Tag Archives: zen

december buddhist carnival – the not so fluffy edition

hello there. been looking forward to this edition of the buddhist carnival for quite a while because the last one was a bit on the stunted side, what with being busy with NaNoWriMo. so this month’s edition has a bit more meat on it; in fact, your teeth will get quite a nice workout. i’m calling this one the not-so-fluffy-edition for reasons that will become easily evident.

the poem!
we always start this with a poem. first zafu frog. thank you for contributing the poem this month, pithy and true:

there is a rule that man’s a fool,
he wants it hot when it’s cool.
he wants it cool when it’s hot.
always wanting what it’s not.

“i don’t know”
zen moments talks about not knowing. having been confronted, uncomfortably, with the question of “and what do you do?”, he finally found an answer:

it came to me in the shower, while absent-mindedly washing my hair, when i wasn’t trying to solve anything.

in anyone’s life, there are going to be times when everything seems to be going well, and when you have a sense of purpose, when you are clear about where you’re going in life.

but in the same life, there are also bound to be times when it’s not clear, times when you do not know. for some people these might be brief interludes. for others they might last longer, until things change.

but it’s impossible to have that kind of uninterrupted certainty for a whole lifetime.

so in anyone’s life, there are going to be times of not-knowing. and that has to be ok.

this reminds me once again of the best thing i took from seeing the dalai lama this year: his utter confidence in shrugging his shoulders, grinning, and saying, “i don’t know.”

ignoring vs. responding
at sword mountain, a blog that talks about zen and aikido, a question from a student regarding irritating questions.

the answer is non-trivial. to investigate this, you should consider this question from two points of view, your own and the questioner’s.

– from your own, ask: if i ignore a thought, where does it go?
– from another’s, ask: is ignoring a question not itself an answer?

once an something becomes part of your consciousness, you have no choice but to respond. so, how does one properly respond? zen looks for precisely the same thing that aikido does:

a clear, spontaneous, and appropriate response to your circumstances that restores harmony.

fake buddha quotes
bodhipaksa here does a noble deed – he throws light on a fake buddha quote:

“when words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

like many fake buddha quotes, this one has a nice sentiment. the buddha often talked about the virtue of words being true and kind, but the language of “changing the world” is not something the buddha is recorded as using.

this deserves some thinking. the buddha talks about change as a condition, not as something that we engineer. at the non-phenomenal core rests changelessness; realizing that is what buddhists hope for, not changing the world. in the process of that realization, we notice that phenomena (words, weather, people, etc.) change. the bodhisattva – the person who has realized or fully comprehended changelessness – remains in the world of phenomena and works to do the right thing but she or he is not specifically intent on “changing the world”. one moment at a time, she or he feeds a homeless man, waters a sapling, pets a cat. she just does it. a changed (different?  better? more realized?) world is a side effect.

the connection with the title of my blog does not escape me, especially since i just wrote about it in my previous post.  definitely something to think about.  thanks for the inspiration, bodhipaksa!

fake buddha teachers
over in finland, at the possible way we have another blogger talking abot fake.  a bit of a rant, aptly titled  true zen (TM) – order your DVD right away!

sometimes some are thinking that buddhist practitioner should keep his/her mouth shut and close his/her eyes when others are doing terrible things against buddhism and other people. man, that is so lame… being a buddhist doesn’t mean that you have to close your eyes and cry in the corner

buddhism and the vikings
let’s stay in northern europe for a moment longer. zen dirt zen dust has a guest blogger who talks about the parallels between buddhism and asatru, a (revived) old norse religion

i am an asatruar. asatru, literally translates from old norse as “true to the gods”, is the modern revival of the old norse spiritual belief system.

i share with buddhists the notion that my actions have an immediate and lasting effect on myself, and by extension this world, and positive actions create a positive world. even though, to me, these actions may have implications in the next world, my primary concern is that beneficial actions benefit those close to me now, and detrimental actions are harmful to this world and to those i hold dear. much like buddhist philosophy, as i understand it, i am emphatically concerned with my impact on the world as it is now, and i strive to perform just and honorable actions for the sake of the world around me

no earth-shattering insights, just hard work and no expectations
the good people at the tricycle blog discuss the memoirs of former tibetan buddhist monk stephen schettini novice: why i became a buddhist monk, why i quit and what i learned. schettini is now the director of thequietmind.org and says

i don’t promise perfect peace, earth-shattering insight or transcendental breakthroughs. on the contrary, i ask my students to work hard, and especially to beware their own expectations. we’re all twenty-first century grownups and as much as we want to believe in easy solutions and magical formulas we know perfectly well that a down-to-earth approach will pay off more than all the mantras, visualizations and promises of enlightenment on the world wide web.

gentle, peaceful buddhists – an illusion?
the following is anything but a heartwarming story: it’s about a mob of buddhists attacking a christian church in sri lanka. at the american buddhist, there is an insightful comment on it. the writer was working at a military hospital in sri lanka and met a young soldier who wanted to become a suicide bomber and kill tamils.

this soldier was ordained as a monk when he was five years old and spent his time until the age of 18 in various temples in kandy, ampitiya and colombo. he told me that since he entered the robes most of the nights he was sexually molested by older monks. some nights he was raped by five or six monks. he disrobed and joined the military as an escape route. the traumatized soldier focused his anger not towards his abusers but towards the tamils. after hearing this firsthand account whenever i see monks go in to violent protests i suspect the elements of sexual trauma.

while this is sad and alarming, it serves as a reminder that just calling yourself buddhist doesn’t do a thing. buddhist, hindu, baptist, atheist – we’re all capable of committing atrocities. “we” – that includes me. if i don’t keep my awareness sharpened and my heart soft, i, too, can fall into the trap of violence – subtle or otherwise.

losing more illusions
how does one reinvigorate one’s practice after losing the illusions that brought one to practice in the first place? hard core zen has something to say about that. it’s a different kind of illusion than the one alluded to above – it’s the one that many of us first had when we started tinkering with meditation and buddhism. the neat (and sometimes infuriating) thing about buddhism is that it helps lose all illusions – the ones we don’t like but also the ones that decorate our lives with cute stickers and fluffy rainbows.

working with people who are homeless
another story about someone who decided to stare reality straight in the eye, about a lot of things. this woman’s experience with buddhist communities have been mixed.

she would have continued living at the zen center, but she began to run into problems there.

when the zen center asked her to train a group of beginning monks to assist with the homeless meditation program, drakka pushed back. “how do you train people to be alright with homelessness?” she refused.

fortunately, that didn’t deter her. this is a great article on how jana drakka keeps working with people who are homeless, regardless of the obstacles.

15 women bloggers
finally, here’s a list of 15 great women buddhist bloggers.

that’s it for this month. hope you found a little tidbit that can accompany you on your path. good day buddha, good day dharma, good day sangha.

image by @No4

november 2009 buddhist carnival

middle of the month: it’s buddhist carnival time! being all busy with NaNoWriMo, this is a quickie version – a little taste from the blogosphere, a buddhist smorgasbrod:

a zen tale from secret forest

the disciple threw stones in the water all day long. the next day, the master told him:
“do throw a stone in the water.
“why, that’s absurd! i won’t do that.
the air stood still like the surface of the lake.
“what have you learned today? ” asked the master.
“that i don’t have to do everything you tell me to do.
the neutral light unveiled a matte reflection of the leafs of the medlar tree.
“it’s a lot more than you learned yesterday.

***

we all tried so hard. and it didn’t seem we wound up any more loving or enlightened, just uptight. i remember how we disapproved of those who’d given up their vows, stopped being monks. “he disrobed!” people would say in a voice hushed and aghast, as if the guy had been waggling his private parts in a schoolyard.

that’s part of a very interesting entry by guttersnipe das about wrestling with spirituality.

***

dharmafied offers a video of the compassion mudra.

***

learning from a cat: from on the training floor

***

idra’s net = internet? need i say more?

***

zen and the art of playing pool from my twitter friend, barking unicorn

***

what happens when you get impacted by no impact man:

do you know this expression, “i’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs?” it’s a british expression. you know like when you don’t have any teeth and you’re like that (mimics gumming food) it’s like sucking eggs. so if you teach your grandmother to suck eggs, you’re teaching your grandmother to do something she already knows how to do? so when i say this to you, you already know this…

there’s no antagonism between living happily and living environmentally.

***

and finally, a bit of blasphemy from mind on fire.

image by heiwa

buddhist carnival – september 2009 edition

welcome to the september edition of the buddhist carnival, where we showcase treasures from the buddhasphere. today we have compassion and helping hands, cockcroaches, sleep, returning to the centre and a bunch of (no)selves. as always, let’s start off with a poem:

we dance around in a ring and suppose;
but the secret sits in the middle, and knows.
– robert frost

thank you, zenbananas, for giving this to the buddhasphere.

compassion – even when it is difficult

this blogger extends compassion to the person who ended the life of george tiller, who died earlier this year because of his commitment to helping women who need abortions

in mahayana buddhism, the bodhisattva kshitigarbha, best known by his japanese name of jizo, is the helper of beings who suffer in the hell realms and of children who die before their parents, including those who are stillborn, miscarried, or aborted. for the past day i have been thinking that jizo will protect dr. tiller, who did his best for the unborn whom jizo helps to good rebirths. as i was reading about him this morning, i realized that jizo will help the doctor’s murderer, too, if he wants to get out of the hell he’s in.

for the rest of the entry, read here.

and the new heretic makes friends with cockroaches

instead of swatting at and smashing and scurrying about the roaches so i could paint, i simply talked to them (yes i talked to them) or at other times just waited and thought kind words towards them, and asked them to move so i could paint… and they moved out of the way.

buddha’s judas

saradode shares an interesting dream; she reflects it was about betrayal, and makes a connection between the biblical judas and bddha’s brother-in-law, devadatta

as for devadatta, the scriptures…assign him a role that is similar to judas in the gospel story.

i understood right away that this was what my dream had been about. i kept reading, and came to the story. devadatta had become (or had always been) egotistical and ambitious, and wanted to take control of the sangha from buddha. he plotted to kill him, but that didn’t work.

the book described how devadatta then “decamped” with 500 or so of buddha’s monks, whom he had convinced that buddha had become “given over to luxury and self-indulgence.” as i read that part, my lip began to twitch quite violently (one of his ways of getting my attention), and i saw, again, “last supper.”

devadatta’s plan, however, failed, and the monks returned to buddha. the next thing i read stunned me:

some texts tell us that devadatta committed suicide; others that he died before he was able to be reconciled with the buddha.

this dream really intrigued me. my first thought was, how do we betray ourselves in life-denying ways?

return to centre

a beautiful image and a few quick thoughts on this topic:

“things get crazy and we forget to work from our center.”

so, i began to think, “how can i start to do that again?”

well, tonight, grace summed it up at the beginning of our meditation practice at blue heron sangha.

“tonight we begin as we hear the sound of the bell, returning to our center.”

somehow the realization came that we begin to work from our center again by returning to our center. and, how do we do that?

start with something simple. pay attention to something. anything. breath is always good.

sleeping and samsara

liza solomonova, a graduate psychology student from montreal, blogs about sleep, dreams, and states of consciousness. in this post she reports on allan wallace’s shamatha project

the goal of such practice is to experience the subtle level of consciousness, a ‘substrate consciousness’ from all mental stuff originates and into which it essentially returns. every one of us experiences this ‘substrate consciousness’ when in deep sleep, in dreamless state, there is no identity, no imagery, virtually nothing, as if our ‘self’ is dissolved into something more basic. similarly at the moment of death, according to buddhist thought, we experience this subtle essential state of consciousness. in a metaphorical way, we die every time we enter deep sleep. and then… from that subtle consciousness, from that non-discursive state – dream arises! a whole world, a whole new and compelling identity (it is new if you are not lucid dreaming, of course) is ‘born’, and with it a whole range of emotions, feelings, sensations and so on. as the first rem cycle is over, we ‘die’ again, return to the deep sleep. and then another dream arises, and with it a whole new world, which probably has nothing to do with the previous dream world, and is only marginally related to the world of our waking life. and then we die again…

the self – what self?

in a fabulous (and long) interview with zen teacher shinzen young, interspersed with illuminating videos, har prakash khalsa delights us with shinzen young’s take on the nature of the self and enlightenment as it is perceived in buddhism, hinduism, christianity and the jewish tradition. here are a few excerpts from his thoughts on the self:

hpk – when you say “the perception that a thing inside us called a self” goes away, do you mean completely away?

szy – the ambiguity is the word perception. the actual word is ditti in pali, or drishti in sanskrit, which i think you know means “view”, literally. in this context ditti or drishti refers to a fundamental paradigm, or concept about something. so in this case perception is perhaps not the best word. it’s more like the fundamental conviction that there is a thing inside us called a self disappears. according to the traditional formulation after enlightenment that never comes back. however, if by perception of self we mean momentarily being caught in one’s sense of self, that happens to enlightened people over and over again, but less and less as enlightenment deepens and matures.

i like to analyze subjective experience into three sensory elements: feel (emotional-type body sensations), image (visual-thinking) and talk (auditory-thinking). those sensory elements continue to arise for an enlightened person forever. sometimes when the feel-image-talk arises the enlightened person is momentarily caught in them but even though they’re caught in that, some part of them still knows it’s not a thing called self. that knowing never goes away. the frequency, duration and intensity of identifying with feel-image-talk diminishes as the months and years go on as you go through deeper and deeper levels of enlightenment. there are exceptions, but typically it takes months, years, indeed decades learning how not to get caught in feel-image-talk when it arises.

so to sum it up, what disappears at enlightenment is a viewpoint or perception that there is a thing inside this body-mind process called self.

… and more (or less) self …

ambud has a series of posts on critics of buddhism. here he, too, reflects on the idea of no-self, a concept that is hard to grasp for anyone, let alone critics who typically haven’t spent a lot of time steeping themselves in buddhist ideas.

the author stumbles and misstates his argument by equating anatta with nonexistence. buddhism isn’t nihilistic, anatta refers to soul-lessness; the idea of non-self in the ultimate sense. anatta isn’t an argument against a ‘self’ as defined by physical properties etc., of which we are all aware, it is instead, a statement about that which has no inherent existence, that which is caused.

if you have any articles you’d like to see here, let me know. the next edition comes out on october 15.

image by axel buehrmann

august 2009 buddhist carnival

here’s the buddhist carnival again! last month my blog was still sick and the carnival didn’t happen. glad to be back for august. the buddhist carnival is a romp / surf / drive / ride through the buddhist blogosphere (blugghasphere?) and today’s menu brings you posts on music, fashion, family, war, wishy-washy buddhism, persisting through the agony of sesshin, homelessness and creativity.

buddhist rap
we always start with a poem. this is from a paper entitled buddhism in music – a bit longer than your typical blog post but well worth the read. he includes the lyrics by british rapper maxi jazz, a follower of the nichiren (SGI) path.

my story stops here. let’s be clear,
this scenario is happening everywhere.
and you ain’t going to nirvana or “far-vana”,
you’re coming right back here to live out your karma
with even more drama
than previously. seriously.

buddhists on the catwalk
from chaplain danny:

the associated press has a story today about buddhist monks in japan “[hitting] the catwalk in tokyo…in a bid to spread buddhism among younger people in this rapidly aging society.”

reaching out to family
the ex-bipolar buddhist, a fellow canadian, reprints a moving letter to his family. it’s such an old story: more often than not, we tend to take our families for granted, or even shy away from them. when that family is truly toxic, that may be a good idea. but many families are just – well, normal. garden-variety dysfunctional. busy. a bit indifferent. not quite who we’d have for close friends. in that case, reaching out to them, reminding ourselves of our bonds, is a beautiful and in a way heroic thing. here’s a bit from the letter:

the only way to feel loved is in the present moment, and we are only able to act with mindfulness in the present moment.

i won’t be able to tell you i love you after i’m gone. and i won’t be able to give you the answers or the love you need and deserve. i can only do that now.

emasculated by buddhism?
the new heretic vents on what some might call wishy-washy buddhism. there is an interesting conversation in the comment section where, among others, c4chaos takes me to task on my use of the concept of the middle road.

truth does set us free, but noted that all of their examples were warm and fuzzy, flowery, and that the truth is not always that way. truth is truth. sometimes it is not flowers and sunshine. the truth is that person who you are afraid of hurting you, may, in fact, hurt you. or, to take the opposite position, you may be deluding yourself into thinking that someone is good for you when the truth is that they are bad for you. the truth is that you may be overweight, maybe that other person is more attractive than you, and maybe your sister is going to always score just a little bit higher than you on that test in school. so what? really, so what? that truth is also liberating, and can set you free. isn’t the point to embrace reality? being trapped by irrational fears that are holding you back from enjoying real life is delusion. however, fooling yourself into thinking that life is a bed of roses all the time a delusion that holds you back as well. embrace the reality of the situation, and then you can effectively deal with your shit.

seriously, i think there has to be more “suck-it-up-ness” and “deal-with-it-ness” in the practice.

read here for the rest.

sarah palin and a vow
no need for comment here, i’d say:

i, lazybuddhist, vow to avoid any and all coverage of sarah palin. i shall refrain from participating in discussions about her, and in particular giving into my urge to rant about her. my hatred of her only diminishes me. the energy that would be expended in palin bashing can be much better channeled into something positive and worthwhile.

want to read more? here it is.

the agony of sesshin
genkaku’s blog is one of my favourite spots in the blogosphere. today he speaks of something that has been a huge challenge for me ever since i started meditating back in 1969: the discomfort of sitting in meditation. he compares it to the pain of childbirth:

without trying to compare levels of agony, anyone who has been to a sesshin or extended zen buddhist retreat has probably felt some of the same writhing wrath as the crossed legs burn like fire or the sorrow seems unbearable. who the fuck dreamed this up?!

and yet …

women have more than one child.
zen students go to another sesshin.

analysis (selective amnesia, virtue, greed, etc.) doesn’t interest me much in this realm. what interests me is what actually-factually happens. in the face of what happens now, ‘meaning’ and ‘explanation’ can piss up a rope. analysis can take a hike. whether agonizing or glorious … this is it.

and we do it again.

buddhism – maybe not as peaceful as we always thought
buddhism is all about awakening to reality, isn’t it? ok, so here’s a piece of reality:

buddhism has always been portrayed as the religion of peace. “there has never been a buddhist war,” i’ve heard many times over the years. when the sakya kingdom was threatened with invasion, the buddha sat in meditation in the path of the soldiers, stopping the attack. when the indian king asoka converted to buddhism, he curtailed his military escapades and erected peace pillars. when the dharma came to tibet, it is said that the barbaric tribes were pacified. during the vietnam war, buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the fighting.

and now a new study emerges that will radically shake up this view of buddhism. zen at war is a courageous and exhaustively researched book by brian victoria, a western soto zen priest and instructor at the university of auckland. victoria reveals the inside story of the japanese zen establishment’s dedicated support of the imperial war machine from the late 1800’s through world war ii. he chronicles in detail how prominent zen leaders perverted the buddhist teaching to encourage blind obedience, mindless killing, and total devotion to the emperor. the consequences were catastrophic and the impact can still be felt today.

here is the rest of this book review.

bearing witness to homelessness
over the weekend of july 17, 18, & 19 a poet, a zen priest, an industrial designer, a mental health professional and a manager of a soup kitchen took to the streets of boston to bear witness to its homeless.

we only took the clothes on our back, no money, no bedding, no tooth brush, no jewelry, no credit cards, & no desire to do anything but aimlessly meander for three days throughout the city of boston. what did we find there? parts of ourselves that we did not know existed.

buddhism, creativity and the arts
and we come back to the beginning. this event sounds very exciting; i hope we’ll have something like that here in vancouver one day. i signed up with the ning group right away.

the focus of this event was an exploration of the relationship between buddhist thought/practice and creativity with specific reference to the arts. does buddhist thought and practice help or hinder the creative process? the theme was explored through a series of academic lectures, discussion, exhibition of artworks and workshops. the event brought together around 80 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds buddhist and non-buddhist, artist and non-artists all who share an interest in the theme. the exhibition of visual arts included sculpture, painting and film and represented 40 artists who each share some association with buddhism.

if you would like to make contact with other people interested in this field, go to www.dharmaarts.ning.com/ – the site of the dharma arts network (dan) which was launched at the conference, or the london buddhist arts centre’s website where you can sign up to their database.

what are we going to have for the september buddhist carnival? i don’t know. but if all goes as planned, it’ll be on the 15th.

buddhist carnival: april 2009, poetry month

chaos in kanjithe 15th, buddhist carnival time. it’s april, poetry month, so i’ll post only poems and poetry-related articles.

from last month’s montreal zen poetry festival

i longed to visit the eastern cliff
countless years until today
i finally grabbed a vine and climbed
but halfway there met mist and wind
the trail was too narrow for clothes
the moss too slick for shoes
i stopped beneath this cinnamon tree
and slept with a cloud for a pillow

— han shan (translated by red pine)

if you have time …

from danny fisher’s blog

if you have time to chatter
read books
if you have time to read
walk into mountain, desert and ocean
if you have time to walk
sing songs and dance
if you have time to dance
sit quietly, you happy lucky idiot

— nanao sakai

the role of poetry in zen and meditation

zen mirror has an interview with zen master sÅ­ngsan about the role poetry plays in meditation practice as well as in teaching and conveying zen mind to the western world.

dc: thank you very much for all your wonderful gifts! that’s a very good answer. i was wondering about when you compose a poem, do you actually reflect on the situation and then write using “beautiful language?”

zmss: no. only whatever situation comes up or appears, then i will compose a poem. not so much checking situations, and not so much making something.

go here for the restof the interview.

haiku
buddhism.about.com posted a nice piece about haiku, with a few good examples, for instance

from the nostril
of the great buddha
comes a swallow

haiku database
and while we’re on the topic of haiku, i found this treasure of haiku related info – for example a whole section on the “season words” that are an important part of traditional haiku, or a whole section on the moon in haiku, this one, for example

calligraphy of geese
against the sky —
the moon seals it.

(not directly buddhist perhaps, but i just had to tell you about this great find!)

breaking haiku rules

on dragoncave, some musings on haiku rules. here is a haiku by issa, one of his best-known buddhist pieces:

this world of dew
is just a world of dew”
and yet . . . oh and yet . . .

inmensity taps at your life
poetry chaikhana is a blog about spiritual poetry from all over the world. here is a poem by jane hirshfield, who is described as a secular or eclectic buddhist

tree

it is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.
that great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books –
already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

i noticed …

and finally, allan ginsberg’s beautiful poem on the cremation of chögyam trungpa

i noticed the grass, i noticed the hills, i noticed the highways,
i noticed the dirt road; i noticed the car rows in the parking lot
i noticed the ticket takers, noticed the cash and the checks and credit cards,
i noticed the buses, noticed mourners, i noticed their children in red dresses,
i noticed the entrance sign, noticed retreat houses, noticed blue and yellow flags
noticed the devotees, their trucks and buses, guards in khaki uniforms,
i noticed the crowds, noticed misty skies, noticed the all -pervading smiles and empty eyes –
i noticed the pillows, coloured red and yellow, square pillows round and round –
i noticed the tori gate, passers-through bowing, a parade of men & women in formal dress –
noticed the procession, noticed the bagpipe, drums, horns, noticed high silk head crowns and saffron robes, noticed the three piece suits,
i noticed the palanquin, an umbrella, the stupa painted with jewels the colours of the four directions –
amber for generosity, green for karmic works, i noticed the white for buddha, red for the heart –
thirteen worlds on the stupa hat, noticed the bell handle and umbrella, the empty head of the white cement bell – noticed the corpse to be set in the head of the bell –
noticed the monks chanting, horn plaint in our ears, smoke rising from astep the firebrick empty bells –
noticed the crowds quiet, noticed the chilean poet, noticed a rainbow,
i noticed the guru was dead —

go here for the rest.

have a buddhist blog?  want to be featured here next month?  drop me a line.

the calligraphy here spells “chaos” and was done by ~C4Chaos

march 2009 buddhist carnival – in reverse

roses are blooming on the rosebush.
there is nothing strange.
the flower blooms silently and falls quietly without sound,
never again to return to its branch.
her total existence is expressed in that one moment.
one place on the branch.
that is the voice of the flower,
the truth of the single flower on the branch.
therein lies the joy of life, infinitely brilliant and everlasting.

a single rosethis poem appears more than once in sensei ogui’s zen shin talks, a book that i have been slowly savouring over the last seven weeks.

for the buddhist carnival today, rather than featuring posts from various buddhists writers, i want to start with a story from the book. it is a story about sensei ogui, who is a buddhist minister in the shin or pure land tradition, going to visit a dying man.

when i walked into the hospital room of the dying man, i heard family members crying. the man dying was an issei pioneer, a first generation japanese american. his son said, “papa, priest is here.”

with his whole strength the dying man extended his hand to shake my hand. i shook his extended hand. he said, “thank you very much for all kinds of things.”

i kept quiet. i couldn’t find any adequate words to describe my feelings. i shook his hand tightly.

the son with tears in his eyes said, “papa, i shall see you again the pure land [which could be roughly translated as the shin buddhist term for heaven]. i learned this in sunday school.”

i was quiet.

the dying man began talking with all his strength. “say, my son, do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.”

[“nembutsu” is short for “namu amida butsu”.  “namu” refers to “refuge”, and amida buddha (“butsu”) is the buddha of infinite life and light. infinite life manifests as infinite compassion and infinite light manifests as infinite wisdom. the chant “na man da bu” is the sound of oneness with amida buddha.]

at the end of this chapter, sensei ogui turns this into a question to ponder over for a lifetime – he calls it lifetime homework.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am so intrigued by this question, and i do want to spend some time mulling this over, tasting the question, sleeping on it, dreaming about it …

perhaps it means …

we are already where we need to be. this is it. no striving, no “tomorrow i will …”, no “what if yesterday … “. we are all connected in light, compassion and wisdom.

or perhaps it means … what are your thoughts?

so for buddhist carnival today, i want to ask some bloggers this question. and since i’ve dedicated my blog posts in the last little while to the topic of eating disorders, i’ll ask both buddhist bloggers and those who blog about eating disorders.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am inviting all of you to reflect on this, among others, these people:

the conservative buddhist.blogspot.com
american buddhist
woodmoorvillage
a buddhist catholic
the f-word
anmol mehta
urban monk
joanna poppink
12-step buddhist
daily buddhism
operation lola
eating with your anorexic
dano macnamarrah
ED bites
angel
eating disorders foundation

image from jepoirrier’s photostream

tea, zen and the complexity of mental illness

tea at nightmy good friend carol has a new blog, cha-cha-cha – adventures with tea.  she just published one of my melodramatic poems there, ode to tea.

tea – a neverending topic. reminds me a bit of the twitter and face-to-face conversations i’ve had in the last few days (with the ever-thoughtful ashok, for example) about  the yin and yang of the complexity and simplicity of mental illness, and of this bob newhart video about therapy, stop it.

why?

because of the old english stereotype that everything can be made better with a cup of tea.

your dog died?  tell me about it over a cup of tea.  you’re scared senseless at the prospect of driving over a bridge?  have a cup of tea, it’ll settle you down a bit.  it’s been two weeks since you’ve washed your hair?  let’s sit down with a cuppa.

it’s crazy.  having a cup of tea (or going for a walk, or eating healthy, or other well-meaning advice) isn’t going to cure grief, phobias or depression.  mental illness, just like anything about the human condition, is infinitely complex.

and yet …

newcomer: “please give me guidance”

zen master: “did you eat breakfast?”

newcomer: “yes.”

zen master: “did you wash the dishes you used?”

with this, the newcomer was enlightened.

this is a well-known zen story, told by sensei ogui in his book, zen shin talks.

i think when it comes to mental illness – and again, to all of the human condition – it behooves us to reflect on the fact that it is both unimaginably complex and bafflingly simple.

perhaps this is one way to think about it: the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  and sometimes the journey out of the mindboggling chaos of mental illness can start with a simple cup of tea, offered by a friend with warmth and sincerity, and received with gratitude and the comfort of a fleeting moment of joy and pleasure.

image by dsevilla

there but for the grace of god go i: sunday inspiration

just musing over a few things here, inspired by some of the blogs i read …

at nourish, a bittersweet post about jacqueline du pres, one of the most amazing musicians of the last century. this genius young cellist graced the world of classical music for a short 12 years. then her blazing light was consumed by multiple sclerosis. i spent much of last night hunting down her videos, gobbling up the beauty and fervor of this fierce nordic goddess. “a glenn gould of the cello”, i kept thinking – something about the way she physically throws herself into her work, at the edge of being ridiculously dramatic; and like a true artist, she remains at the edge, drawing us there, into her magic. “her” magic; a magic conjured up by her but compelling because it isn’t just her little thing – it’s the stuff of gods, and thus a piece of everyone’s soul.

this grandness stands now beside the voracious power of multiple sclerosis. i was going to say it was swept away, aside, under the carpet but that’s not true. the grandness of her music remains, but not by itself. the illness claimed a big piece of this amazing woman.

from grand to small. another post i came across was this here, about a mother and her partner killing, slowly killing a beautiful child, baby grace. blond like little jacqueline when she first touched a cello. their demons consumed a child just like MS consumed jacqueline. why small? why do i want to call this small? perhaps when i think of “grand” i think of generosity, of a big heart, perhaps of jacqueline’s heart because only a big heart can hold music like that. only a small, shrivelled up, poisoned heart can do what these people did. “only”? what do i know, what do i know of hearts – but that is what i imagine. a big heart, i envision, opens its arms and says, yes! yes! a small heart closes in on itself, cutting everything short, within and without. after a while the opening and the closing becomes a habit. the arms throw open wide and the span gets larger and larger, grander. it becomes more and more unthinkable, undoable to spend much time with arms crossed and the heart closed. it goes the other way, too, i think. the shrivelling becomes more and more closed in on itself, and even the slightest opening of mind, heart, arms, eyes and soul is a threat that can only be met with armour and weapon.

a little child is always open. a threat extinguished by shrivelled hearts.

there but for the grace of god go i. there are myriad imperfections in my life. one, for example: i used to volunteer at an extended care home. there was a woman with MS, the same age as jacqueline du pres in her last years. i visited her often. one day, things became too busy for me and i stopped visiting. i never even really said good-bye to that woman. a sin for which i am ashamed to this day. there are many transgressions i have committed but i have never killed another human being.

i’m reading an interesting book right now, zen shin talks, by socho koshin ogui, the current bishop of the buddhist churches of america. one of the talks is headed, “are you grateful that you have not killed even one person?” in that talk, he cites shinran, the founder of shin buddhism (also called pure land buddhism) who talks to one of his disciples about why he has never killed anyone:

it is not because you have a good mind or even a good heart or because you are a good person. you are fortunate because present conditions and situations do not allow you to kill even one person. aren’t you grateful that your present conditions and situations are such that you do not have to kill even one person? if the conditions and situations changed, you don’t know what you would do.

self-righteousness does not work: being proud of myself for never having killed anyone does not make my heart bigger. humbleness and gratefulness give my heart a chance to grow.

which brings me to the last blog for today. sojourner is a beacon of humbleness.  it was her post there but for god’s grace go i that prompted me to participate in her sunday inspiration theme with these words here.