You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile.
by Maria Popova
“Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?”
Few are those whose contribution to humanity — be it art, or music, or literature, or some other enchantment — fills the heart with uncontainable gratitude for their very existence. Mary Oliver — one of the greatest poets of all time, and perhaps the greatest of our time — is one such blessing of a writer. She, the patron saint of paying compassionate attention, has made a supreme art of bearing witness to our world — be it in her exquisite poems, or in the prose of that moving remembrance of her soul mate, or in her meditations on the craft of poetry itself.
In her immensely rewarding recent On Being conversation with Krista Tippett — triply magical because Oliver rarely gives interviews, and never ones this dimensional and revealing — she read several of her most beloved poems. While “Wild Geese” remains a favorite, I was especially taken with a four-part poem titled “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac,” found in Oliver’s sublime 2014 collection Blue Horses: Poems (public library). It is partly a bow to her recent triumph over cancer, and partly a score to the larger tango of life and death which we all, wittingly or not, are summoned to dance daily.
Like so much of her work, it is an uncommonly direct yet beguiling love letter to vitality itself, poured from the soul of someone utterly besotted with this world which we too are invited to embrace.
THE FOURTH SIGN OF THE ZODIAC (PART 3)
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
Buddhism is a religion. It has beliefs, rituals, altars, offerings, bells, candles, metaphysics, clergy, devotees, prayers, meditation, visions, visitations, celestial beings, other worlds, other lives, moral law, and salvation. All these are found in Zen Buddhism, in Theravada Buddhism, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Pureland Buddhism, in the other schools of Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism, in fact, in all of Buddhism all over Asia. Buddhists probably burn more candles and incense than the Catholic Church. These are not degeneration or cultural accretions. The founder himself gave us robes, taught ritual and contrition, revealed other lives and worlds, and spoke with the gods. Secularised and rationalised variants of Buddhism exist, but it is these that are partial forms and cultural products of later derivation.
Sometimes it is said that Buddhism is scientific. This assertion would put Buddhism somehow within the frame of science, but Buddhism has much that would not fit into that frame. However, although we cannot really say that Buddhism is scientific, science is Buddhistic. Science is Buddhistic in that science is a way of knowing some things. Buddhism can accommodate everything that science perceives, but science can only perceive a fraction of what Buddhism encompasses, the fraction that appears within the frame that the restrictive rules of science impose. Distinct from science itself, there is also scientism, which is a modern philosophy. Scientism is not Buddhistic because it is the attempt to make the restrictive rules of science into the dogmas by which the whole of life should be governed. Scientism is a different religion and a rather narrow one and it would be a tragedy if Buddhism in the West were reduced to it.
Since moving to this lovely house, I have inherited a beautiful garden - terraced, full of shrubs and flowers and soft fruit. And it has a pond. So far all I've had to do is feed the birds but soon the snows will go, the ground will warm up and nature will get itself into gear. Which I'll need to do, too, if I'm not to be overwhelmed. I'm glad to have discovered this post:
With illnesses like ME, fatigue and pain as well as brain fog and concentration lapses are common. So, it's important to make sure that when you garden, you are as comfortable as possible to help keep symptoms at bay. With trial and error, you should be able to find an approach that allows you to focus on your hobby - even if just for a few minutes - instead of worsening your symptoms.
Last week Kaspa and Satya set me to thinking. Kaspa wrote:
For the past few years Satya and I have chosen a word for the year, something we'd like to nourish or see grow in ourselves. This year I'm struggling to find a single word for what I'd like to see change.
I saw with great clarity towards the end of last year that what was driving some of my choices was not simply (as I thought) a sense of the right thing to do, but that there was also a part of me always looking out for the "judge"; someone who was going to catch me and punish me if I made a mistake.
I've kept an eye on that part recently and can see it's been affecting more than I realised. Not only do I judge myself but I can also take on that role when I'm watching others. Sometimes I'm afraid of the judge, sometimes I am the judge, and sometimes (thank goodness) the judge is nowhere to be seen.
This year I'd like to soften that judgement: to not worry so much about what the judge thinks of me or of other people.
Each word that we choose for the year has a shadow too: a trap that we can fall into when we think we are developing what is good, but in reality is just as dysfunctional as before. The shadow of my word (or words) is that I could end up giving up on any kind of discernment, or that I end up going with the flow when I really should be making a judgement.
I guess the middle way is a skilful use of the judge, rather than giving up on that part of me completely. Sometimes we do need to make a stand - not out a fear of getting caught, but because we really are tuned in to the right thing to do.
What would you like to nourish or see grow this year? What would you like to let go of? Can you choose a word for 2015, and what might the shadow of that word be?
The word that came to me - and it did feel as though the word gave itself to me rather than that I found it - is 'settling'.
I'm thinking of these meanings:
I've been contemplating this phrase ever since Prajnatara mentioned it to me. Particularly in view of the recent changes in my life. Wondering what it might mean to me, what it might look like now, in this new phase. How it might differ from the way I was doing things previously.
A common Sogyal Rinpoche quote that I often refer to is “Bless me into usefulness.” This prayer reminds me that service is a gift, not only to those I serve, but also to me. What a blessing it is to be useful!
Sometimes, though, I get caught in believing that my worth or loveability is based on how much I do for others. Dharmavidya in a bog post recently reminded me of the importance of putting this kind of self judgment in perspective.
I was asked does Buddhism have a theory of truth and, if so, what is it? The quick answer is yes, it does, and Buddha knows.
Let's unpack this. Buddhism does teach that there is truth (tatva, tatha). This means that Buddhism is not a pure relativism. It does not say that each person's truth is entirely their own affair. It is possible to be wrong or mistaken and this has consequences. Being wrong about the truth is delusion or ignorance (avidya) and this is the root of all human folly. Buddhism teaches that we are all deluded in varying degrees. Buddhas are not deluded in relation to spiritual truth or ultimate truth, even though they might be deceived or ignorant in practical matters. Shakyamuni did not know how a telephone worked because they did not have them in his time, but this is not a knowledge that has relevance to the spiritual path. A Buddhist teacher should have insight into spiritual and absolute truth.
Introducing these terms shows us that the Buddhist theory of truth has levels. There is a two level theory deliniating relative truth and absolute truth and a three level theory in which there are two degrees of relative truth – mundane and spiritual. Corresponding to these levels are bodies (kaya) of Buddha.
Then, cutting across these classifications there is the question of being (asti) and emptiness (shunyata). Here there is controversy which could be taken to be purely linguistic but which does lead to a different framework for understanding. From one point of view, all is illusion, empty of substantial existence. Related to this is the idea that only the present moment exists and even that is evanescent. From the other point of view, everything exists, including the past, present and future, but these existances are contingent, which is to say, not fixed. Both perspectives agree that everything (whether real or merely apparent) depends on conditions.
Equanimity is a wonderful quality, a spaciousness and balance of heart. Although it grows naturally with our meditation practice, equanimity can also be cultivated in the same systematic way that we have used for loving-kindness and compassion. We can feel this possibility of balance in our hearts in the midst of life when we recognize that life is not in our control. We are a small part of a great dance. Even though we may cultivate a boundless compassion for others and strive to alleviate suffering in the world, there will still be many situations we are unable to affect. The well known serenity prayer says, “May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Wisdom recognizes that all beings are heir to their own karma, that they each act and receive the fruits of their actions. We can deeply love others and offer them assistance, but in the end they must learn for themselves, they must be the source of their own liberation. Equanimity combines an understanding mind together with a compassionate heart.
To cultivate equanimity, sit in a comfortable posture with your eyes closed. Bring a soft attention to your breath until your body and mind are calm. Then begin by reflecting on the benefit of a mind that has balance and equanimity. Sense what a gift it can be to bring a peaceful heart to the world around you. Let yourself feel an inner sense of balance and ease. Then begin repeating such phrases as, “May I be balance and at peace.” Acknowledge that all created things arise and pass away: joys, sorrows, pleasant evets, people, buildings, animals, nations, even whole civilizations. Let yourself rest in the midst of them. “May I learned to see the arising and passing of all nature with equanimity and balance. May I be open and balanced and peaceful.” Acknowledge that all beings are heirs to their own karma, and that their lives arise and pass away according to conditions and deeds created by them. “May I bring compassion and equanimity to the events of the world. May I find balance and equanimity and peace.”
~ Jack Kornfeld
This is a time of change for me, both outer and inner - with a concommitant re-focussing and re-orientation of emphasis. There's much inner exploration and inner connection going on for me, and a further deepening and strengthening of my sense of vocation. Some of this is through inner volition but much is through Nyorai's Grace.
In some recent correspondence with a Christian friend, my attention was drawn to the Apostles Creed. There is nothing equivalent, as far as I am aware, in Pureland, but if there were it might go something like this...I believe in the Unborn, the Unconditioned, the UncreateI believe in Amida Nyoraiof measureless life and boundless lightwho made 48 great expressions of faithby which all beings might find salvation.I believe in uncontable Buddhas and bodhiasattvasin the ten directions and the three timesin their absolute nature, manifest presence and spiritual beingI believe that without creation, judgement or self-justificationthe Buddhas are our friendsand teach the Dharmato bestow merit and liberation.I believe in the sanghaI believe in the fallible and vulnerable nature of all beingsand that the compassion of the Buddhas is directed especiallyto those who realise their frailty of nature.I believe in the Pure Landand the generation of Buddha Landswhere all will quickly awaken.I believe in the Nameby which all are blessedand by which we may express our gratitudeNamo Amida Bu..
Bodhicitta is available in moments of caring for things, when we clean our glasses or brush our hair. It's available in moments of appreciation, when we notice the blue sky or pause and listen to the rain. It is available in moments of gratitude, when we recall a kindness or recognize another person's courage. It is available in music and dance, in art, and in poetry. Whenever we let go of holding on to ourselves, and look at the world around us, whenever we connect with sorrow, whenever we connect with joy, whenever we drop our resentment and complaint, in those moments bodhicitta is here.
~ Ani Pema Chödrön