Friday, December 20, 2013

Ryokan's Kind Words

        Were there someone
        in the world
        who feels as I feel,
        we would talk all night
        in this grass hut.

(From Tanahashi's translation of Ryokan poems Sky Above, Great Wind. Another verse follows below.)

Genju recently posted a review of this wonderful book along with some of her own brush work reminding me of this poem. It's reminiscent of much of the poetry I love in that it calls out to our wish to share in wonder an appreciation of life and of each other. 

In actuality though, what would such a conversation involve? Most likely an exchange of trivialities that falls short of the wonder we wish to share our experience of. Silence and sitting tend to be more effective ways of experiencing and sharing that sense of wonder, as well as increasing our experience of wonder in every day life.

(Photo of a portion of Soyoung L Kim's 100 Cups of Tea. More of her work can be found at saatchionline.)

        I don’t regard my life
        as insufficient.
        Inside the brushwood gate
        there is a moon;
        there are flowers.

I'm grateful to have this blog in which to share some of that sense of wonder with any person who wanders by.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reflections: Radiance and my own version of the Moro Reflex

Someone crossed my boundaries in a big way today. I'm still reeling in the reaction of none other than my very own conditioned version of the 'Moro' reflex. I've been doing a fair amount of pacing trying to organize my thoughts and not being very successful. (And yes I've also tried some not very successful sitting.)

My version of the 'Moro reflex' was conditioned by witnessing and indirectly suffering the effects of infidelity in my family, in more than one Christian community in my teens, and later in my academic career. As a result I've stood on the conservative side of social behaviors ranging from flirtation to sexual misconduct even while making an effort to be non-judgmental.

In what ways has my own version of the 'Moro' reflex distorted the 'lens' through which I see things and affected my actions in negative ways? For one, early in my on-line presence it caused me to generate an alternate persona with which I sought to determine someone's intentions. In another case, I may have been caused to be prematurely judgmental. And finally, it caused a prolonged state of shock and denial when life went awry. I've been unable to determine the motivations behind the behaviors of various individuals ever since.

Over the last year or so, as I've begun to suspect that my trust in various on-line friendships has been misplaced, I've made an agreement with myself to allow myself to be a virtual guinea pig or lab rat because it seems that my entire life prior to this was lived to play this role. I can't say that my altruistic attitude is unbiased, however, because I still care about those people very much. Moreover, I care about the on-line Sangha. I hate to admit that, to the extent that I've dared and been able, following the on-line discussions has eroded my internal defenses rather than helped build them up and I've gradually become increasingly sensitive, reactive, repressed and isolated. I often don't know whether my actions are being commented on or those of others.

One of the reasons I felt I could afford to be a virtual lab rat is because I'm not a teacher, I have no product to sell, no business to advertise and no artificial facade to wear, so the thoughts, feelings and conclusions I've been self-reporting are real to the extent I've dared report them. I know of others who can't afford to be so flexible. I've watched other people get hurt in similar ways although usually on a more minor scale because they've other support systems in place, whereas my supports have been knocked out from under one-by-one with time as I've tried to respond with integrity and dignity to the situation as I saw it. It's affected my enjoyment of various things I've invested my energy in, like writing and sharing poetry and my Shobogenzo posts. These events also motivated my divorce, threatened and prematurely terminated a very good friendship and caused resentment towards the various ways my family has both historically and in a more immediate sense affected my reactions. (Another prescription of tonglen whenever my sitting improves I guess.) Personally speaking a lot has been a stake.

What is emptiness? What is spirituality? What is that radiance that is the source of our individual compassion and generosity? Whatever the source of that energy is, I have to say that I never imagined that that energy could be as seriously compromised as I'm personally feeling it has been over the last few months. I also know that's not only true for myself, but also true for the on-line community as it attempts to reorganize, learn from and recover from the various traumas of this last year.

I've never read anything written by Bankei, but I recently heard a story about how Bankei kept letting a thief steal from the Sangha and the Sangha's incredulity. His response was something along the lines of allowing the thief so that the thief would eventually learn better. Whether it's food out of the Sangha's kitchen or our own individual radiance it's difficult for each of us to know where to draw the line, especially when the line is violated by people that are close to us and that we care about, people who we admire or people in positions of authority.

Personally I can say I've lost another day to the thralls of being caught in reaction when I should be finishing things at work in preparation for retirement -- a deadline which is looming ever closer.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reflections: Have App, Will Travel... Or that Moment when Life Passed By

In a little over a month I'll be retiring with very little idea of what I'll be doing next. Right now it doesn't feel like freedom, but rather life with a different set of rules, a life that will demand an increase in flexibility and ingenuity.

It feels strange and scary not having a direction, a plan, a purpose, much of an idea about what to do or much of an answer as to why bother. On the other hand, my life for the last few years hasn't provided answers to those questions either. Given my isolation and the fact that I only have this one life, staying in my position just to keep myself in lattes and the latest iPhones seems like a copout and lazy even though it might be the easiest solution to security.

In spite of the trepidation I've been comparing my decision to retire (at least temporairly) to sitting or a longer retreat in which at the beginning there's a little trepidation. From sitting I know the best response is to relax and trust awareness.

Although I've said I have very little idea what I'll be doing next I mean in the longer term. My immediate plans are to spend the Christmas holiday with a girlfriend, visit relatives I haven't seen since I was thirteen and then spend some time traveling to let my mind unwind. I'll investigate my options and probably send in applications to some volunteer programs. But the vacation is a vacation I can use and it's a vacation I should have taken when I graduated from undergrad but cancelled in order to do research before going on to grad school. My companion is going to be an iPhone-iPad watercolor app called Auryn Ink (I have a few other apps as well if I get tired of that one). It's been since the 80's that I've spent any time on watercolors and I've had no training as an artist, but I feel like it will be a fun way to keep track in addition to taking pictures and any poetry or haiku I might be tempted to write.

In spite of the fact that it's always accessible and has unlimited paper and paint, Auryn Ink has some limitations. For example, it's limited to a uniform bleed-width for each line and doesn't allow the swirl and blending of color that, along with their translucency, often give watercolors their mysterious appearance. In spite of those frustrations, I've kept at it and am starting to learn to work within those limits. I'm pretty convinced what happens next in my life will be similar.


Four years ago I ripped my life apart at the seams on the basis of what I saw on the Internet. However foolish (or wise, based on the conditions of my life at the time) that decision might have been, since then my life has increasingly become a vacuum because, for a number of reasons including very real ones, I haven't created anything of sufficient substance to hold my attention. The fact that anything I glean from the empty fields of sitting has only been applied to the shadow-boxing and reflection-casting arena of this internet environment is a kind of non-existence. It's not a surprise that I've been increasingly buffeted by your various energies as I've increasingly become a psychic sponge for those energies -- however wonderful, helpful, seductive and/or frightening those energies are. That won't change until I start creating and living something with greater substance in reality -- even though what I create or whatever happens as a result of what I create will undoubtedly be impermanent. That's how all things are.

The only death in life any of us has a chance of avoiding is the death associated with the fear of impermanence, i.e. avoiding life because of a fear of loss. It's only because of a lot of losses in my life that a unique gap in my life exists. A few of you might even be envious of the opportunity I've got. It's time I took advantage of it. That's how I can help you all the most.

Don't worry, I'll keep you all updated on my adventures. Thank you for your friendship.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Word about my Shobogenzo Posts

I started reading Dogen after having been introduced to his work by Each Moment is the Universe by Dainin Katagiri. I was particularly intrigued by the notion "the way of being time" and decided to read Dogen directly rather than relying on someone else's interpretation.

Recent times have seen little progress in my Shobogenzo posts because I have questioned whether I should continue. First and foremost, in contrast to many individuals like Katagiri and Okumura who have spent substantial portions of their lives studying Dogen, I'm neither an expert in Dogen or historical perspectives of Zen. But neither am I, by writing the Shobogenzo posts, trying to pass myself off as an expert or a teacher.

In reading and writing about the Shobogenzo I'm not concerning myself overly much about being right even though I often spend weeks or months off-and-on contemplating what inspires me most about each chapter. I approach the chapters in the way we're encouraged to listen to Teishos absorbing what I can. Even though I enjoy hearing Dogen's take on what the Buddha taught it's not my intention at this time to become a Dogen scholar, especially having been limited by academia most of my life. I'm not choosing to read and write about the Shobogenzo in lieu of other possibilities in life. If anything I'm choosing to read and write about the Shobogenzo to inspire my sense of creativity in living.

Having brought up being right, I have to question whether I'm risking doing wrong by writing these posts. Am I running the risk of misleading people? Hopefully not, given my statement in the sidebar of the blog. As I've said before, my interpretations aren’t meant to be definitive, rather they’re intended to be appreciative of Dogen's poetic sensibility and as encouragement and motivation for folks to read the Shobogenzo for themselves. To the extent that I've compared different translations, the Nishijima and Cross translation is the best at maintaining the sense of poetics and prosody that I appreciate in Dogen's writing. Speaking for myself, poetics and prosody convey meaning beyond words.

However, another way I might be doing wrong is by offending those who've invested a considerable portion of their lives studying Dogen to definitively determine his take on central concepts in historical context. I hope that's not the case, but I didn't start writing these posts to garner favor or win approval. When I look back I get the impression that I've allowed myself to be needlessly distracted by these kinds of concerns. Kind of like getting overly concerned about right posture. 

At this time I'm not sure how many more posts on the Shobogenzo I'll write since my life will be changing pretty dramatically in the near future. But writing these posts motivates me, not only to read, but also to clarify my own thinking to a greater extent than I would if I weren't intending to write.

P.S. When I refer to poetics and prosody, I'm not referring to my own recent poem which was written out of a sense of disgust at some of what I was seeing in the blogosphere and on Twitter.

P.S.S. The sculpture is from a courtyard at work. The signature, though I can't make it out, follows below:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Memory of 911

Breathing in, I remember:

an impact transmitted through the floor through my feet.

being in a smoke-filled stairwell not knowing whether to head to the ground floor or to the roof.

rushing along a rubble-filled street to assist a man fallen and covered in gray dust.

anxiously trying to call my husband to see if he made it out alright and not being able to get through.

sitting on an airplane wondering if I would ever see my family again.

standing within a crowd collectively holding it's breath as the seemingly endless instant replay etched shock into our systems, and the gradually unfolding reports throughout the day in which the news kept getting worse.


I can think of a multitude of causes, but what long term goals & agendas motivated those who planned this day?

Have any of those goals & agendas been fulfilled?

Or have the events of this day primarily served as an excuse to invade the rights of any and all individuals, regardless of country or religious and political affiliation?

What constitutes an emergency?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

PTSD and Symptoms of Victimization

I was planning on giving the rationale for my previous post, which is far removed from anything I would write under normal circumstances. (I still plan to in the near future.) Instead what I feel more inclined to post today is something I found on Wikipedia while I was reading about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder a couple of months ago. It presents symptoms and emotions of people that for one reason or another have been victimized:

  1. Shame: Deep embarrassment, often characterized as humiliation or mortification.
  2. Self-blame: Exaggerated feelings of responsibility for the traumatic event, with guilt and remorse, despite obvious evidence of innocence.
  3. Subjugation: Feeling belittled, dehumanized, lowered in dominance, and powerless as a direct result of the trauma.
  4. Morbid hatred: Obsessions of vengeance and preoccupation with hurting or humiliating the perpetrator, with or without outbursts of anger or rage.
  5. Paradoxical gratitude: Positive feelings toward the victimizer ranging from compassion to romantic love, including attachment but not necessarily identification. The feelings are usually experienced as ironic but profound gratitude for the gift of life from one who has demonstrated the will to kill. (Also known as pathological transference and/or Stockholm syndrome).
  6. Defilement: Feeling dirty, disgusted, disgusting, tainted, “like spoiled goods,” and in extreme cases, rotten and evil.
  7. Sexual inhibition: Loss of libido, reduced capacity for intimacy, more frequently associated with sexual assault.
  8. Resignation: A state of broken will or despair, often associated with repetitive victimization or prolonged exploitation, with markedly diminished interest in past or future.
  9. Second injury or second wound: Revictimization through participation in the criminal justice, health, mental health, and other systems.
  10. Socioeconomic status downward drift: Reduction of opportunity or life-style, and increased risk of repeat criminal victimization due to psychological, social, and vocational impairment.

Although I have little doubt that sitting can be beneficial to people experiencing these symptoms, I have also observed that some of the approaches to what the Buddha taught can be problematic and worsen these symptoms.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

For Integrity's Sake.

Because the topic of my posts on the Shobogenzo has been a subject of discussion elsewhere, I thought it might be of benefit, if not exactly enlightening, to post a copy of the original email granting permission. I recently found a print-out of the email, though the email account itself was deleted before I left for Antai-ji. I took the email at face value.

One of the reasons I post it now is that it speaks to how remarkably easy it is for our perceptions to get distorted by the impressions and conjectures of people who are reacting to things they know very little about. I don't think any of us are immune, myself included.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Shobogenzo Ch22 - Busshō

Not wind or fire -
The that without constancy
Expressed in action.

I had the pleasure of witnessing Kazuaki Tanahashi in action as he created one of his famous "One Stroke" paintings recently at a lecture on Brushwork as Contemplative Art. (I didn't buy it. The Center did.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That Bird Has My Wings (III)

Earlier this week I notified my superior at work of my intent to resign. It'll be a of couple months before I leave. The decision is a scary step, but I'm making it because I've recognized that the longer I stay the more isolated from life I'm getting in actuality. That was something I already recognized back when I made my decision to visit Antaiji. I want to do something more positive and meaningful with my real life face-to-face with people before I die. The longer I stay the more difficult it will be to re-integrate, so much of what interests most people in society seems increasingly trivial.

What does my decision have to do with "That Bird Has My Wings?" The way I see it, just like our society's systems trained Jarvis in the ways of violence, our society's systems have trained me in the ways of isolation and withdrawal. Those influences and their karmic effects have pulled Jarvis and myself in a downward spiral that's difficult to escape.

Thankfully I hold the keys to the door of my "solitary confinement," though my chastising someone snowballed and trivialized my life and the lives of others in ways I could never have imagined. In some ways the intervening months have felt like being skinned and filleted alive due to my mind's sensitization to this environment. I'm afraid that I've lost the ability and opportunity to live the kind of life I originally hoped for. Sitting has helped, though on its own it's not the solution as long as I'm looking for answers here.

Do I think the situation could have been handled in a better way? Definitely. I'm including myself in that judgement, but I've been harassed, baited, and deceived by a few of the people whose judgement and knowledge of history I was forced to rely on. At the same time were those people mirroring and extending errors in judgement made by others at earlier times? Was it necessary to correct views, point to risks in the on-line environment, and cauterize? Possibly.

Why did my mind become increasingly sensitized? Because of my isolation and because the decision I made almost four years ago was a decision intended for my real, not virtual, life. It's unfortunate that even back then, it's possible others didn't realize the extent of my commitment. I've been in a state of shock and loss ever since.

I have at least one more post I intend to write before I leave and that post concerns bodhicitta. It'll be awhile because I want to read the Chapter of the Shobogenzo entitled Gyobutsu-Yuigi (The Dignified Behavior of Acting Buddha) as well as a couple of others and listen to what Dogen has to say on the subject.

Another book I want to read is "Finding Freedom"... And Jarvis, even though I've never met you, there have been many moments in recent months when I've felt close and held you in my thoughts because of the commonalities I've pointed to in spite of vast differences in our lives. Like you were, I've been in a state of shock throughout what has felt like a trial.

For good measure:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

That Bird Has My Wings by Jarvis Jay Masters (II)

The influence of environment on thoughts, feelings and behaviors is something that happens to each of us where-ever we are. It's instinctual for most of us to adapt to the norms of people we're interacting with, the people we feel closest too, and the expectations and norms of people with power. Both spoken and unspoken codes of conduct exist and the standards are different in academia, the arts, the business world and the military, as well as different religions. Within the Zen tradition alone, if a person were to visit several different monasteries, the rules, dress codes, meals, ceremonies and schedules would differ at each. Unspoken expectations also can vary within the same monastery at different times. As an example, I remember one retreat in which the Ino (person running the retreat) kept me awake working on her laptop much of the night. (I didn't mind. After the long hours sitting I don't sleep that well anyway.) During the next retreat, one of my roommates risked waking up the whole dorm to chastise me for waking up thirty minutes early to stretch my legs before zazen. I had no problem adjusting as opposed to challenging her wishes.

No matter what environment we're in, it's survival of the fittest. Each of us has a better chance if we meet the expectations of those around us. We typically do that by adapting with intelligence and/or with power.

It was the system that trained Jarvis in the ways of violence.

For Jarvis, each of the foster homes and institutions he was placed in had different rules and expectations. Jarvis learned to adapt early. At one school, two of the caretakers hand-picked boys to train and fight each other for their entertainment. Jarvis, as strong as he was, was one of those hand-picked boys. Because of his strength he also was able to protect others. In contrast, weaker boys got dragged into the toilets and severely beaten. At least one was beaten to death, several others were beaten and simply disappeared.

From early in the book:

When Jarvis' and his two sisters were separated from his mother and placed in foster care, Jarvis' first foster parents were very loving. But due to his foster mother becoming seriously ill, he was transferred to another home that not only misrepresented itself, but baited the foster children, and was almost as violent as the above school. One of the saddest moments in the book was when Jarvis' went to visit his first foster family and their views of him had been poisoned by the false reports of his second set of foster parents to his social worker.

Why has this book made such an impression on my mind? It's an impression that has grown tremendously since I first read the book. For one thing, it has reminded me to drop off views or at least to be more flexible.

Imagine for a moment that you are Jarvis and that you are judged by all the rules and expectations of each foster home and institution, not to mention family and society in general, all at once, overlapping at the same time. That's one way to view Jarvis' case.

I am not writing this post specifically to argue for Jarvis, even though from my perspective his case should win. I have to say to Jarvis and those individuals responsible for his case that based on my own experience on-line I have hesitated to say anything lest it damage rather than help. My own on-line experience has given me cause to worry and wonder.

I am writing because over the last few months it's become clear that the situation in this open on-line environment is very much like Jarvis' case. The rules and expectations of multiple belief systems and traditions, not to mention teaching and training techniques, both within Buddhism and without are simultaneously overlaid and interacting in an ongoing way. In many ways, this is exciting and progressive since it represents an interaction and co-mingling of traditions that may affect how what the Buddha taught is represented in the West and how society perceives it. The co-mingling of traditions also represents a threat to the individuality and values of each tradition. The effectiveness of teaching and the risks to students, practitioners, friends and family also is increased due to the openness of this environment.

Each of us is the system and each of us potentially is Jarvis, especially here on-line. How do we cope with the multiplicity of standards, not to mention the whole range of society's potential situations?

-- to be continued --

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: That Bird Has My Wings by Jarvis Jay Masters (I)

It's been a few months since I read 'That Bird Has My Wings' by Jarvis Masters. Jarvis is currently in 'maximum security' on Death Row. His case in appeal. This book is his memoir, which he wrote with the hope of promoting change in the agencies of our society that we entrust with the lives of children who have been "abandoned, abused, and wounded." Jarvis was born to parents who were addicted to heroine and, without doubt, Jarvis belongs to this group of children. It's clear from the memoir that the agencies that we have set up in our society to help the impoverished and neglected in many cases result in repeated re-victimization.

I read 'That Bird Has My Wings' mainly as an exercise in compassion. I had recently finished reading my first book on the lojong teachings but still felt confused about what compassion actually is in practice. How and why did our system fail Jarvis instead of giving him the chance it was designed to?

It's an important question because that system is us. Not only that, each one of us is Jarvis. Not only because of the awareness that we all share, but also because, placing myself in Jarvis' shoes,  I can truthfully say there were very few instances I would have made different choices than he did and, even in those instances, it may only have been a matter of time before I reached my limits. That's true for each of us. Our limits are only a function of circumstances and past conditioning, i.e. habits and fears. Moreover each of our habits whether good or bad runs the risk of becoming an addiction if we don't learn to drop off views (by addiction, I mean a situation where our definition of right and wrong is black and white). On the other hand, if you think no-self is the perfect state to live from, think again. No-self is allowing ourselves to be driven by the "winds" and delusions of the people we are in contact with and that is sacrificing our ability to think for ourselves and affect change. Both self and no-self are characterized by a degree of blindness to the influences of the part of society we inhabit.

I want to share one of the particularly moving moments Jarvis writes about and ask readers to ask themselves what they would have done. (I'll include a couple more in another post.):

After years of being in foster care and a variety of detentional institutions for teens, Jarvis was released and given a job in a town where he didn't know anyone, felt listless and not belonging to anything. It was a situation that was sterile and desolate. It was easy to see how he got talked into returning to his extended family even though he was aware of the potential problems. It was family, including the warmth and hospitality that family implies. Jarvis had had such a limited opportunity to be with caring family throughout his life. What would you have done?

Of course, given the need to support and defend himself living in an environment with different rules, his situation deteriorated and eventually he was sent to San Quentin for armed robbery. Think of it though. When he was released, he was in a mental space similar to 'no-self' but of a sterile, desolate nature. No warmth, affection or appreciation. When he joined his extended family, his mind was still in that sterile no-self space, easily influenced by the people, demands and problems of his environment.

-- to be continued --

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reflections: Compassion and Wisdom

Since the Winter Intensive I've read a few books and listened to several of Ajahn Brahm's dharma talks, which are easy to listen to in the background at work. My aim was to return to what I learned when I started sitting years ago because of a sense of uncertainty about what compassion and loving kindness actually are. The source of the uneasiness was, and still is, an internal conflict between what rings most true in what the Buddha taught and effectively responding to circumstances as they arise.

Speaking for myself, what rings most true in what the Buddha taught is that compassion, harmony and peace are more important than being right. I'm reminded of Rumi's lines: Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. 

Compassion, harmony and peace are more important than any agenda. It's a difficult lesson, but compassion -- being present for the suffering of others -- is different from compassionate action. It's difficult to determine what truly compassionate action is without wisdom, and wisdom is only possible to the extent that I have an accurate view of circumstances and let go of preconceptions and judgements. Not only my own judgements, but also my reactions to the judgements and attempts at compassionate action of other people.

What happened almost a year ago? I began listening to my own internal dialogue as well as several voices around that said something was wrong with the way I was living my life and the choices I was making (or not making). I'm reminded of one of Ajahn Brahm's stories in which someone offers him a small amount of money out of gratitude. After a frustrating night making a list of all the things he might spend the money on, Ajahn Brahm returns to say along the lines of: Please don't do that again. I'm happy with the way things are. At the same time, I'm sure Ajahn Brahm realized it was a wonderful learning experience.

Shunryu Suzuki once said: “Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement.” That's true for each of us. Part of what makes us perfect is our ability to recognize, accept and attempt to learn from our own imperfections. 

In that vein, this is my apology to Sweeping Zen, Brad Warner and especially Mike Cross for being a part of this phase of my learning. 

This is also my thanks to numerous unnamed individuals whose voices I've tried to listen to in these intervening months. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Poem: Resolve To Begin

Not knowing.
Not knowing what
To make of what she sees.
Not knowing what to think.
She wanders beaches
Of a thousand universes
Lost to the ghosts
Of ten thousand stories
And their untold histories,
Pausing to build shrines
To fears conquered by love.
Time will wash them away —
The ghosts, the stories,
The histories and the shrines
...Including her own.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race (IV)

When I first thought of the title "The Happiness Project ...or How to Save the Human Race," it was prompted by seeing a poster of a person covered in scars. It wasn't pretty. That's basically how each of us are on the inside to varying degrees though, as a result of conditioning and accumulated disappointments.

The trouble with those scars is they change how we react and respond to others. Our speech, behaviors and even goals change to compensate as we become more wary, less trusting and more defensive, changes that are caused by anger, hurt and fear. The process happens gradually. It seems like it's the only acceptable way to be, especially when surrounded by people behaving similarly.

So I started writing a science fiction-type story in which people were genetically engineered to scar on the outside as an indicator of internal emotional distress. The aim was to see if people's behavior could be modified to be more kind, the underlying assumption being that people don't actually want to hurt each other. Then I thought of all the instances in which that assumption might not hold true. In the second version, the person hurting others was the person who was externally scarred and the only way the scars could be healed was with compensatory positive behavior...

In ordinary daily interactions are hurtful speech and behavior ever justified? Are they justified in the name of truth or karmic retribution? In the name of teaching? In self-defense to get the attention of people who don't appear to get the message using kinder methods? And what about those instances when we react to something different than what the person intended due to our own conditioning? Or what about when individual perceptions of a situation or expectations are different?

In response to thoughts like these I've been feeling that even the first line of the Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas "Not doing wrongs" is as impossible as saving all sentient beings. I can say for sure that I don't want to add scars to anyone and yet I'm sure I have. I'll be working on developing some compassion for myself to cope with that, compassion hopefully not too tainted by sentimentality or self-righteousness.

These are some of the questions and thoughts I'll be taking into sesshin this weekend. Last Sunday we celebrated the conclusion of the Winter Practice Intensive. We chanted the Prajña Paramita Hridaya and Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo and one by one lit incense at the altar.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Serious Fun versus Having Fun Being Serious

A question that's been in the back of my mind in recent months concerns the difference between serious fun and having fun being serious. I think the difference between the two can help determine whether the way each of us lives life is via 'will power' (asceticism) or 'wisdom power' (the way that the Buddha taught).

By suggesting we have small desires I don't think Buddha meant that people shouldn't have fun. Rather I think he meant we should live in such a way that desires don't get so big that they're unattainable. Desires and goals never end up being what they're cracked up to be anyway, even if we attain them. It's better to do what we can to appreciate the present moment.

From what I've observed, when people approach life from an ascetic perspective, 'fun' runs the risk of being of the binge variety and risks causing headaches and other damage. In other words, it's not fun. Unless bragging rights, ego aggrandizement, and following in other people's footsteps is what qualifies as fun. For myself, I can say it's not.

Speaking for myself, even though I believe in wisdom power and would prefer to live my life that way, I think I've spent much of my life living from an ascetic perspective. It's what I was taught. Plus, since my intelligence is less of the classical variety and rather something else that is less readily measured I've had to work harder than most to get to where I was in life. When combined with the fact that I tend to drop off my own views and be overly patient with people, I think I've lost my sense of what 'fun' is, which is a strange feeling. These days I even have a difficult time determining whether people are kidding around or being serious.

Which approach is more beneficial and easier to learn from? Whether in the elementary school classroom or in college, teachers know that students learn more readily when having fun in the process. Comedians of today and court jesters of ancient times are and were able to point to partial, if exaggerated, truths that others could not. (As an aside, I wonder how many court jesters of ancient times lost their heads?)

What is fun? For myself, I can say that these days sitting and staring at a wall or going for a walk are as much fun as anything else. Although I will say that too much of anything is liable not to be fun -- which is another way of looking at what Buddha may have intended with 'small desire'.

One way or another, life goes on.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Poem: For Grace

I've published this one before...

She knew heaven.
           It touched and moved her,
Air around her arms,
                         earth beneath her feet.

Years passed as days might pass.
                    Clouds drifted across skies,
Sometimes cirrus wisps,
sometimes, after the great storms of summer,
Pillars of cumulus, colored in the pinks and yellows
       Of sunrise and sunset.

Some days fog wrapped her in warm humidity
And there were times of pure heat from days of sun.

There was night and the waxing and waning of moons.

She watched sparks flicker in the air and earth,
Listened to the humming movements
               of insects
                       and creatures
That chattered in unknown languages.

Leaves rustled in whispers
        that traced movements under brittle cover
     and further
Delved into the decaying detritus.

She knew these,
not by their names,
But by their innocence. There was beauty.
                     There was suffering.
Not being separate from either,
             she knew neither
In it's separate forms.
The distinctions we might hew and tender
were absent,
And her eyes tendered a calm
          no vision or wind could ripple.

She grew from the ground in a reversal of eons
   that weighted tedious.
An accumulation of sand and pebble
      and ragged shards of rock
Burned and molted back into wholeness -
              the fragments of our exiles
Reunited in cosmic glistening.

What was it that bore and birthed her
          from everlastingness?

Of us, for us, her longing
     that she could not sing the rightness of it,
The way the birds could sing,
                   picking up where they left off
After each passing storm.

So slowly, in years or moments,
she lifted that weight
and constricted her abdomen,
Breathing in and directing the shape that she was up,
first whispering,
then a hum,
And then deepening the vibration
until the hum became a note, a lullaby,
a blessing.

To rise and rising,
       first buffeted, then carried
on that great wind, ever towards us, that rose,
no longer becalmed, but at peace.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections: Angels of History

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

 - Maya Angelou

Language must have evolved because of a longing to decrease our sense of separation from the rest of the Universe. When did words cease to function as what they were intended for?

Each one of us is ignorant in our own unique way. If we weren't, we wouldn't be human beings. It's good to remember even as I wish it weren't true.

Photo credit: Isolde Ohlbaum

"This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward." - Walter Benjamin 

* In honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. It's a sunny 5oF with the wind out of the WNW at 13 mph. The photo and quote are from Carolyn Forche's book of poems: The Angel of History.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Early Poem and Some Thoughts

A poem I wrote sometime in the '80s:

The Illusion of Ice

Life as a lake bridging shorelines STOP
Fresh frozen notions we skate across STOP
We are on the apparent surface of August STOP

Whole cities have crumbled like this STOP

MAYDAY, MAYDAY The chopper blades can't cut it.

(Under the Pepsi-Cola sunbrella a margarita sloshes: That shaft of light is going too far, I tell you. Nothing runs that deep.)


Emptiness does run that deep as I think most folks reading this know. And that emptiness is part of reality is something I think few of us would disagree on as well.

What is reality? One possible answer is very simple: Reality is experience.

Each person's experience is different and unique. That's one reason each person's mind is the universe. Each person's perceptions of reality is going to be different.

For each of us our consciousness of our own individual reality is right. Even if that perception is deluded. Delusion is a consequence of how the mind works. It's when we try to convince others that there is a collective reality we all have to agree on that each of us becomes wrong. If people try to argue that I didn't experience what I know I did, I'm likely to disagree. The same is true for each of us.

We each bring a unique past, personality, aspirations and emotional tendencies to anything we encounter. Each of us is deluded in our own unique way. It's as true in real life as it is on the internet.

We've seen several recent tragedies in this country and around the world. These tragedies represent some of our worst nightmares and I am thankful that I have never personally experienced any of them. I can't help but feel for those who have.

Each of us is torn between wanting to help and our responsibilities to ourselves and those close to us.

Emptiness is undefined and unconditional. Unfortunately, we can neither correct our delusions or help others by solely relying on and retreating to emptiness. Delusion and the effect it has on all of our lives is not something we can cure by working only on ourselves.

I'm still planning on Internet silence on workdays for the Winter Intensive. It's about time I started working on my notes for Bussho, the next Chapter in the Shobogenzo, as well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Life is my Own and No One Else's Business

This is not the post I've been working the last couple of days. But in a taped teisho on Sunday it was mentioned that, these days, we have access to so much information from the television and the internet that some neuroscientists have wondered whether the brain is capable of processing it all (I apologize for not knowing the source of that report at the moment). Today has been one of those days in which I've wondered if that might be a correct assessment, although I haven't actually spent that much time on-line. And the assessment may be worse than I think since much of I see these days is accompanied by information in the sidebars, which even though I don't pay attention to, may be information my brain takes in subliminally and then indirectly affects how I perceive my reality. So even though I supposedly have a choice in what information I admit into my consciousness, that's not entirely true. (I'm thankful I don't own a television or play video games on my phone which I know many people do.)

My in real life Sangha begins it's winter practice intensive at the end of January. The winter intensive is followed by a sesshin. What I've decided is that for the winter intensive I going to declare as close to internet silence as I can given my job and responsibilities (I haven't yet decided whether I will limit internet silence to workdays or also include weekends.) When sesshin ends, I hope my consciousness no longer encounters all the indirect innuendo I've been seeing. I also will be trying to decide what to do with my life, what my options are. I know I need to be around people more than I have been, the fact that I am not is part of what people, the ones who care, have been responding to.

Right now, I'm going to sit. I'm late.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Where am I now?

I've always trusted in my own goodness. Trusted in the brightness of my own light.

I've also trusted that people would see my goodness and respect it. And I know some people do see it.

Those that don't, I've always figured they would eventually. Because I keep bringing understanding and awareness to what I see here. (Though I also admit I don't have the time to investigate all that's said and my view of the blogosphere is limited.)

I have high self-esteem, though I know it may surprise some folks given the difficult times I've faced and my isolation.

For unfortunate reasons, things didn't work out the way I thought they would when I started this blog. I have brought a tremendous amount of understanding, awareness and effort to that and to the people involved.

But some people have judged me due that failure and more people have judged me on account of the behavior of those others. A bit of a negative feedback loop.

I don't enjoy it. And given the difficulties I'm facing it doesn't help. I have and can bring understanding and awareness to it rather than be judgmental.

The fact that I've tried to bring understanding and awareness to the behavior of others has been used to judge me as being loose. And that's not true.

I still trust in my own goodness. I still trust in the brightness of my own light.

I still believe in the goodness of people even though that goodness may not always manifest in the way I'd prefer it to.

In case people haven't perceived it themselves, I have to point out that I'm still cutting off more of the few ways I express myself on-line to correct for the effects that the mistakes and the mistaken views of others have had. And, for what should be obvious reasons, I find that discouraging.