Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way – Presence | Each Moment is the Universe

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting. A recent release of an old favorite band inspired this post.


A few weeks back, an old post-rock favorite released a revamp of a previous album. The second song grabbed me in particular, leaving me almost in tears due to several layers of personal meaning in the album.

First, this album was one of the first post-rock points of connection between myself and the woman whom my heart was still broken over. Second, the album was being released on the 2nd anniversary of the day we met. Third, the song feels like an exploration of the faith in facing each day with perseverance, even in the difficulty of a human life.

I had meant to write this post earlier. Now, it feels out of tune with my emotional landscape, but I still feel the poignancy of that idea/sentiment should be shared: the presence of getting up and doing one’s best to be present, kind, and open-hearted to whatever arises day to day, no matter the difficulty involved. In my other blog, I’ve spoken many times about the Zen saying of “before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water; after enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water.” So much of the pursuit of release from suffering, no matter the pursuit (including many practitioners takes of Buddhism) falls into an idea of deliverance from suffering, such as nirvana/enlightenment being a fully different realm or life, but that’s not the case. I touched on this in my most recent post on my other blog – the Buddha lives in the burning house, i.e. nirvana is right in the middle of the burning suffering of samsara. There’s no other life or existence out there. Opening to the moment vulnerably and being present to the full unfolding of it is key to showing up with an appropriate response that is the wu wei skillful action of a buddha. I struggle to express this, but ultimately, this comes forth in the realization of selflessness and the interdependence of all things: each moment is the universe.

Another much more beautifully poetic and philosophical way for us to express this is some evocative statements from Dogen’s Genjokoan (my title here is somewhat inspired by Katagiri Roshi’s book on Zen and Dogen of the same title). Warning – these truly are confusing to the extent of almost being infuriating to standard logic: truly a koan. I posted some of this on facebook years ago, and several friends got full on annoyed because they didn’t understand. However, in philosophy, and especially in Zen koans, we need to open ourselves to the conundrum and let it break our standard conceptual barriers.

Since the Buddha Way by nature goes beyond [the dichotomy of] abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas.

Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them. Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out pratice-enlightenment through the self is realization. Those who greatly realize delusions are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off. There is a trace of realization that cannot be grasped. We endlessly express this ungraspable trace of realization.

When a person attains realization, it is like the moon’s reflection in water. The moon never becomes wet; the water is never disturbed. Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew on a blade of grass. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization, as a drop of dew does not obstruct the moon in the sky.

When we make this very place our own, our practice becomes the actualization of reality (genjokoan). When we make this path our own, our activity naturally becomes actualization of reality (genjokoan). This path, this place, is neither big nor small, neither self nor others. It has not existed before this moment nor has it come into existence now. Therefore [the reality of all things] is thus. In the same way, when a person engages in practice-enlightenment in the Buddha Way, as the person realizes one dharma, the person permeates that dharma; as the person encounters one practice, the person [fully] practices that practice.

Translation of Dogen’s Genjokoan as presented in Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo – Shohaku Okumura (pp. 1-4)

This may all seem obscure, but it’s worth summing up with pointing out how Dogen focused on the practicalities of life. Practice was outlined in such examples as how a cook should prepare food to stay fully present to the process. The day in and day out is precisely this: the actualization of reality that is chopping wood; the actualization of reality that is carrying water. In other words, it’s a mindful openness to the interdependence of each moment, and furthermore, that engagement is not one where delusion is forever left behind, it happens within our deluded life. Buddhas are those who greatly realize delusions – sitting awake right in the middle of them. The Buddha lives in the burning house.

When I listen to this song, “When I Rise & When I Lay Down”, I feel this engaged, living practice. Another way we could think of it – that realized delusion – is the creative affirmation of Sisyphus that closes out The Myth of Sisyphus. Even in struggling to push a damned boulder to the top of a hill in the afterlife over and over, we have to imagine Sisyphus happy in some of the most poetic, heartlifting, Nietzschean words you’ll ever read:

One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus. Trans: Justin O’Brien (p. 123)

Oddly enough, Old Solar is a Christian band with religious themes resonant throughout – the album is called “Quiet Prayers” and has other songs with titles such as “Help Us to Be Faithful”. As such, taking a deeply spiritual tone as a call to holding to a faithfully engaged life throughout the burdens of the day to day is perfectly on point with this song, just with a very different perspective of what that kind of practice entails: not one of the grace of God, but one of the practice of actualizing this moment in its totality, even in the midst of suffering.

This song may have made me cry for personal reasons, but these considerations I’ve outlined are so much deeper and more profound, and I hope you’ll find them in listening to it too.

Philosophy Riffing | Heartbreak | Lack of anger, Chöd, the Hermit, Truth, and Kindness

This recording was about as much a pensive self-care/processing exploration as any kind of philosophical analysis, but there are some good ponderings in here without many real answers. I hope that it will be of value to others who are also stumbling along the Way of the Hermit/Sage.

Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 4th Precept: Actualization

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

Now:
Peace
Faith
Gratitude
Actualization
Compassion
– My shortened mantra of the precepts


It’s been a couple years since the last entry in this series. To be honest, this current post daunted me, and at the time, I put it off as I had a lot of other ideas to write. However, my reiki posts have resonated a lot with followers of this site. There are regularly many who read these posts, and for them, I will continue discussing the last two precepts of Usui-sama’s practice. May this help guide them with their own engagement with the path.

The fourth precept is usually translated as something along the lines of “work hard” or “work diligently”. This has always seemed the clunkiest of the precepts to me. The term “work” seems like an earthy, money-driven concept, or one of bodily toil, rather than commitment to spiritual improvement. In this, I merely observe from my own perspective — outlining my own understanding and associated concepts with the term “work”. It may or may not be lighter or heavier of a concept for you, but I have a sense that there are many who would share my hesitance at this translation.

So what do we make of this? An engaged practice is difficult. It is work in that sense. We could think of this then more as: practice diligently. Ane what brings diligence to a Buddhist practice (recall that Usui was a Tendai monk)? Mindfulness, commitment, continuing to try moment by moment throughout the day without judging yourself for when you come up short. Instead, you merely refocus on the task at hand, when your mind or attention wanders. Thus, we could rephrase this as: practice mindfully with engagement and an open heart.

If we add one more piece of understanding to this, we’ll get to what I mean by “actualization” in my shortened form. Buddhism speaks often of upaya — skillful means. It’s an engagement that fits the situation, responding to it with connection and compassion. This responsiveness does not necessarily fit some greater theoretical technique handed down by a master; rather, it’s a pure presence of being one with the situation. I find this to shed light on the related (in my view) idea of wu wei from Taoism. Wu wei is often translated as inaction, non-action, or not doing. However, in delving into Taoism, it becomes clear that it’s better understood as action that conforms with the natural flow of situations; it’s in this sense that we can get closer to being like water, as Lao Tzu counsels us to do in an early chapter.

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“The best are like water” – Lao Tzu (trans. Red Pine)

“Actualization” is a term that I got from a translation of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō from the famous passage Genjo-koan . I was struck by an enigmatic passage at the end in which a monk explains the nature of wind being everywhere around the world while fanning himself. This is the true koan aspect of this chapter, and I honestly cannot say that I’m certain I understand it still. However, I take from it that the situation at hand is a hot summer’s day, and though in the abstract, the wind is an ongoing thing of the world that will never end and goes everywhere, in the concrete of this moment, the summer heat and still calls for the engaged action of fanning. If we take this metaphorically, our lives come up with moment after moment for awareness, connection, and compassion, but this requires us being present and mindful within each of those moments, not grasping onto any ideology or conceptual system with our heads in the clouds; rather, here, in this moment, we can be open and responsive instead of active (which I think of as controlling events to meet one’s own ego-driven desires). This is what it takes to actualize, and in actualizing, one responds to each moment — this is that diligent practice above.

May this discussion bring you new understanding of the precepts and how to practice them.

Gassho!

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 3rd Precept: Gratitude


For those compelled by that connection with wu wei and water from the Tao Te Ching, here is chapter 8 from Red Pine’s translation. Read this with all the ideas of this post in mind; it resonates well with them all:

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
thus they approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they don’t compete
they aren’t maligned

Autopilot

I’ve been milling this one over for some time. It’s kind of hard to nail down.

Mindfulness practice reveals an odd, even potentially unsettling truth about our lives. We don’t live much of it. What do I mean by that? We’re checked out, running on autopilot – far away from many things that we live through every day. Driving to work, all of a sudden we’re there – not remembering sections of the drive. Having conversations, we’re elsewhere, distracted from time to time.

Don’t take this as chiding, however. Mindfulness practice also reveals how difficult it is to attend to the moment. The mind flits about from one thing to the next. Monkey mind jumps from one thought and experience to the next, chittering away. We’re so used to it, that we don’t even notice it — not until one sits and really watches it happen, mindfully attending to thoughts as they arise and subside. Really attending is one of the most difficult things to do, but it’s where the lively quality of seemingly serene practices like Zen reside: really being present is being fully alive in this moment in all of its experience.

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The trick? It’s not to wage war on the monkey mind. It’s to gently befriend it, slowly training it to be more present and relaxed. The training in itself is almost a non-training. You don’t whip the monkey into submission; rather, you reach out your hand and invite it to be here, not jumping from tree to tree. Over time, with repetition and dedication, not being daunted by the endless task, the monkey slows a bit, listens a bit more, sits with you with whatever is happening right now. It may only last a moment, but as the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

Better than one hundred years lived
With an unsettled [mind],
Devoid of insight,
Is one day lived
With insight and absorbed in meditation.
The Dhammapada – line 111 (Trans. Fronsdal)

With that in mind, even a few moments of such attentive absorption and insight are most valuable indeed.


May this inspire you to try spending less time on autopilot.

Gassho!

Savoring the Moment

Rushing
Exhausts
But gives meaning
Excitement about the next:
Thing
Event
Experience
Time ticks by
So quickly
Hardly experienced at all
Each moment passed over
For the next
A succession
No calm
No focus
Just consumption
With an ongoing
Indigestion
Not savoring any moment
In its fullness

Stop
Just breathe
Just be

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May this help you pause and attend to your ephemeral existence in its fullness.

Gassho!

Rebirth

From dead earth
Life springs anew
Green stalks grow
Bright flowers bloom

Nature’s cycles
Birth, growth, death
Unfolding
In every breath

Before & after
We conceptualize
But Now is
Presence of our lives

Be with this
Each moment – rebirth
This emptiness –
Celestial mirth…

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May this inspire you to presence in the rebirth of every moment. May spring’s blooms help with this inspiration.

Gassho!

One Empty Mind

One…
Sun shines through clouds
Birds sing in the wind

Empty…
Breeze blows around compassionate statue
Monks sweep, scrub, and smile

Mind…
All flows–just this moment
Not separate–myself, the mountain

Zen
Buddha Dharma
Everywhere, always–Just This

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May this help you experience the primordial emptiness of mind.

Gassho!

Compassion Can Save Your Life

Compassion can save your life
Deliverance from struggle and strife
No longer living on the edge of a knife
Compassion can save your life

Open eyes–that empathize
Open heart–that can impart
Open mind–judgments unwind
Openness–knowing emptiness

Karuna inspires–not about “me”
Holding wisdom’s hand–All that be
The Way–infinite, nothing outside
No longer separate–in peace “I” reside

Waking up is difficult.
It is realization that peace and happiness were not some distant accomplishment.
They were here all along.
The Buddha resides in the burning house.
The other shore is right here, right now.


May this inspire you to compassion and presence.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 11: Just Live

The following is a long quote from Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight. When I read this for the first time a couple of months ago, it took my breath away. It’s been a guiding principle for practice and daily life, by that I mean practicing through the moments of daily life, ever since. If there’s something that has gotten me through the difficulties apparent in my last two Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries, it’s wise teachings like this. If you don’t find a way to handle each day well and with equanimity, you’ll yearn for escape, and when going through negative emotional terrain, this yearning for escape can be most dire and dark. I hope that you too will be inspired by this and use it as a compass in your daily life as well.


As I mentioned, it is easy to become fed up with daily routine. You do the same thing, day after day, until finally you don’t know what the purpose of human life is. Human life just based on daily routine seems like a huge trap. We don’t want to look at this, so we don’t pay attention to daily routine. We get up in the morning and have breakfast, but we don’t pay attention to breakfast. Quickly and carelessly, we drink coffee and go to work.

But if you don’t pay attention, you will eat breakfast recklessly, you will go to work recklessly, you will drive recklessly, and you will go to sleep recklessly. Finally, you will be fed up with your daily routine. This is human suffering, and it fills everyday life.

The important point is that we can neither escape everyday life nor ignore it. We have to live by means of realizing the original nature of the self right in the middle of daily routine, without destroying daily routine, and without attaching to it. When it is time to get up, just get up. Even though you don’t like it, just get up. Getting up will free you from the fact that you have to get up.

Even though you don’t like your life, just live. Even though death will come sooner or later, just live. The truth of life is just to live. This is no attachment. Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment. Only by this living activity can you take care of your everyday life.

-Dainin Katagiri, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight, pp. xv-xvi.

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Being fully alive in every moment–even in that of washing the dishes


“Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment.” This does not mean indulgence, chasing your desires, or trying to set up a string of moments you want. On the contrary, this means to fully be with whatever is at hand: for instance, fully present to washing the dishes, even if you don’t like it. Instead of an endless array of likes and wants–Katagiri says in this book that desires are endless: not the goal of a practice of nonattachment–just live in this moment, whatever arises. Being fully alive in this moment doesn’t mean yearning for something else and attaching to that yearning. Not that yearning is bad; if it comes up, let it be, but don’t invest in it. Don’t spin it. Don’t attach to it. That’s wishing for this moment to end, to be dead. That’s being dead in this moment.

May this inspire you to find the strength to just be in your life, to just live. May your practice allow you to live fully in each moment, without attachment, without mistaking presence in every moment with only showing up to the moments you want to have happen/trying to acquire as many of those moments as possible. May this help you smile at every moment, liked or disliked, without escapism.

Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 10: Echoes/Grief
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry–  Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

Love, Rebounds, & Relationships: Part 4–“The Love of My Life”

“The Love of my life” is a familiar term–the person who stands as the greatest inspiration of (romantic?) love in a lifetime. It is the superlative relationship, partner, or desired. The Beloved. Perhaps, we cannot help but think in such comparative of superlative terms, yet in this post, I hope to call this label and evaluation into question to some extent.

In one of my last face to face conversations with my ex, I told her that I was afraid that she was the Love of my life and that I would spend the rest of my life looking back at her and our time together. She batted away such concerns and said that I would find someone else who would be amazing–with such certainty as though it were verified as a scientific constant. Writing this now, both stances seem so black and white, and this is precisely why we were both wrong.

I was wrong because it’s silly to worry so intensely about something that is totally uncertain. There’s absolutely no way for me to say whether she’s the love of my life or whether I’ll die tomorrow–what lies in the future is unknown to me. I’ll be able to say for sure who the greatest Love in my life was with my dying breath, but before that, life can and will unfold as it will. It’s not something to feel such fear about.

She was wrong precisely because she also can’t say what will happen with such certainty. There are simply some things that will never happen again in life. For instance, I ran a 4:34 mile in high school. Even if I trained really hard every day for a year, I doubt that I’m physically capable of doing this again. I’m a bit too old now–that time has passed. Likewise, I might search the rest of my life and never find another person who sparks feelings of romantic Love like she did, or maybe, I will have a chain of lackluster relationships despite trying my best in each, or… There’s simply no way to say what will happen, but it’s a definite possibility that some high point in my life is over. Again, who’s really to say until it’s all over? Until then, life can and will unfold as it will.

Worrying about whether someone is the Love of your life or continually thinking that that person is out there somewhere to be found is living in a hypothetical realm, a fantasy world in which you can compare and evaluate your whole life, yet underneath this lie those simple samsaric elements that drive so much of our activity: desire and aversion. In one version, we’re afraid of losing what we have now–aversion–so we cling to it. In another, we’re tired of what we have and want something else. We hope that it’s out there and run toward this hope–desire. Of course, the second can be a bit more of a mixture of desire for something else and aversion regarding the familiar. Pop advice says that “hope” is better, but they both drive the same game and keep us locked in fear of/hope for the life we don’t have.

That is the ultimate silliness of this entire thing. You are always who you are in this moment–not in the past or the future. We may yearn for or fear the changes that come, as nothing (not even atoms, according to science) lasts forever. However, we fear change or run towards new changes in order to have something that we want to hold onto–something that if we try just hard enough will defy this one absolute law of flux. Basically, at the heart of all this is a yearning for or fear of death, yet each moment is born and dies, passing by without our notice much of the time. We would do better to welcome life as it comes and be open to it no matter what arises, rather than getting lost in comparisons of “my ideal life”.

So, is the person you’re with the “Love of your Life”? Don’t worry about it, one way or the other. The one thing that is certain is that your relationship with him/her will end–no matter what; even if it’s just the ending of death due to old age 70 years from now. That end could come at any time, so treat them with love, kindness, intimacy, and appreciation now. Don’t get trapped in comparisons with the future that might be or the past that was. Those are dreams of whimsy or nostalgia. Be here now. Be with your partner. Treat him/her with love and work towards a future of growth, wisdom, compassion, and truth together, and at the end of it all, that person may just be the Love of your Life. You can’t say till then. You never know, one way or the other…

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May this bring you the courage to be present in your romantic relationships and light them up with wisdom and compassion. May this ground you, rather than allowing you to float in the samsara of fantastic or nostalgic comparison.

Gassho!

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