Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

Keep It Simple

If you are mindful, you can choose with wisdom how to respond.
If you are not mindful, your life is run by reactivity. It’s up to you.

–Munindra, teacher of Jospeh Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, & Dipa Ma

Advertisements

“Surely, Thich Nhat Hanh Doesn’t Think that the Diamond Sutra Applies to Trump, ICE, and the Republicans!”

The Buddha said to Subhuti, “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If  you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagatha.”

Diamond Sutra, section 5

Look deeply at the one you love (or at someone you do not like at all!) and you will see that she is not herself alone. “She” includes her education, society, culture, heredity, parents, and all the things that contribute to her being.  When we see that, we truly understand her.  If she makes us unhappy, we can see that did not intend to but that unfavorable conditions made her do it. To protect and cultivate the good qualities in her, we need to know how to protect and cultivate the elements outside of her, including ourselves that make her fresh and lovely.  If we are peaceful and pleasant, she too will be peaceful and pleasant.

If we look deeply into A and see that A is not A, we see A in its fullest flowering. At that time love becomes true love, generosity becomes true generosity, practicing the precepts becomes truly practicing the precepts, and support becomes true support.  This is the way the Buddha looks at a rose, and it is why he is not attached to the rose. When we are still caught in signs, we are still attached to the rose. A Chinese Zen master once said, “Before practicing Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. While practicing Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. After practicing, mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers again.” These are dialectics of prajnaparamita.

—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond That Cuts Through All Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

What’s Possible

1.
If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an “artless art” growing out of the unconscious. D.T. Suzuki

The inward work, however, consists in his turning the man he is, and the self he feels himself and perpetually finds himself to be, into the raw material of a training and shaping whose end is mastery.

Steep is the way to mastery. Often nothing keeps the pupil on the move but his faith in his teacher, whose mastery is now beginning to dawn on him. He is a living example of the inner work, and he convinces by his mere presence.

Those who do not know the power of rigorous and protracted meditation cannot judge the self-control it makes possible. At any rate the perfected Master betrays his fearlessness at every turn, not in words, but in his whole demeanor: one has only to look at him to be profoundly affected by it. Unshakeable fearlessness as such already amounts to mastery, which, in the nature of things, is realized only by the few.

Every Master who practices an art molded by Zen is like a flash of lightning from the cloud of all-encompassing Truth. This Truth is present in the free movement of his spirit, and he meets it again, in “It,” as his own original and nameless essence. He meets this essence over and over again as his own being’s utmost possibilities, so that the Truth assumes for him—and for others through him— a thousand shapes and forms.

— Eugen Herrigel, Zen and the Art of Archery Read the rest of this entry »

After Kishinev

I’ve shared this story with hundreds of friends and students over the years.

After a pogrom in Russia in 1903, the author was invited to contribute to a literary collection to be circulated to aid those Jews who suffered attacks. The man who issued the invitation was Sholem Aleichem.

The man who contributed three stories was Leo Tolstoy. Sholem Aleichem translated the stories from Russian into Yiddish. This one is “Three Questions,” which I first read in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Being Awake in 1982.

What is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
What is the most important thing to do at all times?

After the story, Nhat Hanh offered this thought:

“Tolstoy is a saint—what we Buddhists would call a Bodhisattva. But was the emperor himself able to see the meaning and direction of life? How can we live in the present moment, live right now with the people around us, helping to lessen their suffering and making their lives happier? How? The answer is this: We must practice mindfulness. The principle that Tolstoy gives appears easy. But if we want to put it into practice we must use the methods of mindfulness in order to seek and find the way.”

Sages of the One-Liners

Guy Davenport, Herakleitos and Diogenes
Grey Fox Press, 1981

Scholar and translator  Davenport  retrieves from the ancient Greek world  two thinkers who have the knack for concision.  The following  is a small culling that may intrigue you to seek more.

Herakleitos

Our understanding of the greatest matters will never be complete.

Knowledge is not intelligence.

I have looked diligently at my own mind.

One ought not to talk or act as if he were asleep.

Everything flows; nothing remains.

One cannot step into the same river, for the water into which you first stepped has flowed on.

Change alone is unchanging.

There is a new sun for every day.

No matter how many was you try, you cannot find a boundary to consciousness, so deep in every direction does it extend.

Bigotry is the disease of the religions. Read the rest of this entry »

“If Not You, Who?”

Having recently read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, I thought of Marcel Proust’s Time Regained, volume 7 in his In Search of Lost Time.

1.

As for the inner book of unknown symbols… if I tried to read them no one could help me with any rules, for to read them was an act of creation in which no one can do our work for us or even collaborate with us.  How many for this reason turn aside from writing!  What tasks do men not take upon themselves in order to evade this task!  Every public event, be it the Dreyfus case, be it the war, furnishes the writer with a fresh excuse for not attempting to decipher this book:  he wants to insure the triumph of justice, he wants to restore the moral unity of the nation, he has no time to think of literature.  But these are mere excuses, the truth being that he has not or no longer has genius, that is to say instinct.  For instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with  pretexts for evading it. But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing:  at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the true last judgment.

2.

So that the essential, the only true book, though in the ordinary sense of the word it does not have to be ‘“invented” by a great writer — for it exists already in each one of us — has to be translated by him.  The function and the task of a writer are those of a translator.

3.

The artist who gives up an hour of work for an hour of conversation with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality for something which does not exist (our friends being friends only  in the light of an agreeable folly which travels with us through life and to which we readily accommodate ourselves, but which at the bottom of our hearts we know to be no more reasonable than the delusion of the man who talks to the furniture because he believes that it is alive)…   Read the rest of this entry »

A Monument Made of Words

Isaac Bashevis Singer, In My Father’s Court
June 1998

After we had left Warsaw (during the First World War), we continued to hear news of him from time to time.  One son died, a daughter fell in love with a young man of low origins and Asher was deeply grieved.  I do not know whether he lived to see the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.  He probably died before that.  But such Jews as these were dragged off to Treblinka.  May these memoirs serve as a monument to him and his like, who lived in sanctity and died as martyrs.

This is a memoir consisting of 50 or so short (6-8 page) vignettes on the author’s boyhood in Warsaw at No. 10 Krochmalna Street and in Bilgoray, a (patriarchal) world that has vanished. He includes accounts of  his family and occasional adventures, but mostly he attends to the characters in his father’s court.  The locals with their disputes would come to his Enneagram 5-ish rabbi who would adjudicate the antagonists.  Our hero-narrator often is dismissed from the room, since the matter concerns grown-ups, but young Yitshok has a penchant for overhearing,  spying, and keeping near a halfway open door.  The irresistible  Beth Din “was a kind of blend of a court of law, synagogue, house of study, and, if you will, a psychoanalyst’s office where people of troubled spirit could come to unburden themselves. 

Of course, one of the things that occurred to me in reading it is how Singer could remember with such specificity from a remove of sixty years. Of course, he couldn’t, he had to create it  and make it up, i.e., voila, a fiction!  Also, he wrote this pre-67, which occasioned the outbreak of loquacity about the Holocaust; this subject is handled  here with restraint by several references to a character who ended up being “murdered by the Germans.”

Some themes I encountered previously chez Wiesel are here:  the yearning for Palestine, the hoping in the Messiah, the Kabbalah, the 36 righteous, the never-forget-your-ancestors imperative.  But unlike Wiesel’s world, this one teems with all kinds of characters and curses, not just sweet, pious Jews longing for the Messiah.   Read the rest of this entry »

Hasidism

You can take everything from me—the pillow from under my head, my house—but you cannot take God away from my heart.
— Nahman of Bratslav

Everything the true Hasid does or does not do mirrors his belief that, in spite of the intolerable suffering man must endure, the heartbeat of life is holy joy, and that always and everywhere, one can force a way through to that joy — provided one devotes one’s self entirely to his deed.
—Martin Buber

I confess that I am unable to discriminate among them — I love them all and, at various times, one more than the others. Much depends on my mood. Sometimes I need a Bratzlaver tale, sometimes I need a Rizhiner saying. I particularly love the modest Masters, the humble ones, those who didn’t ‘make it,’ not really; those who simply wished to be companions or disciples of great Masters and remained reserved and withdrawn…
—Elie Wiesel

A Hasid was taught to be forbearing with all the world, to be patient, mild, and gentle in judging others, to love man as well as animals, to be shy, bashful, and to avoid honors and social distinction, to serve God for the sake of God rather than for reward. Constant self-scrutiny and repentance assumed a place of prominence in Hasidic piety unknown before, with ascetic exercises as indispensable means of repentance.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel Read the rest of this entry »

Hold It All

In [Proust’s] work we come across an absolute absence of bias, a willingness to know and to understand as many opposing states of the human soul as possible, a capacity for discovering in the lowest sort of man such nobility as to appear sublime, and in the seemingly purest of beings, the basest instincts. His work acts on us like life, filtered and illuminated by a consciousness whose soundness is infinitely greater than our own.

–Josef Czapski, Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp
Translated by Eric Karpeles

The Irresistible Power of Natural Powers

Having recently perused Jim Forest’s biography and memoir of Dan Berrigan (Playing in the Lions’ Den), I returned to Berrigan’s collection of poems, And the Risen Bread. If I can find five poems in such a collection that speak to me (and which I can pass along), I’m pleased.

The poem that still stands out for me, above all the others, is his “Zen Poem,” which I cannot help but think was influenced by his time with Nhat Hanh in France after the Vietnam War. However many times I read it, it remains fresh, like Book 6 of The Brothers Karamazov.

The early poems in the book are Christocentric, abstract, Latinate. The middle poems are still mostly pre-political. Like Vatican II brought the Church into the modern world, in the Sixties Berrigan, like so many others, finally got with it. “Certain Occult Utterances from the Under Ground and Its Guardian Sphinx” retains its spiritual relevance after fifty years. The Georgetown Series includes “The Trouble with Our State,” which also speaks to what is called the Age of Trump. (It would be pertinent if Ms. Clinton was president.) Read the rest of this entry »