Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday afternoon trips to the dump. Renamed 'transfer station' -- nothing gets dumped, it just gets transferred. Getting there just at two minutes to four. It closes at four. The perennial dread that stinky bags will have to be returned for three days longer.The joy of arriving before too late. Not early, not on time -- but before too late.
Rivers in the east flow eastward,
Rivers in the west flow westward,
And they all enter the sea.
From sea to sea they pass,
The clouds lift them to the sky
As vapor and send them down as rain.
And as these rivers,
When they are united with the sea,
Do not know whether they
Are this river or that,
Likewise all creatures do not know
From whence they came.

- Chandogya Upanishad
Before too late we might arrive at not knowing from whence we came, whither we go, and how this unmistakeably present moment is isomorphically intimate with all time and its mother eternity.
From a sermon on Baptism by St. Pacian, bishop:
Who, O God, is like you? you take away guilt
As we have borne the image of the earthly man, so we shall bear the image of him who is from heaven; since the first man who came from the earth, is earthly, but the second man who came from heaven, is heavenly’. And so, dearly beloved, we shall not die anymore. Even if we fall asleep in this body, we shall live in Christ, as he said: Whoever believes in me, even if he die, shall live.

(--From Office of Readings, Saturday of week 19 of the year)
Talking to an enthusiastic and intelligent young man about theology last evening. We wonder what the future of the Roman church holds. So few priests. Religious men and women grow old. Their communities threaten to fold in around them -- so few recruits following behind them. The institution weakened by sex abuse scandals. Authority, at least moral authority, weakened.

What would happen if the rift between East and West were healed? Would Peter's Chair become a long bench? Would it become a folding chair? Would everyone have to take off their heavy vestments and paraphernalia and sit on the grass where fingers could easily pick at the brown clay and earth?

There's no need to dump the church. There could be a transfer of sensibility so as to welcome women into the realization of Christ's priesthood. (The young man rolled his eyes at this thought.) No more hocus pocus. Rather, priestly speaking into the inner reality of matter itself, inviting core truth to fill the edges of what is. "This" is the body of Christ. It is given up for us. Not held on to. Not withheld. Not the possession of a few.

Silentium tibi laus. 'Let silence be your praise!'

As blood flows silently through living beings, living being itself is loving silent gaze. Words are accoutrement. They are not essential garb.

The young man will go to study for priesthood in the Roman tradition.

I look out window. Blue sky. Blue water. Flags blowing in breeze. Children's voices rise.

From whence?

Does this?





Friday, August 17, 2007

Belief knows; faith toes forward.

I tell a young man who will enter Catholic seminary that I expect heaven to be a surprise to everyone.
The clouds emerge from the Mountain of Chung
And then return to the Mountain of Chung.
I would like to ask the dweller in this mountain,
Where are the clouds now?

Clouds emerge from No mind
And then return to No mind.
No mind is nowhere to be found.
We need not seek the home of No mind.

- Wang An-shih (1068-1076)
In prison today reading Anthony De Mello and Nicolai Machiavelli.

That, and we talked about subtleties between faith and belief, Jeffersonian bloody revolution and the need for a spiritual revolution of consciousness as antidote to irresponsibility and cynicism.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
(--Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Stephens, November 13, 1787)
In the Buddhist group we chanted the Heart Sutra -- gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond; awake!

(And then.)


(All in a day's word.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where are we?

Loon approached where I stood on small wooden dock at Hosmer Pond. It swam directly and stopped ten yards from the float. From behind me the sounds of a visiting dog. The loon turned, flapped, began water-sprint, and flew long and low down toward island on small pond.
A Democracy of Being
Shakyamuni Buddha's revolution was without warfare; without provoking violent opposition, he defied prevalent Brahmanic conventions to teach not only rulers and wealthy merchants but outcasts, the disinherited, street punks, even--eventually--women. He then went on to guide his diverse followers on the path of liberation. In the Buddha's teachings, the source of absolute liberation is internal, a state of mind that is not dependent on external circumstances--not on race, class, or gender. In dharma, democracy is the birthright of our own Buddha-nature, the democracy of being that goes beyond all culture, all concepts.

(--Helen Tworkov, Tricyle: The Buddhist Review, Fall 1994)
Life on a pond or life in a city is fraught with difficulties looming just behind every appearance. As impossible as it seems to make things appear or make them go away in the external world, there is a chance that we can enliven the inner life in such a way that, no matter what happens out there, there resides within us an ability to be present, caring, and attentive.

We have an inner freedom that allows us to face the outer restrictions with equanimity and authenticity.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a way to make the mind more stable and clear. From this point of view, meditation is not purely a Buddhist practice; it's a practice that anyone can do. It doesn't tie in with a particular spiritual tradition. If we want to undo confusion, we're going to have to be responsible for learning what our own mind is and how it works, no matter what beliefs we hold.

The word for meditation in Sanskrit is "shamatha" in Sanskrit (Tibetan: shi-ne), which means "peacefully abiding." Peacefully abiding describes the mind as it naturally is. The word "peace" tells the whole story. The human mind is by nature joyous, calm and very clear. In shamatha meditation we aren't creating a peaceful state——we're letting our mind be as it is to begin with. This doesn't mean that we're peacefully ignoring things. It means that the mind is able to be present, without constantly leaving.

In meditation, what we're doing is looking at our experience and at the world intelligently. The Buddha said that this is how we learn to look at any situation and understand its truth. This is what a Buddha does—and we are all capable of being Buddhas, whether or not we are Buddhists. We all have the ability to realize our naturally peaceful minds where there is no confusion. We can use the natural clarity of our mind to focus on anything we want. But first we have to tame our minds through shamatha meditation.

(--from a talk by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche,
To look at things intelligently means taking the time to look. It means looking and thinking are of a piece. Thinking is different from the bombardment of thoughts that barrage our minds all day. Thinking is careful looking at what is there outside as well as inside. To look, to think, is careful attention. It is the invitation to what is seen to reveal itself -- with its demands or needs -- right here, right now.

Careful attention easily becomes caring intention.

When we tend to something, we are doing what the word 'belief' conveys.
We must be clear about the function of concepts in theology and about dogmatic formulae. Thomas, like Albert the Great or Bonaventure, used this definition of the article of faith: Perceptio diviniae veritatis tendens in ipsam, 'a glimpse of the divine Truth tending towards that truth'. We possess no adequate concept of God and apply created concepts to him which allow us to tend towards his truth, without being able to grasp it conceptually. The most important word in Thomas' text is in, a word that is also found in the creed: Credo in in Jesum Christum, 'I believe in God...and in Jesus Christ'. We do not, it should be noted, say: 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son', but make use of a statement which says exactly what or who is in question, to express a movement or thrust of faith by which we are taken up. Augustine wrote his famous commentaries on credere in Deum, 'believing in God'.
(--from p.5, in The Word and the Spirit, by Yves Congar, c.1984)
To believe, then, is to tend toward. We acknowledge what is within, the interiority of being, that which we are within.

Thus, belief might be considered the recognition or realization of that within which we are.

If we believe in anything, we tend toward what we are. If we are in everything, that is, not other than, then the recognition and realization of who and what we are, where and how we are -- is a tending toward the truth of being and Truth of Being.
My Inner Peace

My inner peace
Does not select anybody,
Does not reject anybody.
My inner peace
Always self-givingly projects itself.

(--Poem by Sri Chinmoy)
There we are!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Dormition, or Falling Asleep of the Theotokos, is what the Feast of the Assumption of Mary is called in the East.
This great Feast of the Church and the icon celebrates a fundamental teaching of our faith—the Resurrection of the body. In the case of the Theotokos, this has been accomplished by the divine will of God. Thus, this Feast is a feast of hope, hope in Resurrection and life eternal. Like those who gathered around the body of the Virgin Mary, we gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the hands of Christ. As we remember those who have reposed in the faith before us and have passed on into the communion of the Saints, we prepare ourselves to one day be received into the new life of the age to come.

We also affirm through this Feast as we journey toward our heavenly abode that the Mother of God intercedes for us. Through Christ she has become the mother of all of the children of God, embracing us with divine love.

(--from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,
The body of a friend, 40 years ago, stepped into her own Assumption in a small town in French Canada. There's a picture somewhere of the day. History has tucked it away.
She has been transformed these later years into wife of a good heart. Each vocation is, of itself, a true vocation. She is the gift. Her call is continuing resonance. I think of her, yearly, on this day.
My nature has no liking
For life in the cities.
To be free from the noise,
I built a little thatched cottage
Far away in the depth of the mountains.
Wandering here and there,
I carry no thought.
When spring comes
I watch the birds;
In summer I bathe
In the running stream.
In autumn I climb
The highest peaks;
During the winter I am
Warming up in the sun.
Thus I enjoy the real flavor of the seasons.
Let the sun and the moon
Revolve by themselves!
When I have time, I read the sutras,
When I am tired, I sleep on my straw bed.

- Shih t’ao (1641–1717)
A hermitage is retreat and respite. No longer a matter of running away or running to -- hermitage is enclosure in the unknown. Hermits are often never seen. More likely, they wander in our midst, a corpus of unknowing.
What good is meditating on patience
If you will not tolerate insult?
What use are sacrifices
If you do not overcome attachment and revulsion?
What good is giving alms
If you do not root out selfishness?
What good is governing a great monastery
If you do not regard all beings as your beloved parents?

(--from The Life of Milarepa, trans. by Lobsang P. Lhalunga)
It is a simple yet profound step from not knowing one's parents to unknowing acceptance of all beings as one's parents.

I light incense to my parents, every one of them -- all of them -- and bow to their ever-presence everywhere.

Mary, Theotokos, is so honored.

Where is not, with awareness, Theotokos, God-bearer, the one who gives birth to God?

May we awaken in this Falling Asleep!

May this grace be so offered!

And so received!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'm trying to notice silence.

After his paean to chaos, madness and war -- "I love the the smell of napalm in the morning," -- the character, Lt. Col. Kilgore, played by Robert Duval, stands up and says "Someday this war's gonna end." (--from Apocalypse Now, 1979.)

Most wars end. Even the current chaos, madness, and war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the American psyche -- will end.
We are told to realize that
Not a single thing exists.
In this field birth and death
Do not appear.
The deep source,
Transparent down to the bottom,
Can radiantly shine and respond
Unencumbered by each speck of dust
Without becoming its partner.
- Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091–1157)
And when it ends, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers will complete the burying of the dead. Flowers, inscriptions, foodstuff, and tears will be left alongside dirt, sand, and grass. Even those whose belief ascribes there is no death -- they too experience that something clearly has changed in the world of appearances.
Prayer for Peace

Adorable Presence!
Thou who art within and without,
above and below and all around;
Thou who art interpenetrating
the very cells of our being-
Thou who art the Eye of our eyes,
the Ear of our ears,
the Heart of our hearts,
the Mind of our minds,
the Breath of our breaths,
the Life of our lives,
and the Soul of our souls.

Bless us Dear God,
to be aware of Thy Presence
Now and Here.
This is all that we ask of Thee;
May all be aware of Thy Presence in
the East and the West,
and the North and the South.
May Peace and Goodwill abide
among individuals as well as among
communities and nations.

This is our Earnest Prayer.
May Peace be unto All
Om Shanti! Peace! Shalom!
(--Prayer attributed to Swami Omkar. This was a special peace prayer offered by The Mission of Peace- Shanti Ashram, India, for The 1993 Parliament Of The World's Religions, India)
There is not much we can do as ordinary civilians to end war. It takes forces and strength beyond mere wishing. We can, nevertheless, pray.

Prayer is an inner intimacy with silence. Some say silence is where God dwells. What-is-called God -- whether a being whole-in-itself, or the wholeness-itself -- is that to which (to whom) we intend our prayer.

I need silence. So many of the writings and signing statements passing my eyes make no sense.
The Signatures of Time

binding signatures of time are fading footprints
tracking across wind-blown desert floors,

newspapers whipping down cold, empty streets,
split apart, become wings sailing like stingrays
swimming through wash of an emerald sea,

history is moments gleaned from unsorted stacks
holding facts, voices steamed clean as mussels
on a plate, disintegrating on worn tapes,
splintering on spools in old tape recorders,

like photos fading out in yellowing newspapers

(Poem by Quincy Troupe)
History is sometimes seen as "the branch of knowledge that records and analyzes past events."
"History" -- Middle English histoire, from Old French, from Latin historia, from Greek historia, from historein, to inquire, from histor, learned man
We are said to leave things present to the judgment of history. As if history were a wise academic readying to scrutinize the acts of a bygone era so as to tutor us in the present. It consoles some men to leave their legacy to history. It is a delaying tactic. A recent ambiguous and eerie response was given by one of the delaying people:
George W. Bush, when asked by Bob Woodward "how is history likely to judge your Iraq war?" replied, "History, we don't know. We'll all be dead." (Woodward Shares War Secrets, CBS News, 60 Minutes, April 18, 2004).
History asks for learned men and women. It is hoped the learned will reveal to us past follies so that contemporary learned men and women will avoid folly and move toward wisdom. Our success thus far is quite unconvincing.

Barbara Tuchman examined the irrationalities of governments through four crises of history: 1. The Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy; 2. The Protestant Secession and the Renaissance papacy's provocation of the Protestant Reformation; 3. The American Revolution and Britain's loss of the American colonies; and, 4. The American War in Vietnam. Were she writing today, Iraq would be the fifth.
"A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?"

"Wooden-headedness, the source of self deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. No experience of failure shakes belief in its essential excellence."

"Government remains the paramount area of folly because it is there that men seek power over others - only to lose it over themselves."

"Leaders of government do not learn beyond the convictions they bring with them; these are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they are in office. Learning from experience is a faculty almost never practiced."

"In its first stage, mental standstill fixes the principles and boundaries governing a political problem. In the second stage, when dissonances and ailing function begin to appear, the initial principles rigidify. This is the period when, if wisdom were operative, re-examination and re-thinking and a change of course are possible, but they are as rare as rubies in a backyard. Rigidifying leads to increase of investment and the need to protect egos; policy founded upon error, multiplies, never retreats. The greater the investment and the more involved in it the sponsor's ego, the more unacceptable is disengagement."

"Persistence in error is the problem. Practitioners of government continue down the wrong road as if in thrall to some magic power which directs their steps. To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course is the most repugnant option in government."

(--from The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman, From Troy to Vietnam, 1984)
I've been looking at my own history. Folly there, too. This self I have tried to costume seems ridiculous. Absurd, too, the attempt to make sense of the opinions, posturing, non-necessities and illusions accumulating alongside my steps. The explanation of 'former life' or projection of 'next life' does not satisfy. Something that is unexplained or missing ought to be able to be retrieved in the present moment.
Whether the Buddha gave credence to the notion of karmic rebirth or not, it’s nonetheless a mischievous and silly theory.

What isn’t silly is the acknowledgment of consequence and the realization that what I choose to do matters. I don’t have to look to past or future lives to observe the consequence of my actions or to feel their effects. It’s easily discoverable among those living in my very own household. Here I can witness the immediate effects of my choices and the transmission of my behavior to future generations. And I don’t have to wait for the pay off. If I bother to notice, I’ll discover that my suffering or reward commences in the very instant of wrongdoing or good. If I reduce the harm I cause others, I will reduce the harm to myself. The effect of how I live my life will be my legacy to those who come after. If I’ve been self-seeking and greedy I will perpetuate that behavior. If I’ve been selfless and generous I will bequeath that to unknown heirs in some future time.

The inherent ethical wisdom of the Buddhist “law of karma” lies in its teaching on the consequence of actions. As a moral law, karma has to do with volitional actions, that is, actions intentionally chosen and acted upon. This moral aspect points to the rather obvious observation that an individual is held accountable for what he chooses to do. An additional aspect of the traditional ethics of the law of karma states that actions perpetuate their own kind. Literally, greed leads to more greed, hate to more hate, kindness to kindness, love to love, and so forth. I can’t argue with the likelihood of an action initiating its own kind, but it’s important to never forget that the moral implication of action resides in the exercise of choice and that one can choose not to perpetuate a particular action. If you treat me unkindly, I can choose not to respond in kind and thereby turn the karmic wheel back toward a more harmonious result. If I couldn't do so, then the whole rationale upon which the moral aspect of karma rests would no longer apply. If I’m to be held responsible for the consequences of my actions, I must be free to choose between alternatives.

On the whole, the great significance of the teachings of karma is to remind me that if I crank at the checkout clerk at S & S Produce, she’s more likely to crank at someone else than she would had I treated her with consideration and respect. Karma as a simple law of consequence alerts me to the effect of my actions upon others. It also urges attention to the effect of my actions upon myself. If I indulge minor irritations, I perpetuate my own irritability and feel much worse than need be. But when my worry over the likelihood of my own actions rebounding on myself is brought to bear more or less exclusively on the effort to accumulate merit toward a favorable rebirth, the whole procedure becomes a selfish activity. And if it’s true that actions perpetuate their own kind, then the consequence of my quest for personal reward will result in little more than the perpetuation of self-interest.

If there is such a thing as a Law of Karma its execution rests not on relative merit and potential reward but rather on the willingness to notice, here and now, my effect upon others. It’s a matter of simple kindness and consideration. I can only try to choose well.

(-- from Web Exclusive, August 8, 2007, "Choice" By Lin Jensen, Tricycle Magazine)
I need silence to notice.

Notice well.

Learn well.

Choose well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sometimes words shape a man and a nation. Sometimes only acts count. And then there are those who are made of misleading words and dishonorable acts.

But we can't be too terribly harsh with mendacity -- we hardly hear ourselves, and barely have any acquaintance with who we really, or even superficially, are.
Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique, and separate identity--but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up: our name, our "biography," our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards. . . It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?
Without our familiar props, we are faced with just ourselves, a person we do not know, an unnerving stranger with whom we have been living all the time but we never really wanted to meet. Isn't that why we have tried to fill every moment of time with noise and activity, however boring or trivial, to ensure that we are never left in silence with this stranger on our own?

--Sogyal Rinpoche
We'd begun to think of ourselves as a nation of laws. Then we experienced men who believed that to be in control of power was a more elevated notion than laws. So, they took over the function of law and became a word-spinning power-playing feinting-facsimile of what we thought was a fool-proof form of government and continuation of inspiration hard-wrought by country's founders.

Religions, too, have their difficulties. Siddhartha Gautama left the smile attached to a flower as trusted transmission. Jesus had an equally iffy methodology. As "Word" he gave the conveying continuity of his inspiration to the conversing ability of human ears and mouths.
"Jesus had chosen to entrust his message to the living voice of the apostles." (--p.108 in George Tyrrell and the Catholic Tradition, by Ellen Leonard, C.S.J. c.1982)
Whatever direction it took from there -- institution, dogma, law, the foibles of men -- at root there remains a ground reality of sound, smile, and spirit.

Current secular rule, especially in America, went quickly these past several years from written law to stuttering say-so predicated on petty personal political power-drunkenness.
"Mr. Rove was not only the chief architect of Mr. Bush’s political campaigns but also the midwife of the president’s political persona itself." (--in Karl Rove, Top Strategist, Is Leaving the White House, New York Times, by By JIM RUTENBERG and STEVEN LEE MYERS, Published: August 13, 2007.)
What has been given face and voice these six years? The persona has sounded through a teeth-grinding, nail scrapping on chalkboard antiphony resembling school bathroom bullying vying with the hanged man's death gurgle. And it has not been called what it is -- disgrace.

Whatever names they gave it -- usually spun misnomers diametrically opposite what the words said -- the actions of these men in Washington were counter to what decent, caring men would do carrying out the honor of their responsibilities.
"Men knew that words were just words and only action counted -- period." (--p.6, in The Sweet Forever, by George P. Pelecanos, c.1998)
These are not "men" in the current hoped-for connotation of the word -- namely, humanity motivated by a love and respect for fellow creatures, acting with all their abilities to serve, protect, and ensure a meaningful template of just and honorable continuity for all peoples, all creatures, the earth itself, and the mystery of being.

It was a tremendous gamble Jesus made. Can men be trusted to continue forward the inspiration of kindness and compassion? Are men capable of selfless toil, responsible actions, and authentic words reaching for truth?

What do we hear? What do we say? What do we do?

It remains a tremendous task replete with unknowable outcome -- to tend toward trustworthy actions integral with living, bodily words.

Can we meet the stranger, welcome the stranger, and sit in refreshing silence together?


Can body and word reintegrate?

We must.

And shall be.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Let the dream be community. Let the dream be hospitality.

As we treat the earth, so we treat one another. How're we doing?
Every Single Day
The Buddha recommended that every person should remember every single day that we are not here for ever. It is a guest performance, which can be finished any time. We don't know when; we have no idea. We always think that we may have seventy-five or eighty years, but who knows? If we remember our vulnerability every single day, our lives will be imbued with the understanding that each moment counts and we will not be so concerned with the future. Now is the time to grow on the spiritual path. If we remember that, we will also have a different relationship to the people around us. They too can die at any moment, and we certainly wouldn't like that to happen at a time when we are not loving towards them. When we remember that, our practice connects to this moment and meditation improves because there is urgency behind it. We need to act now. We can only watch this one breath, not the next one.

--Ayya Khema
Saskia said that the four women sailing Penobscot Bay yesterday were contagiously happy. The air, the sea, the seals, the porpoises -- the company of one another.
When we look back over our own lives, we realize that whatever of significance we have achieved in our own personal lives and in the larger cultural domain has been the fulfillment of thoughts and dreams that we had early in our lives, dreams that sustained us when we encountered difficulties through the years.

Beyond the dreams of our personal future, there are the shared dreams that give shape and form to each of our cultural traditions. Because this other world cannot be explained by any technical or scientific language, we present it by analogy and myth and story. Even beyond childhood, this is the world of the human mind.

So tonight, as we look up at the evening sky with the stars emerging faintly against the fading background of the sunset, we think of the mythic foundations of our future. We need to engage in a shared dream experience.

The experiences that we have spoken of as we look up at the starry sky at night and in the morning see the landscape revealed as the sun dawns over the Earth — these reveal a physical world but also a more profound world that cannot be bought with money, cannot be manufactured with technology, cannot be listed on the stock market, cannot be made in the chemical laboratory, cannot be reproduced with all our genetic engineering, cannot be sent by e-mail. These experiences require only that we follow the deepest feelings of the human soul.

What we look for is no longer the Pax Romana, the peace of imperial Rome, nor is it simply the Pax Humana, the peace among humans, but the Pax Gaia, the peace of earth and every being on the Earth. This is the original and the final peace, the peace granted by whatever power it is that brings our world into being. Within the universe, the planet Earth with all its wonder is the place for the meeting of the divine and the human.

(--from The Great Community of the Earth, by Thomas Berry,
Dear divine: Please be hospitable to humans!

Dear human: Please be welcoming to divinity!

Together we form one community, one dream, and one intimate entirety.

Tell me your stories, your dreams -- and I'll tell you mine.

Sit a while.

Whether with words or with silence.

We reveal sacred unity.

Well worth our lives.