Words for Dark Time

Words for Dark Time

One of our dogs, as he grew older became afraid of lightning and thunder.  Being in the living room with us in full light brought him no comfort.  What he wanted was complete, silent darkness.  It was the darkness that brought him comfort.

Western culture is filled with light.  We have street lights so we can feel safer walking at night.  Buildings advertise themselves with lights of all shapes and colors.  We have night lights in bedrooms and bathrooms.  We can have light 24/7.

But do we want so much light?

This little, FREE e-book, Words for Dark Time is a guide to take a look at ourselves and our deductions, judgments and criticisms about the dark.  It encourages us to study not the light but the dark, to look at the fear and discomfort dark can and does bring and not turn away.

Just as my dog did, we need to learn the language of complete, silent darkness. Old Earth

Words for Dark Time

By FLY 2020

Words for Dark Time

For Everyone Who is Afraid of the Dark Time

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

Don’t Lose One Grain of Rice

history-of-rice-cultivation1b

History of rice cultivation

 

Rice is a staple.

A staple is an important part of something like a thin piece of wire that holds two or more things together. It is an essential food. Rice holds body and soul together for over half the global population.

Rice is not to be snubbed. It is important.

When we are encouraged not to lose even one grain of rice we are being nudged to look after a staple that holds millions of lives together around the world. This is a material fact making rice an essential ingredient of keeping many alive. 

In Zen Buddhism the teachings are pointing to both body and mind with the Mind being in the lead. If we consider this teaching as significant as that apple that klunked the head of Newton awakening in him the knowledge of gravity. What would we awaken to in finding and losing one grain of rice? 

At the very least, our attitude about the teaching takes on the importance of endless possibilities. I say endless possibilities because we are all contemplating or not contemplating things in the mind. It may, for example, when a grain of uncooked rice skitters away on the kitchen counter that we realize we have been far away in a dream or a wish in the mind. The wayward grain may awaken us to being in the kitchen, preparing rice to give to others as well as to our own bodies. It may, as another example, when a grain of cooked rice is stirred that we realize that cooking changes the grain of rice in such a way that it no longer is separate and no longer able to skitter off by itself. 

How do we get cooked up with the Supreme Self?

To Reach One Thing is To Reach All Things. It is the All-Things-Realization. Nothing is left out; one grain of rice found, one grain of rice lost. 

The grain of rice, whether we take care not to lose it or take care to find it, is realization. The smallness or bigness of a thing is not the measure of realization. The grain of rice, whether lost or found, contains the whole shebang. The activity of losing and finding is the Way.

There are many, many more discoveries to awaken us when our attitude about a teaching is important to us. When we know all things, even a grain of rice, comes to awaken us to the immeasurable, immutable and ineffable Way Seeking Mind. We see through to the underlying, invisible discovery that is always there in all things. 

 

When we know this, rice is more than a staple, it is a spiritual gift.

 

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

Don’t Lose One Grain of Rice. It is a teaching  from a sutra by a 12th century Zen Master, Dogen. The complete sutra can be found in this Practice Book on page 64: The Tenzo’s Prayer

For those who drink beer – keep reading.
The brewing company Anheuser-Busch is the largest purchaser of U.S. rice, buying about 8% of the annual crop. The brewing giant owns its own rice mills in Arkansas and California. Budweiser, its most popular beer brand, uses rice as an adjunct. Rice and corn flour are used in other Anheuser-Busch beers. Coors is also a rice-based beer. Ricepdia.com

Cultivate Wisdom, Dogen’s 7th Awareness

Years ago, when we moved to our house, we had a front lawn.  Slowly as the grass didn’t grow well, I began to plant flowers and bushes.  Now there is no lawn just plants…a small herb garden, a blueberry patch, and lots of prairie plants…cone flowers, bee balm, and other plants whose names I have lost.  It is a hodgepodge that has a certain beauty of abundance.  But I’ve noticed that there are some plants that seem to be very pushy and if because they have been left on their own, they are taking over the entire garden.  So, this year I decided that a little cultivation was in order…a little thinning and pruning and removing…allowing all the plants to have a bit of space…and putting in stone walkways.

And I find, as I work on the garden, I cultivate Wisdom.  How is this so?

 

Well, first of all, Wisdom isn’t a thing.  It isn’t something one can get or buy at a store or find on the internet.  It isn’t information.  It isn’t something one can hold on to or save or store away.  And a garden isn’t a thing either.  I can call it ‘my garden’ but it really doesn’t belong to me.  I’m not in charge of what makes some plants thrive and others die out.  The plants are gifts that for whatever reason have chosen to spend sometime in the front yard.

And so it is with Wisdom.  I can call it ‘my wisdom’ but it doesn’t belong to me.  It is a gift, a grace that can only be felt or known.  Again, Wisdom is not a thing.   It is a knowing, an understanding that I am not the doer.  I cannot make Wisdom happen.

Back to the garden…this summer I’ve taken to heart the hard work required for cultivation and discipline.

The garden needs the discipline of order, transplanting tall plants further back and transplanting short plants in the front.  The herb garden needs pruning.  The Thyme is pushing against the Oregano and the chives want the entire garden.  The garden needs walking space, so plants are not stepped on and can be carefully watered.  To do this takes daily effort…careful attention to the transplanting and watering.

My mind, my thoughts, like the plants, need discipline or they run wild, are scattered not focused.  My mind needs quiet places for silence and concentration.  My thoughts need pruning…letting go of old worn out thoughts…remembering being teased because I loved my second-grade teacher…remembering being told I was cold and aloof by colleagues…remembering getting so angry when I was told my job was redundant.  Future fears and worries also need pruning.  The dandelions of ‘What-Ifs’ produce and multiply not leaving space for anything else.

When I cultivate the garden to make space for everything; when I cultivate my mind and thoughts there is space for everything.  Wisdom is this space.  It is this place without words. It is the inconceivable source that can’t be faced or turned away from.

And a bit more about Wisdom.  I hope, as I walk on the still to be set-in pathways to ponder Sirach’s words:

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom, and fix their gaze on knowledge;

Who ponder her ways in their heart, and understand her paths;

Who pursue her like a scout, and watch at her entry way;

Who peep through her windows, and listen at her doors;

Who encamp near her house and fasten their tent pegs next to her walls;

Who pitch their tent beside her, and dwell in a good place;

Who build their nest in her leaves, and lodge in her branches;

Who take refuge from the heat in her shade and dwell in her home.

 

Humming Bird

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship, Sickness, Aging and Death

 

DAY 1:

Dear C., you and I were soul sisters.  I am grateful beyond words for the time we had together on this planet, almost four decades.

When I met you, I was twenty-six, so that made you thirty-three.  You were a single mom to two small children.  I was on the front side of that life possibility, yet the attractions of motherhood were wrapped in fear and hesitation that choked my desire for it.  I moved in to your attic, made a cozy little home for myself despite blistering summers and frigid winters up there at the top!

From there, in your household, I could watch you at close range.  You mothered with poise and instinctive confidence.  You showed me a gentle calm steadiness in matters of child-rearing that helped me to overcome my own lack of confidence and prepare myself, under your tutelage so to speak, to be a parent.

And the bonus to my lessons—getting to know your children, E. and A., from a young age, such a joy!  They were adorable and fun for this attic interloper to watch, play with, and dream of someday having ones like them.

Our friendship from thereon out always included a focus on our children.  Yours were considerably ahead of mine in life’s developmental stages, providing me with a built-in observation deck for what was to come.  You were always a wise elder I could turn to through the cycles of parenting.

 

Day 2:

Dear C., today I am remembering you as a prolific cultivator of friendships.  When you stayed with B. and me in Chicago through one Thanksgiving and Christmas, I remember our dining room table filled with piles of the Christmas cards you were sending far and wide.  You were already quite sick, so the pen was becoming difficult to manage and your beautiful flowing handwriting was reduced to shaky, tight script.  But each one of the cards contained a personal note anyway.  Dozens and dozens of cards.

You always remembered birthdays.  I wonder how many people’s birthdays you remembered and honored with cards, presents…For many years, mine was the occasion for a book (a novel) and a card from you with words of celebration from your heart that I treasured.  The last book you gave me as a gift was a hardback copy of Eudora Welty’s powerhouse of a novel, Losing Battles.  I could not read it for a long time, I was too sad and conflicted about your terrible illness (but that is for another day).  When I did read it, it was too late to share with you my admiration for Welty’s artistry.  Please let me tell you now, it was a stellar gift from you, that book.

And then there was the birthday, your 60th I believe, when you gave presents to all the guests at your party!  Each person got their own, personal, individual present…I have never before or since heard of anyone else who did this.

Your efforts at building friendships paid off royally.  You sat at the center of a diverse and abundant village of love and support from Delaware to New York City to Seattle to Albuquerque to Cleveland to Chicago.  This village sustained you, it sustained all of us who were in it, despite the distances of time and space that separated you from many in your tribe.

 

Day 3:

Dear C., you were such a fabulous cook, able to take what was in the frig and pantry and create an appealing spread—never too much food, you did not care for excess, but nourishing and plentiful fare with an aesthetic of clean, fresh, wholesome, natural, tenderly prepared and delicious.

Actually, one thing did seem like excess at the time.  In those first months of sharing a home with you and your kids I was taken aback at the mounds of butter you added to a bowl of hot potatoes.  Such a small feast of deliciousness—hot potatoes swimming in butter!  I was raised to be sparing with the butter, it added too much fat, fat was unnecessary, bad for you.  It did not take me long under your roof to change my tune.  Butter is a wonderful—delightful—enriching—compliment to potatoes, or a thick slice of bread.  Ah, thank you dear C. for liberating me from the butter police.

Strawberries, too.  You would slice them across the roundness of each berry, mounding the shimmering red coronas into your bowl of granola until the mountain threatened to overflow onto the table when the milk was added.  I was breathless with the abundance of your strawberry passion.  For me, it was, like with butter, a form of abandon, recklessness, exuberance.  I took quickly to your strawberry ways.

 

Day 4:

Dearest C., when you stayed with us for a month or two in Chicago, you were already struggling to have a life outside of the relentless demands the illness placed on your body and mind, but you nevertheless took to cooking dinner for us every night.  You scoured our pantry shelves—lentils…potatoes…a potpourri of vegetables wrinkling in the bottom drawer of the frig.  The vegetables became a simple soup, the lentils, soup also.  The potatoes were transformed into latkes, complete with (mounds of) sour cream and homemade applesauce.

I have forgotten many of the other meals you created that late fall, but I do remember that as you were packing to leave us, we made a list together of all the dinners you made for us and for years, I kept that list and made your dinners again and again.

We were delighted to be fed by you, to have the languishing pantry ingredients put to use with such simple creative flair.  Mostly, we were moved to be cared for by you.  We had fully expected to be the caregivers; we were unprepared to have those tables turned. But you were resolute, you so wanted to contribute on the giving side of whatever equation we all had going on in our heads.

I still make your latkes, and remember.

 

Day 5:

Dear C., I am appreciating the many facets of your life as an artist.  I remember your oil paintings from before I knew you that hung on your walls.  But mostly I was around for your watercolor phase.  I remember that you would paint every day when this was possible.  Flowers were a theme. Your nephew, wrestling in high school, naked young men’s bodies wrapped around each other on the floor, such a challenge these must have been to paint!  I forget what else was in your painting repertoire, I mainly remember your dedication, quiet though sustained through the years, to the form.  I remember your large artist’s folders, full of your works, several of them, that traveled around the country with you as you moved locations.

I always wanted to own one of your watercolors, finally I had a chance to buy one that was being sold by the agency where you worked that supported homeless people to make art.  It is a painting of roses, the climbing ones that grow so easily in New Mexico, where you lived then, in the hot sun and dryness.  “Roses are hard to paint,” I remember you commenting to me about my purchase.  For me, the rose painting I own shows this, your struggle to make the roses come alive, but also, your skillfulness, your triumph with the depiction of rose-ness.

Your painting style is flowing, graceful, understated.  Your celebration of color sings through the work.  You so loved sunshine and you did not love it when the sun went away.  I know this is a primary reason you chose, finally, to live in New Mexico.  In the rose painting, the sun shines brilliantly.  And the roses respond to the sun, just as you did, with their magnificent blooms so alive, so fat with their unfolding.

Then there is the crib-quilt you made for my first baby, from leftover pieces of fabric you had in a box.  The sun shines brightly from that quilt, too.  It shouts with the joy of new life from the pieces of the old.  It captures all the happiness of my first experience of pregnancy, birth and being a mother to an infant, experiences which I shared so intimately with you, my older sister and mother-mentor.

Finally, I cannot speak of you as an artist without acknowledging your work to bring art-making to the homeless population of Albuquerque.  In this way you merged your personal practice of creative becoming with your social values.  I did not appreciate this part of you enough at the time.  It was not until I got up close to the art studio your managed for that community, at the very end of your career, that I stopped for long enough to look and listen and let my respect for what you were doing emerge from what was before me: People with just as much creative impulse as anyone else who were being afforded a space and materials to actualize their artistic visions.

 

Day 6:

Dear C., we first met in a community of political activists in the early 1980’s.  Together within this group, we gave many hours of our lives to organizing for a kinder and more equitable world.  Somewhere in my fifth decade, I discovered Buddhism.  You, at the other end of the country, were also turning toward Buddhist practice.  Our original activist community remained and still remains dedicated to social change.  It was a great comfort to me that you and I were on parallel runways, seeking to address the suffering of the world through presence, acceptance and relinquishment of the self.  This deepened our friendship bond into something that transcended both our social and political connections.  We became spiritual friends.

You became a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and through you I too was exposed to the heart-opening teachings of this living master.  Though you were already in chronic pain from your illness, you had the courage and the commitment to your practice to go to Vietnam with Thay, as he is known within his Sangha.  You were part of a delegation of Americans who accompanied him throughout the Vietnamese countryside, performing rituals to settle the ghosts of those killed during the Vietnam War who had not received proper burials at the time.

I visited you soon after you returned home from this trip.  We sat on your porch for hours, I listening while you told stories of your Vietnam pilgrimage.  It was a coming together of your anti-war activism of the 1970’s with the ancient wisdom tradition of Zen Buddhism.  It was being at the feet of a venerated Master on his first trip back to his homeland in decades.  It was a joy and a triumph for you to be able to make the trip despite the illness.  I felt the power of these experiences as they moved through you, through me, and out into the world.  I am forever grateful for this small connection I have to Thich Nhat Hanh, through you.

It became more difficult to be spiritual friends, to be even just regular friends, as your illness progressed and your circumstances became more untenable.  I was trying so hard to help you, to lessen your suffering through some arrogant beginner’s view I had of Buddhist theory and practice.  You were suffering, I was suffering, and together we struggled to know what to do with all that pain, fear, anger and longing that things be better than they were.  The joy of our shared spiritual values changed into something messy and conflicted.

In the end, we ceased relating to each other through the lens of our separate spiritual practices.  This was for the best.  We found a way to keep being friends, and this alone required plenty of spiritual practice on my part, perhaps on your part as well.  So…I guess that our friendship never stopped being a shared spiritual practice.  It changed, but my connection to you remained as constant effort to accept your life as it was, my response to you as it was.

 

Day 7:

Dear C., During my last trip to see you, you never had a day free of pain and great distress in multiple body systems, though every day we tried to do things; shop for what you needed; take walks; cook nice meals, socialize a bit and strategize together about how to get what you needed from the doctors, about what would be next for you.  But these events and conversations were often disastrous; too physically challenging or too emotionally difficult.

I know we were both trying so hard to bear up, be cheerful, get back to some semblance of what we knew as normal.   In truth, there was no way to get back there.  You were failing, and it made you miserable, scared and angry.  You had become someone I did not know or know how to help.  On the last day of my visit, your blood pressure machine was reading out scary numbers and we called for an ambulance at the same time that my cab for the airport was on its way.  I burst into tears from the guilt and the frustration.

You were fighting to maintain your autonomy but it would be a losing battle.  That little adobe row house would be your last independent living situation.

You showed me how terribly difficult life can become.  It was a shock to me, that degree of agony and anguish you lived with for so long.  There were many times when I wanted to run, hide, deny, reject your experience.  In the end, as you succumbed to nursing home care and your mind as well as your body continued a downward spiral, I felt helpless to do anything for you.

The agony was a shared experience.  Though you bore the most burden, I and perhaps many in your large community suffered your painful decline with you.  When life ended for you on May 21, 2020, I felt released too from what had become such severe limitations to your material existence.

From this place, on the other side of your release, I see that I could not accept either your or my—our—situation as it was.  As you did, I fought against the dying of your light.  I was not OK with being thirteen hundred miles away from you.  I was not OK with your being in a nursing home.  I was not OK with how angry you were at the world, at me, at those who had become your lifeline.  I was not OK with how our last visit had unfolded.  I longed to find a way to be your friend that was graceful, strong, all-giving, without bumps.  I wanted to be a perfect helper, a perfect friend. And I wanted you to be a better sick person too.

Feeling pressured to give and to get something other than what was, there came a time when I could no longer muster the push nor let go of the resentment that these multiple desires spawned.  The next time you asked me to visit, my response was no response.  I was frozen with confusion and guilt and depleted from years of trying too hard to get it right.

I see now, I see it.  I see how delusions of greed and aversion in the face of suffering block all the love that is our deepest longing.  The blocks were lodged in my heart during your last years on earth.  I am sorrier for this than words can describe.  The loss of that precious time feels unbearable.

But now you are gone.  With your leaving, and with writing these letters to you, your life and our friendship have taken their places as beautiful arcs of arising, flourishing, falling apart and ceasing.

Here I sit, knowing that you befriended me in the ways of arising, in the ways of flourishing and also in the ways of suffering and dying. I feel a burden lift, the burden of fear that our love for each other was lost to difficulty, lost to anger and messiness, lost to separation.

Someone in your Sangha shared this song with all of us, your friends, shortly after you died.  I have learned the melody and sing it often now, in your honor.  In our honor.

 

No coming, no going,

No after, no before.

I hold you close to me,

I release you to be so free.

Because I am in you and you are in me,

Because I am in you and you are in me.

 

You are in me, my soul sister.  I have found you again, right here in my heart.

 

 

Humming Bird

Lao Huo Shakya

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Violating Trust by Ming Zhen Shakya

 

The personality disorder that is now called “passive aggression” used to be called “deviling.”

 

I like the term deviling better. It more accurately describes this peculiarly insidious way one individual strives to harm another. It also allows for an erupting, active component of attack. Not all passive aggression remains passive.
That deviling is a furtive, dual invocation of the shadow’s enmity and the persona’s pride comes as no surprise to us. The devilor, with his sleek self-image and his crippled rage, is too vain to allow himself to be charged publicly with jealousy and hate, yet he is so filled with such base emotions that his thin skin is stretched to capacity.

 

What to do? What to do? He cannot – like the rest of us – explode like an overfilled balloon in a fit of temper. No, he must quietly open the measured valve of spite, carefully releasing his pressured malice. The devilee will not hear the faint hiss.

 

What often does surprise us is the range of victims of such covert attacks. People will devil their own children, spouses, parents, co-workers and neighbors. They will also devil their confidantes – priests or psychiatrists – people to whom they have appealed for help.

 

Unlike overt hostility that announces itself from the moment the person feels aggrieved, passive aggression proceeds in stealth, always prepared, in the event it is detected, with an excuse that seems reasonable or an apology that seems spontaneously genuine. When the aggression ceases to be passive and identity and intention are revealed, the devilor concocts a benign motive, claiming that he was forced to act in the cause of some great communal good.

 

Deviling is not a fist. It is a poison pen letter or a thousand petty acts which range from stealing a piece of a picture puzzle that someone is working on, to losing messages or misdirecting mail, to making “slips of the tongue” in which confidential information is “inadvertently” disclosed, to turning off a clock’s alarm so that someone oversleeps, to hiding someone’s eyeglasses or keys – and my favorite from years ago before the age of transistors – to a neighbor who secretly removed a little tube from the back of the TV set each workday morning so that his wife couldn’t watch television in his absence. He led her to believe that she was too stupid to operate the set properly. (In those days there were many picture adjustments to make.)

 

But the singlemost terrible element of the act of deviling is not the strategy or the tactics, it is the ready acceptance of collateral damage. Deviling is not a surgical strike that confines injury to a specified target.

 

Let us say, for example, that a man buys tickets to take his wife and children to a show; and his aunt, who lives in his home, feels that she, too, should have been included in the party. She may secretly chafe so much that she spitefully destroys the tickets. It gratifies her to see the family prepare for an event that will not occur; and on the appointed evening, when the man discovers that the tickets are not where he put them, she may affect alarm and make a grand gesture of helping to search for them. The family is distraught. Her grievance was with the man – not with his wife and children; but their disappointment is irrelevant to her. She may even reason that since he values their happiness and is distressed to see them so upset, this collateral grief is actually a bonus.

 

And even more than this, if it should have happened that the man’s son showed those tickets to a friend, suspicion will fall upon the son for he will have been “the last person to have seen” the victimed tickets. The boy is virtually indicted. We may logically know that the last person to have seen the tickets was the person who destroyed them; but what protest of innocence from the boy can remove the presumption of guilt that clings to him? He is blamed. And his misery is of no consequence to the aunt. When is the last time we heard of a trial being interrupted by someone who steps forward to confess to the crime because he cannot bear to subject an innocent man to further ordeal?

 

Two kinds of deviling are of special interest to pastors and counselors: one is practiced by a person who is psychologically predisposed to assert moral or intellectual superiority over others but who, unfortunately, is as bereft of ideas as he is of integrity. He is not unintelligent, but he is sorely handicapped by a lack of imagination and courage and by the additional burdens of envy and contempt. Thus encumbered, he dare not try to establish his own sangha or write his own articles, which would unnecessarily expose him to peer review. He therefore resorts to reconnoitering various groups until he finds a likely staging area for his show of superiority. Beyond accessibility, a group requires no other qualification.

 

In a sangha setting, he initiates the relationship with great enthusiasm, hailing the group’s written works as nothing short of revelatory, engaging priests in spirited discussions, ingratiating himself with offerings and with praise. Carefully he elicits personal opinions about various aspects of the Dharma. Daily he sighs with enormous relief that he has finally found clerics he can unreservedly appreciate.

 

And then, overnight it seems, from out of this foundational relief, a superstructure of unassailable rectitude rises. From atop it, he discerns the iniquities and inadequacies the sangha has tried so cleverly to conceal. As if broadcasting a public-service message, he accuses and condemns; and the sangha members learn that the joy he once expressed at having encountered them was not occasioned by compatibility but by his having found a few more fakes to expose.

 

Often the quack complaints are ludicrous. I once received a curt email from a woman who, inflated perhaps with the notion that she was a reincarnation of Torquemada, accused me of heresy. Heresy? Zen has no universally accepted dogma and tenets, no single governing scripture, no Vatican-like council or Pope that sits in judgment of doctrinal variance. Further, Buddhist scripture sanctions a complete array of approaches to the divine – from the conservative, ‘right-hand’ or solo (single cultivation) path which we follow, to the ‘left-hand’ sexually engaged and explicit (dual-cultivation) path of the esoteric groups. There is virtually nothing under the sun that can be described as heretical within Buddhism’s myriad schools. Members of one sangha are free to disapprove of the paths of others, but not with the intention of charging them with heresy, unless, of course, they are trying to be funny.

 

There are other forms of stealth. We hear of priests who, soon after taking formal vows of celibacy, decide to take a “principled” stand against this requirement and publicly criticize their religion’s hierarchy for persisting in such absurdly medieval practices. They seek “modernization” and “relevance in contemporary society.” When, we wonder, did these priests first discover that they were members of a religion whose priesthood was celibate? Surely it was after they were invested with the dignity of office. Throughout congenial years in seminary or monastery, they voiced no opposition to the rule and pretended a readiness to conform their lives to it. Because they have been so patient in their manipulative strategy, these ‘reformers’ suppose that no one will notice the ploy, that no one will ever suspect them of being opportunistic and duplicitous. Naturally, they see themselves as heroic.

 

 

In everyday society deviling individuals may suddenly appear as “made-to-order” friends, persons we meet who share so many of our interests, whose generosity exceeds our own, whose intelligence and refinement both comfort and inspire us. Once we open ourselves to them, they strike; and we recoil, feeling the sting of their betrayal, painfully aware that we were much too easily deceived. In a religious setting, we know these persons did not have a corrective epiphany.

 

They are as they were from the beginning: people who crave attention, who need to dominate, who enjoy inflicting pain, who stalk their prey at night but by day are careful to appear indolent. The pity is that this peculiar flaw in character, like a cracked windshield, does not submit to correction. It is always there, distorting their worldview.

 

The second kind of deviling is practiced by a person who comes to a cleric asking for help. Often he will say that he is seeking guidance but in truth he is seeking authorization to do what he is already doing or intends to do. Although a cleric may not openly speak about conversations with him, he is not similarly constrained. He is free to twist statements out of context – an innocent remark being deliberately misunderstood so as to give license to an unlawful or unethical action. A nod of commiseration gains the force of imprimatur, becoming an official endorsement of the validity of his opinions. A figurative remark takes on literal construction, a metaphor is concretized in fact. Before the cleric knows it he has endorsed euthanasia, divorce, adultery, and putting elderly parents in nursing homes.

 

A more serious problem may arise with a person who approaches a cleric in genuine distress. Conveying the details of personal calamity, he commands much attention during the weeks or months his life is so unsettled; but then, when finally he is restored to stability, he feels compelled to make adjustments to the historical landscape. He now sees himself as a granite monolith – not as the conglomerate rubble revealed in all those conversational bits and pieces. He regrets having imparted such intimate knowledge of himself, of having confessed his guilt or disclosed his vulnerability.

 

Fearing this detailed information – this cache of weapons stored in the cleric’s armory – which may one day be used against him, he launches a pre-emptive strike. The attack comes out of nowhere. At about the same time the cleric is feeling good about having led a person through some very rocky terrain, he learns that he’s been branded a meddling gossiper, intrusive and shameless in his need to slander innocent parishioners. The cleric is not a shepherd – he is a sheep that requires guidance. And his once desperate parishioner must warn the world of his pastoral imposture.
It is as if someone whose heart had stopped beating were to file assault charges against the bystander who, using standard resuscitation techniques, had thumped upon his chest – with such obvious but lamentable success. The bystander cannot deny that he pounded on the fellow’s chest. The worrisome thing is that any still photograph of the encounter might be interpreted as evidence of the charge.

 

The cleric recovers. He or she is usually too busy with sincere persons to linger in regret. But for the person who cannot resist the need to be duplicitous, to harm in payment for help, there may be an unforeseen consequence; for a counselor, once compromised by such a breach of trust, can never again be of use to him.

 

Years ago I had a student who claimed he was a struggling writer and needed Zen to help him through his stressful times. He had heard that I recommended yoga as part of a spiritual regimen and asked for some basic yoga instructions.

 

We discussed various books – there were not then many on the market – and I showed him my favorite one – an old, out of print book that was particularly rich in yogic lore. I gave him a printed hand-out, the directions for a dozen asanas, but he returned the following week saying that when he tried to focus on a posture, too many questions scattered his thoughts. He needed more detail, specifically the kind of information that was contained in my favorite book. He pleaded with me to borrow it, pledging that he would return it the following week. I lent him the book; but the next week he said that he was still studying it at home. When I saw him again weeks later I immediately asked for the book; but he affected surprise, saying that he had already returned it. Dramatically he showed me precisely where he had placed it on the sofa; but I knew that he had not returned the book. I never saw him again.

 

Months later I did see a new paperback book on yoga. He was listed as the author. I was incredulous. I looked through the book and in various places read uncomfortably familiar passages. I wondered what I would say to him if he ever contacted me again. A few years later, from hundreds of miles away, he emailed me asking for advice about a serious marital problem he claimed he was having. I was polite but fearing that my response was intended to furnish textual material for another book, I could give only standard platitudes about marital obligations.

 

Email, too, presents extraordinary opportunities for mischief. Computer scientists are understandably proud of their ability to trace a document to its source and to authenticate it. They have devised sophisticated security systems. They encrypt. They decode. They follow subtle electronic trails that to them are as obvious as footprints in fresh snow. The technical complexities of such protection are astonishing – something the Louvre or Fort Knox would appreciate.
But the average man does not fear the loss of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa that may or may not be hanging in his living room.

 

The average man is not concerned about the gold bouillon that may or may not be stored in his basement. He fears the pickpocket on the street or the waiter who improperly adds a check to give himself an extra twenty dollars. And so it is with email – the Feds may be prompted to act in matters of espionage or child pornography, but they are unlikely to show up to trace the source of an email that purports to contain someone’s allegation that his neighbor poisons cats. The deviling “pickpocket” version of this computer crime may involve no more than the printing of two emails, one from one person and one from another, and then affixing the top of one to the body of another and photocopying the composite. To the unaided or non-scientific eye the resulting document appears authentic.

 

The person who accomplishes this low-tech feat can make any correspondent appear to have written anything. For his victim, proving otherwise is a prohibitively expensive matter especially if he may not become aware of the forgery until months later. A sanctimonious third-party guarantee of authenticity – of having reproduced correspondence between others exactly as it was transmitted to him – is usually a devilor’s warranty.

 

When the problem is not authenticity, it may be even more pernicious, involving a kind of entrapment, a duplicity that allows one person to shape communication between himself and his victim so that it fills a predetermined form. It is as if one person is secretly taping a conversation between himself and another unsuspecting person, a person whose disposition he well knows. He scripts a dialogue and cleverly induces his respondent to recite the needed words. He disguises leading questions and bends responses so that they seem to follow the torsions of his plot.

 

The effects of devilment are always sad. We look at the person who has gone to so much trouble to inflict an injury and say of him what we often say of a con-man: “If only he had put that much effort into honest work, he would have made a fortune.” But we understand that it is not merely the need for money that motivates the con man. It is something else – that secret satisfaction of tricking others, of making them suffer, of imputing to them some guilt or despised stupidity that not only absolves him of blame but lauds him for giving them the fate that they deserved.

 

For as long as Buddhism has existed, these troublesome people have caused problems within a sangha or wherever else they go. The Buddha clearly recognized them and anyone who has to withstand their assaults can find comfort in his acknowledgments.

 

From the Dammapada Canto XXI: 291:
He who desires happiness for himself by inflicting injury on others, is not freed from hatred, being entangled himself in the bonds of hatred.

 

From Canto V: 73, 74:
Unwise is the monk who desires undue adoration from others, lordship over other monks, authority among the monastic dwellings and homage even from outside groups. Moreover, he thinks, “May both laymen and monks highly esteem my action! May they be subject to me in all actions, great or small.” Such is the grasping desire of a worldly monk whose haughtiness and conceit ever increase.

 

What do we do, then, when we fear that we’re the victim of deviling? First we need to scrutinize our own psyche, searching for those feelings of inadequacy that made us vulnerable to flattery, to needing to be needed beyond some prudent limit. Likewise we reflect upon our own speech: were we too effusive in our praise, too incautious in our remarks? Do we need to be more disciplined in our expressions, avoiding ambiguity and extravagant metaphor? And we must also wonder whether a fear of positional instability has inclined us to cleave so strongly to anyone who seems to offer support.

 

We do not want to retreat from friendship or, when asked for help or advice, to be inhibited from giving it. Ultimately, we know that we cannot help others who are in peril without exposing ourselves to danger. We, too, have to make up our mind to take critical heat or to get out of the Dharma kitchen.

 

We ought not to participate in devilment by tolerating it. We should not silently acquiesce to accusation or savor as fact any tidbit because it is deliciously prurient.

 

And when we find a devilor in our midst, what should we do? Do we assume that his flaw in character will admit to no remedy? Perhaps it will – but only if he repents of his actions. But there we have the stymied qualification. It requires courage to confess, and a devilor, by definition, is a coward. What is needed to change him is a divine act of Grace.

 

Sometimes our best course is to pray for this even as we turn away from him and from his acts.
Not even the Buddha held out much hope for engineering a better plan:

 

According to Canto IX: 123.
As a merchant who has limited escort, yet carries much wealth, avoids a perilous road, as a man who is desirous of living long avoids poison, so in the same way should the wise shun evil.

Humming Bird

Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

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

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Unfailing: without error or fault; reliable or constant

Recollection: action of remembering something

Ah…but what are we to remember without error or fault? Our Social Security number? Our birth date?. Passwords? The last time we had a tetanus shot? All the state capitals? What the air pressure in our car tires should be?

I don’t think this is what Dogen had in mind. Our minds, or at least mine, are filled with memories. And as I get a little older, I notice that I can’t remember some things as well as I used to. Whole segments of experience have disappeared or cannot unfailingly be brought to the surface. I have memories of feelings, disappointments, happy times, sad times. I can remember people I like and people I dislike. I can remember foods I hate and foods I love. I can remember where I was on November 22, 1963.

But these aren’t the things Dogen is asking us to recollect…and not just recollect but unfailingly recollect.

Maybe he means for us to recollect his Eight Awarenesses: Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection, Cultivating Meditative Concentration, Cultivating Wisdom, Refraining From Vain Talk. Not just being able to list them, but recollect them in such a way that they become woven into our daily lives. Awarenesses that give us a reliable and constant compass – a direction when we become lost or confused by what comes rushing into our lives.

Maybe Dogen wants us to unfailingly remember we are, not our body we are not our mind.

Maybe Dogen wants us to remember to ask the question: Who am I? and keep asking until we deeply know.

To get on in the world we do need to remember our passwords…AND we also unfailingly recollect that “we are spiritual beings in human bodies” and turn our compass toward the eternal.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

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 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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A Religion Called Zen Buddhism by Ming Zhen Shakya

Welcome to this wonderful, iconic essay of our late teacher Ming Zhen Shakya. Many may know this article was published on the Chinese Buddhist website here.

Also, for those who do know of Hank Hill please go here.

This posting is an edited version of the original which is on the Chinese Buddhist website.

 

Hank Hill, television’s Man For All Seasons, is a man of honor and as such does not gossip; and this is why his wife Peggy – who frequently pushes “clueless” into negative numbers, fell victim to that species of Urban Legend we often call, “Accrediting the false through familiarity” or something like that.

Everybody in Hank’s neighborhood knows that Dale Gribble is being cuckolded – everybody but Peggy and, of course, Dale.  Usually it is difficult to condone adultery but Dale manages to lend a certain facility to the task.  Chain-smoking and paranoid, skinny and with the sexual allure of a tangled bunch of coat hangers, Dale helps onlookers to regard with sympathetic acceptance his wife Nancy’s “medical needs” – Nancy regularly is seized by migraine headaches that seem only to relax their grip when she receives the curing touch of a handsome Amerindian Faith Healer, John Redcorn.  Dale, as generous as he is obtuse, is actually grateful to John for attending to Nancy’s needs.

And Peggy?  She sees nothing peculiar in the Indian’s frequent house calls even when they are concluded by rapid window exits.  Imagine her surprise, then, when she accidently discovers Nancy and John, en flagrante delicto.  Uh oh, trouble in Arlen, Texas.  Peggy, stunned, hastens to another neighbor, Minh, and breathlessly announces, “Nancy is having an affair!”  Minh is incredulous.  “Oh my God!” she responds, “Nancy is cheating on John Redcorn?”

Thematically, this is one of the oldest urban legends in circulation:  it arouse in the era before electronic identification of bank checks.  Signatures used to be examined for authenticity by clerks, and the story was that an embezzling bookkeeper had so often forged the signature of the usually absent business owner that when the owner actually came back and presented a check for cashing, the teller deemed it a forgery – it bore so little resemblance to the signature he was used to seeing.

And this is rather a long way around to get to the point of this complaint:  Zen Buddhism and Meditation are a married couple; and the guest who comes to their house is Health Benefit.

But in recent years Health Benefit and Meditation are so often found en flagrante delicto that Zen Buddhism begins to look like a superfluous but otherwise enabling motel desk clerk, one that provides a setting for the assignation.

Buddhist priests and other members of Eastern religions are rigorously prodded, poked, and tested as if they were abductees on an alien spaceship.  The report that follows the examination, however, doesn’t appear in UFO digests; it is published as a feature story in the health section of a news magazine or an in-depth analysis in Lancet.  What about insomnia?  High blood pressure?  Curing cancer?  How does Japanese Green tea, a Zen staple, affect the immune system?  Psychologists view Zen meditation from a more social aspect.  Anger management?  A less judgmental personality?  The merits of Zen Buddhist meditation are rated in a kind of Consumer Report’s lab evaluation.  How does it stack up against other mind control techniques?  If the name “Buddha” were not found in the name of our religion, we’d have no religious identification whatsoever.

Buddhist congregations are photographed as if they were sitting at biofeedback or EEG machines – and sometimes they actually are.  Those who study the pictures assume that the subjects have gathered to get control of bad habits or hypertension.  The Zen Buddhists that we know – the faithful who work hard to gain salvation and weep with joy when they reach it or who bow daily in gratitude to the Merciful Guan Yen – may reverently whisper, “Buddham saranam gacchami” but to the outside world they’re saying, “Look Ma! No Prozac!”

Buddhism is an ancient religion which has eight separate disciplinary steps that comprise a single Eightfold Path.  The Eighth of these disciplines, Right Meditation, is a collection of introspective techniques used for achieving higher states of consciousness, which, together with the other seven disciplines, leads to spiritual liberation.

All religions offer introspective techniques for achieving spiritual ascendance.  And if it should happen that these techniques provide additional benefits such as calmness, grater immunity to disease, or lower blood pressure, that’s fine.  But this is not why they are performed.

And when Buddhists lead themselves to the study of meditation’s benefits, that’s ok, too.  They are contributing to the common good and no conscientious Buddhist would refuse to share the benefit of his discipline.  But when the medical uses of the discipline suddenly take precedence in the public’s regard and Buddhism becomes not so much a religion as a therapeutic regimen – or worse, as merely the source of a therapeutic regimen, we’ve got a problem.

We don’t demand respect.  We don’t even ask for it.  But surely we have a right to object when our religion is stacked on the same supermarket shelves as non-religious health aids, and treated with glib, left-handed compliments and amused contempt as it is by Joel Stein in an article in Time Magazine. (Just Say OM, August 4, 2003)

First, the Sanskrit word for meditation is Dhyana which is roughly pronounced as Jana, a term which the Chinese reproduce as Jan or Chan and the Japanese as Zen.  Chan (or Zen) is also the specific name of one kind of Buddhism that was founded in China in AD 520 and which, since its inception has emphasized the practice of meditation in any of its many forms.  But for so long as the Buddha was Indian, our religion is an Indian, “eastern” religion.

Just say Om,” leads off Mr. Stein, “Scientists study it.  Doctors recommend it.  Millions of Americans – many of whom don’t even own crystals…” Excuse me?

Om is a sacred syllable to those who follow Indian Paths to salvation.  A very sacred syllable…but one that Mr. Stein will later call “creepy” because it is foreign.  How does he feel about “Kyrie Eleison”?

Let’s take a look at Time’s presentation.  Mr. Stein begins with a cute contradiction:  He’s sitting in a yoga studio with forty people, most of whom are pretty women, and he considers it an accomplishment that he is “not thinking about them.”  But in the next sentence he says that once he gets beyond thinking about the pain in his foot, he also lets his “thoughts of the hot women go.”

“Yoga,” means union and the specific union it means is with God.  And, indeed in the midst of this sexual challenge, something fuzzy happens to Mr. Stein.  He has, “this epiphany” which is, “I could be watching television.”

We may never understand why Time Magazine published an article that contained such mocking references to Buddhism and to other eastern religions that emphasize the practice of meditation.  Much respect is accorded those businesses that offer classes in meditation or that study meditators as if they were creatures in a petri dish.  Perhaps Mr. Stein is doing some extra public relations work for those authors who have written secular books on meditation he so nicely advertises.  Time needs to investigate to determine if a conflict of interest has compromised its journalistic integrity.

We can’t speak for the other religions, but Zen Buddhists are not clownish freaks or flakes whose activities warrant their being subjected to this kind of sleazy reporting.  Zen Buddhists were the first American religious group to volunteer to care for AIDS patients – when other religious groups were sneering “Gay Plague.”  Every day Zen Buddhists work without pay in hospices and soup kitchens and prisons.  Everyday people consult Zen websites and receive without any fee whatsoever Buddhist guidance and literature; and, in our Internet ministry at least, people receive Buddhist Precepts and sangha membership at absolutely no cost to anyone except the priests of our Order who personally bear all of the expenses associated with our ministry.

Mr. Stein’s comments are disturbing. “As meditation is demystified and mainstreamed, the methods have become more streamlined.  There’s less incense burning today, but there remains a nugget of Buddhist philosophy:  the belief that sitting in silence for 10 minutes to 40 minutes a day and actively concentrating on a breath or word or an image, you can train yourself to focus on the present over the past and future, transcending reality by fully accepting it.  In its most modern, Americanized forms, it has dropped the creepy mantra bit that has you memorize a sacred phrase or syllable; instead you focus on a sound or on your breathing.”

“Demystified”?  Uh oh…Meditation is divorcing Zen Buddhism.

“Dropping the creepy mantra bit”?  This certainly simplifies Zen training.  Who needs sacred words in the “Do it yourself” Health Benefit business?

“A nugget of Buddhist philosophy remains”?  And that philosophical nugget is not found in Buddhist ethics but in a scientific estimate of Buddhism’s philosophy – to “transcend reality by fully accepting it?”  Gee.  Why didn’t we think of that?  And, since other religions practice similar forms of meditation, what nugget of Judaic philosophy remains after Mr. Stein dispenses with the dross?  What nugget of Christian philosophy remains?

Perhaps the editors of Time Magazine would kindly reread those insulting, misleading, and inaccurate comments and explain to us “American” Buddhists why they chose someone like Joel Stein to write about religion.  Calling an article The Science of Meditation and putting it in the Health Section ought to have limited the references to religion.  Instead, while the piece provided scientific information about meditation, its slant was clearly directed against traditional religious practices and in favor of secular, business-oriented groups and authors.

So here we are, after having furnished the bodies, setting and lore for all that scientific data, advised by Mr. Stein and others of his ilk to dump our religious pretensions.  We are just another health benefit group and we might as well accept our lowered status gracefully or risk further derision in Time Magazine.

Hank Hill, a Man For All Seasons, would doubtless be fair in his appraisal of Time’s article.  And in judgment of Joel Stein’s flippant comments, Hank Hill would undoubtedly conclude, “He needs his ass kicked.”

And so he does, Mr. Hill.  And so he does.

 

 

Humming Bird
Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

 

Work and the 4th Awareness of Dogen

As Freud said,

“Love and work..work and love..

what else is there really?”

He also was overwrought about death. “Why am I looking at Freud?” Because we are living in a heightened awareness of the loss of our work and the fear of a virus (now tagged as the “enemy’) as a  grim reaper stalking the world.

SCREECHING SOUND

 

Really?  WAIT A MINUTE. Freud must have been referring to the personality, those parts he labeled as the id, the ego and superego. Of course. THAT is what Freud was talking about when he talked about WORK and love as all there is. If you happen to agree with Freud, I refer to you to Peggy Lee’s song, Is That All There Is.  

Many believed him and many still do or at the very least are influenced by his elucidation of the “personality” of the 20th century man. The personality that swings on the oscillations of good and bad, like and dislike. The personality that craves and is never satisfied. And suffers much.

A person who comes out of two wars inevitably looks to the future for something better. The post-war babies and their children took up the banner: GO TO WORK YOUNG MAN. I say man because in those days (and even now) the banner was raised for a young man and women needed to go back to the kitchen as housewives and mothers.

But women, especially educated women heard the same message: GO TO WORK. But it wasn’t until the postwar 50’s and 60’s that Betty Friedan spoke about the Feminine Mystique. And what did that mean for women and work? It meant dragging the kitchen sink into the world of business work. But more precisely i offer the following.

In a nutshell:

Betty Friedan author of  “The Feminine Mystique”, the ground-breaking book that actually started the women’s movement, coined the term feminine mystique to refer to the unfulfilled feeling felt by educated housewives of  the 50s and 60s. Friedan believed that such women had lost their identity and sense of self to a life centered around husband, children, and home maintenance, and little else. The feminine mystique was a trap that had caught American women who were afraid to address the problem for fear of being perceived as “unfeminine”.

 

Don’t jump the gun here and think I am going to go on and on about women’s liberation or to state the obvious that the world is still a man’s world.  Well the world of work is a man’s world.  (i.e., a woman has not yet been a US president) but I am not going to go any further with the material world sufferings for all people.

NO. I am asking you to come along with me to look at WORK without the gender-identity mess. Just look at WORK as Dogen’s awareness of diligence with a twist upwards towards the higher Self. Yes. I am going to twist WORK upward away from the id, the ego, and super-ego as work needs to be realized beyond the pundits of the past. To offer a direction, a spiritual direction to Peggy Lee.

Let me go on.

If I remember correctly, Peter Drucker, the one-time guru of business management, wrote that work, that is, work in business is the “new” church where the young man would attain self-fulfillment. I have to say again, Really? Perhaps these ideas have made ministers and priests of every ilk see their work as a profession of self-fulfillment and not as a selfless service to the Truth of the Divine source. One must ask, who is then looking after the spiritual life of the world? Not the psychological life – the spiritual one.

Ah, but most of us have been raised and fed these ideas since childhood. Yes, that is true. Grow up. Get an education. Get a job. Make a lot of bucks. Ta Da. But this is not the road to freedom. We continuously forget the material world is the world of suffering.

Drucker, still considered a guru who changed the face of American business, changed the face of spiritual life all over the world. His ideal says, BE AN ASSET or often said as BE SOMEBODY, somebody important, rich, with power and influence.

Really? An asset? Raise your hands if you want to be an asset?

Drucker, an Austrian born American, set forth the ideals of business that included seeing the worker as an asset and not a liability. Do you think of yourself as an asset? Here’s a few definitions of the word ASSET.

 

a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality.

property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies.

 

And my favorite:

military equipment, such as planes, ships, communications and radar installations, employed or targeted in military operations.

 

It is not my intention here to go into the lengthy development of business in America but to point out what I consider salient ideas and concepts that have influenced how we view ourselves in relationship to work and how these ideas cause us to suffer, especially when work is being threatened by this pandemic. The roots of work are deep and cherished.

Now, ask yourself, do you measure your self in terms of usefulness, utility, a value-added being?

You probably do. And you probably measure yourself and others using these or some semblance of these ideas. Let me remind you in spiritual practice measuring disturbs the mind; comparisons lead you astray. But we need to forgive ourselves and others – we’ve been trained to be an asset. Useful. And this training is pretty long in being the goal of human life. If you’re not an asset – well, you’re a liability or a handicap or even a burden. Something perhaps to be discarded – pushed aside; tossed aside. Gotten rid of…

One has to ask if the world wars played a significant role in the exponential growth of business as a place to fulfill one’s life. Is it? Was it? I feel confident enough to say the wars did influence our need to seek something better – to rebuild a Europe that was decimated by the wars and yes, to replace the church with the office of self-fulfillment. After these wars people were weary and disappointed in what they believed to be God. The world was broken. But what people didn’t know is that the world is not the place to see and find and discover truth, a big T truth.

Let me pull these ideas together. Just to make them a bit crisper. Sharpen them up.

Freud’s influence on the structure of  “personality,” the internal world of the psyche felt work and love was all there was to life. Take a pause there. Take this idea and add Drucker’s postwar spangles about self-fulfillment at work as the new church and his coining the term knowledge-workers and try to consider yourself as immeasurable based on spiritual awareness. Pretty damn hard to get free of all that construction in your mind.

But there is some luck…and of course truth.

We are lucky to have outlived Freud’s poorly substantiated psychoanalysis. The pandemic’s collapse of the mercantile and governmental systems which highlights the uncertainty and impermanence of all that the world has built is a spiritual jackpot.  Really? YES! Really.

Fortunately, all of us can take the backward step towards the light of transcendence against the stream of measuring the personality and seeing utility as the temple. and self-fulfillment as the goal. We can get free of the personality…but I digress. This piece is about WORK.

So post-war America began to perceive women a bit different since they actually did work outside the home during those miserable war years. A taste of the grass makes a thief of the beast, as my mother would say. Women wanted to work and Betty Friedan began to beat that drum. Don’t get snookered by that feminine mystique ideal of being stuck at home. GO to Work. So women did go to work but took along the household of children with them.

And add to all this…Drucker’s success in business management and his heralding that WORK fulfills us and we are bound to be nuts when we are asked to shelter-in-place.

WHEW! No wonder so many are really uptight about being sheltered-at-home given a 14.7% unemployment rate which apparently exceeds the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

SO………….we are up against quite a few ideals here. WORK is essential; especially WORK where one makes a buck or two. Survival is an instinctual attribute of all life so we are going to feel threatened. Unless…and maybe until…we begin to see through these ideas of personality and work as fulfillment. You guessed it. The ideas rope the instinct and we are caught at the most primitive level.

Imagine the sound of scratching a spinning vinyl record as a way to cut off this path to frustration, depression, anxiety and misery. We have to stop spinning in our made-up personality, stop measuring ourselves according to a comparison as an asset or a utility and turn to a higher ground.

I offer two teachings to help us to do just that.

 

The first one is from a 21st century Chan priest and the second one is from a 12th century Chan monastic cook. See for yourself.

Here’s what the 21st century priest tells us.

From NOW in this body,

WORK is devotion –

resting on concentration and focus –

a steady hand – a focused eye –

a wise, loving mind –

As one puts together a sand mandala –

slow & careful, not looking to do anything –

not looking to finish anything – not looking to keep anything.

To give this offering in perfection of spirit.

Take the stitches out.

 

This 21st century priest points us to WORK as a devotion; not as an asset, or to become somebody. NO. WORK is devotion. Get up. And offer WORK with concentration and focus; without wanting any reward. Everything you do – all the actions of your life are devotion and this devotion includes what most of separate out as work.

How might you do that?

Diligently as the 12th century cook tells us. It is an unselfish prayer to the Supreme Self by whatever name you know. It is a chant to be chanted daily.

And here is what the 12th century monastic cook explains.

Altar Opening:
In gratitude I acknowledge all tenzos gone before me, after me, and with me now.

I request their help, offering incense to them and Buddha.

 

Pay full attention to all work,

the Way-Seeking Mind is actualized by rolling up your sleeves.

Attend to every aspect yourself so that it will naturally turn out well.

Put things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place

and those that would be most stable on a
low place onto a low place.

In this way stability is established.

Keep your mind on your

work and do not throw things around carelessly.

Do not lose even one grain of rice.

All ingredients are the same.

Do not let your attitude be influenced by the quality of
ingredients.

As Master Dogen asked the COOK from Ayuwang, “

What is practice?”

The COOK replied:

“There is nothing in the world hidden from it.”

May all beings benefit from the merits of this practice.

 

 

There is a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” As I ponder this 1st quarter of the 21st century I see the truth in this pandemic. The world has come in upon us and we choose to see all that is going on as the Chinese say, a curse or an unspoken boon. For those who follow Freud, Drucker and Peggy Lee; it appears to be a curse. For those who see the Way, all that comes into our life is a boon. And this one is a jackpot.

 

Don’t give up. Keep going.

This is the top of the mystical peak.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue & Reverend Lao dizhi 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

 

 

Lyrics to Is that all there is 

Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller. 1969 I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth. There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but when it was over, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?” Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world. We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes. We were so very much in love. Then one day, he went away. And I thought I’d die — but I didn’t. And when I didn’t I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

I know what you must be saying to yourselves. If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all? Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment. For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself, Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

 

Quotes

Definitions

 

An Encouraging Word or Two

 

Happy Birthday & A Feast Day 

 

This past week we celebrated the day considered to be the birth day of Shakyamuni Buddha and the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic. Many celebrated and recognized Julian of Norwich as a Saint, someone who is wholly virtuous and the designated birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha, an awakened, transcendent being.

Both holy days are a way to recognize these figures as worthy of regard. To celebrate their spiritual vigor. To remember the work can be done by us.

*****

During a time when nations are teetering on collapse from within, these celebrations give us an opportunity to stop and consider there is more to life than meets the eye. More to life than the constant barrage of injustice that is happening in plain sight. More to life than suffering. As stated in Hamlet:

 

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]

 

There are those among us from the past and present who have lived and do live remarkable spiritual lives that uplift us on our journey. They represent the ideals of spiritual practice for they are those among us who give everything in order to discover the Truth. They encourage us to do the same by being ordinary, real people who become extraordinary,  transcendent people of the Truth. It takes fearless courage and big-open-handed generosity.

As the shelter-in-place continues, we need to remember to look up to those of us who have given everything, their whole life to relieve suffering through a spiritual journey. Suffering, for both Shakyamuni and Julian of Norwich was the cause of their exquisite, spiritual lives. Both sought the Truth after a recognition of suffering in the world, in their own life. Each one set out on a journey – an interior journey to find the relief and remedy to the ever-present mash-up of the samsaric world.

There is no doubt that suffering in the world is in plain sight on many, many levels. Shakyamuni and Julian are an encouragement to each one of us – to see the force of suffering which is pervasive and evident, as a cause for us to set out, to begin and continue our journey for freedom from the unreliable, impermanent world. And to do it with fearless courage and big-hearted generosity. To vow, not to give up and when we do to return and keep going.

 

Hip Hip Hooray!

Hip Hip Hooray!

For Shakyamuni.

For Julian.

For you & me.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

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