Sunday, September 20, 2015

Everything is Waiting for You

late summer flowers at the Temple

Here in New England, the last day of summer is beautiful -- temperate weather, a mild breeze and clear blue skies.   Just as I was beginning to write this entry, a motorcycle on the road outside the Temple stopped at the traffic light, and blaring out from its speakers were the lines from the song, "Leaving on a Jet Plane."  "So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me, hold me like you'll never let me go..."

The poet David Whyte reminds us that we are not alone in the universe.  In the terrible suffering and tender joy of this burning world, the flowers at the Temple are blooming for you, and the motorcycles and tea kettles are singing for you.

Here is David Whyte's song (Thanks Anita for sending me this old favorite!):

Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.
As if life were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions.
To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings.
Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice.
You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things to come,
the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.
The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink,
the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness
and seen the good in you at last.
All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves.

Everything is waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Even one pillar

daffodil blooming by fence post, Boundless Way Temple

David and I have been away from the Temple for more than three weeks, teaching retreats in foreign lands, and I am about to leave for another retreat tomorrow.  Briefly being home here in this amazing place that we have created together with friends and students of the Way is deeply satisfying.  Although there is always something to attend to and keep alive here, the work feels fundamental to my deepest sense of what it means to be a human being.  Sometimes it takes the form of sitting, sometimes teaching, sometimes raising money for projects, creating a teaching schedule for all of our teachers and senior students, answering emails or phone calls.  Every day brings more to do, and it can feel a bit overwhelming.

Because I can get lost in this ongoing work of maintaining the Temple, I was delighted to come across some heartening words from our great Japanese ancestor Dogen, who writes, in his Shobogenzo-zuimonki (Record of Things Heard, translated by Thomas Cleary):

"The fact that I am now soliciting contributions and working as much as I can to establish a [meditation] hall, I do not necessarily consider to be the flourishing of Buddhism.  It is just that for the time being, while there is no one to study the Way and I pass the days and months without purpose, I think that it is better [to do this] than to be idle; it may provide an opportunity for the deluded [to awaken], and it will serve the purpose of a place to sit in meditation for the seekers of the Way in the present age.  Still there should be no regret even if a thing conceived and begun is not completed:  if even on pillar is set up, I do not care if in the future they shall see that someone had conceived of such an undertaking but could not complete it."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Recordings from our latest Zen party

We often say Zen retreats are parties for introverts.  Here is the link to our latest Boundless Way Zen Summer Sesshin Dharma talks -- thanks to Steve Wallace for engineering and posting.

Boundless Way Zen recordings

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!

young girl watching otters
"A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!
From such a common ball as this
Might date a Victory!
From marshallings as simple
The flags of nations swang.
Steady—my soul: What issues
Upon thine arrow hang!"

I  just came across this amazing poem by Emily Dickinson.  It reminds me of the Zen koan about Ruiyan, who woke up every morning and called to himself, "Master!"  And then he would answer, "Yes!"  "Are you awake?"  "Yes!"  "Don't be fooled!"  "No! No!."  

The exclamation marks are important.  I myself awaken in many different mind/heart/body states.  What is it today?  Sometimes it's despair, sometimes great excitement, sometimes great fear.  Sometimes the body is just weary and in pain. And then there are those lovely mornings when simple contentment takes the reins of the first few moments of consciousness.   

What to do, where to go from these humble, sometimes distressing beginnings?  The challenge of this life is to wake up to whatever is here, and never to forget, as Dickinson says to herself (and to us), that this "common ball," this little individual bullet of being we shoot into the morning, is capable of anything.  She encourages herself, her soul,  to be steady -- who knows what will happen?  But it's not to be taken lightly -- it's important!  It warrants an exclamation!    Perhaps from this ordinary moment will issue a Victory!  We ask ourselves, am I awake?  And the heart that shouts "Help! Help!" ultimately exclaims " Yes! Yes!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Awareness is its own action

I've been really enjoying the quote in our new liturgy book from the non-dual teacher Joan Tollifson.  It's from her book "Nothing to Grasp."  Joan was a student of Toni Packer, and, like Toni, she doesn't identify as a Zen teacher, but receives her inspiration from many different paths.  In Joan's words:

"Part of waking up is becoming sensitive to how we become discouraged, how we close down, and where we go for false comfort.  To wake up is to become aware of the tendency to judge ourselves, to take our failures personally, to fall into despair, self-pity, depression, frustration, anger, or wherever we tend to go when we believe the story that we are a person who can't do it right.  Seeing all of this is enough.  Awareness is its own action.  We don't need to analyze it or impose changes based on our ideas of what should be happening.  Just being awake to the present moment, as it is, and seeing clearly what is happening:  this is transformative.  We are simply awake here and now."

That's an amazing concept -- that  just seeing the patterns of our stories is enough, that awareness is its own action.  The Buddha was very clear throughout his teachings about the source of our suffering.  It's wanting what we don't have.  It's fighting reality.  When we fight reality, reality always wins.  I'm in the middle of a situation right now that is causing me all kinds of anxiety -- and it's something that's completely outside of my control.  (This is not an unfamiliar state for me -- although the circumstances change, the worry feels the same.)  Another source of inspiration in this matter comes from the I Ching, the Chinese "Book of Changes."  The fifth hexagram says, "By accepting things as they are and not making fruitless comparisons to the situations of others or some imagined ideal, one engages the power of the Creative."

The key here is in the word "fruitless."  There are some things we can do, and when we sit still and be with our life as it is, we can see a course of action that might bear fruit.  But more often, all of our worries and plans lead to more worries and plans.  We compare and judge and get lost in ancient patterns of thinking and feeling.

And the good news is that all of this suffering is self-liberating.  The "Creative" or the spirit of inspiration and flexibility that is available to us all, is waiting to be freed to function.  We get in its way with all our planning and plotting.  By learning to sit with what is, transformation happens.  Old wounds heal, and we taste a life of freedom.  We can't strategize this, but we can see for ourselves what happens when we allow life to unfold as it unfolds.  Awareness is powerful.  It is its own action.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Keeping going

Recently I read that the literal meaning of the word "samsara" -- the term for this burning world of suffering, is "keeping going."  Classically this refers to the endless cycles of rebirths among the six realms of existence.  "Keeping going" is nice -- it reflects our actual experience of being stuck in old patterns, despair, fear, greed, anger and ignorance.  This wonderful cartoon from New Yorker artist John Kane reminds us of what is possible when we stop for even a moment in our busy lives and take stock.  Maybe it's time to leave the hamster wheel of our ancient thoughts and behaviors, and strike out for new territory.  It's time to become refugees from our old lives and take refuge in the Buddha (our awakened nature), the Dharma (the teachings and the way things are) and the Sangha (the community of other way-seekers.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Don't be fooled

From Thomas Yuho Kirchner's translation of Case 11 in Entangling Vines (also Case 12 in the Gateless Gate:)

Every day Ruiyan Shiyan would call to himself, "Master!"
     "Yes!" he would answer himself.
     "Be wide awake!" he would say.
     "Whatever the time, whatever the day, never be misled by others!"
     "Yes! Yes!"

mural, Long Beach, CA
The second to last line of this koan is often translated as "Don't be fooled!"  Not much is known of the historical Ruiyan, but from the evidence of this dialogue I've always liked him a lot.  I imagine him waking up in the morning and calling out to himself, having this little private conversation. Ruiyan's humility and humor feels like the most accurate reflection of the Zen approach to life, at least, as I understand and practice it myself.  In this view there is no permanent state of enlightenment, no fantasy of perfection that is so much a part of the popular understanding of the fruits of meditation these days.  I just was referred to a website of someone who claims this kind of perfection -- once the great turning of the heart happens, you're all set for life.  Always open, always awake.  But my experience is different -- a continual opening and closing, like Rumi's hand in the poem "Birdwings."  We need constant reminders to not slip back into the dualistic greed that Chogyam Trungpa called "Spiritual materialism."    A life in Zen is not about attaining something.  It's about waking up to the full life of being human that is our birthright, but that is obscured by our thoughts and desires and resistance to what is right in front of us all the time.  Our little discursive brains think that enlightenment  looks like something else.  It's hard for it to believe that it looks just like this!

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you are bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

From The Essential Rumi Coleman Barks with John Moyne