Saturday, August 27, 2011

Of Gods and Men

For years now I remember and think about the koan where the monk climbs to the top of the flagpole and he's asked, Well, what do you do now? Daiho Hilbert in his dharma talks always came back to that koan. And that same koan is told in a number of different ways throughout Buddhist and Zen literature. Sometimes, for instance, the monk is hanging on a branch of a flimsy bush at the edge of a cliff. He's holding onto to the branch for dear life. If he climbs back up to the top, a hungry lion is waiting for him. If he lets go, he dies. So what does he do? I recommend watching this French movie Of Gods and Men for a way to consider this koan. It's the best movie about the life of the spiritual practice I have ever watched. A community of Christian monks in contemporary Algeria are confronted with the Mujaheddin on one side, the corrupt government on the other.Their practice has carried them to the very top of the flagpole, to the edge of the precipice. What do they do?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Practice of the Eightfold Path is a creative act.

Below, like the title of this blogpost, are quotations from Stephen Batchelor's memoir The Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. I highly recommend the book. Batchelor is also a photographer. I found this one from his collection "Sospel's Shadows"-- Bobby Kankin

"Buddhism has become for me a philosophy of action and responsibility. It provides a framework of values, ideas, and practices that nurture my ability to create a path in life, to define myself as a person, to act, to take risks, to imagine things differently, to make art. The more I prize Gotama’s teachings free from the matrix of Indian religious thought in which they are entrenched and the more I come to understand how his own life unfolded in the context of his times, the more I discern a template for living that I can apply at this time in this increasingly secular and globalized world." —page 181, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Stephen Batchelor

"Nonetheless, old habits die hard. In my quest for the historic Buddha, I still keep catching myself in search of a perfect person: one how can do no wrong, whose every thought, word, and deed springs from infallible understanding. But Gotama cannot be perfect because he is not God. He did not exempt himself when he said that all hings are impermanent, suffering, unreliable, and contingent. He tried to respond as best he could to the situation at hand. When I try to imagine myself in his present moment, I hae to cancel everything I know abobut what happened to the centures that separate his time from my mine. He had no inkling of the worldwide spread of Buddhism that would occur after his death. In the fractious environment of his time, he did not know whether he, his community, or his teaching would survive even for another day." —page 186, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Stephen Batchelor