Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ah But I Was So Much Older Then

I went through all my teens in the ‘60’s, very much influenced by Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  That was when I explored different spiritual paths with a small group led by a grey-bearded guru who seemed to be in his 60’s and about whose qualifications I have no idea.

We were more or less a Roman Catholic yoga group, as he taught us about various Indian masters, and we read the Autobiography of a Yogi, but we went to early morning masses at a Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Stations of the Cross at a Franciscan friary.  We took bottles of water to the rectory of the cathedral to have them blessed and turned into holy water, which we sprinkled around, I believe to drive away evil beings.

You could hear us approaching by the jingling of our crucifices and little medallions of St. Christopher and a host of other saints we wore on chains around our necks.  Oh, did I mention we all had to grow beards?  Our fearless leader would take us on guided tours.  I remember being introduced to some kindly old men at a festival in the Sikh temple.  I also remember following our guru, along with my brother clones, jingling into a crowded smoke-filled meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eventually our little group drifted apart.  One of us became a librarian, another became a counsellor, another went mad, and I wandered through science labs, plywood mills, late night city streets driving taxi, and law school.  I also drifted away from the various traditions I visited and more or less gravitated to Zen, which I practiced on my own until about five years ago, when the value of sangha finally dawned on me and I joined a group considerably less unusual than the first one.

Back in the day, I never hesitated to be profound.  A friend and I, being a couple of wannabe hippies going with the flow, came across a big sluggish frog lounging on the road.  I picked it up and put it in the grass.  My friend said, "Hey, man, why did you do that? If it happens that it gets run over, then it happens."  I sagely replied, "And if happens that I come along and move it off the road, then it happens."  But I was at my most profound when a slightly younger guy who had been listening to me prattle said, "Dave, you're so wise." Without missing a beat, I said, "No, I'm a fool. I know what to do, but I don't do it."  I'm still working on that one.

When the '60's were over, I more or less kept my deep thoughts to myself. Now that I'm in my 60's, it feels like I have a few more things to say. I worry that they won't be as profound as when I was a wise man.

But I'm younger than that now.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Point of No Return

It’s like trying to stuff a flower back into a bud.

After catching a glimpse of your dad putting on a Santa costume, or a glimpse of your original face, you can never see your world the same way again, no matter how much you may want to.  Even if you try to drown the awareness with distraction, or other drugs, you never permanently forget.

A thought persists, “I have no idea why, but I must keep sitting, no matter what.”  And maybe once in a while, you remember why.  Other times, forgetful, alone and afraid.

If there are miracles, one is surely the sangha.

I wrote a couple of poems:

My cowardice is in vain.
There is nowhere
To hide.


Round cushions,
Square mats,
Kind hearts.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Middle Way – Should I Speak Up?

When to take action and speak up and when to do nothing and shut up?

Instant action is no problem.  Shouting “look out!” or grabbing someone about to fall requires no thought.  It’s the deliberate choices that are the problem.  Doing zazen or going to bed.  Commuting to the Zen Centre or staying home and watching a movie.  It seems the more I think about these choices, the more likely I am to talk myself into the easy alternatives.  If I can let my thinking drop, I’m more likely to find myself sitting on my zafu or out the door and down the steps heading for the bus.

I tend to keep my mouth shut – I think, out of fear of being thought of as an idiot.  So when I do get going, the same dilemma follows me:  should I shut up now, or keep babbling on and be thought of as an idiot?

Reading Point of Contact on the Sweep the dust, Push the dirt blog got me exploring the question again.   How to find “a point of contact between wisdom and compassion; between action and still; between the heart and the mind; between this moment and the next.”  Then I re-visited “Interdependence and the Middle Way” in Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama.

My concept of my individual self feels “real” (whatever that means).  So does everything else I can see and touch.  I would be an idiot to say none of this exists.

“Truly seeing the aggregation of the world, the thought of nonexistence does not arise.”

But they say every cell in our bodies is replaced within seven years.  So my “self”, and every other particular thing, is more like a candle flame, or a whirlpool in a river – having apparent independent existence, but completely changing every moment.

“Truly seeing the nonsubstantiality of the world, the thought of existence does not arise.”

On the other hand, this particular whirlpool I call me, and every other particular thing, came into being, exists, and will eventually stop existing.  Some things die sooner than others – mountains generally last longer than mayflies – but they/we all go through this process as a result of the unimaginably complex interaction between every “thing” and every other “thing”.

“The view that all things exist is one extreme; the view that nothing exists is the other extreme.  Being apart from these two extremes, the Buddha teaches the dharma of the Middle Way: because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises.”

The Middle Way isn’t a compromise between two extremes.  When thoughts of existence and nonexistence are released from our intellectual grasp, the Middle Way is nothing other than this very moment.

Which is why zazen is priceless: doing nothing but sitting and letting go of thoughts, including thoughts like this one.  And having faith – not having faith that something is going to happen as a result of doing zazen, or having faith in anything else – just having faith, period.

Getting back to the question of when to shut up, I guess I need to stop thinking and just do it.

Before I’m thought of as an idiot. 

But it’s probably too late for that.
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