Work as Devotion; It’s All About Attention 

  

WAIT!

May I Have Your Attention?

Getting off track and daydreaming or entering a scattered mind state seems like an epidemic. From screen watching news to sports to politics to ads of every stripe and color, we find our attention has been taken hostage leaving us superficially involved in just about…well…news and sports and politics and stuff to buy.

When I think about it, I wonder how much all the constant availability online has interfered with our ability to concentrate making work as devotion a Herculean prospect.

There is data out there suggesting multi-tasking is bad for the brain. But that data is just another part of the interference. We weigh and measure and sort until the cows come home, we are left scattered and live a life of mind-jumping from one online get-together to email-checking to video watching. On and on the interest on the eternal world of stuff and others drains our energy and at times makes us anxious, fretful and lost in the sound bites.

Sound bites!

A perfect description when we emphasize the bite.  Yes, it takes a chunk out of our attention bite-by-bite leaving us worn out. This situation is especially important for spiritual aspirants who want to concentrate, focus, meditate and reflect on interior world of the spirit.

I for one want to ply a practice that will organize the scatter, end the daydreaming and end the sound bites that are so distracting. I want to offer an ancient understanding of practice; to work as devotion. That’s it. In order to practice to work as devotion we have to be able to use our mental powers to choose to stop the sound biting bug and turn our inner power to concentration and unselfish acts of work.

Much of what I am going to say comes from a 90 day retreat last year on this very subject.

Let me start with a quote.

It is pure arrogance to attempt to decide what is supposed to be part of a retreat experience and what isn’t.

We just don’t know what will show up. I don’t know what is supposed to happen but I do know that this is true for every day of our life.

And yet, we get up thinking we do know and how we wish the day to go. It is arrogant to think we are in charge of what happens. Our arrogance causes suffering. After all, this world pervaded by the Eternal Power is not the cause of suffering, laying claim to a thing is the cause of sorrows. And it can be anything.

When we look to do, to finish, to get and to keep a thing we suffer because we are in delusion. The delusion that we think and function as though we are the doer, finisher, getter and keeper.

Pause for just a moment and ask yourself if you are the power that put you together (birth) and keeps you together (death).

There is a sufi saying fiha ma fiha which captures the essence of our situation. It translates into IT is what IT is.  Whatever comes our way we meet it with courage and big-open-handed generosity not with judgment and criticism. When we presuppose or wish the day to be a certain way, according to our plan in our head, we are bound to disappointment. Really. We bind our mind to suffering.

Facing the work of our life as devotion is a practice that gives us an opportunity to relinquish our arrogance and to meet what comes as a fish swims in the vastness of the ocean or a bird flies in the expanse of the sky; not knowing what might show up we swim with the flow and fly with the wind.

Here is a chant worth repeating on a daily basis. It is quite old, a 13th century encounter by Dogen with an old Chan cook, who was a monk. I offer it as a practice. To chant it every morning. To memorize it. To practice paying full attention to all the work you do. To work as devotion.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

Ming Zhen Shakya speaks on….Expectations & Martin Buber

 

Ming Zhen Shakya speaks…On Expectations

Expectations

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

What backsliding is to religious conversion, recidivism is to penal rehabilitation. Both represent failure, and Zen priests who have a prison ministry can be losers on both counts.

Often we are moved to tears when we give Precepts to a man who receives his certificate with such profound gratitude, with such pride that he has been accepted into Buddhist ranks, who vows with such sincerity to try with all his might to conform his conduct to the requirements of the Path, and who does not show up for another meeting. We never see him again. We might learn that he’s espoused another faith, which, frankly, is better than hearing that in the exercise of Buddhist ethics as he understood them he got himself tossed into solitary confinement.

The same inability to predict the future informs our cheery bon voyages when a prisoner is released. Good luck we say to him certain only that he’s going to need it.

And so we wonder if the man will stick with Zen or attach himself to another group, or if he will successfully re-enter civilian life or revert to the kind of behavior that got him incarcerated in the first place. We doubt that we have understood him at all – else we should not be so uncertain. We’re supposed to be spiritual physicians who diagnose illness and recommend whatever nostrums are necessary to effect cure; but often we don’t have a clue.

Not only in prison ministries does this doubt occur. In our civilian sanghas we are frequently surprised by the unwonted actions of a member we thought we thoroughly understood. We miss seeing his face at a meeting and when we inquire about his health or his whereabouts we’re told that he has joined another Buddhist group or even another religion – maybe even one of those that regard Buddhism as devil worship. Or else he sends his regrets that he cannot attend meetings on our scheduled evenings because he’s taking a course in Continuing Education in order to satisfy a curiosity he has always had about Eighteenth Century French literature. What was going on in his mind when he bowed so reverently to Guan Yin and chanted so joyfully? Was there a tip-off that we missed? A signal that we failed to see?

In his essay, What Is Man, Martin Buber, that indispensable thinker, gives us some direction, a hint of where to look. If we read the work for its academic or literary value, we’ll, of course, find it interesting; but without some specific ‘cases’ to which we can relate the information, we’re not likely to find it useful. It is true that Buber mostly speaks of “epochs” of man, periods of complacent belief and periods of penetrating inquiry; but the old alchemical rule nevertheless applies: “As it is in the macrocosm so it is in the microcosm.” The general, after all, sums particulars.

It never hurts to see a problem from a different perspective.

The conduct of two men associated with the prison sangha had puzzled me for a long time. It disturbed me that I couldn’t even begin to predict how they’d react to civilian life when they were released. They had left in their psychological wake a jumble of dots that I just couldn’t connect. Then I happened to remember Buber’s essay; and after re-reading it, the prisoners’ dots lined up to station themselves into a recognizable pattern.

Buber begins his discussion by reciting Immanuel Kant’s four-question formula for the “knowledge of the ultimate aims of human reason.”

“What can I know?” the answer to which Kant intends metaphysics and not epistemology to supply.

“What ought I to do?” which ethics will answer.

“What may I hope?” which religion presumes to solve.

“What is man?” The first three questions are essentially contained in this fourth.

In order to answer these questions, a man has to ask them first. He has to wonder, says Buber, about “his special place in the cosmos, his connection with destiny, his relation to the world of things, his understanding of his fellow men, his existence as a being that knows it must die, his attitude in all the ordinary and extraordinary encounters with which the mystery of his life is shot through.” It is the man who feels himself alone who is most disposed to engage in such self-reflection. This is the man who does not inhabit, who, Buber notes, “lives in the world as in an open field and at times does not even have four pegs with which to set up a tent.”

As we read, we understand that the man who has the security of a protective “philosophical” house appreciates its walls and roof and does not wish to blow them down with gusting questions. If he sees the horizon he is content to fantasize about what lies on the farther side of it. And if his fantasies begin to bore him and thus cease to satisfy, he may investigate that farther place to find new sources of comfortable illusion. He seeks only to gratify his ego’s superficial needs as he stays within the safe boundaries of his religious expectations. If he sees the stars he may regard them as sources of entertainment or, perhaps, as serving of some utilitarian purpose. But he does not marvel as the Psalmist marvels, “Lord, when I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?

As Buddhists we know that we must ask these questions and feel this overwhelming awe; for without having our lives “shot through” with these perforating inquiries, we inflate, our Buddhist ego-image swelling buoyantly into a complacent stratosphere. We become contented in our habituation, domesticated by the routines and appliances of religion – the wafting incense on our altars, the artful wall hangings and statues placed in the corners of our sanctuaries, the gestures, the vestments, the liturgy. We sit upon cushions in our meditation halls as if we are safely inside Plato’s Cave watching flickering shadows on the walls. We do not allow ourselves to wonder what dramas are unfolding outside that comfortable theatre, what else we might hope for, what more we ought to do, what knowledge of self lies behind the silhouetted images we study.

The man who does ponder the unknown declares his independence and in his own eccentric way becomes a free agent. He is not satisfied with firelight. He wants to see the Sun.

The two prisoners whose temperament I could not gauge both attended meetings of our medium-security prison sangha, but only one had taken Buddhist Precepts.

The one who officially became a Buddhist was intelligent, well groomed, polite, and faithful in attendance. His conduct in and out of chapel was uniformly good and owing to this exemplary behavior he had been granted parole and would be released as soon as a place opened for him at a halfway house. He very much wanted to join a Buddhist sangha when he was released and, because he had much affection for Vietnamese culture and was somewhat familiar with the language, I suggested that he join a Mahayana Vietnamese temple that had recently opened in our town. This news seemed heaven sent to him, and he asked me to inquire whether they would be averse to having an ex-con in their group. I didn’t see why they would be, but I visited them anyway and asked. They did not object and in fact, since they spoke very little English they looked forward to having a bilingual American there in their increasingly American congregation. They gave me a few brochures, a little Vietnamese dictionary, and their meditation schedule – they were open to the public three nights a week. He received this information with great joy. Future possibilities were becoming realities. He was particularly excited to learn that the temple “haven” was located just a few blocks away from a restaurant in which he had been promised a job.

Then, several weeks later, before a meeting someone told me a rumor that he planned to go to Buenos Aires as soon as his probation period was completed. After the meeting I asked him if he did, indeed, plan such a journey. “Yes,” he said, “as soon as my parole’s up, I’m going to Argentina.” I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I know some people who live there.”

“Relatives?”

“No, just some people I met once in Dallas. They send me a Christmas card every year.”

I was speechless. Finally I asked, “How are you planning to get there? You’ll need a passport and visas–”

“–I can get a passport after I complete parole.” He said this as if it were going to be a perfectly simple thing to do. Why would the State Department prevent him from leaving the U.S. and why would another country refuse to put out the welcome mat for a penniless American ex-convict.

“What about money? And how do you plan to get there?”

“My sister has a camper parked in her driveway. It won’t fit in the garage. She said it needed a little work, but if I fix it up I’m sure she’ll let me borrow it.”

Drive? This was bizarre. “Do you know where Argentina is?” The question was rhetorical. I was referring to the immense distance, one quarter of the earth’s surface east and one half of the earth’s surface south from where we were.

“It’s in South America.”

“There are a lot of countries between here and Argentina and every one will require a visa and a hefty fee to bring in a recreational vehicle, not to mention insurance. If you have an accident they won’t just let you leave, trusting you’ll come back for adjudication. They’ll want to see evidence of your ability to pay any debts you incur. You’ll also need money for gas and oil and food and car repairs and bridge tolls and ferry boats and all the rest.” “I’ll have money from my job delivering pizzas.”

Delivering pizzas? This was not quite the same as working in a restaurant. “Do you have a car?”

“No, my sister has a new Escort I’ll use. As soon as I finish at the half-way house, I’m moving in with her.”

“Isn’t your sister married… with kids?”

“Yes. I’ll bunk in the camper until I can afford my own place. I’ll be working six nights a week, maybe seven. It shouldn’t take me long.”

The Vietnamese meditation schedule suddenly became meaningless. To me, his entire life-plan became meaningless.

We walked out of the chapel and I recall standing in the sunlight squinting, stunned. I didn’t know what to make of his previously stated intentions and this new fantastic scheme.

In civilian sanghas we sometimes find the same aborted volition, the instantaneous switch from one goal to another. A plan, enthusiastically conceived, dies of neglect, a pitiable orphan. Projects designed to raise money – publishing a newsletter, selling homemade religious articles, construction of accommodations for guest members – are suddenly abandoned. Those who fathered the plan deny paternity and leave the residual responsibilities to others. Their generative abilities are needed elsewhere.

The other man who puzzled me only occasionally sat with our group. He was an American Indian of the Sioux Nation who had been in prison for more than half his life. Sentenced, at eighteen, to twenty years, he was now thirty-eight. He had applied repeatedly for parole but had always been denied – for while he was manageable enough not to warrant being sent to a maximum security prison, he was still considered sufficiently incorrigible to warrant early release into the civilian population.

To call his appearance “sloppy” would be to ‘condemn it with faint praise,’ to borrow Shakespeare’s line. He was a mess. His coarse long hair pushed the ‘unacceptably unkempt’ envelope that the prison staff itched to open. Several of his front teeth had been knocked out in one or more of his frequent fights; and although the prison dentistry service had given him a partial plate, he preferred not to wear it and risk its destruction. He kept it in a treasure box in his cell. Once, however, he did wear it to show me, and I could see that wild handsomeness that I think Emily Bronte imagined when she created Heathcliff – not as Olivier played him – a passive, effete and pensive gentleman who happened to find himself in unfashionable garments – but a kinetic, electric, brooding man whose thoughts, behind those darting eyes, no outsider could ever apprehend.

At one meeting he gave me an Indian Prisoner’s Rights manifesto he had drafted and asked if I would edit it; but it required no correction that I could see. He had acquired an education in prison; and he used it to lobby for official recognition of Native American religious forms of worship. His ceaseless agitations had paid off and down at the end of the prison yard, near one of the watchtowers, was a little sweat lodge he and other Indian men had finally been permitted to build. I was told that he functioned as a kind of shaman in the sweat rituals and that he “could really zone out” during the proceedings. He kept track of the sky and knew when Venus was the Morning Star and when the Evening. Information like this was the criterion by which he gauged all other data. Compared to this, of what significance could he possibly assign the news that half the buttons on his shirt were missing?

I remember asking the warden as he boarded the exit bus, “How do you think he’ll do on the outside?” And the warden answered, shaking his head, “He’ll get in a fight before he gets off that bus.”

We hope for the best about people who are practically strangers to us. It is the nature of our service. In most Zen congregations there is little social interaction between pastor and congregants. We have few bake sales, hymn-sings, pujas, boy scout troops, or other community activities; and Darshan (dokusan) is limited to a few minutes of discussion about meditation practices. Rarely does a teacher encounter students in those social occasions that reveal most about their personalities. Usually, then, we are left to gauge intelligence by the quality of questions asked in forums; to gauge fidelity by attendance; generosity by contributions to the collection box; cleanliness by the appearance of robes; and so on. In short, in the span of two hours per week, we are required to form opinions about a person’s character – perhaps even to write letters of recommendation – based upon such brief, structured encounters and flimsy evidence. In a prison setting, it is even more difficult to determine character. There are few after-service chats and, aside from snail-mail, no communication between meetings.

As I re-read Buber and thought about that strange jaunt to Argentina, I saw that what I was missing was that a man who is secure doesn’t have to wonder about his place in the universe. He has no anxiety. He is a believer, a creature of habit, a regulated dreamer, an accidental guest – a person who is sanguine about the future that, owing to the largesse of others, always seems rosy. He trusts that everything is going to work out so why worry?

But why is he so secure, so enthusiastic or so casual about unlikely schemes that he presents as realistic goals – schemes which might at first seem reasonable but will later evidence a grandiose or unacceptably presumptuous nature?

How does a man experience the Real? Buber says simply that man has a threefold living relation. “First, his relation to the world and to things; second his relation to men – both to individuals and to the many; and third, his relation to the mystery of being – which is dimly apparent through all this but infinitely transcends it… The Absolute or God.”

The person who is afflicted with worldly fantasy is mired in the first ‘living relation.’ No matter how his behavior seems to conform to society’s standards, he sees the material world through acquisitive eyes. He objectifies even himself as a created image, which he assumes that other people will also accept as substantive and genuine. He identifies with desirable objects; and he objectifies even people who become to him mere ways and means, tools to fulfill his needs and desires. We may see him in a prison or in a commercial workplace. He may go to church or to the Zen center every week. He may sit in meditation or bow his head in prayer, but what is he thinking? It is things – his garments, the incense, his breakfast, the weather.. and how these things affect him, or how he can alter or use these things to his advantage. We find his likeness in all forms of literature. He’s Williams’ Blanche DuBois who affects gentility while plying the skin trade, depending upon “the kindness of strangers” and, ultimately, the coerced hospitality of her sister. The only constant is the need to cling to the self-image of superior bearing. Perhaps he starts out innocently like Thurber’s Walter Mitty who seems outwardly to be quite happy performing such ordinary tasks as driving his wife to the beauty parlor; but what is he thinking? Only his body is behind the wheel of his sedan. The rest of him is at the controls of a dive bomber that is now engaged in desperate combat in the skies over Europe. He’s not a dutiful husband sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for his wife to be beautified, he’s a famous brain surgeon performing an operation that his colleagues lack the skill and courage even to attempt. Thurber let his short story end in one of these imaginative adventures; but if he had written another chapter to the story, Mitty might easily have sought the rewards of fantasy heroism in the real-life adorations of a co-worker or a lunchroom waitress. His wife and children – if he had any – would become strangers, creatures from that “other” world, the one that could not satisfy his fancy.

It is such self-absorption that evicts from consideration those who fulfill laborious obligation in order to give residence to vagrant dreams.

Yet, in a curious way, these fantasies often have a real-world, practical function. They provide leverage and set the stage for contrived conflicts that provide excuse for change. If we look hard enough we can find method in the schemes. Consider the possible manipulations in the proposed trip to Buenos Aires. The ex-prisoner would move in with his sister and it would take about 2.5 hours for her husband to express an intense desire to get him off the property. But there is a problem. No one wants to be known as the kind of person who would turn a brother out, especially one who is “trying to get his life together.” Prodigal Sons and Lost Sheep and Good Samaritans will be marched onto the front lawn like so many pink flamingos or plaster gnomes. Biblical precedents will picket the house. It will be the sister who must deal with categorical imperatives.

The request had been merely for the brother temporarily to occupy the camper- a request that seemed too simple to deny. But he will come into the house to eat; to shower, shave and use the toilet, to watch television, to talk on the phone; to do his laundry, and if it is too hot or too cold, he will come in to sleep on the couch. What will it cost her and her husband to eliminate this expensive invader of their privacy while retaining their reputations as decent people? He says he wants to take the camper on a long trip. Well, that will get rid of him. But wait! Their names are on the title – which means they’re responsible as owners of the vehicle. What if he doesn’t keep up the insurance? He wants to buy the vehicle from them and to pay it off in monthly payments. He offers to commit himself legally to pay; and with a great flourish will sign a promissory note which, as the saying goes, will be like a verbal contract – not worth the paper it’s written on.

But will he pay? It is no more likely that he will honor his debt than it is likely that anyone will ever examine the appropriateness of his need or his proposition. He wanted his sister’s camper and he found a way to get it. He invoked familial sentiment when he made the request; and that sense of security, of entitlement that is inherent in the request will obviate any sense of responsibility to pay. This is not mere cynicism. This is precisely the course that is followed by a person whose living relation is confined to things.

He is unable to empathize – to consider the negative effect his presence or his debt will have upon his sister – for that would be the second stage of “the threefold living relation.” Society will aid him in his self-absorbed goals. Always, the one who is asked to give is reminded more forcefully of the “duty” to be charitable than the one who desires to receive is ever reminded of the obligation to be self-supportive or to lessen his requirements.

In the world of things we find strange participation mystiques, the imbuing of an object with animate qualities with which the person then identifies and associates. Not only does the person believe that the quality of a thing magically adheres to the possessor who becomes unique or important in direct proportion to his evaluation of that symbol or object, but he must also advertise his identified allegiance to that magical element. Especially in prison we find men who have used their own flesh to commemorate an identity with and commitment to such other-worldly power: They are “illustrated men,” tattooed not with the usual salute to Mother, service motto, girl, flag or rose; but with serpents that entwine entire limbs; lightning bolts that discharge from an earlobe and strike the chest; birds of prey that seize a nipple in their talons; blood dripping daggers and swords; and, most incomprehensively, a variety of chains and barbed wires that encircle arms and necks. Allegiance to people can alter. Today’s benefactor is too often tomorrow’s adversary; but the eagle is an emblem of power that will never weaken. The blitzkrieg is forever.

To dismiss this as jailhouse machismo is to overlook those symbols of identity – the designer labels, the expensive cars, the “conspicuous consumption and honorific waste’ which characterize leisure class possessions. To whatever extent an owner invests these showy objects with his own identity, he, too, is an illustrated man.

It is not the goal of penal authorities to manufacture saints in prison. They do strive, however, to deliver men and women to the second stage of living relation: to establish a relationship to the world of men. This requires empathy – an ability to understand and accept The Golden Rule, an ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel his joy or sorrow, his comfort or pain, and then to act so as to alleviate his sorrow or to appreciate his joy. Empathy allows a man to see the world through the eyes of other men not merely to see his own reflection in their eyes.

We do find in prisons those who keep The Golden Rule – who treat others as they would have others treat them. Men do strive to better themselves, to become aware of what they do not know – and need to know – and to educate themselves accordingly, to form friendships that are not predicated upon survival but upon common interests, to find, as Buber said, their “special place in the cosmos” and “connection with destiny.” We even find men who attain the third category of “living relation,” who transcend the first two stages and establish “a relation to the mystery of being, to the Absolute or God.”

The Sioux Indian did not get into any fights on the bus. He went home to the northern plains to live. After he was out a month he called me to say that he was doing fine. Yeah… yeah… he had met a nice gal and was getting set to move into her trailer. He also got a job delivering building supplies and was saving up to put a down payment on a used pickup truck. But what was really important – what he was calling to tell me – was that he had gone to Wisconsin to see Miracle, the white buffalo heifer. He had actually seen her with his own eyes. Did I know that she was not an albino, an anomaly or some freakish creature – but was a testament to God’s inexplicable power to affect change, cleansing change, black to white change – a merciful and beautiful purity! – like the white lotus flower rising out of the muck!?

I said I knew and understood.

A few months later I heard from him for the second and last time. We talked a little about spiritual matters and I could still hear the wonder in his voice. “You’re doing well,” I said, “I can tell.” Then he casually stated every enlightened man’s credo. “I’m a king. I’ve got a good woman, a clean house, a steady job” and then, as a concession to the exigencies of commerce, a little pride of ownership crept into his voice and he added, “and a pickup truck that only needs paint.” 

90 Days of Silence

May we with all beings realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and gift.

Language helps us understand but it does not take us beyond the material realm. Those who want to go beyond words, must abandon them. Language is a scheme that creates the illusory world.  To rely fully on the material realm leads to bondage and suffering. Our work is to go beyond it. Language is used to point the Way but language in itself is not the Way. Language mimics form, name, quality and utility, but language, at some point, is abandoned.

Abandon desires that come from intention. All of them. Rest in the Self.  Not in the thoughts of the self-centered self. To look a certain way, To be called a certain name, To exhibit a certain quality or To do a useful act.   Bhagavad Gita

Language creates the appearance of the movie that plays and covers the face of our original nature. When this false appearance occurs, we call it me, mine, my form, my name, my qualities and my acts.

Language, however, also helps us to unravel our self-centered insistence to create the illusion through practice instructions. We practice until we no longer create the appearance and rest in our Beloved Divine Self.

We use language to STOP the chatter of self-identification in order to see through the illusion and see who and what we really are.

Let me offer a simple teaching from Dōgen, a 13th century Zen Master of the Soto School of Zen.

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay. Fukazazengi

Dogen offers an instruction that zazen is not merely sitting on a cushion, but a practice that asks us to give up our desire to understand, pursuing words…it is much more difficult than learning meditation.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when she enters the mountain. For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that, from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.

And finally, this practice is not limited to the practice of sitting alone.

What we use of language and intellectual thought is our inquiring mind. We inquire into the thoughts and hindrances in order to let them go; to recognize the Truth and then, realize IT. Our thoughts and inquiry are, at some point, finally seen through for what they are. We use language to see through the delusion as in a Hua T‘ou or the repetition of a mantra.

We study, ask questions and seek until the inquiring reaches a point that we transcend the material minded point-of-view and experience our true original nature. We no longer are bound by anything.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


 

 

The Will to Choose


Work!

Your Hair is on Fire!

Don’t say,

“I DON’T HAVE TIME!”

Those words do not encourage, they deflate and burden the mind. It is, as some might say, stupid to think repeating those words is in any way helpful.

You cannot give what you do not have.

If you believe you do not have “time” to practice, you will not practice. If you repeat again and again to yourself that you do not have time, you seal yourself in, making it more difficult to change the mind.

What you fill the mind with, directs the mind.

Most of us do have “time” to do what we want to do. We say things to ourselves such as “I’ll make time!” The idea of making “time-to-do-something” is a sign of determination. It bypasses the mind’s laziness.

We need determination.

And most of us have it to some degree or another. We determine to do what we value.

There are many stories in spiritual traditions that in essence tells us that when you find a treasure, you are willing to sell everything for the treasure. 

Have you found the treasure?

Maybe the word treasure does not speak to you. Perhaps you need to study what motivates you.

Motivation is like the fire that burns your hair. There are three tendencies that determine the type of motivation: (1) laziness, (2)rampage and (3) high-mindedness or if you will;

  • comfort-seeking
  • passion
  • intellectual rationalization

All three tendencies are circling in us all the time. Are you seeking comfort? Passion? Intellectual promise?

When we see our aim, we have an opportunity to study all three tendencies. Sometimes all three seem to show up making us confused. Laziness begets sloth and torpor, rampage begets rushing, uncontrollable ambition and aggressiveness and headiness begets rationalizations and boastfulness.

These tendencies of the mind are fired up by our thoughts and desires. When we say, “I don’t have time” we turn to one of these tendencies to defend what we just told ourselves. Underneath we may want comfort or something more interesting and challenging or to be struck by uncontrollable passion.

Furthermore, “I don’t have time”‘ is a negative motive…the positive motive is telling ourselves more of the true motivation which is “I want to do something else.” This requires a sincere, clear look into our mental formations.

Our motivations are not necessarily clear nor are they always beneficial. Sometimes we opt out in laziness, or go on a rampage to get something in a selfish manner, or think we are the bravest and brightest bulb in the room.

What motivates you? Do you know? Or are you living what Thoreau called  a life of ‘quiet desperation?’

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. 
It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. Thoreau

Desperation is not a spiritual practice, although a desperate suffering may lead you to make the backward step towards the interior landscape of the Eternal Undying Self.

Spiritual work requires self investigation. It requires a commitment. Discipline. A will to keep going. We need to recognize we can squander our life flitting it away in laziness, unreliable passions, and rationalizations.

It’s up to each one of us to decide. To choose what our aim is – which requires we give our very best to our chosen path.

None of it comes easily; especially if we squander this lifetime without a clear aim to which we commit our will.

May all beings be free of suffering.

OM NAMO GURU DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

 

Sacrifice

Innumerable Sacrifices

A Daily Practice of Devotion

 

Let’s start with a chant, Innumerable Sacrifices.

Innumerable sacrifices brought us this food;

We consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether we are worthy of this offering;

We regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses, such as greed;

We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.

For the sake of enlightenment, we now receive this food.

 

The key word, is sacrifices. An old word that is rarely used except perhaps to garner some gain or fame for oneself. Let’s start with a very brief look at the history of the word and then shift to a focus on birth and death.

The word sacrifice comes from the late 13th century., meaning “offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage;” by the 16th century the word came to mean an “act of giving up one thing for another; something given up for the sake of another.”

The 16th century definition is more or less how the word is used today. Sacrifice is an exchange that occurs between one person and another person in giving up one thing for the sake of another thing. In other words, a sacrifice is more or less a transactional deal.

In the 21st century, sacrifice or the killing of one thing as an offering to a deity as an act of care either a propitious care or a care offering of respect is admittedly hard to see. And here is where we shift to the focus on birth and death and the daily devotion of sacrifice.

We’ll begin with the apparent cause of death and follow it through in a bullet approach.

  • The cause of death is birth. This teaching is what Shakyamuni Buddha taught.
  • Death follows birth in the apparent world, the world of materiality.
  • The cause of birth and death in the material world is change.
  • Change is part of the nature of this world realm.
  • Everything changes.
  • To know and accept change serves our practice of devotion.
  • When we take things for granted, we think and believe and assume things belong to me, my, mine.
  • When we take things for granted, we claim them as made and owned by me, my, mine. We either claim them along the lines of a myriad of opposites such as: success-failure, good-bad, right-wrong etc.

As I hope you see, if you are stuck in this ignorance, you suffer. And there is very little, if any, capacity to live a devotional life.

Devotion would mean very little to those amongst us who think we are the “boss” – the one who makes everything happen that has happened in one’s life. This situation, my friends, is most of us since we have been conditioned to claim everything as “ours”.  

Let’s take another look at that word, sacrifice, but this time let’s use the older definition.

offering of something (especially a life) to a deity as an act of propitiation or homage

Hard to see, isn’t it?

But that doesn’t mean sacrifice is obsolete. It is not an archaic activity. It is hidden behind our ignorance of thinking we are in charge; to be more specific, the ego has been conditioned to think it is in charge. This claim by the ego is ignorance.

With that in mind, let us reckon with sacrifice in the 21st century.

Right there, where you are, sacrifice is in plain sight; but you may not see it because your vision is blurred by selfishness. Let me assure you that we have the opportunity to see sacrifice in the activities of everyday life; a devotional practice.

Preparing and cooking a meal is a good example of sacrifice

as a practice of daily devotion.

I cut up vegetables. I boil them, then roast them. I skin the avocado and dig out the green flesh inside and discard the seed. I prepare the carcass of a turkey by removing the neck and gizzards then wash it thoroughly before I season it and roast it. I pull off a leg to test to see it the bird is done. I mash potatoes which are the tubers of the plant. The tubers supply nutrition and help the potato plant survive the winter. Instead of leaving the potato on the plant we pick them and eat them. We eat the storehouse of nutrition of the potato plant. The potato provides energy to the plant as well as reproduction. The potato, the turkey, the avocado, and the vegetables are examples of sacrifice on your table. The cook and cook’s helpers are the priests; those who prepare and make ready the sacrifices to eat.

When we look closely, study what is right in front of us, we see that our entire life has been a gift. A gift that is full of sacrifice. Not the type of sacrifice that boasts or claims the victory or the ownership of the sacrifice, but a deferential respect for what shows up in our life as an opportunity to care for whatever it is in such a way that it is an offering of devotion.

Nothing is left out. And you can see this sacrifice, this practice that is a universal offering to life which promulgates devotion for all things; visible and invisible right under our collective noses.

Innumerable sacrifices, indeed, brought you your food, consider how it comes to you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, 2020

 

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

 

 

 

Remembrance of Karma Yoga

Hell is empty…

and all the devils are here.

The Tempest, Shakespeare

This fellow Shakespeare knew a thing or two. The line comes from the mouth of the young character, Ferdinand who has just experienced being shipwrecked. Although he is unharmed, the storm was a violent and frightening experience. And he does not know that others are on board, including his father, are safe and sound though shaken up by the, dare I say, the spiritual storm. Little did he know, nay, little did anyone on the ship know that Ariel, a spirit in bondage to the magician Prospero, was following orders to bring the ship aground in a thunderous storm  without as much as harming the clothes on the backs of the passengers.

Was it all a trick or is this Shakespeare’s way of once again telling us the truth of our lives of embodied skin bags.  Is life unpredictable? Is it under the influence of invisible spirits conjured up by magicians, those long-forgotten soothsayers of magic spells and incantations.

Perhaps we all feel shipwrecked by the states of utter confusion from the global pandemic and the recent and ongoing chaos of American elections. It doesn’t look like the current resident in the White House or the mysterious COVID-19 virus will be leaving anytime soon. What magic will it take to get them to leave?

Donald Trump continues on with his incantations on Twitter which is more or less the same as Prospero’s spiritual slave Ariel, putting aground the ship of state. His magical thinking wants to change the results that make him a loser at the ballot box and a loser against the virus. Like Prospero, the resident in the White House and the prevailing virus are  grounding the ship of state. Is it fair to say both came about from our negligence?

Are we so unlike this magic man, this Prospero who lost his kingdom from his own neglect? You see, he turned to magic as his idol. He was swept away, bedazzled by what magic he could perform. Yet, Shakespeare saves him by stripping away his title and banishing him to a far-away island.

Is the bard indicating Prospero had a lesson to be learned about his karma. As the story goes, Prospero neglected his Dukedom.  Don’t we neglect our human reign? I think we do.

When a stripping away comes, which it surely will, will we come to terms with the loss, with the banishment from what was once something we thought was “ours to own?” Hell is empty leaving all the devils to disrupt us with manifold losses and unwanted changes.

Doesn’t it feel that all the devils are here and even more than all the devils are here in the world but in our very being. Isn’t that what we really struggle with – falter and rise up again and again. Some more than others fall down and get up over and over again. The devils are always at us.

We, however are headstrong. We forget about karma. We think it won’t happen to us. Yeah, sure the other guy, but not us. I am here to tell you – it will happen to you. It’s my job, you see. To tell you and to offer some consolation and then tell you to get up and keep going. Don’t give up. Pull yourself together and keep reading.

Karma, one of the Five Remembrances is often made into a yoga that seems impossible to understand or impossible to actualize. Since it is considered impossible to understand and impossible to actualize, we simplify it. In our simplification effort, karma yoga gets shrunk down into a one word description: action. That’s right. Your karma, that which you do, the actions you take is your karma; it’s a lot like a fingerprint. So let’s take a look at some of what karma is.

Karma is action. Action is all-pervading. There is nothing shrunken about it. There is nowhere, no place, no position in life that is outside of KARMA, a sanskrit word that means TO DO.

TO DO carries with it the effects of the doing. Karma is often understood as cause and effect. When we take a closer look at this pairing of cause and effect we see that effect is the same as cause and cause is the same as effect.

What? You say.

Yes, the effect is the cause as cause is the effect. The pair is an inseparable rolling wheel. Where can you find the beginning or the end of cause and effect?  At best, we make a mark and claim one thing as the cause and the other thing as the effect but in reality there is no mark there. We put it there. We mark it as either the cause of the effect or the effect of the cause. You see, they are inescapable and inseparable.

Think about the two residents in the world I spoke about above. It is quite difficult to pull apart the cause and the effect of what is happening on that front.

What we can say is that karma is both the cause and the effect of action. It is a rolling wheel; seemingly out of nowhere and endless.

Furthermore, we are confused by this rolling wheel of cause and effect and think and believe we are in charge of both the cause and the effect. Isn’t this so? The whole world seems to be under the illusion that we can get control of this wheel once and for all.

After all we are in charge, aren’t we?

Well, my friends that is the question? Much of our youth is spent thinking we can do such and such and make things happen – but it is not only our youthful invincible madness that thinks we are in charge – but our claim and attachment to power and things. We are mad to think we are in charge…in control…that we own anything at all. We are, at best, caretakers who need to bend down and bow in gratitude for what comes our way.

Before you get too disgruntled, too obstreperous with “yes, buts” here is a prick of magic.

Let me put a pinprick into this illusion of thinking we are in charge.

Are you in charge of birth and death?

Just ponder that question for awhile.

Of course we can palliate many physical sufferings – sometimes well and sometimes not so well. But birth and death? Ah, not so there. And it is a good example of karma yoga. 

Buddha was asked, “What is the cause of death?” He must’ve wanted to laugh when he gave this simple answer – “Birth is the cause of death.” This question and answer shows us in a simple way the wheel of karma, the inseparable nature of cause and effect.

So what are we to do? AH…yes, what action (karma) as spiritual devotees do we take?

It depends.

Sorry for the dither. But it depends is the clearest answer I can offer. It leads me back to you. Yes, you. It depends on your aim? If you like, your goal in this round of birth and death that you call your life.

It depends on your goal? Are you scratching your head? I hope so. I hope you give this some thought. Some contemplation.

Many, many…I might even say, most…seek things that will bring happiness and pleasure. Sorry. But it’s true. We give a short shrift to philosophy and opt instead for the lower pleasures of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. 

Ask yourself, “How do I spend my life?” Hopefully you will see where your treasure is.

Where is your treasure?

The answer is infinite, because we are in an infinite existence even though we think, believe, live as though this body-mind complex is who we are and all we get. The answer, in general, is some thing, some person, some position, some place…and the list goes on.

OK. Don’t make a judgement for or against your treasure. It is, after all, in the infinite possibilities of our infinite existence. Please do ask yourself where does this treasure I seek come from within myself and where is it taking me?

Perhaps you want to be a father? A mother? A teacher? A financial wizard? Historian? Scientist? Surgeon. Artist. President? A bum? Wayfarer? Traveler?

The list is endless…the possibilities infinite. SO…where are you? Examine where you are and consider whether or not you had control. Has life lived up to its glamorous, glitter of promises? Let’s ask the man who has barricaded himself in the White House? Or those who have been struck by the virus? Or lost a loved one?

I know, as you know, the answer is whatever your life choice is, it comes with ups and downs. Disappointment and satisfaction. It is the nature of this realm. And it is what Shakyamuni Buddha saw as a young man – birth, death, old age, sickness and yes, karma.

His realization led to devotion to find out the Truth of this reality. We all can see what he saw, but we have to have a high goal as he did to know how to live in the midst of birth, death, old age, sickness and karma.

Let me offer some strong suggestions to those of you who have a high goal that goes beyond the vagaries of pleasure and pain. It begins with devotion. 

When we devote ourselves to a thing, a place, a person…we give without measure. To give without measure requires courage since to give without measure means to give without reward. It is to give in obeisance – what does obeisance mean. It means to give with deferential respect to what you devote your action to without looking at any result. It requires taking up the mantle, taking up the role without measure. To be a devoted father, mother, artist, scientist, surgeon, student, wayfarer. To whatever you give yourself to – give yourself without measure with deferential respect. It is after all your master. OK. It is God, the unborn, undying immutable in the form of a role, a thing, a place, a person…you get it, don’t you?

This is the Way to enter the puzzling, dazzling limitless existence beyond the body-mind complex.  Are you paying attention?

It is with this attitude, obeisance, that we realize we have been given a sword of Light which helps us meet the struggles of the spiritual and physical world. It is knowing that to abandon reward frees us to throw off that which burdens us – to cut off our selfishness. Yep, that’s it. Selfishness burdens us. when we think of our self as first, last and foremost we cannot give ourselves with deferential respect. There is simply too much pride that blocks our deep bow. This selfishness comes in infinite ways to make us think we are something special. Smarter, brighter, better. Those who suffer so think of themselves above others making the fall a bigger, harder crash. It is that old saying, pride comes before destruction and haughtiness comes before a fall. A good one to remember as we must  also remember…

Life is full of storms.

It is inevitable. But remember the sword that comes from giving up rewards, giving up results is pregnant with Light – from top to bottom. With it, we slay the devils…we bow down to that immutable, Supreme Self that does not harbor any thing against us – that which waits for our self-realization of knowing who we really are.

In some very unusual way, something bigger than a book of words or long conversation or intellectual delving, we have been given the storms, a world-wind of a virus that appears to be running unbridled over the world. In an odd-shaped way, we have also been given a world leader who appears to be doing the same. Both are hidden, out of sight, waiting to attack like unseen ghosts that can harm us all.

You say, “We must take precautions.”

Yes we do. We must remember the devils are all here. We must remember that loss and sorrows come to all of us. We must remember that our actions are both a cause and an effect and that we need to attend to our actions with devotion. An obeisance devotion where we defer and respect what comes into our life as our Work. That judging our work or the work of others is not much help – but the recognition of the infinite possibilities is. In some small way we do have the power to decide, we do have the power to practice concentration in a devotional way to our work and we do have the power to be unselfish.

May the merit of this work be beneficial to all beings in the ten directions.

OM NAMO – DEV NAMO

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Position: Neither Here, Nor There

The Third Position: Neither Here, Nor There

It is just a matter of hitting the bell, closing the door, lighting a candle.

In the past IT abides.

In the future IT abides.

But don’t ask, “What do you mean?”

You seek an answer with a hammer.

Pounding on the fog you think you will make a break and see through.

Stay still and turn.

Make the turn and hear the echoes of habits and wishes.

Feel the striving gut that wants something more.

Wait.

Don’t hurry away.

It is the Way.

Endless turning until

The floor of the mind collapses.

Stop the hunt for the other.

Stop the chase.

You stalk a reply.

Respond without worry.

When you smell smoke, yell, “Fire!”

When you see the table holds the cup,

See the cup hold the tea!

Look through.

See, neither here, nor there,

Neither this, nor that.

It is all around you.

When you stand or sit, it is there.

It is buoyant cheers of scorpions and pigeons,

That you kill and stuff with your conclusions.

You cry, “How do I help?”

No hands, no harm.

You cry, “Have I gone too far?”

Neither far, nor near.

You cry, “What is the point?”

The sun, the moon and the stars.

When you give up the wish for something else, something more

You are home.

Then, once and now

There is nothing that escapes the past, the future, the present.

Your plans show the hidden tenants.

“Me. My. Mine.”

Safety boxes and storage houses overflow with false ideas.

You pound your hammer with great desire and fail to hear the wondrous voice.

When you realize the heart drums without a score and the ear hears without direction

You sit near the edge of the flowing river.

When wishes for and against subside

And the nose smells without form

The bees suckle the flowers and gestures of life wave

To awaken the unfulfilled.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Someone Asked. And the Answer is: Right Understanding

 

Right Understanding.

Let me begin with a definition of right understanding. It is a teaching of the Eightfold Path and is considered the root in the ground of the Lotus. It is embedded in the mud of the world of being. In each and every one of us this root is there. We are asked to discover the truth of it for ourselves. In the simplest language it means everything comes to awaken us.

How generous life is when we realize this truth. Everything? Yes, everything comes to awaken us. It is the recognition of being in the infinite possibilities of Our Supreme Nature. In the image of the Lotus it is the nutrients of the stem that grow and rise up through the water as a Lotus blossom.

All of this process occurs in us. It is not something just in a book. It is to be realized. Our first hurdle is to overcome our unwilling nature. Below is a common example of our unwillingness to practice the infinite possibilities of realizing everything comes to awaken us.

_____

A few days ago, someone came to me and complained. The complaint consisted of protests and gratitude; the protests of boredom and feeling stifled and stagnated and the gratitude for the teachings that brought him out of the burning house of suffering.

I listened. I knew this student. I knew he was and may still be unwilling to follow a teacher; to sit down in front of someone who is ahead of him on the path and bare his sense of helplessness.

Instead, he complained.

I wondered what was happening inside the heart of this person; in the place where the invisible presence of being exists. The speech, all those words that came up were words of protest and dissatisfaction coupled with a conditioned sense of gratitude for past offerings.

How did the wind blow this dust together for this student?

My response was simple but ineffective and dismissed.

I told the person that he needed to find someone ahead of him on the path; someone who he was willing to follow under all circumstances. In other words, someone he could bow down to before their feet and surrender his need to be independent and right and smart.

You see, this fellow lacked humility and reverence.

Pride and arrogance and probably many other intellectual and emotional conditions held him captive in his complaints. His odd-shaped gratitude of self-interest was an exterior excuse to cling to his pride. He could not imagine that he could find someone to follow in the way of humility and reverence. It was anathema to him. He did not admit it but it appeared to be that he felt superior to most and to all those he had met.

Perhaps I needed to say what I am about to say now.

This fellow is not ready to commit to his practice. Not able to relinquish his complaints and his conditioned gratitude. You see, he is not able to see how he is stuck in the conditioned selfish self – which is the part of his being which wants things to be different…wants things to satisfy him…wants something more or less. His difficulties are boons but he is unable to work with them in such a way that he can find the Way.

His habit of protesting and thanking is long-lived – and he gets incensed when someone suggests he needs to follow someone from the position of humility and reverence. How dare anyone who might suggest he follow in the footsteps of another!

There are many, many, many who are in this position. Not many want to take up the role of student. Fewer still want to take up the aim of god-realization, satori, nirvana, kenshō; of coming to his immortality.

Perhaps this fellow is familiar. Perhaps he is you. If you do not have the willingness to surrender in humility and reverence, you are not ready to head towards that aim of knowing that which is invisible, unborn, undying, and immutable; that everything comes into your life to awaken your true nature.

Yes everything! This is Right Understanding. When we realize this reality, we surrender. We become supple. We recognize we need help. We become willing to bow down.

I am ever grateful for Ming Zhen Shakya. For all those who walk ahead on the Way of enlightenment. For the teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha; for all teachings of Wisdom. I am grateful to be able to realize that everything comes to awaken us; to show us the Way.

May we, with all beings, realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and 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

 

 

Old Age is a Boon

Remembrance of Aging


The Four Boons of Aging.

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

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

_____

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT is wisdom.

Aging gives us an opportunity to discover wisdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aging gives us witness to the arc of time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aging gives us an opportunity to surrender.

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

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

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

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

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

Surrender.

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

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image Credit: A. Holmberg

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Welcome Our New Member

A Single Thread, The Zen Contemplative Order of Hsu Yun Welcomes Old Heart Mountain, 老心山, Lǎo xīn shān shakya aka Arakawa Mitsugi to our Order.

Old Mountain, as he likes to be called, is previously a Monk (Sohei) of the Chinese Chen Yen Mikkyo Order of Monastics. He has been part of a “Warrior Monk” practice since 1995.

He has participated in the Science of Martial Arts for 37 years. He studied several Ryu ( Art of Martial Science) under the direction of Arakawa Nobumasa, his sensei until his passing in 2017.

Old Mountain has found many parallels of Spiritual embodiment that opens the door to Yoga Sadhana (samadhi) through Meditation & Physical practices. He exclaims that Martial Arts is Yoga  and Yoga is Martial Arts.”

It is my honor to welcome Old Mountain to our sangha.

Fashi Lao Yue

 

 

The Arthur Sermon

Escape from Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This behavior is a pattern.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

Dogen’s 8th Awareness:  Not Engaging in Vain Talk

 

Flee the chit chat with others,

except as an act of charity.

Love people very much.

Talk with few.

Talk with moderation.

Put nothing or no one between

you and the Source.

Do not let the love for the creature

get in the way of love for the Source.

 

Love, in a Disciplined Way.

Compilation of Zen Buddhism and Katherine of Siena, 14th C.

_____

This advice is at the heart of love, discipline and fleeing vain talk. If only we could remember, that vain talk aggravates the mind and leads to suffering. AND that…fleeing the chit chat of vanity is an act of charity. Chit chat gets in the Way of love for and from the Source.

What would it be like to speak from the Source, from the immutable, Supreme eternal?

When I contemplate this Awareness, I imagine Dogen’s 13th century world.  I imagine it to be very quiet.  No planes overhead, no background traffic sounds, no pushing a button to get a movie or TV show, no phones to call someone anytime day or night to talk to.  It sounds wonderful, the silence which quiets the mind.

During this pandemic, however, many of us are struggling with staying put; not jumping into our cars to go somewhere.  In Dogen’s time most people lived their whole lives not leaving the place where they were born or if they went somewhere, they walked.  So, in this ‘silent’ world, what was the vain talk Dogen wanted people not to engage in?

I don’t think he was saying ‘don’t talk.’  I think he was saying don’t engage in gossip, demeaning or condemning talk. Don’t get caught up in opinions or judgments.  This kind of talk must have been as present in the 13th century as it is now.  This talk is all about ‘me-my-mine.’  This kind of talk engages us in picking and choosing…right or wrong…good or bad, making judgments, reaching conclusions.  We take a stand and make our mind small and stingy. We speculate about the future and yearn for past that lives only in our minds.

What I think Dogen is encouraging us to do, is to talk from awareness.  Pay attention to the words that come out of our mouths.  To paraphrase a line from the movie Bambi:

‘…if you can’t say something

inspiring, comforting, encouraging,

sobering, enriching, unselfish,

informing, clarifying, questioning,

wise or nice,

don’t say anything at all.’

This is where we start, better to step away from ‘me-my-mine’ talk, than be a blow hard of opinions. We stop the worrying about whether it is the right thing to say…the worrying about what someone else thinks about what we say.

It releases us from wanting to look smarter…wanting to impress…wanting to have the last word.  We are free to concentrate and focus on what is right in front of us…not looking backward to defend or to the future to protect.

In this last Awareness, Dogen is doing what he did in his seven other teachings. He is encouraging, exhorting us to be aware. Right here, right now.  He wants us to have few desires, be content, enjoy quiet, be diligent, remember, meditate and concentrate, be wise and watch how we talk.  Unless or until we do this, we are stuck in the material world.

Without continually practicing these Awarenesses there is no ‘jumping clear.’  Without practicing these Awarenesses we cannot begin to study the self in order to forget the self to be awakened by myriad things.

Dogen shows us eight ways to know deeply that whatever comes into our lives comes to awaken us. It is a simple teaching. Flee the chit chat, the vain talk with others, showing off what we know or how to do something, blowing our own horn, or lording it over someone else with the latest news or the most entertaining gossip.

It is love to stop our babbling. We stop the babble and love in a disciplined Way not in the way of the material realm of fascinating subjects or juicy gossip, or the latest bad news.  We keep our nose out of others business. We offer succor when asked. We offer our words from the higher source of knowledge and not from our puny ideas and beliefs.

It’s a practice. A disciplined practice which is difficult to do, but not impossible. Discipline, our restraint of our mouth, is needed to do this practice. My encouragement is for each of us to consider it and begin to use our self-control. To watch how we often jabber needlessly and feel sickened afterwards. This is love – and to love in a disciplined Way.

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,

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