99 buddhas on the wall

I woke up (I wish!) with a silly refrain in my head: 99 Buddhas on the wall, 99 more to go.  Take one down, pass it around… 98 more to go…

So far, my commitment to creating 108 Buddha calligraphies is bringing up interesting issues about practice.  This is Buddha9 which means my brain was doing some strange arithmetic as I was sleeping.  There really are 99 more to do.  Or maybe that’s the pointy-end of practice for me.  There are no more to do except that I think there are.  But that’s important too.  The practice of Zen is about not doing which, in the Ourobouros of Zen, is about noticing what the doing is.  What I notice when I get the brush and ink ready is all the arising hope that this one line will define the direction of who I can be, will shape the container of my joys and pain.  That’s a lot ask from masticated fibers, a patch of horse hair bound in a wooden handle and a concoction of pigment and glue.  Honestly, what am I thinking!

And therein lies the problem.  The Thinking Brain comes online and the next thing I know there is this mound of crumpled “not-good-enough’s” on the floor.  Practice with these Buddhas has become watching that Thinking Brain and with gentleness, escorting it to the mental couch where it can rest.  What research there is on burn out and trauma shows that recovery is in allowing different parts of the brain to come out and play.  But there’s no wisdom in waiting until burn out happens.  I like to see each Buddha that pours out of the brush as a buffer or a deposit in the bank of resilience. Allowing each one to be just what it is without judgement of the line, balance, composition or anything contrived is tough – and the pokey part of practice.

Dealing with loss and grief is not much different.  I’ve never lost a child, but in walking with parents who have, the depth of that pain seems insurmountable.  And yet, and yet, they go on.  What I’ve learned from these amazing teachers is that in my pain what I want most is for it to be different – and by that I usually mean: it would be nice if it was over.  So, I ask myself: what might happen if I let go of wanting this experience to end?

The answers are a fascinating revelation of the need for self-compassion.

Thanks to Jay at DigitalZendo for this link to Thay’s talk on Suffering & Compassion:

Thank you for practicing,


5 thoughts on “99 buddhas on the wall

  1. Wanting it to be over. Not wanting to be in the present. that sums it up well. How can it be to accept the suffering…with gentleness and kindness? therein lies the challenge as I attempt to quiet the stern diciplinarian who ‘wills’ myself ‘be in control’ of the suffering. ‘Letting go without giving up’ – a book I read recently about caregivers who watch their loved ones with alzheimer die a little every day.
    wise words in that title

  2. Hi Genju,
    My experience is that the parts of my brain (thinking?), that confound me and don’t respond to readily to letting go, sometimes need to merely be faced squarely with the intention of never letting go; indeed hanging on with all my might. Then I find out that all my might is not sufficient against the awesome power of impermanence.
    I don’t have to let go, simply because I can’t hold on.
    In a sense I sometimes need to let go of letting go, ’cause it’ll go anyway, and that can be very liberating.
    Also, have you tried doing/being just one Buddha each day? 🙂

  3. So many wise words here, for life in the studio and out. I know intimately “the crumpled not good enoughs”, the hopes and fears we attach to inanimate things, the wishing for completion. Thanks for adding a tincture of understanding to my bucket of delusion!

  4. Helmut, your question of being one with Buddha recalls for me the chant to Avalokiteshvara – be one with buddha, is one with buddha…

    Thanks for the book title, Janice!

    Again, deep bows to all of you for your reflections! Letting go of wanting to let go is such a powerful – an overpowering – practice.

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