Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quote from Zen Essence

Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom

by Thomas F. Cleary

Shambhala Publishing, Boston, Massachusetts      © 2000      136 pp.

The Normal Mind
The Way does not require cultivation--just don't pollute it. What is pollution? As long as you have a fluctuating mind fabricating artificialities and contrivances, all of this is pollution. If you want to understand the Way directly, the normal mind is the Way. What I mean by the normal mind is the mind without artificialities, without subjective judgements, without grasping or rejection.  -- Zen Master Mazu  (p. 1)

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quote from Eyes of the Heart

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

by Christine Valters Paintner

Sorin Books, Notre Dame, Indiana     ©2013     143 pp.

"My journey with photography began when I was a very young girl. My maternal grandparents owned a chain of photography stores called Fitts Photo & Hobby Shop in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and so I owned a camera for as long as I can remember.

Photography has always been a way for me to see more deeply, but my awareness of how this was an experience of prayer and often an encounter with the sacred presence emerged over time. It wasn't until I embraced monastic spirituality in my late twenties that I began to experience photography consciously as a contemplative practice. I began to see photography as a way to slow down and gaze deeply, noticing things I missed in my rushed life. For me, the camera provided an encounter with the eternal moment--that place in which I was able to suddenly become so present to what I was gazing upon that I lost track of time, allowing eternity to break in. It became a tool for deeper vision, supporting and enlivening contemplative seeing."  (pp. 1-2).

--quote submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Summary & Quote from Painting Heaven (children's book)

Painting Heaven: Polishing the Mirror of the Heart

Original work by Al-Ghazali, excerpts retold by Coleman Barks, illustrated by Demi

Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY     ©2014      unpaged

In al-Ghazali's work The Revival of Religious Science: Book XXI - The Marvels of the Heart, he tells a story about polishing one's own heart.  It is retold here by Coleman Barks, and is paired with Demi's wonderful, detailed illustrations. The story and illustrations form the main portion of the book.  For adults and older children, the story is included as it appears in The Marvels of the Heart in the front of the book, as well as a section in the back with excerpts from the Fons Vitae English edition of al-Ghazali's work, making this a fun and instructive book for all ages.

As a Demi lover, I continue to marvel at the range of her artistic talent and the many cultures and spiritual traditions she explores. Highly recommended, and thank you Kathy H. for this lovely book.

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Quote from Luminous Clarity

Luminous Clarity: A Commentary on Karma Chagme's Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen

by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Snow Lion Publications, Boulder, Colorado    ©  2016     208 pp.

"The full title of this text is Meaningful to Behold: The Essential Instructions of the Great Compassionate One on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, which has been shortened to The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen in English translations. It was composed by the learned and realized teacher Karma Chagme. Karma Chagme was known for compiling instructions given by the Buddha in sutras and in the tantras, as well as many instructions given by the Indian and Tibetan mahasiddhas. He compiled these extraordinary instructions in many different teachings of which one of the best known is his Mountain Dharma teachings, which were instructions to long-term retreatants. Karma Chagme is regarded as an extraordinary teacher and was known for giving instructions that are far easier to understand and put into practice than those found in traditional Tibetan Buddhist texts. In addition to being very lucid these instructions have unique profundity."  (Introduction, p. 1)

"Most Mahamudra guidance texts usually reduce the practice of looking at the mind into two main techniques. These are looking at the mind in stillness and looking at the mind in movement. These two techniques are related to the previous discussion about the mind's true nature and thoughts or mental arising. When our mind is at rest and we simply rest and observe the mind's nature and its characteristic of luminous clarity, we are resting in the natural lucidity of the eight consciousnesses. Looking at the mind when no thoughts are present, we are looking at the mind in stillness. When the fifty-one types of thoughts arise, we are seeing the mind in movement, which is looking at the nature of the thoughts rather than the nature of the mind. Here "moving mind" refers to the occurence or presence of thoughts.

Now these two states of mind, stillness and movement, are distinct from one another. In one case we're looking at the nature of the mind itself; in the other case, we're looking at the nature of thought. No thoughts are present in the state of stillness of mind. In the other state, movement, the mind is full of thoughts and is usually busy. But when we look at stillness of mind and at movement of mind, we find that they have the same nature. When we look directly at our mind, we experience its characteristic luminous clarity and its nature of emptiness. When we look at thoughts, we see that thoughts are cognitive lucidity that is empty in nature."  (Meditation and Postmeditation, pp 83-84.)

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Quote from Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story

Merton and Sufism: The Untold Story -- a complete compendium

Edited by Rob Baker and Gray Henry

Fons Vitae, Louisville, Kentucky    © 1999   343 pp. 

"On the heart of Poverty three renouncements are inscribed: Quit this world, quit the next world, and quit quitting."    -- Unattributed Quote from Merton's reading notebooks

"Each thing hath two faces, a face of its own, and a face of its Lord; in respect of its own face it is nothingness, and in respect of the Face of God it is Being. Thus there is nothing in existence save only God and His face, for everything perisheth but His Face, always and forever."  --Al Ghazali (d. 1111)  -- passage underlined by Thomas Merton

"If you have seen a lover of God you have seen a very wonderful thing--of one grief not settling in the earth but like a wild bird whose delight in solitude has kept him from rest, while he yearns in remembrance of the Beloved, and his food is love in hunger and his drink is love in thirst and his sleep is the thought of union and his waking hours mean no neglect. . . . At last through love (shawq) and long service he attains to the degree of all-absorbing love, then his tranquility returns and his fire dies down and its sparks are quenched and his grief decreases and he becomes one with the object of his longing."  -- Bayda bint al-Mufaddal  (a woman saint of Damascus (c. twelfth century)  -- From Thomas Merton's reading notebooks    p. 141

--submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

High Holiday Sutra

High Holiday Sutra

by Alan Appel

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota    ©1997     240 pp.

Let me first quote author Andrei Codrescu from the novel’s jacket: “American Jews have been mixing Buddhist saffron with Jewish matzoballs for over three decades now, but not until Alan Appel’s rabbi in High Holiday Sutra have we seen the perfect result. High Holiday Sutra is emotionally Jewish, philosophically Buddhist, and aesthetically American. Om Shalom.

Maybe not. Other books, such as The Jew in the Lotus, come to mind as having a more “perfect result” in terms of demonstrating a greater understanding of both Judaism and Buddhism and the connection thereof. I’m not sure what Appel’s credentials are other than being a Jewish writer who is, presumably, somewhat into Buddhism. This book — and granted, it’s “just” a novel — lacks depth and complexity. On the other hand, it’s quite an enjoyable read, especially if you’re Jewish with Buddhist leanings, as am I. If you’re not Jewish or a “yidophile,” a lot of the novel’s humor and meaning might elude you.

High Holiday Sutra’s structure is the following: Rabbi Jonah Grief is delivering a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) sermon to his new congregation of Jewish Buddhists, the Hebrew Meditation Circle. In this sermon, which is the book’s story, he tells his new congregation how it is he came to be a rabbi in general and rabbi of their Buddhist congregation in particular. He bases his sermon on the Book of Jonah, his namesake, and says, “For, as you know, Jonah’s is a story of forgiveness, flight, cowardice, excruciating self-examination, hypocrisy, the begrudging of God’s compassion, depression, and vomiting." Rabbi Grief’s life, as he relates it, encompasses all of the above and more, including sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. It is the not-uncommon late-20th-century American saga of how the religion of one’s birth fails, at least initially, to spiritually nourish, and how another tradition, typically an Eastern one, enables one to see the depth and meaning, finally, in that same birth religion.

Mainstream Judaism is indicted for its superficiality and lack of spiritual practices that can lead one directly to communion or union with the Living God. Buddhist meditation practices enable Rabbi Grief to regain the faith he lost early on while in rabbinical training. They also give him the capacity to truly love his second wife after a disastrous first marriage, making his story a tale of one man’s growing up and gaining in wisdom and compassion.

So, as I said, if you’re interested in Judaism and Buddhism, and want a light, amusing read, this is a fun book to while away a rainy winter afternoon. And it does have its moments of real insight in both a worldly and spiritual sense.

— reviewed by Karen Fierman

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Quote from Liang and the Magic Paintbrush

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush

by Demi

Henry Holt and Company, New York, New York     © 1980     30 pp.

Long ago in China, a boy named Liang 
earned money gathering
firewood and cutting reeds.
His one wish was to paint.
But he could not afford
to buy a brush.

One day he passed an art
school and went in
"I want so much
to paint," he said.
"Please will you teach me?"

"What!" The teacher
glared at him.
"A beggar wants to paint?"
He drove Liang away.

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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