Even with wrinkles, a crack-
maybe some patchwork-
Hogetsu’s great Stone Bridge
supports our strivings. Then,
————————————————————-at the apex,
above the echo of laughter
and masonry of Mind,
——————————————————she thrusts up the shore.
———————————————————–you are here.
I am finishing up another 10 hours of emergency call, with, as usual, all sorts of thoughts running through my head: “I’m so tired,” “I hope I made correct decisions today,” “How could I have missed another Sunday morning sitting at HCS. Gotta work on scheduling more Saturday’s instead,” “My teacher will think I’m slacking off, “I need a vacation.” It go on and on… You would think one would not have time for such thoughts when one is so busy, but sometimes the mind really is much busier than the body that propels it.
There’s a chapel across from the emergency room where I sometimes will sit for a minute or two. There is silence there; maybe some shining candlesticks under an imitation electric flame and the faint smell of cedar. Reminds me of our zendo and the solace I sometimes seek there. But then more thoughts intrude: Is this setting more real and desirous than what I experience across the hall, where I can hear other bells and claps: a beeper going off, an alarm at a patient’s bedside, the smell of vomit over vaporizing alcohol, a weeping daughter in room 26? Then it occurs to me that the chapel/zendo is not a place to escape (as initially comforting as it may be), but a container (as the late Joko Beck would call it) to hold and see all those thoughts rising and falling. The very place we sit offers a skillful means, a place where I learn that even one mindful upright breath–maybe even smack in the middle of the ER– teaches me that all of this experience is Dharma. I am always (as are you) always at the center. What I think I hate, love, or simply find neutral are just extra. But sit with that for a while, and that’s Dharma too! It’s empty.
In one of the fascicles of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, he inverts the usual derogatory status of thoughts and ideas as illusory flowers and instead calls them “flowers of emptiness.” Each moment of this samsaric world–including what’s in my samsaric head–is blooming in dynamic flux. All of it is truly empty, and there’s a genuine peace in my accepting whatever grows and dies in this moment, wherever I find myself.
I am grateful for this practice, Joan, our Roshi, and all of the students–senior and novice–under her tutelage. As part of Ango study, I will re-read this wonderful Dogen chapter again and meet you after the new year.
Today when I was giving meditation instruction, I noticed that something was hanging from my rakusu and then saw that the end of one of the straps was no longer attached. I had sewn this blue rakusu with a brownish-golden thread, each stitch visible, each stitch a dot, symbolizing all directions, everything.
I remembered that there was an envelope in a dresser drawer with some materials from when I sewed the rakusu and I thought that perhaps there would be some golden thread in there. The envelope was a treasure trove of things I had forgotten — rakusu sewing instructions, chalk-like sewing markers, white thread, blue thread, and even the cloth where I had practiced the stitches — but no golden thread.
I began by sewing with the white thread and it just wasn’t working because I no longer remembered how to do the stitch. It was a horrible disaster so I pulled it out and returned to the cloth with the practice stitches. Attached to the cloth was a needle and thread so I was able to figure out how the stitches had been done.
Slowly, like a child just learning a new skill, I sewed this small area with the blue thread.
Now the strap is attached with thread that doesn’t match and isn’t quite visible and with stitches that aren’t all dots, but when I looked at the rakusu, it was a perfect match. It was a perfect match because this 17 year old rakusu, with its worn fabric, discolorations, and some spots left by long ago oatmeal, is a real rakusu. Unlike the scraps used by monks of old, it started out with new cloth, but now speaks of practice and life and that perfection lies even within the flaws.
Noise inside my head.
Zazen brings the quiet mind
hearing crickets chirp.
Although I made a decision to make a small monetary donation to Sensei’s team of psychotherapists weeks before an upcoming reception for them on July 22nd, I am happy I was able to attend the small gathering for them, in honor and support for their ongoing efforts. Joan’s presentation of the facts of the country’s long and fluctuating crises, both natural and man-made, was an eye-opening reminder of the extreme suffering that takes place all over the world. What I was unexpectedly delighted to hear and feel, however, was the love and intimacy which seemed to simply exude from my fellow sentient beings who simply decided to celebrate, in a small way, the simple and straightforward kindness of others. My fellow sangha members helped prepare for the event while I hemmed and hawed about whether I could or should make it late to the event from work. But when I got to Joan’s, I was slowly immersed in a lovely glowing ambience and surrounded by tender laughter, good food, calming music and a beautiful dawning sky. As one of the visiting therapists was strumming a guitar, I began to calm down from the day’s hectic pace , started to eat more slowly, and glanced over to my lovely wife, Doreen, and told her “I love you.” By the end of the evening, what I learned was that–along with the real concrete need to give money and resources–we also have a very critical need to provide love and emotional support to each other. In fact, the two are intertwined: It is money that helps these talented and caring individuals to continue their work abroad. I guess what really struck me, however, was how I, inadvertently, was also the recipient of this love and support: I felt their kindness right here. I didn’t know I needed it when I entered the room, but there it was exuding itself, slowly enveloping me, allowing me to switch gears, and reminding me that much of my own suffering is self-propagated. My day was hectic but I helped make it so. The magic of walking into the sangha, this community of sober and like-minded individuals, gave me the scaffold and support to make this realization possible. I reflected on the fact that we truly are interdependent, and remember Joan’s little phrase that in giving we transform the gift as the gift transforms us, or, as I believe Mother Theresa put it, “There are no such things as great acts, just small acts done with great love.” Maybe Dogen would say this kind of love leaves no trace and that this no-trace continues forever. May it be so.
Zazen in the dark.
Children giggle in their beds
While I watch my breath.
Hearing the birdsong
Cacophony of nature
Night sky is revealed
I feel funny saying I am anything these days, but as I get ready to celebrate Easter with my family, having been raised Roman Catholic, I am contemplating what it is that I do that is “spiritual,” other than conceding that I am a “practicing zen buddhist.”. And even conceding that, I ask myself what that can possibly mean. Well, I suppose that means I am “staying present” which leads to the question of how and why I came to believe that doing just that could alleviate suffering–mine, as well as yours. Well, Yes, this is what I do in fact believe and try to manifest as best I can on a daily basis. And as I prepare for hosting Easter dinner with my family, many of whom are staunch believers in God and biblical scripture, I get a little nervous thinking about how to defend my behavior without the fixed grounding of the written Word. I will be asked just what it is that guides and helps me through Life. They will certainly not understand what “following the dharma” means or how it changes lives. Perhaps I need not to defend myself in any way at all, aside from practicing dharma and nonattachment with them, as well as all that I encounter, and letting them decide for themselves, as if even that matters. I will say to myself, however, that I am indeed celebrating Easter, after all, and so perhaps I ought to silently contemplate the Resurrection and what that means for me as a practicing buddhist. Just what is it that I can resurrect when I in fact let go, presumably as Christ did when he let go of everything? Yes, the final letting go, and, hopefully for me, the letting go that goes on from moment to moment to moment…, in that state of absolute poverty, as perhaps Thomas Merton would put it, where I may find absolute joy and abundance–yours as well as mine.
Tonight we come out from slavery.
Chains, hard labor, sweat,
Then, slowly, we are roused,
moving out from slavery,
like Abraham before us,
we cross over.
A wraggle-taggle group of nomads,
everything left behind,
our egos baked in 18 minutes,
we cross over
into the desert of unknowing.