Monday, February 11, 2013

THE CLEAR AND PRESENT EYE


We understand the specific attraction of Zen Buddhism when we realize the extent to which the contemporary West is animated by "prophetic faith," the sense of the holiness of the ought, the pull of the way things could be and should be but as yet are not.  Such faith has obvious virtues, but unless it is balanced by a companion sense of the holiness of the is, it becomes top-heavy.  If one's eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived.  To a West which in its concern to refashion heaven and earth is in danger of letting the presentness of life—the only life we really have—slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present hour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.

From Huston Smith's "Foreword" to
The Three Pillars of Zen:
Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
by Philip Kapleau




One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: "Master, will
you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?"
 Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word "Attention."
"Is that all?" asked the man.  "Will you not add something more?"
Ikkyu then wrote twice running: "Attention.  Attention."
"Well," remarked the man rather irritably, "I really don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written."
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: "Attention.  Attention. Attention."
Half angered, the man demanded: "What does that word 'Attention" mean anyway?"
And Ikkyu answered gently: "Attention means attention."

Anecdote shared by
Philip Kapleau in
The Three Pillars of Zen 



24 comments:

  1. If one's eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived.

    I am putting that on my refrigerator. Curious what the kids will have to say about it. The Blue Heron is one of my favorite birds. I have never really seen them before moving to NC a few years ago. I know my father-in-law is sick of them (FL) but they fascinate me. Gorgeous photos.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. I could never grow tired of great blue herons. I find them quite majestic, and they seem to embody the presence and focus that I am writing about in this piece. Yes, yes — that quote you are going to put on your fridge is a perfect reminder of how we should approach each moment.

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  2. When we are present time seems to expand. I will be fifty this summer, but at times I feel as if I've lived a thousand years, I've paid attention to the precious now, the little moments. The curious thing is that living with attention and awe has kept my inner child alive. As my five year old granddaughter recently put it. "Mama, I get you, you are like me, we both like to have fun."
    Wonderful post and photo.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Esther. I think that it is living in the present moment that makes you feel as if you have lived for a thousand years, for time exists only in the past and the future. The present moment is eternal, i.e., beyond time. And, yes, by all means possible, keep your inner child alive. Zen teaches that the best mind is "beginner's mind."

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  3. Living in and appreciating the moment is so important but often hard to do if we are worried or upset about things. Mostly I manage it but just occasionally my thoughts are all on tomorrow and 'what if'. Lovely photos of the heron.

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    1. Thanks, Rowan. If your thoughts stray to the tomorrows and "what ifs" only occasionally, you are doing far better than most of us. For me, it's a constant battle, though I do think progress has come with the years. Thanks for the compliment on the heron photos. Took these a couple of days ago.

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  4. Sometimes I imagine myself as a deer or a bird when I walk through the meadow and woods. Unlike the other times I walk, when I am thinking or praying, in these I am looking around for as much as I can take in both near and far. I imagine what it must be like to be conscious [somehow] that my survival depends upon it. A wariness that is not fear comes. Every footstep becomes important, every sound is deciphered. I often wonder if I could survive as they do, but I have far less knowledge than they of what I could eat.

    Your blue heron is magnificent!

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    1. Your approach to walking in the meadows and woods if full of both presence and attention, both of which are the focus of this piece. The challenge for me it to take the rewarding approach we sometimes take in safety of the wild and bring it to the chaotic world of our daily lives. Your mention of the difference between walking attentively versus praying is interesting to me because I actually think that the purest form or prayer comes when we are so attentive to the present moment, a holy moment, that we are beyond awareness of prayer.

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  5. Two wonderful quotes from the Philip Kapleau book, which I haven't read, but feel that I must order. And a great comment from Esther too.

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  6. Yes, I think you would like the Kapleau book, Robert. I have great respect for the work of Huston Smith, the late comparative religions scholar and writer, and he claimed that this book is the best ever written on the subject of Zen. I picked up my copy recently because this is one of those books I started some time ago, but never got around to finishing.

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  7. Alan Watts says in The Way of Zen, something different but, I think, complementary:

    "...The course of our thinking and of our very history has seriously undermined the common-sense assumptions which lie at the roots of our social conventions and institutions. Familiar concepts of space, time, motion, and of natural law, of history and social change, and of human personality itself have dissolved, and we find ourselves adrift without landmarks in a universe which more and more resembles the Buddhist principle of the "Great Void"...
    ...I am not in favour of "importing" Zen... But there is no doubt that there are things which we can learn, or unlearn, from it and apply in our own way."

    It's as if Watts is saying Zen might help us make "sense" of a senseless world. Kapleau seems to be saying it can help us avoid making the "wrong sense" of it, if that makes sense.

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    1. Thanks for the Alan Watts quote, Dominic. Yes, I think it complements what is being said in "The Three Pillars of Zen." I don't think we need to "import" Zen because Zen itself if not a structure or belief system. It's trans-cultural and can be utilized anywhere, anytime, with our without one's traditional beliefs. I think, for example, that one could be a Zen Christian no less than a Zen Buddhist.

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  8. To be present, to pay attention seem simple guides, but daily life often passes us by as we look off into the future or rehash the past. The older I get, the more I try to stop the incessant chatter of the mind toward diversion so I can experience what is happening right now. I've wasted too much time already looking both forward and back! The clarity of your photos always amazes me. I especially like the textures in the first and the movement in the last.

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    1. Thanks for the kind and generous comment, Barb. Yes, we've all spent too much time worrying about the past and the future. However, as you recognize, we have this moment of this day to live, and the only requirement is that we be present and attentive. Glad you liked the photos.

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  9. Your beautiful images have certainly caught a certain MOMENT of each bird.. like Zen - savor each moment of life.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. As you can see throughout my blog, I've always thought that herons, which epitomize the qualities stillness, attention, and presence, really capture the essence of Zen.

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  10. Absolutely true George. It is awful how much people miss when they walk through the countryside without really looking - both physically and metaphorically.

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    1. Thanks, Pat. I agree completely with you.

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  11. There’s nothing more to be said . . . . .

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  12. I like that, "the holiness of the is"
    my practice lately is to pay attention to my attention.

    I'd thought, about a year or so ago, to start a "pay attention project" but the irony of the universe in its comic way led my attention elsewhere for a while (a nice way to say I got distracted). Yeah, kind of funny, that.

    It's such a delight to have things keep popping up here that are mulling around in my own stew. Validation, I guess, and not unlike when I'd show up to school as a kid and find a friend wearing the same color without having planned it.

    :)
    Wendy

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  13. Thanks, Wendy. Yes, I think the present moment, with all it entails, is the holiest of moments.

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  14. This is a timely post which I think my son would like to read. (Do you remember I mentioned his interest in Buddhism before?) Last night he started a blog which I am sure he would like you to comment on http://revivalinstincts.blogspot.com

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  15. Thanks, Cait. I will definitely check out your son's new blog.

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