Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

“Show Me Your American Buddha”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace was published  31 years years ago, and it remains fresh, challenging, and practical.  While there are thousands of books on Buddhism,  this short  text of 115 pages, graced with the illustrations by Mayumi Oda, can be a sage guide for  personal and social transformation.  

Being Peace long predates Thich Nhat Hanh becoming an American, even global, spiritual phenomenon.  The  seven chapters are based on talks he gave in 1985 to U.S. to peace activists and meditation practitioners, not exactly mainstream America.  The chapter “Interbeing” gives an inspiring introduction to his community that seeks to practice mindful social action through 14 exacting precepts. Another chapter gives an illuminating,  contemporary take on the three traditional refuges in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. There is much here to orient a new student  and remind an experienced one of the essentials.

May the following short excerpts prompt you  to go to your library and check out this book from a man Daniel Berrigan once described as “foam-rubber dynamite.”

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“In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, hr or she can help the beat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will lsiten to what he or she says. One suc person can save the lives of many.”  11-12 Read the rest of this entry »

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Old, Learned, Respectable Bald Heads

I saw this book on my shelf, opened to a page, and found this–

But that is the sort of thing we can expect from the Abstract Owl, the dried-up Western descendant of the Confucianist Dedicated Scholar, who, unlike his Noble but rather unimaginative ancestor, thinks he has some sort of monopoly on—-

“What’s that?” Pooh interrupted.

“What’s what?” I asked.

“What you just said—the Confusionist, Desiccated Scholar.”

“Well, let’s see. The Confusionist, Desiccated Scholar is one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his small group, writing pompous and pretentious papers that no one else can understand, rather than working for the enlightenment of others. How’s that?”

“Much better,” said Pooh.

–Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Title above is line 2 from W. B. Yeats’s poem, “The Scholars”

Be Here Now: American Sadhana and the Search for the Real

If you’ve ever …

put your faith in a guru
traveled to India and were blown away and never took a single drug

recited a mantra throughout the day
met your future wife at  a retreat in north India

had a mid-Seventies practice of TM
acknowledged 1970 seed planted from radio frequent playing of My Sweet Lord

engaged in a conversations where such words as Atman, samadhi, and sattva were common
quoted often one of your Gujarati-American students who told her classmates, “I look at you and see God”

went “off-script” after having read Be Here Now
smiled with a Namaste and palms together several hundred times

underwent 190+ hours for Yoga Teacher Training
learned how to play the sitar Read the rest of this entry »

Her Vivacity Gladdened Life

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Knopf: Everyman’s Library,  1992 

I’ve acknowledged previously the importance of Reinaldo Arenas and Eduardo Galeano  during the late 1990s into 2000 as I was trying to figure out how to write what became The Book of Mev.  Also, during that period I read with relish James Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  That biography proved a fecund  encounter, as  some of my marginalia became a “To Do” for my project…

  1. Include a letter to make the point [get another voice in there]
  1. Include some of her more creative pieces [journal or no]
  1. Force, vivacity, and perspicuity [vigor]
  1. Long footnotes of clarification at the bottom of the page
  1. Spend six hours writing, one after the other, all the topics and fragments in my Mev log

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Get Rattled by Samsara

So many of my brilliant former students—
Their families from Gujarat, Bijar, Delhi,
Kerala, West Bengal—
Would pity me
Or express incredulity

That I, their erstwhile quasi-prof,
Hang on the words
Of Sri Anandamayi Ma
Listen to circa mid-80s recordings
Jai Ma Kirtan

Memorize chapters of the Gita
Chant Hare Krishna when raking leaves
When they’ve left all that behind
(What their grandparents wanted continued
Even amid the maya malldom of America)

Live and let live, Shimmelstoy
Meditate and let not meditate
But one day, if I hear through the mangovine,
One of them is in that predictable predicament
Of the arriviste Richard Alpert at Harvard

I’ll shell out twenty bucks
Track down her address
Put in the post a simple investment
In the next hundred years–
A timeless copy of Be Here Now

“Every Moment Forever”

I shared the following earlier today with my friend Rob Trousdale, who lives at the Duluth Catholic Worker. These Katagiri Roshi passages are from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

“Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”

“Your little mind can’t do anything. It takes Great Determination. Great Determination doesn’t just mean you making an effort. It means the whole universe is behind you and with you–the birds, trees, sky, moon, and ten directions.”

“Have kind consideration for all sentient beings.”

“It is very deep to have a cup of tea.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Call to Life and Deeds: Goethe’s Maxims

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections  
Translated by Elisabeth Stopp; edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Hutchinson; Penguin Books, 1998

I’ve been reading Pierre Hadot’s 2008 book, N’oublie pas de vivre: Goethe et la tradition des exercises spirituels, which sent me back to Goethe’s works.   The following are some of the maxims I noted in my reading of this book back in 2006…

‘Nothing should be treasured more highly than the value of the day.’ [789]

Anyone who doesn’t know foreign languages knows nothing of his own. [91]

If our teaching in schools always continues to point to Antiquity and promotes the teaching of the Greek and Latin languages, we can congratulate ourselves that these studies, so essential for any higher culture, will never suffer decline. [659]

May the study of Greek and Roman literature ever remain the basis of higher education!  [762]

A German should learn all languages so that no foreigner could discomfort him at home and he himself could be at home everywhere when abroad. [978] Read the rest of this entry »

Facing the Burden of History

Dorothee Sölle, The Arms Race Kills even without War

This is a short collection of talks (rallies, radio programs) mostly given to German audiences in the days when West Germany still existed. The context for much of these—early 80s—is NATO, the Reagan arms build-up, and the re-activated European (and American—“there are two Americas” is a refrain) peace movement. Later on, her work would peer into the abyss that was Central America, compliments of the Reagan administration.

The following are worth my attention—

How to be a Christian is something you do not learn from books or information packets, but primarily from other human beings. 39

Nothing brings my own aging home to me as clearly as the impossibility of passing on to my children the meaning of Auschwitz for my generation. 14

To pray means to collect ourselves, to reflect, to gain clarity about our direction in life, about our goals for living. It means to remember and in that to achieve  a likeness with God, to envision what we seek for ourselves and for our children, to give voice to that vision loudly and softly, together and alone, and thus to become more and more the people we were intended to be. 23 Read the rest of this entry »

Making the World Bearable: A Reading/Writing Class on Diane di Prima—Fall 2018

Feeling a need to be inspired in these dismal times?
Been burnt out with academic writing that doesn’t originate in your soul?
Seeking a community of comrades to inspire, console, and rouse you?
Wanting to dive deep within and seek connections locally, nationally, and globally?

Then join us in exploring the vision, work and life of Diane di Prima—poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist.

One Saturday morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (Lindsey Trout Hughes, who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I wanted my next writing/reading class to focus on Diane, whom Allen Ginsberg described like this: “Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”

In Saint Louis, we’ll gather on Sundays at 2 p.m. beginning October 28 and go till December 16. We’ll meet in different cafes and people’s homes (if people are up for that). Each session will go for 90 minutes, allowing ample time for reading, writing, and sharing. Read the rest of this entry »

Making It Be  Spring with Everything

Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1996

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror—going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.

Artisan Ch’ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn’t let his mind get in the way. Therefore his Spirit Tower remained unified and unobstructed.  You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.

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What good medicine  Chuang Tzu is for me, with all my scheming,  planning, exerting, desiring and grasping after!  He’s the chill sage on the  Via Negativa: letting go and letting be, as in the following passages: Read the rest of this entry »