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)

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.” 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Age is a Boon

Remembrance of Aging


The Four Boons of Aging.

My hope is to pull the door open, even if it is just a crack, on what is beneficial in the truth of aging. I’ll begin by listing out the boons, followed by a short explanation and example of each.

  1. Aging gives us an opportunity to awaken to who am I.
  2. Aging gives us an opportunity to discover wisdom.
  3. Aging gives us an opportunity to witness the arc of time.
  4. Aging gives us an opportunity to surrender.

_____

The date and time vary but the mirror tells the tale of aging. Hair graying and thinning, bones aching, toes and fingers changing shape and not in a pretty way; hip replacements and even yellowing teeth. The mind is slower. You’re more forgetful. Not as fast or as strong as you once were. If you stop running, you’ll forget how to – skipping and jumping become dangerous activities. You’ll need jar lid removers, hand rails in the shower and walkers to keep you from falling.

Aging comes upon us all; that is, if we are lucky.

There’s no use in shrinking away, trying to shirk off the inevitable losses of power. It seems like an end of the era of you and the beginning of mortification that ends with death. But let me repeat the line above.

Aging comes upon us all; that is, if we are lucky.

There is little if any hope of restoration of the past. All the dishonorable and glorious parts of being embodied as a human being; being human gone.  So what do we do?

We molt. Yes. Try to take to it. Molting is shedding all the old feathers, sloughing off the old skin, shedding skin to begin a new era…but most of us are not prepared. The culture frowns at aging. The culture smiles at youthful vigor. Even middle age is uncomfortable for those who are waiting to retire into some fantasy of rest and fun. To travel, to join an active community of aging birds.

Where’s all the boons, you ask? This picture, that old face and crooked body, is dismal.

Aging comes to us; that is, if we are lucky.

Aging gives us an opportunity to awaken to who am I.

The first boon of aging comes when we live a long life, say to 100. If we are given this, we have been given an opportunity to awaken to consciousness – to the knowledge and recognition of WHO AM I.

Not that worldly constructed “I” that plays a role, that worries about the outcomes, who seeks satisfaction from the world. Who bears the troubles and struggles of duty and performance. Not that “I” that can’t sleep at night. That frets and measures and is disturbed in body and mind. It has nothing to do with the “I” that has a bucket list of things you want to do or get before you die.

It is the “I” that is a spiritual seeker. To that “I” old age is a boon.

Aging comes to us; that is, if we are lucky.

Aging gives us a chance to discover the immutable…that “I” that has never had a notch on time, which we call a birth date, followed by another notch which we call a death date. No. But the real, immutable existence in consciousness that is beyond the realm of suffering. Beyond birth and death. The “I” that is beginningless.  The you that is not a victim to any of your senses.

So…pray for a long life that will give you this chance to know your true nature. Let that freedom and realization be an aim. Not more stuff. Not more money. Not more prestige. Not more status. Not more information. Go with the change of loss. Let go. Be a nobody, going nowhere. 

It may sound like a doomed existence; it isn’t. It is freedom from bondage of things that come into existence, appear, and then vanish. It is a life without clinging and craving.

THAT is wisdom.

Aging gives us an opportunity to discover wisdom.

This second boon, wisdom gives us a chance to discover and  know one’s true nature. A long life helps us see and know and understand the arc of life in an intense and deep way as did Guanyin, who is the embodiment of the virtue of compassion and prajna. Both high ground on the spiritual path.

Wisdom changes our senses in such a way that we speak from the depth of wisdom and not from our personal, selfish self. Love, which is unselfishness, which is unconditional is discovered and lived.

We live seeking no gain. There is no concern for the constructed illusion of a separate self. Position, propaganda and the proper hierarchy of institutions no longer traps us; no longer arouses the madness of right and wrong, getting and having, having and keeping and on and on. We see through the illusion.

In order to explain the third and forth boons, I need to set the context with a short history lesson on WWII.

During WWII it became clear to the Allied Powers that they needed one another in order to stop the global threat of the Axis powers. The Allies were Great Britain, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union. Surprising allies in today’s world view, but allies nonetheless. The leaders of the Allies were Franklin Roosevelt (the United States), Winston Churchill (Great Britain), and Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Union).

The Axis Powers, those that represented the global threat, were: Germany, Italy and Japan. The leaders were Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

These were the countries that were considered the combatants of WWII. Many other countries suffered but were not considered the ‘fighters.’  There were, however, ‘resisters.’ The French Resistance (French: La Résistance) was the collection of French movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy régime.

The “official” period of WWII is September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945. This WW began 81 years ago when Hitler invaded Poland and when two days later France and Great Britain declared war on Germany.

The “official” end of the war came on September 2, 1945, almost exactly 6 years after Germany’s invasion of Poland which makes it 87 years ago that WWII ended. A lifetime for some.

Japan at the time was in turmoil, with major military massacres and the invasion of Manchuria in the Northeastern region of China. Japan joined the Axis powers in 1940 by signing a protectionist pact against the Allied Powers with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. A little more than a year later in 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 85 million people died directly and indirectly from the war and war-related damages.

Aging gives us witness to the arc of time.

Now, my friends, what does this short history lesson have to do with the third boon of aging? In a very pointed way, it helps us be patient, to be not so quick to act or react, it helps us give guidance to those who are younger. To help ourselves and others not to take what is arising too seriously for whatever it is, will change.

Aging, living or having lived through a long arc of time may give one wisdom that does not come so easily to those of us who are still on the upswing of the arc of time. Those, however, who live long, even on a material plane, if they are inclined even a little beyond a sense of personal, selfish interest, see that everything, whether it be the body-mind complex or the worldwide politick played out before our eyes, changes. In other words, they see the long arm of change in small and big ways making it possible to see the illusion of peace and the illusion of war. Long life provides the opportunity to see the deceiving nature of the things of the world which includes our body-mind structure.

Change is quite forceful to the aged. Loss of position in the world, loss of loved ones, loss of body-mind ability, loss of self-sufficiency, loss of expansion…and so the losses go as Shakespeare clearly puts it.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Shakespeare

But along with these changes, there can come a firsthand bird’s eye view that the material world comes and goes and is an illusion. The world as Shakespeare wrote, is a stage. It does not last. It changes. And this suggests, with the help of history, that peace does not last nor does conflict.  In fact, may we bold as to say “Peace on Earth” is as changeable as “War on Earth.”

But there is a boon that Shakespeare misses, that most of us miss, and that is exemplified by the actions of the Japanese in WWII. It is the fourth boon.

Aging gives us an opportunity to surrender.

I say what follows in modesty and humility, since I do not know if this story is true in the sense of historical verification or a legend. In either case, it does not matter. But there is evidence that Zen Buddhist Roshi’s in Japan were involved in the militarist stronghold in Japan before and during WWII. So…forgive me for my supposition, but I think it might be worth at least hearing the story whether it is true or not. Fiction, as we all know, does point to truths.

Let us remember that there are many, many suppositions to why the Japanese signed the unconditional surrender of the Potsdam Declaration.  There is, apparently, a contentious debate on why the Japanese signed the Potsdam Declaration.

The leaders in Japan at that time were undecided as what to do in the midst of great and devastating chaos after the atomic bombs were dropped. Some considered an all out war on the US no matter what the cost to the Japanese people; others were counting on the Soviets to broker a peace deal with the Allies but instead of a peace deal, the Soviets attacked Japan. There were other scenarios but all seemed put the decision to surrender in limbo.

The legend goes that being at their wits end the Japanese sought out assistance from a Zen Master of high regard. Now, we must remember that Zen Buddhist masters and followers were involved in this military rampaging. So it is not too far afield to think that the leaders of Japan would seek out a Zen Roshi for advice on what to do. And in this supposition they did seek out the council of a very old Roshi on what to do who responded with one word, “SURRENDER.”

This Zen Buddhist Roshi, although most likely involved in the engagement of war, saw something from his arc of time that surrender was the only response much like raising one finger or giving the student a sudden slap.

Surrender.

Aging is a boon, especially for spiritual seekers. It is an opportunity to turn inward, a grand opportunity to surrender.  And on that we will end. 

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image Credit: A. Holmberg

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 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

 

Being Resolute

Personal Note

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

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

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

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

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

Om Namo Guru Dev Namo

Fly

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See: Those Who Serve

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

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

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

Om namo guru dev namo

Humming Bird

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

 

 

Exhibitionist Politics by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

 

 

The More Things Change,

The More They Stay the Same

 

 

December 20, 2003

 

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

                    — John B. Bogart

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Take Care of Your Mind by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

AWARENESS OF THE HINDRANCES

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

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

 

AWARENESS OF RELIEF

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

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

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

 

 

Work as Devotion

Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

 

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

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

What is so important about this truth of knowledge?

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

What hides the Truth?

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

Another example is the image of a quilt.

Here is an ancient proverb:

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

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

 

 

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

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

OM

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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