This is a veranda in Finland. Somewhere. The picture taken very recently. By a reader (thank you for sending it). The image is especially attractive to me combining as it does peeling paint, soft colours and plants striving to lengthen out of their pots.
My ‘bean stalk’ Ivy, now down to a managable size, had to be wrestled out of it’s pot so entangled the root system. Left to their own devices and with fairly benign attention plants grow.
As do we.
And here is a Finnish Proverb: Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan.
Translation: The forest answers in the same way one shouts at it.
This little group of glass objects has been collecting on my windowsill over the past weeks. When I sit in my chair for a moment of repose I take the opportunity to run an appreciative eye over them. Now and then glancing out at the sky and clouds. (Or the rain running down the window pane!) Depending.
They are as massed humanity. A vision of difference and sameness. Clothed only in colour. Transparent, nothing hidden. And that is how we are, at least how we are to those outside of ourselves. If one looks, with care, difference is just that. Difference. Particular, beautiful. As I sit I find my eye falling on a particular piece and staying there running my eyes around and though it. The blue is a favourite, the purple is new and pleasantly knobbly. The pale green tinted dish gets my attention, wide open and receptive. I’m tempted to put a stray bead or button in it but I’ll not. They all are empty. They will stay that way.
Thus can the mass of humanity, the press of people, be known. Living reflectively has us transparent unto ourselves. Formal meditation cannot have us knowing our selves as anything other than transparent. Brilliant, lovely, lovable.
What IS it about peeling paint? Decay? A moment caught in the flow of time. There is the Wabi-sabi Japanese esthetic which, I’ve discovered, has a basic Buddhist teaching at it’s roots. Namely the Three Signs of Existence: impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). (Sometimes referred to as the Three marks of existence.) However that’s all very well and good, and one can get caught up in thinking about and analyzing why peeling paint and the like is so…..’beautiful’, but why the attraction? Why, for example, is the wrinkled face of an elderly person so ‘can’t keep my eyes off’ alluring?
This is the The Garden Station, Langley where last Sunday we had tea and scones: that’s after a walk along the old railway line, a sandwich in the lee of a stone wall (the wind was almost gale force), and a pleasant return along a wide and sheltered path through the woods. The station cafe is a delight, the conversation was stimulating and the scones home-made.
My Sunday walking companions. What a pleasure to move across the earth, together.
The conversation that emerged while we had our tea and scone (and jam) has had me contemplating this question of peeling paint! Or rather the underlying question of consciousness and Being – of self nature. Could it possibly be I’ve a blogging theme lurking here to explore? I certain hope so. For, when day after day I am simply not moved to write here, I find myself bereft. Ah! Perhaps it (the lurking theme) is the sweet-sadness of the passage of time, layer upon layer, showing the flow of….what is that? Being?
I stumbled upon a book in the monastery library the other day, looking for the map I seem to remember. While there I checked the ‘new arrivals’ shelf and I’m so glad I did. It is called The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo with Kosho Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura commenting on selected sayings and teachings of the Great Master Sawaki Kodo. He was himself, he spoke in a straightforward manner and I love what he has to say. Wise person and he didn’t wrap up the teaching in technical words which then needed explanation. Here is a taste from the start of the chapter, Opinions Gone to Seed.
Kodo Sawaki: Some opinions have passed their prime and lost relevance. For instance, when grownups lecture children, they often simply repeat ready-made opinions. The merely say, “Good is good; bad is bad.” When greens go to seed, they become hard and fibrous. They aren’t edible anymore. We should always see things with fresh eyes!
Often people say, “This is valuable!” But what’s really valuable? Nothing. When you die, you have to leave everything behind. Even the national treasures in Kyoto and Nara will sooner or later perish. It not a problem even if they all burn down.
Soon after Rev. Master Jiyu arrived in Japan in 1962 to study with Koho Zenji at Sojiji she had an understanding sometimes referred to as a first kensho. Koho Zenji sent her to visit Sawaki Kodo who was in Tokyo at the time to have the understanding confirmed. Which he did. He has a special place in my heart and I’m so glad to have run into this book full of his often irreverent words which point deeply and directly to the heart of practice.
Update 28th May: The original map published last evening has been replaced with this one. So anybody who rushed to download yesterdays map with a view to following the marked trail….please delete and use this one. Can’t be too careful about following the official footpaths, although it is not always so easy to know where they are. I speak from experience!
It all makes perfect sense, now! Here is a map of the ‘Well Hope’ walk which I, along with a trusty walking companion, did yesterday. More than three hours walking but we were not rushing.
About a month or more ago I attempted this walk alone. Although armed with this map I lost my way, ending up in the next valley over from the one I’d intended to walk down. It was a bit of a shock to round a hill to find I wasn’t looking at our familiar valley with the monastery reasuringly nestled on the opposite hillside, as in the photograph below. To be honest I have been reluctant to try the walk again and reticent to mention this fact. So I was glad of the company and especially glad to be helped with the correct usage of the words reticent and reluctant! What little gems they are too. And what are good Dharma Friends for if not to pass on the gems of their knowledge and understanding.
Certainty is a dangerous beast to be sure. In terms of my failed attempt at the Well Hope walk I was convinced I was on the correct path! Truth was I wasn’t on a path at all! I remember thinking, I’m not lost I just don’t know where I am in relationship to everywhere else! That’s mistaken certainty, with an extra helping of delusion thrown in.
Oh and I’ve thought myself to be reticent about doing things when in fact I was reluctant! Now thinking about it certainty, knowing you are right, isn’t the issue. It’s ignorance isn’t it? Only when proved to be wrong, wrong valley and wrong word use, does the habit of certainty even come up as an issue. If you are right, then you are RIGHT and why would one question that.
So I think of Buddhist practice, meditation, being about shining light on ignorance. That’s the ‘not knowing’ form of ignorance and also the ‘ignore-ance’ form. Humbling thought. Yes, and sometimes, depending on ones personality and make up, it is important to retain the thought ‘I could be right‘, self-doubt being the default for many people.