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14 Aug
2018
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This Wide Human Stream

Getting everything done before I leave for retreat appears to be taking quite a bit longer than I had expected, so I won’t be posting again until sometime after I get back. (I return late on Aug 30.)

Usually before going on retreat, I leave you with a selection from my favorite inner travelogue, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. This time I’d like to offer something similar, but different — from Flightsby Olga Tokarczuk, which won the Man Booker Prize this year and was just released today:

The Bodhi Tree
I met a person from China. He was telling me about the first time he flew to India on business; he had lots and lots of important individual and group meetings. His company produced quite complicated electronic devices allowing blood to be conserved longer-term, and allowing organs to be safely transported, and now he was negotiating to open up new markets and start some Indian subsidiaries.

On his final evening there he mentioned to his Indian contractor that he had dreamed since childhood of seeing the tree under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment — the Bodhi tree. He came from a Buddhist family, although at that time there could be no public mention of religion in the People’s China. But later, once they could avow whatever faith they wished, his parents unexpectedly converted to Christianity, a Far Eastern variety of Protestantism. They felt that the Christian God might come in handier to His followers, that He would be, let’s be honest, more effective, and it would be easier with Him to get some money and get set up. But this man did not share that view and kept the Buddhist faith of his ancestors.

The Indian contractor understood the man’s desire. He nodded and topped off his Chinese colleague’s drink.

In the end they all got pleasantly inebriated, getting out all the tensions of signing contracts and negotiations. With the last of their strength, wobbling on swaying legs, they went into the hotel sauna to sober up, since in the morning they still had work to do.

The following morning a message was delivered to his room — a little note with just one word: “Surprise.” Clipped to it the business card of his contractor. In front of the hotel stood a taxi, which now conveyed him to a waiting helicopter. After a flight of less than an hour the man found himself in the sacred spot where, beneath a great fig tree, the Buddha had attained enlightenment.

His elegant suit and white shirt vanished into the crowd of pilgrims. His body still preserved the bitter memory of alcohol, the heat of the sauna, and a rustle of papers signed in silence on the glass surface of the modern table. A scraping of a pen that left behind his name. Here, however, he felt lost, and helpless as a child. Women who came up to his shoulder, colorful as parrots, pushed past him in the direction this wide human stream was flowing. Suddenly the man was frightened by the thing that he repeated as a Buddhist several times a day, when he had time — the vow. That he would try to bring with his prayers and actions all sentient beings to enlightenment. Suddenly this struck him as utterly hopeless.

When he saw the tree, he was — to tell the truth — disappointed. He had not a thought in his head, nor any prayers. He paid the place its due homage, kneeling many times, making substantial offerings, and about two hours later, he returned to the helicopter. By afternoon he was back in his hotel.

Under a stream of water in the shower that washed from his body the sweat, dust, and strange sweetish smell of the crowd, the stalls, the bodies, the ubiquitous incense, and the curry people ate with their hands off paper trays, it occurred to him that every day he was witness to what had shaken Prince Gautama so: illness, old age, death. And it was no big deal. It produced no change in him; by now, to tell the truth, he’d grown inured to it. And then, drying himself off with a fluffy white towel, he thought he wasn’t even sure he truly wished to be enlightened. If he really wanted to see, in one split second, the whole truth. To peer inside the world as though by X-ray, to glimpse it in the skeletal structure of a void.

But of course — as he assured his generous friend that same evening — he was extremely grateful for this present. Then from the pocket of his suit coat he carefully extracted a crumbled leaf, which both men inclined over in rapt, pious attention.

***

See you in September!

2 Aug
2018
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We Keep Looking

This Tenderness
from Things that Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living, by Mark Nepo

We keep looking for a home though each of us is a home. And no matter where we run, we land before each other, thoroughly exposed. This is the purpose of gravity — to wear us down till we realize we are each other.

Though we think we’re alone, we all meet here. Though we start out trying to climb over each other, we wind up asking to be held. It just takes some of us longer to land here than others. Once worn of our pretense, it’s hard to tolerate arrogance. Once humbled, it’s hard to withstand a litany of “me.” Once burning off the atmosphere of self-interest, there’s a tenderness that never goes away.

This tenderness is the sonar by which we sense the interior life. This tenderness is the impulse that frees us. For anything is possible when we let the heart be our skin.

The point is to feel whatever comes our way, not conclude it out of its aliveness. The unnerving blessing about being alive is that it can change us forever.

I keep discovering that everyone is loveable, magnificent, and flawed.

26 Jul
2018
Posted in: Books, Practice, Suttas
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Happily Ever After, and Even After That!

At Sunday Sangha last week we got into a discussion about the fact that of course we “cling” to our loved ones (spouses, children, grandchildren, etc.). And Brian mentioned that at a recent retreat, Bhikkhu Bodhi pointed out that while many of the Buddha’s teachings were given to monastics, many of them were not — they were given to “regular people,” who were married and had children, etc. — and that it’s important to know who the Buddha was talking to when we try to understand these teachings.

Which brought to mind the sutta where the Buddha tells Nakulapita and his wife Nakulamata how they could stay together and in love with each other as long as they lived….and on into future lives as well!

This discourse also shows that far from demanding that his lay disciples spurn the desires of the world, the Buddha was ready to show those still under the sway of worldly desire how to obtain the objects of their desire. The one requirement he laid down was that the fulfillment of desire be regulated by ethical principles.” (from In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Here’s what it says in the sutta:

“One morning the Blessed One dressed, took his upper robe and bowl, and went to the dwelling of the householder Nakulapita. Having arrived there, he sat down on the seat prepared for him. Then the householder Nakulapita and the housewife Nakulamata approached the Blessed One and, after paying homage to him, sat down to one side. So seated, the householder Nakulapita said to the Blessed One:

Venerable sir, ever since the young housewife Nakulamata was brought home to me when I too was still young, I am not aware of having wronged her even in my thoughts, still less in my deeds. Our wish is to be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.

“Then Nakulamata the housewife addressed the Blessed One thus: Venerable sir, ever since I was taken to the home of my young husband Nakulapita, while being a young girl myself, I am not aware of having wronged him even in my thoughts, still less in my deeds. Our wish is to be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.

“Then the Blessed One spoke this: If, householders, both wife and husband wish to be in one another’s sights so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well, they should have the same faith, the same moral discipline, the same generosity, the same wisdom; then they will be in one another’s sight so long as this life lasts and in the future life as well.” (AN 4:55)

***

How sweet is that!

24 Jul
2018
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Which Is Always Beaming in All Directions

The Dilation of What Seems Ordinary
from Things that Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living, by Mark Nepo

Just now, it happened again. My defenses were down, my memory machine asleep, my dream machine tired, and so the Mystery — which is always beaming in all directions — made it through. And the moment of clarity the Mystery releases is always like a return from amnesia. So this is what it means to be a person, how could I forget: To be alive, to look out from these small canyons called eyes, to receive light from the sun off the water and feel it shimmer on the water in my heart. To listen to the silence waiting under our stories, long enough that all the vanished words said over time simmer together to make me feel journeys beyond my own. Till I surface before you with a humbled sense of happiness. Not because I’m any closer to what I want, or even know what I want. But because in the flood of all that is living, I am electrified–the way a muscle dreams under the skin that holds it of lifting whatever needs to be lifted. 

19 Jul
2018
Posted in: Activism, Books, Racism
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There Will Come a Time

This is what I have learned from working with my dharma friends on Waking Up to Whiteness: It’s necessary to recognize the reality of racism; it’s important to want racism to end.

But it won’t end until: “I’m not a racist,” turns into: “I’m antiracist. Antiracism is one of my core values. My actions in the world are based on that.”

In support of which, I offer this except from Stamped from the BeginningThe Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi:

An antiracist America can only be guaranteed if principled antiracists are in power, and then antiracist policies become the law of the land, and then antiracist ideas become the common sense of the people, and then the antiracist common sense of the people holds those antiracist leaders and policies accountable.

“And that day is sure to come. No power lasts forever. There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that they think something is wrong with Black people.

“There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities. There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves.

“There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.” 

***

I am committed to that.

18 Jul
2018
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Through Effort and Grace

This Is How

“When we can open our hearts and work with what we’re given, loving what’s before us, life stays possible. Then, through effort and grace, we do what we can with what we have. And when exhausted by all that’s in the way, we’re faced with the chance to accept and love what’s left, which is everything. This is how we discover that Heaven is on Earth.”

–from Things that Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living, by Mark Nepo

16 Jul
2018
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Heartwood

Our Dharma Book Group meets tonight (we’re reading In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi), and it looks like our discussion will take us into The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood (MN 29), which includes one of my favorite quotes from the Buddha.

Here’s what Bhikkhu Bodhi has to say:

“The sutta is about a ‘clansman’ who has gone forth from the household life into homelessness intent on reaching the end of suffering. Though earnest in purpose at the time of his ordination, once he attains some success, whether a lower achievement like gain and honor or a superior one like concentration and insight, he becomes complacent and neglects his original purpose in entering the Buddha’s path. The Buddha declares that none of these stations along the way — not moral discipline, concentration, or even knowledge and vision — is the final goal of the spiritual life…”

The Buddha says, “But it is the unshakeable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end.”

***

“Unshakeable liberation of mind.” I just love that!

9 Jul
2018
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All Our Relations

I just started reading There There, by Tommy Orange, and already I feel my heart/mind opening, shifting, changing. Here’s an excerpt from the Prologue:

“Urban Indians were the generation born in the city. We’ve been moving for a long time, but the land moves with you like memory. An Urban Indian belongs to the city, and cities belong to the earth. Everything here is formed in relation to every other living and nonliving thing from the earth. All our relations.

“The process that brings anything to its current form–chemical, synthetic, technological, or otherwise–doesn’t make the product not a product of the living earth. Building, freeways, cars–are these not of the earth? Were they shipped in from Mars, the moon? Is it because they’re processed, manufactured, or that we handle them?

“Are we so different? Were we at one time not something else entirely, Homo sapiens, single-celled organisms, space dust, unidentifiable pre-bang quantum theory? Cities form in the same way as galaxies. Urban Indians feel at home walking in the shadow of a downtown building. We came to know the downtown Oakland skyline better than we did any sacred mountain range, the redwoods in the Oakland hills better than any other deep wild forest. We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls, we know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage or even fry bread–which isn’t traditional, like reservations aren’t traditional, but nothing is original, everything comes from something that came before, which was once nothing.

“Everything is new and doomed. We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.”

***

Wow. This, too, is Dharma.

28 Jun
2018
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The Emotional Body

It hit me, while I was exploring the Nine Bodies during my meditation the other day, that the “Emotional Body” is a “body” in the way the ocean is a “body.” The ocean is a body of water; the level of consciousness that’s called the “Emotional Body” is a body of emotions, which seems to act a LOT like an ocean! (Emotions flood, surge, flow, engulf, etc.) In fact, while I was experiencing this Body during meditation, the felt sense of it was JUST LIKE AN OCEAN!

In Awakening through the Nine BodiesPhillip writes: “The Emotional Body is where all emotions and sentiments manifest, including excitement, frustration, depression, exertion, humor, anxiety, worry, generosity, joy, jealously, insecurity, fear, panic, and satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Ambition also resides in the Emotional Body.

“The Emotional Body is where attachment arises because the emotions can create expectations and demands; however, emotions are not the problem because they are only energetic states. Like waves in the ocean, emotions do not create themselves; they are created by the mind. ‘You should observe whether you are acting or simply reacting from the Emotional Body,’ Balyogi advises.

“If you don’t relate to your emotions in a wise manner, the emotions will distort what is real and cause suffering to arise. Everybody has dark and light emotions; the question is, which will you develop?

“In order to develop positive emotions, you must practice mindfulness of what is arising in the mind that is causing the emotional waves.

“For instance, one of the strongest and most confusing emotions we experience is love. We hold it in an exalted state, yet we often experience it with the corrupting emotions of greed, jealousy, possessiveness, resentment, and exploitation. Thus, many people come to spiritual practice seeking to be healed from a lack of innate self-worth, childhood traumas, or a broken heart, and wanting to feel unconditional love….

“The Emotional Body is the center of love. Love grows in the Emotional Body. The Emotional Body allows the expression of love and provides the means to explore love.”

***

Want more? Click on this link for a video of Phillip Moffitt giving an introductory talk on the Nine Bodies, plus several audio talks and guided meditations on these teachings.

Dive right in!

27 Jun
2018
Posted in: Books, CDL
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Sustainable Abundance

A shout-out today for my fellow Community Dharma Leader, Gina LaRoche, whose new book The 7 Laws of Enough: Cultivating a Life of Sustainable Abundance (co-authored with her business partner Jennifer Cohen) has just been released!

Here’s an excerpt:
“What if the truth is that everything is OK? Like, Garden of Eden OK?

“It’s hard to imagine. But it is the truth of sufficiency. Here are the facts: there is enough food, air, water, and other necessities for every human being on the planet to live a quality life, full of resources and abundance…

“You are enough. You do enough. You have enough, already. If you were to orient to life, to your team, your family, and society as if that were true, we guarantee you would see life in a whole new way. You would ask different questions and frame problems differently. New solutions would emerge….

“We call this bounty ‘sustainable abundance.’ Sustainable: ethical, reciprocal, just. Abundance: grateful, radiant, and present to the bounty everywhere….

Law 1: Stories Matter. We are living in a web of stories, most of them not of our own making. We’ll help you go from being stuck in your inherited stories to being the author of stories that further your life’s purpose.

Law 2: I Am Enough. You are. I am. We are. When we stop questioning our birthright everything shifts.

Law 3: I Belong. Everyone does. No one has the right to tell us otherwise. We live in a culture that teaches us we’re separate and has a vested interest in making us feel as if we don’t belong.

Law 4: No One Is Exempt. We’re set free when we accept impermanence and face what is finite and infinite. This helps us see through the lies of scarcity.

Law 5: Resting Is Required. Society encourages us to be overworked, overmedicated, overfed, undernourished, and terrified. We crave the kind of deep rest we have almost lost. We can and must reclaim it.

Law 6: Joy Is Available. We can find deep and abiding joy when we see clearly, let go of the lies, and notice what we have already.

Law 7: Love Is the Answer. This is the final law and our deepest truth. Love is the answer to the questions that plague our society and come our hearts.”

***

Way to go, Gina!!!