Note to self: some references on Right Speech and The Eight-fold Path

Another note to self: you talk too much. Work on that.

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Is awareness personal?

May 25, 2017

Me (student): Is awareness personal?

Teacher: No!

M: But it feels personal.

And so it goes, back and forth. A conversation that, in one form or another, has driven students to sit face-to-face with their teachers for hundreds of years.

This was not the first time I had been down this rabbit hole. Awareness felt personal, like something happening inside my head. This time, however, the conversation took a surprising turn. After reminding me one more time that my idea of awareness taking place somewhere inside my brain was a delusion, my teacher continued:

T (pointing to the wall): Where is awareness of the wall?

M (silent)

T (placing his hand on the rug): Where is awareness here?

M (placing my hand on the rug and pondering): But the thought comes in so fast.

T (bowing): You have passed your first koan.

I’ve been feeling my age more and more these days, feeling slower, more creaky, and less interested in coping with all of the things that keep others busy. My older friends assure me that I am not yet ‘old’ which is comforting, I guess, but it is comfort of a very meager sort because I feel like they are telling me, in not so many words, that its all downhill from here.

So what should I do? Shrug? Ignore what can’t be controlled? Get on with my ‘life’? Which is to say, act like the other 99.99% of the people on the planet at any given moment and pretend that I (and my so-called possessions) will live forever? Why isn’t my zen practice delivering pat answers to these questions?

I don’t have any answers, but I did find inspiration from two articles that popped into my inbox this morning: The Supreme Meditation (Larry Rosenberg, Lion’s Roar, 10 Mar 2017), and Dead Like Me (Ira Sukrungruang, Lion’s Roar, 10 Mar 2017). These writers are facing death head on so why shouldn’t I give it a try?

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February 27, 2017

Do you have time for a story? No? Not even a short one? Never mind then.

I became acquainted with this Philip Whalen poem when I heard it read by Barry Magid (podcast, Ordinary Mind Zendo). I’ve been walking many of the paths Whalen traveled (Portland, Reed, San Francisco, zen) and now we meet again.

“Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis” by Philip Whalen

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words,
Usually a pointless joke or a silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick
                         splashed picture—bug, leaf,
                         caricature of Teacher
    on paper held together now by little more than ink
    & their own strength brushed momentarily over it
Their world & several others since
Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it—
Cheered as it whizzed by—
& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars
Happy to have saved us all.

Saved. Next time my mind starts digging a hole, I’ll try to remember that those ancient folks already solved my problems for me. Just look behind the busted wine jars.

Thanks to Mud & Lotus for sharing the poem and calligraphy.

The links between Basho (1644-1694), haiku master, and zen have occupied many a scholar. I recently came across a fairly old Tricycle (Spring 2002) article by poet Jane Hirshfield, “Basho as Teacher,” in which she articulates Basho’s core teaching as interconnection.

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A zen friend sent a gift my way: David Budbill‘s poem, “The Three Goals”. I love its blend of lofty spiritual ideal and humorous, compassionate reality. Enjoy.

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I’m not a Buddhist scholar, priest, or monk. I don’t carry a card in my wallet identifying me as a Buddhist. On the other hand, I’ve been meditating nearly daily for over half a dozen years and I regularly pay membership dues to a local zen meditation center. My family certainly thinks that I’m a Buddhist (I’m not going bowling when I leave the house with my meditation bench under my arm) so why am I so reluctant to identify as such?

No doubt some of my ambivalence is that I have a problem with group labels. For most of my adult life, any stranger who asked, “Are you Jewish?,” would have elicited a quick mental check, “Who wants to know? Why?”

My childhood in the 50’s and 60’s was a product of the Hand-wringing Decades following WWII. Were American Jews lucky? Could it happen here? You can ask someone of my generation, “Are you Jewish?,” but chances are you won’t realize how laden that question is. Who wants to know? Why?

So, given my sensitivity to labels, I’m naturally cautious about the Buddhist brand too.

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I have read, ‘pick a tradition and stick with it’. If only I could. I practice at a zen center and receive instruction from its teacher (and I cannot express my gratitude for zen, the center, its community, and teacher enough), but I am constantly looking at other traditions to see how they might guide me. For example, I receive monthly installments of the Insight Journal from the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and three recent issues have raised ideas that I want to track.

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My longtime Portland friend and Fulbright scholar, Geoff Hiller, has a talent for taking pictures. He has traveled the world, most recently in Asia, collecting scenes from temples, mosques, weddings, open air markets, art schools, you name it. Now he’s turning to Kickstarter to launch a very special book: Burma in Transition.

This is something very special to see and share with others and support. There are just 28 days to go on this campaign so please help.

Practice as life

May 10, 2013

The school year is just about over. There are only a few more papers to read and only a few more forms to fill out. And now, the same stirrings that have lifted my spirits every May for the past 27 years are starting to make themselves felt: a release from deadlines, an escape from the prison of daily teaching, real possibilities for relaxation & play, and maybe, some time for projects put on hold.

It all feels very familiar, except … this year I had resolved to live differently, to remind myself that every time I started to buy into work = prison, vacation = life, I was getting things wrong.

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