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

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

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

ZATMA is not a blog.

 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

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 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

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Zen Proustian Cake by Rev. Yao Xin Shakya

                 

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory as this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.

Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?…

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea. -Proust

 

Proust in his ambitious novel, Remembrance of Things Past may, at least in this famous passage about eating a cake, resemble the curious activity of Siddhartha Gautama at the Plowing Festival. In biting into the sweet madeleine he bites into a morsel so familiar he enters a delicate ecstasy from a remembrance of the past. He suggests that all of us have, at some basic level, the intuition to transcend the material world. Proust’s recollection of eating a piece of madeleine cake points to an undeveloped insight and skill that reaches out across time and space through ordinary crumbs.

Siddhartha Gautama, when near death from six years of austere asceticism recalls a thing from the past perhaps his first bit of this greater nature. It was a remembrance of a time where he sat under a tree in his youth and looked within himself. This memory, this remembering seems to be a turning point, a point where a simple, spontaneous energy, though dormant, became active.

 

Siddartha’s Story

The story goes that when Buddha was a child, he attended an annual celebration called the Plowing Festival. As often happens to children, he was very bored with it all, and so went and sat under a tree. There, he spontaneously entered into profound meditation through observing his breath. At the end of the festival his parents discovered him beneath the tree, roused him from his inner absorption, and took him home. He never repeated what he had done that day beneath the tree, but he never forgot it.

After years of practicing incredible austerities and yoga, Siddhartha found himself without true realization. At this point he vows to sit beneath a tree and to remain there until he attained enlightenment. But how would he do that? What should be his practice, since everything he had learned in so many years had proven useless?

Under the tree he recalled his childhood meditation at the Plowing Festival. “Might that be the way to enlightenment?” he wondered. It seemed unthinkable that the simple, spontaneous practice of his long-ago childhood could be a small bite into Nirvana. But something from deep within him spoke, saying: “That is the only way to enlightenment.”

The only way to enlightenment is what the old patriarchs call, “turning the light within.” It is there where we find the way; it was the way Siddhartha found. The future Buddha facing his own suffering remembered that simple, very simple thing he did so naturally as a young boy.

He knew the extremes of luxury and austere ascetics had failed to awaken him. Near the end of his six years of austere and arduous ascetics, nearing physical collapse, he heard a group of girls pass by playing a lute. He thought,

“When the strings of the lute are loose, its sound won’t carry. When the strings are too tight, it breaks. When the strings are neither too loose nor too tight, the music is beautiful. I’m pulling my strings too tightly. I cannot find the Way to Truth living a life of luxury or with my body so weak.” -Buddhist Studies

A young girl, Sujata, seeing him fall and faint from weakness presented him with a bowl of some milky rice. There was no more struggle in the two extremes and he was open to just accepting what was given. And at that moment he entered the beginning of what might be called his authentic spiritual path.

That is Gautama’s story and it is a wonderful story. It is a marvelous story. It helps us to remember the requirements of the Zen path; honesty with the self and the world. Gautama’s recollection is a Proustian cake available to each one of us. He recalled what he knew and cultivated it on the path to enlightenment. His realization shows the importance of cause and effect, the deepness of our relative being, and our changing nature. He was willing to change and let go which requires humility and confidence.

When we remember how fragile and impermanent everything is we have a possibility for faith in the “Real Nature;” what the old patriarchs call “Buddha Nature” or more simply, “True Mind”. We also have the possibility to change and be humbled by change as Siddhartha was.

These two realizations, the relative, impermanent nature of all things are two wings of the same “iron bird.” This relative, impermanent being is included in “Buddha Nature;” we don’t need to look for any “Nirvanic realization” outside this “Samsaric world.” Siddhartha heard a lute under a tree and awakened.

Proust’s character, who recalls in a fragmentary moment the seed of transcendent intuition, much like Siddhartha, encourages us that realization is in the here and now. In Chinese Buddhism, we talk about having faith in the Buddha Amitabha and the Pure Land. The All Enlightened Amitabha, is no other than our “Buddha Nature;” his Pure Land is no other than our Mind when it is pure, when it doesn’t dwell in separation with the world. There is nothing magical yet, it is a mystical path.

As we shine the light sincerely on our human condition and develop a strong faith in Buddha Nature, we realize the importance of accord with all Dharmas, with the world. It is like the Buddha Shakyamuni agreed to accept a simple bowl of milky rice from a young girl. All moments of life can be a moment of harmony, a moment of expression of what the middle path is when the mind is pure.

Harmony with the expressions of the moment is, like the young Siddhartha, to simply sit and turn our energies within. These energies, which are usually externalized to the world in distraction after distraction, are nothing fancy. They are thoughts, desires and images that we firmly but kindly harmonize naturally with our Body-Breath-Mind. It is like the following experience of a Zen priest who goes to visit his seriously ill mother in hospital.

 

Yao Xin Shakya’s Story

I was alone looking at the pained face of my mother. She gave so much of her life energy for me, for my life. Although she was asleep I saw the agony she suffers. It was hard to see, hard to know.

Suddenly, she woke up.

I remember her eyes looked directly at me, as though she looked through me. I couldn’t look her in the eyes, so I began talking to hide my discomfort. At one point, she smiled and looked outside. I did the same. We sat together watching a magpie play with the wind. It lasted at least five minutes; five minutes of total silence, of total presence.

Looking together in the same direction I had the most authentic moment I ever had with my mother. At one point, she looked at me and smiled a big, wondrous smile. I didn’t say anything, but I knew I just had a wonderful moment of truthfulness, a simple and deep moment far from any of my preconceived habits or desires.

I never before felt so close to my mom. I felt as though I met her under the Bodhi tree in the hospital. This moment with my mother was my Zen Proustian cake, my bite of enlightenment.

 

Our Bodhi Tree

No matter what Buddhist technique we use, our point is to be one-pointed and to realize our True Mind. Just like the ascetic Gautama, we are able to find a Bodhi Tree. We decide to sit under it and never get up until we find enlightenment within. We allow impermanence to penetrate to the point we are humbled by it, we live by the precepts, and firmly trust our Buddha Nature.

Our Bodhi Tree every day is in every moment, but our ideas and wishes and desires may block the true mind. We return to one-pointed, single-mindedness, one breath at a time to enter the Pure Land. It’s available to those who attend to it, one moment at a time.

 

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Yao Xin Shakya

Image credits: Madeleine Cakes

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

 

 

Quietude. Dogen’s 3rd Awareness

 

 

 

Quietude – a state of stillness; calmness, and quiet in a person or place

Really, quietude is not about noise or sound or silence. It’s not a drugged state either.

 

Some stories come to mind…

Noise

When I was a high school student and had difficulty falling asleep, I’d turn my clock radio on as I went to bed and listen to a baseball game.  Within minutes I would fall asleep.  The sound was a comfort.  Fast forwards several decades, we are living with noise as comfort all the time. Music is played in stores and elevators, and gas stations, and waiting rooms, and dentist offices.  Most people walk down the street wearing ear buds.  It seems that, collectively, we feel the need to be surrounded by noise of some sort.  There is even a TV commercial, I have no idea what product is being advertised, but a couple goes on a camping trip and can’t fall asleep because of the forest sounds.  They play street sounds on their phone and instantly go to sleep.  We have become used to being surrounded with noise.

Silence

Many years ago, I attended a silent Zen retreat.  After the retreat, on the car trip home, I remember commenting that I thought the retreat was very noisy, lots of talking…that people weren’t keeping the form of silence.  My car-mates totally disagreed.  They felt it was a particularly silent retreat.  This puzzled me.  I slowly began to realize that the noise I was hearing wasn’t from other people.  What I thought was talking was actually my mind.  My mind was where the noise was coming from…thoughts, memories, judgments, plans.  After the fact, I could see that the actual physical silence wasn’t a comfort for me. The noise that was making me so discomforted was in my mind!

Quietude

Late last August I was in an accident walking my dog and broke the neck of my femur.  It took a trip to an Immediate Care center and an ambulance to get me to one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the area.  It was about 7:00 p.m. when I was finally transferred to a hospital bed.  Every slight move of my leg brought excruciating pain.  Laying perfectly still brought relief.  Being perfectly still brought thoughts of deep breathing, remembering that I wasn’t my body, wishes for a miracle that the pain would go away and my leg immediately healed.  The pain was like a grey cloud hovering around me.

 

Early next morning Liz and I met with the surgeon.  He recommended putting three pins in the bone rather than a hip replacement.  We agreed and I was scheduled for surgery at noon.  Liz was able to come with me to the surgery prep area. I was hooked to the monitoring machines but had not yet been given any anesthetic. This is where I experienced quietude.  I didn’t know it at the time, but as I waited I just wanted to be still.  I told Liz not to ask me any questions.  I just lay still.  Liz watched the machine monitoring my vital signs…everything went down…breathing, blood pressure, and heart-rate.  In remembering back, I knew I was in some spiritual place.  I wasn’t afraid.  I could hear the sounds in the room and hallway.  I was aware and not aware.  I was not trying to meditate or do deep breathing.  I just went into a deep quietude…a place of no desire, a place of contentment.

It was not a place I willed myself into.  It just was quietude. Quietude is ever present. I went there.

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

 

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See, Seek Not

Often in spiritual life we find seekers rather than seers. It comes out of our misunderstanding of Reality. Below there are two stories that show us when we seek, we get worn out and feel as though we are a ‘failure.’ When this happens we have fallen into the common mental formation of “measuring and comprehending.” I know this may be a surprise. Most of us have been trained to seek liberation rather than see it. It’s time to see it.

Seeking leads to all sorts of frustrations because it rests upon buried desires of getting something. Even when we are told there is nothing to get – the samskaras, those buried devils deep within our mental consciousness, surface like hungry ghosts wanting to achieve, taking up measures and holding tight to comprehension. 

All of this mental business of thinking and desire leads to suffering; as our dear Shakyamuni saw as a young man.  Life, the world of wanting, is suffering and the cause is desire. Simple. Clear. But overlooked again and again because we want to achieve – we want to be somebody who is successful. It is our human inclination.

We are like the young monk in the monastery who is asked by the Abbot, 

 

What are you up to sitting there in silence.” 

 

 “Becoming Buddha.”  The young monk responds.

 

At that answer, the Abbot picks up the infamous brick and begins to polish it leading the young monk to ask,

“What are you up to rubbing that brick?” 

Now here is the turning which we often overlook – the Abbot’s turning is a reflection of the monk’s response. That’s all he offers. A reflection of what the young monk is doing. 

He says, “I am polishing the brick into a mirror just as you are polishing the mind of the lower self into a Buddha.” 

 

AHEM! There it is. It’s a joke of the highest level. Reflect what the seeker is trying to achieve and he might stop his inclination to achieve. He might be able to see, rather than seek. Reflect on your mind and you might stop the inclination to achieve.

Really? 

Yes, really. 

The seer sees that he cannot do anything to achieve liberation. Nada. But wait. I now hear the cries and screams from all of us who have been doing, doing, doing what we call practice for years. Bowing, prostrating, sewing, chanting, contemplating, sitting, studying. 

 What about all of that? 

I say, “all well and good.” BUT…sorry, there is a but here….if you are seeking enlightenment, wanting to achieve success, measuring your progress, taking pride in your comprehensions, loving it when others think of you as mastering the Dharma, telling you how well you are doing – well, then you are like the young monk who seeks to become Buddha! 

God, help us. 

We need a change in mind, in our thoughts and thinking about practice. We need to know the primary cause and not our small secondary cause of effort. When we are given – yes, given sight to see it is not something we did – but a gift. There is no guarantee that if you do this and this and this and know that and that and that you’ll transcend samsara, the world of suffering. 

Transcendence is a gift. Not some method of polishing the self-ego to get it. No, it is transcendent, intuitive, beyond the smallness of mind and all the samskaras of mental formations. The mental formations are like clouds in the sky – they block the Light. In what our dear Chan Master Hongzhi called, the clear circle of brightness. What Rumi spoke of as the field beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing; that place where the Soul lies down too full to speak. 

So, if you have the inclination to practice measuring your progress, contemplating what you feel you comprehend and claim it in the category of success – you are seeking – not seeing. Seers see. When they see that they are putting their trust in the things of the world they turn the mind away. And they do this again and again and again until the mind stabilizes on what is real and what really matters. 

Measuring and comprehending are the Way of seekers, not the way of seers. Now we are ready for the two stories.

 

The first story.

The first one is about a team of Americans who traveled to Southeast Asia to study Buddhism in a remote area. Where huts were more holes than walls, where dogs roamed in packs and barked all night, where buildings lay half-finished. All things appeared to be in disrepair and decay including the Temple. When the main monk met with them they asked to see the Temple where they would practice and he responded in a rather perplexed way to their question. You see, they were standing in the Temple – in the midst of stacks of rotting supplies, half-built walls, torn and leaking cement bags, equipment and tools broken down by the heat and elements. 

The Americans were stunned but silent. As soon as they could get together in their team they decided to clean-up the place, organize and salvage what they could and build the Temple for the monk. Not surprisingly, the monk explained; 

“No. No. No. This is the Temple. This is it.” 

Again, confused, unclear the team could not imagine how he could say that the piles of rubble, the waste, the broken down equipment was the Temple. The team planned to build what they thought was a ‘proper’ Temple. They agreed to raise money. To fix what the monk saw as the Temple and they saw as a mess.

 

The second story.

A woman, a devotee, was out walking thinking about the day. About the buildings along the city street when she noticed that the awning along an old brick building was rotting away. It was once dark blue but now appeared to be thinning and faded. The once clear lettering was no longer readable. Part of the material was torn and no longer held its shape. It made the building look older and unkempt.

But as she looked at the building she suddenly noticed right above the drooping awning was another awning. She couldn’t tell if it had always had been there or that if it suddenly appeared. IT, the sudden appearing awning, was a bright turquoise and it had an inexplicable lustre like a glow circling around it. Although the woman could still see the worn-down, dark blue awning, it no longer appeared as important. 

 

 

 

 

 

May we, with all beings, realize the sudden appearance of the Clear Circle of Brightness. May we study these stories and see what we may see. May we study our life to see what we may see. Being grateful for everything.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Heave To —- by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

Heave To

Dogen’s Second Awareness: Be Content

For those of us who have forgotten, the first of the eight awarenesses by Dogen is Have Few Desires. A short discourse on it can be found here. Before I launch into the second awareness to be content, I want to encourage us by pointing out our challenge. It may seem odd to think a challenge is an encouragement, but for the spiritual seeker challenges require us to be courageous. This hot spot event of the global epidemic challenges us to use our courage to be content.

In order to shed light on this awareness and bring clarity to it, I have taken the liberty to change Dogen’s wording to: HEAVE TO. I think you’ll understand as I tell my story and the story of Voss.

 

My Confession

I have little to no experience with boats and sailing. What I do know can be said in one sentence. The stern is the back of the boat and the bow is the front. That’s it.

I recently learned what HEAVE TO means while reading the The Adventuresome Voyages of Voss. If you know about sailing, you know what it means and how to do it. If you are like me, you don’t know the meaning and need a brief explanation. Here is a sketchy explanation.

Heave To

Heave-to is a sailing maneuver used to slow a boat down in heavy seas. It is done by adjusting the sails and dropping the ships anchor in a storm. This maneuver keeps the boat from traveling with the high winds. For if the boat goes with the wind, it can be sucked down by the force of the water and capsize. The winds, you see, move faster than a boat can move. To the inexperienced and ignorant, heaving-to seems counter intuitive and dangerous!

Heave To is the same as Be Content while in life-threatening winds.

The Story

It is allegedly a true story of two men in a retrofitted canoe on the open Pacific Ocean during high winds. To say the least, many of us feel we, too are in high winds in a retrofitted canoe in unknown waters. If so, it is time to heave-to! Now the story.

In 1901, in Victoria, Canada, a young journalist asked Voss an experienced sailor if it was possible to sail around the world in a small boat.

 

Not every captain would be able to do it. But, yes I can captain such a journey!

The journalist, I’ll call him the mate, offered to pay the captain $2,500 dollars and half the profits from a book he would write about the trip, if the captain took up the challenge. The mate, who had no sailing experience at all, saw the impending voyage as an exciting adventure with minimal danger. Turning his experience on the high seas circling the globe into a best seller was his motivation.

The captain purchased a 38 ft dugout canoe carved from a single tree which he skillfully turned into a vessel capable of sailing on the open ocean. There was plenty of work and preparation before they set sail. When the canoe was finished, it included a one-berth cabin, tiller and three masts. Very tight quarters.

Making the effort to sail around the world in this canoe brought many difficulties. Gales, storms, high winds and rough waves on the open sea can dangerous for all boats and are even more perilous in an ocean going canoe!!! But the captain, trusting his sailing and navigating skills enough knew that the venture had a possibility of succeeding.

The first few weeks the weather was calm. The mate, the journalist, entered into an easy routine with the captain, learning the skills required for living on a small boat: cooking, cleaning, raising and lowering sails, steering and doing night watches to keep the boat on course.

During this time the two men worked and lived on board as friends. The mate didn’t feel he was obeying orders, he was just learning the ropes of sailing. The captain did not feel the need to assert his authority because the mate was a willing learner.

They encountered rain, choppy seas and thunderstorms but nothing that proved dangerous. Until one afternoon, the captain noticed the darkening clouds and that the winds and waves were stronger and it started to rain. He knew a gale was almost on them.  

At this point, the roles of the two men, take a drastic change. The mate, never having been at sea in a gale, was terrified and feared for his life. He did not trust that this amiable man who taught him how to cook could manage a storm this dangerous. He lost confidence in the captain.

As the storm got closer and winds got stronger and the rain started, the captain had to yell over the wind to his mate.

 

You have to go to the stern of the boat and drop this anchor overboard. I will tie this rope around you, so if you get tossed out, I can pull you back. I’m going to steer the boat and set the sails. We are going to heave-to.”

 

Terrified, the mate let the captain tie a rope around him and fighting the wind struggled to the stern carrying the anchor. When he got there he saw a huge wave coming straight at him. In sheer panic he dropped the anchor in the boat and climbed up the nearest mast. The captain yelled again, louder.

 

“Climb down and drop the anchor overboard right now!

Shaken, the mate climbed down and threw the anchor overboard. Fighting the wind and rain he struggled back, frightened, angry, defensive ready to argue with the captain. The mate felt that dropping the anchor was wrong. The boat should be going with the wind, not stopping in the middle of it. Didn’t the captain know how big the waves were? The mate saw the size of the waves and knew he was going to be drowned.

As the storm raged, the captain knew the power of heaving-to. He knew from experience what actions he had to take, and what actions he had to order his mate take to make the boat, his mate and himself safe. And he took them.

Having done all he could do, and knowing the space was too small for disagreements, he welcomed his terrified, angry mate into a surprisingly dry and steady cabin. The rain and wind and rough waves hadn’t stopped, but dropping the anchor, slowed the boat and it was no longer fighting the wind and waves. The captain helped the mate untie the rope and dry off. He offered him a cup of coffee and a seat to ride the storm out.

The Twofold View

Notice how similar this story is to our being asked to drop everything and slow down. To withdraw from the stormy winds blowing this virus across the globe, to have a cup of coffee, to calm down, to trust that dropping everything will keep us safe.

That is the material realm safety.

This applies to our spiritual life as well. Drop every fear-mongering thought – heave-to right in the middle of what comes into your life. Face the challenge without fear; trust, be confident in spiritual fortitude to get up and keep going. Study the teachings in a disciplined way – be reasoned with knowledge of spiritual teachings, take action when required, offer devotion and praise in silence and meditation. Give like the captain who knew the fear of his novice mate.

The novice seaman thought he knew more than the captain and almost lost his life. Take to heart the teachings – heave to and have few desires; two of Dogen’s life jackets in the storm’s of life.

 

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

 

 

Featured Images: Lying a Hull

Who is in Charge?

Spiritual life is a battlefield. 

Over time, the battle worsens for the serious spiritual adept – threats along the path are more ominous. The path narrows. The dangers more perilous. Hazards multiply. The demons of ignorance, of lust, hate, self-doubt, of pride, power, envy, jealousy assemble against the spiritual adept. The climb to the summit appears out of reach. The world of ignorance becomes enticing. Practice weakens, pleasures arise and the adept believes he is more awake, more powerful, more knowledgeable than others. He claims to know – claims to be a leader – ignorance claims jurisdiction of the adept’s mind.

Assumes power over others. Asserts himself as important. Disguises himself as superior. Becomes the ranking official. The demons have vanquished the adept. He becomes unreachable. Smug. Certain. Above others. No longer able to hear or listen. Blows off the Truth. He becomes certain. Assured and out of control. Lost in ignorance.

The adept has become unreachable and unteachable. Hardship is his only hope. Thinking he is in charge is his worst enemy. Being a spiritual seeker is not a career, a hobby, a secondary interest – it is all and everything that matters. There is nothing else.

Often, we find ourselves playing tiddlywinks with spiritual teachings – not realizing that spiritual teachings are potent in a way nothing else is. There is no aim of winning, no aim of getting ahead or getting anything at all. There is nothing to get. Nothing to lay claim to as the “me” and “my” so insistently try to do.

It seems the odds are stacked against us – that one lifetime is not enough time to defend our spiritual life and destroy the battalions of ignorance, lust, pride, greed, envy, jealousy and the many hindrances that we seem to face again and again and again. The enemy of our own desire seems to be upon us before we are able to stop it and vanquish it in such a way that we are free.

But all is not lost.

The spiritual gods assemble in the form of hardship. The ignorance becomes anxiety, the lust, dry and empty, the hate requires more and more harshness and self-doubt is bolstered by sycophants and drugs. The demons relish their victories and amass their forces while the spiritual gods seek help.

Defeated, the spiritual gods confess they need a higher power and a return to order; a return to discipline and practice. They need the energy to slay the demons that have taken them over. They need a powerful weapon against ignorance in order to see how they have capitulated to the fleeting pleasures of impermanent things.

For those who want to reach the summit, there must be a willingness to renounce greed-of-attachment and hatred-of-aversion. And this requires heavy lifting – a thirst for the Boss, the One beyond understanding. The thirst is big – big in the way one fights for a breath when drowning. YES. That’s what it takes. A fight for the face of the True Self as one fights for life. The Divine Eternal – Godliness – THAT which never was born and never dies. THAT. Life offers each one of us a chance at liberation – to find union with THAT by whatever holy name.

We need weapons. Yes. Weapons. Those things or ways that give us an advantage over the demons of greed, hate and delusion. AND, we need training on how to find and use the weapons – from a Master. It is as simple as that.

Let us for a moment return to The Bow & Arrow. Please read it as spiritual instruction. It shows the action of a Master; one who trained with a master archer. Trained his mind in discipline and practiced.

Did you read it?

Spiritual life is demanding and we have to be willing to give it time to master. You may ask, “How is the tale of the Bow & Arrow an instruction for me in my spiritual life?”

Actually, I hope you do ask that question.

The basic answer is twofold: The Bow & Arrow exemplifies the use of a weapon and a weapon that requires commitment and discipline in order to master it. The weapon needs to strengthen the student in such a way that it is an advantage against the demons of ignorance, greed, hate & delusion. The weapon does not need to be deadly in a worldly sense; it does need to be able to destroy the sloth & torpor of disinterest which means it must be challenging to the sloth & torpor of ignorance. AND…it must be able to slay the resistance to giving up ignorance.

Choose your weapon wisely. The Master in The Bow & Arrow,  selected the Bow and Arrow and all that goes with it. He found a Master to hand down the ways of the bow & arrow. In order to learn, he had to commit himself first and foremast to the work. The commitment must be there.

Your weapon need not be a weapon such as a bow and arrow, but it must be challenging and greater than ignorance. It might be gardening, the tea ceremony, sewing, writing, spiritual study or one of any number of actions. Being father, a mother, training a dog, a marathon athlete and such. What is important is that the chosen weapon is able to call you to devotion – again and again and again. An action that requires discipline and training. In other words, it requires a willingness to become a disciple – a follower of the discipline.

In Zen Buddhism someone does not receive a diploma stating he or she is a master; it is much more difficult because one is a master through the difficult-to-understand process of working with a master.  One does not go to a seminary for four or six years and graduate receiving a diploma; no. In Zen, one lives the teachings and realizes THAT Truth spoken about above.  There are many means; nothing is left out of living the teachings.

In the The Bow & Arrow, the man placed the arrow of his life on the bow of teachings and shot at THAT truth which is not a single target downfield; but is the ever-present mysterious Truth of the Tathagatha.

The man in The Bow & Arrow trained in such a way that he is called a master – not a dilettante or a spiritual shopper but a master. It’s not a casual commitment.

 

With this under our belt let’s take a closer look at the The Bow & Arrow.

This man, at some point in time, chose the bow & arrow as his weapon that would teach him the Truth and from the looks of what he did on the field, it did indeed teach him in a way expressed in action. The spontaneity of his action is the hallmark, the gold standard of a master. The reason is simple – we all know how to deceive ourselves and others with robes, pretty words and high-fallutin’ teachings and all sorts of spiritual paraphernalia. Our intellect, after all, can be the ally of phony baloney spiritual rhetoric.

But what action exactly shows this gold standard? Very hard to understand and pinpoint. Not looking for a reward is one. Not giving a rat’s ass about opinions of others is another. Devotion to the weapon. Offering free all the teachings to those that are sincere.

Zen is full of stories of slaps, fly swatting, sudden claps, blowing out candles given in a sudden burst to awaken you. Zen Buddhism is not trying to be nice – which is a word that comes from the French, meaning stupid – Zen Buddhism is punchy, provocative, evocative, potent, powerful, forceful, fierce training because the foes of ignorance, greed, hate and delusion are mighty. We all need a weapon in which to cut away, strip, flay, slay ignorance.

Ignorance is quite powerful. Its power has kept us cycling through lifetimes of karma. We need a thing greater than it to slay it.  Loss, some great, terrible loss is at times needed for some to awaken.

The Archer who showed up on that field was a master who did not care whether the crowd liked what he did or not – he shot the arrow in such a way it pierced the desires of wanting a performance. He sent the arrow flying into the heavens of Truth.

A true Master is not someone who is nice, but is able to strip away the ignorance of how you or I want or wish things to go. A true Master exhibits a wholeness (holiness) that no longer cares about the opinions of others but is concentrated on the Eternal Mark, the impenetrable Mark of existence. THAT. True. Self.

I ask once more, what weapon have you chosen or will you choose to master in order to pierce ignorance; to tear off the veil and see who you really are?

 I know I have said this many times, but I must say it again – a teacher is essential – a holy teacher who is willing to not give a rat’s ass about your self-centered feelings and thoughts and who has the skill to pierce the veil of ignorance again and again until you are able to do it for yourself. 

What weapon are you willing to devote your concentration, your mind, your heart to?

 

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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

 

Images by Fly