These questions and answers relate to the Week 3 teaching, "The Depth of the Drop: Water Enough," from the retreat "Whole Life Offering."
I love the idea of art as offering, as with your bowls. But in my own life I find I don't have the time or when I have the time I don't have the energy to offer art. The time I would use for this would be selfish because I would not then be available for others. And I feel mostly that my motives for wanting to create art are entirely selfish: ego, alone time, scratching my own itch.
1) The first thing I hear and wonder about in your presentation is this: you start with loving an idea, mention not having time, not having energy when you do have time. Then the presentation moves into a decision that even if you did what you've said you love it would be selfish, because you would not be available, followed up by a restatement defining selfishness.
Sounds like it might be a good time to come have a cup of tea, take up a genuine and deep study of this "self," and to as Mary Oliver once put it, perhaps let the "soft body love what it loves" before the loop of what you love being the definition of selfishness shuts down all your energy…
2) Second reflection: We all create. If the self is carried forward, we've created selfishly, whether we're serving soup at a soup kitchen or painting a picture. Is all the art that's ever been offered by the human race nothing but a product of seflish ego scratching its own itch? (May the rash continue endlessly…:) What is the self in "self-expression"? This question isn't just for art and artists; the human mark is as inevitable as the mother sea turtle leaving tracks of her tail in the sand even as she tries to hide her footprints. Can art become self creation, absorption, the didling away of a precious a lifetime? Sure. But so can world service, eco-activism, raising children —any good thing under the sun. What makes all the difference is being the one responsible for time.
Art is easy to attack; that's why artists' lives are essentially courageous, yet without spiritual formation and support, artists of course can can get turned around and around in the winds of ego.
As a community of beings we are in an on-going discernment: is music, myth, liturgy, poetry, sculpture, painting, dance (religious practice…) pivotal to cultural evolution, or just soft dalliance, entertainment to be abandoned when there are "serious issues" ? In my role right now as a liturgist, yes, I work with a very simple daily engagement that takes place at the kitchen sink with tapwater (where it exists) in homes around the world, a way that is both private and communal. Like other teaching forms in the dharma, there is a sense of offering "means," but also the present work comes naturally out of my very particular life/my vows/what is. Those practicing with the water bowls are not just artists, and the practice they make a commitment to is very minimal: keep this bowl topped up with water, give attention to water as you do so. The differences among those taking this up are huge. Some are formal Zen students with a sitting practice, some are artists, some are water activists. For many people this is the first "practice" in their lifetime, for others it is one among others. What do we hold in our hands when we hold this bowl, hold water, hold attention? I am available as questions come up, and encourage a steady attention, a deepening of questions, and against stagnation.
I will share that some of the grain I "bring to the mill" has among its grittiness…a tendency to write; degrees in and publishing poetry, a brief career in hydro-mechanics; decades in koan, Dogen study and zen liturgy at a Monastery, including ordination and vows of poverty; girl-woman-crone transitions; early-on preoccupation with death and humor (separate issues initially); periods of severe illness and vibrant health; awareness of earth life-systems being at a probable tipping point in "my lifetime," etc. —whatever I offer likely has a flavor of all this. My work, not unlike that of all persons, is to give attention to the story of my identity not being what its all about, letting the water and the grinding stones work on this life as it is offered in practice, and then to serve naturally. That's what offering a whole life involves, and beginning to receive a whole life offering.
Thank you for this teaching, and for your practice! I would love to see a world revolution in attitudes about our earth environemnt but I don't see a precedent for this anywhere in history. Therefore I feel that our practice should be about what we can do for ourselves and seek our own enlightenment. Despite having a Theravan bent myself I enjoyed your talk about Dogen and his writing which are truly remarkable, though I feel like they almost get a little silly sometimes or as you so poetic I don't quite understand and it's too much of a puzzle to help me in my practice. The idea of having life and water in a bowl is truly a beautiful one, I wonder how you came across this lovely and quite powerful thought. Thank you for this teaching, I bow to you, Jon
Thank you for writing. I hope you won't give up —on Dogen, me, or yourself. The "poetic" gets a little slammed oftentimes for being silly or unhelpful if the demand it is making to shift out of a stuck place isn't met; it's not so very different than what happens between a teacher and student. When there's trust, the student has essentially created a relationship with a teacher that includes encountering difficult moments with respect. When that respect is absent, and the teacher is too demanding or does something unexpected, the student stops the enterprise with a critique of the teacher, excluding any exploration into their own heart-mind of study. Respect can include awareness of mutual shortcomings, but without basic trust, we don't study—the poem, the teaching, the other, the self. My teacher so often would say, "Trust yourself!" even as he demanded seeing a little deeper. It was one of the greater gifts; I hope you might let it help your practice as well.
As to rest of what you write: the revolution is here, now, always. Ultimately, how could it be otherwise? History has never been and will never be an adequate excuse, because prior to the time when something is possible, it was impossible (witness a baby's walking, witness the passage of the Voting Right's Act). A secure promise of what the future will look like if we do the right things is not the justification for right action (witness the course of sailboat, witness the management of rivers). We simply take responsibility for this.
Perhaps the gravest danger right now is that so many compassionately inspired people tacitly think nothing is possible because the informations flows argue for the improbability of being effective. Always the individual faced old age, sickness and death. The call to awaken to true nature resides in noticing that fully. Now sentient life on earth faces extinction within a generation (or several) due to human greed, anger, ignorance: waking up is still resident within that awareness. It is not, however, sufficient to simply "take care of your own enlightenment" if by doing so you are not thoroughly committed and realizing responsibility for all beings.
In service to all the waters,