Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Wisdom Traditions

A Path with Pith

With the sangha a few years ago, I read many of the Buddhist sutras as well as Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries. It’s good to plunge in and read these classic texts in community. However, the Lotus Sutra was a bit too much for us and we didn’t finish. Perhaps I will resume it next year.

Nhat Hanh’s book The Path of Emancipation (Parallax Press, 2000) is based on talks and answers to questions from a 21-day retreat. While he addresses many themes in depth, what I find most useful are his short teachings, one-liners even, which, if I summon them at the right moment, are conducive to happiness, peace, and appreciation.

Here is a sample…

“The first element of the practice is to stop struggling.”

“Taking refuge in the Sangha is not a declaration of faith. It is a practice.”

“Everywhere is Plum Village.”

“The flower and the sunshine inter-are.”

“‘The here and now’ is the address of your true home, its zip code.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Caroline Takes Refuge

“Breathing in,
I go back to the island within myself.
There are beautiful trees within the island;
There are clear streams of water,
There are birds, sunshine and fresh air.
Breathing out, I feel safe.
I enjoy going back to my island.”

–Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Gatha for Yoshifuji and Me

Breathing in, we don’t know the future.
Breathing out, we smile.

The Most Precious Treasure

Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran distinguished between two kinds of  spiritual reading: instruction and inspiration.  While he believes it makes sense to limit your instructions to one teacher/lineage/path, you can fruitfully read from all religious traditions for inspiration.

In that spirit, I  offer gleanings from three Japanese Zen teachers I’ve recently encountered.  Perhaps one of these passages will speak to you…

_______________________

By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgment or evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simple doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life.

To believe in  your teacher, in your seniors, in the tradition, is in other words, to believe in yourself. You must puzzle out your unripeness.

Again and again I returned to the take-off point; over and over I reiterated my original resolve. I believe that courage is upholding what you have once decided to do and enduring all troubles encountered along the way. To sustain and carry out that original intention—just this, in itself—is real courage. Read the rest of this entry »

Gita/Gandhi

Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
They livs free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
They  are not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers.
–Gita, chapter 2

Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid.
The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.
–Gandhi

__________

A man should reshape himself through the power of the will.
He should never let himself be degraded by self-will.
The will is the only friend of the Self,
And the will is the only enemy of the Self.
–Gita, chapter 6

Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.
–Gandhi

__________

Unerring in discrimination
Sovereign of the senses and passions
Free from the clamor of likes and dislikes…
–Gita, Chapter 18

Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt,
in the suffering involved,
not in the victory itself.
–Gandhi

 

–Translations by Eknath Easwaran

A New-Old Saintliness

On Maria Clara Bingemer, Simone Weil: Mystic of Passion and Compassion

French intellectual Simone Weil has had many biographers, interpreters, and critics since she died in 1943.   Brazilian liberation theologian Maria Clara Bingemer’s recent book is a generous retrieval of Weil ’s relevance in this decade.  What Latin American liberation theology eventually named  in the late 1960s as “the preferential option for the poor” Weil as an individual  was  practicing, sometimes awkwardly,  but always with fierce intensity, in the 1930s and 40s.  Bingemer sees Weil as an inspiring, even exemplary, figure for those who may be distant from the forms and rituals of  traditional religiosity. Read the rest of this entry »

Liz, Here’s Another Work to Add to the Wisdom Literature List

But the whole teaching, the “way” contained in these anecdotes, poems, and meditations, is characteristic of a certain mentality found everywhere in the world, a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence, and in general a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity, the ambition, the push, and the self-importance which one must display in order to get along in society.
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69 Read the rest of this entry »

Call Me by My True Names

35 years ago today, I participated in the mass demonstration in New York City against nuclear arms. While there, I heard Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh read aloud this English translation of one of his poems.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow–
even today I am still arriving. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing the World/1 [from The Book of Mev]

The second week of that Summer Program at Maryknoll, Mev made an announcement after one of the morning sessions that she was going to present some of her photographs in a slideshow/meditation on a night when there was no scheduled speaker.  Curious about what made this self-promoting impresario tick, I wanted to attend.  Her slideshow, with taped instrumental music to establish a contemplative mood, was a welcome relief from the intense, sometimes strangely cerebral presentations during the day about global liberation theology, the suffering of the poor, and the consequent responsibility of U.S. citizens.  She presented a series of her photos from her travels in Brazil, Mexico, Haiti and Russia, and, as I confronted the faces of Mev’s subjects, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems, Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Please Call Me by My True Names,” especially the concluding lines:

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Her meditation lasted about 15 minutes, leading the group of 20 into an awareness that our discussions during the day ultimately were about flesh and blood people, with names, faces, histories, heartaches, resilience and desires.  Afterwards, feeling hesitant to speak directly to Mev, I went up to my room and began to write out Nhat Hanh’s poem, since I had learned it by heart years before and often used it for a morning meditation. I also wrote a note of thanks to her for the presentation, and I pinned the note and poem for her on the community bulletin board.  This was safe, spiritual flirting.

Read the rest of this entry »