When the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh died this past January, he left behind a treasury of writings that touched on just about every aspect of living I can think of. I’ve read at least a dozen of his books, perhaps more, and his gentle and rational voice came through clearly each time. He had the gift of being able to explain the application of Buddhist teachings to our lives in words that were straightforward and uncomplicated without ever being patronizing or proselytizing.
Robin recently gifted me with his latest book, entitled Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. It is different from the others I have read in two respects. The first is that each of his short chapters is followed by excellent commentary by a Buddhist nun, Sister True Dedication. The second is that he writes as someone who knows how little time remains to him, and wants to leave yet something more for those of us who are still floundering about on the surface of Earth. As a dying father who has his children gathered around him and wishes more than anything that he could do more, could have done more, to ease the suffering of those he loved.
Thay, for that is what his friends called him, was a man who never lost hope for us, for our species. He knew that the answers to the wholesale suffering and chaos that we call daily life were already here, in front of us and inside of us. That life need not be as difficult as we make it. That respect, compassion, and love were the tools needed and that we all possessed them. And that is crucial, I think. He never said Come buy another of my books, absorb what I have to tell you, and all will be well.
What he repeated over and over is You know that person of value, of peacefulness, that the planet needs to survive? It’s you and you don’t have to go anywhere and listen to anyone in particular to become that person. You already are. What is needed is that you learn how you can step out of the stream of confusion you are now walking in and gather your wits. What I offer you free of charge is a method that has worked for millions of people and it won’t cost you a dime.
That is the message he repeats in this last book. That each of us already has the tools we need. They are part of our true natures. What Thay offers us is essentially an owner’s manual for our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and lastly for our conduct here in our home on planet Earth.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions, we cannot be free.Thich Nhat Hanh
I was listening to NPR the other day, and a senior New Yorker cartoonist was being interviewed after a long and successful career. He recounted how when he started out he had submitted dozens of examples of his work to the magazine over and over without a single acceptance. What had to happen was that the magazine’s cartoon editor had to die, which he eventually did, and almost overnight his replacement began publishing this man’s work.
One of those many stories that come to me as revelations, when they really shouldn’t have. Give someone a bit of power and they will by god use it wherever they can, whether ’tis for ill or good.
From The New Yorker
Monday promises to be a drizzly day. It’s three a.m. and the decks are awash already. We’re planning a few days getaway in early April, and just found out that our cat sitter for the past eight years was not available, of all things. As if she had a right to a life of her own. So Sunday morning I met with our new sitter, who I will call Howard, since that is his name. He will fill in if our regular person ever again selfishly insists on her freedom.
Howard is a retired real estate broker, and seems to be a very nice guy, indeed. He is quite a talker, being one of those people where everything reminds him of a story, which he will then relate in detail. (I recognize the type immediately because I am one of them) When all an individual really wants to do is say Good Morning and then pass by, dealing with such a person is like being snagged by a gentle but insistent octopus who will only release you when they are finished with you.
So Howard and I chatted for an hour when all that was required was five minutes mutual consultation. I enjoyed it, however, because his tales were interesting and his sincere interest in animal welfare came through. He is a member of a local organization that raises money for the neutering of domestic animals, principally dogs and cats. He suggested that we watch for a special fund-raiser coming up when one of our better local restaurants offers a spay-ghetti dinner for one night, with a silent auction, etc. His advice was to buy our tickets early.
I might go if there isn’t a lot of spay-talk. Not the thing at dinner, you know. Just isn’t done.
From The New Yorker
I missed it completely. Sunday was the first day of Spring and I blew right past it. It’s the kind of thing where you can’t go home again, can’t step in the same river twice … you know the drill. It was Monday morning when I realized that it was too late for this year and I’d have to wait till 2023 and try to do better. Mother Nature puts out this stuff and doesn’t care if I keep up or not. I like her attitude, really, except when I am the laggardly one.
When you walk around Paradise, you can see the trees trying to contain themselves and not bud out prematurely. Do that if you’re a tree and then one really cold day comes along and freezes your blossoms off. There you are, damaged and with reduced hopes for the year. It’s a case where the sexual part of the tree blunders off into escapades when the wiser, older part knows better but can’t hold the process back.
Just like people. All of that life experience and knowledge gathered by parts above the waist can be undone in a fevered twinkling by parts below the waist on a Saturday night in a borrowed Buick. A couple of hours later when control has been returned to the brain, there is little it can do but wait and hope for the best.
It’s a rough system, isn’t it? When the biologic plan for making more humans takes over and sensible thinking is put on hold. I can see why Momma Nature would do that, because if we had time to think things through to their conclusions and weigh consequences pro and con there might be fewer takers. And Nature doesn’t want fewer, not at all. It’s always more with that girl.
Here’s how it might go if common sense and real planning were the order of the day.
It’s Saturday night and she is right here in the car with me and she smells wonderful and her eyes are sparkling and … uh, oh I can feel stirrings. Better get my head straight while I still can. I’ve got college to finish and mountains to climb and traveling to be done and I would very much like to trade the old VW in for a new Miata. So let’s take her home early and maybe we can meet again one day for coffee. In the daytime. In public.
Or it could go like it often does in real life.
It’s Saturday night and she is right here in the car with me and she smells wonderful and her eyes are sparkling and what was that baloney Father O’Reilly was spouting about purity and chastity anyway and I wonder if she is feeling the same about me and … wait, here she is snuggling in closer and oh lord where are my hands going and ………………………………………………….. ………………….. whew, what was that? This is one of those times when I wish that I smoked.
When I was a teenager and clueless about all this I had a friend who was notorious among us for having (gulp) had sex with several girls while the rest of us were still thinking about it as we would about a trip to Mars. He was a good Catholic boy and told his story like this:
“There I was with all sorts of thoughts about how good those girls looked and wondering what they looked like naked and what it might be like to sleep with them. Every Saturday evening I would go to confession and relate these mental wanderings to the priest and one day I asked him:”
Father, I am sorry to keep confessing the same old stuff week after week. But thinking about having sex is always a sin, right?
Yes, my son, it is.
But it’s much worse to actually do it, isn’t it?
No, my son, thinking bad thoughts is the same as acting on them.
It is just as much a sin to think about having sex with a girl as it is to actually lie with her.
……………… Father, could we hurry this up a bit and you give me my penance and all? It’s still early on a Saturday night and since I already know that I can’t stop thinking about it … well, I’ve got places to go and people to see.