31 August 2013

Getting it Right? Forget It!

I'm often bedeviled by worries about authenticity or accuracy.  Part of it has to do with my line of work, but part of it has to do with my general disposition, I'm sure.  Now that I think of it, it's probably the case that I fell into my line of work because of my disposition!

For instance, I have non-philosopher colleagues who, when they teach a certain philosophical text, don't do a very good job with it.  They miss details and key points, overlook significant turns in the argument, and mistake the overall aim of the text as a result.  Drives me nuts.  No physics department would let me lecture on physics, no med school let me train people in neuroscience, so why do these colleagues get to talk about a philosophy text?  Surely there's a more and a less "right" here, no?

I find that this same perturbation arising in relation to the Zen world.  Surely not everything that bears the name "Zen" in the contemporary landscape is the real deal.  "Koan work" that isn't.  "Teishos" that aren't.  "Monks" who don't.  "Roshis" who won't.  The list goes on.  Surely there's a more and a less "right" here, no?

Then I remember what I have always known – always, before there was even an "I" to know it: This is not me; this is not mine.  Remembering that, I am reminded that it's not my job to manage the landscape.  In fact, it's no one's job! "Forget about it," I hear Bankei saying, "and return to the Unborn."

24 August 2013

"All Shall Be Well"

The longer I'm around the more it settles into me how the search for, and the attainment of, awakening is one.  And how could it not be?  Truth is openly shown to our eyes.  There is nothing Buddhist or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or Jain or Hindu or Shinto or Zoroastrian or whatever in it, save as it includes all that is Buddhist or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or Jain or Hindu or Shinto or Zoroastrian or whatever.

Julian of Norwich (c1342-c1416) claimed to have received the revelation, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."  That phrasing was reprised by T.S. Eliot in "Little Gidding" in several places and here, at the end:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick, now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything) 
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
"All shall be well" is not prognostication.  It is declarative fact, true from beginningless time, present, though half-heard and as yet unseen, "now, here, now, always."  

To know this we need but go through the gate that is no gate because unknown and most certainly eventually not even remembered.  

22 August 2013

Just Fine, Thanks

A few years ago I set out on this priesting endeavor, and, I have to admit, I had it in my head I was going to become a good priest.  Of course, I didn't know what that meant, really, and I know I set up all kinds of projections as to what that could possibly entail.  I'm kind of embarrassed, really, to own some of the preconceptions I came to this with.


Along the way something better has happened.  I just became more… me.  Yep, the same old guy I've always been, but with one big difference: I'm less and less inclined to try to be something other (whether different, or more, or less) than what I am. 

I don't know that that makes me a good anything, but I don't care.  I wouldn't trade this for anything!

11 August 2013


This moment is not an add-on to what has come before, nor is it a warm-up or precursor to what comes after.  All the lapses of ages will neither augment nor diminish the morning calls of the birds I now hear, nor will it add or subtract any color from the sunrise out my window right now.  In this moment I, too, am ageless, and nothing of my senses will be in any way sharpened or dulled in hearing and seeing these birds and this sunrise, no matter how old I am or how long I live.

The two axes of time, if we need to talk like that, are not past and present, but now and forever.

09 August 2013

I Don't Have a Dream

On se prend parfois à rêver de ce que pourrait être les cultures, la vie littéraire, l’enseignement, si tous ceux qui y participent, ayant une bonne fois rejeté les idoles, se livraient au bonheur de réfléchir ensemble … mais ce rêve n’est pas raisonnable…
I find I keep coming back to the realization that each person sees what he or she can see – and nothing further.  I've always know that on some level, I think.  When I read the above passage in grad school it struck me like a ton of bricks; I even included it in the front matter of my dissertation.  I had the same sense when I read Mumon's comment on one who has seen into mu: "You are like a mute person who has had a dream – you know it for yourself alone."  No, it really is too much to expect that there is a universal, common, known ground on which we all stand and on the basis of which we can flawlessly understand and be understood. 

Unless, of course, that basis is no-basis.  In that case, we all – every last one of us – might proceed from a position of humility, deference and non-knowing.  Best to be "greatly enlightened about delusion" than "greatly deluded about enlightenment," as Dōgen put it.  But even Dōgen was no pollyanna.  There will always be Buddhas and sentient beings, flowers will fall in attachment, and weeds will spread in aversion.

Maybe it's advancing age (I doubt it's deepening wisdom), but I have less and less interest in hearing about how this group should think this way, or that company should act that way, or this person shouldn't say those things, or that country ought to treat its people better, etc.  I'm sure people are talking about me, too!  But until I see it for myself, all their talk will be so much noise and chatter, and I'm guessing the same is true for everyone else as well.

If someone is worried that means the world isn't as perfect as it might be, I would simply suggest that it's only 2013.  If all goes well, there are many thousands of years ahead of us.  Maybe things will shift a little after a chunk of that time has passed.  


(But don't bet on it.)

04 August 2013

"Paris is Well Worth a Mass"

The Huguenot Henri IV was willing to renounce his Protestantism and convert to Catholicism in order to secure the throne of France and the allegiance of his subjects.  Sometimes we have to give up something in order to get something.

It's safe to say that there is no coursing deep in the Dharma without leaving the moorings of self behind.  Sometimes we have to give up something in order to get something.

One can sit countless hours on the mat.  One can listen to teisho after teisho.  One can sign on for every sesshin that comes along.  One can talk all the Buddhist lingo and know all the right Dharma peeps.  But if one isn't willing to drop significant ego-attachment in the run of ones daily life, it really is a pitiful waste of time. 

That special quirk of yours – the one that has everyone saying, "Oh yeah, so-and-so, he never takes part in that" or "Oh, so-and-so?  Yeah, she has to do it this way...."– is the liberation and release promised by the Buddha worth giving that up for?

That knee-jerk reaction of yours – the one that everyone can imitate because you do it all the time – is that worth liberation and release?

That same old commentary – you know, the same paragraph of discourse you go into every time something is mentioned – is that worth liberation and release?

And what about the show you always watch, or the beverage you always have to have, or "the thing you do every Tuesday"? Are those worth liberation and release?

And what about the scary places you keep refusing to head into, the parts of your life you keep putting off, the tough decisions and the surrendering to vulnerability and embarrassment you refuse to take on? Are those worth liberation and release?

And then there's that story line by which you define yourself – the one about your parents or your upbringing or your kids or your ex or your boss or the times or your finances or the government.  Is that worth liberation and release?

How many times have you heard "When preferences are cast aside the Way stands clear and undisguised" and still don't get that truer words have never been spoken?

(And lest anyone think I'm getting on my high horse here, know well that the "you" in those questions refers to me as much as anyone else!)

The universe is one, and the Dharma is of a consistent flavor throughout.  Take the plunge!  It's well worth it.