The Arthur Sermon

Escape from Hell

We named him Arthur which is a name derived from the word bear. In Medieval Latin Arthurus/Arturus, usually said to be from Welsh arth means “bear.” In sanskrit, artha means wealth, the wealth that is so full it is complete. So, Arthur endures the complete wealth of life. He is so very much like the rest of us.

He came from Michigan. The first we saw of him was a picture of him sitting in a proper sit-stay with a little blue Michigan jersey on and at that time, he was called Kyle, which means lucky. He came by car at 8 weeks with a history of an early injury to his mouth. He recovered well except he does not like his mouth touched.

That is all we knew of him but we have learned many things from him since he has been with us for 1 ½ years.

His is presence both as a teacher as well as a student. To be with him is to experience the mutual co-dependent arising of knowing the reality of this game of life. Let me explain.

For much of the time he is with me. When I move, he moves. When he moves, I move. Together we experience this mutual, co-dependent arising. We, he and I, influence each other. This influence is true for each thing. There is nothing in reality that is separate.

As I was in the zendo sitting, Arthur was with me. Our 5 ½ year old named Harold Godwin. named after an ancient King, was asleep on the floor next to where I was sitting. Arthur, our lucky treasure, was pacing.

Pacing, pacing, pacing. He was restless. He could not settle. He’d go from one side of the room to the other and flop on the floor. Then, he’d get up. Then, he’d jump on the bed. Then, get up. Then, he’d pace. Then, flop against the wall. Up again and down again. Restless. Pacing.

I remained still. Silent. Eyes-half-closed. I watched him. Intermittently he’d come and stand in front of me trying to make eye contact. I closed my eyes. Then, he moved closer and sat down in his perfect sit-stay and stared at me. I did not make eye contact. But I could sense his stares.

When stares did not work, he cranked it up and placed his head on my thigh. I still did not move. Then, he nudged and nudged my arm. I remained still. I did not respond to him. I did not react to him. I did, however, notice him.

I was aware that he wanted something and his wanting something made him restless, unsettled and yes, anxious. Throughout all of this restlessness he would periodically go over to the window and look out at the squirrels; those tormenting rascals who run along the fence.

Arthur is a predator. His instincts of being a predator were in high gear, but I did not move. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to go out and give chase. And then, after he chased the unsuspecting squirrel he would come back and jump on the screen door to come back in. To do it all over again. Pace, up, down, restless!

But I did not give in. I remained still. Quiet. Watching. Seeing his agony which comes because he is not trained. He’s not tamed his instincts. He is out-of-control and restless.

This behavior is a pattern.

He wants to go out and chase the squirrels. I resisted and did not move. He was confined in such a way he had to deal with his instinct differently.

BUT…you say…that is Arthur’s nature…why didn’t you let him out and let him chase the squirrels. LOL I laugh because this giving-in act is what we do with ourselves and one another.

Yes, I know it is Arthur’s nature to be a predator but he needs to tame that down. He needs to calm down. I do not want to give way to his instinctual drives. Just as I do not want to give into my instinctual drives.

AH…I hear you saying, “he’s a dog.” Yes. He is a dog. And dogs are able to tame their instincts with some help from us. He can learn to be calm and quiet and rest. But he needs our help to let go of his instinctual drives to attack and kill.

Furthermore, I know Arthur to some extent, created his own hell with his desire to get out and chase the squirrel. Just as we create our own hell with desires to get what we want.

But desire held in silence and in watching awareness, in time, protects him and allows him to give up his restless desire. He gave it up. He got himself out of hell through the door of resolve.

I acted as his guardian or what I prefer to call ‘Mother.’ Not a mammal mother but an immutable, unchanging ‘mother’ energy that protects and teaches and watches and holds back and is resolved to awaken us. Parental Mind is part of our nature.

Many of us need help to tame and train our instincts. To be resolved to stop going after all the many desires that fill the mind. We, like Arthur, think if we get such and such then all will be hunky-dory. In fact, however, desires are endless until we have experienced samadhi, union with the Divine Self.

We have to be able to STOP…citta vrtthi narodha….the uptick of thoughts of desires by not acting on them. How do we do that?

We watch our desires in stillness and silence whirl around and whirl around in our head making every effort to get satisfaction by some action. Action to hold still, to be resolved to let the desire whirl away.

Just as I watched Arthur, but did not act. Thoughts come and go, come and go, and it is our work not to give in to the endless desires that come up. Don’t believe them. Doubt your thoughts by watching them and watching them in such a way you see how they want you to act in such a way that will result in returning to this whirl of restlessness. When you give in you return to hell.

Our situation boils down to surrender and trust…which requires that we do not measure ourselves along the lines of success and failure of getting what we want. In fact, it is far better for us not to measure ourselves at all since measuring disturbs our mind. Instead of trying to get what we want, we’d be far better off if we use that restless energy to pay attention to the what is at hand right in front of our nose and give our excellence to what is required. To give our finest to whatever we do, rather than be swept up in the whirl in our head that drains and dulls our brilliance.

Arthur, our lucky treasure, counts on us to awaken and finally nudges us to help him even though all along he was being helped but didn’t know it. Am I not the same – Mother Buddha watching until I finally nudge her to help me having forgotten she has always been there helping me with whatever is haunting me with mental formations.

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

 

 

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

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

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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