Living The Teaching – A Recorded Talk

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Goslings in a community park in Mt. Shasta.

The posts of the past few days were, in part, a way for me to prepare a talk which I’d agreed to give here at Shasta Abbey, today. You can download the talk from the Shasta Abbey website. There are about three long pauses between sections, so it can be listened to in chunks. It’s one hour in length total.

Walking On Where You Are

Walk on
and forget..

This is the end of my mantra of uplift. Having this verse, putting daily life under the microscope, has re-ignited my appreciation for our daily scriptures. With constant repetition they have become ingrained in my psyche and I’d not realized that before. Walking along the other day it occurred to me that, unknowingly, our daily life is a constant enactment of the scriptures and that they play sub-audibly all of the time. They are silent poetry we aspire to recite and give life to. As we wash the dishes.

Having woken up, risen up and stepped out there is then the walking on, the keeping going. There is so much to say about walking on, taking the next step. That’s doing the right thing when a lesser act would somewhat suffice. Embark on a course of action and then take a left turn when conditions ask that of us. While at the same time wanting desperately to get there by the faster route. However we simply can’t cut corner or miss out the steps in between, if we are to hold true to our deepest intention.

Here is a line from the Sandokai which speaks volumes. As you walk on distinctions between near and far are lost (sight of). And I believe that to be true not because we become rudderless or directionless in our living. Far from it. Somehow a contentment creeps in and eclipses the struggle and the striving for attainment, while at the same time we do attain, perhaps achieve great things and struggle in the process. The line that follows the one quoted above is, and should you lost become there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers! It is quite easy to get lost. Especially so if one is constantly traveling ahead of where one actually is. Physically for example. On a city street at rush hour people are already in their offices as they cross the road. On the cloister or on the way home. Are you still with yourself where you are or are you ahead of yourself? Thankfully, and tragically at times, we are brought back to where we are with a thump or a bang, a trip or a fall. Today letting go is to refrain from becoming ahead of yourself. This applies across the board.

What of forgetting? Years ago I rescued a baby seal from the beach on the Oregon coast. To cut a long story short I ended up putting it back where I found it. I’d made a mistake which probably cost the life of that seal. I’m not proud of that. As I walked up the beach, having delivered it to it’s watery home, I knew I must not look back as much as I wanted to know if it was OK. If I had I might well have compounded my mistake by not letting it go. Forgetting involves refraining from looking back. Refraining from walking on while, at the same time, looking back over ones shoulder! That’s as hard, and often as heart wrenching, as turning ones back on a vulnerable creature. Yet it must be done. Constantly

Returning now full circle, to meditation, to the darkened hall of unknowing which is our home we never leave, I’m wondering if I have anything left to say.

Nope, that’s it. Thanks for listening.

Step Out – Look Up

Day three in this epic series that has me staying up far too late into the night. Here is the second part of my personal mantra of uplift.

Step out!
Step out and the Great Earth,
Leaps joyfully.

(It is said that the Great Earth is the foundation of gratitude and refers to the fundamental ground of Everything.)

In Rules For Meditation Zen Master Dogen states, if your first step is false, you will immediately stumble. To point out the obvious, if you are not looking where you’re going you are quite likely to not only stumble, you’ll fall over! Eventually. There is something fundamental being pointed out, although rather often the obvious practical aspect can get lost sight of. The question is where exactly are you coming from. What is going on behind the eyes which receive that which enters them? Specifically what is the basic underlying intention behind ones actions? On what basis does one choose to point ones toes in this direction, rather than another?

The sixteen Buddhist Precepts are regarded as the basic principles by which one guides ones life. Not as a rule book, although specifics on what is simply not on are important, more as an underlying intention. The fundamental intention is then to keep true to the Precepts. The only way to do that, having studied to the point of them being ones life blood, is to SIT. To meditate while walking, sitting, talking, bending, driving, cooking, thinking. In other words to be stilled and reflective within all the countless ways we engage in action, all of our days. The essence of the Precepts are found in the Three Pure Precepts; to refrain from harmful habitual actions of body, mouth and mind, to direct oneself to the good (a good beyond the opposites of good/bad) and to be/do good for others. Another way of putting that last one might be to not act like you are the only person left in the universe! We all have to start somewhere with Preceptual living so having the intention to be the best person you can be is a great intention. Once fully committed to them there is a way that we are brought to honour our pure intentions. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Sometimes much later. In the end good prevails.

The following is an affirmation.

The Great Earth does leap with joy
as we step out with
great intention.

Engaging with the world through our senses
embraced and embracing
how could there not be gratitude.
Really?

Today’s letting go is the letting go of looking down. Literally having ones eyes down cast as one steps out. For some of us, some of the time, to leaver ones eyes off the ground and to have them seeing ahead can be THE hardest and most painful act imaginable. I wish I could find the email somebody sent me describing the utter torture of raising his eyes in this way, and keeping on walking. And keeping on looking up when looking down feels safer, more comfortable, more normal. Try it. In addition, while looking where you are going try deliberately bringing in peripheral vision (go wide-screen) this helps to ease off on that hard-edged staring ahead, if that’s your habit.

As you step out, make a move in life, speak out, speak up, shift inwardly and outwardly or in any other way one might step out – look up! Engaging with what is actually before you, with clear intention behind your eyes, you might be amazed to find anxiety and worry have deserted you. For me looking down, literally, indicates that I’ve something on my mind. Looking up, literally, however much my eyes slam down again makes me face and acknowledge what’s there. Acknowledging is the letting go.

Rise Up, Open!

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Meadow, stream, mountain. (Mt. Eddy)

So here we are, day two in this current series looking at daily life training through the lens of what we term letting go. A popular subject I expect since most of us have been extolled to do that, and more than once. Probably. And I hope it isn’t only me who has puzzled about how one does that. The first couple of lines of my 2005 inspirational poem to myself are:

Rise Up!
Rise up and greet the dawn.

There are a number of references in our daily scriptures to this rising up. There is talk of a joy springing up in the Litany of the Great Compassionate One for example. The Litany is an offering up, a looking up. We implore ourselves to, Do, do the work within my heart. Nobody else is going to do that. But what is the work within my heart? Getting up, rising up is a good start when there is work to do. That’s getting out of bed (always a hard one), out of the chair, out of the doldrums, off ones high horse, off the Internet, out of the car, leaving ones meditation cushion, leave the comfortable familiarity of ones discomforts. Rising up out of a lake of unhappiness, to greet the dawn of a new day, or a new life. Rising up is an act of will, a choice made constantly on subtle and not so subtle levels which can have life changing consequences, one could not predict before hand. All day long, all life long there are choices. The rising up of joy is all part of rising to greet the dawn of the next thing.

From The Most Excellent Mirror – Samadhi we have: Night encloses brightness and, at dawn, no light shines. In the laundry room the other day I was asking a couple of novices where this line of scripture came from, Night embraces brightness? Nobody could remember and we decided I’d probably made it up! As it happened I’d only invented one word, embrace. Meditation embraces brightness. Meditation embraces with encircling arms the myriad demanding bright lights of day, the never ending next things. And at dawn no light shines! the scripture says. What could that mean? Perhaps this little verse is challenging us to examine our customary, wall to wall, dualistic mode of seeing and conceiving of existence. Of darkness opposed to light, action opposed to stillness. Nirvana opposed to Samsara.

Thank goodness Zen Master Dogen got up from his disquieted seat and sailed to China. Then came back to disturb us with his understanding. He unrelentingly challenges us to awake and rise up out of our sleep, and as he puts it in Kuge (On The Flowering of The Unbounded) Chapter 44, see blossoms in Boundless Space. There is a lot in this chapter which I can relate to. In particular there is a resonance with my thinking on the use of the physical eyes and the impact that has on letting go mentally and physically.

Because it is getting late now and I have an early start tomorrow morning I refer you to the posting Worry Walking. The letting go spotlight today is on the use we make of our eyes when engaging with all that enters through them. I’m one who finds it hard to rise from my bed. What I do to help myself is to purposefully pay attention to what is before my eyes using peripheral vision, the ceiling for example or the curtains. I allow the simple sight to enter in and fairly soon I’m ready to move and get out of bed. Somewhere in there I greet the dawn! This is a soft eyed seeing not a hard-edged zooming in on something. During the day, at the computer perhaps, have a go at zooming out from the monitor and go wide-angle allowing the rest of the room to come to you. Your interest in the contents of the silvery eye of the monitor may fade as your attention shifts wider and opens up to the the big wide world you actually live and work in. Ah! take a breath. Is this letting go?

See my comment also.

Pilgrimage Revisited

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Wind, water, sky – together.

Back in 2005 when I was about to fly to East Asia on Pilgrimage I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper while out walking in Vancouver, Canada. The underlying message behind what I wrote was let go and trust – continuously. When in mental, physical, emotional extremity, as I was then, basic teachings take on a renewed meaning, and urgency. During the trip my advice to myself proved in practical every-day ways to be both a life saver and a very good thing! Circumstances and conditions repeatedly came together in near miraculous ways and we, my traveling companion Iain and me, were ushered into places and meeting people it would not have been possible to plan for in advance. Travel stress was a constant and I guess trust/faith must have been there.

Over the next few days I’ll be revisiting and reflecting upon my poem with the spotlight shining on what it means in practical terms to let go. I speak of rising up in the poem implying a ‘place’ from which one moves. Sitting down perhaps? The keystone and well-spring of pilgrimage, daily living, is sitting still in the midst of it all. Meditation is present in the midst of living out our day, even within the seeming chaos most of us experience. One doesn’t need to travel or otherwise enter stressful circumstances to prove this true. Opportunities arise quite naturally!

Formal meditation is practiced in subdued lighting with the emphasis of turning ones attention inwards. Into the darken hall of ones mind/body. Sitting still, allowing the senses to still, we enter into a metaphorical darkness of unknowing by allowing the known to fade. This is however an illuminated darkness, bright aliveness of body and mind rises naturally – given half a chance. So, within compassion/acceptance for all that comes and goes, letting go and trusting is…about how it is.

The habit is to follow the arising and the passing. To entertain, wine and dine, thoughts, sensations, emotions, bright ideas, memories etc. It is enough to notice the arising and passing, simply noticing is the letting go. Noticing over and over again, the known fades in importance.

BTW. Iain didn’t get due credit for a number of the early posts from Japan which he wrote. Thank you Iain and thank you for making the trip possible.