Monday, February 28, 2011

Opening Closed Doors

DHS 181

I remember reading a review of one of Mary Oliver's poems online a year, or so, ago and being more than slightly puzzled. In short, the reviewer said that Mary never says anything that anyone else couldn't say at any time, that she simply writes about the everyday common things that she notices, and everyone else could too, throughout the day (and life) and that just isn't special enough to make her poetry anything... well... special.

When i read that, i didn't know whether to laugh or shake my head in sorrow. He's absolutely right in pointing out what Mary writes about, but completely off the mark when saying that everyone else notices the same things as well, or with equal clarity. The vast majority of people do not notice the world as clearly as Mary does. In fact, the vast majority of people are completely blind to the goings on of the natural world and their internal world.

This has been one of my favorite poems by Mary over the past few months — although i admit to having new favorites all the time...


This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I said

I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

In the first third of the poem alone Mary challenges us twice to see nature with new eyes. Fix yourself a cup of tea and find a comfortable spot where you can sit quietly and watch some form of animal life. Sit long enough and quietly enough that you begin to see the sounds with your internal eyes. Sit long enough that you can hear the texture of the fur on their bodies or the shine in their eyes.

Sit with Mary's understanding that you really don't have anything better to do. That doesn't mean that this is simply the best choice for the use of your time at this particular moment, but that this is the best use of your life, period. Sit with the understanding that the best thing you can do with your life is to notice life, to pay attention to the world, to kick your focus out of your house and out into the world. This is invaluable advice she is offering.

And what would most of us do if a couple of the gods showed up at our door and made themselves comfortable at our dining room tables when we invited them in? Would we even invite them in? If we did, could we sit quietly, offering attentiveness, a willingness to listen, a willingness to Be, and no more? Could we comfortably offer ourselves, and no more, leaving all the psychological trappings in the closet for the time being?

And once we realized their true identity, could we still be free of want, desire, greed, need? Do you see that the gift is Life itself and not all the material "stuff" that we usually fall prey to? Do you see that clearly enough that you could be content, nay, happy, without begging the gods for more or different than you already have?

All it takes to see life in this way is to take Mary's advice and stop occasionally and to throw open the doors of your soul to the world. To throw all the doors and windows wide open and give free rein to who you are to lean out with the wind blowing in her hair and with life raining down on her face. To give her permission to listen, and see, and smell, and hear, and taste life as it really is, outside your head.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Paying Attention

No time today for the Heart Sutra, but this passage comes from a good book on yoga. It's available online for free at Erich's web site if you go there.

"The spiritual teachings you'll receive from within your silent mind will be the source of new meaning in your life, revealing to you lift's inherent meaning. Spiritual teachings are communications of truth about the way things are. They will answer your conscious and unconscious questions concerning the nature of who you are and how the world works. Inspiring and guiding you in your thought, speech, and behavior, they will come in the form of clarifying insights and sudden inspirations, creative ideas, intuitive knowings, life circumstances, people and situations, hunches, premonitions, desires, attractions, and spontaneous impulses. Spiritual principles will then no longer seem foreign or irrelevant, divorced from daily life, and they will no longer be gleaned from books and teachers only. The teachings, taught from within, will he pertinent to you and your life. They will make sense to you, meaningful sense.

"As this happens, life takes on a growing significance. You begin to understand and appreciate in a totally new way the fact that your life is indeed absolutely worthy of your fullest attention. And as you give it the undivided attention it deserves, moment by moment by moment, your life will become increasingly interesting. Remember, it's difficult to be interested in something if you are not paying attention to that thing. You may be listening to the most beautiful sonata in the world, but you won't know until you give it your attention and listen, if you join with it, do yoga with it, become one with it. As you do this with your life you will feel young again, renewed, refreshed, regenerated, optimistic, confident, secure, at peace ... and you will experience authentic happiness. That is, happiness without guilt.

"Experience yourself in silence, then - sit motionless, quiet your mind, immerse yourself in the feeling-tone of your own unique being, and then simply be aware of what you are experiencing of the world around you and within. This profound practice will clarify who you are and what your life purpose is and also make available the means to fulfill that purpose intelligently."

Moving Into Stillness
Erich Schiffmann

Two months sixty days
Pilgrims on the Henro Trail
All dreams within dreams

Friday, February 25, 2011

DHS 180

DHS 180

Henro trail ahead
Daishi and KPops in tow
Morning training run

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vulnerability & Worthiness

DHS 179

Thanks to Whitney Vosburgh for pointing this video out. If any online video should go viral this year, it is this TED talk given by Brene Brown. I won't say anymore about it, just stop what you are doing and watch it! Then close your office door or shew the kids outdoors for a little while and find somewhere quiet and take a little time to think about your life.

Brene Brown On Vulnerability

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thankful For Disasterous Gifts?

DHS 178

I don't know if the Gods hate me and are seeking revenge, if they love me and are handing me a present, or don't give a hoot and life is just as it is. In any case, i long ago gave up trying to understand how and why my life has turned out like it has.

Anyway... i have been steadily getting everything together for round 2 of my bike trip across the US, and have been planning to leave Lockport on, or around, June 1 and riding west through June and July. Then, last Thursday evening, i got an email from a friend on Shikoku asking if i was interested in guiding an American around the henro trail — all expenses paid.

Now that drops me squarely into a quandary; a major quandary; maybe even a quandary on the scale of impending universal disaster. If i accept and go, what about my bike trip? On the other hand, how in the world do you turn down a free trip around the henro trail? That would be like asking you to give up breathing for the rest of spring and into early summer.

Those that know me know that i really had no choice — i contacted the guy, he offered me the job, i accepted the offer, and have put the bike trip on hold yet again. :-(

I'm now looking for airfare to Japan and will be there from around March 28 to June 13th. The "client" is walking the henro trail to collect film and information in order to put together a documentary film on the Henro. He plans to take 10 weeks in total to walk it, which is entirely possible given that i took me 8 weeks without stopping to shoot film every day. My job is to get him around the island, interpret for him, help him find people and locations, and be his general connection to the people of Shikoku. I'm not sure, but he may have seen my picture on the Contact Me page of this blog and needed a good looking guy to stand in for some of his shots of "walking henro." Not really sure if that is a possibility or not though. ;-)

I am soooo thoroughly besides myself with excitement i can hardly breath. I didn't think i'd get back to the trail for many more years. I'll be taking lots of pictures and gathering lots of information myself to update the web site when i get back.

As for the TransAm Trail......... i don't know. I'm really worried that if i don't do it now i may never get it done, and it has been a dream since 1977. You don't give up dreams that easily, not even if the trade off is Shikoku. So, for now, i'm leaving it open in my head as a possibility that when i get back in mid-June, i'll rest for a couple of weeks and then do the bike ride in July and August. Will i really feel like doing that after walking the henro trail for 10 weeks? I won't know that until sometime near the end of those 10 weeks. As all the famous people say, only time will tell.

So there you go, another completely unexpected change in the life of Lao Bendan.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Knock Unless You Already Have The Keys

DHS 177

Kanjisai Bossa
Gyōjin hannya haramita ji
Shō ken go un kai kū

The Heart Sutra is a beautiful text but you'd think that after reading through it and thinking about it year after year i'd get tired of it, be willing and ready to move on to something else at some point in time. Surprisingly, i'm not.

It starts out so deceptively simple: Kanjisai Bosatsu (also known as Kannon, in Japanese, and Avalokiteshvara, in Sanskrit) is practicing the Prajna Paramita; the paramita of wisdom, the Perfection of Wisdom. Actually, not just the prajna paramita, but the profound prajna paramita. The important point here, though, is that the sutra makes clear right at the very beginning that the key to the doors we hope to pass through lie in practice; not scholarly research, not theoretical debates, not books, CDs, DVDs, talks, or anything else that is intellectual in nature, but practice. That's the door Kanjisai Bosatsu is telling us to go through.

For years my practice was, well... "my" practice; I did it, I benefitted from it, it effected only me. Over the years, though, it slowly evolved into a wider practice. This practice was still focused on me, but at the same time it indirectly involved everyone else that came into contact with me, even though they didn't realize it. Then, after many more years, it ever more slowly evolved into just practice; a practice that didn't involve me any more or any less than it involved the mailperson that delivers mail to people in Billings, Montana, or a bank clerk in Guangzhou, China — in other words, it involved everyone and everything even though it manifested at a particular time and a particular place called me. Practice became something that i participated in rather than something i did.

And, that's what Kanjisai Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva Kanjizai) was doing — he was participating in the deeply profound practice of the Paramita of Wisdom. Wisdom doesn't mean to imply that because he was a bodhisattva he was incredibly learned and knew all of the Buddhist literature and theory inside out, like a gray-haired wise old man, no, it means that he understood what the Buddha understood, that he saw reality through the same eyes that the Buddha saw it, that he was aware of the sham that most people pass off as "life."

Wisdom means that he understood emptiness and impermanence and how all life is defined by these concepts, how everything is nothing but emptiness and impermanence, and yet, at the same time, how everything is at the same time dual, divided, and apparently self-existent. Wisdom doesn't mean you threw away the concept of apparent reality and have moved up to the bigger and better concept of ultimate reality. Wisdom means that you can see reality for what it really is, which is non-dual duality, which is impermanence lasting countless eons, which is both apparent reality and ultimate reality, at one and the same time, at no time, here, nowhere, in your life, and in absolutely nobody's life.

As he was sitting in meditation (probably) and participating in this mysterious process of non-dual duality, he saw that the five skandhas, the five heaps, are also empty. It's not that everything is empty of any self-inherent existence and composed solely of the five skandhas, but that that is true AND that the five skandhas themselves are also empty. Everything, with no exceptions is empty. Why? Because everything is one reality and that one reality is empty. You can't say that everything is empty except the skandhas or you are still mired in the world of duality. In a non-dual reality, if you say anything is empty of inherent existence, then by definition you are saying that reality, in total, in its oneness, is empty of inherent existence.

So that's where this beautiful document starts — on your zafu and out of your head. We are told, while still standing at the front door, that if we want to enter we have to accept two principles: the entire journey is predicated on practice and the entirety of everything is one and empty. If you don't accept those, you might as well just move on and knock on another door because those are the keys to the door of the Heart Sutra.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Non-Dual Divisions Don't Divide

DHS 176

I was reading a little bit of Shunryu Suzuki this morning and this reminded me so much of Kōshō Uchiyama's words from a week, or so, ago:

You are living in this world as one individual, but before you take the form of a human being, you are already there, always there. We are always here. Do you understand? You think before you were born you were not here. But how is it possible for you to appear in this world, when there is no you? Because you are already there, you can appear in the world. Also, it is not possible for something to vanish which does not exist. Because something is there, something can vanish. You may think that when you die, you disappear, you no longer exist. But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent. That is the magic. We ourselves cannot put any magic spells on this world. The world is its own magic. If we are looking at something, it can vanish from our sight, but if we do not try to see it, that something cannot vanish. Because you are watching it, it can disappear, but if no one is watching, how is it possible for anything to disappear? If someone is watching you, you can escape from him, but if no one is watching, you cannot escape from yourself.

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
Shunryu Suzuki

After reading that, i looked around the room to see if anyone else wanted to comment on it and, low and behold, over in the corner was Venkatesananda jumping up and down like a kindergartner with his hand flying about in the air — "me, me, pick me, oh, oh, oh, me, pick me..."

OK, OK, calm down....

Knowledge, to be complete, perfect and free from the possibility of doubt arising, should be total knowledge – or knowledge of the totality. Knowledge of the totality implies the synthesis, the unification (yoga) of knowledge, the knower and the known. That is, there is an experienced division, which is intuitively realised to be non-existent, and which is also intuitively realised as the source of all pain and sorrow.

Can this experienced division be realised to be non-existent? That is what they call an intuitive understanding, or self-realisation, enlightenment, etc. If that is also an experienced (divided) experience, if you see God as you are seeing another, you are seeing something which you have created, which comes into your life and departs from your life. Everything that has a beginning has an end. A state in which neither a beginning nor an end was experienced, the deep sleep state, was a state of no problems, no pain, no sorrow, no division. Can that state ‘prevail’? (If you use the word ‘experience’ you are trapped. An experience arises and therefore it has to come to an end.)

This is the problem dealt with in the Bhagavad Gītā: on the one hand there is an experienced division, on the other hand there is an intuited state of non-division. That intuition at the same time reveals that the state of divisionlessness is also free from sorrow – sorrow being an experience. And, (what is important), any experience related to that which has a beginning and an end, which comes into being and goes, is sorrow.

The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita Daily Readings
Swami Venkatesananda

Morning sun rises
Mu chi yaku mu toku
Moon fades in the light

Each breath a new birth
Each birth unconcerned with why
I mu sho tokko

Thursday, February 17, 2011


DHS 175


Lost in thought he was
Walking a Shikoku trail
At home at the desk

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How To Kill A Fox

DHS 174

So if you know... heck, if you even have an inkling of a suspicion... why don't you act accordingly??

"If you know what is right and what is wrong, why do you not do what is right and avoid what is wrong? Because the doer of the action is far removed from the knower of right and wrong. The doer of right and wrong is burdened with the memory of what is right and wrong. He is burdened with knowledge. Instead of knowledge — of truth becoming flesh — the knowledge has remained unassimilated and it prevents him from functioning in the here and now.

"There is a funny story: a fox and a cat met in the wilds. They were discussing methods of escaping when attacked. The cat said: 'Climb the tree.' The fox said: 'You are stupid. I know a hundred methods. I can chase the hunter, I can throw mud in his eyes, I can run away, I can howl.' As the fox was saying all this, a hunter came. The cat quickly went up the tree but the fox was trying to figure out what to do.

"You can guess that he did not come to a conclusion; he did not have to because his conclusion came immediately! When all this knowledge is stored up as memory, it paralyses the doer of the deed."

The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita Daily Readings
Swami Venkatesananda

So, why??

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


DHS 173

More pieces of the never-ending house work puzzle fall into place — the kitchen has now been painted. All that's left is to work on the cabinets, modifying what is there to suit me until i come up with the money to get what i really want. Before the cabinets, however, i'll paint the bathroom. The walls are stripped, now to patch the nail holes and then on to the paint. In April i'll replace the vanity with a pedestal sink and put in a new toilet.

As we used to say in Pidgin English in Cameroon to mean step-by-step, bit-by-bit...Softly, Softly, Catch Monkey. Maybe i'll finish the downstairs this year??

Looking for nothing
Somewhere between this and that
Everything is it

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fragrant Flowers

Daily Heart Sutra (DHS) 172

I think we've all been in situations where you are sitting there listening to someone speak, all the while knowing without question that the words are completely empty, completely without value, that the speaker neither believes nor really means what they are saying. The words are being spoken solely for the purpose of supporting their image of themselves and nothing will ever come of them.

Sometimes it may be appropriate to call their bluff and force the situation but more often than not it's just not worth the trouble. More importantly, much more importantly, is to accept it as a lesson and a reminder to look at your life, your words, your intentions. Use the occasion to review your recent words and see if they have been true words. Review your recent actions and see if they have been, if not in support of others, at least not harmful to them.

Even more importantly, though, i try and look at my recent intentions in all areas of my life. Have my intentions been solely to promote myself, solely to make myself look good in the eyes of others, solely to advance myself at the expense of others? If so, in part or in whole, i use the occasion to reflect on the what's and why's of those occasions, and vow to try to do better.

This from my favorite rendition of the Dhammapada, by Thomas Byrom.

Look to your own faults,
What you have done or left undone.
Overlook the faults of others.

Like a lovely flower,
Bright but scentless,
Are the fine but empty words
Of the man who does not mean what he says.

Like a lovely flower,
Bright and fragrant,
Are the fine and truthful words
Of the man who means what he says.

Chapter 4

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Colored Stillness

DHS 171

Writing the Heart Sutra each day seems a simple act, but as Donna Farhi says in her very nice book:

"Intention has a way of coloring all experience. ..[W]e can take the body of our practice and through intention make a movement in our life that is an expression of grace, beauty, and wisdom. We can be doing the simplest of asanas or meditations yet through our intention be expressing the highest realization."

Bringing Yoga To Life
Donna Farhi

Thoughts but no thinking
Awareness but no day dreams
Calm zafu stillness

Friday, February 11, 2011

Doing Nothing --- Productively

Megane (Glasses)

This is my kind of movie. Beautiful scenery, depicting a lifestyle i could totally get into, dialog that's so scarce that you occasionally wonder if the actors forgot their lines, where nothing is clearly explained, and where the actors themselves seem to have little clue what's going on sometimes.


Despair In Lockport

DHS 170

Arg sigh moan groan sigh
One more day one more kanji
Despair for the lost

I have no idea what's going on. Two days, two lost characters. Where is my mind???????


Yesterday's post was about the possible abrupt end to life on earth for some, as yet undetermined, nations and/or groups of people. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, i saw the below article online yesterday that predicts the probable upcoming immortality of human beings as we merge with the machines we will build in the future — machines that have so far surpassed us in intelligence that humans almost become trivially insignificant. Well, not almost, they become completely insignificant. Sorry if that bothers your ego.

It's a long article but worth reading all the way to the end.

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

Whether you agree with the opinions of the Singularitarians or not, what i find interesting about this article (besides the immortality thing, of course) is the dedication and persistence of a group of people who are willing to stretch their minds and try to look at life in great detail 50-100 years down the line, even when they know that their predictions will make them look foolish in many people's eyes.

As i said yesterday — fascinating.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Asteroids & Missing Information

DHS 169

Lacking perfection
Beauty dwells amidst absence
One lost character

I find this a fascinating story:

In short, an asteroid called Apophis is headed in the direction of our home planet. It's bigger than the one that hit in Siberia that you've probably seen pictures of with all the trees blown down. It's smaller than the one that hit off the Yucatan Peninsula a few hundred thousand years ago killing off the dinosaurs (and giving us humans room to survive). But, it is big enough to destroy an entire nation and, depending where it hits throw the world economy into a shambles.

It will first pass the earth in 2029 — within 20,000 miles — and everyone agrees that it will not hit the earth, although you will be able to see it pass with the naked eye, and it will probably be bright enough to cast a shadow. I.E., it will out shine the moon as it flashes through the atmosphere. That's close!

The problems come up on it's second pass in 2036. NASA says the odds are it will not hit us; end of story. A Russian scientist say, yes, the odds are against it, but they are not trivial odds so that shouldn't be the end of the story, we should be making 18 and 25 year plans on a) what to do to mitigate the chances and b) what to do in case it does hit.

Fascinating stuff. Big enough to take out an entire nation, with huge potential ripple effects on the world economy. Big enough to cause a tsunami that would take out the entire east or west coast of the US depending where it hit. And a non-zero probability of striking. Amazing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Whispered Dharma Talks

DHS 168

Whispered in silence
Not one word yet all can hear
Nature's dharma talk

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Secondhand People

DHS 167

"For centuries we have been spoon-fed by our teachers, by our authorities, by our books, our saints. We say, 'Tell me all about it - what lies beyond the hills and the mountains and the earth?' and we are satisfied with their descriptions, which means that we live on words and our life is shallow and empty. We are secondhand people. We have lived on what we have been told, either guided by our inclinations, our tendencies, or compelled to accept by circumstances and environment. We are the result of all kinds of influences and there is nothing new in us, nothing that we have discovered for ourselves; nothing original, pristine, clear.


"Seeing everything that goes on in your daily life, your daily activities - when you pick up a pen, when you talk, when you go out for a drive or when you are walking alone in the woods - can you with one breath, with one look, know yourself very simply as you are? When you know yourself as you are, then you understand the whole structure of man's endeavour, his deceptions, his hypocrisies, his search. To do this you must be tremendously honest with yourself throughout your being. When you act according to your principles you are being dishonest because when you act according to what you think you ought to be you are not what you are. it is a brutal thing to have ideals. If you have any ideals, beliefs or principles you cannot possibly look at yourself directly. So can you be completely negative, completely quiet, neither thinking nor afraid, and yet be extraordinarily, passionately alive?


"So is fear perhaps the reason why you have not got the energy of that passion to find out for yourself why this quality of love is missing in you, why there is not this flame in your heart? If you have examined your own mind and heart very closely, you will know why you haven't got it. If you are passionate in your discovery to find why you haven't got it, you will know it is there. Through complete negation alone, which is the highest form of passion, that thing which is love, comes into being. Like humility you cannot cultivate love. Humility comes into being when there is a total ending of conceit - then you will never know what it is to be humble. A man who knows what it is to have humility is a vain man. In the same way when you give your mind and your heart, your nerves, your eyes, your whole being to find out the way of life, to see what actually is and go beyond it, and deny completely, totally, the life you live now - in that very denial of the ugly, the brutal, the other comes into being. And you will never know it either. A man who knows that he is silent, who knows that he loves, does not know what love is or what silence is."

Freedom From The Known
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Monday, February 7, 2011

Befriending Mirrors

Do not mistake yourself for anyone else...

"Theodore Roszak, a perceptive observer of our culture, has commented ... 'We go to doctors and physiologists to learn what's going on in our organism, ... and that cuts us off from any direct experience that we can have, with a sense of certainty that we know what's going on and that we are indeed the best authorities over our inner life and our bodies.'

"Let that sink in. We are the best authorities. That does not mean we do not need information. Even the pope has his experts to give him information, and to educate him on those things that can be found in the books. All of us require some sort of storage and retrieval system, whether it is a person or a computer. All of us are ignorant, and profoundly so, in some field. Most of that, we can leave to others. There is much to know that is not worth the time spent getting to know it.

"What is essential for us to know, we call education. We must have adequate information to live in this world. But information will never replace experience and the wisdom that follows. 'The vice of living in a highly artificial social order,' says Roszak, 'is that you experience through media, through literature, through books, rather than in a raw and direct way.' There comes a time when you must be your own teacher, your own coach, your own clergyman.

"We need not ask another person, 'Who am I?' If we do, we will never engage in the adventure of self-discovery. We will live another and false life. Do not mistake yourself for anyone else, the average American man, the ordinary inhabitant of this globe or the common-variety human being. They exist only on charts.

"We do share a host of attributes with others: drives and desires, instincts and longings. Under precisely controlled conditions our overall responses to certain stimuli can be statistically predicted. But we are not statistics. Under precisely controlled conditions, we will, individually, do as we damn please, and fortunately, that is precisely what we should do.

"We must have a healthy distrust and a healthy cynicism for the experts, and for authority in general. Each of us is an experiment of one. Each is an expert in the self, a witness of a personal truth, our own best authority.

"My advice to these advisors would be. 'Do not tell me what to do, tell me what you do. Do not tell me what is good for me, tell me what is good for you. If, at the same time you reveal the you in me, if you become a mirror to my inner self, then you have made a listener and a friend.' "

George Sheehan

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Do You Have A Contractor's License?

Undertaking building projects without the appropriate knowledge can get you in trouble.

To talk of our being alive implies at the same time that there is also a world of phenomena in which we live. We usually assume that the world existed long before we were born and that our birth is our entrance onto the stage of an existing world. At the same time, we often assume that our death means our departure from this world, and that after our death this world continues to exist. Within this way of thinking a fabrication is taking shape which is not the actualization of reality itself. The actuality of the world that I live in and experience is not merely a conglomeration of ideas or abstractions.

How To Cook Your Life
Kōshō Uchiyama

For as long as i can remember the driving question in my life has been how to see/experience/understand/live this "actualization of reality itself." What is reality? How can it include the Dalai Lama and Daido Loori in one hand and suicide bombers and terrorists in the other? How can it include compassionate love in one hand and blind prejudice and hatred in the other? How can it include a delicious gourmet meal in one hand and a loud fart and then a sprint to the toilet in the other?

Too many people, i think, approach Zen with the thought that all of the "bad stuff" will be explained away if they simply sit on their zafu long enough and listen to enough dharma talks. As Uchiyama points out, though, "Within this way of thinking a fabrication is taking shape which is not the actualization of reality itself."

Zen is about looking for those "fabrications" and weeding them out as we find them. If that's not the focus of your practice, then i'd agree that you might be a Buddhist, but not a follower of the Buddha. As i have quoted Basho before,

Do not search for the masters of old
Search for what they sought.

Fact is, i don't really call myself a Buddhist. I'm a follower of the Buddha, yes, but a Buddhist? Not really. Only those that know me very, very well would even know about Buddhism in my life because i never talk about it. I look at life in very simple terms. It's not something i know, it's something i try to be, something i try to actualize. For me, life isn't about collecting knowledge, rituals, and practices, but about continually looking, day after day after day, for mental baggage that isn't needed and trying to throw it away.

Yes, i admit to running out to the trash bin and pulling much of the junk back out in order to secret it away once again, but that's OK because i know that i'll eventually be able to throw it away again some day. The process is continual and perpetual — i don't work on a schedule. I don't judge, compare, rank, rate, or evaluate. I just keep practicing. Some days i may come across as an asshole, others i may come across as a nice guy. My job is to see why and work to get better.

The key here is that to get better you don't work to improve. You don't better yourself by improving, by adding to who you are; you get better through the process of elimination, by getting rid of what's of no use, hindrances, bad habits, pattens, and thoughts. As all of these slowly disappear, you notice improvement. You don't make it your aim, but it happens.

Until then, keep actively looking for those fabrications you are constructing without even realizing it. Find them, tear them down, and vow to never replace them.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Wondering that's all
What why when where how what for
Does it hurt to ask


No latch on the door
Passing through the gate not there
Drawn by the unknown

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Swan

I stumbled on this wonderful poem by the great writer Rainer Maria Rilke yesterday:

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Bly

I love this poem. At first blush it seems to be about nothing but life and death; the difficulties of living and the ease of death, once we nervously approach it, come to accept it, and peacefully, even joyfully, lower ourselves into it.

But i see a lot more buried inside those words. I see descriptions of the hardships inherent in living a superficial, future-oriented life, that is clumsy at best, and the ease of a calm, joyous life when we see through that superficiality and meld our lives, our activities, out thoughts, with that essence that is who we really are.

When the focus of our lives is always pointed away from now, always looking at what is not yet done, what we have to do, what is upcoming, we bind ourselves to dissatisfaction and angst. Life becomes awkward.

When, on the other hand, we let go of the ego's attachment to the beliefs, rules, patterns, and formulas that it clings to desperately day after day, we find that Life welcomes us with open arms. For those approaching this release for the first time, it can be a nervous encounter, wondering what might happen, what they might find and become. Once settled, however, the absolute beauty of that ensuing calmness, that reassuring total support, brings more growth into your life than you ever imagined possible.

This poem has gotten under my skin just like Rilke's Sometimes A Man Stands Up During Supper did over a year ago. There is something about these two poems that seems to just sit there on the tip of my tongue demanding that i speak to them until a message becomes clear. It took months for Sometimes A Man, so i'm sure i'll be spending many more mornings thinking about this new one.

Let me ponder for a while longer and i'll post more thoughts then.

Robert Bly seems to be to Rilke what Coleman Barks is to Rumi — the wings that allow them to soar to unimaginable heights. For budget reasons i said i wasn't going to buy ANY books this year, but i really wonder if i need to break that promise and buy Robert Bly's Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, which contains both of these poems???????????????????????????

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Slow Cooking Sudden Improvement

"Accomplishment in any discipline involves repetition. If we want to build muscles, we don't lift ten thousand pounds at one time, we lift a few pounds thousands of times. Just as repetition is the source of necessary hardship for a piano student aspiring to be a concert pianist, it remains so for spiritual students aspiring to wake up. We hear the same teachings continuously, we practice the same mantras ceaselessly, we return to the meditation cushion, and then to our breath, incessantly. In the Tibetan tradition, one does one hundred thousand prostrations, one hundred thousand mantra recitations, one hundred thousand mandala offerings, one million guru yoga recitations—and that's just for starters. These may seem like outrageous numbers, but they are nothing compared to the numbers we have already accumulated in our practice of materialism.

"I have had selfish thoughts millions of times, bragged about myself, criticized others, gossiped, cheated, lied, and practiced self-centered actions millions upon millions of times. I have been mindless billions of times. I have forgotten the truth countless times. The numbers are astronomical, and so is the sphere of their influence.

"On the spiritual path we want to replace this bad habit with a good one. Even though mindfulness is a natural expression of the awakened mind, it has been buried under eons of mindlessness, so we have to work to dig it out. The initial state of mindfulness practice is called deliberate mindfulness because it takes effort to bring our wandering minds back. It is difficult only because it is unfamiliar.

"One sign of progress on the path is that deliberate mindfulness evolves into spontaneous mindfulness. With enough practice, it becomes effortless. We have formed a good habit, even if we did not have a good time doing it.

"The path is full of magic, but it is also full of mechanics. The skill of a concert pianist is magical, but this skill is the result of causes that are painfully mechanical. Similarly, the skill of effortless mindfulness is magical, but its causes are equally mechanical. There is nothing glamorous about the hard work of repetition. Understanding the mechanics of spirituality dispels illusions about the ease of its accomplishment.

"Science speaks about phase transformations, or punctuated equilibrium. A common example is the manner in which water comes to a boil. Put a pot of water on the stove, turn on the heat, and wait. Depending on the intensity of the heat and the temperature and volume of water, it will boil slowly or quickly, but either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into the water with no obvious result. The phase transformation from water into steam takes time.

"Similarly, when we engage in spiritual practice, we have placed ourselves on the stove and turned on the heat. If our practice is half-hearted, then it takes time for that low temperature to transform us. If we practice wholeheartedly, the higher temperature brings us more rapidly to a boil. But either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into our practice but nothing is cooking.

"As long-term practitioners reflect over years of practice, they discover they are starting to get warm. The changes come slowly because the water that is being heated is so cold, and the heat of our practice is usually tepid. But sooner or later we come to a boil. After years of practice we "suddenly" transform from an uptight, aloof person to an open, loving one. The phase transformation occurs, and we have suddenly gone from a confused sentient being to an awakened one."

Andrew Holocek
The Power and the Pain, Transforming Spiritual Hardship Into Joy
from excerpt in Truth Consciousness magazine
(Autumn 2010)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nothing's Useful

"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there."

Tap Te Ching
Chapter 11

Stop what you are doing for just a minute, stop what you are thinking, set aside any emotion currently running over you, stop doing anything.... can you see what is not there? Can you, for even the briefest moment, BE what is not there?