Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dying into Life

I spent a good portion of this morning in a fantasy land. I just can't get the Rumi poem & video that i posted on Friday out of my head. There is nothing in the poem that isn't amazing, but two particular parts just send shivers down my spine.

"Escape. Walk out like someone suddenly born into color."

Can you imagine what that would do to you? Born with a disease that allowed you to see perfectly, but everything appeared in only black and white. You live your entire life in this condition and for you it is normal; this is what the world looks like. Black, white, and some limited amount of gray variation in between.

Then.... THEN.... one day.... you blink.... and all of the sudden.... the world of color makes its appearance. For the first time in your life, all the reds, oranges, purples, yellows, greens, and blues, in every hue, shade, and variety assault your senses. Your system is in shock, amazed at the variety of all life, the almost incomprehensible and overwhelming beauty of all life. You are left so spellbound that for days you forget to eat and sleep as you just sit and gaze, not looking at any one thing, but simply allowing the world's pallet to soak in to your consciousness. For a short while the words "So this is what it's like." loop continuously through your head, but after that while, all goes quiet as words and thoughts can't begin to explain the beauty appearing before you.

For the most part, as sad as it is to say, most of us do live in a world like this person born into black and white. While we have perfectly good eyes, we live in a fog, of conditioning, of indifference, of complacence, of ambivalence, of busyness. We go through our days not noticing much of the color we see. Not noticing the textures, the smells, the sounds, the tastes. Not noticing Life as we hurry about our daily lives. Sure we take it in, but we don't see it; we miss the vast majority of all that Life presents to us.

But we can escape. We can walk back into life, like someone suddenly born into color, and we can do it in the blink of an eye. All it takes is a conscious choice to wake up, a conscious choice to notice, a conscious choice to pay attention — each and every moment of the day.

And then Rumi gave us another clue on what that would take.

Die.... and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign that you've died.

And i would add, the surest sign that you are awake.

In order to wake up, you need to die. I know it sounds contradictory, but it isn't. I'm not saying that you, as in Lao Bendan, or that fool Dave Turkington, needs to die. No. I'm saying that you need to die; that ego that engulfs the real you like those dark storm clouds, that keeps the real you unaware of the colors, the textures, the tastes, the smells, and the sounds of the world you live in. The ego that has been conditioned by your parents, your teachers, your friends, your religion, your politics, your culture, your beliefs, your ideologies, your fantasies, your .... your.... your need to know and compartmentalize everything.

This ego needs to die. And when it does, quietness will descend into your life like a beautiful elixir bringing peace and happiness and the ability to see again. Bringing the ability to Live again. Bringing the ability to Be again.

Wouldn't the world be so much better off if we all made an attempt to do that? You would be better off. I would be better off. She would be better off. He would be better off. They would be better off. And that means, if all of us did our part, the entire world would be better off.

All we need to do is die, and escape our prisons, like someone suddenly born into color.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lost In Thought

I sometimes wonder.
If, just once, i got it right,
Would i even know?


Autumn leaves in piles.
Falling fast and furious.
Dreams of every hue.


Lost in thoughts of things.
Of things once thought to be lost.
But not so, it seems.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Einstein & Dōgen

One afternoon, very long ago, Albert Einstein was visiting Eiheiji, Dōgen Zenji's temple complex in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. As Dōgen was pouring tea, Einstein turned from his contemplations of the garden behind the temple and said:

The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.

Ahhh, sighed Dōgen quietly, and then, smiling to himself, he said, "I'll match that and raise the ante."

To learn the Buddhist Way is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self and others. When you have reached this stage you will be detached even from enlightenment but will practice it continually without thinking about it.

Einstein sipped his tea quietly, and while turning his gaze back to the garden, thought, "That was particularly good. But i think i'll match that and raise the ante again."

What an extraordinary situation is that of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he feels it. But from the point of view of daily life, without going deeper, we exist for our fellow-men — in the first place for those on whose smiles and welfare all our happiness depends, and next for all those unknown to us personally with whose destinies we are bound up by the tie of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

Quite impressed, Dōgen decided to raise the ante yet one more time. Bowing, he refilled Einstein's cup with tea.

Knowing he could raise no more, Einstein matched what Dōgen had offered. Turning to face Dōgen, he bowed, and drank his tea.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just Thinking

Just a couple of things that have been swirling around in my head all night and won't go away, so i thought that if i put them here, maybe i can leave them here and get some sleep.....

• Our lives are shaped by our expectations, not by our accomplishments.

I don't remember who

• The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

• Treat a man as he is & he will remain as he is. Treat him as he could be & he will become as he can & should be.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Getting Intimate

Al-Hallaj, the 9th century Sufi mystic from Baghdad, left this pearl of wisdom for all to think about:

The Sufi is he who aims, from at first,
   at reaching God,
     the Creative Truth.
Until he has found what he seeks,
   he takes no rest,
     nor does he give heed to any person.
For Thy sake I haste over land and water;
   over the plain I pass and the mountain I cleave,
     and from everything I turn my face,
       until the time when I reach that place
where I am
alone with Thee.


Lao Bendan, that 21st century fool from Lockport, offers this to Al-Hallaj in response:

The Henro is she who aims, from at first,
   at reaching nothing,
     arriving nowhere.
Until surrender is complete,
   no rest is taken,
     no heed is given.
For who hastens? The land? The water?
   The plains and the mountains?
     Who turns their face from what?
       When has there been a place
where all aren't
intimately one?

Lao Bendan

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Horse Shit

One of our local parks is huge, with picnic areas, grills, and long walking trails. It's not the grassy park that you imagine in the center of many cities and towns, but full of wild grasses and flowers, a small lake, and gravel trails. The trails are for walkers, runners, people to walk their dogs, and even horses. It's probably more appropriate to call it an outdoor recreation area than a park.

One of the first things you see as you get out of your car is a post with a box on top full of plastic bags and a sign reminding people that it is mandatory that they pick up any dog poop that their dog tries to leave as a present to nature. That's not surprising because that's the law here in the US, and pet owners across the country have come to accept the common sense of not leaving these presents for others to deal with.

But, can anyone tell me why, i mean why?, someone who rides their horse on the same trails thinks they have the right to leave the presents their horse decides to donate right there in the middle of the trail, as they ride off happily into the sunset? If you compare a pile of dog poop to a mountain of horse poop, ..... well, you really can't make that comparison. It would be like comparing Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean. It would be like comparing a Family Meal at McDonalds to all the food set out at an All You Can Eat Buffet.

Granted, if they were forced to clean it up they would use all the plastic bags in the box, and that could get expensive, but surely there must be a way to handle this. Maybe the Forest Preserve District needs to leave buckets, big buckets, lots of big buckets, around the post for horse owners to use?

I was on my bike and, as usual, day dreaming and looking at the scenery, when out of nothing but pure luck i happened to look up — seconds before running into a pile of horse poop so large that it would probably have destroyed my bike's tires had i hit it, not to say anything about my pride and ego. Luckily i was able to swerve around it, but this is horse shit.

Can anyone tell me why this isn't illegal?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sound Of The Temple Bells

This short tale comes from Anthony de Mello's wonderful book called The Song of The Bird (from one of the stories, which i will have to write about some day).

The Temple Bells

The temple was built on an island and it had a thousand bells. Bells big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsmen in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that would send the heart of the hearer into raptures.

But over the centuries the island sank into the ocean and, with it, the temple bells. An ancient legend said that the bells still rang out ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen. Inspired by the legend a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore facing the vanished island and listened with all his might. But all he heard was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out but to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the world.

He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village pundits as they spoke with unction of the mysterious legend. Then his heart would be inflamed.., only to become discouraged when weeks of further efforts yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to listen to the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time, listened to the sound of the sea.

Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced. In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The tinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another and another... till every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.

Do you wish to hear the temple bells? Listen to the sound of the sea.

Do you wish to catch a glimpse of God? Look intently at creation.

There is another island that i know of, which is also covered with temples. And, like the island in de Mello's story there are thousands of temple bells scattered from north to south and east to west. From mountain peak to valley floor. From ocean beach to land-locked inland community. From times ancient, some people have said that these bells can talk to you, and although most people today say it isn't possible to hear them at all, legend states that the bell's stories can be heard by those who are willing to become henro and to walk the long and lonely roads and trails to each of 108 temples where the bells can be found.

Many think that this legend is nothing but that, old stories perpetuated by senile old men who maintain web sites of dubious authenticity on the internet, but i tend to think there is more to it than that. You see, i've known one of those henro.

According to his tales, usually recounted only after plying him with a few beers, the search for the bell's stories remains futile, until the henro comes to realize that it isn't at the temples that you will hear them. When i have pressed him, and pointed out how contradictory this sounds, he almost always just smiles — and asks for another beer.

On rare occasions, though, late into the night, as fatigue and alcohol begin to take their toll, he is willing to continue and tell more. As he explains it, most visitors go to the island, don the appropriate clothing and feel this alone gives them the right to call themselves henro. He confesses to having done this himself once. Many then immediately rush to each of the temples, trying to get around the island and to each of the temples in as short a time as possible. These people apparently never hear the bells.

According to my friend (and i take great pleasure in calling him a friend, despite his drinking problem), as de Mello's seeker found out, it is only when you forget the temples that the bells and their stories can be heard. When your focus remains solely on the trail, listening to the sounds of your footsteps, the sounds of your breathing, the songs of the birds, the wind in the trees, the cry of the children walking to school, the barking of the dogs, the roar of the cars and trucks flying by 50 cm from your shoulder, the tinkling sound of the bell hanging from your backpack, the sound of your walking stick hitting the ground with each step.

The stories can be heard when you forget the search, when you forget why you went to the island and just allow yourself to be on the island. When you don't try to hear the stories, you will find yourself immersed in them. When you stop looking for them you will find yourself stumbling over them with each step.

And i'll never forget that one time when, as the sun was coming up and my friend was beginning the process of stumbling home, he turned to me and slurred, "Do you wish to hear Shikoku's temple bells? Listen to the sound of being." He stared right at me for the briefest of moments to see if i understood, then, apparently satisfied, smiled as he turned and went out the door.

But then again, my friend is a senile old man who maintains a web site of dubious authenticity on the internet...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's not like something!

It's not like something!
Daido's words still echo on.
The Great Way beckons.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life Is Meant To Be Enjoyed

Enjoy. Watch it several times. Learn its lesson.

I think i have gotten to 90% of the goal, but it's that last 10% that's killing me..... Sigggghhh....More work to do. But, how can you resent work that requires you to play and sit on your butt???? ;-)

I really do believe that if thiefs broke into my house this afternoon and stole everything i owned, i wouldn't blink an eye as long as they left a very small pile of things: my running clothes and shoes; my bicycle; my zabuton and zafu; and my computer.

Remember the message! Practice the message!
  • Live simply.
  • Speak kindly.
  • Care deeply.
  • Love generously.
OK, time to pack a lunch, fill my thermos with green tea, and head out on my bicycle. Today i want to check out a trail that heads south to a National Trailgrass Prarie Park.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scientific Proof Of God's Existence

God exists and we may now be able to prove it scientifically! This is no joke, a few of the esteemed physicists doing research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN claim to have found the proof. God exists, and she is mightily upset that we humans are overstepping our bounds.

Here's the article from the New York Times.

Now, having studied a little physics in my past, i want to extrapolate this line of reasoning a little more and, admittedly going out on a limb, offer another line of reasoning that proves the same thing — God's out there, and she's pissed.

Almost everyone in the world with an internet connection knows that T-Mobile and Microsoft lost, completely and irrevocably (until it was found again), all of the personal data for users of the Sidekick smartphone. The problem was that all of that personal data was stored "in the cloud," i.e., on servers scattered out on the internet, on the "web," and not locally on the user's computer.

I'm suggesting that this wasn't an accident but an act of God.

It seems that everyone in the world is in a race to put their data "in the cloud," that nebulous body of servers scattered around the world, coming and going like clouds, as chains of servers are attracted to each other forming data centers soaking up bits and bites "here" and depositing them "there," in a never ending cycle of data evaporation and condensation.

My scientific prediction, which could take years to prove and verify (as did many of Einstein's theories i'll remind you!), is that these same "clouds" will never work as predicted and hoped. As more and more data is moved from small, human-sized clusters of servers to massive, distributed, god-sized clusters of clouds, God is going to feel threatened and her anger will increase even more than it is now.

In order to prevent us from stepping too far and, possibly, begin to feel that we could rival God's consciousness with our clouds, she will reach into the past (for her; for us it is still the present), wave her hands, chant "Damini, Domino, Abracadabra" a couple of times and, poof, the data will disappear. To cover her tracks, she'll put the blame on Microsoft most of the time, since they're easy to blame anyhow, with occasional nods towards Google. Although, for the next eight years she could probably get away with blaming the president of the US for being too wimpy and refusing to fight to protect the rights, dignity, moral integrity, and freedom of US bits and bites. I think she could get away with that.... there's certainly a lot of Americans who would fall for it; especially if Glen and Rush pick up on the story...

So, there you go, you can say you heard it here first: Clouds will never work to expectations, because God doesn't want them to, and that proves beyond any doubt that she does exist.

(I better add more minutes to my mobile phone so when the Nobel committee calls i won't miss the call. But then again, what if it's God, and she has problems with this post..... Does anyone know what her caller id looks like so i can screen that call????)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Imperfect Pilgrimage

This weekend i'll start reading Lisa Dempster's book Neon Pilgrim, about her walk around the Shikoku henro trail. This isn't a review of the book (i'll write something after i read it), but while flipping through its pages this morning i noticed something very interesting.

As you walk the henro trail, you follow, for the most part, the circumference of the island; you are essentially walking in a circle. As Lisa nears the last temple and the end of her walk, she finds that she must make a decision — should she walk from Temple 88 back to Temple 1, in order to complete the circle, or simply stop there because at that point she had visited all the requisite temples.

What to do? Close the circle or call it quits? According to her book she asked several Japanese henro (pilgrims) what they would do and they told her not to close the circle, citing several reasons, including: there's no precedent for it; doing so is a modern invention; and, doing so would be too perfect and the Japanese value imperfection.

There may have been more reasons, but those are the one's i saw as i skimmed the pages. I'll find out more when i read the book cover to cover. In the end, Lisa listened to these opinions and did not complete the circle.

I want to take exception to all of those reasons, while at the same time admitting that all i am doing is offering my opinion and these are of no more worth than those she received on the trail. But, these are the values that are embedded in my web site about the trail.

Precedent & Modern Inventions
Who knows what the precedent is? The pilgrimage has, since its inception, been changing and evolving. Contrary to legend, Kūkai never walked the entire pilgrimage. Contrary to legend, Kūkai didn't found the temples. The pilgrimage didn't even exist in its present form during Kūkai's lifetime. It started as a few individual pilgrimages to groups of local temples that were then connected into longer and longer segments by wandering ascetics traveling the island of Kūkai's birth after he had passed away.

Over the centuries, and even in our lifetime, temples affiliated with the pilgrimage have changed. Others have changed location. The trails change all the time as "trails" disappear and henro are forced to walk on roads, and as other, new, trails spring back to life.

Originally this was a walking pilgrimage. It has since become a predominately bus pilgrimage. Of the 300,000, or so, henro who do this pilgrimage each year only about 5,000 walk. (Or so i have read on the internet)

The point is, this henro trail is a living, changing, evolving trail. It changes continually, albeit slowly. You can't claim some never changing precedent as "the" henro trail. It just won't work.

Imperfect Circles
As you walk the henro trail, you walk through each of the four prefectures on the island. The prefectures, since the beginnings of the pilgrimage, have been called, in the order you typically walk them, the Dōjō (Training ground) of:

       Awakening Faith/Resolution
       Ascetic Practice

This is a Buddhist pilgrimage and for those who walk it as a pilgrimage, as opposed to simply a hike in the Japanese countryside, your journey around the henro trail is a journey of spiritual growth and development. No Buddhist would tell you that your spiritual journey ends with Nirvana. It doesn't; it continues endlessly as you take that spiritual attainment back into your everyday life and continue your practice, with increased resolution and faith, in order to deepen your enlightenment. Like the pilgrimage on Shikoku Island, Buddhist practice is a never ending circle and never ending process. As you progress and grow you simply enmesh that growth into your everyday, imperfect life and continue the training. Living is training, or, conversely, training is living.

But the circle does end, you say, when the henro dies. Right? No. Again, according to the Buddhists, there is no end. The Wheel Of Life is the best known depiction of this pilgrimage we call life, and it depicts our journey as ..... a circle. Complete and perfectly round. Yep, when you get to the end at Death & Dying you move right back to where you started and begin the process all over again; continuing the circular pilgrimage until you figure out what the Wheel is all about and how to stop the process, which you do as you work whole-heartedly through the four-step process of Awakening Faith/Resolution, Ascetic Practice, Enlightenment, Nirvana, continuing faith, continuing practice, deeper enlightenment, deeper understanding of nirvana, even more faith, even more ... (you get the picture).

The point is, to suggest that it is better to intentionally break the circle of a Buddhist pilgrimage simply because you see no precedent for completing it, tells me that you don't understand the inherent importance of the Buddhist circle in the first place. You are swimming on the surface of life and neglecting to take that occasional dive to the depths, where the real value lies.

Imperfect Perfection
Yes, it is true that Japanese aesthetics values the symbolism of the imperfections inherent in our existence.

Japanese aesthetics tries to show the imperfections inherent in all aspects of our existence in almost all of their arts. In gardens, groups of items are laid out in odd numbers instead of even, or one object is intentionally offset to disrupt any symmetry; In art, some small part of the art piece is left intentionally incomplete, or an intentional imperfection is introduced; etc.

If you just stop at that superficial understanding, however, i think you are missing the point the aesthetic is trying to make. No gardener or artist would say that their work was imperfect or incomplete. They would say that it is complete, it is perfect, because it includes that imperfection. Life is only complete when you accept the imperfections inherent in everything. When you fight and try to deny these imperfections, you will always have a hole in your life that you can't fill; you must accept them, learn to live with them, learn to work with them, if you want to see the perfection that is life.

The point is, it's not the imperfections intentionally introduced to gardens and art works that should stand out as the supreme value. That value appears when you begin to see the perfection that only comes to the work as a whole when those imperfections are included. The perfection is the value, the imperfection is the currency used to achieve it. Likewise, life introduces countless imperfections in your pilgrimage as you walk from temple to temple. However, the great value of what you are doing comes when you accept those imperfections as an inevitable part of the perfection of the whole picture; of closing the circle, and walking all the way around the island. By not stopping before returning to the beginning.

So, back to the henro trail. In my opinion, if this is just a "hike," stop at Temple 88, no problem. You've seen what you have come to see. If, however, you intend to sell yourself as someone who has walked the pilgrimage (and this is not directed at Lisa, but to all henro), then your henro is incomplete until you close the circle and make the journey from Temple 88 back to Temple 1. Until then, you may have come to some realizations, but they are of no use until you make that symbolic return to where you started and then find a way to incorporate those realizations into the life you brought to the island and that you will take home with you when you are finished.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Congress & Health Care Reform

Just for the record, i am 100% behind the health care reforms being proposed by the president. I think it is shameful that people are willing to turn their heads when tens of millions of Americans have no access to health care. How can profits be more important to people than people themselves?

But, i also admit that i am willing to see the reform attempts fail. Congress has apparently opted themselves out of any new reforms and will give themselves a special (better) health plan — just like they did with Social Security. I'd rather see the reforms fail than see them get away with this again.

Demand that when any final reforms are signed into law all citizens are included, whether they are in the congress or any other governmental agency; president exempted. Tell your congressmen/women that you will not vote for them in their next primary election if they try to opt out.

Demanding that they be included is the same as demanding that they really, really, really think about what they are doing.

Demand it now! If we don't start to hold congress accountable they will never change.

(And, yes, i have already sent an email to my representatives.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

While i admit that it seems odd that Obama was awarded the Peace Prize this year, as opposed to next, i find all the critic's complaints more than hilarious.

Obama has done nothing for peace?

  • He has told Israel that they must address the peace issue and that continual settlement constructions must stop. He makes it clear that the Palestinians have a voice in this issue.
  • He has admitted that the war in Iraq was wrong and is working to end it as soon as possible.
  • He has admitted that the policies, procedures, and justifications used to keep Guantanamo open are wrong and vowed to close it as soon as possible.
  • He has told Iran that, while they will not be allowed nuclear arms, we are open to talking to them.
  • He has told our allies that the policy of "You're either with us or against us" is no longer US foreign policy.
  • He has made it clear to the Muslim population that they are not an enemy, that we oppose only those who bear ill will towards the US.
  • He has canceled the missle shield in Eastern Europe because it wouldn't solve the problem it was meant to solve and by doing so it improved relations with Russia.
  • He has told the world that the US is not defined by unilateralism, and that peace depends on dialog between all that inhabit the planet.

Obama has made it clear to the world that the US understands it is one of the many countries in existence. That the US does not dictate policy to all other inhabitants of the world. He has also told the world that they can not look to the US to solve all of their problems. Like us, they must come to the table with open minds, a willingness to dialog, and a willingness to listen to opposing views. He has made it clear to all that peace will only come when everybody works together; the US can not enforce peace around the world at the barrel of a gun.

All of this goes a long, long way to increasing peace around the world. Whether you want to admit it or not, there are times when spoken words alone can go a long way to engendering peace. To say that Obama has done nothing is foolishness; nothing but.

Time To Celebrate A Life

I just noticed online that John Daido Loori, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY, passed away on Friday. What an incredible life he lived. What an incredible legacy he leaves behind. What an incredibly good job he did of demonstrating that the Buddha's teachings are still alive.

Daido will be missed. Greatly. I hope his successors have big feet because Daido left behind very large shoes to fill.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chicago Marathon

It's over.

I went into the race hoping to get as close to 4:30 (h:m) as i could, and was completely surprised to find my feet still moving reasonably well at 20 miles. I knew then that all was going better than expected. I didn't know how well it was going, but i knew it was better than i had planned for. I didn't know because i don't look at my watch until i cross the finish line. If i do, it makes the miles seem soooo much longer, so i simply run the best i can and accept the time that comes out of that. The watch is only to give me immediate feedback at the finish line on what my time was.

In fact, i didn't die until right at the 25 mile marker. That last mile would have been pure hell except for the fact that my brain had shut down a mile, or so, earlier in order to stop listening to my legs, so i really wasn't aware of much except right, left, right, left, right, left, ......

Unofficial time: 04:17:47 (h:m:s). I am very, very happy with the run. Today was a good day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Giving Up The Glass Bead Game

From the "Creed Of The Aryan Fighter" chapter of Essays On The Gita:

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. It casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn out raiment for new; and what is there in this to grieve at and recoil and shrink? This is not born, nor does it die, nor is it a thing that comes into being once and passing away will never come into being again. It is unborn, ancient, sempiternal; it is not slain with the slaying of the body.

Not manifested like the body, but greater than all manifestation, not to be analysed by the thought, but greater than all mind, not capable of change and modification like the life and its organs and their objects, but beyond the changes of mind and life and body, it is yet the Reality which all these strive to figure.

This world, this manifestation of [your] Self in the material universe is not only a cycle of inner development, but a field in which the external circumstances of [your] life have to be accepted as an environment and an occasion for that development. It is a world of mutual help and struggle; not a serene and peaceful gliding through easy joys is the progress it allows us, but every step has to be gained by heroic effort and through a clash of opposing forces.

From the "Ryūmonji Sermons" chapter of The Unborn: The Life And Teachings of Zen Master Bankei (that 17th century Japanese monk):

The Unborn is the origin of all and the beginning of all. There is no source apart from the Unborn and no beginning that is before the Unborn. So being unborn means dwelling at the very source of all Buddhas.

If you live in the Unborn, then, there's no longer any need to speak about "nonextinction," or "undying." It would be a waste of time. So I always talk about the "Unborn," never about the "Undying." There can be no death for what was never born, so if it is unborn, it is obviously undying. There's no need to say it, is there?

The Unborn manifests in the material universe; as the material universe. For most, it's never seen, felt, or, intuited. A few suspect its existence and approach it as they would the Glass Bead Game, with the very, very best rising to the level of Magister Ludi. Even fewer, through heroic efforts, break through the mind, give up the game, go further, and rediscover the Unborn; rediscover their "unbornness;" rediscover the infinite and eternal; rediscover who and what they are.

That's what life's for.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

All Done Except The Celebration

Another summer of training comes to an end, but i'm not sure if this qualifies as a :-) or a :-( I'll ride my bike up to the grocery store on Saturday just to loosen up the legs, but that's only 6 miles, so today was basically it.

Today was my last run before the marathon and i did a nice easy 4 miles at a 9:01 pace with a perceived effort of Easy (2). It really was a very easy jog. The first time i ran 4 miles this year was on April 1, and that was at a 10:10 pace with a perceived effort of Moderate (3). My pace has improved considerably at the same time as the effort getting easier.

Putting two and two together, it seems fair to say that on Sunday, if i ignore the first 22 miles, then this year's marathon should be an easy race. Should be. It is safe to assume that i can ignore the first 22 miles, isn't it??

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Busted; Completely & Undeniably

Oh, that Aurobindo is a sneaky rascal; he thinks of everything, apparently, and leaves us readers with zero wiggle room as we digest and interpret what he is saying.

Right at the very beginning of the "Core Of The Teaching" chapter of his Essays On The Gita, he comes right out and says, Lao Bendan, be careful... i can see what you're trying to do here. I'm watching you...

And then he goes on to say,

[The Gita] lends itself, even more than other scriptures, to one-sided misrepresentations born of a partisan intellectuality. The unconscious or half-conscious wresting of fact and word and idea to suit a preconceived notion or the doctrine or principle of one’s preference...

...It is [Human reason's] very nature to seize upon some partial conclusion, idea, principle, become its partisan and make it the key to all truth...

And unfortunately, i can't deny that he has seen right through me. I have to admit that as i read this i am adapting his ideas to my partisan beliefs, keeping what strengthens them, and discarding and disregarding what doesn't fit.

You see, Aurobindo and i disagree on what is probably the largest issue in the entire book: the nature of the consciousness that underlies everything and everybody that is, was, and ever will be. Aurobindo says this is God, a supreme being that gives everything its existence, and is superior to everything that is, everything imaginable, and everything that could be. I don't believe in such a God.

Aurobindo goes on to point out, correctly, i think, that

... the modern mind has exiled from its practical motive-power the two essential things, God or the Eternal and spirituality or the God-state, which are the master conceptions of the Gita.

So if God (with that capital 'G') is one of the master conceptions of the Gita, where does that leave my interpretation of the book's meaning and usefulness?

I accept wholeheartedly the spirituality part, but would rather define that as the seemingly necessary human desire (need?) to find and understand the innate consciousness that we were born with; that consciousness that isn't affected by our egos; that consciousness that isn't polluted by all the social, cultural, religious, and other conditioning that we are indoctrinated with from the very first moments of our lives.

Spirituality, for me, is the work done to uncover that version of me that is neither male, nor white, nor middle class American, nor educated, nor a speaker of English, nor Buddhist, nor happy, nor hungry, nor cold, nor spiritual, nor anything else i could possibly label myself as. It is the struggle to wipe away all the dust, all the mildew, all the "stuff" that conditioning has put between me and that spiritual being that i really am; that version of me that Bankei, a 17th century Japanese monk, called The Unborn.

It's there, that's a given, and while you can never see it, or approach it, when that you is surrendered it appears right in front of your eyes. But it isn't a God, IMHO.

So where does that leave me and my friend? Issues, issues, issues.....

The complete, unselfconscious surrender of yourself, i.e., your self, to that which governs all. That's the goal, and on that Aurobindo and i can agree.

Hmmmm... in the meantime, i'll just keep reading.

And, changing topics, just for the record, i was struck by the amazing similarity between this, written by Aurobindo,

"That which the Gita teaches is not a human, but a divine action; not the performance of social duties, but the abandonment of all other standards of duty or conduct for a selfless performance of the divine will working through our nature..."

and this, in the "Prayer" chapter of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet,

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.

God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Marathon Taper

The marathon is on Sunday, so i'm supposed to be taking it easy all week to refresh the legs, but the weather today was just too nice to sit at home. Around 10 o'clock i made some lunch, filled a thermos with green tea, and a couple of bottles with water, and headed out. Lockport to Joliet and then the Old Plank Road Trail to Park Forest, where i had lunch before turning around.

A good 51 mile day on the bike.