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

Monday, June 1, 2015

from Hongzhi's Guidepost for Silent Illumination

contemporary Japanese woodcut from the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

...Dew in the moonlight, a river of stars,
Snow-covered pines,
Clouds enveloping the peak.
In darkness it is most bright,
While hidden all the more manifest.
The crane dreams in the wintery mists...

Thinking of Hongzhi today, the day after James Ford's farewell party, as a group of Boundless Way Zen Teachers prepare to head off to the Western Dharma Teachers conference at the Omega Institute.  The rain continues to fall, and people come and go, heading in all directions.