intimate secret

Yes, a little Sprout fix for those of you feline-inclined.  February is Feline Appreciation Month by the way, so go out and hug something furry with sharp teeth and claws.

Back to books.  Tasty ones.  I remember the day I dug into Analayo’s Satipatthana and just about swooned at the deliciousness of taking nibbles out of the sutra, one word, one sentence at a time.  It should be tedious but it’s not.   Or perhaps it’s a peculiarity of mine that most won’t point out in polite company.  Liberated Life Project asked on the Facebook page:

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing right now for a job, what would you do to earn your livelihood? Quick… first thought, best thought!

I replied: study, learn, write.

How’s that for smacking up against my most intimate truth?  I think I’ve momentarily arrived at that place where studying is truly for pleasure, learning is amazing just for what it entails, and writing is a joyous expression of weaving the threads together.  More than all that, I hope I’ve learned to let go of the nay-saying voices: the folks who deride my love of reading about Buddhism, the ones who stand proud on their fundamentalist views that Buddhism is only about beliefs, or the ones whose faces pucker in fear and disgust when I start a sentence with “Well, Red Pine’s translation of the Heart Sutra is fascinating for its…”

Study.  Learn.  Write.

There’s a lip-smacking delight in this.  I said to my coach (did I mention that I have one?): When you return from your journey of 10,000 Leagues under the Self, I’d like to study a sutra and start on my path of learning.  His response in summary: “Why wait until I return?”  In effect, he suggested I start immediately by intensifying my daily practice: meditations morning and evening every day until our next meeting.  I was thrilled.  We’re into Day Two.  And I’ve deliciously failed already!  Look, Ma!  I’m Learning!

Study this.  In that moment of waking, notice the sinking mind.  In that moment of turning away from the edge of the bed, notice the holding back.  There really is a space for a choice.  “Failure means you’re in the game,” he said in our first session.  I may well end up MVP!

Learn something.  Red Pine opens his commentary(1) of the Heart Sutra with a translation of “prajna which means ‘wisdom’ and is a combination of pra, meaning ‘before,’ and jna, meaning ‘to know.'”   Wisdom is something that comes before knowing, a “beginner’s mind” that is transcendent and not tied to discrete entities, and by definition not something that can be “learned.”  I’m still in the game!

Write.  In a word, practice.  It’s no different from getting up, sitting down, and opening ourselves to this unfolding panorama of life as it is.  It’s tedious; muses are highly disrespectful of agendas and scheduled appointments.  It’s frustrating; the black squiggles on the page or in the mind don’t always lend themselves to transparent coherence.  It’s terrifying; it will never measure up to what the mind created in that interstitial space between sleep and waking up.  Do it anyway.  Stay in the game!

Someone asked me in a meeting whether the meditation session we run on Sunday are different from the one on Thursday.  Although I gave an answer that would encourage engagement, this is what I wanted to say:

There is no answer I can give you that will bring you to your life right here, right now.  If your choices are based on the particulars of time and distance, no schedule or location in space will never be the right one.  No plan of practice or topic of the day will bring you to that most intimate secret in your heart.  No matter what the schedule, personality of teacher, or some vague peculiarity of community, if you do not choose to step out into your life you cannot arrive in it and learn the magic it is.



(1) The Heart Sutra, translated and commentary by Red Pine

in boundlessness, no near or far

Illustration:  Manjughosa on a blue lion with two bodhisattva attendants (possibly Prince Sudhana and Yamari, an emanation of Manjushri)

The Simile of Space

“Lord Buddha, space does not think, ‘What am I near to, what am I far from?’  Why?  Because, Lord Buddha, a bodhisattva, a great being, practising the perfection of wisdom, does not think, ‘I am near supreme, truly perfect enlightenment, I am far from the stage of a disciple of the stage of a pratyekabuddha.’  Why?  Because the perfection of wisdom is something free from such discrimination.”

The Perfection of Wisdom by R.C. Jamieson (pg. 97)

a timber, a plank

The Simile of the Ship

“When a ship is wrecked at sea, those who do not hold onto a timber, or plank, or other solid support will drown in the water, never reaching the other shore.  Subhuti, those that do hold onto a timber, or plank, or other solid support will not drown in the water.  Happily unhindered, they may reach the shore, where they will stand safe and sound on firm ground.

“Similarly, Subhuti, a bodhisattva who is endowed with a full measure of faith and purity, of kindness and intentions, but without taking hold of the perfection of wisdom, can fall along the way.  Not reaching all-embracing knowledge, he may remain only a disciple, or a pratyekabuddha.”

The Perfection of Wisdom by R.C. Jamieson (pg 63)

Illustration:  The Buddha of the past, Dipamkara at sea with two attendants.  He is the protector of others from sea monsters.

buddhas, bodhisattvas, mahasattvas

Illustration:  Buddha teaching the bodhisattvas, green Samantabhadra, blue Vajrapani, yellow Maitreya, yellow Manjusri, and white Avalokitesvara.  On the right is a wrathful Jambhala holding a mongoose with two birds above.

The definition of a bodhisattva encompasses a detachment from the hindrances, poisons, and likely bad company; wrong views and ignorance as well as a controlling passion.  The bodhisattva is protected by the armour of the Mahayana so is never timid.

Subhuti, a ‘bodhi-sattva’ (enlightenment being), a great being, is called that because his purpose is enlightenment.

The Perfection of Wisdom by R.C. Jamieson (pg. 16)


Illustration: Green Tara making a gesture of giving, holding a lotus.  The historical Buddha is seated on the left at Visali with a begging bowl filled with honey given to him by the monkeys.

The welfare of others is much more relevant to the perfection of wisdom than self-examination.  The perfection of wisdom cannot be apprehended through the senses.  It cannot be revealed by the analysis of the components of the illusory self.  This is why a bodhisattva teaches, helping others towards enlightenment.  A bodhisattva’s compassion is practiced and developed primarily by giving.  Giving the teachings, explaining the inconceivable, is of central importance.

The Perfection of Wisdom by R.C. Jamieson (p. 53)

touching the earth

A little visual treat this week.

While in Toronto I picked up a small book, The Perfection of Wisdom, featuring some amazing manuscript illustrations of the life of the Buddha and extracts of the 8,000 line Prajnaparamita selected and translated by R.C. Jamieson (Viking Studio Publishers).  The illustrations are from two 1,000 year-old manuscripts in a collection at Cambridge University Library.  One of these is believed to be the oldest dated illustrated Sanskrit manuscript (997 CE) and the other is the oldest dated Nepalese manuscript (1015 CE)  in the world.  They are painted on palm leaves and used to protect the sutra manuscript.

This one is of the Buddha at Bodhgaya in the touching of the earth pose.  Probably my singular favourite story and a lesson about belonging and living my intimate truth that I could never practice frequently enough.

In that moment of calling on the earth to bear witness to his rightful place, the Buddha also embodies the truth that in order to be real, to become realized, we must see each other purely and intimately.  The Prajnaparamita teaches that “the components of personal existence, the elements, or the bases of sense perceptions are not dual, are not divided.”  There are no categories.  Only relationship.

get thee behind me, sardine

Thank you for all the concern you’ve expressed about Sprout, on- and off-line.  After much deliberation (read: 10 minutes angst + 2 minutes discernment), we decided to try a live trap.  I’m not in favour of traps – heart-filled or otherwise.  However, as the weather deteriorated and my mental state kept pace to the tune of the wild winds, it seemed the only thing left to do.

The first night we put the trap out filled with kitty kibble and a can of salmon mash.  If Sprout showed up at all, we likely missed it in the out-of-sync  periodic window checking.  By bedtime, we had deliberated every contingency of leaving the trap out overnight versus taking it in.  The advantage of leaving it out was that we might capture him – or something with four legs anyway.  The disadvantage was that if it did trap him and we didn’t know it, he was left in the cold with no shelter.  Bringing the trap in meant another day of cultivating distress tolerance.  Besides we had no idea it was going to work anyway and my mind pulled in at the what-if gas station and filled its tank to overflowing.

Doubt is formidable foe.  It erodes all the accumulated wisdom or at the very least punches illusionary holes in the safety net of knowledge.  In the face of the hindrance of  doubt (which is not the same as Great Doubt), I tend to build endless loops of  “but-what-if-and-then” scenarios or put on  my Chicken Little costume (is it really a costume?) and scurry around the house traumatizing the cats.  Frank googles “how to catch a feral kitten.”


Yes.  Pungent, oily, slimy small fry fish.  We laced the kitty kibble with the stuff, slathered it on the cage wire, set the door (I wanted to put a blanket in it just in case he needed the comfort) and laid it out on the deck.  No Sprout.  Apparently the delightfully sunny day and the vast acreage of mice-filled fields were more appealling than store-bought sardines.  However, by nightfall he slithered up to the deck like an adolescent past curfew hoping Mum and Dad were asleep and he could catch a snack without waking them.

We sat at the kitchen table ready to pounce outdoors at the sound of the trap being sprung.  I still had deep doubts about its safety which fed a firestorm of fears that he would be hurt in the process.  After all, our good intentions had not done well for his mother and my brain now had this one-way neural path that anything I might do intending good would end up bad.  Ah, Doubt.  You insidious, entrapping, pungent creature.  Get thee behind me!

I used to think that doubt was counteracted by confidence.  Now I sense that doubt is rousted by the willingness to take that risk we would anyway if not crippled by our need to always have a good outcome.  Furless, clawless, top-heavy creatures that we are, the common assumption is that we use our brains to compensate for our inability to risk in the same way a sabre-tooth tiger or polar bear would to survive.  Perhaps not.  Lumber we might but there was certainly a willingness to take the risk by going out to  hunt or to turn and face the rampaging beast in order to protect our offspring.

We are not risk averse because we are defenseless.  We are defenseless because, in taking a risk, we fear what an unfavourable outcome might say about our competence.  Meet Sprout.  Five pounds and quite disdainful of the sardines.  While in the trap, on the way to the vet, he delicately ate all the kibble around the fish.