"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

January 28, 2013

A Meditation on the Joy of Learning

The great naturalist Loren Eiseley once wrote:

"The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know."

Of the many aches of life, and knowing (to the degree one has really looked into it) one's own mortality, and that of loved ones, and indeed, the mortality of all fabricated, conditional, material things, right down to protons and neutrons, I think this realization is one of the hardest for me to accept.

Perhaps my greatest joy in life is learning about things—about people, about nature, about science, about art, about music—and while even this could be argued, from some Buddhist standpoints, as a source of suffering, I have never found it so.  The hunger?  Yes, that can be suffering, if it comes from grasping, clinging, and some sense of incompleteness and dualism of self and other.

But the learning itself?  In that, in getting to know "myself" and "the other," I have always found a joy that outweighs all else, indeed a joy that in its very nature, it seems to me, has no suffering.  While, yes, that joy comes and goes, flames and then fades, which could be argued as evidence that learning, getting to know, is finally conditional and a fabrication that is of the nature of anicca, impermanence, the learning itself, the process, seems to me to be unconditional in its nature.  It seems to me a glimpse, perhaps of something that does not partake of the three characteristic of suffering, maybe even something deathless.

Be that as it may, some day, I will die, you will die, we all die, and in whatever lifetime we may have had, when that day comes, there will still be so much more we might like to see or learn and know. Some, again, will argue, that this longing to know more is what perpetuates the wheel of suffering and rebirth, if one believes in that, and others will just see that unfulfilled longing as the great sorrow of being a finite being who comes and goes in an instant of cosmic time.

Whatever may, or may not be, about there being something more than death, or "after" death, I am sure of this, at least:  that this life is so very, very precious and dear and it is the greatest of gifts to be alive, to be conscious, to get to know, and to get to love, and be loved.  And if in fact, this short time is "it," then cherishing the learning, embracing the knowing and getting to know, is the most quintessentially deep and human thing we can do.  Each day is a great gift.  Each day is a miracle.

So, what are we going to learn, you and I, on this most precious day in the history of the universe?  What new horizon and opening up awaits us, today, and tomorrow?  The most mundane thing can be a window into wonder, and even joy, if we are truly awakening and paying attention to what is, what arises, and what passes away.


January 15, 2013

Catfish Prayers

They sit and stare, goggle-eyed,
Waiting patiently at the aquarium glass
Whiskered catfish

I sometimes wonder
What they feel in their little catfish hearts
It seems to me that often they sit there praying,
In their catfish way,
Whiskered mouths moving in wordless appeal
For that glorious miracle of the food pebble
Descending like manna from above,
Mystery incarnate!

“Desire is prayer, ” a wise woman wrote,
But the Buddha said “Desire is suffering. ”
Who is right? I think they both are,
But my praying catfish,
Innocent in desire,
Only know their sinking tablets
As grace incarnate…


January 3, 2013

Looking Into Fear — A Simple, Skillful Practice

My dharma worked today is focused on noting when I act or think or move or feel out of fear. Fear is not always blatant, but subtle, and if we have become habituated to our own special, private fears, then they can become invisible to us, except for their constant drain on our energies and freedom, and even that we may come to accept as "normal."

Becoming mindful, looking into what might lie behind some impulse to act, or not to act, I can begin to see the causes, subtle and blatant, for acting out of fear.

Do I do, or not do, something because I am afraid of another's reaction? Do I do or not do something because it triggers hurtful, painful memories? What's going on? Can I become present, using the breath as an anchor, and pay attention to the arising of thoughts, feelings, and actions?

When I become mindful and pay attention, and note some fear behind some thought or impetus to act, or not act, I simply note: "fear." And then, I with that gentle touch, I come back to the breath, smile, and welcome the presence... of presence.

At times I may feel it's skillful to pursue some fear deeper, to dig at roots, or it just may be enough to note "fear" and go back to the breath. We have to determine that ourselves, and there's no skill in re-traumatizing ourselves when we are not ready to gently, compassionately, and yes, bravely, explore some fear. If we dig deep, and "monsters" arise, then note "monsters," and come back to the breath! Lol!

Note, perhaps, also, "aversion," and come back to the breath. Aversion is as much a "stuck" place as "clinging" is, though they might seem to be opposites. We can define a fearful self with what we are adverse to as much as by what we cling to. No matter! Just pay attention, note, "aversion," note "fear," and sometimes, yes, note "monsters," and gently come back to the breath, smile to yourself, and return to presence, or sati, as the Buddhist terms it.

I've been doing this work this morning and afternoon, and it's been a good work, and I'm amazed at how much of what I do is motivated or governed by various subtle forms of fear. By working on mindfulness, presence, sati, I am able to note cause and effect -- which is all "karma" really is -- and see how I bind myself, and how I can unbind myself. The practice is simple, but profound, and of course, one could just as well focus on some other kilesa (hindrance) like anger -- i. g, noting what is done out of anger, or feelings of worthlessness, or self-hate.

Whatever we decide to take note of, the big thing is to have a "safe place" one can return to again and again, and for me, and many in the dharma, that safe place is the breath as an *anchor* for something even bigger and more profound -- attention, mindfulness, *presence* itself. (People sometimes must think Buddhists are "Breathologists," with all the emphasis on the breath!  But actually, the breath is merely a kind of reference point, an anchor, a re-orienting place, a finger pointing at the big "moon" of presence, openness, sensitivity, itself.)

I hope these ideas from my practice today are helpful to you, and that they encourge you to look into fear -- or any other abiding subtle or blatant presence or mental state -- in order to "unbind" and to breathe into, relax into, being itself, which is really quite fine and happy and at peace, just as it is. And that's the ground, the meeting place, the true home, of you, and me, and all of us.