Conduct and observance



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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Attend, observe, scrutinize


Today, at home, this orchid is in bloom, the night sky is clear, and the moon is full. All of them are aspects of one singleness of being called a universe.

...Oh, yeah. I'm here, too.

I repeatedly see in my own practice of self observation that there is the potential for a greater unity of being. At the same time, in my experience, that unity is lacking.

The question for the moment is what can produce a greater unity. Dogen empasizes, above all, Zazen: just sitting.

Perhaps this is because in sitting all of the complications that clutter us can begin to fall away.

Something else gradually emerges.

The experience of self is fundamental, and there is nothing fundamental about my usual distracted state of being. It's very partial: one part makes decisions and another part knows nothing about them.

What's left when I sit is not much: just the body and the experience of breathing in and out. Of course there are the gymnastics of the mind, but they are hardly significant once I accept them. The monkeys in the tree make a lot of noise, but when the monkeys leave, the tree is still there. And even monkeys cannot chatter incessantly. It just seems that way.

There is room, in sitting, for the development of a physical sense of rootedness that arises, very specifically, from the act of breathing. I do not use the term roots allegorically. We speak here of actual, sensible roots that grow into the physical substance of the body. The organic sense of being.

The simple work of attention to breath is the source of the energy that re-connects body to the mind. Careful attention to an unmanipulated, straightforward and practical experience of breath leads us to a subtle, detailed study of our inner parts and how they are informed by breathing.

One of the esoteric meanings of the Zen expression "attaining the marrow" is the development of a new, much deeper sensation of the body. In such a state of sensation there is a magnetic vibration that connects the mind to the body- right down to a very fine, molecular level of resonance. That sensation waxes and wanes like any tide, but in attaining the marrow, the ocean is ever-present.

A certain kind of greater sensation can definitely be, to an extent, willed. There are specific exercises for this. More importantly, however, the connection between breath and sensation can awaken to become a living thing in its own right.

This specific point of work is an important point because it transcends any ordinary understanding of willed attention to breath and sensation. In this case, breath and sensation understand us. It is not a case of us making an effort through will to sense and breathe. It consists of sense and breath simply arising, simply participating.

Human will is still required, to be sure, but it has a quite different place in this particular equation.

In this awakening of breath is already a different experience of the unity of body and mind, and an understanding of our mortality- without morbidity. It is a complete inversion of our ordinary understanding of breathing. We no longer own our breathing.

It owns us.

Such understanding feeds a growing unity of purpose between body and mind, and cultivates the inner garden.

Which brings us to the six practices:

Attend,
Observe,
Scrutinize.

Grow roots,


Draw nourishment,
Let flowers bloom.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Deep time


It is the turn of the year.

Sunday I began the day reading from Dogen's Shobogenzo before meditation. Later in the day, we went to church. Our church- Grace Church, in Nyack, New York- is an Episcopalian church modeled after the traditional gothic form. It boast a superlative set of stained glass windows and the ineffable sense of restrained magnificence that only gothic architecture can produce.

During the service we read old testament texts that come from as far back as the days of the Egyptian empire, sing hymns composed anywhere from the 11th to 17th century, and participate in a tradition that reaches back into deep time in an unbroken line of human transmission.

Dogen taught and wrote during the 12th century, but his work is still vibrant in human hearts and minds today. The church has roots that stretch back- how far? Into the roots of ancient Judaism, which coexisted with and emerged from the sacred practices of ancient Egypt.

So when we work, when we study, when we participate in these human enterprises called Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, we reconnect with the buried roots of our humanity. We re-create a sense of connectedness not only with our culture, but with our biology. Somewhere within all of this we can sense that the organisms within which our being arises, part of this massive time machine called a solar system, exist in an unbroken line from the first cells that reproduced in earth's primordial seas. We are the living heritage of this great cosmic experiment called life. We do not exist apart from it.

We are the experiment.

In the face of ideas this massive and an enterprise this vast, we can only humbly bow our heads. Mankind is never going to fully comprehend or even grasp the scale, the scope, the meaning of this with the mind. No, it takes other, much deeper parts- parts we may not ordinarily even be aware we have- to taste the experience. Parts that vibrate with subtle currents we forget about in the hot-blooded rush of do this, do that.

We live quickly and are gone. But all around us are the elements of deep time, waiting for us to remember, and appreciate them. To appreciate and cherish them. To allow warm breath to meet cold stone and know that it is- for without warm breath, there is no cold stone, and indeed without warm breath nothing can ever be.

The universe has a voice, but it only speaks for as long as we are here to hear it. It has a being, but only for as long as we are here to perceive it. Nothing ever exists apart from perception.

As vehicles of consciousness, we have a responsibility and a sacred duty. Through the instrument of our attention, we become assistants in the creation and maintenance of this great entity called a universe.

For me, that's a sobering understanding.


Water flows abundantly



Hilltops not always in light
Valleys not always in shadow
Each transmits and receives
according to its true nature.

Water flows abundantly


Even where we do not see it
the embrace of Love
Cannot be contained or expressed
by small things.

Trees without leaves


Are still trees.
Already belonging,
Life is not ours to offer.

We are vessels


Into which the world flows.


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