Playing at Paste…Until Qualified for Pearl – PART 2

Notice – Two Points.

  1. Please read PART 1 first, then come back and read this, PART 2. Thank you.

2. Before we jump in further, it is important to ask a question. Don’t skip the question. And I advise, don’t advance without knowing your answer.

Here’s the question: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

A simple enough question, but it determines the whole direction of your life. It turns your ship towards whatever answer you put forth. The reason the question, as well as the answer is important, is that for the most part we get whatever it is that we want. It is true, even though it may not be exactly what you wanted, but it is some form of what you wanted. Look at your own life. You’ll see that you do get what you want – or some facsimile of it.

If you did not answer the question in some way that suggest you want liberation, I wouldn’t bother reading further. This is not what you want. But, if you did answer, I want to be liberated, then carry on. If you are not sure of what you want, continue to spend time with yourself in solitude and see what bubbles up.

 

The Story of the Monk Running for His Life

This story is about ignorance. Although, it is often a story about being in the “now” – picking the strawberry, enjoying the sweetness of ignorance, it is ultimately about ignorance. The central ignorance of not knowing who you are. 

It is essential that you understand this central question: WHO ARE YOU?

For most of us, we identify our self as a character on the world stage who has a body and mind and a life. In other words, we identify our self according to the body, the mind, and all the constructions of our family and culture and zeitgeist. As an example, I am a man, middle-aged, balding, brown eyes, six feet, a pharmacist, married 2 kids, educated, Spanish, and need to lose a few pounds. On and on this list may go. This list exemplifies the relative, impermanent conditions of the world and it is who this man thinks he is.

If you identify yourself according to the world, you are guaranteed suffering. Suffering’s root is not knowing WHO YOU ARE. It is as if you have identified yourself as a table or a cup, or an automobile which many actually do. The house they live, the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the hairdo, their height, their profession, their history make them who they are. But all of these things disappear and POOF! you lose them and it feels life-threatening because you think these things are YOU.

This YOU comes about through ignorance. And in this story of the monk we see him running for his life out of ignorance.

A Brief Recap

This spiritual adept, (those who want liberation) is said to have escaped the man-eating tiger and the devouring lion, but is soon to be done in by a few hungry mice. We meet him in a rather desperate moment. But despite his facing an impending death, he reaches for a sweet strawberry. Ming Zhen points out that going for the strawberry is playing with paste and that there is more work to be done especially when the monk realizes Layman P’ang’s truth – “the present doesn’t stay – don’t try to hold it.” Nothing lasts, not even the taste of that sweet strawberry.

When you begin to recognize all those things you identify yourself as will not last – and you decide you want liberation beyond the momentary sweetness of a strawberry – you dig in and start the climb up towards the Summit.  In Dickinson’s words, you practice until you qualify for pearls.

Sweet Ignorance

Wanting the sweetness of the strawberry is wanting the sweetness of ignorance. How do we know that? The monk is running for his life; defending against his impending death. We all tend to opt for the sweetness of ignorance rather than do the higher work of putting our foot into a cranny and getting out of ignorance altogether.

The direct path is to know and realize birth and death are illusions. Yes. That’s right. They are illusions. The tiger chasing the monk, the cliff, the branch, the mice, the lion and yes, the strawberry. The monk is fearful. He does not want to lose his body and mind and all the sweetness of ignorance. Yes, the sweetness of ignorance as in the old saying, ignorance is bliss. To some degree, ignorance itself is blissful – for awhile. Not in an eternal sense. For awhile – we enjoy the sweet honey of life until we realize otherwise. Often we get stuck in ignorance. Taking the ups with downs in stride and sing that very old song by Peggy Lee, Is This All There Is – if your answer is YES, this is all there is then, you’ll go along with her refrain – then bring on the booze and let’s keep dancing. This is being stuck in the honey of ignorance until you suffer change enough that you scream for help.

When we mistake the body and mind to be who we are, we are in ignorance. We suffer from fear, loss, and every imaginable form of suffering when it comes. The Heart Sutra is an antidote to this ignorance, especially when it is taken in and contemplated. We chant the emptiness of every aspect of body and mind as a reminder of these things are not who we are.

All of the things in the world are subject to decay and death. When you identify with this illusion you get scared. Who wouldn’t? What do you mean I AM SUBJECT to decay and death? You struggle, struggle, struggle with doubt, fear, hopelessness, helplessness and many, many other miseries that come.

The Truth is simple. You are NOT the body. You are not the MIND. YOU are not all those conditions and constructs you put together which you say you are. They are part of the role you play in the illusion like a costume – put on and then taken off.

Ming Zhen suggests getting out of there. Get out of the illusion; if you don’t survive, you can’t prevail.  Prevail for the spiritual adept requires you face the beasts – the tiger, the mice and the hungry lion. You face the illusion of the body and mind. You see through it. You face the momentary enjoyment of sweet ignorance and look to know who you are.

The Path

First, find out where you are. Are you a pleasure hog? A monger of the commodities of the world? Going after things for pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, comfort, comfort, comfort?

Most of us have been conditioned to seek comfort and pleasure in the things of the world. Look around you. What do you cherish?

In order to get onto the path, you need to have a glimpse, to see through the illusion. Suffering is your greatest ally to make a hole into the veil of ignorance ;allowing you a glimpse through the illusion. This takes time.

It is no wonder Eastern religions claim rebirth and reincarnation as our lot. We need time to see through this illusion. Along with the notion of reincarnation comes the ever-present encouragement not to waste time. Life and death are of supreme importance. This story shows us the importance to dig in and climb above the illusion.

You are born this time as a human being – a great boon – a platform on which to climb upward to the Summit. Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t let the piddly, petty things of this world distract you. Fight off the demons of the ego. Find a teacher.* Climb upward.

 

Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice,

I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

 

Playing at Paste…Until Qualified for Pearl – PART 1

 

Welcome Dear Friends.

This piece may be longer than most of what ZATMA posts. But it is hot off the heart – heated up by the Divine Mother of Time – of Birth and Death – and the Truth. It may be for you and it may not be. You get to decide whether this work is for you. The Work being:  “if you want to be free” or “if you don’t.”

I know a choice is obvious but i must add that there is always the possibility for a breakthrough – a breakthrough out from behind the veil of ignorance.  With that possibility in mind, read it. What do you have to lose?

I wish each and every one of you good luck, the good luck of hearing the sound of the high bird that waits patiently to sing to you.

 

Order of the Work. Read this first.

I am tempted to go in many directions all at once but I know that will be too confusing. I don’t want to add to your confusion. We are confused enough. The Order is offered as a way to help you hear what is told, understand what is given and to see where you go with it on your own. For the sake of clarity and utility, I recommend you print this out.

  • We’ll begin with a poem by Emily Dickinson, titled, We Play with Paste. 
  • Followed close behind comes a teaching of Layman P’ang. A Ch’an master of great esteem. He, like most of you, was not a monk, but he encountered two Ch’an masters upon whose shoulders he stood. The key word in his history is encountered; meaning faced the difficulty of working with a Master. He wasn’t a monastic and yet, his teachings went beyond the two he encountered. One does not need to ordain, but one does need to face the difficulties and deliberations of a master.
  • The third teaching comes from a novel by Anthony Wolff (aka Ming Zhen Shakya). It is a very familiar Zen Buddhist story. Read it several times. My guess is you’ll have heard of it and may even decide you know what it is saying. Hold off with your thinking you know what it means. Don’t decide beforehand.

 

We Play with Paste by Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886

 

We play at Paste

Till qualified, for pearl.

Then, drop the paste

And deem ourself a fool.

 

The shapes- though- were similar,

And our new hands

Learned Gem-tactics

Practicing Sands.

 

I hope you have read it several times and thought about it as well. In this context, both Ming Zhen and I agree that for an indeterminable amount of time we spiritual seekers play at spiritual practice. As you’ll read later we enjoy and find the Zen stories entertaining, amusing and light. But as in all things, we cannot stay there although we may get stuck there. Getting stuck tends to look like dogma, doctrine and concrete. It is often laiden with judgement as in I know and you poor fool do not.

Don’t lose heart if you find yourself still playing with paste. It’s part of the training. Afterall, we have to start somewhere and learning fanciful Zen tales is an appealing place to start. This happens in all spiritual practices. Ancient stories and parables are taken in at the level of the listener or in this case in the hands of an unskilled but willing seeker. A spiritual kid, if you will.

What determines whether or not we’ve given up our childish ways with paste? A sense of being a fool. Yes. That is it. A sense that you have been playing around with spiritual pearls all the time thinking you were cool. In the know. Some think they are awake. At some point, a spiritual adept confesses being a fool. I know exactly when I confessed to my teacher. It was that part of the poem that says, deem myself a fool. I still laugh about it. If you can’t laugh at yourself, well – that’s a sure give-away you’re still playing around with paste. Remember, however, that’s a place most of us begin. Whatever you do, don’t try to fake being a fool, or fake laughing at yourself. This is why you need a teacher; because a teacher can spot this stupidity and chicanery – and that my friend’s is a priceless gift.

As the poem goes on it portends to give a hint at what comes next. NEW HANDS. Yes, something happens and we realize what we have been given is a gem; a precious jewel that we play with skillfully – with wisdom – in the shifting sands of this impermanent realm. We take it seriously, but not too seriously. Notice I say take it seriously first…and you do this for a long time until you realize you are after all playing with sand. But don’t try to reverse these. Don’t think you’re playing with sand first. That will lead you to despair and even nihilism. No. First, take the teachings and practices seriously – and at some point you’re likely to see it is all sand. Always has been.

 

Layman P’ang’s Teaching on Ultimate Reality — 740-808

This teaching by Layman P’ang impacts how you might understand the Zen parable in the next section. Layman P’ang’s teaching is so lucid I feel as though I do not need to add anything except to encourage you to read it and take it into your life practice.

 

The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.

The present does not stay.
Don’t try to hold it from moment to moment.

The future is not yet come;
Don’t think about it
Beforehand.

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.

There are no commandments
To be kept,
There’s no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind truly
Penetrated, nothing remains.

When you can be like this,
You touch ultimate reality

 

The Thorn Crown Murder – Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

“We play at paste till qualified for pearl,” noted Emily Dickinson. The observation also applies to instructions about Zen’s attitude toward life. We begin with parables that seem, to the beginner, to be such pretty little jewels. Later, when we deepen our understanding, we see them as the glass substitutes used to acquire in the ‘gem-tactics’ needed for handling real pearls.

Early on we learn about the monk who, while fleeing from a tiger, clings to a loose sapling on a cliff’s side and sees death whether he goes up or down. Yet, he picks a wild strawberry and savors its sweetness. Yes, we say, we should all live in the ‘now’ moment. But once we grow in Zen, the story loses its charm. It is no easy task to live in the now – to be able to concentrate and focus right where you are with what shows up, but Ming Zhen goes onto to write…we call out to the monk, “instead of picking a strawberry, scrape out a foothold for yourself!” And I add climb up, get out of there because…There are degrees of advancement in Zen’s regimen…

Yes, there are degrees of advancement but it does not mean to skip this work of being in the present moment. Work there – work with a decision to concentrate and focus and when you are stable in doing that then, and only then, go to Part 2 where we will take up the task of advancement.

Humming Bird

Image Credit: Fly, 2020 From the Bottom UP

The image depicts the chakra energy.

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Zen Through the Camera’s Lens

 

The film 1917 tells the story of two British soldiers in the trenches of France who are ordered by their superiors to travel on foot to a distant part of British-held territory with written instructions from the General in charge of operations to not attack the Germans the following morning. The Germans have set a trap. If the British attack, it will be a slaughter and a defeat for the allies.

The two soldiers leave immediately and travel overland, through an encampment the Germans only hours previously abandoned, through disputed territory where lone German soldiers hide and skirmishes between bands of Germans and British are a constant threat.

The audience watches as the two men negotiate many dangers, from rats to explosions to enemy bullets. We see them stumble, run, fall, creep and claw their way through varied terrain, all of it scourged by the horrors of war. As day becomes night becomes morning, the men continue on, their primary objective to keep going, in the right direction.

This ever-changing panorama of challenges and dangers was filmed in one continuous camera shot. The camera never stops rolling through the two hour drama, the lens never breaks from its singular focus on the two soldiers moving, always moving. It is a breath-taking feat of cinematography and film production. This no-stop approach to filming gives the story an essential and potent immediacy. Along with the camera itself, neither the audience nor the two young soldiers ever shift focus from the moment they are in. There is no time for such indulgences, there is only NOW…NOW…NOW…and NOW. There are no flashbacks to the childhoods of the characters, or to the families that wait for them, no cutting forward to old men as they remember their long-past heroics. No secondary story takes place in some other part of the war-torn landscape. The ever-changing scenery through which the two men travel in their quest to complete the given task the only truth.

The effect of the film on this student of Zen was to highlight and honor that which can be easy to overlook as we walk through the varied terrain of our lives: Each moment of time and space we inhabit is a dynamic creation in which everything is arising and falling away. The continuity of time and space are an illusion and 1917 shows us this in stark relief. When we keep attention

focused on this universal principle, as does the film, we can see more clearly that nothing stays the same, nothing lasts, every moment is new, brand new. Everything the two soldiers experience dissolves to make way for the next experience. They can only remain present, keep moving in the right direction and keep their wits about them.

Our minds, not nailed to the present by life-threatening dangers, can grow complacent, causing us to grasp at experiences to opine about them, yearn for more of them, get angry at them, evaluate our performance of them, grieve for the losses within them—and in doing so, we lose the moment that has newly arisen before us. We, like the soldiers and like all sentient beings, exist solely in the present, but our internal camera lens looks backward and forward, at this and that, here and there, always veering off, stealing our attention and veiling this truth. Over and over again, we find we are no longer here.

1917 shows us life being fully inhabited in the now. Through its continuously trained camera lens, it offers a view of life as a journey in which the imperative is to see the threats and opportunities arising in this moment with a singular focus so that one can navigate them with wisdom. To indulge in reactions to that which has come before or that which lies ahead are delusions and as such they lead us toward dangerous distractions. The young Brits know their lives and their mission depend on this such clear concentration.

Zen students too are on a quest to complete a given task; we too are running for our lives. We too must remain aware of the dangers lurking everywhere as we encounter life, for we also have enemies that threaten our task’s fulfillment. Our enemies are not sentient beings but conditioned beliefs and feelings, old habits of body, speech and mind that can catch us in their cross-fire, that hide in dark corners to kill and maim. We too must keep going in the right direction, toward the possibility of freedom and safety, paying full attention to the moments when these internal enemies show their shadowy faces. They lie in wait for our attention to flag. Inattention creates the perfect conditions for the traps they set.

Emotions and thoughts, all conditioned behavior thrives on our mind’s undisciplined flights of fancy into yesterday and tomorrow, likes and dislikes, distant lands and dramas. It is so easy to forget! It is so easy to relax into self-satisfaction that feels like peace. Before we know it, some deep discord within us is exploding forth and we are again at war. Our inner world and the outer

world it reflects are both battlefields where the delusions of winning and losing, love and hate play out their dark story of opportunity lost and truth mired and muddied, buried in the trenches of suffering and ignorance.

Like the two young Brits in 1917, our task is to keep going, pay full attention and remain vigilant, knowing that our lives depend on it.

 

Humming Bird

Lao Huo Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Image Credit

What Do You Turn to When You Need Help

Bleary Doubled 2020 by Fly

 

This is often known as your source of refuge. It comes when you are at your wits end and you need to refer to something or someone wiser than your ego-self. It comes with power, a power to decide between one thing or another. In spiritual life, it comes through the realization of renunciation.

Stop and ask yourself: “What do I rely on?”

In science and business and all the many things of the world we call it a “reference.” What do I refer my will to when I need assistance?  The question itself determines action – what action you will take with body, speech and mind.

When something occurs, some event or series of events in your mind – which is where all events are reflected – what do you do? And, where do you go for help?

Let me relieve any anxiety that this question may bring up by adding – there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. The answer, whatever it is, is illumination. The answer tells you what you have “faith” in. It will tell you your reference. And knowing your reference will tell how you measure and evaluate your life. It may even help you see how your reference hinders your spiritual journey.

So, let me ask the same question in another way.

What for? When you do something what do you do it for?  You get to fill-in the blank.

This particular practice is preliminary, but it nevertheless may yield gold if you are sincere in your quest to know that which is ineffable.

Another way to understand this “reference” is to look at a habit since habits are actions for something or for another. The bedeviled alcoholic shows us in bright painful lights how a habit works. The person is in pain and takes action for some pain relief where alcohol is the reference of choice. It is available, convenient, and offers a false degree of reliability. It works. But, as we know, over time this reference turns into dependence and then turns into a demon. With this in mind, notice how what we turn to as a reference follows this pattern of a habit. We want an available, convenient and reliable reference. One we can trust.

Dare I say that all habits built on things that fall apart are unreliable. Despite this truth we often continue to turn to them as though they are not unreliable. I note this as an encouragement to seek a “reliable” reference; one that is ever-present, ever-powerful, and ever-reliable.

In Zen Buddhism, it is called the True Self – or your True Nature. IT is called by many names but has the same nature across traditions. IT is who you are and not the other way around. You are not IT. We proceed from the unborn, undying, eternal being.

In short, watch what you put your faith in.

God alone is real. All this is apparent and proceeds from God, the unborn, undying, eternal.

“When a Saint was practicing deeply, the teaching of Wisdom, she perceived that all this – name, form, body & mind, feelings, impulses, perceptions, and consciousness are empty of an abiding ego-self…and realized the Truth.”

Om Namo Holy Mother God

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

ALL MR. PATHAK EVER WANTED WAS PEACE, AND IT SEEMED AS IF HE SPENT ALL HIS FREE TIME TRYING TO FIND IT.

The title of this essay  is a line from a novel, The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri. It comes early on in the novel from a man, a Mr. Pathak who feels beaten down by the everyday demands and complaints from his wife. She, Mrs. Pathak, is in a constant, many year battle with her neighbor, Mrs. Asrani. The battlefield is twofold; a shared kitchen space and a landing (the place between staircases in the building). The conflict is rooted in fairness. Both the Pathak’s and the Asrani’s feel as though they are doing and paying more than their fair share. The treasury at stake is water in the kitchen and revenue and expenses regarding the landing.

Water is scarce and is a sought after commodity collected and distributed in the kitchen. The landing, which was a source of rental revenue is currently occupied by a dying man named Vishnu who is in dire need of human kindness. Vishnu, amongst the poorest of the poor, is an alcoholic. No longer able  to tend to certain small things in the building  or pay his small rent for sleeping on the landing he has become  a medical liability to the Pathak and the Asrani families.

 

As we might imagine, squabbles abound from both sides. Both couples want an even-handed distribution of water and a fair-minded, equal payment for Vishnu’s care. Neither seems to be possible.

Not only do the couples dispute the unfairness between the pairs but the partners find themselves bickering over who will tell the other couple what they need to do or not do. With Vishnu’s greater need for assistance, skirmishes between them ensue on a regular basis. Common enough.  We might even say, to be expected. Whether you live in a shared apartment building in India or in a two-flat in Europe, getting along with others is often difficult. 

When we first hear of Mr. Pathak’s desire for peace, he is sitting in an Iranian Hotel drinking tea and eating a biscuit. He goes there to escape the conflict. This scene gives us a glimpse into what he does that keeps him far from finding the peace that he seeks. Initially, he feels good. He’s gotten away from the bickering. He enjoys his tea and biscuit. Soon enough, however, the noise of the recent quarrel with his wife is defended against with two flamethrowers; fault-finding and blame. He defends himself to himself with these against the others only to descend into self-pity.

His tea and biscuit are no match against the secretions of his mind.

 

 

It was not his fault that Mrs. Arani was so unreasonable. It was not his fault that Vishnu was sick. It certainly not his fault Usha (his wife) had arranged the kitty party for today. Nothing was his fault, yet he knew he would be blamed for everything. A wave of self-pity swept over Mr. Pathak, and the Gluco (biscuit) turned chalky in his mouth.

 

 

He can’t help it. His mental formations come up in his mind much like a well-developed habit of checking a sore on the inside cheek in the mouth. The tongue curiously checks the sore again and again only to make matters worse. Mr. Pathak’s peace is swept away, leaving him bereft of the peace he wanted.

Sadly, Mr. Pathak is unable to realize how he contributes to his misery. Blinded by the flamethrowers of fault-finding and blame he falls into the vat of self-pity opening the door to despair leaving him prey for his instinctual side to take charge. With his instinctual side he plans to retaliate against his wife. The retaliation, unbeknownst to Mr. Pathak’s wish to satisfy himself,  fuels the flames of the household discord, setting him on fire. 

The importance of Mr. Pathak’s ever-seeking hunt for peace is he is us. Mr. Pathak represents our mind state before enlightenment. He is ignorant. He shows us, so very clearly, that he contributes to the discord leaving him longing for peace. Yep. He ain’t found it, yet. Mental gymnastics is not the Way. 

I hope you are laughing. Not at Mr. Pathak. But at seeing his mental deliberations as hindrances which negate any chance for lasting peace. 

The work is not with Mr. Pathak or his wife. Or the other couple. Or with the situation of scarcity of water or the dying man on the landing. The work is with ourselves.

We need to be able to recognize the ego-self and how it calls upon various aspects of the mind to get control and keep it. We need to be able to see how we hoist our mind on our own petard (small exploding bomb). If we just get this first step, we will limit and avoid doing harm to others and ourselves by stopping the plot against another or our self before we blow ourselves up in double suffering. 

If we examine this short paragraph, we see that we, too ,defend ourselves by finding fault with others, the situation, ourselves. We enter into the wicked realm of the unreasonable. We mark others as unfair. Life itself is seen as unfair. We criticize and judge whatever we deem as the problem. None of this helps us get free enough to find peace; to limit and end suffering. As Mr. Pathak we fall into leaking any good sense we might have and take no responsibility for our acts. With a final sachet we declare ourselves “innocent.” Oh what a fool we make of ourselves. Thinking and hoping these tactics will set us free we come to find out, if we are lucky, that we have detonated our selfishness of our ego and bombed ourselves with self-blame. Without drawing blood or even raising a stink, we have succumbed to the enemy, and the enemy is “me, my, mine.”

 

And so, we and Mr. Pathak continue to

ever want peace…

spending time trying to find it in all the wrong places and things.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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