THIS WEEK'S BLOG

Hongzhi Zhengjue
Book Excerpts

The Guidepost of Silent Illumination

12th century Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue’s emphasis and central teaching theme was ‘Shikantaza’, the form of silent meditation (‘just sitting’) that is at the heart of Soto Zen practice. This poem, Guidepost of Silent Illumination, is a suggestive guideline for silent meditation built on – among others – the legacy of Zhengjue’s predecessors Shitou and Dongshan.

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George Orwell
Book Excerpts

Every Book is a Failure – George Orwell on Truth in Writing

In his 1946 essay, Why I Write, George Orwell set out what he saw as the main motivators for writing: they were, sheer egotism, esthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. He recounts how, under different circumstances, the fourth reason might not have been so compelling to him, but the way that his life unfolded (serving with the Imperial Polive in Burma; witnessing the rise of fascism under Adolf Hitler and reporting on the Spanish Civil War), he found himself becoming more politically engaged in his writing.

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Gwendolyn Brooks
Poetry

Gwendolyn Brooks – Boy Breaking Glass

Gwendolyn Brooks’ Boy Breaking Glass looks at the creative imperative and the drive towards expression in a boy with curtailed options. Dedicated to the writer Marc Crawford who asked Brooks to write a poem about inequality, the images she uses are detractive and dissonant – the hole in the glass filled with the contrasting black and white objects.

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FEATURED AUTHORS AND POETS

BOOK EXCERPTS

Morgan Parker

“Now More Than Ever” – Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker’s prose poem is a sharp critique of reflexive liberal white responses that mimic meaningful call to action but are at best ineffective and at worst damaging, seeking self-absolution over anything else. The poem moves from the two extremes of response – intellectual and deeply emotional – with no transition in between and no apologies for its erratic form. 

Read More »

The Guidepost of Silent Illumination

12th century Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue’s emphasis and central teaching theme was ‘Shikantaza’, the form of silent meditation (‘just sitting’) that is at the heart of Soto Zen practice. This poem, Guidepost of Silent Illumination, is a suggestive guideline for silent meditation built on – among others – the legacy of Zhengjue’s predecessors Shitou and Dongshan.

Read More »

Life and Death Do Not Exist

In this short chapter from the Shobogenzo, Sho-ji, Dogen plays with the distinction between the nuances of the two different meanings, life and death being static and self-defined events, which he argues have no substance or existence, and living and dying which are an endless flow of events and dynamic being

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THE ALAN WATTS CORNER

Caroline Goodwin

Why I Write – Caroline Goodwin

Writing can be anything, from self-discovery to incorporating pain to establishing direction, according to poet Caroline Goodwin, who featured in The Dewdrop a couple of weeks ago with her poem, Not I’ll Not, from her book, Custody of the Eyes. 

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Zen Tree

FROM THE ZEN GARDEN

Bankei and the Unborn

17th century Zen master Bankei on the Unborn, the unconditioned mind that comes up spontaneously and is fundamental to every person, without exception.

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Am I Conscious Now?

“What does it mean to ask a question? Is there some magic in the inquisitive brain?” Susan Blackmore’s lifelong investigation into consciousness encompasses Zen practice and the recurring question: Am I conscious now?

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Chiyono’s Enlightenment Poem

Adachi Chiyono (also known as Mugai Nyodai) was the daughter of a samurai warrior in the 13th century who became the first woman – and mother – to found and head a Zen monastery in Japan.

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KEEP READING

FROM THE ARCHIVES

What Are We Calling “I”?

We often identify ourselves with the events that have happened to us and the things we have done, rather than the subjective center of experience itself. In an echo of the Buddhist teaching of the absence of a permanent self, Harris asserts that when the absence of this self is found, then ‘the feeling of being a self disappears.’

Simone Weil – The Infinite in an Instant

Simone Weil lauds ‘unmixed attention’, which she likens to prayer, and reflects on the quality of attention, expressed as ‘patience, effort and method’ to ‘understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.’

The One Motive Power in the Universe

In this extract from an essay about bhakti and devotional love written in the late 19th century, Swami Vivekananda – the 19th century spiritual reformist and teacher of Vedanta who was instrumental in popularizing Hinduism and yoga in the west – makes the difference between empty religious ritual and the burning desire for union with God, which is as real as any hunger or thirst.

Staying With the ‘Ouch’ – Tara Brach

Why is self-acceptance so hard and self-criticism so deeply wired in us? Psychologist and teacher of meditation Tara Brach reminds us that self-love is one of the most neglected areas of our psychic landscapes.

Brian Doyle’s Uncommon Prayers

Brian Doyle’s essays are accessible and uplifting to people of all and no faith inclinations. His humorous and poignant prayers touch the details of our lives and the beings that we often overlook: in this case, shop cashiers, herons and international terrorists, but also sunscreen, chess and the state of Iowa. 

Hongzhi Zhengjue

The Guidepost of Silent Illumination

12th century Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue’s emphasis and central teaching theme was ‘Shikantaza’, the form of silent meditation (‘just sitting’) that is at the heart of Soto Zen practice. This poem, Guidepost of Silent Illumination, is a suggestive guideline for silent meditation built on – among others – the legacy of Zhengjue’s predecessors Shitou and Dongshan.

Read More »
George Orwell

Every Book is a Failure – George Orwell on Truth in Writing

In his 1946 essay, Why I Write, George Orwell set out what he saw as the main motivators for writing: they were, sheer egotism, esthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. He recounts how, under different circumstances, the fourth reason might not have been so compelling to him, but the way that his life unfolded (serving with the Imperial Polive in Burma; witnessing the rise of fascism under Adolf Hitler and reporting on the Spanish Civil War), he found himself becoming more politically engaged in his writing.

Read More »
Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks – Boy Breaking Glass

Gwendolyn Brooks’ Boy Breaking Glass looks at the creative imperative and the drive towards expression in a boy with curtailed options. Dedicated to the writer Marc Crawford who asked Brooks to write a poem about inequality, the images she uses are detractive and dissonant – the hole in the glass filled with the contrasting black and white objects.

Read More »
Morgan Parker

“Now More Than Ever” – Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker’s prose poem is a sharp critique of reflexive liberal white responses that mimic meaningful call to action but are at best ineffective and at worst damaging, seeking self-absolution over anything else. The poem moves from the two extremes of response – intellectual and deeply emotional – with no transition in between and no apologies for its erratic form. 

Read More »
Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood – Habitation

Using the stark language of cold glaciers and barren deserts, Margaret Atwood paints a picture of marriage as something that survives on the very peripheries of primitive forces and natural epics. Not a house or even a tent, it’s a place where we are ‘learning to make fire’, as though we are still in the very first and most primal stages of the endeavor. 

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Danger of the Single Story – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie argues that which stories get to be told and how they are told essentially depends on who is telling them, and that the privilege of storytelling usually lies with the person with power. In a pluralistic and diverse society, it’s important that storytellers from every perspective be heard, in order to reflect the truth of that society and its multi-faceted nature.

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Ada Limon

Ada Limón – Wife

Ada Limón’s poem, Wife, examines the secret pitfalls of marriage from a woman’s perspective; poignantly, from the point of view of a newlywed, of someone entering unchartered territory that has been laid out and defined for her by the generations that preceded her.

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Ruth King

Imagine That Our Only Job is to Mirror Each Other’s Goodness

Ruth King is a writer and Buddhist teacher who focuses on working with racial identity in learning meditation and using the tools of spiritual practice to examine one’s own racial being. King combines western psychology with eastern philosophy and indigenous wisdom to coach her students in becoming more aware of their underlying areas of fear and vulnerability as well as the key points of their own rigidity.

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James Baldwin

If Love Will Not Swing Wide the Gates, No Other Power Will

James Baldwin describes his own coming of age and awakening to spiritual and political consciousness as beginning with the revelation of sin: ‘I became, during my fourteenth year, for the first time in my life, afraid—afraid of the evil within me and afraid of the evil without.’

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Pema Chodron

The Ground is Always Shifting – Pema Chodron

The acceptance of the fundamental changing, impermanent nature of the world is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy and is a constant theme through Pema Chodron’s teachings. When things fall apart, when the ground is pulled out from under us, it is not a cause for panic, but rather a cause for celebration.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Inscrutable Energy that Preserves the Breach

In this excerpt from an article published prior to the release of Between the World and Me, Coates talks about his childhood in West Baltimore. He describes the gap he felt between his own world and the world he saw through the TV set, as well as the perplexity and disingenuity of being fed a stream of non-violent role models at school.

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Ryokan

Ryokan – Playing with the Children

Ryokan loved children, and played with them so much that other adults began to question his sanity. He says, ‘Even if I were able to say something/how could I explain?’ His wholehearted immersion in playful activity is the essence of Ryokan’s very particular Zen expression.

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Tim Desmond

F*cked Up, but Always Beautiful

Tim Desmond writes about his wife’s terminal illness, and his revelation about the way in which his deep love for his wife was manifesting as anxiety, and because of it he was missing their shared moments of beauty.

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Kerry Egan

Being With Dying – Kerry Egan

In her years working as a hospice chaplain, spiritual caregiver and author Kerry Egan has rarely found that dying patients want to discuss God or religion. Instead, chaplaincy work for her leans on the quality of the presence she can offer her patients and the compassion and empathy with which she can hold space for them and their stories.

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