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 October 2005 Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage Update

Theme -- Beyond Separation/Before Union :
Our Marriage with What Is Taking Place

Solitude is an empty place. Community surrounds emptiness.

Both solitude and community are necessary in order to face what is taking place in our lives and in the world. However we understand the notion and/or reality of God, we cannot ignore the unfolding manifestation of what is taking place in our midst.

Empty places are nothing special. We need to visit empty places often. Some see emptiness as the dwelling place of what we call God. Is it true? Is God nothing other? Is nothing other, or no other, the environment, if you will, the dwelling place of what is called God?

I went into the woods yesterday. Solitude created a space enfolded by green canvas. A temporary tent went up -- a place away from hermitage and chapel/zendo. A place of poustinia. Poustinia, a Russian word, means ‘desert’, a place to meet Christ in silence, solitude and prayer. Community in solitude.

Let the sun and the moon revolve by themselves!
When I have time I read the sutras,
When I am tired I sleep on my straw bed.
If you ask me, “Whom do you see in your dreams?”
I would answer,
No one special.

- Saigyo

Ayya Khema, a Buddhist nun in the Theravada tradition, writes on "Nothing Special” --

Spiritual practice is often misunderstood and believed to be something special. It isn't. It is one's whole body and mind. Nothing special at all, just oneself. Many people think of it as meditation or ritual, devotional practice or chanting to be performed at a specific time in a certain place. Or it may be connected with a special person without whom the practice cannot occur. These are views and opinions that lead to nothing.

In the best case they may result in sporadic practice and in the worst case, they lead to fracturing ourselves, making two, three or four people out of ourselves when we aren't even one whole yet.

Namely, the ordinary person doing all the ordinary worldly chores and the other one who becomes spiritual at certain times in diverse ways. Meditation, rituals, devotional practice, chanting, certain places, certain people can all be added to our lives but they are not the essence of our spirituality.

Our practice consists of constant purification; there's nothing else to be done. Eventually we will arrive at a point where our thought processes and feelings are not only kind and loving but also full of wisdom, bringing benefit to ourselves and others.

("Nothing Special" by Sister Ayya Khema)

Bringing benefit to ourselves and others -- solitude in community. There's nothing else to be done but realize the interconnected and non-divided reality of existence. It seems that our most difficult task is dismantling the illusion of separation without attempting to fuse fast what is on its own. This work is the mystery of the middle. It is our true home. It is dwelling in the midst of this and that -- in a place called not this/not that. We can barely decipher where this place actually is -- but I suspect, it is home. And it is nothing special. We suffer when we fail to find ourselves in our authentic yet variable home. Home, for us, is a variable feast.

The realization of where our dukkha [suffering, or dissatisfaction] comes from must be followed by the understanding that disliking it will not make it go away; only letting go of wanting makes dukkha disappear, which means unequivocal acceptance. Accepting oneself results in being able to accept others. The difficulty with other people is that they present a mirror in which we can see our own mistakes. How useful it is to have such a mirror. When we live with others we can see ourselves as if it were a mirror image and eventually we learn to be together like milk with water, which completely blend. It is up to each one of us to blend; if we wait for others to do it we are not practicing. This is a difficult undertaking but also a very important one.

Eventually we will create the inner comfort to expand our consciousness and awareness to an understanding of universality.

The world at large is very busy and we get caught up in extraneous matters. The world inside is also very busy but we can do something about that. We can quiet it down to see more clearly. The way of spiritual practice is nothing special, just our whole body and mind.

(in "Nothing Special" by Ayya Khema, from the January 1994 issue of GASSHO, a Buddhist electronic newsletter, published by DharmaNet International)

Each person has a poustinia. It is our desert place -- a little bit away from busyness, a space in heart and mind reserved for the emptiness we must face. It is here I carry our koan: "Embodying the dwelling place of the Alone; stepping aside to make room for another." If embodying emptiness is our incarnational task, that prospect seems unattractive -- thus it is understandable that we are uninterested in the spiritual life. If God meets us in the solitude of our heart -- a heart that sometimes is broken -- then it is no surprise we prefer the company of others we believe will save us from what we call desolation and loneliness.

The empty dwelling place of the desert, the deep woods of solitude, is a resting place on the journey of the spiritual life. That resting place is temporary. Strangers pass by it. We sometimes see them pass. They sometimes see us in our solitude. A simple gaze. An unexpected meeting. This encounter asks us to welcome one another in an open space, in the emptiness of no expectations, in the shared presence of nothing special. The mere fact of it. Not making anything other of it -- just that it is taking place. One hand reaches out to touch another. We are invited to make room as time touches and changes hands.

Here we are thrown into another koan, a variation of "not two/not one" -- this one is phrased "What is beyond separation/before union?" The response that reveals itself to us is our marriage to what is taking place.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty writes about poustinia --
Touching God

As I have explained to you before, when a Russian goes into a
poustinia, he goes for others as well as for himself - but
predominantly for others. Upon returning, he should tell members of
his family or community what he has received during his stay in the
poustinia. If one were in a Russian village, these words would be
meant for everyone in the village. I do this at the community in
Madonna House. I either catch them at supper, or later on in the day
which follows my poustinia. I bow before them and say, "May the
peace of the Blessed Trinity be with you," or something similar, and
they answer, "And also with you." I then share with them a word from
the Lord.
Someone may ask, "How do you hear this `word of the Lord'?"
Let me explain.
It is understood that since the reason for entering the poustinia
is one of listening to God in prayer and fasting, the first act of a
poustinik is to fold the wings of his intellect and open the doors of his
heart. The Russians would say: Put your head into your heart and try
to achieve a deep and profound interior silence. It is then, when one is
deeply silent, that God begins to speak.
When I say "God begins to speak," I mean that the mind is
purified, the heart is at peace, and out of the depths of both come
forth the gifts or the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Quietly, imperceptibly,
out of this overshadowing of the Holy Spirit comes a word, a thought,
or a sentence, as the case may be.
Someone might say, "All this sounds very mystical." There is a
difference between what the East means by mystical and what the
West means. I think the East would call normal many things that the
West might term mystical. If you are in the poustinia and God knocks
on your door and speaks to you, that doesn't sound mystical to me; it
sounds quite normal. He said He would speak to us.

(from POUSTINIA, Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer, book by Catherine de Hueck Doherty)

Let's return to this "normal." Our conversation with, as, in, and through God is our normal (some say mystical) reality. But we have, unfortunately, manufactured an artificial environment of blather and noise, opinion and propaganda, dogma and doctrine that substitutes for the real thing.

The real thing is innocent silence and loving resting presence with the ever-present and ordinary manifestation of God within each being, each thing, each moment, and each appearance suddenly showing up in our midst.

Throughout history there have been individuals attempting to solidify these complementary paths approaching the dwelling place of what is holy -- the solitary and the solidary -- being alone and with others.

In early October we celebrate Francis of Assisi. He wandered between solitude and community. He understood the family of all things, the family of all beings. St. Bruno, born at Cologne about the year 1030 and died 6 October 1101, was another of these individuals.

St. Bruno's distinction as the founder of an order was that he introduced into the religious life the mixed form, or union of the eremitical and cenobite modes of monasticism, a medium between the Camaldolese Rule and that of St. Benedict. He wrote no rule, but he left behind him two institutions which had little connection with each other--that of Dauphiné and that of Calabria. The foundation of Calabria, somewhat like the Camaldolese, comprised two classes of religious: hermits, who had the direction of the order, and cenobites who did not feel called to the solitary life; it only lasted a century, did not rise to more than five houses, and finally, in 1191, united with the Cistercian Order. The foundation of Grenoble, more like the rule of St. Benedict, comprised only one kind of religious, subject to a uniform discipline, and the greater part of whose life was spent in solitude, without, however, the complete exclusion of the conventual life. This life spread throughout Europe, numbered 250 monasteries, and in spite of many trials continues to this day. (on St. Bruno, in Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03014b.htm)

We seem to be always on our way home. Where is home? I don't know. Perhaps home is contemplation of fullness and emptiness. Perhaps home is conversation held between silence and words. Perhaps home is correspondence between solitude and community.

Is home the "between," the exchange and the touching of dyadic complementarity? Is it the "sandokai" wherein one and two join hands?

Christians say that Christ -- though he was in the form of God, "emptied himself." Buddhists say  form is emptiness, and emptiness form.

In The Art of Living (2001) the 14th Dalai Lama says, "As your insight into the ultimate nature of reality is deepened and enhanced, you will develop a perception of reality from which you will perceive phenomena and events as sort of illusory, illusion-like, and this mode of perceiving reality will permeate all your interactions with reality. […] Even emptiness itself, which is seen as the ultimate nature of reality, is not absolute, nor does it exist independently. We cannot conceive of emptiness as independent of a basis of phenomena, because when we examine the nature of reality, we find that it is empty of inherent existence. Then if we are to take that emptiness itself is an object and look for its essence, again we will find that it is empty of inherent existence. Therefore the Buddha taught the emptiness of emptiness."

Where is this "home" we are being called to? Are we being called to let go of all the illusions and distractions created by ideologies, dogmas, and doctrines telling us what to believe and what kind of future world must come to be? Are we ready to relinquish what we have come to think of as my country, my religion, my people, and my God? Are we ready to open our hands and let fall to ground what no longer nourishes and satisfies?

The Future

For God's sake, be done
with this jabber of "a better world."
What blasphemy! No "futuristic"
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

(Poem: "The Future" by Wendell Berry)

Let our hands do something. Let them open the gate and invite one and all home.

It is time to come home, to praise, to surrender to what is calling us home.

Do we hear the lovely silence, the sweet solitude, and profoundly beautiful community of our true home?

What is taking place beyond separation/before union?

What is, God, you, me, right here?

Rest easy -- it's nothing special.

Full of joy; full of praise!

Sincerely, in the Way and the Dharma,

, Cesco , Mu-ge ,
and all who grace Meetingbrook, 6Oct2005, Feast of Bruno      

Note: Dedicated with love and gratitude for Sando who died on the feast of the Archangels, 29Sept05

Please see http://www.meetingbrook.org/updates/05SepUpdate.htm for continuing support.

Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage is a Schola Gratiae et Contemplationis, i.e., a School of Gratefulness and Contemplation. Bookshop and Bakery opened 29 June1996. Hermitage was formed as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization in 1998 for the purpose of serving as a place of collation and recollection for the side-by-side practice and study of Buddhist Zen Meditation, Christian Contemplative Prayer, and the Engaged Service flowing from each. Central to Meetingbrook is its Laura Common – dedicated to a forum for individuals sharing practice with others, and its Schola -- dedicated to Interreligious & Interdependent Dialogue —Unveiling and Practicing Peace Between Ways. Donations are always gratefully accepted for the continuance and deepening of Meetingbrook.              

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