30 Jul
2018
Posted in: Poems
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But First We Must Watch

Singapore
by Mary Olive

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logical, who would want it?

27 Jul
2018
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That Which is Exhausted by Vision

Visual Orders (excerpt)
by Jenny Xie

[11]

Ancient optic theory dictates that the eye sends
out rays, which touches the object of sight. When
the visual ray returns to the eye, the image is impressed
on the mind. To see, then, was tactile.

That we are touchable makes us seen.

 

[12]

Sight is bounded by the eyes,
making seeing a steady loss.

The presence of the unseen is vaster
than that which is exhausted by vision.

We inhabit this incoherence.

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. 

23 Jul
2018
Posted in: Poems, Practice
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And So On, And So Forth

Zazen
by Jenny Xie

Sour tobacco, tofu bowl, bright.
Planks of hollyhock in Anhui,
the way I don’t know could open
months later like a hive.
Hard tide of shame that I thought
had dried out years ago.
Love’s barks grow watery, faint.
I walk the edge of an honest life.
The lash of carnal thoughts, followed
by the thin whip of banal guilt.
Hot yellow lights of cities
where I once pressed, over and over,
up against alternate lives.

Now, I sit. Above a deep ground.
The mind fetches the chatter.

And so on, and so forth.

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
Posted in: Books
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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

17 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. ME!

One of my dharma buddies sent me a great series of talks by Tenzin Palmo, a British woman who spent twelve years practicing in a remote cave in the Himalayas and was the first to receive full bhiksuni ordination in the Tibetan tradition. (Thanks Betsy!)

I haven’t listened to them all, but I plan to. Yesterday I listened to: Teaching on the Eight Verses of Mind, in which Palmo says:

“In Buddhism, pride means thinking we are superior to other people, but it also means thinking that we’re inferior to other people.

“Because if I think: Oh, I’m the most stupid person here; I’m hopeless; I can’t do anything; All these people, they’re so wonderful…. Or when you’re on retreat: Oh, everybody else is deep in the first jhana or at least some samadhi, I’m the only one that’s been caught up in these wondering thoughts…. That is not humility. That’s just the inverse of the ego, beating itself up.

“The ego is very happy to be miserable. Because, if we are miserable (especially full of self-pity) about how awful and hopeless and stupid we are…. what are we thinking about?

“Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Oh poor Me. Oh stupid Me. Oh hopeless Me. — ME!”

***

She nailed that one.

The whole talk is really quite wonderful. It’s long, but it’s worth it. (The excerpt above begins at about the 29 minute mark.) Click here to listen.

16 Jul
2018
Posted in: Books, Groups, Practice
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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!

12 Jul
2018
Posted in: Practice, Talks
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Something Naturally Arises

Another excerpt from Ajahn Sucitto, this time from a beautiful little talk (less than 12 minutes long!) in which he suggests “entering into a relational field” — instead of reacting to things in terms of “subject-and-object.” (Thanks for pointing me to this one, Carolyn.)

Sucitto says, “Be on guard for any time we see something as an ‘object’ — especially if it’s a person — (oh, her…or he’s my boss…or she’s my wife…). As soon as you get one of those: Uh-oh! You’ve just whistled up a problem! Because objects in that experience are always saturated with unconscious craving, resistance of various kinds, and mental factors we haven’t acknowledged.

“When that happens, it’s time to: Stop. And check. Not the object or the subject, but: What’s the relational tone of mind?  Is it ill will; is it regret; is it nagging; is it hungry; is it blaming; is it comparing; is it ‘should-be’; is it ‘if only he was…’

“Ask what is happening in that relational field. And then: could that activity just stop….and take a break — a break from suffering!

“Then from there, take a breather and ask: What seems important now? What’s the one important gesture now? 

“Then from that place, you can just… have a little bit of give. Because: Why not? And it makes you feel good!

“The more you can enter that kind of place, the more you can get all kinds of growth, development, understanding, realization… Shifts can occur. In relationship with other people. In relationship with yourself!

“….So, entering the relational field: It’s always kind of fresh because it’s not pre-conceived. Even a good strategy like: OK, I will be loving and peaceful. That’s a nice idea, but it’s an ideal. And where does that come from? [laughter]

“Instead, could something naturally arise…through the relinquishment of mental obstructions. That’s really a mystical and religious experience — when something naturally arises — which is not myself.

“And it happens. Definitely. It happens.”

***

This excerpt is edited and condensed. I highly recommend listening to the whole talk (and doing it more than once!). Click here.