Saturday, August 16, 2008

Each hour of Evening Conversation is a contemporary version of monastic choir's chanting psalms. Our words might be Rumi, Dunn, Gibran, Bert the small machine repair poet, or a woman writing about a naked man proclaiming paradise on a rainy day.
Were there no grasping of any sort of kind whatever by anyone at anything - that is to say, no grasping at the things of sense, no grasping through speculative opinions, no grasping after mere ritual and rule, no grasping through theories of the soul - then there being no grasping whatever, would there, owing to this cessation of grasping, be any appearance of becoming?
- Dialogues of the Buddha
When there is no sin there is no forgiveness. When there is sin there is no need of our forgiveness to forgive sin because sin is forgiven. Everything is holy. As we are. Innocent, as Bob said, from the get-go. Originally innocent.

I wonder why we have such a difficult time with that.

Why is God not our every breath?

Nothing to be grasped.

Only released.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I don't think we comprehend exactly what we are doing in this world at this time living the circumstances of our existence. Because we do not grasp the mystery of existence we settle instead for details that confirm suspicions. We say: I am privileged; I am wealthy; I am destitute; I am stranger; I am everything I could hope to be; I am happy; I am not happy. Each particularization seems to temporarily satisfy the judging and categorizing mind.

These judgments are merely a pair of commas in a 700 page novel. The story surrounding them is far beyond the comma's grasp -- so far that even if every comma was to be in communication with every other comma, perhaps a total of 70,000 commas, they would compare notes, attempt to assess the pause each permitted, and would come no closer to the story in all its complexity and profundity than any individual comma might have arrived at.
Reverence in Every Direction
A young man named Sigala used to worship the six cardinal points of the heavens--east, south, west, north, nadir and zenith--in obeying and observing the last advice given him by his dying father. The Buddha told the young man that in the "noble discipline" of his teaching, the six directions were different. According to his "noble discipline" the six directions were: east; parents; south: teachers; west: wife and children; north: friends, relatives and neighbors; nadir: servants, workers and employees; zenith: religious men.

"One should worship these six directions," said the Buddha. Here the word "worship" is very significant, for one worships something sacred, something worthy of honor and respect. These six family and social groups mentioned above are treated in Buddhism as sacred, worthy of respect and worship. But how is one to "worship" them? The Buddha says that one could "worship" them only by performing one's duties toward them.

(-- Walpola Rahula, in What the Buddha Taught)
A tall visitor came into the shop this week. Speaking to a friend of his he mentioned the name of a small town in New York State. I looked over at him, suggested that he was left-handed, "yes," had a good jump-shot, "yes," and pronounced a last name, (to his surprise, correctly. "Yes," he said. I said my name. Recognition after 42 years. He played on the high school team, I was on the jr. college team. We'd pushed each other around under the boards for a while 45 years ago.

Soul, he said, knows no time.
Mixed-Up School

We have a crazy mixed-up school.
Our teacher Mrs. Cheetah
Makes us talk backwards. Nicer cat
You wouldn't want to meet a.

To start the day we eat our lunch,
Then do some heavy dome-work.
The boys' and girls' rooms go to us,
The hamster marks our homework.

At recess time we race inside
To don our diving goggles,
Play pin-the-donkey-on-the-tail,
Ball-foot or ap-for-bobbles.

Old Cheetah with a chunk of chalk
Writes right across two blackbirds,
And when she says, "Go home!" we walk
The whole way barefoot backwards.

(Poem "Mixed-Up School" by X. J. Kennedy from Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh. Curtis Brown, Ltd., 2002)
Meeting him again, his wife and sons, was a delight. His path brought him to his current incarnation as rector of an Episcopal church well below Maine. We mentioned names, recalled some history, and spoke through and around circle of Thursday Evening Conversation of how we view today's understanding of how and who we are in matters of forgiveness, awareness, and judging. We can only surrender, said his wife. She's on to something.

When we "go home" it will most likely be "The whole way barefoot backwards." We'll be looking at our feet, where they've been, holding gleefully our balance.

The past, it is said, is preface. "Preface" is a good word. It is a saying beforehand what will eventually unfold. Everything is before our face, at every moment of our lives. Right here.

And yet, we seldom see.

But we can laugh at our spiritual myopia. We can barely see for tripping over our own feet. Maybe its because the zen saying asks us to "Look under you feet" -- a feat likely to unseat social equanimity -- but a practice helpful to spiritual grounding.
This old monk meditates and
Rests in the empty mountains
In loneliness and stillness
Through the days and nights.
When I leave the pure cliffs,
I am distracted by callers
The world of people is first
And always the world of people.

- Seigan Soi (1588-1661)
I remember fondly the year of fast break, boxing out, and road trips stopping at diners and maximum security prisons. Recently in an empty gym I took one shot from behind the key, and, missed.

The basketball I bought in Antigonish Nova Scotia needs air. It sits spin-less in barn under rafters where birds nest and bats sleep in thin spaces.

It is the Dormition Day of Mary. For all the Marys who've found themselves passing through sleep -- my greetings on this feasting day!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Practice infers forgetting who we are and what we are doing. If we didn't forget, if we didn't wander off-balance into outlying areas, there'd be no need for practice. Practice is waking up to where we are, remembering who we are, and in return finding balance again.

Only to forget and wander off again, as seems to be our habit.
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)
Practice makes perfect. That is, practice makes its way through. Life is passing through. No passing through, no life. I know what not passing through feels like. Stuck. In a rut. No movement. This usually accompanies, or at least signals, a failure to practice.

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
(Poem by Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright 1989 by Stephen Dunn.)
Practice sometimes is a sweetness. It reminds you of what has gone by. It returns you to a more balanced center -- but accompanied by the realization that a duration of time and span of missed events will not be retrieved. The sweetness of return is tempered by the sorrow for the lost and missing -- that of us absent.

If faith is trust in love and truth, faith reminds us there is a home that has not gone anywhere -- even as we look for it in disarray.
I Belong There

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them
a single word: Home.

(Poem, I Belong There, by Mahmoud Darwish, Translated by Carolyn Forché and Munir Akash)
A friend in Maine has buried his father. A friend in Connecticut has buried her mother. These, with others, remain in the invisible house of prayer carried in contemplative mendicancy and meditating sunyasins.

With no permanent abode or fixed landscape -- the life of practice, prayer, poetry, and presence -- rely on faith to continue. To continue through the vagaries and unforeseen transformations visited on those who wander unknowing through this life. And unknown. Whose names we do not know. Or have forgotten. But whose breath of whisper can be felt in solitude.

We are of a piece. Cloth without seams. But ignorant, mostly, of this understanding of our true home. As we meander through details of day. Distraction of dialogue scripted by insane thoughts dissociated and dedicated to dissemblance.

Poet Mahmoud Darwish looked with open heart and bleeding mind (or bleeding heart and open mind) at his people and invited words to carry the Palestinian refugee experience out from fear and anger into our hearing -- seeking a home in a world within us that knows no hatred nor accepts lies. He died last week.

They did not recognize me in the shadows
That suck away my color in this Passport
And to them my wound was an exhibit
For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
They did not recognize me,
Ah . . . Don’t leave
The palm of my hand without the sun
Because the trees recognize me
Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my palm
To the door of the distant airport
All the wheatfields
All the prisons
All the white tombstones
All the barbed Boundaries
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the eyes
were with me,
But they dropped them from my passport

Stripped of my name and identity?
On soil I nourished with my own hands?
Today Job cried out
Filling the sky:
Don’t make and example of me again!
Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
Don’t ask the trees for their names
Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
From my forehead bursts the sward of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!
(Poem, Passport, by Mahmoud Darwish)
Each belongs, always and only, to itself.

What is itself? Solitaire aut Solidaire? Or is it: Solitaire et Solidaire? Start with this question.

Come home.

Practice the sound of it.

Listen to the sound of what is... being... said.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Out of words?
The Master Pai-chang said, “Our school does not belong to either Mahayana or Hinayana. Neither does it differ from Mahayana and Hinayana. We should carefully consider them both and establish a rule that will include them both in a harmonious way, and at the same time be appropriate to the needs of the situation.” With this in mind, the Master initiated the establishment of separate Ch’an communities.
When the unsurpassed bodhi is expressed through the body it is called Vinaya; when it is expressed through the mouth as speech, it is called Dharma; when it is practiced with the mind, it is called Ch’an. Though these are three different functions, they all return to a single reality. It is like different rivers and lakes which have their own names: though the names differ, the water’s nature is always same. Vinaya is Dharma, and Dharma is not asunder from Ch’an. How could one falsely create any distinctions among the three?

- Wei-k’uan
Say nothing without words.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's hard to understand why the United States cannot bring itself to provide medical care to all. For those with no money. Those sick. Those dying. It's hard to understand how HMO's have taken over what used to be called health care. Insurance companies decide whether someone lives or dies, in pain or in sanity.

Perhaps Americans are fatalists at heart. There's no use thinking that the world doesn't belong to the wealthy and the corporate capitalists, so why think it?
Humans born into this floating world
Quickly become like the roadside dust:
At dawn small children,
By sunset already grown white-haired,
Without inner understanding,
They struggle without cease.
I ask the children of the universe:
For what reason do you pass this way?
- Ryokan (1758-1831)
There's no wonder why Christianity has replaced Christ with Jesus the personal savior. Belief in Christ would demand love and compassion, truth and justice -- no one left out. Clinging to Jesus needs only believe that Jesus has saved you and probably you alone -- aside from (perhaps) the tight clique of your church-mates who believe exactly what you do with the same words and the same condemnations of errant unfortunates.
I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
—Luke 12:49, NIV
Luke thought perhaps the Christ would burn away ignorance and blindness, and we would come to see our true nature -- and serve one another.
But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!
—Luke 12:50, NIV
The baptism of Christ is the devastating experience of coming to understand the essential relationality of each with each -- while at the same time undergoing the darkness of the impulse to "other" those we cannot seem to accept as (we cannot accept) ourselves.
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
—Luke 12:51-53, NIV
To divide is to see two. It is to see the moving away of something from itself. Why Christ is interested in 'cleaving' demands a fresh looking at the word. What does cleave mean, intransitively? "To penetrate or pass through something by or as if by cutting." Is this the division, the cleaving, of Christ? Like some primordial neutrino ("an uncharged elementary particle that is believed to have a very small mass, that has any of three forms, and that interacts only rarely with other particles") -- is Christ passing through us as a severing spirit leaving us cauterized and connected where once we thought ourselves cut off?
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
—Luke 12:54-59, NIV
We don't now know, nor probably have we ever known, how to be in the world as one with another. Is this one of the mysteries of Christ? Is this one of the confusing revelations we've come to call "trinity" -- wherein one is "through, with, and in" -- without getting lost or forfeiting distinctiveness?

Is this America's flaw? That it never really trusted in the idea of Christ -- except as talisman recitation for political gain?

I propose faith and practice. Faith here and now as trust in love and truth. Practice as placing the experience of faith (i.e. trust in love and truth) as first and foremost act in one's life.

America lacks faith.

We practice (to our detriment) its opposite.

But -- as they say -- it's never too late. It is late. But not too late.

It might be nice to live in a Christ-centered country. Perhaps what has been called 'Christianity' has to be laid to rest. And let rise Christ from the center of human experience.

Is it there that we learn to recognize the Holy One? Was Teilhard de Chardin on to something?

Will the Holy One, the emergent Christ, rise from the center of creation as creativity itself hidden deep in the heart of creating-love and revealing-truth?

Practice this. Faith this. Enter origin.

I'm so tired of cheap imitation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

There is always and only the event, that which is taking place. Even in that, what forever differentiates the event from itself is the story told about it. Every perspective is exemplified by a narrative told from a different direction. You might come to believe that no event actually took place, just the imagined stories of a variety of narrators.
Bodhisattvas receive and uphold all the teachings, and yet do not give rise to attachment to the teachings. Bodhisattvas think, “I should contemplate dharmadhatus as illusions, all Buddhas as shadows, all Bodhisattvas as dreams, the Buddha’s teachings as echoes, all worlds like illusions
- from the Avatamsaka Sutra)
Russia and Georgia change the news.
August 12, 2008
Russia Steps Up Its Push; West Faces Tough Choices

WASHINGTON — Russian troops stepped up their advance into Georgian territory on Monday, attempting to turn back the clock to the days when Moscow held uncontested sway over what it considers its “near abroad,” and arousing increasing alarm among Western leaders.

Even as they prepared to convene an emergency meeting of NATO on Tuesday and President Bush denounced the Russian actions in the strongest terms to date, the United States and its European allies faced tough choices over how to push back. They seemed uncertain how to adjust to a new geopolitical game that threatened to undermine two decades of democratic gains in countries that once were part of the Soviet sphere.

Russian troops briefly seized a Georgian military base and took up positions close to the Georgian city of Gori on Monday, raising Georgian fears of a full-scale invasion or an attempt to oust the country’s pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Bush, little more than an hour after returning to Washington from the Olympic Games in Beijing, bluntly warned Russia that its military operations were damaging its reputation and were “unacceptable in the 21st century.”

“Russia’s actions this week have raised serious questions about its intent in Georgia and the region,” he said. “These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world, and these actions jeopardize relations with the United States and Europe.”

(-- The New York Times)
It seemed easier when as spectators with three billion others Messers Putin and Bush chatted at Beijing's opening ceremonies. The choreography, the graphics, the artistry, and the athleticism of the Olympics are pushed aside (once again) by merchants of arms and power.

Let's gather the adults for a second. Huddle together. As if we were going to perform our routine. The one we've been practicing over and over. The one event worth our life.
The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost-a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

(Poem "The Continuous Life" by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.)
Four men from the USA come to the finish wall just ahead of four men from France.
The United States was timed in 3 minutes 8.24 seconds, shattering by nearly four seconds the world record that its B team had set the previous night. France won the silver in 3:08.32.
(--The New York Times)
So much less noisy and less bloody than tanks and rockets and 50 caliber rounds.

I opt for contests of skill and grace and strength.

Like the friendship and holy efforts of Clare with Francis.

Who will teach the children how to be in the world with a direct experience of the event and not others' words about it?

Who will show war as the cowardice it is?