Thursday, August 29, 2019

Fish Mystery



When I was young I loved a series of books called "Minute Mysteries."  Each page had a set of clues, and the reader's job was to put things together to figure out what had happened.  Two famous examples go like this:

1. A father and son are in a car accident and are rushed to the hospital.  When they arrive, the doctor on call says, "I can't operate on this boy -- he's my son."  How can this be?

2.  There is a man walking down the road dressed entirely in black. There are no lights on anywhere and no moon. A car with no lights comes down the road and manages to avoid the man. How?  (The answers are at the end of this post, if you've never heard them or can't figure them out.)

This tendency of the human mind to be able to piece together disconnected elements to form a whole has been invaluable evolutionarily, for sure.  Our ancestors used it to avoid danger, track game and find useful plants.  And we use it to create valid scenarios that help us explain our lives to ourselves.  Mysteries are still popular and we admire people, who, like Sherlock Holmes or mechanical engineers, can put together clues and solve problem.  Most of the time, the stories we create are not accurate reflections of reality, and sometimes even do harm, but we can't stop making them.  We can, however, know clearly that they are stories, and find freedom in the questioning, the making of them, and in doubting them.

A few weeks ago the fish in our pond, five beautiful koi pictured in the video above taken by Adam Monty, disappeared.  The pond is on an acre of land behind the Temple surrounded by wild and lovingly cultivated gardens, open to the public during the day for silent contemplation and walking.  The fish had started to become quite tame, coming up to the edge of the pond to eat fish food out of our hands.  There were two children's bikes abandoned near the pond, and a golf ball sitting deep in the middle.  One of us had noticed a huge flock of migrating birds alighting on the pond earlier that week.  Where were the fish?  What had happened to them?  We even called the police, who were very kind and said they wouldn't report a fish theft but we should call them anytime we were concerned about people doing unwanted things in the garden.  And then three of the fish returned later that night, just for a moment, having been hiding out in their fish cave at the bottom of the pond.  It took a few weeks for them all to appear and to start swimming around again, and they are still very skittish.  They don't eat out of our hands any more, and head for the cave when they detect anyone nearby.

Naturally, people came up with theories.  Here are just a few:

The children stole the fish.
The birds ate the fish.
The children went into the pond to retrieve the golf ball, and scared the fish.
The birds scared the fish.
Stop making up stories about what happened to the fish!

And, my personal favorite:

The fish ate the children, and it took them a couple of weeks to digest them.

We may never know, but the solutions to the minute mysteries highlight how easily we can miss what's right in front of us.  Solution number 1:  The doctor is the boy's mother.  And number 2.  It's the middle of the day.

We human beings have this amazing capacity, which is impossible to stop without inflicting brain trauma, but without which we'd be much less human.  Facing mystery, we want explanations.    Sometimes, the questioning is everything and appreciating the creativity of the human mind without taking things too seriously, is the way of play in the fields of freedom.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Junk Store Buddha

Junk Store Buddha

Buddhas appear everywhere, and that's very much in keeping with the Mahayana concept of Buddha Fields.  Everywhere we look are Buddhas, awakened ones, and sometimes they actually look like our concept of a Buddha:  for example, this statue like the one we recently saw at a junk store in a small New England town we were passing through.  (We inquired about the purchase price but it was not for sale -- so, priceless!)

But mostly Buddhas look like every single thing -- dogs and cats and clouds and flowers and trash and birth and death.  If everything is a Buddha, how can we ever complain about our lives?  Except that we do, because thoughts and emotions and sense perceptions are also Buddhas, and a complaint is equal to a joyous liberating experience.  So, the instruction is, see everything as an example of the great awakening that fills the universe.  No exceptions!  Everything is the awakened heart!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ten Years at Boundless Way Temple


On this date, August 19, 2009, David and I bought the building that became Boundless Way Temple the very next day.  Our first sesshin was held here that October.  After a few years, the Temple and Boundless Way organizations had grown strong enough that we were able to sell the building to the sangha, and we have been fortunate to be able to continue to live here as the guiding teachers.  Looking back at all the changes over the years, I am amazed by our survival.

Here is some inspiration from one of our Zen ancestors, Torei Zenji, who encourages us to persist in our devotion to the Great Way, no matter what may happen.

TOREI ZENJI: BODHISATTVA'S VOW

I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I look deeply
into the real form of the universe,
everything reveals the mysterious truth of the Tathagata.
This truth never fails:
in every moment and every place
things can't help but shine with this light.

Realizing this, our ancestors gave reverent care
to animals, birds, and all beings.
Realizing this, we ourselves know that our daily food,
clothing and shelter are the warm body and beating heart of the Buddha.
How can we be ungrateful to anyone or anything?
Even though someone may be a fool,
we can be compassionate.
If someone turns against us,
speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly,
it's best to bow down:
this is the Buddha appearing to us,
finding ways to free us from our own attachments—
the very ones that have made us suffer
again and again and again.

Now on each flash of thought
a lotus flower blooms,
and on each flower: a Buddha.
The light of the Tathagata
appears before us, soaking into our feet.

May we share this mind with all beings
so that we and the world together
may grow in wisdom.



Friday, August 2, 2019

flowers

wild flowers, North Wales

Today I was inspired by the lovely weather, the summer flowers, the cool breezes on a summer day.  And by this poem, sent from the website "Poetry Chaikhana" (http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/)-- a regular source of inspiration in my inbox.

Searching for the Dharma

You've traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung
make heavy baggage.
Here! I've picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same
but they're much easier to carry.

By Chan Master Hsu Yun

(1839 - 1959)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A perfect shimmering sound

Fado performers in Porto, Portugal

I just read a lovely blog post from the Zen teacher Jon Joseph, about the following koan.  Thanks for the pointer to this, Jon!

Wuzu said, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? The cypress tree in the garden!”

  At these words Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat his wings and crow loudly. He said to himself, "Isn’t this the sound?"

  Full of gratitude, Yuanwu then took incense back into Wuzu's room. He told of his discovery and wrote:

"The golden duck vanishes into the golden brocade,
with a country song the drunk comes home from the woods,
only the young beauty knows about her love affair."

  Wuzu said, “I share your joy."

     ~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

Sometimes when I look around at this world, all I see is suffering.  I could give you the long list, but you already know it.  Some of the suffering is personal, some global, and everything can feel like a recipe for doom and despair.  How can we practice in the face of all of this?

Without ignoring what is difficult, we can sit in the presence of everything that arises, and when we do this, our attention can expand from a narrow focus on our pain to a wider view, which includes every single thing.  In this space, the call of a mourning dove may open our hearts.  Or the laughter of a child at play or a singer giving everything she has to open her own mouth to reveal her wild spirit.  Or, really, any sound, or sight, or smell, taste or touch.  The world offers itself to us, and when we receive it, we share in the joy that is always present, even when things seem especially dire.  Here is a comment on this possibility by the poet Jack Gilbert.  Whether it's the sound of a triangle, a fado singer or a rooster, open your ears to hear it.  Let the heart be soothed by simple things, and know this shared joy.

Waiting And Finding, by Jack Gilbert

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tom-toms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tom-toms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tom-toms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tom-toms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Monday, July 29, 2019

original face wash: the goat in the boat koan

photo Adam Monty

At our  recent "Original Face Sesshin" named by our tanto (head seat) Alan Richardson, we took up the story of Hui Neng, who asked Monk Ming, "What is your Original Face?"  At the end of the sesshin, our assistant tanto, Adam Monty,  mentioned the apocryphal koan "The Goat in the Boat."  When Adam returned home, he found the tube of Original Face Wash, pictured here,  in his medicine cabinet.

These two karmic occurrences inspired me to search for the elusive goat in the boat koan, and I was lucky enough to find it in our Temple library, in an obscure collection gathered together by Theodore Geisel, the sage of La Jolla.    Amazingly, it references not only the goat and the boat, but also the Original Face!  And, mysteriously, went I went back to try to find the book again it had vanished into Thin Air.  Here is the case, as I remember it, with commentaries by Boundless Way Zen teachers and senior students.

The Goat in the Boat (The One Fish Barrier Collection, Case 42)

Main Case: As the Fifth Ancestor rowed Hui Neng across the river, a goat climbed into the seat between them.  The Ancestor asked, "Don't think good; don't think evil.  At this very moment, what is the true face of the goat in the boat?"  At this moment, he presented a tube of face wash to Hui Neng, saying, "Use this all of your life.  It will never be used up."

David Rōshi said, "The student wins the prize - though he has not yet discovered the original face, he has found the face wash for this original face so that when any of us find it, we'll be able to keep it clean!!!"

Bob Sensei said, "I love this!  But it’s only for men.  Is that because women don’t collect as much dust on their original face?"

Senior Dharma Teacher Alan said, "Have you found your original face yet?  Then wash it!"

Practice Leader Adam said, "It can't be described; it can't be praised enough;
It can, however, be washed."

Monday, July 22, 2019

Boundless Way Temple Summer Sesshin 2019

Original Face Sesshin 2019 photo Corwyn Miyagishima

As we explored the question asked by Sixth Ancestor Hui Neng to Monk Ming: "What is your Original Face?" close to 40 people came and went over the week of our summer sesshin.  Pictured to the left are the folks who stayed until the very end.  What a treat to be able to practice deeply with people of the Great Way!