Zen

The Path Home

The Path Home

"The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one senses that there is a source for this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home." ~ Peter Matthiessen

Intimacy with Your Own Life

Dawes Arboretum's Japanese Garden, March 19, 2011

Excerpt from "Unleashing the Mystery of Existence," Spirituality & Health, March-April 2013:

Kim Rosen: You have been a Zen practitioner for many years. How have your own spiritual path and your evolution as a poet been interwoven? Does your Zen practice teach you about writing poetry? Does your writing teach you about Zen?

Jane Hirshfield: They are left foot and right foot.

Zen is the taste of your own tongue in your own mouth. It’s a way to find something very simple that’s already present within you—a subtler, sharper, nondistanced, and nondistancing awareness.
 
Everything else emerges from this intimacy with your own life, this opening into attention. We become the instruments of our lives and become part of the orchestra of the larger existences that our lives in turn are part of.
 
The same basic attention and permeability are the beginning of poetry writing. Whatever I’ve done in both practice and poetry is a search for ways of seeing and speaking, of feeling and understanding, that draw from the limitless well of the limitless real. I’ll add, I always feel a slight dismay if I’m called a “Zen” poet. I am not. I am a human poet, that’s all. Labels just get in the way. The fundamental wildness and mystery of existence slip every leash we try to put on them, and both meditation practice and the writing of poems are leash-slipping acts.

This is What I Found Through Practice

Exceprt from "Susan Blackmore on Zen Consciousness," To The Best of Our Knowledge, December 9, 2012:

Steve Paulson: I want to take you back to your Zen practice, and one thing I find curious is when I was reading how you describe it, you say you actually are not a Buddhist yourself. You practice Zen, but you don't call yourself a Buddhist. Why did Zen hit home for you so profoundly?

Susan Blackmore: Well, go back to the 1970s. And imagine me in the end of the hippy era, in all my flowing skirts, and my "far out, man," and listening to The Greatful Dead, and Pink Floyd, and taking interesting drugs, and all of that stuff. And I had an extraordinary out of the body experience, and I was really obsessed with trying to understand the mind.

I was studying physiology and psychology at Oxford, and that wasn't giving me  I mean, it was wonderful, I enjoyed it  but it wasn't giving me answers on those kinds of things.

I went searching. I trained as a witch and I learned to read tarot cards. I did all kinds of stuff, and I became a parapsychologist and looked for paranormal phenomena and never found any. One of the things in that whole mishmash of stuff, is that I came across a Zen group and started practicing meditation. All the other things gradually fell by the wayside — through my research as well as through my ordinary life. The Zen practice was the only thing that survived. And I found it enormously helpful, not just in the kind of intellectual way we are talking about now, but in the whole way of living my life.

But the really important thing for me is that when I write about Zen and about meditation and about what I have found, I want people to be clear that I'm not saying this is what the Buddha said or this is what Buddhism says. I'm saying, this is what I think I found through practice that I've been helped through Zen to learn. 


See also: "Higher Consciousness," To The Best of Our Knowledge, December 9, 2012

Noticing Thoughts and Feelings

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times“This is where you actually use this. Notice the thought. That’s fine. Notice the anxiety. Notice the fear. Use the meditation to focus your mind...The only thing that is keeping the emotion alive is your own thoughts. You keep churning it over and over again. Your thoughts do not care about you. They only want to perpetuate themselves.”

~ Gary Snyder, a Zen Buddhist priest and the current director of Brooklyn Zen Center, from "Zen for High Schoolers: ‘Notice the Anxiety. Notice the Fear.The New York Times, April 15, 2012

Only Listen

Nothing's worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.

Bashō

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakens.

Carl Jung

III A Glimpse of the Ox

The meadowlark sings, sitting on a branch.
Warm sun, light breeze, green willows by the river.
The Ox stands right there; where could he hide?
That splendid head, those stately horns,
what artist could draw their likeness?

If he would only listen to everyday sounds he would get it in a second. As for the senses: it was the cicada that made the ear! The thing itself is there no matter what we do. It is like the salt in water and the binder in paint. Rightly opened, the eye sees no difference between the water and the well.

Max Gimblett / A Glimpse of the Ox, 2005-08 / Sumi Ink, HMP American Handmade Paper

Oxherding is based on the Song-Dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery composed of pictures and verse. A contemporary American set of perspectives on this greatly venerated Buddhist text, the exhibition includes six collaborative artist books, a series of 10 sumi ink paintings by Max Gimblett, and 10 poems in Chinese and three English versions translated by Lewis Hyde. (Exhibit runs from Oct. 29, 2011 through Mar. 4, 2012 at the new Graham Gund Gallery on the campus of Kenyon College.)

Paying Attention to Attention

Paying Attention to Attention

"Zen meditation is a medium, you might say, or a technique to approach the medium of consciousness itself. Your consciousness may be a very unforgiving medium, other people may be more flexible but when you begin to sit in Zen meditation you find it is different from the other forms of meditation. In fact it’s not technically actually a meditation. The reason for that is because it becomes objectless and at the greatest depth of artistic creativity it also becomes subjectless, objectless, the individual becomes merged with the medium."

~ Taiun Elliston

Once Again Trees

March 30, 2011

“When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have travelled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains.”

~ attributed to Ch'ing-yüan, from The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

An Open-Ended Series of Provisional Breakthroughs

From Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch:

free-play The literature on creativity is full of tales of breakthrough experiences. These moments come when you let go of some impediment or fears, and boom—in whooshes the muse. You feel clarity, power, freedom, as something unforeseeable jumps out of you. The literature of Zen, on which I have drawn heavily because of its deep penetration of the breakthrough experience, abounds with accounts of kensho and satori—moments of illumination and moments of total change of heart. There come points in your life when you simply kick the door open. But there is no ultimate breakthrough; what we find in the development of a creative life is an open-ended series of provisional breakthroughs. In this journey there is no endpoint, because it is the journey into the soul.

In my own life, music taught me to listen, not just to sound but to who I am. I discovered the relevance of our many mystical or esoteric traditions to the practical life of art making. “Mysticism” does not refer to cloudy belief systems or to hocus-pocus; it refers to direct and personal spiritual experience, as distinct from organized religion in which one is expected to believe secondhand experiences passed on in sacred books or by teachers or authorities. It is the mystics who bring creativity into religion. The mystic or visionary attitude expands and concretizes art, science, and daily life as well. Do I believe what “the Man” tells me, or am I going to try things out for myself and see what’s really true for me?

Creativity is a harmony of opposite tensions, as in lila or divine play. As we ride through the flux of our own creative processes, we hold onto both poles. If we let go of play, our work becomes ponderous and stiff. If we let go of the sacred, our work loses its connection to the ground on which we live.

Knowledge of the creative process cannot substitute for creativity, but it can save us from giving up on creativity when the challenges seem too intimidating and free play seems blocked. If we know that our inevitable setbacks and frustrations are phases of the natural cycle of creative processes, if we know that our obstacles can become our ornaments, we can persevere and bring our desires to fruition. Such perseverance can be a real test, but there are ways through, there are guideposts. And the struggle, which is guaranteed to take a lifetime, is worth it. It is a struggle that generates incredible pleasure and joy. Every attempt we make is imperfect; yet each one of those imperfect attempts is an occasion for a delight unlike anything else on earth.

 

Branches from a Single Root

W.S. Merwin from “The Garden & the Sword,” an interview with Joel Whitney, Tricycle Magazine, Winter 2010:

I don’t think we have imagination apart from the environment. And I don’t think we have an existence apart from the environment either. And if the imagination isn’t about our existence, I don’t know what it’s about. It’s not about making money, that’s for sure.

…If you’re looking for neat formulaic answers in Dogen, you don’t find them. You don’t find them in Keizan, either. You have to come at them from a different part of your own mind. That’s the part of Zen practice that’s attractive to me. But it’s not unique to Zen. It’s there in Taoism. It probably was there in parts of the practice that became Greek Orthodoxy, that came out of the desert. The origins of all of those things are extremely ancient; they’re older than what we think of as the beginnings of Buddhism. The origin of Taoism may be completely on its own, but all of them go back to shamanism. And we don’t know know the history of shamanism; it’s all speculation. They link in my mind to things which are incredibly ancient.

…the link between the imagination—which to me is the great pinnacle of humanity, the imagination that makes the arts and makes compassion—is ancient in our species and goes way back. And it’s never been separate. And when you get any aspect of the culture that tries to separate it, it’s destructive and suicidal.

Take them away, names like Buddhism. I’m impatient with them. There’s something beyond all that, beneath all that that they all share, that they all come from. They are branches from a single root. And that’s what one has to pay attention to.

Huxisanxiaotu

Song Dynasty painting in the Litang style illustrating the theme "Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are one." Depicts Taoist Lu Xiujing (left), official Tao Hongjing (right) and Buddhist monk Huiyuan (center, founder of Pure Land) by the Tiger stream. The stream borders a zone infested by tigers that they just crossed without fear, engrossed as they were in their discussion. Realizing what they just did, they laugh together, hence the name of the picture,Three laughing men by the Tiger stream.

The Intimacy You Get From Practicing

Flamenco guitarist and Zen practitioner Ottmar Liebert, from “Intimacy Through Practice,” Buddhist Geeks Podcast, September 13, 2010:

There’s a part of practice that I think is inherent in all different practices. The type of concentration, the familiarity, the intimacy that you get to whatever you’re practicing, whether it’s archery or Zen or music or how to make a perfect pancake. You won’t get there unless you get intimate with the subject. You only get there through practice. As you become more intimate, you know more about it, where you can say “This batter is too liquid or too solid or too warm too cold. It’ll act this way.” All that comes only through practice. It comes  up often in conversations with my friends about how people go about life these days, that they’re really not willing to practice anything.

The other day we got to talking about jeans. There’s only one of the old fashioned wooden looms in America. I think it’s actually in Raleigh, North Carolina. All the other ones were shipped to Japan, and that’s in the ‘50s. And that’s where you  get the superior denim because people are willing to make things by hand and become intimate with it. Whereas a lot of people in the United States or in Europe will just go, “I’d rather buy ten pairs at Walmart than buy one pair of really good jeans, even though the really good pair will probably outlast the ten pairs they buy at Walmart.” So, there’s a lack of that—you might say depth—that comes from not practicing, from not practicing a craft.

*     *     *     *     *

Raleigh Denim

Raleigh Denim: Handcrafted in North Carolina from David Huppert on Vimeo.

The Screen is Always There

Excerpt from Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen, by Shunryu Suzuki:

Our everyday life is like a movie playing on the wide screen. Most people are interested in the picture on the screen without realizing there is a screen. When the movie stops and you don't see anything anymore, you think, "I must come again tomorrow evening. I will come back and see another show." When you are just interested in the movie on the screen and it ends, then you expect another show tomorrow, or maybe you are discouraged because there is nothing good on right now. You don't realize the screen is always there.

But when you are practicing, you realize that your mind is like a screen. If the screen is colorful—colorful enough to attract people—then it will not serve its purpose. So to have a screen which is not colorful—to have a pure, plain white screen—is the most important point. But most people are not interested in the pure white screen.

I think it is good to be excited by seeing a movie. To some extent you can enjoy the movie because you know that it is a movie. Even though you have no idea of the screen, still your interest is based on an understanding that this is a movie with a screen and there is a projector or something artificial. So you can enjoy it. That is how we enjoy our life. If you have no idea of the screen or the projector, perhaps you cannot see it as a movie.

Zazen practice is necessary to know the kind of screen you have and to enjoy our life as you enjoy movies in the theater. You are not afraid of the screen. You do not have any particular feeling for the screen, which is just a white screen. So you are not afraid of your life at all. You enjoy something you are afraid of. You enjoy something that makes you angry or that makes you cry, and you enjoy the crying and the anger too.

The white screen is not something that you can actually attain; it is something you always have. The reason you don't feel you have it is because your mind is too busy to realize it. Once in a while you should stop all your activities and [notice your] screen. That is zazen. That is the foundation of our everyday life and our meditation practice.


 See also: A Shining Screen

We Can Be with Both

“Psychology has refined such a nuanced observation, understanding and insight about the particulars of our human psyches. And certain existential truths that are universal, of course. And there is a realm that we call absolute or universal. It’s not separate. We can call it emptiness, there are so many names. But it’s completely interwoven. It’s one with, it’s connected to, the words don’t express the fact that it’s not  separate from the particular. And the trick for us as practitioners, whether we are practitioners of psychology or meditation, is to really see and unite these experiences so that we can be present with the ordinary moments of our life, and more and more hold an understanding of those moments as Weeds and Purple Flowersbeing deeply significant, expressions of the truth of that moment. Not truth with a capital T that some reified, always true…but the truth of that moment because it’s life. It’s life in the form of you, me, this moment of experience. And then, when we really can truly know that, so many things are possible for us. We don’t have to be afraid of experience or afraid of our own minds. Of course, we like flowers, we hate weeds. We wish for happy experiences and we kind of dread scary sad ones. But as practitioners we can really be with both.”

~ Trudy Goodman, from “Zen, Vipassana, and Psychotherapy,” Buddhist Geeks Podcast: Episode 173 (May 24, 2010)

Become What You Are

Excerpt from the introduction of Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer:

Time is strange. We live within it, depend on it, take it for granted, yet it relentlessly passes, and our lives slip through our fingers moment by moment. Where does time come from, and where does it go? How is it that every moment we are different, we grow, we develop, we are born, we die? What are we supposed to be doing with this life?

After many years of grappling with these questions during the course of my long spiritual journey, I have come to have a feeling for their answers. We don’t really know what appears, what time is, where it goes. But we are here to try to understand. And we all have our own way of understanding, and of expressing that understanding through the living of our lives.

Each of us has a place in this world. Taking that place, I have come to feel, is our real job as human beings. We are not generic people, we are individuals, and when we appreciate that fact completely and allow ourselves to embrace it and grow into it fully, we see that taking our unique place in this world is the one thing that gives us a sense of ultimate fulfillment.

Bantu tribesmen, it is said, sneak into the rooms of their children as they sleep and whisper in their ears, “Become what you are.”

To take our place is to mature, to grow into what we are. Mostly we take maturity for granted, as if it were something that comes quite naturally and completely as our bodies grow and our minds and hearts fill up with life experience. In fact, however, few of us are truly mature individuals; few of us really occupy our places. We are merely living out a dream of maturity, a set of received notions and images that passes for adulthood. What does it really mean to grow up? How do we do the work that will nurture a truly mature heart from which can flow healing words and deeds? Each of our lives depends on our undertaking the exploration that these questions urge us toward. And the mystery is that the whole world depends on each of us to take this human journey.

Offering the Self

This poem is a retelling of one of the Jātaka tales, Asian folktales which recount various acts of self-sacrifice performed by earlier incarnations of the Buddha. I came across this poem in Norman Fischer’s Talks on Dogen's Genjokoan published in "Moon in a Dewdrop" (Part 4).

The Rabbit in the Moon
by Ryōkan Taigu

Moon rabbit It took place in a world long long ago they say:
a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox struck up a friendship,
morning frolicking field and hill,
evenings coming home to the forest,
living thus while the years went by,
when Indra, sovereign of the skies,
hearing of this,
curious to know if it was true,
turned himself into an old man,
tottering along,
made his way to where they were.

“You three,” he said, “are of separate species
yet play together with a single heart.
If what I’ve heard is true,
pray save an old man who’s hungry!”
then he set his staff aside,
sat down to rest.

Simple enough, they said, and presently
the monkey appeared from the grove behind
bearing nuts he’d gathered there,
and the fox returned from the rivulet in front,
clamped in his jaws a fish he’d caught.

But the rabbit,
though he hopped and hopped everywhere
couldn’t find anything at all,
while the others cursed him
because his heart was not like theirs.

Miserable me! he thought,
and then he said
“Monkey, go cut me firewood!
Fox, build me a fire with it!”
and when they’d done what he’d asked,
he flung himself into the midst of the flames,
made himself an offering
for an unknown man.

When the old man saw this his heart withered.
He looked up to the sky,
cried aloud,
then sank to the ground,
and in a while,
beating his breast, said to the others,

“Each of you three friends has done his best,
but what the rabbit did touches me the most!”

Then he made the rabbit whole again
and gathering the dead body up in his arms,
took it and laid it to rest in the palace of the moon.

From that time till now
the story’s been told,
this tale of
how the rabbit came to be in the moon,
and even I
when I hear it
find the tears
soaking the sleeve of my robe.