Hold It All

Category: Buddhism

Reminder to Self

When you encounter those who are wicked, unrighteous, foolish, dim-witted, deformed, vicious, chronically ill, lonely, unfortunate, or handicapped, you should think: “How can I save them?” And even if there is nothing you can do, at least you must not indulge in feelings of arrogance, superiority, derision, scorn, or abhorrence, but you should immediately manifest sympathy and compassion. If you fail to do so, you should feel ashamed and deeply reproach yourself: “How far I have strayed from the Way! How can I betray the old sages?” I take these words as an admonition to myself.

Ryōkan-san

Making the Best of Tough Situations

Three summers ago, some friends came to our Chouteau home for two months of Wednesday evenings to reflect on Thich Nhat Hanh’s autobiography, At Home in the World. Just today a chapter from that book came back to me, and I am happy to share it here.

I know a Buddhist nun who had graduated from Indiana University in the US and who was practicing in Vietnam. She was arrested by the police and put into prison because of her actions for peace and reconciliation. She tried her best to practice in her prison cell. It was difficult, because during the daytime if they saw her practice sitting meditation in her cell, they considered it an act of provocation and defiance to be sitting like that, experiencing peace. So they forbade her from sitting in meditation. She would have to wait until they turned off the light in order to sit up and practice. They tried to steal from her even the opportunity to practice. Yet she was able to continue. She did walking meditation, although the space she had was very small. She was also able to talk with kindness and gentleness to the people who were locked in the same cell. Thanks to her practice, she was able to hep them suffer less.

I have another Vietnamese friend who was put into a “re-education” camp in North Vietnam, in a remote jungle area. During his four years there, he practiced meditation and was able to live in peace. By the time he was released, his mind was as sharp as a sword. He knew that he had not lost anything during those four years. On the contrary, he knew he had “re-educated himself in meditation.”

Many things can be taken from us, but no one can ever steal our determination or our freedom. No one can ever steal our practice. Even in extreme cases, it is possible to maintain our happiness, our peace, and our inner freedom. As long as we are able to breathe and walk and smile, we can be at peace, and we can be happy.

–from the chapter, “Prisoner of Conscience,” page 74.

 


Ayesha and Ashaki enjoying the present moment, summer 2017.

“You Are That Person”

A student asked Soen Nakagawa
During a meditation retreat:
“I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Soen replied, “Encourage others.”

At the beginning of this year, I read Kazuaki Tanahashi’s autobiography, Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis. He dedicated it to his dharma sister Mayumi Oda. Recently, I’ve read her books, and the experience reminded me of first becoming acquainted with her in the late 1980s and early 90s. Parallax Press out of Berkeley had begun publishing works by Thich Nhat Hanh such as Being Peace, Touching Peace, and Interbeing; Mayumi contributed her drawings to these now classic books.

Given the tsuris [Yiddish, translated by Allen Ginsberg as “serious difficulty”] in recent weeks, I returned to Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace in search of a passage I read decades ago. It’s from a talk he gave to peace activists and meditators, and while the issues and references of the mid-80s may seem distant to us, I hope his words speak to your heart….

“Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help. Read the rest of this entry »

“Doing Your Best Is the Surest Way to Remind Those around You to Do Their Best”

Today in Intercultural Studies class I shared some famous passages from the manual Thich Nhat Hanh wrote for Vietnamese social workers back in the 1970s. If you are familiar with this Zen Master, you may remember “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” and eating a tangerine one section at a time.

My students had already been introduced to the Japanese practice of Naikan, adapted for the course by writing in a notebook and becoming adept at responding to three questions vis-à-vis an important person in one’s life—What have I received from him? What have I given to her? What troubles and difficulties have I caused them? Read the rest of this entry »

All Part of the Great Life Force

Mayumi Oda, I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey

Mayumi’s inner journey meant getting divorced from her husband (John Nathan) and reconnecting with the Buddhism of her youth, as well as finding her path through gardening and connecting to the earth. This book has many colorful prints of her garden, fruits and vegetables (radishes, cabbages), other creatures (frogs, spiders, and insects) and strong women role models, aka goddesses (Green Tara).

I realize I first encountered Mayumi back in the late 80s and early 90s when I was reading the first books of Thich Nhat Hanh published through Parallax Press; she contributed the drawings. In addition to revisiting and enjoying them, I will continue to reflect on the following passages from I Opened the Gate, Laughing

We both maintained exciting professional lives in NY. Life was very exhilarating, but somehow it didn’t make much sense to me.

Everything I have done is in the service of Gaia’s garden.

My heart was calm and my eyes were open.

Many times I felt like a failure at living my life.

My heart still pounds with the mystery of this blossoming out of wet, black soil. Read the rest of this entry »

Now

1.

Thoughts of the past and future spoil your time.

–Dipa Ma, in Amy Schmidt, Dipa Ma: The Life and Teachings of a Buddhist Master 

 

2.

If I had to use one single word to describe the atmosphere of the Gospel  narrative, it would be the word Now. The majority of us spend the greater part of our lives in the future or the past—fearing or desiring what is to come, regretting what is over. M. shows us a being who  lives in continuous contact with that which is eternally present. God’s existence has no relation to past or future; it is always as of now. To be with Ramakrishna was to be in the presence of that Now. 

–Christopher Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Dipa Ma

Dear Friends,

There’s a phrase I came across in the last twenty years—“news you can use”—which I think came from one of Pema Chödrön ’s books.

Which reminds me of U.S. poet Ezra Pound’s version of a Confucian classic— “In letters of gold on T’ang bathtub: as the sun makes it new/day by day make it new/yet again make it new,” which became a modernist credo.

Which reminds me of a poem I share frequently, “The Good News” by Thich Nhat Hanh, which he wrote presciently in the late 1970s (“The good news they do not print/The good news we do print”).

All of which is to recognize that Amy Schmidt’s book Dipa Ma has news that I can use, it is a work to make myself and others new, and it is a demonstration itself of good news.

Less than two hundred pages but packed with one-liners, stories, recollections, and contextual advice, I offer five examples of the Good News of Dipa Ma…

When I feel I am not up to a particular challenge, I do well to call to mind this simple story: “Dipa Ma and I were on an airplane coming to the States from India. it was very, very turbulent, and at one point the plane hit an air pocket and dropped. Drinks and other objects flew up to the ceiling as the plane dropped downward before hitting stable air again. I kind of screamed. Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle from me and she reached out and took my hand and she just held it. Then she whispered, ‘The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Medicine for the Sick

The Dalai Lama: We should have this [compassion] from the depths of our heart, as if it were nailed there. Such compassion is not merely concerned with a few sentient beings such as friends and relatives, but extends up to the limits of the cosmos, in all directions and towards all beings throughout space. The Bodhicaryavatara, xxiv 

 

Recently, I have read several books by the articulate proponent of Secular Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor. As a young person committed to the Dharma, he produced a translation from the Tibetan text of Shantideva’s classic, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I went back to a translation from the Sanskrit by Kate Crosby & Andrew Skilton on my shelf, The Bodhicaryavatara: A Guide to the Buddhist Path of Awakening. Perusing it, I found the following verses*, to inform and inspire my slacker self…

1.8.  Those who long to transcend the hundreds of miseries of existence, who long to relieve creatures of their sorrows, who long to enjoy many hundreds of joys, must never abandon the Awakening Mind. 

1.28.  Hoping to escape suffering, it is to suffering that they run. In the desire for happiness, out of delusion, they destroy their own happiness, like an enemy.

2.37.  Everything experienced fades to memory. Everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and is not seen again.

3.6-9. With the good acquired by doing all this as described, may I allay all the suffering of every living being.

I am medicine for the sick. May I be both the doctor and their nurse, until the sickness does not recur. Read the rest of this entry »

With Gratitude for Amy Schimdt

I am happy to be able to introduce friends to Dipa Ma in our “Facing the Future” class beginning next week:

Because Dipa Ma was able literally to see through the stories of the mind, she did not acknowledge personal dramas of any kind. She wanted her students to live from a deeper truth than their interpretations of, and identification with, the external events of their lives.

One night a student showed up who began asking Dipa Ma a lot of questions. He was quite challenging and confrontational and coming from an abstract intellectual place and trying to get her to argue. At one point she stopped and said in a very calm voice, “Why have you come here? What is your intention?” The sincerity of her question immediately silenced him.

Her heart, like the door to her apartment, was always open.

Dipa Ma and I were on an airplane coming to the States from India. It was very, very turbulent, and at one point the plane hit an air pocket and dropped. Drinks and other objects flew up to the ceiling as the plane dropped downward before hitting stable air again. I kind of screamed. Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle from me and she reached out and took my hand and she just held it. Then she whispered, “The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.”

–from Amy Schmidt’s essential book, Dipa Ma: The Life and Teachings of a Buddhist Master

Stephen Batchelor’s Gotama: A Dissenter, a Radical, an Iconoclast

Stephen Batchelor has been exploring for quite some time a Buddhism with overt religiosity stripped away. His thoughtful, engaging project reminds me of a similar one undertaken by John Dominic Crossan regarding the historical Jesus. The following passages come from his 2010 book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist; as you read through them, compare and contrast with other Buddhist teachers you’ve read, from Pema Chödrön and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhism) to Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism).

I was beginning to suspect that the Mahayana traditions had, on certain points, lost sight of what the Buddha originally taught. 97

The Buddha dismisses such questions, because to pursue them would not contribute to cultivating the kind of path he teaches. 99
It seemed clear from these texts that the Buddha’s original approach was therapeutic and pragmatic rather than speculative and metaphysical. 100

This story of intrigue, betrayal, and murder locates Gotama in the midst of a highly volatile world in which he was deeply implicated. 108
… his role as a social critic and reformer was one who rejected key religious and philosophical ideas of his time, who ridiculed the priestly caste and its theistic beliefs, who envisioned an entirely new way in which people could lead their individual and communal lives. 109
I have to acknowledge that the vast majority of Buddhists have shown little if any interest in the personality of the man who founded their religion; they have been content to revere a remote and idealized figure. 110

He saw his teaching—the Dhamma—as the template for a civilization. 110

Gotama’s voice is confident, ironic, at times playful, anti-metaphysical, and pragmatic. Over the course of his formative years, he had achieved an articulate and self-assured distance from the doctrines and values of Brahmanic tradition. But exactly how he did this, we don’t know. 124

Gotama’s awakening involved a radical shift of perspective rather than the gaining of privileged knowledge into some higher truth. 129
… Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment. 129 Read the rest of this entry »