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. 

Labels

In the fashion of the day people rush to label themselves, especially in terms of what they are not – what they hate, or who they think hates them. As part of the game, they also feel a need to label others, so they can better highlight their own labels. “They” do this, or “they” say that, but “we” are better than that because (fill in here any number of blanks). What does this accomplish? First, it causes people to identify with this or that group which is as likely to turn on them for any imagined offense. Second, it divides the whole world of language with constantly-shifting battle lines, making any real communication all the more difficult. Third, and most crucially, it makes it impossible for us to define who it is that we – any of us – really are.

In The Tao of Prayer I speak of hermit crabs, and how human they really are. As the name itself tells us, this crab is not an entirely sociable creature, though we like to think we are. Whenever we see one of these creatures the first thing we notice is not the crab at all, but whatever it has picked up along the way to cover its vulnerable backside. The shell of a dead snail, perhaps, or an old soup can – whatever it is is something picked up from someplace else, and not something it has grown or created.

In the same way, we seek to cover our own backsides with opinions, and passions, that somebody happens to have tossed in our direction. Rather than suffer the humiliation of saying, “I really don’t know,” we grab onto whatever seems to fit, sit back into it as if it has always been ours, and carry it around as if to say, “if you have seen my shell, you know me.” With all the trash in today’s seasides it is as likely to see a soup can walking through the surf as a Nautilus shell. Either way, the shell is not the crab, and what would the wee creature think if it knew its shell was labeled, “Gumbo?”

Follow Your Heart, or…

Follow your heart

The mantra of our time.  “Follow your bliss” shows up in different forms almost non-stop, doesn’t it? Often this means choosing the right career, life partner, or brand of whiskey. Isn’t there more to living? What if it’s all about what feels good, or what’s convenient for us? Then how are we better than the old dog lying in the sunny spot? He’s found his bliss, hasn’t he? Why do they say, “follow your heart?” Who are “they?” How if following our heart different from the dog chasing its tail? Whose heart is wise enough to teach them? Whose heart has all the answers, or any answers? Are they the right ones?

“Follow your heart?”  People stay in relationships that destroy them. Their hearts tell them to. Soldiers kill and die for their hearts tell them. Maybe love for whichever country, because they were born there. Maybe for the honor of their own corps. Maybe for a woman whose own honor is questionable, at best. If for their land, is one piece of land so much better than the other, to fight about it? Why can’t they all just go home, and work to make it even better? Is a casual insult worth anyone’s life? The reason is often just that those who control the land control their emotions. It becomes more noble to be a dog of war than a man of peace. Too often we follow our bliss to the mad house, and we follow our hearts to the graveyard. Is this what it means to be human?

Many have realised the picture was much bigger than that any of that. They found real bliss by leaving that “bliss” behind. By not chasing after the appearances they found the reality. We remember them as sages, saints, and ascetics. What were they seeking? Pleasure? Enlightenment? Nirvana? Or was it – is it – something bigger? These are questions we explore in the book, The Tao of Prayer.

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