Winter 2018 – Holiday Message from Old Earth Wisdom
Duty: assuming all tasks can betray arrogance. The idea that we can know
what must be done, and do it properly. We cannot know the future. It
claims so much to assume we can. The world is not broken any more than
it always is.
Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay
Several years ago, I read a novel roughly based on the 8th century Tang dynasty in China that speaks to these present times. It contains a profound gem of insight that takes us beyond world we can see and touch. The main character, Shen Tai takes on the duty to bury the tens of thousands of bones left from a long-ago battle. He takes this duty on for one year to mourn the death of his father. I remember when I read this, I was struck that Shen Tai was so clear in doing his duty and doing it in spite of his fear of being with unsettled spirits of the long dead warriors. During the dark nights with the spirits crying and wailing Shen Tai writes poetry.
Full moon is falling through the sky.
Cranes fly through clouds.
Wolves howl. I cannot find rest
Because I am powerless
To amend a broken world.
Under Heaven Guy Gavriel Kay
Broken World. It is not difficult to look around and see that this world is broken. The question becomes what to do about this broken world. In this brokenness, must I fix it? I have not gotten Shen Tai’s so clear a message. Going off in solitude to dig graves seems heroic—seems like something I might like to do if I only knew where to go. Are we, you and I asked to take on such heroic actions to fix our broken world?
In order to perfect any practice, seemingly useless experience must be undergone. Any disciple who has entered any kind of practice must begin with seemingly unnecessary futile things. But of course, these things are part of the discipline. Without such seemingly trifling things there can be no perfecting of the practice.
Asian Journal – Thomas Merton
This seems to be more of where my duty rests. The world is already broken. My task it is not to look only at the brokenness or to flip to see only wonder in nature or the shining of the sun and moon. It is to turn my attention to God/the vast inconceivable source that can’t be faced or turned away from/existence-consciousness-bliss, to know this deeply within, not to think about it but to know it.
Stages of Life & Duty. A few years ago, I wrote about the four chronological stages of the Hindu view of life: student, householder, hermit and wanderer. I said that our hermitage was moving out of the householder life and that the arc of our lives was bending toward hermit-ness.
Here are some of the duties we’ve begun to include in our daily life:
- Withdrawing from the busy world – as best we can in an urban setting.
- Living simply – giving away one thing a day every day.
- Eating good food – shifting our diet to vegetables, nuts, a little meat, an apple every day and lemon water first thing in the morning.
- Studying – reading spiritual writing from many traditions, Zen Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Psalms – listening to teachings from Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Catholicism, Christian Science, Hinduism, Judaism, Shamanism. Listening & hearing the high pitch of Truth that we swim in.
- Silence. Solitude. Sitting. Every day.
- Treating gently those who come for help or advice.
Bones to Bury. This hermit life requires patience and slow-going. And the bones that must be buried come from personal battles with “resentment seeds, back scratching greed, worrying about outcomes, fear of people…” Rumi
It is solitary work; a deep patience. It is putting one foot in front of the other again and again.
So, duty is to live in this broken world and not be overcome by it. To know that what comes into my life is my life and that everything, everything comes to awaken.
May the merit of this practice benefit all beings.
Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya
Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun