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.

My new book, forthcoming in Sept. 2015, Sid

What would the life of Buddha look like if it were lived today?

Anita Feng has crafted in Sid a delightful jewel that captures both the classic story of the Buddha, as well a deeply personal and familiar reflection of the story in a contemporary retelling.
Sid weaves the traditional tale of Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be with the story of Sid, an everyman who finds himself waking up amid the reality of work and family life in the modern world. Returning to the standard tale with careful consideration of the relationships in Buddha’s life—to his wife, parents, and child—Feng’s narrative embodies the Mahayana perspective of living one’s enlightenment in the world.
Beautifully told with a blend of poetic prose and verse, Sid teaches that the key to the story of the Buddha’s life is that the story could be about any of us.

 

An Excerpt

Sid

 

He sits rooted to the iron city bench, riveted as completely as the bolts holding his seat together. For hours night shadows perform silent movies under a street lamp. A cool breeze wraps itself around him like a scarf.

Just then, a solitary rabbit hops lightly across the grass. The rabbit pauses to turn and look at him. His eyes, this close. Sid’s eyes, just as close. Though they are of different species, they recognize each other. All the dots connect. And then the dots disappear.

This doesn’t seem to surprise either of them. Two sentient beings gaze at each other at the shimmering gate of dawn. The morning star picks the lock, and leaves them as they are, open and shining free. He looks up and sees a star. Instantly, city gates and cerebral chains crumble. He and the star both fall together into what feels like a great ocean of being. Sid marvels at the brilliance of this momentary world. Looking about him, he sees glistening beings going to work, the tips of every blade of grass brushed alive by the glow of streetlights, each reflecting the universe, just as it is.

Just so, just now, it is a clear, bright day. He smiles. All the stars in the universe say, Yes! And precious beings everywhere turn as one, nodding in complete accord.

 

 

Morning Star

(from somewhere in the instantaneous universe)

 

The morning star looks down and sees it all happen in 3-D, High Definition real time—Sid cut free of the phantom iron chain strung between his shoulder blades and his high-stakes, demonic dreams.

Like the greatest Houdini of all time, the Enlightened One has released the leaden bar over his own eyelids and opened his eyes wide. And he has seen the morning star. Finally.

“Took you long enough to look up,” the star says.

“Took you long enough to rise,” Sid says right back.

:

 

 

We’re Told That We’re All Buddhas, but

but, we are a captive audience of standardized icons and story lines!  What to do?  Tell it new.  Show it fresh.  What else could we ever authentically do?  Tricky parts: trusting that, trusting that, trusting that.

I’m reminded of drawings that my daughters did in their early childhood.  Such conviction and surety (and purity!) in those portraits.

I’m reminded of a few of the earliest raku Buddhas I made and realize now, that it might be a good idea to revisit that squishy, likeness-free realm!

some early work
Early Abstract Buddhas

The Complexion Blue

I love using the “naked raku” technique of firing.  The surface of the raw clay is coated with a thin layer of slip (known as terra sigillatta), which is then burnished smooth with a soft cloth.  The surface is glowing but not shiny; truly reminiscent of a skin-like quality that I love.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with colorations added to the terra sig.  And I especially love this blue.  Though light in shade , it’s no baby blue, but rather something smoked and crackled and lined just as any aged face ought to reveal.

Before…and After

I always have to hold my opinions in check after a piece has been glazed and before it’s fired.  It’s raw, monochromatic, somehow very flat-looking.

And the reward (hopefully) comes after the raku firing when all the painterly impressions of fire, wind and weather play over the surface.  A human face appears….