Friday, February 28, 2014

Turn & Turn (unedited version)

Hello All,
Today we will look at The Bright, Boundless Field which makes the vastness of heaven seem tiny in comparison. This field has no boundaries and is akin to “no walls in the mind,” none. To recognize this vast field which is always right before us we can purify our minds, cure ourselves, grind down or brush away.
1. At the beginning of The Platform Sutra, Hui-neng asked us to purify the mind. To purify the mind simply take a deep breath, open your hands and heart and don’t hold to anything including that. And then let go again and again. If something arises (where does it come from?), attend to it the way you would to a lone cloud moving across the sky. There is no need to name it, shape it, call it or worry it. Just keep your hands and hearts open and your breath regular. This is the gateway to the field of ease and wonder.
2. I am happy that Hongzhi thought that curing ourselves sometimes is the best course of action. I hear sometimes that if we do zazen correctly all manner of things will be taken care of, for after all, zazen is enlightenment. Here though, I think Hongzhi is recommending a different course to walk. This is the way of the shaman, the healer, the herbalist and even the psychotherapist. At times, going for professional help outside the confines of zazen and zen is of paramount importance. We can, and many do, use religious practices as defenses. We come to practice to be open, engaged and real with ourselves and others but if we aren’t part of a sangha and don’t work with a teacher it becomes easy, almost natural, to use practice to hide. We hide behind the words, inside of our very straight posture and in the silence of the forms and rituals. I encourage almost everyone I work with to dive into a minimum of yearlong, weekly psychodynamic, somatic or dream therapy or body work. Cure means to care for not to fix. We care for what we are and adjunct paths can deepen and quicken that depth of caring that we are…both towards ourselves and the world.
3. Grind Down! This is often the chosen path of male practitioners. We grit our teeth and we chew…and chew…and chew…and spit out. Fortunately many of us, maybe because we have been blessed to practice with women, have seen through this preferred way of practice of the ages. One of the most noted women practitioners of old China was called Iron Grinder. She, I imagine, caught in a hyper masculine practice world had to join with what was then the only option…grind. But then again, maybe she was just like that—tough, rough and ready to tumble. Some of the dialogs and exchanges we find her in were very funny, enlivening, direct and quite clear. At times, grinding is not only the best path but the only path.
4. Once a monk came to Chao-chou and said, “I have just entered this monastery, please teach me.” Chao-chou said, “Have you eaten your morning breakfast yet?” The monk said, “Yes, I have.” Chao-chou said, “Wash your bowls.” Some might say wash your bowls, then dry them, then put them away and finish up by sweeping the floor. This is a lovely grandmother wisdom and it is a tried and true way to live a life in harmony. But Chao-chou was a Zen Master, at times a grandmotherly one, but nevertheless a Zen master. Yes, wash them, dry them, put them away but he is pointing below that. He is pointing to the natural, to the essential configuration of the universe. He is asking us to brush it away, then brush it away, then brush it away…& now, in this very moment, what is left? What is there? Now brush that away…again and again. Chao-chou is not advocating a particular process or way of practice in this exchange. He is pointing to, he is expressing the true nature of the boundless field we wander. This brushing does not have to be demanding or brusk. It can be like the brush of a butterfly moving from flower to flower in the midst of summer. Soft, gentle but insistent.
Purify, cure, brush away or grind down all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Apparent habits. The 4th meaning in my dictionary for apparent is, ‘seeming; that appears to the mind or senses, as distinct from what really is.’ We so identify with our habits that we actually think they exist, but in fact, they only seem to be. The true habit, or real habit is the wandering we are doing through the field of wonder. It is something we return to whether we want to or not. We, in fact, never leave it for there is nothing to leave. It is vast and fathomless, without inside or out. It has no walls, no dimensions and we walk and wander in it, sometimes taking pleasure and ease but at other times, feeling lost and frustrated. But either way, we return and turn and never leave. That is a habit!

Enjoy your wandering in the circle of wonder



  1. Attendees

    Our whole discussion centered on wonderment. Thank you Jack for writing so eloquently about “the circle of wonder”. We see how wonderment leads to a connection without a grasping. Matt shared trials and tribulations and Ryan the fears of answering a child’s questions about life and being prepared to share their experience with their children. We talked about how cultivating a wonderment is honest and ultimately helpful in this situation.

    We talked about education and suggested that the more educated you were the less you experienced wonderment. I’m not so sure this is the case. Education like anything can be a crutch to hide behind or a liberating feeling that frees one from false views and enables wonderment.

    Our discussion gravitated towards music. Matt shared that music sometimes transports him to that “boundless field” sometimes not. Music can fix the ego or it can loosen it.

    There was talk of body work, chakras, meridians, acupuncture.

    At first glance, being open to wonderment at every moment sounds a hard task. Probably only because we don’t experience this level of wonderment. Then of course, we wouldn’t think it was a hard tack if we were in a perpetual state of wonderment. Hardness and ease aren't even be part of wonderment.

    Zen is metaphorically a slim meal. Not at all satisfying to the ego.

    Jack, we talked about interconnectedness and how the causes and conditions of even a simple paper napkin leads us sometimes to awe and sometimes we take the small and not so small things around us for granted. We too are like the miner who mines the ore that goes into the chainsaw that felled the tree for the paper all coming together today in the particular napkin at the table around which we meet. In a very real way we are the causes for unseen conditions. Our presence reverberates though out space and time.

    I love Hongzhi’s “With thought clear, sitting silently, wander into the center of the circle of wonder.” Purposelessly wandering to and fro.

  2. Jack, I wonder if "wander into the center of the circle of wonder" mean physically as in a feeling tone or if it meaning is more a direction to point cognition and experience?

    Just wondering?


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