to know the self

It was an interesting dream.  A gathering at my father’s funeral, a collection of people who likely never would have come together in his lifetime.  They were of the Karen tribe, a group in Burma who have resisted for generations what amounts to genocidal attacks by the military junta.  I can attribute their presence in my dreams to two things.  At the moment I’m reading Little Daughter by Zoya Phan.  My father called me little daughter which he eventually shortened to “Dot”.  That and no longer having a father is all Zoya and I have in common.  Or perhaps not.

Throughout the Burmese political transitions from tribal units to British colony to Japanese Occupation and then to a brief moment of self-rule before the military rampages started in 1963, my father held firmly to the belief that we would find our identity, our true nature.  He had faith, in God and in the deep interconnections of being human.  It makes sense to me now that in my dream his funeral would be populated by an ethnic group who hold the same profound, unshakeable faith that they will achieve liberation – in statehood and in selfhood.

I met Zoya briefly one evening.  Her talk was deeply passionate and it felt so trite sitting beside her on that church pew asking her to sign her book.  But I wanted to tell her something, something important to my own selfhood: her acknowledgment of all those who had suffered at the hands of the military from 1963 onwards before the atrocities came to international light in 1988 had healed a deep wound in me.  The tragedies that resulted in my father’s undeserved sense of failure to uphold his commitments had been witnessed by a young activist whose own father and mother had paved the way to actualizing her selfhood.

Another thing incubating in the dream is the upcoming period of practice called Rohatsu.  Literally, the eighth day of the twelfth month.  It is the day the Buddha woke up when he saw the morning star and realized the interconnectedness of all beings.  In zendos all over the world, practitioners will sit for the seven days prior to December 8, deepening their practice.  Not a few will hope to achieve enlightenment and feel the light of their morning star penetrate and illuminate their mind.

I sat through the night once to meet the dawn of Rohatsu.  From the cushion in the home zendo, I knew I would see the morning star.  (Ever the obsessive-compulsive, I had looked up the exact hour of its rising and planned my sitting accordingly!)  And so I sat and walked and sat – through the night and straight on to the morning star.  Mara and Brahma were likely busy with more worthy opponents and arhants – for which I was grateful.  I get anxious when folks drop in and there aren’t any decent cookies to serve them.  Besides, it is a solitary practice – paradoxically so given its final outcome is to strip away the singular self and manifest what Thich Nhat Hanh calls Interbeing.

I’m curious about what this week’s practice will bring.  All practice is about manifesting the true self.  To do that we need such mythic tales like Siddhartha’s quest for the deepest possible insight into Being – essentially a Grail quest.  And, like the Grail quest, there are clues and guides.  The first is to find, as did Siddhartha, the “immovable spot” –  that momentary space inside the heart/mind that is steadfastly faithful to our commitment to be liberated from struggle and to achieve stance of nonpreference.

… (I)t is the “place” where things that seem diametrically opposed in the profane world come together in that coincidentia oppositorum that constitutes an experience of the Sacred.   Life and Death, emptiness and plenitude, physical and spiritual merge and conjoin, like the spokes of a wheel at its hub, in a way that is unimaginable to normal consciousness.  (Buddha by Karen Armstrong)

Indeed, it can be an interesting week.

Please take the time to practice,


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