Articles & Essays

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A Living Thing

· Articles & Essays, Open Access · ,

by Toni Morrison


Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise. Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.

Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.

In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.

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Photo by Steve Dorman

The Speech of Beings

· Articles & Essays · ,

by David Abram

The blades of my paddle slice the smooth skin of the water, first on one side and then on the other: klishhh…kloshhh…klooshhh…kloshhh… The rhythm matches the quiet pace of my breathing as I rock gently from side to side, gliding over the gleaming expanse of sky; the luminous vault overhead mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface. Tall, snowcapped mountains rise from the perimeter of this broad sea, and also seem to descend into it. In front of me, to the west, are the peaks of the Alexander Archipelago, the long cluster of islands off the southeast coast of Alaska; behind me are the glacier-hung peaks of the coast range. The liquid speech of the paddle sounds against the backdrop of a silence so vast it rings in my ears. The sky arcs over this world like the interior of a huge unstruck bell; the hanging sun is its tongue.

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Photo by John Daido Loori, Roshi

Miraculous Communication

· Articles & Essays, Open Access · ,

by Eihei Dogen


The miracles I am speaking of are the daily activities of buddhas, which they do not neglect to practice. There are six miracles [freedom from the six-sense desires], one miracle, going beyond miracles, and unsurpassable miracles. Miracles are practiced three thousand times morning and eight hundred times in the evening. Miracles arise simultaneously with buddhas but are not known by buddhas. Miracles disappear with buddhas but do not overwhelm buddhas.

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Photo by Barbara Mazz

Word Problems

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Cormac McCarthy


call it the Kekulé Problem because among the myriad instances of scientific problems solved in the sleep of the inquirer Kekulé’s is probably the best known. He was trying to arrive at the configuration of the benzene molecule and not making much progress when he fell asleep in front of the fire and had his famous dream of a snake coiled in a hoop with its tail in its mouth—the ouroboros of mythology—and woke exclaiming to himself: “It’s a ring. The molecule is in the form of a ring.” Well. The problem of course—not Kekulé’s but ours—is that since the unconscious understands language perfectly well or it would not understand the problem in the first place, why doesn’t it simply answer Kekulé’s question with something like: “Kekulé, it’s a bloody ring.” To which our scientist might respond: “Okay. Got it. Thanks.”

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Photo by Matthew

The Language of Trees

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Peter Wohlleben

According to the dictionary definition, language is what people use when we talk to each other. Looked at this way, we are the only beings who can use language, because the concept is limited to our species. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether trees can also talk to each other? But how? They definitely don’t produce sounds, so there’s nothing we can hear. Branches creak as they rub against one another and leaves rustle, but these sounds are caused by the wind and the tree has no control over them. Trees, it turns out, have a completely different way of communicating: they use scent.

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Photo by Chizen Brown, MRO

Opening the Hand of Thought

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Kosho Uchiyama, Roshi

Study and practice the buddhadharma only for the sake of the buddhadharma, not for the sake of human emotions or worldly ideas.

This is the most important point for us as students of Dogen Zenji. No one emphasized practicing buddhadharma only for the sake of the buddhadharma more than he. I think the most important expression in his teaching is buddhadharma. Despite that, we’ve become so familiar with the expression that we often pass over it without considering what it really means.

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Photo by Victoria Villalobos

Restoration

· Articles & Essays · ,

By Robin Wall Kimmerer


summer day on the banks of the Mohawk River:

Én:skat tékeni, áhsen. Bend and pull, bend and pull. Kaié:ri, wisk, iá:ia’k, tsiá:ta, she calls to her granddaughter, standing waist deep in the grass. Her bundle grows thicker with every stoop of her back. She straightens up, rubs the small of her back, and tilts her head up to the blue summer sky, her black braid swinging in the arch of her back. Bank swallows twitter over the river. The breeze off the water sets the grasses waving and carries the fragrance of sweetgrass that rises from her footsteps.

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photo by Andrew Xu

Cultivating Gratitude

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Jan Chozen Bays, Roshi


 

It is ironic that in countries where food is abundant, disharmony with food and eating is most common. Americans appear to have a particularly unbalanced and often negative relationship with food. In the 1990s, a research team led by an American psychologist and a French sociologist teamed up to do a study of cross-cultural attitudes toward food. They surveyed people in the United States, France, Flemish Belgium, and Japan. They found that Americans associated food with health the most and pleasure the least. For example, when Americans were asked what comes to mind when they hear the words “chocolate cake,” they were more likely to say “guilt,” while the French said “celebration.” The words “heavy cream” elicited “unhealthy” from Americans and “whipped” from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure than people in any other nation they surveyed.

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photo By Andrew Smith

The Armies of Mara

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Sayadaw U Pandita


Meditation can be seen as a war between wholesome and unwholesome mental states. On the unwholesome side are the forces of the kilesas, also known as “The Ten Armies of Mara.” In Pali, Mara means “killer.” He is the personification of the force that kills virtue and also kills existence. His armies are poised to attack all yogis; they even tried to overcome the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment.

Here are the lines the Buddha addressed to Mara, as recorded in the Sutta Nipata:

Sensual pleasures are your first army,
Discontent your second is called.
Your third is hunger and thirst,
The fourth is called craving.
Sloth and torpor are your fifth,
The sixth is called fear,
Your seventh is doubt,
Conceit and ingratitude are your eighth,
Gain, renown, honor, and whatever fame
is falsely received (are the ninth),
And whoever both extols himself and disparages others (has fallen victim to the tenth).
That is your army, Namuci [Mara],
the striking force of darkness.
One who is not a hero cannot conquer it,
but having conquered it, one obtains happiness.

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photo by Trocaire

Surprise and Gratefulness

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Brother David Steindl-Rast


rainbow always comes as a surprise. Not that it cannot be predicted. Surprising sometimes means unpredictable, but it often means more. Surprising in the full sense means somehow gratuitous. Even the predictable turns into surprise the moment we stop taking it for granted. If we knew enough, everything would be predictable, and yet everything would remain gratuitous. If we knew how the whole universe worked, we would still be surprised that there was a universe at all. Predictable it may be, yet all the more surprising.

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