Reflections on an Undivided Life

I received the follow text in an email this morning that thought it good to share. It is published with the authors permission.

A recent book title spoke to me. The title was An Undivided Life and it asked the questions, what does that mean for you? do you live an undivided life? It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? An undivided life. Exactly what is it then that separates a divided life from an undivided life? Is it that a divided life is full of shoulds and if onlys? Full of how could I do that. and why didn’t I do thus and so? Perhaps it is not that an undivided life is absent of those insistently self denigrating questions, but that an undivided life is full of the willingness to accept those aspects of our self that seem to our mind less than lovely, and recognize that it is those very attributes, unpleasant as they may be for us to look at, that are the open doors through which we can walk to the other side of those habits of speech and behavior.

A colleague told me today that he is really afraid of doing something in the office that I might disapprove of because my reaction when that happens is so overwhelming. And we’re not talking major mistakes here, we’re talking little things, like where you put the teaspoons after you’ve made tea. Where does the need to control come from? Isn’t there room in my personal universe for more than one way to do something? And when I’m no longer there in the office, how will things be done? And when I die, how will things be done then? Any-place is a good place to start, right now is a good time to begin.

Please let me see myself as others see me, let me be as my heart wishes others to be. Please let me step through the mirrored doorway into that open spaciousness (fearlessness?) that allows us all to be a compassionate universe within ourselves, and with and for others.

Here ends my correspondents words.

Monastic Retreat

We are sitting a sesshin for the next five days. Postings may or may not appear. Join in why not and sit a little longer, or perhaps add a meditation period on a park bench at lunch time.

Honouring the Buddha

When I am gone.
And the house seems empty.
Do not thou.
O plum tree by the eaves.
The spring forget.

The above verse appears on the side of the stupa at Shasta built in memory of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett.

Gathered in the gloaming last evening the community at Shasta circumambulated the stupa three times, all the while singing exquisitely. A new chant I was not familiar with. Simply walking and listening surrounded by the gathering night, in the presence of this magnificent white marble stupa, was yet another treat I wish to mark here. The circling of the stupa three times, a Buddhist way of showing respect and honour, was part of a ceremony performed on the fifth day of each month. On the sixth day there is a ceremony in remembrance of Rev. Kennett’s death; sixth November 1996.

This evening I found out the route of this poem, which is essentially a death poem. I felt sure that Helen Waddell was part of the picture and I was right. At the very end of her biography there is an excerpt from a letter written 9th April 1918. It reads thus:

H.W. to Dr. George Taylor
A scrap of Japanese verse from an old book of my father’s that I turned up the other day.
When I am gone,
And the house desolate,
Yet do not thou, O plum tree by the eaves,
The spring forget.

(My camera has died. So until it is resurrected, or I get another one, photos will be absent. Sorry about that.)

Question at the Healthfood Store

Close to the ground
Squinting at a package
Does that say…
With Echinacea?
Honey Lemon with…
Is this what I’m looking for?

She bent down and asked
Are you a Buddhist Nun?
I pause, much distracted.
Then. Yes, yes I am!
We talked and then
Wrote down this web address
And left me still sitting down.

Before she left
She said, God Bless
Shook my hand and said
Hope that’s OK.
Of course, I assured.
Then I bought the Ricola’s.
Honey Lemon with Echinacea.

Hope that’s OK.

For the woman and her friend. I hope you find what you are looking for. I did!

The Greatest Teaching of All

A grand day out.
Dizzy from animated, noisy truck riding, conversations I wander off alone. First nose to nose with deer then a passing glimpse at bear scat. Manzanita berries are on the menu, apparently. Picking my way along. Pass abandoned boat and a pick-up, sans engine and most of everything else. Signs of mining, gold mining I find out later.

Scrub oak and pine, everything dry as dust. Silence, no wind no breeze, blue sky. Rustles in the dry oak leaves. A chipmunk? Squirrel? Who knows. I lay me down. Fall asleep. Wake and wander about. Gaze out past trees to distant forest hills. What a treat! Two or three hours in the wilderness. No particular purpose. No destination. No biting insects! No threat nor fear. No NOTHING.

Then, back to help load the log splitter. We set up an easy rhythm together, she operated the hydraulics, I swung in the next log. A rare chance to work along side novice monks. What a treat! Lunch and amiable chat about deer under the deck, mountain lions and re-roofing plans. Then tea and seniors talk of sewing the kesa, quilting and re-learning balance after hip replacement. All the while work continues.

We go home towing wood and log-splitter. My work companions elderly wet dog in the back and another novice helper beside. We are all dusty-tired, the dog too. Mt. Shasta, almost devoid of snow save for the glaciers, is in view as we weave our way down Strawberry Valley. Which appears again to be dotted with mini slag heaps. I never travel this road without that thought, of slag heaps. They probably reflect a geological event millennia old. Who knows?

A truck passes. Emblazoned on the cab side, Never give up. A split second later the novice in the back seat asks, Have you any advice for us (novices) please Rev. Master Mugo? I pause. No, not really. What IS there to say to these very able, well informed, up-to-the-mark young monks? Err, well Never give up! Never give up on your fellow trainees. Never give up on yourself.

This was a favourite teaching of the late Head of the Order. He meant by it so much. So much that is important in terms of maintaining harmony in the Sangha. As we say, Harmony IS the Sangha Treasure. Thankfully I hit a spot with my truck-inspired teaching. We chatted back and forth on the subject until we were home.

This pair had obviously studied their Taitaikoho (How Junior Priests Must Behave in the Presence of Senior Priests), Eihei-shingi (Dogen’s Monastic Rules). One of the instructions is to always be diligent in the presence of a senior and take the opportunity to ask for teaching. The last rule, number 62, states: For you seniors will always exist; there will always be someone senior to you both when you are a first grade unsui and when you become a Buddha. This is the greatest teaching of all.

Nothing like being out in the wilderness to return home once more to humility. And wonder. One is never so old for that. Monk or not.