Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Great Way

Someone forwarded me an article today of a lecture given in 2003 by one Lewis Richmond at a Zen Center near SanFrancisco. It was about the importance of "not taking sides" in conflicts, as this action only creates more conflict. He goes on to make a compelling case and attempts to answer the obvious questions this stance raises like "What about intervening for the sake of justice? What about taking a stand to protect the innocent?"

Well, what about that?

Mr. Richmond goes on to, more or less, answer these questions. But that is not what caught my attention today. What got me was when he quoted the 3rd Zen Patriarch who said:

"The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose."

I had read this before and have quoted it myself in a number of instances. It ties in with the whole idea that our suffering is caused by our attachments. If we ceased to care we would be free from pain. It follows that our trouble begins when we go about labelling everything as "good" or "bad". I think ultimately this is absolutely true. If we had no preferences we would be "free". The problem as I see is that we are talking about a state of being that is so advanced that it is more or less unattainable for the average individual (or even the exceptional individual for that matter!). There are of course the odd "enlightened" persons that one hears about. Although I went on a Vispassana retreat a few years back and heard the teacher (Wes Nisker) say that in his many years he had never met a so called "enlightened" person in the true Buddhist sense of the term.

So I figured if even the teachers haven't arrived yet, what hope does the average practitioner have?

This brings up an issue that I have heard discussed in several circles. It goes like this: if your goal for sitting meditation is to relax, center yourself, or get to know your mind, it can be a wonderful thing. But if the ultimate goal is "enlightenment", then "sitting" may be basically a waste of time. That is for anyone who is not a monk and could thus go at it full time.

And this in turn brings us to the Buddhist answer to this problem, which is the historical development of Pure Land Buddhism. It is basically devotional in it's practice and is not based on sitting meditation. This reached it's most organized (and effective) state with the Shin Buddhist tradition of Japan. Which to this day remains the largest Buddhist sect in that country. This form was developed precisely for "householders" or those regular folk who could not just drop everything and go away to the monastery. It is essentially a Buddhism of "faith" rather that "works". And as such it has more that just a little in common with Christianity.

Hmmm. Very interesting!

But a topic for another day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Greetings traveller.

I am starting this new log today as a place where I can work out the various and sundry thoughts, concerns and inspirations I have that pertain to what some have called "spirituality" and others "philosophy". The two terms are not identical of course. But in my mind they overlap to a degree that I consider them to be at least of the same general order. The postings that follow will be my attempt to deeply consider various topics and issues in this vein as they happen to attract my attention.

I almost took the name "The Hermit's Desk" for this blog. I am not a Hermit, nor do I aspire to be one. But I will say that I greatly admire them. And in some way I think we are all Hermits of a sort. I mean we all have this solitary vocation of "being ourselves" don't we? The work that we have to do is ours alone. Yes, we work along side others. But ultimately, our work is our work. We do it ourselves or it does not get done. So I guess I see the Hermit as a kind of spiritual hero/adventurer, role model and guide. Someone who is out ahead of us blazing "the inward trail". And then I thought..."the Inward Trail"... now that's a good title for this little project!

I will finish for now with a pertinent quote from the late great Catholic monk and spiritual master, Thomas Merton, who said:

"Our real jouney in life is interior;
it is a matter of growth, deepening,
and of an ever greater surrender to the action of love and grace in our hearts".


The Inward Trail?

Can you dig it?