Buddhism

Why is it that when I read the original commentators like Bodhidharma or Hui-neng or Dogen or even the poets I understand Buddhism, but when I read modern Western commentators (Steven Batchelor comes to mind), I don’t. The question is rhetorical, of course. There is more Nietzsche and Sartre in the Westerners than Buddha. They seem to write in a late forties-early fifties fog, an imperialist nausea. They are not interested in the perennial, or in whatever smacks of spirituality, being in permanent revolt against culture.

Detachment

Detachment as a spiritual or philosophical state is dependent upon one’s station, what could be called an “existential context.” The ancient Chinese recluse, typically the educated official renouncing the court, was every bit attached to wife and children, with whom he entered reclusion on some distant and obscure village farm. What about the warning of the desert father about getting too attached to one’s hermit hut? Or is detachment limited only to mystics, more, to sadhus?

Emily Dickinson, the reclusive American poet, wrote that “no verse in the Bible has frightened me so much from a child as ‘from them that hath not shall be taken even that he hath.'” Is there recourse, then, even for one who is completely “detached”?

Bears are back!

The bears returned from “the north” yesterday. They spent a while, the three cubs climbing a pine tree to an enormous height (50, 60 feet?), while mother fed blissfully. They headed south again, perhaps past their old place. We are happy to see them.

Monastery barn’s burned …

I’ve been reading a lot of Thomas Merton lately, and came across his poem “Elegy for the Monastery Barn.” I guess I was attracted to the fire event, so recent in our own experience. It’s an early poem for Merton, reflecting a certain sang-froid, seeing the barn as a vain woman adorning herself for 50 years only to perish. “Who knew her solitude?/who heard the peace downstairs/while flames ran whispering among the rafters?” And the last line is strange: ” … the brilliant walls are holy/In their first-last hour’s joy.” Perhaps the liberation of death and the consciousness of that moment is a first yet last hour’s joy. I am immediately reminded not of burning barns but of Hindu cremation. But the poem is a human projection, after all, on a poor, inanimate object, contrived but useful, and therefore deserving of pity. Just as, perhaps, we are poor, animate objects, contrived by God but useful to him, and therefore deserving pity…

Barn’s Burned …

I looked up the little Zen poem about the burned barn and the moon. It is by Masahide: “Barn’s burned / now I can see the moon.” Well, forest’s burned, now I can see … what? The vanity of ambition and the impermanence of material things. Wouldn’t make much as a poem, but one must reach for the ultimate sense of events. How many years for a forest to come about, how short a moment for nature to take it back, despite our pleas that she has created something beautiful and that she should leave it. Kai, the destroyer …