Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Zen Wisdom

You Have to Say Something by Dainin Katagiri, who has also written Returning to Silence.

Kitagari p. 76

The absence of our own being is the face of Emptiness. Emptiness is not produced nor is it stopped; it does not appear nor does it disappear. In experiencing the absence of our being, we become fully alive, fo we are not dependent on things. This is to be free from suffering.

This is why we must do zazen without expecting any kind of reward. This is most important. If you miss this point, your zazen will be just like everything else you do. It will be the kind of mediation you find in pop psychology. IN zazen you just do it. There is nothing to depend on.

But we always try to get something from zazen. Sometimes we might talk about how wonderful zazen is, how it makes our life better. This is not zazen. It is dissatisfaction, longing, and instability of mind. We are still depending on something. Consciously or unconsciously, we depend on things as if they had substance.

Even though I tell you Buddha is not something divine you still conjure up a sense of divinity. Then you begin to feel you can depend on it. So I explain that Buddha is thoroughgoing change, or Emptiness, but you still don’t believe me. Then I tell you that you are Buddha, so there is nothing for you to depend on. You don’t believe this, etiher. You don’t take to heart what Buddha’s teaching points you to.

Consciously or unconsciously, we put something out there that makes us feel dependent. This is a big problem. It might seem to be good to be infatuated by some wonderful, spiritual experience, but it’s not so good. It interrupts life—your life and the life of the society.

So without asking for anything, expecting anything, or depending on anything, just do zazen. Then your life will become really alive.

p. 79 Sometimes [people] think Buddhism is nihilistic. But Buddhism is not nihilistic. It is not about the destruction of existence. It is about seeing the world before we measure it.

There is nothing to pin down because the reality we are living [80] is constantly changing. Yet, while there’s nothing to pin down, nothing to hold I our hand, still we have the sense of “I am here.” And then we take hold of that idea. This is why everyone is confused.

There are Zen stories about a mountain named Egolessness. On this mountain there is a wonderful tree named Great Enlightenment. When you eat the fruit of this tree, you experience great spiritual excitement. People are very interested in such stories because they want to have some great, spiritual experience. They want to fly and go to paradise where there is no suffering.

Unfortunately, these people have no idea where this tree is. They don’t even know where the mountain is. So they start checking every tree they come to, eating the fruit of each. Sometimes the fruit makes them feel dizzy; sometimes they lose their appetite. Still, they work very hard searching for the fruit of their dreams. In fact, their search is not even that hard for them, because they expect great things. Finally, the stories tell us, one person found what he thought was the enlightenment tree. When he ate its fruit, he experienced wonderful things. But his so-called enlightenment was just plain selfishness.

All of us are interested in looking for the enlightenment tree. Our problem is that we don’t look for it on the mountain of egolessness. What we don’t understand is that self-awakening must coincide with other-awakening. In other words, if we would awaken, we must help others to awaken…To awaken others is to awaken one’s self simultaneously. This is why we emphasize helping others first. This is how we can really help our selves…what is your true heart?

We don’t understand that the real bedrock of existence is pure motion. There is nothing to hold on to, nothing we can claim for ourselves. All we really have to do is just be here, and in that way we will learn what the world is before we measure it. Even though you don’t understand what goes on before you measure it, just be here in peace. Just become peace. This is our practice.

Friday, August 21, 2015

More From Bobin

p. 25 Beauty is in the radical instability—a loss of balance and of voice—that the passing touch of a white wing provokes in us. Beauty is the sum of those things that pass through us, unaware of us, and suddenly intensifying the lightness of being…

p. 44 The first knowledge we acquire of god is bitter and sweet, gulped in with the earliest nutriments of childhood. A child licks god, drinks him, hits him, smiles at him, shouts at him and ends up sleeping in his arms, replete in the nook of the dark. This knowledge is immediate, offered to the new-born, denied to the clerical establishment, denied to those whose god is thin—a knowing cut off from its known.

p. 47 The people believe this [Jonah’s] news, they think it’ all up with us, god won’t revoke his decision, this time it’s the end, and with that they shut down their computer, leave their offices and go into the street to take their place in the day with no tomorrow, that is to say the grace of living, which is to say god.

p. 53 If we consider our life in relation to the world, we need to resist what others would make of us, refuse whatever presents itself—roles, identities, functions—and defend above all else our silence and our solitude. If we consider our life in its relation to eternity, we need to relax our grip and accept what comes, holding on to nothing. Rejecting all on the one hand, accepting all on the other: this double movement can take place only within the love in which the world retreats while the eternal draws closer, solitary and silent.

…From the perspective of the spirit, there is no distinction between excess and dearth: the more one frequents solitude, the more one needs it. The more we are plunged in love, the more we feel its lack. We shall never have enough solitude and the same is true of love, that sheer slope of solitude.

p. 54 Love is detachment, forgetfulness of self. We cannot arrive at it unaided, for our whole strength is ceaselessly employed in heaping the world on the surface of our ego. What we take at times for detachment is merely indifference or resignation—just two more metamorphoses of the ego, buttressed in the case of indifference, darkened in resignation.

p. 59 To write is to give extreme care to what we are doing—something impossible in life where we focus on the essential while neglecting the rest, forgetting that the essential is nothing else than what we forget.

p. 60 A lofty self-awareness goes hand in hand with an inwardly depressive state—as an empire that has lost its self-belief fortifies its frontiers and takes a pride in its tombs.

Irony is a symptom of avarice, a contraction of the intelligence, which clenches its teeth sooner than let slip a single word of praise. Humour, inversely, is a sign of generosity: smiling at what one loves is to love it twice as much.

p. 62 Holiness is so far from perfection as to be its polar opposite. Perfection is the spoilt little sister of death. Holiness is a potent taste for life as it goes—a childlike capacity to rejoice in what is, without asking for anything else.

The living are few and the dead abound in this life—the dead being those who never let go and can’t walk away from themselves into love or laughter.

Prayer is our one link with the real—if by ‘prayer’ we mean simply an attention both extreme and careless of any result, an attention so pure that the one who practises it is not even aware of doing so.

p. 67 There is a lot of suffering in the world, and, in equal quantity, a lot of childhood. These two things are one and the same. For the world, the spirit of childhood is unbearable. It has to abandon childhood in order to carry on being world. What we abandon doesn’t die, but wanders abroad and finds no rest. Grief keeps it [68] company.

Sentiment [as opposed to love] is close to melancholy and sooner or later will slide into it. Sentiment and melancholy spring from a preference of self for self, a complaisance—heightened or hopeless—of me for me…Melancholy is the dark face of the sentimental. Sentiment, like melancholy, clings, fetters, fuses. Love cuts, detaches, flies. Sentiment, like birdlime, glue my self within me. By love I am detached from it, torn free…

p. 73 I should like to know how to pray, I should like to know how to cry for help, how to thank, how to wait, how to love, how to weep, I should like to know what can’t be learnt, but I know none of it, all I know is how to sit and let God in to do the work for me, God or more often, for one mustn’t be demanding, one of his go-betweens, rain, snow, the laughter of children, Mozart.

The most luminous moments in my life are those where I am content to watch the world appearing. These moments are made up of solitude and silence…I have left yesterday behind and tomorrow doesn’t exist…What I am describing is a modest experience [74] anyone may have — for example, in those moments, when, without a thought in one’s head, forgetful even of one’s own existence, one presses a cheek against a cold window-pane to watch the rain falling.

p. 75 Between earth and sky, a ladder. At the top of this ladder, silence…Silence alone is never sly. Silence is first and last. Silence is love—and when it is not, it is more wretched than noise.

…There are two things as needful to us as are water and light to trees: solitude and interaction. In hell both are absent.

p. 114 I found myself once in a relationship where every word let fall by one of us was caught without fail by the other. The same was true of every silence. It was not the fusion experienced by lovers in their first fervour—an unreal and destructive state. In the spaciousness of this connection there was a kind of music, and we were at once together and apart, like the gossamer wings of a dragonfly. Having experienced this plenitude, I know that love has nothing to do with the sentimentality that lingers in songs, nor does it come with sex, which the world has taken for its top promotion—the one that helps it sell all the rest. Love is the miracle that lets our very silences be heard, [115] and us fine-tune our listening to the same degree: life n its essence, pure as the air that bears up the dragonflies’ wings and rejoices in their dance.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Eighth Day

Dalton Longman Todd has just published Pauline Matarasso's luminous translation of an anthology of Christian Bobin's work. Bobin is a best-selling author in France; his work appeals to a broad range of people from atheists to believers.

The beauty and wisdom of this book is impossible to convey in a standard book review, so, with the publisher's permission, I am posting, this week and next, a few quotations.

From the Introduction, p. 2:

It is only in silence and the mute attention to the immediate that we will find our place in the absolute that surrounds us.

 Silence alone can be depended on. And it is silence that leads once more into the theme of death and back again into childhood: ‘As though the two silences—that of death swaddled in life and that of life winkled from death—had not always been one and the same, the silence of childhood in its boundless grief, in its eternal laughter.’

p. 6  One can be a mine of learning and spend one’s life in total ignorance of life. It is not the books that are to blame, but the meagreness of our desire, the narrow limits of our dreaming. At bottom, if truth is sometimes lacking in us, it’s because we first failed truth, by claiming to direct and know her…

From the text:

p. 15 The leaves on the hazel are trembling in the breeze: there is nothing so pure as the brightness of foliage, diffused in a thousand varicoloured glints. Nothing soothes more than the meekness of these tender leaves, utterly surrendered to the deluge of lights. Their speech is easy on the ear and shot through with silence. [16] Their being is transparent, open to the night as the day; their submission draws on them a sheen of praise. To contemplate these leaves—whose vocation is to worship the source of their torment — purifies thought. As one’s glance take flight, nothing is left except these green, floating leaves, obedient to the whim of timeless currents and sustaining alone the whole weight of infinite space.

p. 17 Where we are—in the eternal moment—there are no words, since everything is present…

…It is the only succour we shall ever have, this beauty that lights our way while casting us into an even deeper night. I write, I do nothing. I love that life, so lacking in events… I am silent, I do nothing, and in an evening’s nothing I slowly learn to name what fills me and eludes me: the wonder of a little green leaf astray in the rising flood of lights.

p.18 The big decisions are taken already in childhood, those that determine the course of the stars and the flow of dreams. They have their source in everything and nothing…

…childhood turns inward for succour. The silence released by sadness finds a mute response in the [19] silence of a decision—like a vow of madness taken under a dark start. The decision has no clear object. Indeed, it has no substance other than silence…The fierce will of a silence in which childhood takes refuge, determined to outlive itself within the parameters of what has just killed it…

p. 19 …the silence of childhood in its boundless grief, in its eternal laughter…

p. 20 Loving and dying proceed from the same knowledge, walk in step together.

p. 23…the painful knowledge that doesn’t come in books: it is in exhaustion that we grow in strength. It is in surrender that princes are made, and in the blaze of dying that the full splendour of loving is revealed. If the beauty of a face is moving, it is thanks to this light that moulds it unaware—a brightness that merges with that of its future disappearance. All I have seen in the nobility of self-forgetful faces has been the traces of this radiance towards which each life is tending without knowing it: beauty and death keep up a ceaseless conversation in the open space of the face, like the subdued chatter of neighbours over the garden fence…

p. 24 What is strange in fact is that grace still gets to us, when we do all we can to render ourselves unreachable. What is strange is that—thanks to a wait, a look, or a laugh—we sometimes gain access to that eighth day of the week, which neither dawns nor dies in the context of time…

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Seventieth Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima

I was four years old in 1945 when the United States of America bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even at that age I was aware that something out of the ordinary had happened, but my questions to my mother were brushed aside (my father was in Burma, in charge of the convoys traveling over the Burma Road).

There were ways around my mother’s reticence about the war. When she wasn’t looking, I went into the study and saw the photographs in Life magazine. The pictures of the emaciated scraps of human beings, the piles of corpses and the gas ovens of the concentration camps horrified me beyond words. My childhood ended on that day. But I learned nothing more about Hiroshima. When the first pictures appeared, I simply couldn't take on board what had happened. The invention of the nuclear bomb was touted as a major success for America; to me it was the stuff of which nightmares are made.

A year later, John Hersey published his report about the bombing, called simply Hiroshima. It was only a year or so after that, at the age of six or seven, that I picked it up off my father’s bookshelf and read.

To read this book while still haunted by the photos of the concentration camps marked me forever. The veils of childhood were ripped away. There was no place to run, and no place to hide. My sheltered existence was a sham. In the face of such evil, my own unhappiness in a family where I was a misfit receded into insignificance.

When I grew older, another layer of horror was added as I began to understand the cynicism that surround the entire Manhattan Project, the cynicism that pervaded Washington, D.C. where we were then living. That the first nuclear test was called ‘Trinity’ was only slightly less obscene than the fact that Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on the Feast of the Transfiguration, and Fat Man on Nagasaki during the Octave.

I find myself wondering if we shouldn’t have a penitential day in the national calendar, ‘The Remembrance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’

Whether or not the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to shorten the ending of the war or not is a debate that will never be resolved. But the USA bears the moral opprobrium of being the only country that has ever used nuclear devices in anger, and for opening the door to annihilation of life on the planet as we know it. Some day the sun will become a gas giant and devour the earth; we are in grave danger of anticipating that event by several billion years with our artificial suns.

There are now seven nations that have nuclear weapons. The world is as bloody, violent, and amoral now as at any time during the Second World War. What would happen, say, if the so-called Islamic State, which has vowed to obliterate the entire cultural heritage of Iraq, got hold of nuclear weapons? If you wept on seeing the destruction of the millennia-old winged guardians of Babylon by jihadists, then you have a glimmer, perhaps, of the unimaginable destruction we try to ignore.

John Hersey’s book was reissued today by Penguin for only £1.99. Buy it. Read it. Read it not once but once a month, even once a week. Read it in church. Read it in book clubs. As hearts in South Africa were changed one by one to abolish apartheid, so hearts must be changed one by one to rid ourselves of the scourge of nuclear weapons before we blow ourselves and everything we love to radioactive dust.

‘Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return’ takes on a whole new meaning in the blinding flash of nuclear fusion. Will it be the dust from which creation arises, or the dust by which we immolate the last vestige of creation?