this I think I have heard

How are you?

What are you practising?

What are you noticing?

Who are you becoming? (Or is that “whom” are you becoming?)

How are you now?

I am struggling with regaining practices: those hours of zazen, retreats in seclusion, silent meals and solitary walks. And… and, the inexplicable power of community, sitting, breathing together as a singular whole being.

In the desperate search for familiar ground, I (re)connected with teachers from various traditions. Apparently – and this I think I have heard – time moves on, people change. What a concept. Clearly no one had me in mind when they decided to grow older, wiser, petulant, resentful, joyous, whiny… And sometimes even forget they ever knew me.

How rude!

This too I think I have heard: what we see/feel/believe is not solely through the sensations coming from the outside in. Perhaps, one dear teacher suggested, in her nonchalantly pointed way, perhaps what you perceive arriving is only finding harmony with the tune you are singing in the moment? If that’s the case, I retort, I must be determinedly off tune to have spent so many years disenchanted by the great-ish masters. She smiles and asks if I want to meet again.

I am sad. The sorry state of the world has been laid bare for us in the past 16 or so months. It’s nothing new. The world has been crumbling for millennia; that is the first of the Buddha’s core teachings. But I don’t like this latest in-my-face version.

The Hsin Hsin Ming (this I know I have heard) teaches:

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Attributed to Seng-ts’an

Don’t get hooked by the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’. More correctly, are you hooked on them? There’s your practice! Remember, we aren’t Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Perhaps I should suggest, use words to mean only and precisely what YOU choose them to mean. Then notice if the impact is what you would have chosen to occur.

So much becomes disguised between feelings and response. The desire and then striving for absolutes like love and hate are only measures of my delusional nature, of what I thought I wanted or heard. Still, to practice an ease of releasing love and hate as they arise seems risky, like wandering into the wilderness of this new reality without protection. But what choice do we have?

I am unsure. Yet this I have heard through the Hsin Hsin Ming: when we sense “movement in (the) stationary and the stationary in motion”… “dualities cease to exist.” Then the Great Way is simply this:

I am here

being a time being: dogen, katagiri & the flight of vultures

timebeing1The sight of five vultures waiting at the end of the driveway can be a good thing. What is the good and what thing they point to is, of course, unknowable in the immediate. And yet. That single view is enough to send me wandering on time travels to worlds of worry, regret and wondering what if.

Vultures waiting are a powerful icon for time lost, frittered away. The body/mind unbinding with nothing left but the shell of a vessel poorly treated and meagerly used. I stepped out of the car quietly not wanting to set them on flight; that would have truly signalled the end. So I watched them as they watched something off in the northeast field, unmoving yet intimately related.

Dogen¹ writes exquisitely of time as inseparable from being, time-being or more succinctly being-which-is-time. Uji. It takes a moment to drop into what that feels like because the cascade of moments seems external, impenetrable and inexorably outside our control. Our perception insists that time moves relentlessly and mercilessly as we are dragged along in its wake. No wonder I quail at the sight of an icon of endings.

Katagari² describes “The Pivot of Nothingness” as this present moment – which doesn’t exist because past is vanishing and future has yet to unfold leaving a void, a turning point, a pivot into the next unfolding. For ease of communication, we tend to position ourselves through language. “Here I am.” But the terminology fractures when we drop into the “here” “I” and “am.” Each is a construction of something from the past and a reaching into the future.

In this “here” is a train station into which pulls all manner of locomotives taking me “there.” The room where this or that happened which lead to that or the other not happening. The city where choices ended and others failed to manifest. The bus, the subway where I choose this direction and not that, where one meeting lead to another but a different route missed the intersection of time and another being.

In this “I” are a hundred thousand variations that appear to be a seamless evolution from a past point and into a hopeful future. The aspiring astronaut, the acolyte of science, the lost and wandering characters who make up this play of fools. Examined closely, the appearance of an unbroken tapestry is so heart-rendingly false. More a wildly designed quilt with each patch having emerged from an unknowable confluence of causes, conditions and other beings-of-time.

As I “am” is not enough. There is always something taunting from the future that was planted by a promise from the past. Always something that is insufficient, undeveloped and wantonly wasting time. This am-ness is a counterpoint to what philosopher Evan Thompson³ calls “selfing.” It is an accreted stuckness that takes a wake up slam of vast proportions to dislodge it from the delusion of permanence.

timebeing2And the vultures took flight.

In this pivot of nothingness which contains all that is necessary and sufficient is what Dogen says is the complete moment. Like the firewood and ash¹, it “fully includes before and after and is independent of before and after.” To paraphrase, we cannot call here the beginning of there, I the end of you, or am the end of was.

When you are right on the pivot of nothingness, free from the pictures created by your consciousness, you see time from a universal perspective. There is no gap where you feel separate from time, because your life is the whole dynamic world of time, and all sentient beings are the content of your life. Katagiri, p.78


¹Tanahashi, Kazuaki (ed), The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo, Vol 1. Shambhala 2010

²Katagari, Dainin (Edited by Andrea Martin), Each moment is the universe: Zen and the way of being time. Shambhala 2008

³Thompson, Evan, Mind in Life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2010