Saturday, September 24, 2011

On Reading the Diamond Sutra

            The other day I was complaining to a friend about my confusion and frustration in beginning to read the Diamond Sutra, one of the seminal texts of the Mahayana tradition.  George and I are thinking of offering a study/dialogue group to explore this sutra and I thought I’d better get a head start.  But as I started to read these unfamiliar words translated from ancient Chinese and Sanskrit, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of my own stupidity and dullness.  These celebrated words of the Buddha lay limp and incomprehensible on the page, refusing me any way in.  Then I realized that I must be a poor excuse of a Zen teacher – one who can’t even make sense of the basic texts of the tradition.
            My friend quickly and cheerfully clarified the matter for me.  She said “Oh, you must just be a stupid Zen teacher.”  This made me laugh and breath a great sigh of relief.  The burden of expectation was lifted.  I quickly saw that I can easily be an excellent stupid Zen teacher – perhaps one of the very best.    I just have to be myself.  Then I know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know.  The words that make sense with my experience make sense.  The words that don’t, don’t.
            So I am continuing my investigation into the Diamond Sutra, but with a new perspective.  Reading as a stupid Zen master, my incomprehension is not a problem, but rather a starting point.  I can now notice whatever arises rather than invest my energy in self-judgment and striving.  
            I’m now on about the fourth line.  I’ve settled down with the Buddha after he has come back from his daily begging in town.  I’ve bowed at his feet, circled around him three times in a clockwise fashion, and begun to listen to his strange voice from across the centuries.  Being rather dull, I don’t expect to understand much, but I'm hoping that just being here is enough.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Coming Home

I didn’t really want to come home.  I wanted to stay hidden in the hills of northern Wales—to buy an old stone farmhouse nestled in the green but barren mountains of Snowdonia.  With a view of the valley stretching out in front and peaks rising in the distance.  Maybe some sheep wandering in oddly shaped stone bounded fields.  And I would disappear into my daily routine – reading and writing and doing chores around the house.  An occasional ramble on foot or on bike to explore the ancient landscapes – following the trails that lure me up and down the steep inclines.
            But being a responsible adult, I didn’t honestly consider this.  Honoring the path of the ticket already purchased.  The sweet and sometimes sticky web of connection that is my daily life here at the Temple in Worcester.  The ring of the doorbell 15 minutes before meditation.  The friends and strangers that come – shyly or boldly to sit in silence – together.  The sound of the bells and the familiar chants calling out for refuge.  And the ten thousand pieces of plans and meetings, commitments and conversations that dance in the air.  The ancient roads of community and practice – every bit as steep and dramatic as the rocky paths of Snowdonia.
            Can I hide in these verdant hills?  Can I disappear into the life that is already here?  Just these dishes.  Just this writing.  Encountering each situation, each relationship as a new piece of geography – a new perspective in the wild and familiar hills of being human.  To wander in this landscape of aliveness with fresh eyes and clear intention.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Morning Update

            A slight chill this morning – morning glories blossomed on the railing – the palest blue.  They stand erect and still as if they are looking for something – a lost lover.   Or like they heard something faintly in the distance and are great ears listening with breath held to hear some new urgency.  Or as if the love held captive in the seed and the vines and the leaves could contain itself no longer and has been shot forth.  Delicate membrane unfurled.  Silky as the finest Parisian blouse – a raiment softer than the fairest skin. 
Only for a few moments, my whole lifetime is lived.  Too fragile to last – this membrane of love – made only for giving and receiving. 
Now the blossoms quiver in the imperceptible breeze.  Too fragile to last – like a human being – defenseless walking upright with this delicate skin membrane holding it all together – not at all sturdy - like a rock or a piece of dirt. 
But I am sure they are listening – tuning into the deep hum of the universe.  Their only job is to listen – to receive – which they do perfectly.  The ear-like sails – radio wave collectors – more powerful than the sonic telescopes lined up in the desert waiting to hear news of other life in far away places – to listen to ‘see’ what is beyond what we know.  This place where listening and seeing are not separate. 
And what IT is is not determined by what it is, but by that which receives.  The softest blue is just a dance happening between the shaking fragility of these blossoms and the intricacy of the electro-magnetic impulses I call myself. 
Our astonishing dance of intimacy this morning.