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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Poem written in midsummer in the late afternoon

Among the many reasons
I’m glad Marissa secured
Her appointment
As gardener-in-chief
This year the primary one
Being that her highly developed
Organizational skills
Have proved decisive
In the abatement of chaos
Within the backyard forty

We’re in the midst
Of achieving great new things
Breaking various bad habits
Thinking about raised beds
And experiencing record growth
Under the new regime
Of both edible and
Decorative plants

So the summer passes
With periods of searing heat
Intermixed with short but
Intense bouts of anxiety
And self-doubt  
Hot as it was today
Even the grass heaves
A sigh of relief now
That it’s come around  
To the late afternoon
And the aperture of coolness
Dilates with evening's approach

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Postscript on the Reclining Buddha

Several readers took time to reply to my last post and explain that yes, reclining Buddhas are more frequently found in Southeast Asia.  Another correspondent (Jacques Huynen by name) also shared this further insight - specifically that the statue I encountered in the lobby depicts Buddha reclining at the moment of entering parinirvâna, lying on his right side, head supported by his right hand and one foot folded over the other.

I find this incredibly moving.  The sensuous and physical beauty that I found so compelling in this statue may simply be better understood as the beauty of death.  As the Buddha said to his followers in the moment of yielding -- Strive with diligence!

As a further addendum, here is the result of my striving this morning - this is the poem I translated by Han Shan, the poet of Cold Mountain.

What is created 
By hand best displays
Through warp and weft
The magnificent grace
Of the human spirit

By birth we inherit
The body’s limits
By death we become
A nameless ghost

From ancient times
It’s been this way
No matter how
We may strive 
To the contrary

White clouds come
And fill the interior
Thus teaching us the song
Of Immortal longing

Monday, July 1, 2013

In Midtown, Still Awaiting Enlightenment

Either Buddha has graced us with His presence in Midtown, or not.  I’m not sure which is the case though perhaps that’s not surprising.  After all, Buddhism has always traveled best by adapting to local conditions. It figures that here in North America, Buddhism would flourish as an offshoot of the Self-Help or Entertainment Industries, or else be propagated in a cloud of misunderstanding and confusion, as is typical of our public discourse, enough so that an encounter with Buddha might easily pass unnoticed or else be mistaken for something else.

In any case, the other day I was on my way to a meeting in a lawyer’s office at 666 Third Avenue – a grade A building one block north 42nd Street –when immediately upon passing through the revolving doors I encountered this stone statue, a photograph of which appears below –

A beautiful recumbent body that had been hewn from volcanic rock.  It looked to be at complete peace – inner and outer.   And I thought to myself – “How remarkable is this? A sight seldom seen in Midtown on my way to a lawyer’s meeting no less.”

Next to the statue, there was a small sign proclaiming this was Buddha reclining.  And I said to myself – “No it’s not!  It’s not Buddha at all.  Much more likely this is a statue of Guan Yin!”  As truly, I had never seen Buddha depicted in this manner. In Chinese statuary it’s much more common to see Buddha portrayed sitting cross-legged or standing hands folded in prayer; or monumental, as at Bamiyan, or with hands perched atop a big fat belly laughing jovially as a pendant on a charm bracelet.  And even when Buddha is depicted reclining, never have I seen the figure stretched out this way, smiling and appearing so at ease, smiling in a way serene and almost seductive.

Whereas the statue in the lobby reminded me very much of Guan Yin as I’ve seen her depicted, including a statue that sits next to my desk, which was restored and repainted by my wife.  There’s a striking resemblance in the pose and demeanor, as well as in the half-formed bare breast, that’s more typical of statues I've seen of the Bodhisattva of Mercy.

I will readily concede that I am no expert in Buddhist statuary and it’s perfectly possible that the stone figure in the office building lobby was taken from Cambodia or Malaysia or a temple in some other Southeast Asian locale, where Buddha has adapted to more sub-tropical customs and climate.  But it's equally conceivable the person responsible for placing the stone statue on Third Avenue may be even less expert than I, perhaps misidentifying the statue on the grounds that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas look alike anyway.

So as I said at the outset, perhaps the Buddha has graced us with His presence, or not, depending on one’s point of view.  And in any case, whether it’s Buddha or Guan Yin makes no difference in the beauty of the figure, nor does it diminish the significance of the presence of Buddha spirit right here in the center of Midtown.