One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Further Notes on Jesuit Zen Adepts

December 12th, 2008

Not including the name of Fr. William Johnston in my article Buddha, S.J. was a major oversight on my part that will be corrected. Morgan Zo Callaghan and I have yet to approve the final galley proof for Intimate Meanderings, and besides, at least with regard to Zen study, nothing is ever really final.

And a special thanks to Paul Kelly. I was very moved by these few sentences from his email which was forwarded to me: ¨Twenty years later, I was led to Zen practice by his best book, to me, at least: The Still Point. We corresponded by long distance airmail -- it was 1974 -- and he helped me begin Zen practice by simple, yet detailed instructions, and his own prayers on my behalf. All by mail. As each one of his books came out, I bought it, read it, kept it in a special place on my little library shelves. I owe him much.” This reminds me of many stories that I heard about Bob Aitken over the years. Students would write to all the Zen Centers in the US asking for guidance and, time after time, student after student, Bob was the only head of a practice center who responded, and usually with a personal letter, not a mimeographed application for a practice period. The encounter with Zen, though it may begin with reading, at least from my point of view, takes place outside books, in real human contact.

I have been trying to figure out how Johnston escaped my notice. First of all, I began formal practice about 20 years ago, not as a Jesuit or even a believer—in fact quite the opposite. Once inside the zendo, I began asking questions, both about the practice and its history. To my astonishment, the most recommended, and by far the most complete, thorough, sympathetic, accessible and scholarly work was the three-volume history of Zen Buddhism by Fr. Heinrich Dumoulin, another Jesuit from Sophia. (Phil Whalen called him Douggie DeMoulin, as if he were an old friend. Even as Phil was going blind, when I asked him a question, he would often point in the direction of a shelf in his extensive library and say, Douggie has something to say about that, go look in the second volume -- on the second shelf of the third cabinet, Chapter 5, page 279, that will be the right hand page, the third paragraph from the bottom. And dammed if he wasn’t right on most of the time).

All this to say, my discovery of the Jesuit-Zen connection came from my narrow Zen point of view, and I studied, read priest practitioners who had connections to the Zen teachers I worked with. I tended to stay away from those who set out to make connections between Zen meditation and Christian prayer. There was a definite anti-Christian stance in some American Zen circles, a reaction against the Church of our fathers, and to some degree this prejudice is still in place. The first book that I read that made that connection for me, and one in which I felt the power of Zen, was Fr. Kadowaki’s Zen and the Bible. Kadowaki linked his realizations working with certain koans to stories from the Gospel of Jesus, especially stories and sayings that he connected with the themes from the 4 weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: the Kingdom, the Three Classes of Men, and the Three Degrees of Humility. He opened my inquiry into what was happening among Christians who practiced Zen.

There are at least two other Jesuits I neglected, besides Johnston, whose work I am unfamiliar with. Fr. deMello has been mentioned many times by some Compañeros. I have at least 2 of his books in my library that I have only skimmed. And then there is Dan O’Hanlon whom I met when I was a JSTB. It was only after his tragic death that I discovered how respected he was in Zen circles. I was talking with a woman who is a dharma heir of Kobin Chino Roshi, and she spoke about Dan with such love and respect that I regretted not having gotten to know him better when I was up on holy hill of the GTU.

And finally, I feel now that the Zen-Jesuit connection is not just a one-way street—that it is not just what Zen can contribute to the prayer life of Christians. Christian practice has something tangible to offer a Zen student. I want to tell a story about what may have been the first Mass said in a zendo. I have heard that Fr. Kennedy said Mass at ZCLA, but before that, in 1991, my friend, Fr. Joe Devlin, S.J., of the New England Province said Mass in the zendo at the Hartford Street Center.

I had asked Joe to come by and say mass for the Catholic men in the AIDS Hospice. It was a Saturday evening. He was due to arrive at 5 or so, and I was scrambling, assembling a few basics, bread and wine, a tablecloth for the dining room table. Issan, who was at the time in the final stages of HIV disease came downstairs in his bathrobe, to ask when Joe was due to arrive and see what I was doing. After I explained, he said, “Mass will be in the zendo,” and took over directing me in all the preparations with the same care that he would have given to a full-blown Zen ritual. He went back upstairs and came down dressed in his Zen robes, and greeted Joe at the door with a hug and kiss, thanking him for coming and telling him that Mass would be in our chapel, the zendo, and I would get him anything he needed.

Issan and 5 or 6 of us sat in meditation posture on cushions while Joe improvised the Liturgy, beginning with the rite of confession and forgiveness. When it came time to read from the New Testament, Joe took a small white, well-worn Bible out of a pocket in his jacket, and told us that his mother had told him that the following story contained all the essentials for a Christian life. Then he read Luke 11, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Issan sat giving his entire attention to Joe and the Mass, but I couldn’t get a read on how he was reacting. The next day, I found out that he had fallen in love with Luke's parable, and Joe.

Sunday mornings were the usual community gathering of the Hartford Street community, and Issan began to talk about Fr. Joe and the liturgy. He turned to me and asked, “What was the little white book that he read from?” Startled, I said that was the New Testament. “Oh,” said Issan, “it must have been in Latin when I heard it as an altar boy—or something, but it was exactly how we should lead our lives as Buddhists.” He then said that during the Mass he had the experience of really being forgiven and that the experience had allowed him to feel such peace with his early religious training. Joe and I had dinner the night before he flew back to Boston. I told him about Issan had said. A few days later, the small New Testament that had been in jacket for years arrived in an envelope addressed to Issan. He would die 6 months later, and, during one of our last meetings, asked me to thank Joe again for the zendo mass after he was gone. I did. And that New Testament which passed from the pocket of Joe’s jacket to Issan’s room at Hartford Street is now on my altar.

Here are additional books that are be included in the Zen bibliography in Meanderings:

Kadowaki, J.K. (1980) Zen and the Bible. NY: Routledge & Kegan.
Dumoulin, Heinrich. (1974) Christianity Meets Buddhism. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
Habito, Ruben L.F. (2004) Living Zen, Loving God. Wisdom Publications.
Johnson, William. (1970) The Still Point, Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism. NY: Fordham University Press.
Johnson, William. (1981) Christian Zen: A Way of Meditation. NY: Harper Row.
de Mello, Anthony. (1978) Sadhana: A Way to God. St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources.

O'Hanlon, Daniel. (1978) "Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: A Dialogue Between Faiths" in Theological Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4, Dec. 1978.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་གསུང།, The Blue Cliff Record, Cases 1, 2, 3, and 4 in Tibetan




དུ་བའི་རྟགས་ལ་བརྟེན་ནས་ལ་ཕར་རི་ལ་མེ་ཡོད་པ་དང་།    བ་གླང་རྭ་ཕྱོགས་གཅིག་མཐོང་ན་ཕྱོགས་གཞན་ཡོད་པ་དང་། ཟུར་གསུམ་ཡོད་པ་རྟོགས་པའི་དུས་ན་ཟུར་གཅིག་ཡོད་པ་རྟོགས་ནུས།
བཏེགས་པའི་ནུས་པ་ལ་བརྟན་ནི་དངོས་པོ་དེའི་ཡང་ལྗིད་སོགས་རྟོགས་ཐུབ།རྒྱུ་མཚན་ལྡན་པའི་རིག་པའི་ལམ་ནས་གཏན་ལ་ཕབས་པ་འདི་གོས་ཧྲོལ་པོ་གྱོན་པའི་གྲྭ་པ་དཀྱུས་མ་ཞིག་གི་ཉིན་རེའི་འཚོ་པའི་ཟ་འཐུང་ཡིན།     དེ་ནི་རྣམ་རྟོག་གི་རྦ་ལོང་འཁྲུག་ཞིང་སྐྱེ་འཆི་འཁོར་ལོ་འཁོར་པས་རྒྱུ་རྐྱེན་དུ་མ་ལས་གྲུབ་པའི་འདུ་བྱེད་ཀྱི་དངོས་པོ་འདི་དག་ནི་འགའ་འདུས་ཀྱི་ཕྱོགས་ཀུན་ཏུ་བསྐོར་པས།         མ་རིག་པ་སྤང་ཞིང་ཡང་དག་པའི་་གནས་ལུགས་ལ་བརྩོན།   དེ་ཕྱོགས་མཚུངས་དྲི་བ་ཞིག་སུའི་ཚེ་སྲོག་དང་
སུའི་བྱ་སྤྱོད། དེ་ཕྱིར་གནས་ལུགས་ལ་དཔྱོད་པ་བཙུན་པ་Setcho’s རྨོངས་པའི་དྲྭ་བ་ནང་དུ་བཅུད།

གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོ་བཙུན་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ལ་དྲིས་པ། ཡང་དག་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་དང་བདེན་པའི་དོན་ཇི་ལྟར་ཡིན།   བཙུན་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ལན་དུ་ཟབ་པ་དང་རྒྱ་ཆེ་ཉིད་ཡིན་དེ་ལས་ལྷག་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་མེད་གསུངས། གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོའི། ཁྱོད་སུ་ཡིན་ཞེས་དྲིས། བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཀྱི། ང་སུ་ཡིན་མི་ཤེས་ཞེས་ལན་སྤྲད། གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོའི་གོ་བ་མ་ལོན།
བཙུན་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཡང་རྩེ་གཙང་པོ་བརྒལ་ཏེ་GI རྒྱལ་ས་འབྱོར་པ་རེད།     
ཅུང་ཙམ་རྗེས་ལ་གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོ་ཞབས་ཕྱི་SHIKO བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་བསྐོར་དྲིས་པ། SHIKO མི་རྗེ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ཁྱེད་ཀྱི་ཁོང་སུ་ཡིན་པ་མཁྱེན་ལགས་སམ་ཞུས་པས།  གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོའི་གསུངས་ལན་དུ།       ངའི་མི་ཤེས་སོ། ཡང་SHIKO ཞུས་པ་ཁོང་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་དང་ཐུགས་དབྱེར་མེད་དུ་འདྲེས་པ་འཕགས་པ་སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་དབང་ཕྱུག་རེད་བཤད།
གོང་མ་ཆེན་མོ་འགྱོད་པ་རབ་ཏུ་སྐྱེས་ཏེ་ང་ག་རེ་བྱེས་པ་རེད། མྱུར་དུ་བང་མི་བཏང་ཏེ་བཙུན་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་གདན་འདྲེན་ཞུས་ཞིག་ཞེས་བཀའ་ཕབས།
SHIKOགྱི་ཞུས་པ་མི་རྗེ་གོང་མ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ལགས།      བང་མི་བཏང་ཏེ་ཁོང་གདན་འདྲེན་ཞུས་མི་ཐུབ།          དེ་བཞིན་ཡུལ་མི་ཚང་མའི་ཞུས་ཀྱང་ཁོང་ཕྱིར་ལོགས་ཕེབས་མི་སྲིད།

ཟབ་པ་རྒྱ་ཆེ་བདེན་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་ཡིན། །

ཞེས་བཙུན་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་གསུངས་པའི་གོང་མ་ཆེ་མོ་ཁྱོད་སུ་ཞེས་དྲིས། ཁོང་གི་ལན།ང་སུ་ཡིན་མི་ཤེས་གསུངས།
དེ་མ་ཐག་ཏུ་ཁོང་ཁུམ་སེམ་མེར་ཡང་རྩེ་གཙང་པོ་ང་བརྒལ་ཏེ་ཕྱིན་སོང་།   ཚེར་ཤིང་སྐྱེས་ནི་ཚེར་མའི་སྡོང་བུ་ཇི་ལྟར་སྟོང་།  དེ་ཕྱོགས་མཚུངས་ས་གཞི་ཐོག་གི་འགྲོ་བ་མི་ཡོད་དོ་ཅོག་ཁོང་གི་རྗེས་སུ་ཕྱིན་ཀྱང་ཁོང་ཕྱིར་ཕེབས་མི་འོངས།       ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་ཁོང་གི་རྗེས་སུ་ལོ་ངོ་སྟོང་ཕྲག་དང་སྟོང་བཅུ་སོགས་ཕྱིར་ཕེབས་རྒྱུ་འདུན་པ་སྐྱེས་ཀྱང་རེ་བ་སྟོང་ཟད་དུ་གྱུར་པའི་འདུན་པ་བློ་ཐོང་ཞིག་ཞུས།  ས་གཞི་མཁའ་རླུང་གཙང་མའི་ཚད་ཅན་གྲུབ་པའི་བསྐོར་བ་རེས་མོས་བྱེད་ན་རྒྱབ། གཡན་གཡོན་མཐའ་བསྐོར་ཀུན་ཏུ་བལྟ་པའི་འདི་ནི་དམ་ཆོས་ཐོག་མར་དར་པའི་བྱེད་པོ་ཡིན།  དགེ་བའི་བཤེས་གཉེན་གྱི་གསུངས་པ་རེད་ཞེས།  ཁོང་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་རང་ཉིད་ལ་སྤྲད། ཁོང་འདིར་གདན་དྲོངས་ཤིག། ངའི་ཁོང་དགེ་སློང་དེའི་ཞབས་སེལ་ཆོག།


ལྷ་ཡུལ་དང་གོ་ལ་ཆུང་ཆུང་རེད་ལ། ཉི་མ་དང་ཟླ་བ་སྐར་མ་ཚང་མ་ནུབ་ཞིང་སྐད་ཅིག་ཉིད་མུན་ནག་ཏུ་གྱུར།
རྒྱུག་བརྡུང་གི་ཚག་སྒྲ་ནི་ཆར་རླུང་དང་འབྲུག་སྒྲ་བཞིན་རེད། ཁྱེད་རང་གི་ད་དུ་གཞི་ཡི་ལམ་ཡང་དག་པའི་ཉམས་སུ་མ་བླངས། རྫོགས་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཚང་མའི་ཡང་གནས་ལུགས་སོ་སོ་རྟོགས།   འདས་ཟིན་པའི་མེས་པོ་དམ་པའི་རྒྱུད་པ་ཆ་ཚང་རྟོགས་མི་ཐུབ།སྡེ་སྣོད་བསླབ་པའི་རིམ་པ་ཚང་མ་འདིར་བཤད་མི་ནུས། རིགས་ལམ་རྒོད་པའི་སློབ་ཕྲུག་ཚོའི་སོ་སོར་གཅེས་འཛིན་གྱི་བློ་ཐམས་ཅད་ལས་རྣམ་པར་རྒྱལ་མི་ནུས།
དྲི་བ་ཡི་ལམ་ན་རྒྱས་པར་འགྲེལ་ཆོག་གམ།  ཚིག་གི་བཤད་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས། མི་གཙང་པའི་འདམ་དང་ཞག་ཐིགས་ཅན་ཆུ་རེད་ཞེས་འགྲེལ་ན།ZEN ཀྱི་རྗེས་འབྲང་ཚང་མ་ངོ་ཚ་པོ་ཞི་དྲགས་རེད། རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཡུན་རིང་པོ་ནི་གཉིས་འཛིན་གྱི་རྭ་བ་ལས་འདས་པའི་ཚིག་གི་མཐའ་ལས་འདས།


CHAO-CHAO དགེ་རྒན་ཅོར་ཅོར་གྱི་ཚོགས་མང་ལ་གསུངས་པ་རེད། ཐེག་ཆེན་ལམ་དེ་དཀའ་ལས་ཁག་པོ་མ་རེད། སྤོང་ལེན་གཉིས་ལ་འདས་དགོས།         དེ་བཞིན་དུ་ཚིག་གི་བརྗོད་པ་ནི་སྤང་བླང་རེད། གཉིས་འཛིན་གྱི་བློ་འདས་པ་དེ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་གོ་འཕངས་རེད། ང་ལ་མཚོན་ན་སངས་རྒྱས་གོ་འཕངས་ཐོབ་མེད། ད་དུང་ཡུལ་ལ་ཡོད་མེད་ཀྱི་འཛིན་སྟངས་ཡོད།
དེ་མ་ཐག་ཏུ་སློབ་ཕྲུག་ཞིག་ཁྱེད་རང་གི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་གོ་འཕངས་ཞེན་པ་ཅི་ཕྱིར་མ་སྐྱེས་སམ། དགེ་རྒན་CHOA་CHOA]ཅོར་ཅོར་གྱི་ལན་དུ། ངའི་ཀྱང་ཧ་མི་གོ། སློབ་ཕྲུག་གི་སྨྲས། དགེ་རྒན་ལགས་ཁྱོད་རང་མི་ཤེས་ན་ཡང་རྒྱུ་མཚན་ཅི་ཕྱིར་ཁྱོད་རང་གི་སངས་རྒྱས་གོ་འཕངས་ལ་མི་ཞེན་པར་མི་རུང་བཤད་དམ། དགེ་རྒན་གྱི་ལན་དུ།དྲི་བ་དེ་ཙམ་འགྲེགས་སོང་། མགོ་སྒུར་དེ་ཕྱི་ལོག་སོང་བཤད།

དགེ་པའི་བཤེས་གཉེན་ཆེན་མོ་[MA]སྐུ་ཁམས་བདེ་པོ་མེད་པར་རེད། དགོན་པའི་ལྟ་རྟོག་པས་སྐད་ཆ་དྲིས་པ།  




བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་སྒོམ་གྱི་ལམ།, The Universal Way of Zazen by Dogen Zenji, in Tibetan

Fukan-Zazengi, ​Universal Way of Zazen by Dogen Zenji

༄༅།། བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་སྒོམ་གྱི་ལམ།

Originally, The Way is complete and universal. How can we distinguish practice from enlightenment? The Vehicle of Reality is in the Self. Why should we waste our efforts trying to attain it? Still more, the Whole Body is free from dust. Why should we believe in a means to sweep it away? The Way is never separated from where we are now. Why should we wander here and there to practice?

བླ་ན་མེད་པ་དང་ཡང་དག་པའི་ལམ་དངོས་ན། བྱང་ཆུབ་དང་ཉམས་ལེན་བར་དུ་ཁྱད་པར་ཇི་ལྟར་འབྱེད་ཐུབ་བམ། ཡང་དག་པའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འཁོར་ལོ་དེ་ཉིད་ན་གནས་ལུགས་ཡིན་པས། གང་གི་ཕྱིར་ང་ཚོས་གཞན་ཞིག་ཐོབ་པར་བྱ་བའི་ཆེད་དུ་ངལ་ཞིང་དུབ་པས་འབད་བརྩོན་བྱས་པ་དེ་ཆུད་ཟོས་བཏང་བ་རེད། ལྷག་པར་དུ། གཞི་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ་ནི་དྲི་མ་མེད་པའི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན། དྲི་མ་དག་པའི་ཆེད་དུ་ང་ཚོས་རྩོལ་བ་བྱེད་མི་དགོས། ང་ཚོ་གང་དུ་ཕྱིན་ཀྱང་འབྲལ་བ་མེད་པའི་གཞི་སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཉིད་ཡོད་པའི་ཕྱིར། ཉམས་ལེན་ན་གནས་སྐབས་ཀུན་ཏུ་གང་གི་ཕྱིར་མི་བྱས་སམ།

Yet, if there is the slightest deviation, you will be as far from the Way as heaven is from earth. If adverse or favorable conditions arise to even a small degree, you will lose your mind in confusion. Even if you are proud of your understanding, are enlightened in abundance, and obtain the power of wisdom to glimpse the ground of buddhahood; even if you gain the Way, clarify the mind, resolve to pierce heaven, that is only strolling on the border of the Buddha Way.

ཁྱད་པར་གྱིས་འཛིན་སྟངས་ཐོགས་ནས། མི་ཡུལ་དང་ཞིང་ཁམས་ཀྱི་ཁྱད་པར་འབྱེད་ལ་དེ་བཞིན་དུ། བཟང་ངན་གྱི་རྣམ་རྟོག་དུ་མ་སྐྱེས། མ་རིག་པའི་དབང་གི་སེམས་ཀྱི་རང་བཞིན་རྟོགས་མི་ནུས་སོ། ཁྱེད་རང་གི་གནས་ལུགས་རྟོགས་བསམ་པའི་སྤོབས་སྐྱེས་ཀྱང་རུང་། མཐའ་མེད་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་ཤེས་པ་དང་བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱིས་ནུས་པའི་གཞི་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ་ཐོབ་ཀྱང་། སེམས་ཀྱི་ཞིང་ཁམས་གསལ་པར་འཛིན་པ་འདི་ཡི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱིས་གོ་འཕངས་འགྲོ་པའི་ལམ་གོལ་བ་ཡིན་ནོ།

You are still, almost always, lacking the vivid way of emancipation. Moreover, consider Shakyamuni Buddha who was enlightened from birth; to this day you can see the traces of his sitting in the straight posture for six years. And Bodhidharma who transmitted the mind seal; even now you can hear of the fame of his facing the wall for nine years. These ancient sages practiced in this way. How can people of today refrain from practice?

རྟག་ཏུ་ལམ་གྱི་རང་བཞིན་མ་རྟོགས་པ་པ་དང་། ལྷག་པར་དུ་རྫོགས་པའི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཤཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ་གང་སྐུ་འཁྲུངས་དུས་ནས་སྐྱོན་ཀུན་ཟད་ཡོན་ཀུན་ལྡན་རེད་དྲན། འོན་ཀྱང་ཐུབ་བའི་དབང་པོ་ལོ་དྲུག་དཀའ་པ་སྤྱད་པ་ད་ལྟར་རྟོགས་ལ། བྱང་ཆུབ་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སེམས་རྩེ་གཅིག་ཏུ་གཏད་ཏེ། ལོ་དགུ་རིང་སྒྲུབ་པ་གནང་ཡོད། འདི་ན་སྔོན་གྱི་དྲང་སྲོང་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཉམས་ལེན་གྱི་ལམ་བུ་རེད།

Therefore, cease studying words and following letters. Learn to step back, turning the light inwards, illuminating the Self. Doing so, your body and mind will drop off naturally, and Original Self will manifest. If you wish to attain suchness, practice suchness immediately.

ཚིག་གི་རྗེས་སུ་མི་འབྲངས་པར་དོན་གྱིས་སུ་རྗེས་འབྲངས། བློ་སེམས་ནང་དུ་བསྡུས་ཏེ། འོད་གསལ་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་དེ་ཉིད་སེམས། ལུས་སེམས་རང་བཞིན་དུ་གཞོག་དང་གནས་ལུགས་དེ་ཉིད་མངོན་དུ་འགྱུར་འོང་། ཡང་དག་པའི་ཆོས་ཉིད་དེ་ཉིད་ཐོབ་པར་བྱ་བའི་ཕྱིར་དུ། ཡང་དག་པའི་ཉམས་ལེན་ཕྱི་ཤོར་མེད་པར་བྱས།

Now, for zazen a quiet room is best. Eat and drink moderately. Let go of all associations, and put all affairs aside. Do not think of either good or evil. Do not be concerned with either right or wrong. Put aside the operation of your intellect, volition, and consciousness. Stop considering things with memory, imagination and contemplation. Do not seek to become Buddha. To be Buddha has nothing to do with the forms of sitting or lying down.

མཆོག་ཏུ་གྱུར་སྒོམ་པའི་གནས་ན་དབེན་པའི་རི་ཁྲོད་ཡིན། ཟ་འཐུང་ཚོད་རིག་པར་བྱས། གྲོགས་དང་མཛའ་ཀུན་སྤངས་ཏེ། གནས་ལུགས་ངང་དུ་གཞོག། རྣམ་རྟོག་བཟང་ངན་གྱིས་རྗེས་སུ་མ་འབྲངས། བདེན་རྫུན་གྱིས་འཛིན་སྟངས་མ་བྱས། རིག་པ་དང་འདུ་ཤེས་མཉམ་གཞག་གི་ནང་དུ་གཞོག། བསམ་པ་དང་འཆར་སྣང་དུས་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་རྟོག་དགག་ཏེ། སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་གོ་འཕངས་ཐོབ་པའི་འདུན་པ་བྱས། སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་གོ་འཕངས་འདི་ནི་ལུས་ཀྱི་དཀའ་སྤྱད་ཀྱི་གང་ཡང་མེད་ཐོབ།

Usually a thick zabutan is put on the floor where you sit, and a zafu placed on it. You may sit full lotus or half lotus. Your clothing should be loose but neat. Then put your right palm up on your left foot and your left palm up on your right palm. The tips of your thumbs should be lightly touching. Sit upright, leaning neither to the left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders; your nose should be in line with your navel. Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Close your lips and jaw. Always keep your eyes open. Breathe quietly through your nose. After having regulated your posture, exhale completely and take a breath. Sway your body from left to right a few times. Sit stably in samadhi. Think of not-thinking.

སྒོམ་པའི་གནས་གང་དུ་བྱས་པ་དེ། སྒོམ་གདན་རྒྱབ་དེ་ཐོག་ཏུ་སྒོམ་གདན་ཆུང་ཞིག་གཞོག། པད་མའི་དཀྱིལ་གྲུམ་དང་ཡང་ན་ཕྱེད་པད་མའི་དཀྱིལ་གྲུམ་བྱས། གྱོན་གོས་གཙང་མ་དང་གྱོན་གོས་ལྷུག་ལྷུག་གྱོན། རྐང་མ་གཡན་མ་གཡས་པའི་ཐོག་ཏུ་གཞོག། ལག་གཡན་མ་གཡས་པའི་ཐོག་ཏུ་གཞོག། མཛུབ་རྩེ་རྣམས་མ་རེག་ཙམ་བྱས། ལུས་དྲང་པོ་བྱས། གཡས་དང་གཡན་མ་བསྙེས། མདུན་དང་རྒྱབ་ཏུ་མ་འགུག།་རྣ་བ་ཕྲག་པ་དང་ཐད་དུ་གཞོག། མིག་སྣ་རྩེ་ཕབ་ཏེ་ལྟེ་བ་དང་མཉམ་པ་བྱས། ལྕེ་ཡ་རྐན་དུ་སྦྱོར། ཁ་མ་སྡང་མགྲེན་པ་ལྷུད་དུ་གཞོག། རྒྱུན་དུ་མིག་སྡང་ལས་ཙུམ་མི་རུང་། ལྷོད་པོ་ངང་དུ་དབྱུག་ནང་དུ་འཐེན།་རྒྱུན་དུ་ལུས་ཀྱི་འདུག་སྟངས་ཐོག།་དབྱུག་ཕྱི་དབྱུང་བ་དང་ནང་དུ་འཐེན།ལུས་པོ་གཡན་ཕྱོགས་གཡས་ཕྱོགས་ཐེངས་ཁ་ཤས་གཡོ་འགུལ་བྱས།ཞི་གནས་ངང་དུ་མཉམ་པར་གཞོག། རྣམ་རྟོག་གི་རྒྱུ་དགག།

How do you think of not-thinking Beyond thinking. This is the essential way of zazen. The zazen which I am talking about is not step-by-step meditation. It is simply the dharma gate of peace and comfort. It is the practice-enlightenment of the ultimate Way. In doing zazen, the Koan manifests itself; it cannot be ensnared. When you grasp this, you are like a dragon with water, or a tiger in the mountains. You must know that true dharma manifests itself in zazen, and that dullness and distraction drop away.

རྣམ་རྟོག་ལས་འདས་པའི་རྟོགས་པ་མངོན་དུ་བྱས། འདི་ནི་སྒོམ་གྱི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡིན། སྒོམ་གྱི་རིམ་པ་བཤད་པ་མ་རེད། སེམས་ཀྱི་བདེ་པ་དང་ཞི་བ་ལ་ཟེར། འདི་ནི་དོན་དམ་པའི་ཉམས་ལེན་ཡིན། སྒོམ་འདི་ཐོག་ན་བྱས། དེ་ཡི་གནས་ལུགས་མངོན་དུ་འགྱུར། འདི་ནི་འཆིང་ཐག་མ་རེད། གནས་ལུགས་འདི་རྟོགས་པ་ཡིན་ན། འབྲུག་ཆུ་ནང་དུ་གནས་པ་དང་། སྟག་ནགས་ལ་གནས་པ་བཞིན་ཡིན། སྒོམ་གྱི་སྙིང་པོ་དོན་དམ་པའི་གནས་ལུགས་རྟོགས་དུས། རྨོངས་པའི་བགེགས་རིམ་གྱིས་མེད་པ་གྱུར་འགྲོ།

When you rise from sitting, move your body slowly and stand up calmly. Do not move abruptly. You should see that to transcend both ordinary people and sages and to die sitting or standing, depends upon the power of zazen. Moreover, your discriminating mind cannot understand how buddhas and patriarchs taught their students with a finger, a pole, a needle, or a mallet, or how they transmitted the Way with a hossu, a fist, a staff, or by shouting. Needless to say, these actions cannot be understood by practicing to attain superhuman powers. These actions come from the practice which is prior to discriminating mind.

སྒོམ་ལས་སྡང་དུས། ལུས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་འགྱུར་ཞི་བ་དང་དལ་པོ་ངང་དུ་ལངས། སྤྱོད་ལམ་ཚུལ་དང་མཐུན་པ་བྱས། སྔོན་གྱི་དྲང་སྲོང་རྣམས་དང་ཉམས་ལེན་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་སྒོམ་ལས་སྡང་པ་དང་སྐུ་མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་དུས་བཞུགས་སྟངས་སོགས་ལྟོས་དང་སྒོམ་གྱི་ནུས་པ་ལ་རྟེན་ཡོད། ལྷག་པར་དུ་སངས་རྒྱས་དང་བླ་མ་གོང་མ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་མཚན་འཛིན་གྱི་ལམ་ནས་བསྟན་པ་དེ་ཉིད། སེམས་ཀྱི་གནས་ལུགས་མི་རྟོགས་སྟེ། དཔེར་ན། ཕྱག་མཛུབ་ཀྱི་བརྡ། ལྕམ་ཤིང་གི་བརྡ། ཤིང་གི་ཐོ་པའི་བརྡ། གཉུག་ཤིང་། ཁུ་ཚུར། དབྱུག་པ། སྐད་ཆེ་པོར་གནང་པ། དོན་གང་ཡང་མི་གསུངས་པ་སོགས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་ལམ་ཇི་ལྟར་བསྟན་ཀྱང་བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་སྒོམ་གྱི་གནས་ལུགས་མི་རྙེད་དོ། འདི་ན་སེམས་ཀྱི་འཛིན་སྟངས་ལས་བྱུང་པའི་སྤྱོད་ལམ་ཀྱི་སྒོམ་ཡིན་ནོ།

Therefore, do not consider whether you are clever or stupid, and do not think of whether you are superior or inferior. When you practice wholeheartedly, it is truly the practice of the Way. Practice – enlightenment cannot be defiled. Making the effort to obtain the Way, is itself, the manifestation of the Way in your daily life. The Buddhas and sages, both in this world and other worlds, in India and China, preserved the buddha-seal in the same way and expressed the Way freely. They just practiced sitting and were protected by zazen. Although their characters were diverse, each of them practiced the Way of zazen wholeheartedly.

རྒྱུ་མཚན་དེའི་ཕྱིར། རྣམ་དཔྱོད་ལྡན་པ་དང་མི་ལྡན་པ། མཆོག་དམན་གང་དུ་བློ་ཡི་འཛིན་སྟངས་མ་བྱས། སེམས་སྟིང་ནས་ཉམས་ལན་ཡང་དག་པ་བྱས། སྒོམ་གྱི་ཉམས་ལེན་ཡང་དག་པ་འདི་ཉིད་ཡིན། བྱང་ཆུབ་ནི་དྲི་མེད་མ་པའི་ལམ་ཉམས་ལེན་གྱི་ཐོགས་ནས་གནས་ལུགས་རྙེད། དེ་ནི་ཆོས་ཉིད་ཡིན། རྒྱུན་དུ་འཚོ་བའི་ནང་དུ་ལམ་མངོན་གྱུར་བྱས་དགོས། དྲང་སྲོང་དང་སངས་རྒྱས་རྣམས་ཀྱི་གསུངས་རྒྱ་ནག་དང་རྒྱ་གར་སོགས་བདག་སྐྱོངས་གཅིག་ཏུ་བྱས་ཏེ། སྒོམ་ཉམས་ལེན་གྱི་བསམ་གཏན་ལ་གནས་ཡོད། སྤྱོད་ལམ་སྣ་ཚོགས་པ་ཡོད་ཀྱང་། ཡང་དག་པས་ཉམས་ལེན་དེ་དག་རེ་རེ་བྱས་ཡོད།

There is no reason to leave your own seat at home and take a meaningless trip to the dusty places of other countries. If you make a false step, then you will miss the way, even though it is before your eyes. You have already been given a human body which is vital, so do not spend your time wastefully. Since you are endowed with the essential functioning of the Buddha Way, why pursue worthless pleasures that are like sparks from a flint?

སོར་སོར་ཁྱིམ་གཞི་སྤངས་ཏེ་ལུང་པ་གཞན་དུ་རྒྱུད་དེ་གནས་ལུགས་འཚོལ་དུ་ཕྱིན་པའི་རྒྱུ་མཚན་གང་ཡང་མེད། གལ་སྲིད་ལམ་ནོར་དུ་ཕྱིན་ན་ཡང་དག་པའི་ལམ་དུ་མི་སླེབས། མིག་ཡོད་ཀྱང་གཡང་དུ་མཆོངས་པ་ནང་བཞིན་རེད། མི་ལུས་རིན་ཆེན་ཐོབ་པའི་དུས་འདིར། ཆུད་ཟོས་མ་བཏང་། འདི་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་སྒྲུབ་པའི་རྟེན་གྱི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡོད་དེ་ཡིན། གནས་སྐབས་ཀྱི་བདེ་པས་ཆེད་དུ་བརྩོན་པ་ནི་མེ་སྟག་བཞིན་རེད།

Furthermore, your body is like a drop of dew on a blade of grass, your life is like a flash of lightning. Your body will disappear soon, your life will be lost in an instant. You, honored practitioner, after learning in a partial way like the blind people who touched various parts of the elephant, please do not be scared by the real dragon. Devote yourself to the Way which indicates Reality directly. Respect those who realize their Self and no longer seek anything outside. Be in accord with the buddhas’ bodhi. Succeed to the sages’ samadhi. If you practice suchness continuously, you will be suchness.

མི་ལུས་ནི་རྕེར་ཟིལ་བ་བཞིན་རེད། མི་ལུས་ནི་གློག་འགྱུར་སྐད་ཅིག་བཞིན་རེད། མི་ལུས་མི་རིང་པར་བརླག་འགྲོ། མི་ཚེ་སྐད་ཉིད་དུ་མེད་པར་གྱུར་འགྲོ། བླ་ན་མེད་པའི་ཉམས་ལེན་པས་གསུངས་ན། མིག་ལོང་པའི་གང་ཟག་གི་གླང་པོ་ཆེའི་མགོ་ལུས་ཚང་མ་ལག་པའི་རེག་པ་བཞིན་སློབ་གཉེར་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཕྱོགས་རེས་ལམ་ལ་མ་འཇུག་པར་ཡང་དག་པས་གནས་ལུགས་ལ་མ་འཇིག་པར་འཇུག་པར་བྱས། ཆོས་ཉིད་ལ་འཇུག་པས་ནི་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་དད་པ་འགྱུར་མེད་བྱས། ནང་གི་གནས་ལུགས་དེ་ཉིད་ཚུལ་དུ་བཞིན་དུ་རྟོགས་པ་དང་ཕྱི་རོལ་དོན་ལ་མི་ཞེན་པ་རྣམས་ལ་གུས་པ་བྱས། གཞི་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་སྙིང་པོས་ལ་འཇུག་དང་དྲང་སྲོང་རྣམས་ཀྱི་བསམ་གཏན་ལ་གནས་པ་ལྟར་གྲུབ། ཉམས་ལེན་ཚུལ་དང་མཐུན་པ་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པར་བྱས་དང་། འབྲས་བུ་དེ་བཞིན་ཉིད་ཐོབ།

The treasure house will open of itself, and you will be able to use it at will. ནོར་བུ་རིན་པོ་ཆེས་མཛོད་ཁང་རང་

ཉིད་ཀྱིས་ཁང་སྒོ་ཕྱེས་ན། ནང་དུ་འཇུག་ཏེ་ལོངས་སུ་སྤྱོད་ཐུབ་པར་བྱེད་ཅིག།

ZCLA version, English translators unknown

ཀུན་གྲགས་ཀྱི་བོད་ཡིག་ཏུ་ཕབ་སྒྱུར་བྱས། November 15th, 2019

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Poached Egg Koan

In memory of Blue Bell. You, kitty, were a joy.

On the joys of looking for a slotted spoon in a really well equipped kitchen.

One morning I got up in an empty house where I had been charged with looking after a very smart cat, and decided to poach two eggs. Simple.

Of course everyone knows that you need a slotted spoon to achieve the pinnacle of poached eggs, slots or holes spaced just right to release the water and save all the luscious strands of lightly cooked egg white. 

So I began my search....

Everything is perfectly ordered. All the pot holders are clean and neatly arranged by size and usage. Ah, I hadn’t found the right drawer.

Then I looked again in three drawers where I’d looked for a coffee filter that I didn’t find. And didn’t need

Then I discovered sauce pans sorted by size and use, but got distracted by the perfect action of the high end closing slides--they completed the shutting motion so smoothly and silently that I suspected black magic. But it was more likely that they represented a long process of industrial design, lots of trial and error, lots of user feedback, many hours exploring the physics of metal to metal resistance smoothed by precise bearings. 

Then too many choices, 14 wooden spoons mixed in with plastic spatulas, but alas, none with slots. Another drawer! Ah pay dirt! A drawer just for spoons, so many choices! A spoon for every occasion. What could go wrong? But perhaps it was just that my eyesight has dimmed and I could not distinguish any slots in the lot. 

But the boiling water had almost finished its job. I had to act now. So I grabbed a metal spoon, and just drained the water out by tipping it against the side of the pan. Some salt and pepper. Perfect.

Yesterday I was trying to explain to a Tibetan monk why I loved koan practice. An impossible task. Capturing words to describe the experience is as easy as making arrows collide in midair or describing the first time feeling sand slip through your fingers though you’ve felt it a million times!

But it could be just the fun of searching through a well stocked kitchen and finally tasting a well-cooked poached egg.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Issan said, "I have things to do."

Originally posted April 23, 2010

Photo: ©Rick Gerharter
One night during Winter sesshin, John Tarrant opened the floor for questions and comments. He began by saying that the real point of all our meditation practice was finding a place of freedom, no, I misspoke, it is not a place, not some approximation or substitute that might be available when we experience a lesser degree of the suffering that goes hand in hand with life. The point of our practice was really FREEDOM.

For some reason, or maybe none, memories about Issan had been surfacing during my meditation. In Issan’s life, the fact that he loved was no secret and no one doubted its depth. Even though he was an open book, some aspects of his love few people could understand. Those memories formed a kind of backdrop for my work on “Little Jade.” In the koan, a noble lady utters the name of her servant just so that her secret lover can hear her voice. 

I had a friend who had been recently diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He asked his doctor if he could postpone the only treatment they recommended, a resection followed by chemo. He said, “I have things to do.” Yes, we all have things to do, and taking care of them is exactly the crux of the matter. I am caught so often between what I really have to do and what responsibilities are just manufactured. Where in between is there any space for freedom? 

The last ten days before Issan died were such a powerful experience that I've spent almost 20 years digesting the gift that he gave me and many of his friends. With the words "I have things to do" that week sprang to life again, and I reconnected with my friend and teacher and to that brief moment of his life in a way I had not experienced or understood before.

I am trusting that I can write the story with enough clarity to allow the freedom of the moment to shine through the jumble of my words.

Issan had an appointment with his oncologist. It was to be the last time he left Hartford Street, but if we knew it, no one said it. He was quite weak. His skin was bleached, working hard to cover his bones. He was a sick man—he knew that. We all did. Steve Allen and Shunko Jamvold helped him into the beat up car that had become the hospice taxi, and off they went to General Hospital.

Two hours later, maybe it was as long as three, they returned. I opened the front door and was shocked. Issan looked ghost-like. The pain on his face brought tears to my eyes. He couldn't even look at me. He clutched onto the banister for dear life, while Shunko lifted him from step to step.

They reached the top, and I heard the door of his room close. I turned to Steve who was standing with me at the bottom of the steps and asked, “What happened?”

Steve recounted the doctor’s visit in a very flat voice. I am almost certain I recall all the details of the story, though I know that Steve’s emotions and mine certainly color what I will say.

Issan was scheduled to have an MRI. They had waited for a long time for the doctor to arrive. Steve described Issan as smiling as he was placed on the moving platform and the machine’s loud clacking began. Steve stood next to the doctor as they watched the images flash on a screen. Cancerous areas showed up as a soft glow, and Steve said that Issan looked like a Christmas tree—every part of his body lit up.

The test ended. Steve, Shuko and Issan went into a private room with the doctor. He said to Issan, “You’re dying.” Issan tried to smile and said, “Of course I know I’m dying, but I have things to do. It will take at least a month. I have to give Steve transmission, I have to ordain David and Harper.” I could almost hear his voice trailing off. The doctor looked at him and said (it is not difficult to imagine the tone of his voice. This kind of message can only be delivered with love), “No, Issan I don’t think you quite understood me, you’re dying now.” 

Steve described Issan’s response as a simple matter of fact question: “How long do I have?” The doctor told him that he could die at any time, or he might last a week, even ten days on the outside.

Issan thanked the doctor for all that he'd done. An automatic “Oh, thank you” never came from Issan’s mouth, and certainly not in this situation—they both knew that it would be their last meeting. 

That doctor was the first of a long line of people who would say good-bye—and thank you.

As Steve spoke I understood the anguish that I saw in Issan’s face. The stage had been set for the last moments in his life. He was a Buddhist priest, an abbot, a roshi, a gay man, loved by hundreds of people. And I’d seen an entirely human being, clutching onto the banister as he struggled to get up the stairs.

I usually dropped into Issan’s room before the 6 PM meditation to see if he needed anything. Steve and Shunko had been taking shifts to be with him all the time so perhaps Steve had asked me to check in that night so that he could get ready for meditation. 

I knocked and heard Issan’s telephone voice. That man loved the phone! I opened the door, and he pointed to the chair next to him. He was talking with his teacher, Richard Baker. “Oh roshi, you can’t get out here before the 10th? That is too bad, the doctor told me just this afternoon that I won't last that long. Yes, I'll miss you too. I do love you. Yes, goodbye for now. I'll call again or have Steve call if I have no energy." 

Here was a different man than the one who only a half hour earlier had been clutching the banister. And it was absolutely the same man but with a brightness in his voice that shocked me—if I said surprised, it would be far too mild to register the degree of the transformation that I felt.

I can’t remember exactly what Issan said next, but after only a few minutes, I had clear instructions to make sure that everyone coming to say goodbye would feel welcomed. 

He told me how much he liked my fresh tomato marinara sauce, and that it would be a good dish to serve because he couldn’t know how many people would stop by. There would be hundreds actually, and although he didn’t have energy to see them all, they still came.

He also asked me to please do whatever Steve or Shunko asked of me. It was clear that Issan, through Steve, would orchestrate his last days, hours, and moments to accomplish as much as humanly possible of what was on his plate, and whatever that was would be exactly enough.

He was dead 10 days later. He took full advantage of the outside limit promised by the doctor. Richard Baker did come to San Francisco to be with his student and dharma heir before he died. 

Richard told Issan how much he wished that he could change places with him. Issan laughed, “Don’t worry. You’ll get your chance.”

To read more reflections about the life of Issan, see some photographs, read his dharma talks, go to my Record of Issan page.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Zen Master looks at Same-Gender Marriage, by Robert Aitken Roshi

Two years before his death in 2010, I asked Bob to write a piece about same sex marriage that could be used as an op-ed in heated debate before California voted on Prop 8 which sought to reverse the decision by the State Supreme Court to open legal marriage to same sex couples. He was a Zen Master who did not shy away from taking a active stance in the world. I am posting it as a tribute to Bob and the ever present encouragement in his teaching,
Add caption

A Zen Master looks at Same-Gender Marriage
by Robert Aitken
October 2008

Robert Aitken Roshi is one of the most widely respected American Zen teachers. In 1959 he and his wife, Anne Hopkins Aitken, founded a Zen Meditation community in Hawaii, the Honolulu Diamond Sangha. Today there are Diamond Sangha affiliated centers in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. He is also co-founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Now 91 years old, he lives in Honolulu with his son Tom.

The word Zen means "exacting meditation," which describes the central practice of the Zen Buddhist and from which emerge certain quite profound realizations that can be applied in daily life. Most practitioners come to a deep understanding that all life is connected and that we are each a boundless container that includes all other beings. The application of this kind of intimacy can be framed in the classic Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Abodes: loving kindness, compassion, joy in the attainment of others, and equanimity.

Applying these Four Noble Abodes to the issue of same-sex marriage, I find it clear that encouragement is my recommendation. Over my long career of teaching, I have had students who were gay, lesbian, trans-sexual and bisexual, as well as heterosexual. These orientations have seemed to me to be quite specific, much akin to the innate proclivities which lead people to varied careers or take paths in life that are uniquely their own. We are all human, and within my own container, I find compassion—not just for—but with the gay or lesbian couple who wish to confirm their love in a legal marriage.

Although historically Zen has been a monastic tradition, there have always been prominent lay adherents. Those who enter the state of marriage vow to live their lives according to the same sixteen precepts that ground the Buddhist monk’s and nun’s life in the world. This way of living opens our path into life. Like life itself, marriage is absolutely non-discriminatory and open to all.

Buddhist teaching regarding sexuality is expressed in the precept of "taking up the way of not misusing sex." I understand this precept to mean that any self-centered sexual conduct is exploitative, non-consensual—sex that harms others. In the context of young men or young women confined within monastery walls for periods of years, one might expect rules and teachings relating to homosexuality, but they don't appear. Homosexuality seems to be overlooked in Zen teachings, and indeed in classical Buddhist texts. However, my own monastic experience leads me to believe that homosexuality was not taken as an aberration, and so did not receive comment.

All societies have from earliest times across the world formalized sexual love in marriage ceremonies that give the new couple standing and rights in the community. Currently both rights and standing are denied to gays and lesbians who wish to marry in all but three of the United States. If every State acknowledged the basic married rights of gay and lesbian couples, young men and women just beginning their lives together, as well as those who have shared their lives for decades, a long-standing injustice would be corrected, and these fellow citizens would feel accepted in the way they deserve to be. This would stabilize a significant segment of our society, and we would all of us be better able to acknowledge our diversity. I urge the voters of California to keep gay and lesbian marriages legal. This is the most humane course of action and in keeping with perennial principles of decency and mutual encouragement.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"We Inter-Are"--Contemplating Virtue from my Hospital Bed, 1989, Hollywood

by Morgan Zo-Callahan

April 21st, 2010

Jules Pascin 1917

This is the last chapter of Intimate Meanderings, Conversations Close to our Hearts, which Morgan and I put together. If you want to read more and purchase the book, just click on the link.

In a sense, human flesh is made of stardust. Every atom in the human body (excluding only the primordial hydrogen atom) was fashioned in stars that formed, grew old and exploded most violently before the Sun and Earth came into being.—Nigel Calder

Dependent co-arising fits right into Ecology. People who are sensitive to the interrelationship of all things are into Dharma lore. There isn’t a more certain path into enlightenment than that of the realized capacity for being wide-eyed in the Cosmos, being totally alive, right now, with no separation between he who is aware and that of which he is aware. Yes. Just look at It All!—Tom Marshall, S.J.

The other darkest blue-black night, I was looking up at the moon, bright pearly silver, inviting wonder. I took a deep breath, viewing golden-lighted stars with spontaneous seconds of delight and submission to being alive, aware, somehow being consciously a part of spacious skies; 14.6 billion years of creating itself, the universe is changing, ever-evolving, all being, causes and effects of each other, all continually inter-acting. You and I are related so closely in this luminescent, mysterious process, beyond what we can fully know, bringing joys as well as disasters that we cannot control. I’m a tiny participant, along with you, in this dance of stars. I was shaken into this humbling realization of Thich Nhat Hanh: "We inter-are."

A very shocking experience taught me on the deepest level how interdependent we are in life and how I'm connected even with those I consider hostile people. That which is in all people is likewise to some degree in myself.

I was walking out of a 7-11 in Hollywood, just before dark, when six gang-bangers attacked me. The police would later say I must have looked like a rival gang member. They did not go for my wallet—they wanted to kick the shit out of me. I fought back as best as I could. I was punched, head butted and finally one of the guys sneaked a long gray blade into my stomach, severing my renal vein and cutting my left kidney in half. There was blood all over the place.

The guys disappeared into my twilight zone of being between life and death. I experienced the thin line of passing out and somehow willfully hanging onto consciousness. For a few seconds of expansive consciousness, a "part" of me went up into the sky, looking down at my body below and my immediate surroundings. My body expanded. I don’t interpret this experience as a disconnected spirit or immortal soul (atma) looking down on me. I don’t know if there’s any separate-non-physical eternal consciousness; yet, there’s no doubt, as many have related, this remarkable psychic process happens. I was, if only quickly, floating above my body, quite a crumbling, bleeding mess.

I pressed the wound in my stomach to stop some of the blood from coming out.

The doctors told me I was the first one to save my life by putting pressure on my wound. But to live I needed to be saved by the Good Samaritan. Later I would need expert surgeons. How we need each other! Passersby ran by the desperate scene, frightened. Cars slowed down and then screeched away, ignoring my "Please take me to the hospital!" A few cars stopped, opened their doors and then changed their minds and took off. Me alone now for perhaps twenty minutes, holding my guts as tightly as I could, telling myself to keep breathing, keep awake; don't give in to that fainting feeling. If I pass out, I joke, I'll die in front of a 7-11, instead of in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater? Not this way! Not by fellow Latinos, many of whom in my life I love.

Finally, my good, lovely Samaritan, a Christian named Mike Bunnell, passed, stopped, opened but didn't shut his car door, and took me to the emergency room of Kaiser Hospital on Sunset Blvd., just a few blocks from where I was stabbed. I was in for a long surgery, my lungs collapsing, more than a month in the hospital.

What a strange and wonderful experience for my growing as a human being: sensing the "inter-being" of the attackers, a hero who saved my life, the surgeons-nurses-therapists who healed me, police, friends, family visiting me in the hospital and myself: all together. This unexpected, difficult trauma also allowed me to feel forgiveness, as well as blaming, being angry. Luckily it was mostly an occasion of gratitude for life, for resolve to live well, to improve myself in the areas of virtues such as mindfulness, being peaceful, releasing my anger, jealousy.

I had some hours of quiet and many hours of social interaction. Sometimes pain wouldn't allow for social contact or the presence required for meditation and reflection As police showed me pictures of gang members, I would think about how much they looked like some of my students, dark, Latin, handsome, looking older-more hardened than their ages; and my rage somehow melted before it could start. My heart went out to them, understanding that they are finding acceptance and some personal power by being in gangs; some of them are seriously addicted to crack, meth, heroin.

You hurt me, dear hermanos, but I truly forgive you, by which I mean I still wish that you be happy and that I intend no revenge or payback. Even though I cannot like you right now, I won’t close my heart to you. I wish you find what will really make you feel peaceful and full. I agree to cooperate with the police to find you young men who pulled off this payback on the "wrong man." You need to face the consequences of your harmful actions—not a payback though you might interpret it that way. Believe me it’s not. [I could identify two of the six gang members, but the police gave up after a year of searching for them. No witnesses came forward.]

And how close I still feel to you, Mike Bunnell!—though we're totally off into our own worlds—we stay in touch. I would later visit the doctors, therapists and nurses to personally thank them and give them small gifts. A lady therapist once asked me "if I wanted to talk about it?” I just cried for about the entire hour with her; she facilitated lots of healing just by her warm, open and understanding presence. How dependent I was on that kind, lovely woman. Without the air of the skies and the warmth of the sun, we would perish. Without Mike’s generosity, my good luck and preparedness of expert medical care, I wouldn't have made it.

I spoke extensively with the policemen and policewomen on a few occasions. They talked about their frustrations with the huge gang problems in L.A. They related how a different gang that same day had stabbed an elderly man in the spine, taking his wallet and watch. The man is now paralyzed from the waist down. We talked about the gangs from El Salvador, from Mexico, from East L.A. and South L.A. We talked about the work of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights. I told them about my Mexican and Salvadoran students and how I went to funerals for a few of them, murdered in drive-by shootings. Sometimes we talked about our personal lives. I had never felt such closeness with people in law enforcement and never thought much about how tough their jobs are, in often-hostile surroundings. How is it that we ended up speaking with each other for so long? I learned so much about lives I knew very little about. It's crazy to say it, but here we were also enjoying ourselves in our conversations about "good" and "bad" guys. We were making more of the occasion than just looking at mug shots and my groaning in pain from the after-effects of a long surgical wound, stapled together from my stomach to the bottom of my chest.

The violence in my attackers, the kindness in my hero, the dedication in my nurses and doctors, the encouraging thoughtfulness and visiting of my friends and family, the struggle of the great police officers: I was finding all these people and these qualities in myself. I am the Samaritan. I am the therapist and the patient. I am the gangbanger and the policewoman. We have all the different so-called "positive" and "negative" qualities. This terrible experience was an opportunity to cultivate virtues, Paramitas, in myself.

All Buddhist traditions, just as other religious traditions, include teachings and practices regarding virtue. In the Mahayana tradition, the ideal and the consciousness of the Bodhisattva, the super-generous, self-sacrificing spiritual attitude of compassion, is held in high esteem. This consciousness is described as luminescent wisdom, heart-full. Swimming deeply in the inner heart, it is expressed as love and impartial acceptance of all others, wishing all to be in touch with the inner heart-goodness within each person, meeting that same "place" within ourselves. We include ourselves, even though we are last. The Theravadin Arahant concentrates on inner liberation, which of course, includes the metta practice of wishing that all be happy and insisting on a moral practice, leading to a strong and kind character. The Vajrayana Siddha Tradition of realized masters also includes teachings of virtue and vice. It offers its own methods for becoming strong in virtue, especially through the relationship to the Spiritual Master.

I tried to name and consider the "Seven Deadly Sins" (pride, lust, covetousness, envy, anger, laziness, gluttony) and the corresponding Life-giving virtues, which eliminate the deadening result of living principally for ourselves, alone. Jesuits are fond of saying to live as "women and men for others." I made it my meditation to think about what qualities I could engender in myself to live a better life. There are virtues the Buddha extolled and those who follow him attempt to cultivate. Paramita is Sanskrit for “perfection,” “reaching the other shore of the eternal.” The idea of "reaching the other shore" marks the end of seeking. Six virtues (sometimes ten) are mentioned: generosity or charity (Dana); discipline, integrity (Sila); patience, non-expectation (Khanti); energy, joy (Viriya); meditation, attention (Dhyana); wisdom (Prana).

Our English word “virtue” comes from the Latin word virtus meaning strength and vigor to refrain from collapsing under the weight of afflictive emotions such as anger, pride, laziness, and addictive pleasures. In Buddhist traditions, such collapses result from not letting go and clinging to selfish desire. Due to our seemingly overwhelming genetic and social conditioning, it’s difficult to first be honest about ourselves and then to continue our personal practice of developing our insight into the “interrelatedness” of all things and the accompanying compassionate action that flows from this insight.

It is our cordial, friendly intention, our kind actions, which greatly influence our present consciousness and circumstances; therefore, a major factor in developing generosity is letting go of being overly attached to our time and schedule, to slow down, to take breathing breaks for ourselves, even in the midst of busy days. Be generous to let ourselves be human. I used to give the finger to people who cut me off on our chaotic L.A. freeways, sometimes adding a "Fuck You"; now I say, "May you be happy whatever your day may bring you; I wish you good fortune."

Generosity is sharing, being a charitable giver and a gracious receiver. It's exemplified in my Good Samaritan, Mike Bunnell, who just gave to me, just for the giving. In my own life, it is opening up to communication, going beyond irritations and rushing. Be a generous listener. It’s being truly present with the Right Effort to serve others, rather than being preoccupied with our own obsessive thoughts or the dualistic thinking of “looking down on” or “looking up to” others. A few friends said to me that the gang should just get blown away by Uzis, that they were trash. No such idea ever entered my mind. It’s a practical concern for the poor as well as for the affluent, to share money for really good causes. It’s being grateful for the warm sun, for beauty, for being loved and connected to the whole of life. We are all a part of each other, so why not give with gusto and generosity?

Discipline is—even in the midst of our mistakes and difficulties—to keep the moral precepts, practice compassion, cause no harm. It is being authentic; living with integrity, not necessarily what society says is the right way for us to live. Our lives are ours. Who else can live them but we ourselves? I felt somehow renewed and resolved to try and be a better human being from my time in the hospital, some healing of body, mind and spirit. I felt I could overcome my negative habits and conditioning, and cultivate inner strength and understanding. I have to do it for the young women and men down at Homeboy's Industries and Homegirl's Cafe who are doing such great jobs.

Patience is the cultivation of serenity, not trying so much to change others, but rather, to pay attention to changing ourselves. It is the skillful means not to be overly reactive to our complex emotions, which arise in our daily interactions. It's knowing that our happiness does not have to depend on the fulfillment of our expectations. I was happy to be alive at the hospital, so I could handle the very laborious therapy required just to be able to walk. I wasn't a "difficult" patient; though I would express my needs respectfully.

I tend to repress my emotions when I'm hurt and angry. The practice of meditation and self-observation allows me to breathe, feel and be mindful of the turbulent emotions I may have. It creates an atmosphere of patience within me. Our awareness will embrace our emotions and gently allow them to subside. In the process we let go of our need for others to be as we want them to be and of our anxiousness to be overly critical of others and ourselves.

Joyful energy is the result of our genuine interest in what is most real and vibrant for us; we also are happy for another's success when we know that we share our lives together. I felt this speaking especially with Los Angeles police officers at the hospital; we were so energized by sharing our joys as well as cultivating sympathy in our sorrow. Before this time, I had some fear of the police. When sincerely interested in others, we are happy when they are happy. This interest, appreciation for, celebrating with others overcomes my jealousy, my prejudices, my envy for what others have, any feeling that I'm better than or lower than anyone else. Getting banged up, ending in the hospital brought lots of pain and anxiety and fear. Yet joy was present! I also reflected how we can be content with enough in our lives. I like what Nisargadatta says: "We don't want what we have and we want what we don't have. Reverse the attitude and intention. Want what you have and don't want what you don't have."

Meditation is the practice of being still, quiet, attentive, and mindful. We just observe and breathe, be here in the moment. We do not seek experience or push any away, whether bliss, deep “absorptions” or “negative" emotions. We are awake to whatever arises in consciousness, to see for ourselves what is unfolding within. In the hospital, I had no experience of bliss; I could barely follow my breath most of the time. Yet the practice helped me deal with physical pain, by being able sometimes to "creating a space around the pain."

Wisdom supports every virtue. It is integral to our practice of loving-kindness. Wisdom cuts through separating of people, including ourselves, into “us” and “them,” “I” and “you.” I learned this thanks to a wide array of people at the hospital and even to the gang members. Wisdom discriminates, allowing us to understand the conditions of all actions. I thought about my activism, realizing that when "I'm being nice," I am sometimes just protecting my own image. That does not serve anyone. Appropriate social actions arise from wise compassion, intelligent organizing to help others be more free and independent.

At least now, my meditation is not even “work.” I no longer supplicate some energy or force or godhead outside myself. It’s natural for me to sit down and check in with my thoughts, to see what’s in my heart. I pay attention to myself, and make efforts to be kinder, especially to those closest to me, gentler, vigilant not to cause harm to others and myself intentionally.

I’m most grateful just to be able to follow the course of my breath and my life’s yearnings. I’m calling life's curves and turns "meanderings" because there’s no sure path; it’s so windy and unexpected; we’re being fired into the Unknown; but somehow subtly able to be connected to the whole of living, in peace, bliss, mental discernment and understanding. We can create circumstances where intuitive insights “loosen” us from severe uptightness. I experience happiness when living at peace within and letting others live, without any need to control or exploit others or myself.

Ryokan, a Zen monk in eighteenth century Japan, lived in a little hut, leading an ordinary monastic life with few possessions. One night he returned home and found a thief had stolen all his belongings. In response he wrote the following haiku poem:

“The moon at the window,

the thief left it behind.”

Such is the wisdom and freedom from clinging! May all of us be happy and strengthened in our practice of virtue!

Sun. Orange-Yellow burning orb, eating forty million tons of material per second, sustaining us, exploding as one of 400 billion stars in our local Galaxy, Milky Way, just one of the 140 billion galaxies in our universe. Here we are—small, yet with precious opportunity—with a sincere intention that all beings be happy and strengthened in our practice of virtue and understanding. Ven. Dao Yuan sometimes recites at Sunday morning meditation: “The Earth is our support…” We inter-be—no separate self—the stars, moon, sun and earth inter-mingle, the whole vibrating mesh of life courses through us in every breath.

Is life over when it’s over?

Ala n Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) "Each one of us, not only human beings, but every leaf, every weed, exists in t...