Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Friends Meeting Last Night

Our Society of Friends of the Buddha meeting last night turned out to be a poetry fest. In the next couple of days I'll share a couple of the poems we heard and talked about.

Marc shared this poem by Hafiz:

I Know the Way You Can Get

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent
And into one's self.
O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:
You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.
You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.
You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love's
That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
And Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.
That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me.
For I am a Sweet Old Vagabond
With an Infinite Leaking Barrel
Of Light and Laughter and Truth
That the Beloved has tied to my back.
Dear one,
Indeed, please bring your heart near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!
All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Trees Speak, a Cinquian

I took a walk on a spring day so pleasant that the doors of perception swung open. 

I went under a spell of vernal intoxication.

Grandfather and grandmother oaks seemed to say, "Good day, Dan!" 

I listened to them for a long time and composed the following cinquain:

Trees Speak, a Cinquain

Trees speak
To those whose hearts
Are still enough to hear
Subsonic music, laconic
And clear.

I invite you to join the fun of composing Cinquain poetry.

Try it, you may like it.

A Cinquain is a 5-line poetic form inspired by Haiku and Tanka but adapted to English by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey. Cinquain poetry has achieved a following over the years. In its basic form, a Cinquain's five lines display a syllabic count of 2-4-6-8-2.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

5-7-5 Haiku: Restless for Beuaty

restless for beauty—
spring walk, chilled late afternoon
wind, clouds, drops—rainbow!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

News Fast

For as far back into childhood as I can remember, my parents taught me to keep informed about current events. My family subscribed to a local paper,  as well as a national one, the Christian Science Monitor. We religiously watched network television news  featuring Walter Cronkite. We listened to National Public Radio.

My wife, obviously, was not raised in my family's value system. She has always been puzzled by my interest in keeping abreast of news-sports-traffic-and-weather, and "information." She has long advocated for a different approach: engaging in local action, while eschewing national news. "Why bother with news you cannot change?" she would ask. I thought she just didn't get it.

When we moved in together in 1971, we had no trouble evicting television; we simply never bought one. Now, almost 40 years later, it appears, happily, that we will never will.

We used to read newspapers. At one point I regularly read three papers. Ah, change! Today, the Christian Science Monitor doesn't offer a print edition. Our regional daily is anorexic— two thin sections, and if it slims down any further it shall disappear entirely. We don't subscribe. I get the regional daily at work, but it seldom interests me enough to even touch it. Our local weekly seems to be hanging in there. It's a quick read, down, now, to just one section.

That leaves radio and the Internet. In regard to radio, I gave up commercial radio years ago because I cannot abide listening to crazed exhortations to buy things. NPR leaves me with the suspicion that all things are not considered, not by far. I don't look at news on the Internet. Blogs are about my only touch with current affairs these days. And my blog list isn't news oriented, is it?

What do I do with all the time I save by not keeping up to date with current affairs?


There's time to take a walk out to the flower-filled fields.

Reflect on my many blessings.

and to stand under real blossoms, realizing that I'll never really understand them.

That's what I did this afternoon!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Watch TV

DW and I got off to an early start today so we could take a hike to the summit of Mount Burdell in Olompali State Park not far from where we live. The weather was ideal for our purposes: cool and partly cloudy with gentle breezes.

The trail ascends very gradually about 8 kilometers and climbing almost 500 meters from the edge of the Petaluma River to the summit.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in a meadow that yielded inspiring views east to the Petaluma River as it winds its way into the San Pablo Bay. We saw many birds. Quite a number of turkey vultures circled overhead so many, in fact, that when I got home I took a few moments to pen my third Etheree poem. Here it is:

In the sky
Turkey vultures
Aerial TVs.
(Not television, no,
Not even good nature shows.)
Ponder real buzzands, beings who
Fly with such skill that they steal our breath
They circle toward heaven, they dine on death.

About the Etheree form:

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower. No rhyming is required, but it's fun to work in a rhyme or two if you can.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Vernal Equinox, An Etheree Poem

Photo of crabapple tree just out my back door taken March 20, 2010.

Is now
Poised between
Winter, summer.
All the news i need
Is just out my back door:
Crabapple fully blooming
At latitude thirty-eight north
Along the Pacific's eastern edge
Not the first day of spring, but its zenith.

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Morning Offering

 Dawn as seen from my house, March 16, 2010

At the Society of Friends of the Buddha meeting last night, my pal Bruce shared that he had been struck by a poem that someone had given him some time ago. He had run across it as he was going through his piles of old papers and he was struck by its power. He said that reading this poem, for what he believed must have been the first time, he was filled with encouragement, that special feeling that it is possible to get unstuck, to live the life we would love to live.

When he got home, Bruce emailed it to me for sharing here on Mindful Heart. 

With Bruce's blessings to everyone in our Sangha, and

with my wish that all my bloggy friends

will enjoy it too, 

here you go.

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free

Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day.

The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn,
The quiet loyalty of breath.

The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography

That invites me to new new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer
But to do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

John O'Donohue

Sunday, March 14, 2010


an Etheree Poem

March sunshine
Afternoon breeze
Something about trees
How they listened, calmly
To our grudging bitterness
Listened, absorbed, and drank it down
Grounded it root-deep in the earth so
We could hear the leaves sing, the hawks, the geese.

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

For a fuller discussion of Etheree poetry, visit Shaping Words.

Japanese Death Poems

“Japanese Death Poems?” my wife asked. “Why would anyone want to write, much less read death poems?”

“Christian recommended this book to me,” was my reply. “He said that he found the poems pithy and powerful. When I saw the book at the library and borrowed it. I’m enjoying it. The Japanese seem to have a somewhat different view of death than is common here in America. Would you like to hear one?” I asked guessing, correctly, that what her answer would be. Ah well.

But maybe you, dear blog reader, would you like to listen to what a few Japanese Haiku poets and Zen practitioners had to say in their last moments?

If so, read on.

This one’s by Shiyo, who died on the fourth day of the second month, 1703 at the age of thirty-two.

Surely there’s a teahouse
with a view of plum trees
on Death Mountain, too.

Kozan died on the twenty-sixth day of the ninth month, 1747 at the age of forty-six saying,

How sublime—
a boat beneath the moon
and from within, a prayer.

And Ryoto’s Tanka delivered on the day he died in 1669 at the age of seventy-five:

Till now
I thought that only
others die
that such happiness
should fall to me!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where Science and Buddhism Meet Part 1

Last post I just linked to the video...

Here, for your convenience, is the video ready to go


And here's Part 2

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where Science and Buddhism Meet

If you should have 20 minutes or so to watch some video, I recommend linking over to Stream Source's blog (there's a link in the "Blogs I Read" list) and watch parts 1 and 2 of this video.

Maybe because my father worked for Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and JPL with the top physicists of his day, I find this sort of inquiry absolutely fascinating.

If you would be delighted to ponder how what Buddha taught 2500 years ago and what quantum physics have in common, then go over there and watch... LINK to Part One

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Number, a Rictameter

The many ways
Corporate media
Clutters our collective mindscape
With useless garbage: Hollywood affairs
Sports scandals, Reality shows
Combat simulations
All make our hearts

A rictameter is a nine-line, fifty-syllable form of poetry.

 The syllable count in a rictameter adheres strictly to the following pattern: 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2.

Ideally, the first and the final two-syllable lines mirror each other. But their meaning and their feeling can (should?) be altered by what lies between them. With only 50 syllables to work with, rictameter poems are considerably more spacious than Tankas, but they're still pretty brief. Any subject may be taken up in this form of poetry.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gray Beginners, A Tanka

Friends gather at dark
Sutras, candles, silence, tea
Daphne blossom drops.
Gray hair, or dyed, worn eyes close
He strikes the bell, "Shall we start?"

And here's a resonant poem by Chinese poet, Wang Wei (701-761)

A Meal for Monks

I came late to the dharma,
but each day, deepen my retreat.

Waiting for mountain monks,
I sweep my simple hut.

Then down from cloudy peaks
you come through knee-deep weeds.

We kneel on tatami, munching pine nuts.
We burn incense and study the Way.

Light the lamp at twilight:
a single chime begins the night.

In every solitude, deep joy.
This life abides.

How can you think of returning?
A lifetime is empty like the void.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The News I Need

When my computer at work went offline a month or so ago, I decided to let it be. A clear inner voice let me know that I had spent enough lunch hours chewing unconsciously while staying abreast of email and news.

The news I need is not online.

The news I need is outdoors.

Today, I got out for a sunny 30-minute lunchtime constitutional. I listened to the wind, trees, and birds. I took one photo, the one below.

I wrote this Lanterne poem upon my return.

Lunch break
Spring wind, sun
First mockingbird

I learned about Lanterne form on Shaping Words. Basically, a Lanterne poem is a Cinquain poem divided by two. You can learn all about Lanterne poetry by clicking on this phrase, here: LANTERNE POETRY. It will take you the essay on Shaping Words blog about this laconic form of poetry.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Greatest Loss

Last night the Society of Friends of the Buddha met in my living room. We discussed some teachings of the Buddha. I want to share some of our discussion with MindfulHeart friends and with members of our Sangha who were not able to be here last night.

In a reading titled, “The Sharpest Sword,” the Buddha answers a series of questions. His answers to these questions are, I believe, well worth contemplating. 

The Buddha was asked, “What is the greatest loss?”

His reply was, “The greatest loss is to receive without gratitude.”

His reply to this question was not something I would have guessed as an inevitable answer to this question.  His anwer is, however, well worth thinking about. 

Please allow me to ponder the Buddha's answer for a moment, for I think his answer applies to me, and perhaps to many others of us as well.

You see, I count myself among a very, very, very small minority of human beings who has never known real hunger in an entire lifetime. 

I was born in the United States in 1951, and I have always enjoyed only  plenty of food. Grocery store shelves have always been fully stocked wherever I go. A huge variety of foods from around the world is available to me at very little cost. Half a dozen stores within walking distance from my front door compete among themselves for my food dollar which has buying power that is not less than astonishing.

Am I grateful for my great good fortune?

Well, I try to be. I really do. I try to remember to be grateful for the plentiful food that has always been available to me. 

But as often as not, rather than really tasting and focusing my attention on the tasty and nutritious food that I am eating, Sarah and I talk—as we did, again, this evening—about local city politics or the music class in kindergarten this morning or some non-gustatory subject of the sort. 

To be fair, we cook our food from scratch; we linger an hour or more over our meals by candlelight. We have some very pleasant music playing in the background (Stan Getz's tenor saxophone tonight). We keep our conversational pleasant, and interactive, and, if you will permit me to say this, pretty interesting. But the food we eat falls into the background of our consciousness. It's not the main focus of our meal time together. The fact is, I take my incredible good food mostly for granted.

With climate change, peak oil, ecological collapse (is there really any other word for it?), and topsoil degradation, it is not difficult for me to imagine a very different scenario within my lifetime (or, since I’m getting on in years) certainly within my children's lifetimes.

The days of plentiful good food for the many are numbered and probably fewer than we realize at the moment. Before too long, the abundance of food I’ve known my whole life will come to its natural end. Plentiful food will someday be a fond, and bittersweet memory.

As the Buddha said, “The greatest loss is to receive without gratitude.”

I can imagine a time not so far in the future when I’m hungry, really hungry, and without anything to eat. At that time,  I may remember the meal I had tonight and wish I had been less concerned with city council business and more attentive to the rice and green soup and vegetable salad that I enjoyed this evening.

Will I wish I had heeded the Buddha’s answer to the Deva's questions? Will I wish I had avoided the greatest loss by receiving my meal with genuine gratitude?

I think it’s more than possible.

What do you think?

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Comment on Afterlife

Bonnie, on her Original Art Studio blog (there's a link on my "Blogs I Read" list) asks the question, "Do You Believe in an Afterlife?"

Her question got a lot of people to weigh in with their comments, even me.

At first I resisted the temptation to leave a comment. It's too big a topic to address in the comments section of someone else's blog. In the end, though, I left a comment. Here is what I wrote:

Hi, Bonnie!

Wow. Big topic. But I cannot resist attempting to answer your question in such a laconic format, so here I go.

Quoting myself from last Monday's MindfulHeart post:

"I'm among those who recognize the fact that the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in some form of reincarnation. I'm not prepared to dismiss the vast majority of human experience simply because there's no scientific basis for ancient wisdom's belief in an afterlife.

And, perhaps, there IS is a scientific basis for such a belief...

Physicists say that some 90% of the universe is composed of dark matter about which we know very little.

Perhaps this dark matter hides heavenly realms?"

The Dalai Lama believes in reincarnation, and I'm willing to defer to his thinking on the matter. He's thought and written about this matter longer, harder, and with far more insight than I will ever be able to apply....

I'm happy to proceed in this life under the assumption that the actions I take today will affect future lifetimes. If this assumption proves to be true, my good behavior in this lifetime will pay off in future lifetimes. If the assumption proves to be wrong, I haven't lost anything valuable. Happiness, despite what corporations would like you to think, comes from deciding of your own free will to behave morally. 
That said, I don't give this sort of speculation too much thought. It's plenty difficult simply to be the kind, thoughtful, non-judgmental person I wish to be.

In the Nikaya Sutras when the Buddha was asked questions like this, he avoided answering them. Speculating about the unknowable can serve as a distraction from attending to issues that need more urgent attention, like loving your kids or spouse.

How karma works across lifetimes when there is no self to begin with—as Buddhists insist—well, this is one of those paradoxes that, in my mind, can only be true.

Is there an afterlife? Yes, but don't worry about it.

Work instead in this present moment to be the kindest person you can be.