About a Poem: The Hill of Hua Tzu

Night Mountain, Yeachin Tsai

Wang: The birds fly away

into infinite space:

Over the whole mountain

returns the splendour of autumn.

Ascending and descending

Hua-tzu hill,

I feel

unbounded bewilderment and lamentation.

 

P’ei: The sun sets,

The wind rises among the pines.

Returning home,

there is a little dew upon the grass.

The reflection of the clouds

falls into the tracks of my shoes,

The blue of the mountains

touches my clothes.

 

Vital contemplations course through the simple words of Hua-Tzu Hill, spoken as poetic dialogue between the two friends, Wang and P’ei. To taste the kindness in these words is to enjoy fresh tea in the company of immortals.   Wang Wei was a poet, painter and statesman of T’ang dynasty China, and P’ei Ti was his friend, a younger man, also a poet and student of the classics. A sparse discourse in poems and letters survives them, revealing a subtle appreciation of nature as well as an investigation of reality that is somehow both intense and effortless.

Wang’s opening is modest and profound. Not wasting time with small talk, he gestures directly to the heart of things: “The birds fly away into infinite space.” When we look with honest eyes, each perception, each thought, each moment, each life, vanishes without a trace. Peering deeply within, looking intently without—all that we perceive is already gone. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote, “Good, bad, happy, sad—all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.” It is, perhaps, so lonely. Infinite space gives us nothing to hang onto, nowhere to find our home.

Nevertheless, we see and feel. This empty world is beautiful, full of energy and color, like the overwhelming “splendour of autumn.” And yet, touching this co-emergent truth, empty and luminous, does not simply bring us ease and joy. We have been nurturing our story of self for so long, grasping after the slippery narrative of ordinary life’s loves and hates, losses and gains. Finding ourselves here, at the sword edge of wisdom, we feel like a gutted fish. We walk up and down the hill of daily life. We wake up and get dressed, we go to work, we eat, we go to sleep, yet there is no center, no fringe—only ghastly nothingness that devours everything. In this life to be ignorant is to suffer, to awaken is to be alone. Beautiful yet terrifying, flowing from an empty heart—unbounded bewilderment and lamentation.   How trusting of Wang to share these feelings.

Now P’ei walks a perilous path. His gentle friend is not challenging him. Yet only a genuine master, or a true human being, could answer Wang’s words. Like Vimalakirti, Wang has already invoked the very nature of wisdom-emptiness and wisdom-luminosity. He can’t be pushed or pulled, yet we must go further. How to climb higher from the top of a 100-foot pole? P’ei brings him lovingly back down to earth. Leaving behind even the scent of philosophy, he expresses now: the sun setting, the wind among the pines, this walk home, the dew upon the grass. We can search the earth for sublime teachings, but we only come home in the ordinary magic of now. In this very illusion, in this very life, in this very moment, there is an undeniable goodness. This goodness is just so—beyond words. It disrupts concepts, flowing into the space of true perception. It is ephemeral as the reflection of the clouds, yet right here, in our footprints. When we touch that goodness, or allow ourselves to be touched, we feel our totality and inseparability, like the gentle caress of the blue mountains.

 

Poem translation by C.J. Chen and Michael Bullock

Painting: “Night Mountain,” acrylic on silk. 2006 by Yeachin Tsai. ©Yeachin Tsai.

 

 

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4 Principles of Basic Goodness

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1. Everyone Has Basic Goodness

Everyone has basic goodness; therefore everyone is worthy of respect. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a voice. We are complete as we are and we deserve to rediscover our full humanity, to honor and express our intelligence, our gentleness, and our openness.

2. Kindness is Strength

Sometimes we think that aggression makes us powerful, but aggressive actions, harsh words, judgment, and gossip weaken us and harm others. Negative actions come from insecurity. Kindness flows from having relaxation and trust in oneself.  Being kind to ourselves is how we learn and grow; showing kindness to others makes society beautiful and strong.

3. Fear is a Stepping-stone

Fear is an aspect of life that we all share, but ignoring our fears makes them bigger. Hiding makes us small and unhappy. With trust and gentleness we can smile at fear and step through it. We can go beyond our fear. We can take one step after another into a bigger, more colourful world.

4. Bravery is Being Who You Are

Knowing that our body and mind are true and good allows us to be genuine. We can simply be, fully and gloriously, as we are. This bravery gives us the inspiration to meet life’s challenges. Our whole life is a path of learning. We can travel it with purpose, confidence, and compassion.

earth is touching

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Fire is warm and cozy, like a purring Tiger.

Fire is bright and dangerous, like a growling Tiger.

Feeling the sunshine, flowers and smiles blossom.

Tigers blossom with smiles of black and orange.

We are Tigers.  Our prickly fur alive and awake as a crackling fire.  Ki Ki So So!

 

The mountains and valleys are the playground of leaping Lions.

Jumping is fun, but what if we could never come back down to earth?

The earth is so kind to hold us all, so that we can walk and dance and leap.

It takes care of all of us with rocky power and beauty,

Allowing us to be Snow Lions, wearing the clouds as a scarf.  Ki Ki So So!

 

The mighty Garuda is the wind, always moving, everywhere and nowhere.

Air is a tiny gasp of breath.  Air is a giant tsunami.  Air flows through your flute making music.

Air is home to the birds, and their king is the Garuda.

We are the Garudas, masters of the sky.  Our wings open, open, open.  Ki Ki So So!

 

A drop of rain lands on your tongue and you taste a cloud.  A teardrop falls and you taste the ocean.

Water is big and small, alive and crafty, magical and mysterious, just like the Turquoise Dragon.

When the Dragon roars, thunder shakes the sky.

When the Dragon sleeps, winter is here.  In the summer the mountain lakes are full of Dragon treasure.

We are Dragons, magical and beautiful, growing and changing like rivers, icicles, and clouds. Ki Ki So So!

Back To School; Jaws of the Crocodile

“It really was a wild one, but summer has come and gone/ A lot of nice people faaaaaaaaaade away…” –Butthole Surfers

I had a dream the other night that I was in my classroom and some of the other teachers were there watching me, along with my students, and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do.  I wonder if anyone could possibly interpret this dream for me?

We all feel anxiety when it’s time to go back to school, and that anxiety is due to habitual patterns.  Well…and students.  And parents.  And coworkers.  And meetings. And work.  But pretty much it’s habitual patterns.

Habitual patterns are ways we try to get through our lives unscathed by reality.  They are the ways we harden against the world rather than letting it touch us in all its bittersweet fullness. For many, many people, work is a realm of habitual patterns with few opportunities for space. With no space there’s no appreciation, and without appreciation there’s no kindness, and without kindness it’s pretty much wall-to-wall suffering.

 It’s amazing that for teachers there is actually a built in cycle of the seasons which can allow us space to experience different times of the year in different ways.  We have seasons of work and seasons of renewal.  And when we feel the first crisp, smoky breezes of autumn we know it’s time to turn our mind back toward work.  It’s time to start looking into the nitty gritty preparations.  As Trungpa Rinpoche once described, when we begin a new venture, at first we are so inspired by the vast possibilities, but soon we find ourselves in the jaws of the crocodile.

A student asked him, What do you do then?

He replied, Examine every tooth.

We know we can’t escape, so now is the time for attending to the details as we prepare for the campaign of a new year. But as our attention is drawn into the realities of schedules and supplies and tasks, we also have an opportunity to create a new pattern, one that will reverse the inward-tightening spiral of habitual patterns and create simplicity in the midst of our daily routines.  Before we are completely swept back into the flow, we can decide to establish space for ourselves to be with ourselves.  This is forming the habit of meditation practice.

Dinastia_liao,_luohan_(arhat),_da_hebei,_907-1125_ca.The idea of meditation practice by itself is not helpful.  But actually practicing meditation creates a gap in which we can rest our minds and nurture ourselves with kindness and innate goodness.  We need to make this a part of our routine.  Creating this gap disrupts the mindless momentum of habits.

Practice is not just for our own well being.  Sitting is a proclamation of the heart.  It’s defiance of business as usual.  It’s how we care for humanity.

Sitting is a ceremony of honouring our inheritance.  It’s a practice of respecting ourselves, appreciating our existence.  With respect for ourselves we can remember to practice respecting our work.  We don’t have to like our work all the time.  Work is often challenging and problematic, but if we don’t respect our work it becomes a ceremony of drudgery, a theatre of habitual patterns.  We should honour our time, our activity, our place, and the people who share those things as sacred.  We don’t have to make a big deal about any of it–sacred is ordinary, but ordinary is not mundane.

Warm regards and best of luck going back to school!

Noel

the quality of mercy is not strained

febmarch 2010 029Compassion may sound like a very grand idea, but at its base it is simply human kindness.  Kindness is the beating heart of humanity, the warmth that keeps us alive, that inspires our smile. It is the care that causes us to snuggle into our coat when the icy wind blows.  Kindness need not be “for” anyone.  It is simply what flows out of our beings because we are alive and we want to be alive.  Not everyone always acts kindly towards themselves or others of course, not terrorists, not politicians, not you and me, not children.  But kindness exists, flowing out, even as it is captured and distorted by lack of trust.  We yearn, even through all our shields, everything that separates us, to connect as human beings, to understand each other as human beings, which is to know each other’s kindness, and our own.

Society has the ability to empower this natural expression, this ordinary kindness.  We can create constellations of humanity that form the shapes of trust, warmth and attention.  Practicing the rituals of everyday life in this way, we can unleash this kindness in ourselves and each other.  This brings a sense of grace, gentleness and joy that is so ordinary we may not even notice it.  We just let the bottle of ourselves spill out. We feel natural, because we are more connected. Connection makes the fabric of culture, kindness weaves it tight, and ritual is the loom.

 

compassion empowered

The other day I had the great opportunity to present the practice of compassion to my students in middle school and high school.  We discussed the daring it takes to open the door to others, to just bring other people into our awareness.  Beginning with a sense of trust in our beings, we brought to mind other people and animals that we care about and extended a sense of love and well being to them.  Then we thought of someone who is suffering– from illness, injury, depression, loss, or just a bad mood– and we extended relief and joy to them.  We discussed how common it is for people to avoid thinking of people in suffering–how it’s often seen as depressing or morbid.  Turning it around we imagined being in a state of suffering ourselves and how we would feel if the people in our life said, “I don’t want to think about that- it’s depressing.”  It was a good session.  The students responded well and the atmosphere we created held the process so that there was engagement and respect.

The skills of the heart, kindness and compassion, are feelings, so can’t exactly be taught, but they can be suggested and hinted at.  As feelings, they are ephemeral, and can seem weak and naive. If they are to become active principals in shaping our culture, they need to be empowered.

guru-rinpoche

Here is a story about that.  Padmasambhava is known as the great tantric master who established Buddhism in Tibet.  According to the story, the Tibetan King, Trisong Detsen first invited a wonderful teacher named Shantarakshita from India to establish the spiritual doctrine.  Tibet in those days was a wild place, full of fierce people, shamanic traditions, and feral spirits.  Shantarakshita, a wise and benevolent monk, supported by the King, established a monastery and taught the wisdom of Buddha, emphasizing kindness and compassion.  However, the native forces thwarted his efforts, destroying the monastery each time it was built.

Shantarakshita was no slouch. He knew his stuff and is renowned as one of the greatest masters of the tradition. But by himself, even with his extraordinary training and knowledge, he was unable to tame the negative energies he was up against.

Shantarakshita acknowledged that he needed help.  He advised the king to invite the great master, Padmasambhava to come from India.  He knew that Padmasambhava had a quality that had been missing, the element of power.  Padmasambhava wasn’t just a teacher, he was like a force of nature.  He didn’t align himself with any side. He wasn’t even “kind,” he was just real. With great wisdom and magical power he tamed the demonic forces of Tibet and enlisted them into the service of protecting and upholding the teachings.  He didn’t merely introduce an alternative possibility into Tibet, he transformed the culture itself so that it could truly embrace and express the principals of compassion.

How can we bring power to our principals, so that they can be known, trusted, and alive, even when we are surrounded by the demonic momentum of prejudice and materialism in our culture?  How do we not only teach, but transform?