I marvel at the faith of my fellow Christians. Faith is not something I've been blessed with. The closest I can come to faith (when I really really pay attention and practice at it..) is the way Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, a Buddhist teacher, explains it:
"...To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need. You will see their tattered clothes and think: "All my righteousness is a filthy rag, but in Christ we can be clothed in his robes of righteousness." When you come upon those who are economically poor, you cannot say to them, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" because you certainly did not do that spiritually. Jesus intervened for you. And you cannot say, "I won't help you because you got yourself into this mess," since God came to earth, moved into your spiritually poor neighborhood, as it were, and helped you even though your spiritual problems were your own fault. In other words, when Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference."
~ Timothy Keller, Generous Justice ~
(via Jesse Curtis' blog "Walk On")
This image had its genesis in the one below,
a grainy, blurry iPhone capture of the cellphone lot at Logan.
Helper apps decim8, percolator, and glaze were instrumental
in revealing the true nature of reality - which of course is thinglessness.
“Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory and you understand deeply that this is not paradise. Somehow, especially the privileged ones that we are, we somehow embrace the notion that this veil of tears, that it’s perfectible, that you can get it all straight. I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. I tried to put this into that song called A Thousand Kisses Deep. When you understand that, you abandon your masterpiece and you sink into the real masterpiece.”
~ Leonard Cohen ~ (Via Hardcore Zen)
~ Ven. Song Chol Kun Sunim ~
(Birch stand - Emery House - West Newbury MA)
From the delightful book "One Bird, One Stone: 108 American Zen Stories" by Sean Murphy, I found these simple words of encouragement:
Zen Teacher Edward Espe Brown - on realization - love this teacher...
(NOTE: You have to dismiss the ad at the very beginning
by clicking on the "X box in the upper
right hand corner.. It's not time
boxed. Sorry for the shitty
Doe Bom Kun Sunim - Mun Su Sa Wakefield
Sitting for all beings - without exception
One of the breathtaking things about Buddhism is its "without exception" attitude. All beings - everywhere - are included - without exception.
Take for instance what Katagiri-Roshi had to say about the purpose of his practice:
On digital prayer flag Friday - let's be extravagant with our hearts and fling our prayers out into the void for "all sentient beings all over the world, forever."
From AZspot comes this link about "Dinner Church."
My three year-old daughter would have approved.
When Kelly was just three she gave us a lesson in the holiness of shared meals. One evening at dinner, just before we began to eat, Kelly said to us in her toddler voice "Hold hands." So - we did. Then she looked at each of us in turn and said "Love you Dad, love you Andrew, love you Mom." We were about to break our hand holding when she said to me "Your turn Dad." And so - I went around the table "I love you Andrew. I love you Dorothy. I love you Kelly." After everyone had a turn, Kelly said "Ok - close eyes. Send loves to everyone." And we did. In silence. Finally she said - "Can you feel it?" Everyone agreed that they could, we opened our eyes, let go of each other and began eating.
This practice, this liturgy, started by our beloved baby girl, lasted for many many years - well into the kids' adolescence. She called it "Circle." There were hundreds and hundreds of circles over the years. Any of us could initiate it - simply by extending our hands to each other and beginning "I love you…" Sometimes Circle would be done for people not with us or people having a hard time. Magic.
There was no overt faith-i-ness or invoking the name of the Divine in involved in Circle, but it was divine. It was holy. Best of all - it came from the sweet heart of a child.
I'm hopeful for the the dinner church movement, actually for any movement that helps us to recognize the tender sacredness of our relationships with one another and the divinity found in simple everyday acts - like holding hands and having dinner.
Another hot music tip for RTTC readers thanks to the RTTC West-Coast Music Editor: Ryan Adams will drop a new album on 9/9/14 - his first in three years. I love this scruffdog and this seems like a great collection of tunes. You can listen to the whole album here on NPR. My favorite of so far is "My Wrecking Ball."
A bunch of best beloveds will set out on pilgrimage in October. Part of the purpose of pilgrimage is to engage in what Seung Sahn Kun Sunim called "Together Action" where - like potatoes bumping up against each other in a a bucket of water - we knock the grime of daily habituations off one another. Maybe they can be each other's wrecking balls...
~ Ryan Adams ~
Driving through the streets tonight
Nothing much left in the tank
Hey, you're my wrecking ball
Lying in my bed tonight, feeling like I'm somebody else
But hey, you're my wrecking ball
Come and knock me down, come and knock me down
Driving through the streets tonight
it flows thru
the death of me
like a river
~ Inscription on Gregory Corso's headstone ~
(quote found in One Bird, One Stone: 108 Zen Stories)
RTTC readers have no doubt noticed the spate of posts that contain Rustin Cohle quotes from the HBO series "True Detective." Turns out - the character's world view is based in part on the work of Thomas Ligotti - who wrote a book called "The Conspiracy against the Human Race", which I am now reading and enjoying immensely.
The book is really not for everyone. I don't recommend it for your next book club meeting - but it is such a revelation to encounter a whole lineage of philosophy that is so close to my own while being much much bleaker to boot.
A comfort, really - with gems like:
And - concepts not entirely foreign to a Dharma student. In the late 80's during my first meditation classes, my teacher told us about how when he trained in Thailand - they would often be directed to go and meditate at a charnel ground and contemplate all the decaying bodies all around them. This was done to loosen their attachment to their bodies and to rub their noses in the immutable law of impermanence. And of course - the pessimist's credo above is just a hop skip and a jump from the First Noble Truth of Buddhism - Life, by its very nature is drenched in suffering or dukkha (unsatisfactoriness).
Where Buddhism and I part ways with pessimist thinkers is on the best way to deal with all of this horror. Pessimists think that humans should simply extinct themselves by ceasing to procreate. I and the rest of my Buddhist brothers and sisters think that the best way to deal with the horror and suffering of existence is kindness and compassion.
Despite the differences - it is exciting to find a whole cadre of western thinkers outside the Dharma that do not blink or avert their eyes when it comes to the nature of living.
And all this from an HBO miniseries…
From a sermon my Priest gave on 7/20/14:
From The Power of an Open Question by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyal, a book we are studying and discussing at Cape Ann Vajra Vidya Dharma study group:
From Edward Espe Brown's dharma talk:
Three separate overlapping messages from three different traditions - Episcopalian Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, and Japanese Zen Buddhism. All of them counsel against judging things. All counsel welcoming - even of perceived difficulties, mistakes and general life muck.
As difficult as it is to actually practice this wise counsel - messages received.
"I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist... I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself - we are creatures that should not exist by natural law... We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, that accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everbody's nobody... "
~ Detective Rusin Cohle ~ True Detective
"Now, I, Vairocana Buddha am sitting atop a lotus pedestal; On a thousand flowers surrounding me are a thousand Sakyamuni Buddhas. Each flower supports a hundred million worlds; in each world a Sakyamuni Buddha appears. All are seated beneath a Bodhi-tree, all simultaneously attain Buddhahood. All these innumerable Buddhas have Vairocana as their original body."
- Brahma Net Sutra -
The following is from a longish interview with former environmentalist Paul Kingsworth. He understands - like so many of us do - that we are past the point of no return on this blue rock with regards to climate change. He has said so publicly and has gotten quite a bit of negative feedback from the "Save the World" and "Sustainable Living" crews. Even the interview headline in Grist.org labels Mr Kingsworth a "Climate Defeatist."
What I found most bracing in the interview was his dismissal of hope.
You can read the entire interview here:
I agree with Mr Kingsworth on two counts - one, that barring some unforeseen disruption in the way of things - carbon will continue to be pumped into the atmosphere to the great detriment of the environment and two - hope is (in general) a useless and limiting activity. I personally have been trying to give it up (with very limited results) since reading Charlotte Joko Beck's "Everyday Zen" back in 1989:
"Manjusri Painted" by John Wigham - originally posted to Flickr as Manjusri.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The Gospel reading at the Monday 1:00 was Matthew 10:34-37:
The preacher, a beloved brother, presented this passage as Jesus urging people to let go. Exhorting us to non-attachment. As I sat listening to him speak, my inner Bood was thrumming.
Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom came to mind. He is often depicted as holding a fiery sword which is used not to injure but to separate us from our attachments.
I just finished the third night of lectures on Tonglen. What a great experience. Lama Kathy Wesley was a lively and engaging teacher.
It was refreshing to hear so much of the Dharma spoke at me again. It was lovely to have had the luxury of listening to someone speak for six hours and never once have my brain turn to "Well - that sounds like bullshit" as happens from time to time in other traditions.
I fell in love with the Dharma when I first bumped into it at the age of eleven. Although we've been separated many times in my life - I still love it. It's hard to 'splain but it's like it fits my brain.
It feels correct - there is no struggle - natural.
"We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable."
~ The Buddha ~
Thomas Byrom Translation
- Vedic Oms -
What H.H. does not say in the short quote above is that the student better be fucking ready to have anvils rain down upon his/her head once they start being critical.
I have no personal experience with this - but the many books written about wayward teachers are packed with accounts of whistle blowing / critical students getting a good and thorough ass-reaming for their troubles.
As the Romans used to say, "Caute procedere" kiddies.
To paraphrase something I heard recently - "Talking about meditation is like dissecting a frog. You can do it - but the frog dies."
The vast majority of my meditation experience has been in the Korean Zen tradition. Twice a day at home and then four hours on Saturdays. Saturday afternoons were four fifty minute sessions interrupted by brisk ten-minute walking meditations. Each communal session of meditation was begun and ended by the crack of a chugpi. No bells. No gongs. No music. "CRACK!!"
Beyond that - there was silence - except for the screaming in my head - the room was dead silent.
At the end of the last 50 minute meditation period - the chugpi would be clacked three times. Everyone would hobble to their feet, the zabutons and zafus stacked neatly in the corner of the Dharma hall, and everyone would wordlessly exit into the early evening.
In the last year - I've had exposure to Christian meditation. It has its similarities to Buddhist meditation - especially samadhi-style (concentration style) meditation done by either following the breath or by repeating a mantra word. I was taught to use "Bud-dho" as a mantra when first learning vipassana meditation. "Bud" on the in-breath and "dho" on the out-breath. Christian meditators in the lineage of John Main OSB are encouraged to pick a mantra word, (many choose the Aramaic word Maranatha) repeat it silently, and keep one's attention on the mantra.. very similar to Buddhist practice.
Of course - Christian practice is overlaid on top of meditation - with an opening and closing prayer. No big deal - in fact - one would expect that in a Christian setting.
The thing I find most challenging about Christian Meditation is the end part of the session that is called "the check-in" where everyone goes around the circle and describes the experience of the silence or meditation period. My Buddhist self really balks at this. We were never encouraged to talk about our experiences meditating unless we had a specific problem or question. There are several reasons for this I think.
First - we were taught to do the practice wholeheartedly and then let go of it. I mean the whole point of the thing is to be present in your life, so rehashing or retelling your experience of the last 50 minutes goes counter to living in the present. There is a story about a ThaI Buddhist Master, Ajahn Chah, who had a monk come to him during a rains retreat and say "Master - I had the most wonderful meditation ever - unshakeable concentration - deep deep concentration - serene.. "Ajahn Chah listened to all of this and said simply "Very nice - one more thing for you to let go of."
Secondly - there is always competition among humans - subtle and not-so-subtle. Describing one's meditation experience in glowing terms - even if true - sets up a competitive situation with others in the group. Now people are thinking "Well - how come she had such a great meditation and I didn't?" People can get down on themselves about having a "bad" meditation session - which by the way - is not fucking possible - a meditation period just is what it is. Not Good. Not Bad.
Thirdly - Unless you have a question about the practice or are otherwise experiencing a problem of some sort - what you think about your meditation session is beside the point. In a description or reflection or whatever you want to call it - all you'll be able to come up with is more discursive ego-driven chatter, the same kind that rattles around in your head all the live-long day. Really not helpful.
Lastly - and most insidious - is the possibility that meditation practitioners will (perhaps unconsciously) strive to describe a meditation experience that the teacher or leader approves of. This is what's known in the meditation game as "very fucking bad indeed" and usually ends with everyone landing in a very deep dark ditch.
Now, in the Christian meditation groups I've been part of - there's always the option to pass on giving a reflection. Even then though - there is a subtle unspoken group pressure to share something - like - "everyone else is sharing - why don't you?"
Obviously - I think it's a great thing that Christian folks meditate in this way which is rooted in eastern mantra practice. I'm sure folks get a lot out of it.. I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters to hold the session narratives - just let them go - simply one more thing to let go of..
"….we are usually living in vain hope for something or someone that will make my life easier, more pleasant. We spend most of our time trying to set up life in a way that will be true; when, contrariwise, the joy of our life is just in totally doing and just bearing what must be borne, in just doing what must be done."
~ Charlotte Joko Beck ~ Everyday Zen
-+- From The American Jesus: A set of guidelines given by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on living life -
A couple of points here.
First - this is simply another smaht kid cribbing Buddhism 101. Not a problem! Spreading the Dharma is spreading the Dharma. Thank you Dr Tyson.
Second - The Church is playing catch-up in this area - much to the Church's peril. Dr Tyson's advice above is considered outlier behavior in many Christian communities. Belief. Faith. Doctrinal adherence. Those are the things that carry the day. I tell you this though - without questioning, without wrestling with obvious paradoxes in the tradition, by surrendering your own intellect for a comfy list of accepted behaviors and ways of looking at the world - you become infantilized - and achieve a sort of intellectual oblivion far far more potent than the kind that can be obtained by drugs or alcohol.
-+- Also From The American Jesus:
This next post is spot on - You should really go read the whole thing. This is an expansion of what was just mentioned above - orthodoxy having precedence over orthopraxy. Beliefs being more important than love. Again - if church leaders are sweating the attendance in their vast echoing barns - they would do well to think on these things.
The fact that this post by The American Jesus is at all cutting edge saddens me.
-+- Lastly - a replay of a vid by that insurrectionist theologian, Peter Rollins.
(Thx to the Crashingly Beautiful blog - Crashingly Beautiful)
After lunch, the Teacher sat in royal ease under the shade of a tree . Gathering himself in silence, he opened his eyes and recited the following short poem for the benefit of the few disciples gathered there that day:
It is always a danger
(Poem first heard in the Dharma talk – “The Ten Thousand Idiots” – Edward Espe Brown)
Introductions were made on the Boston Common the other day. "This is Roy. He was a Buddhist too. Still is a Buddhist…"
As if the Dharma could in some way run out or leak away...
What nobody understands it seems, is that once encountered, the Dharma never really leaves you. It's never ever really gone. Trying to put it down would be like trying to leave behind the very blood that flows in through the arteries and visits every cell in the body. People also don't get that the Dharma provides tools that help make sense of Christian practice.
One topic in particular that Buddhist teachers have been especially helpful with is prayer. Specifically, how does one pray when one is not at all convinced that there even is a God in the first place? What does it even mean to engage in such activities?
I think about this a lot.
Seung Sahn Kun Sunim would have said "Don't check. Don't make anything! Put it all down! Only don't know! Go straight! Try try try for 10,000 years and save all beings." This, I think, was Sunim's way of advising practitioners against buying into the ego's constant stream of questions, demands, projections, and objection while one is trying to engage in an activity - spiritual or not. It is Dogen's advice to the cook "When you wash the rice, wash the rice." Simple - but not easy..
And of course there is this bit from Ambivialent Zen by Lawrence Shainberg that is quite helpful as well, and echoes Seung Sahn Sunim's exhortation:
"When I pray, I just pray." There have been so many occasions that memory of this has kept me in my seat when those around me were happily and confidently pouring out prayers like "We praise you and we bless you!" As soon as I hear such things along with other declaratives like "God is good!" I have to fight the urge to blurt out "By what measure is God good? and "What is meant by good?" and "Why praise Him in the first place?" Blurting, by and large, is rarely ever helpful to anyone involved, so even though they are completely unaware of it, my Christian sisters and brothers benefit as well from the Dharma because it helps me keep my mouth shut.. and just pray.
This morning, through the miracle of the intertubes and the wonderful site Meetingbrook, I came across this decidedly Buddhist-flavored poem:
"..there, every one, separately,
"When I pray, I just pray."