Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for the ‘koan’ Category

Short Lines Speak Volumes

Haiku: Natures Meditation by Nora D’Ecclesis.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51BDcJpjIXL._SY346_This lovely book is the best description of haiku that I’ve come across in many years. Haiku: Natures Meditation is beautifully laid out, with accompanying photos. The term (Haiku) is described as, “Haiku is three short little lines in a small poem that speaks volumes about how we think when viewing nature.” Ms. D’Ecclesis also provides a history of haiku, what “haiku” style means, and where it originated from (zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism).

The author includes historical, and popular masters of haiku, such as Basho.

Spring rain
Leaking through the roof
Dripping from the wats’ nest

Haiku involves the what, where, and when, of a moment, as well as juxtaposition, crescendo, mystery, and realism. Here is one by the author that encompasses many of these traits.

Watching the white tail
The deer steps eloquently
Chunks of ice float by

There are are many famous ancestors, proponents, and writers, of haiku in Japan and around the world. Haiku: Natures Meditation is an excellent introduction to this poetry if you are unfamiliar with the style, and a welcome edition, if you are already well versed in the art. Here is another one of my favorites by Ms. D’Ecclesis.

Nor’easter brings ice –
Snow like a Russian novel
A single finch chirps

A Voddy a Day

The Magic Vodka Wardrobe by Sheila Patel.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

5148g32KOlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This story seems to have been written by somebody who was very drunk. That doesn’t mean that it is unintelligible, or not entertaining, but more like coming to consciousness every now and then and writing down what is happening. The Magic Vodka Wardrobe focuses on three sisters (Trace, Shaz, and Kristy), and their Aunt Sheila, who retreat to their magic wardrobe bar where bartender, Bachittar, provides the music they desire (a lot of disco from the 70s), the gifts they crave, and the latest gossip on what’s going on in the neighborhood. Sort of like your regular pub bar tender, but one with special powers. This is, of course, a secret bar that only the sisters and aunt are privy too.

It all begins and ends with Shaz celebrating her twenty-eight, and twenty-ninth, birthday (respectively). A cast of characters from home and community are intertwined, including the family dog (Snoop Dog), Lady Fatima (aunt Sheila’s sister), Sue Ellen (the Singh sister’s mother), The Ladoo Shop Twins (both big and hairy), Rajeer (the boy next door), Sheryl (who works at parents store), and Channing Copra (the handsome rich guy that Trace falls for). Oh yeah, the oldest sister, Kristy, lives in Australia and repeatedly Skype’s into the bar to hear the latest and give her advice.

There are nine rules in the bar. One of them is “In case of fire, pray.” Here’s an excerpt, to give an idea of the humor within these pages. When her sisters explain how worried Shaz is about her lost car keys to Aunt Sheila, she says, “Oh, you mean these?” asked Sheila, pulling a pair of keys out of her pocket. “Sue Ellen had them in her cardi; the pockets are so deep she found them in there with an old samosa, a pair of socks, a couple of scratch cards, and I’m sure there was an empty miniature Bells in there too! She was hiding them from Mad Mush Martha from the estate – she’s been taking selfies next to the new Audi.”

It would be pretty cool if you went to the pub and every time you walked in they knew exactly what you wanted to drink, started playing your song, and everyone got dressed up in costumes for the night, and danced their ass off. It doesn’t matter if you pass out on the floor, knock things over, throw up, or do and say the stupidest things ever. It’s all part of the magic. There don’t seem to be too many accompanying hangovers in The Magic Vodka Wardrobe. Of course, they’re better off left forgotten. One question from this naive reader in The States. Is “voddy” a British term for vodka, or something made up for this story?

What Might Be

51+1RXtBEpLspirits at the dawn of day by simon boylan.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Spirits at the Dawn of Day isn’t a light happy romance, or straight up suspense. It’s more like a search for meaning in an internal mystery. If you want fluff, or continued conditioning for an unconscious life, don’t read this. If, on the other hand (or two), you don’t mind looking inside and at the world, with new perspectives and insights, then climb aboard. The story literally crashes itself into existence and takes readers’ on an inner journey, by following the external travels of Josh, an Australian company CEO, who is leaving Japan after a business trip.

All Josh is thinking about is his usual drink, sex, money, and status. After a tragic incident turns his world inside out, Josh seeks out his old friend from college (Alex), and travels around the world looking for answers. He meets up with a philosophy professor on a New England farm (who is reminiscent of Dr. Richard Alpert, who left academia and became Baba Ram Dass); a Kundalini yoga teacher, at a retreat center in Sedona, Arizona; a doctor in Dalian, China; the doctor’s martial arts instructing wife; and a man in Japan; whom he had a connection with from the beginning of the story.

There are in-depth and far-reaching conversations and debates that take place between Josh, and each of those he meets, which include science, philosophy, spirituality, suffering, meaning, love, the environment, business, society, and how they all do, or don’t, intersect and effect one another. The dialogue is not stuffy, or the least bit boring. They contain many of the elements that exist within our lives when we talk personally with a friend, therapist, clergy, teacher, or relative. In many ways, these conversations remind me of the film My Dinner With Andre, in which two men sit down for dinner at a New York restaurant and talk about everything under the sun (and moon).

In Spirits at the Dawn of Day, Mr. Boylan has taken an honest and striking look at what might (or can) happen when the world (and our perceptions of it) becomes something different than we have previously known, or allowed ourselves to see. Perhaps, he may be asking, is it possible to awaken to our inner and outer environment without having to fall from the sky in order to do so? If so, how do we do that? If so, how can we use this story about Josh and his awakening in our own lives? The final question in this story says, “We are all creating the world of tomorrow… Are you consciously creating your part?”

Dying and Living Zen

41CcmYmNunLJewel in the Mud: Zen Musings by Harmony Kent
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Jewel in the Mud is a laywoman’s guide to living life like a nun, as a householder living in the world. It is laid out beautifully, in fifty-two week increments, for anyone who chooses to practice being more aware of what is taking place with their inner and outer world. The author speaks from experience, having lived in both worlds. Ms. Kent resided in a Zen Temple for 13 years, and in mid-life decided to leave that environment, and began a new vocation, meeting a loving partner, and getting her own home.

Many of the weeks thoughts and words were previously conveyed on Ms. Kent’s blog. Luckily, for all who read Jewel in the Mud, she expanded her “Monday Musings” into book form. The weeks include titles such as, Nobility of Silence”, “No Strings”, “First, Breathe”, “Dying to Live”, and “It’s Okay. Have a Meltdown”. The illustration of the lotus flower for each week is lovely, and the caption summing up that section always fits perfectly. For example, in a talk about appreciation, she concludes with, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Here is a brief excerpt from Week Eighteen, called “Life Before Death”.

“Mindfulness is simply about seeing what we have right here, right now, in this moment. It’s about noticing the myriad of small things that make our lives whole. And about catching the stories we tell ourselves. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way right in the present moment. The easiest way to notice as much as possible is to live each moment of your life as though it were the last moment of your life. Or, the first.”

In many ways, Jewel in the Mud, reminds me of the classes Stephen Gaskin held each week in San Francisco, California, in 1969 and 1970, which were later turned into a book called Monday Night Class. He spoke about life, death, community, love, and awareness, in a way that was easily relatable and personable. Ms. Kent’s work has the same vibe. Like Stephen, she does not come off as preachy, egotistical, or superior. Jewel in the Mud has gifts of compassionate and experienced insight for one and all.

Taking Liberty With the Truth

586613838e010d433bacb209ce65ea56c69e859e-thumbFor my satirical book of koans, stories, and words of wisdom (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), I used the same format that was used in the 1961 classic book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Zen Flesh presented the sayings, teachings, and koans of real Japanese teachers, whereas Zen Master Tova takes liberty with a fictional character and the truth, to put it mildly.

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Nan-in a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty our cup?”

From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba

“Do cats and dogs have Buddha-nature” Sister Sexton asked Master Toshiba.

“Yes.”

“Can cats and dogs attain enlightenment?”

“Yes.”

“Can all animals reach Samadhi?”

“Yes.”

“Do insects and bugs have Buddha-nature?” Sister Sexton persisted.

“Yes, they do,” The Master, patiently replied.

“Is it possible for vegetables, fruit, and flowers to see their true selves?”

“Yes, they can.”

“What about dirt, grass, trees, rocks, and water?”

“All life can become conscious of its true nature, even if it does not have a consciousness, as we know it.”

“Then surely, all women and men can awake to their Buddha-nature and find peace?”

“Yes, all women can express their Buddha-nature and attain enlightenment.” Master Tarantino paused, “As far as ‘all men’. I’ll have to think about that.”

Perhaps this use of fact and fiction are more intertwined than we like to believe, and history is permeated with realities which have been diluted, reinterpreted, and/or intentionally changed, in order to favor, or present events, or beliefs, in the manner and fashion that the writer in the moment chooses, or “believes” to be true. Read Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba and do your own sniff test to see if any of it rings true, or it is a total farce.

Reality Bites

Singing Koans by Master Tarantino. Collected by Abbott Jingo in 2222. An excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

imagesThere ain’t nothing like the real thing baby;

ain’t nothing like the real thing.

What is the “real thing”?

More questionable Mistress Marvin Gaye koans at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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