Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Gone and not gone...

Gone and not gone:
Like a wave that reached the shore.

Where did the wave go?
Did it go anywhere at all?

The ocean moves and waves are born
Life dances and we are danced into being.

You are dancing still.

February 28, 2012
(In memory of the bodhisattvas known as Mom and Dad)

The ocean is in every drop...

The ocean is in every drop - the moon as well

Bowing, I find my father
Chanting, I hold my mother
Sitting, the world is my chair

Then the bell rings:




Hands palm to palm,
Universe bows to universe
Buddha gets up and walks.

February 28, 2012

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Day In The Life*

*Originally posted on Treeleaf as part of the "A day in the life" discussion thread.

Online Zen practice: sitting with the virtual timer

Yesterday was only the fourth time I ever participated in a zazenkai - and only the second time with Treeleaf. I got up at 5:30 to prepare for joining the zazenkai. Clicked PLAY several times to no avail. So I decided to do the whole thing without the video. The prostrations forced me to be mindful (than I usually am) of timing my breaths while chanting the Heart Sutra - those prostrations are a potential workout! Great for the legs. Anyway, I fumbled my way through the dedication of merit. Then I sat seiza on my wife's Minnie Mouse footstool. I figured I'd be sitting for longer than usual so I opted for seiza on the footstool instead of my usual burmese on the throw pillow. Really maddening zazen :x . Couldn't resist sneaking  a few glances at the clock:oops:.  Thoughts like "when is the g##dd@mn bell gonna ring?!" :x kept popping up as I felt my legs go to sleep. I swear if they were people they'd be snoring loudly and drooling. :lol: 

My personal virtual altar: a series of pictures played in a slideshow, constantly transforming: Buddha, Manjushri, Kannon, a lotus flower.
The bell sounded for the last time and I put my hands together with a sigh of relief. Part of me wanted to throw my hands up and say "YES!" But I managed to maintain my composure as befits a student of the Enlightened Way :roll: and settled instead for a bow. Very slowly got up with a lot of groaning as my legs started to wake up and complain. Turned around, recited the Verse of Atonement and Bodhisattva Vows just as my son made his way downstairs and stared curiously at his "Dada".  So much for the zazenkai. 

As for the rest of the day:

Made breakfast. Went through the usual chores. My wife and I decided to bring our son to the mall, which had an indoor playground. We got there and he dashed straight to the bookstore hoping he could convince us to buy him a new Thomas the Tank Engine book. Spent some time there but finally brought him out despite his protests. He soon forgot it as he realized we were bringing him to the playground. Less than a minute later, I was telling him to apologize for pushing a smaller kid out of the way and he was refusing. Finally I said, "You say 'sorry' or we're going home right now!" We went home of course.

Later in the house I scolded him again - this time using my patented REALLY SCARY DEMON-DEFEATING DADA VOICE™ :evil: - for hitting us repeatedly with a hard wooden building block. Shifted to gentle Kannon mode after a few minutes.

I come from a somewhat well-to-do and prominent family, and grew up in a huge compound that consisted of 3 houses (my brother's, sister's, and my parents') and a large multi-purpose open-air pavilion for common use. My wife and I stay in a house outside the compound, but ever since my parents died, we've been regularly eating meals together with my siblings, nephews and nieces in the pavilion. It's our common area. I often joke that we ought to name the place Switzerland. Anyway, that's where we had our lunch.

I play in a band led by my brother's life partner. We were booked to perform in a music festival back to back with another band in a nearby city. The city of Tagum was kind enough to lend us a bus, which arrived at 1 pm. We said our goodbyes to the family, got our stuff and boarded the bus with the rest of the band. We picked up the second band and traveled to Tagum. Got there around 3, set up our instruments and waited. 
The set-up
We couldn't do the soundcheck immediately because there was an ongoing program in the performance area so we had to wait until that was done. I walked around taking pictures. 
Tagum City Hall

Me backstage about to go out and perform
The new and still unfinished city hall (which was the performance venue) is HUUUUUGE! Apparently the local government decided they wanted all the government offices in one place, unlike in Davao City where City Hall, Bureau of Immigration, Hall of Justice, etc. are all over the city. 

Finally it was showtime. 

We played for about an hour, dismantled and packed up our equipment, and waited for the second band to finish. There was a tent city outside with booths selling food and drinks so I headed there and treated myself to beer (just two!).

The second band finished and packed up, then we all went home to Davao City. I arrived in my house past two in the morning. It was raining. I tiptoed silently upstairs, took a shower, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. I woke up this morning past seven (usually I wake up around 5:30), got up, went downstairs. A few minutes later and I was bowing to my altar.

I chanted the Heart Sutra: "Kan ji zai bo satsu jin ma ka han nya ha ra mi ta ji..."

Hands together.  I bowed.  Sat down.

The bell rang. Once. Twice. A third time: 

Hands together.  Bowed.

I sat.  Legs in Burmese position, hands in Cosmic Mudra.  I sat.

Thoughts coming and going, eyelids drooping.  I sat.  

Mind wandering, coming back.  Wandering again. Coming back again.  I sat.  

Discomfort in the hips.  I sat.

Impatience ripping through me.  I sat. 

I sat zazen.  Zazen sat me.  Who was this "I"?  Just the sitting.  Just Zazen.

Sound of the bell. Once. A second time:

Hands together, I bowed.  I stood up and bowed to my cushion.  I turned around.  Then:

"Kanzeon namu butsu..."

I bowed to the altar just as my wife came down the stairs.  We greeted each other with a kiss and embrace, chatted briefly.  She headed to the kitchen.  I returned my focus to my altar and finish with the Four Vows of the Bodhisattva:

"To save all sentient beings though beings numberless
To transform all delusions though delusions inexhaustible
To perceive reality though reality is boundless
To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable."

Life is our temple!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Being Okay With Not Being Okay

Taigu over at Treeleaf wrote a moving post recently (click here for the full text):

"Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes life is a real bitch...

In this situation, no need to dress it up and make it cheerful. No need to flee and avoid the problem. We are all invited to participate with joy to this, because it is the very nature of life, fleeting, changing, fragile, the very nature of what is given to us, sooner or later taken back. In front of this, we invite the unknown, throwing body and mind into it, trusting a process beyond thoughts, feelings and fears...

What a remarkable way to live! Leaping into the unknown, life and death merged and both totally transcended. Every single moment is an opportunity for all of us to exactly do that, that this body of thirty, fourty, fifty years and a few days and throw it into the amazing unknown reality...

Nothing left, no traces, no shadow. Just the taste of what is as it is. That's our way to live, far from the hopes and consolations found in so many religions and belief systems.

Life sucks and it is OK!"

Life sucks, and it's okay.  No really, it is okay.  My parents died last year.  That sucked - and it's okay.  I cried so hard and so often last year.  And that's okay.  

It's not that I'm numb, or that I don't care - I'm not numb and I do care.  What Taigu so eloquently pointed out, and what I'm trying to get across here is that it's okay to not be okay.  If life sucks, that's life!  If I'm not okay and I just feel like screaming that's okay too!  It's not that I'm denying the "suckiness" (apparently there's no such word according to my Mac, but you know what I mean) of life - I'm just embracing it.  

It's so easy to talk about being present and "in the moment", so easy to talk about the "beauty of life" when everything's going well.  So easy to be at peace and talk about having inner peace when everything is peaceful.  But what happens when everything is not going well, when all around is so not peaceful, when all hell seems to be breaking loose?  It's easy to meditate when everything's quiet and no one is there to disturb you - but can you "meditate on the battlefield" so to speak?

But in Zen, we embrace all of life: its beauty and ugliness, its wonderfulness and "suckiness".   We bring the Zen practice from the cushion to the whole of life, and we embrace life just as it is - even as we're trying to make it better, and even when it sucks.  We learn to be okay with both being okay and being not okay.