Without Edges – Refuge

In contemplating ‘renewal’ I have been struggling to express the nub of what I want to point towards before getting into practicalities. Todays Dharma Talk which was given by Rev. Master Berwyn, What is Refuge points so clearly to that ‘nub’. If you have a chance to listen/watch, it comes recommended, as do all of the talks given this week during the retreat. The retreat will culminate with the ceremony of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts on Friday morning.

muActually the retreat culminates with the Toro, or fire on Friday evening – we are prommised heavy rain! Fire is regarded as a cleansing, an offering up, a letting go. The Japanese character for empty or immaculate depicts stylized flames, blazing up within the character. The first character of my name Mu depicts this ‘blazing up’ of immaculacy.

In a certain sense our lives, our living of it, is within the blazing up of mu, emptiness. How so? Well we tend to think of fire as getting rid of something when in the above meaning there IS only blazing up, in emptyness. Can one catch a flame? Find and define the edges of flames. Yes, perhaps but not actually. This then is the basis of ‘renewal’, to blaze up. To live, to meet conditions unconditionally.  In order to do that we have to acknowledge self-interest, self-improvement/self-help/self need strategies, which most of us have ticking away in the background. It is a massive ‘ask’ to let go of oneself where we feel relatively safe and secure. Or at least try to be safe. On a survival level, of course, we do need to be safe but most of us are fortunate enough to have physical security.

On our most fundamental level, spiritual level, we unknowingly and constantly enter the Garden of the Bodhisattvas where everything and anything flourishes – including (what we fondly regard as) ‘ourselves’. The garden isn’t a place, definitely not a ‘place’ safe and secure (Rev. Berwyn talks about this at the start of his talk), assured and permanent. Yet as one of our scriptures says, it is ‘where we take our delight and play’.

In many ways, it is easy to point to the nub of the matter less easy to comprehend or accept, when there is actually nothing separate to comprehend or accept! The nub is not a concept or an ideal state to achieve either. So having got this truth out there (thanks to Rev. Berwyn) I am ok to talk about practicalities, of ‘skilful means’  because addressing daily living can quickly start to look like advice on self-improvement, which is not what we are about! The question frequently posed is, ‘when the garden gate seems closed and locked how can I get in’? That’s locked into our ‘selves’, mentally/physically/emotionally. This is where skilful means which I’m calling ‘renewal’ enters.


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Tend one’s Own Garden

I’ve spent several hours writing a post, but Voltaire says it so much better…

This is Voltaire who said in Candide, ‘tending one’s own garden is not only a private activity but also productive’.

With thanks to Annette for the quote. As she says, and I paraphrase, this may not solve our troubled world however it gives some quiet space to think and reflect.

And the ‘garden’, our life lived is a Bodhsattvas playground. Endless opportunities to stretch out a hand, open one’s mind.

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For some, it is the sky and the stars, the mountains and the sea, the land and flowing rivers that are the ground of faith. For others it is different.

Below is an account of a man who demonstrated his deep faith under severe circumstances. Of course, the question comes to mind, ‘would I be able to do as he did’? Chances are, and I sincerely hope this is the case, none of us will face such a test. All the same, it seems good to reflect on what ‘faith’ means personally. One need not be under extreme duress to exercise faith though. And since ‘renewal’ is the theme of the moment, I would say faith/trust is at the heart of meditation, on and off the cushion, yet there is not an ‘object’ of faith to grasp. It does however have to be exercised, moment to moment. Oh, and we have a religious tradition rich with symbolism to draw on if that is helpful in keeping ones ‘ground of faith’, ever-present.

A Buddha image
mountain air
a candle flickering
the night sky?

The story of Judah Wallis
While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at my father, Judah Wallis. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was disturbed to discover a pair of tefillin. Judah was very frightened because he knew that were he to be caught carrying tefillin, he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.

In the morning, just before the appel [roll call], while still in his bunkhouse, he put on the tefillin. Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefillin, noted the number on Judah’s arm. At the appel, in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer called out Judah’s number and he had no choice but to step forward. The German officer waved the tefillin in the air and said, “Dog! I sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these.”
Judah was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck. Before he was hanged, the officer said in a mocking tone, “Dog, what is your last wish?”
“To wear my tefillin one last time,” Judah replied.

“The officer was dumbfounded. He handed Judah the tefillin. As Judah put them on, he recited the verse that is said while the tefillin are being wound around the fingers: “Ve’eirastich li le’olam, ve’eirastich li b’tzedek uvemishpat, ub’chessed, uv’rachamim, ve’eirastich li b’emunah, v’yodaat es Hashem – I will betroth you to me forever and I will betroth you to me with righteousness and with justice and with kindness and with mercy and I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know G-d.”

It is hard for us to picture this Jew with a noose around his neck, wearing tefillin on his head and arm – but that was the scene that the entire camp was forced to watch, as they awaited the impending hanging of the Jew who had dared to break the rule against wearing tefillin.

Even women from the adjoining camp were lined up at the barbed wire fence that separated them from the men’s camp, forced to watch this horrible sight.
As Judah turned to watch the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people’s eyes. Even at that moment, as he was about to be hanged, he was shocked. Jews were crying! How was it possible that they still had tears left to shed? And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming from? Impulsively, in Yiddish, he called out, “Yidden, I am the victor. Don’t you understand, I am the winner!”

The German officer understood Yiddish and was infuriated. He said to Judah, “You dog, you think you are the winner? Hanging is too good for you. You are going to get another kind of death.”

“Judah, my father, was taken from the stool and the noose was removed from his neck. He was forced into a squatting position and two huge rocks were placed under his arms. Then he was told that he would be receiving 25 lashes to his head – the head on which he had dared to position his tefillin. The officer told him that if he dropped even one of the rocks, he would be shot immediately. In fact, because this was such an extremely painful form of death, the officer advised him, “Drop the rocks now. You will never survive the 25 lashes to the head. Nobody ever does.”
Judah’s response was, “No, I won’t give you the pleasure.”

At the 25th lash, Judah lost consciousness and was left for dead. He was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses, after which he would have been burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to the side, and covered his head with a rag so people didn’t realize he was alive. Eventually, after he recovered consciousness fully, he crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles and hid under it until he was strong enough to come out under his own power. Two months later he was liberated.

During the hanging and beating episode, a 17-year-old girl had been watching the events from the women’s side of the fence. After liberation, she made her way to Judah. She walked over to him and said, “I’ve lost everyone. I don’t want to be alone any more. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to hang you. Will you marry me?”

My parents walked over to the Klausenberger Rebbe and requested that he perform the marriage ceremony. The Klausenberger Rebbe, whose Kiddush Hashem is legendary, wrote out a kesubah [marriage contract] by hand from memory and married the couple. I have that handwritten kesubahin in my possession to this day.
~~ Rabbi Yosef Wallis
Copied from Max Edelkopf (via Mordechai Makor).

Hat tip to Sophia, dear woman, who first published this and who kindly sent the text to me this evening to republish.

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Animal Companions

I feel it in my bones
could be wrong
might be right
hope I am not.

Animal companions
are with us
and are gone
So fast, too soon.

The extract below is from a blog post in The Dish published back in 2013. You will see an outpour of emotion in response to the post from those who loved and lost, their beloved, their animal companion.

I held my hand on his heart, felt the last beats. Later, I called my elderly parents. My dad, no dog lover, said Mom was fairly lucid, which hadn’t been true for months. She knew who I was and asked how things were going. I told her about Wally and she said, “These animals with their short lives teach us so much about death.”
The Last Lesson We Learn From Our Pets, The Dish

This is for all those who have loved and lost an animal companion or struggling now with a failing four footed friend. Lest we forget reptiles and birds are wonderful companions too.

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Practice Within The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives