Saturday, March 21, 2020

with a devout humility

 I read the observations of a respiratory therapist --
 (A Medical Worker Describes Terrifying Lung Failure From COVID-19 — Even in His Young Patients, by Lizzie Presser, MPro-Publica).
Riveting and sobering. 

I look in on the Trump briefing about virus. Something doesn't feel right about the way he does and does not do what he says is being done. There's too much praising and happy talk, sidestepping, bullying. He is continuing his rallies in a different format. There is an undercurrent.
4. Tota die iniustitiam cogitavit lingua tua sicut novacula acuta fecisti dolum
5. Dilexisti malitiam super benignitatem iniquitatem magis quam loqui aequitatem
6. Dilexisti omnia verba praecipitationis linguam dolosam
4. All the day long thy tongue hath devised injustice: as a sharp razor, thou hast wrought from deceit. 
5. Thou hast loved malice more than goodness: and iniquity rather than to speak righteousness.
6. Thou hast loved all the words of ruin, O deceitful tongue.
           (--from, Psalm 50 (51) 
Meanwhile, there is dark apprehension and bewildering concern over the inability to provide the most basic testing for those affected and protective gear for those giving care.

This, another hard story in
39-year-old New Orleans woman tested for coronavirus. She died before getting her results.She tested for coronavirus, and her results were delayed. Five days later, she was dead in her kitchen.BY JESSICA WILLIAMS | STAFF WRITER   PUBLISHED MAR 21, 2020 AT 11:26 AM | UPDATED MAR 21, 2020 AT 5:17 PM . 
Sometimes you're keeping social distance, sheltering in place -- and sometimes the gravity of personal stories and losses just fold you with sorrow.

It's not just about toilet paper and canned soups, not being able to go out to your favorite restaurant, pub, or church. Sometimes it's about the realization of fragility, the tenuousness of civil society, the greed and arrogance of thoughtless players in some cultural-political theater.

We like to say we pray -- for this, for that.

Sometimes we do pray.

This is a good time to actually enter into the uncertain absurdity of prayer with a devout humility.

yū and mu

Living mostly in the world of form, I have little familiarity with the formless. But at times I wonder if that is really the case.  How much of my life is lived just outside the edge of consciousness, just beyond the corner of form? We chant the Prajna Paramita several times a week. In it — That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness, form. (cf. Commentary by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche). 

John W.M. Krummel writes about and mu (being and nothing, form and formlessness):
Being and Nothing, Form and Formlessness 
Nishida often characterizes the distinction between being and nothing in terms of the cultural contrast of West and East.  In the preface to Hatarakumono kara mirumono e(働くものから見るものへ From the Working to the Seeing) of 1927, he contrasts the “brilliant development of Western civilization that takes form as being…” and “the root of Eastern culture that harbors within itself that which sees the form of the formless and hears the sound of the soundless” (Z3 255) — a formlessness that has nurtured the traditions of the East.  The distinction he makes here between West and East is that between form (keisō 形相katachi ) and formlessness.  Being () corresponds to form and the nothing corresponds to the formless.  Beings accordingly are what are present in determinate form, contrasted and differentiated from one another.  In Tetsugaku no konpon mondai (哲学の根本問題Fundamental Problems of Philosophy) of 1933-34, Nishida reiterates this contrast by stating that the thought of being is at the root of Western culture while the thought of the nothing is at the root of Eastern culture. (Z6 348)  Here as well, reality for the West is grounded in being qua form, while reality for the East is grounded in the nothing as formless.  Because the European tradition conceives the root of reality to be being () or the “possession of form” (yūkei 有形), it prioritizes “the form-possessing [katachiarumono 形あるもの], the determinate [genteiseraretamono 限定せられたもの], as reality [jitsuzai 実在].” (Z6 335-36)  On the premise that “something cannot be born from nothing” (ex nihilo nihil fit), the ancient Greeks came to conceive of the source of all beings in terms of a constant and unchanging primordial being.  The prime example here would be the Platonic ideas serving as principles of the actual world, and among which the ultimate source would be the “idea of the Good.” The Platonic concept of the idea (δέα) etymologically means “form” (eidosεδος), which also literally means the “look” of a thing, and hence that which can be objectified in its visibility to the eye, or by extension, its intelligibility.  In Nishida’s view, ancient Greek philosophy that became the source of Western culture took form in this sense as the ground of what is real.   By contrast, the Eastern tradition takes a certain formlessness or non-substantiality — as in the Buddhist sense of the emptiness of substance (Skt. śūnyatā, Jp.  ; Skt. nihsvabhāva) — to be the source of everything.  Nishida makes the same contrast in 1940 in Nihon bunka no mondai (日本文化の問題The Problem of Japanese Culture) when he speaks of Western antiquity as conceiving the root of reality to be being () and the formed (yūkei 有形), and Eastern antiquity as conceiving the root of reality to be the nothing (mu) and the formless (mukei 無刑). (Z9 60)
(—from, Chapter 17, Anontology and the Issue of Being and Nothing in Nishida Kitarō, [Published in JeeLoo Liu & Douglas L. Berger (eds.). Nothingness in Asian Philosophy. London: Routledge, by John W.M. Krummel)
The wind gusts hard through night. The frightened border collie is finally calm and sleeping after trying to climb onto desk and settling awhile on bed. Rest comes hard for the anxious.

The gate to dooryard is closed. Sheltering in place (a good name for hermitage) serves as a novitiate of sorts for the many, few of whom would voluntarily choose it. There is a split between the anxious and the skeptical as to what this current state of affairs means or portends.

I read, take walks, read numbers to worker’s comp numbers cruncher, eat peanut butter and jam on toasted english muffin, take morning coffee, do silent sitting, listen to medieval chants and music, and wonder.

About the root of reality.

And this interchanging spate of time.

We move, uncertainly, through.

Friday, March 20, 2020

a word, solivagant, from merriam-webster

so·​liv·​a·​gant | \ sōˈlivəgənt \
plural -s

Definition of solivagant

 (Entry 1 of 2)
               : a solitary wanderer
\ " \
Definition of solivagant (Entry 2 of 2)
              : rambling alone : marked by solitary wandering
History and Etymology for solivagant
          Latin solivagus wandering alone (from soli- + vagus wandering) + English -ant
Latin solivagus + English -ant

diminishing ice


Or remain wondering?
For centuries the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, has been a changeless feature of life in the Arab world. In war or peace, prosperity or famine, the same rhythmic chant echoes across cities and towns five times each day. Midway through comes an exhortation to worship. But on March 13th a muezzin in Kuwait, his voice plainly cracking with emotion, made a small tweak. Instead of “hayya alas-salah” (come to prayer), he told the faithful “as-salatu fi buyutikum” (pray in your homes). Words that seemed immutable were no longer such.                (—from, Prayer in a Pandemic, 19mar20, The Economist)
Walking down hall to WC I think about the book I was reading while soaking in tub last evening. Traditional theology about a perfect God and a sinning couple, the fire of God scorching anything other than himself that seems unfaithfully separate, the incarnating Christ a perfect sacrifice, how no personal goodness does the trick, how only blood sacrifice brings us in.

I wished I’d grabbed a different book off the shelf.

Walking back to room this morning I wondered how that story took such fast hold on the psyche in the West, how much work there is to undertake to square the scriptural belief with natural experience and secular metaphor.

Come to mosque? (Or temple, church, synagogue). Or pray at home?

Is the person the new platform for prayer? Is this virus crisis, for example, with stay-away mandate, offering individuals the sudden opportunity to discover a different locus for (what is called) prayer? Solitary. Idiosyncratic. Personalized. Idiorhythmic.

The solo zafu. The armchair. The open field between pond and mountain. The overturned toboggan sluice and the beached handicapped kayak launch as meditation sitting spots.The bedridden turn of mind to wondering.

The story of blood sacrifice rescuing mortal humans into the company of a perfectly loving yet just God is a story from a timepiece of needful precision.

Ours is a breath rhythm of silent stillness that is open to sky and ground, water and wood stove smoke, watching what-is-there as a holy pantomime reflecting reverence and reverie as evaporating materiality and metamorphic unfolding dance before us and within us in freedom and creative transformation.

We’re going to need new story.

One that emerges from the wandering pilgrimage we’ve become.

One that complements the wandering home we are.

One that wonders, deeply and widely, about the unfathomable, the unsurpassable, the uncontainable thisness and thusness of an emerging and evanescent facticity — everyday reality and ordinary mind.

We are what is becoming itself (without fear) in love — in, amongst, for — one another. Perhaps of such is the nature of prayer.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

rest, assuredly



As we will



practice is endless

A friend wondered in an email what Eihei Dōgen Kigen Zenji (1200-1253) would say about the immense opportunity for changing mind resides beneath the current situation.

I don't know what he'd say.

But here's something he has said:
“Long ago a monk asked an old master, “When hundreds, thousands, or myriads of objects come all at once, what should be done?”The master replied, “Don’t try to control them”What he means is that in whatever way objects come, do not try to change them. Whatever comes is the buddha-dharma, not objects at all. Do not understand the master’s reply as merely a brilliant admonition, but realize that it is the truth. Even if you try to control what comes, it cannot be controlled.” 
Dōgen, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen
“This is the Way of Dōgen Zenji. For him, the Way is not simply one direction from starting point to goal; rather, the Way is like a circle. We arouse bodhi mind moment by moment, we practice moment by moment, we become fully aware moment by moment, and we are in nirvana moment by moment. And we continue to do it ceaselessly. Our practice is perfect in each moment and yet we have a direction toward buddha. It is difficult to grasp with the intellect, but that is the Way that Dōgen Zenji refers to in Bendōwa. So our practice is not a kind of training for the sake of making an ignorant person smart, clever, and finally enlightened. Each action, each moment of sitting, is arousing bodhi mind, practice, awakening, and nirvana. Each moment is perfect, and yet within this perfect moment we have a direction, the bodhisattva vows. "However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all. However inexhaustible my delusions are, I vow to extinguish them all. However immeasurable the dharma teachings are, I vow to master them all. However endless the Buddha's way is, I vow to follow it." These four bodhisattva vows are our direction within our moment-by-moment practice. And yet each moment is perfect. Since our delusion is inexhaustible, at no time can we eliminate all our delusions. Still we try to do it moment by moment. This trying is itself the manifestation of the buddha way, buddha's enlightenment. But even though we try as hard as possible to do it, we cannot be perfect. So we should repent. And repentance becomes energy to go further, to practice further in the direction of buddha. That is the basis of bodhisattva practice. Our practice is endless. Enlightenment is beginningless.”   
(Dōgen, The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen's Bendowa, With Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi)(Goodreads
There's joy in experiencing how much so many dear hearts long to reach out and effect a gathering communal comfort distance sangha during this suffering time. 

ways to way itself to dwell as reality

Perhaps all inquiry, even what we call prayer, is the longing for manifestion and realization of what is the inapparant and inconspicuously real. We might say that what we see and what we don’t see are the same thing, undifferentiated and inseparately there.
“Nature loves to hide” (Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεί), Heracleitus of Ephesus is famously credited with having said.1 But where does nature hide? In what place or space? Has it always hid from the beginning? Or is the beginning the event of the hiding? Nature and the elemental are inextricably connected. And the question of the elemental is bound to the question of the beginning. Does nature hide behind the elemental? Or is the elemental the open hiding place of nature?
(—from, Hiding Between Basho and Chōra Re-imagining and Re-placing the Elemental, Brian Schroeder, Rochester Institute of Technology, Research in Phenomenology,
 You are who you are. I am what I am. What is seen is what is there. The internexus — the connection between, of seeming opposites, their border transit, like contemporary and ancient migrations — tell the tale of our longing for interpenetration, marriage, coalescence.

Even the stated preference for distinctness, individuality, autonomy — however misunderstood — is the confusion we experience of the hidden wholeness grounding reality that is our nature. We rest by changing, Heraclitus said, not by holding tight to static patterns of being.
Altering the ways in which we think about and respond to the global problem of rapid environmental change is the first step toward adequately addressing a long-term solution for our current and future problems. Fundamental to the East Asian perspectives presented here is the emphasis on the principles of unity and balance from a holistic and organic standpoint. This has implications for the way that causality is conceived in the external environing world and for understanding internal life-movements. Arriving at this realization of balance and unity necessitates turning away from our anthropocentrically based conceptions of nature, space, place, ecology, environment, and world toward a vision of shared dwelling on the Earth, wherein the metaphysical and epistemological dualisms that still hold sway over the popular mind-set are “cast aside” or “drop off,” to use Dōgen’s expression.4 Though distinct, the classic philosophies of Daoism, Buddhism, and Zen (as well as Confucianism, which will not be taken up here) share the common perspective that the human and the nonhuman inseparably coexist. How we view this interrelationship is what defines our existence. At the risk of over-generalizing, this standpoint is what distinguishes East Asian philosophies from most Western philosophical, theological, and scientific perspectives. (—ibid)
As everything shuts down — schools, businesses, church gatherings, restaurants, pubs, border crossings, predictability — fears slowly insinuate into daily routine.

The names of our pets signal to us a way through this time:
  • bodhi chitta — the mind of enlightenment, the excellence of awakened heart;
  • panta rhei — everything flows, eternal change; and
  • max manjushri  — gentle glory, bodhisattva of  wisdom.
As two cats and a dog prowl the borders of their particular beings, searching for ways to dwell in harmony, so we do the same.

It is questioned whether our true nature is harmony, or whether it is strife.

What disturbs us defines us, the novelist Wiesel wrote.

Our particular being is not other than universal being.

Jitai.  (Itself)

wa.     (Is)

Jittai.   (Reality)

Reality is Itself.  Itself is Reality.

So, we ask: “What am I?

May that which is truly itself help us learn the answer to our inquiry!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

speaking into a void

Innocence is no longer sufficient.

When false accusations or inflated imaginative malfeasance threaten to destroy a life, there’s a need to battle with wits and whatever wisdom is available.

Two women suffered a wrong. One wrote about the ordeal.
If I could return to that job interview from more than three years ago, to that moment when I was asked about my responsibility as a creative-nonfiction writer in the post-truth world, I know what I would say now: Our allegiance as nonfiction writers is not so much to truth as it is to honesty. Because truth can be spoken into a void, while honesty implies an audience, a reader, real people to whom you commit to tell your story as accurately and truthfully as you can so that they can then differentiate for themselves the facts from the lies, the truth from the fiction.
(--from, The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It?  by Sarah Viren, March 18, 2020, The New York Times)
In an instant, in seems, what we once called truth is optional in the hands of some people. The false and the fake litter our minds and clog our experience.

The models we thought we had have crumpled.

Diogenes is still looking.

one function

Come to think of it, there probably is one function of language — prayer.

And one function of prayer — silence.

Then, one function of silence — unwavering gaze.

Seeing everything through.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

the day before today

beginning solitude

zazen seat, 19 degrees

when skiing is done for the season

and ice sings its final echoes with departing cracking arias

tuesday morning

Border Collie jumps up to bed while I am down the hall. He stretches. Paw on right shoulder. For the moment he is not running in his sleep.

We all seem to be running in sleep.

We close roadside gate to keep the Max-manjushri from running out onto Barnestown road. It feels like a closing in. Dung this time of sequestering, the hermitage feels like a hermitage.

It dawns on the populace — this is different. Don’t be flip. Sober down.

Looking around, everywhere a greater stillness moves closer in.

Morning light up east.

This time will change everything we think we know.

Look to the left, look to the right; stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!

Monday, March 16, 2020

seeing through

We're in it now. Nor do we know for how long.

I walk Rockport cemetery listening to Joseph Campbell's book Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal on audio. Then I am talking with the pianist by phone who is excited about a Bach Chaccone. He describes it with passion and intensity. And would I look up a gravesite of someone from twenty years ago he's not been able to find. We won't be getting together for a dinner, something we've never done, because everyone is sequestered in social distancing washing our hands every fifteen minutes and cultivating solitude as though one might be a hermit or a recluse. Which is what I am. So this time is gift. Every activity I engage in of a public nature I've been excluded from -- prison, nursing home, college independent study, hospital, hospice house -- leaving me happily cancelled for unknown duration. So walking in a cemetery for two plus miles this afternoon, and walking field of snow bowl this morning for two plus miles, is the briar patch Ive been thrown in.
In My Own Way  2008/08/08 Why – and again why – do you want to know whether there is a God, whether there is a life after death, or what method you should follow to become enlightened, liberated, or realized?  Could it be that you identify yourself with a merely abstract ego based on nothing but memories?  That therefore you are not alive and aware in the eternal present, and thus worry interminably about your future?  Furthermore, don’t you realized that when you accept someone as a spiritual teacher, you do so by your own authority and choice?  You yourself license the Bible, the Koran, or the Gita as infallible.  Wake up!…and, without putting it into words, watch what is, now.  You thus realize that there is no ‘feeler’ apart from feelings, and no granular, billiard-ball ‘self’ confronting the universe.” (--Posted in quotes | Tagged eternal presentji-ji-mu-geKrishnamurtispirituality )
I talk afterwards to hospice volunteer who is seeing a patient who tightens with pain. They meditate together. She just wants to connect with another hospice volunteer about what she knows to be true -- you can't take away another's difficulties -- you can, however, be with them as they arise and as they ease away -- the difficulties and, ultimately, the person. It is the gaze that compels us to pay attention. We look upon, and are looked upon. Between the gaze and the gaze is the span of existence seen through with what develops into fond presence.

Bach, grief, the dying, cemetery, walking solitude, friendship at an expanse of space between.

I visit Herb and Polly's graves. I thank him for his visit in my dream the other night, and ask what he wanted. Two of his paintings hang in the hermitage. "What Jew do you know just finished a painting of the crucifixion?" he asked some fifteen years ago. "I want you to have it." he said. It hangs in the front room. 

There's fear and concern about the pandemic virus circling the globe. Everything is shutting down. Many think it's a hoax. Many think it will simply pass away. Many have no idea. Shelves in grocery stores empty. 

I don't know. Which is right where I prefer being.

Being can't be known.

Just seen.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

buonas noches

note: we are suspending public practice until it is resumed

Hello friends,

Notice: We are suspending public practice until it is resumed.

There will be no Sunday Evening Practice tonight at the hermitage. 

In consultation with some who attend we've decided to exercise discretion toward precaution in line with self/social-distancing during this time. 

(As an eremite, this decision has dancing feet. Whereas Saskia, more cenobitic, is less thrilled. She'll probably bake five deserts to exercise her disappointment.)   

As always, we will hold you in heart and mind.

May you be happy, safe, free, and rest easy in your (true) home!

—Bill (and Saskia)

Here is One-
Another Itself


when carnival barker’s hustle becomes faint memory

Of course we choose to believe we’ll be alright. This crisis will pass. We’ll again become inattentive and happy. Toilet paper will miraculously refill empty grocery shelves. The person across from us no longer has a viral dagger up their sleeve.

And the president will be looked at as quaint and outdated.
Very stable genius. Millions of Trump’s supporters aren’t blind to the president’s clownishness and ignorance. But they’ve been relatively indifferent to both, because they find the first entertaining and the second irrelevant to his overall performance. Who cares what a president knows about epidemiology, so long as the markets are up? 
They care now. The coronavirus has exposed the falsehood of so many notions Trump’s base holds about the presidency: that experts are unnecessary; that hunches are a substitute for knowledge; that competence in administration is overrated; that every criticism is a hoax; and that everything that happens in Washington is B.S. Above all, it has devastated the conceit that having an epic narcissist in the White House is a riskless proposition at a time of extreme risk. 
Will Trump’s declaration of a national emergency change this? 
Maybe, and the president has a belated opportunity to demonstrate seriousness he has lacked so far. But nobody should forget that such seriousness would only be a function of political expediency. Should coronavirus recede in warmer weather, you can depend on Trump to declare his premature victory — not warn that winter is coming. 
It should not have had to take a deadly virus to expose this presidency for what it is. But it’s fitting that it has. A man who thinks he can twist every truth to suit his needs has at last discovered that he cannot twist the truths of nature and of one of nature’s gods. Her name remains Nemesis.
(from, Trump Meets Nemesis, Punisher of HubrisBy Bret StephensMarch 13, 2020, NYTimes)
Even the most fun roller coaster ride ends. Wheels stop. Safety bar releases. Riders step out and can’t believe they survived. They wander off to the midway for hot dog and cotton candy.

Then they go home.

The carnival barker’s hustle becomes faint memory.

There are lives to be lived. Everyday concerns and routines.

The dear shill, they find, really didn't care for them.

It was bread and circuses.

Every rube has virtual tattoo across their forehead — “Theres a sucker born every minute.”

The hat-hawking salesman takes his wares and disappears.