Friday, November 29, 2013

Just To Know You

Snatam Kaur & Peter Kater
From their Heart of The Universe album

Given her Sikh upbringing, i'm certain we look at this from different angles, but i'd like to believe that she'd allow my interpretation. This nicely describes my view from high on top of my zafu. Not always, but it's a view.

"Just to know you, just to live inside your grace." When Dave steps out of the way and you get occasional glimpses around his fat head, this is the immediate, unspoken, thought that appears when that immeasurable immensity comes into view. Ah, there you are. Thank you. Do you know how much i've missed you? Do you know how happy i can get just knowing that for reasons unknown we were able to meet? Just to live inside your grace, with whatever you offer, whatever comes. Thank you for being.

"Just to feel you in my heart, at this time, in this place." Dave still has occasional shitty, black days, but not all that often. Can't lie about that, but when he moves out of the way, and a clear view is had .... in that time, in that place...

In that time, in that place on a zafu. In that time, in that place standing there filling up the car with gas. In that time, in that place standing in the grocery store checkout line. In that time, in that place sitting in the car at a red light. In that time, in that place putting clothes in the washer. In that time, in that place standing there watching someone tell you completely unreasonable things at work. In every time. In every place. Take a breath and feel, deep in your heart, that Life that animates your body. Feel who you really are. Who we all are. Take a breath. Forget your version of Dave and be who you are. Take a second, or more, to really appreciate, really thank Life for this chance to be here.

"There is peace, in every breath, as my mind dwells on your name." In every breath. Until the view clears even more, and then even the breath itself is gone. And then,... there is peace. No more. No less. Just peace. Not here. Not there. Not for me. Not for us. Just peace.

"Finding peace, peace within." How do we find peace in the world? Right here. Peace within. If you find it, it will affect you. It will change your life. It will change your outlook. It will affect your relationship with the world. Peace begins within.

"Treasure of bliss never end." With a promise like that, why don't more people make the effort?

Hope all had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When God's Stuck In Your Front Door

There's this story about a farmer who decides to retire and take up the spiritual life. After turning everything over to others and cutting himself free, he goes to the master at his local temple. The master tells him that to start he needs to learn to meditate and sends him off to a small meditation hut on the nearby mountain.

When he asks how to meditate, the master tells him to meditate on God. Fill his mind with nothing but God. Let go of every thought and have nothing but God in his mind. Become God. Not having a clue how to do that, but trusting his master, the farmer heads off to the hut to begin his practice.

A few weeks later the farmer comes back to the temple and tells the master that it is hopeless. No matter how hard he tries he just can not fill his mind with God. Too many other things stop him. He just doesn't see how to do it.

The master thinks for a minute and asks the farmer what thoughts keep interrupting him. To which the farmer tells him of the water buffalo that he had left on the farm when he left. The water buffalo that had been his companion and friend for more years than he can even remember. The water buffalo that had patiently listened to all of his problems and all of his happiness in life. The water buffalo that had helped him in the fields every day of the year, year in and year out. The water buffalo that had made life livable for him.

Nodding his head, the master told him that the solution to his problems is at hand. Go back to the hut, he told the farmer, and meditate on your water buffalo. Fill your mind with nothing but the buffalo, he told him. Let go of every thought and have nothing but your water buffalo in your mind. Become your water buffalo. And with that, the farmer returned to his hut to try again.

A month later, when the farmer hadn't returned, the master climbed the mountain to check on him. Arriving at the hut, he knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again. No answer. He looked in the window and could see the farmer sitting there, on his zafu in the middle of the room so he went back to the door and knocked again. No answer.

Finally he pounded on the door and yelled, "Open the door and come out and greet your teacher!"

At which time he heard a mooing sound and then the farmer saying, "I would like to master, really, i would, but my horns won't fit through the door."

Love that story. To help you get an idea of what the farmer saw, find your cushion, put it right in the middle of the floor, and when your mind has calmed down, then hit play of this video. Don't think of anything. Be completely still, completely open, and just let the sound wash through you.

That was the sound of God though the ears of a human. For what us humans sound like through the ears of God, sit down again, get calm, completely still, completely open, and then hit play on this video.

And don't blame me if you can't get through your front door after listening to these for a half hour or so. :-)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Don't Waste Your Time Walking

I was in the mood for a little Rumi today:

One Whisper of the Beloved

Lovers share a sacred decree—
to seek the Beloved.
They roll head over heels,
rushing toward the Beautiful One
like a torrent of water.

In truth, everyone is a shadow of the Beloved—
Our seeking is His seeking,
Our words are His words.

At times we flow toward the Beloved
like a dancing stream.
At times we are still water
held in His pitcher.
At times we boil in a pot
turning to vapor—
that is the job of the Beloved.

He breathes into my ear
until my soul
takes on His fragrance.
He is the soul of my soul—
How can I escape?
But why would any soul in this world
want to escape from the Beloved?

He will melt your pride
making you thin as a strand of hair,
Yet do not trade, even for both worlds,
One strand of His hair.

We search for Him here and there
while looking right at Him.
Sitting by His side we ask,
"O Beloved, where is the Beloved?"

Enough with such questions!—
Let silence take you to the core of life.

All your talk is worthless
When compared to one whisper
of the Beloved.

The man had a way with words. It's not only clear as the clearest mountain lake, but longingly beautiful at the same time.

"Our seeking is His seeking, Our words are His words." We walk the path because we are searching for something. It's not "here," so it must be "over there." I don't have it, so i have to go somewhere else to find it. Nonsense. Poppycock. As Kōshō Uchiyama writes on so many pages of his book by the same title, all you have to do is open the hand of thought. Open the hand, let the thoughts go. Stop holding onto them. Sit still and realize that that which we are seeking is right were you happen to be standing. Right now. Nowhere else. There is nowhere to go to find It. If we can't find It in ourselves, we will never find It. Sit still long enough to realize that our seeking is his seeking. Our words are his words. Or, as Kahlil Gibron says in that wonderful book The Prophet, "God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips."

"At times we flow toward the Beloved like a dancing stream. At times we are still water held in His pitcher. At times we boil in a pot turning to vapor." This is our normal state, brought about because we won't open that hand of thought and let it all go. Sometimes we flow gently, beautifully. Sometime we boil, raging, with immense amounts of noise and energy lost. Yet sometimes, even amongst all this we do find that place were we sit quietly, like still water in His pitcher. Calm. Open. Trusting. Here. And those moments are so incredibly affirming — yes, this is what i am.

"That is the job of the Beloved." But it's not our job to find that silence. It's our job to be open to it, to put ourselves in a position to receive it, to be ready for the moment it descends.

"He breathes into my ear until my soul takes on His fragrance." Can you imagine a life of such profound peace and grace that your soul has taken on the fragrance of the Beloved? Can you imagine the intoxicating beauty of that fragrance? In your life?

"Enough with such questions! — Let silence take you to the core of life." Enough! Stop already! Take off your boots, stop walking, stop searching. Just.Sit.Down! Let the Beloved devour you. Let Him settle over you, erasing everything that you are not, everything you thought was important, everything you thought mattered. Let the core of your life expand. Expand. Expand. Until there is nothing but the silence.

"All your talk is worthless when compared to one whisper of the Beloved." Can you hear that whisper? No. But with effort, you can let Him hear the whisper through you..

Monday, November 18, 2013

Just Keep Walking, or, Sitting In Your Boots

These words say much more clearly some of the things i've been saying more clumsily lately...

Buddhism is not a philosophical teaching—it's a teaching of human activity. We usually look at the activity of Zen practice with our consciousness, but true Zen practice must be completely empty. You can practice zazen prior to the germination of your intellectual sense and handle yourself before you are distracted by thought. Then zazen really works, and you work within zazen because your life is blooming in the universe. When you practice this way, your practice is simultaneously touching the source of existence and blooming your flower right now, right here. That is why practice is not apart from enlightenment—practice is enlightenment itself.

It's not a matter of metaphysical or philosophical discussion—you must be there. But you should also try to understand it theoretically as well as you can. Even though it is difficult, even though it makes your head ache, continue to study the teaching of impermanence. Even though time is beyond ordinary human recognition, try to understand it, because your life already exists there. You're completely free, but you must figure out a way to live and achieve continuity of practice day to day. If you practice, sooner or later you can feel something. Finally you can touch something deep.

Each Moment Is The Universe
Dainin Katagiri

(One of the best books written on the subject of living Life.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Physics On The Henro Trail

I know that a great many people who walk the henro trail are not scientists, not even interested in science, let alone that seemingly difficult area called physics. So, before continuing, let me try and bring those who that applies to up to speed.

Einstein, got the equation right, but completely missed the mark on what it meant. I was shocked when i realized it. In his heyday, he correctly pointed out that:

E = MC2

Can't argue with that, it turns out to be true. And luckily for the physics community, they have been able to put it to good use even though they are using in in an odd way. It turns out that while Einstein's original intuition was correct, he got off-track somewhere between the first idea and the final equations. What i suspect the equation really means is:

E(nlightenment) = M(editation) x C(ompassion) x C(ourage)
E = MC2

When you take a well established meditation practice, combine it with a compassionate life, and multiply that with the courage required to persist in the face of countless odds and distractions, the end result will be enlightenment. Meditation alone can not do it, but it will bring wisdom and virtue to your life. Once wisdom and virtue are the focus of your life, compassion for the world can flow through your life. Living this life, though, is not easy, it's tempting to pick and choose who you want to be compassionate with, it's tempting to choose your friends over your enemies, those who do good over those who seem to do harm. Courage is the backbone that holds it all together.

OK, even though we could spend countless pages on the equation and it's implications, that's enough to get even the non-science inclined up to speed. The real question is what does that have to do with the henro trail.

It all begins with an idea of what you are looking for. Einstein was looking for the origins, the unifying background, of the relative world of form and matter. How do you see that which ties everything together. A henro, in my opinion, is one who is looking at the same question, but in a non-scientific way.

As a henro takes the first steps away from Ryōzenji, he/she is still very much firmly embedded in the world of name and form. The hope is that by the time he/she returns in a month and a half this name and form have taken a back seat to reality. They haven't disappeared, they are still important, but their actual worth, their true value has come to be understood.

As a henro takes these first steps, they must commit to courage. COURAGE. The walk may be difficult — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, some combination of any of those, or all of those. A walk of the trail can be like a walk in your local park, but a pilgrimage will not be. Before taking even those first few steps, commit to seeing these endeavors through, commit to doing your best each and every step of the walk. Not when you think of it, not when the weather is good, not when you are in a good mood, not from time-to-time; commit to staying focused during each and every step of the walk.

Make the walk a walking meditation, and offer compassion to everyone and everything that you encounter. It doesn't have to be verbal, it doesn't have to be overt. Not everyone is looking for it or wants it. But in your mind, compassion for all. Compassion for everything. Compassion and focused mindfulness. Continuously. Day in and day out. Step after step. On the trail. At a temple. In a restaurant. Sitting on the side of the road. At your lodging. In the rain. When it's hot and the trail is steep. When you're being squeezed against the side of the tunnel wall by truck traffic. Always.

With persistence and dedication, your name and form may begin to merge with all the "other" names and forms. With persistence and dedication the lines between you and other may begin to loose their sharp edges. With persistence and dedication the reality behind it all makes an appearance.

With persistence and dedication and with a continued focus on meditation and compassion, you may learn to easily slip back and forth between this reality and the apparent world of names and forms needed to make reservations, buy food, and chant the heart sutra at the temples.

With persistence and dedication, an ever continuing focus on meditation and compassion, and determined courage to continue, the amalgam of the reality you've seen and your individual world begin to operate on its own and you are able to sit back and let it live its life, live your life, live Life in your boots. You still walk, you still greet people, you still visit temples, you still chant the heart sutra, you still enjoy the scenery and a cold beer at dinner, you still look like the person that set out from Ryōzenji, but that personality has been sloughed off and replaced by that of a henro.

E = MC2

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sitting On The Path

A common image used for the spiritual path seems to be those old Japanese and Chinese black-and-white scrolls showing a person sitting in a hut or temple on the side of a mountain, beside a fast-flowing stream, and below cloud encased mountain peaks. While i agree that the paintings are beautiful, even admitting to the one hanging on my living room wall, i wonder if this is really a great symbol.

So lets look at the different pieces of the image, as i see them. Being in the mountains seems to show that the traveler has make the hard decision to leave home and begin the climb. It shows that the traveler, the henro, if you will, has consciously accepted that the path is going to entail some amount of work, some amount of discomfort; that the goal can't be found at home, amongst all the distractions of a normal everyday life.

The hut were the person is sitting is usually very simple in nature, in part because everything was simple back in the era that these scroll paintings became popular. But above that, it seems to indicate that the closer you get to nature, the closer you get to "Life" in its barest and simplest form, the closer you are to the goal.

Next to the hut there is always a stream or river, which, to me, symbolizes the flow of life. Coming from the peaks above, where all trails converge into one, it flows down, picking up speed as it flows out of the canyons and valleys that must be scaled to reach the peak, and finally, with great noise and show, onto the flat plains where the towns and cities are found, where life is turbulent, raucous at times.

Finally, there are the cloud encased peaks. Obscured in clouds, the peaks are hidden from all those except the few who feel compelled to find them, hidden from all except the few who believe the stories of what can be found when the effort is made to find them.

But, as alluring as that image is, here's my problem with it. In all these pictures, the person in the hut is always sitting there, staring up at the peaks, as if lost in thought, as if contemplating what will be found 'up there.'

This is much too static a picture of the spiritual path, the henro trail. There is no indication of progress, no indication of the person making any attempt to move towards the peaks. There is only the sense that the first steps have been taken, but once a little progress had been made, once the first layer of the old materialistic life had been shed, our henro had settled in and said "Enough is enough. Life is good here. I'm leading a spiritual life. Continuing to the peak would be much too hard, maybe not even possible, i certainly don't see others climbing past the hut each day. I think i'm going to live here for a while."

But that's not the goal of the path. Just leading a spiritual life isn't, or shouldn't be (IMO), the only goal once you have committed to following it. Why stop there? Why settle for the mountainside when you have the peak? Why settle for the Shōbōgenzō when you can have 'practice and enlightenment are one?' Why settle for the monk's life when you can be a Buddha?

The symbol of the trail can't be someone sitting in his hut, no matter how beautiful the landscape might be. The symbol has to be the climb. The trail may be steep, it may be strewn with rocks and pebbles, the clouds may block all view of your goal, but the peak can only be reached if you keep walking, keep climbing.

Discouragement is certain to jump out from behind a rock and startle you from time to time. Boredom will raise its head when day after day you can't see ahead and have no way to judge your progress. Pain and discomfort may shadow you from time to time. Doubt as to your ability to succeed will surely stare you in the face on a regular basis if you aren't careful and alert.

But, even with all that, in spite of all that, when you commit to keep moving, to continually putting one foot in front of the other, constantly, persistently, not having a clue how far you have gone or how much farther you have to go, but with heart felt belief in your teacher's assurance that you are getting closer with each step,... when you make that commitment, when you live that commitment, you will arrive at the peak. Some day. Some life. It is inevitable.

But, you can't find a nice hut and stop just because they offer warm tea, sweets, and a beautiful place to bed down.

The symbol of the trail, the path, has to be dynamic, it can't be static.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Autumn's Leaves

I'm sitting in the living room trying to read but the beautiful maple tree in my neighbor's front yard fills the window by my chair and has been keeping me distracted. Weeks ago it started the shift from green to brilliant reds and oranges, followed over the past week and a half by a slow, subtle shift to light oranges as it worked its way to the intoxicating yellow that it is today.

But what keeps me engrossed is watching it shed its leaves. Yesterday, in a day of rain and wind, the leaves flew off constantly, in every direction, as if the tree was on a mission to shed every vestige of covering. Today, a cold, but quiet and sunny autumn day, the leaves come off at random. Now one here, then one there, then nothing at all, then another one, unexpectedly, on the back side. It's beautiful to watch.

The process so much makes me think of the spiritual path. By the time we ever find the path we have full lives; filled with friends, family, careers, possessions, hobbies, interests, passions, and everything else we use to define who we are. Not only do all of these seem normal, they are normal to an extent, but we convince ourselves that the tree of our life is beautiful because of all of these things. Without the leaves of all we take for granted, we have been trained to think that the tree of our lives is bare.

But once we find the path, and make some progress along its length, we see that as more and more of the leaves fall, we get a clearer view of where we are headed, a clearer and clearer view of our destination.

But people don't see this at the start. They shout, i don't want to give up the brilliant reds of my passions. I don't want to surrender the bright yellows of this interest or that, the calming greens of a good book or beautiful music. I don't see any harm in holding on to the things of my life, it's what makes my tree full, beautiful, a thing to admire.

Then, with a little more time spent on the path, how many miles and kilometers depends on each person, we come to see that by shedding the leaves, the tree isn't dying it's just getting ready for winter. And what is winter? It is nothing more than that period where the tree gets itself ready for the upcoming spring.

Enduring the winter can be hard if all you focus on is the cold and snow. But if you understand that the tree is doing internal work that can't be seen from the outside, that the tree is preparing itself for new growth once spring comes, then winter is a time of great anticipation.

As you walk along your path today, look at some of your leaves, wonder why you are so averse to letting them drop. Is there a mistaken belief that without all of these leaves life will be bare and dead? Is there a fear of what will come during the unknown winter season?

Instead, look past winter. Look through the veil and try and focus on the dim images of what spring will bring. Your tree will blossom again, your tree will fill someone's window. Your tree will captivate you once again, but with different, even more beautiful leaves.

Every teacher who has seen next spring's tree tells us the view is worth many a winter's wait. Be patient, spring will arrive. And you can't even imagine how beautiful your life will be.

Our job is simply to keep walking, facing the goal, no matter the season. Spring will come if you just.keep.walking.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kukai's Cave

It bears remembering these thoughts from Thomas Byron's translation of the Dhammapada, at least once a day:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.

"Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

"Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. Applicable everywhere, to everyone, no exceptions. In all situations, no exceptions. At all times, no exceptions. This is the law. Ancient. Inexhaustible.

But my mind runs like the wind. I can't control that anymore than i can control a wild horse. It's impossible, you say. The Dhammapada continues, in another chapter:

As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,
How elusive!
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.

In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

Do we need to run off and join a monastery or an ashram to do this? That's impossible; i have a life, a family, bills, kids to put through college, a house to pay off, the weekend softball team that needs me at shortstop,..., you say.

The answer is above. Did you see it? "Seated in the cave of the heart, he finds freedom." No running away. No leaving the world behind, well not the real world anyhow, although the fictitious world you have come to believe in will suffer some damage. All you have to do is find your zafu and a warm corner in the cave of your heart. And the promise is, when you find that place, and spend serious time there, the thoughts will come under control and you will find happiness. You will find freedom.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It Is In Giving That We Receive

I know i use the word "wonderful" a lot for some of the words i read and post here. I do try and control myself, but sometimes that is simply the best word to describe them. As is the case here (sorry), in this section of Eknath Easwaran's commentary on the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, in volume 3 of his book The Bhagavad Gita For Daily Living.


"[M]ost people have never had the experience of giving simply and purely, for no other reason than love. They have been conditioned to evaluate even an act of charity in terms of the admiration or status it brings; they have not had the opportunity of working with others for a great cause without expecting even a thank you. How could they know that this selfless giving of resources, time, or talents can release us from tension and competition?

"I began to learn this lesson when I was a freshman in college. In those days I wanted to be a writer, so naturally I wanted to see more of life. That summer I persuaded my Grandmother to let me spend my vacation traveling among some of the villages in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.

"Soon I came across a village very different from the one where I grew up. Our village was prosperous and literate, but this Tamil village was so poor that it didn't have a school, and most of these villagers did not know how to read or write. They were simple, hard-working farmers; that was all.

"But they had a strong desire to learn. They asked me to stay and be their teacher, not only of the children but of the adults too. What would i charge? They had never had a teacher in the village before, they explained, and they had no money with which to pay. But they could provide me with food, each family taking turns, and I could stay with one of the better-off households as if I were their own son. All this moved me deeply. I was a freshman, after all; most of these villagers were old enough to be my parents. And I had only three months of vacation. How much can you teach in three months to people who had scarcely had a day's schooling in their lives, who knew nothing but crops and soils?

" 'What do you want to learn?' I asked.

" 'We'd like to know arithmetic,' they said, 'for buying and selling. We'd like to learn how to read, so we could read the stories in the scriptures. And we'd like to know how to write, so we could write letters to our relatives and friends.'

" 'That's a lot,' I said.

"They smiled. 'We have all summer. Of course, we can't come during the day' we have to work in the fields. But we can come at night.'

"That kind of desire really impressed me. 'Do you have a building where we could meet?'

" 'No,' someone said. 'But we can make one.'

"In my mind the three months began to shrink into two. 'How long would that take?' I asked.

"They grinned enthusiastically. 'We can do it tonight.'

"I couldn't believe my ears.

" 'Sure,' they said. 'It's a full moon. We'll start after dinner. You have your meal and then come and select the site; we'll do the rest.'

"That was my first glimpse of the real strength of India's villagers, the millions of peasants who hold the country together. I selected a pleasant site on a gentle hill, from which you could see the river running close by. And after dinner, probably about eight o'clock in the evening, a man turned up from every hut in the village. These were men who had been up before dawn, worked hard in the hot fields with just a couple of hours rest when the sun was at its zenith. I was so profoundly impressed that I insisted on working alongside them, though I probably only slowed them down; they had to teach me everything. But by the time the sun came up the next morning, we had a one-room school—mud walls, thatched roof, sand from the riverbank for a floor, even a slate to write on and a piece of railing for a bell. As far as we were concerned, it was perfect.

"I taught throughout that summer, and though attendance was a little irregular, by and large someone from every household was there faithfully every evening at eight when class began. None of us had a watch so we used to end the lesson when we heard the whistle and clatter of the Blue Mountain Express chugging its way up the hills, Sometimes I would get so absorbed that when I heard a train and stopped, they would laugh and say, 'The Blue Mountain Express went by an hour ago. That's the Malabar Express; it must be eleven o'clock.' By the end of the summer we didn't go home till we heard the Cochin Express go by at midnight.

"By that time they could read, write, and reckon, which must have felt like the greatest achievement of their lives. Yet I felt I had learned much more. I never received a penny for my work, though in their simple affection my students used to bring me all kinds of things they had grown or made: mangoes, coconuts, bananas, grass mats, a pair of handmade sandals. But I received much more than I gave. From those simple villagers, who had just the bare minimum of material possessions, I learned to understand the words of St. Francis: 'It is in giving that we receive.' "


That's a wonderful story. Powerful. And you can look at it from two sides as you wonder how it applies to your life.

Are you willing to drop everything, completely change your plans, and give your life to others if asked? What would it take to make you consider doing so?

From the other side of the aisle, how much are you willing to give, to do, to learn something you know would benefit your life and the lives of those around you? We say we are on the spiritual path because we want to 'learn' Truth. Would you go to the extreme of the villagers in this story to accomplish that?

Very nice words.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I have been thinking about what books i want to read next year and already have a list that may be too long. But, i still have two months to whittle that list down to something doable. One of my plans though is to read/re-read one book a month on the Heart Sutra. I want to re-write what i have written on the Shikoku Henro website about it. I'll save what is there now, but something is missing; i just don't know what at the moment — so, i'll read one book a month to help me figure out what it is.

In any case, these nice words come from Jaganath Carrera's book, Inside The Yoga Sutras, in his commentary on sutra 2.30:

"What attitudes precede the actions of the enlightened? Ones that are born of selfless motivations, wisdom, and love, that seek the welfare of everyone involved. These same attitudes—listed here as the yamas—are virtues that strengthen and purify the mind.

"The principles of yama might not satisfy someone fond of a dos and don'ts list. They are more properly understood as preparations for actions—attitudes that bring clarity, focus, and objectivity to bear on all situations.

"If we allow these principles to guide, cajole, and correct us, we will gradually know them well enough to call them friends. We will be privy to their nature, intent, power, and significance—their spirit. The yamas can be truly understood only when we perceive the spirit behind the 'letter of the law.' "

Think about it. Meditate on it. Enjoy it. Make the yamas your friends; most of them anyhow.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tear Down Your Walls

The Image
The child brought blue clay from the creek
and the woman made two figures: a lady and a deer.

At that season deer came down from the mountain
and fed quietly in the redwood canyons.

The woman and the child regarded the figure of the lady,
the crude roundness, the grace, the coloring like shadow.
They were not sure where she came from,
except the child's fetching and the woman's hands
and the lead-blue clay of the creek

where the deer sometimes showed themselves at sundown.

Robert Hass

We all live in canyons; canyons of our own making. Life flows through us unceasingly, like a stream, sometimes in deep channels giving rise to calm and silence. At other times over, around, and through obstacles, with great noise and with everything around getting sprayed as a result.

And like the clay in Robert Hass' creek, the material of our lives form the world, the canyons, we live in; the canyons that box us in. We use the clay of our lives to build ourselves and others, to build ideas of who we are, of who we should be, of who others should be. We build the people and things of our lives and all the rules that everything is supposed to operate by.

Temporarily forgetting the creek, the life flow that allows us to be, we build canyon walls that box us in: i'm a teacher, a parent, a boss, a peon, an American, a European, an athlete, a gamer. I'm smart, stupid, extroverted, introverted, successful, unsuccessful, a hero, a victim. That person is a this, or a that. Another person is a that or a this. My job, my car, my house, my personal relationships, my this, that, or the other thing, is good, bad, mediocre, what i want, what i don't want, fulfilling, unfulfilling, whatever, you name it. The canyon walls can be very, very high forcing us to live in the shadows — unnoticed to all but a few.

Most of the time, for most people, we never bother to notice that we are the one in charge of our lives, the architect who designs every aspect, every single detail, the manager who supervises the actual construction, and the worker who actually puts it all together. Most of the time, for most people, we live blindly.

But one day, if you are lucky, the child in you, the curious side, the less judgmental side, the side willing to try and accept almost anything, wakes up and helps you to see yourself as you are in the process of creating something new in your life. Helps you to see that the creation process takes place in your very own hands.

Even though you bring your adult biases, judgements, beliefs, ideologies, and all those other bits and pieces of the canyon walls to the table with you, with effort you can see the process through the eyes of the child. And when you do, you see that it is not at all certain where this new construct has come from. Yes, the child's inquisitiveness led you to pick up the clay in the first place, and yes, you can see that the result came from your hands, but where did the specific characteristics of your construct come from? Where was it decided that this new thing in your life would be round and graceful, or square and nasty, or agreeable and supportive, a friend, an enemy, enjoyable or painful, liked or disliked, or some combination of all the above. Why, you must wonder, do you create your life as you do.

Can you stop what you are doing for a short while and see this subconscious process of construction? Can you see the walls you have allowed yourself to blindly build? But even more important, can you see how detrimental this blind construction project has been to your life?

Without these canyon walls, infinity awaits. Peace and love await. Look at the person closest to you and try and see that the wall between you is immense. Or, to be a little more accurate, see that the wall doesn't separate you and that other person, it separates you from yourself. Can you see the harmony and unity that exists beyond your canyon walls?

The next time you are sitting quietly and you notice that child in you, don't build anything that will add to your canyon walls, ask it to bring you some of the mud from the already existing walls, throw it into your creek, and let it dissolve into the flow of your life. Begin the process of tearing your walls down instead of adding to them.