Tag Archives: Robert Aitken

Review: The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics


The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics
The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics by Robert Aitken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Mind of Clover – Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics” starts with chapters on the ten precepts for Buddhist.

In the chapter on the second precept “Not Stealing”, Robert Aitken cites Unto Tähtinen:

“There are two ways of avoiding war: one way is to satisfy everyone’s desire, the other way is to content oneself with the good. The former is not possible due to the limitations of the world and therefore there remains this second alternative of contentment”

And then he cites Mahatma Gandhi:

“In India we have many millions of people who have to be satisfied with only one meal a day. This meal consists of a chapati containing no fat and a pinch of salt. You and I have no right to anything until these millions of people are better fed and clothed. You and I ought to know better and adjust our wants, and even undergo voluntarily starvation in order that they may be nursed, fed and clothed.”

So true in our contemporary Western world full of abundance.

This small books continues with essays on the Mind, and Robert Aitken cites from the Diamond Sutra:

“Don’t dwell upon colours to bring forth the Mind, don’t dwell upon phenomena of sound, smell, taste or touch to bring forth the Mind; dwell nowhere and bring forth that Mind”.

So true: always at home, nowhere lost.

Highly recommended.

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Narrator – gate in the north 2


Life with my beloved in Stockholm – who had evaded his military service in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam and still stayed in Europe although he might return to the United States after the general pardon of president Carter in 1977 [1] – was as familiar as in Amsterdam and at the same time it was different in all respects.

In addition to the golden house in the old town, he also had a beautiful country house in the Stockholm archipelago. In the weekends and during holidays we stayed in this wooden house on a small island. We enjoyed the beautiful skies and during night we slept outside if the weather permitted. I was amazed about the long days.

[2]

Several friends of my lover played in jazz ensembles. Through them I learned to appreciate the music of the giants in jazz; my favourites were the Miles Davis Quintet [3] and John Coltrane [4] with his quartet; I learned his records of “Joy”, and “A Love Surpreme” – composed during the struggle for equal rights in America wherein John Coltrane wanted to create a spiritual unity with this music in order to influence a social change [5] – by heart.

[6]

During several practice sessions with a jazz ensemble I played on percussion; the members were so impressed that I could join playing at the Stockholm Jazz Festival [7] that summer. Afterwards I regularly performed with varying musicians in Stockholm and later in Copenhagen.

My beloved practised and studied Buddhism and meditation in Stockholm in order to give meaning to his life. Under his influence, I slowly engaged in the Buddhist and Taoist side of Oriental wisdom.  He could use some help with comprehending the source texts written in Sanskrit. Together we followed this way of living in Stockholm: he studied the content and I supported at the form.

Friday and Saturday before the last week in June, I celebrated Midsummer in Scandinavia for the first time. In Stockholm the night lasted only a few hours and that Saturday and Sunday the entire public life was closed. We stayed at friends for participating in this traditional celebration.

A few days after midsummer my lover and I began our holiday trip to the North Cape in the Goddess. By an almost deserted landscape of Northern Sweden – where your neighbour is your best friend, because there is no one else in the vicinity – we drove in eternal light.

[8]

Just before the border with Norway we saw Lapporten. My beloved named it the Empty Gate [9]. He asked me what “empty” is in Sanskrit. Hereupon I replied “śūnya” [10] that is akin to the English word “shunt” [11] where a low parallel resistor causes a parallel circuit within an electric circuit. He began  to chant a part of the Heart Sutra:

The Heart Sutra can be listened at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0jcx9fnoWc

A free rendering in English:

Form is equal to emptiness as emptiness is equal to form;

Form itself is empty and emptiness is form;

So also feeling, knowledge, formation and consciousness.

Thus Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.

They are not made, nor destroyed, nor defiled and they are not pure;

And they neither increase nor diminish.

There is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;

I said that the Empty Gate may give access to the Nirvana [12]. He replied that the Empty Gate was also empty of Nirvana and he shone [13] as a god. My beloved remained perfectly shining well beyond the North Cape.

[14]


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

[2] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_archipelago

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Davis_Quintet

[4] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coltrane

[5] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[7] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_Jazz_Festival

[8] Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalovardo

[9] The Mumonkan – in English often translated in Gateless Gate – is a collection of 48 Zen Koans compiled by the Zen monk Mumon in the 13th century after Christ.

The character 無 () has a fairly straightforward meaning: no, not, or without. However, within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the term 無 () is often a synonym for 空 (sunyata). This implies that the 無 () rather than negating the gate (as in “gateless”) is specifying it, and hence refers to the “Gate of Emptiness”. This is consistent with the Chinese Buddhist notion that the “Gate of Emptiness” 空門 is basically a synonym for Buddhism, or Buddhist practice. 門 (mén) is a very common character meaning door or gate. However, in the Buddhist sense, the term is often used to refer to a particular “aspect” or “method” of the Dharma teachings. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gateless_Gate

There are four well known versions in English:

Aitken, Robert, The Gateless Barrier, The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan). New York: North Point Press, 2000

Sekida, Katsuki, Two Zen Classics – Mumonkan & Hekiganroku. New York:Weatherhill, 1977

Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 1974

Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990

[10] “Empty, void” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[11] According to Shorter Oxford English Dictionary a natural or artificial blood vessel to divert the blood stream.

[12] “Land without forest” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[13] The word Deva whereof Deus in Latin, Zeus in Greec and Dieu in French arose, is Sanskrit connected with the verb root “Div” meaning amongst others “to shine, to play, to increase”.

[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapland_(Zweeds_landschap)

Man Leben – on the way 2


Wie kan man leben?

How can one live?

You continue the brief summary of your life with the journey on foot from the chapel “Notre Dame du Haut” in Ronchamp, France to Ronchamp, Germany:

“In the end of September 1983 I visited the chapel “Notre Dame du Haut” in Ronchamp. My way would lead to Dachau where my mother died and where she was buried in 1944. My godmother had recommended me this pilgrimage to embed the death of my immediate family and the others in my life. I have started this journey on foot to honour the wish of my aunt; she had asked me just after my 21st birthday to carry out the traditional Jewish remembrance of the dead for my parents, when I would be able to do so.

In 1983 I was 49 years old; my life was ready for a change. In the course of the first part of the hike I started to identify the wind [1] and the moon with the “He” and “his” in the Kaddish prayer [2]. From then on, I have said this prayer every day for a year for my father, mother, aunt and godfather. With the second part of the journey I also wished to perform the Catholic grave worship as is customary in South Limburg. During the 2nd of November – on All Soul’s Day – I hoped to honour the grave of my mother with a visit.

My sense of luxury increased. How bad the weather was and how tired I was, I still owned a lot more than the pilgrims in the past. My backpack included a set of clean and dry clothes, my bivouac sack was of waterproof and breathable material and the sleeping bag was warm. My health was excellent. In short, my existence was more luxurious than in my “Jaguar-years”.

Via Belfort I walked to Mulhouse in France. In his early years my father loved race-car races. Against the wishes of my grandparents he followed the reports in the newspapers and he read books on this subject. In his boyhood he wanted to be a racing driver. As ode to the boyhood of my father, I visited the Schlumpf automobile museum in Mulhouse [3]. The museum came forth from the collecting mania of the brothers Schlumpf, who mainly converted their capital from the wool factory to an exceptional collection of classic cars. The French State, confiscated this collection for 1 French franc – as “object in the Middle”. The collection of Bugatti’s made a deep impression. Vanity of vanities [4], but a vanity of great beauty.

[5]

Near Freiburg I crossed the Rhine and the border with Germany. Not much further I left behind the area where so many wars were fought for. The wars in this area already began in Roman times. How could this continuation of greed, honour, anger, horror and bottomless grief be prevented? Later in a book [6] of Robert Aitken – in the chapter “Not Stealing” – I read good proposal.

First he cited Unto Tähtinen:

“There are two ways of avoiding war: one is to satisfy everyone’s desire, the other, to content oneself with the good. The former is not possible due to the limitations of the world and therefore there remains this second alternative of contentment “ [7]

He subsequently cited Mahatma Gandhi:

“In India we have many millions of people who have to be satisfied with only one meal a day. This meal consists of a chapati containing no fat and a pinch of salt. You and I have no right to anything until these millions of better fed and clothed. You and I ought to know better and adjust our wants, and even undergo voluntarily starvation in order that they may be nursed, fed and clothed.” [8]

The German language has a beautiful expression for this attitude: “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister” – “In the restraint the master shows himself”.  I continued my trip through the Schwarzwald – Germany. I visited Ulm, Germany, because the Hochschule für Gestaltung [9] – University for Design – was located there from 1953 to 1968.

[10]

This University has brought forth a number of designs and designers who strove for simplicity and restraints. For example, the TC 100 tableware designed by Nick Roericht.

[11]

The study model for the continuum from the workshop of Tomas Maldonado includes the universe in simplicity and limitation. Inside and outside exchange continuously. At the same time the form gives shelter and includes the universe breathable. Shelter and openness together: a reflection of my experience of the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[12]

On this tour the wind and the moon were my constant companions. My introduction to the wind, I have given in the previous post. As promised, now I show how I have got to know the moon.

The months of the year are important on the farm . The twelve months of a year may easily be counted with the thumb along the 12 phalanges of the four fingers. In the open air, at night, in a dimly illuminated environment I learned the new moon, the crescent moon, the full moon and the waning moon. On a clear night with full moon I could do almost everything, except reading outside: for reading there was just too little light. The moon also gave a beautiful image in the sky during the day.

By the “moon illusion”, the full moon near the horizon is awesome. This moon illusion I have also seen on my journey.

[13]

In a clear night with new moon lying outside in my sleeping bag, I seemed to be fully included in the universe. The distance between the universe and I faded: I was sucked into it.

The course of the moon – in addition to the rhythm of the sun – must  have been crucial and ungraspable for people living outdoors. Probably the word Tao – literally meaning “road or life” – came from the word moon [14]. In Sanskrit one of the words for moon is “candra”, where the “c” is pronounced like the word “chair” and the “a” as “America”.  “Candra” means in Sanskrit “moon, shining like gold, the number one/whole, pleasant or lovely phenomenon” [15].  The word is composed of “can” meaning “to delight in, to satisfy with” and “drâ” meaning “to run freely”. The consistent of “dra” and “va – for wind” or “drava” means “to run, flow, stream, essence”. The set of “Candra” may be understood as “the course of things, the course of the moon, the essence of the whole”.

In the Zen literature the moon occurs frequently. The word for Zen is derived from “dhyâna” [16] meaning in Sanskrit “meditation, thought, far-reaching and abstract meditation”. This word is composed of “dhî” meaning “wisdom, intelligence, intention, knowledge, meditation, prayer” and “yâna” [17] meaning “path, journey, going, moving and vessel”. Zen Buddhism originated in China by a merger of Mahâyâna Buddhism and Taoism.

By encountering the moon on my pilgrimage, I noticed how much the Chinese word “Chan” – or Zen in Japanese – matches in meaning and sound the “can” in “candra”. If this resemblance is not accidental, than Zen may also be seen as “the revolving Moon”. This thought gave me comfort and confidence on the road to Dachau”, you say.

The following post is about your visit to Dachau.


[1] See post “Man Leben – on teh way” from 14th Oktober 2011.

[2] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaddish

[3] See: http://citedelautomobile.com/en/home

[4] See: Book of Ecclesiastes

[5] See: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugatti

[6] Source: Aitken, Robert, The Mind of Clover – Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. New York: North Point Press, 2000⁸. Pag. 31

[7] Source: Tähtinen, Unto, Non-Violence as an Ethical Principle. Turku, Turun Yliopisto, 1964. pag. 136.

[8] Cited in: Tähtinen, Unto, Non-Violence as an Ethical Principle. Turku, Turun Yliopisto, 1964. pag. 128.

[9] See also: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hochschule_f%C3%BCr_Gestaltung_Ulm en de Engelse pagina: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_School_of_Design

[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_School_of_Design

[11] From the TC 100 designed by Nick Roericht. Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hochschule_f%C3%BCr_Gestaltung_Ulm

[12] Model for the continuous study of the workshop of Tomas Maldonado. Source image:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_School_of_Design

[13] Moon illusion above the Parthenon in Athens. Source image: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110320.html

[14] Source: Porter, Bill, Road to Heaven – Encounters with Chinese Hermits. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993, p. 35.

[15] Source: elektronische versie van het woordenboek Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[16] Source amongst others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen

[17] Remark: this word is also part of the consistent “Mahâyâna”.