Pao Hua Painting

Painted after visiting Pao Hua Temple in San Jose. This is for all my teachers who have helped me understand the way in the metta prayer: May you be happy, May you be well, May you be safe, May you be peaceful and at ease.

A thousand Golden Buddhas

I walk through a grey path, to a field of a thousand Golden Buddhas, each one a friend forgotten. At entrance, where I greet the goddess of mercy, I pass into the open hall. I sit and wonder. Is it Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, or the open space I see? Eyes closed, eyes open, I see.

Pao Hua Temple

I haven’t been outside much since the pandemic began. My world has been in screen images, almost all conversations, except in brief walks, so sparse with a handful of friends. My writing has been a refuge, and the interior world one I am so accustomed to now. But today, at the request of my partner, I went outside. I needed this. She asked where I would like to go, and I chose the Pao Hua Temple in San Jose. Later we went to a nursery to see all the flowers, walk quietly throughout the grounds, before returning home.

At Pao Hua, which is a beautiful temple, one I have visited several times, there are enormous rooms with beautiful sculptured images, with an almost otherworldly quality. I was so caught of guard when I first visited them years ago, but this time, they were like old friends. I stopped at each one, spent some time, and then sat with my partner in the quiet of the courtyard, which could have been the base of an imaginary mountain, or it’s highest peaks. For a moment, removed from the chaos of the daily tasks, so limited in their scope and view. This was so removed from the world of the last two weeks, the warring images, the violence, no matter how subdued, in so many of the films I have seen.

Now that I’m back I am transformed. My heart has grown deeper, and in some ways, that is compounded by fear, yet tonight I am renewed. I went at great personal cost, being watched all around me, but at the temple this afternoon, I will always remember the one statue I left an offering for, since it was too windy to light each one. It was for Guan Yin, who I will turn to tonight, to rest in for the day, and return to center.

The Journal of the Whills

I recently watched in it’s entirety, over a period of two days, the entire journey of what is one of the greatest stories ever told in film, one I will not refer to by it’s commercial name, but may refer to here as sw. SW was something that occupied my generations minds for our entire lives, and I think there’s a mystery to it that can’t be understood simply on a fictional basis, or even an aesthetic evaluation. For me, it’s simpler and more suprising. Almost a modern fairy tale, the story is a history of a philosophy, in my opinion bearing a strong resemblance to the zen tradtition, but that is only one reading of it, because for so many of us, we made our own stories from it, because a choice was made in it’s construction: plastic toys.

We purchased them and held on to them, and they remain valuable today. How many stories did our generation come up with in our own imaginations as we play acted, beautifully, and in so much innocence, with these figures throughout our childhoods. As an otaku, I moved more toward Japanese styles of heros stories, but these moments in childhood are unmistakable, so allow me my own reading, just as you may have your own.

For me, sw is a psychological journey of the mind, as it reaches toward self mastery. At the end of the saga, we find Rey realizing who she is, not by birth, but by her own experiences. And for me what emerged in the pandemic was quite similiar. It’s a rebirth. which we can sublimate into our own realities, what ever they may be. In my reading, there was no war in sw, everything was a mental construct, a journal, in a land far away, in our conciousness. In particular I am moved by the idea of fire, which Luke makes for his father, which, in the mystery in the forest of yoda’s place of refuge, he discovers is himself. A line I came across recently, which is the full sumation of this blog, quoted at the first moment of every page, is a line about work from Suzuki Roshi:

‘When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.’ ~Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

In this way, that is what happens at the end of the original trilogy, the trial is over, the long journey of sw, and through the selfless work of the alliance, everything transcends. I’d love to sit down and talk with the directors and writers and see their thoughts about this, and their own visions, but also, we carry our own, and perhaps that is the mystery, so strange, so beautiful, about the journal of the whills.

A deeper journey

I frequently check all of my email in the morning, I read at least 100 emails a day, which has been vital to understand my world. The messages are my friends, my allies, and I’m so grateful for all of them, but I’m going to be studying more intently in the next few weeks, and I’ll only be able to get to a handful of them. I read them all, every morning, but right now, in order to study the dharma more closely, I’m going to have to pause for a bit. I’ll miss them, I adore them, but I just can’t get to them all. My world is changing, and I realize I’m going to have to change with it. This weekend is going to begin a new period of study for me, and this week was a good beginning, but I’m truly sorry I won’t be able to get to them all. They’ve helped me through all my suffering, but I have to let this practice go. I really need to catch up on my reading. I have books on mathematics, philosophy, Buddhism, poetry, and literature, and it’s to those I must turn to now. If you need to reach out to me, I’ll be on twitter at @spaceagecrystal.

I’d like to offer something as well, for everyone who works so hard on these emails, which I received from one of my friends at SFZC. It’s about work, and I hope this gives you some insight into why I must do this, as many of us always do, to get to the work ahead:

ZEN WORK MEDITATIONS

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes 

While washing the dishes only wash the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes please be completely aware of the fact that you are washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that you are standing there and washing the bowls is a wondrous reality. You are being completely yourself, following your breath, conscious of your presence, and conscious of your thoughts and actions. There’s no way you can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there by the waves. 

— adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness, chapter 1 

Nondual with what comes 

When you take care of things, do not see with your common eyes, do not think with your common sentiments. Pick a single blade of grass and erect a sanctuary for the jewel king; enter a single atom and turn the great wheel of the teaching. So even when you are making a broth of coarse greens, do not arouse an attitude of distaste or dismissal. Even when you are making a high-quality cream soup, do not arouse an attitude of rapture or dancing for joy. If you already have no attachments, how could you have any disgust? Therefore, although you may encounter inferior ingredients, do not be at all negligent; although you may come across delicacies, be all the more diligent. Never alter your state of mind based on materials. People who change their mind according to ingredients, or adjust their speech [to the status of] whoever they are talking to, are not people of the Way. 

— from “Tenzokyokun,” Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, Leighton and Okumura translation 

Practice at work is the practice of giving 

At work and in other circumstances of daily life, we cannot do all the things that we want to do. We have to determine those activities that we can do, those that we have to postpone, and those that we cannot do… To make these choices, we have to consider each potential activity individually – its value and cost to ourselves – as well as its relationship to all others. In addition to establishing these priorities, we have to determine how we will take care of the activities we choose to do, providing the highest quality of work that we can while completing the tasks in a timely manner. These factors determine how well we can create gifts with our effort. 

When we choose to perform an activity, we make it a gift by dedicating our entire body-minds to it, by making it the only task we do at that moment. In that way, all activities are included in one and all activities are unified. This is how our activity fills the universe and how we express complete understanding in our work. 

Activities of daily life are not separate or isolated. Each is the expression of the entire world. Completing an activity at work only because someone else demands that we do so is not enough to provide us long-term satisfaction. We can be fully satisfied in our work only when we understand that it is the continuation of something that does not end. 

If we remove the feathers of a bird’s wing in order to study them, we may gain a great deal of knowledge about feathers. But the bird will not be able to fly. Each feather is unique, yet in order to be a wing, all must give themselves as gifts by giving up separateness. They must express inherent unity. Then the bird can fly and can express itself. 

–Les Kaye, Zen at Work 

Happiness

It’s been a pretty amazing week here, and I’m finally touching back down to earth after my heads been in the clouds for months. I have so much hope right now, hope in the future, hope for my family, and even in all the injustice, I’ve found a place of peace, and just the ability to be both brave and happy, genuinely happy again. I don’t have any elegant phrase to share tonight, and tomorrow, I may be back in the clouds again, but for right now, this very instant, I’m awake. I can’t wait to bring you more stories, more animation, more paintings, and all you’ve come to expect from the reluctant blogger, so have a peaceful evening. I’ll be listening to Django Reinhardt, and just taking a break from all the work of the week. It’s in our nature to be happy, and for these few moments, I’m there. There’s so much to do, so much injustice, but finding a space to just enjoy things for a minute has been amazing. I think it’s from all the meditation, but also from enjoying so much of the work of all the artists and writers at Lucasfillm and Disney, who have brought me into a little bit of joy, before I go back to my studies next week. Have a good weekend everyone. 🙂

Looking Back at 3 months of the Reluctant Blogger

Tonight I decided to go back through all of my posts and give everything a look to chart exactly what I’ve been experiencing. I’ve definitely been in some extremely challenging times, but from what I can tell I’ve been able to navigate all of this, stay steady, with more and more increasing resolve and strength. All of this has changed me. It’s made me realize, that in even some of the most life threatening situations that the pandemic has caused, I’ve been able to generate more peace than I ever thought I was capable of doing. That’s what trying circumstances can tell us.

They’re the most difficult questions, but they also provide an incredible opportunity to reach deep inside of ourselves, and see exactly what’s there. And one of the things I found over and over again was a search for a true family, people I could count on, and the injustice and hatred that can sometimes happen from the idea of otherness.

I won’t go to deep into it here, but I’ve been through so much. I don’t publicly talk about it, but the record of those scars, and the solutions I found to it, are offered in these posts and thoughts I’ve written over the last couple of months. I hope in some way that they can be seen as a kind of vaccine against hostility and hatred, and provide a way of understanding how these manifestations of otherness can be so alienating and harmful.

I always thought the bay area would be a place to celebrate our individual modes of expression, but sometimes I am let down by how that can shape out to be untrue. We still live in a highly polarized society, and my proudest moments are when I stand up to those ideas. My writing is growing, and I’m now realizing that my original intention for going to the SF Zen Center has been achieved months in advance by the practice on this blog.

There was a heated discussion about politics on one of the sanghas I’m part of, and I tried to descalate it by offering the following, from here.

It seems Wenben is an experienced practitioner of Zen Buddhism who has this understanding that the three teachings are basically identical in the realm beyond logic and theories. In this understanding, the names, concepts, and rhetoric of the three teachings are not essential; the core of these three teachings is the “unspoken reality” beyond any conceptual thinking. “Unspoken” is a translation of 寂 (jaku), meaning “serene,” “quiet,” or “solitary.” This word was used to describe an aspect of the Daoist “Way.” In Laotsu’s Tao Te Ching it is said, “There was something formless and perfect / before the universe was born. / It is serene (寂). Empty. / Solitary. Unchanging. / Infinite. Eternally present. / It is the mother of the universe. / For lack of a better name, / I call it the Tao (道).”[2] In Chinese Buddhism, this word was used in referring to nirvāṇa (寂滅 jakumetu, Skt. Nirodha). For many Chinese people who didn’t know the Sanskrit word and its meaning in the context of Buddhist teachings, the difference between Daoist “Way” and Buddhist “nirvāṇa” or “enlightenment” was not so distinct.

First day of the new Dharma schedule.

My meditation practice is going well. I divided my time between mindfulness “on the cushion” zen, reaching an almost transcendental experience, and then touched back down to the earth to begin the work of the day in the afternoon. So far the results have been effective. I’ve been able to engage with both a meditative state, and an ethical progression, as my writing grew and I was able to really use penetrating wisdom to get into the roots of social problems that some things can create. How I operate in this perspective is something I’ll be watching closely, and growing as time goes forward, but this ability to enter non objective modes of thought, and then move to positive action, in line with the ethical precepts of the dharma, as fierce compassion, emboldened me and allowed me to become more brave. This work schedule might be a good approach for anyone studying the zen tradition, and it essentially comes from the San Francisco Zen Center, where I had been studying. What is realization? It’s indescribable, but it gives you a sense of speed and strength, at least for me, in the moments where I need it most.

It created a wellspring of solidity this morning after my first morning sessions of Vipassana, which allowed me to really reach into strength against fear that I’m not quite sure I would have been able to tap without the two. I asked myself constantly today what my intentions were, as I went through the day. This schedule is powerful, and here’s how it works: 45 minutes of meditation in the morning, a time for daily morning tasks, and then an addtional two hours of meditation, followed by a long, extended work program, and then a final meditation for 45 minutes in the evening.

I’m incorporating monastic traditions combined with modern modes of working, so I swept the apartment, and then began to focus on the non profit I’m working on, which is essentially administration and organizing, that would not have been so easy if I had had a cloudy mind. It’s these practices that will get me through the fear and uncertainty that this pandemic can surely have. Today it worked. I explored the dharma through a myriad of postions and modalities, both in formal practice and in my daily work. This was the first day of this, and I’ll strive to become better at this as the weeks go on.

Blackness in America

I’ve often been disturbed about how blackness, both as a race, and a color, in fashion, design, and our bodies, has been equated with negative qualities. I sometimes can’t believe we’ve come so far, but there are still remnants of both racism, and what I experienced in the 90s, and a little even today, about the role the color plays in being singled out for some kind of scorn. I really thought when we all recieved the dark mode displays in design and technology, we were headed somewhere: a new reality for the darker colors of our spectrum, that could be included in all forms of expression. Black is beautiful. And for a lot of us, it’s a refuge. I adore the black experience. We should never turn away from it, even when it is used in so many films as expressing some kind of “evil” to be demonized.. Are we singling out a color for scorn? Even in Christianity, there is the concept of the black madonna, which is centuries old. What are we doing if we turn away from it. I think blackness is a strength, in every possible way, and it’s truly my favorite color, along with brown. Everyone has their own personal expression, but I find black to be more like the night. A place to rest, to gather strength, in our most vulnerable moments, as for awhile we are in our most defenseless postion, dreaming in our own realities, as we welcome the early morning to pass into the day. Black is beautiful. It’s not something to be feared. We come together in the night, we dream in the darkness, and for me, it’s a hope, a refuge, and an open field of the imagination. In all ways, black is beautiful. And in Buddhist iconography, so essential.