Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

The Firstfruits by Sarah Hartmann Burkemper

Sarah shared this writing in our Facing the Future class this autumn, and I am happy to share it with you!

I generally am not a mindful eater. I eat breakfast standing at the counter, lunch at my desk at work, and dinner slumped on the couch with a bowl on my lap. I forget, neglect, and fail to pause before I eat to offer gratitude for my food and for those who worked to produce it.

But there is one time a year when my gratitude cannot be contained and manifests itself in a ritual celebrating the arrival of a perfect food. That is on the day of the first cucumber.

I harvest the first cucumber around the third week of June. The first one is never truly large enough to pick, but I have no patience to wait any longer. It is usually only one inch in diameter and three to four inches long, barely large enough to slice.

I pick the first cucumber, bring it into the house, and wait until everyone in the family is present. I slice it into pieces and place it on the glass plate reserved for this occasion. I carry the plate around the house, and offer slices to Liz, Ben, and Joe (and Anne, though she refuses). As I distribute the slices, I ask everyone, “Isn’t this incredible? Can you believe the flavor? Have you ever had a better cucumber?” I badger them until I get what I think is the appropriate response.

The first cucumber is incredible! It is perfectly crunchy. It has a subtle sweetness and a pure cucumber flavor. There is no toughness to the seeds. In fact, they are not even fully formed seeds yet, but merely little pockets of moisture embedded in the center. The color of the flesh is a light but rich green with no translucence. The cucumber needs no dressing, as any added flavor would diminish its essence. Read the rest of this entry »

Arise with a Brave Heart: Six Translations of the Gita, 2:3

It does not become you to yield to this weakness. Arise with a  brave heart and destroy the enemy.
—trans. Eknath Easwaran

Don’t yield to impotence!
It is unnatural in you!
Banish this petty weakness from your heart.
Rise to the fight, Arjuna!
—trans. Barbara Stoler Miller

Yield not to unmanliness, O Partha. It does not become thee. Shake off this miserable faint-heartedness and arise, O Parantapa.
—trans. unknown, from Mohandas Gandhi’s Gujarati translation from Sanskrit original

Yield not to this unmanliness, O Partha [Arjuna], for it does not become thee. Cast off this petty faintheartedness and arise, O Oppressor of the foes [Arjuna].
—trans. S. Radhakrishnan 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 »

There is Nothing Jewish That Is Alien to Me

Gershom Scholem, On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays
Schocken, 1976

Recently I’ve read works that deal with Jews and Judaism in crisis—those in the Yiddish-speaking world in the first half of the twentieth century. Scholem’s journey was from Germany to Palestine some time before the khurbn. I find the interview and essays in this volume thoroughly stimulating, provocative, and moving. To wit—-

What interested me then was to find a way to the Jewish primary sources. I was not content with reading about things. This has characterized my whole life.
There was not a single observant Jew in my family circle.

Judaism interested me very much, but not the practice of observances.

After four or five years of intensive study I found that it was possible to master Hebrew.

As you know, it isn’t popular to say that Zionism has fascists, too. But I think it does, even in Israel.

A direct nondialectical return to traditional Judaism, is impossible, historically speaking, and even I myself have not accomplished it.

It is noteworthy that the only great Hebrew writer with whom Agnon felt perfectly at ease was the poet Haim Nahman Bialik, who in this respect had the same inclination for creative anthologizing. 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 »

“Holy the Supernatural Extra Brilliant Intelligent Kindness of the Soul!”

Sri Anandamayi Ma

The title comes from Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl

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

A Gift from Brooke

Earlier this summer I corresponded with Brooke and mentioned I was learning Yiddish.  She kindly  mailed me the following…

 

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 »