this, things as they are -- is the dwelling place of the one-we-call-God.

The Four Noble Truths -- about suffering: its cause, the penetration, understanding, and cessation of it -- are not the intellectual property of any Buddhist sangha. The Eightfold Path invites us into a life of practice that attends to 1. Wisdom, i.e. (Right Understanding, Right Aspiration); 2. Morality, i.e. (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood); and, 3. Concentration, i.e. (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration). These efforts to get ourselves "right" with the world and one another are efforts to realize the true and proper nature of who we are and what we are doing in the world. The dissatisfaction and unfulfilled lives we experience is directly an effect of clinging to views, beliefs, and opinions that are harmful to persons, places, sentient beings, and things of all shapes and purpose. Suffering discords and discards.

To allow the suffering of individuals and the suffering of the world to be transformed through us, we have to incarnate a new being. This being will not be discordant, but will harmonize the many sounds passing through it. This being will not be discarded, but will find its place in the dwelling of a community of awareness. You through whom the discord and discard passes, will not be harmed or destroyed by the process of transubstantiation. Why not? Because you have not made yourself other, have not taken stance antagonistic to the life flowing through you, nor have you pretended it was you doing the transforming work. Life heals itself. Or, put another way, life is healed by Itself. "Itself" needs a place through which the suffering of life's members can pass and be acknowledged, accepted, and affirmed. You are that place. We are that place.

Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated in 1980, had this to say fifteen months earlier:
But let us remember that Christ has become a person of his people, of his time; he lived as a Jew; he labored as a worker in Nazareth, and ever since, he is made flesh in all people.
If many have moved away from the church, it is precisely because the church has been a little alienated from humanity.
But a church that would feel as its own, all that is human, and would wish to incarnate within itself the sorrow, hope and anguish, of all who suffer and rejoice, that church would be Christ loved and awaited, Christ present.
And that depends on us.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero, 3December1978, in August-September 2005 issue of "The Catholic Worker")

Are we ready to put off greed, delusion, and deceit? Are we ready to vacate our views, beliefs, and opinions in order to arrive empty for the loving work of Itself to renew being and life?

We need to encourage those of us frightened by the prospect of embodying and transforming suffering. Encourage a reflection about dying and resurrecting through suffering's transformation and cessation. Encourage an awareness that ultimately, by birthing a new incarnation and new enlightenment in this world, yes, in this very world, this very existence -- we enter into the sacred meditation and transubstantiating miracle that is the grace of this moment.

This moment of grace is attention to our true nature. The work needing to be done is inner work that must be done through, with, in, and as "us." There is no world "out there" to change. The healing needing to be done is an inside job.

It is not a war.

It is, simply -- prayer and practice.

Lower guns.

Lower eyes.

Lower body to sit.

Silently, still.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The elderly artist dropped his cigar to the rug in front of fireplace in his cozy study. He says he doesn't sketch anymore. "It's gone," he says. He's in shock over circumstances in his family's life.

Out in the van, cold rain blackening road, we drive home over wet leaves.

The purpose of Zen is to enable people to immediately transcend the ordinary and the holy, just getting people to awaken on their own, forever cutting off the root of doubt. Many people in modern times disregard this. They may join Zen groups, but they are lazy about Zen study. Even if they achieve concentration, they do not choose real teachers. Through the error of false teachers, they likewise lose their way. Without having understood senses and objects, as soon as they possess themselves of some false interpretation they become obsessed by it and lose the correct basis completely. They are only interested in becoming leaders and being known as teachers. While they value an empty reputation in the world, they bring ill on themselves. Not only do they make their successors blind and deaf, they also cause the influence of Zen to degenerate.
- Fayan

I pick up cigar and give it back to him. His wife says he hasn't sketched since January -- a long pause in a habit that he'd practiced every day for over sixty years. "But he's begun to write," she says. He tilts his head and raises eyebrows, ceding. "I'll stop by, read them, give them back, and leave." -- I tell him.

I don't know what to think about zen.

The cigar rolled to edge of rug by rear leg of chair.

Sometimes a visit is only a visit.

Saskia has food ready to eat.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dripping spigot speeds beat into white pot in kitchen sink.

Your heart knows
The way to Heng Mountain.
You are not afraid;
Few people go there.
Inside the boat,
You still hear birds and temple chimes.
At the river's source,
You dry your monk's robe in the sun.
You had a family,
But left it when young;
Now there is no temple
That would not welcome you.
Managing to find
A shelter in the cold,
You do your usual zazen
As snow fills up your door.

- Chia Tao (779-843) dailyzen

Steady flow into sink, a drummer's flurry before handing lick back to tightened faucet.

Ayya Khema's words tonight at conversation about anicca, dukkha, and anatta -- impermanent, unfulfilled, of no core-substance -- also drip through kitchen's quiet.

Ball rolls in from front room. Border collie chases after. Maine coon cat sleeps on bed across from sink.

Wendell Berry ends his poem "To My Mother" with the lines:
...And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

Baking paper fits on tray for frozen croissants defrosting.

Two good words: unentangled; undismayed.

Those who love have forgiven.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A fifteen year old boy in town committed suicide a few days ago. Citizens of the town anguish again. Will his death become contagious?

During a question/answer at Festival of the Spirit with a visiting spiritual teacher yesterday morning there was conversation about the death by suicide. Someone noted that the prevalent response at these times is crisis intervention counseling. This is following the event. We have to ask: What might precede the suicide and the response?

Turn your attention within;
Don't memorize my words.
You have been turning from light to darkness
Since before you can remember,
So the roots of your subjective ideas are deep
And hard to uproot all at once.
This is why I temporarily use expedients
To take away your coarse perceptions.

- Yangshan

"Expedient" means: "1. Something that is a means to an end; 2. Something contrived or used to meet an urgent need."

Novelist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus wants to remind us about suicide. In 1942, in his philosophical essay LE MYTHE DE SISYPHE (The Myth of Sisyphus), the famous statement: "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that."

Teenagers think about suicide. That consideration is enough to frighten many adults. Suicide is a means and something contrived to end a thought, a feeling -- to put to rest an urgent need.

Norman Scrimshaw, in his Spiritual Dialogue talk yesterday morning, used the example of two phrases "all will be well" and "thy will be done" as guides toward finding peace and happiness. He used a ski metaphor -- each phrase as an individual ski to take us on our run.

I sat with the issue in the balcony.
The thought teenagers have is what the culture reinforces: all is not well, especially not with you, and it never will be well. The feeling is reinforced by other members of their age group: you're a jerk, uncool, a loser, and an object of scorn, derision, and laughter.

Contemporary culture -- whether political, corporate, athletic, celebrity, or peer -- falls easily into this posture of degradation.

The crisis response has to precede the suicidal impulses pulsating through contemporary life.

Need a suggestion? Whenever you hear anyone -- teen or adult, or group of either -- putting down some person or group, step up and step in and say the following: "I overheard what you were saying. And what you were saying about that kid (or that person, or group) also applies to me. I'm going to have to do some self-searching about this. Maybe you too."

We all can do some self-searching. Maybe we'll come to the suspicion we can't say anything about someone else that doesn't also apply to each and every one of us. With that seed of knowledge we can begin to embody the suffering that is tossed around so blithely by people who do not yet realize they are talking to and about themselves.

Suicide is the feeling and thought we are eliminating the unbearable pain of the feeling and thought that all is not well, and that we must control the world, our life, and everything that passes through each.

Actually, all will be well.

Actually, God's will being done is awareness and compassion toward oneself --oneself in all its appearances -- even in the appearance of our tormentors.

Actually, suicide is an option -- a serious, and in some ways, an important one. But suicide as understood in a new way -- namely, the dissolving of the thought and feeling of the isolated and separate self. With this dissolving of the feeling and thought of an isolated and separate self ultimately comes the awakening and awareness of oneself -- in, with, as, and through each appearance. The seeming "other" and the seeming "isolated self" dissolve. We are left with "What Is" -- ("God" by any other name.)

What we are left with is where we begin as a community of awareness. It is beyond subject and object. It is a place where each is itself -- not two, not one -- but whole and entire with what is whole and entire. Mystics see God -- in this, as this -- place.

The Golden Rule -- seeing neighbor as self, not doing to another what we do not wish to experience ourselves -- requires a reflection on the process and the structure of suffering. This reflection needs to precede events like suicide. The awareness undergirding this insight and intuition is like the process of gold in fire.

When does gold ore become gold? When it is put through a process of fire. So the human being during the training becomes as pure as gold through suffering. It is the burning away of the dross. Suffering has a great redeeming quality. As a drop of water falling on the desert sand is sucked up immediately, so we must become nothing and nowhere ... we must disappear. (~Bhai Sahib, quoted in 'Travelling the Path of Love' Ed. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee)

This is what we have to talk about.

Let this conversation become contagious.

Until and as it does, we go about our lives. Currently, in this town, we sorrow the death of this young man.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

An infant named Grace slept in rocker in lobby of film festival in Rockland this evening.

The sound of a swollen
Mountain stream rapidly rushing
Makes one know
How very quickly life itself
Is pressed along its course.

- Saigyo (1118-1190)

The Sufi teacher interviewed on screen said praising God and serving one another in God were good things to do.

The practice of presence; the presence of practice.

Grace awakens.