Showing posts from 2015

Miraculous Births

I have to admit, the story of Jesus’s birth is a really cool story. This past Sunday I saw a modern retelling of it set to the music of the Beatles and I’m sure that I enjoyed it as much as any of the most devout believers in the audience. In the interest of honesty, however, I must also admit that I could never quite believe that the story really unfolded as it is purported it to have unfolded. Sure, the part about the Immaculate Conception had me wondering from a very early age. But even before I knew much about the biological implications of such a feat I had other questions about the storyline. Think about it. God rearranged the heavens so that a star marked the place of birth of his Son – so that everyone would know that the King was born. Wise men witnessed the appearance of that star and had their hearts moved to the point of following it and concluding that, yes, Jesus was a newborn king. But then the story just sort of ends there. Years later we find that Jesus has grown up …

The Ghost of Lost Attention

I’m back in the so-called “real world” after a weeklong meditation retreat at Sanshin Zen Temple. And what would sesshin be without at least a poem to show for it! {smile} Clearly this particular one was inspired by my having slept in a tent on the temple grounds all week long – something that made this particular rohatsu sesshin of a decidedly different quality than all of the others that I’ve sat. In addition to the obvious Zen influence, you might also see the influence of a beautiful quote by Catherine of Siena that I stumbled across not too long ago: “Every step of the way to heaven is heaven.” I love this quote for its obvious grasp, albeit from a Christian perspective, of the non-dual nature of reality – something that is without question when considering the Buddhist concept of shunyata, or emptiness. Also present is the influence of the Quaker propensity for speaking of “that of God in everyone.” I hope you enjoy the poem!

The Ghost of Lost Attention
If I were a ghost I’d tak…

On Dogen's 'Universal Emptiness'

Koku is one of the shorter fascicles of Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Notwithstanding its brevity, it is still as dense and difficult to comprehend as many of his other works. One can glimpse the nature of this difficulty by contemplating for a moment the various English translations of the one word title alone: Space (Nishijima, 2009), On the Unbounded (Nearman, 2007), and, of course, Universal Emptiness (Nishiyama, 1975). Each of these reveals a slightly different way of thinking about the Buddhist concept of shunyata (Sanskrit) or ku (Japanese).
According to Okumura (2012) koku actually has three different possible meanings. In our very ordinary way of looking at things it can refer to the empty space that is between objects or which is bounded in some way. It can also refer to space which does not lose its nature on account of being occupied. Yet another meaning, however, points to the most profound of Buddhist teachings, i.e. the emptiness of all phenomena. As Okumura says: The third meani…

This Thing Called Evil

This may be a challenging post for many folks. So, let me just say right up front the words that I really want to leave you with – before anyone has the chance to get angry or offended: Let’s forgive ourselves. Let’s forgive each other. Let’s strive to do better.
Okay, with that out of the way, let me begin again.
One of the more interesting questions to be posed of any of the candidates this campaign season is whether or not they would kill the baby Adolf Hitler if they were somehow given the opportunity to go back in time and locate the infant evil incarnate. Certainly it’s an interesting question to pose for the array of answers it might elicit. Most interesting, though, is how the question itself reveals how many of us think about the nature of evil. Evil is “out there.” It’s a dark force that the hapless might stumble upon. It takes up residence in someone such that they then become evil. It’s a conscious entity of some sort – like Satan, for instance – that actively plots ways …

To Touch the Mind Once More

November seems to have become “gratitude month” for many North American Buddhists, no doubt due to it being the month of our Thanksgiving holiday. Don’t be surprised, then, if you should happen to see one of your friends posting a lot on social media lately about all that they have to be grateful for. Just be grateful for the subtle reminder to pay attention to all that you have to be grateful for. It will likely have you feeling all the more settled, content, and happy as a result.

I just committed to sitting Rohatsu sesshin once again – a weeklong practice period commemorating the seven days that the historical Buddha spent in meditation before realizing enlightenment. So, once November draws to a close I’ll begin sitting like a buddha, settling my mind like a buddha, facing my karma like a buddha, and waking up like a buddha. Well…, we’ll see about that last one!
Of course I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit Rohatsu once again. A lot has to fall into place in order to be able to …

Utter Meaninglessness

It is dangerous to engage in mystical practice before having attained adequate ego strength to safely do so. This is an important idea that I attribute to C.G. Jung, although I can’t offer any more detailed attribution at the present time. If we scratch just below the surface of such a statement, it appears to contain a contradiction: Since mystical practice involves dismantling or casting aside our egoic constructs and defenses, it would seem that not having fully formed ego strength would just put us that much further along! Is that dangerous, or is it advantageous? Digging further, however, we can see that, since mystical practice can involve the dismantling of everything the practitioner might have assumed about the world and him or herself, there is the distinct danger of a precipitous descent into nihilism – the darkness of utter meaninglessness. Thus, I must begin this post with a warning: If you are young and without a solid sense of how you fit into this world, if you are st…

Beyond Faith and Reason

The commencement of any solitary creative endeavor is an act of faith. Depending upon our area of interest, we sit down with our notebooks or in front of our computers, we reflect upon the materials available to us, or we gaze upon our subject while sitting in front of a fresh white canvas. And as we do we have faith that something will materialize: a poem, a manuscript, a sculpture, a painting, etc. I’m steeped in such faith as I write these words, having promised the world in my last post that I’d have something meaningful to say under the title “Beyond Faith and Reason” -- without my having written a single word on the subject up until now!
In addition to faith, the creative process requires at least a modicum of reason and objectivity. The writing process especially requires a great deal of time spent in rational reflection on the work in progress: Have I made any spelling or grammatical mistakes? Is that the most appropriate word to use in this instance? Have I made my point as …

Must We Choose Between Faith and Reason?

Near the end of my first Faith and Reason post I began to consider the view held by some that the world would be better off if everyone would simply eschew such things as faith, belief, spirituality, and religion in order to become more rational and scientific in their thinking. Sure enough, I’ve seen and heard enough to know what kind of harm can be done in the name of religion and the potentially dangerous dogmas that they sometimes espouse. I’ve seen how the metaphysical realities believed in by some can hinder the more rational thinking individuals in our midst from taking steps to address those problems that are very much a part of our reality here and now. But is it really fair or true to say that religion is the cause of all of those problems, and rational thinking the solution? Does faith, belief, spirituality, and religion really have no place whatsoever in the lives of modern, forward-thinking humans – those who are hoping to build a better world?
Before I get too far ahead…

Faith and Reason

I attended the inaugural Gateway to Reason conference in St. Louis last weekend and very much enjoyed all of the half-dozen or so sessions that I managed to fit into my schedule. Although I don’t consider myself an atheist, for all practical purposes Gateway to Reason could have been referred to as an atheist convention – not that there’s anything wrong with that! Fans of the old Seinfeld television show will recognize that last aside as the reoccurring punchline from one of the episodes, uttered each time one of the show’s characters disavowed being gay. Come to think of it, it’s a fitting punchline to invoke in this context because it quickly became apparent to me that atheists are members of a similarly oppressed subculture here in the U.S.

Being “out” as an atheist is much like being “out” as a gay person, with all of the concomitant dangers of being ostracized, unfriended, disowned, oppressed, and threatened. Questions and comments from those in attendance frequently alluded to …