Monday, May 20, 2019

REMORSE

The word came back to me in my morning meditation. It's a beautiful word, although certainly a sad one. It expresses something different from regret, which suggests--to me, at least--a continuing agency over some unskillful action in the past, as though I would do it differently if I could. There is a lingering element of guilt in the word regret. Remorse is a purer expression of feeling. It expresses the sadness of responsibility for that unskillful action, but absent the attachment. I can feel remorse without the vain wish that it were otherwise.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A HEART MEDITATION

I'm sure that plenty of people have done this or something very similar before. With no claim to originality, then, I have been working on this meditation on the heart. I write it down mostly so that I can learn it better myself.
I start out with a few good whole-body breaths, with a conscious effort to awaken every part of the body into restful awareness. I use each in-breath to stimulate wakeful awareness, and each out-breath to allow the body to relax. Resting in awareness is what I believe to be the meditative state.
Once there, I turn my attention to the task of locating the physical heart in the left side of the chest. At this stage, I think of it purely as a muscle and watch it attentively as it pumps out blood (and practice a moment of gratitude for its eighty-plus years of faithful service!) For the time being I try to restrict myself to the observation of its physical functioning, but expand my attention to include the passage of blood through the arteries and main veins, feeling the pulse where I can, until I can rest in awareness, for a time, to the blood as it reaches the most distant places in the body from the heart--the fingertips and toes.
Once in tune with the heart and its physical function, I bring my attention to its role as fulcrum of the emotional life. What feelings am I harboring there, as I sit at this moment and observe. Is there anger? Fear? Grief or sadness? Joy? I sit quietly with the experience of whatever it is I find there, insofar as possible without attachment. I allow the feelings to arise as they will, and fade into the background.
The next task is to find the goodwill and compassion in my heart. I think of it as creating and settling down into a heart-space. As in the metta practice, it is first for myself: may I find true happiness and the source of happiness, and allow that compassion to pervade the physical body and the observing mind. Then, always in restful attention to the heart, I send my compassion out to others--first to family and close friends--those people that I love--then to those I know less well, and those I don't know at all, paying special attention to those I do not like at all! May we all find true happiness in our lives...
... and expand that heart-space to allow room for other living beings--those that walk the earth as well as the insects and creepy-crawlies, those that swim in the water and those that fly above us in the sky. May all living beings live with true happiness in their lives...
... and expand the heart-space ever outward and in all directions, north and south, east and west, above and below, all the way to infinity. So that by the end of the meditation my heart is breathing in, breathing out, in mindful harmony with the universe itself.

Monday, April 22, 2019

SURVIVAL

This has been the longest silence on The Buddha Diaries since its inception several years ago. I have been remiss, diverted by my current writing project and by the general anxiety that pervades our culture in the age of the man who occupies our White House. I can't bring myself to deface these pages with his name... But I have been writing, thinking, writing some more. Many of my thoughts have appeared on my Facebook page. They seemed, well... inappropriate for The Buddha Diaries. But what I wrote today would seem to belong here. So here I am again. Let's see where it will lead.

My Facebook post: I have been convinced for a good long while that all the problems we face currently as a species on planet Earth are attributable to the most obvious one: there are just too many of us. This plain fact explains all the fear, all the aggression, all the turmoil that besets us in our contemporary world. We fear loss, and seek to hold on desperately to what we think we "have": our supply of food and air and water; our money; our property and goods; our freedom from want and from oppression; our "country"; even the space we occupy. All our actions--including, in America of late, our votes--are dictated by these fears. Unless we ourselves find the solution, whether in a drastic modification of our habits or our consciousness, Nature herself will do it for us. I fear that she requires, if our species is to survive, a drastic culling of the kind we still practice on other species whose growth we consider uncontrolled of harmful--rabbits, let's say; or deer; or less appealing species like rats. If Nature decides to cull our species, she will likely avail herself of the help of human beings themselves. Large numbers of our species may be dispatched by warfare, famine or drought, or the kind of pandemic illness for which we have no medical response. She will turn our human intelligence against us, and our human emotions. She will use--is using--our fear as a weapon of mass destruction. This is, I know, the bleakest of all pictures. But it looks to be the necessary result of our actions in the world today. Our karma, if you like. And we are the only ones who can decide on a different outcome. We are the only ones who can work to change our actions. Our survival as a species is our own responsibility. If we value it, to paraphrase the poet Rilke, "we must change our lives."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

WAGBAI: THE GOOD SHEPHERD


One more from "What a Good Boy Am I"

THE GOOD SHEPHERD
            There was a niche set into a corner of the second floor landing, right beside the long corridor that led off past the bathroom down to the other spare bedrooms. It was a perfect place for the small bronze statue of the Good Shepherd that my Auntie Nancy made. (I know of only a few other artworks that my father’s sister made in her young days—mostly drawings and sculptures—before she became a wife my father’s good Cambridge friend, Alan, and a mother to six children. There’s no doubt that she was a talented artist, and her work—as I recall those few examples—reflected something of the art deco esthetic of the twenties and thirties. Too bad that, like so many women in the course of so many male-dominated centuries, she was denied the opportunity to pursue that talent to where it might have led). But, as the French say, let’s get back to our sheep…
            I must have been quite little, no more than four or five years old. I woke in darkness, in the middle of the night, my bladder bursting with the need to pee. I stumbled out of bed in my pajamas and tapped my way along the wall and the furniture to the nursery door, opening it to find the landing just as dark, perhaps more dark than ever. It was either very late at night, or very early in the morning, because my parents were fast asleep in their own bedroom. But I knew if I could walk straight, diagonally, across the landing I would have to end up at the bathroom door, where I would be able to find the long string of the pull switch that turned on the bathroom light.
            I stepped out onto the landing. With no wall or door to cling to, I had launched myself into the impenetrable darkness of a disorienting open space. With both hands out in front to forewarn me of obstacles, I started out with a step at a time, more fearful with each step as it carried me further into that dizzying black emptiness. I lost all sense of direction. The need to pee was now so urgent I was scared I couldn’t hold it; but I was scared, too, of waking up my parents, for fear they would be angry. So I kept inching forward, one foot at a time, my heart slamming against my ribs with a growing sense of terror. Stepping forward, stepping forward, feeling my way through total darkness, one step at a time until… I crashed into something hard and cold, something human, something about my size, something truly terrifying. And I couldn’t hold the pee for one second longer, the terror finished me off, and the flooded out, squirting out into the void and soaking my flannel pajamas.
            And I must have started to cry at that very moment, because suddenly a light went on, and my father or my mother—I don’t remember which—came out from their bedroom and found me there, so scared and so cold and so wet in what had been the darkness but was now blinding light. And I looked all around and I saw that I had pee’ed on myself. I had pee’ed on the carpet on the landing, I had pee’ed on the Good Shepherd. I had pee’ed on Jesus himself.
            Did someone dry me off and find me new pajamas? I’m guessing so. Did someone help me back to bed? I remember nothing other of that night than standing there, filled with shame, in front of Jesus himself, and wondering if I could ever be forgiven for the terrible thing I had done.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

WAGBAI: WART CHARMER


Another "scene" in the "What a Good Boy Am I" series...


WART CHARMER

            One time I had warts. I had twelve of them growing down the length of my thumb, increasing in size. The biggest one was way down at the bottom, on the heel of my thumb.
            There was a blacksmith in Woburn Sands, the neighboring village, who was a wart charmer. He was reputed to have this special ability to cure warts. My father once took Hank, the dog, over there, to see if the blacksmith could cure a big wart that was growing on the top of Hank’s head. When Hank came home with my father, the wart was still there, on top of his head. But two weeks later it was gone.
            So when I got warts my father took me over to the blacksmith. We found him in his smithy, an oversized man with a friendly grin and a worn leather apron. We found him by his forge, with his sledgehammer in one hand and a burning, red hot horseshoe in the other.  He set the horseshoe back in the furnace and worked the bellows, sending out sparks. He took note, respectfully, of my father’s white dog collar and cassock and asked, “What can I do for you, padre?” Some people called my father “padre,” mostly men who had served.
“My son here has warts,” said my father.
The blacksmith looked at my hand, and ran a calloused finger over the long trail of warts. Then he asked me, “How many?”
            “Twelve,” I told him.
            “Alright,” said the blacksmith. “They’ll be gone in two weeks.” And went back to work.
            So we left. But two weeks later, the warts were still there.
            My father took me back to the blacksmith to register a complaint. But the blacksmith was unapologetic. “Count again,” he told me, running that calloused finger down my thumb again. “How many are there?”
            I counted again. There were thirteen. I must have miscounted, or perhaps another one had been growing there, unseen, the last time I’d counted.
            “Very well,” said the blacksmith. “Now they’ll be gone in two weeks. You’ll see.” And went back to his work.
            Well, this time he was right. Two weeks later, the warts had disappeared.