Saturday, September 19, 2009

Karma and Kelp

Karma: Sanskrit, act, action, deed; that which leads to the cycle of cause and effect.
Kelp: a type of giant brown alga; on the California coast, a keystone species for the Kelp Forest ecosystem.

Perhaps it's because I'm uncomfortable with a word I didn't grow up with,  I hesitate to use the word  "karma" very freely.
Even though I've been "studying" karma and having the effects of karma explode up my nose times too numerous to grasp--- it's still a leap to assume someone will hear me or read me and not be put off if I use the word. Wikipedia lists it, though I don't find their meaning too helpful.
My first impression of what karma meant was that it described the universe getting back at me for all the mistakes made in all my previous incarnations (if any), sort of like endless purgatory and punishments. Bad things, or good things even, were the result of stuff this soul was involved with in previous incarnations, which "I" in this life would never be able to remember. That just seemed to suck, and I rebelled at a philosophy that enshrined such inescapability of blameful pain. Also, I'm a scientist, and wonder how seriously I can take these qualities I can't verify or test.

One of the most reassuring teachings I've been given about karma is that this word describes something we all have, unavoidably, from beginningless time, because we are all conditional beings. Our very existence depends on so many accidental conditions, conditions from unimaginably deep time. We'll never know what they are, or understand them. Contingencies beyond contingencies. Just relax and admit, everything I call "me" depends on so many conditions I'll never know or understand. And all those conditions are intertwined and interdependent. Twisted. Tangled.

Once a month, on the Saturday closest to the full moon, the gathered people at the Berkeley Zen Center recite Bodhisattva vows. These begin with the verse:
All my ancient, tangled karma
 From beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
Born through body, speech and mind,
I now fully avow.

This verse sprang into my heart-mind on a recent trip to the ocean, as I entered the presence of numberless tangled, twisted clumps of kelp washed up on the beach, dying, going back to earth.

THIS feels like karma, said a voice inside.

These tangled bunches were gently swaying fronds in the kelp-beds just a short while ago.
They were part of the jungle-forest of the cold California Current and the rich nutrient upwelling and the sunlight and the stilling of the winter storms and the pruning of the furry sea otters and the munching of the sea urchins and the grasping of the abalone. These were part of the wilderness explored by wet-suited divers and white sharks, who have to learn how to navigate through the fronds without getting tangled themselves. All are conditional, all dependent, all impermanent.
Something tore these fronds away from their anchors. Conditions. Karma. Here are their roots, their hold-fasts.


They floated away on the ocean swells. The intertwined with others like themselves. The currents carried them far, or near. The crashing surf tumbled them around. They became more and more tangled and twisted. All conditional, and yet, once tangled, never to be untangled in this body.

The rising tide floated the tangled kelp-karma up onto the beach. The bouyant floats weren't above being caught in the sand.


Sometimes birds or other beings became caught in the tangles.

The tides come and go.
The sun and the fog and the air are at work.
Soon the bodies will release into other forms and be part of the ocean and earth and air again.
From beginningless time.

We are not different from this. Our lives have tangles less easy to see, perhaps, but the energies around us entangle and entwine us just as surely as they do the kelp.

There is no other life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Sunday Meme    Page 123

Reading with delight the meme posted by Dan Gurney at A Mindful Heart, which in turn came from Sara Lulu at Normal is a cycle on a washing machine, I picked up the closest book with at least 123 pages, looked up page 123, went to the fifth sentence and now share three sentences...well, and just two more...

From Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon's Gate, At work in the wild and cultivated world.

I go to the redwoods for a little breathing room; not to escape the garden, exactly, more to be able to see and hear it again, fresh. It is cool in the woods, and dark. The out-breath of the forest is thick with saturated oxygen. I take my place among the elders, a gnat on the hide of God. A virgin's bower clematis climbs a hundred feet up from the floor of the forest and tangles overhead in the cathedral-like arched branches of the redwoods, where a pair of ruby-crowned kinglets have built their nest.

The last instruction is to tag 5 more people to do this. If you decide to do this, please leave a post here and share with the rest of us what you've been reading, and the message from where this shot-in-the-dark arrow landed.
On a Sunday filled with the moisture of a hurricane, preceded by thunder and lightning that "never" happen to us here in the Bay Area, and in the midst of unsettling times, I hope all will have a moment, at least, of true rest.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Walk in the Neighborhood with an Eye to the "Incongruous" (whatever that is)

Over at the blog "Friday My Town Shootout" it's incongruous photos in my town as the challenge this week. Taking up the challenge in a pedestrian kind of way, here are some ideas and some comments from the way-seeking mind.
Good fences make good neighbors?
Did the fence come before or after the flowers?
These are amaryllis.
They bloom every year from baked dry ground
Where no leaves show,
Just at Lughnasad, beginning of August.
Around here we call them
Naked Ladies. Does anyone know
Where this name came from and when?
I admire how the spiralled slender stalks
Hold up the heavy heads of flowers for
A whole month or more, with no water,
No visible means of support. 
They shine in the hot sun and don't wilt.
Amazing practice.
I don't think they came from these parts
To start out with, though. Who saw fit
To bring these beauties here?

This is the newest neighborhood watch sign.
And this is the Welcome Sign.
Much appreciated by this gentleman on his rounds,
And these ladies, as well.
For our final feature, analogous to the satellite dish
on top of the igloo
over at the blog ....Just Alaska, 
we have the neighborhood yurt on top of the
rockingest solar panel array in the East Bay.
There are more and stranger things in our universe than we dare ever see.
Incongruity is probably in the eye of the beholder, and if we had true beginner's mind, we would never be able to catch that incongruity--it's all just things-as-it-is, as Suzuki Roshi would say.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Does a dog have true nature?

Freya and I live side by side, but hardly in the same world.

At night, she gets up from time to time, circles 2 3 4 5 times and flops
gently oozing her body up against mine. It must help with my snoring.
By morning, she has oozed me over the edge of the bed.
Sometimes I wake to her vivid dream
Dodging, twitching, yipping, leaping for that squirrel
That just escapes, again. 
What does the squirrel's tail
Look like or smell like to her in her dream?
What is the dog-version of squirrel's true being?

I think her squirrel is not the same as mine:
   bushy russet tail sharp sharp glittering black eyes,
   claws, twitching nose, patient regard for us
   down here below, total ownership of telephone wires
   and walnut tree, absorption in taking a nut to pieces,
   oblivious to the magnificent soaring leap Freya has made,
   so acrobatic herself but no match for squirrel's speed and balance.


 I try to "see" squirrel from Freya's place. Just one piece of a
                                  Huge Puzzle.  
I can only see the way every hair in her is quivering, electrified.

And that she can Stop, totally Stop the World, body and mind
                  totally dropped away.

Waiting for that squirrel to Come Down into her
               Irresistable Force Field.

No matter how many times squirrel has shown it is
         Above and Beyond Her Reach.

What might Freya say if she had words?

We Dance together.
So great to have something small and furry 
and quick-moving to go for. 
Heart surges, gets huge in my chest. Every muscle waits. 
I know one of these time I'll get my mouth on it. Chomp! 
For this I was born, for this I came.
No life apart from now, now, now, the dance together.
Apart from that, boring boring boring.
Same food every day. Chairs are soft
and don't fit quite right.
Walks too short and too seldom, 
I take what I get and I don't get upset.

Squirrel and cat, moths, flies and bones, 
the dead fish and dead birds on the beach,
so delicious to roll in.
There is no other life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What can we say that's true?


   Long ago I concluded that "god-talk" was delusionary. Human equipment is too small to grasp What Is, Is-ness, what moves the sun and the other stars, what time is, Before, Now, After, etc. etc. And our language is even more inadequate when we try to share intimations we've had. We continue to be the blind ones trying to talk to each other about the Elephant. Even talk not using the term "god" has the same problems.

   Sometimes I get a glimpse of what being-in-itself might be, looming just outside perception. If each of us has this essence, this buddha-nature, it must always already be actually there. One night, I was taking in the fading light of dusk, looking west, and experienced the Dark emerging from the Light. All day we walk around under what we call The Sky, as if it were an object. The brilliance of the sky takes over our sensorium, our awareness. But the Dark is out there all the time. It never actually goes away.

    All the stars and the galaxies are always already there, emitting their light, too, in the midst of deep space and void. (How few years we humans have actually had instruments to let us "see" them there.) All day long, the buzz of all the nearer sunlight in our eyes keeps us from seeing them. We think the sky is a solid sphere enclosing us. Illusion. Yet not illusion.

I'm off to walk through my day with this nugget to chew on. May all beings realize their true nature.

Friday, August 21, 2009

 The Odd Signs of the Times in California

Having delighted in the photos I just discovered on "My Town Friday Shoot-Out", I am uploading a few amusing sign photos, some local to the Bay Area, some from the "local" Sierra, in honor of this week's challenge: Funny Signs from My Town. Where is "my town" these days, anyway? Who is the "I" to have a town?  Our dog, Freya, has her own take on these things.

That which is emptiness is form, that which is form is emptiness.

I'll bet there's a good story here. Let's see.

They tell me the dogs of the Dow aren't welcome around here.

In this economy, no guarantees.

It wasn't our fault we all took a bath.
How do we get out of this mess?

If the pediatricians look like this, what is the chance for the rest of us in the health care world?
Altogether, Signs of the Times are most amusing.
May you continue to live in Interesting Times, and have your eyes
open for the funny edge of things!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Elephants are Walking

How do Elephants do Kinhin?

Right foot, left foot, hum, ho, ho, ho.

The elephants are walking
in the morning slant sunrays
softly like rain through the dry savannah
walking to water
little ones at the feet of the mothers
the mothers' ears the tails the group
is the living animal
at the rear a lone male carefully keeps his distance

Today the setting sunrays slant in my eyes
through California savannah oak woodland
I see the trees smell the smells hear the birds
delight in the golden glow
wonder why I feel the elephants walking
see them only with inner eyes not outer.

Somewhere the elephants are walking and my soul wants
to walk out of here and protect the earth
Buddha nature we may each have,
we may all be equal in this, but something is very wrong.
My heart is breaking.
I don't know where to turn.
Joy and the song start sobbing.
Tonight I feel like the lone male, following after the family,
mothers, babes, rambunctious kids, restless teenagers.
There may be some Way,
walking together-apart.

Be present, show up.