Friday, October 7, 2016

Hold all things, but hold them lightly

Half the Earth's wildlife has vanished in the last forty years.

This seems to have coincided with our widespread and exuberant adoption of fossil fueled consumerism.

I participate in efforts to persuade the rich and greedy to change course, but I am also painfully aware that some might, and perhaps do, regard me as the rich and greedy, with good cause.

Am I not still driving a car?

I could argue that I am embedded in an infrastructure that requires it of me, but I know some do without.

I bicycled to work for eight years, but that was thirty years ago.

I don't have much to show for my decades of activism.

As a retired person, I'm able to eliminate some trips.

Actually, a lot of trips.

Like Thoreau, who "did a lot of traveling in Concord," my routines have never been writ large, and now I'm down to, mostly, tending the kitchen, the house, the garden, the walk to the river.

One of the exceptions I allow myself is to travel to the zendo, fifty minutes away by infernal machine, once a month, for an all-day retreat.

It keeps me sane.

Another is to go to visit my parents' ashes once a year while I can.

They are in the mountains, by a prominent rock beside a trail.

It's an all-day thing, with a long drive and a two-mile hike-in.

Grief, whether for the earth or for one's family, is a slow burn.

I don't know that it ever goes out, though we can cover it over.

But should we?

I hear advice about "letting go," as though grief were one of the desires with which we cling to illusion.

But I'm inclined to think grief is simply a condition, and that bearing up under it is what one does, as when bearing up under the loss of eyesight or an arm or leg.

So, even as it appears we will not be able to save the earth as we have known it, or ourselves, we may indulge ourselves in fear, anger, or sorrow, and that is self-indulgent, but we may know grief as a condition, for the loss is real enough for us and not illusion.

Yet Nagarjuna tells us
Whatever is dependently co-arisen / That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation, / Is itself the middle way.
It seems a hard lesson to let grief slip into emptiness, yet the solution for giving up that which is both a part of us and destined never to go away may be expressed in the phrase "hold lightly."

It is not that we must turn away from grief, as if it were a thing somewhere in the house that can be taken out and binned.

It is that we can visit our parents' graves and, while aching like one who has a wound (for it is that), take in the beauty of the surroundings.

That which is nameless in me beholds that which is nameless in the trees, mountains and sky.

I place two tiny twigs of blue huckleberry, their leaves red with impending dissolution, upon the stone, bow, and turn my feet toward home.

The leaves will blow away.

I will blow away.

Hold all things, but hold them lightly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

You are already you

Lin Chi studied with Huang Po. Master and student were planting trees on the mountain behind the monastery (where of course there was already a forest).

Master said: "Why are we bothering with these seedlings?" Perhaps he gestured toward the forest, as much as to say: "If everyone has Buddha nature already, what the heck are we doing [teaching this stuff]?"

Student said: "It will add beauty and protection to the monastery and serve as a reminder of Right Doing to the future students." He thumped the ground with his hoe three times and made an exclamation.

Teacher said: "Someday you will be the teacher at this monastery."

Years later, Lin Chi said to the assembly: "There is a True Person, who has no rank, constantly going in and out of your face. Look! Look!"

There is no one to whom he was not saying this.

You are already you.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

It can never be quite as it was

Nagarjuna and others explain that there are not things so much as events, or rather bundles of flows.

Each bundle of flows is unique but is so far from having any kind of eternal essence that it is uniquely different from what it was a microsecond ago or will be a microsecond hence.

Even microseconds, let alone seconds, minutes, hours, day, years or eons, are merely provisional, a way of explaining that a bundle of flows moves and is moved, is compounded and becomes uncompounded, is a part of all that surrounds it.

One of the easiest ways to remind ourselves of this is to look at a stream and look at it again.

What is it the second time that is what it was the first time?

Or suppose it dries up?

Now what is it?

So we understand Hui Neng's query: "what was your face before you were born?"

If nothing else this question answers our fears about death.

It is like a winter flow in a seasonal streambed;
No water, then water, then no water!
But we are not the gravel and we are not the water.
Lift up a moss-covered stone and set it down;
It can never be quite as it was.
There is nothing I can tell you that you do not already know.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Right doing

"Bring water, boil rice. Serve the other person first."

"What if there is no rice?"

"Bring water, boil water. Serve the other person first."

"What if there is no water?"

"Serve the other person."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Taking a licking

Dogs are wonderful teachers. I have not been a regular dog "owner" over the years, but am currently the property of the cairn terrier who was in my mom's lap when she died. After about an hour some of the grief fell from his eyes and he got down and came to me, first sniffing in acknowledgement the shoes of the hospice nurse.

We've been together five years now, and he was not young when he came with me to Oregon. From him I learn about honesty and aging gracefully and any number of useful things. He's also warm to sit with on cold nights -- I had no idea lap dogs are working for their keep, but so it is.

I grew up in a viciously teasing culture and sometimes fall prey to impulses that I should have outgrown by now. Toto walked past my chair one evening, and I brushed his tail with my hand for no good reason. He stopped, backed up and fixed my eyes with his, wearing an expression that plainly said, "I thought we had a deal." His dignity had been offended, and I felt shame.

Yesterday I attended a full-day zazenkai at the zendo, a silent retreat with about twelve sits, a dharma talk, several kinhins including a forest walk, and many raihais (not 108, but a lot). It's a commitment. I'm sure it does me good, yet I continually catch myself breaking precepts (as one does). In the midst of doing everything right, small "errors" appear magnified. Some are simple errors of form, such as forgetting to bow to one's seat or the room, but others are more serious, because their root is in unkindness.

The resident dog, a lovely long-haired creature, was barking throughout the orientation. For some reason it occurred to me to pantomime, smirking as I did so, to another retreatant that the dog was taking up a lot of auditory space, as dogs, do -- perhaps replying to a bored neighbor dog.

But as we began the introductions, our hostess mentioned the ruckus outside, and said, "she is unhappy today; a chicken was stolen by a predator and she may feel she's let us down by letting it happen. Poor thing has barked herself hoarse since last night."

I immediately felt the injustice I had done to the dog as well as to my fellow retreatant. This is important, I think. In even what may seem to us very small transgressions (the dog will never know what I "said") we may communicate an attitude that is disrespectful, like the ripples in a pond from a small pebble. Who knows what unkindnesses may spring from the sort of permission such behavior grants?

A monk asked Joshu if a dog has Buddha nature. It's a trick question because the answer is yes, but in its shallows lurks an assumption of duality. So Joshu of course said "no." A dog is a being and therefore is Buddha nature. There is something about saying this that says truth, but it is beyond words. It is to this insight we bow, seen in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, in one another, and in dogs.

After the retreat day is done, we have what is called kitchen table dharma. I took the opportunity to bring up and analyze what had happened, and renewed, as one does every day, my resolve to uphold the precepts. And then I slipped out onto the veranda and bowed to the guardian of the hens. She came over and licked my face.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Well, duh!

If I may.

Here's a Dharma wheel with the eightfold Path imposed, attempting to suggest each is also all of of the others by drawing a line from each to each, or twenty-eight lines (I think).

So Right Effort is required for Right Livelihood, etc.

I had for decades a habit of preferring the eightfold Path to the Precepts, with the idea that what was said at Sarnath that first day must be the core of Buddhism and a list of prohibitions came later, and why have prohibitions when all one needs to do is be proactive about the Path?

Then I heard a Dharma talk explaining the Precepts are the parts of a part of the Path -- Right Action.

Light bulb moment.

No doubt each part of the Path has many parts, and those have parts, and so on -- like a fractal.

And each part of the Path can be applied to each part of each part of any one facet of the Path: all to one and one to all, and also "all one."

There are as many lines as there are points in the Universe: infinity.

Therefore Dharma is inexhaustible.

Well, duh!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Do even more

This old lady's Jukai, or Giving and Receiving the Precepts, took place over the weekend.

So did full day Zazenkai. She stayed in the retreat hut overnight, with sitting to be done, so the effect was like a mini Rohatsu.

She's tired, but relaxed and happy.

Partly that is because it has not yet hit her that what changed while she was gone, with almost two inches of rain, is that the hedge bindweed has mastered the garden.

She was asked if she was excited about doing Jukai and she was careful with her answer.

Receiving the precepts really only means acquiring a more in-depth knowledge of "right action," one of the eight strands of Buddha's Astanga Yoga, or Eight-Part Way.

There is still Right Action to be done; one has done some right action and one will do some more, but with more awareness of the ways and means.

A rakusu, over which one has labored, will now be worn on appropriate occasions.

It's not a "status symbol."

It's something like a headlamp on a train.

One becomes an engine for right action, equipped with a headlamp (Dharma), but the headlamp belongs to:
a) the whole train (Sangha)
b) all beings and the whole universe (Buddha).
She was also asked what was her favorite precept. (!!)

The right answer is that each precept is all the others, just as all the universe is one.

But she did manage to say that the last one, "Do not disrespect the Three Treasures," was her favorite, because it is also all the others: "There is no being who is not Buddha; there is nothing that is not Dharma; there is no one that is not Sangha, so one must care for all."

Like so many ceremonies and trappings, all this comes down to: some of the things you have been doing are beneficial; of those, do even more.