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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Tree Legend of Japan.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Torii, Shinto arch, surrounded by ancient, Japanese, cedar trees on the Kumano Old Road in Wakayama, Japan).

(Translation: Alternate, Ukrainian translation:

In the ancient, Shinto, belief system of Japan, a legend says, that the Japanese people descended down from the heavens by climbing down the tall, sacred, cypress trees of the island. As someone who is in awe, admiration, and respect for our noble trees, I find this creation story to be deeply, spiritual. The other aspect I admire, is how it echoes the Buddhist teaching that we are interdependent upon nature for our very lives. As a Zen Buddhist, I find much within Shinto that I admire and respect; not the least of which, being nature veneration.

May we all find freedom atop the great tree of Dharma. All branches, regardless if they are Theravada or Mahayana, contribute to the strength and vitality of the tree. Do our branches bend a little differently, of course!! But, when was the last time you saw two tree branches that were the exactly same?!! Diversity is the strength of any system--it takes all sizes, shapes and age of branch to sustain a strong tree. This is true, by the way, for humanity. If everyone was supposed to be the same, then everything would be one color; imagine how boring that would be?!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Growing Like a Tree.

Voila!! Our new Chinese, kanji scrolls (click picture to enlarge). Here is the site where I bought them--they were hand painted by a trained calligrapher. The closest meaning of the left-hand character, in English, is "love" but to explain it further I have included the description from the website:

This character can also be defined as affection, to be fond of, to like, or to be keen on. It often refers to romantic love, and is found in phrases like, "I love you". This may be hard to imagine as a westerner, but the strokes at the top of this love character symbolize family & marriage. The symbol in the middle is a little easier to identify. It is the character for "heart" (it can also mean "mind" or "soul").

I guess you can say that no matter if you are from the East or the West, you must put your heart into your love. I suppose you could say that the full meaning of this love character is to love your family, spouse, and friends with all of your heart, since all three elements exist in this character.

: The scroll on the right-hand side, is best translated into English as the following:

The simplest form of peace and harmony. This can also be translated as the peaceful ideas of gentle, mild, kind, and calm. With the more harmonious context, it can be translated as union, together with, on good terms with, or on friendly terms. Most people would just translate this character as peace and/or harmony. This is a very popular character in Asian cultures - you can even call it the "peace symbol" of Asia. In fact, this peace and harmony character was seen repeatedly during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (a major theme of the games).

James: The picture in the middle, is a close up of a forest of bamboo that I often gaze upon in meditation and contemplation. On days when I can't get to the meditation cushion because of depression, or a busy schedule, I find a picture of nature to be an effective way to concentrate my energy and ground myself in the richness and stability of the present moment.

The present moment, is the only moment, and therefore, connecting with that moment keeps us growing and remembering that the depressing days won't always hang over us. But, it also means keeping us from getting too arrogant and comfortable in our successes by remembering that everything changes. In this way, we are better able to enjoy the pleasures when we have them because we realize they will soon fade.

A stand of trees or bamboo doesn't fight the wind; it survives the inevitable winds of change by swaying with its energy. If it tried to resist powerful gusts, it would break apart. It's deep roots help anchor the tree by steadily pushing deeper and deeper into the ground. In this way, the tree itself can bend and adapt without uprooting itself from overwhelming stress upon a weak root system.

We deepen our roots by staying anchored in the knowledge that the present moment is where growth occurs. If a mature tree's roots stopped growing deeper than the surface area it occupied as a sapling, then the smallest breeze would uproot it and knock it down. The same is true if we stubbornly stop growing, out of fear of failing, or just plain arrogantly thinking that we know it all already and can therefore stop adapting. This is when the roots of a tree rot from neglect; as well as from failing to dig deeper to create stronger roots that widen out into a broad network of stability.

I have been happily reminded of this with a recent slump in my Dharma practice; it's been awhile since I've formally meditated. However, I adapted (like the trees) by meditating other ways; such as focusing deeply upon nature, simple breathing exercises while sitting upon the couch and letting music break down my perceived walls of imprisonment. And, within the past few days, I have found I weathered the storm; the deep and diversified root system, I've been growing these past ten years of Buddhist practice has helped me bend with the strong head-winds but not break.

-I bow to the Buddha within you-

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