Sunday, September 6, 2009

Forgotten by the World

[image from Ryokan: Forgotten by the World]
In America we don't share religious celebrations, so national holidays are about something else. The meaning of Labor Day, the reason it was founded, is almost forgotten, as are the desperate struggles of ordinary workers to have decent lives. Labor Day is now the last big weekend of summer, last chance to grab some fun before life gets serious again. Preferably outdoor fun.

Here on Wynding Drive the trees are quiet. 11:00 a.m., no fireworks, at least so far. Bird calls. I still don't know how to identify any of them, except the ones I have seen - a cardinal going chip-chip-chip from a high branch; a mockingbird doing everything but a ring tone. No language for a bird call - this is all right. I have been reading Seung Sahn this morning -
Take away your opinion - your condition, situation - then your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. A mirror reflects everything: the sky is blue, tree is green, sugar is sweet. Just be one with the truth - that’s Zen style. Only talking, talking no good. No truth.
In the true style of Zen masters, Seung Sahn used words, many of them, to say - No words will get you there. Lacking his presence, the words are like finding a scrap of fabric off his robe, at least letting me get a sense of him.

Our house has something of the air of a temple, lots of hardwood floors, a window wall on our woods, a sense of quiet. There is a cowbell (what else?) inside the front door, and we own some Zen instruments, but there is no bell or wooden percussion to call us to meditate in the morning. We're on our own. Equally, we are not joining in the weekend fun, constrained by my body. We used to go to the church's Labor Day retreat, but it turned out last year to be more fun than I could handle.

It is interesting to fit together two opposing pieces that seem to have different edges: the relaxed silence of Zen, and a talent for words - a small thing, but mine own, the saying goes. And these days, I can do very little but what I can do at the computer. ?If what you are good at is words, how do you use words to heal all beings - "Save all beings from suffering." Seung Sahn often ended his letters to students that way.

I try to write from a brain in alpha, a brain saturated in the leaves and sky framed in the big west window over my computer. The scent of the out of doors comes in through side windows cranked wide open today. Once in a while sitting here contemplating this produces a good poem. It hasn't today, so I am going to copy in a poem from Ryokan, translated by John Stevens, which came to me this morning through my subscription to the Pacific Zen e-list. I wonder how many other invalids who will never be able to fly to the west coast for a koan seminar subscribe to this little window on Zen? and to Tricycle's Daily Dharma. Enlightenment in your in-box? Seems unlikely, but if that's your window, look there.

A single path among ten thousand trees,
A misty valley hidden among a thousand peaks.
Not yet autumn but already leaves are falling;
Not much rain but still the rocks grow dark.
With my basket I hunt for mushrooms;
With my bucket I draw pure spring water.
Unless you got lost on purpose
You would never get this far.


  1. THE WIND is fresh, the moon bright.
    Let us spend the evening dancing
    As a farewell to old age.
    —Ryokan (translated by John Stevens)

    The mind can dance just as well as the body. Ha! Sometimes the mind is an even better dancer!

  2. Today was my first time reading your blog. I don't know much about Zen but Seung Sahn's comment about "taking away your opinion..." was just what my heart needed to hear this morning. I thank you very much DG.