Response by Ryokan…

Ryokan, the hermit monk and poet and Zen Master, often treated as a wandering fool by villagers as he passed through one, was lonely all his life.

That didn’t preclude him becoming a Master of Buddhism and one of the most respected figures in the history of Japanese Zen. His calligraphic poetry is considered a national cultural treasure, and he was not a trained calligrapher. He spoke and wrote from a heart that was deeply entwined with his mind which he trained assiduously under all conditions.

Loneliness and vague longing were present in much of his writing. Yet, it was not despair. It was seeing clearly with a full heart. That is Compassion.

At a small gathering once, someone recited a poem for him.

It went like this:

“The breath goes out, the breath coming in

Over and then over again

Only leaves me to reflect

What a fleeting world this is.”

To which the Master replied:

“The breath going out, the breath coming in

Over and then over again

Know that this is itself the proof

That the world never ends.”

To be in the position of ease within is no small thing, and that was what informed Ryokans writing;

Yes, ease can hold the sorrows and

Rregrets of the world the way a

Blade of grass can hold a drop of

Dew long enough for it to fall from the

Blade, or dry in the sun. Sufficiency and

An adequacy that appears to be

Contentment, if anyone is

Looking and seeing

That, which Is.

Fear, Doubt and Worry…

There has been a lot of fear and worry and tremendous doubt coming up for me in relation to cognitive diminuendo and a burgeoning deep personal connection appearing, seemingly, out of the air. Five months ago I didn’t know this person.

Huge complicated mixture of feelings, and nothing ‘pencils out’ on a reality basis, in terms of a relationship. Yet there is a strong attachment and deep drawing towards a situation which is an interesting one to say the least.

I am aware that at a deeper level this is all a gathering/swirling of old karmas asking for peace and resolution in this life as conditions seem ripe to help all that “stuff” along. And, I must be mindful of the larger picture which indicates that I go very carefully and not act from deluded interpretation of insights into the past, that ‘feel’ correct. Each day for several months my appreciation for this gift deepens and is becoming an acceptance and going toward an opportunity to see the reality that all life is a teaching presented to me for my own well-being. And, an opportunity for seeing more clearly by including the discomforts of change and uncertainty and the reality of old age, disease and death. Right view.

I’m deeply appreciative that all this is presented to me at a time when I may be the most capable, spiritually, to proceed correctly and thus help the cleansing of these complex and wide ranging karmas involved. Then again, the previous sentence may be a textbook example of what delusion sounds like when its trying its hardest to sound sane and equanimous. The appearance of something precious and unexpected is a gift of open-handed teaching, learning and loving and living within the Three Treasures.

This time is one of many opportunities because next week I’m scheduled to go for a retreat guided by the Zen Master whose lay disciple I’ve been for almost 25 years, and with whom I’ve had a rocky past year as he allowed me to go SPLAT (during deep period of a depressing and confusing ‘fugue’ state I experienced), and then reassemble aspects of my delusions into workable parts of on-going training, and becoming a movement towards some sort of deeper grasp of how karma works. In other words, something has been examined and I feel I can be more truly helpful to myself and to others.

So, going to the Monastery and entering retreat mode in a mix of old friends, fellow trainees and monks who I know for certain are the ‘real thing’ because I can see how they live, and have trained with them on numerous occasions for thirty years or more; I know how they live, eat, act and comport themselves in their lives. I can rely on them to teach what the Buddha taught.

They are not that “guy’, man or woman, who shows up at the Community Center for Tuesday evening Meditation and ‘Dharma’ talks. and then goes back to whatever his or her life is the other 22 hours of the day. Consequently I can for sure trust the community to provide a safe place for refuge, teaching, stillness and advice on any decisions, quandaries wonderings that are looming in my future.

In the midst of all that fear, worry and doubt is a certainty and sense of deep good fortune (Merit), that I am able to face seeming complexities like this and see it all as an opportunity and teaching for my own good, so that I can be helpful to others.

At one point I was ready to throw away this life I had been given. Forty years ago I surrendered sufficiently to finally accept the help offered to me. Today my worries, fears, doubts and hopes, revolve around trying to live a life that tends towards the Good. Gratitude.

What a quandary!

I never knew and don’t

know now, how exactly ,

things work; and the good

news is, I don’t need to.

I just need to go

Care Fully and Allow,

Allow, Allow and

Trust…

Suffering, Change, Uncertainty…

I’m finding renewed interest in many old habits that are so intertwined they seem like one big habit. I’m seeing there are many threads to this old knotted-up accumulation of karma (habits/feelings), and if I can let go of just a couple, that helps with loosening the Knot of Self.

I’m going through the awareness that my awarenii ( I know), have shifted. First I thought. Oh, no! Senility! and it may be that, but I prefer to see it as a reformation of the things that matter in relation to the things that don’t.

Many habits don’t matter at all, especially when bundled with our opinions, and are a bane to aging and also natural result thereof, because they make most things a “Yeah! I know!” situation; which is how we represent Not Knowing ‘for sure’, to ourselves. Aging can bring on false certitude and insistence and all sorts of arrogance. And, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Examining my thinking and opinion and habits where they meet (Everywhere, at every intersection) is not easy and usually after the fact. I’m now understanding that After the Fact is OK. That’s how most teachings for my own good have always arrived. Arrived. Yet, not too late. It’s usually just a mistake, a knowing or good intention gone South for the Winter or longer.

So, life is more interesting and I’m still adjusting and at times I don’t like it, finding sadness that I’m just now comprehending this tiny little bit. Better late than never, and on it goes.

Thankfully, I’m making some interesting new friends that I’m learning to love the hard way, the real way it turns out; by dropping expectations and age-old and old-age story lines. Hell, I’m learning to refrain, to hold back a little (sometimes quite a lot), and open up more sincerely. Especially when it disturbs my precious Comfort Zone, a stinky old couch-like structure, that I spend way too much time on. Like Oldcoots like to do.

Making room for Change, not just running around yapping about accepting it; and then just being very disturbed by that huge Uncertainty of Life, which I’ve come to see as the best description of Suffering (and all it implies), I’ve encountered.

So, now what? Next steps

Is What! That’s what walking

The path, trail or way

Is All about, anyhow.

Un-doing knots…

Honesty comes with aging. Not necessarily an open honesty, rather a refined pick & choose honesty. That’s the kind that many writers and artists and ‘creators’ or ‘makers’ (as some style themselves), tend towards; a prevaricated honesty. A tool, a refined and sifted openness that tends towards varnishing. A way of appearing honest while creating more fog onto placid seeming waters. For effect, no real purpose.

The problem with that type of honesty is that it no longer works. I used to be able to fool myself with it. That’s what made it so ‘precious’, which often creates a feeling of unfinished accomplishment.

I’m becoming more in tune with the double-edged nature of aging. Lots of seeming understanding, which often is just a glossed over and un-investigated awareness of one’s past, motives and intentions.

I’m finding myself in the strange, yet probably prosaic position of seeing my mental diminution accelerating and there may be nothing I can do to mitigate it. But, there are ways to redirect it. They involve effort, willingness and allowing.

Yikes! I’m too old for this? (Hopeful piano tinkling in background.)

Old feelings that haven’t been noticeable are reappearing. New wrappings around well used yearnings, wantings, wishings and if-only’s, doesn’t turn them into presents, it just becomes more opportunity for creating clutter. The worst part is, it feels fresh.

Now, that’s a delusion! Thank you. I’m sure its not one I’ve perfected but do take curious pride in, and I know it is just putting off the inevitable of having to face the simple fact that, sooner than later, there will be even less control and actionable awareness in this loss of self. The very thing that I’ve been trying to loose all these years of Zen and associated practice, but now I realize I have to let go of control and have an opportunity to practice real trust. It’s frightening, this ‘Letting go’. Yet very attractive and beckoning.

Releasing the grip of self on the

Self, is supposed to be freeing, but

It’s a slow undoing of knots, a

Procession of events. What’s next?

Thirty-ninth year…

June 21st, 1983 was my first day sober in the Napa County Detox and Alcohol program. The journey there involved a confused boy who started drinking to get drunk at the age of 13 and I drank ’til I was 35 years old, the last 18 years of that was definitely alcoholically. I’ve led an interesting life in regard to a wide variety of experience and circumstance, much of it as a criminal and ne’er do-well; in tandem with being fairly astute and aware while simultaneously, a complete fool as to how the regular world, social, educational and practical; actually functioned.

A lot has changed, but I’m still pretty much at the mercy of my incomprehension as to how things work and why people are the way they are and do what they do. I’ve been studying and practicing Buddhism since I declared myself as such about a month into my sobriety, and have been training in a structured Soto Zen Sangha for over 30 years; so I do understand a fair amount of how and why we are the way we are, but apparently not as clearly as I think I do. I’m still a functional fool who has been very fortunate, and often grateful, in how my life has unfolded.

I have many high quality acquaintances and friends that I’m very comfortable with and a group of longtime and new people in my life that are reassuring me, by their presence and appearance in my life, that I am indeed very fortunate and blessed in my circumstance.

I had a long term marriage and friendship with a wonderful woman whom I met early on in 12-step setting and we carved out a sane (ish) life until her death eight years ago from cumulative effects of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and kidney failure. Thank you for everything, Linda. We did pretty darn good.

I have a daily practice in my mixed bag of Zen and Buddhism and am too critical of all the Noise and B.S. created by people who know very little, yet try to push a mix of the 12 Steps and some Buddhisty Hash as something that will make you feel good. Sobriety and spiritual/religious practice usually make you feel ‘good’ better, and if they are real and serious they will also make you feel ‘bad’ better. How to combine those seeming opposites into a balanced way of beginning to see how we can “Be” in the world is very different from how we are trying “Feel” in the world. Feelings pass. Being, is presence.

So, that’s were this elder-coot is situated today in a small way, in his life and mid- morning thinking/feeling. No place special really, just usual mix of awareness, blindness, gratitude/caring and carping/grousing, plus general kvetching.

A good day to be alive. So much to be grateful for, So, much that needs deeper acceptance and understanding. So much that I must allow in a world that is rife with wonder and destruction, life and death, bloom and harvest. Thank you.

This is the day,

Another, like

Any other, that

I have a choice

To look and see

To be

A life