Friday, September 29, 2017

Pro Life Choice

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

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

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

He goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Desires and Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

No Clouds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the same verses from Thomas Byrom's translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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