The Oh-So-Human Enlightenments

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humanity + mud

+ the mottled, messy life =

enlightenment

A few of the main features of working with clay that I love so much are its messiness, its unpredictability, and, of course, its earthiness!  Out of this, it seems that nearly anything is possible.

It is an ongoing experiment, just like our daily lives. Whether we categorize it as having gone well or poorly, How fortunate we are that it provides our chance to awaken!

Yours from deep in the muddy world,
Anita Feng

Everything is Given

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Everything is given. However, because of the transient nature of all phenomena, nothing can ever belong to us. As a mother, as a wife, this can be a tough pill to swallow. But this is the insight of our meditation practice. It warrants a lifetime’s examination and celebration—in the midst of coming and going, everything is given.

What bounty is spilled out before our eyes, our hearts and minds. What unexpected potentiality and occurrences.

It must be said that the Zen teaching of letting go is not, by any means, a teaching of loss. Letting go means releasing our mind’s fixations so that we may participate, fully, in this wondrous parade of being. May it be for the benefit of all.

On Finding the Perfect Expression of Our Imperfect Love

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In honor of our mothers, I would like to bring forward a story that my first Zen teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, tells about the enlightened teacher, Sul, that lived during the Tang Dynasty in China. Because she was a woman she was never authorized to teach or given an official title but in spite of this, she was acknowledged in her community as an awakened Master. The following quote is taken from Seung Sahn’s book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha:

“One day, when she was an old woman, her granddaughter died. She cried bitterly during the funeral and kept crying back at her home, as the visitors filed past to offer their condolences. Everyone was shocked. Soon they were whispering. Finally one of them went up to her and said, “You have attained the great enlightenment, you already understand that there is neither death nor life. Why are you crying? Why is your granddaughter a hindrance to your clear mind?” Sul immediately stopped crying and said “Do you understand how important my tears are? They are greater than all the sutras, all the words of the Patriarchs, and all possible ceremonies.”

It might be helpful to consider that what we feel is already complete, whether the sensation is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Though we, as human beings, tend to love imperfectly, just to express it can be a complete teaching of great love, great compassion and the great Bodhisattva Way.

As spring blossoms, may we extend ourselves and give ourselves away with just this kind of Mother’s Mind.

Embodying the Dharma

DSC_9223In Zen we encourage ourselves to embody the dharma. Why?

Actually we don’t have any real choice in the matter. We are either alive, or not. We either 1) chase phantoms of thought and cling to the psychic rollercoaster of delusive passions, or…. 2) we embody the dharma and choose to be here now, and live the super-abundant bounty of present moment reality.

There’s a famous kong-an that asks, simply, “Why are there no other animals in the lion’s den?” The poetic metaphor of a lion is often found in writings from both Indian and Chinese Buddhism. The implication is clear. Believe in yourself 100%. Just do it!

Embodiment has nothing to do with liking or disliking, feeling happy or sad or even neutral. It has everything to do with being alive. To be alive to present moment reality, it then becomes possible to find our fitting function, whether it be to march in Washington, to sooth a child from a terrifying dream, or to ride out an overwhelming mystery of what it means to be a human being.

Be the Ride, Be the Spinning Top

When my children were little, they dreaded going to the doctor’s, especially when they knew they would be getting a shot. Maybe some of us aDSC_9246dults still fear it? But always, that pre-suffering suffering far eclipsed that instant prick on the arm!  And yet, how captivating (how apt a term) it is to imagine what the pain will be like.

Just think of the way the news is broadcast to us in a daily dose of “what if’s”. There is excitement in fear, energy stirred up in projected visions of doom – after all, that what sells the news. That’s what sells the tickets to the Big Top Show of not knowing. So what’s the difference between the dread of not knowing, and the awakened grace of not knowing? Should we simply disregard our concern for the future?

Of course we do need to prepare, in a practical sense. We need to consider the effects our actions have on the planet so that we can heal its wounds. We might well consider the possible repercussions of a political leader’s bad speech so that we do not become infected by it. But we also need to distinguish between when our minds get held “captive” by the hook of fear as opposed to a spacious wonder at the wild ride that is unfolding before our very eyes.

May we always, all of us together, be the ride and the life of the dharma.

Together and Apart

two buddhas facing 4 two buddhas facing 3I wonder how many of us filled with awe as the moon passed in front of the sun. While the trees, birds, animals, people and clear blue skies were the familiar objects that they had always seemed to be, for a brief space of time, all of that altered. Suddenly everything was different, and we looked a little differently at each other. We were in it, as one, together. What a wonder!

Just a day later, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, opposing sides converged. Slogans, diatribes and tear gas filled clear blue skies. Suddenly everything was different, and in that place, people looked at each other as us and them, as right and wrong. What despair, anger and fear!

The temptation to prophesize and fortify our fabricated points of view is strong. But we can take a giant step back from that kind of confrontation, and instead, see, hear and taste with courageous attention.

A monk once asked Zen Master Yung-ming, “What is the great perfect mirror?”

The Master replied, “A broken earthen pot.”

May we, all together, find wonder and truth, and the wisdom to make amends!

A Closer Look at Meditation

A closer (sculptural) look ….

Please click here for more views and information.
This figure was just fired a couple of days ago, and I think it’s a good example of what meditation looks like in real life, from the inside out. Here, in this figure, the insides are exposed, the breasts partially bare, partially covered by something bright and golden.  There is, in her expression, a palpable feeling of just sitting with what is — in the sculpture, what is, is a mix of raw clay and elegance, matte black with shimmering gold. Always, at the center, is something very bright indeed.  In this case, a little golden ball resting in her palms (gold dust mixed with epoxy).
Better, I think, than the stereotypical Buddha figure, this represents what it feels like to meditate with causes and conditions, just as they (really) are.

Our Love Affair With Hope and Imagination

As a naturally creative type of sentient being, we humans seem to thrive on hope and imagination.  What if? What if I wrote a novel about ______? What if I began my next sculpture in just this way____? We reach out and extend ourselves into wondrous possibilities.

I don’t know if this would be considered blasphemy among creative types or not, but after a lifetime in the arts, both as a writer and sculptor, I am compelled to say that hopefulness and imagination are useful to some degree.  And then they are not.

What is it about these two thorny words, “hope” and “imagination”, so alluring for their blossoms, but oh so difficult to handle without getting hurt? For some reason I think of that quintessential old Hollywood image of the tango dancer with a rose between her teeth. Oh so thrilling in the moment, in part because of the delicately delicious moment and in part, because of the understanding that the dance will end, and no doubt end differently than planned.

The usefulness, or to use a less pragmatic term, the lovely thrills of hope and imagination are that they set us in motion, and they set us off with a question, What if?

However, the benefits are brief. I’ve heard it said about tango dancing that it is an absolutely perfect two-and-a-half-minute love affair.  So too with Hope and Imagination. They provide that oh-so-vital spark, but then it’s time to get down….and just do it. To engage in the business of craft.

In other words, the question “What if?” needs to transform into the question “What is this?” From then on, we are immersed in the doing, making, being of our artistry. As we write, sculpt, live, all that transpires feeds into the creative work.  If we spin out (so to speak) into too many “What ifs?” we will never “do” anything at all.  And therein lies the essential risk.

To access hope and imagination is wonderful, but it is also wonderful when we know how to let them go, thank them for the dance and then go ahead and make the most glorious work of our lives.

In Praise of Mothers (Kwan Yin)

Kwan Yin, in honor of our mothers, or whoever mothered us…..

As Mother’s Day approaches, I think of all that care, and patience, and even impatience — all born out of love.  Mothers and children, we come as we are, as these sculptures reflect — brimming with brilliant colors, a bit cracked at times, with that gesture of concern and care.
Thank you, Mom!

Is this a Buddha or a Kwan Yin?

It is the gesture of a statement:

I am here for you.