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The Divine Spark

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Reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa (Photo: Thomas Merton)

The ‘spark’ which is my true self is the flash of the Absolute recognizing itself in me.

–Thomas Merton

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Written by MattAndJojang

February 11, 2019 at 7:04 am

A Week at the Hermitage: A Trappist Monk’s Sojourn at Thomas Merton’s Hermitage

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Mertons Hermitage

Thomas Merton’s Hermitage (Photo: Thomas Merton)

Moonlight awakened me from sleep on the porch of the hermitage. The high moon enhanced the trees with vertical light accentuating lines of the tall trunks. This quiet assembly stood as elegant aristocrats, softly drenched in descending, silvery gauze of courtesy and graciousness.

Nearby, a lone cricket kept careful track of all this while a distant, sustained note spread widely over the fields. This late August coolness has silenced nightly katydids who can rack and vibrate the air from all sides, especially in this close grove, or what is slowly crowding into one. Years ago this yard opened to the sky, with hardy saplings planted to become the sheltering presences they are today.

Settling In

I came here for a week of retreat after a loud morning of heat and bother in the kitchen, of pressure and song at Mass with the community and Sunday crowd. After packing in and setting up, I sat on the chair marked “the Bench of Dreams” and got over my life, with eyes closed, wanting nothing but to be stayed interiorly within what stays you.

Stillness lasted about an hour, and finally my reopened eyes showed the afternoon had gathered to shades of evening. Time moves, and I am moved along. But here there is no urgency to get to the next thing. I pursue no schedule except one of my own devising. I decided to push Vespers back an hour. To be free of a schedule looks attractive, but to have no schedule at all can be as obsessive as having one too rigid. Total freedom leaves me wondering what to do next. I forget that question if I allow the sun to determine my actions.

I would do well to have more of the spirit of the late Br. Harold of fond memory—my peer in the novitiate. He had what might be called “the gift of leisure.” During this hour of my staying, something of Harold’s face moved close and merged with mine. It felt good company, and I don’t know why I thought of him after so many years since his death. I guess I needed it. There was something imperturbable about Harold, and he was a natural for the Buddhism he was long interested in. If there is an aristocracy of souls, he would be toasted in their gentle company.

Harold remained serene even as he gradually slipped into dementia, and I will always remember him sitting contentedly under the cherry tree, with blossoms falling around and upon his head, he not bothering to brush them off. From the hermitage I later heard a saw roaring and soon discovered they had cut down that very tree Harold sat under. It was dying, withered by deep winter freezes. Not far off was a Washington cherry, also slowly dying, planted sideways at a steep angle on a quirk by Br. Donald, who planted both cherries. The slant proved to be stylish.

Walking Prayer

I said the Divine Office at the hermitage while strolling through the grass with my feet bare. Sometime after Lauds I took up with dance or was taken up with it. In that rather isolated sward and wood, the time, space, and privacy allowed for such freedom. Short grass in the big yard remained covered with dew as the sun grew stronger. With feet contacting and feeling ground, I explored the world for what it presented at the moment. Each step, each movement, a bend, a turn, a leap disclosed something delightful to my eyes—colored points of light in the grass, prisms of dew changing hue as I swayed. With legs stretched, back lowered, bending, finding sights at every stride. Blue flowers crouched below grass level, their blue intensified by blue sky; yet lower still, an underlayer of miniature three-leaf green in the thousands, smaller than the clovers you know. The sky is a color too pure to be believed, and trees contrast with bold green against blue. A body must simply stretch to this, must bow to know this realm of honor. My flesh took on the freshness of air and light, and sadness washed out of muscles and bones. I gathered this moment into a poem:

Arriving sun stretched
through pillars of trees
carpets of color
before my feet.

Day, in this hidden hall of fame,
is celebrating day,
with my company alone
present to honor being.

In honor of being I dance
while robin concurs
with steady, steady chirps—
famous, persistent chirps.

Lectio Divina

Reading during this annual week here is usually long and deep, copious enough to set me on course for the following months. That enables me later to survive better with the shorter spans of reading at the monastery. Hermitage time also allows for serious effort at memorization, and a few years ago I got two or three long poems by Rilke under my belt. It is not enough to get poetry inside your skull. It has physicality and sound that require putting it under your belt, ingesting and getting it inside your body. It takes a lot of work, and I remembered those poems for a year or so. Eventually, left unvisited, unused, they evaporated—gone where? However, if I put my mind to tugging and coaxing one, back it comes, ready to stay awhile for having once been at home in me.

Usually I memorize a poem one line or two at a time. The best hour at the monastery is in the morning, getting ready for Lauds. I read a line, go shave, return to the page, tend to some other detail, return to the page, then repeat the words as I walk to Lauds. Perhaps after the services I revisit the memory. Within a week or so I complete the work, but this is merely the mental part. The next stage is to recite it aloud. That doesn’t come so easily, and harder yet is to recite something in the presence of another person. That almost seems like having to start over again. But once I can recite it to someone else, I have truly mastered the poem. I often used poor Fr. Matthew Kelty as my audience, and with all patience, he bore with hearing me stumble along.

Another essential component in my yearly week of solitude is reading Merton’s private journals. This makes for good company, and eases into a mutual, shared, living solitude—not only because he lived here, but more because his writings sound the depths of what it is to be alone, reflective, and left to the unseen presence of God who does not need to be seen. To sit is enough, to read and watch early autumn leaf-fall swept down from the maples, to feel the fragrant air, to hear faint bells marking time in the distance.

Merton captured such moments and put them on paper. I need to capture them too, but not to commit them to a page. Yet, thanks to reading Merton, I can better see what they are for all their worth.

The Place Is Your Meditation

Meditation, strange to say, seems less a need at the hermitage. Some days I forget it completely since the whole environment seems a meditation. Quiet activity and changing hours easily slide into meditation and ease off again to an awareness of this place itself. The place is alive. A gray lizard crawls with short stops along the sunlit edge of the porch. His serious, angular head bears notions impenetrable, ancestral memories of dinosaur days. My presence represents a novelty to his long, lonely days, and he shows no doubt I am a mere transient. This porch belongs to him. A mud-dauber wasp buzzes in the window where the channel of the frame forms a perfect canal for her mud tunnel. It proved futile to knock that out, since she rebuilt it the next day. Living with such wee creatures invites the mind to enjoy an intimate sense of belonging. You have to set your mind to this intimacy with other wild and living things. You can also get the creeps about it. Wildlife reminds me there are vital differences and distances where I do not belong, as when the red-tailed hawk “schrees,” asserting territory.

Writing either comes spontaneously or not at all. It seems enough to keep a short, daily chronicle, if nothing more, unless a poem comes along begging to be written. A good number of monks and writers who stay here get passionate and find this cottage irresistible for writing and have turned out whole books on the experience—John Howard Griffin; Fr. John Dear; and Fr. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.; to name three.

Urge to Dance

I am often inclined while here to express inspiration in dance. Later this week, the sky moved my feet. Looking up, I discovered the half-moon dancing in a circle, forgetting I was stepping and swaying in a circle myself. A jet tracer struck a straight line through tree curves and clouds; cirrus horsetails stretched layer below layer to the horizon. As above, so below do I—toss my white shirt, stretch it as a cloud—lifting and pulling, tossing and dropping, working hands, stretching arms. My body draws down to earth, drifts up to sky, each movement unplanned, a surprising, flowing symphony of what the heart wants to do next, then next, then next. At last the shirt is tossed high, a wannabe cloud, caught and tossed, released to a life of its own in the breeze, the flight, the falling and catching.

I came to the hermitage in need of cutting free again, as I often once did, starting in 1973 when I attended a workshop in symbolism. One of the practices was called “motion to music.” Dancing was not the point, or watching anyone dance. It was to let the motion be what it would be in you. I continued this practice through many years—great for exercise, great for morale. As things developed, I eventually took to it with a twenty-pound weight in each hand.

These days, all too rarely am I caught up in this kind of misbehavior, and usually only at the hermitage. Last year, I really pushed my limits by dancing to a long scherzo by Anton Bruckner. I always carry him in to help my retreat.

Surprise Visitor

Invariably at the hermitage there will be an unexpected surprise, and this year it was the appearance down the road of a tall man who stopped at a distance once he noticed me sitting there. I waved and beckoned him forward. My philosophy is to let the Lord teach me by interruptions. In this case it was not so strange at all—no stranger he was, but the friendly and familiar Bill Chapman, a Quaker I met a year ago. He is review editor of Friends Journal, a leader, teacher, and organizer. He is very concerned that young people are not joining the Society of Friends, and that America has only one hundred thousand Quakers today. He was a friend of Dan Berrigan’s since days he spent as his student at Berkeley decades ago. Bill stopped by, and we exchanged some stories about John Dear, our mutual friend, a strong, vocal opponent of war who is in many ways carrying on the late Fr. Berrigan’s legacy.

Thunderstorm

A retreat is not complete without a good thunderstorm. This broad porch serves as shelter to watch it all develop. Then, the seclusion allows you to go out like a fool and get drenched.

This retreat, no rain came all week long until the last day, late afternoon, and then the downpour was gratifying and robust. Eventually clouds broke and sun came through while rain continued, showering sunlight and rain together. I cartwheeled, became a child again, back in my home yard, knowing only this yard as the whole world, suddenly changed into something wondrous. Rain glistened, backlit by the sun, showing every falling drop for all its worth. Rain appeared to be falling from the sun itself. This rain was meant for this space, felt like something made for only here and now. The narrow yonder of the field where trees attend Our Lady’s statue took on a magical, silver sheen where air misted—a lost wilderness, reverting to some ancient, mythical epoch.

The shower lasted long enough to really cleanse me. The hermitage had been swept and cleaned, and I made ready to depart for Vespers and to return to the monastery totally refreshed.

That evening there happened something of a sign. While laying out bedding as usual on the lumber-shed porch, I saw something I had never seen before, something so unusual I will probably never see it again. The clouds in the east were piled high, lit pink-rose by the setting sun in the west. Suddenly lightning flashed outward in a curious circular array, spreading from a center, coming from no cloud, but from midair in empty space. Soundless, jagged lines stretched out in all directions like a baroque eucharistic monstrance, a wrought-silver sunburst, a complex web of jagged, brilliant netting, briefly seen and gone. All I could do was tell myself that had to be a once-in-a-lifetime apparition. Heaven and earth had kept company with me.

–Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., an excerpt from his book “In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir”

2018 Christmas Letter

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The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

2018 is a surprisingly busy year for Matthew and myself.

We are grateful to Sr. Sonia, who encourages and inspires us in our spiritual journey. Through her, we met two wonderful people, Ricky and Corito, who have become endeared friends. We are grateful for their love and friendship. In the words of Matthew, “I am always energized by the visits of Ricky and Corito.”

We are also thankful to Sr. Marijo who, in spite of her busy schedule, makes it a point to visit us at least once a month for fellowship, prayer and sharing. Her constant presence in our lives has been always a source of support and joy. We are always happy to see her.

Through the efforts of Sr. Marijo, our parish priest, Fr. Edgar Lumanlang, visited us on Matthew’s birthday when he turned 60! He prayed for us and gave communion to Matthew. The best gift ever is to receive Jesus through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist!

The year began with Matthew’s delightful and unexpected reunion with Jun who came with Sr. Marijo. It has been 40 years since they last saw each other. Sr. Marijo introduced Jun and Matthew and a small group of students to Zen meditation. They had a wonderful time of catching up with each others’ almost a lifetime of spiritual journey.

After Jun left my sister Cristy went up to Baguio. We had fun sharing stories and taking photos of each other. After Cristy’s visit, Luth, who is based in the US and whom I have not seen in decades, went up to Baguio for an overnight trip just to see me. I am deeply touched by her gesture of taking time to be with me. We spent a full day catching up on our lives.

As soon as Luth left, I met up with my dear friend Wawi and her family who also went up to Baguio for a visit. We enjoyed our time together during breakfast at Chocolate de Batirol in Camp John Hay and bought some pasalubongs in Good Shepherd. Not to be missed is Wawi’s favorite, the raisin bread from Palaganas Bakery!

We were happy to see members of the Sacred Heart Community, who dropped by on April 1 to celebrate Bro. Paul Aguas’ – Matthew’s Dad – birthday! This enjoyable bunch of happy brothers and sisters is so much fun to be with.

Still in April, I went down to Manila to be with my best friend, Natalie and her family, because of the passing of her Dad. It was also an opportune time to meet up with my siblings whom I have not seen in a while.

Matthew was delighted to reunite with members of Sacred Heart Community in the 1970’s – Pia, Jean, Flor, and Helen. Everyone had fun reminiscing the good old days! Since then, we have now reconnected through Facebook.

June was a special month for us. Besides celebrating Matthew’s 60th birthday and our 16th year wedding anniversary, we were happy to meet up with Binky’s parents. I have happy memories of them when Binky and I were still office mates and I would go up to Baguio for a visit. They have big hearts and have always made me feel loved and welcome. It was sad though, because that was the last time we were going to see Tita Rose. A month after, she passed on.

September was a stressful month for us because I had to rush Matthew to the hospital where he was confined. He had an allergic reaction to a diabetes medicine that was prescribed to him. But we thank God, he was able to recover albeit slowly. We were happy to see Gie and Mel, who also dropped by the house.

Come October, I had breakfast with Candy and Riley who went up to Baguio for a quick visit. After they left, my cousin from the US, Ate Ely came to the house with Ate Genie and Bobbie Malay (Ate Ely’s good friend). I was excited to spend time with her since I have not seen her in more than 10 years. Her company brought happy memories of my childhood.

Beth was a high school chum whom I have not seen since 1977 when we both graduated from High School. We met up because she was vacationing in Baguio. It was so much fun and it seemed like we didn’t run out of stories. She had to postpone an appointment two times because we could not seem to get enough of each other!

At the same time that Beth and I were together, Matthew was spending time with Leo at home. We always look forward to Leo’s visits because his pleasing personality makes him great company!

Finally, we cannot end this letter without mentioning our blog. Now on its tenth year, we have grown to have 350+ followers and have reached an astonishing  497,000+ hits! We are amazed and delighted because people from around the world are visiting our blog, liking our posts and our cyber community continues to grow.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and blessings for the New Year.”

— Matt & Jojang

 

Written by MattAndJojang

December 10, 2018 at 11:01 am

The Spiritual Path is an Endless Journey

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Photo: Michelle Chaplow

 

Beyond one range of mountains—yet another range.

–Shinsan zengoshu

Written by MattAndJojang

November 18, 2018 at 5:15 pm

Light Playing On Children’s Faces

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Photo: pexels.com

 

Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth.

–The Diamond Sutra

Usually people work hard to make things happen. Yet it might be that things happen by themselves, coming out of nowhere. Here’s a story about understanding coming out of nowhere for a child in kindergarten.

Some of the old school buildings in Los Angeles had high ceilings and clerestory windows. A boy was sitting at his little chair in kindergarten when he saw the yellow light coming in through the high windows. Dust motes swirled in the beam of light. He noticed how bright they were and kept watching; then, suddenly there was no distance between him and the light. He disappeared. He didn’t know how long he was gone; there was no time. When he heard a voice calling, he didn’t recognize the name at first; it didn’t have anything to do with him. Then he heard the other children laughing and wondered what they were laughing about. It was the teacher calling him. After that, the things he saw were beautiful in themselves. Faces seemed more real, and what was real was beautiful. He didn’t really have a name anymore; he was the beam of light. And it didn’t have to be a beam of light. It could be a Coke can or another child, and he would feel that connection. His sense of yours and mine had shifted to something like, “My hamburger is yours, your house is mine.” When the grownups around him fought and argued, he felt sad for them, that they didn’t understand, and couldn’t see what he could see…

The child’s mind is not free because it’s a child’s mind; it’s just free because it’s free. Here is another example of the free mind at work. Usually, people think of death as very important and gruesome. Yet if you are identified with the background, the inconceivable nowhere that the foreground came out of, death might not be a terribly significant event. It might not mean what you expect it to mean. When her mother was dying, a friend took her young son back to his grandmother’s home. The grandmother had a special bed with a railing around it. The boy couldn’t walk yet but would cruise along using tables and the bed railing to hold himself up as he went. The two women watched him. He looked very cute, which was their word for thusness. The dying woman said, “Oh, I’ll always remember that.”

If children can have a natural clarity, you might too, even if you remember no operatic enlightenment experience. There might be no good reason for this clarity; it could be something that just is the case, like a tree, like life. All you would need to do is to notice that things are clear, or to throw overboard the idea that things are not already clear. You could find that courses of action appear to you out of nowhere just the way the next moment does. Your navigation could unfold by itself, and the universe might provide the beauty and happiness you seek.

When you forget your carefully assembled fiction of who you are, you can find a natural delight in people, in the planet, the stones, and the trees. There is no observable limit to this beauty, and no one is excluded from it. Then, if you are fighting an enemy, you may be fighting them as well as you can, but you won’t be a true believer. You will know that an enemy is not truly other and that the fighting is some kind of misunderstanding. The worries that lead to quarrels may still be present, but they are not the main thing. Your problems could be a kind of dream, very powerful when you are in it, and yet a dream. You might notice that, even deep in dreaming, you are near to waking up. And the more you are awake, the kinder the world might seem.

–John Tarrant

Written by MattAndJojang

November 14, 2018 at 10:14 am

Bernie Glassman, Pioneer of American Zen, Dies at 79

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Bernie Glassman (Photo: upaya.org)

The Zen master, spaceship engineer, social entrepreneur, interfaith activist, and clown devoted his life to “penetrating mysteries” and immersing himself in the unknown.

The prolific Zen teacher Bernie Glassman died this morning in Massachusetts. He was 79 years old.

Glassman was a vibrant character who had a significant influence on American dharma. Along with being a Zen master, he was also an aeronautical engineer, a social entrepreneur, an interfaith activist, and a clown.

Glassman was born on January 18, 1939, to a family of socialist, Jewish, Eastern European immigrants in Brooklyn, New York. He first encountered Zen when he read Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man in English class.

In the 60s, he began meditating and soon went searching for a Zen teacher, finding Taizan Maezumi Roshi at a small temple in Los Angeles. Maezumi Roshi would go on to become one of the most influential Zen teachers in America. At the time, he was a young monk at the temple, and Glassman was immediately drawn to him. Within a few years, Glassman was serving as Maezumi Roshi’s right-hand man and studying as a formal student. In 1970, Glassman became a novice Zen priest and received his dharma name, “Tetsugen,” meaning “To Penetrate Mysteries.”

When Maezumi Roshi founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1967, Glassman was one of the founding members. He would later serve as the center’s chief administrator and then executive director. Throughout his studies, Glassman also worked as an aeronautical engineer at McDonnell-Douglas, developing space travel programs. He quit his job in 1976, when he completed his training with Maezumi Roshi, becoming a certified Zen teacher, or sensei. Four years later, he founded his own community in the Bronx.

Glassman always had an interest in social causes. Once, when driving home from work, he had a vision of hungry ghosts — beings who represent unfulfillable desire — and realized that there was no separation between himself and these beings. He decided it was his life’s mission to help those in need.

In 1982, Glassman opened Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York. Greyston employs people who conventional businesses deem “unemployable.” It now has more than 75 employees and produces the brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Greyston was the first piece of the Greyston Foundation, which eventually grew to include the Greyston Family Inn, a housing provider for families in need; Maitri Center, a medical center serving those with AIDS-related illnesses; and Issan House, which provides housing for Maitri’s patients.

In May of 1995, Maezumi Roshi died suddenly by drowning, at age 64. His final dharma teaching was a letter that he wrote bestowing final approval on Glassman, establishing him as a roshi. The letter concluded with the lines,

    Life after life, birth after birth
    Never Falter.
    Do not let die the Wisdom seed of the Buddhas and Ancestors.
    Truly! I implore you!

In his will, Maezumi Roshi named Glassman as president of his community.

In the second half of the 1990s, Glassman shifted his focus to establishing the Zen Peacemakers Order, an interfaith organization dedicated to the cause of peace and social justice, Sandra Jishui Holmes. In 1998, Glassman and Holmes moved to Santa Fe to focus on The Zen Peacemakers Order. Twelve days later, Holmes died from a heart attack…

Glassman continued the work that he and his wife had started. The Zen Peacemakers Order — now known as Zen Peacemakers — became famous for its Bearing Witness retreats and Street Retreats. On the Bearing Witness retreats, participants meditate at sites where atrocities have taken place, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Rwanda. On the Street Retreats, participants take to the streets for multiple days, to live as homeless people and practice zazen meditation on sidewalks and in parks. Zen Peacemakers is founded on three core tenets: Not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.

Around the same time, Glassman also started training as a clown with professional clown Moshe Cohen, aka Mr. YooWho. Cohen has written that Glassman’s intent was not to become a clown, but “rather, he wished to use ‘tools of tricksterdom and humor’ to address out of balance situations in his Zen world.”

Glassman developed a friendship with Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges. Together, the two wrote a book inspired by Bridge’s leading role in The Big Lebowski, called The Dude and the Zen Master, about Zen lessons in the classic comedy.

Glassman empowered many students, including notable Zen teachers such as Joan Halifax, Peter Matthiessen, Fleet Maull, Wendy Nakao, and Pat Enkyo O’Hara. Many of his students have gone on to establish their own centers and communities.

In January of 2016, Glassman suffered a stroke, from which he at least partially recovered…

Glassman is survived by his second wife, Eve Marko, his two children, Alisa and Mark, and four grandchildren.

— Sam Littlefair

Source: Lion’s Roar

Written by MattAndJojang

November 5, 2018 at 11:47 am

To Study the Way

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Dogen

Ink Painting: Paula Pietranera

 

To study the way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

— Dogen

Written by MattAndJojang

October 16, 2018 at 2:38 pm