Saturday, April 01, 2006

Compassion, "suffering together," is "green and steep and wild." It is often looked at, but rarely traversed; seldom still, engaged. Just about never embodied.

Magnificent Peak
By its own nature
It towers above
The tangle of rivers
Don't say it's a lot of dirt
Piled high
Without end the mist of dawn
The evening cloud
Draw their shadows across it
From the four directions
You can look up and see it
Green and steep and wild.

- Muso (1275-1351)

Much too much is said of compassion -- as if it were a marketing tool or an election slogan. The saying is not the becoming. As often as not the saying is the deflection.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, "Why haven't you brought him?" The police replied, "There has never been anybody who has spoken like him". "So" the Pharisees answered "you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law -- they are damned." One of them, Nicodemus -- the same man who had come to Jesus earlier -- said to them, "But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?"
(from John 7:40 - 52, Mass Readings, Saturday of the 4th week of Lent)

Since judgement, punishment, and condemnation are easy travel for the afflicted emotions and unenlightened mind, there have been strong attempts throughout history to curb and filter these tendencies. We don't, says law throughout human time, judge a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about. The lie to compassion is the violation of that law.

The danger to our intellect and emotions is in thinking or feeling that the outer law and the inner law are both wrong -- that, suddenly due to someone claiming to have our best interests in mind, we will doubt the perennial wisdom of fairness and justice for others (read, all) and settle with resigned sigh for my own personal protection during a time of danger and duress.

Deception insinuates this sudden doubt in the mind, and treachery walks in on its coattails. Once we have turned face on ourselves, it becomes difficult, almost impossible, to face another with any integrity. We notice the looking away, the blinking nervousness, the mistrusting glare. We cannot face others openly; we hide behind empty husks of words, once ripe, now broken and shattered on stone cold hard floor of ideology and blank stare.

The law of compassion asks us to be of different sight. What the eyes cannot tolerate, the heart must look openly at. What the mind cannot compute, the heart must reason. In the deepest origins of compassion we possess the vision of what is right. That vision longs to surface. It longs to reach our bodies. It longs for incarnation. And when bodies are killed, compassion longs for resurrection. Compassion is patient. It will wait for reincarnation if it must.

When I speak of basic human feeling, I am not only thinking of something fleeting and vague, however. I refer to the capacity we all have to empathize with one another, which, in Tibetan we call shen dug ngal wa la mi so pa. Translated literally, this means "the inability to bear the sight of another's suffering." Given that this is what enables us to enter into, and to some extent participate, in others' pain, it is one of our most significant characteristics. It is what causes us to start at the sound of a cry for help, to recoil at the sight of harm done to another, to suffer when confronted with others' suffering. And it is what compels us to shut our eyes even when we want to ignore others' distress.
This characteristic of appreciating others' concern is, I believe, a reflection of our "inability to bear the sight of another's suffering." I say this because alongside our natural ability to empathize with others, we also have a need for others' kindness, which runs like a thread throughout our whole life. It is most apparent when we are young and when we are old. But we have only to fall ill to be reminded of how important it is to be loved and cared about even during our prime years. Though it may seem a virtue to be able to do without affection, in reality a life lacking this precious ingredient must be a miserable one. It is surely not a coincidence that the lives of most criminals turn out to have been lonely and lacking in love.

(--pp.64-66 from Ethics for the New Millennium, by Dalai Lama. August 1999)

I am reminded of that day in prison when with inmates we tried to fathom a formula that would allow retrieval of that love from the lacuna -- from that "blank space; a missing part; a gap." Would it be possible? Only if that lacuna, like the ever-present origin of compassion, were open to the radical eternal now of love, attention, respect, and caring in the present moment. This present moment, with awareness, event, and incidents of compassionate love, becomes itself the healing antidote to what was lacking. We named it on the spot: Radical Retrieval of Origin Conversation.

It is the conversation of compassion.

It cannot be faked.

It is only real.

We know it.

When heard.

And seen.


Friday, March 31, 2006


The crew from Rockport Marine gaggle on the rise with beers and chat as we drove up from harbour. In Camden, funeral at Opera House was going on for Paul. The owner of the fuel business stammered in reply when told I was happy to be paying him money for the necessity of propane. Tommy pulled in as we exited shop with fax to tell next week the fella in Swanville could look at and work on the van.

Gathering firewood I enter mountain depths,
Mountain depths rising creek beyond creek
Choked with the timbers of bridges in ruin.
Vines tumble low, tangled over cragged paths,
And at dusk, scarce people grow scarcer still.
Mountain wind sweeping through simple robes,
My chant steady, I shoulder a light bundle,
Watch smoke drift across open country home.

- Meng Hao-jan (689-740 C.E.)

Everything slows markedly when ill. We sit in sun outside barn. We drive to town to pay bills. We take slow walk over to toboggan run. The earth softens.

i thank heaven somebody's crazy
enough to send me a daisy

--E.E. Cummings

I like having no special knowledge. No special talent. No special wealth. Most this life has been unknowing, ordinary, and poor. When there's health, all is well. I bide time until that changes.

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:
'Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man's end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.'

(Wisdom 2:1 - )

I learn from over the years that Mary R. has died. At least, there was an "In Memoriam" next to her name in a University of Pittsburgh newsletter from 2003 seen only last night. I'd been thinking of her. We ran the river road along the Wissahickon through Fairmont Park twenty five years ago. A sweet day. Death always surprises.

We seem to be here to be surprised.

I am, constantly.

Nowhere else.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sick season. Body pain. Breathe in, out. I imagine Fanny flat in bed before her death -- the mere fact of it. Passing -- maybe it will, maybe I will, yes, she did.

Calming the Mind
Too much knowledge
Leads to overactivity;
Better to calm the mind.
The more you consider,
The greater the loss;
Better to unify the mind.

- Shih Wang Ming (6th century)(dailyzen)

While helping Saskia with numbers, I go into internet site of my High School. In their parlance, for my graduating class, I am lost. Some have died; some are lost.

It's a familiar theme. I marvel at the ones keeping contact, issuing updates about grandkids, retirement, golfing, and school spirit these many many years later. I was lost in high school.

You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.
(from John 5: 31 --)

I don't know what to say about belief "in the one...sent."

Tonight, illness fogs silence. Being lost, I suspect, helps unify the mind. No desire to eat. No desire to drive away. Just this voice. It says...nothing.

Joe, Brian, Emil: have died.

I remember them. In prayer.

I am on no list that would have me. Nowhere to be found.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Olives, garlic mushrooms, semolina bread, lemon sparkling water by Royal River. Cesco got early feed in boatyard at low tide.

An ancient master said, "The mountains, the rivers, the whole earth, the entire array of phenomena are all oneself." If you can absorb the essence of this message, there are no activities outside of meditation: you dress in meditation and eat in meditation; you walk, stand, sit, and lie down in meditation; you perceive and cognize in meditation; you experience joy, anger, sadness, and happiness in meditation.
- Muso (1275-1351)

Reading Dalai Lama on Ethics, earlier, sitting on dry grass, leaning against tree, sunlight on book, dog stretched out. I agree -- compassion is the foundation of ethics.

Prayers and Intercessions
Glory and honour to God, who made a new and eternal covenant with his people, sealed with the blood of Christ and renewed today in the sacrament of the altar. We beg him now:
- Bless your people, Lord.
Teach rulers and people to follow your will
and work together for the good of all.
For those who gave up everything to follow Christ: make them faithful servants;
may they be a shining example to men [and women] of the holiness of your Church.
You made all men [and women and all beings] in your image:
give them a horror of unjust discrimination.
For those who have strayed: lead them back to your love and truth:
teach us how to be of help to them.
Let the dead enter into your glory,
let them praise you together, for all eternity.

(from Evening Prayer,

These are good prayers.

I let them settle. As I do.

For the good of all.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

If all there is -- is love, then, what are you doing?

Zen practice is not clarifying
conceptual distinctions,
but throwing away one's
preconceived views
and notions
and the sacred texts
and all the rest,
and piercing through
all the layers of coverings
over the spring of self behind them.

- Daikaku (1213-1279)

No, really, what are you doing?

Because he has looked down from his high sanctuary,
-- the Lord has looked down from heaven to earth --
and heard the groans of prisoners
and freed the children of death
so that they could proclaim the Lord's name in Sion
and sing his praises in Jerusalem,
where people and kingdoms gather together
to serve the Lord.

--Psalm 101 (102)

It's not a testy question. It's merely a factual question.

If all is love, then, what you are doing is love.

The thing, Dick said tonight, is not to misappropriate love. To appropriate (as property entrusted to one's care) fraudulently to one's own use -- is to misappropriate.

Let's perpetrate no fraud.

Let's love, openly.

Owning nothing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The trick, they say, is to die while still alive. Perhaps that helps ease into the process of entering no-time of life through death.

I've always loved friends of the Way
Always held them dear
Meeting a stranger with silent springs
Greeting a guest talking zen
Talking about mysteries on a moonlit night
Searching for truth until dawn
When the tracks of our inventions disappear
And we see who we really are.

- Cold Mountain

Each death reminds me: I, too, will disappear. I like the thought that "the tracks of our inventions disappear."

At end of practice last evening we mention by name Buzz and Paul (Navy, retired; bookstore owner, psychologist). Saskia says she included Fanny (gentle, church-woman) who graced her dream at table, she adds. We pray for them, and all beings, to be happy, safe, and at home.

The war deaths continue. They are disturbing. Memos emerge telling that invasion and war with Iraq was, indeed, a foregone conclusion months (years?) earlier than the faux drama publicly played out in UN and news outlets. It is curious that ordinary citizens still think well of those who deceive them.

How good God is to the upright,
to those who are pure of heart!
But as for me, my feet nearly stumbled,
my steps were on the point of going astray,
as I envied the boasters and sinners,
envied their comfort and peace.

For them there are no burdens,
their bellies are full and sleek.
They do not labour, like ordinary men;
they do not suffer, like mortals.

They wear their pride like a necklace,
their violence covers them like a robe.
Wickedness oozes from their very being,
the thoughts of their hearts break forth:
they deride, they utter abominations,
and from their heights they proclaim injustice.

They have set their mouth in the heavens,
and their tongue traverses the earth.
Thus they sit in their lofty positions,
and the flood-waters cannot reach them.
They ask, "How can God know?
Does the Most High have any understanding?"
Behold, then, the wicked, always prosperous:
their riches growing for ever.

-- Psalm 72 (73)

Derision is the service given American citizens by its leaders these three years of willful bellicosity. And now derision is what these same people, citizens and military, receive from peoples worldwide. It is a wonder, we, the American people, so blinded by antagonism and spite toward anyone questioning our motives and arrogance, have failed to see the flaw in our fumbling faith. Derision, masquerading as another substitute for the authentic grace of God, is what people seem to prefer from false saviors promoting private ideologies.

It is said prayer is always heard. This is dangerous, especially if a country is praying errantly. Prayer, whether effable or ineffable, is always heard, and is our fate. Better to have prayed with and to God than with and to derisive distractors.

Dogen said: Truth does not negate the false. The crooked does not hide the straight. (3. Dharma Hall Discourse, Eihei Koroku, Vol 1)

The false remains with us. Truth has to make its way through the false. We need to understand this.
The straight is directly before us. The crooked tugs at us to meander left or right away from the straight. We need to return, after our diversions, to true way.

About death -- I will die. And then? Who knows. I don't.
(Maybe that's it -- "I" doesn't know what is true or real. Something else knows. Not "I.")

Ego death precedes true death. Once ego dies -- a long, worrying, fearful death (no doubt) -- the distinction between life and death is erased. We live, not I, but communion of all beings. We die, no I, but passage through and into life-itself. Here (always here) life lives itself through and within us; we live ourselves through and within life itself.

This sunny morning with brisk bright breeze is what is known by its appearance.

"Good morning," Saskia said she responded to the priest as he extended host to her with the words, "Body of Christ."

She (we) laughed telling her gaff as we walked with Cesco the road into Birch State Point Park and Lucia Beach. But, then, we said "good morning" to the trees, the stones, the ocean, the bufflehead, the seal, and the loveliness of being alive this early spring day.

So, too, Saskia says "good morning" to the Christ before, within, and through all things.

Entering no-time of life through death.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wild geese honked over valley between Ragged and Bald as we sat zazen in cabin at dusk.

To shake off the dust of human ambition
I sit on moss in Zen robes of stillness,
While through the window,
In the setting sun of late autumn,
Falling leaves whirl and drop to the stone dais.

- Tesshu Tokusai (d.1366)

Now, it is spring.

Would that the men sending soldiers to be killed and to kill could have sat in that stillness at Sunday Evening Practice.

But they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised his words, they laughed at his prophets, until at last the wrath of the Lord rose so high against his people that there was no further remedy.
(from 2 Chronicles 36)

An inchworm on blanket along zabuton stayed behind after the sitting.

The remedy for killing is to cease killing.

Mercy is the messenger of God.

Receive and dispatch mercy.

Save the world.