Friday, October 6, 2017

Don't Walk Backwards

Somewhere between Temples 23 and 24 a wonderful sight can be seen. The walk typically takes about three days and for the entire time you walk along the side of the main highway running down the east coast of the island. For those that aren't particularly fond of walking with traffic flying by within arm's reach, this isn't one of the best sections of the pilgrimage. Especially if it is raining every day. Doubly especially if it is raining and hot, so inside your rain suit it feels like a sauna. Days like this can be loud, uncomfortable, and monotonous.

One way to deal with the monotony is to turn inwards, to take the backwards step and turn this section of the walk into a three day walking meditation practice. Put the feet on autopilot, set the senses aside, and simly walk. This doesn't mean turning the senses off, tuning out everything you hear, see, and smell; it only means turning off your attachment to what comes in through the sense gates. What comes in, comes in. What the eye sees, it sees. What the ears hear, they hear. If your feet are wet, they are wet. All this means is giving up any attachment to what comes in. Giving up any expectation for sense experiences you want to have. What comes in, comes in. Accept it and let it go. Don't hold on to it or dwell on it. Just walk, letting experiences take care of themselves. Notice everything but attach to nothing.

As you settle in, there will come a time when this practice is just as sacred as any time you spend on your meditation cushion at home.

But, there is another way to approach this section of the trail, which can also be taken back home when you return. Instead of tuning everything out, tune everything in. Instead of looking for the sacred inside, in an attempt to avoid what is without, notice the sacred in everything. Notice that there is nothing that is not sacred, no matter how mundane it may appear on the surface.

Instead of trying to cross that threshold into the world of the sacred, see that there is no threshold, there is no 'this side' or 'that side,' that there is no sacred or mundane. There is only This. There is only what is. And that 'what is' encompasses everything in existence; nothing is, or can be, excluded.

It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done. Look at everything and see that its existence is just as wonderful as that of a newborn baby, alive and just beginning this journey we call being alive. Look at the waves crashing on the shore and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the mountains to your right and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the rain splashing on the sidewalk, or the puddles that you inevitably have to walk through and say 'how marvelous.' Look at the cars, trucks, and buses on the road and say 'how marvelous.' Notice the pain from the blister on your foot and say 'how marvelous.' Instead of tuning out, tune in. Tune into everything, every perception, and marvel at its existence. Marvel at the beauty of exitence in all its shapes, forms, and colors.

Marvel at the wonderfulness of existence. Marvel at the oneness of everything that manifests as existence. Instead of noticing nothing, notice everything. Notice that that everything is one thing, but not even a thing. Everything is one. Existnece. Even though it appears to be manifesting as many.

As you walk along the highway between Temples 23 and 24, spend your three days marveling at the wonderousness of existence. At this amazing thing called Being. And this ability we were granted at birth to see it, to experience it, to grow into it, to melt into it. As you walk along this stretch of highway thank life for granting you this opportunity to step out of the beautiful scenery of the mountains and into this beautiful scenery of existence.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Did You See That?

As i get ready to leave for a couple of weeks on the Kumano Kodō and a month on the henro trail, i've been looking over some of what i have written over the years on the website. This morning, these words from the "Why To Go" page resonated for some reason.

"If you go as a pilgrim, meet as many people as you can. Talk to all who will talk to you. Take thousands of pictures. Have fun. But remember why you are there. Many of the scholars who write about pilgrimages write about liminal experiences. Victor Turner points out that liminality is as much about potentiality as about thresholds. Liminal experiences are about both discovering your true potential and experiencing that threshold state you must progress through to get there. Shikoku, like other pilgrimages around the world, offers the possibility of coming to understand both. When and where each pilgrim finds his/her threshold is different. What they find on the other side may also vary, but it is certain that you can only find it if you remember that during each and every day, each and every minute, each and every step, each and every breath, you are on a path of discovery. Enjoy yourself but don't lose your focus."

It's the overlapping concepts of liminality and potentiality that made me stop and think. Not just in relation to the Ohenro, but in relation to that, yoga, and life in general. Sooner or later everyone who is on the spiritual path will find themselves approaching a threshold which marks the boundary between life on this side and life on the other side; between life as we currently live it and life as we have come to understand that it really is. And the longer i tread this path and the more often i dance back and forth across that threshold, never committing to one side or the other, the more clear it becomes that it's not the dance around the threshold that i find attractive, but the potentiality that appears right at that line.

The funny part is, why does it appear there. That potentiality is not found on the "other" side of the threshold. It's not isolated and available only to those who have passed over. It is everywhere, on both sides. It's in the absolute realm on "that" side and it's in the relative realm on "this" side. It is everywhere. There is nowhere it is not. In fact, it is all that there is, anywhere. The Buddhists would call it Dharmakaya. Depending on the school, a yogi would call it Brahman. Call it what you will, you don't have to cross any thresholds to get to it. You can't get away from it.

Pilgrimage, whether on Shikoku or anywhere else, is one way to open yourself to seeing that you are already that which you are seeking. Pilgrimage, whether in a pair of hiking boots or barefoot on a yoga mat, is where you stop the mind long enough for that potentiality to make itself known. For that which is to manifest so clearly, so loudly, so in your facely, that even you can't stop but notice. And occasionally you are tempted to look at someone next to you and say "did you see that?" because you aren't really sure what you saw, but it was so clear that you know it has changed your life.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pro Life Choice

Some words from one of my favorite authors, Kosho Uchiyama, in his book, The Wholehearted Way:

"Buddhism puts emphasis on life, the actual life experience of the reality of the self."

No matter how many times i read that sentence, when i get to "life experience" my brain tries to take over and assume he is talking about the experiences we have as we go about our normal daily life: meditating as the sun comes up, grabbing a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way to work, that nasty SOB that showed up in the car next to me on the way home, dinner and a nice evening of conversation with a good friend. But that is not at all what is being referred to. Once i switch the words to "the experience of life," my head blinks back into focus. This doesn't refer to any external experiences in the phenomenal world; this refers to the experience of Life itself, experiencing that marvelous thing called Life, the one and only reason you are here to read these words.

He goes on to say:

"What Buddhism is concerned about is not something abstract, but the very concrete and actual reality of life. All beings exist through life experience of the self. The self lives out itself in the life experience of all beings. The life experience of the self and the myriad beings that we experience are one. This is the reality of life."

This is the reality of life — that thing called Life that animates you, that makes you alive, that gives you existence, is the same in you, in me, in the cat sitting on your windowsill watching the butterflies outside, and in the rocks in my garden.

"The life experience of the self and the life experience of all beings can never separate into subject and object. That which experiences and that which is experienced cannot be divided into two. This reality that cannot be differentiated into two is called dharma or mind, and it is the meaning of the expression 'dharma and mind are one reality' (shinpō ichinyo)."

For me, this is a large part of what the Henro Trail is all about: Can you walk throughout the day in such a way that you don't interact with your environment inside the normal subject/object duality. Can you see everything as that one, indivisible life experience. Can you see each and everything you encounter, not as something separate and forever distinct from yourself, but as a manifestation of that life experience; manifesting in you and manifesting in what you have encountered in the exact same way, at the exact same time, and in both cases constantly changing, never permanent.

This is all part of the game called being a henro (pilgrim) — constantly bouncing back and forth between seeing the world as one manifestation of this life experience and seeing the world in the normal subject/object duality. Focusing your eyes and seeing Dave standing over there, and then relaxing the eyes and seeing me standing here and me standing there.

So, when you get bored while out there walking, try playing the henro game. Cross your eyes and see two faces, then uncross your eyes and see the candle stick. Squint and see the old lady and relax your eyes and see the young woman. Leave your brain all twisted up and see nothing but a phenomenal world or relax, let go, and see that thing called Life everywhere.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Desires and Destiny

Ran my last 8 miler today. That, for all intents and purposes, ends my training for my upcoming trip to Japan. Tomorrow i'll run a leisurely 4 miles just to loosen up the legs a bit, but it won't qualify for a training run. Since the end of July I have been running a fairly consistent 8:55-9:00 min/mile pace. Yesterday I ran 8 miles at 8:50 min/mile and today pushed that down to 8:41 min/mile. Both runs felt like a good way to close out another training season. Next week i'll ride my bike on three days, But then call it quits.

While out on the road today two thoughts kept me company for almost the entire run. The first is a quote from Eknath Easwaran's translation of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

You are what your deep, driving desire is
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Such powerful words! And as I pushed myself against tired legs this morning, I focused on those words, repeating them over and over, mantra-like. But, whenever I think of those words, my mind almost always drifts to another upanishad, by far my favorite of all the Upanishads. That is the Katha Upanishad, or, as it is commonly called, the Kathopanishad. For what it's worth, my favorite translation is by Juan Mascaro, with Eknath Easwaran's coming in after that.

Think of those times where you need grit, determination, guts. Think of a time when you were so determined to learn something, to do something, that you were not going to let anyone or anything stand in your way. If you have never found yourself in that situation, think of something you enjoy doing or studying so much that the desire to do, learn or accomplish it could possibly become such a deep driving desire that it will determine you destiny. Think of it — this one thing could determine your destiny! This is no small matter.

In the Kathopanishad, Nachiketas, the main character, has that deep driving desire. Fortunately for him that is Self-Realization, and as the story begins to unfold, he willingly agrees to descend to the realm of death for a face-to-face meeting with the King of Death — Yama.

Because all good stories need a plot twist, Yama was not at home when Nachiketas arrives and he is forced to wait for three days for him to get back. And because that is a social faux-pas even in the realm of death, Yama tells Nachiketas to choose three boons in compensation. The first two are requested and granted quickly. Then Nachiketas hits Yama right between the eyes (figuratively speaking, of course) and demands an explanation to what happens to us after we die.

I'll let you dig out a copy of the upanishad and read the story because that's not the point of this post. What came to mind during today's run, while thinking of the quote from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad — and what comes to mind every time I read the Kathopanishad — is the fierce determination of Nachiketas. The unquenchable desire to know about the source of this life. The relentlessly passionate drive to get a view of whatever it is that is who we are.

And I wonder, why isn't my drive that passionate? Why would I blink if told that a quick visit with Yama would give me the answer, even knowing in advance that i'd come back home? I've spent no-time between thoughts; I've lived in that silence that holds the non-answers; I know I've had glimpses. But I don't have that deep driving desire that Nachiketas had.

Or that deep driving passion that Kōbō Daishi had. He started life as a pampered semi-aristocrat. He grew up and was sent for training to become a member of the aristocracy himself, one of those destined to counsel the emperor, one of those destined to rule. And yet, AND YET, he woke up one day and said enough was enough He woke up one day and decided to throw all of that away. He woke up one day, walked out the door, left everything behind, and headed for the mountains of Shikoku to find the same answers that Nachiketas asked to the lord of death.

The Upanishads, and the Gita, talk of two choices that we have with each and every decision that we make. With each and every decision, no matter how trivial, we choose between Preya and Shreya; between sensual pleasure and lasting, permanant joy. Between what is pleasant and what is beneficial. Between what gives us immediate happiness, even if it won't, can't, last, and what pushes us along toward our goal of understanding this thing called life.

The Daishi and Nachiketas both learned how to consistently choose Shreya. Both lived their lives with their eyes firmly and unwaveringly fixed on their destiny. As I ran my 8 miles this morning, I was incredibly jealous.

You are what your deep, driving desire is
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

No Clouds

Where are you he asks
No clouds hide the bright sunlight
Are you he where asks

Sitting still the clouds
Passing obscuring nothing
As it sits and sees

It's been busy lately. A lot of work to get done around the house before closing up and heading to Japan for a month and a half in my hiking boots. Will spend time on both the Kumano Kodo and the henro trail. What a sweet way to close out this year.

I still haven't decided what I am going to take with me to read. I may have the list narrowed down to four possibilities: Another commentary on the Bhagavad Gita? Jaganath Carrera's Inside The Yoga Sutras? Red Pine's Lankavatara Sutra? Dale Wright's The Six Perfections? There is no real planning going on for next year's walk of the Camino de Santiago. I have downloaded three ebooks; journals of three people's walks of the Camino. That gives me a flavor of what to expect, but other than that, i will probably just show up and walk, finding what i find, when i find it. Not sure any more planning that that needs to go into it.

For this morning, though, some thoughts for the day from the final verses of John Robert's Ashtavakra Sutra:

For me who am always free from deliberations there is neither conventional truth nor absolute truth, no happiness and no suffering.

For me who am forever pure there is no illusion, no samsara, no attachment or detachment, no living organism, and no God.

For me who am forever unmovable and indivisible, established in myself, there is no activity or inactivity, no liberation and no bondage.

For me who am blessed and without limitation, there is no initiation or scripture, no disciple or teacher, and no goal of human life.

There is no being or non-being, no unity or dualism. What more is there to say? There is nothing outside of me.

Or the same verses from Thomas Byrom's translation:

What are joy or sorrow,
Distraction or concentration,
Understanding or delusion?
I am always without thought.

What is happiness or grief?
What is here and now,
Or beyond?
I am forever pure.

What is illusion,
Or the world?
What is the little soul,
Or God himself?
One without two,
I am always the same.

I sit in my heart.
What need is there
For striving or stillness?

What is freedom or bondage?
What are holy books or teachings?
What is the purpose of life?
Who is the disciple,
And who is the master?
For I have no bounds.

I am Shiva.
Nothing arises in me,
In whom nothing is single,
Nothing is double.
Nothing is,
Nothing is not.
What more is there to say?

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Spring blossoms appear
Through tender care and patience
Your true face shines forth

Friday, January 27, 2017

Buddha's Last Words

Have been reading Mary Oliver's poem The Buddha's Last Instruction today:

"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.

I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.

     An old man, he lay down
     between two sala trees,
     and he might have said anything,
     knowing it was his final hour.

The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.

     Around him, the villagers gathered
     and stretched forward to listen.

Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.

     No doubt he thought of everything
     that had happened in his difficult life.

And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.

     Slowly, beneath the branches,
     he raised his head.
     He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Such a simple poem. Nothing fancy, no fancy rhymes, nothing; except a vivid picture of a rising sun and a setting sun. Beautiful in its simplicity and directness, it points out the power the Buddha's message has to illuminate our lives, if we only sit, notice, and let it wash over us.

Light and darkness have always been synonyms for enlightenment and delusion. Here, as the Buddha's body comes to an end, his message, who he is, begins to rise, dispelling the darkness for those eager to hear his message.

The first time i read it, i thought that Mary's comment, "I think of this every morning" was in relation to the opening words of the poem. I've decided that that can't be right, and now think that she is referring to the stanza after this. When you sit, and live, for that matter, in what Shunryu Suzuki called Beginner's Mind, you come to understand at the gut level just what Mary is saying, that as he approached death, the Buddha could have said anything. Anything. His disciples and the people in the region hung on his every word. He could have told them that to seek enlightenment they had to do X, Y, and Z. That they had to believe in A, B, and C. That the only sure way to enlightenment was to go back to the sacrifices and rituals of the Vedas. He could have said anything.

And the sad fact is, the people who gathered around him on that day, leaned in, ready to accept anything. Even though, all his life he had taught that he was not the teaching, just the messenger. The message had to come out of them, themselves.

As he lay there dying, as he gazed out over the crowd of people, i'm sure there was this palpable feeling amongst the people of something coming to light. And as he made eye contact with people, it was probably as if those beautiful, warming rays of sunlight were touching each of them personally.

When word first started to spread that he was dying, for most people, the light in their life had suddenly gone out. Now, as he looked out over his flock, the sun was beginning to rise again. The warmth of his love spread over everyone, with each and every person soaking it in as if it were their own. There was still time, they hoped, for him to impart one last message, one last teaching.

He could have said anything. He could have said nothing. But they were afraid, they needed something. Slowly he raised his head. One-by-one he looked them in the eye to make sure they were listening. And when they were ready, he spoke his last sentence, washing them all in the brilliant light of his love.

Make of yourself a light.

The truth doesn't die with my body. The truth is in each and every one of you. The light can only be found in one place — inside yourself. Remember all i've taught. Remember that, as i managed to find the light, so too can you. Remember that the way is inward, not outward. Remember that the clouds can be removed, that the light can be seen. Remember, this is your challenge, not anyone else's. You can only work this out on your own, no one can offer any more than a pointing finger.

And remember, that you are all in this together. You are all one. Make of yourself a light. A light that shines on all others. Make your life so that it shines as an example to all. Make your life so that it serves to help all. Make of your life so that what you do, say, and think benefits all. Make your life shine as bright as the sun in the sky.

Mary is right to remind herself each morning that the Buddha could have said anything, but he chose to remind everyone that their lives were up to them. He could have said anything, but he chose to remind them that their duty was to light the world, not seek an external light. He could have said anything, but he chose to tell us that each and every one of us must start each day with the intention to use the next 24 hours looking for that light within.

Make of yourself a light.