Saturday, March 10, 2007

Form is emptiness.

There are days I can't abide the put-down. (Not of me; not necessarily.) But any put-down. any defamation. These days it is becoming the national sport to put-down and defame. Men and women touted as leaders and iconic celebrities in arenas of news/entertainment/commentators (or politics, or religious theater) are the stars of slander, snarling insults, cruelly cutting pathological swath, sickly sweet personality vivisection. Done with smiles. To applause. For money. Lots of money.
Don’t seek a Buddha, don’t seek a teaching, don’t seek a community. Don’t seek virtue, knowledge, intellectual understanding, and so on. When feelings of defilement and purity are ended, still don’t hold to this nonseeking and consider it right. Don’t dwell at the point of ending, and don’t long for heavens or fear hells. When you are unhindered by bondage or freedom, then this is called liberation of mind and body in all places.
- Pai-chang (720-814)
Where the "not necessarily" comes in is the consideration that whatever is said of anyone is said of me. Or you. It is a felt realization. One and one do not make two. One and one remain one and one. Each one is one. No matter what mathematical or ontological solution we think will result -- no numerator nor denominator will ever reveal the heart's profound silence, the mind's exquisite unknowing. The soul's empty abundance lays bare with light the Lovely One's listening.

Put-downs put me in mind of death. Is reluctance to mock, to snigger at another's oddity, a sign of reluctance to die? Is all mockery -- on tv cable or radio -- merely today's humor, today's version of dodge-ball, where for sport another is thrown at to be rid of them?

Today I die (a while) without the grace exhibited by masters who've worded their transition.
Inhale, exhale
Forward, back
Living, dying:
Arrows, let flown each to each
Meet midway and slice
The void in aimless flight --
Thus I return to the source.

(Gesshu Soko, died January 10, 1696, at age 79)
Today I've had enough of killing civilians in Iraq. I'm done with strapping bombs to my body and walking into the marketplace. I can't again deploy with my comrades with automatic weapon ready to lay cover-fire on anybody we even slightly fear might be thinking harmful thoughts toward us. Today I will no longer smile at the camera and call insult to those who want the presidency, or have the presidency, or conceive the presidency as their private plaything.

Something dies in us each time someone (including me) slips knife between ribs slicing open heart with ripping steel coldly watching with dead eyes the suffering of another.
Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going --
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

(Kozan Ichikyo, died February 12, 1360, at 77)

A few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony, and forbade them to hold services in his memory. He wrote this poem on the morning of his death, laid down his brush and died sitting upright.
(from J a p a n e s e D e a t h P o e m s,
How does that joke go? "What does the upside-down flying duck do?" ... "Quack-up!"

Mine is a pathetic quack-up today.

A little weary of intolerance, I cannot abide (i.e. tolerate) intolerance today.

(Shinsui, died September 9, 1769, at 49.)
During his last moment, Shisui's followers requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died.)

The circle is one of the most important symbols of Zen Buddhism. It indicates void -- the essence of all things -- and enlightenment.
I'll keep you informed.

Keep me informed.
No one will find this form after today --
No...One will!

If we keep one another "in-formed," will we learn what circle originates?

Let's keep one-another informed.

Emptiness in form.


Friday, March 09, 2007

On Friday's C-Span Washington Journal with Brian Lamb (thanks be for him) -- Pamela Hess of UPI passionately recounts her recent visit to Iraq. She says that no matter how wrong the initial invasion might have been, right now our soldiers are fighting to protect human beings -- Iraqis -- from very evil torturers and murderers in an insane environment. She cries. (She says she is tired from jet-lag, lack of sleep, and her return two days ago from 4th trip there.) She is compelling. Callers, as is to be expected, support and don't support her narrative and conclusions. No one doubts her very personal passion based on direct experience with soldiers in-country relating their day to day lives there.

"What's wrong," (wrote poet Richard Hugo opening his poem 'Villager'), "will always be wrong." It's hard to counter that the invasion, its rationale, and strategic decisions accompanying, were terribly and tragically flawed. "What's right," (I submit), "is each time created new." It is beyond ripeness to admit the flaws and join creatively the (absurdly) contentious political opposition, and to submit to a sane and sensible next step in the attempt to heal the ugly wound made septic in Iraq.

I'm not sure "truth" -- certainly not any definition of truth -- is the issue here.
What is here for us to look at and engage is compassion. Compassion for the people of Iraq, for the dutiful military there, and for the millions of people in the world deeply disturbed over the course of events and incidents of horror taking place there.
Thus the Diamond Cutter Scripture says, “Do not grasp truth, do not grasp untruth, and do not grasp that which is not untrue.” It also says, “The truth that the buddhas find has no reality or unreality.
- Pai-chang (720-814)
What is unlovely is unlovely -- we must not pretend otherwise, must not call the unlovely lovely. Nor is it ours to call the what is lovely...unlovely. Perhaps what we must learn is how to engage what is there directly, without concepts or ideology, but with engaged compassion for (and with) what is there.
Jesus: "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
Pilate: "What is truth?"

(--from John 18: 37-38)
Jesus speaks for all beings when he says "Listen to me."
Pilate helps Jesus' plea with not so much a delaying question or feigned ignorance -- but rather with a request coming from an intuitive grasp of what Jesus is revealing. Pilate is asking, saying: "When you say 'truth' you mean 'What-is' truth, don't you?"

Pilate and Jesus are two characters in a divine dramatic dialogue pointing to the real unveiling reality of what is taking place, right there, right then -- immediate and concrete.

What happens for us -- as the zen head-shaking experience attests -- is we look at the fingers that are pointing, and not at what the fingers are pointing to. We want to 'know' what truth is (in this case, the pointing fingers of the dialogue), instead of entering and engaging the reality of what is taking place (what the fingers point to).

In the dramatis personae of Jesus and Pilate, it was (as often and insufferably repetitious as continues today) the punishment and torture of innocent beings for political, economic, or personal gain of the perpetrators. Jesus' story in this beloved narrative is the story of the history of humankind. It is less (one might say) about the redemption of man from sin -- as it is about the entering with, identification with, and engagement with of the reality at hand in a humble presencing of compassion.

Slap of the screen door, flat knock
of my grandmother's boxy black shoes
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride
out to the edge and then, toed in
with a furious twist and heave,
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands
and hangs there shining for fifty years
over the mystified chickens,
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed,
the clay slope down to the creek,
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops
of the willows, a glorious rainbow
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.

(--Poem: "Dishwater" by Ted Kooser from Delights and Shadows.)
We've dirty dishes in our sinks -- here in Camden, Maine -- and here in the hidden kitchens of the halls of power. There is wash-up to do.

One of the tasks of Lent in the Christian metaphor is to attend to the matter at hand and make the attempt to see it as it is. This, and the further attempt to recognize the loveliness that resides at center. This penetrating gaze necessitates a non-denying, authentic appraisal and admission that whatever is blocking or obfuscating the clear manifestation of loveliness must be attended to without hesitation, without explanation, and without blame.

It is quite possible that we are made and we are here for light and loveliness and compassion.

Pardon me my opacity.

Help me make peace.

With what I am.



Thursday, March 08, 2007

I don't know the Name of the Most High. Some claim they do.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so."(--Mark Train)

Some pronounce the Name of the Lord: "Death to infidels" Some, "War on Terror." Others say it is: "You're wrong! I'm right." There are some men in the United States who think the name of god is "I am the commander in chief. I do not have to obey any laws I wish not to obey." This last name is particularly repugnant.

I've wondered about this name for a long time. I've long wondered why so many have such odd pronunciation. I wonder what it is about religion that deafens many to the true and lovely sound which is The Name Itself.
First, it was more about mystery than about trying to get us to behave. Whichever, we're still in some lonely cave, not far from that moment a lightning storm or a sunset drove us to invent the upper reaches of the sky. Religion is proof that a good story, well-told, is a powerful thing. Proof, too, that terror makes fabulists of us all. We're pitiful, finally, and so oddly valiant. The dead god rising into ism after ism-that longing for coherence that keeps us, if not naive, historically challenged. To love Christ you must love the Buddha, to love Mohammed or Moses you must love Confucius and, say, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well. They were all wise and unsponsored and insufficient, some of the best of us. I'm saying this to myself: the sacred cannot be found unless you give up some old version of it. And when you do, mon semblable, mon frere, I swear there'll be an emptiness it'll take a lifetime to fill. Indulge, become capacious, give up nothing, Jack my corner grocer said. He was pushing the portobellos, but I was listening with that other, my neediest ear.
("Religion," prose poem by Stephen Dunn, in American Poetry Review, Mar/Apr 1998)
This week I heard the Name. Here's how I pronounce what I heard:
"Father/Mother God" is "This Lovely One."

"Son/Christ" is "This Realization of Loveliness in All Beings, Places, and Things."

"Holy Spirit" is "This Inviting Creativity to Practice and Engage This Realization of Loveliness with the Lovely One."

Dunn nails it: “...the sacred cannot be found unless you give up some old version of it. And when you do,...I swear there’ll be an emptiness it’ll take a lifetime to fill."

Do you know how to fill emptiness?


You don't.

(Don't try to fill emptiness, that is.)

What is passing through has nothing to do with full or empty. What is passing through is the sound of the name everyone longs to hear.

Sweet, sweet listening to us all!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

We see what the sun sees before we see the sun.

Bald Mountain is seen by sun and wakes to sunlight descending from its peak. It is said the sun rises. Living with mountains, we learn that sun sleeps at night in mountain cave hidden by trees. At sundown dusk sunlight climbs Bald trailing shadow of Ragged like child dragging blanket and disappears. At sunrise dawn sunlight stretches at top of Bald, looks about, shakes itself from reveries, and climbs down mountain to backyards and dooryards, kitchen windows and zendo floors where ceder incense (in its own oblation of praise remembrance) curls aloft with joy in its gifting intention honoring ancestors, loved ones (known and unknown), a prayer for those suffering, good journey to those transitioning from this life, imploration of forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding nascent in all beings, and (finally) -- with humility -- assenting presence (given and received) in the sacred name of the Lovely One in our midst, a not-knowing trust we shall come to serve and see what This Lovely One longs to have us serve and see.

One another.
In dark night live those for whom
The world without alone is real;
In night darker still, for who
The world within alone is real.
The first leads to a life of action,
The second to a life of meditation.
But those who combine action with
Meditation cross the sea of death
Through action and enter into
Immortality through the practice of
So we have heard from the wise.

- Isha Upanishad
White rope is tied between top-carriers on blue beetle VW by barn door. Sunflower seed pours from saucepan to mesh feeder up from meditation cabin. Old dog slips and sits on icy crusts up path to unmoving brook leaving droppings of good food gone through. Cabin is empty quiet with bare attention.

What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them.

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.

(Poem: "Parents" by William Meredith, from The Cheer.)
My parents have gone up mountain and decided to remain there, hidden, these many years. They found a place to slumber and awaken where sun goes at night, that fantastical middle ground heaven of transparent invisibility we, in our seeming solidity, pass through, unknowing, every breath and every step we take. This is, I suppose, as it should be -- our given task to make our way through everything so to arrive at the very place we now are.

So, too, with This Lovely One (once called "God"), and what we have called the "Son" -- (now, The Realization of Loveliness in All Beings, Things, and Places).

Namely: We see what the Lovely One sees before we see the Lovely One.

We see what the Son sees before we see the Son.

We are invited to look. We are encouraged to see. We are graced with the never-ending hospitality of the ever-arriving Realization of Loveliness in All Beings, Things, and Places.

Dandle us, O Lovely One -- move us (we small children) up and down on your knees and in your arms in a playful way!

No explanation. No last link. No comprehending need to wrap up the Mystery in yesterday's newspaper and toss it in the corner.

Rather, walk us up and down the mountain -- as we, each and every one of us, do -- one step at a time, one fall, one getting up, one smile of silent companioning through and with one another making way. We walk with mountain as we walk (or roll, or sit, or bed) through each breath, one inhalation one exhalation at a time, one face at a time, one bite of breakfast, one sip of awareness at this time.

(Cat rushes in from -1 below zero cold barn. Wood burns in black wood stove. Smoke glances every direction rising from chimney, dances shadow sunlit snow on shy hill outside kitchen window. Solitary Nuthatch on tree trunk converses with sunlight about this and that.)

This is the way to go.

So we have heard from the wise.

(Sound of drape being opened from front room after steps announce a friend.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When still, beads in hand, disappearance. When moving, beads against fingers, appearance. This is noticed with breath. Nothing has changed.

In stillness comes emptiness. In movement, form. Yet, one is the other, one is another -- there is no other.

This is solitude. When alone or with others, there is only form and emptiness. Form might lead us to make distinctions. Emptiness might lead us to make no distinctions. In solitude no one is led. No one follows. Only this. Only that. Only beads telling themselves.

Only you, only me, telling what we are, what we see, what we think, what we feel -- what we are doing, exactly, where we are.

It is not difficult to be a solitary. Not easy. There is only solitude, awareness of solitude, and each
sound in silence.
Empty yet aware, the original light shines spontaneously; tranquil yet responsive, the great function manifests. A wooden horse neighing in the wind does not walk the steps of the present moment; a clay ox emerging from the sea plows the springtime of the eon of emptiness. Understand? Where a jade man beckons, even greater marvel is on the way back.
- Hung-chih
Blustery temperature of -2F just after sunrise. Dalai Lama chant from middle room. Flowing water splashes in bath. Dog asleep under knit sweater placed over him at 2:45am before bed. Cat out inspecting keel of boat on stands by stone wall. One more audit for this morning after eight days wrapping up winter worker's comp group. Shop re-opens in few hours. Wood needs transport in.
When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thing delicate, powdery, as fine as hoar-frost on the ground. When they saw this, the sons of Israel said to one another, ‘What is that?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’ said Moses to them ‘is the bread the Lord gives you to eat. This is the Lord’s command: Everyone must gather enough of it for his needs, one omer a head, according to the number of persons in your families. Each of you will gather for those who share his tent.’
The sons of Israel did this. They gathered it, some more, some less. When they measured in an omer what they had gathered, the man who had gathered more had not too much, the man who had gathered less had not too little. Each found he had gathered what he needed. (-- from Exodus 16:1 - 35)
An "omer" is a unit of measure. It is keeping count. We count. It is this counting, this recounting, that situates us in place, and in time.

I think of some names and faces I've worked with over the years, and for a brief moment am surprised I've ever been anywhere other than this place, doing anything other than the little or nothing I now do. After days of adding numbers, matching salaries, work classes, and names in languid drop into bottom line where one number equals another number, where some get more, some less, where (according to the standards of this world) your worth is in the count of dollars attached to your name -- we arrive at morning and hot water for tea.
Greenback Dollar
Some people say I'm a no-count
others say I'm no good
But I'm just a natural born travellin' man
Doin' what I think I should, oh yeah
doin' what I think I should.

(--opening lyrics of song by Kingston Trio)
Charlotte's driftwood sculpture hangs above non-functioning Dutch wedding clock. Attached prayer-flag has these words inscribed on it: "Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Padme Siddhi Hung ." It is the Vajra Guru Mantra.
Guru Rinpoche Puja
Guru Rinpoche means the Precious Master in Tibetan. He is also known as Guru Padmasambhava, a manifestation of Amitabha Buddha. He was born in a Lotus Flower, in Oddiyana Lake amid wondrous signs. Due to His great realization and spiritual powers, He created the conditions for the propagation of Vajrayana teachings in this world.

He is particularly powerful when negative emotions are stronger and confusions are greater. It is said that the more confusions and difficulties, the more powerful Guru Rinpoche is. Even great masters when faced with crisis, they too call upon Him for help.

It is particularly important and auspicious to join the puja offered to Him on the tenth day of the month (Tibetan Calendar) as He once said, “I will come and remove sufferings of the people in the world on the tenth day of every moon.”
Mantra : Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Padme Siddhi Hung

(--from Palyul Nyingma Buddhist Association,
Cream of Wheat with yogurt, blueberries, Trappist plum and rhubarb-orange mixed in, is ready. Chai tea to follow.

Cesco walks out from front room with night shroud draped from haunches. Goes through barn.

I love this appearing and disappearing existence, this phenomenal world. Though, sometimes, it seems, illusion -- like the illusion war floats before and behind our eyes -- is far too powerful to ever be penetrated by truth and compassion. Illusion is not beautiful. Illusion, like that of war, is perversion of what is beautiful.
2 Suicide Bombers Kill 93 in Iraq
Published: March 6, 2007, Filed at 11:09 a.m. ET, NYT
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Tuesday in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims streaming toward the holy city of Karbala, killing 93 people in one of several attacks targeting the faithful ahead of a weekend holiday.

The attack came a day after U.S. forces suffered their deadliest day in nearly a month -- nine American soldiers were killed in explosions north of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday.

The coordinated attack Tuesday happened on a main street in Hillah, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, said Capt. Muthana Khalid. He said 93 people were killed and 164 wounded.

An Associated Press cameraman at the scene said the bombers struck a crowd of pilgrims filing into a pedestrian area. Ambulances and Iraqi police were swarming the area and there was no immediate sign of U.S. forces.

U.S. forces continued their push Tuesday into Sadr City, home to 2.5 million of the city's poorest residents as well as fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some 600 American soldiers searched the neighborhood's northwest quadrant, knocking on doors and searching homes, according to an Associated Press reporter traveling with them.
What makes illusion so attractive is the way it seduces us into thinking of it as truth.

Saskia says at counter: "Right now, the illusions suck...but the beauties are beauteous."

Mu-ge, the cat, climbs chair to nestle in slanting kitchen sunlight.

I feel my pockets for beads.

Looking for a telling true.

An account worth living.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Matthew Kelty said Thomas Merton was a monk and a monk's monk. Nobody took much notice of him. He knew how to hang up the phone. He heard the ending before you did. When things ended, he ended and moved to next thing.
Don’t seek fame or fortune,
Glory or prosperity.
Just pass this life as is,
According to circumstances.
When the breath is gone,
Who is in charge?
After the death of the body,
There is only an empty name.
When your clothes are worn,
Repair them over and over;
When you have no food,
Work to provide.
How long can a phantom-like
Body last?
Would you increase your ignorance
For the sake of its idle concerns?
- Tung-shan
Merton can still inspire. Not the words about him, but the person as word's disguise falling off.
" When we in the West speak of "basic facts of existence" we tend immediately to conceive these facts as reducible to certain austere and foolproof propositions--logical statements that are guaranteed to have meaning because they are empirically verifiable. These are what Bertrand Russel called "atomic facts." Now for Zen it is inconceivable that the basic facts of existence should be able to be stated in any proposition however atomic. For Zen, from the moment fact is transferred to a statement it is falsified. One ceases to grasp the naked reality of experience, and one grasps a form of words instead....
The whole aim of Zen is not to make foolproof statements about experience, but to come to direct grips with reality without the mediation of logical verbalizing. "
(- Thomas Merton, in the introduction to John C.H. Wu's -The Golden Age of Zen)
Wind chimes are quite convincing there are strong gusts trying to get by them. When wind climbs on, pipes give back sound.
Jesus said: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’
(--Luke 6:36 - 38)
Not much too complicated about these words.

Let them stand.

Then, move on.


Falling off.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I declare peace in the name of citizens of America and the whole world. I order all foreign troops out of countries they occupy. I grant amnesty to terrorists of all the ugly acts committed in the names of democracy, jihad, and the good Lord.
Make no mistake about it; if you do not find it now, you will repeat the same routines for myriad eons, a thousand times over again, following and picking up on objects that attract you. We are no different from Shakyamuni Buddha. Today, in your various activities, what do you lack? The spiritual light coursing through your six senses has never been interrupted. If you can see in this way, you will simply be free of burdens all your life.
- Lin Chi (d 867?)
Ok. You are free. Go home. Come home. Live a real life, for heaven's sake, no -- for earth's sake.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day;
nor the plague that walks in the shadows,
nor the death that lays waste at noon.
(--from Psalm 91)
Turn off the surveillance cameras. Take off the grenades and clips. Put down the listening devices.

Look at one another. Not with fear. Look at one another with twinkling humor and cheerful acceptance.

We love one another.