ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR ZEN STUDENT

The basic elements of life are not unlike the basic elements of Zen practice.  To become one with Zen is to uncover the fundamental truths of the universe.  This may at first glance seem a mystery, but with practice, the underlying truths that are reflected in the elemental building blocks of life will appear to the Zen student as familiar and comforting helpers along the way.

Take the water element, for example.  How are we like water in our practice?  We flow, ever-onwards, never stopping, always going, going, like the brook, falling over rocks and into pools, always a new turn in the stream.  Like water, the practitioner continues brightly, with confidence and purity onward, not clinging to the thought or sensation or dislike that arises, not lingering to give any of it purchase, saturated in, absorbed in this exact moment while not becoming attached to it.  Always flowing, bubbling on.

By stepping courageously into the next moment without bringing the idea or feeling with us, we enter the changefulness of flowing time and use time skillfully.  “Keep going,” says my teacher.  By not fundamentally taking up residence anywhere, we, like the water, keep moving on, ever-changing until we can go on beyond all the bubbling changeful going, going, going and reach the other shore.

I saw a play in the 90’s, “Pig Earth,” about peasant life in a small village in France.   I remember very little about the play but I do remember vividly that the set was comprised of dirt.  Loads and loads of dirt filled the stage.  The actors trudged through the dirt, worked hard to move the dirt and got very dirty.

Dirt is hard when dry, heavy when wet, very dense to plow or till or pull weeds from.  Older farmers are often stooped, limping and broken down from decades of effort to move dirt around, to plant the seeds and grow them well.  The earth they contend with every day is the element of solidity and stability.  We go into the earth as the ultimate protection from the fury of some elements and use earth to smother, extinguish others.

In Zen practice, we too go down into our own earthiness to steady ourselves in order to fully dwell in each moment and through time, even though the world around us or within us may be anything but stable.

We practice to move nimbly forward through the flowing changing quality of time while remaining planted in the dense unchanging quality of our awareness.  Our minds anchor us in presence like the dirt, just here, just here, just here.  This steadiness is an innate trusting in and acceptance of change that itself does not change.

Fire must be tended with care so as to not burn out of control…or dwindle to smoke and ash.  Our inner fires when left unattended can kindle old habits of passionate greed or hate that like grass fires burn quickly, spreading out of control in all directions, hot and destructive.  The sudden surge of heat signals that our anger, pride, our ambition or our sexual drive is raging out of control and will certainly burn somebody.

We learn to sit in the steadiness of the earth beneath us, staying calmly in the flow of the heat as it runs through the mind and body.  We practice seeing every impassioned thought and emotion and impulse steadily, not dwelling there, going on, going on, with confidence, cooling the flames by letting time flow by, refusing to be drawn closer to the flame.

We harness time and stabilize our attention so that our inner fire can be a source of energy for a steady, ethical, harmless practice to cultivate the mind that fundamentally does not dwell anywhere while dwelling fully, caring fully, for each moment in this precious, fragile life.

We need our fire to warm our hearts to the ultimate power and beauty of a practice that promises us eternal wellbeing, Ultimate Compassion, Absolute Truth.  Our steady flame of love for these great mysterious powerful possibilities and for the guides that direct our search, this love is the ultimate elemental friend.  It is a love we cultivate and a fire we tend with every insight, every act of kindness and generosity, every prayer and every opening we experience that tears away the veil of delusion, leaving us under the open sky, bathed in the brightest light.  Without this love, practice can be drudgery, tiring and replete with doubt.

Rumi, who often uses the elements in his writing, says it best.  In hundreds and hundreds of poems, he shows us how to fall in love with Mystery:

This world of two gardens, both so beautiful.

This world a street where a funeral is passing.

Let us rise together and leave this world,

As water goes bowing down itself to the sea.

From gardens to the gardener,

From grieving to a wedding feast.

We tremble like leaves about to let go.*

Humming Bird

Author: Lao Huo Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

*excerpt from “Leaves About to Let Go,” Rumi, Bridge to the Soul, trans. Coleman Barks, p. 32

 

 

 

 

I have for some time, viewed many of the essays sent in and finally thought possibly I would send something in that possibly may be of interest.  I am new to the Order in 2020 and  I am learning much from all of you who express your Hearts & Minds  through your writings.

Since I am new to this Order, I just realized I had better introduce myself.  I am Arakawa Mitsugi, reborn once again as “Lǎo xīn shàn Shakya”  (otherwise known as “ Old Heart Mountain” )  which I find most respectfully expressed in this Buddhist Order of Monastics.

Today, is the 15th of February 2021.  In two days, I begin my 63rd year in the Path of Martial Arts & Sciences, which I entered many years ago.  I have only been a Monk approximately 27 years.

Many of you within Hsu Yun Ch’an Yuen’s Martial Arts Dojo division may have vast knowledge in the Ancient Ways at which I follow for many years. Most modern-day Ryu of Budo, whether Japanese or Chinese Lay Disciplines have omitted many Spiritual

Practices of the various Zen & Yoga Sadhana Meditation Practices vital to actually encompasses the very foundation of Budo set by the Century ’s old Ancient Master’s.

You will have to forgive my using the term “ Master” as, for one, I do not believe in anyone being a Master; only those who are continuous ‘ Students of the Path’  and I mean no disrespect towards anyone who are looked upon as Master or Expert ).

I have studied, searched for and upon finding, researched all I have studied over the years.  I am a Practitioner of Buddhist Chinese Ch’uan Fa ( referred to as Kuntau ), Japanese Aikido  and  Tibetan Lama Pai Haaga; each of Ancient Buddhist Origin Transmission, with the exception of Japanese Aikido ( although Spiritual ).  I have additionally studied under Hindu Priest, as well as Yogi & Swami-Ji.

So in this, I believe I am well versed in many areas of Ancient Classical Traditions- however, again, I am NO Master of these Traditions and my overall knowledge rests only within these Transmissions.

The one area I am most fond of, have studied under the delightful Asian Teachers, were the stories that were awarded as they were just as much a part of our Spiritual development as were my “Combative Waza” Teachings.

Here is one of them.

                “The Master & His Young Disciple”

The Master Hoshi ( Monk ) asked his young Disciple student,  to run out and pick herbs for the afternoon’s meals. The young Monk was a “Yokasei,” ( a Novice ) that wanted to impress his Master.  He immediately left out of the Temple and went into the forest, and after some time, arrived at the Tang-Ji Mountain paths where herbs were plentiful.

As he began picking herbs and placing them in his cloth sack, he began to travel further up the

path where he sometimes would swim and bathein a shallow part of the mountain creek.

The young Monk did not realize that the Master had decided to follow him as he knew all too well the Young Monk, who was around the age of 8, was rather mischievous at times.

As the young Monk traveled the path further into the mountain-side, he came across the mountain creek and there, he saw a lone fish in the water at which he decided to catch.

When he caught the small fish, he then, tied a string around the fish and on the other end, tied a small stone.

Releasing the fish back into the creek, he began to laugh as he saw how difficult it was for the fish to swim.

After laughing at the struggling fish for several minutes he began to follow the path once again at which he saw a frog and immediately chased it catching it and again, wrapped a string around the frog’s body and tied another stone on the other end.

Releasing the frog, the young Monk began to laugh loudly as the frog began to struggle as he began leaping forward. After several minutes, the young Monk began to walk the path descending the mountain path and found a snake on the path.

Immediately the young Monk ran after it and catching it, began tying a string around its body with a stone at the other end of the string.  Of course, the snake had difficulty in wiggling away.

The Master had witnessed each of the three occurrences but said nothing each time.

That night, as the young Monk slept, the Master Hoshi, turned the young Monk over and tied a large stone to the Young Monk’s back.

Early the next morning at breakfast, the young Monk began to complain to the Master Hoshi that he was having difficulty walking around and even rising up as he fell on occasion.

The Master, then looking the young Monk in his eyes said . . .

“I had seen what you had done to the Fish, the Frog and the Snake, and as you thought it amusing in laughing as to each of their struggles; you’ve committed grave acts of cruelty to those who are defenseless.  Go to the mountain again and FREE each of them – THEN, I will free you. If you do not, you will suffer in your Heart and Mind for this suffering will become your Karma!”

The young Monk traveled up the Tang-Ji Mountain again only to find that each ;  the Fish,  the Frog, and the Snake, had each died.

The Young Monk began to weep in each case knowing he had caused suffering and returning to the Temple, he Shame- fully wept as he advised the Master Hoshi, what had happened .

As the young Monk wept in sorrow, the Master summoned the young Monk to sit on his lap where the Master Hoshi released him from his bondage and said . . .

” I see you are sorry in your heart for what you have done and I did to you, what you had done to them, the least of us. I did to you so that you should feel their suffering and will always remember throughout your lifetime, to never harm another again.  I love you just as if you are my son but most of all, God loves you as ‘ you are His son’ !

“Remember what happened here and let no man ever tell you, it is alright to Kill! “

I am not certain where this came from but I do know, there  are many areas of life I may consider “Necessary Evils” at which I have not and will not ever participate …taking a Life is one of them.

Blessing to all who read these words.

Humming Bird

Author: Lǎo xīn shàn Shakya

In Metta

“Old Heart Mountain”

A Single Thread Zen Contemplative - Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

 

The Subcaster

EM Cairn © 2017

It was a hard day – like most. The ground felt as though it was on an uphill incline no matter where he placed his old toes. The leather boots helped steady his frail legs and arthritic bones. Convinced he’d fall on his back without them, he kept the pair close by his bed for his night time trail walk to the cramped but utilitarian bathroom only a few feet away.

He laughed every morning when he read the imprint on his old dungarees – ‘Levi’s.’ The laugh came from his head where everything he ever knew or said was stored. ‘Levi’s.’ The word formed into a wry smile on his face which like a cover on an old Saratoga trunk held down all the funniness of life.

Funny words and descriptions were out-of-place, corrupted, exaggerated by advertisements.

“Advertisements.”

Smacking his lips together after he said the whole word out loud, he felt satisfied.

His pants now draped over his hairless bones as he commented on the demise of everything. His knuckled fingers tightened around the beltless loops of his dungarees as he corrected his commentary. He needed to be accurate.

“Nothing new under the Sun. Just another day, another dollar. Of course, it wasn’t always a dollar. It is not a dollar now. The almighty dollar. No, sir. A dollar doesn’t work like it once did.” There was no immediate satisfaction. No rest from the popping of thought going on in his head. He liked ending his commentary with a certain propriety. The word sir was common amongst many other words – words like all the funny things in his mind that were in some old trunk somewhere underneath the pretense of something new was better and even worse, best.

There was no reason in particular for him to pull on his dungarees, but he did. It wasn’t just a habit. It was a form. Something he knew was both grace and gratitude. The night before he, like all the 32,851 days of putting the dungarees over his thin-skinned legs, emptied his pockets of whatever he collected on the route of his high-level moments of being alive. When he lived with a woman, a being who was unlike himself, he had more than one belt. The woman insisted he have more than one belt and when he would inquire of her why did he need more than one belt she’d tell him, ‘you never know when you might need it.’ This reply, if he let it, still puzzled him. When he lived with the woman, it always puzzled him. The inquiry would not last long – when he’d tell her with gestures of kindness that he had one waist and two legs and in reality, could only wear one pair of dungarees at any time which meant his need, if he succumbed to such a need, was for one belt. The woman not like him listened in a silent politeness up until the point when he in his generosity offered what for him was the denouement of the subject on the table – “I will never need more than one belt.”

At this point, the woman’s brow would shrink with rivulets of skin suggesting she was contemplating his conclusion of never needing more than one belt. In turn he listened in silence for her response. The woman usually squinted before she answered these exchanges and shrugged just before she’d tell him with a sweeping away voice. “You, sir, never know.” This broom-like moment left both of them silent and staring with adoration into each other’s eyes. Like a rug being pulled out from under them they landed together in not really knowing much in terms of reality. Knowing he couldn’t argue with the possibility of needing another belt – and she felt content in stating what she knew was the truth. There had been a few times when he would explain his need in terms of now by adding the word now and sometimes emphasized the word now with the word right.

“Right now, I don’t need more than one belt.”

The woman’s cheeks, which were hairless and rounded with soft skin, turned rosy giving her an advantage, pressed her plum-colored lips together in a smile that made her eyes dazzle replied,

There you have it, sir. You never know. Nothing stays the same.”

Over the years he learned to be like a slick yellow raincoat – those kind that make lots of crinkling noises when you put them on, the kind with a hood and if you like, matching slick yellow trousers. He let everything the woman said, especially when she smiled and issued forth with the triumphant sword of possibility, run off his back. He knew there was no response to possibilities and deep with him he cherished her resolve to hold to the position of possibility. In almost every way the woman was unlike him. They never let their differences interfere with equality.

Those were the years when he lived with a woman. There were times that he considered the possibility she was right but he tried not to get bogged down by the past. Like a wet dog he tried to shake off any ideas that bogged him down and most of the past came with a soggy force.

Right now, he lived in a Subcaster. It is a small 14 feet footprint which he sometimes counts as he makes his way during the night to empty his bladder. In the years he’s lived in the Subcaster, he has never been able to count up to 14 feet inside the trailer. Oh, he knows the 14 feet must mean the outside length but even so there is a disturbance that he is unable to get a number that matches the description. The disturbance is not a wonder for him, but the mismatch of what is written down compared to what is does disturb him. He feels cheated and it is like an itch on some part of his back he can no longer reach.

“Advertisement.” He says the word in syllables. “Ad – ver- tize – ment.”  He repeats it with a different inflection. “ad VERT-is-ment[1]” Smirking he says it yet another way – “ad – vert- is – ment.” The last one is his favorite and he admits to himself it is because it agrees with his view of the meaning. Meaning especially in regards to liability and not telling the truth. ‘For the life of me, I cannot find the 14 feet in this Subcaster.” Puckering his lips before he guffaws, he bows to the words and says to it. “I see. I see. You little scoundrel. I am not to expect any truth in anything that is under the rubric of ad -vert – is – ment. It is meant to fool me.” He bows again and this time grabs the top of his dungarees and slides them up to his knees then stands to pull them to his flat, sunken belly. Admitting the durability of both his legs and the dungarees he relinquishes any quarrel over the incongruity of the 14 feet. “After all,” he concedes, “my feet are not 12 inches long.” For a moment this disturbs him further since he must reckon that if that is the case that the Subcaster should count out beyond the 14 feet. But he is tired of the dialogue with what is true and drops it out of hand.

With both hands he rubs the sides of his cheeks checking for stubble. The bristle is a sparse and random shadow of former years making him the sole judge of whether to razor it off or not.  He decides for no particular reason, today is a day for a clean shave so he foregoes his denim shirt that hangs on a small plastic hook next to the tight concave space which is more like an upright locker than a bathroom. Tucks in his loose gray undershirt before he soaps up his hand. For years he has leaned in against the mirror so he can give himself a close, cut-free shave. Rinsing the razor for a final time he shakes it off and sets in on the bottom shelf of a wicker cabinet. With clean, warm fingers he checks for any stray whiskers he may have missed. Slips on his shirt and tucks the tails between his stretched-out undershirt and his beltless pants.

A murmur-unspoken comes to mind and he wonders how not having a belt might be the truth of his need in his discourse with the woman. How might it resolve the mystery of belts and need for one? For just a moment he wonders if not needing them might be the perfect answer. Before he slaps his thigh with the force of a by-golly triumph he feels a sharp pang of sadness. Never in all the years did he ever want to feel triumphant over the woman.  Once, however, the shirt is smoothed down from back to front between the dungaree cloth and his underwear and the pants are zipped and buttoned; he notices how they fall below his waist and rest unsettled on his hard-hip bones.

“Oh. Dear.” he says aloud in a mocking way. He finds he has nothing else to say. Nothing more to add. No discriminating comment or judgement. No follow-up.

Humming Bird

[1] (http://hull-awe.org.uk/index.php/Advertisement)

Don’t be afraid to experience what shows up. It is your life.

Consider how you might understand the nature of what comes your way. Instead of reacting to what shows up, contemplate the nature of it. It is both teacher and kin.

The universe exists. You exist. We are from the same Source and share the same material and we are different.

Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego.

Meet the existence of whatever comes with devotion. The many things come to awaken you.

Whatever comes is given to you to see and know. Consider it carefully. With a longsuffering mind. Not with the habitual patterns of mind. With care. Slow and care-full. Whatever it is, it comes to liberate you as you meet it to liberate it.

It is often overlooked but it is in truth that all things share an imperceptible mutual assistance. It goes unnoticed because we are caught in some habit, some mindset, some mood that is self-involved.

Furthermore, we are stuck in the flame of separation. We think, believe and act as a separate being ignoring that we are kindred spirits that share a kindred heritage and share kindred experiences of existence. We all breathe the air.

At the beginning of the Cook’s Prayer there is an important recognition of this Truth. It is a Truth that helps us see for ourselves our work is not mine, not a thing to get, not something to finish and keep. It is a rare bird who can offer this part of the prayer with sincerity.

Here it is:

In gratitude I acknowledge all cooks (workers) gone before me, after me, and with me now. I request their help, offering incense to them and Buddha.

Our ancestors before us and after us and those all around us have struggled as we do to see the imperceptible mutual assistance of all things. The requirements to offer work as devotion are resting not only on concentration and focus but a grateful attitude. I can’t say it enough – gratitude is a rarity.

What makes gratitude a rarity is our expectations and desires of the selfish self who has been taught to expect something in return for a gift given. We are so self-centered that we think we deserve certain treatment and certain things from others. This attitude blocks gratitude. When gratitude is blocked, we act in all sorts of selfish ways.

It becomes difficult for us to act according to the following instructions:

Keep your mind on your work and do not throw things around carelessly.

We are careless in regards to what is given and what we offer. We think we deserve better or more or have a fit and think life is unfair. We feel cheated. All of this is self-centered.

We have forgotten the nature of karma. Our actions before have brought the result now. Our response now will bring the result later.

It requires courage and generosity to overcome the wounds done to the selfish ego. But it must be overcome in order to travel upward to the summit. It is easy to see that if the wound is cherished the mind is not able to stay on the work at hand and wants to get even or get some recompense or retaliate or blame. Careless offerings thrown together come from the overwhelmed, selfish ego not from the golden bird.

But all is not lost. Don’t get discouraged, if you are wounded. Selfish. Self-centered. Your ancestors suffered as you do. It is the human condition. And it can be overcome. It requires discipline and diligence and training.

Courage, encouragement and generosity are healing activities that move the mind to the golden bird. Move the mind to the offering of work as devotional acts again and again and again.

After all, everything comes from the One, and One comes from everything. You and I are not the Source but we can find the Source and find union with the Source.

It is like this line from a poem:

The sky, without a map, finds its way to your nose and becomes your breath.

This finding is always possible. Without a map the One comes and without a map everything returns to the One. It is our True nature to return to the One. We yearn for home. The whole world yearns for home. Each thing that comes into your life, comes to awaken you to the yearning for the One. That is the imperceptible mutual assistance that comes and comes and comes. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet it.

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

 

 

Work as Devotion; It’s All About Attention 

  

WAIT!

May I Have Your Attention?

Getting off track and daydreaming or entering a scattered mind state seems like an epidemic. From screen watching news to sports to politics to ads of every stripe and color, we find our attention has been taken hostage leaving us superficially involved in just about…well…news and sports and politics and stuff to buy.

When I think about it, I wonder how much all the constant availability online has interfered with our ability to concentrate making work as devotion a Herculean prospect.

There is data out there suggesting multi-tasking is bad for the brain. But that data is just another part of the interference. We weigh and measure and sort until the cows come home, we are left scattered and live a life of mind-jumping from one online get-together to email-checking to video watching. On and on the interest on the eternal world of stuff and others drains our energy and at times makes us anxious, fretful and lost in the sound bites.

Sound bites!

A perfect description when we emphasize the bite.  Yes, it takes a chunk out of our attention bite-by-bite leaving us worn out. This situation is especially important for spiritual aspirants who want to concentrate, focus, meditate and reflect on interior world of the spirit.

I for one want to ply a practice that will organize the scatter, end the daydreaming and end the sound bites that are so distracting. I want to offer an ancient understanding of practice; to work as devotion. That’s it. In order to practice to work as devotion we have to be able to use our mental powers to choose to stop the sound biting bug and turn our inner power to concentration and unselfish acts of work.

Much of what I am going to say comes from a 90 day retreat last year on this very subject.

Let me start with a quote.

It is pure arrogance to attempt to decide what is supposed to be part of a retreat experience and what isn’t.

We just don’t know what will show up. I don’t know what is supposed to happen but I do know that this is true for every day of our life.

And yet, we get up thinking we do know and how we wish the day to go. It is arrogant to think we are in charge of what happens. Our arrogance causes suffering. After all, this world pervaded by the Eternal Power is not the cause of suffering, laying claim to a thing is the cause of sorrows. And it can be anything.

When we look to do, to finish, to get and to keep a thing we suffer because we are in delusion. The delusion that we think and function as though we are the doer, finisher, getter and keeper.

Pause for just a moment and ask yourself if you are the power that put you together (birth) and keeps you together (death).

There is a sufi saying fiha ma fiha which captures the essence of our situation. It translates into IT is what IT is.  Whatever comes our way we meet it with courage and big-open-handed generosity not with judgment and criticism. When we presuppose or wish the day to be a certain way, according to our plan in our head, we are bound to disappointment. Really. We bind our mind to suffering.

Facing the work of our life as devotion is a practice that gives us an opportunity to relinquish our arrogance and to meet what comes as a fish swims in the vastness of the ocean or a bird flies in the expanse of the sky; not knowing what might show up we swim with the flow and fly with the wind.

Here is a chant worth repeating on a daily basis. It is quite old, a 13th century encounter by Dogen with an old Chan cook, who was a monk. I offer it as a practice. To chant it every morning. To memorize it. To practice paying full attention to all the work you do. To work as devotion.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

Ming Zhen Shakya speaks on….Expectations & Martin Buber

 

Ming Zhen Shakya speaks…On Expectations

Expectations

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

What backsliding is to religious conversion, recidivism is to penal rehabilitation. Both represent failure, and Zen priests who have a prison ministry can be losers on both counts.

Often we are moved to tears when we give Precepts to a man who receives his certificate with such profound gratitude, with such pride that he has been accepted into Buddhist ranks, who vows with such sincerity to try with all his might to conform his conduct to the requirements of the Path, and who does not show up for another meeting. We never see him again. We might learn that he’s espoused another faith, which, frankly, is better than hearing that in the exercise of Buddhist ethics as he understood them he got himself tossed into solitary confinement.

The same inability to predict the future informs our cheery bon voyages when a prisoner is released. Good luck we say to him certain only that he’s going to need it.

And so we wonder if the man will stick with Zen or attach himself to another group, or if he will successfully re-enter civilian life or revert to the kind of behavior that got him incarcerated in the first place. We doubt that we have understood him at all – else we should not be so uncertain. We’re supposed to be spiritual physicians who diagnose illness and recommend whatever nostrums are necessary to effect cure; but often we don’t have a clue.

Not only in prison ministries does this doubt occur. In our civilian sanghas we are frequently surprised by the unwonted actions of a member we thought we thoroughly understood. We miss seeing his face at a meeting and when we inquire about his health or his whereabouts we’re told that he has joined another Buddhist group or even another religion – maybe even one of those that regard Buddhism as devil worship. Or else he sends his regrets that he cannot attend meetings on our scheduled evenings because he’s taking a course in Continuing Education in order to satisfy a curiosity he has always had about Eighteenth Century French literature. What was going on in his mind when he bowed so reverently to Guan Yin and chanted so joyfully? Was there a tip-off that we missed? A signal that we failed to see?

In his essay, What Is Man, Martin Buber, that indispensable thinker, gives us some direction, a hint of where to look. If we read the work for its academic or literary value, we’ll, of course, find it interesting; but without some specific ‘cases’ to which we can relate the information, we’re not likely to find it useful. It is true that Buber mostly speaks of “epochs” of man, periods of complacent belief and periods of penetrating inquiry; but the old alchemical rule nevertheless applies: “As it is in the macrocosm so it is in the microcosm.” The general, after all, sums particulars.

It never hurts to see a problem from a different perspective.

The conduct of two men associated with the prison sangha had puzzled me for a long time. It disturbed me that I couldn’t even begin to predict how they’d react to civilian life when they were released. They had left in their psychological wake a jumble of dots that I just couldn’t connect. Then I happened to remember Buber’s essay; and after re-reading it, the prisoners’ dots lined up to station themselves into a recognizable pattern.

Buber begins his discussion by reciting Immanuel Kant’s four-question formula for the “knowledge of the ultimate aims of human reason.”

“What can I know?” the answer to which Kant intends metaphysics and not epistemology to supply.

“What ought I to do?” which ethics will answer.

“What may I hope?” which religion presumes to solve.

“What is man?” The first three questions are essentially contained in this fourth.

In order to answer these questions, a man has to ask them first. He has to wonder, says Buber, about “his special place in the cosmos, his connection with destiny, his relation to the world of things, his understanding of his fellow men, his existence as a being that knows it must die, his attitude in all the ordinary and extraordinary encounters with which the mystery of his life is shot through.” It is the man who feels himself alone who is most disposed to engage in such self-reflection. This is the man who does not inhabit, who, Buber notes, “lives in the world as in an open field and at times does not even have four pegs with which to set up a tent.”

As we read, we understand that the man who has the security of a protective “philosophical” house appreciates its walls and roof and does not wish to blow them down with gusting questions. If he sees the horizon he is content to fantasize about what lies on the farther side of it. And if his fantasies begin to bore him and thus cease to satisfy, he may investigate that farther place to find new sources of comfortable illusion. He seeks only to gratify his ego’s superficial needs as he stays within the safe boundaries of his religious expectations. If he sees the stars he may regard them as sources of entertainment or, perhaps, as serving of some utilitarian purpose. But he does not marvel as the Psalmist marvels, “Lord, when I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?

As Buddhists we know that we must ask these questions and feel this overwhelming awe; for without having our lives “shot through” with these perforating inquiries, we inflate, our Buddhist ego-image swelling buoyantly into a complacent stratosphere. We become contented in our habituation, domesticated by the routines and appliances of religion – the wafting incense on our altars, the artful wall hangings and statues placed in the corners of our sanctuaries, the gestures, the vestments, the liturgy. We sit upon cushions in our meditation halls as if we are safely inside Plato’s Cave watching flickering shadows on the walls. We do not allow ourselves to wonder what dramas are unfolding outside that comfortable theatre, what else we might hope for, what more we ought to do, what knowledge of self lies behind the silhouetted images we study.

The man who does ponder the unknown declares his independence and in his own eccentric way becomes a free agent. He is not satisfied with firelight. He wants to see the Sun.

The two prisoners whose temperament I could not gauge both attended meetings of our medium-security prison sangha, but only one had taken Buddhist Precepts.

The one who officially became a Buddhist was intelligent, well groomed, polite, and faithful in attendance. His conduct in and out of chapel was uniformly good and owing to this exemplary behavior he had been granted parole and would be released as soon as a place opened for him at a halfway house. He very much wanted to join a Buddhist sangha when he was released and, because he had much affection for Vietnamese culture and was somewhat familiar with the language, I suggested that he join a Mahayana Vietnamese temple that had recently opened in our town. This news seemed heaven sent to him, and he asked me to inquire whether they would be averse to having an ex-con in their group. I didn’t see why they would be, but I visited them anyway and asked. They did not object and in fact, since they spoke very little English they looked forward to having a bilingual American there in their increasingly American congregation. They gave me a few brochures, a little Vietnamese dictionary, and their meditation schedule – they were open to the public three nights a week. He received this information with great joy. Future possibilities were becoming realities. He was particularly excited to learn that the temple “haven” was located just a few blocks away from a restaurant in which he had been promised a job.

Then, several weeks later, before a meeting someone told me a rumor that he planned to go to Buenos Aires as soon as his probation period was completed. After the meeting I asked him if he did, indeed, plan such a journey. “Yes,” he said, “as soon as my parole’s up, I’m going to Argentina.” I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I know some people who live there.”

“Relatives?”

“No, just some people I met once in Dallas. They send me a Christmas card every year.”

I was speechless. Finally I asked, “How are you planning to get there? You’ll need a passport and visas–”

“–I can get a passport after I complete parole.” He said this as if it were going to be a perfectly simple thing to do. Why would the State Department prevent him from leaving the U.S. and why would another country refuse to put out the welcome mat for a penniless American ex-convict.

“What about money? And how do you plan to get there?”

“My sister has a camper parked in her driveway. It won’t fit in the garage. She said it needed a little work, but if I fix it up I’m sure she’ll let me borrow it.”

Drive? This was bizarre. “Do you know where Argentina is?” The question was rhetorical. I was referring to the immense distance, one quarter of the earth’s surface east and one half of the earth’s surface south from where we were.

“It’s in South America.”

“There are a lot of countries between here and Argentina and every one will require a visa and a hefty fee to bring in a recreational vehicle, not to mention insurance. If you have an accident they won’t just let you leave, trusting you’ll come back for adjudication. They’ll want to see evidence of your ability to pay any debts you incur. You’ll also need money for gas and oil and food and car repairs and bridge tolls and ferry boats and all the rest.” “I’ll have money from my job delivering pizzas.”

Delivering pizzas? This was not quite the same as working in a restaurant. “Do you have a car?”

“No, my sister has a new Escort I’ll use. As soon as I finish at the half-way house, I’m moving in with her.”

“Isn’t your sister married… with kids?”

“Yes. I’ll bunk in the camper until I can afford my own place. I’ll be working six nights a week, maybe seven. It shouldn’t take me long.”

The Vietnamese meditation schedule suddenly became meaningless. To me, his entire life-plan became meaningless.

We walked out of the chapel and I recall standing in the sunlight squinting, stunned. I didn’t know what to make of his previously stated intentions and this new fantastic scheme.

In civilian sanghas we sometimes find the same aborted volition, the instantaneous switch from one goal to another. A plan, enthusiastically conceived, dies of neglect, a pitiable orphan. Projects designed to raise money – publishing a newsletter, selling homemade religious articles, construction of accommodations for guest members – are suddenly abandoned. Those who fathered the plan deny paternity and leave the residual responsibilities to others. Their generative abilities are needed elsewhere.

The other man who puzzled me only occasionally sat with our group. He was an American Indian of the Sioux Nation who had been in prison for more than half his life. Sentenced, at eighteen, to twenty years, he was now thirty-eight. He had applied repeatedly for parole but had always been denied – for while he was manageable enough not to warrant being sent to a maximum security prison, he was still considered sufficiently incorrigible to warrant early release into the civilian population.

To call his appearance “sloppy” would be to ‘condemn it with faint praise,’ to borrow Shakespeare’s line. He was a mess. His coarse long hair pushed the ‘unacceptably unkempt’ envelope that the prison staff itched to open. Several of his front teeth had been knocked out in one or more of his frequent fights; and although the prison dentistry service had given him a partial plate, he preferred not to wear it and risk its destruction. He kept it in a treasure box in his cell. Once, however, he did wear it to show me, and I could see that wild handsomeness that I think Emily Bronte imagined when she created Heathcliff – not as Olivier played him – a passive, effete and pensive gentleman who happened to find himself in unfashionable garments – but a kinetic, electric, brooding man whose thoughts, behind those darting eyes, no outsider could ever apprehend.

At one meeting he gave me an Indian Prisoner’s Rights manifesto he had drafted and asked if I would edit it; but it required no correction that I could see. He had acquired an education in prison; and he used it to lobby for official recognition of Native American religious forms of worship. His ceaseless agitations had paid off and down at the end of the prison yard, near one of the watchtowers, was a little sweat lodge he and other Indian men had finally been permitted to build. I was told that he functioned as a kind of shaman in the sweat rituals and that he “could really zone out” during the proceedings. He kept track of the sky and knew when Venus was the Morning Star and when the Evening. Information like this was the criterion by which he gauged all other data. Compared to this, of what significance could he possibly assign the news that half the buttons on his shirt were missing?

I remember asking the warden as he boarded the exit bus, “How do you think he’ll do on the outside?” And the warden answered, shaking his head, “He’ll get in a fight before he gets off that bus.”

We hope for the best about people who are practically strangers to us. It is the nature of our service. In most Zen congregations there is little social interaction between pastor and congregants. We have few bake sales, hymn-sings, pujas, boy scout troops, or other community activities; and Darshan (dokusan) is limited to a few minutes of discussion about meditation practices. Rarely does a teacher encounter students in those social occasions that reveal most about their personalities. Usually, then, we are left to gauge intelligence by the quality of questions asked in forums; to gauge fidelity by attendance; generosity by contributions to the collection box; cleanliness by the appearance of robes; and so on. In short, in the span of two hours per week, we are required to form opinions about a person’s character – perhaps even to write letters of recommendation – based upon such brief, structured encounters and flimsy evidence. In a prison setting, it is even more difficult to determine character. There are few after-service chats and, aside from snail-mail, no communication between meetings.

As I re-read Buber and thought about that strange jaunt to Argentina, I saw that what I was missing was that a man who is secure doesn’t have to wonder about his place in the universe. He has no anxiety. He is a believer, a creature of habit, a regulated dreamer, an accidental guest – a person who is sanguine about the future that, owing to the largesse of others, always seems rosy. He trusts that everything is going to work out so why worry?

But why is he so secure, so enthusiastic or so casual about unlikely schemes that he presents as realistic goals – schemes which might at first seem reasonable but will later evidence a grandiose or unacceptably presumptuous nature?

How does a man experience the Real? Buber says simply that man has a threefold living relation. “First, his relation to the world and to things; second his relation to men – both to individuals and to the many; and third, his relation to the mystery of being – which is dimly apparent through all this but infinitely transcends it… The Absolute or God.”

The person who is afflicted with worldly fantasy is mired in the first ‘living relation.’ No matter how his behavior seems to conform to society’s standards, he sees the material world through acquisitive eyes. He objectifies even himself as a created image, which he assumes that other people will also accept as substantive and genuine. He identifies with desirable objects; and he objectifies even people who become to him mere ways and means, tools to fulfill his needs and desires. We may see him in a prison or in a commercial workplace. He may go to church or to the Zen center every week. He may sit in meditation or bow his head in prayer, but what is he thinking? It is things – his garments, the incense, his breakfast, the weather.. and how these things affect him, or how he can alter or use these things to his advantage. We find his likeness in all forms of literature. He’s Williams’ Blanche DuBois who affects gentility while plying the skin trade, depending upon “the kindness of strangers” and, ultimately, the coerced hospitality of her sister. The only constant is the need to cling to the self-image of superior bearing. Perhaps he starts out innocently like Thurber’s Walter Mitty who seems outwardly to be quite happy performing such ordinary tasks as driving his wife to the beauty parlor; but what is he thinking? Only his body is behind the wheel of his sedan. The rest of him is at the controls of a dive bomber that is now engaged in desperate combat in the skies over Europe. He’s not a dutiful husband sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for his wife to be beautified, he’s a famous brain surgeon performing an operation that his colleagues lack the skill and courage even to attempt. Thurber let his short story end in one of these imaginative adventures; but if he had written another chapter to the story, Mitty might easily have sought the rewards of fantasy heroism in the real-life adorations of a co-worker or a lunchroom waitress. His wife and children – if he had any – would become strangers, creatures from that “other” world, the one that could not satisfy his fancy.

It is such self-absorption that evicts from consideration those who fulfill laborious obligation in order to give residence to vagrant dreams.

Yet, in a curious way, these fantasies often have a real-world, practical function. They provide leverage and set the stage for contrived conflicts that provide excuse for change. If we look hard enough we can find method in the schemes. Consider the possible manipulations in the proposed trip to Buenos Aires. The ex-prisoner would move in with his sister and it would take about 2.5 hours for her husband to express an intense desire to get him off the property. But there is a problem. No one wants to be known as the kind of person who would turn a brother out, especially one who is “trying to get his life together.” Prodigal Sons and Lost Sheep and Good Samaritans will be marched onto the front lawn like so many pink flamingos or plaster gnomes. Biblical precedents will picket the house. It will be the sister who must deal with categorical imperatives.

The request had been merely for the brother temporarily to occupy the camper- a request that seemed too simple to deny. But he will come into the house to eat; to shower, shave and use the toilet, to watch television, to talk on the phone; to do his laundry, and if it is too hot or too cold, he will come in to sleep on the couch. What will it cost her and her husband to eliminate this expensive invader of their privacy while retaining their reputations as decent people? He says he wants to take the camper on a long trip. Well, that will get rid of him. But wait! Their names are on the title – which means they’re responsible as owners of the vehicle. What if he doesn’t keep up the insurance? He wants to buy the vehicle from them and to pay it off in monthly payments. He offers to commit himself legally to pay; and with a great flourish will sign a promissory note which, as the saying goes, will be like a verbal contract – not worth the paper it’s written on.

But will he pay? It is no more likely that he will honor his debt than it is likely that anyone will ever examine the appropriateness of his need or his proposition. He wanted his sister’s camper and he found a way to get it. He invoked familial sentiment when he made the request; and that sense of security, of entitlement that is inherent in the request will obviate any sense of responsibility to pay. This is not mere cynicism. This is precisely the course that is followed by a person whose living relation is confined to things.

He is unable to empathize – to consider the negative effect his presence or his debt will have upon his sister – for that would be the second stage of “the threefold living relation.” Society will aid him in his self-absorbed goals. Always, the one who is asked to give is reminded more forcefully of the “duty” to be charitable than the one who desires to receive is ever reminded of the obligation to be self-supportive or to lessen his requirements.

In the world of things we find strange participation mystiques, the imbuing of an object with animate qualities with which the person then identifies and associates. Not only does the person believe that the quality of a thing magically adheres to the possessor who becomes unique or important in direct proportion to his evaluation of that symbol or object, but he must also advertise his identified allegiance to that magical element. Especially in prison we find men who have used their own flesh to commemorate an identity with and commitment to such other-worldly power: They are “illustrated men,” tattooed not with the usual salute to Mother, service motto, girl, flag or rose; but with serpents that entwine entire limbs; lightning bolts that discharge from an earlobe and strike the chest; birds of prey that seize a nipple in their talons; blood dripping daggers and swords; and, most incomprehensively, a variety of chains and barbed wires that encircle arms and necks. Allegiance to people can alter. Today’s benefactor is too often tomorrow’s adversary; but the eagle is an emblem of power that will never weaken. The blitzkrieg is forever.

To dismiss this as jailhouse machismo is to overlook those symbols of identity – the designer labels, the expensive cars, the “conspicuous consumption and honorific waste’ which characterize leisure class possessions. To whatever extent an owner invests these showy objects with his own identity, he, too, is an illustrated man.

It is not the goal of penal authorities to manufacture saints in prison. They do strive, however, to deliver men and women to the second stage of living relation: to establish a relationship to the world of men. This requires empathy – an ability to understand and accept The Golden Rule, an ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel his joy or sorrow, his comfort or pain, and then to act so as to alleviate his sorrow or to appreciate his joy. Empathy allows a man to see the world through the eyes of other men not merely to see his own reflection in their eyes.

We do find in prisons those who keep The Golden Rule – who treat others as they would have others treat them. Men do strive to better themselves, to become aware of what they do not know – and need to know – and to educate themselves accordingly, to form friendships that are not predicated upon survival but upon common interests, to find, as Buber said, their “special place in the cosmos” and “connection with destiny.” We even find men who attain the third category of “living relation,” who transcend the first two stages and establish “a relation to the mystery of being, to the Absolute or God.”

The Sioux Indian did not get into any fights on the bus. He went home to the northern plains to live. After he was out a month he called me to say that he was doing fine. Yeah… yeah… he had met a nice gal and was getting set to move into her trailer. He also got a job delivering building supplies and was saving up to put a down payment on a used pickup truck. But what was really important – what he was calling to tell me – was that he had gone to Wisconsin to see Miracle, the white buffalo heifer. He had actually seen her with his own eyes. Did I know that she was not an albino, an anomaly or some freakish creature – but was a testament to God’s inexplicable power to affect change, cleansing change, black to white change – a merciful and beautiful purity! – like the white lotus flower rising out of the muck!?

I said I knew and understood.

A few months later I heard from him for the second and last time. We talked a little about spiritual matters and I could still hear the wonder in his voice. “You’re doing well,” I said, “I can tell.” Then he casually stated every enlightened man’s credo. “I’m a king. I’ve got a good woman, a clean house, a steady job” and then, as a concession to the exigencies of commerce, a little pride of ownership crept into his voice and he added, “and a pickup truck that only needs paint.” 

90 Days of Silence

May we with all beings realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and gift.

Language helps us understand but it does not take us beyond the material realm. Those who want to go beyond words, must abandon them. Language is a scheme that creates the illusory world.  To rely fully on the material realm leads to bondage and suffering. Our work is to go beyond it. Language is used to point the Way but language in itself is not the Way. Language mimics form, name, quality and utility, but language, at some point, is abandoned.

Abandon desires that come from intention. All of them. Rest in the Self.  Not in the thoughts of the self-centered self. To look a certain way, To be called a certain name, To exhibit a certain quality or To do a useful act.   Bhagavad Gita

Language creates the appearance of the movie that plays and covers the face of our original nature. When this false appearance occurs, we call it me, mine, my form, my name, my qualities and my acts.

Language, however, also helps us to unravel our self-centered insistence to create the illusion through practice instructions. We practice until we no longer create the appearance and rest in our Beloved Divine Self.

We use language to STOP the chatter of self-identification in order to see through the illusion and see who and what we really are.

Let me offer a simple teaching from Dōgen, a 13th century Zen Master of the Soto School of Zen.

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay. Fukazazengi

Dogen offers an instruction that zazen is not merely sitting on a cushion, but a practice that asks us to give up our desire to understand, pursuing words…it is much more difficult than learning meditation.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when she enters the mountain. For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that, from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.

And finally, this practice is not limited to the practice of sitting alone.

What we use of language and intellectual thought is our inquiring mind. We inquire into the thoughts and hindrances in order to let them go; to recognize the Truth and then, realize IT. Our thoughts and inquiry are, at some point, finally seen through for what they are. We use language to see through the delusion as in a Hua T‘ou or the repetition of a mantra.

We study, ask questions and seek until the inquiring reaches a point that we transcend the material minded point-of-view and experience our true original nature. We no longer are bound by anything.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

 

The Will to Choose


Work!

Your Hair is on Fire!

Don’t say,

“I DON’T HAVE TIME!”

Those words do not encourage, they deflate and burden the mind. It is, as some might say, stupid to think repeating those words is in any way helpful.

You cannot give what you do not have.

If you believe you do not have “time” to practice, you will not practice. If you repeat again and again to yourself that you do not have time, you seal yourself in, making it more difficult to change the mind.

What you fill the mind with, directs the mind.

Most of us do have “time” to do what we want to do. We say things to ourselves such as “I’ll make time!” The idea of making “time-to-do-something” is a sign of determination. It bypasses the mind’s laziness.

We need determination.

And most of us have it to some degree or another. We determine to do what we value.

There are many stories in spiritual traditions that in essence tells us that when you find a treasure, you are willing to sell everything for the treasure. 

Have you found the treasure?

Maybe the word treasure does not speak to you. Perhaps you need to study what motivates you.

Motivation is like the fire that burns your hair. There are three tendencies that determine the type of motivation: (1) laziness, (2)rampage and (3) high-mindedness or if you will;

  • comfort-seeking
  • passion
  • intellectual rationalization

All three tendencies are circling in us all the time. Are you seeking comfort? Passion? Intellectual promise?

When we see our aim, we have an opportunity to study all three tendencies. Sometimes all three seem to show up making us confused. Laziness begets sloth and torpor, rampage begets rushing, uncontrollable ambition and aggressiveness and headiness begets rationalizations and boastfulness.

These tendencies of the mind are fired up by our thoughts and desires. When we say, “I don’t have time” we turn to one of these tendencies to defend what we just told ourselves. Underneath we may want comfort or something more interesting and challenging or to be struck by uncontrollable passion.

Furthermore, “I don’t have time”‘ is a negative motive…the positive motive is telling ourselves more of the true motivation which is “I want to do something else.” This requires a sincere, clear look into our mental formations.

Our motivations are not necessarily clear nor are they always beneficial. Sometimes we opt out in laziness, or go on a rampage to get something in a selfish manner, or think we are the bravest and brightest bulb in the room.

What motivates you? Do you know? Or are you living what Thoreau called  a life of ‘quiet desperation?’

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. 
It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. Thoreau

Desperation is not a spiritual practice, although a desperate suffering may lead you to make the backward step towards the interior landscape of the Eternal Undying Self.

Spiritual work requires self investigation. It requires a commitment. Discipline. A will to keep going. We need to recognize we can squander our life flitting it away in laziness, unreliable passions, and rationalizations.

It’s up to each one of us to decide. To choose what our aim is – which requires we give our very best to our chosen path.

None of it comes easily; especially if we squander this lifetime without a clear aim to which we commit our will.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

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

 

 

Sacrifice

Innumerable Sacrifices

A Daily Practice of Devotion

 

Let’s start with a chant, Innumerable Sacrifices.

Innumerable sacrifices brought us this food;

We consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether we are worthy of this offering;

We regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses, such as greed;

We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.

For the sake of enlightenment, we now receive this food.

 

The key word, is sacrifices. An old word that is rarely used except perhaps to garner some gain or fame for oneself. Let’s start with a very brief look at the history of the word and then shift to a focus on birth and death.

The word sacrifice comes from the late 13th century., meaning “offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage;” by the 16th century the word came to mean an “act of giving up one thing for another; something given up for the sake of another.”

The 16th century definition is more or less how the word is used today. Sacrifice is an exchange that occurs between one person and another person in giving up one thing for the sake of another thing. In other words, a sacrifice is more or less a transactional deal.

In the 21st century, sacrifice or the killing of one thing as an offering to a deity as an act of care either a propitious care or a care offering of respect is admittedly hard to see. And here is where we shift to the focus on birth and death and the daily devotion of sacrifice.

We’ll begin with the apparent cause of death and follow it through in a bullet approach.

  • The cause of death is birth. This teaching is what Shakyamuni Buddha taught.
  • Death follows birth in the apparent world, the world of materiality.
  • The cause of birth and death in the material world is change.
  • Change is part of the nature of this world realm.
  • Everything changes.
  • To know and accept change serves our practice of devotion.
  • When we take things for granted, we think and believe and assume things belong to me, my, mine.
  • When we take things for granted, we claim them as made and owned by me, my, mine. We either claim them along the lines of a myriad of opposites such as: success-failure, good-bad, right-wrong etc.

As I hope you see, if you are stuck in this ignorance, you suffer. And there is very little, if any, capacity to live a devotional life.

Devotion would mean very little to those amongst us who think we are the “boss” – the one who makes everything happen that has happened in one’s life. This situation, my friends, is most of us since we have been conditioned to claim everything as “ours”.  

Let’s take another look at that word, sacrifice, but this time let’s use the older definition.

offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage

Hard to see, isn’t it?

But that doesn’t mean sacrifice is obsolete. It is not an archaic activity. It is hidden behind our ignorance of thinking we are in charge; to be more specific, the ego has been conditioned to think it is in charge. This claim by the ego is ignorance.

With that in mind, let us reckon with sacrifice in the 21st century.

Right there, where you are, sacrifice is in plain sight; but you may not see it because your vision is blurred by selfishness. Let me assure you that we have the opportunity to see sacrifice in the activities of everyday life; a devotional practice.

Preparing and cooking a meal is a good example of sacrifice

as a practice of daily devotion.

I cut up vegetables. I boil them, then roast them. I skin the avocado and dig out the green flesh inside and discard the seed. I prepare the carcass of a turkey by removing the neck and gizzards then wash it thoroughly before I season it and roast it. I pull off a leg to test to see it the bird is done. I mash potatoes which are the tubers of the plant. The tubers supply nutrition and help the potato plant survive the winter. Instead of leaving the potato on the plant we pick them and eat them. We eat the storehouse of nutrition of the potato plant. The potato provides energy to the plant as well as reproduction. The potato, the turkey, the avocado, and the vegetables are examples of sacrifice on your table. The cook and cook’s helpers are the priests; those who prepare and make ready the sacrifices to eat.

When we look closely, study what is right in front of us, we see that our entire life has been a gift. A gift that is full of sacrifice. Not the type of sacrifice that boasts or claims the victory or the ownership of the sacrifice, but a deferential respect for what shows up in our life as an opportunity to care for whatever it is in such a way that it is an offering of devotion.

Nothing is left out. And you can see this sacrifice, this practice that is a universal offering to life which promulgates devotion for all things; visible and invisible right under our collective noses.

Innumerable sacrifices, indeed, brought you your food, consider how it comes to you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, 2020

 

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

 

 

 

Remembrance of Karma Yoga

Hell is empty…

and all the devils are here.

The Tempest, Shakespeare

This fellow Shakespeare knew a thing or two. The line comes from the mouth of the young character, Ferdinand who has just experienced being shipwrecked. Although he is unharmed, the storm was a violent and frightening experience. And he does not know that others are on board, including his father, are safe and sound though shaken up by the, dare I say, the spiritual storm. Little did he know, nay, little did anyone on the ship know that Ariel, a spirit in bondage to the magician Prospero, was following orders to bring the ship aground in a thunderous storm  without as much as harming the clothes on the backs of the passengers.

Was it all a trick or is this Shakespeare’s way of once again telling us the truth of our lives of embodied skin bags.  Is life unpredictable? Is it under the influence of invisible spirits conjured up by magicians, those long-forgotten soothsayers of magic spells and incantations.

Perhaps we all feel shipwrecked by the states of utter confusion from the global pandemic and the recent and ongoing chaos of American elections. It doesn’t look like the current resident in the White House or the mysterious COVID-19 virus will be leaving anytime soon. What magic will it take to get them to leave?

Donald Trump continues on with his incantations on Twitter which is more or less the same as Prospero’s spiritual slave Ariel, putting aground the ship of state. His magical thinking wants to change the results that make him a loser at the ballot box and a loser against the virus. Like Prospero, the resident in the White House and the prevailing virus are  grounding the ship of state. Is it fair to say both came about from our negligence?

Are we so unlike this magic man, this Prospero who lost his kingdom from his own neglect? You see, he turned to magic as his idol. He was swept away, bedazzled by what magic he could perform. Yet, Shakespeare saves him by stripping away his title and banishing him to a far-away island.

Is the bard indicating Prospero had a lesson to be learned about his karma. As the story goes, Prospero neglected his Dukedom.  Don’t we neglect our human reign? I think we do.

When a stripping away comes, which it surely will, will we come to terms with the loss, with the banishment from what was once something we thought was “ours to own?” Hell is empty leaving all the devils to disrupt us with manifold losses and unwanted changes.

Doesn’t it feel that all the devils are here and even more than all the devils are here in the world but in our very being. Isn’t that what we really struggle with – falter and rise up again and again. Some more than others fall down and get up over and over again. The devils are always at us.

We, however are headstrong. We forget about karma. We think it won’t happen to us. Yeah, sure the other guy, but not us. I am here to tell you – it will happen to you. It’s my job, you see. To tell you and to offer some consolation and then tell you to get up and keep going. Don’t give up. Pull yourself together and keep reading.

Karma, one of the Five Remembrances is often made into a yoga that seems impossible to understand or impossible to actualize. Since it is considered impossible to understand and impossible to actualize, we simplify it. In our simplification effort, karma yoga gets shrunk down into a one word description: action. That’s right. Your karma, that which you do, the actions you take is your karma; it’s a lot like a fingerprint. So let’s take a look at some of what karma is.

Karma is action. Action is all-pervading. There is nothing shrunken about it. There is nowhere, no place, no position in life that is outside of KARMA, a sanskrit word that means TO DO.

TO DO carries with it the effects of the doing. Karma is often understood as cause and effect. When we take a closer look at this pairing of cause and effect we see that effect is the same as cause and cause is the same as effect.

What? You say.

Yes, the effect is the cause as cause is the effect. The pair is an inseparable rolling wheel. Where can you find the beginning or the end of cause and effect?  At best, we make a mark and claim one thing as the cause and the other thing as the effect but in reality there is no mark there. We put it there. We mark it as either the cause of the effect or the effect of the cause. You see, they are inescapable and inseparable.

Think about the two residents in the world I spoke about above. It is quite difficult to pull apart the cause and the effect of what is happening on that front.

What we can say is that karma is both the cause and the effect of action. It is a rolling wheel; seemingly out of nowhere and endless.

Furthermore, we are confused by this rolling wheel of cause and effect and think and believe we are in charge of both the cause and the effect. Isn’t this so? The whole world seems to be under the illusion that we can get control of this wheel once and for all.

After all we are in charge, aren’t we?

Well, my friends that is the question? Much of our youth is spent thinking we can do such and such and make things happen – but it is not only our youthful invincible madness that thinks we are in charge – but our claim and attachment to power and things. We are mad to think we are in charge…in control…that we own anything at all. We are, at best, caretakers who need to bend down and bow in gratitude for what comes our way.

Before you get too disgruntled, too obstreperous with “yes, buts” here is a prick of magic.

Let me put a pinprick into this illusion of thinking we are in charge.

Are you in charge of birth and death?

Just ponder that question for awhile.

Of course we can palliate many physical sufferings – sometimes well and sometimes not so well. But birth and death? Ah, not so there. And it is a good example of karma yoga. 

Buddha was asked, “What is the cause of death?” He must’ve wanted to laugh when he gave this simple answer – “Birth is the cause of death.” This question and answer shows us in a simple way the wheel of karma, the inseparable nature of cause and effect.

So what are we to do? AH…yes, what action (karma) as spiritual devotees do we take?

It depends.

Sorry for the dither. But it depends is the clearest answer I can offer. It leads me back to you. Yes, you. It depends on your aim? If you like, your goal in this round of birth and death that you call your life.

It depends on your goal? Are you scratching your head? I hope so. I hope you give this some thought. Some contemplation.

Many, many…I might even say, most…seek things that will bring happiness and pleasure. Sorry. But it’s true. We give a short shrift to philosophy and opt instead for the lower pleasures of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. 

Ask yourself, “How do I spend my life?” Hopefully you will see where your treasure is.

Where is your treasure?

The answer is infinite, because we are in an infinite existence even though we think, believe, live as though this body-mind complex is who we are and all we get. The answer, in general, is some thing, some person, some position, some place…and the list goes on.

OK. Don’t make a judgement for or against your treasure. It is, after all, in the infinite possibilities of our infinite existence. Please do ask yourself where does this treasure I seek come from within myself and where is it taking me?

Perhaps you want to be a father? A mother? A teacher? A financial wizard? Historian? Scientist? Surgeon. Artist. President? A bum? Wayfarer? Traveler?

The list is endless…the possibilities infinite. SO…where are you? Examine where you are and consider whether or not you had control. Has life lived up to its glamorous, glitter of promises? Let’s ask the man who has barricaded himself in the White House? Or those who have been struck by the virus? Or lost a loved one?

I know, as you know, the answer is whatever your life choice is, it comes with ups and downs. Disappointment and satisfaction. It is the nature of this realm. And it is what Shakyamuni Buddha saw as a young man – birth, death, old age, sickness and yes, karma.

His realization led to devotion to find out the Truth of this reality. We all can see what he saw, but we have to have a high goal as he did to know how to live in the midst of birth, death, old age, sickness and karma.

Let me offer some strong suggestions to those of you who have a high goal that goes beyond the vagaries of pleasure and pain. It begins with devotion. 

When we devote ourselves to a thing, a place, a person…we give without measure. To give without measure requires courage since to give without measure means to give without reward. It is to give in obeisance – what does obeisance mean. It means to give with deferential respect to what you devote your action to without looking at any result. It requires taking up the mantle, taking up the role without measure. To be a devoted father, mother, artist, scientist, surgeon, student, wayfarer. To whatever you give yourself to – give yourself without measure with deferential respect. It is after all your master. OK. It is God, the unborn, undying immutable in the form of a role, a thing, a place, a person…you get it, don’t you?

This is the Way to enter the puzzling, dazzling limitless existence beyond the body-mind complex.  Are you paying attention?

It is with this attitude, obeisance, that we realize we have been given a sword of Light which helps us meet the struggles of the spiritual and physical world. It is knowing that to abandon reward frees us to throw off that which burdens us – to cut off our selfishness. Yep, that’s it. Selfishness burdens us. when we think of our self as first, last and foremost we cannot give ourselves with deferential respect. There is simply too much pride that blocks our deep bow. This selfishness comes in infinite ways to make us think we are something special. Smarter, brighter, better. Those who suffer so think of themselves above others making the fall a bigger, harder crash. It is that old saying, pride comes before destruction and haughtiness comes before a fall. A good one to remember as we must  also remember…

Life is full of storms.

It is inevitable. But remember the sword that comes from giving up rewards, giving up results is pregnant with Light – from top to bottom. With it, we slay the devils…we bow down to that immutable, Supreme Self that does not harbor any thing against us – that which waits for our self-realization of knowing who we really are.

In some very unusual way, something bigger than a book of words or long conversation or intellectual delving, we have been given the storms, a world-wind of a virus that appears to be running unbridled over the world. In an odd-shaped way, we have also been given a world leader who appears to be doing the same. Both are hidden, out of sight, waiting to attack like unseen ghosts that can harm us all.

You say, “We must take precautions.”

Yes we do. We must remember the devils are all here. We must remember that loss and sorrows come to all of us. We must remember that our actions are both a cause and an effect and that we need to attend to our actions with devotion. An obeisance devotion where we defer and respect what comes into our life as our Work. That judging our work or the work of others is not much help – but the recognition of the infinite possibilities is. In some small way we do have the power to decide, we do have the power to practice concentration in a devotional way to our work and we do have the power to be unselfish.

May the merit of this work be beneficial to all beings in the ten directions.

OM NAMO – DEV NAMO

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 Third Position: Neither Here, Nor There

The Third Position: Neither Here, Nor There

It is just a matter of hitting the bell, closing the door, lighting a candle.

In the past IT abides.

In the future IT abides.

But don’t ask, “What do you mean?”

You seek an answer with a hammer.

Pounding on the fog you think you will make a break and see through.

Stay still and turn.

Make the turn and hear the echoes of habits and wishes.

Feel the striving gut that wants something more.

Wait.

Don’t hurry away.

It is the Way.

Endless turning until

The floor of the mind collapses.

Stop the hunt for the other.

Stop the chase.

You stalk a reply.

Respond without worry.

When you smell smoke, yell, “Fire!”

When you see the table holds the cup,

See the cup hold the tea!

Look through.

See, neither here, nor there,

Neither this, nor that.

It is all around you.

When you stand or sit, it is there.

It is buoyant cheers of scorpions and pigeons,

That you kill and stuff with your conclusions.

You cry, “How do I help?”

No hands, no harm.

You cry, “Have I gone too far?”

Neither far, nor near.

You cry, “What is the point?”

The sun, the moon and the stars.

When you give up the wish for something else, something more

You are home.

Then, once and now

There is nothing that escapes the past, the future, the present.

Your plans show the hidden tenants.

“Me. My. Mine.”

Safety boxes and storage houses overflow with false ideas.

You pound your hammer with great desire and fail to hear the wondrous voice.

When you realize the heart drums without a score and the ear hears without direction

You sit near the edge of the flowing river.

When wishes for and against subside

And the nose smells without form

The bees suckle the flowers and gestures of life wave

To awaken the unfulfilled.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Someone Asked. And the Answer is: Right Understanding

 

Right Understanding.

Let me begin with a definition of right understanding. It is a teaching of the Eightfold Path and is considered the root in the ground of the Lotus. It is embedded in the mud of the world of being. In each and every one of us this root is there. We are asked to discover the truth of it for ourselves. In the simplest language it means everything comes to awaken us.

How generous life is when we realize this truth. Everything? Yes, everything comes to awaken us. It is the recognition of being in the infinite possibilities of Our Supreme Nature. In the image of the Lotus it is the nutrients of the stem that grow and rise up through the water as a Lotus blossom.

All of this process occurs in us. It is not something just in a book. It is to be realized. Our first hurdle is to overcome our unwilling nature. Below is a common example of our unwillingness to practice the infinite possibilities of realizing everything comes to awaken us.

_____

A few days ago, someone came to me and complained. The complaint consisted of protests and gratitude; the protests of boredom and feeling stifled and stagnated and the gratitude for the teachings that brought him out of the burning house of suffering.

I listened. I knew this student. I knew he was and may still be unwilling to follow a teacher; to sit down in front of someone who is ahead of him on the path and bare his sense of helplessness.

Instead, he complained.

I wondered what was happening inside the heart of this person; in the place where the invisible presence of being exists. The speech, all those words that came up were words of protest and dissatisfaction coupled with a conditioned sense of gratitude for past offerings.

How did the wind blow this dust together for this student?

My response was simple but ineffective and dismissed.

I told the person that he needed to find someone ahead of him on the path; someone who he was willing to follow under all circumstances. In other words, someone he could bow down to before their feet and surrender his need to be independent and right and smart.

You see, this fellow lacked humility and reverence.

Pride and arrogance and probably many other intellectual and emotional conditions held him captive in his complaints. His odd-shaped gratitude of self-interest was an exterior excuse to cling to his pride. He could not imagine that he could find someone to follow in the way of humility and reverence. It was anathema to him. He did not admit it but it appeared to be that he felt superior to most and to all those he had met.

Perhaps I needed to say what I am about to say now.

This fellow is not ready to commit to his practice. Not able to relinquish his complaints and his conditioned gratitude. You see, he is not able to see how he is stuck in the conditioned selfish self – which is the part of his being which wants things to be different…wants things to satisfy him…wants something more or less. His difficulties are boons but he is unable to work with them in such a way that he can find the Way.

His habit of protesting and thanking is long-lived – and he gets incensed when someone suggests he needs to follow someone from the position of humility and reverence. How dare anyone who might suggest he follow in the footsteps of another!

There are many, many, many who are in this position. Not many want to take up the role of student. Fewer still want to take up the aim of god-realization, satori, nirvana, kenshō; of coming to his immortality.

Perhaps this fellow is familiar. Perhaps he is you. If you do not have the willingness to surrender in humility and reverence, you are not ready to head towards that aim of knowing that which is invisible, unborn, undying, and immutable; that everything comes into your life to awaken your true nature.

Yes everything! This is Right Understanding. When we realize this reality, we surrender. We become supple. We recognize we need help. We become willing to bow down.

I am ever grateful for Ming Zhen Shakya. For all those who walk ahead on the Way of enlightenment. For the teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha; for all teachings of Wisdom. I am grateful to be able to realize that everything comes to awaken us; to show us the Way.

May we, with all beings, realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and 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