Saturday, December 10, 2005

Transition day of Thomas Merton -- 37 years ago, 1968.

Cloud Barrier pierced, the old path's gone.
Clear sky, bright sun, my true home.
Activity's wheel turns freely beyond men.
Golden Kasyapa departs,
Hands clasped on his chest.

- Daito (1282-1334)

We like Thomas Merton. Something about him captures our attention, silence, and service.

Even when he performs some meritorious action, he scrupulously points out his mixed motives. Here he is on the way to hospital to be treated for appendicitis:
'In the Fourteenth Street subway there was a drunk. And he was really drunk. He was lying prostrate in the middle of the turnstiles, in everybody's way. Several people pushed him and told him to get up and get out of there, but he could not even get himself up on his feet.
I thought to myself: "If I try to lift him out of there, my appendix will burst, and I too will be lying there in the turnstiles along with himÂ?. With my nervousness tempered by a nice warm feeling of smugness and self-complacency, I took the drunk by the shoulders and laboriously hauled him backwards out of the turnstiles and propped him up against the wall. He groaned feebly in protest.
Then, mentally congratulating myself for my great solicitude and charity towards drunks, I entered the turnstile and went down to take the train to the hospital. As I looked back, over my shoulder, from the bottom of the stairs, I could see the drunk slowly and painfully crawling back towards the turnstile, where he once again flung himself down, prostrate, across the opening, and blocked the passage as he had done before.'
Thus he skillfully deflates the whole drama and convinces the reader that the act was at once infinitely unimportant and infinitely worth doing. This is, of course, true of everything we do; but the truth is easier to assimilate when you see it in action.


I think I like the ambiguity of the equation: In our nothingness, we matter; In our significance, we are nothing.

The Candlemas Procession

Ad revelationem gentium.

Look kindly, Jesus, where we come,
New Simeons, to kindle,
Each at Your infant sacrifice his own life's candle.

And when Your flame turns into many tongues,
See how the One is multiplied, among us, hundreds!
And goes among the humble, and consoles our sinful

It is for this we come,
And, kneeling, each receive one flame:
Ad revelationem gentium.

Our lives, like candles, spell this simple symbol:
Weep like our bodily life, sweet work of bees,
Sweeten the world, with your slow sacrifice.
And this shall be our praise:
That by our glad expense, our Father's will
Burned and consumed us for a parable.

Nor burn we now with brown and smoky flames, but
Until our sacrifice is done,
(By which not we, but You are known)
And then, returning to our Father, one by one,
Give back our lives like wise and waxen lights.

( - Poem by Thomas Merton, written in 1943)

I also like Nikos Kazantzakis:
Who were the two artists of ancient times who competed to see who could paint the visible world most faithfully? "Now I shall prove to you that I am the best," said the first, showing the other a curtain which he had painted. "Well, draw back the curtain," said the adversary, "and let us see the picture." "The curtain is the picture," replied the first with a laugh.
During this entire voyage of mine on the Aegean I had sensed with profundity that the curtain is truly the picture. Alas for him who tips the curtain in order to see the picture. He will see nothing but chaos.
I remained plunged in solitude's austere silence for many additional days. It was spring; I sat beneath the blossoming lemon tree in the courtyard, joyfully turning over in my mind a poem I had heard at Mount Athos: "Sister Almond Tree, speak to me of God." And the almond tree blossomed.
Truly, the curtain embroidered with blossoms, birds, and men - this must be God. This world is not His vestment, as I once believed; it is God himself. Form and essence are identical.
(In Report to Greco, p. 467, 468,

Outside kitchen window hillside resplendent with snow through bare branches.

Thomas Merton claims that silence is our admission that we have broken communication with God and are now willing to listen. We can be reduced to silence in times of doubt, uncertainty, nothingness, and awe. When we have exhausted all our human efforts, experience the limitations of human justice, or the finitude of human relationships, we are left with silence. Those who have experienced the sacrament of failure are more likely to know the emptying power of silence.
(From article, "Some Thoughts on Silence" by Kathryn Damiano,

Kazantzakis takes us through this sacrament.
No, the man who either hopes for heaven or fears hell cannot be free. (Report to Greco, p.332)

Kazantzakis' epitaph reads: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβάμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος).

Merton's final words in public, after his lecture in Thailand on "Marxism and Monasticism" were, "There will be a question period after lunch, so I'll disappear." He did. He was electrocuted.

This afternoon, in public space of the shop, at one of the conversations, we'll renew our Meetingbrook Promises. (

Attentive presence. Root silence. Transparent service.

We promise; to practice.

Free; to disappear.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Waxing moon silver glow Bald Mountain's fresh cold snow. Cesco plows through several inches on night walk at Snow Bowl. Mu-ge comes in with us after 14 hours surrounded by white-fall.

The Way is basically perfect. It doesn't require perfecting. The Way has no form or sound. It's subtle and hard to perceive. It's like when you drink water. You know how hot or cold it is. But you can't tell others. Of that which only a tathagata knows, people and gods remain unaware. The awareness of mortals falls short. As long as they're attached to appearances, they're unaware that their mind is empty. And by mistakenly clinging to the appearance of things, they lose the Way.
- Bodhidharma (d. 533)

The men who are never held accountable smirk through sidelong comments as the spoiled fruit of their certainty falls blood staining to pieces in tired war. They plan retirement, lecture circuit, that place on the lake, lobbying income, memoirs and medals for their years of patriotic service. Give applause for the Secretary of Defense, for the President and cronies, for the smug know-it-alls who stick "think tank" on their lapels and pose as pedants to a dis-educated but appreciative audience.

The Ministry of Propaganda...

Retired generals in various cities
are interviewed nightly about the war.

The maps are shown and strategies
discussed with great enthusiasm.

Our troops are grabbing the bulls
by their horns. Resistance is soon

to be overcome. But resistance
to what is never quite defined.

The news anchors gaze upon
these guests with the admiration

until now shown only to movie stars.
There are no views represented

other than this gung-ho enthusiasm
for war. From every military base

intelligence and publicity personnel
fan out to offer their services to media

as part-time advisers and experts.
They explain and make palatable

all the President's policies, e.g.,
allowing no photos of flag-draped

coffins bound for Arlington or home
town cemeteries, though it would be

hard to find one that has not added
a few from overseas to its holdings.

Every technique described by Orwell
or practiced by Goebbels is in place,

but so far few have dared say so.

(Poem: "The Ministry of Propaganda..." by David Ray from The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars.)

I prefer Juan Diego meeting the woman in the mountains of Mexico. (Juan Diego was born in 1474 with the name "Cuauhtlatoatzin" -- "the talking eagle" -- in Cuautlitlán, today part of Mexico City, Mexico.)

I prefer Thomas Merton sweeping ashes in his hermitage. (And wondering why he is so public a monk and hermit.)

I prefer the appearance of humility and willingness to admit to what is real. (I'd rather disappear when arrogance starts pontificating its superiority.)

The technique of claiming the dependence of others then disdaining and dismissing those very people is the awkward skill of terrifying men.

War is terrible. It makes so many dead. It turns those who spawn it ugly.

We are being sold appearances

Turn away from them.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's 16 degrees. 8 inches of snow forecasted.

Having broken through Cloud Barrier
The living way is north, south, east, and west.
Evenings I rest, mornings I play,
No other, no self.
With each step a pure breeze rises.

- Daito (1282-1334)

Krishnamurti told some listeners his secret. He said, "I don't mind what happens."

That's wonderful!


There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons --
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes --

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us --
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are --

None may teach it -- Any --
'Tis the Seal Despair --
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air --

When it comes, the Landscape listens --
Shadows -- hold their breath --
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death --

(Poem: "258" by Emily Dickinson from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

In Florida an upset man made the mistake of being upset on a plane he wanted to exit from on a tarmac. Federal air marshals shot him dead. He got to be carried off the plane.

Mind such a thing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mary of Nazareth is conceived inseparate. Siddhartha Gautama sees morning star.

Truth's naked radiance,
Cut off from the senses
And the world,
Shines by itself
No words for it.

- Pai-chang Huai-hai (720-814)

John Lennon imagines twenty five years absence.

Su-Sane tonight said at conversation that when we see...something disappears.

See self.

This December 8th.

Conceive the intelligence of Life Itself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Snowmaking over to snowbowl. You can hear the steady swoosh. They've decided cold is solid for a while.

Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature, yours is the teaching of a mortal, not a buddha. The true Way is sublime. It can't be expressed in language. Of what use are scriptures? But someone who sees his own nature finds the Way, even if he can't read a word. Someone who sees his nature is a buddha. A buddha's body is intrinsically pure and can't be defiled. And everything he says is an expression of his mind. But since his body and expressions are basically empty, you can't find a buddha in words.
- Bodhidharma (d. 533)

The unitary is mountainside, snowmaker, quarter moon, and fragrance of red cabbage and roast pork gravy.

"I'm dishing," Saskia says.

Enough said.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I -- Prayer

Meetingbrook asks Itself for help.


What is Itself?

Let's say that the word "Itself" refers to God. Or to True Self. Or Authentic Being. Or, perhaps, the Ground-Fact of All Existence. "Itself" might refer to the Christ. Or the Buddha. "Itself" is even perfectly willing to drop its capital letters; even in lower case it retains its radiance.

Prayer and meditation are often annoying. During time engaging prayer and meditation one often asks, "What am I?" or "Who are you?" and even, "Is there any reason not to put an end to this particular existence?"

"Itself" is a word I came to love after reading Keiji Nishitani's Religion and Nothingness.

Carl Olson in his book published by SUNY Press, Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from the Representational, writes about Nishitani:
Thus, Nishitani refers to self-awareness as not-knowing, or knowing of nonknowing, which represents the self as an absolutely non-objective selfness that is only possible on the field of emptiness. After breaking through the field of consciousness and discovering oneself within the field of emptiness, one realizes the "in itself" -- ('jitai'), which is neither a substance nor a subject. This realization of the self-identity of things indicates directly the thing itself in its original mode of being. From within emptiness, one can grasp a thing in its original mode of being, which is neither a subjective nor substantial mode of grasping. The realization of the "in itself" ('jitai') is a nonobjective process that is entirely devoid of representation of any kind.
Nishitani disagrees with the postmodernists when they claim that the self cannot know itself. The self grounded in emptiness cannot only know itself, but can also know objects in the world, which is possible because the self is a not-knowing. Nishitani summarizes his position thus far: "Thus we can say in general that the self in itself makes the existence of the self as a subject possible, and that this not-knowing constitutes the essential possibility of knowing."
(p.124, Olson )

At Meetingbrook, the Itself, for the timebeing, serves as transparent and translucent way of seeing through what is now called God.

Wikipedia gives us a list of various ways God has been named:

Names of God

-- YHWH, the name of God or Tetragrammaton, in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
-- The noun God is the proper English name used for the deity of monotheistic faiths. Different names for God exist within different religious traditions:
-- Allah is the name used in Islam, although not exclusively so. "Allah" is Arabic for "the God", and is used by non-Muslim Arabs. Also, when speaking in other languages, Muslims often translate "Allah" as "God".
-- Yahweh Hebrew: 'YHVH', Elohim, and Jehovah are some of the names used for God in the Bible. Others include El Shaddai, Adonai, Amanuel, and Amen. When Moses asked "What is your name?" he was given the answer Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.
-- The name of God in Judaism for Jewish names of God. (Note: when written or typed as a proper noun, some observant Jews will use the form "G-d" to prevent the written name of God from becoming desecrated later on. Some Orthodox Jews consider this unnecessary because English is not the "Holy Language".)
-- The Holy Trinity (meaning the Father, the Son {Jesus Christ}, and the Holy Spirit/"Holy Ghost") denotes God in almost all mainstream Christianity.
-- God is called Igzi'abihier (lit. "Lord of the Universe") in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
-- Jah is the name of God in the Rastafari movement.
-- Some churches (United Church of Canada, Religious Science) are using "the One" alongside "God" as a more gender-neutral way of referring to God (See also Oneness).
-- The Maasai name for "God" is Ngai, which occurs in the volcano name Ol Doinyo Lengai ("the mountain of God").
-- The Mi'kmaq name for "God" is Niskam.
-- Ishvara is the term used for God among the Hindus. In Sanskrit, it means the Supreme Lord. Most Hindus worship the personal form of God or Saguna Brahman, as Vishnu, Shiva, or directly as the Supreme Cosmic Spirit Brahman through the Gayatri mantra. A common prayer for Hindus is the Vishnu sahasranama, which is a hymn describing the one thousand names of God. Ishvara must not be confused with the numerous deities of the Hindus. In modern Hindi, Ishvara is also called Bhagwan.
-- Buddhism is agnostic: When asked about a supreme God, Buddha remained silent on the subject. Buddha believed the more important issue was a way out of suffering. Enlightened beings are called Arhats or Buddha (e.g, the Buddha Sakyamuni), and are venerated. Bodhisattva is an enlightened being that has chosen to forego entering into nirvana until all beings are enlightened. Buddhism also teaches about the devas or heavenly beings who temporarily dwell in states of great happiness.
-- Jains invoke the five paramethis: Siddha, Arahant, Acharya, Upadhyaya, Sadhu. The arhantas include the 24 Tirthankaras from Lord Rishabha to Mahavira. But Jain philosophy as such does not recognize any Supreme Omnipotent creator God.
-- Sikhs worship God with the name Akal (the Eternal) or Onkar (See Aum). Help of the gurus is essential to reach God.
-- In Surat Shabda Yoga, names used for God include Anami Purush (nameless power) and Radha Swami (lord of the soul, symbolized as Radha).
-- Ayyavazhi asserts Ekam, (The Ultimate Oneness) as supreme one and Ayya Vaikundar the Incarnation of Ekam. There are also several separate lesser gods who were all later unified into Vaikundar.
-- Orthodox Jews believe it wrong to write the word "God" on any substance which can be destroyed. Therefore, they will write "G-d" as what they consider a more respectful symbolic representation.

What is Itself?

For this contemplation, Meetingbrook asks Itself for help.


II -- Practice

We’ve changed several parts of Events at Meetingbrook.
• We added Sunday Upstairs/Downstairs Open House at Bookshop. A sit-down meal is part of the drop-in of a Sunday, 1pm.
Friday Evening Movie Night with Pizza or Spaghetti follows the regular conversation at 6:45pm
• Saturday conversation Many Faces of Death returns at 12:30pm.
• All conversations are now open to the possibility of someone making opening remarks about their practice, a current concern, a sudden insight. Articles, excerpts from books, or other material will be used as spontaneous inspiration to the evening’s theme. Books service conversation.
• Ecospirituality and nature find a home on Friday Evening Conversation.
Saturday Morning Practice at the Hermitage retrieves and includes Lectio.
Prison Conversations are listed as part of our Friday practice. We’ve pledged to share insights between the two communities in and out.

We no longer know what kind of community Meetingbrook seeks to be. We just practice with an open heart and mind. At times that mind is cranky, and heart uncertain of what it feels.

We attend Mass these Advent mornings. We chant Heart Sutra Sunday evenings. When we work we try to work. When we study we try to study. We try to be patient with ourselves and with other people. We try to learn what each is teaching us.

We’re happy not to be formally affiliated with any religious or spiritual organization. We’re happy to live somewhere between semi-hermits and semi-monastics.

This December 8th we’ll celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as well as Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. On December 10th – Thomas Merton’s transition day -- we’ll again renew our promises for the 8th time.

Meetingbrook Hermitage Monastics hold three promises: Contemplation, Conversation, Correspondence.
As held by Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage “m.o.n.o.” (monastics of no other) --

Contemplation is the promise of simplicity.
It is a gift of poverty inviting open waiting, receptive trust, attention, and watchful presence. It is a simple Being-With.
It is attentive presence.

Conversation is the promise of integrity.
It is a chaste and complete intention to listen and speak, lovingly and respectfully, with each and all made present to us. It is a wholeness of listening and speaking.
It is root silence.

Correspondence is the promise of faithful engagement.
It is responsible attention and intention offered obediently to the Source of all Being, to the Human Family, to Nature. It is a faithful engagement with all sentient beings, with this present world, with existence with all its needs & joys, sorrows & hope.
It is transparent service.

We’d like to run the bookshop/bakery completely by donation and subscription – no fixed price on anything at the shop, just freewill goodwill donations. We’re inching closer and closer to implementing such an economy of grace and gratefulness.

The federal government lists us as a non-profit vocational school – which describes our notion of the Schola Gratiae et Contemplationis. The State of Maine says we are a religious house of prayer and exempts us from certain taxes. The larger community considers us a benign curiosity of no particular moment or import. A woman published a book with a cover photograph of the altar in the chapel/zendo. The stats counter says the total number of visits in November to the website was 7,050.

Winter nears. Cold scouts for it. Ground hardens. Light snow falls.

What we’ve noticed is everything belongs to itself, and itself lets each thing be its own.

We are learning to see each thing as itself.

Doing so, gratefulness abounds.

Gratitude abides.

Et verbum caro factum est.
And the word is made flesh.
Christus natus est.
Christ is born.

Dwelling among us.
Silently, still.