Sunday, December 31, 2017

Celebrating Nothing

Sorry, but I digress....

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a neighbor who was driving by while i was out shoveling snow. She stopped to say hello, and to tell me that she had decided she wanted to know more about Buddhism so she asked the swami at the Vedanta temple she goes to if he could recommend a book. He did, and it turns out to be a book written by another swami.

I don't remember what she said, but at some point i ended up saying something like "Well, that's all pretty much true, as long as you remember that Buddhists don't believe in a creator God or that we have a soul."

"That's not what i'm reading," she said after a longish pause.

"Maybe, but it's a fact of Buddhism. Pretty much every sect would agree with those two points," i replied.

Another longish pause......... and then........"That's not what i'm reading."

At which point all i could say was "Maybe that's because your book was written by a swami and not by a Buddhist?"

"So that's his interpretation?"

"That's what i would guess."

I then told her I could loan her a book of the basics to give here the background she was looking for from the perspective of a Buddhist and not a Vedantan. My plan was to give her a copy of Walpola Rahula's "What The Buddha Taught" and Steve Hagen's "Buddhism: Plain and Simple." The latter because it reads like a book and not an encyclopedia, and because Rahula's is written from the Theravadin perspective while Hagen's from the Zen perspective. She agreed and suggested that we exchange books so i could read hers as well. Haven't heard from her since, but it's only been a couple of weeks.

So back to where i started....

As i sit here, half of the world is already celebrating the start of the new year, the brand new, spanking clean, 2018. The other half of us still many hours to wait before it arrives. While i understand the desire to celebrate, and the incurable urge to look at January 1 as a real beginning to another, different real year, it always puzzles me why more people don't openly acknowledge that the day really has no significant meaning. The calendar is a fabrication of the human mind. Time is a fabrication of the human mind. In reality, literally and figuratively, there is no difference between January 1 and December 31. So why do we place so much importance on that one day? If you have a resolution to make, a pledge to improve some aspect of your life, or the lives of others, why wait until January 1 to make it?

Stopping for a minute and relaxing your gazes so that the concept of minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years fade into background, you might be able to see reality just as it is. Maybe all you can see is just as it is 'out there,' with you noticing it. Maybe you can see it as just as it is, with that just as it is including you, and who you think you are, as well. Maybe you can really let go and there is nothing except just as it is.

Searching for this place of no time is sort of like what astronauts say they experience when first seeing the earth from outer space. Seeing the earth with no countries anywhere in sight. With no religions, political systems, or other fixed beliefs anywhere to be found. Seeing only a little blue ball which supports all life, with no exceptions, equally. All the differences we live in, that divide us, that drive the hatred and jealousies, that drive away everything that is true about who we are...are not visible (no, do not exist) when viewed from outside the system.

I'm not saying to skip the New Year's celebrations. I'm only suggesting that you spend a little of your time as you wait for the new year to appear in contemplation on what this "just as it is" really is. Spend a few minutes looking through your inventory of beliefs, assumptions, preferences, likes and dislikes, and dogmas. See them for what they are not. Take a few minutes to relax your gaze so that just as it is sees just what is through your eyes. Then say thank you and head to the party.

At the very least
Searching for more is futile
It can be found there

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Tred On Me

There are two books I have that are almost like Daily Devotionals, where there is one daily reading offered each morning for you to think about throughout the day. Besides the "thought of the day" aspect, I admit that the challenge of not reading ahead has always intrigued me. Why, even after years of doing this, am I so compelled to try and binge read the whole book? But, as hard as it is some mornings, I always force myself to put the book down after that day's reading, knowing that even this little exercise in self-control benefits me in many other areas of my life.

One of the two books is one I just bought this year: Coleman Barks' A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings. If you don't have it, i highly recommend it. But, don't hold me responsible if you get addicted to his interpretations of Rumi's words! If you ever wondered about how to define "beauty," his translations come about as close as you can get. Or is it just Rumi's words.....?

Today's reading was so simple, yet so direct. In a way, it reminded me of what could be the most famous haiku of all times — Matsuo Basho's Old Pond:

An old pond
A frog jumps in

Simple. Direct. No analysis needed to understand; a visceral understanding instantly appears as you read the words. Barks provides the same with this poem of Rumi's:

As you start to walk out on the way,
the way appears.

As you cease to be,
true life begins.

As you grow smaller,
this world cannot contain you.

You will be shown a being
that has no you in it.

For a great many people called to a Path, there is no clear and obvious understanding of why they are being called, what they are being called to, and why to one particular path. But, as Rumi tells us, for those courageous enough to follow their call, once you take those first anxious steps, the Way begins to make its appearance. As the anxiety begins to settle, as an enveloping sense of comfort settles in, the "what's" and "why's" naturally start to become obvious. You no longer wonder if this is a path you should follow, you begin to wonder what took so long to find the trailhead.

But, you can walk the path for a hundred years and still never understand it if you don't come to see the truth of what Rumi is saying. It's only as "you" start to fade away that Life truly begins to blossom. That "you" is the small egoic self that has ruled your life since shortly after birth. There is a direct correlation in these two things: As "you" diminish in size, "Life" grows larger and larger. It's easy to say, but to understand it, you have to see it directly. I can tell you what a splash of water sounds like, but to truly understand all you need to do is watch the frog jump in.

Does this mean that i become a zombie, brain dead to the world, and unable to function in normal society? Absolutely not; just the opposite. As Rumi says, the smaller "you" become, the larger you become — reaching even to the point that the world can not contain your greatness. The non-egoic you still functions, still shares coffee and lunch with friends, still celebrates birthdays, still has kids and raises families, but the being that lives this life is immensely more loving, more caring, more compassionate, more giving, more understanding, and more alive than that old troublesome egoic "you" ever was.

One warning, though. There is no end to this path if you chose to accept the calling. It turns out to be not so much a path as a jump off a cliff...into complete freedom.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

Have noticed this increasing urge to start writing again over the past month. Not at all sure why, or what wants to come out, but will at least try and satisfy tonight's urge by wishing everyone the merriest of Christmas' and the very happiest of holidays.

As I sit here listening to an internet radio station from Odawara, Japan I noticed how much I enjoy looking at the reflection of my Christmas tree in the door going into the dining room. I was brought up with the Christmas tradition, full of trees, presents, family, fun, camaraderie, and all the love that seems to flow like melted butter around the 25th of this month. It's a tradition that I will never outgrow — even though I call myself a Buddhist.

Then, as I sat there admiring the tree's reflection, I turned my head a little and, without thinking about it, looked at the tree itself. Also without thinking about it, I was immediately struck at the unbelievable difference between the reflection of the tree and the tree itself. Not because this was so amazing, but because with a jolt I was reminded at how much and how often we all look at a reflection of our lives instead of the real thing itself. How often and how much we spend our time focusing on what we think we are and what it means to be alive instead of what we really are and what being alive really is.

So much of our time is wasted living in shells. We live lives trapped inside this brain we were born with, seeing all of who we are as nothing more that what we allow our egos to define for us. Seeing who we are as no more than our reputations, our jobs, our spiritual, political, and moral beliefs, the combined consensus of our 10 closest friends. So much of our time is wasted believing that we are no more than the physical body we currently inhabit, and the abilities that this limits us to.

We could spend the rest of our lives asking why we live in this shell, where the shell came from, and why humans are so susceptible to allowing themselves to be trapped inside, but that would be a gross waste of time. Instead, why not just turn your head from the reflection and start to focus on the real thing? Why not shift your focus and look for those moments when Reality suddenly, and surprisingly, makes its appearance?

I think it was Proust who said something like, "The real journey of discovery comes not from seeking new places, but from looking with new eyes." That's what i'm talking about. As we work our way through the holiday season and towards a new year, i'm wishing for everyone to realize that life would be different if we learned to "look with new eyes." Technically that isn't true; life wouldn't be different, life is life. But your experience of what life is would change dramatically. It wouldn't be like looking at a new appearance of your normal life, it would be finding yourself in a completely new life.

As I write that i'm reminded of what Ram Das said once so I stopped and looked it up. "The spiritual journey is a journey leaving behind every model we've had of who we are. It's a journey that involves the transformation of our beings such that our thinking mind becomes our servant rather than our master." Did you get that? It's a journey that means leaving behind EVERY model we have ever had of who we are. EVERY MODEL.

There is no room in reality for our petty ideas that we are this or that, that or this, one thing or another, right or wrong, good or bad, spiritual or secular, believers or unbelievers. There is no room in reality for enlightenment or stupidity, nirvana or samsara, perfection or lack. There is no room in reality for anything. There is no room in reality for nothing. Reality isn't is. Reality isn't isn't.

And as paradoxical as it seems, that is what allows us to be anything that we want to be, everything we can be. It is what gives you the ability to be the person you think you should be as you work your way from birth to death trying to figure out the best possible way to live your life. Lao Bendan may live on the Reality side of that non-existent line, but Dave has both feet and a butt firmly planted on the non-reality side. Who Dave is may come from the Reality side of the equation, but how he lives his life is firmly grounded in the non-reality side. All I can hope he does is to stop every once in a while and turn his head to look at the actual tree instead of just the reflection.

And my wish for the new year is that all of you will join him. Make it a New Year's resolution to live a more mindful life, a more awakened life; aware of the infinity that you are and all the possibilities this brings to you. Aware of the unbelievable immensity that you are and all the peace and love this allows you to share.

So, along with wishes for happy holidays, I wish everyone the courage to start the new year by looking inside, looking through that silence between any two thoughts and seeing who we really are. And when you see me, I promise that i'll see you and smile.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi Has Prostate Problems?

I won't say that it was a waste of $7.50, but my ticket today to see The Last Jedi is probably the last one I will by for any Star Wars films. This was the end for me.

It was a sad sight. A full grown adult film, once proud, strong, full of the standing there trying it's best to work up a full stream-but never able to produce any more than dribble, dribble, dribble. Once dominating, once awe-inspiring, once something to look up to, now past it's prime and in need of medical attention.

I know it is unfair to criticize those whose health has fallen even though they have lived a long healthy life, but apparently, for Star Wars, it's been too long. Life does have it's limits. It's past its prime and showing its age — to the point of looking completely worn out. Enfeebled.

The movie was terrible. The dialogue was bad, parts of various scenes were childish, apparently aimed at the Jr. High Schoolers they hope to draw in for future episodes. The acting was dead, maybe just lifeless, and completely unanimated. There wasn't one fight scene that was believable or compelling. My neighbor, with his foam light saber, puts on a fight much more entertaining than anything I saw onscreen today.

If there is a Force, I hope it's in the little kid at the end of the movie. Rei certainly doesn't have it. Nor does anyone else in the movie. Yes, Rei can move boulders, but I hope she has a day job outside of the construction industry.

Save your $7.50 and go rent a real Star Wars film. One from long, long ago.