Friday, April 3, 2015

Love the discipline you know, and let it support you. Entrust yourself willingly to the divine, and then make your way through life- no one's master and no one's slave.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.31

Monday, March 30, 2015

St Isaac of Syria: The Kingdom of God is Within (with some "commentary" from Ramana Maharshi)

The spiritual country of the person who is pure in soul is within. 

The sun which shines within them is the light of the holy trinity. The air which the inhabitants of that realm breathe is the strengthening and all holy spirit. The holy and bodiless beings make their abode within them.

Christ, the light of the Father's light, is their life, joy and happiness. Such a person is gladdened at every moment by their soul's contemplation, and he is held in wonder at the beauty which lies within, a beauty which is truly a hundred times more resplendent than the brilliance of the sun itself.

This is Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God, lying hidden within us, as the Master says (Luke 17:21). This country is the cloud of God's glory which only the pure of heart may enter, so as to behold the face of their Master, having their minds enlightened by the rays of his light.


The silence of the serene is prayer, as one of those clothed in Christ says, for their thoughts are divine stirrings.

The stirring of a pure mind constitutes still utterances, by means of which such people sing in a hidden way to God. 

-Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, Sebastian Brock (translation altered for clarity, gender and punctuation). P. 52, 53.  

Ramana Maharshi: "That state which transcends speech and thought is mauna (silence). Subjugation of the mind is meditation; deep meditation is eternal speech. Silence is ever-speaking; it is the perennial flow of 'language'. Lectures may entertain individuals for hours without improving them. Silence, on the other hand, is permanent and benfits the whole of silence, eloquence is meant. Oral lectures are not so eloquent as silence. Silence is unceasing is the best language." (Maharshi's Gospel, Sri Ramanashram)

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Those colours which have no name...are the real foundation of everything."

-Vincent Van Gogh 

(quoted in Pat Schneider, "How The Light Gets In", p. 3)

Five Ways of Sustaining The Essence

Elevate your experience and remain wide open like the sky.

Expand your mindfulness and remain pervasive like the earth.

Steady your attention and remain unshakeable like a mountain.

Brighten your awareness and remain shining like a flame.

Clear your thought free wakefulness and remain lucid like a crystal.

-Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, "Clarifying the Natural State".

Effort and Effortlessness

Do not think, "I will practice later." That attitude makes it never: our time simply runs out . Time will not wait for us. The ultimate practice is undistracted nonmeditation, which obliterates the root of confusion. It totally and permanently obliterates all karma, dusturbing emotions, and habitual tendencies.

To begin with, we need some method, some techniques to lead us to the ultimate. The best method is of course effortlessness, but effortlessness cannot be taught or striven after. Even if we try- especially if we try- we can't become automatically effortless. Though effortlessness just does not seem to spontaneously take place, yet it is a fact that confused experience will fall apart the moment we simply let be in a nondualistic state. Right now, for most of us, every moment of ordinary experience is governed by conditioning. Our present habit is deliberate effort. Therefore, we have no choice but to use our present habit of deliberate effort to arrive at effortlessness. Once we are accustomed to effortful meditation, we can make the leap to the effortless state.

- Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, "Present Fresh Wakefulness" 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Spiritual Friend

Friends, until you attain awakening, you need a
teacher, so follow your spiritual friend.
Until you realize the natural state, you need to learn,
so listen to his or her instructions.

Atisha (980-1054)

(from "Jewels of Enlightenment", Erik Pema Kunsang
modified for gender neutrality).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Francis Lucille on "The Teacher" (including some discussion of Ramana Maharshi and Robert Adams)

Q: What is the role of the teacher?

A: The teacher does not give you a new necklace but just asks you to look in the mirror. The teacher does not give you anything new. One should be careful about any misunderstanding in this respect. Indian society is very hierarchical, highly differentiated and, due to these social traditions that have nothing to do with the truth, the guru is way above the fray. For instance, the Brahmin caste is above everybody else and this is an impediment at some point. Although Ramana Maharshi was a Brahmin, he would eat with everybody else at his ashram. There was a special dining room for the newcomers who were Brahmins and initially they would eat there. However, since the teacher was not there, they would eventually move in with everybody else. He was always very careful not to be put on a pedestal. He would even become angry if he received special treatment and rightfully so, because he didn't see himself as different from anyone else.

One has to be careful about traditions that make a god of the teacher. It is true that the teacher is speaking the truth, but from his or her vantage point, everything is speaking he truth. For instance, when the student is asking a question, it is truth speaking to the teacher. Usually, when the teacher dies, when his body dies, his pedestal is raised up to the ceiling at least. Then, each subsequent year, it rises a couple more meters, and so eventually it is at an almost infinite distance from us! We forget that the teacher was and is what we are.

A teacher is very human as a person, very much like us. There is a beautiful poem by Thayumanavar, a 16th century Indian poet, in which he compares the teacher with a deer who is sent towards a herd of deer, in order to lure them towards the hunter. God is the hunter in this metaphor and the teacher is the deer that is sent to the herd. There has to be a real deer or the herd would feel that there was a trap and would not follow.

There should not be any difference between the teacher and the student. It is natural that there is respect because the teacher sees the Self in you. Respect calls for respect, Love calls for love. At the same time, the teacher should make realization seem easy. If a teacher makes it seem difficult and out of reach, then find another one!

The teacher that takes us to freedom, known in India as the Satguru or the Karana guru, wants our freedom above all else. In the Karana guru's presence, we feel this total freedom with respect to the rules. Deep inside we know that there are no rules, although it may be appropriate to follow the rules if a situation requires it. There is totoal freedom. The teacher doesn't judge you. Everything is OK. You are OK.

Take Robert Adams, for instance. He was a beautiful loose cannon! He was an expression of this freedom. It was this quality that enabled you to be free from your own conditioning, from what you thought you ought or ought not to do.

Freedom is the highest good. It is that which is closest to the Self. Above love, above intelligence, above beauty, there is freedom. That is why the game we are playing is called the game of bondage and liberation.

- Francis Lucille, The Perfume of Silence

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kosho Uchiyama: The Heart of Nembutsu

The Heart of Nembutsu

I eat food from the whole heaven and earth
I drink water from the whole heaven and earth
I live the life of the whole heaven and earth
Pulled by the gravity of the whole heaven and earth
I become pure and clear, one with the whole heaven and earth
The whole heaven and earth is where I return

- Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Blog!

I have launched a new blog here:

It is called "Voices: Comparative Theology and Intertraditional Polylogue". Yes, that's a mouthful, but it goes with the over-all tone of the site :)

I am creating this blog as a place to host a particular type of writing I do and find myself doing more of as time goes by. This is writing which presents voices in dialogue from across religious and philosopical traditions. I see this as both intrinsically valuable and a way of promoting peace and understanding among different religious and cultural groups.

I hope you'll take a look.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The real quest begins when this not-knowing ceases to be an agnostic concept and becomes a living experience.

Jean Klein, Who Am I?

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Zazen is a posture which enables us to see through the illusions of our thinking selves.

Kosho Uchiyama 
The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Zen Wars

Some Zen priests during WW2 twisted Zen lingo in order to encourage warfare, chauvinism, and fascism. Brian Victoria's book Zen at War, thought it has some flaws, brought this to all of our attention. In some cases the revelation was shocking, as in the case of Yasutani Roshi, who was revered as an enlightened being by many in the West. That storm has mostly passed, but the book has otherwise gotten quite a bit of attention in the years since its writing. Some of this attention, I feel, is excessive or wrongheaded, and I wanted to share some thoughts on that. 

I am certainly not opposed to Brian Victoria's book in principle, and agree that misbehaviour and delusion among Buddhist masters past or present needs to be faced and discussed. I just think the attention this issue has gotten is excessive and, frankly, that it is being pressed into the service of ulterior motivations. Why do I think the attention its getting is excessive and inappropriate?

Well, first of all, the words of Zen priests in Japan legitimizing violence and chauvinism are often treated as an "embarrasment" to Soto Zen, or worse as a condemnation by association of Zen doctrines themselves. Is that logical? 

First off, it is not an embarrassment to Soto Zen. It is an embarrassment to many members of the Soto establishment who were in positions of authority, or were teachers, at that time.  Japan's actions during WW2 were not motivated by Buddhism in any sense. The ideology behind Japan's aggression was a mixture of racism, greed and imperialism, and was given its core ideological justification by State Shinto, not State Buddhism. Even if it has been State Buddhism, however, so what? Mainstream Buddhist doctrines, especially in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, are the most nonviolent of any religious doctrines in human history (with the exception of Jainism). The fact that even Buddhist doctrine can be twisted into the service of greed, hatred and delusion is not a condemnation of Buddhism or of religion, but of the darkness of the human heart itself.

Second, to examine the issue a little more closely, is what happened in Japan a condemnation of Zen as inherently tending towards the legitimization of violence? Some have suggested that the intense asceticism, hierarchy, or nondual philosophy of Zen encourage emotional attitudes of machismo, abuse of authority, amorality or nihilism. I would be more likely to agree with Professor Bob Thurman, who suggested years ago that there is a correlation in societies who are shutting down their monasteries (as Japan has been slowly doing for centuries and much of Europe did five hundred years ago) with rising militarism and imperial expansion. 

The sad fact is that every religion on the planet has been been used as a justification for violence and other immoral acts (immoral by Buddhist standards, anyway!). Is this because "religion poisons everything"? Well, if that was true, than we would expect non-religious countries or atheistic governments to be more peaceful. Let's see- Nazis? Nope. Maoists? Nope. Saddam Hussein? Pol Pot? Kim Jong Il? Joseph Stalin? Wait, these governments have been many times more brutal than any religious government or society, and been responsible for a massive amount more deaths. There goes that theory. Actually, it seems like religious countries, although sadly still violent, may on the whole be less violent. 

Is the problem organized religions? Maybe indigenous peoples and pagans were peaceful. Some think so. But is this true? Wait, wasn't Japan in WW2 energized by the use of Shinto, a "pagan" religion? Wasn't Hitler fascinated with the Occult and pre-Christian Teutonic Paganism? What about brutal world conquering Ancient Rome. What about the endless wars of blood vengeance among Aboriginals in New Zealand or the abduction and counter abductions and ceremonial torture among Canadian First Nations peoples? What about Mayan human sacrifice? Nope, Pagans all. 

So where does that leave us? It seems that organized religion is to blame, and disorganized religion, and atheism, and secularism! Hmmn. Maybe we're missing a common factor, something besides religion or irreligion, something else present in all of these cases and instances. What could it be? What or who was there all the time?

Satan? No, us. Yes, that's right, human beings. Human beings who hurt and kill other beings for the sake of power, or security, or out of greed, hatred, anger, or vengeance. Human beings who are probably in most instances just trying to be safe, or have a good life, and woefully confused about what will bring that about. In a world determined not by wishful thinking but by causes and conditions, confusion kills.

Maybe if we could understand our interconnection, let go of our self-defensiveness, and reduce  our greed, hatred and delusion we'd be better off. Maybe if we embraced non-violence and compassion and tried to stop reifying our own point of view and began training our minds we could overcome these tendencies. If only we had a religion that taught those things. Wait! We do!

If Buddhism generally, and Zen specifically, teaches these things, how could it be that some Zen priests in WW2 advocated warfare, racism, and fascism? Well, you see, the weakness of Buddhism is that is has to be understood properly and practiced properly to work. Even more difficult, the practitioner also has to use it as a light to shine on themselves in every nook and cranny. The honest truth is that all of us fail at this more than we succeed, because it is very difficult. Buddhism itself does not claim that it is easy, but explicitly says that this is very difficult. 

The Buddha himself warned that even ultimate truth, healing truth, wondrous truth, if used the wrong way, is a snake that will bite you (Alagaduppama Sutta). In the words of the immortal bard (Willam Blake): A truth told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent. 

So one reason the focus on Zen at War bothers me is that it can cause doubt and suspicion to arise and be directed in the wrong direction, away from our own hearts and towards one of the very things that can help us- Zen practice. Another reason reason is that the events in Victoria's book are in the past. We would do better to study what evil we are legitimizing or overlooking today. 
How do I think we should respond to the delusion and bad conduct of Zen priests in WW2? Well, I do think we should try to understand where they went wrong. We should then see if we are going wrong in similar ways today, as communities or individuals. It is not the doctrines they believed, but how and whay they twisted them that we need to examine. If there is anything in the structures of their communities that we can demonstrate empirically, not speculatively, to be at fault, than we should look at how to change that. We should not discount everything good that person ever did, although we should certainly treat them with greater suspicion, particularly if they never repented (unlike Kodo Sawaki, for instance, who did).

We should then get on with the great matter of the present moment.

I'm sure that many in the Zen community have acted exactly as I just prescribed. If I had focused on them, however, I would have had nothing to complain about today. 

Friday, January 16, 2015


"Religion" is to live out the ever fresh self, which is not decieved by anything."

-Kodo Sawaki, quoted in The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo