Dogen’s 8th Awareness:  Not Engaging in Vain Talk

 

Flee the chit chat with others,

except as an act of charity.

Love people very much.

Talk with few.

Talk with moderation.

Put nothing or no one between

you and the Source.

Do not let the love for the creature

get in the way of love for the Source.

 

Love, in a Disciplined Way.

Compilation of Zen Buddhism and Katherine of Siena, 14th C.

_____

This advice is at the heart of love, discipline and fleeing vain talk. If only we could remember, that vain talk aggravates the mind and leads to suffering. AND that…fleeing the chit chat of vanity is an act of charity. Chit chat gets in the Way of love for and from the Source.

What would it be like to speak from the Source, from the immutable, Supreme eternal?

When I contemplate this Awareness, I imagine Dogen’s 13th century world.  I imagine it to be very quiet.  No planes overhead, no background traffic sounds, no pushing a button to get a movie or TV show, no phones to call someone anytime day or night to talk to.  It sounds wonderful, the silence which quiets the mind.

During this pandemic, however, many of us are struggling with staying put; not jumping into our cars to go somewhere.  In Dogen’s time most people lived their whole lives not leaving the place where they were born or if they went somewhere, they walked.  So, in this ‘silent’ world, what was the vain talk Dogen wanted people not to engage in?

I don’t think he was saying ‘don’t talk.’  I think he was saying don’t engage in gossip, demeaning or condemning talk. Don’t get caught up in opinions or judgments.  This kind of talk must have been as present in the 13th century as it is now.  This talk is all about ‘me-my-mine.’  This kind of talk engages us in picking and choosing…right or wrong…good or bad, making judgments, reaching conclusions.  We take a stand and make our mind small and stingy. We speculate about the future and yearn for past that lives only in our minds.

What I think Dogen is encouraging us to do, is to talk from awareness.  Pay attention to the words that come out of our mouths.  To paraphrase a line from the movie Bambi:

‘…if you can’t say something

inspiring, comforting, encouraging,

sobering, enriching, unselfish,

informing, clarifying, questioning,

wise or nice,

don’t say anything at all.’

This is where we start, better to step away from ‘me-my-mine’ talk, than be a blow hard of opinions. We stop the worrying about whether it is the right thing to say…the worrying about what someone else thinks about what we say.

It releases us from wanting to look smarter…wanting to impress…wanting to have the last word.  We are free to concentrate and focus on what is right in front of us…not looking backward to defend or to the future to protect.

In this last Awareness, Dogen is doing what he did in his seven other teachings. He is encouraging, exhorting us to be aware. Right here, right now.  He wants us to have few desires, be content, enjoy quiet, be diligent, remember, meditate and concentrate, be wise and watch how we talk.  Unless or until we do this, we are stuck in the material world.

Without continually practicing these Awarenesses there is no ‘jumping clear.’  Without practicing these Awarenesses we cannot begin to study the self in order to forget the self to be awakened by myriad things.

Dogen shows us eight ways to know deeply that whatever comes into our lives comes to awaken us. It is a simple teaching. Flee the chit chat, the vain talk with others, showing off what we know or how to do something, blowing our own horn, or lording it over someone else with the latest news or the most entertaining gossip.

It is love to stop our babbling. We stop the babble and love in a disciplined Way not in the way of the material realm of fascinating subjects or juicy gossip, or the latest bad news.  We keep our nose out of others business. We offer succor when asked. We offer our words from the higher source of knowledge and not from our puny ideas and beliefs.

It’s a practice. A disciplined practice which is difficult to do, but not impossible. Discipline, our restraint of our mouth, is needed to do this practice. My encouragement is for each of us to consider it and begin to use our self-control. To watch how we often jabber needlessly and feel sickened afterwards. This is love – and to love in a disciplined Way.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Resolute

Personal Note

When I first came in contact with Ming Zhen Shakya, our late founder and my teacher, I had read this particular essay written by Ming Zhen. I read it several times and after each reading I said the same thing to myself, “this woman knows something I don’t know.”

It is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant essay on karma…on taking action…decisive action. It is about being resolved and about follow through on being resolved. It is also a prelude to several other essays that will follow this one.

I also want to add that Ming Zhen and I did not always readily agree but we were both willing to stay in the room with whatever was arising until one or the other or both of us saw the Dharma that was at that time our field of interest.

I recommend reading this essay even if you have read it before. It offers us all the wisdom of resolution and the missteps of irresolution. And as already mentioned it is the first essay of more essays on karma. 

I used this image below as a recognition of the high bird from which Ming Zhen lived and still holds influence for those of us who are her heirs in Dharma. Thank you, Ming Zhen, our old Sun.

Om Namo Guru Dev Namo

Fly

 

THE BOOK OF THE SAMURAI
Part 9: Being Resolute
by Ming Zhen Shakya

(Taken from commentary on the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai translated by William Scott Wilson)

Perhaps the most deceptively simple verse from the Hagakure is 1:41, quoted fully near the conclusion of the film, Ghost Dog:

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

Ideally, in Samurai or Zen culture, whenever a man has the authority to act and is required to make a decision – not a guess, but a decision – he considers both the positive and the negative consequences of his choice, and, weighing them, decides accordingly. He does his best to secure a good result, but he is not affected by the outcome or by the responses of others. In any case, he stands behind his decision. This is being resolved from the beginning.

Often, even in the simplest affairs of men, a person will take a course which he has not fully considered. Influenced, perhaps, by those who are conflicted by their own self-interests, he makes a choice, sanguine in the expectation of success. When a good result follows, those who influenced him will claim their share of the credit; but when a bad result follows, all the blame will be his, and the others will abandon him. He is confounded in either case. This is the perplexing aspect of irresolution.

How, then, does a man become “resolved from the beginning so as not to be perplexed.”? For the man who has already achieved the egoless state, indomitable resolve is a simple matter. But achieving that necessary selfless state is not so simple. Zen and the martial arts traditionally have been connected because a student in either discipline requires a master’s spiritual and psychological insights to guide him through the difficulties.

When a student begins training, regardless of his age, his new Code of Conduct requires that he develop a self-reliant character – with the specific goal of attaining the egoless state. He learns how to accept responsibility for his decisions and for his reactions to unexpected calamities. When the rain comes, he walks boldly through it, not seeking to mitigate its effects by running through the drops or hiding under eaves. He learns to recognize the true nature of praise and blame and to understand that both are meaningless. Whenever he allows them to have value, in either case, he will get soaked.

The student is taught to be constantly aware of his actions. He may not shift the burden of his errors onto others; but this discipline requires that he understand that it is his own nature that he must struggle against. It is not enough to stand up and admit to error; for what the outer man admits, the inner man may deny. It is in his own inner nature that a man unconsciously shifts the blame for his actions onto others. In his own unconscious mind, using psychological defensive tactics, he shapes that blame into a missile and then projects it into his environment onto some unlucky target. If left unchecked, such tactics will curtail his progress.

Although the Hagakure relates numerous anecdotes in which a leader’s egoless resolve is illustrated, the definitive text on the subject is a film made fifty years ago, Abandon Ship. No film, before or since, has come close to documenting the exigencies of ego-less resolve in leadership. We’ll take a moment to discuss the film because, though long out of circulation, it is still an important work.

Ten years after he gave his transcendent, 1946 portrayal of Larry Darrell in Somerset Maugham’s, The Razor’s Edge, Tyrone Power decided to make, at his own expense, Abandon Ship, a film about a disaster at sea. (The film was cheaply made, proving that throwing money at a project has no relationship whatsoever to the quality of its art. It was shot in black and white and, despite being about a disaster at sea, was filmed entirely in a studio in England.)

In The Razor’s Edge, Power had portrayed a man who sought spiritual liberation, the vaunted egoless state, and found it, finally, in India. Acclaimed for this role, he was disappointed to be cast subsequently in a series of swashbuckling films, popular at the time with movie audiences. Believing that a man of character, under any circumstances, could find within himself this selfless dedication to purpose, Power grasped the opportunity to portray a young lieutenant upon whom command had been suddenly thrust.

Abandon Ship’s reality-based plot details the events of the post WWII sinking of a cruise ship, The Crescent Star, which had carried 1076 passengers.

As the film opens, we see the ominous presence of a derelict mine floating in the Atlantic. It strikes the ship and detonates. There is a chaotic churning of the water, the screams of victims, and then the quiet bobbing of flotsam, a few gasping survivors, and a circling shark. The Crescent Star has required only seven minutes to sink.

Only one small boat, the Captain’s personal ship-to-shore row boat, meant to accommodate no more than nine people, remains to pick up survivors. Twenty-seven people and a large dog have crowded into it or are hanging onto a rope that circles the boat. The excessive weight makes the boat sit impossibly low in the water, and the sea laps over its gunwales.

The Captain, mortally wounded, gives command to young Lieutenant Holmes (played by Tyrone Power) with the order to save as many people as possible. Holmes accepts the command. When a nurse, with whom Holmes has a romantic relationship, confirms the Captain’s death; they lower his body over the side.

Holmes has never before commanded any kind of vessel. Instinctively he tries to reassure the passengers as he assesses the situation. The ship’s radioman is traumatized, and in his confusion gives the impression that he had sent an SOS signal to a ship some two hundred miles away. According to this information, rescue should take no more than seventy-two hours. Aside from floatation collars and life preservers, the little boat contains a pound of biscuits, some sugar and cream, a gallon of water; a flare gun and a small first-aid kit. Holmes orders the supplies to be rationed. He also orders the able-bodied men to take shifts in the water, hanging onto the rope which circles the boat.

Six of the passengers are critically injured. A woman whose upper arm had been badly cut during the explosion, has had a tourniquet placed on it; but no one has thought to loosen it. After remaining tied for three hours, her arm is swollen and in the incipient stages of gangrene. As the nurse tends to her, the radioman regains his composure and reveals that no signal whatsoever had been given. They are fifteen hundred miles and weeks away from the nearest land.

Another critically wounded officer tells Holmes that they are so over-weighted they cannot possibly make landfall. To reach land, they must row, and the boat is too low in the water. He advises Holmes to”evict” some of the passengers who are either feeble or critically injured and unlikely to survive. Holmes rejects the advice. The officer tells him that it is better to save half their lives than it is to lose them all. He stands and tells the others that the weakest of them must be cast adrift for the salvation of the others, and then he leaps overboard. His advice has obviously had no self-serving motive.

When the woman whose arm is now gangrenous wants more water, Holmes refuses, realizing that it is pointless to waste water on someone who is going to die anyway. His refusal is called “outrageous” and”heartless” by the passengers who mostly fail to appreciate the desperate position they are in. They persist in their demand that he”do something!” But having more than two dozen people and a seventy pound dog in a row boat does not give a man many options.

Their situation is made clearer by the presence of the dog. One man who has been in the water begs to be taken aboard in place of the dog. Holmes says no. The passengers object to his refusal; but Holmes is adamant: the man must stay in the water until his shift is over, and the dog will remain on board. One passenger, an officious retired general, demands that he explain such an inhumane decision, and Holmes replies simply, “We’re likely to be at sea for a long time. We can eat the dog.”

An approaching gale forces Holmes to reconsider the “eviction” action. Laden as it is, the little boat cannot withstand the fury of an Atlantic storm. The waves splash into the boat, and it is no longer possible to allow the men in the sea to hang onto the rope since they are dragging the boat even lower.

Aside from the woman with gangrene, a few passengers are sick from having swallowed petroleum or inhaled searing smoke. A few have broken bones. One, the dog’s owner, is too seasick to take his turn in the sea or even to bail. Against everyone’s objections, Holmes orders that they be given the floatation collars and “in God’s hands” to be cast adrift. The passengers call Holmes a cold blooded murderer and try to impose their “civilized” philosophy on him. They remind him that it is the responsibility of the strong to care for the weak. He counters that the extremity of their situation favors the strong who can row, since rowing and keeping the bow pointed into the waves is their only chance to keep from capsizing. No one supports him in this action. Only at gunpoint does the crew obey his order; but in the mutinous confusion, the dog jumps into the water and several able-bodied men fall overboard and are lost.

The gale is quickly worsening and Holmes orders the remaining passengers to row or bail; but one passenger who is armed with a knife, continues to object and irrationally insists that they go back and retrieve all the people in the water, clearly an impossibility. Frantic, he stabs Holmes in the chest. Holmes shoots him and he falls overboard. The boat’s occupancy is now down to fourteen.

Throughout the harrowing night of fierce wind, lightning, and huge waves that break over the boat, Holmes, despite his wound, continues to man the tiller and to direct the actions of the terrified passengers.

In the morning, with the sea calm again, the exhausted passengers are jubilant to see that they’ve all survived. Unanimously they credit Holmes with saving their lives, congratulating him profusely for having the courage and foresight to make his grim but necessary decision.

Of all people, it is the nurse – the woman he loves – who begins to second-guess him. Perhaps they would have made it with the others still aboard, who is to say? Perhaps the storm would have edged past them. Something else could have happened. Holmes says, “But the storm did happen. I did what was right.” She responds, “I don’t know what was right or wrong.” He sees even more clearly how alone a leader is. He also understands that his wound has so weakened him that he has become a liability, and he calmly accepts the same fate that he decreed for the others. He transfers his command to the radio operator and then drops himself overboard. A few passengers jump in after him and pull him back aboard. In another moment an ocean liner is seen on the horizon.

Now that rescue is imminent, the passengers begin to fear that their effusive praise has made them complicit; and one by one they recant their commendations, claiming that from the outset hey had vehemently opposed his action. As to whether or not he was right in doing what he did, that, they hasten to remind him, is for the courts to decide. Holmes has been as abandoned as his ship. When asked if he requires assistance to board the liner, he says, as stoically as a samurai warrior, “I can make it alone.”

A voice-over commentator discloses that once they were safely back in England, Holmes was tried for murder. (He was found guilty but in consideration of the circumstances, given only a six months’ sentence.)

The question of his guilt or innocence, while interesting, is not at issue here. It is his previously untested indomitable and selfless resolve that concerns us. Whether by talent or training, Holmes avoided the psychological traps that often ensnare those who strive to become enlightened.

The first trap that the Zen master or Samurai mentor eliminates is one that other teachers frequently encourage: displacement of aggression. In an unconscious shift, a person who is frustrated by his inability to strike back at an antagonist will release his anger by hitting or kicking a helpless individual, a wall, or punching bag. Instead of using a surrogate victim, the samurai student is taught to acknowledge his own inabilities; to consider the situation from all aspects – including his antagonist’s; to seek to resolve the conflict honorably; and to increase his martial arts’ training in order to meet the next challenge.

The second one is projection. In this trap, the student is guilty of some objectionable behavior… lying, perhaps. Instead of trying to understand why it was that he felt obliged to lie and to set the matter right, he internally and unconsciously shifts his guilt onto his Enemy Shadow archetype (Seventh World of Chan Buddhism – psychology section ). Once there, it is quickly projected onto someone else who is a likely target for the attack. The student, unaware of the dynamics of this shift, feels genuine contempt for the innocent scapegoat. “If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar.” The teacher, recognizing that all emotional displays indicate one form or another of projection, meets privately with the student and counsels him accordingly.

Rarely does a person comprehend that his contempt manifests unconsciously. In our Zen prison sangha, as we discussed these traps, one of the men suddenly realized why he despised a poor old man who couldn’t work and who was reduced to picking up discarded cigarette butts and smoking them. He called the man “a cockroach.” (It is the Shadow’s function to make a perceived enemy sub-human so that he may be destroyed with impunity. Usually we refer to our enemy as a creature that steals our food or fouls our den… “a rat, a snake, a skunk, a bitch, a roach,” etc. We never refer to him as a panda or a giraffe.) The man in our Zen sangha had been trying unsuccessfully for years to kick the truly dirty habit of chewing tobacco. He immediately understood why he hated the old man and had constantly referred to him in such disparaging terms. He felt so bad about shifting his own guilt onto him that he bought the old man a few packs of cigarettes.

The third mechanism the ego uses to defend itself is one of the most difficult to deal with: Reaction Formation. The mechanics of this trap are well concealed. Freud studied anti-vivisectionists (persons opposed to using animals for medical experimentation or surgical practice) and found that they were uncommonly cruel individuals. This peculiar shift is seen often in anti-abortion demonstrations in which some protesters are so motivated to end abortion in the name of the sacredness of human life that they approve of murdering the doctor and other medical personnel. When a Zen or martial art’s master encounters this kind of exaggerated “conviction” in a student, he generally has long, private talks with him – not the usual “darshan” (interview with the master called dokusan in Japanese) but gentle reflections in which he offers the points of view of the despised persons. The master’s aim is to get the student to see that he, too, shares some of the traits he so vehemently despises. He does not tell him “to use” his anger on the mat.

The fourth trap is regression. In this shift a person who is going through a difficult period in his life reverts to an age in which he was free of such problems. For example, a man who is entering middle-age and cannot face his increasing signs of physical deterioration, may suddenly turn to the martial arts as if he were a young man again. Usually, he harms himself trying to perform the various physical exercises in the dojo. The master recognizes his true motivation and, while welcoming him into the group, assigns him less strenuous exercises until he can gain the required ability. He talks to the man, accentuating the wisdom of maturity and gets him to look at his problems more objectively. He does not encourage him to believe that youth is a quality that can be had by associating with the young.

The fifth trap is repression. In this tactic, the person simply buries a grievous insult or injury so deep in his mind that he forgets it completely. He honestly cannot remember the incident. He may, however, in response to the repression, exhibit great disdain for something he associates with the subject. If, for example, a person had nearly drowned as a child at the beach, he may grow up completely forgetting the incident but being a radical proponent of saving the wetlands and prohibiting ocean-front development. Whenever a student demonstrates strong emotion, the Zen master suspects that he has fallen into a trap. With gentle private talks he can gauge the depth of the pit and try to help the student to extricate himself by remembering that long forgotten injury.

The sixth ego trap is rationalization. In this, the student simply invents a justifying cause for his contemptible behavior. He is open about his actions and may ever exaggerate them, but he excuses them automatically by casting blame upon others. For example, after hitting a child with his car, he may say, “If the kid had been properly supervised, he wouldn’t have been playing in the street ” or, “If John hadn’t called me on my cellphone, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off the road.” If he has been particularly brutal in a fight, he may claim that he taught his victim a lesson for having insulted his Master or his school, a claim that he invented but nevertheless believes.

The seventh trap is somatization: Guilt and fear easily transform into physical symptoms. The ego finds it easier to deal with a sick body that can quickly gain sympathetic attention than it does to deal with guilt that it prefers to hide. The martial arts’ master soon learns which students frequently attempt to excuse poor performance by claiming illness. If the student is young and believed by his parents, the master is not likely to succeed in counseling him.

The stoicism of the resolute samurai was also well depicted by Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog. Vowed to protect his master, he would not even defend himself when his master decided to kill him.

A leader must be as one-pointed in his determination to fulfill the duties of his commitments as he is prepared to accept their consequences. In order to do this, he must remain free of emotional projections. It was the belief that his only real enemy was the one he harbored within himself that enabled a samurai to commit Seppuku with such indifferent coldness.

See: Those Who Serve

NOTE: Some of this explanation is dated and perhaps a bit too reductionist. It, however, serves us as a recognition that when we are over-emotional, over-heated, over-wrought we, in a general sense, are working out our inner conflicts and wounds. A teacher is an essential and priceless gem especially before the student reaches the ego-less state.

The key point is to know that the work of Dharma is always with oneself as discussed in the piece Those Who Serve.

AND…the Five Remembrances must be clear, alive recollections that are part of one’s understanding; this essay being about karma.

Om namo guru dev namo

Humming Bird

Those Who Serve & Risk Life & Limb for Others Are Heroes

So much talk in the US about soldiers these days…bashing them, calling them “names” – misunderstanding what and why someone volunteers to serve as a warrior. To willingly put themselves in harms way for the sake of freedom for others.

Here is a short reminder of what the mightiest warrior is…it includes all that serve.

The Mightiest of Warriors

But the mightiest warriors enemies are not common foes of flesh and bone.

Then what is the enemy?

The fight is with the inner delusions, the afflictions of self-cherishing and ego-grasping…those most terrible of demons that catch living beings in the snare of confusion and cause them forever to wander in pain and sorrow.

What is the mission of the mightiest warrior?

The mission is to harm ignorance and delusion…never living beings. Look upon living beings with kindness, patience and empathy…cherishing them like a mother cherishes her only child.

This is the karma of sacrifice.

The mightiest warrior is the real hero….calmly facing any hardship in order to bring peace, happiness and liberation to the world.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

The Five Remembrances: Birth. Aging. Sickness. Death. Karma.

 

The body and mind are of the nature to grow old.

The body and mind are of the nature to get sick.

The body and mind are of the nature to die.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

My actions are my closest companions.

I am the beneficiary of my actions.

_____

 

My dear friends,

All over the world the Five Remembrances in some form or another are chanted on a daily basis. The daily chant is to remind us of the changing nature of all things. This teaching is not the highest teaching but it is a teaching that is available to all of us. It is an ever present condition of the form of existence.

Forms come into existence, appear for awhile and then vanish. That, my friends, is nothing new under the Sun. It is self-evident for those who will glance at what is going on for even just a moment.

We may fight against it, but it is a universal truth which concerns the body and mind. We share the same inevitable truth of it. No matter where we live, what gender, what species, what race…all the what’s of diversity. All of us face these Truths on some level.

In the Art Pieces 1: On Death…we were given a glance at the third remembrance, Death, from three different artists: a painter, a poet and a writer. We will now take a step backward in order to understand that one of Zen Buddhism’s charters is to help us remember our conditions in form, that is the body and mind.

It reminds us that the body and the mind are things and like all things, they suffer birth, time and death. This remembering is to help sober us to our condition and to know the body and mind suffer birth, time and death; to know all things suffer birth, time and death. That nothing stays still, nothing settles for good, for all time because the nature of things suffers birth, time and death.

For those of us hard-wired with the tendency for perfection, we may feel the heft and weight of this fact since we tend to fight to settle, to fix and perfect things continuously. With this tendency our suffering can and does reach monumental proportions.

To some extent we all suffer from the nature of things. To remember the condition of the body and mind is subject to birth, time and death and will disappear, makes this truth skin-deep personal. But we need to be reminded of our nature.

This Truth, my friends, is an initial step which we must understand in such a way that we see the suffering that comes from clinging to body and mind. The aspiration is that the reminder will help us see this truth and realize the consequences of not paying attention to it. This reminder is priceless.

Because, my friends, we are hard-headed and ignorant of Reality, we ignore this Truth and are taken by surprise by it again and again.

It is understandable.

Our body and mind look real. In fact, most forms look real. And what I mean by real is that which is immutable, without beginning or end, and is the ground of being. A new thing often fools us into thinking THIS NEW THING is IT. It isn’t.

The enlightened sages saw something beyond name and form and were not taken in by the look of name and form. No one is saying that forms do not look beautiful, or appealing, or alluring…certainly they do. And no one is saying that forms do not look ugly, or disquieting and repulsive…certainly they do. But as we all know “looks can be deceiving.” (Dividing the world of form is yet another spiritual milestone which needs to be seen through – but that is another Truth we must take up at another time.)

The five remembrances are remarkable recollections that remind us that all names and forms age, fall apart, and vanish. Forms return to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Now this may sound disheartening especially to those who cling to forms for solace and certainty. Those, however, who are sincere in their pursuit of spiritual Truth study these five remembrances within themselves.

When we are sincere in our spiritual practice we begin to see for ourselves the nature of form as unreliable. When we reckon with the nature of form we begin to stop taking disappointments and loss personally and study our disappointments and losses as a factor of our conditions and not as an assault.

When we are spiritually anchored we begin to see disappointments and losses and all things as things that come to remind us that relinquishment of attachment is the better part of valor.

We may stumble and sometimes even fall down in the vagaries of our embodied life but we do not give up. We get up. We face the tiger. We continue towards the summit.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Art Pieces 1: On Death. A Painting, A Poem & A Scrap from A Letter

Death and the Maiden

By Egon Schiele


Egon Schiele died in 1918 of the Spanish flu at the age of 28.

__________

Hiding 

By Sophia Meyers-Green

A poem written some 20 years after the death of a beloved husband.

I am hiding behind a chair.

No elaborate music,

Is playing.

There is that great stone over my heart not allowing me to feel

what is on the other side of the door.

I know it is love and I am hiding.

I loved and lost.

I am alive.

This is my birthday.

You smiled at me today.

Although I felt the warmth of that smile,

I turned away . . .  afraid you would touch me.

Tears would come to my eyes . . .

I would remember.

Then, I did hear the beginning of music,

sounds, soft, almost murmurs, like breathing,

like the running of water over blue stones.

Dare I dip my foot

ever so quickly just for one moment.

__________

Death Can Cause People to Stop Living (50-53)

By Henri Nouwen 

Written Six Months after the Death of his mother.

We have both seen how some of our friends could not accept unforeseen changes in their lives and were unable to deal with an unknown future. When things went differently than they had expected or took a drastic turn, they did not know how to adjust to the new situation. Sometimes they became bitter and sour. Often they clung to familiar patterns of living that were no longer adequate and kept repeating what once made sense but no longer could speak to the real circumstances of the moment.

Death has often affected people in this way, as we know too well. The death of husband, wife, child, or friend can cause people to stop living toward the unknown future and make them withdraw into the familiar past. They keep holding on to a few precious memories and customs and see their lives as having come to a standstill. They start to live as if they were thinking, “For me it is all over. There is nothing more to expect from life.”

As you can see, here the opposite of detachment is taking place; here is a re-attachment that makes life stale and takes all vitality out of existence.

__________

More on Death to follow.

Humming Bird

Death and the Maiden (Tod und Mädchen)  Painting by Egon Schiele

Death Can Cause People to Stop Living A Letter of Consolation by Henri Nouwen

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Words for Dark Time

Words for Dark Time

One of our dogs, as he grew older became afraid of lightning and thunder.  Being in the living room with us in full light brought him no comfort.  What he wanted was complete, silent darkness.  It was the darkness that brought him comfort.

Western culture is filled with light.  We have street lights so we can feel safer walking at night.  Buildings advertise themselves with lights of all shapes and colors.  We have night lights in bedrooms and bathrooms.  We can have light 24/7.

But do we want so much light?

This little, FREE e-book, Words for Dark Time is a guide to take a look at ourselves and our deductions, judgments and criticisms about the dark.  It encourages us to study not the light but the dark, to look at the fear and discomfort dark can and does bring and not turn away.

Just as my dog did, we need to learn the language of complete, silent darkness. Old Earth

Words for Dark Time

By FLY 2020

Words for Dark Time

For Everyone Who is Afraid of the Dark Time

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Don’t Lose One Grain of Rice

history-of-rice-cultivation1b

History of rice cultivation

 

Rice is a staple.

A staple is an important part of something like a thin piece of wire that holds two or more things together. It is an essential food. Rice holds body and soul together for over half the global population.

Rice is not to be snubbed. It is important.

When we are encouraged not to lose even one grain of rice we are being nudged to look after a staple that holds millions of lives together around the world. This is a material fact making rice an essential ingredient of keeping many alive. 

In Zen Buddhism the teachings are pointing to both body and mind with the Mind being in the lead. If we consider this teaching as significant as that apple that klunked the head of Newton awakening in him the knowledge of gravity. What would we awaken to in finding and losing one grain of rice? 

At the very least, our attitude about the teaching takes on the importance of endless possibilities. I say endless possibilities because we are all contemplating or not contemplating things in the mind. It may, for example, when a grain of uncooked rice skitters away on the kitchen counter that we realize we have been far away in a dream or a wish in the mind. The wayward grain may awaken us to being in the kitchen, preparing rice to give to others as well as to our own bodies. It may, as another example, when a grain of cooked rice is stirred that we realize that cooking changes the grain of rice in such a way that it no longer is separate and no longer able to skitter off by itself. 

How do we get cooked up with the Supreme Self?

To Reach One Thing is To Reach All Things. It is the All-Things-Realization. Nothing is left out; one grain of rice found, one grain of rice lost. 

The grain of rice, whether we take care not to lose it or take care to find it, is realization. The smallness or bigness of a thing is not the measure of realization. The grain of rice, whether lost or found, contains the whole shebang. The activity of losing and finding is the Way.

There are many, many more discoveries to awaken us when our attitude about a teaching is important to us. When we know all things, even a grain of rice, comes to awaken us to the immeasurable, immutable and ineffable Way Seeking Mind. We see through to the underlying, invisible discovery that is always there in all things. 

 

When we know this, rice is more than a staple, it is a spiritual gift.

 

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Don’t Lose One Grain of Rice. It is a teaching  from a sutra by a 12th century Zen Master, Dogen. The complete sutra can be found in this Practice Book on page 64: The Tenzo’s Prayer

For those who drink beer – keep reading.
The brewing company Anheuser-Busch is the largest purchaser of U.S. rice, buying about 8% of the annual crop. The brewing giant owns its own rice mills in Arkansas and California. Budweiser, its most popular beer brand, uses rice as an adjunct. Rice and corn flour are used in other Anheuser-Busch beers. Coors is also a rice-based beer. Ricepdia.com

Cultivate Wisdom, Dogen’s 7th Awareness

Years ago, when we moved to our house, we had a front lawn.  Slowly as the grass didn’t grow well, I began to plant flowers and bushes.  Now there is no lawn just plants…a small herb garden, a blueberry patch, and lots of prairie plants…cone flowers, bee balm, and other plants whose names I have lost.  It is a hodgepodge that has a certain beauty of abundance.  But I’ve noticed that there are some plants that seem to be very pushy and if because they have been left on their own, they are taking over the entire garden.  So, this year I decided that a little cultivation was in order…a little thinning and pruning and removing…allowing all the plants to have a bit of space…and putting in stone walkways.

And I find, as I work on the garden, I cultivate Wisdom.  How is this so?

 

Well, first of all, Wisdom isn’t a thing.  It isn’t something one can get or buy at a store or find on the internet.  It isn’t information.  It isn’t something one can hold on to or save or store away.  And a garden isn’t a thing either.  I can call it ‘my garden’ but it really doesn’t belong to me.  I’m not in charge of what makes some plants thrive and others die out.  The plants are gifts that for whatever reason have chosen to spend sometime in the front yard.

And so it is with Wisdom.  I can call it ‘my wisdom’ but it doesn’t belong to me.  It is a gift, a grace that can only be felt or known.  Again, Wisdom is not a thing.   It is a knowing, an understanding that I am not the doer.  I cannot make Wisdom happen.

Back to the garden…this summer I’ve taken to heart the hard work required for cultivation and discipline.

The garden needs the discipline of order, transplanting tall plants further back and transplanting short plants in the front.  The herb garden needs pruning.  The Thyme is pushing against the Oregano and the chives want the entire garden.  The garden needs walking space, so plants are not stepped on and can be carefully watered.  To do this takes daily effort…careful attention to the transplanting and watering.

My mind, my thoughts, like the plants, need discipline or they run wild, are scattered not focused.  My mind needs quiet places for silence and concentration.  My thoughts need pruning…letting go of old worn out thoughts…remembering being teased because I loved my second-grade teacher…remembering being told I was cold and aloof by colleagues…remembering getting so angry when I was told my job was redundant.  Future fears and worries also need pruning.  The dandelions of ‘What-Ifs’ produce and multiply not leaving space for anything else.

When I cultivate the garden to make space for everything; when I cultivate my mind and thoughts there is space for everything.  Wisdom is this space.  It is this place without words. It is the inconceivable source that can’t be faced or turned away from.

And a bit more about Wisdom.  I hope, as I walk on the still to be set-in pathways to ponder Sirach’s words:

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom, and fix their gaze on knowledge;

Who ponder her ways in their heart, and understand her paths;

Who pursue her like a scout, and watch at her entry way;

Who peep through her windows, and listen at her doors;

Who encamp near her house and fasten their tent pegs next to her walls;

Who pitch their tent beside her, and dwell in a good place;

Who build their nest in her leaves, and lodge in her branches;

Who take refuge from the heat in her shade and dwell in her home.

 

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Exhibitionist Politics by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

 

 

The More Things Change,

The More They Stay the Same

 

 

December 20, 2003

 

When a dog bites a man, that is not news… but if a man bites a dog, that is news.

                    — John B. Bogart

 

In mid-November, Norway, frustrated in its attempts to mediate a peaceful solution to the civil strife in Sri Lanka; reluctantly halted its diplomatic mission; and the world was treated to the spectacle of militant Buddhist monks burning a Norwegian flag. That it wasn’t Old Glory going up in flames came as a novel relief to Americans in general; but to us American Buddhists, it came as a small but meaningful vindication of our belief that Buddhists are human beings, after all. They can get angry and they can fight. Ahimsa doesn’t mandate catatonia any more than, in the case of flag-burning, it mandates common sense and decency.

 

The sight of Buddhist clerics doing something as contentious as destroying Norway’s flag was considered so unusual that it warranted world wide news coverage. This misses the point that it was, in fact, unusual. The Associated Press photographer who took the picture could likely have gone the length and breath of Sri Lanka and not found another instance of flag desecration.

 

The same type of disproportionate attention is given to the pronouncements of people who are famous for things other than their political insights or who are otherwise newsworthy by virtue of some momentary exhibitionistic act. These self-proclaimed arbiters of national policy have always been troublesome to a majority of people who do not share their views.

 

Lanka is a name dear to Buddhists. It is said that on this island off the southeast coast of India, The Buddha once delivered a beautiful sermon, “On Entering Lanka” (Lankavatara).

 

In the days of European imperialism, the three separate nations into which the island was divided were combined into one, called Ceylon. It was never a happy grouping. In the north, the people were Hindu Tamil, members of an Indian religious sect whose principal deity is Skanda, the son of Shiva. Skanda is a charismatic war god; and his militant followers, the Tamil Tigers, keep that inspirational source ever in mind.

 

The greater part of the island, however, is Buddhist – Sinhalese and Theravadin in nature. Their counterpart to the Tigers is the National Bhikku Front.

 

An admittedly oversimplified account of the conflict is that the Tamils want independence and the Buddhists want Union and majority rule; and in these causes there has been considerable violence.

 

Some of the POW’s of Hell Fire Pass. Prisoners would work 16 to 22 hours in straight shifts. When they fell down they would seldom get up because they would be kicked to death. Many prisoners were tortured for the smallest offenses. The Japanese commander’s motto was “if you work hard you will be treated well, but if you do not work hard you will be punished.” Punishments included savage beatings, being made to kneel on sharp sticks while holding a boulder for one to three hours at a time and being tied to a tree with barbed wire and left there for two to three days without any food or water. Photo courtesy of Bruce Langslow at HellFirePass.com.

 

It came as a curious coincidence that in the very same days that Norway abandoned its attempt to broker an end to the civil war, Public Television showed a documentary about the hundred thousand Allied Prisoners Of War – British, Australian, Dutch, American and Asian – whom the Japanese starved, tortured and worked to death building a Thai-Burmese railroad and its infamous bridge over the River Kwai; while a switch of TV channels revealed network news coverage of a hundred thousand people massed in London apparently to vent their hatred of the United States. The protesters had prevented the Queen from riding with the President and Mrs. Bush in her golden ceremonial carriage – an honor, the news media showed – she had been able to extend to the Emperor of Japan who had overseen those atrocities in Thailand. We saw old footage of the crowds who happily cheered Hirohito and live coverage of people who called George Bush a murderer and carried an effigy of him posed in the familiar likeness of Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad statue.

The subject came up at my prison sangha. How could anybody make sense of this baffling series of coincidences. I didn’t see much that needed explanation beyond the media’s quest for things controversial and the usual defense mechanisms we see around us every day.

 

 

Anti-war demonstrators in London’s Trafalgar Square on Nov. 20th, 2003 parading with a statue of a fallen President Bush, likening him to Saddam Hussein in the famous photos of American troups toppling his statue in Bagdhad during the war. Photo courtesy of CrimeLynx.

 

 

 

 

An event, to be newsworthy, has to be startling, something we can all talk about in check-out lines or around water coolers. If an ordinary dog bites an ordinary man, nobody cares. That’s a commonplace occurrence to us, if not to the man or dog involved. But if a man bites a dog? Ah… it may not warrant a 5-inch banner, but the media will cover it.

The defense mechanism that drives a man to “bite a dog” takes a bit more in the way of explanation.

There are definite reasons why the emotion displayed by a crowd of demonstrators seems always to be greater than the sum of its parts. People, with opposition that varies in both kind and in degree, may assemble to protest, but the people we notice are the most vociferous or visually outrageous. Many people on those London Streets were not voicing hatred of anybody. They were there to register their considered opposition to a foreign policy with which they obviously disagreed. These citizens constitute the loyal opposition, vital to democratic governance. Had they been the only ones demonstrating, the Queen would have taken the President and Mrs. Bush for a ride in her golden carriage.

 

Reasoned protest is interested in making its reasons known. It states its point of view, perhaps its fears about the consequences of the present course, or its support for those who, it believes, have been unjustly treated; but whatever its reasons, politicians are wise to take note.

 

But many of the protesters in London displayed excessive emotions, some absurdly so, that in no way could have been construed as reasoned opposition, a fact noted by the men in the prison sangha and also by a few law abiding citizens who contacted me. How did it happen that the Queen could honor Hirohito, Adolph Hitler’s greatest ally, and be prohibited from extending the same honor to the President of the United States, then, as now, England’s greatest ally?

 

Sometimes, the answer is – to use the analogy of believing a coiled rope to be a coiled snake, (the ancient model of mistaking the false for the real) – that when we see what appears to be violent opposition, we are not seeing opposition at all.

 

Particularly in the religious life, we learn to suspect that public shouts are made to muffle private whispers, indications that an ego-protecting defense mechanism has been activated:

 

A vehement denunciation of a “shameful evil” frequently compensates a hidden inclination to indulge in that very evil, the classic Freudian “reaction formation.”

 

A vitriolic attack upon the character of an authority figure is often a displaced criticism, one which the individual is impotent to direct against his true antagonist.

 

Juvenile acts of mischief or wildly dramatized claims and charges usually signal regression, a reversion to a former, more carefree lifestyle. (We see the same type of regression in a “mid-life crisis” when the inability to deal with the demands of maturity drive a man to buy a sports car and frequent singles’ bars.)

 

An assortment of unsavory charges can unconsciously be projected onto another individual in order to avoid the pain of accepting responsibility for having had similar desires or having done similar deeds.

 

The common denominator of all of these mechanisms is publicity. It almost seems as if the fact of being unaware of having shifted guilt onto a surrogate requires a man to broadcast the result; and the more outspoken his statement, the more convincing it is to him that no such shift has occurred. The one who has shifted the guilt becomes exactly as innocent in his own mind as the one upon whom he has shifted it becomes guilty.

 

And so we find among those who peacefully assemble to march and demonstrate opposition, a peculiar fringe group that needs instead to pose for willing cameras to show off bizarre costumes, signs, and props, and then, to insure greater coverage, to provoke the police by rioting in the streets.

 

We are not speaking here of hypocrites, the charlatans and con-men. They know who they are and it remains for us merely to recognize them. The people we have to fear are those whose guilt is so buried in their psyche they could pass a polygraph – the ones who seduce us into helping them to gain that required publicity, who seem at first to share our concerns, but who unconsciously fulfill another agenda, one that propels them into outrageous behavior.

 

Whenever we lend our names to a cause we need to be prepared to encounter this element.

 

In the early days of my ministry, I was asked to attend a meeting “to form an advisory council” that would protect the interests of “women in jeopardy.” The invitation specified that the purpose was to influence municipal spending priorities. Without proper guidance the city fathers would succumb to special interest lobbyists – and naturally we responsible folks had to champion the needs of homeless women and children and, of course, the battered women’s shelter. Without sufficient prodding, city money would surely be spent on fountains and shrubbery. Not being against beautification projects; but being definitely for assisting battered women and homeless kids, I agreed to attend the organizational meeting.

 

The group convened in a private home. I signed in and took a seat in the living room and chatted while the room filled up, some two dozen women being finally present. At the gavel, the chairperson stood and announced, “Ladies, there are lives at stake!” I nodded in affirmation and then sat back in disbelief when she announced that the lives that were in jeopardy were the personnel of an abortion clinic. Police protection for the clinic was the priority item. Her voice began to rise in a seductive cadence. It had been discovered that an employee (whom she did not name) of the clinic was actually a “Pro-lifer!” – but this was more than a variation of industrial espionage. The Pro-Lifer had gained access to the clinic files; and she would no doubt give names and addresses to her confederates. Patients, doctors and nurses would be harassed and possibly even harmed. On and on she ranted about this Pro-Lifer’s deceit.

 

A “Pro-choice” manifesto was passed around and I noticed that my name was already printed on it. Aside from a general statement in support of “women at risk” there was no mention of assisting homeless women and children or a shelter for battered women. It was all about police protection and criminal prosecution of employees who gained access to confidential files through misrepresentation of their credentials or sympathies. Whether I agreed with this goal or not was beside the point. This was not one of those meetings that had been initiated with one goal in mind and then, as sometimes happens, had gone into a related but tangential direction. From the outset, this was the sole purpose of the meeting, and I had been deliberately deceived into attending it. As I read the document, astonished to see my name among the signatories, I heard several of the women plan a protest march and additionally to institute a campaign of harassment against the suspect employee. Telephone calls could be made through the night, products ordered and delivered to her house; trash cans overturned, and if she had a dog, a left-open gate would let it run loose. I told them to take my name off the letter and said simply that if they didn’t remove it, I’d get a lawyer. As I walked to my car, I saw several women also leave the meeting.

 

I never heard anything more about the group. Their protest march was overshadowed by another incident: a police officer had refused an order to restrict certain protest activity on grounds that it conflicted with his religious principles. He believed that it was his duty to protect the innocent – and that, according to his conscience, included unborn children. The town was considering the pros and cons of disciplining him when it was revealed that he was considerably in arrears in his child support payments. This revelation left the Pro-Life group in disarray and then public interest moved on to other matters.

 

If, in fact, there had been a spy in the abortion clinic and that person was responsible for harassment or harm to patients and clinic personnel, I hoped she’d be held responsible; but as I saw it, deceit is deceit as terrorism is terrorism. Tormenting someone with 2 AM phone calls and planting a bomb on a plane are acts that are different only in degree. They are not different in kind.

 

We have entered a new age of media-conscious terrorism . A hate-filled fanatic can command a passenger plane to be turned into a missile and in doing so can commandeer the world’s television screens. And the danger here is that in this larger-than-life presentation of himself, he can forge archetypal connections to the emotionally unstable. He is powerful; and his strength supports their fragile egos and redeems them. His cause becomes the target upon which they can unconsciously plot the trajectories of their own psychological weapons. The more they discharge, the more emptied of hate their arsenal appears. Though they have been wretchedly helpless to deal with their own enfeebling guilt, in this catharsis their strength returns; and it does not matter at all that they have misdirected their anger, it is enough that they are relieved of its burden.

 

We don’t know how Norwegians felt about seeing their flag being burned by Buddhist monks; or how the sincere demonstrators in London felt about a few protesters whose excessive actions converted the right of political expression into a threat upon the lives of the Queen and the President. To us, watching on TV, it seemed strange that all the violence and hatred that were so graphically demonstrated in support of Saddam Hussein’s regime were done in the name of an appeasing peace.

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Take Care of Your Mind by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

 

 

 

Dogen’s 6th Awareness:   Control Your Mind – Cultivate Meditation Concentration

Meditation:  engage in contemplation or reflection; taking charge of one’s mind

Concentration:  deep reflective thought; an inner seeing that transcends the intellect

 

Dogen’s Awarenesses – Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection are not commandments or rules to be memorized and slavishly followed. They are qualities to be lived not just something to think about or observe in other people.  These awarenesses are like seeds in our minds, when we water them with practice they can break through our ignorance, like seedlings breaking through the dirt to become plants.

 

So what Dogen intends, I think, is to bring all of these awareness’s directly into our daily life.

 

When I began my Buddhist practice I joined a Zen sangha.  A group of us met every Wednesday and Saturday to do sitting meditation for 40 minutes, followed by walking meditation for 10 minutes, followed by another 40 minutes of sitting meditation.  I was taught to sit still on a cushion and not scratch an ear or ankle, quiet my body and mind.  And for many years, cultivating spiritual practice…concentrating and meditating meant sitting on a cushion.  The problem was that when I got up from sitting and began to do things this spiritual practice did not go with me.

 

So…knowing that Dogen intends for us to bring spiritual practice…meditation concentration into our every action I ask ‘how do we do it?  how do we actually do it?’ It takes practice.

 

Quilt making is a practice for me; a spiritual practice of taking care of my mind and reflecting on spiritual teachings.

 

A couple of months ago, I finished a quilted chair covering and wanted to start something new.  I decided to use up everything in my cloth box and make a large quilted spread.  I was eager to begin because I knew when I got to the quilting part my mind would settle down into a contemplative, meditative state.  I wanted this calm practice.

 

AWARENESS OF THE HINDRANCES

What happened was that when I’d begin my sewing-work I found I was irritated Every day I became obsessed with trying to figure out if I had enough material. The design was complicated…I needed over 900 small squares not to mention needing yards of material for the frame. Every day I wanted to get to the quilting place…AND there was just so much to do.

Finally, I woke up and saw that what I was practicing wasn’t controlling my mind…I was practicing worry.

 

AWARENESS OF RELIEF

So now here is my practice…each day as I come to work on the to-be quilt I focus on turning my mind to the tasks at hand, not look to the future.  Will there be enough material for all the squares?  What should I use for a backing?  Do I need to get more thread?  I need more chalk markers…and on and on my mind goes.  My practice is slow, deliberate work to turn my thoughts away from what I want to do or judging the progress I am making or not making.  Now, when the irritation starts, I literally say to myself…drop the irritation.  Just drop it and focus on what I am doing now.  It is a practice of moment by moment awareness…to have no desire to want to be further along than I am…to be content with just cutting squares…not worrying about there being enough, just being with this task.

 

So, I have found how to meditate off the cushion.  It is to know that every moment is an opportunity for spiritual practice.  To really know this is to first see where my mind is at any moment and then turn away from my life-long habits of not paying attention…to multi-tasking…to thinking about the next day or next hour or next minute.

 

Once we see where our minds are…what do we turn them to?

 

When I get here, I turn my mind to reciting chants or a line from a chant I have memorized.  This is taking control away from the mind of irritated thoughts or the mind of worried thoughts and giving it something to do.  When I do this, I find concentration.  I am present with what is in front of me.

 

Dogen is encouraging us to take control of our minds all day long by watching the mind both on the cushion and off.

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Day 60 of 90: Work as Devotion      Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

Hello.
Today we reached the 60th day of this 90 day retreat and thought we’d share one of the 60 teachings offered during this 90 day retreat thus far.
The focus of the retreat is Work as Devotion which is a focus on karma or action.

 

 

Work as Devotion

Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

 

Knowledge is not produced. Knowledge does not come through argument or debate. Argument and debate are changing forms. Knowledge is born from the unborn. It has no beginning and no end. Knowledge is sudden and unexpected.

An example may bring this truth into focus. At one point in history mankind did not fly and at another point in history mankind did fly. The knowledge of flight is NOT produced; it was always there; mankind discovered the knowledge of flight which began by watching and knowing the flight of birds.

What is so important about this truth of knowledge?

The unborn knowledge of the Truth, the Self, God, the Eternal Power of existence is always there. IT is and IT is discovered in a sudden and unexpected moment. IT can’t be gotten, like a thing or an object, but IT can be found.

What hides the Truth?

Our ignorance. We need to first recognize the Knowledge is always there. Everywhere. At every moment. We, you and me, ignore it and choose again and again to attach our attention to the imperishable things that proceed from the Truth but are not the knowledge of Truth.

Another example is the image of a quilt.

Here is an ancient proverb:

One may search and search but fail to reach; yet it comes to another unexpectedly.

If we want to discern the thread in the quilt, whose isness is thread through and through, we must know the quilt through and through by handling it with full attention and seeing IT as IT is.

 

 

One or two more words on this knowing. Knowing the essential existence is not the body, not the mind, not any thing that is compounded; we look for what is essential. What keeps us from seeing the essential our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. Instead of looking and being with what is, we turn to desire for what we want.

What must we do? Renounce our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. THAT is renunciation.

OM

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship, Sickness, Aging and Death

 

DAY 1:

Dear C., you and I were soul sisters.  I am grateful beyond words for the time we had together on this planet, almost four decades.

When I met you, I was twenty-six, so that made you thirty-three.  You were a single mom to two small children.  I was on the front side of that life possibility, yet the attractions of motherhood were wrapped in fear and hesitation that choked my desire for it.  I moved in to your attic, made a cozy little home for myself despite blistering summers and frigid winters up there at the top!

From there, in your household, I could watch you at close range.  You mothered with poise and instinctive confidence.  You showed me a gentle calm steadiness in matters of child-rearing that helped me to overcome my own lack of confidence and prepare myself, under your tutelage so to speak, to be a parent.

And the bonus to my lessons—getting to know your children, E. and A., from a young age, such a joy!  They were adorable and fun for this attic interloper to watch, play with, and dream of someday having ones like them.

Our friendship from thereon out always included a focus on our children.  Yours were considerably ahead of mine in life’s developmental stages, providing me with a built-in observation deck for what was to come.  You were always a wise elder I could turn to through the cycles of parenting.

 

Day 2:

Dear C., today I am remembering you as a prolific cultivator of friendships.  When you stayed with B. and me in Chicago through one Thanksgiving and Christmas, I remember our dining room table filled with piles of the Christmas cards you were sending far and wide.  You were already quite sick, so the pen was becoming difficult to manage and your beautiful flowing handwriting was reduced to shaky, tight script.  But each one of the cards contained a personal note anyway.  Dozens and dozens of cards.

You always remembered birthdays.  I wonder how many people’s birthdays you remembered and honored with cards, presents…For many years, mine was the occasion for a book (a novel) and a card from you with words of celebration from your heart that I treasured.  The last book you gave me as a gift was a hardback copy of Eudora Welty’s powerhouse of a novel, Losing Battles.  I could not read it for a long time, I was too sad and conflicted about your terrible illness (but that is for another day).  When I did read it, it was too late to share with you my admiration for Welty’s artistry.  Please let me tell you now, it was a stellar gift from you, that book.

And then there was the birthday, your 60th I believe, when you gave presents to all the guests at your party!  Each person got their own, personal, individual present…I have never before or since heard of anyone else who did this.

Your efforts at building friendships paid off royally.  You sat at the center of a diverse and abundant village of love and support from Delaware to New York City to Seattle to Albuquerque to Cleveland to Chicago.  This village sustained you, it sustained all of us who were in it, despite the distances of time and space that separated you from many in your tribe.

 

Day 3:

Dear C., you were such a fabulous cook, able to take what was in the frig and pantry and create an appealing spread—never too much food, you did not care for excess, but nourishing and plentiful fare with an aesthetic of clean, fresh, wholesome, natural, tenderly prepared and delicious.

Actually, one thing did seem like excess at the time.  In those first months of sharing a home with you and your kids I was taken aback at the mounds of butter you added to a bowl of hot potatoes.  Such a small feast of deliciousness—hot potatoes swimming in butter!  I was raised to be sparing with the butter, it added too much fat, fat was unnecessary, bad for you.  It did not take me long under your roof to change my tune.  Butter is a wonderful—delightful—enriching—compliment to potatoes, or a thick slice of bread.  Ah, thank you dear C. for liberating me from the butter police.

Strawberries, too.  You would slice them across the roundness of each berry, mounding the shimmering red coronas into your bowl of granola until the mountain threatened to overflow onto the table when the milk was added.  I was breathless with the abundance of your strawberry passion.  For me, it was, like with butter, a form of abandon, recklessness, exuberance.  I took quickly to your strawberry ways.

 

Day 4:

Dearest C., when you stayed with us for a month or two in Chicago, you were already struggling to have a life outside of the relentless demands the illness placed on your body and mind, but you nevertheless took to cooking dinner for us every night.  You scoured our pantry shelves—lentils…potatoes…a potpourri of vegetables wrinkling in the bottom drawer of the frig.  The vegetables became a simple soup, the lentils, soup also.  The potatoes were transformed into latkes, complete with (mounds of) sour cream and homemade applesauce.

I have forgotten many of the other meals you created that late fall, but I do remember that as you were packing to leave us, we made a list together of all the dinners you made for us and for years, I kept that list and made your dinners again and again.

We were delighted to be fed by you, to have the languishing pantry ingredients put to use with such simple creative flair.  Mostly, we were moved to be cared for by you.  We had fully expected to be the caregivers; we were unprepared to have those tables turned. But you were resolute, you so wanted to contribute on the giving side of whatever equation we all had going on in our heads.

I still make your latkes, and remember.

 

Day 5:

Dear C., I am appreciating the many facets of your life as an artist.  I remember your oil paintings from before I knew you that hung on your walls.  But mostly I was around for your watercolor phase.  I remember that you would paint every day when this was possible.  Flowers were a theme. Your nephew, wrestling in high school, naked young men’s bodies wrapped around each other on the floor, such a challenge these must have been to paint!  I forget what else was in your painting repertoire, I mainly remember your dedication, quiet though sustained through the years, to the form.  I remember your large artist’s folders, full of your works, several of them, that traveled around the country with you as you moved locations.

I always wanted to own one of your watercolors, finally I had a chance to buy one that was being sold by the agency where you worked that supported homeless people to make art.  It is a painting of roses, the climbing ones that grow so easily in New Mexico, where you lived then, in the hot sun and dryness.  “Roses are hard to paint,” I remember you commenting to me about my purchase.  For me, the rose painting I own shows this, your struggle to make the roses come alive, but also, your skillfulness, your triumph with the depiction of rose-ness.

Your painting style is flowing, graceful, understated.  Your celebration of color sings through the work.  You so loved sunshine and you did not love it when the sun went away.  I know this is a primary reason you chose, finally, to live in New Mexico.  In the rose painting, the sun shines brilliantly.  And the roses respond to the sun, just as you did, with their magnificent blooms so alive, so fat with their unfolding.

Then there is the crib-quilt you made for my first baby, from leftover pieces of fabric you had in a box.  The sun shines brightly from that quilt, too.  It shouts with the joy of new life from the pieces of the old.  It captures all the happiness of my first experience of pregnancy, birth and being a mother to an infant, experiences which I shared so intimately with you, my older sister and mother-mentor.

Finally, I cannot speak of you as an artist without acknowledging your work to bring art-making to the homeless population of Albuquerque.  In this way you merged your personal practice of creative becoming with your social values.  I did not appreciate this part of you enough at the time.  It was not until I got up close to the art studio your managed for that community, at the very end of your career, that I stopped for long enough to look and listen and let my respect for what you were doing emerge from what was before me: People with just as much creative impulse as anyone else who were being afforded a space and materials to actualize their artistic visions.

 

Day 6:

Dear C., we first met in a community of political activists in the early 1980’s.  Together within this group, we gave many hours of our lives to organizing for a kinder and more equitable world.  Somewhere in my fifth decade, I discovered Buddhism.  You, at the other end of the country, were also turning toward Buddhist practice.  Our original activist community remained and still remains dedicated to social change.  It was a great comfort to me that you and I were on parallel runways, seeking to address the suffering of the world through presence, acceptance and relinquishment of the self.  This deepened our friendship bond into something that transcended both our social and political connections.  We became spiritual friends.

You became a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and through you I too was exposed to the heart-opening teachings of this living master.  Though you were already in chronic pain from your illness, you had the courage and the commitment to your practice to go to Vietnam with Thay, as he is known within his Sangha.  You were part of a delegation of Americans who accompanied him throughout the Vietnamese countryside, performing rituals to settle the ghosts of those killed during the Vietnam War who had not received proper burials at the time.

I visited you soon after you returned home from this trip.  We sat on your porch for hours, I listening while you told stories of your Vietnam pilgrimage.  It was a coming together of your anti-war activism of the 1970’s with the ancient wisdom tradition of Zen Buddhism.  It was being at the feet of a venerated Master on his first trip back to his homeland in decades.  It was a joy and a triumph for you to be able to make the trip despite the illness.  I felt the power of these experiences as they moved through you, through me, and out into the world.  I am forever grateful for this small connection I have to Thich Nhat Hanh, through you.

It became more difficult to be spiritual friends, to be even just regular friends, as your illness progressed and your circumstances became more untenable.  I was trying so hard to help you, to lessen your suffering through some arrogant beginner’s view I had of Buddhist theory and practice.  You were suffering, I was suffering, and together we struggled to know what to do with all that pain, fear, anger and longing that things be better than they were.  The joy of our shared spiritual values changed into something messy and conflicted.

In the end, we ceased relating to each other through the lens of our separate spiritual practices.  This was for the best.  We found a way to keep being friends, and this alone required plenty of spiritual practice on my part, perhaps on your part as well.  So…I guess that our friendship never stopped being a shared spiritual practice.  It changed, but my connection to you remained as constant effort to accept your life as it was, my response to you as it was.

 

Day 7:

Dear C., During my last trip to see you, you never had a day free of pain and great distress in multiple body systems, though every day we tried to do things; shop for what you needed; take walks; cook nice meals, socialize a bit and strategize together about how to get what you needed from the doctors, about what would be next for you.  But these events and conversations were often disastrous; too physically challenging or too emotionally difficult.

I know we were both trying so hard to bear up, be cheerful, get back to some semblance of what we knew as normal.   In truth, there was no way to get back there.  You were failing, and it made you miserable, scared and angry.  You had become someone I did not know or know how to help.  On the last day of my visit, your blood pressure machine was reading out scary numbers and we called for an ambulance at the same time that my cab for the airport was on its way.  I burst into tears from the guilt and the frustration.

You were fighting to maintain your autonomy but it would be a losing battle.  That little adobe row house would be your last independent living situation.

You showed me how terribly difficult life can become.  It was a shock to me, that degree of agony and anguish you lived with for so long.  There were many times when I wanted to run, hide, deny, reject your experience.  In the end, as you succumbed to nursing home care and your mind as well as your body continued a downward spiral, I felt helpless to do anything for you.

The agony was a shared experience.  Though you bore the most burden, I and perhaps many in your large community suffered your painful decline with you.  When life ended for you on May 21, 2020, I felt released too from what had become such severe limitations to your material existence.

From this place, on the other side of your release, I see that I could not accept either your or my—our—situation as it was.  As you did, I fought against the dying of your light.  I was not OK with being thirteen hundred miles away from you.  I was not OK with your being in a nursing home.  I was not OK with how angry you were at the world, at me, at those who had become your lifeline.  I was not OK with how our last visit had unfolded.  I longed to find a way to be your friend that was graceful, strong, all-giving, without bumps.  I wanted to be a perfect helper, a perfect friend. And I wanted you to be a better sick person too.

Feeling pressured to give and to get something other than what was, there came a time when I could no longer muster the push nor let go of the resentment that these multiple desires spawned.  The next time you asked me to visit, my response was no response.  I was frozen with confusion and guilt and depleted from years of trying too hard to get it right.

I see now, I see it.  I see how delusions of greed and aversion in the face of suffering block all the love that is our deepest longing.  The blocks were lodged in my heart during your last years on earth.  I am sorrier for this than words can describe.  The loss of that precious time feels unbearable.

But now you are gone.  With your leaving, and with writing these letters to you, your life and our friendship have taken their places as beautiful arcs of arising, flourishing, falling apart and ceasing.

Here I sit, knowing that you befriended me in the ways of arising, in the ways of flourishing and also in the ways of suffering and dying. I feel a burden lift, the burden of fear that our love for each other was lost to difficulty, lost to anger and messiness, lost to separation.

Someone in your Sangha shared this song with all of us, your friends, shortly after you died.  I have learned the melody and sing it often now, in your honor.  In our honor.

 

No coming, no going,

No after, no before.

I hold you close to me,

I release you to be so free.

Because I am in you and you are in me,

Because I am in you and you are in me.

 

You are in me, my soul sister.  I have found you again, right here in my heart.

 

 

Humming Bird

Lao Huo Shakya

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