Please & Thank You, I Love You.

Why say these words? Please? Thank you? One writer says they came from a time when there was a sharp distinction between Commoners and their “betters.” “If you please,” and, “I thank you,” came in as a way to assume an equal standing in the markets when there really was none. Each gave the other equal respect, and business went on more smoothly.

In much the same way marrieds might say, “I love you,” at the oddest times. They might be  tired, frustrated, or even angry. Loving feelings of any kind might be the farthest thing from their minds. By affirming what they don’t feel (but doesn’t love go far beyond mere emotion?) they assure the other of a needed respect, and that assurance allows the relationship to go on more smoothly.

Confucius pointed out, though that such expressions go far beyond putting a calm surface on the waters. In fact, they are acts of creation. When I tell my wife, “I love you,” it is not so much about how I feel as it is creating in her the sense of being loved – of being someone worthy of love. We can say, “please pass the potatoes,” that is, “in respect for you as a person, I am asking that you reach me the potato bowl.” We can also just say, “pass me the potatoes.” One is likely to create an inner response, “I’ll be glad to,” while the other, “and who are you?” Respectful words create respect; rude words, resentment.

Another word, not as common in the West, is, “Namasté.” It affirms equality, but on a much higher level. Rather than limiting to the common humanity, as with “please” and “thank you,” it recognises a shared, higher, and deeper, humanity. It says, in effect, “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” Not merely, “I love you,” but, “the love in me recognises the love in you.” The Tao of Prayer is about discovering and nurturing that love, and that divinity.

One Hand Clapping – Loudly!

Shunryu Suzuki answered that age-old koan, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  The sound has always been, he said, or it would not be. If we hear the sound that two hands make, then we hear it, and it is gone. The one hand is already the sound. Do we hear it? Do we not hear it? No matter. All that exists has been before, and will continue to be. In our duality we can’t see that. Before a child is born, or conceived, there is no child, and only for a few years does she exist before she dies. Yet every life – indeed, all of life – is an extension of the life of God. This universe is alive with the Divine life, or it is not alive at all. Whence it comes, there also it must return, because that is its home. That is where it belongs.

Is this strange, that we speak of “being” and “existence” as two things? One is but the extension of the other. What exists, is, but it has become evident. It is more definable. An old Christian sage, and I forget his name, said, “if an intelligent person asks you if God exists, then tell him, ‘no.’ For all that God is cannot be encompassed with any meaning which we give to the word, ‘existence.’ ”  The ancient Celts spoke of all nature – not just mankind, or not just the enlightened by any such means – as being alive with Divine life, or not at all. There is only one life, and only one Source of all life, and of all nature. A recent survey in the US showed nearly half of all people calling themselves atheists had experienced this wonder, not to mention those who claimed some religion or spirituality. We come from God, we go to God, and in the meantime, as the two hands are clapping they clap in God.

Suzuki Roshi goes on to tell us that when we sit, when we bow, when we go about our day’s business, it is Zazen to do so simply. When we pray, let it be in such simplicity, as putting one foot before another, simply walking the path. Have you ever heard a child on a journey? “Are we there yet? When do we get there? Now are we there?” The adult knows simply to keep the vehicle moving, because the journey is the getting-there, If we get attached to our goal it does nothing to get us there sooner, but makes the trip all the harder when we could be enjoying the view. So, an attitude of, “look at me, I’m driving,” does nothing. I knew a couple of men who invited me to join them in their prayers. Each of them focused on doing everything Just Right. Bowing at the right moments, even reciting the prayers in a language their hearts did not know. Striving to attain. Struggling to do everything perfectly, by some imagined pattern. What could have been a release from the ego became instead the ego’s own exercise. In each time I found myself wishing for the nearest way out of that room. The strife was unbearable. Within a year, each of them was given over to terrible passions.

Rather than always doing, to get this or that “done,” is it not better to be where we are, who we are, and simply doing what we are doing in the peace of the moment? The drive will be more pleasant, the walk more restful, and the destination will come as a welcome surprise. 

Oh, the Humanity!

We’re all out to find what it means, really, to be human, and to really be ourselves, aren’t we? Whatever the means, most of us recognise that we are created by the Divine. Some of us see this in terms of the Biblical, “in the beginning God created…” For others, an unseen Force has guided our development. Some may even follow the old Greek story that mankind began as a single creature that later became individual “parts.”  Nobody, that I’ve ever met or read, claims that Humanity was created just to be discarded.

Humanity can be seen two ways. Continue reading “Oh, the Humanity!”

Bigger on the Inside

How big is the universe? How big is the mind? How big is the human heart? Modern reasoning would tell us that the first is the largest, and the third the smallest. Is it, though? All the “secrets of the universe” are there to be analysed, categorised, and conveniently packaged by the human mind, so the mind must be greater. Likewise, the ancient sages, who have known the human heart most fully, tell us that the first step of prayer or meditation is to bring the mind into the heart. So, at least in potential, the greatest space in all of nature is the very center of your own being.

King David, of early-ancient Israel, wrote in a hymn of praise, “You have set my heart in a large place,” and, “You have enlarged my heart.” In the speech of that day wisdom was seen as having a large heart. Today, a friend is someone who has given us their heart, and we, ours, to them. First of all, in doing this we give that friend the gift of space, of the possibility to be truly him- or her-self, and as our hearts enlarge we discover our place in the universe, and its place in us.

Holy Nature

meditation blue mtns

The Celts never doubted it, and surely few peoples ever did. Every landscape, be it snow-covered prairies, bald stone mountains, or green bogs that go on forever to the gaze, there is a sense of majesty that, at the same time, appears to us as infinitely Other, and yet quietly draws us to somehow, intimately, take part in the whole of it. All of Nature is, after all, Creation, and, as even the smallest creation – any snapshot or trinket – draws us to see something of that creator’s own personhood, and to see as the artist sees, the Universe cries out constantly, with sound, or without, to see it, and see ourselves, through the eyes of a greater Artist.

I have stood atop a mountain, two miles high, and felt the urge to throw myself as a soaring bird into the beauty of the peaks below, even as into the arms of a waiting lover. The encompassing swell of the sea has called me with the soft, unyielding power of its waves. The green sod of my ancestral Isle has called to me, “here you will rest.” None of this is unusual. Too many people have felt the same, even gazing at the transcendent colors of an evening’s sunset.

In “another life” I worked as a photographer. I made my money on smaller things – recording the joy of a wedding, the love of a family reunion, or the tragedy of a fire or a tornado’s damage. No film, no matter how fine the grain or contrast, no lens, no matter how perfectly polished, could ever do more for a landscape or a vespers sky than to say, “it was there,” or, “it happened.” The only way to experience such things is just that – to experience them, personally.

In the same way, what little I have experienced, what shards I know, of the Tao’s mysteries can only be known first-hand. The best photograph, the most detailed painting, tell us first of all not of the thing pictured but the artist’s skill at capturing the image. Even so, I must seek to know all I can of this wonder, share what little I’m able, and disappear, so it will be that Wonder, and not this wanderer, filling your own life.

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