Real Stillness, Real Knowledge

Shunryu Suzuki summarized Buddhism in two words: “everything changes.” Indeed, Buddhism itself changes as it moves from country to country, culture to culture, and down through the ages. Our individual practice will continue to change and evolve as well. The passage of time and the changing of circumstances may well take our teachers from us, our practice communities, and perhaps even the meaningfulness of those practices that we once thought central to our path. We may find ourselves much like the storied hermit monks of long ago, with only our will and whatever truth we’ve come to realize to guide us through the dharmic landscape.

I’m not quite a hermit, but I do live in a small country town now, far away from anything one might consider overtly “Buddhist.” That’s probably just as well, though. I’m at a place in my practice where I believe very little, and practice communities seem all too often to fairly reek of belief. Meditating with a group of people can be a very powerfully gu…

Introducing: Heartland Contemplative

Greetings! On the heels of some life changes, my writing headed off in a slightly different direction – more intimate and expansive all at the same time. I could have continued posting these new offerings here on Crossing Nebraska (which I will continue to maintain and cultivate). However, given the abundance of variously flavored posts contained herein – spanning over five years now – it seemed more appropriate to start a new blog altogether.
Please check out my new Heartland Contemplative website. It will showcase both prose and poetry, as well as photographs mostly taken in the countryside surrounding my home. I’ll likely cross-pollinate the two blogs from time to time, but for now I’ll be concentrating on content for Heartland Contemplative. Also, you’ll be able to find out what I’m up to in a number of interconnected ways. Please check out the Heartland Contemplative presence on WordPressFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I appreciate it!
Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

The Stumbling Block of Enlightenment

As stated in my previous post on the subject, what Buddhists refer to as enlightenment is nothing other than a profound realization of the most fundamental truth regarding the emptiness of all things (sunyata in Sanskrit). Myriad other Buddhist teachings can be understood as various facets of this diamond-like truth. For example, it is emptiness that has us speaking in terms of dependent origination, interbeing, and the non-dual; and it is emptiness that has us speaking of the three marks of existence: the impermanence of all things, the lack of inherent selfhood of all things, and the unsatisfactory nature of all things. The last of these, by the way, is merely the first noble truth – the truth of suffering – viewed from a slightly different angle.

However, it is the second noble truth that points to the fundamental difficulty of human existence: our almost unrelenting tendency to overlay the infinite potential inherent in the emptiness of all things with our own finite and often do…

A Buddhist Easter

Good Friday marks the day of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, his death by all appearances at the time. And if that were the end of the story, Christianity likely would not have grown to be the religion it is today; for suffering and death do not convey much in the way of Good News. A resurrected Christ, on the other hand, one who is raised up from the dead – now that is a reason for untold joy! Such is Easter, the holiest of holy days for Christians around the world. Jesus died for our sins, that we may live forever. This is the truth for millions of Christians.

The first noble truth of Buddhism is the truth of suffering. Like the passion of the Christ, however, this truth alone does not convey a very hopeful message either. It is the truth of the path, the fourth noble truth that conveys the good news of the Buddha’s teaching. Thus, the Buddha didn’t die for us. He lived such that through his example of heightened awareness we might liberate ourselves. “Watchfulness is the path of…


The most fundamental truth in all of Buddhism is that of the emptiness of all things. Enlightenment is the realization of this truth. Oh, but if only the depths of this reality were as easy to understand as to define!
If the truth of emptiness (sunyata) were as easy to grasp as that of, say, 2+2=4, we wouldn’t need to speak in terms of enlightenment, or awakening (bodhi). It would be obvious to all but the least educated amongst us. But since the deepest understanding of emptiness is more akin to an understanding of Einstein’s theory of general relativity than simple arithmetic, we give it a special name. Just as we have a special name, of a sort, for those who understand relativity. Namely, genius!

Indeed, some can speak intelligently about certain aspects of general relativity. Far fewer, though – even after a century of commentary, experimentation, study, and reflection – have grasped its intricacies. So groundbreakingly monumental was Einstein’s theory that when Sir Arthur Stanle…

Fasting and Equanimity

I hadn’t fasted in over a year. That’s probably reason enough to conclude that life has been just a little bit too hectic of late. Combine that with the difficulty I had choosing a day on which to fast once I’d made up my mind to do so, and the evidence became conclusive. A life too busy to accommodate a day on which to fast is a life in need of simplification.
Once I’d made up my mind, though, things fell into place quite nicely. No, I couldn’t find my special fasting tea – it must have gotten discarded in the move – but I did find a ginger and licorice root variety in the cupboard that would suffice. No, I didn’t prepare ahead in order to have some nice green juice or carrot juice on hand, but I did find some grape and orange juice in the fridge that would suffice. And, anyway, isn’t that what fasting is all about: gaining greater understanding of that which is sufficient? It is for me at least.

My last “solid” food was a bowl of soup at around 7:00 p.m. This smaller than normal di…

A Bodhicitta Dream

Those of us who consider ourselves spiritual in nature may wonder from time to time how we came to be walking the path that we’re on. Is it simply a natural manifestation of what we naturally are, or was the process far more happenstance than destiny? Did a beautiful gift somehow fall into our lap, or was it a hard-fought struggle to become the spiritual being that we are today? Christians often speak in terms of the grace of God when considering such questions; which may explain how one person can hear the gospel and thereafter become a lifelong Christian, whereas another may hear the very same words and remain steadfastly aloof and unmoved. Buddhists, similarly, speak in terms of bodhicitta – awakened mind, or awakening mind (see Schuhmacher & Woerner, 1994, for instance). The workings of bodhicitta may explain how one individual can be moved to practice on behalf of all beings by whatever understanding of sunyata (emptiness) they may have been fortunate enough to glean, even a…