Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage Update
Practicing Center Everywhere, Circumference Nowhere
There is something practical about meditation.
Coming downstairs just before dawn this morning I bow to altar entering winter
zendo. On white couch I prop myself wrapped in dark blue blanket against
pillows in semi-sitting position. I was having trouble sleeping, breathing,
and swallowing. It was time to meditate.
"The soul is a circle of which the circumference is in a body.
God is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but whose center is everywhere."
- Swami Vivekananda, 19th C.
During this time of slowing down body cleansing (what some call illness)
everything proportions itself in simple actions. I bow. Wrap blanket. Tilt
night-light shining on Mary, Buddha, and Christ. Prop pillows. Attend to
breath. Listen to wind in cedar tree outside window. Look at walls. Look
at windows. Look at unmoving everything in the room.
"The only field in which this [oneness] is possible is the field
of sunyata [emptiness] which can have its circumference nowhere and its
center everywhere. Only on the field of sunyata can the totality of things,
each of which is absolutely unique and an absolute center of all things,
at the same time be gathered into one."
-- Keiji Nishitani, 20th C.
Breathing grows thin and small, allowing breath enough slender room to slide
through. Doze in and out. Comes morning.
The entire visible world is only an imperceptible speck in the ample
bosom of nature. No idea can come close to imagining it. We might inflate
our concepts to the most unimaginable expanses: we only produce atoms
in relation to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere in
which the center is everywhere, the circumference is nowhere. Finally,
it is the greatest sensible mark of God's omnipotence, that our imagination
loses itself in that thought.
(from Pascal's Pensees)
One dog then another enters room. Cat paws at edge of blanket. Light comes
through four windows. Breath circles through four bodies in front room and
one body now in kitchen. The thought passes that human existence is temporary
resting place for breath on its way through.
Great Master Dogen quotes Shakyamuni as saying: "that one must
turn the stream of compassion within and give up both knowledge and its
recognition." This is the way one can harmonize body and mind and
enter the stream of Buddhism. This giving up seems to entail the aspect
of giving in trust, which has an important function of giving up control.
The self no longer dictates our actions based on emotions, likes/dislikes,
greed, anger or fear. This is giving up of the knowledge of the intellect
and emotions without cutting ourselves off from these things and without
letting them control our actions. We cannot fully understand the Buddhist
teaching on giving without seeing that giving and receiving are not separate
things. Koho Zenji reminds us that if we can give up something as small
as the self we can know something as great as the universe. Just as with
giving and receiving, we must understand that control in Buddhist practice
is not exercised by holding on but by letting go. It is also helpful
to see these things in terms of process not in terms of attainment or
(--from talk, "As Thunder Shakes the Universe," By Rev. Jisho Perry,
Stillness finds breath. If wanting achievement, or if trying to attain something,
is what we think we are doing by practicing meditation, then we are trying
to imitate the way of the world to accumulate by acquisition and accomplishment.
But if we are willing to let go of everything we think makes up the larger
self we call the world and the personal self we call by our name -- we enter
the body in and of itself.
Is there a simplicity of "no-self" we are unwilling to contemplate?
On the other hand, is there an equivalence of fear and self that factors
us? If we let self go, does fear go too?
When I open eyes and put feet on rug, two tails wag along quiet sunlight
crossing Barnestown Road into front room. Bowing to these sweet dogs, folding
two blankets (one placed there by Saskia mid-doze), walking to kitchen for
grapefruit juice and asperin, there is a fluidity of moment to moment step,
moment to moment mind arising and falling away.
It is the practice of Zazen. It is what Myo-O Marilyn Habermas-Scher said
in a recent talk: "Zazen is not a sacred activity; it's just completely
sacred activity." (Sunday Dharma Talk, 2/27/05, St Paul Minnesota)
Does breath carry nothing but itself through each one of us?
The Christian season of Lent nears Holy Week and Easter. In his life Jesus
gave up everything and went the way described by Dogen Zenji as "dropping
off mind and body." In this tradition, having this same mind as Christ
means not reaching out, not grasping at, and not taking the bait to respectably
conform with the delusions of achievement, acquisition, and accomplishment.
What is Jesus' mind? What is Christ-mind?
Breathe in, breathe out. We'll see.
First we'll have to allow our eyes to see -- really see -- what is taking
place everywhere they look. And listen -- we'll have to permit ears to hear
what is actually being said with each utterance made within our hearing.
And speaking -- we'll have to open our mouths and suffer what longs to be
said to be said, plain and simple. In these activities dwells the revelation
of sacredness finding its way out and into this existence.
It pleases that meditation is practical.
March, with its pause of health, provides good opportunity to investigate
the slender slip of sanity that is breath.
It is a good practice to follow the completely sacred activity of breath.
It is a particular consciousness that sees one and all as Thou.
With each breath we Thee wed.
and all who grace Meetingbrook
5-6 March, 2005, 4th Sunday