Saturday, November 26, 2005

Periodically head pain winces. When I am still able to speak and walk afterwards, everything is as it is. When I am no longer able to speak and walk, everything then will be as it will be -- namely, as it is.

If you were able to put a stop to the mentality in which every thought is running after something, then you would be no different from a Zen master or a Buddha. Do you want to know what a Zen master or a buddha is? Simply that which is immediately present, listening to the Teaching. It is just because students do not trust completely that they seek outwardly. Even if they get something by seeking, it is all literary excellence; they never attain the living meaning of the masters.
- Lin Chi (803- 867)

The "Teaching" and the "teaching" are probably not two things. Whether they are sutra and commentary, or they are snowflake and lightning storm, whether capital "T" or lowercase "t" -- if immediately present, then it is time to listen.

Wet wood hissing in 20-degree morning cabin does not stand up to cold. Sunrise pink then orange over Melvin Heights and Hosmer Pond urge on paper kindling and soaked sticks from heavy rains even under tarp. Pile will have to find its way into barn. By time final Lauds psalm is chanted, final prayer said, fire has found its legs and runs around interior of iron stove.

We sit a bit. And say in Lectio conversation -- God is that profound place beyond feeling, emotion, and mind where faith has found experience. In that experience there is only fact. And kindness, love, and compassion are the facts it finds. There is no outside nor inside to God.

Blue blanket apologized for its unwillingness to remain wrapped to prevent through-floor cold climbing up legs. It is folded neat, draped over kneeling bench and husk cushion in front of window where gray cloud tucked pink and orange into zippered vest.

Cesco's eyes say "mountain walk." So we go up to brook, over bridge, to western run crunchy ice over to parking lot of waiting-for-snow ski area. Five dogs bound from pickup truck. Carousel of sniff and bark enswirls on open ground.

Open ground -- that's to ponder. Sometimes the only place there is, the only faith found worth attention, is the open ground of whatever appears. It is relational experience. Like Bishop George Berkeley's. Only here the koan asks: No God but the appearance of kindness, love, and compassion -- what is to experience?

Experience: [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin 'experientia,' from 'experins,' 'experient' - present participle of 'experr,' to try. See per-3 in Indo-European Roots.]

Try God. Or, try seeing. Try kindness; try love; try compassion.

The experience of God is trying.

Faith says there is something to kindness, love, and compassion.
Hope says it's worth trying.
Service says "Why not here?"

Nothing esoteric. Nothing, and emptiness, and wide as all space -- the open ground where relational reality longs to be tried.

God is not tried up.

God is us trying God trying us.

Back over brook bridge, Cesco carries stick.

Conductor of morning mountain!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It is a wonder to have spent today alive and free.

People who study Buddhism
Should seek real, true
Perception and understanding for now.
If you attain real, true
Perception and understanding,
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?)

I read a recent article about two men in my Ethics class in prison. One has a sentence of 59 years, the other of 70. The two men were convicted of a murder committed during an interrupted burglary ten years ago when they were 23.

Facts are facts. A husband and father stopped home from work for a change of clothes to go to his son's soccer game. They were in the house. A shot. A death. A loss of life and presence of father and husband. A sorrow.

Facts are facts, too, in that 59 and 70 years are a long time to spend in prison. They were found guilty, sentenced, and live day by day the result of that errant day in that tragic house.

It is a wonder every time I go through the security check points and heavy doors -- in and out -- of the maximum security prison. The wonder is the fact of it. I am able to go in -- for meetingbrook conversations, tutoring, teaching; and I am able to leave out from the razor wire, alternate universe of incarceration, and particular faces of men just like me as I am of them with the grace of God.

When we converse around a table -- we just converse. When we explore Kant, Pannikar, Berry, Oliver, Milosz, Bok, Confucius, Plato, or Nishitani -- we just explore. We speak each name, we speak one another's name, and we try to fit name, face, idea, and personal experience into a context that invites insight and understanding.

To face a fact, look into a fact, or see through a fact -- these acts require practice and courage.

Out Here

I know why he killed himself.
You know, the old man
who spent thirty years
trying to break out of prison
and his last two
aching to get back in.
I know him, how he missed
that cold comfort of gray.
I too, have seen colors be scary.
I know why he carved his name
in the headboard at the boarding house
before he swallowed the stolen pills.
For thirty years they barked his name.
He hasn't heard it since. After living
the same day over and over,
regimen and routine,
now he wakes without schedule.
There are no friends here.
There is no family.
He left all of that behind.
Though he didn't know it then,
prison gave him purpose.
It's lonely out here.

(Poem: "Out Here" by Robin Merrill from Laundry and Stories. Moon Pie Press 2005.)

The fact is ten years ago a man was murdered. The fact is two men are in prison.

The fact is that in the Confucian philosophy the following is said:
"Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." (Analects 15:23)
"Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" (Doctrine of the Mean 13.3)

Out here, we're trying to see one another through these facts.

To live with them.

Each one of us.

A blessing.

Of itself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

At weekday mass church in Rockland has new cross behind altar. Gone is figure of Jesus clothed in garb of his time affixed nowhere extending arms in welcome gesture. In is traditional figure of Jesus nailed to wood head slumped body near naked crucified.

No doubt you're in a Catholic church now. The corpus unambiguous is unmistakably back on cross. No refreshed resurrection motif here. Suffering and death takes center wall.

My teacher said to me,
The treasure house
within you contains
and you are free to use it.
You don't need to seek outside.

- Dazhu (487 - 593)

Resurrection is ambiguous. Crucifixion is straightforward. No confusing symbolism about being beyond death in some afterlife proscenium. Rather, all we know is we will suffer and die. What comes next is the stuff of theologians sipping cocktails at conferences and mystics sweating fear in the night. For bread and potatoes common folk -- simple unsubtle torture and murder.

The clarity of habeas corpus separates conservators from protestors.

In prison today we had lengthy discussion about what is good, why be good, free will, and God. Language reveals most conceptualize God out there and knowing ahead of time what will happen, mostly holding back instead of righting things. Standard issue placement of God is like scapegoat (albeit an all-knowing all-powerful scapegoat) sent out into desert wasteland of not-me not-us so as to die a death of detachment.

The view from where I sat was different. From where I sat God was the voice of every inquiry, every reach for understanding, and every attempt to speak into being ways of seeing that honor each of the assembled. God was voice seeking embodiment dwelling place near and nearer.

And maybe it is easier to identify with a man (or men) so obviously affixed by their acts to a place of suffering -- that the cross with corpus takes center gaze.

There it is. Here we are. With one another, as God is, with one another -- it was a good day.

"Every day is a good day," Un Mun Zen Master said.

I agree.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The original literal meaning of the word "absurd" is more interesting than any definition given it. [Latin absurdus, out of tune, absurd : ab-, intensive pref.; see ab-1 + surdus, deaf, muffled.]

I am often out of tune. In all respects.

Becoming a buddha is easy
But ending illusions is hard
So many frosted moonlit nights
I've sat and felt the cold before dawn.

- Shih-wu (1272-1352)(

I do not feel this is the best of all possible worlds. Nor do I suspect it isn't. Sometimes, in silence, the world is a chickadee flying to feeder. What it hopes to find there is beyond me. Still, I fill feeder with seeds. Chickadee takes one at a time.

Garrison Keillor on "The Writer's Almanac" tells us:
It's the birthday of the man who helped spark the enlightenment in France, writing under the name Voltaire, born Francois-Marie Arouet in Paris (1694). He wrote so much in his lifetime that his collected works are still being assembled and edited by French scholars. He's known to us for a single short novel: Candide (1760), about a young man who follows the philosophy of Doctor Pangloss that no matter what misfortunes befall us, this is the best of all possible worlds. (

It is the world I find myself in. No matter what I hope for, when I arrive where I am, I feel exactly how I feel. Nor do I wish it to be other.

November 21, 2005 in the Catholic tradition is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary
Mary's presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem in the sixth century. A church was built there in honor of this mystery. The Eastern Church was more interested in the feast, but it does appear in the West in the 11th century. Although the feast at times disappeared from the calendar, in the 16th century it became a feast of the universal Church.
As with Mary's birth, we read of Mary's presentation in the temple only in apocryphal literature. In what is recognized as an unhistorical account, the Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anna and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old. This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.
Though unhistorical, Mary's presentation has an important theological purpose. It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary. It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.
It is sometimes difficult for modern Westerners to appreciate a feast like this. The Eastern Church, however, was quite open to this feast and even somewhat insistent about celebrating it. Even though the feast has no basis in history, it stresses an important truth about Mary: From the beginning of her life, she was dedicated to God. She herself became a greater temple than any made by hands. God came to dwell in her in a marvelous manner and sanctified her for her unique role in God's saving work. At the same time, the magnificence of Mary redounds upon her children. They, too, are temples of God and sanctified in order that they might enjoy and share in God's saving work.


I like the phrase "God came to dwell in her." Whatever is believed about "God" in our contemporary world, this phrase should be considered. Not just Mary -- though she's as good a beginning as anyone -- but by dint of anyone embodying the reality of God, each of us is opened to that singular experience of reality as it is.

It is not absurd that God dwells within and through us. In the silence of crisp moonlit nights there is a harmony of presence that transcends any grasp of it.

What is, however, absurd is the noise made by men and women claiming they speak for God, they are the instruments of God's power in the world, and that they are acting to bring down God to this world to destroy it, eliminate sin, and purge the unworthy from the face of God's everlasting, spitspot kingdom.

Voltaire wrote, "People who believe in absurdities will eventually commit atrocities."

Listen for a more profound, more loving tune.

Present yourself -- with bare attention-- to a conferred holiness worth the sound of God.

Hear, see, touch, and share this loving-kindness. you are.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The liturgical year ends. Everyone looks around not knowing what to say. That's it, the Church says, curtain. Oh yes, it says, Christ is The King.

The King? Is that it? Everyone looks a little unconvinced. The king, you say? Yes, they say. And that's that.

And I will give him the Morning Star. (Apocalypse 1)

Gautama the Buddha got the morning star. He looked up, and there it was -- the morning star. That's what Jesus the Christ gets as well. He will be given the Morning Star.

Fits. Eh?

The mind of a Wayfarer is plain and direct, without artificiality. There is no rejection and no attachment, no deceptive wandering mind. At all times seeing and hearing are normal. There are no further details. One does not, furthermore, close the eyes or shut the ears; as long as feelings do not stick to things, that will do.
- Kuei-Shan (771-854)

Yes. It fits.

The Promise of the Morning Star

Thou father of the children of my brain
By thee engendered in my willing heart,
How can I thank thee for this gift of art
Poured out so lavishly, and not in vain.
What thou created never more can die,
Thy fructifying power lives in me
And I conceive, knowing it is by thee,
Dear other parent of my poetry!
For I was but a shadow with a name,
Perhaps by now the very name's forgot;
So strange is Fate that it has been my lot
To learn through thee the presence of that aim
Which evermore must guide me. All unknown,
By me unguessed, by thee not even dreamed,
A tree has blossomed in a night that seemed
Of stubborn, barren wood. For thou hast sown
This seed of beauty in a ground of truth.
Humbly I dedicate myself, and yet
I tremble with a sudden fear to set
New music ringing through my fading youth.

(Poem by Amy Lowell, 1874 - 1925)

We'll sit again this Sunday Evening Practice. Wood fire warms cabin.

The fructifying power of honest doubt and simple faith in what is taking place.

It is time for change.

Some things fit, some have no need to.

Buddha is Buddha.

Morning star is morning star.

Christ, also, has no predicate other than itself.