Saint Stephen

The prophet promised help, a song of hope floating in the morning light

love for the dandelion

Lilies blooming in the broken asphalt, begging to be considered

broken birds, with wings made of wishes

Saint Stephen by a chest full of arrows, got pinioned to a tree

while a thousand sparrows gathered in his branches

Garden ponds and baths gone dry, water stolen by the sun

cats cry at empty basins, biting at their fleas

Forgive them…the hungry and the homeless, living through the heat and cold

the lean dogs wandering the city

blessed are the meek

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

#TheBookofSparrows

A Sequence in Blue

A powder-blue parallelogram, like an unplanted—field, broken

Blue-black ink flows from the pen

A string of sapphires, dawn’s bejeweled horizon, smoke curls off the tongue

The trumpet wails in mourning 

The azure summer, naked in the cloudless sky, a flight of sparrows composing

The poetry of shadows

#Poetry

#Haiku

#Senryu

#Tanka

#Haibun

#TheBookofSparrows

A Homily – The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21, 30-31 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 67(68):4-7, 10-11 ©
Second Reading – Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 ©
Gospel Acclamation – John 14:23
Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 11:29
The Gospel According to Luke 14:1 & 7 – 14 ©
(NJB)
Listen to the prophet!

Do as he commends; love justice, be merciful, walk humbly; this is the way Jesus instructed us in.

The greater your power in the world, the larger your fortune, the more mindful you must be to follow in the way.

Do not fear; God’s favor will find you, not as a reward for your humility, your mercy or your attention to justice, but as is natural like the bee coming to the flower.

Do not follow in the way of the psalmist, the psalmist took the path of vanity.

Know this!

God, the creator of the universe, God does not dwell on Earth.

God does not hand out victories.

God does not dwell on a mountain top

God regards the just and the unjust alike, with the same compassion, the same dignity, and the same demand.

Be Mindful!

There is much to unpack in the words of the Apostle.

Consider this:

The garden of the living God is not a place of this world, though we are called on to live our lives as if we were already there.

The Apostle points to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and its peak is beyond the summit, hidden in the cloud of unknowing, that is where the garden lies.

We enter the garden with a spirit of humility and in that green space we come to the final understanding of justice, we learn that it is in inseverable from mercy, we wait on it humbly.

In God’s garden we approach the divine as both the chosen and the choosing, each of us in the fullness of our person, as first born daughters and sons of God. In that moment we will have been made perfect, and we will join with Jesus in an unceasing prayer for the restoration of the whole.

We will wait for it with the patience of the divine.

Be Mindful and remember the grace of God is not transactional. Love fosters love, but there is always love, and God is always with you.

The teachings of Jesus cannot be treated like a shell game, though they are, and have been since the beginning, as Matthew’s Gospel illustrates.

The way of Jesus is not a long can, it is not a bait and switch, it is a simple teaching that cannot be controlled or owned by any one group of people.

God, the creator of the universe, God has hidden nothing. The truth is in the open for anyone to see.

The wise and the powerful, the learned and the clever, the weak and the meek, everyone has access to the same truth, to the knowledge of God, to the experience of justice, of hope and love.

Who are the wise and powerful, who are the learned and the clever, who are the faithful and childlike. In every generation, you will see a new group labeling the elder group as out of touch, blind, privileged, in the dark, corrupt.

This is an endless cycle, and the truth remains the same; we are called on to love justice, be merciful, walk humbly do good and serve God; to serve God through the loving service we provide to one another: to our families, our friends, our neighbors, the stranger, even our enemy when they are in need.

Just because a person is wise and powerful, learned and clever, or a child of the church, does not mean they recognize the truth when they see it, or act upon when they do.

It is not your station in society, it is not how other people regard you, it is not the titles you have earned, or the ways that you have been marginalized that give us the tell on how you will fulfill the calling to follow Jesus. What matters is what is in your heart, and your willingness to trust in the content of your hope.

Be mindful, because this changes from day to day.

Remember yourself, you too are a sinner. No matter how great you think you are, or how virtuous and humble, no matter how pious you may be; you are still a sinner and will remain one for the rest of your life.

This is the human condition.

Therefore be patient, with yourself and with others, be mindful of this at all times.

Be watchful for the opportunities to serve that come your way.

Behold the stranger, the alien, the poor, the diseased, the criminal, and especially the threat; behold them, and see the divinity that lies within them, the seed of the word of God that animates them, just as it does you. Yield to their divinity with a contrite heart, asking forgiveness for all of the pain and the hurt you have caused.

This is the way of God.
First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21, 30-31 ©

Behave Humbly, and You Will Find Favour with the Lord

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business, and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.

The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord; for great though the power of the Lord is, he accepts the homage of the humble.

There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him.

The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables, an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 67(68):4-7, 10-11 ©

In your goodness, O God, you prepared a home for the poor.

The just shall rejoice at the presence of God,
they shall exult and dance for joy.
O sing to the Lord, make music to his name;
rejoice in the Lord, exult at his presence.

In your goodness, O God, you prepared a home for the poor.

Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth into freedom:

In your goodness, O God, you prepared a home for the poor.

You poured down, O God, a generous rain:
when your people were starved you gave them new life.
It was there that your people found a home,
prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor.

In your goodness, O God, you prepared a home for the poor.
Second Reading – Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24 ©

You Have Come to Mount Zion and to the City of the Living God

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.
Gospel Acclamation – John 14:23

Alleluia, alleluia!

If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him.

Alleluia!

Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 11:29

Alleluia, alleluia!

Shoulder my yoke and learn from me,
says the Lord,
for I am gentle and humble in heart.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Luke 14:1 & 7 – 14 ©

Everyone Who Exalts Himself Shall Be Humbled

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Cycles

Have no anxiety about the future, it will always be there.

Seize the moment, and you will have it in your hand.

Reflect on your experience at every turn.

Put your feelings before the analysis.

Analyze, and adapt.

Listen.

Look.

Breath.

Prepare for change.

Change is inevitable, the only constant.

Foresight is a mirage, a vision of potentials.

Portents of probability churning in the trough.

Look into the crest, tension becomes meaningless.

The rolling foam and the spray, fly free from the main.

Loosed from the curling body of the rolling wave.

Launched into weightlessness, and empty space.

Born like the Atman, of the Universal Spirit.

Each ascending in its natural arch.

Each falling just the same.

The Question that Matters

Q: What is the most significant dimension of your life?

A: My Relationships,
Shared Experience

 

We are relational beings.

We are…beings in relationship.

I am not, without you.

Our relationships with all people, whether they are known to us, or unknown, no matter distant from us in space and time, these relationships form the most significant dimension of our lives.

Our relationships are significant because they touch on who we are, not what we are doing, or where we are going, they concern our personhood.

Think of Adam, who was just an object made from clay prior to the coming of Eve. He was merely adamah, the one who comes from soil, a sad and lonely thing.

He awoke one day to find himself face to face with Eve, a woman, at that point Adam becomes man, a being in relationship, his status is exalted, and before her coming he was nothing more than animated soil.

It is relationality that confers dignity on the human person.

Remember the Zulu word Ubuntu, meaning; I am because you are. Without you I am not, not the same person.

Whoever you are, wherever you might be, you have contributed to the fullness of my being, like the pattern that ensues from the beating of a butterfly’s wings, it reaches everything, and we are tied together like an infinitude of strings, connected beyond space and time.

Our relationships are diagrammable, as complex and vast as a Mandelbrot Set.

Between any one point in time and space, and every other point in time and space there is a relationship that can be distinguished, a line of continuity that may be drawn.

Relationality is a dimension of our lives, properly speaking, of our ontological structure; like the dimensions of space and time, and mass.

We must be cognizant of this, our wholeness depends on it.

Bad relationships ulcerate within us, good relationships are like a healing balm.

Good and bad relationships are not a zero-sum game, the good and the bad can exist in the same relationship at the same time. The presence of the good does not eliminate the bad, neither does the bad obviate the good.

We are called to mindfulness when considering our relationships, because relationality is complex, multi-valenced and it is the fundamental ground of our being.

The Nature of Reality and the Purpose of Existence

Jesus and the Tao

 

I am the way; I am the truth and the life, and no one comes to God save through me.
~ Jesus of Nazareth

 

This statement is attributed to Joshua bin Joseph, also known as Jesus of Nazareth, and it is one of the most often cited phrases in the Christian cannon.

But what is the meaning of this formula, of these words?

Could it be as simple as the Church suggests, that this is a concrete articulation from the founder of the Christian Church that a person must be a Christian to go to heaven?

That there is a single catalyst for the salvation of the individual, the reception of the sacrament of baptism, a ritual of water purification administered by a duly appointed officiant of the church, along with the conscious and cognizant assent to the words spoken in the right, indicating faith and belief in the Trinitarian God; the father and the son and the holy spirit?

Is that what Jesus meant when he uttered these words, if he uttered these words, in the era before the instantiation of the church, when Jesus himself was just a Jew, an itinerant Rabbi, a Pharisee and critic of the prevailing social order. Do these words mean that?

Do these words tell us anything about what it means to be a Christian, about the way, of Jesus; its connection to truth, to the lived experience of the faith, the life of the believer, and their relationship to the ultimate arbiter of all that is, to God, the creator of the universe?

These words do not tell us anything about those things, and for many they never will.

I am the way; I am the truth and the life, and no one comes to God save through me.

For most people this will always be a simple message relating a simple belief; that there is one path to God and salvation, and it runs through the Church founded in the first century of the common-era.

That is the end of it, but there is more, much more
For those who want to understand more, you must be willing to immerse yourself in the mystery of Christ Consciousness, the truth concerning who Jesus is, and what it means for a man to self-identify as the way toward an understanding of, or even a personal-existential convergence with the ultimate reality that is God.

Let us examine this expression in its parts, and let us not be afraid to draw from the entire scope of human wisdom to discern their meaning.

I am the way; I am the truth and the life, and no one comes to God save through me.

The Way
The Truth
The Life

The Way:

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism wrote of the way in 500 B.C.E., in his tractate, the I Ching, this is called the path of least resistance.

To live in the way means living in harmony with the tune of the Universe, which is the will of God, the creator and sustainer of all that is; God the infinite, God the eternal, God the fount of all being.

God who loves everyone, blesses everything, and harms nothing.
God who calls everything into existence, and in whom all things exist.
God whose being is co-terminus with our own.
God the omnipresent, the omniscient, the omnipotent.
God who is not, not present in any space.
God who understands our experience, even as we experience it ourselves.
God who has the perfect ability to accomplish the divine will.
God who called forth the light, and called it good.

To live in the way is to begin like a block of stone, whose edges and corners are rounded and smoothed through its encounter in the world with the presence of the divine, in the spirit of the infinite that dwells in each and every one of us, through our relationships with our neighbors; our friends and family, the stranger, our enemies.

The divine current is like water, it seeks us out, even in the lowest places, going lower than any other thing will go, it shapes us there until we become a like a rounded smooth and rolling ball, freed from the edges that drag us.

 

The Truth:

The truth is recognizable by these basic characteristics.

The truth will never lead you astray.

When you are in possession of the truth you are in possession of what is, independent of any other thing concerning it.

When you have arrived at the truth you have discovered the foundation of all understanding.

The truth is like a seed within you, as you nurture it your understanding will grow, it will fill you.

We are dynamic creatures, called on to do things in the world, to do and to be in relation to every other doer, creator-creature, co-actor; who is, ever was, and ever will be. Even if we lead the simplest of lives, we are invested with great power, and therefore must take great care of our desires and the choices that we make.

When we plant the seeds of our ambition in the soil of what is real and true, they will germinate, sprout and shoot, stretching their roots into the well that nurtures them, reaching for the light that calls them, bringing them to the end they were intended for.

This is not to say that truth guarantees success, nothing is guaranteed, but the good soil, the pure water, and the clear light provide the conditions by which we may thrive along the way to the infinite.

The truth reveals who we are.

The truth is the firmament on which we come to know ourselves, not merely as individuals, but as beings in relationship, in relationship to each and every other, and in relationship to the whole.

Knowing that there is truth is not the same as knowing the truth.

In order to fathom the difference between what is truth and what is false we require a discriminating perspective, and a sensitivity to the laws of consequence, like the rules of Karma that govern us.

We are each of us an Arjuna, born into a field of conflict and sickness, of debilitating illusions, called upon to wield wisdom like a surgeon wields a scalpel, to excise doubt and ignorance like a surgeon would a cancer, and with a habit of discipline rise above the clinging ground that would trap us.

As Marcus Aurelius said, what we do echoes in eternity. Our lives have significance, each and every one of us matters, the things we say and do to one another matter.

As Jesus put forward in his recapitulation of the Shema:

Hear O’ People, God is one, the infinite is one.

Love God with all your strength and all your heart and all your mind

Love your neighbor as your self

Do unto others what you would have them do unto you, be proactive, share with the starving a morsel of your own food, share with the naked a piece of your own clothing, share with the burdened a part of their suffering.

Where two people are gathered, there is God, not as a third person in their company but present in the relationship that exists between them.

To serve God means serving the other, to receive from god means that we accept the aid of another. God is in the other, as God is in us, the living-breathing, seeing-feeling God.

This is the truth of the human condition and our relationship to the divine.

If any system of beliefs claims to be true and does not engender certainty regarding these existential questions, does not promote growth toward these ideals, this understanding of who we are, then we may assume one of two things, that the system of belief as a whole, or some set of claims within it is false (and must be rejected), or the problem lies within us, that we are unwilling or have not properly understood the teaching in question and so have not properly enacted those beliefs in our lives.

Truth is the light that directs us along the way of life. Bask in it.
The Life:

This is the sum of our existential experience. The things we have done and said are fixed, even while the consequences of those things flow out from us on trajectories of their own, and beyond our control.

The content of our lives is always changing, updating with each and every moment, intersecting both actively and passively with the lives and choices of others, with the consequences of their actions and our own at disparate points in time and space.

This life is a journey, we are on a forward trajectory and there is no return, there is no going backward.

Only the living approach to the divine, not just any life, but the life of a sentient being, self-cognizant, aware and free.

Every person who has ever lived is blazing a trail into the unknown.

No one comes to God save through these ~ Jesus

Let us parse this statement.

Only the living come to God, this is not to say that God is not present at all times in all places, we re-affirm the basic proposition that God the infinite is one, the creator and sustainer of all being.

This is a qualified statement, only the living come to the knowledge and understanding of God, come into a relationship with God as free, sentient, and self-purposive agents.

Only the living are able to discern the truth, only the living are able to choose the way, the way of God, the way to God, the ultimate foundation of reality.

Reality itself constant change, it is the continuous progression of infinite potentiality. We are each of us an expression of that.

The universe is, always has been, and forever shall be in a state of flux.

This is chaos, it is the permanent state of what is, this is order.

Chaos and order, though they are syntactically opposed to one other, they are at-one-and-the-same-time able to be predicated of the same subject, reality.

This is harmony.

The universe is always moving outward-moving forward, it is forever expanding, transforming potentialities into actualities.

Knowing the truth does not bring peace, finding the way does not bring happiness, the experience of life is not bliss.

As human beings we are faced with inherent limitations, the conditions of our existence in time and space mean that we only ever know partially, we walk along the way intermittently, and life itself is beset with pain and suffering.

We are imperfect and prone to fear and doubt, to anger and resentment, we are impatient, short sighted and self-serving.

We are stubborn and oftentimes intractable. We exist in a continuum that is in a state of constant flux and change, and yet we all to often attempt to demand from it permanence and stability.

We want to hang on to what we have even as the world changes all around us.

To stand still in the continuum requires a great effort of will.

To deny the natural progression of the continuum requires an incredible degree of deliberate belligerence. This is difficult, but it is not impossible, and once fixed because we are relational beings, that which has become unyielding is able to draw others into its sphere of influence, like a stone in the river, the unyielding and belligerent draw others to them themselves in a current of opposition.

They separate themselves from one another, through dogmas and creeds, by ritual and doctrine into categories of us and them.

This generates friction between the unyielding individual(s) and the way, it blinds them to the truth, and distorts their lives.

Friction, like desire, manifests itself as fear and anxiety, it causes pain and suffering in both the self and others.

When we see these manifested in our own lives we should question the way that we have taken.

Are pain and suffering, fear and anxiety the way of Christ? Do they represent the truth of the human condition, is that the life Jesus would lead us to?

While we may at times experience them, they are not the ultimate reality we are directed toward. And the good news is faith in the hope that there is life beyond them.

The life awaits us beyond the vicissitudes of time and space, this is the firm content of Christian hope. We may also have it now, fully realized in the normal course of our own lives.

All that we are, all that we may aspire to already exist within us as potential.

We are the uncarved block.

Our dreams of doing, our ambitions, in the first part they are dependent on our personal efforts for their actualization, in the second part they depend on the co-operation of our fellows, our sisters and brothers, whose competing and complimentary ambitions should always concern us.

Every action, once committed alters the range of what is possible, of what is probable, and of the scope of our potential. We must be mindful of the consequences of our actions if we are to reach the limits of our capabilities; and ride crest of that potential.

The only things that happen are the things we make happen, or allow to happen through our intention and will, whether we are passive or active.

All actualities are realized potentialities.

To do anything well and enduring, we must be aware of and appreciate the context within which our ambitions dwell, we must grounded it a well-founded understanding of everything that connects to it. We must see things in the light of truth, for what they are.

The locus of our attention must be singular, and at-one-and-the-same-time relational. You must see the thing itself, the thing that you have done, and its effect on the world around you, together.

This is the direction of consciousness, it must be guided by truth and integrity if it is to keep you on the way to life.

This will fulfill the purpose of existence:

To grow
To understand
To progress

To exist, always in a state of becoming…more, seeking harmony in the will of God, finding the infinite in our potential, germinating the seed God has planted within us.

The Mirror of Truth

The unexamined life is not worth living.
~Socrates

 

To the extent that any person has a genuine desire to know themselves and the world they live in, each person has a duty to extrapolate from their own experience the truth concerning the nature of reality, the meaning of life, and the purpose of existence.

There is no other source, it must be experiential, and it cannot be arrived at alone.

The individual must take their own measure and judge for themselves who they are, their nature, and the value of what they do in the world, of how they behave in universe, how they act in relationship to every person living therein. They must measure for themselves who they are in relation to the totality of what is.

That is a lot to consider, do not get vertigo.

Take things as they come.

Take them one step at a time.

Be mindful.

There are limitations as to how much we can discover on our own…by ourselves, isolated and alone.

We face these limitations because we are not solitary creatures, we are relational and our relationships are a vital component of who we are. They are constituent elements of our being.

All of our relationships, whether we characterize them as good or bad, whether we are active participants in them, or are completely oblivious to them, those relationships matter, both the near and far, in both time and space, the relationships that are closest to us, as well as those beyond the possibility of knowing.

Together, in the light of one-another we are able to examine our experience, check it, and discover who we are, and thereby we are able to do more for the betterment of the world, and ourselves.

When we are in dialogue with one-another, listening to each other, the reflections we need to make for the sake of self-awareness, reflection we need to make so that we may understand who are, these reflections become clear.

When we see ourselves reflected in the face of the other, then and only then are we able to know the truth. Then and only then, with the veil of the ego removed, then we are able to see who we truly are.

The Fallacy of Illusion

There is a strain of thought, a strain of thought like a lethal bacteria, one that has permeated all the great philosophical and religious traditions since the advent of writing, and the composition of dogma; this pathogen suggests that everything we think of as real and true, that life and selfhood are merely illusions, that everything we experience is Maya, that we are steeped in the illusion of the floating world.

This is false. The world is real, and we in it. It is only our perception that is at times misconstrued.

While it is wise to consider with care the notion that there are some things (most things) that we can never know with certainty, that there are questions we cannot answer fully, that there are circumstances whose antecedents we cannot completely fathom, and that there are choices we make whose consequences we cannot accurately project or predict, nevertheless, the world we live in is real, our experience of it is real, we are, each of us alive, self-purposive agents operating in the eternal and infinite field of being.

This is true, we may be acting in the dark, without the full knowledge of who and what we are, but the dark is real.

Why would we want to believe otherwise?

The claim that all things are illusion is fundamentally flawed, it is beyond the pale of logic. It may be a comforting way of setting aside anguish, pain and disappointment, or even a convenient was to justify our transgressions, but the claim is false.

If the real nature of all things is in fact, that all things are illusions, the nature of things not according to our perception of them, but on the level of their ontology, of their being, if they are illusory in a manner that is independent of how any person perceives it, then we would not be talking about illusion at all, which is un-reality masking itself as reality, we would be talking about reality itself, not its masking, but its real nature, the fundamental essence of what is.

This would be the true state of our affairs and therefore not illusory at all, but actual.

It would serve no purpose to speak about the conditions of our existence in any other terms, than to speak of them as real.

At the foundation of our experience there is always a true state of affairs. The true state of affairs includes the experiential set of things, together with their inherent values, which include the antecedents by which the true state of affairs obtained the condition of reality, things we can never fully know, and because of that they are conditions which may easily be labelled as illusory but are really just manifestations of the unknown.

The experiential set includes the phenomenon of mystery, it includes the reality that things can appear to our thoughts and senses in ways that are illusory, that a thing, or a set of things may appear to be-other than they are.

When we approach our experience with the assumption that there is no truth in it whatsoever, then we are living in a place of perpetual uncertainty.

In such a system of beliefs, a person could never come to know their own-self, because the self does not exist, it is deemed an illusion, an unreliable referent.

The consequence of this is grave.

Without knowledge of self we have no means of knowing any other and all of our relationships become void of meaning.

In such a system of beliefs we stumble through life, blind and unfeeling, with the value of our experience subject only to the capricious appetites of the human will, when everything is seen as an illusion, then nothing matters, because nothing is real.

By cleaving to the truth that we ourselves are real, occupy space in a real world, are living in a real time, by cleaving to this we remain grounded, and the mystery of life begins to unfold through our experience of it.

Perception

Perspective is everything, it is all we have as we make our way through the world. The way we see things, our point view, this is absolutely determinative of how we will decide things when we have choices to make.

 

There is a profound need for humility at the juncture where our individual perspective encounters the world, because the world is one thing and our perception of it is another. This is true of everyone with whom we share the world, true of every person who has ever lived on it, and true of all who will come after us.

 

The relativity inherent in our perception of who and what we are, of what is happening all around us, and of who is sharing the same space as us, this is a fundamental condition of human existence.

 

Not only do the sensory tools we possess, that we use to engage the world with, differ in each of us; for instance, we do not all see the same shade of blue, or hear the same note in the chords of a tune.

 

We are different from one another.

 

Our differences do not end with the subtle variations in the limitations of our bodies, of our sensory organs. Those difference are augmented; enhanced or mitigated by our cultural heritage, by the languages we speak, through the metaphors we live by, they are alternately exacerbated or diminished.

 

Every living being shares the same world.

 

The world we observe, that we live in, the universe itself is one thing.

 

We share the same reality. We merely see and hear it, smell and taste it, feel and think about it differently.

 

We are awash in illusions.

 

Understanding this is where we must begin, if we desire to be free.

 

 

~ Life belongs to those that see beyond illusion.

A Vedic Saying

 

The keys is discernment, and humility, to hold a perspective as adjustable as the focusing lens of a microscope, allowing us to see beyond pretense and shape.

 

The shape of a thing is not the thing itself, it is only an aspect of its appearance

 

The appearance of a thing is not the thing itself, it is merely an observation, arrived at according to the specific limitations of the observer, in relation to environmental conditions and exigencies of time and space.

 

Shape and appearance are illusions, emerging in collusion with our senses.

 

The shape and appearance of a thing or being, alone they do not tell us what it is, they only suggest to us what it might be.

 

What we see on the surface of a thing does not confer its history.

 

We must always be wary of intellectual laxity, we must ask questions, and be comfortable with uncertainty, especially in regards to those matters for which our feelings run high.

 

The human eye only functions in a narrow spectrum of light, broaden the spectrum and everything changes.

 

Light and narrative function the same way.

 

Listen to a person tell their story, everything changes with the broadening of context.

 

Every person carries within them a history that is not apparent to the naked eye. Even though they bear scars, and other markers of their story, they are but tokens, suggestions of the traumas and the joys we have endured.

 

Our scars, the lines in our faces and hands, they only tell the observer that we have a story to tell, they do not reveal the story itself

 

Pay attention.

 

It is common for us human beings to only be interested in their own narrow view of the world, making the assumption by default, that other people perceive the world the same way as we do.

This is comfortable and convenient.

 

Rather than empathize with another, our tendency is to circumscribe them, to subordinate their individual point of view, their uniqueness to our own.

 

The truth is here.

 

There is a web that stretches across all time and space, it is the tapestry of existence, every actual referent is woven into it, all that is, ever was, and ever will be.

 

We are enmeshed in it.

 

Between any one point on the cosmic skein, and every other, there is a relationship. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the relationship exists.

 

It is real and has an influence on us.

 

Every person is a society of interests, a nexus of both the known and unknown, our own interests and those of others, some pushing from our past, some leading from the future.

These interests coalesce in us, and that is the concrescence of being.

 

Past and future are simultaneously generated in the present, in the choices we make, in the world as we perceive it, a perception that may or not be aligned with reality

 

Whether true, of false, our perceptions are real thing in themselves.

 

Every moment recreates the entire universe.

 

Every one of us is an agent of change, with the whole of reality pouring through us, like water through a sieve.

On Zen Buddhism – Collected Parts

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties

Except that it refuses to make preference

Only when freed from hate and love

It reveals itself fully and without disguise

 

A tenth of an inch’s difference

And heaven and earth are set apart

If you want to see it manifest

Take no thoughts either for or against it

 

To set up what you like against what you dislike

That is the disease of the mind

When the deep meaning [of the way] is not understood

Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained

 

[The Way] is perfect like unto vast space

With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous

It is indeed, do to making choices

That its suchness is lost sight of

 

When the mind rests supreme in the oneness of things

Dualism vanishes by itself

 

-beginning of the Hsin-hsin-ming by Seng-ts’an

as translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series


Part I

 

The movement we know of as Zen Buddhism is properly understood to be a contemplative sect of Mahayana Buddhism, the great vehicle of the Pure Land.

 

Adherents to the Zen tradition claim to be able to trace its origins to the beginning of the Buddhism, to the person of Gotama Siddhartha himself, through his disciple Ananda, to Sakyamuni.

 

Zen practitioners also claim that there exists an unbroken line of succession from Sakyamuni through Bodidharma to Hui-neng, the sixth and last patriarch of Zen.

 

Let me clarify.

 

What is meant by an unbroken line of succession is that the “Buddha mind,” which in its essence is ineffable, and indescribable, is passed from one Buddha to the next by means of a sacred ceremony.

 

The transfer of enlightenment is referred to as the “transmission of the lamp;” it is the passing on of the “true dharma eye,” which adherents of Buddhism claim Gotama Siddhartha possessed.

 

The transmission of the “true dharma eye,” in Buddhism is analogous to the tradition of apostolic succession in Christianity, it is the transfer of a special charism, and a position of authority from one teacher, and one generation to the next.

 

However, the origins of Zen Buddhism, like the origins of the Christian Church, are shrouded in the mists of history. They are complicated by cultural traditions and politics, and there is some question regarding whether what we know of as Zen today, a predominantly Japanese form of Buddhism, developed in the Ch`an (Zen) school of Chinese Buddhism, derived from the Buddhism brought from India into China by the missionary monk Bodidharma (c. 520 CE), or whether it is derived from the practice of quietism that was developed by a near contemporary of the original Buddha, Lao Tzu (c.500 BCE), whose teachings became the foundation for the Chinese religion Taoism.

 

Whatever the origins of Zen Buddhism may have been, what constitutes Zen today is the physical and mental, and spiritual discipline, which its practitioners claim is a genuine and inspired route to enlightenment.

 

The great teacher, D. T. Suzuki says in his elegant treatise on The Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk, says:

 

As Zen is a discipline and not a philosophy, it deals directly with life; and this is where Zen has developed its most characteristic features. It may be described as a form of mysticism, but the way it handles its experience is altogether unique. Hence the special designation of Zen Buddhism.[i]

The practitioner of Zen, may appear to an outside observer as someone engaged in a mystical exercise, but from the practitioners perspective they are engaged in the art of living.

 

 

Part II

 

You may not hear this from the lips of a Zen Master: a practitioner of Zen is someone attempting to reach enlightenment.

 

The Zen Master would say: enlightenment is something which cannot be grasped.

 

This would seem to make the practice of Zen an exercise in futility

 

Why reach for something that you can never take hold of?

 

Why set a goal that can never be realized?

 

Zen doesn’t claim that a person cannot possess enlightenment.

 

Zen merely suggests that while reaching for it, it cannot be grasped.

 

Enlightenment in Zen, is something which defies the ability of reason (the mind) to comprehend.

 

The state of being referred to as enlightened, cannot be expressed.

 

Being in a state of enlightenment is the possession of the “true dharma eye,” it is to exist, at one with the experience of the ineffable, it is to have an intrinsic and utterly congruous link with what is true.

 

Zen maintains the idea that the attainment of enlightenment can be sudden, and is always characterized by a radical transfiguration of consciousness.

 

Zen suggests that its method is an appropriate vehicle for a person to take, if he or she desires to become enlightened.

 

Zen suggests that its method zazen (the sitting meditation), is particularly useful for the development of human consciousness in a manner that will make it more susceptible to the experience of sudden enlightenment.

 

“Zen tells us to grasp the truth of Sunyata, ‘Absolute Emptiness,’ and this without the mediacy of intellect or logic, it is to be done by intuition or immediate perception.”[ii]

 

The methods that Zen employs in its discipline are: sitting and breathing meditation, meditation upon the sutras, and the use of the Koan.

 

 

Part III

 

Zen is a development of Mahayana Buddhism, the Greater Vehicle, the Pure Land Buddhism.

 

What differentiates the Zen tradition from other traditions of Mahayana Buddhism is the legend of Bodidharma; who “for nine years remained seated in meditation before the wall of a monastery until his legs withered away.”[iii] While in the posture of za-zen, the sitting meditation, Bodidharma attained enlightenment.

 

The sitting and breathing meditation is done in order to balance the physical center of the practitioner. The goal is to set the body at perfect ease so that the mind may escape from it.

 

Having attained enlightenment through the sitting meditation Bodidharma became the first Patriarch of Zen. Bodidharma transmitted the “Buddha mind” to his disciple Hui-ko, who became the second Patriarch of the Zen tradition.

 

The technique of Za-zen is structured accordingly

 

The main point for the sitter is to have his ears and his shoulders, nose and naval stand to each other in one vertical plane, while his tongue rests against his upper palate and his lips and teeth are firmly closed. Let his eyes be slightly opened in order to avoid falling asleep.[iv]

 

The Zen tradition claims that this posture is particularly useful for acquiring the meditative state of mind. Though this “special posture is recommended…Zen has nothing to do with the form the body may take.”[v]

 

The sitting and breathing meditation is the heart of Zen, but the Zen mind is not bound by it.

 

The sitting and breathing meditation, za-zen is supposed to lever the mind into Buddha consciousness. It is in the meditative state that the Zen practitioner attempts to plumb the meaning of the sutras or koans, nevertheless, the Zen Masters maintain that:

 

The experience of enlightenment is not dependent on meditation; there is no causal connection between the two. Meditational practice is not the cause nor the condition for coming to a realization. Once awakened to wisdom, the mind sees nature, its own nature, which is identical to Buddha nature.[vi]

 

Meditation upon the sutras is the time honored tradition of Buddhism, and as such Zen Buddhism has a high regard for the sutras. The sutras are considered to be the writings of those who spoke with true Buddha consciousness. Reading “the sutras continued to be held in high regard [but] it was more in meditation than in study that efforts were made to appropriate the sutras.”[vii]

 

In Zen there is both a deep reverence for, and a complete willingness to depart from all norms, and traditional forms.

 

The Zen Master holds this view of the sutras and their most revered mediation practices, because of the prevailing belief that any strict or formalized adherence to specific practices, rituals, or methods can serve to obstruct the individual from the attainment of enlightenment.

 

Part IV

 

In the practice of Zen, the truth is not contained within the form; it is the transcendence of consciousness toward the experience of the ineffable that matters.

 

In Christianity we refer to this very same ineffable reality as the “apophatic tradition.” It is a reference to the transcendent nature of the divine reality that is God, an infinite reality that cannot be understood, or expressed from the perspective of a finite being.

 

In the Christian tradition, Christian contemplatives developed a mode of expressing God’s nature known as the via negative, the negative way. The understanding being that we can never adequately state, or positively affirm what is true about the infinite nature of God. We can only state what God is not.

 

We cannot even say that God is love, that God is good, or that God is just, because our understanding of love, and goodness, and justice is necessarily circumscribed and limited by our position in the universe as finite beings, conditioned by both time and space.

 

We can only say that God is not hate, God is not evil, and God is not corrupt.

 

The very same idea is similarly represented in the Hebrew use of the tetragrammaton YHWH for the name of the deity, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the Hebrew tradition the name of the deity cannot even be expressed, let alone represent as a graven image. The tetragrammaton stands in the place God’s name, representing the deity, the fundamental reality that is the source of all being.

 

The sutras at best point in the direction of the truth. But because the truth is ultimately inexpressible any attempt to contain it within a sentence, an essay, or a poem, must ultimately meet with failure.

 

The primary sutras in the Zen cannon are the Prajnaparamita, sutras (the sutra on emptiness), and the Platform sutras of the sixth Patriarch.

 

The sutra on emptiness stresses the goal of za-zen: to release the mind from its attachment to things. “The Platform sutra warns against false practice, especially against clinging to purity or emptiness.”[viii] The emphasis that Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch places on the non-attachment of the mind to the concept of emptiness is indicative of how it is that the mind will try to objectify any concept.

 

It is the process of objectifying reality that causes our view of it to become, and remain circumscribed. The circumscribed mind is focused of finitudes, and thus is unable to experience the infinite. In turn, this keeps the experience of enlightenment out of the hand of the practitioner who is reaching for it.

 

As a means of preventing the practitioner of Zen from a meaningless objectification of his or her studies, the koan method was developed.

 

The koan is a verbal puzzle which usually boils down to an a-rational concept or paradox.

 

Meditating on a koan is meant to afford the practitioner the opportunity to shock his or her mind out of the mundane, and into the super-reality of the Buddha mind.

 

“The koan exercises which are the prevailing method at present of mastering Zen involves many years of close application.”[ix] D. T. Suzuki tells us.

 

All things are reducible to the One, and where is this One reducible? Keep this koan in your mind and never allow yourself to think that quietude or a state of unconsciousness is the sine qua non in your koan exercise. When you feel confused in your mind so that your power of attention refuses to work its own way, do not try to gather it up with a thought, but mustering your spirits keep up your koan by all means before you. Courage and determination are most in need of at this juncture.[x]

 

 

Part V

 

By meditating on koan, and on the sutras, but ultimately through the practice of the sitting-breathing meditation, za-zen, the Zen practitioner prepares for the experience of enlightenment.

 

As a result of the wisdom gained through Zen, the practitioner hopes to contribute more significantly toward the well-being of the world.

 

Therefore we have to see the real truth, the real situation. Our daily lives, the way we drink, what we eat, has to do with the world’s political situation. Meditation can see deeply into things, to see how we can change, how we can transform our situation. To transform our situation is to transform our minds. To transform our minds is also to transform our situation, because the situation is mind, and mind is situation. Awakening is important. The nature of the bombs, the nature of injustice, the nature of the weapons, and the nature of our own beings are the same. This is the real meaning of engaged Buddhism.[xi]

 

In all forms of Buddhism, the precept is held, that being able to contribute to the well being of the world requires that we accept the simple-truth concerning the interconnectedness of all things.

 

It is necessary that we come to grips with the fact that there is no essential separation between any one person and every other person, between animals and plants, plants and minerals, down to the most elemental unit of being.

 

According to the principles of Zen, any world-view suggesting that there is dispositional relationship between any two definable objects (things or beings) is flawed.

 

Every thing or being, animate or inanimate, living or dead, is a concrescent society, a multi-valenced reality, of whom-of which it is truthfully asserted, that their relationships to (or with) all other things or beings are ontological properties of their essential nature.

 

On the ultimate level, all-things-are-one.

 

Just as a piece of paper is the fruit, the combination of many elements that can be called non-paper elements, the individual is made of non-individual elements. If you are a poet you will see very clearly that there is cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud.[xii]

 

The assumption that we are intrinsically connected is not merely a postulation of Buddhism.

 

In Hinduism, Brahma is said to be the God within whose dreaming the entire drama of the universe unfolds, in whom every action takes place.

 

In Christianity, God is said to be the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, who at the end of time will be All in All, the unification of all beings. God, creates the universe, the universe comes into being through God, exists in God, is maintained and supported by God, at every level. Not one thing is excluded.

 

In science, in the school of quantum physics we see these same themes shaping our understanding of the most fundamental level of reality. And as we observe and measure the inner dynamics of complex systems, in biology, the weather, or even “artificial” systems like economics, we are able to perceive that even the most minor interaction between elements have broad and far ranging consequences throughout the entire systems. Our observations of these connections affirms the understanding that there is no actual separation between any one thing, and every other thing.

 

On the quantum level, the entire universe is entangled.

 

 

 

Part VI

 

The goal of Zen is for the practitioner to arrive at the fundamental understanding of the complete interconnectedness of all things.

 

To live with this experience is to be enlightened.

 

Though many people practice Zen throughout the world. The institutions of Zen Buddhism hold that the most serious practitioners are those people who have devoted their entire life to the discipline.

 

When a person decides to become a Zen monk they have decided to devote their life to “humility, labor, service, prayer, gratitude and meditation.”[xiii] A Zen monk live in a highly disciplined community, under the guidance of a master who helps them develop in meditation, through the study of sutras, and primarily through the use of koan.

 

In the monastery, they are able to work and provide service for their community, and develop the virtues of humility, prayer and gratitude. A Zen monk sees this work as not only of benefit to themselves, but as benefitting the entire world. They see the fruits of their labors as the fruit of peace, whose ripened bounty they hope will overflow from the walls of the monasteries and cloisters within which they live, to permeate the entire world.

 

In our discussion of Zen, we should be mindful that traditional institutions of Zen Buddhism would remind people not to fall into the mistaken belief that Zen is only a meditational practice, or a system of discipline. Zen can easily be misunderstood as a contemplative movement outside of Buddhism. This is especially true in America where so many of our common and casual associations with the term Zen have to do with best selling books such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or  Zen and the Art of Tennis.

 

The tension between a “western” view of Zen, and a traditional view of Zen Buddhism is clearly articulated by the religious scholar Ray Grigg, in his, The Tao of Zen, “The focus of Zen has always been toward engendering sensitivity and insight into the world itself, not the teachings of the Buddha per se, and certainly not the religious dogma of Mahayana.”[xiv] Grigg’s point of view is valid, but it should also be understood for what it is, a privileged, academic view that represents a departure from the norms of Zen practice and culture.

 

Part VII

 

Zen is Buddhism.

 

Zen views itself as the inheritor of the “true dharma eye,” the awakened consciousness of the original Buddha.

 

Zen believes in the Four Noble Truths

 

Zen holds to the belief that it is an efficacious method to release the self from the suffering that is caused by desire.

 

Zen adheres to the Eight Fold Path:

 

That there is a right view of the world, that right resolve is the way to approach it, that right speech is the way to speak of it, that right conduct leads us through it, that right livelihood sustains us, that right effort produces right results, that right mindfulness guide us, and that the path itself is held together by right “samadhi,” meditation on the unity of all things.

 

Zen contends that its method is useful in the deliverance of people from the vicissitudes of life, and translating the individual to Nirvana.

 

Zen believes that the Buddha mind can be attained by an individual while within this life, and refers to this state of mind as satori.

 

Satori is the Zen counterpart of the mystical experience which, wherever it appears, in Zen or any other religion, brings joy, a feeling of oneness with all things and a heightened sense of reality which cannot be adequetly translated into the language of the everyday world. But whereas most religions regard such experiences as the acme of at least the earthly phase of man’s religious quest, for Zen it is only the point of departure. In a very real sense, Zen training begins in earnest after the satori has been achieved. For one thing there must be further satoris as the trainee learns to move with greater range and freedom within this noumenal realm. But the important point is that Zen, drawing half its inspiration from the practical, common sense, this-worldly orientation of the Far East to balance the mystical other-worldly half it derived from India, refuses to let man’s spirit withdraw-shall we say retreat?-into the mystical state completely. Once we achieve satori, we must get out of the sticky morass in which we have been floundering and return to the unfettered freedom of the open fields.[xv]

 

This is to say that a Zen master would have nothing to do, sitting alone on a mountain top with the experience of the ineffable. In order to give meaning to that experience it is necessary for the enlightened mind to share in the fruits of its discovery.

 

According to Zen these fruits are peace, and a release from suffering, not just for the individual practicing Zen, but potentially, and ultimately, for everybody.

 

The Zen “awakening” is not supposed to bring withdrawal from the world. It should rather, Zen claims, encourage participation, though never involvement in the egocentric variety that tends to produce the conflicts and breakdowns so common in modern life.[xvi]

 

The goal of Zen is to produce a sense of peace and oneness, not only for its active practitioners but for the rest of humanity, and indeed the entire living-breathing planet we live on.

 

Whether Zen is being practiced in a monastery, on a mountain top, or in the everyday life of everyday people, Zen affords those who engage its discipline, freedom from the confusion of paradox, the pain of conflicting desires, and the disorientation of feeling isolated and alone in a seemingly disparate, disconnected and circumscribed universe.

 

Zen sees all things as a unity in which any thing may manifest the reality of the whole, it views the whole as not being greater than the sum of its parts, indeed it views the whole as not even being greater than even its most minuscule part. Zen sees the perfect image of the whole contained within the part.

 

There is wisdom in Zen.

 

When its contemplative methods are dissociated from the particular institution of Buddhism the application is universal in scope, and reveals the essence of the “true dharma eye” that the original Buddha possessed.

 

All religions can benefit from the wisdom of Zen, to free them from the conflict that arise out of cultic ritual, and doctrinal investments, from particularism, tribalism, and wrenching demands of dogma.

 

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties

Except that it refuses to make preference

Only when freed from hate and love

It reveals itself fully and without disguise

 

A tenth of an inch’s difference

And heaven and earth are set apart

If you want to see it manifest

Take no thoughts either for or against it

 

To set up what you like against what you dislike

That is the disease of the mind

When the deep meaning [of the way] is not understood

Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained

 

[The Way] is perfect like unto vast space

With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous

It is indeed, do to making choices

That its suchness is lost sight of

 

When the mind rests supreme in the oneness of things

Dualism vanishes by itself

 

-beginning of the Hsin-hsin-ming by Seng-ts’an

as translated by D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series

 

 

On Zen Buddhism

[i] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page IX

[ii] Ibid., page X

[iii] Zen Buddhism: A History, by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 86

[iv] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page 104

[v] Ibid., page 104

[vi] Zen Buddhism: A History, by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 140

[vii] Ibid., by Heinrich Dumoulin, page 101

[viii] Ibid., page 141

[ix] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, page 114

[x] Ibid., page 109

[xi] Being Peace, by Thich Naht Hanh, page 74

[xii] Ibid, page 46

[xiii] The Training of A Zen Buddhist Monk, by D. T. Suzuki, from the Chapter Titles

[xiv] The Tao of Zen, by Ray Grigg, page 134

[xv] The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, page 149

[xvi] Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, by Nancy Wilson Ross, 148