Good-Time, Hard-Time Cat

Nigel and ginger cat
This ginger is Spain’s ‘every cat’, every stray cat that is. They all need a special tender touch considering how many of them live on the edge. Many have taken to climbing into car engines to warm up and this happened to a couple I know while holidaying in Spain recently. They had driven for more than an hour up a mountain road unknowingly giving a cat the ride of it’s life! Thankfully it didn’t die but one can imagine it might have done on a longer journey. So, be warned, and check under the car bonnet for cats before driving off, when in Spain. That’s probably the last thing one might think of doing!

And closer to home, in London, around ten hand picked stray cats are having the time of their life! Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, England’s first ‘cat cafe’ opened at the start of the month. A cafe for those who enjoy tea ‘n cakes – and playing with cats. Sounds like the whole venture is geared around the welfare of the felines, thankfully.

I’m left thinking this evening about these few good-time cats in London and the untold numbers of strays needing homes all around the world. If the the existence of The Cat Emporium (and similar ventures in the future) highlights the need for cat rescue then it will have done a great service.

Stoopingly Present!

In their self-nature, void unstained and pure.

In their self-nature, void unstained and pure.

There can come about a stooping physically and stooping mentally/emotionally and really the two go hand in hand.  We are after all, all-of-a-piece, psycho-physical beings. To some extent everybody has their stoopingly moments. Times when life gets a bit too much and we curl up, contract and withdraw into ourselves. Hopefully, and I’d say inevitably, contracting ourselves is sooner or later replaced with expansion, of regaining our full height and width and inner resilience. Hah! The WordWeb dictionary defines resilience thus: The physical property of a material that can return to its original shape or position after deformation that does not exceed its elastic limit. And also: An occurrence of rebounding or springing back. How very resilient we are when considering, for example, the way seriously damaged youngsters (babies even) live on into adulthood. Yes, and at any age a life event can have us peering out from behind frightened eyes, tensed right through to the toes. Yes, sometimes we are stretched past our elastic limits and regaining our shape, so to speak, may not be possible. But not impossible.

These two ponies are not stooping behind the wall, they are just short! I loved their expressions, they are 100% HERE. The black pony stood on tiptoe to reach through the wire and over the wall to see if there was anything I had of interest. Hungry? You can’t help but love ‘em and small ponies seem to have an extra dollop of presence which, if you’re dealing with them, can be a problem. But this post isn’t about small ponies it’s about Buddhist practice and an instruction which is too often picked up and run with when it is wisest to question what the teaching actually is. The instruction, almost a mantra for some, is ‘get self out-of-the-way’. In practice I understand that as grasping ones will and turning down the volume of the me, me, me aspect of oneself. Parents have to teach their children how to do that without crushing their life and vitality into the ground and we have to do that for ourselves. As adults, mature adults, turning down the volume on one’s personal wants, needs and desires (and hurts) is to live in society in reasonable harmony while at the same time being as kind as a kind and loving parent.

The problem or difficulty comes when the teaching, get self out of the way is mistakenly heard as get rid of self, deny oneself in a harsh and uncompromising way. As with children and small ponies so too with us fallible adults we can lose it. When this happens our individual self-nature appears infinite, and it’s obvious we are a problem to ourselves let alone for others! The fact is we are unified body/minds which left alone (read that as stop and sit still) will move from needy and contracted to expanded, curious, generous. Kind. (My self teaching/reminder is the right thing does itself, given half a chance.)

The thing is even the needy and hurt who stoop behind frightened eyes (and with historic good reason), are still Buddha. Here is the last paragraph from a post titled A World of Difference by Rev. Alicia. My post was inspired by hers.

It is hard to let go of blame, but I see more and more that it doesn’t help things. And I’m not denying that we sometimes have to deal with circumstances that are a cause for deep concern. Recognising and accepting our own fear and distress is a necessary step in becoming still. Allowing skillful action to be called forth from us, it is more likely that we will do what is of most benefit to all beings, and that, of course, includes ourselves.

Let there be generous applications of compassion and acceptance for that which we call the self.

The Dharma of Disturbances

Shooting baskets

Shooting baskets

Something found:

Never organize what you can discard.

I’d replace ‘discard’ with ‘let go of’. No doubt the quote is intended to address the perennial problem of clutter. An encouraging thought and a direction to take for the popular past time of de-cluttering and its companion minimalism in all its forms. But I’ll take this quote out of the external world and into the internal, reflective realm of meditation and contemplation. Both formal zazen and everyday meditation.

Yes obviously it is necessary to organise our thoughts and feelings, to get our ducks in a row for all sorts of practical reasons. However I’d like to suggest that its worth questioning oneself as to just HOW necessary it is. For what purpose? Truthfully.

Yes sometimes posts here can disturb and be thought-provoking with little offered in terms of answers. I’d like to suggest that it is the disturbance itself rather than the thoughts provoked which can be usefully ‘let go of’. Just a thought.

Quickly forget those Jade Mountains posts! Come back soon.

Going Beyond Vengeance – A Story

This story draws on different versions of the tale, particularly from the book, Beyond the Pale of Vengeance, translated by Rev Jisho Perry (a monk of our Order) and Kimiko Vaga, and published in the USA by Shasta Abbey Press. A short version can also be found as ‘The Tunnel’ in Zen Flesh Zen Bones, published by Penguin / Tuttle.
Beyond the Pale of Vengeance

Ichikuro, the son of a samurai warrior, journeyed to Edo in Japan to become a samurai at the service of Lord Saburobei. But he became involved with the official’s wife. When the affair was discovered, though he didn’t intend to, he killed his master in self-defence. He was deeply ashamed. And fearful of the consequences, Ichikuro and the master’s wife took flight.
They took to thieving, and soon became deadly bandits. But his partner in crime grew so greedy that Ichikuro became completely sickened by everything. In the end he left and journeyed to a neighbouring province, reduced to wandering, aimless and distraught. Then one day, he came upon a Buddhist temple. He confessed his crimes and talked of giving himself up. But the priest there saw that Ichikuro was genuinely remorseful and wished to make amends. He knew that he would certainly be executed. He advised Ichikuro not to throw away his life, but to dedicate it to the benefit of all beings. Thus Ichikuro became a monk with the name Ryokai, and he went on pilgrimage to atone for his past.
And so Ichikuro, now Ryokai, resolved to help travellers in whatever way he could find. But his deeds felt completely trivial alongside the enormity of what he had done. The more he helped, the heavier his burden seemed to become. Then one day he came across a group of anguished people standing by a fragile walkway. Their friend had just slipped and fallen into a deep gorge. He was told the walkway was there because it was impossible to build a road through such sheer mountains. Many travellers had been injured or had died.
At once Ryokai realised the great deed he inwardly was being called to undertake. He resolved there and then to dig out a tunnel through the mountains to make the route safe.
Being a Buddhist monk, Ryokai begged for food alms by day and spent his nights digging the tunnel. The local villagers were convinced he was mad in attempting such an impossible task, and no-one offered to help him. So he worked on alone. And much time went by before, gradually, the villagers’ scorn began to turn to sympathy. They started to help him. And after 20 years, the tunnel was more than 2,000 feet long.
But before the tunnel was completed, the son of the official he had killed, found out where Ryokai was. By now he was himself a skilful swordsman and warrior, and he vowed to kill Ryokai in revenge, to defend his family’s honour. As the son approached, enraged, the villagers, and by now stonemasons who had joined them, realised what was about to happen. They surrounded Ryokai. They pleaded with the son to let Ryokai live until the tunnel was completed. They promised him he could then do what he wanted.
After much arguing, the son very reluctantly agreed, and he just waited. Time went by. Ryokai kept on digging. The son grew impatient of just waiting. To hasten the day he too began to dig, as he realised Ryokai would not try to escape. So the two enemies sat side by side, hammering and digging. Months and months went by, and the son continued to work alongside Ryokai. Despite himself, he came, at times, to respect the old monk’s intention, determination, and patient effort.
Then, at last, the tunnel was completed and people and opened up a safe route for travellers. ‘Now kill me’, said Ryokai. ‘My work is done. My great prayer has been answered. If you wait until tomorrow the villagers will surely stop you. Please kill me now’.
But the son could only sit motionless in front of Ryokai. Seeing the old monk infused with such inner calm and joy made the idea of killing him inconceivable. Crawling towards Ryokai, he took his hands into his own, all thoughts of revenge forgotten – how could he possibly kill someone from whom he had learnt so very much? Tears streamed down his cheeks.
(This text adapted by Paul Taylor (Lancaster) is from the book Beyond the Pale of Vengence, published in USA by a monk of our order.)

*The service included inviting representatives of different faith communities, each to read or tell a story from their own faith tradition. The guidance was that the stories needed to last no more than five minutes each – there were four stories. As part of the service the congregation was divided into four groups and each group went on a journey round the church to hear each story in turn. This was in keeping with the national theme for Holocaust week, of ‘Journeys’.