This essay is based on a talk I gave at Palma Zen Center, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in May 2014.
Earlier today, Tolo took me to visit La Ermita de la Santissima Trinitat (Hermitage of the Blessed Trinity), a small cluster of buildings built into the terraced cliffs of the Serade Tramuntana mountains.
Four Christian hermits live at the hermitage, old men with long beards and soft faces. Their home looks west across the Mediterranean towards Barcelona - and perhaps further, toward the Western Pure Land.
After walking around the grounds of the hermitage, Tolo and I sat silently together in the hermitage's tiny chapel.
In the stillness, I reflected on the spiritual longing found in every culture, a longing that perhaps originates from deep awareness of the ways in which thinking cripples our ability to bring joy and wisdom and kindness to everyday life.
Who doesn't long for release from this self-obsession?
Humans have many names for this release. Some call it God or enlightenment; others call it Allah, emptiness, Buddha, love, absolute, or oneness.
Such names point at the mind before thinking; they describe a life unhindered by name and form.
A small crucifix hung on the chapel’s Western wall, a common symbol of Jesus' willingness to let go of his human form and enter into a complete union with God.
Our spiritual path, the way of Zen, is not different from that undertaken by Jesus.
If we practice sincerely, we will inevitably give up the clinging that defines the "small self."
Make no mistake: practice leads directly to death - the death of self-obsession.
After leaving the chapel, Tolo and I walked along the retaining wall of a small terrace. A tile plaque embedded in the wall read: Help us live in the peace of God.
So the question is: Where can we find this peace?
We certainly won't find it in thoughts, fears, hopes, and fantasies. We certainly won't find it by attaching to name and form.
But if we open to don’t know mind, which is before thinking, the peace of God immediately appears.
And, of course, we don't need to go to a remote mountain hermitage to find this don't know mind.
We can attain don't know right here in the noise of Palma. We can do it right now, in the unfolding of this very moment.
Perhaps you've noticed: Things are not what they seem. And, whatever they seem, they're gonna change.
Buddhists sometimes call this emptiness. But terminology doesn't actually help much; it's just how things go. If we care to notice.
These thoughts came to mind as I watched this remarkable video. I grew up in Southern California in the 1960s and, to my teenage mind, surfers were like gods. While things change, I'm not sure my view has.
The surfer is Mike Parsons, on a wave at Billabong. Talk about going with the flow!
Over the past few years, we've learned about the heartbreaking and dharma-destroying persecutions of Muslims by a small group of Buddhist monks in Myanmar.
Fortunately, Myanmar also has monastics who exemplify the Buddha's teachings in actions and speech. This video profiles one of these monks, Venerable Tayzar Dipati, a man who cares for young HIV patients and who also mediates intercultural harmony.
And the man's face . . . Oh, it's the gift of dharma practice!
Recently Ox Herding hit the six-year mark but, given the inconstant evolution of the site, I'm not throwing a party or anything. Ox Herding has changed quite a bit over the years, mirroring in some ways the changes in my own life. That's normal, right?
One thing hasn't changed, though - the interest, encouragement, and support of readers from around the world. Please accept my sincere appreciation. You keep Ox Herding alive!
On past anniversaries, I reposted articles from the preceding year that captured the spirit of the blog. But the site's been pretty quiet for the last twelve months so I've dipped into archives from previous years and rediscovered a few old favorites. I hope you'll enjoy them.