Wednesday, 17 November 2010


I want to hew close to the bone of life. I want to press myself right up against the grain of its pulse. I want to tongue life's live nerve.

This business is fine-grained. It's going to require a shift in scale. I'm going to have stop living life in chunks of weeks and months, even in terms of hours and days. This is too far from the action, six steps too removed. I'm going to have to live life at the scale of minutes and seconds - at the scale of fractions of seconds if I'm able.

I'm going to have to practice. This is hard to do. I'm going to have bring myself back - again, again, again - to that which is so common, so ordinary, so insignificant as to flit by at life's own breakneck pace. I'm going to have to practice a finely-grained humility that is so modest as to register whatever is given at however small a scale as worth my attention.

The modesty of the scale is hard to swallow. I had bigger plans in mind for myself. I was going to be a contender.

A breath? Really? An itch in my big toe? Really? A breeze tickling the rim of my ear? A brush of a kiss from wife's chapped lip?

Why not? What was I hoping for?

Try the modesty of pressing your full attention into the pressure and resistance of a single deep breath. The whole thing is right here, presented in flagrante, on a manageable scale.

Hope and despair? Cupped in ignorance (or mystery, if you'd prefer), the whole drama unfolds with transparent subtlety on the scale of seconds. Hours, days, years, are hard to get your head around. But seconds . . . Here, the breath ebbs and flows. Hope is inhaled. You're getting what you hoped for, you're getting what you hoped for, you're getting what you hoped for . . . full. Despair is exhaled, exhaled, exhaled. Before your lungs are empty you know you'll have to start again.

Hope and despair do what they do. They come and they go. They ebb and they flow. They rise and they fall. See it on the scale of seconds. See their most ordinary face. Hope and despair on the scale of hours and days and years is just more of the same. But now you've seen what they are. How they work. How they come and go.

Don't be done with either of them. Let them do what they do. Rest in them. Rest in their push and pull, and something else will happen: a great peace and compassion will arise. A tenderness and sensitivity enabled by immense modesty will take hold.

Looking on the drama of hope/despair/ignorance - a drama available in microcosm in each moment - I can look with compassion on how the whole thing plays out, on how the same drama repeats itself in my hours, weeks, and years. I can look with compassion on my vanity, my weakness, my fear and, without excusing or fleeing them, name them for what they are and watch, then, as their grip loosens. They just are what they are: ordinary. I don't need to worry. The worry, spacing me from life, is what wrings the life out of life's passing.

Change scale. You're trying to work with an out-sized canvas. It feels like you can't manage a project on such a scale because you can't.

The meek shall inherit the earth.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Buddhist Manifesto

Glenn Wallis has a sharp post up at his blog entitled: "Buddhist Manifesto" (PDF).

Q. Who is Gotama?

Gotama, Wallis claims, is not a god but "an unsurpassed scientist of the real."

Q. What do we know?

The categories of being. These categories are given in Gotama’s meditation blueprint, the Anapanasati Sutta. The premise of that text is that being arises not in the abstract (as life or existence), but as particular phenomena in particular locations: the body, feelings, thoughts, and sensorium. This, then, is the Buddhist periodical table. Anything and everything that arises in your life, says Gotama, arises as a thing-event in/on/with/through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. So, awakening is, in the first instance, awakening to precisely the nature of these elements — their function, weight, gravitational force, trajectory, flavor, content, duration, conditioning mechanisms, interrelations. The lab for investigating these thing-events (dharmas/dhammas) is the meditation room. The posture is upright, solid, still, and silent. The lab is empty. Because none are required, there are no paraphernalia. Because none is required, there is nothing superfluous to the investigatory process.

A "Buddhist periodical table!"

The whole post is worth a close look.