Notes to myself—August 2013
To say “forty years” now is no stretch, saying Buddha’s Name, inside and out, steadily sporadically, at times spontaneously, one way or the other all these years, as so this morning along empty streets, nembutsu readily rides each breath through to release, leads place specific into this body-moment that leads to the unknown next, all held and all moved, single breath on single breath carrying living voice homeward.
My Dad used to speak of the “second wind” that long-distance runners experience, when body overtakes will and running turns into a kind of riding, a place of effortless confidence in something other—today it feels like that might feel, in it for the duration, never alone, somehow easy.
I’m American in the sense that I have no definitive link to any soil other than this, no family memory of any “mother land” outside North America. Whence then, the powerful influence of nembutsu ?
Reading selections from Albert Saijo’s, Outspeaks to the poetry workshop at the jail last week, the men loved the power and simplicity of his work.
Some have said of Saijo, an American original by my way of thinking, that he always looked both ways, then went straight ahead—by “both” they must have meant inside and out.
Saijo went from the camps into WW II, from the war back into his country. He traveled it. He chewed peyote, as I recall, sat Zen and fasted. In later years, he lived on the edge of a volcano (so as not to take up too much room). And although he eschewed literary recognition, he was a writer by vocation—all caps and dashes, no other punctuation. In his own words, he wanted to be a “field preacher,” in the way of John Muir’s father.
And it works. I mean, I can only imagine a field preacher, but Saijo’s words are anything but indecisive—he was a slight man, small of stature and photos suggest, quiet. But his words, the thinking and passion that pushes them, are large and clear—no equivocation here—he knew where he was headed, and that’s where he went.
Look out, look in—then keep going. Kind of like a life of nembutsu.
Once a motel, the b&b sits off the main road below grade, under trees, adjacent wide spread ranch-like work buildings. Plentiful green and blue, a pleasant place, where water running through the walls signals the neighbors showering, and each closed door resonates through several units either side. But it’s quiet. And a slight adjustment to the vertical blinds on the sliding door, lights the room with morning, lets the ordered shades of beige pateo stones just outside extend a sense of comfort and calm, both sides across the sill.
I remember a journal entry by Cid Corman, ex-pat American poet living in Japan in the 1960’s, capturing the moments of an entire day as he sat overlooking the garden space outside his kitchen. He observed, and he wrote his life, the day unfolding in shifting tones of light.
And comments by William Stafford, on the way it is for him in writing. Not writing poems, but writing, the active engagement of giving oneself over to the process, poem or prose.
The difference between the two for Stafford is a matter of signals; neither content, nor form, so much as certain signals from writer to reader that a poem is underway; the lack of such, signaling prose—grammar, syntax, line length.
And for Stafford, the poem is not just about signals sent by the poet, but certain signals the poet receives and transcribes—a poem then is not merely personal statement or personal expression; at its best a poem speaks to, speaks of, source rather than sender.
This subtle shift demands of the writer certain careful but easy handed attentiveness to his or her own intentions in order to determine whether the nature of engagement is prose or poetry, or both, and to send it out as best they can, as such.
The ambiguity here rightly defines the writing way Stafford enjoyed, as a humble one.
Shinran, prolific writer, unwavering in the certainty of the source of his liberation, at age 86, cites Honen: “ ‘Other Power means that no working is true working.’ ‘Working’ is the calculating heart and mind of each practicer. As long as one possesses a calculating mind, one endeavors in self-power. You must understand fully the working of self-power.”
Thoreau: “Good writing as well as good acting will be obedience to conscience. There must not be a particle of will or whim mixed with it. If we can listen, we shall hear. By reverently listening to the inner voice, we may reinstate ourselves on the pinnacle of humanity.” 1-26-1841 And: “We are constantly invited to be what we are, as something worthy, and noble. I never waited but for myself to come around; none ever detained me, but I lagged or tagged after myself.” 2-3-1841
Awareness, inner and outer, careful listening, learning and consideration. Appreciation for all received; for the continued receiving, wonder and praise. And the personal determination to attend the quietude required to continue this way of humility and gratitude.
Borderless, boundless, all and ever-inclusive.
Every question, any question, indicative of too much self--Namuamidabutsu.