Saturday, July 18, 2020

that whole sense of holiness

An interview in Parabola four years ago with Roshi Robert Kennedy S.J. (b. 1933).


P: In your book Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit, you quote an Emily Dickinson poem that sums up this movement of faith: “Finding is the first Act/The second, loss,/Third, Expedition for/The “Golden Fleece”/Fourth, no Discovery/Fifth, no crew/Finally, no Golden Fleece/Jason—sham—too.”
RK: All her spiritual life is in that poem, I think. Finding happiness, then loss, then charging around the world looking for the truth, then discovering what we weren’t looking for.

P: Is there a point at which the demarcation between meditation and prayer disappears?
RK: I think Zen has great resonance with Christianity at the point where Christians realize that all images of God are just our projections, really. We imagine the most beautiful and the best things we can think of, and that of course is not God. Meister Eckhart says, leave God for God. It’s a mistake to talk too quickly about love. The danger is that we imagine what Jesus is, say, and then we try to fall in love with what we’ve just imagined. It’s not a very solid foundation for our life. It’s not only a question of love but of attention, of being present without the distractions of these images, putting ourselves in the presence of a reality that we do not know, being silent but not drifting, trying to be wide awake, not in a “spiritual” world, but in this world. Can we be awake to where we are, where we sit, without giving it a name, or a judgement about it? Zen says do not judge by any standards. And that is a wonderful place. But there’s another step too, when we realize that this eternal truth, in whose presence we are sitting, is not an object in front of our gaze but experienced as our very self. The faithful practitioner must finally stop hero-worshipping and act out of a center of confidence—and live that way, becoming useful. Silence can be tremendously fruitful in bringing us to these different stages of life.

And this:

P: And when you sit down in stillness, how do you know yourself?
RK: I just sit until the self falls off. No Roshi, no Father, no Bob. When we first experience this emptiness, it can be frightening. It seems a very lonely place. But this is a temporary stage. Finally, it’s not that we’ve lost everything, but that we’ve gained everything. All that we see is our very selves. And there is no final step. There couldn’t be a final step in Zen. Zen is life, and it’s always opening up.

P: Zen is particularly good at letting you know that there’s nowhere to get to, nothing to get.
RK: Zen strips away that whole sense of holiness. One Chinese Zen teacher told me, “Its so hard to deal with Catholics, because they love their spiritual life. “ And Zen is trying to show them that there is no “spiritual life.” There’s just one life, with different aspects. I was always touched by that.

P: Do you have a way of being Zen that is your own?
RK: I was a Jesuit priest before I came to Zen, so I feel that my own path is to try to introduce Zen to the Catholic people. I think it would be a great gift to bring to so many people who are trying to learn to live and to pray, honestly. And I think we can learn from the whole world as Catholics, and certainly from Zen. That they are not our enemies, even though intellectually they are different—that difference can be enriching and lead to light and to friendship and to common work with like-minded people.

(--from To  Live With  Gratitude, an Interview with Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi, by Tracy Cochran, Parabola, March 15, 2016)
 I defer to difference.

(If it's all the same to you.)


Owl calls from not-yet-dawn. 

Drops of water from eave to porch roof clunk, clunk, clunk.

The year's at the spring, 
And day's at the morn; 
Morning's at seven; 
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd; 
The lark's on the wing; 
The snail's on the thorn; 
God's in His heaven-- 
All's right with the world! 

(Robert Browning, 1812-1889, Pippa’s Song)
The Honorable John Lewis dies. (You have inspired us with your life. Thank you.)

The disingenuous Donald Trump is president. (You have not inspired us with your lack of leadership.)

There are some contrasts that seem obscene to place near one another.

God is not in his heaven.

Nor are things right in the world.

Let’s not pretend — we are awful people for allowing the chicanery to go on.

Friday, July 17, 2020

to be happy is to stop


Losing a loved one, uncertainty about what we are, these are deprivations that give rise to our worst suffering. We may be idealists, but we need what is tangible. It is by the presence of persons and things that we believe we recognize certainty. And though we may not like it, at least we live with this necessity.  

But the astonishing or unfortunate thing is that these deprivations bring us the cure at the same time that they give rise to pain. Once we have accepted the fact of loss,.we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as sky washed by rain. Freedom emerges from weariness. To be happy is to stop. We are not here in order to stop; Free, we seek anew, enriched by pain. And the perpetual impulse forward always falls back again to gather new strength. The fall is brutal, but we set out again.

(—from, Losing a Loved One, by Albert Camus, in The New York Times, March 16, 1976)

 Happiness is not something else. Not something in addition to the everyday things we do. 

We incorporate.

Wherever anything is, we are.

To be happy, enter where you are, do what you are doing.

There’s nothing else.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

everywhere, nowhere

Bonaventure, yesterday’s feast, said:
8. Recapitulating, let us say: Because, then, Being is most pure and absolute, that which is Being simply is first and last and, therefore, the origin and the final cause of all. Because eternal and most present, therefore it encompasses and penetrates all duration, existing at once as their center and circumference. Because most simple and greatest, therefore it is entirely within and entirely without all things and, therefore, is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere. Because most actual and most immutable, then "remaining stable it causes the universe to move" [Boethius, Cons. III, met. 9]. Because most perfect and immense, therefore within all, though not included in them; beyond all, but not excluded from them; above all, but not transported beyond them; below all, and yet not cast down beneath them. Because most highly one and all-inclusive, therefore all in all, armed.although all things are many and it is only one. And this is so since through most simple unity, clearest truth, and most sincere goodness there is in it all power, all exemplary causality, and all communicability. And therefore from it and by it and in it are all things. And this is so since it is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good. And to see this perfectly is to be blessed. As was said to Moses, "I will show thee all good" [Exod. 33:19].
(—from Mind’s Road to God, Bonaventure, OFM, born Giovanni di Fidanza 1221-1274)
And then there is Mount Carmel, which has such varied history:

Hermits and monastics, mystics and religious seekers, have responded to the call to look and listen deeper.

There’s a rich history to look at.

Such varied  stories to listen to.

The concealed unconcealed, then hidden again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

no light between her fingers

Who has trust that things wrong will be put right again?

What can we see through pinched thumb and forefinger?

The Old Ones have always reminded us that we will be here long after colonization has worn itself out. An elder explained to me once, pressing her fingers together, “See this?” I could see no light between her fingers. “This is the time since European settlement.” Then, she spread her arms from horizon to horizon: “This is the whole of time.”  

The Supreme Court decision last week affirmed what those of us who live close to our history here know already. Still, we weren’t sure what was going to happen because we do not usually fare well in courts. We have always been dogged by legal fictions and false narratives. In the Declaration of Independence we are referred to as “the merciless Indian savages” on “our frontiers.”  

That a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court stood with four other justices and followed the rule of law, instead of bowing to political arguments, is striking: a decision of integrity. It provides hope that the rule of law upon which this country is based can be applied equally.

The Old Ones understood the truth that “we are all related,” and now, as a nation reckoning with racism, maybe more of us are beginning to understand it, too.  

(-ftom, After a Trail of Tears, Justice for ‘Indian Country’, by Joy Harjo, 14july20, New York Times)

The long view is not easily seen.

Sit a while.

Look out over the horizon.

Tell us what you see.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

tonglen; friendship

So much suffering in the world. What could anyone do? 

We could pray it through.

The laundering of this and that for a this and that suffused with a humbled compassionate and caring presence.

When there’s nothing to do, it is a doing of nothing with loving attention.

People often say that this practice goes against the grain of how we usually hold ourselves together. Truthfully, this practice does go against the grain of wanting things on our own terms, of wanting it to work out for ourselves no matter what happens to the others. The practice dissolves the armor of self-protection we’ve tried so hard to create around ourselves. In Buddhist language one would say that it dissolves the fixation and clinging of ego. 

Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being. At first we experience this as things not being such a big deal or so solid as they seemed before.

Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have just died, or for those that are in pain of any kind. It can be done either as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. For example, if you are out walking and you see someone in pain—right on the spot you can begin to breathe in their pain and send some out some relief. Or, more likely, you might see someone in pain and look away because it brings up your fear or anger; it brings up your resistance and confusion.

(-from review of  THE  PRACTICE  OF  TONGLEN: Transforming  Confusion  into  Wisdom,  by Pema Chodron,

People fall ill. They receive a diagnosis. Some consider a criminal activity. Some blindly lash out violently. Some numb themselves to the confusion with drugs of all shape or liquidity.

Buddha pointed out the obvious — there is suffering in life. Aristotle wants to remind us life is hard. And as for empathically resonating with the sorrows and hardships of others, Jesus looks at us and silently invites: 'Why not?'

To enter respectfully another's life is to become friend to them. Not in the breezy superficiality of social platform 'friending', but in a deeper sense of recognizing the existential affinity of beings not disconnected and spiritually reliant one with the other. It is this recognition, of the necessity of correct relationality, that sets the foundation for authentic friendship.

Perhaps we need a refresher course on the virtue and value of friendship. Cicero, in his On Friendship, or Laelius, writes:

6. Now friendship may be thus defined: a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual good will and affection. And with the exception of wisdom, I am inclined to think nothing better than this has been given to man by the immortal gods. There are people who give the palm to riches or to good health, or to power and office, many even to sensual pleasures. This last is the ideal of brute beasts; and of the others we may say that they are frail and uncertain, and depend less on our own prudence than on the caprice of fortune. Then there are those who find the "chief good" in virtue. Well, that is a noble doctrine. But the very virtue they talk of is the parent and preserver of friendship, and without it friendship cannot possibly exist.

Let us, I repeat, use the word virtue in the ordinary acceptation and meaning of the term, and do not let us define it in high-flown language. Let us account as good the persons usually considered so, such as Paulus, Cato, Gallus, Scipio, and Philus. Such men as these are good enough for everyday life; and we need not trouble ourselves about those ideal characters which are nowhere to be met with.

Well, between men like these the advantages of friendship are almost more than I can say. To begin with, how can life be worth living, to use the words of Ennius, which lacks that repose which is to be found in the mutual good will of a friend? What can be more delightful than to have some one to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself? Is not prosperity robbed of half its value if you have no one to share your joy? On the other hand, misfortunes would be hard to bear if there were not some one to feel them even more acutely than yourself. In a word, other objects of ambition serve for particular ends - riches for use, power for securing homage, office for reputation, pleasure for enjoyment, health for freedom from pain and the full use of the functions of the body. But friendship embraces innumerable advantages. Turn which way you please, you will find it at hand. It is everywhere; and yet never out of place, never unwelcome. Fire and water themselves, to use a common expression, are not of more universal use than friendship. I am not now speaking of the common or modified form of it, though even that is a source of pleasure and profit, but of that true and complete friendship which existed between the select few who are known to fame. Such friendship enhances prosperity, and relieves adversity of its burden by halving and sharing it.

There is something behind and beyond mere chumminess. There is spiritual friendship which is an open line of honest communication whose purpose is the health and healing, growth and deepening of the participants of the interrelation. 

Such friendship, perhaps, is as rare as it is a necessity.

Without it, we have what we unfortunately have these days -- mere manipulation and insatiable using of the other for egoistic benefit of one over the other.

Cicero ends his essay in this way:
This is all I had to say on friendship. One piece of advice on parting. Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.  (Ibid)
May we grow nearer to it! 

at origin

As someone in eremetic tradition, there is the realization there is a equivalence between what is outside and what is inside.

Such realization helps temper the subject / object mentality of finding fault and blaming others for things that are equally present in oneself.

A spiritual hermit is not hoodwinked into believing they are separate from nor privileged from participation in each act of either kindness or unkindness.

The bell tolls for each one of us at once.

That man, the one committing misdeed or crime, is you.

What you see is what you are.

Whatever is done to any one is done to every one.

Each person’s death diminishes me.

There, by the grace of God, go I. (Until, someday, with grace, “I” goes.)

The spirituality of eremetic consciousness is the practice of awareness of true nature, that which we all share, that which we each are.

There is no place to hide.

Nor is there any desire to hide.

Everything is revealed at origin.

Which is what and where and who we are.

Monday, July 13, 2020

has anybody seen some old

                 (a haiku and gassho)

Two uniques, Diane,

Peter, Walpole and Montville,

Die these last two weeks

Sunday, July 12, 2020


On floor near bed, dog

Inhales. — In early morning

Nothing else moving