Sunday, May 31, 2009

Will The Real Master Please Stand Up

This from one of the earliest books on Buddhism in English, Alice In Wonderland:

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I—I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

"What do you mean by that?" said the Caterpillar sternly. "Explain yourself!"

"I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir," said Alice, "because I’m not myself, you see."

"I don’t see," said the Caterpillar.

"I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly," Alice replied very politely, "for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing."

"It isn’t," said the Caterpillar.

"Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet," said Alice; "but when you have to turn into a chrysalis — you will some day, you know — and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?"

"Not a bit," said the Caterpillar.

"Well, perhaps your feelings may be different," said Alice; "all I know is, it would feel very queer to me."

"You!" said the Caterpillar contemptuously. "Who are you?"

Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation.

And this from that marvelous book (that you should read 100 times, at least) Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki:

We must exist right here, right now! This is the key point. You must have your own body and mind. Everything should exist in the right place, in the right way. Then there is no problem. If the microphone I use when I speak exists somewhere else, it will not serve its purpose. When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way.

But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized. You are the "boss." When the boss is sleeping, everyone is sleeping. When the boss does something right, everyone will do everything right, and at the right time. That is the secret of Buddhism.

Finally, because he must have read both books, here is Dōgen's summary of both of these from his Gyōji (Ceaseless Practice) chapter of the Shōbōgenzō:

If we reach that stage of mind where we do not seek anything, even the Buddhas and Patriarchs will be unnecessary. A clear mind can be attained, and we will be able to see reality if we leave behind all worldly conflicts. For the first time, we will become worthy because we see the truth.


Concentrate only on the important things and cut off the useless, excess ones. Through such a mind, our practice will become more fruitful and will not appear to be so difficult. It will be like a flower blooming, birds chirping, a wooden horse neighing, and a cow running fast. Blue mountains outside will not influence our minds, the sounds of the hot springs will not disturb us. When we look at the mountains, we will hear the monkeys cry and see the dew drops covering the half-moon. The crane will sing in the forest and the wind will blow through the pine trees in the morning. Spring winds will bring buds to the old trees, and the autumn leaves will wither and fall in the cold forest.

Three masters. Once says change isn't confusing if you know yourself. Another says that to change anything and everything, you just have to change yourself. And my hero, Dōgen, says to shut up and concentrate — and then you'll know who you are and see the truth. As the henro keeps walking the next temple gets closer. When the rain falls, a henro's clothes get wet. When the sun shines, they dry out again.

Will the real master please stand up.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Death & Dying On The Border

This poem by Czeslaw Milosz could be the most beautiful poem i have read all year.

This Only
A valley and above it forests in autumn colors.
A voyager arrives, a map led him here.
Or perhaps memory. Once, long ago, in the sun,
When the first snow fell, riding this way
He felt joy, strong, without reason.
Joy of the eyes. Everything was the rhythm
Of shifting trees, of a bird in flight,
Of a train on the viaduct, a feast of motion.
He returns years later, has no demands.
He wants only one, most precious thing:
To see, purely and simply, without name,
Without expectations, fears, or hopes,
At the edge where there is no I or not-I.

It's certain that you will never be able to see like that. Impossible. Neither will I. Equally impossible. As long as there is a You or an I, it can't happen. As long as the autumn colors. As long as there is subject.verb.object. To see as this poem is telling us to see, you have to run to the border between I and no-I and be willing to die there. Only then does the impossible become possible.

It is this never ending pursuit of the impossible that makes life worth living, in my opinion. Osho said it well in The Passion For The Impossible:

...if a person only lives with the possible, he lives lukewarm. He lives only for the name's sake. Yes, he may be a good citizen, a healthy person, doing his job, not creating any trouble for his family or the society; he may not be a mischief-maker, may not be a troublesome individual, may be perfectly adjusted -- but what is the point? One simply lives and dies and never knows anything beyond that which goes beyond death.

So unless you can help a person to have a glimpse of the impossible, and you create a desire in him to long for the impossible, to desire the impossible, to be passionately, intensely in love with the impossible, you have not helped. If you can create this desire, he has a meaning. ...

And now he has a direction... some meaning that he has to uncover, some destiny that he has to fulfill. You can see that passion glowing around him. Only that passion brings real health, otherwise everything in the world is just ordinary. It simply bores one. The more intelligent you are, the more you will feel bored with the world. Only stupid people are not bored, because to be bored one needs to be a little intelligent. Buffaloes are not bored, donkeys are not bored; stupid people are not bored. Stupid people never search for anything. They simply vegetate.

The impossible never opens its doors to them, and they never knock, never knock at the door of the impossible. ...

I don't know about you, but i dream of the impossible every day of my life. I dream of achieving the impossible in every area of my life. But most of all, i dream of making it to that border where the locked gate to the impossible is always open — and dying right there every morning. And each day i like to think that i get a little closer before turning back towards home with new found strength and resolve.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I read somewhere recently that success is accomplishing that which your heart most desires. I like that definition, and for some reason today two quotes related to that came to mind.

The first is from Wayne Dyer's book Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling. In the Introduction, Dyer quotes a tale as told by Anthony de Mello.

The devotee knelt to be initiated into discipleship. The guru whispered the secret mantra into his ear, warning him not to reveal it to anyone.

"What will happen if I do?" asked the devotee.

Said the guru, "Anyone you reveal the mantra to will be liberated from the bondage of ignorance and suffering, but you yourself will be excluded from discipleship and suffer damnation."

No sooner had he heard these words than the devotee rushed to the marketplace, collected a large crowd around him, and repeated the sacred mantra for all to hear.

The disciples later reported this to the guru and demanded that the man be expelled from the monastery for his disobedience.

The guru smiled and said, "He has no need of anything I can teach. His action has shown him to be a guru in his own right."

This disciple is the epitome of someone who knows to the core of his heart exactly what he wants to accomplish with his life. There is no question, and once he had the tools, once the guru had given him the tools, he ran as fast as he could to put them to use. This could be the same disciple that couldn't kill his chicken, although i don't know that for a fact. I am so jealous of this certainty.

But what about the rest of us — those that haven't yet found the tools we need? While sitting here thinking about that, Ranier Maria Rilke came to mind. In his Letters To A Young Poet, we see that he tells a seeker that came to him:

... have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ... train your[self] for [future possibilities] — but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything.

There have been, are, and will be days that seem to have been written in a foreign language, that seem impossible to decipher, that seem so incomprehensible as to make you wonder if it was really meant for someone else living in a far off land. There will also be days when you think you found your tool, and then, all of the sudden, someone or something jumps out and snatches it out of your life, saying no more than "that's not yours!"

When those occasions occur, the only thing i can think of doing is to follow Rilke's advice and patiently sit with the confusion. Sit with it and watch the sun rise early in the morning. Sit patiently with it and watch the sun set in the evening. Wrap your arms around it like a lover and caress it, showing your willingness to accept the uncertainty and confusion unconditionally.

But, i think Rilke is right — even more important than this is the admonition to live, live everything, live completely. Don't live only the good, the beneficial, the understandable. Live the bad days, the hurtful, and the detrimental as well. Live the completely unintelligible encounters as well. Especially those. Don't hate anything. Live those encounters and circumstances that seem to be encoded in a completely unreadable script as if your future depended on it. Don't just accept them, live them to the utmost.

If you do this, someday, somehow, somewhere, someone will show up with the key to unlock the code and you will understand.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wind Chimes

Wind chimes hang out front
No sign of self pity there
"Bring it on!" it shouts