It’s an idea
that makes one pause — no birth, no
death, just continue
Hard to imagine what that
means, how to live with such thought
There is, they say, a mental health crisis in the United States, one that is related to frustration and fear about democracy and freedom in the country.
You can hear it in the voices telling of their anger, mistrust, and lack of comprehension at the divisive points of view coupled with rancor, cynicism, and personal vindictive hostility toward those holding views different from each other.
There's a fatalism in the air.
Friday Evening Conversation swirled around the fact of change. Buddhists call it anicca, impermanence.
Impermanence, also known as the philosophical problem of change, is a philosophical concept addressed in a variety of religions and philosophies. In Eastern philosophy it is notable for its role in the Buddhist three marks of existence. It is also an element of Hinduism. In Western philosophy it is most famously known through its first appearance in Greek philosophy in the writings of Heraclitus and in his doctrine of panta rhei (everything flows). In Western philosophy the concept is also referred to as becoming. (-wikipedia)
Things change. We are ambivalent about that.
Things don't always, or even most often, change easily.
Change is our common experience, but our minds and emotions hesitate and balk.
There's no pushing back an incoming tide.
Anicca is intimately associated with the doctrine of anatta, according to which things have no essence, permanent self, or unchanging soul. The Buddha taught that because no physical or mental object is permanent, desires for or attachments to either causes suffering (dukkha). Understanding Anicca and Anatta are steps in the Buddhist's spiritual progress toward enlightenment.
Everything, whether physical or mental, is a formation (Saṅkhāra), has a dependent origination and is impermanent. It arises, changes and disappears. According to Buddhism, everything in human life, all objects, as well as all beings whether in heavenly or hellish or earthly realms in Buddhist cosmology, is always changing, inconstant, undergoes rebirth and redeath (Samsara). This impermanence is a source of dukkha. This is in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is nicca, or knows no change, decay or death.
As long as there is attachment to things that are
unstable, unreliable, changing and impermanent,
there will be suffering –
when they change, when they cease to be
what we want them to be.
If craving is the cause of suffering, then the cessation
of suffering will surely follow from 'the complete
fading away and ceasing of that very craving':
its abandoning, relinquishing, releasing, letting go.
We've been attached to the ways thing were.
We grow attached to the way things are.
But now is always becoming not-now.
We have no idea where things are until, for a fleeting instant, they flash present to our grasp and then flit away from our comprehension.
Death certainly does that.
Change does that.
What, therefore, is "this"?
"This" is what is becoming -- wherein, throughout, and within which -- we are becoming.
What are we, becoming?
Learning of Thich Nhat Hanh's death today.
We are blest to have had him in out midst and time.
Gassho! And cảm ơn (thank you)!
…. … …
From Plum Village:
Thich Nhat Hanh, 11.10.1926 -- 22.01.2022
This morning, the 22 of January 2022 Thay, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, has passed away peacefully at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, at the age of 95
I dust off the book. In flannel pajamas with wool sportjacket lined with thinsulate, buttoned to neck, wool docker Sterkowski cap on head, cold fingers across from stubborn wood stove, coffee cup empty on bookcase near cat tower, dog at feet, cars going by, I open Mattheissen.
Soon the child's clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions, and abstractions. Simple free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armor of the ego. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day, we become seekers.
(-Peter Matthiessen (1998). “Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969-1982”, p.8, Shambhala Publications)
If I read further, will I come to a passage saying that we are not meant to be seekers, but seers, someone not looking for something, rather, someone seeing through what is there?
These days, what is there feels wobbly and out of focus. Maybe a bit hopeless.
A friend sends me article about Aquinas. In it:
(--What 13th-century Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas can teach us about hope in times of despair, January 19, 2022 8.46am EST Christopher Beem)
The POT (party of trump) formerly called the Republican Party, is proving itself to be antithetical to some traditional values of the United States.
Let's try that again.
The POT exemplifies the racism and elitism, the white power agenda to devalue black, brown, red, and yellow.
That said, there's still room for deeper skepticism and doubt about the facade of politeness and collegiality, the dressing up of hate in the costume of smooth gentility and manners.
I used to think the way preachers would talk of depravity and sin was overblown rhetoric serving religion-based domination over the emotional lives of followers. It did.
Now it seems, the asking of donations and tithes belongs to political parties who use the flaws and faults of opposing politicians as collection plates for some new crusade tent at edge of town.
Our new preachers and pastors are politicians spouting drivel and desperate delusion to instill chaos yank money and fear from deceived flock.
The midlands, coastlands, and southlands belong to a red menace armed with righteousness packing handguns, bibles, and AR15s.
Surely some rough beast is slouching.
Surely the second civil conflagration is afoot.
Moral philosophy and ethics give way to excel spreadsheets and computer programming. Theology and the epic classics are shelved and Winning Personality and Popular Enhancing become the curriculum.
The Buddha told us:
“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of stress, disappointment, unhappiness and suffering: birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”
Maybe he's right.
Salvation is "preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss."
I suppose it's hard to lose what you've never had. To be delivered from where you've never been. To be healed within the place you cannot be touched. To be un-devastated in one's pristine wholeness.
Upstairs, one cat jumps from windowsill. Downstairs another cat on chair raises head to look around. On green mat, St Bernard/Border Collie doesn't move.
Just because you experience loss, it doesn't mean anything was there then, nor gone now.
Do you want to know?
Have you ever seen the rain?
Things learned and kept in mind.
I don’t learn of deaths in real time, but months later.
The dead, it seems to me, know no time. They are always just on the near-side of now, where there is no time.
I greet you, old friend.
My numbness at your disappearance into now is compounded by the obliviousness of my brothers and sisters toward their brothers and sisters.
In the end, I suspect, with waning of health and life, much drops away and equally as much doesn’t mean much any more.
A focused few remain meaningful.
I trust you, however and wherever and whether you are, are well within.
I recall fondly the years we spent out here.
The ambiguity and ambivalence of achievement and ambition.
The simplicity of friendship that does not hold on to anything outside itself.
Now is the time for all good friends to come to the aides of their country.
My dear senators, are you friends of democracy, voting rights, and fairness of representation?
Don’t let political maniacal power-lust cloud your ability to do the right thing.
There, my ask.
Call it a prayer.
Or a suicide note.
It’s a prayer.
To an unknown deity, a silent divinity, a not-yet humanity.
If I knew how to, I’d pray.
I do, and
Old cow sends the rest of the story:
Thank you for posting one of my all-time favorite Zen stories. Here’s a bit more- the best part!
Hung-yen/Hongren quickly saw how angry the monks would be that this illiterate kitchen hand was to become their master, so he personally rowed him across a river and took him to a hiding place in the mountains. He gave him the bowl and robe that signaled his succession as Sixth Zen Ancestor. Hui- neng hung the robe over a rock and awaited developments.It didn’t take long, however, for the monks to find out where he was hiding. A monk named Ming pursued him and tried to take the robe, but he was unable to lift it off the rock. Frightened, he stammered: I..l.. l came for the teaching, not for the robe..Master teach me.
Hui-neng said: Think neither good, nor evil. At this very moment what is the original face of Ming the monk?
(—from Robert Aiken’s translation and commentary. Gateless Barrier Case 23)
Our Old Cow, at meetingbrook conversation one Friday in Maine State Prison, parried playfully with one of the residents this appellation amid smiles and laughter. Here’s the case:
Case 24, Blue Cliff Record
Just because she closes in to middle nineties in age, she is not hidden in mist, but looms clearly visible with poems and variable wisdom from her hollow in the Hudson Valley.
Janis Ian ended her Berklee College keynote April 9, 2010 with this:
There's a Zen parable that sums up my feelings about art. Years ago, a noted young painter went to a Zen master and requested training, hoping to leap from being a good artist to a great one, with all the wealth and notoriety that entailed.
Without a word, the master walked him to a nearby creek and handed him a fishing pole. The boy soon landed a fish, which the master removed from the hook and tucked into the folds of his robe.
He walked our young painter to a room on the grounds, placed the fish on a table, indicated a pile of paper, brushes, and ink, and said his first and only words: "Draw the fish".
The young artist watched as his master left, and then proceeded to paint a stunning picture of the fish – every drop of water shining, every scale in place. And when he was satisfied, he brought it to the master, who glanced at it, then ripped it in half. Dropping the pieces to the floor, he smiled, bowed, and said "Draw it again tomorrow."
The next day the young painter arrived, drew the fish, brought it to the master, and watched as the same thing happened. For six months he drew the fish every day, and for six months the master threw away his drawings.
The fish began to rot. The flesh fell from the bones. At times the stench was so bad that the young man painted with a handkerchief over his face to keep from gagging. He became demoralized, outraged at the futility of his effort. Yet he persisted, through the maggots, through the creeping flesh, though his own stomach rebelled and his eyes could barely stand to look any longer. Until one day, only bones remained.
Exhausted by his efforts, confused by the \ silence of his master, the young painter began to cry. Tears fell from his eyes onto the paper, and he had to take several new sheets before he could begin. Wiping his eyes on a sleeve, he watched as a shaft of sunlight lit upon the skeleton that had so recently housed life. Through the water of his tears, the bones were magnified, bigger than real, an entity unto themselves.
And at that moment, his relationship to the fish-that-had-been changed completely. Instead of painting in the hope of gaining fame, or fortune, he began to paint from his hopelessness, his fatigue, his confusion. He began to try and make sense of the chaos that had trapped him in a small room with only a carcass for company. He began to paint the fish from the inside out -- first the bone, then the muscle, and finally, the flesh. The fish came alive under his hands – and when he brought it to his master, the master smiled and said "Now, you are an artist. I can teach you no more."
I have always tried to draw the fish from the inside out, and to live my life accordingly. Yet no matter how hard I try, that story tells it more eloquently than I ever could.
You might read PHILO.
θεός θεραπεία (theos therapeia) = god healing or divine service.
Philo, in first century, ascribed to Moses as a prophetic priest such
“divine service by means of which he was to avert evil from the people and to attain good for them, and by means of which also he was to bring the thanksgivings of the people when they did well and their prayers and supplications when they were sinful. This quite obviously corresponds exactly to the propitiatory function of the prophet as described in Scripture, and to the second type of frenzy as described by Plato.
(—p19, vol 2, PHILO, Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by Harry Austryn Woodson. 1948)
How do we think of such divine service today?
Who heals in therapeutic service the hearts, minds, and souls of we the hurting, disorientated, and treacherous?
Maybe the power will be restored to Barnestown road soon.
And I will look away, I’m sure, again.
Remember Martin Luthor King Jr.?
Remember who and what you are?
Now, let me suggest first that, if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. . . . We must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. . . .
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. 
 Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” in The Trumpet of Conscience (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 70, 71. Sermon delivered in 1967
Recall the Christological source of all being.
Recall the good doctor's valiant moral leadership.
Recall the interrelated structure of reality.
We perish in a whirlwind of ignorance and obtuse isolated rigidity.
Richard Rohr quotes Victoria Loorz as she writes:
The new story is emerging, and I cannot pretend to know all the layers. Yet one aspect that seems essential relates to the worldview of belonging—a way of being human that acts as if we belong to a community larger than our own family, race, class, and culture, and larger even than our own species. The apocalyptic unveiling happening in our world right now makes it difficult even for those who have been sheltered in privilege to look away from the reality, both tragic and beautiful, that we are all deeply interconnected. Humans, trees, oceans, deer, viruses, bees. God.
Many people, whether they go to church regularly or avoid it, feel closest to God while they are in nature. Even a simple gaze at a full moon can be a spiritual experience if you are mindful enough. And a glorious sunset can summon hallelujahs from deep in your soul. Humans are made to engage in life-affirming conversation with the whole, holy web of life. . . .
Mystical experience in nature—those moments when you sense your interconnection with all things—are more than just interesting encounters. They are invitations into relationship. Beyond caring for creation or stewarding Earth’s “resources,” it is entering into an actual relationship with particular places and beings of the living world that can provide an embodied, rooted foundation for transformation. The global shift necessary to actually survive the crises we’ve created depends on a deep inner change. 
 Adapted from Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 19–20, 21.
Procedamus in Pace!
We can learn from the great achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. to recognize that non-violence is the best long-term approach to redressing injustice. If the twentieth century was a century of violence, let us make the twenty-first a century of dialogue.
4:30 AM · Jan 17, 2022·Twitter Web App
Axe, and you shall receive.
Huineng worked throughout his childhood to support his family by cutting wood. One day when he was a young man, he overheard a man reciting a phrase from the Diamond Sutra and at once he experienced an initial awakening. With his mother’s permission he left home and devoted himself to religious life.
Huineng spent his next years wandering, ending up with a Buddhist nun who was devoted to the Nirvana Sutra. After reciting passages from it one day she asked him to take a turn reading it aloud only to find that he was illiterate. Incredulous, she asked how he intended to learn Buddha’s truth if he could not read the sutras. The youth replied that the nature of Buddha does not depend on words and letters so what need was there to read texts? Amazed at his insight, she suggested he take up monastic life. At this point he declined, but went on to train under a meditation master.
After three years of meditating in a mountain cave, Huineng went to Dongshan (East Mountain) monastery in Hubei, where he met Master Hongren, the “Fifth Patriarch.” Glaring at this supplicant, Hongren asked where he was from and why he was there. Huineng answered simply that he was from the south and had come to learn the dharma (Buddhist doctrine) from him. Hongren retorted that as a southerner, Huineng was a mere “barbarian,” adding, “How could you become Buddha?” Unfazed by the insult, Huineng replied, “Although my ‘barbarian’ body and yours differ, what difference is there in our buddha-nature?” (—Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Hui-neng, 638-713)
For dharma transmission Shenxin wrote his understanding for Hongren on the wall.
The body is the bodhi tree.
The heart-mind is like a mirror.
Moment by moment wipe and polish it,
Not allowing dust to collect.
Hui-neng had it read to him, then secretly made reply. His poem surprised. He couldn’t write, so someone wrote it for him on the wall.
Bodhi originally has no tree.
The clear and bright mirror also has no support.
Buddha-nature is constantly purifying and clearing.
Where could there be dust?
His verse overcame. He secretly was given the robe and bowl of succession, but he had to run and hide for his life.