with Derek Handley
Opening words are ‘Expect Nothing’ by Robin Tanner
Closing words are ‘Remembering that the universe is larger’ By Marjorie Newlin Leaming
Derek Handley © 1 December 2019
Last month, my wife and I were in Japan watching the wrong team win the Rugby World Cup,
but we also went to visit the ancient city of Kyoto.
Deep within the quiet, peaceful labyrinth of dozens of 15th and 16th century temples in the Myoshinjii compound –
there is a temple called Shunkoin.
far away from hordes of tourists or travellers –
past the gates, behind the screens, and tucked away from the still rock gardens,
In the same temple he was born in –
resides a fifth generation Zen buddhist monk who we called on.
Together, we sat with Reverend Takafumi Kawakami, and spoke…
About the modernisation and distortion of ‘mindfulness’.
About the question of whether we really exist at all?
And about what happens after we die.
One question in particular that I had in mind, was:
How does one balance the effort it takes to create our dreams for the future – the difference one wants to make in the world,
with contentment in the present – ?
How much should one strive and strain to better things, versus being at peace with how things are.
In the common Western worldview, according to Taka – people think of their lives as a novel –
and they are the hero,
the main character in the drama,
the whole book – the beginning, middle and end are central to who they are.
We obsess about who this character is, and what happens to them – how they react to all the challenges and crisis-
how they achieve great goals and celebrate success.
And no matter what scene it is,
amongst the myriad of other members of the cast –
at all times, he or she is playing the main role.
We see everything through the eyes of this hero.
Taka’s version – which I will share later –
of how we could see things if we chose to,
was very different.
When I was younger I cared so much about the goals I had set, to the exclusion of almost everything.
My family, friends – any sense of balance.
Because I had these big, lofty youthful ambitions that I thought were so important to me.
I took big wins to heart.
And hard losses hurt.
My identity was attached to what I was producing – the outcome of my actions – my career,
a reputation – a sense of identity.
The fruits, as they say, of my efforts.
I saw it just as Taka says we see it –
I am the novel.
I am the hero.
This is my book, and I’m writing it.
Striving, getting knocked down,
getting up again – down, up, pushing, pushing…
Doing all I can, to be all I can be.
Whoever we are,
and whatever hands we have been dealt
and however we have been playing them –
at any single moment in time,
I’m sure most of us would like to think we would at least aspire – to play life as well as we can.
And if there’s more to us – more to give, more to be, more to become – that we’d like to bring that into the world.
At least, **
I have never known anyone who willingly –
Purposefully, dreamed to play their hand worse.
But in amongst the fray of it all, the tension always returns – pulling at me from opposite poles:
How can we care deeply – really deeply –
to achieve fullness,
meaning in our lives and full dedication to our family and livelihoods,
our sense of satisfaction and happiness,
to how it all actually unfolds?
Aren’t we taught since we are very small that we get out what we put in?
That it’s all worth it ‘in the end’?
That if you put in the effort now, you’ll look back and be proud.
We time shift our efforts – to look backwards, or forwards but never now-wards!
When somebody doesn’t get what they were aiming for – what do we say?
We say, ‘they didn’t want it bad enough…’ – want what?
Want the fruits, the outcome of our goal – the job, the girl, the money, the car, the other-people’s-opinion, the prestige…
As altruistic we may want to seem,
It’s this very same self-serving, selfish motivation – that gets us out of bed in the first place, to do the things we do.
Because we want to feel good about ourselves.
We expect to get the things we think we deserve.
We expect to achieve the things we fight for.
And it hurts when we don’t.
Because we are human.
So, if our lives are not the single novel and all its pages, with everything riding on the hero centre stage –
what then, is the story?
Imagine walking into a vast, vast library – perhaps like something you’d expect in the world of Harry Potter…
Never ending shelves of books – from floor to ceiling, as far as the eye…
Volumes and volumes lined up on all sides – each with chapters and chapters…each with pages and pages and lines and lines.
In Reverend Taka’s worldview, we
are just sentences *
Perhaps, at our most effervescent, purposeful and clear – perhaps we are pages,
sprinkled amongst these volumes and volumes
that write the continually interconnected, evolving,
of all of us –
Our family, our neighbourhood,
Our communities, our town,
Our country – the world –
All of us, playing out our words and sentences – towards some sense of ultimate communal good.
Working in service of the library of all of our lives – not one solitary, selfish novel…
How profoundly that changes things, if we let it.
But how does that loosen the binds of attachment?
Well, if we see ourselves as words and sentences and paragraphs…
in a library – that is continually being written…
in all places, at all times, in all languages…
both spoken and unspoken…in nature, in the cosmos, in humanity…
we can’t help but connect our personal actions,
to a broader contribution towards our collective adventure.
And when we may perform our duty from this place,
perhaps out of what the twentieth century philosopher, ‘Tillich’ calls “ultimate concern” –
we can act fully, in the now,
in every moment – in service of what we each consider that to be –
Another epic – much like Taka’s illustration,
Is a famous Hindu text, which is actually a song – the Baghavad Gita.
We join the story as Prince Arjuna prepares to go into a massive battle against the armies of 100 of his cousins, many friends and teachers –
and it turns out Krishna, the Hindu supreme God and ultimate reality,
is his charioteer.
Arjuna becomes distraught at the sight – that he is heading in to battle against so many he loves, respects and knows…how could this be right?
Krishna counsels him that all in the world ends.
Krishna counsels, above all that it is his duty in the present which Arjuna must fulfil –
His duty as a Warrior Prince is to fight in service of the ultimate concern – Krishna, the cycle of life
and he must utterly detach from any thought of win or loss.
If Arjuna doesn’t do his duty, achieve victory and end it for his cousins and his fellow men, then Krishna himself will end it for them anyway.
He tells Arjuna,
2.47: Set they heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward, but never cease to do thy work.
2.47: Be intent on action,
Not on the fruits of action;
Avoid (both) attraction to the fruits
And attachment to inaction!
2.48 Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure – Yoga is an evenness of mind
2.38 Be in peace in pleasure and pain, in gain and in loss, in victory or in the loss of a battle.
What work, what work does he mean?
I think he means the work we are each set out here to do –
Our sentences and pages beyond our selfish novel,
in service instead of the the library of libraries that binds us all,
Whether that duty is to feed or to farm,
To serve coffee or to serve community,
To nurture knowledge, or nurture nature.
We can at once be at both the pole of full commitment, care and passion –
and the pole of tranquility, calm and detachment from the fruits,
knowing that we are playing our part.
Which is so, hard to do – at least I have found it to be.
Because we are human – and we expect things, and we take things personally.
After that semi-final loss in Japan,
our superhuman Muslim All Black, Sonny Bill Williams had this to say about attachment:
“I was fine, probably 24 hours after the game, even I reckon about five to 10 minutes after,
The whistle blew, I turned and straight away in my head I was like ‘thank you to my creator for being here’.
It would have been amazing to win three World Cups but what
I hang my hat on is being a man of faith.”
Equanimity in defeat,
Having undoubtedly given all as was his duty, in the arena.
Krishna goes on…
18.47 Greater is thine own work, even if this be humble, than the work of another, even if this be great.
18.5 Works of sacrifice, gift and self-harmony – should not be abandoned, but should indeed be performed, for these are works of purification.
So it is OUR work we must do – not that of another’s… and we should not falter, give up, do less than we know we are capable of.
And what makes us feel alive – what makes us sing – is our duty of self harmony, the harmony we are here to play, with the instrument that is our life.
And this brings it all together for me.
If you are here, in action – acting out your part.
If you are here, in service – to a concern ultimate, or at least bigger than yours,
If you are here, in harmony with what your heart yearns to hear –
Then – you must do your work, with a full spirit – and you can put all that love, risk, energy, commitment, dedication – all of it, into the action.
Knowing, that the fruit, is for the library – not the novel.
Finally, Krishna says…
18.6 But even these works, Arjuna, should be done in the freedom of a pure offering, and without expectation of a reward. This, is my final word.
Our meditation today,
Calls us to let go of the attachments of what we look forward to,
And remember instead we can only ever be in one place – here and now.