June 2006

by Norman Fischer | June 08, 2006 at 7:23 PM

June 8, 2006 Charlotte's Way From Abbot's Journal Vol 54

Reading Laynie Brown's "Daily Sonnets" in MS so as to write a blurb for her. She writes an afterword to the book called "The permeable ‘I,' a practice," in which she tells about finding a way to let her life as a mother, and the world with all its distractions and interruptions, enter the frame of her poems. This comes from Stein, ultimately, the eruption of the everyday — of immediacy — into the work. Certainly a strategy I've used, and continue to use, as a device for writing. Less persona, less control, less conventional sense of the poem as epiphany or short story, and more the sense of it as a present moment event in language, with a mind of its own. Hence "the permeable ‘I' a practice." It is so. Laynie's poems are playful, elegant, wise, full, fun. She's got a brilliant touch, feminine, delicate, and tough, as Ted Berrigan used to put it.

Cuco and the guys up here today to do the chipping up of brush that K. has so long wanted them to do. So machinery grinds on outside. Last night at seminar there was a pool party at the Community Center during our sitting period, so there was plenty of noise. But you can bring the noise into the sitting, into the breathing, and find the silence in the middle of the noise. I shared many of Dogen's poems from Heine's translation. I like my version of Dogen's priest poem better:

Although because of my ignorance I'll never become a Buddha I vow to bring others across Because I am a priest

We finished reading Dogen's "Everyday Activity" (Kajo) and next week, at our last meeting until August, we'll do Shoji ("Birth and Death"). People seem to enjoy Dogen's texts, to be inspired and awakened by his teachings. I asked people to talk about the phrases that meant most to them. M. talked about the Zhaozho dialog: Have you been here before? Yes. Then have some tea. Have you been here before? No. Then have some tea. Temple Director: Why do you say to both of them, Have some tea? Zhaozho: Temple Director! Director: Yes. Zhaozho: Have some tea. M. found this story gave him a great permission to accept and make use of all circumstances that confront him. That he usually doesn't grant himself such permission. E. noticed the passage about Guishan's ox: "I have an ox I am training. When it goes off the road I yank it back. When it tramples the fields of others I whip it. I have been training it for so long its hair's turned white. Such an adorable one! Even if I drove it away it would come back." E. liked the line "What an adorable one." She says that when she looks at her own behavior she does not necessarily find it adorable. Quite the opposite, she finds it often objectionable. I said that when she finds it objectionable it's because of identity — she looks at a person who she calls herself and finds that person lacking. But when it's adorable it's about process not identity — the ongoing process of training the ox, which necessarily involves yanking and whipping. You come to love, to find adorable, what you take care of over time.


une 13, 2006 Charlotte's Way From Abbot's Journal Vol 54

This afternoon I'll go again to Alaya training retreat to talk to the group. I was there on Saturday to talk about "embodying the Dharma" using the four foundations of mindfulness and Dogen's "Everyday Activity." Today I talk about emptiness, using the opening lines of the Heart Sutra. As I said yesterday in priest meeting , in response to someone's saying, "Isn't there something to understand?" to practice is to take on a particular feeling for life, a vision or approach to life. It's hard to say that this is "something." It is, on the one hand, unmistakable, and, on the other, impossible to define to grasp as object, since each person will embody it in his or her own way. And the method toward acquiring this feeling is foolproof; it always works. To sit together, eat together, live together, studying the teachings — they always do sink in somehow, regardless of imaginative, spiritual, or intellectual capacity. It was sweet to share these reflections with the assembled group of venerables.

We also studied Yunmen's "two bodies of sickness," which had come up last time in our Denkoroku studies. Yunmen's teaching has to do basically with the "zen sickness," which is caused by having some true penetration of the emptiness of all dharmas, but being unable to let go of this penetration as an accomplishment, and therefore in some "hidden" (as Yunmen puts it) way, making of it a source of destructiveness. For "emptiness" isn't really a view or an understanding so much as it is the recognition that all views and understandings are provisional, fleeting, and insubstantial. So that all things are non-existent or empty in the sense that they can't be found as separate entities, apart from their causes and results. Like flashes of lightning, dewdrops, light shows, phantoms, bubbles, as Diamond sutra puts it. So things are light and easy, not heavy and consequential. And yet, at the same time, we experience both positive and sorrowful emotions, and because of love, which is emptiness' emotional expression in the human heart, we act to benefit others.


June 16, 2006 Charlotte's Way From Abbot's Journal vol 54

Bloomsday! Reading an article in New Yorker about Joyce's grandson, who is very cranky in relation to the tribe of literary scholars, and seems to be effectively stopping any serious Joyce criticism (since critics need his permission to quote published and unpublished material). He's depicted as a very odd and retro fellow, someone out of the last century. It's particularly ironic since Joyce clearly knew that his famous difficulty, use of obscure references, multilingual puns etc. would keep the professors busy for centuries, thus insuring his ultimate "immortality." It's true that scholars are interested in things they can write about, things that require their interpretation in order to be intelligible. So much is this so that serious scholars now want us to understand that we cannot even know the true significance even of trivial matters without their help. So they decode popular culture, showing that its actual meaning is much more subtle than its naive consumers would ever have guessed. Scholars are self conscious enough to have a sense of humor about this, to admit that all their efforts at interpretation do not get us any closer to the "truth." But they delight (as I do!) in the proliferation of ever-expanding circles of truth — without end. Cheerfully obscuring what at first seemed so simple!



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Norman Fischer


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