Skip to main content

"Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Master Sergeant James Edward Keith


Patricia Ann Provenzano

She's strong, olive skinned, waves of black hair. He's upright, Semper Fi, high and tight, green camouflaged.

We sat in front of the fire for a very long time in silence. Her hands, folded neatly in the universal mudra, started to fade into her black robes as the sun went down. This silence was so loud!

Bird, frogs, the bonsho bell, the han, the fire, feet scurrying to Zazen, and we were already sitting, facing each other, just me and one more person willing to dedicate her whole heart to this practice, giving freely. After about twenty minutes, I ask, is it possible to improve this silence? What is timely, beneficial, and true?

She smiled, and said, "Well, coming from an introvert with an affinity for the 15th century, no, we don't have to say anything, we can just sit here."

I wanted to know about our stories; what do we do with them, how is practice benefited by investigating or releasing whatever concepts spring up, sprouting to full blown words, blooming into full blown stories, and inevitably going to seed, guaranteeing their return?

I wanted to know how to stop the stories If I wanted to. I told her my perspective on this from my studies with Kokyo and the Lankavatara. I'll try and explain that here in 4 lines.:

1. Consciousness is 8 parts, the first 5 are your senses, the 6th your concepts, the 7th your story, the 8th is the store house(Alaya Vijana).

2. It works like this:
Something apparently arises, you sense it, it hurts (1-5).
You look down and see an arrow in your chest and, ouch, I have an arrow in my chest (6)
You think, "I'm always getting hit by arrows!" (7)
You have story.I'm in pain because I'm a person that gets hit by arrows, this is why I fail (8)

3. In the Lankavatara, the Buddha says, it's this 6th consciousness that starts samsara.

So, on a Saturday night, I'm facing the teacher, and I want to know, what came first, the tears or the story about horse slaughter, beating dogs, and other things I did while in Alaska.

And stories about my father and suffering he endured.

And then the story about my mafioso grandfather who stabbed my grandmother.

And then the story of we're doomed, because our karma is a violent karma (this was my great uncle.)


In the movie Tree of Life, there's a voice over during a scene where children play, father comes home from work, mother wanders through the trees, and it says, "Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Does that get anyone else too? Does anyone else have beautifully complex parents? Intricate, fascinating, parents?

I think Karma and Alaya Vijana might be more complex and comprehensive, like you actually have the entire world, Gandhi in the right corner, Hitler in the left, wrestling inside you.

Wisdom beyond wisdom, she was kind, gentle, and firm. "You're not going to stab anyone, because to stab someone is to stab the Buddha, is to stab yourself. There are two schools around here: one that says we can drop our stories, the other that say that will never happen, so we can change them, and should. But, thinking is what we do when we want to get away from feeling. That's what our stories are doing. If you want to be present with your what arises, practice tonglen."

I've not studied much about tonglen, but here she simply said to breathe in whatever arises- anger, greed, sadness, and breathe out compassion.

Compassion: what the hell does this mean? Just to wish self and others to be free of the occupier.

This has helped in the past few days as the open box of karma (ripped open by sesshin?) seems to be dumped on my lap. What's interesting is to engage pleasant feelings with pleasant concepts and stories coming up (from the Lankavatara, this too is a trap-this too will plant seeds).

For example, working in the kitchen in close proximity to others, I'd want to speak, which is not something we do during work practice. If you have something important to say, you say it, and if you have something very important to say, you ask someone to step to the side or catch them later. So I'm talking about words like, "Hey, do you like neutral milk hotel? I'm a king of carrot flowers!" too.

What makes me want to say a silly thing like that? Happiness, actually. Sometimes love. What a thing to do, breathe in love, breathe out compassion. This feels powerfully changing.

There's also a lot of frustrated and anxious energy in the kitchen, too. It was very helpful to recognize that's what was going on and breathe out compassion.

This is a lot, and this is all. Thank you for checking in. Sorry for the delay.

Comments

  1. "Does that get anyone else too?"

    Yes..

    ReplyDelete
  2. Need to fix the URL on the Wikipedia link.

    Did not know NMH, but I have to say I like Everything Is. Finally breaking free from fear/ and it's fading.

    Angulimala stopped being a murderer, and dealt with his rather massive karma in this life, I've always taken that as an encouragement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You also asked about epic interesting parents, yes indeed, more similar than you might imagine.

      Delete
    2. Dear Stonecutter,

      Angulimala is why I'm all in.

      Delete
  3. Going back to your point no. 2, this may be simplistic, but I think the problem arises when you move from "Ouch, this" to thinking about the arrow. Pull the arrow out,i.e. Go back to your breath/what's real this moment.

    Writing your memories/stories to heal is another thing. I've done a little of this, using a specific technique, and it was very moving and seemed helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Dalai Grandma,

    That's exactly what the Lanka is saying!

    I'm interested in this technique- easy to point to from here?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I knew I didn't make it up.

    I have used a book called "Writing as a Way opf Healing" by Louise DeSalvo. It teaches a method based on scientific research. She writes well, lots of references. I am interested to look at it now and see a chapter that talks about writing as practice, referring to the enso. I had checked this Zen proverb: How you do anything is how you do everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On slightly related note, I have a friend who swears by changing his handwriting he changed his life...

      Can I just change my font, then?

      Delete
  6. That is pathetically not related. Anyway, there is evidence that it counts - manuscripts submitted in Georgia font are accepted more often.

    I wonder what he meant by "changed his life." It sounds so youthful and sweeping. I have been through some radical changes, but I believe I have carried my central problems with me, this nonsolid self, this mind I can't show you. Modified the way I handle them, changed some important behaviors. I can imagine a fairy tale that would illustrate that. When the prince gets over the mountain and looks down, he sees...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are more radical ways of changing your life, like hearing the phrase, "The Lotus Sutra."

      I thought life was a fairy tale.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Goodbye Green Gulch Sama! Hello Tassajara!

About two years ago I left Mid City Zen in New Orleans. I feared I was leaving something, and now I'm about to leave Green Gulch and that same fear has arisen. I imagined there was wealth, a sort of freedom, and a lot to "renounce."  I had a car (a fast one!), a playstation 3, many books, many articles of clothing, and as I look around our little cabin, that same perception has arisen- I have too much stuff! And I like it!

My book collection that I sold or gave away in New Orleans has somehow manifested out here. And I have quite the collection of farm hats and farm boots. Rubber ones, Redwings, Ropers, Bogs to the ankle, Bogs to the knee, a navy seal Solomon for the wet spring weather. Most of them are fit to throw away, glued back together and stitched with fishing line, and just so smelly, so smelly my wife won't let me keep them in the cabin, so I hide them all around Green Gulch.

So I started packing, and while that fear of renunciation has arisen, it's not …

Vows and Compass

Being in new Orleans reminds me that my way seeking mind ripened here. Maybe it was the level of maturity my father's recovery actualized. Maybe it was the Ben Wren book I found at Beaucoup Books on my lunch break. Maybe it was my step mom's copy of things fall apart by Pema Chodron sitting in the bathroom.

Later I would witness the host of suffering post-katrina offered to a young public school teacher. How could I help? I took my first set of vows not really knowing where they would lead, like the old black metal compass my dad put in my Christmas stocking when I was about ten. Beautiful to hold, difficult to understand.

Now, years later, I feel a bit subdued as form,sensation, perception, impulse, and thought tag everything, beckoning some purchase for the price of belief. I'm home, but a home leaver. People wonder when I'll move back and being a home leaver means being ready to leave home again and again, which could mean coming back.

How will I actually engage all…