Monday, March 25, 2013


The zen master and I opened the front door this morning and discovered that our little corner of world was under a pleasing blanket of fine white powder, notwithstanding the old adage that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Actually, I'm quite fond of snow, provided it does its handiwork quickly and then moves on to other venues.  As the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy has observed, "snow provokes responses that reach back to childhood."  I also love the way that snow dissolves color and forces the eye to appreciate natural shapes and forms that might have otherwise been overlooked.  Finally, I love the silence that comes with snowfall — silence that stills the heart and allows it to listen to different things.

My small offering today is a few photos taken early this morning around my yard and neighborhood, plus a lovely poem by Miguel de Unamuno (translated by Robert Bly).  

                                        THE SNOWFALL IS SO SILENT
                                                  By Miguel de Unamuno
                                                  translated by Robert Bly

                                             The snowfall is so silent,
                                             so slow,
                                             bit by bit, with delicacy
                                             it settles down on the earth
                                             and covers over the fields.

                                             The silent snow comes down
                                             white and weightless;
                                             snowfall makes no noise,
                                             falls as forgetting falls,
                                             flake after flake.

                                             It covers the fields gently
                                             while frost attacks them
                                             with its sudden flashes of white;
                                             covers everything with its pure
                                             and silent covering;
                                             not one thing on the ground
                                             anywhere escapes it.

                                             And wherever it falls it stays,
                                             content and gay,
                                             for snow does not slip off as rain does
                                             but it stays and sinks in.

                                             The flakes are skyflowers,
                                             pale lilies from the clouds,
                                             that wither on earth. 
                                             They come down blossoming
                                             but then so quickly
                                             they are gone;
                                             they bloom only on the peak,
                                             above the mountains,
                                             and make the earth feel heavier
                                             when they die inside.

                                             Snow, delicate snow,
                                             that falls with such lightness
                                             on the head,
                                             on the feelings,
                                             come and cover over the sadness
                                             that lies always in my reason.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt,
the 26th President of the United States
(photo above is of Roosevelt dressed in full expedition attire
as he led a 1909 expedition to Africa on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution) 

Monday, March 11, 2013


Bamboo Grove, Hasedera Buddhist Temple, Kamakura, Japan
Photo by Urashimataro

Imagine a world in which you are liberated from all of the labels that have been imposed on you throughout your life.  Imagine a world in which that elusive experience we call "enlightenment," "awakening," or "higher consciousness" is not to be found in another time and place, but, instead, is to be found right under your nose — in this moment, this place, with all of your imperfections.  

These are two of the matters discussed by Alan Watts in his introduction to Zen: The Supreme Experience.  Having just reread that portion of the book, I am providing a few quotes that I find extremely liberating.  

I must begin with a word of explanation.  Some time ago I was in a radio station as a participant in a panel discussion on man and religion.  Before we went on air, the moderator asked all the participants around the table to introduce themselves.  I was sitting on his left, and the man on his right began: Rabbi So-and-so, Jewish; Reverend So-and-so, Protestant minister; Father So-and-so, Catholic priest; Doctor So-and-so, logical positivist and so on.  When it was my turn, I said, 'Alan Watts, no label." Immediately, there was an outcry: "You aren't being fair."
     I say 'No label' sincerely, because although I speak a great deal about Zen, I never refer to myself as a 'Zen-ist" or as a Buddhist because that seems to me like packaging the sky.
     There is an excellent reason for the absence of a definition of Zen.  All systems that have preconceived views of what the human being is and what the world ought to be categorize existence under labels.  People who have Jehovah-like ideas of an order that they wish to impose on reality also use labels.  But when one's concern is not to order the world around but to understand it, to experience it and to find out about it, you give up this superior attitude and become receptive.
     Then, instead of knowing all about it, you come to know it directly.  But this 'knowing' is difficult to talk about because it has to be felt.  It is the difference between eating dinner and eating the menu.
•  •  •  •  •

We may in the past have had marvelous spiritual experiences — almost everyone in this world is lucky enough to experience satori once in their life . . . Ever afterwords, you search for that experience again: 'I want it that way.'  You once had a wonderful girlfriend, and now you want another just like her.  That way of thinking blocks the possibility of meeting with life.  This is why meditation for Zen practitioners and Taoists means affirming that your everyday mind is the way — not the mind you ought to have or the mind you might have if you practiced acceptance or concentration.  We want you to look at it just the way it is right now — that's Buddha.  Just like that.
     Of course, many will say this is nonsense.  'The way I am now is degraded, ordinary, unevolved, not spiritual, decadent.'  Yet remember this phrase from the Zenrin poem:  'At midnight, the sun brightly shines.' All right, it is midnight now.  This, at this moment, is the awful dark thing we think we are.  Yet the poem also says, 'This is Buddha.' 
     A monk once asked a Zen master, 'What is Zen?'  The master replied, 'I don't feel like answering now.  Wait until there is nobody else around and I'll tell you.'  Some time later the monk returned to the master and said, 'There is nobody around now, Master.  Please tell me about Zen.' The master took him into the garden and said, 'What a long bamboo this is!  What a short bamboo that is!'
     So you may be a long bamboo, you may be a short bamboo.  You may be a giraffe with a long neck or a giraffe with a short neck.. What you are now is the very point.  There is no goal because all goals are in the future. There is only the question of what is.  Look and see; see how, of its own accord, it comes to your eye. 
Alan Watts, No Label