Book Review of The Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T’ang Dynaasty
by Samuel Bendeck Sotillor
Parabola, Volume 46, No. 2, Summer 2021
Nan-in, a Japanese master, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until no longer could restrain himself. “It’s overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Still Running: The Art of Meditation in Motion
by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard
Parabola, Volume 46, No. 1, Spring 2021
Buddhism offers a revolutionary alternative. It says that the sweet spot we’re so assiduously looking for is present in this very moment and these exact circumstances. There is nothing we need to change, fix, or avoid. So when pain arises, we don’t need to turn away. When pleasure arises, we don’t have to cling. This is what zazen is encouraging us to see. It’s asking that we allow pain to be pain and pleasure to be pleasure, that we meet each without moving, without resistance or clinging, without fear.
The Secret Within the Secret
by Rabbi Eliezer Shore
Parabola, Volume 45, No. 4, Winter 2020-2021
Kabbalistic texts make it clear that whatever ideas we formulate about God—Infinite and Limitless, Omnipotent and Omniscient—none of them truly apply to what God is. Even the terms that Kabbalah uses to talk about God “in Himself,” as it were—Ein Sof, Without End; Ayin, Divine Nothingness; Atxmut, Essential Being—are formulated only for our sakes, providing our very physical minds something to grasp onto. And therein lies the problem: human thought is forever locked into some degree of physicalization, a byproduct of our inescapable corporeality. We imagine God’s infinitude like the endless horizon; His omnipotence like a force that moves the cosmos. Yet, these are only mental projections. God’s Being is so incommensurate with our own that nothing we can think of or say can even remotely describe it. “To You, O God in Zion, silence is praise; and to You, the vow is paid.” (Psalms 65:1). Page 32.
It is not about how God creates the world, which implies some level of duality between Creator and created; it is about how God permeates the world and exists within its ever detail. Page 32.
If it is difficult enough to understand how God creates the world, it is impossible to understand how God is one with the world. Page 33.
by Seraphim Winslow
Parabola, Volume 45, No. 4, Winter 2020-2021
A characteristic feature of the search for truth in India, China, and Japan is that there is little expectation that the articulation of the object of the philosophical question can be formulated in a clear, concise, direct, and unambiguous way, as, for example, Western thinkers do when they express their conclusions through symbolic logic, or in axiomatic theorems of speculative mathematics. Where European and American thinkers seek what Descartes call “clear and distinct” ideas—unambiguous expressions resulting from systematic and deliberative thought-processes—the sages and scholars of India, China, and Japan tend to prefer a more roundabout formulation of the outcome of their contemplation. Page 104.
A New Earth: Awakening to Your LIfe’s Purpose
A Plume Book, 2006
In fact, the more you make your thoughts (beliefs) into your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself. Many “religious” people are stuck at that level. They equate truth with thought, and as they are completely identified with thought (their mind), they claim to be in sole possession of the truth in an unconscious attempt to protect their identity. They don’t realize the limitations of thought. Unless you believe (think) exactly as they do, you are wrong in their eyes, and in the not-too-distant past, they would have felt justified in killing you for that. Page 17.
Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp, which isn’t very much. Language consists of five basic sounds produced by the vocal cords. . . . Do you believe some combination of such basic sounds could ever explain who you are, or the ultimate purpose of the universe, or even what a tree or stone is in its depths? Page 27.
. . . and I was convinced that all the answers to the dilemmas of human existence could be found through the intellect, that is to say, by thinking. I didn’t realize yet that thinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence. Page 32.
Life isn’t as serious as my mind made it out to be. Page 33.
Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming. Page 36.
How you are seen by others turns into how you see yourself. Page 45.
In most cases, whey you say “I,” it is the ego speaking, not you, as we have seen. It consists of thought and emotion, of a bundle of memories you identify with as “me and my story,” of habitual roles you play without knowing it, of collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance. It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure. Page 60.
Complaining is one of the ego’s favorite strategies for strengthening itself. Every complaint is a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in. Page 61.
Nonreaction is not weakness but strength. Another word for nonreaction is forgiveness. To forgive is to overlook, or rather to look through. You look through the ego to the sanity that is in every human being as his or her essence. Page 63.
Jesus’ teaching to “Forgive you enemies” is essentially about the undoing of one of the main egoic structures in the human mind. Page 66.
The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Page 66.
“Love and do what you will,” said St. Augustine. Words cannot get much closer to the Truth than that. Page 72.
Albert Einstein, who was admired as almost superhuman and whose fate it was to become one of the most famous people on the planet, never identified with the image the collective mind had created of him. He remained humble, egoless. In fact, he spoke of “a grotesque contradiction between what people consider to be my achievements and abilities and the reality of who I am and what I am capable of.” Page 84.
In Shakespeare’s words, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Pages 110-111.
The stronger the ego in you, the more likely it is that in your perception other people are the main source of problems in your life. Page 119.
In Zen they say: “Don’t seek the truth. Just cease to cherish opinions.” Page 121.
Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you form being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have? Page 141.
You might say, “I know I am an immortal spirit,” or “I am tired of this mad world, and peace is all I want”—until the phone rings. Bad news. . . Suddenly there is a surge of anger, of anxiety. A harshness comes into your voice; “I can’t take any more of this.” You accuse and blame. . . Well at least now you know what you really think you are. Pages 187-188.
Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation of all abundance. Page 190.
J. Krishnamurtie, the great Indian philosophy and spiritual teacher [was giving a lecture.] “Do you want to know my secret?” Everyone became very alert. . . . Finally, after al these years, the master would give them the key to understanding. “This is my secret,” he said. “I don’t mind what happens.” Page 198.
To the ego, the present moment is, at best, only useful as a means to an end. It gets you to some future moment that is considered more important, even though the future never comes except as the present moment and is therefore never more than a thought in your head. In other words, you are never fully here because you are always busy trying to get elsewhere.
When this pattern becomes more pronounced, and this is very common, the present moment is regarded and treated as if it were an obstacle to be overcome. This is where impatience, frustration, and stress arise, and in our culture, it is many people’s everyday reality, their normal state. Life, which is now, is seen as a “problem,” and you come to inhabit a world of problems that all need to be solved before you can be happy, fulfilled, or really start living—or so you think. The problem is: For every problem that is solved, another one pops up. As long as the present moment is seen as an obstacle, there can be no end to problems. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” says Life or the Now. “I’ll treat you the way you treat me. If you see me as a problem, I will be a problem to you. If you treat me as an obstacle, I will be an obstacle.” Pages 202-203.
A vital question to ask yourself frequently is: What is my relationship with the present moment. Page 203.
“Making it” in whatever field is only meaningful as long as there are thousands or millions of others who don’t make it, so you need other human beings to “fail” so that your life can having meaning. Page 264. (This thought has helped me immensely, assisting me in seeing that careerism is not a path to happiness or fulfillment.)
The great arises out of small things that are honored and cared for. Everybody’s life really consists of small things. Greatness is a mental abstraction and a favorite fantasy of the ego. The paradox is that the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness. Page 266.
When you meet people, at work or wherever it may be, give them your fullest attention. You are no longer there primarily as a person, but as a field of awareness, of alert Presence. The original reason for interacting with the other person—buying or selling. . .—now becomes secondary. The field of awareness that arises between you becomes the primary purpose for interaction. . . . The human Being becomes more important than the things of this world. It does not mean you neglect whatever needs to be done on a practical level. In fact, the doing unfolds not only more easily, but more powerfully when the dimension of Being is acknowledged and so becomes primary. Pages 269-270.
The Roman philosopher Tacitus rightly observed that “the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.” Page 274.
Joy does not come from things or the things you do. Joy only comes from you and flows into the things you do. That is why things cannot bring a person joy. Page 298.
When you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you are doing, you become stressed. Page 302.
To sum up: Enjoyment of what you are doing, combined with a goal or vision that you work toward, becomes enthusiasm. Even though you have a goal, what you are doing in the present moment needs to remain the focal point of your attention; otherwise, you will fall out of alignment with universal purpose. Make sure your vision or goal is not an inflated image of yourself and therefore a concealed form of ego, such as wanting to become a movie star, a famous writer, or a wealthy entrepreneur. Also make sure your goal is not focused on having this or that, such a as a mansion by the sea, your own company, or ten million dollars in the bank. An enlarged image or yourself or a vision of yourself having this or that are all static goals and therefore don’t empower you. Instead, make sure your goals are dynamic, that is to say, point toward an activity that you are engaged in and through which you are connected to other human beings as well as to the whole. Instead of seeing yourself as a famous actor and writer and so on, see yourself inspiring countless people with your work and enriching their lives. Feel how that activity enriches or deepens not only your life but that of countless others. Feel yourself being an opening through which energy flows from the unmanifested Source of all life through you for the benefit of all. Pages 304-305.
by Hermann Hesse
translated by Hilda Rosner
A New Directions Book, 1951
Govinda replied: “We have learned and we are still learning. You will become a great Samana, Siddhartha. You have learned each exercise quickly. The old Samanas have often appraised you. Some day you will be a holy man, Siddhartha.”
Siddhartha said: “It does not appear so to me, my friend. What I have so far learned from the Samanas, I could have learned more quickly and easily in every inn in a prostitute’s quarter, amongst the carriers and dice players.”
Govinda said: “Siddhartha is joking. How could you have learned meditation, holding of the breath and insensibility towards hunger and pain, with those wretches?”
And Siddhartha said softly, as if speaking to himself: “What is meditation? What is abandonment of the body? What is fasting? What is the breath? It s a flight from the Self, it is a temporary escape from the torment of Self. It is a temporary palliative against the pain and folly of life. The driver of oxen makes this same flight, takes this temporary drug when he drinks a few bowls of rice wine or cocoanut milk in the inn. He then no longer feels his Self, no longer feels the pain of life; he then experiences temporary escape. Falling asleep over his bowl of rice wine, he finds what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape from their bodies by long exercises and dwell in the non-Self.” Page 13.
His face was still more clever and intellectual than other people’s, but he rarely laughed, and gradually his face assumed the expressions which are so often found among the rich people–the expressions of discontent, of sickliness, of displeasure, of idleness, of lovelessness. Slowly the soul sickness of the rich crept over him. Pages 62-63.
The world had caught him; pleasure, covetousness, idleness, and finally also that vice he had always despised and scorned as the most foolish–acquisitiveness. Property, possessions and riches had also finally trapped him. They were no longer a game and a toy; they had become a chain and a burden. Page 63.
Then Siddhartha had spent the night at his house with dancers and wine, had pretended to be superior to his companions, which he no longer was. He had drunk much wine and late after midnight he went to bed, tired and yet agitated, nearly in tears and in despair. In vain did he try to sleep. His heart was so full of misery, he felt he could no longer endure it. He was full of a nausea which overpowered him like a distasteful wine, or music that was too sweet and superficial, or like the too sweet smile of the dancers or the too sweet perfume of their hair and breasts. But above all he was nauseated with himself, with his perfumed hair, with the smell of wine from his mouth, with the soft, flabby appearance of his skin. Like one who has eaten and drunk too much and vomits painfully and then feels better, so did the restless man wish he could rid himself with one terrific heave of these pleasures, of these habits of this entirely senseless life. Pages 65-66.
“I have lost them, or they have lost me–I am not sure. The wheel of appearances revolves quickly, Govinda. Where is Siddhartha the Brahmin, where is Siddhartha the Samana, where is Siddhartha the rich man? The transitory soon changes, Govinda. You know that.” Page 76.
With a smile Siddhartha watched the departing monk. His sleep had strengthened him, but he suffered great hunger for he had not eaten for two days, and the time was long past when he could ward off hunger. Troubled, yet also with laughter, he recalled that time. He remembered that at that time he had boasted of three things to Kamala, three noble and invincible arts: fasting, waiting and thinking. These were his possessions, his power and strength, his firm staff. He had leaned these three arts and nothing else during the diligent, assiduous years of his youth. Now he had lost them, he possessed none of them and more, neither fasting, nor waiting, nor thinking. He had exchanged them for the most wretched things, for the transitory, for the pleasures of the senses, for high living and riches. He had gone along a strange path. And now, it seemed that he had indeed become an ordinary person. Pages 76-77.
How strange his life had been, he thought. He had wandered along strange paths. As a boy I was occupied with the gods and sacrifices, as a youth with asceticism, with thinking and meditation. I was in search of Brahman and revered the eternal in Atman. As a young man I as attracted to expiation. I lived in the woods, suffered heat and cold. I learned to fast, I learned to conquer my body. I then discovered with wonder the teachings of the great Buddha. I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my own blood, but I also felt compelled to leave the Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learned the pleasures of love from Kamala and business from Kamaswami. I hoarded money, I squandered money, I acquired a taste for rich food, I learned to stimulate my senses. I had to spend many years like that in order to lose my intelligence, to lose the power to think, to forget about the unity of things. Is it not true, that slowly and through many deviations I changed from a man into a child? From a thinker into an ordinary person? And yet this path has been good and the bird in my breast has not died. But what a path it has been! I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. But it was right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear Om again, to sleep deeply again and to awaken refreshed again. I had to become a fool again in order to find Atman in myself. I had to sin in order to live again. Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will follow it.
He was aware of a great happiness mounting within him. Pages 78-79.
But all was well. He could have remained much longer with Kamaswami, made and squandered money, fed his body and neglected his soul; he could have dwelt for a long time yet in that soft, well-upholstered hell, if this had not happened, this moment of complete hoplessness and despair and the tense moment when he had bent over the flowing water, ready to commit suicide. This despair, this extreme nausea which he had experienced had not overpowered him. The bird, the clear spring and voice within him was still alive–that was why he rejoiced, that was why he laughed, that was why his face was radiant under his gray hair. Pages 79-80.
He once asked him, “Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?
A bright smile spread over Vasudeva’s face.
“Yes, Siddhartha,” he said. “Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?”
“That is it,” said Siddhartha, “and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha’s previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.” Page 87.
“I knew it. You are not strict with him, you do not punish him, you do not command him–because you know that gentleness is stronger than severity, that water is stronger than rock, that love is stronger than force….” Page 97.
There was a smile in Siddhartha’s old eyes as he said: “Do you call yourself a seeker, O venerable one, you who are already advanced in years and wear the robe of Gotama’s monks?”
“I am indeed old,” said Govinda, “but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?
Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”
“How is that?” asked Govinda.
“When someone is seeking,” said Siddhartha, “it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”
* * *
Siddhartha laughed warmly. “Yes, I have become a ferryman. Many people have to change a great deal and wear all sorts of clothes. I am one of those, my friend. You are very welcome, Govinda, and I invite you to stay the night in my hut.” Pages 112-114.
And here is a doctrine at which you will laugh. It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.” Pages 118-119.
be free where you are
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 2002.
Everyone walks on the Earth, but there are those who walk likes slaves, with no freedom at all. They are sucked in by the future or by the past, and they are not capable of dwelling in the here and now, where life is available. If we get caught up in our worries, our despair, our regrets about the past, and our fears of the future in our everyday lives, we are not free people. We are not capable of establishing ourselves in the here and now. Page 9.
According to the Buddha, my teacher, life is only available in the here and now. The past is already gone, and the future is yet to come. There is only one moment for me to live—the present moment. So the first thing I do is to go back to the present moment. By doing so, I touch life deeply. Page 9-10.
Remember, the Buddha said that the present moment is the only moment when life is available to us. Page 21.
Every moment of your daily life can be a moment of practice. Whether you are waiting for your food or lining up to be counted, you can always practice breathing mindfully or practice smiling. Do not waste a moment of you daily life. Every moment is an opportunity to cultivate your solidity, peace, and joy. And after a few days, you will see people beginning to profit from your presence. Your presence can become a presence of a bodhisattva, a saint. It is possible. Page 29.
Many of us are afraid of being attacked, so we sometimes pretend to be tough and cruel to protect ourselves, even though we have compassion and understanding inside. Without compassion, we suffer a lot and we make people around us suffer. With compassion, we can relate to other living beings and we can help them suffer less. Page 33.
Mindfulness means to establish yourself in the present moment. But that does not mean you don’t have the right to scrutinize and learn from the past or plan for the future. If you are really grounded in the present moment and the future becomes the object of your mindfulness, you can look deeply at the future to see what you can do in the present moment for such a future to become possible. We say that the best way of taking care of the future is to take care for the present, because the future is made of the present. Taking care of the present moment is one of the best things you can do in order to ensure a good future. Page 60.
I think it is possible to profit from many traditions at the same time. If you love oranges, you are welcome to eat them, but nothing prevents you from enjoying kiwis or mangoes as well. Why commit yourself to only one kind of fruit when the whole spiritual heritage of humankind is available to you? It is possible to have Buddhist roots as well as Christian or Jewish roots. We grow very strong that way. Page 64-65.