Leaves

leaves

Our ancestors fall among the autumn leaves.

As the last breath of a leaf departs the tree, the deep reds and oranges of woven clothing take up the drum.

Scattered piles of yellows, golds, ambers and greens….returning to the Earth, invoking Love.

All their wisdom….their laughter, sadness and love…all of their stories… triumphs and defeats… fears and hopes…are revealed when we breath in what is contained within the returning leaves….breathing not with our lungs…..

Do not doubt what is shown before you, but beware thinking you know what it is you are shown.

 

(not my own photo)

An Unlikely Friendship Chapter 4

image

A rock on a log with a stick.

Click for previous chapters: 1,2,3.

Years went by after that time in the book store…..and he never actually thought about it again. That is, until one day, while he was out driving. He was speeding ,which he didn’t normally do, but he was late. As he sped down the highway, his mind was thinking about how late he might be, what he could do to mitigate the situation and the like, when.. out of nowhere…

“hello”

“Holy moly! Rock?!” He thought, and although he was asking for confirmation, he also needed none.

He just continued driving, speeding but safe, and for several minutes there was silence. Not the silence he remembered all those years ago as he could feel the rock with him and they both we simply enjoying each other’s mere presence.  Then he began to think about all these past years… how could he possibly have never thought about this all these years?  Then he thought about the last place he saw the rock… on his dresser… he knows it’s not there now, and he can’t remember moving it or seeing it… what happened to it?! Where is it right this very second?

“doesn’t much matter…. does it?”

“True I suppose but I feel like I failed you.. to protect you… to listen to you, learn from you”

He didn’t get words for an answer but felt it…. it was like a very very long, almost infinite plane of solid rock, almost humming – very deeply – very very quiet – almost beyond sound, or inside sound – the vibrations of the atoms in the air – so quiet yet almost infinitely loud. It didn’t make sense when he tried to comprehend it but when he simply felt it, he understood….. Protection is meaningless to the rock … how could the inside of a vibration need protecting?! And even that thought, he knew, failed to explain what he felt.  He also understood that he couldn’t fail the rock… how could the rock judge another’s vibrations? And it’s not even like that he thought… those vibrations…that ‘sound’ it pulses into everything ,everything is pulsing into everything .. to judge would be like snake attacking its tail…. It can be done but it’s not very helpful!

“police car”

“um huh?”

“POLICE”

He didn’t understand exactly but trusted the rock and he slowed down to the speed limit and sure enough after half a mile he saw a patrol car behind some shrubs with a radar gun.

Although he had plenty of reasons to be blown away already, this really floored him. Did he really just have an imaginary rock help him avoid a speeding ticket?!  His brain began freaking out somewhat and he couldn’t control the expanse of thoughts and hypothesis to explain this all. Nothing could explain it that didn’t involve some level of sounding completely crazy. He realized he probably shouldn’t tell anyone .. he was not even sure if he could believe himself, so how could he possibly expect anyone else to?

He tried desperately trying to talk with the rock but his brain was buzzy with so much internal noise he couldn’t hear the soundless sound anymore.  Although he kept trying, he knew the rock wasn’t going to reply to his calling out “Here rocky rock, here boy” as if he was calling a dog! But he was desperate. It was years since he last communicated with the rock and was afraid he may never again communicate with it.

He arrived a little late, which caused some issues, but nothing he didn’t sort out, but his mind the whole day was elsewhere.

Low self esteem

IMG_3579

London palm. Wisdom radiates and pulses throughout the cosmos, straight into my heart. 

Sometimes during contemplative reflection I become utterly disgusted with myself. I amaze myself that I allow myself to think and do certain things, that, when I look back objectively, I am stunned at myself.

Having low self-esteem is not healthy, of course, and meditation is usually not thought of as something to make you feel worse about yourself! lol.

Confronting our true selves can be hard. It is painful to accept we may not be the person we want to believe we are.

Ultimately, our true self is not ourself, and although we must have individual responsibility, we can never bear the load alone, no matter how isolated that burden may feel.

(I must say that sometimes during meditation I become utterly elated with myself… and although this may feel super awesome, it has its own dangers… mainly of reinforcing the illusion of my own self ego, but that’s a whole other story!)

Rivers

IMG_2943

The water thought cycle: Ocean to clouds to rain to land to rivers to ocean. 

Using our minds we can explore the nature of who we are.

The short question we can ask is: Who am I?

This simple question can be expanded as far as we like to help us, or to hinder us.

When I probe this question, I always do so from an analytical mind-frame. So, I always will go through the normal facts of what I can define myself by.. I am an animal, a mammal, human. Step one done, lol.  Next I may probe deeper… ‘who is thinking this?’ and then I quickly answer myself ‘Richard’, lol. So I change the question to ‘what is thinking this?’ .. and I will then ascend to how the human brain biologically functions.. and review all the various scientific articles/books/etc I have experienced over my lifetime.. how the brains thoughts are almost all hidden from our outward consciousness .. how our brains are bendable… how there may be some ‘hard-wiring’ in place, but how almost all the wiring is soft and we can unplug some wires and plug them into other sockets. ..

A river carves the earth without choice. Depending on the underlying densities of soil and rock and slope of the land, the water will form the shape of the river, without effort. Our brains are like the Earth, they are bumpy. External stimuli are like the rain falling on our brains… they enter our world and transform it.. they form rivers of how to think again when the same stimuli happens again, the path has been laid. Over time, the river gets deeper and stronger and sometimes, no matter how hard we try to stop going down a certain river in our brains, we are dragged along.  Say, for example, a child was raised by racist parents and everytime the child saw a person of another race, their parents would talk badly of those people and tell the child how bad people of that race were. Over time, whenever this child would see a person of another race, they would have this channel, this river entrenched in their thought processing, this soft-wiring, kicking in and the thoughts would be taken down this racist river. Say, for example, as an adult, this person comes to understand that racism is nothing short of ignorance mixed with fear, they will still struggle deeply from flowing down the racist river in their mind when presented with the stimuli of a person of another race. This person, as all of us, can perceive this river, comprehend it, and we have the power to redirect that river. It is super hard to do, yet, in an instant, it can be without effort and a new non-racist river of thought can flow.

In Buddhism, we talk about letting go… that our thoughts, no matter what they are, are OK, so long as we are not attached to them…. We must realize that almost all of our thoughts are created by the attachment we have with our rivers… the path of least resistance. It is difficult to paddle upstream. So, in a sense, I am saying that almost all of what we think is a form of attachment! So stop thinking! Lol. We can’t stop the generation of thoughts, so what can we do? First, we must be so very kind and gentle with ourselves.  Enlightenment does not take place when we align all our rivers appropriately or something like that, however, we can provide better nutrients for the unfolding of Enlightenment if we are mindful of our river management. Sometimes a painful river, one that brings you to rage and fury, for example, can be completely dried up in an instant once we flow upstream and see the origin of this toxic river. Enlightenment won’t remove the entrenched rivers of thought, but it removes their power. If a river is healthy and part of our natural function and nature, it is maintained. If a river is toxic, it will naturally dry up over time and fade away, perhaps leaving some scars behind.

Then I will come back and say, what was I asking myself again… oh ,yeah.. Who am I? lol. I have this thing called a brain, which evolved through the influence of everything around it over time, making its origin outside of ‘me’ and this brain thingie also operates and is shaped by the external stimuli as well.

Then I think, man o man, I have only approached this so far from one angle. The biological brain. But what about my heart? My body? What about far-out theories too?

The path of questioning of who we are is endless, and at some point we may realize… we are endless.

That is who I am.

Terrorism and hate

IMG_3098

I look to the Buddha’s teachings to understand my own true nature. What I always find is that Love binds all beings.

Choosing forgiveness and love over hate and fear is sometimes portrayed as being weak, ignorant and unpatriotic. It is easy to let fear make our choices for us. We can even rationalize the prejudices they blossom.

When terrorists attack, fear is a natural state of mind. We naturally look for clues to keep us and our loved ones safe and protected. Sometimes we look at a particular aspect of the form. Take ‘Islamic Terrorists’. Yes, there are people who commit horrific acts who do so wearing the cover of Islam. Does this mean we should fear Islam? Should we let these people define our fear? And hence our modes of protecting ourselves? When we calm down and think deeply, we may begin to realize that these people do not represent their faith, that they want to play on our fears and their agenda grows strongest when anger and fear create separation.

So, instead of letting adrenaline focus our minds on the form, which is useful in evolutionary terms when identifying venomous spiders, let us focus our minds on the function. These terrorist attacks… they occur from human beings. These people are clearly suffering in their own minds and hearts. So much so they kill people such as they do. Killing is wrong. Hating hate is not useful. It spins the wheel of hatred. This is how the Islamic State grows. When terrorists are killed ‘pro-actively’, it breeds more hatred, on both sides, and simply makes the world more dangerous, not safer.

Do I suggest simply doing nothing and letting more attacks to happen? No, self protection is natural. But I do not suggest pre-emptive murder to protect against murder. We must look into the reasons why people become ‘radicalized’. After all, these are human beings. They must be suffering horribly to become convinced to murder. Love and compassion are the way to stop the violence. Now, angry dogs bark at buddhas… That means, some people will always be too ill in this life to grasp the nature of love and they will end up harming and killing people. Murder and hate will not be abolished fully. But thinking of terrorists as human beings is an important starting point.

Just as Islam has been hijacked by some, do not let your mind be hijacked by hate and prejudice. This is what the Islamic State, for example, wants. They want you to hate them. This is a part of their agenda. This makes them stronger. So, if you really want to protect the world from terrorism, put down your hate for them. As in Christianity it is said to Love they Neighbour. .. Love… not like, not tolerate, certainly not condemn and kill, but Love… Love they neighbour… It is the Way, the Light. Love.

I am human. When I see a terrorist attack, i feel fear and deep anger. Hatred for the horrific acts. My blood may boil. This is natural. This is human. I am not anything above this reaction, or below it.

We must learn to realize that we are human in our reaction to such events. But this reaction has evolved for a response almost certainly not applicable to these events, as we almost certainly will not be directly in the mist of an attack. If we are, then adrenaline is certainly our friend, and real time thoughts and actions are valuable. But, sitting on a warm couch, seeing things unfold on tv… our evolution betrays us… our natural reaction isn’t appropriate and not very useful.

We need to feel with our hearts, tempered by rational thought. To fill the world with love.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Bodhisattvas…people who realize their own inherent Enlightened state but delay final release from human form in order to save all beings from suffering. All beings. Every single being. So they know their task will never end, but they also know it can only ever end this way. In the End, all beings will understand. We are all teammates, even the beings that we, as humans, may hate with all our being.

Wants Vs. Needs

IMG_2980

We need water to survive, we want it to be readily available, we are attached to its benefits. Who is this ‘we’ that thinks so much about water? 

 

I remember once when a student asked our Buddhist teacher, a former monk, something along the lines of this:

‘In Buddhism, we are taught that attachments are to be avoided, that they reinforce the illusion of the ego, and fed our desire-minds. I have an infant, a baby. I am deeply attached to my baby and I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I can see how attachment, in general, is to be avoided, so I am confused.’

To be honest, I forgot exactly how the teacher responded, as the question resonated within my mind. Like a bell being struck, the question kept bouncing around in my head.

Years later I read some teachings of Seung Sahn who wrote about form and function. What is a humans natural function? This teaching sticks with me daily.

A human mother’s natural function is to care for her baby. To achieve this, a deep attachment forms between her and her baby. That is natural. That is Zen. That is nothing secret, nothing special, but the most special thing there is.

Related to this, one may ask about the relationship between need and love. Thinking about the mother-baby relationship, the mother loves the baby and the baby needs the mother. Now, the mother may say she needs the baby, and while this may be true for her heart’s joy, one may say it is not technically true. How cruel am I? lol…. and the baby may certainly love the mother, but it doesn’t need to. (Wow, I am really cruel!). But what about other relationships? Those of friends, of siblings? of lovers?

We may build our lives with deep and supportive relationships… our mate may be the other parent of our children, so we feel a deep need for this person. Sometimes this makes people feel trapped, sometimes it makes people feel liberated. Sometimes it makes people feel both at the same time!

Humans need people, thats how we are. This is how we evolved. It is ‘natural function’. In modern times, a strong value is placed on being independent. Being dependent…is seen as a weakness, not a strength. And, sure, being able to be strongly independent has its merits, and there is real value in that, but, our natural function, how we perform best, how we live free, is by giving up some of that independence. We are, after all, social animals. We need each other. That is not merely ok, that is great! Now, expanding this further into Buddhist philosophy, all things need all other things to exist. Nothing is an island. All things and people are our teammates, even if we loathe them, lol.

So, how can one reconcile this ‘needing’ with not letting it be ‘attachment’? Is that even the goal?

I come back to: what is our natural function? As a mother, a father, as a mate or a sibling… as a friend, as a teacher, as a student… We are many things, but always human.

Of course, when we feel we need someone, something, we must be very careful about what this means. Often people may say they need something, but it really is just a want, a desire. But even that is OK… so long as we do not become attached to our desires. Easy right? HAHA.

So, what am I trying to say?

Trying to distinguish between what is a want versus what is a need is, well, dangerous… The act of thinking there is a decision to be made reinforces our ego-mind: It all comes down to Self. It is the Self that either needs or wants. When we let go our our attachment to our ego-mind, wants and needs disappear and our true natural function blossoms. We may discover we always were living our natural way, we just got in its way by trying to define it through our lens of Self.

Wanting something? Needing Something? Even attached to something or someone: They can all be OK, so long as our our Ego-mind is let go.

So, you may say I am basically saying do not be attached to your attachments! HAHA. Perhaps I am. Perhaps.

 

Love

Faith to get to the other shore

Faith to get to the other shore

Our brains are very strange things. Well, our thoughts are anyhow.. well, my thoughts perhaps, lol. But seriously… Our thinking minds create the Universe. Things that consume our minds with worry are usually things that don’t warrant that level of attention.

I am not the best Buddhist. When I think deeply about myself, my thoughts, I realize I am truly deeply attached to my desires… I constantly desire to rid my body of the disease it has, I desire this, I desire that, and it goes on and on… it will never end if I let it ‘run its course’.

It’s funny, because although in my heart I know that all this desiring is unhealthy, and although my mind can rationally understand why it is unhealthy, my mind still chugs along, giving my heart and my analytical mind a giant middle finger. So, who is in charge? It almost feels like I am the captain of a strange spaceship that is out of control…. Like it is flying straight towards the sun because it is shiny and pretty… even though I know in my thoughts and my heart it is foolish and destructive…. Yet my spaceship keeps heading there… blinded by desire.

I also understand that there is no spaceship, no sun, no desire.

Who is in charge of the thing that is charge-less?

I suppose it is my deep faith, my heart’s understanding of the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that keeps me pondering, keeps me going, keeps me grateful.

I feel the deep love that the Universe is. I feel the Universe perceiving itself through my mind, my thoughts, my actions, my love.

Life is too miraculous, too wondrous, too short to flounder. Even when we do not know what else to do but flounder, which for me, is often, one needs to embrace the floundering, and have deep faith… in the Universe, in yourself…

The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering (as well as the opposite, mind you). Why does life involve suffering? That does not seem right, does it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It is a very good thing to contemplate, and contemplate deeply. What does it mean?

All beings have been touched with death, whether a loved one, a friend, even a stranger, or a pet. It can tear one’s heart apart and some people never recover. It can simply be too painful to address. One day, for all beings, everyone one of us, it will be our turn. What then?

Dogen said we must practice as if our hair is on fire. There is a great urgency to what we must do with our lives. And this ‘doing’ is all about what we do with our hearts. We must see clearly our own heart, our own mind, see how it is nothing more and nothing less than all that exists propping it up, making it exist. We owe all we are to all that is. When we see the beauty of our own true heart, the Universe shines, we shine, and deep love cannot be anything but flowing, overflowing… The Universe itself cannot contain this Love.

Be kind with yourself, love yourself, with all your ‘faults’, all your mistakes, accept it all, leaving nothing out, and allow yourself to love, and deeply, and fully. It is all okay.

The Middle Way

trees

trees

The Middle Way is an integral part of Buddhism… sometimes this distills into ‘everything in moderation’. While there is truth in this, there is also danger. You don’t want everything in moderation… you do not want any cyanide in your bloodstream! Lol.

But seriously, the Buddha practiced asceticism for years before he realized his Enlightened nature. I have written about this recently. By denying yourself of the nourishment it requires, this actually feeds your ego-mind. ‘I will deny myself pleasure. I will deny myself good health until I realize enlightenment. I will suffer.’ …. They all involve an affirmation of ‘I’.

I don’t think I need to discuss the opposite of this… of hedonism.

So I ask myself.. could the Buddha have realized his enlightenment if his body wasn’t taken care of?

The Middle Way is not about checking yourself if you have too much or too little. It is a result, not a precursor of realizing we are already complete, already buddhas. But certainly it is wise to follow the Middle Way before our realization.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are the natural function of realizing our Enlightened state.

There is a saying that God will never give you more than you can handle. In Zen, we say that a bad situation is a good situation. God knows what he is doing.. He is pure Love, no? He is the ultimate teacher so when we suffer, have a horrific situation… can we see good in that? I like to think these things out in extremes. For example, say we were witness to unimaginable massacres that do occur… We see family and friends murdered before our eyes. God as a teacher seems absent. We might not be able to handle it and have a mental breakdown. How horrible. Can we learn and grow from this experience? We might not allow ourselves to take anything ‘good’ from it, it may feel like we would be disrespecting what occurred. ‘I refuse to see anything good from such evil’. Does this not make the evil even more evil? Does it not make it triumph even more over us? I know if my family saw me killed in a horrific way I would want them to somehow learn from it. Mourning wouldn’t be diminished for this.

So, a bad situation is a good situation. It can provide us with the passion to find our true nature. Who we truly are. In times of extreme distress, nonreligious people will pray for God’s help, for a higher power’s help… desperate, they reach out for help… beg for help and offer repentance or service.

Zen Master Dogen said we must practice as if our hair was caught on fire….

Our hair has been burning for longer than time exists, we just haven’t realized it yet.

Ancestors

There is no where, no thing, that has not been influenced by your ancestors.

There is no where, no thing, that has not been influenced by your ancestors.

Feet thump on the ground, round and round, in circles they go and I follow… then I am left behind.

This man walks in circles around the fire, his heart beating in time with his steps and his breath joins in the rhythm.

Ancestors emerge and as they watch the man, they whisper gently ‘He is a good man, no? Take care of him, treat him well for he has taken care of us all well many times, many rivers and moons ago.’

Suddenly I am back looking at my feet … and trip …and a big puff of smoke bellows from the embers.

I smile and kneel down and my hearts pours gratitude and love as my eyes weep for joy.

Alignment

CAM01918

Aligning the trees with the Sun.

Harmonic vibrations of love pulsating within the inter-connectedness of all things fill hearts with sympathetic joy.

Aligning ourselves towards our true function opens the floodgates and clarity ensues.

Like a flower unfolding under the right conditions of warmth and light, our hearts too respond to the circumstances around us.

All Buddhas have experienced Enlightenment only through circumstances. Gautama Buddha saw Venus and BAM…alignment with the Universe’s heart was precise.

Although it is important to provide our soil with the correct nutrients and warmth and light, even the roasting and suffocating surface of Venus can spark this magical unfolding… this alignment.

Be still and honest within yourself and do not deny proper care to your garden. The Buddha, before Enlightenment, was a prince, living with amazing luxuries… he gave that all up and denied himself even the most basic of nourishment and grew sick and hungry. Years passed and a compassionate woman gave him some milk infused with rice… nourishment and his body responded to this love, this care. He discovered the Middle Way. Do not live in excess, yet do not deny yourself of proper care.

Do not seek heaven for reward and do not seek hell for self punishment.

The Universe has taken billions of years to get you where you are… it knows what it is doing.. having faith in this allows our alignment towards Truth and Freedom and Love to blossom.

Let us be gentle and kind to ourselves.