A friend included this passage from Rilke in her annual holiday greeting:
The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust.
A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.
But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.*
Last week I saw part of a public television program on the development of the English-language Bible and was moved, yet again, by the beauty and meaning of this old text. Underneath the theology, the Bible points to something enduring and true.
To go beyond the self, as required by generosity, we must be willing to see the world as it actually is (including the non-thing we call "the self"). Practice helps us gain this clarity of vision, but it's not the only means.
Art also can play a powerful role in cutting through the barriers to clear sight. Today's video features the work of a French photographer known only as "JR." As you'll see, his "28 Millemetres Project" has opened eyes throughout the world.
Someone's got to do it.
Thank you for reading Ox Herding. Best wishes for the holiday season!
As a follow-up to yesterday's post, we might consider how we withhold from the world.
While the devata spoke to Buddha about material wealth, each of us has a treasure even more dear - the feelings, emotions, impulses, thoughts, fears and projections that comprise this non-thing we call "self."
Of course, as we become familiar with these phenomena, we might not view them as a treasure. We are joyous, generous beings, true. But we are also filled with rage, greed and deep foolishness.
And we find it terribly difficult to admit this to others. We believe, No one would would like me if they knew who I really am.
That might be true, but it misses the point.
The real issue is our unwillingness to admit the truth to ourselves. We are stingy with ourselves, thieves of our embodied vitality.
Fortunately, the Buddha prescribed a wonderful healing medicine for our knavery: transparency.
If we wish to use our life to benefit the world, then we must become of the world. And we do this by revealing ourselves fully to the world around us. Rage, greed and delusion cannot withstand this exposure - they flourish only when withheld.
When we open ourselves, a wonderful thing happens: we become clear like mirrors.
We accurately reflect each moment, making it possible for others to see themselves clearly. We help others because we know directly the sources and cessation of all suffering.
We become whole. And in our fullness, we heal the world. What could be more generous?
One night a devata spoke these words to the Buddha while he rested in Jeta's Grove:
So when the world is on fire with aging and death, one should salvage [one's life] by giving: what is given is well salvaged.
What is given bears fruit as pleasure. What isn't given does not: thieves take it away, or kings; it gets burnt by fire or lost.*
According to the story, the trees all around glowed with radiance as the devata spoke. And it's no wonder - she completely revealed the cause and effect of generosity.
Yet we continue to cling to ideas and views, to position and possessions. We do this, even in the knowledge that it brings thieves and kings into our lives, thus destroying that which is most precious.
And if we sit with the devata's words for a while, we might see how clinging transforms each of us into thieves, simply through our willingness to hold back from the requirements of moment world.
Could this be true? Do you ever feel like a thief?
It's the season for gifts. Even the baristas at my local cafe have placed stockings on the back of the espresso machine, ready for small offerings.
The Buddha observed that generosity provides support essential for life. And a failure of generosity diminishes both the giver and the receiver.
Further, the Buddha pointed out that even the smallest gifts matter:
Even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, 'May whatever animals live here feed on this,' that would be a source of merit.*
Of course, not all gifts nourish life in the way described by the Buddha. And some gifts may even undercut the basis for well-being.
When the holidays arrive, I feel an old and familiar urge to please others by offering the perfect gift. Frankly, I'm attached to the surprise and enjoyment others experience upon opening my gifts.
While it's easy to see how these mind-habits originate in childhood experience, I find it harder, much harder, to observe how they shape my behavior in the actual moment of retail wonderland.
This year, especially, I've tried to ask myself (as I slide out the credit card): "What is the function of this gift?"and "What kind of nourishment comes with this?" More than once, the card has returned to my wallet, unswiped.
I'm learning - slowly - that every moment provides an opportunity for looking, even when I'm feeling generous. Perhaps, especially, when I'm feeling generous.
First, I want to thank you for your generous encouragement and support over the past two weeks. I'm recovering well.
Second, it's the time of year when many of us participate in the exchange of gifts. Personally, I enjoy this formal acknowledgement of relationship and care, provided that's the intention in offering or receiving a gift.
Of course, sometimes generosity doesn't turn out very well.
The ancient Greeks viewed Pandora as endowed with every kind of gift and talent (pan=all; dora=gift).
Perhaps one of her gifts was curiosity, because she couldn't resist looking into a sealed jar, thereby releasing humanmankind's ills into the world. According to the legend, only hope was remained in the jar.
Funny thing about curiosity.
When, through practice, we bring curiosity to this container called "me," we can discover stuff that we might not wish to know. We might find that we also contain all of humankind's ills . . . and all of humankind's joys, as well.