Saturday, September 22, 2018

the shape of non-doing

Recalling Meister Eckhart’s words while reading Nishitani Keiji as I walked low tide hardpack beach for days and hours thirty five years ago: Leben ohne Warum (life without why, or, life without the question why),

Following conversation last evening, I find:
Nishitani has further developed this multiple Zen perspective of “non-doing” (mu-i) in dialogue with Western philosophers including Nietzsche and Heidegger. Jan van Bragt, in his translation of Nishitani’s Religion and Nothingness, has skillfully rendered the opposing term u-i (samskrta) here as “being-at-doing.” This being-at-doing, according to Nishitani, is a matter of karma; in other words, the vicious circle of volitional action and the disposi- tions that both result from these willful acts and compel us on to further acts. This existence Nishitani has further developed this multiple Zen perspective of “non-doing” (mu-i) in dialogue with Western philosophers including Nietzsche and Heidegger. Jan van Bragt, in his translation of Nishitani’s Religion and Nothingness, has skillfully rendered the opposing term u-i (samskrta) here as “being-at-doing.” This being-at-doing, according to Nishitani, is a matter of karma; in other words, the vicious circle of volitional action and the disposi- tions that both result from these willful acts and compel us on to further acts. This existence as being-at-doing has “the character of an inexhaustible task that has been imposed on us, which means that we can maintain our existence in time only under the form of constantly doing something. Being in time consists essen- tially in being obliged to ceaselessly to be doing something.”38 This ceaseless cycle of compulsory/volitional activity and debt can only come to an end by abandoning “the standpoint of karma,” and by a conversion from being-at-doing to non-doing (mu-i). 
And yet, as we might expect, Nishitani stresses that this conversion does not settle down on “the field of nirvana,” but rather comes full circle in a 360-degree spiraling return to what he calls “the field of samsara-sive-nirvana” (RN 275/250). The “great negation” of emptiness or sunyata does not put an end to all activity, but clears the ground for a radically different kind of ceaseless activ- ity, one no longer centered on the ego and producing karmic debt. On the field of samsara-sive-nirvana, “constant doing is constant non-doing,” and “all being- at-doing. . . takes the shape of non-doing.” Now “all our work takes on the char- acter of play,” for here “working and playing become manifest fundamentally and at bottom as sheer, elemental doing,” or what Buddhism calls “playful samadhi” (Jp. yuge-zammai) (RN 277–79/252–53). Nishitani uses the image of the child to depict the “dharmic naturalness” (Jp. jinen-hôni) of an innocent activity that is at once play and elemental earnestness; “for the child is never more earnest than when engaged in play” (RN 281/255). The child at earnest play serves as an image for the “radical spontaneity” that characterizes life after the extinction of the will.
(—from,  Zen After Zarathustra:The Problem of the Will in the Confrontation Between Nietzsche and Buddhism, by Bret W. Davis Today, the meditation is on Pirsig:
These days, Pirsig redounds to the prevailing arrogance in Washington.
 “Degeneracy can be fun but it’s hard to keep up as a serious lifetime occupation.”            ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 
The ever-giving gift of social quality!

Friday, September 21, 2018

at the door

It is a juncture.

Decency is on the line.

The cynical enforcers strut and bully.

It is time.

Something rises up.

A spiritual revolution is at the door.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

in 1967 I couldn’t get this poem

 Today it is its own, and my getting it is nowhere to be found.
Anecdote of the Jar
                              BY WALLACE STEVENS

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill. 
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air. 
It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Wallace Stevens, "Anecdote of the Jar" from Collected Poems. Copyright 1923, 1951, 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


 Rosh  Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
“Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), “Good year,” u’metuka” (ומתוקה), “and sweet!”
Gemar chatimah tovah” (גמר חתימה טובה), “A good final sealing!” 
You cant take Bensonhurst out of someone born there. 

will have to take some other form (Elizabeth Bruenig about Amber Wyatt)

Today in The Washington Post, a piece by Elizabeth Bruenig about Amber Wyatt and a 2006 incident.

Difficult story. Troubling reporting. Timely reminder.

About her reportorial investigation, Bruenig writes:
There were personal reasons, too, for my investigation. I wanted to understand why it had to be as bad as it was — why she wasn’t just doubted but hated, not simply mocked but exiled — and why it had always lingered on my conscience like an article of unfinished business, something I had meant to do but hadn’t. I wanted to look directly at the dark things that are revealed when episodes of brutality unfold and all pretense of civilization temporarily fades, and I wanted to understand them completely.  
Otherwise, I thought, they could at any time pull me under. And I could watch mutely while something like this happened again.
Her concluding paragraphs are sober:
Because there will always be opportunities to do evil and evil opportunists. There will always be acts of cruelty prepackaged with plausible deniability, or the easy cover of crowds to disperse responsibility. There will always be people nobody believes: people with lesser reputations, people who struggle with addiction, people without much capital, social or otherwise, to credit them. And there will always be cases of offenses that are real and true but hard to prosecute, which means that justice in the world — if it’s to exist at all — will have to take some other form than the formalized and official, and peace will have to arise from some other reckoning than a proper settling of accounts. 
This is my imperfect offering toward that end: a record of what happened, and the willingness to have been troubled by it all these years. It still troubles me now — it will always be unresolved — and I hope that it troubles you, because the moral conscience at ease accomplishes nothing.
(-- from, She reported her rape. Her hometown turned against her. Can justice ever be served? By Elizabeth Bruenig, in Arlington Texas. Opinion piece, The Washington Post, 19Sept2018 
It is a long read. It's a longer meditation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

do something

I grieve for my brothers and sisters. I grieve for truth.
Not Donald Trump‘s abdication of truth. But earlier.
The 9/11 travesty. The improbable and the mendacious.
It is 17 years gone. We are not satisfied with explanations.
Hence, we are desolate. And we are forsaken. Enter
the people in our current government. Heirs of blatant
deception, arrogance, and surly inexplicable popularity.

I grieve.

Of a Tuesday in September.

School of Truth 

O fool, do something, so you won't just stand there looking dumb. 
If you are not traveling and on the road, how can you call yourself a guide? 

In the School of Truth, one sits at the feet of the Master of Love. 
So listen, son, so that one day you may be an old father, too!  

All this eating and sleeping has made you ignorant and fat; 
By denying yourself food and sleep, you may still have a chance. 

Know this: If God should shine His lovelight on your heart, 
I promise you'll shine brighter than a dozen suns.

And I say: wash the tarnished copper of your life from your hands; 
To be Love's alchemist, you should be working with gold. 

Don't sit there thinking; go out and immerse yourself in God's sea. 
Having only one hair wet with water will not put knowledge in that head. 

For those who see only God, their vision 
Is pure, and not a doubt remains.

Even if our world is turned upside down and blown over by the wind, 
If you are doubtless, you won't lose a thing. 

O Hafiz, if it is union with the Beloved that you seek, 
Be the dust at the Wise One's door, and speak! 

(—Hafiz, Sufi poet. From: 'Drunk On the Wind of the Beloved'  Translated by Thomas Rain Crowe)

it’s always something

Still, Zhuangzi points out what we mostly miss.
Perfect virtue produces nothing.     — Zhuangzi

Monday, September 17, 2018

The eternal nothing

The Little Book of Truth, “The Exemplar” by Henry Suso, ed. By Frank Tobin (About Henry Suso see note at bottom)

  • Eternity is life that is beyond time but includes within itself all time but without a before or after. And whoever is taken into the Eternal Nothing possesses all in all and has no 'before or after'. Indeed a person taken within today would not have been there for a shorter period from the point of view of eternity than someone who had been taken 

    Whoever is taken into the Eternal Nothing possesses all in all and has no 'before or after'
    within a thousand years ago.
  • Now these people who are taken within, 

    These people who are taken within, because of their boundless immanent oneness with God, see themselves as always and eternally existing
    because of their boundless immanent oneness with God, see themselves as always and eternally existing
  • You and I do not meet on one branch or in one place. You make your way along one path and I along another. Your questions arise from human thinking, and I respond from a knowledge that is far beyond all human comprehension. 

    You must give up human understanding if you want to reach the goal, because the truth is known by not knowing
    You must give up human understanding if you want to reach the goal, because the truth is known by not knowing
  • After this the disciple turned again in all seriousness to eternal Truth and asked for the power to discern by outward appearance a person who was truly detached. He asked thus. Eternal Truth, how do such people act in relation to various things?
    Answer: They withdraw from themselves, and all things withdraw along with this.
    Question: How do they conduct themselves with respect to time?
    Answer: They exist in an ever-present now, 

    They exist in an ever-present now, free of selfish intentions
    free of selfish intentions, and they seek to act perfectly in the smallest thing as in the greatest.
  • Question: Paul says that no law is made for the just.
    Answer: Just persons, by becoming so, conduct themselves more submissively than other people because they understand from within, in the source, what is proper outwardly for everyone, and they view all things accordingly. The reason that they are unfettered is that they do (freely) out of an attitude of detachment what ordinary people do under compulsion.
  • Question: Is not the person who has been transported to interior detachment freed from external exercises?
    Answer: One sees few people reach the condition you describe without their strength being wasted. The efforts of those who really achieve it affect them to the marrow. And so, when they realise what is to be done and left undone, they continue to practise the usual exercises, performing them more or less frequently as their strength and the occasion permit.
    Question: Where do the pangs of conscience and other anxieties of seemingly good people come from, as well as the unrestrained latitude (of conscience) in other people?
    Answer: Both types are focusing their attention on their own image but in different ways; the one group spiritually, the other bodily.
  • Question: Does a detached person remain unoccupied all the time, or what does he or she do?
    Answer: The activity of really detached people lies in their becoming detached, and their achievement is to remain unoccupied because they remain calm in action and unconcerned about their achievements.
    Question: What is their conduct toward their fellow human beings?
    Answer: They enjoy the companionship of people, but without being compromised by them. They love them without attachment, and they show them sympathy without anxious concern - all in true freedom.
    Question: Is such a person required to go to confession?
    Answer: The confession that is motivated by love is nobler than one motivated by necessity
  • Question: What is such people’s prayer like? Are they supposed to pray, too?
    Answer: Their prayer is effective because they forestall the influence of the senses. God is spirit and knows whether this person has put an obstacle in the way or whether he or she has acted from selfish impulses. And then a light is enkindled in their highest power, which makes clear that God is the being, life and activity within them and that they are merely instruments.
  • Question: What are such a person's eating, drinking and sleeping like?
    Answer: Externally, and in keeping with their sensuous nature, the outward person eats. Internally, however, they are as if not eating; otherwise, 

    One does not arrive at the goal by asking questions. It is rather through detachment that one comes to this hidden truth
    they would be enjoying food and rest like an animal. This is also the case in other things pertaining to human existence.
  • Question: What is their external behaviour like?
    Answer: They have few mannerisms, and they do not talk a lot; their words are simple and direct. They live modestly so that things pass through them without their involvement. They are composed in their use of the senses.
    Question: Are all detached people like this?
    Answer: More so or less so, depending on accidental circumstances. Essentially, however, they are the same.
    Question: Do such people come to a full knowledge of the truth, or do they remain in the realm of opinion and imagining?
    Answer: Since they remain basically human, they continue to have opinions and imaginings. But because they have withdrawn from themselves into that which is, they have a knowledge of all truth; for this is truth itself and they ignore themselves. But let this be enough for you. 

    It is important to realize that everyone has five kinds of self
    One does not arrive at the goal by asking questions. It is rather through detachment that one comes to this hidden truth. Amen
  • Disciple: Lord, what is true detachment?
  • Truth: Take note with careful discrimination of these two words: oneself and leave. If you know how to weigh these two words properly, testing their meaning thoroughly to their core and viewing them with true discernment, then you can quickly grasp the truth.
    Take, first of all, the first word -- oneself or myself -- and see what it is. It is important to realize that everyone has five kinds of self. The first self we have in common with a stone, and this is being. The second we share with plants, and this is growing. The third self we share with animals, and this is sensation. The fourth we share with all other human beings: we possess a common human nature in which all are one. The fifth - which belongs to a person exclusively as his or her own - is one's individual human self…
    Now what is it that leads people astray and robs them of happiness? It is exclusively this last self. Because of it a person turns outward, away from God and toward this self, when he or she should be returning inward. Thus they fashion their own selves according to what is accidental. In their blindness they appropriate to themselves what is God's. This is the direction they take, and they eventually sink into sinfulness.
  • Disciple: The truth be praised! Dear Lord, tell me, does anything (of this self) still remain in the happy, detached person?

  • Truth: Without a doubt it happens that, when the good and loyal servant is led into the joy of his Lord, he becomes drunk from the limitless overabundance of God's house. What happens to a drunken man happens to him, though it cannot really be described, that he so forgets his self that he is not at all his self and consequently has got rid of his self completely and lost himself entirely in God, becoming one spirit in all ways with him, just as a small drop of water does which has been dropped into a large amount of wine. Just as the drop of water loses itself, drawing the taste and colour of the wine to and into itself, so it happens that those who are in full possession of blessedness lose all human desires in an inexpressible manner, and they ebb away from themselves and are immersed completely in the divine will. Otherwise, if something of the individual were to remain of which he or she were not completely emptied, scripture could not be true in stating that God shall 

    When the good and loyal servant is led into the joy of his Lord, he becomes drunk from the limitless overabundance of God's house. What happens to a drunken man happens to him, though it cannot really be described, that he so forgets his self that he is not at all his self
    become all things in all things. Certainly one's being remains, but in a different form, in a different resplendence, and in a different power. This is all the result of total detachment from self.

...   ...   ...

Suffering is the ancient law of love; there is no quest without pain; there is no lover who is not also a martyr.
The Blessed Henry Suso (21 March c. 1300 – 25 January 1366), also known as Amandus or Heinrich Seuse, was a German-Swiss mystic of the Catholic Church, born at Überlingen on Lake Constance, he died in Ulm and was declared Blessed in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, who assigned his feast in the Dominican Order to 2 March. He was, along with his friend and contemporary Johannes Tauler, one of a triumvirate of thinkers belonging to the Rhineland school, also called The Rheno-Flemish school, of Catholic mysticism of which Meister Eckhart was the founder and supreme proponent. Blessed Jan Van Ruusbroec is also sometimes held to be a mystical teacher of this school.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

reading richard kearney

 Anthony Storr observes:
Many people resort to the so-called paranoid–schizoid stage of development, in which they will follow a guru-like leader whom they invest with magical powers for good, and at the same time find scapegoats whom they blame for the disaster and regard as wholly evil. 2(Loc.166)
My wager is that if the enigma of the Other has been largely ignored by the mainstream metaphysical tradition –going back to Parmenides and Plato who defined the Other in relation to the Same –it resurfaces again and again throughout our western cultural history in the guise of strangers, gods and monsters who will not go away and continue to command our attention. Preoccupied with the Rule of Reason, most western philosophers since Parmenides have banished the puzzlements provoked by ‘strangeness’ to the realm of Unreason, namely the cultural unconscious of myth, art and religion. And in the process of this estrangement, the Other passed from the horizon of reflective understanding into the invisible, unspeakable, unthinkable dark.  
It is my conviction that the Other may be brought back onto the horizon of philosophical understanding again in light of a number of recent explorations of the Self–Other relation in psychoanalytic theory, deconstruction, anthropology and phenomenological hermeneutics. It is also my conviction that the project of enlightenment will remain unenlightened until it comes to terms with the strangers, gods and monsters that it has all too often ostracized or ignored. And it is here that I will also be proposing a second movement from philosophy back to its others (art, religion, psychoanalysis). Understanding and pre-understanding need to get back into dialogue with each other. That is one of the guiding hypotheses of this work. 
One example of how this might be achieved is, I suggest, a new hermeneutic 
understanding of ‘melancholy’. If melancholic dread and anxiety is indeed one of the characteristic maladies of humanity, it is incumbent on philosophers to take this seriously. One of the best ways in which this may be done is by looking at the formative myths which epitomize this fundamental experience of alienation. Foremost here is the myth of Saturn, the monster who castrates his father and seeks to devour his own children. Though ignored by mainstream philosophy and metaphysics for centuries, certain thinkers in our own time –from Klibansky and Heidegger to Kristeva and Ricoeur –have sought to revisit the hidden meanings of this mythic monster and remind us how dread before death and loss can veer manically between abjection and elation unless we come to terms with it. Such reckoning implies both an acknowledgement and a working-through of this estranging mood, so that we may tame the monster and be less ‘driven’ by it. Once again, art, religion and psychoanalysis offer indispensable means of achieving this task. But so, I submit, does philosophy. To go on evading the monster of angst within us is a recipe for obsessional neurosis and existential inauthenticity. To face the Saturnine monster and acknowledge that it is an intregral part of us is to accept the truth that we are strangers-to-ourselves and that we need not fear such strangeness or ‘act it out’ by projecting such fear onto Others.
The story of Hamlet, which we explore below in both its Shakespearean and Joycean retellings, dramatizes the options faced by the melancholic soul. Confronting the terrors of death –triggered by the untimely loss of his father –the tortured Dane finds himself vacillating between mania and despair. One moment he apotheosizes his dead father as a demi-god (Hyperion), the next he recoils in horror from his ghostly apparition. The anguished Prince is a well-seasoned traveller on the peaks and troughs of strangeness. But what every melancholic –from heroic Danes to existential Daseins –must ultimately accept is this: the lost thing is really lost and the only cure lies in true mourning, that is, in the readiness to let go of the other we hold captive within or scapegoat without. The key is to let the other be other so that the self may be itself again. I will be suggesting that one of the best aids in this task is narrative understanding: a working-through of loss and fear by means of cathartic imagination and mindful acknowledgement.
Letting the other be other in the right way is, of course, no easy task. Our contemporary culture in particular exploits our deep ambiguity towards the death instinct, displacing our fearful fascination onto spectacular stories of horror, monstrosity and violence.
Julia Kristeva captures this point well in a dialogue we conducted on the subject in Paris in 1991:
.The media propagate the death instinct. Look at the films people like to watch after a long tiring day: a thriller or a horror film, anything less is considered boring. We are attracted to this violence. So the great moral work which grapples with the problem of identity also grapples with this contemporary experience of death, violence and hate.  
And Kristeva goes on to suggest, quite correctly in my view, that this expresses itself in extremist forms of identity politics:
Nationalisms, like fundamentalisms, are screens in front of this violence, fragile screens, see-through screens, because they only displace that hatred, sending it to the other, to the neighbour, to the rival ethnic group. The big work of our civilization is to try to fight this hatred. 3
(—from, STRANGERS, GODS AND MONSTERS, Interpreting otherness, by Richard Kearney, 2003, Routledge, kindle, Loc. 214-251)

a joy within no without


“God is not external to anyone, but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that he is so.” Plotinus

Sitting with R last night in room where so many have died before, I think about death as retrieving source of life, the going to the profound within, where God is beyond center.

This morning, reading Underhill:
The solar system is an almost perfect symbol of this concept of Reality; which finds at once its most rigid and most beautiful expression in Dante’s “Paradiso.”  182 The Absolute Godhead is conceived as removed by a vast distance from the material world of sense; the last or lowest of that system of dependent worlds or states which, generated by or emanating from the Unity or Central Sun, become less in spirituality and splendour, greater in multiplicity, the further they recede from their source. That Source—the Great Countenance of the Godhead—can never, say the Kabalists, be discerned by man. It is the Absolute of the Neoplatonists, the Unplumbed Abyss of later mysticism: the Cloud of Unknowing wraps it from our sight. Only by its “emanations” or manifested attributes can we attain knowledge of it. By the outflow of these same manifested attributes and powers the created universe exists, depending in the last resort on the latens Deitas: Who is therefore conceived as external to the world which He illuminates and vivifies. 
St. Thomas Aquinas virtually accepts the doctrine of Emanations when he writes:  183 “As all the perfections of Creatures descend in order from God, who is the height of perfection, man should begin from the lower creatures and ascend by degrees, and so advance to the knowledge of God. . . . And because in that roof and crown of all things, God, we find the most perfect unity, and everything is stronger and more excellent the more thoroughly it is one; it follows that diversity and variety increase in things, the further they are removed from Him who is the first principle of all.” Suso, whose mystical system, like that of most Dominicans, is entirely consistent with Thomist philosophy, is really glossing Aquinas when he writes: “The supreme and superessential Spirit has ennobled man by illuminating him with a ray from the Eternal Godhead. . . . Hence from out the great ring which represents the p. 98 Eternal Godhead there flow forth . . . little rings, which may be taken to signify the high nobility of natural creatures.”  184
(—from Chapter V, Mysticism and Theology, in Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, [1911], at )
The beyond center is the within of within.

We spend our lives navigating the outer.

Returning to the source — the center of all that is — is our final pilgrimage. And this pilgrimage requires no effort. None but consistently letting go.

R is going within.

During the late afternoon early evening down the corridor two women (as we say) died.

Drops of water falling into vast oceanic emptiness — the first light dawning disappearance into what is unseen in its permeable presence that, for no better word, we call absence.

“It feels so empty,” we say.


It does.

A discoverable mystery, a joy within no without.