This is the end of my mantra of uplift. Having this verse, putting daily life under the microscope has re-ignited my appreciation for our daily scriptures. With constant repetition, they have become ingrained in my psyche and I’d not realized that before. Walking along the other day it occurred to me that, unknowingly, our daily life is a constant enactment of the scriptures and that they play sub-audibly all of the time. They are silent poetry we aspire to recite and give life to. As we wash the dishes.
Having woken up, risen up and stepped out there is then the walking on, the keeping going. There is so much to say about walking on, taking the next step. That’s doing the right thing when a lesser act would somewhat suffice. Embark on a course of action and then take a left turn when conditions ask that of us. While at the same time wanting desperately to get there by the faster route. However, we simply can’t cut corner or miss out the steps in between, if we are to hold true to our deepest intention.
Here is a line from the Sandokai which speaks volumes. As you walk on distinctions between near and far are lost (sight of). And I believe that to be true not because we become rudderless or directionless in our living. Far from it. Somehow contentment creeps in and eclipses the struggle and the striving for attainment, while at the same time we do attain, perhaps achieve great things and struggle in the process. The line that follows the one quoted above is, and should you lost become there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers! It is quite easy to get lost. Especially so if one is constantly travelling ahead of where one actually is. Physically for example. On a city street at rush hour people are already in their offices as they cross the road. On the cloister or on the way home. Are you still with yourself where you are or are you ahead of yourself? Thankfully, and tragically at times, we are brought back to where we are with a thump or a bang, a trip or a fall. Today letting go is to refrain from becoming ahead of yourself. This applies across the board.
What of forgetting? Years ago I rescued a baby seal from the beach on the Oregon coast. To cut a long story short I ended up putting it back where I found it. I’d made a mistake which probably cost the life of that seal. I’m not proud of that. As I walked up the beach, having delivered it to its watery home, I knew I must not look back as much as I wanted to know if it was OK. If I had I might well have compounded my mistake by not letting it go. Forgetting involves refraining from looking back. Refraining from walking on while at the same time, looking back over one’s shoulder! That’s as hard, and often as heart-wrenching, as turning one’s back on a vulnerable creature. Yet it must be done. Constantly
Returning now full circle, to meditation, to the darkened hall of unknowing which is our home we never leave, I’m wondering if I have anything left to say.
THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED MAY 2011.
Day three in this epic series that has me staying up far too late into the night. Here is the second part of my personal mantra of uplift.
Step out and the Great Earth,
(It is said that the Great Earth is the foundation of gratitude and refers to the fundamental ground of Everything.)
In Rules For Meditation Zen Master Dogen states, if your first step is false, you will immediately stumble. To point out the obvious, if you are not looking where you’re going you are quite likely to not only stumble, you’ll fall over! Eventually. There is something fundamental being pointed out, although rather often the obvious practical aspect can get lost sight of. The question is where exactly are you coming from. What is going on behind the eyes which receive that which enters them? Specifically, what is the basic underlying intention behind one’s actions? On what basis does one choose to point one’s toes in this direction, rather than another?
The sixteen Buddhist Precepts are regarded as the basic principles by which one guides one’s life. Not as a rule book, although specifics on what is simply not on are important, more as an underlying intention. The fundamental intention is then to keep true to the Precepts. The only way to do that, having studied to the point of them being ones life blood, is to SIT. To meditate while walking, sitting, talking, bending, driving, cooking, thinking. In other words to be stilled and reflective within all the countless ways we engage in action, all of our days. The essence of the Precepts are found in the Three Pure Precepts; to refrain from harmful habitual actions of body, mouth and mind, to direct oneself to the good (a good beyond the opposites of good/bad) and to be/do good for others. Another way of putting that last one might be to not act like you are the only person left in the universe! We all have to start somewhere with Preceptual living so having the intention to be the best person you can be is a great intention. Once fully committed to them there is a way that we are brought to honour our pure intentions. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Sometimes much later. In the end good prevails.
The following is an affirmation.
The Great Earth does leap with joy
as we step out with
Engaging with the world through our senses,
embraced and embracing,
how could there not be gratitude.
Today’s letting go is the letting go of looking down. Literally having one’s eyes downcast as one steps out. For some of us, some of the time, to lever one’s eyes off the ground and to have them seeing ahead can be THE hardest and most painful act imaginable. I wish I could find the email somebody sent me describing the utter torture of raising his eyes in this way, and keeping on walking. And keeping on looking up when looking down feels safer, more comfortable, more normal. Try it. In addition, while looking where you are going try deliberately bringing in peripheral vision (go wide-screen) this helps to ease off on that hard-edged staring ahead if that’s your habit.
As you step out, make a move in life, speak out, speak up, shift inwardly and outwardly or in any other way one might step out – look up! Engaging with what is actually before you, with clear intention behind your eyes, you might be amazed to find anxiety and worry have deserted you. For me looking down, literally, indicates that I’ve something on my mind. Looking up, literally, however much my eyes slam down again makes me face and acknowledge what’s there. Acknowledging is the letting go.
Meadow, stream, mountain. (Mt. Eddy)So here we are, day two in this current series looking at daily life training through the lens of what we term letting go. A popular subject I expect since most of us have been extolled to do that, and more than once. Probably. And I hope it isn’t only me who has puzzled about how one does that. The first couple of lines of my 2005 inspirational poem to myself are:
Rise up and greet the dawn.
There are a number of references in our daily scriptures to this rising up. There is the talk of a joy springing up in the Litany of the Great Compassionate One for example. The Litany is an offering up, a looking up. We implore ourselves to, Do, do the work within my heart. Nobody else is going to do that. But what is the work within my heart? Getting up, rising up is a good start when there is work to do. That’s getting out of bed (always a hard one), out of the chair, out of the doldrums, off one’s high horse, off the Internet, out of the car, leaving one’s meditation cushion, leave the comfortable familiarity of one’s discomforts. Rising up out of a lake of unhappiness, to greet the dawn of a new day or a new life. Rising up is an act of will, a choice made constantly on subtle and not so subtle levels which can have life-changing consequences, one could not predict beforehand. All day long, all life long there are choices. The rising up of joy is all part of rising to greet the dawn of the next thing.
From The Most Excellent Mirror – Samadhi we have: Night encloses brightness and, at dawn, no light shines. In the laundry room, the other day I was asking a couple of novices where this line of scripture came from, Night embraces brightness? Nobody could remember and we decided I’d probably made it up! As it happened I’d only invented one word, embrace. Meditation embraces brightness. Meditation embraces with encircling arms the myriad demanding bright lights of day, the never-ending next things. And at dawn no light shines! the scripture says. What could that mean? Perhaps this little verse is challenging us to examine our customary, wall to wall, dualistic mode of seeing and conceiving of existence. Of darkness opposed to light, an action opposed to stillness. Nirvana opposed to Samsara.
Thank goodness Zen Master Dogen got up from his disquieted seat and sailed to China. Then came back to disturb us with his understanding. He unrelentingly challenges us to awake and rise up out of our sleep, and as he puts it in Kuge (On The Flowering of The Unbounded) Chapter 44, see Blossoms in Boundless Space. You can find this chapter of the Shobogenzo by downloading the whole book from the Shasta Abbey website. There is a lot in this chapter which I can relate to. In particular there is a resonance with my thinking on the use of the physical eyes and the impact that has on letting go mentally and physically.
Because it is getting late now and I have an early start tomorrow morning I refer you to the posting Worry Walking. The letting go spotlight today is on the use we make of our eyes when engaging with all that enters through them. I’m one who finds it hard to rise from my bed. What I do to help myself is to purposefully pay attention to what is before my eyes using peripheral vision, the ceiling for example or the curtains. I allow the simple sight to enter in and fairly soon I’m ready to move and get out of bed. Somewhere in there, I greet the dawn! This is a soft-eyed seeing, not hard-edged zooming in on something. During the day, at the computer perhaps, have a go at zooming out from the monitor and go wide-angle allowing the rest of the room to come to you. Your interest in the contents of the silvery eye of the monitor may fade as your attention shifts wider and opens up to the big wide world you actually live and work in. Ah! take a breath. Is this letting go?
THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED MAY 2011.
There are several more in the series.
Wind, water, sky – together.Back in 2005 when I was about to fly to East Asia on Pilgrimage I wrote a poem on a scrap of paper while out walking in Vancouver, Canada. The underlying message behind what I wrote was let go and trust – continuously. When in mental, physical, emotional extremity, as I was then, basic teachings take on a renewed meaning, and urgency. During the trip, my advice to myself proved in practical every-day ways to be both a life saver and a very good thing! Circumstances and conditions repeatedly came together in near-miraculous ways and we, my travelling companion the late Iain Robinson and I, were ushered into places and meeting people it would not have been possible to plan for in advance. Travel stress was a constant and I guess trust/faith must have been there.
Over the next few days I’ll be revisiting and reflecting upon my poem with the spotlight shining on what it means in practical terms to let go. I speak of rising up in the poem implying a ‘place’ from which one moves. Sitting down perhaps? The keystone and well-spring of pilgrimage, daily living, is sitting still in the midst of it all. Meditation is present in the midst of living out our day, even within the seeming chaos most of us experience. One doesn’t need to travel or otherwise enter stressful circumstances to prove this true. Opportunities arise quite naturally!
Formal meditation is practised in subdued lighting with the emphasis of turning one’s attention inwards. Into the darkened hall of one’s mind/body. Sitting still, allowing the senses to still, we enter into metaphorical darkness of unknowing by allowing the known to fade. This is, however, illuminated darkness, bright aliveness of body and mind rises naturally – given half a chance. So, within compassion/acceptance for all that comes and goes, letting go and trusting is…about how it is.
The habit is to follow the arising and passing. To entertain, wine and dine, thoughts, sensations, emotions, bright ideas, memories etc. It is enough to notice the arising and passing, simply noticing is the letting go. Noticing over and over again, the known fades in importance.
BTW. Iain didn’t get due credit for a number of the early posts from Japan which he wrote. Thank you, Iain, and thank you for making the trip possible.
[The following article first appeared in the Spring 1992 (volume 19, number 1) issue of The Journal of Throssel Hole Priory. Used with permission.—ED.]
The place in which we truly sit
Is within our own body and mind.
Since body and mind embrace the Universe,
Nowhere can this place be found.
When we approach our sitting-place we do so as we would the altar, with great reverence and respect. We bow to it, turn, and bow to the room. This bowing can merely become a form, the meaning lost in yet another point of etiquette—at first to try and remember and later, after many repetitions, to forget. Entering the meditation hall at Throssel Hole Priory while there on a visit, I found my usual sitting-place occupied; and in addition, through an oversight, an alternate place had not been allocated for me. When the indignation (I regret to say) had died down, I began to view my sitting-place in a new light: namely, that it is not there as of ‘right’ and not to be taken for granted. It is offered and received with gratitude in the place where giving and receiving come together.
Immediately after a monk is ordained, there follows a Meditation Hall Entry Ceremony. The new monk is welcomed by the community into the hall and shown to his or her seat where three bows are made. Welcoming a new person to the group or priory, showing them where they can sit, how to bow to that place and how to regard it, is less formal and yet is essentially the same in spirit to the above monastic ceremony. It is welcoming a being into the embrace of the Eternal where, together, we come to realize the Truth of this embrace. This sitting place is offered to those who agree—albeit tacitly—to keep the Buddhist Precepts. The identity of training and enlightenment is very clear here. In order to be Buddha, we do our very best to act like a Buddha. It is false to imagine it can be otherwise. Everyday life and meditation (training and enlightenment) are not separate, they are identical when the Precepts are taken to heart and lived. Great Master Dogen states in Rules for Meditation, ‘…pure meditation must be done’1—the longing to do this takes expression in the incredible pains some people are prepared to go to in order to get to a meditation group meeting each week or to attend regularly at a priory, monastery or temple of the Order. Here, at least, there is a place and the time to sit still in meditation along with other like-minded people. The function performed by both temples and meditation groups in offering a place to sit with other trainees is, perhaps, their prime and most immediately valuable one.
One lay trainee told me of her struggle to find a place to sit while living in temporary accommodation. So much did she long to sit in formal meditation that on one occasion, having cleaned the room thoroughly, she set up her portable altar in the bathroom, offered incense, and meditated there. Often I hear accounts of how people skilfully weave in a few minutes of meditation whenever they can—for example, before the children awake, or sitting for a moment or two on a park bench at lunchtime. So often group members become overly concerned about the numbers of people who attend the meditation group. If there has to be a measure, it is the willingness to welcome openly all who wish to meditate and train in the Buddha’s Way: to offer them a place to sit.
When bowing to our place
Gratitude knows no bound.
The longing to be as Buddha strengthens
And our True Place is found.
1. Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity, 2nd ed. rev. (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1990), p. 99. Also Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Monastic Office, (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1993), p. 77.
Note: This was first posted in March 2019. The words, quoted freely here, are from one of our scriptures (Sandokai), keep entering my mind. Here they come again…they speak to this post.
End and beginning here
return unto source
And high and low are used respectively.
Light goes with darkness
As the sequence does of steps in walking.
In the fields, drifts of lambs. Laying.
In the lanes and gardens, drifts of snowdrops. Waving.
Signs of spring.
Just now a Ewe walked up with lamb in tow. She walked so close, she looked so intently. Do we know each other, I thought. But I held the space. We gazed on, and there was mutual acknowledgment. Obviously we don’t speak the same language however meeting can take place without the conventions of a common language. At least I like to think that meeting is not bound to language.
In conversation over the past days and weeks this kind of direct acknowledgment, with the added benefit of a common language, has enriched my days. Meaningful exchanges? Meaning exchanged. Great sounding isn’t it, meaningful exchanges! But I’m not so happy about using the expression. Two words that don’t really convey much of anything. And certainly not the colour, tone, quality or depth of conversation.
We jokingly talk about being divided by a common language – the joke mostly comes up in North America. The same could be said here in Britain too. We do our best and for the most part meaning is conveyed and quite surprising, to me, spiritual meaning is derived from relatively ordinary exchanges. And often the most powerful teaching is derived from ordinary everyday events. Not so much what is said, more the way it is said. Amazing! I think that is to do with the sincerity of the listener, the ability to drop down past the words and derive a deeper meaning. Meaning becomes the listeners gift to themselves.
But this isn’t quite where I wanted to get this morning. Although linked to the lambs and Ewe in the field. The other week while in conversation, with somebody I respect a great deal, he mentioned that I tend to jump to respond in a conversation rather briskly. In so doing a faster pace is set. I was thinking about that comment this morning – and the encounter with the Ewe. And of the many encounters, such happy ones, during these past weeks. With strangers and those I know or have come to know.
Well, I am back with rhythm and music, heart beat, breathing and babbling streams. Snow drifts turning to snowdrop drifts. And what comes to mind is that while gain and loss, end and beginnings are ever present in our lives it is the small words between the big ones, and the punctuation which give us the beginning-less and endless-ness of existence. The no-birth/no-death of Buddhist teaching. The blessing of our lives – the rhythm and the beat, the call and our timely responses. What better insight to come out of my R and R and R and R time.
And what of the term holding the space? Is it not the spaces in music, that fine timing which has the violins or the tenors coming in just so, which elevates music to something grand? How much more so with the music of language and living. Poised with my violin, I’ll come in just so. I’ll not push the beat and so not loose my space. (I wonder if anybody understands what I am trying to say…!)
With fond memories of my Master who would talk about language in terms of musicality. I remember her lesson on punctuation, and it wasn’t an English lesson either.
This letter, first published in 2006, is reproduced now in slightly edited form.
Dear Rev. Mugo, I thought I would write to let you know what I have discovered about Trinity College of Music at the time Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) would have been in contact with it, in case it is of interest.
Trinity was started in 1872 by Bonavia Hunt who was deeply concerned by the quality of church music which was becoming poorer and poorer. Trinity was first known as the Church Choral Society and College of Church music. It was open to members of the Anglican Church, and men only! The college started with a view to teaching so that quality could be restored and the long tradition of church music continued. As it developed, the college trained teachers and offered exams throughout the world so that standards could be maintained. I’m not sure of the date, but women were also welcomed in to study before the war.
By 1939 the numbers at the college grew and the college ethos was one of welcome and the doors were opened on Sundays as well as all other days, “to keep the lamp of music burning during these dark days.” The choir was open to those who’s choral societies had had to disband for war reasons. Trinity hosted concerts throughout the war and two concerts in 1942 were given by the children of London county council and Middlesex who studied on Saturday mornings with Gladys Puttick, a pioneer who arrived at Trinity in 1934 and was one of the first to teach musicianship beyond the instrument. She was also the founder of the Saturday School and Trinity was the first music college to have a Saturday junior department. Distance Learning also started to help those unable to get into college to study, in fact Prisoners of War were able to do distance learning with help from the British Red Cross offices.
Gladys Puttick arrived in 1934 and stayed until the 1970s. Three other notable people were at Trinity from the 1930s – mid 1960s. Charles Kennedy Scott was keen on the study of Plainsong and the chanting of Psalms and gave regular lectures and led rehearsals. Dr Lowery was passionate about organs, organ music and is noted as giving superb lectures. The Principal of Trinity from 1944 -1965, Dr Wilfred Greehouse Allt was also an organist who was the President of the Incorporated Association of Organists from 1956-1958 and then of the Royal College of Organists from 1962-1964. Rev Master would almost certainly have come into contact with Gladys Puttick and Charles Kennedy Scott, whether based at Trinity or as a distant learner.
Gladys Puttick gave a lecture in the 1940s and it reveals an approach to learning that often goes unnoticed. She said that music was, “essentially a pivotal subject of education, since it could be the means of training, at once, the hand, the heart and the mind.”
It would appear that Rev Master was in good hands.
I’ve been emailing back and forth with a reader, in a far away country, who is in mental and emotional extremity, not without good reason. The directions I give this person are specific to that individual however I think there is something here for everybody.
From Correspondent: Could I ask about spiritual texts or prayers or something which could be probably helpful for me to find myself in that situation (and keep the faith) and develop (as I may say like that) my soul? Could you advise something or should I just sit in my meditation for the time being?
From Mugo: Here is a verse we have for circumstances such as the one you are in right now. (I recite it at take off and landing in an airplane.) This is not a prayer to a higher power separate from your own deepest indwelling heart, that which you touch (and are) when you are still within and which never leaves. Never.
The Invocation for the Removal of Disasters.
Adoration to all the Buddhas
Adoration to the limitless Scriptures
Peace! Speak! Blaze! Up!
To the glorious Peaceful One
For whom there are no disasters.
Hail! Hail! Hail!
It might be good to write out the verse and place it where you will see it and remember it. And have a copy to read in moments when you are able during the day. Reciting this is not magic. It will not make anything happen by reciting it. Basically reciting such verses help to keep faith when all around wants to drag it from you. You must maintain you faith in, and compassion for, ALL living beings and not allow yourself to be dragged down to the ground, so to speak.
Your eyes, literally your eyes, may be lifted up from time to time to look at what is high. Tops of trees, roofs, sky, ceiling – this will help you more than you might think. Deceptively simple, yet by simply looking up ones spirits remain up too. Remember particularly to keep your eyes looking ahead when you are walking from place to place, rather than the usual habit of looking at the ground.
That’s all I have for you so please now simply get on with your daily life. Just doing one thing after the other and keep returning to just doing the next thing. An instruction I have when giving a talk on working meditation is to bring your attention to your hands (mostly we are doing things with out hands). This will help you to keep your attention where you are and away from difficult mental and emotional states. Nothing wrong with such states however it is not so good to dwell there for a long time.
From Correspondent: Thank you for all your messages. they are warm and inspiring and recalling an important matter – “You must maintain your faith and compassion for all living beings”…and that everything (all forces, wisdom, compassion) is inside us. Thank you again.
With kind regards,
From Mugo: Glad what I’ve said is helpful. We sang the Invocation for the Removal of Disasters during a ceremony today. I have to say I kept you and your situation in mind as we sang.
Would you be OK with me publishing bits from our recent email conversation. I would like to publish as there is some reasonably useful teaching and it shows that life can get (very) difficult and that one can live through anything and still come through with a glad heart and not a sad one. I hope and pray that will be the case for you.
From Correspondent: HI! Thank you again for a ceremony and your care. As to your question – definitely I’m OK with publishing. Not only because our conversation is so useful and supportive to me, but also due to the fact that the extracts from your discussions with other people published in your blog are always so inspiring and useful for me that it would be my pleasure to give something to others (if I may express it in that way)
The Buddhist scriptures describe experience, profound religious understandings. Each day we sing/recite many of them central to the teachings of Zen. They are configured in poetic form. I remember somebody saying that the scriptures were written at deaths door. Meaning for me that the understanding contained in them was hard-won, that’s the absolute allowing of the dropping away of the illusion of an enduring separate selfhood. In effect to die while still alive.
These days and months I seem to be ‘tuning into’ what that all means for me personally. The dropping away, it’s not an option or anything to do with virtue. I’ve had contact with many who find themselves in extremity and see them ‘drop away’. In some cases there is no choice, the extremity leaves no choice. The following was written by a devoted Christian person early on in his diagnosis of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease
Read/sing lest we forget the depths of our being. Yes, the language is theistic, the sentiments universal.
Spirit of Life, remind me to listen to the sound of your whispered voice and to feel your presence in my soul.
Calm my mind so that I might hear the gentle melody of life that murmurs beneath my busy thoughts.
Help me be still and quiet, desiring nothing but acceptance of your will and understanding of your purpose.
Please give me this gift of peace each day so that I never forget to love my life and to share that love.
You are always with me, The strength, the light and the joy of my being.
Lessons of ALS – Facebook
The merit of this post is offered to all those who face, live with and struggle to accept the day-to-day realities of ALS and similar conditions of the nervous system. One cannot even imagine. The chap who wrote Lessons of ALS as his condition progressed was eloquent on the whole matter of mortality. Not to mention his describing what it feels like to lose the use of ones body and retain ones mind.