I am here in London for the upcoming Mindfulness Show event. I am also at the Doppio Coffee Wharehouse in Battersea, a district of London, sipping my cappuccino and working on a Dharma talk for an upcoming retreat at Wiston Lodge in Scotland. Here’s a couple of verses involved:
“Then the Buddha emitted a ray of light from the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows. It illuminated all the eighteen thousand worlds in the east, down as far as the lowest hell, Avīci, and up as high as the Akaniṣṭha Heaven. All the sentient beings in those worlds living in the six transmigratory states became visible from this world. The buddhas in those worlds were also seen, and the Dharma they were teaching could be heard.”
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter 1: Burton Watson)
“The Buddha’s body fills the cosmos, Appearing before all beings everywhere- In all conditions, wherever sensed, reaching everywhere, Yet always on this seat of enlightenment.
In each of the Buddha’s pores Sit Buddhas, many as atoms in all lands, Surrounded by masses of enlightened beings Expounding the supreme practice of the universally good.
Buddha, sitting at rest on the enlightenment seat, Displays in one hair oceans of fields; The same is true of every single hair, Thus pervading the cosmos.”
(Avatamsaka Sutra, pg. 162: Thomas Cleary)
Both these citations are from classical Mahayana texts, one of the three current branches of Buddhism, along with Theravada and Vajrayana. Pretty cosmic don’t you think? Why did I pick these two? Because the two passages depict through the writer’s literary style the boundless nature. Here the “Buddha” and “Buddhas,” in Mahayana there are more than one Buddha, is not some supernatural being. Instead, I see them representing our boundless nature, the ray of light from the Buddha’s brow, the Buddha’s body, as many as atoms in all the lands, pointing to the understanding that we are much more than we think: This is our boundless field in which we exist – no, more accurately, it is the boundless field that is our existence.
This boundless field is our unlimited human capacity, our boundless potential, a path that is so often goes unseen or unacknowledged: It is the field of our hearts and minds, the totality of our human experience of our past, present, and future. We exist in this time and space, at this present moment, which is the intersection of our lives. This present moment consists of all things present as well as all things past. All things experienced and understood in the past are here and now. The way we thought and understood, the actions we took, the behavior that manifested, all stored within us. All these things of the past are with us today, all there as potentials in which directly and indirectly influence our experience today. It is today, through our hearts and minds, however influenced, be it wholesome or unwholesome, that shape our future present moments.
There are things in this life we have no influence over whatsoever. There are things in this life that we have some influence over. There are also some things in this life we have direct influence over. It is at this intersection of our boundless field that we do have a great deal of influence over. We have to capacity to practice in such a way to develop clarity and wisdom, which are also part of the boundless field. With clarity and wisdom we are able to sow wholesome seeds and unroot the unwholesome seeds of the field. Not only does this affect our life in this moment but it affects the way we experience the future, the later present moments. It is at this intersection of the present moment we cultivate the boundless field, if we so choose.
I will be in London to give a talk for the The Mindful Living Show, which is June 1-2 at the Business Design Center in Isington, which is near central London. This event is sort of a mindfulness convention, with speakers, booths, vendors and such. mindfulnesslivingshow.com
Mindfulness at Lunchtime at St. Marks in Edinburgh. MAL has been taking place for about twenty years now. I will be facilitating the lunchtime practice in the heart of Edinburgh. How can you beat that. Especially that Edinburgh one of my favorite cities. You bring your lunch. we mindfully eat, a session of slow walking meditation and I think I’m giving a short talk.
Public Dharma talk at St. Mark’s in Edinburgh. 7:30 -9:00pm.
I will be leading a retreat at Wiston Lodge at Wiston, Scotland, which is about 40 miles, or should I say about 63 kilometers southwest of Edinburgh.
I will be back in the US at Morning Sun in New Hampshire to attend a retreat. I’m actually a retreatant here, which is very refreshing.
June 26- July 13
I will be in Boston area connecting and practicing with the various sanghas.
I will be giving a Talk in Newton, Massachusetts (near Boston). This is being organized now and I don’t have the details but it is being held in conjunction with the Boston Center for Contemplative Practice.
July 13- August 5
I will be in the Washington DC area connecting and practicing with the local sanghas. The schedule of events are being planned now.
I will be at the Buddhist Insights Center in New York
Oct 4 Dharma Talk in Manhattan 7:00-830 pm
Oct 5-7 Retreat at the BI retreat center, Rockaway
Oct 8 Dharma Talk at the BI retreat center, Rockaway 8:00-9:30 pm
The question is not “What can we do about this?” We know what to do. We know how the government works, how laws are made, how to demonstrate, how to put pressure on our elected officials. No, the question is not “What can we do about this” but rather “Have we had enough yet?”
It is one thing to see our own habit energies, those unwholesome formations that come up again, and again, it is another thing to work, to practice to alleviate ourselves from those habit energies. It is one thing to be ignorant of our habit energies, not knowing they exist. It is another to be aware of our habit energies. Just as our thoughts and emotions, and therefore actions, are influenced by our own habit energies so too does it take place on the societal level, collective karma, collective habit energies. Somewhere along the line, when we have become aware of the unwholesome, unbeneficial, even destructive, thoughts and behaviors. Somewhere, at sometime we get to the point of the willingness, sometimes at the point of desperation, we begin to work, to take action to get beyond the harmfulness we evoke upon ourselves and others.
I have always held this though, sort of a social theory of life in our society. It is pretty simple: Things have to get much worse before they get better. I know it seems rather cynical, but really, it’s based on observation. We have a history. We have seen these mass shootings over and over again. The same thing: A mass shooting takes place, the horrors are reported on by the media and everyone is “horrified.” Politicians rush to the podium to say how “horrible” it is and that their hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Some people cry out for gun control laws, its debated by the pundits and then it is back to business as usual – until next time when the cycle starts again, and again, and again, and again, because ignorance works in cycles. Ignorance is the condition of which we become doomed by our own hands. We are our own worse enemies at times.
With the Parkland shooting just a few short months ago, I say short because these types of things seem to compress time and space, a number of brave young men and women (they deserve the epithet of “men” and “women”) stood up to take on the system, the cycle of suffering. They brought a fresh face to the epidemic. One would think with such a thing would be a rally point for change but it appears not. It seems it’s back to business as usual. Have we had enough yet?
How are we to understand interbeing? We desire explanations- this is how it works, perhaps a scientific explanation, a plus b equals c. This is no freedom in this. How can there be freedom when something is in “concrete” form. Drop the “I am a cloud,” “I am the rain.” These are merely words from the master in order to teach his students. They are not the essence. If this is the case then how are we to understand interbeing? I don’t think we can – at least not fully. It is like an iceberg. The part we perceive, we recognize is just the small part but the great mass is out of view, until it isn’t. I do not think it is a matter of “understanding” interbeing so much as it is as experiencing through accepting what is already there throughout the cosmos. All we need to do, as the Chan patriarchs say, is to drop body and mind. This means letting go of all notions and attachments, the things that bind us, the things that separate us from our true nature, our great potential. Interbeing in not a matter of trying to understand. Any experience of understanding is only revealed to us, like discovering the creamy center of a chocolate candy. No, the experience of interbeing is not understood through the mind but rather from a deep seated utterance of the heart. This utterance of the heart, if we allow it, becomes a grand symphony. How deep and wide is the heart? As deep and wide as the cosmos. Why? Because they are one in the same.
The Buddha and the Indian patriarchs spoke about dwelling in emptiness. This is to dwell in the openness and vastness of non-duality. This is also the middle-way, the place between this and that. This is also dropping body and mind. Only when we dwell in this boundless space do experience the true interbeing. There are two intereings. One is the conceptual understanding which are the bones. The other interbeing is the marrow, the true interbeing, which is open, free, embracing, fearless, and beyond words and concepts, completeness of the the present moment. It is not something we create. How can we create something that already is and has been since the beginningless beginning?
Because we do not dwell in the true interbeing we search for something to fill the void. Maybe we use the first kind of interbeing to fill that void, relying on the intellect instead of the heart. It is like reading a book but not grasping the words. Perhaps this searching leads to unwholesome things. Perhaps this search leads us to wholesome things. Perhaps we go to monasteries, churches, to books, or to a teacher. But what we search for, this connection, this fullness of life can only be found in one place, that which is already present within us. Drop body and mind and the cosmos blooms before you.
I am here at Rose Apple in central Vermont. It is early Sunday morning and I am sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the pond. It is cool and overcast and the birds are singing their morning symphony. Winter has had its finale and there is just a small mound of snow under the trees at the forest’s edge. The various plants are just starting to send up their shoots. The leaves on the some of the trees are are just starting to unfurl. Some are still just buds. It is a time of transition.
We often use the phrase “I am in transition,” when referring to going from one aspect of our lives to another. Usually, they are large aspects that seem to make the stuff in between not as significant. It could be said that due to the impermanent, ever changing nature of life, we are in a constant state of transition. However, it really doesn’t convey our perspective on the specific events that mark our lives, or that are turning points in our lives. We transition from job to another. We transition from an apartment to a house, perhaps moving from one city or state to another. Perhaps “transition” means a change in a relationships, such as a break up, a divorce or separation or transitioning into a new relationship. I remember years ago a news magazine, yes, the printed kind, used to put the obituaries of predominate people in a section called “Transitions.”
Sometime transitions are short in duration sometime they are long, taking what seems an entire lifetime to get there, whatever there is for us. Sometimes transitions are difficult, taking everything we have to “make” that transitions, such as a coming off an addictive drug or how some struggle to leave an abusive relationship. Sometime transitions are smooth and seemingly effortless. I remember the process of deciding to be come a monk. When people ask me about my experience I usually start out by saying that there was no big event, no great suffering, no great vision. I did not see Avalokita in a dream telling me in some cryptic words to go forth, and I did not promise my mother on her deathbed. I’m sure it has disappointed some. No, it actually seemed like putting on a comfortable pair of sneakers. It all seemed to fit, somehow.
I’d like to say that that taking up the seemingly seamless path of transition is due to following our own heart, which usually knows better than our intellect. Perhaps it is true in some cases. But we cannot dismiss our inner voice when it seems to take us on a difficult path or a path of great uncertainty. In either case, the important transitions in our lives, it seems, are the ones where we listen to our hearts, our inner voice, and this is something I feel that I haven’t done lately. It is just as easy to get caught up in life at the monastery as it is “out” in the world. It is also easy for us human beings to go on automatic, ignoring the things of the heart, and there is a price to pay. Perhaps we are not as motivated as we used to be, perhaps we become more frustrated with life, not as fulfilled, and so on. We all have our own expressions of a half-filled life.
All this having been said, I have recently decided to take a year-long sabbatical from my life at Deer Park. This is why I am writing from Rose Apple here in Vermont. I have been here for the past few months. For those who might remember, Rose Apple is the former Maple Forest Monastery. In 2007 the community decided to close up shop in Vermont to establish a larger monastery in New York State, Blue Cliff Monastery. The couple that actually ownes the property of Maple Forest, Pritim and Ann, decided to keep the buildings available to the monastics. So here I am. The reason for my sabbatical? To rest, to cook, to eat, to walk, to sit, to listen to the birds, the crickets, the frogs, to watch the snow melt and the leaves open, to find clarity about my life – to listen to myself.
After nineteen Dharma years in this fifty-eight year old body I have decided to take up the advice of the late Joseph Campbell, to “follow your bliss.” There is something that I have been wanting to do for quite some time now, an aspiration so to speak. The monasteries are a great thing. Many people come to practice and I have constantly over the years listen to people share about how much they gained from the experience. I hope the community in the monasteries will always be there to help those along their path in life. However, as many know, the monasteries are not accessible to a great many people, for one reason or another.
As I have toured the US in the past what really struck me was how so many practitioners, even long -term community practitioners never have and probably never will go to one of the monasteries. For many, I was their only connection with the our monastic tradition. Following my bliss, in this case is to spend a good portion of this year and beyond to visit the local sanghas. I don’t necessarily mean to go to a community give a talk, lead a retreat, perhaps a day of mindfulness, although these things would be good, but to really spend the time to connect with people. So instead of flying in, supporting an event or two and flying out, how about spending a few weeks to be there for the community. This of course is solely dependent upon the various sanghas and what they would like, this monk is just offering.
As I’ve mulled around the idea of this new direction, the thought of this new direction excites me, sometimes to the point, OK, I will admit this, of being rather giddy. A new adventure. But with this new direction I have also encountered the abyss of uncertainty. It reminds me of the old koan: You are on the top of a hundred foot pole and you have to take a step. We all like certainty in our lives. We desire to know the end game, the final destination, that everything will work out they way we dream it to be. In my case, when a monastic leaves the monastery for a sabbatical, or decides their life in the community no is no longer working for them, it is a bit like leaving the safety and security of a mother’s womb. The community takes care of all one’s needs: Food, clothing, medical needs, medicine and so forth. Once you leave the womb you are pretty much on your own. Those things are not so readily available and one needs to come up with their own resources. So here I am, on my extended sabbatical, on the one hundred foot pole and ready to take that step. At the same time I am looking into the abyss of uncertainty. Regardless of how excited and certain about this new direction there looms underneath the uncertainty of it all, with its manifestations of doubt, worry, questioning one’s motives, one’s self worth and so on. What happens if…?
I tend to believe that life is mostly about the practicalities. When I look at the mindfulness practice I think it is pretty much about the practicalities, tending to one thing and then another, and then another, and then another, being mindful, being present in our daily lives to whatever unfolds, to whatever we encounter. No abstraction, no underlying idealism, no type of psychological or philosophical system. Just you and thus. Now I can do one of three things. One, I can continue on my sabbatical and not travel and visit the sanghas, two, I can forget about both and go back to the monastery, or three, I can follow my bliss, with all the things that go with it, whatever it may be, to embrace the knowing and uncertainty of it all, and go forward. This is the duality I need to come to terms with, to embrace the duality is to put down the duality. In the end, however, as it manifests in this life of mine, it comes down to a choice – a choice of living a comfortable half life or the uncertainty of a full life. I think today is a good day to step from the pole. Today, I think I will chose the full life.