My practice with you this week includes writing a daily post for this blog. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, listen more closely: It’s not! Which is not actually the whole truth: It’s both easy and not easy, and neither easy nor not easy. Maybe I could say that it’s easy when I include both « it’s easy » and « it’s not easy » AND neither « it’s easy » nor « it’s not easy. »
That translates simply as just this: right now, Tuesday morning in Montreuil, right here, bathed in Bach and desk clutter, typing these words – click, click, click – and watching as they appear one letter at a time on the luminous MacBook screen, I am thinking of you, dear reader, fellow traveler on this way into the heart of our lives, for whom I now write.
Dogen’s Genjokoan is not other than that. It begins like this:
When all dharmas are the Buddha-dharma, there are delusion and enlightenment, practice, birth, death, buddhas, and sentient beings. When the myriad dharmas all are without self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddhas, no sentient beings, no birth, and no death. Since originally the Buddha way goes beyond abundance and scarcity, there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentinent beings and buddhas.
There are many different translations and interpretations of Dogen’s text in a multitude of languages. You can find them all over the Internet and in bookstores everywhere. But while words may differ here and there, in all the texts the core remains: this opening passage outlines the three « steps » that Dogen points to as the essential reality of our lives. Basically, we can say: the first sentence is about « setting up differences, » in the words of the Zen master Hakuun Yasutani (easy and not easy); the second sentence is about « sweeping away differences » (neither easy nor not easy); and the third sentence is about « transcending » the setting up (abundance, easy, not easy) and sweeping away (scarcity, neither easy nor not easy). My explanation is brief and conceptual, and probably says too much without saying anything.
So let’s move on…
What does that mean for you, now, in the heart of your life? In fact, Dogen’s opening paragraph is talking exactly about this retreat of ours: First, there is practice and daily life, then there is no practice and daily life. When we live those two fully, then we’ve gone « beyond, » and there is just this, practice and daily life.
Like in the photo above: There is the many, there is the one, and when they are « transcended, » when they are both « included, » there is « amazing grace. »
But don’t believe me! As Yasutani notes, « Explanations are dead words. » Look into this greatest of matters for yourself today, in the heart of your life, and tell us what you find.
This is an expression when we finally understand something. It’s always a question of re-reading, re-trying, re-living… paying more attention, silencing all the noise around to lower the frequency of the noise inside…
« There is the many, there is the one, and when they are « transcended, » when they are both « included, » there is « amazing grace. » » is a wonderful way of explaining Dogen’s Genjokoan.
So, on day II i can say it was amazing grace. Today, a « different » day, i wait for transcendence, and i know that being in retreat will offer me that.
And after the retreat?
I will keep trying… i will keep setting up, sweeping away… hoping i can transcend.
Still struggling with the Genjokoan lines..Feels so far from my reach, so elusive..
Today is unfolding like a parade of struggles. The noise from a scaffolding being erected next to my room, the work obligations, the deadlines, I lunch invitation I would like to decline…
I want freedom. I fear freedom.
Like the quick sand, the more I struggle, the more stuck I get..
Through my window I see the Jacarandas in bloom, with their vibrant violet flowers. Such a proud display of life, of their (simple) nature, oblivious to this mental chaos, to the city confusion, to the passage of time. Just being.
I´ll consider the jacarandas.
Paris. This second day of retreat has been rich in activities, discussions, places. Taking actions, speaking, walking, writing, eating, sitting… I continued my practice to do – as much as possible – one thing at a time, meaning just eating, just working, just talking on the phone, just sitting in the subway… The realm of differences. I tried to go beyond my preferences : I made professional phonecalls I was dreading of doing, I wrote several emails I had put off for some time… Just doing, not indulging in likes and dislikes, pleasant and unpleasant. At the end of the day, I realized almost with surprise the importance of my achievements, as well as some interesting outcomes of the day, which includes talking to a potential client I had tried to reach for more than 18 months!
From Lisbon but in the south of Portugal… The night is both warm and cold. I either dress my jacket on or take it of.
I’ve kept my daily morning practice today. I feel pleased with that.
I’m both in the retreat and not in the retreat. I know… laying in the sand, at the beach, reading this amazing book about a man who lived and survived the concentration camps of WWII… I feel amazed about how blessed I am. And I much more I can value the ones who surround me. The ones I know and love, and all the others. And this brings me back to the retreat, and the book, and the feeling I have of keep paying attention, just so I’m not lost in the chaos of thoughts that trouble my mind…
Geneva, Switzerland. Morning began with aching muscles on my legs. pleasant pain reminiscent of retreat. micro new life with you all who I never saw and probably never will. that quot is too profound for me and superficial. Surrealism of thoughts. explains everything and confuses. somthing like that. Today we listened to Vivaldi, yesterday was Mozart. Who wil be tomorrow? I do not know. Evening workout refreshed my muscles and brain. Good night
À terceira tentativa decido-me a ser breve e a ir para a cama… estou a adormecer tipo os bebes na cadeira da sopa…E ainda só estou no segundo dia do desafio que a vida trouxe e eu proporcionei:acabar a tese em menos de 1 mês!!!
Genjokoan é difícil para mim. Que me falta para uma melhor compreensão?
Após férias regressei ao ginasio. E foi bom!!!
Consegui secar roupa, estender e voltar a apanhar roupa. Consegui preparar o almoço de amanhã. Consegui viver mais um dia sem rádio ou TV em casa… e tudo dilata! (quer dizer nem tudo. A data de entrega está cada vez mais próxima)!
Não consigo mais… O sono caiu sobre mim em força!
felinos não vêm
flauta de bambu
barulho de obras
o caminho de ontem quase, até
monte de pedras,
manufatura de órgãos,
na ruela carro na calçada
no asilo onde também estudo ventos,
sua foto e uma vela apagada
labradorite polida escorrega na empunhadura,
abre nossos mariscos
indicando que seu bisso roxo driblou, azul:
também falam da queda de uma árvore alta,
quer me conhecer,
quis estudar ventos.
quer me conhecer,
gosta de quem estuda ventos,
relança minha promessa
grita o dia inteiro,
preferiu dar presente
borboleta branca amarela estampa marrom e preta
medito no mesmo lugar quase
horário de paris
passos ao longe
é o mestre do tempo
pêga-rabuda voando duplicou
pombo no fio canta
Second day of retreat.
I awoke, eyes barely opened. Saw grey, white and a splash of chartreuse. My first morning in Ortigueira, Spain—Playa de bimbieiro. Savage land of Rocky Mountains, grey ocean and grey clouds. White walls and windows, weathered grey deck, simple blue railing surround me. A neighbor’s small trapezoid garage wall cuts into this wild perfection. Yesterday this uninvited element annoyed me and today it’s oddly soothing.
Bacchus came to mind while I sat this morning. Last night I wanted to celebrate with a glass of chilled, dry white—a glass or 2 or 3 with my grilled salted crisp skinned fish. A toast to celebrate life, love, adventure but a bacchus offering can change unknowingly into a quiet numbing, an unseen rejection of life.
Not sure what to make of Dogen’s words. Nothing has percolated yet……..
in the woods, near colares, sintra, Portugal
drinking tea resting from pre-preparing to build a floor for a cabin.
all day, srange mood, trying to leave the production of suffering when it arises.
thankful for being in a retreat and remembering that it continues after the retreat
Hamburg, late at night, very tired after a long day at work. Outside my house a terrible smell from the farmer who fertilized the field behind my house with liquid manure – the smell coming through every window, being everywhere in the house – didnt have this for 15 years that I live here! And it is so dominant that I even have to write about it in this precious blog. I am glad that the www doesnt transport it :))) to Australia and France and Portugal!
Thank you for being there, out there, everywhere and sitting with me – I feel connected.
Gute Nacht und schlaft gut, Susanne
I had planned to go sit at the Paris Center this morning but I was awake a couple of hours during the night and couldn’t face the 7am buzz of the alarm clock, too tired… Fell back asleep for another hour, but still managed to sit before going to work, thus maintaining my vow to sit everyday.
it is only now that I read today’s « instructions », Genjokoan text, I feel confused and tired and unsatisfied, and I smile at all this, staring at the screen, listening to the voices in the street below, the restaurant’s loud ventilation in the courtyard, my partner moving around in the apartment. Just this.
Lisboa, muito calor, alguns afazeres preparando os próximos dias de mercado, apesar de não ter sido fácil consegui sentar pela manhã convosco e depois ir nadar conforme prometi que faria todos os dias desta semana
Tübingen, Allemagne, 18:50
J’écris ces mots dans ma chambre alors que mon colocataire hollandais écoute à fond de la musique classique dans la cuisine en chantant. A la fenetre, j’aperçois le cerisier que picorent les oiseaux. J’aime tellement ma petite chambre étudiante. Le bureau, les livres, le lit, le lavabo et l’armoire sur 11m2. Cela me suffit. Je peux sentir d’ici le gâteau d’anniversaire que nous venons de préparer avec mon colocataire pour une amie. Il s’agit d’un gâteau très spécial : végétalien, sans gluten et sans sucre ! Est ce encore un gâteau ?!
Pont-de-Barret, Drôme, 6.31PM
At the river again, youngsters had a portable speaker playing loud, I didn’t mind. Some would say it ruined the whole moment! But it was that, that was the moment, a gorgeous river flowing past between stones, green and muddy banks with some awful contemporary commercial hip-hop (if I dare call it that) floating over the scenery. Being at the river makes me experience the being and doing alternately very powerfully, almost as much as hiking. And people come and go, speaker, dog, screams, splashes, reading, chatting, smiling. They pass by, so do I, yet I’m home, squatting on the warm stones, making mud cubes and filling my ears with the wind. We’re all there and not, seeing and not seeing each other, sharing space yet carrying and creating our own, all just being as best we can or want. I feel the old me and the new me cohabiting in every moment, ever letting go and holding fast, like the flight of a beetle across the windy gorge.
Stavanger, Norway, evening. I was at home, restless so decided to go for a walk around a lake nearby. Only the sound of birds and footsteps. I meet other hikers in my way. The sound of happy voices in the distance. I sit on the shore and pause. The sun in my face and the water gurgling. That is life!
The post seemed to be very complex, hard to give a reply. And then it didn’t seem hard at all…: there we are: all the contrasts together.
Yesterday evening I was siting in the garden for meditation. First half an hour full concentration, nice sitting meditation, and after that: distraction: suddenly, the smells of the flowers, the birds and the plants seemed to be more important. I quit my meditation and started walking from flower to flower, from plant to plant, smelling and watching. Meditating and not meditating. It felt complete.
This morning I woke up with a headache. I planned to go to my work by car, but was not keen on driving straight into the traffic jam with a headache, so I decided to go by public transport. That meant: getting dressed and ready in 25 minutes! I promissed myself not to rush, not to hurry. It was amazing: in a relaxed way, I was ready in 25 minutes. On my bike to the station: I knew I couldn’t cycle slowly, or I would miss the train, so I went fast, but without stress and without hurry, I focussed on the wind passing by, it was simply very enjoyable and I didn’t bother about missing or catching the train.
The rest of the day … for a few hours I forgot about the retreat.. and got irritated by extra work..Fortunately, the memory of being into the retreat came back, lucky me.
It’s 17:30 on a sunny, muggy day in the Languedoc. The wind of the last few days finally rid us of the rain, but continues to shake the pale summer-sun leaves of the olive tree in the courtyard. Am feeling somewhat discombobulated after returning home on the weekend from a long trip and with changing my morning routine — usually get up, do at least a short yoga routine and then sit. And this week get up and bang around somewhat aimlessly until sitting at 8AM. Is drinking coffee good before sitting? Not this morning. And the change in schedule has shifted my approach to the day. So this morning i rode my bike on some small back roads that looked different in the early morning. It has shifted my perception of the day but i’m not sure i like it. I wish it were either easy or not easy.
In Southampton, UK … Differences, all very important, arise. In my room – no floor space. I sit on my cushion on my bed. I am too big to squeeze into the odd corner in my too small room! Beyond differences, no matter. Bed’s a good place to sit. I wake up already here! Differences are the great display of English flags, all different sizes, across the road, across the houses opposite. Every word is a difference. Every word goes home. Every flag is a difference. Every flag is united. Every word is an idea flying off like a bird. Each flag dances deeply with each breeze, lost in each other, fluttering in my throat.
Desert and dessert. What beyond? 🙂
Paris, after lunch.
I don’t know where to find the echo of Dogen’s words in my experience. They make sense, carry some coherent meaning (after being given the keys to decode it…), but feel far away from life. Life is like this: sitting at a desk writing, the same desk, traffic sounds, ideas, projects, feelings, hopes and despair. What is the consequence of there being or not being delusion, realization, neither or both? I only know how to sleep, eat, think, work, play. In which of these must I look for abundance, scarcity or transcendence? In fact, if I look for any of them in any moment of my life, not only am I unable to find them, but I also miss the moment entirely. And when I simply sit, eat, work, sleep or play, they don’t bother me.
Perth, Western Australia, 20.20. I’ve finished my desert. An amazing sweet oat treat to finish the day. Outside, the sound of cars passing by. In this new house, there is less silence. Yet, it’s very cosy here. And central. So near to the river which I love. Writing these words from my grey couch, while my wife puts our son to sleep. The dishwasher is on. A household lullaby. In the afternoon, a short storm. While I was protecting myself under the blue gazebo, young Noongars and Maoris skidding on the skatepark. Getting wet. And having fun. Impossible to forget their candid smiles.