Of late I haven’t had much to say, because I have been trying to practice “clear blue mind”.
Imagining my mind as a clear blue sky, I observe the light fluffy thought clouds as they appear, drift and then disperse. I sit “zazen” emptying my mind of all thoughts trying to be untroubled and free from fear and doubt. I breathe in the crystal white light that could provide me with energy to face the day. I imagine all negative thoughts as grey smoke forced out by the light.
I can sit for 20 minutes in this way but I fail to find regularity of practice.
The Dalai Lama tells us in his book, “How to Practise: the Way to a Meaningful Life”, that six times every day he imagines the eight levels of mind one by one. Those levels of mind are: mirage; smoke; fireflies; flame of a candle; vivid white sky-mind; vivid red or orange sky-mind; vivid black sky-mind; clear light. Fuller explanations of these are in his book.
It was easy to imagine “clear blue sky-mind” yesterday as I looked out the plane window above the clouds with the first glare of orange sunlight lighting the horizon. It was also easy to contemplate “death” as the plane came in through fog above the city. I knew the city was there somewhere close below. I trusted the young 20-something pilots could land us using only the instruments to guide them. It was a 20-seater and I was sitting in the very front seat, so I could clearly see the young men and the instrument panel and the white wall of fog.
In Buddhism contemplating “death” is a key teaching. Whilst not dwelling on morbidity, I have always had a keen sense of my own mortality and it gives perspective. If we were to miss the runway, then I had fully appreciated the beauty of life on earth when we were above the clouds.
Reading about how other people, Westerners especially, have come into Buddhist practices is compelling. “Why Buddhism? Westerners in search of wisdom” by Vicki Mackenzie is a collection of interviews with individuals who describe their own experiences with Buddhism. I particularly like the comments about the practicality of Buddhist philosophies and how they can easily be applied to help you get through life’s little dramas. I am encouraged by the repeated observation about the depth of content and how the more people read and learn the more intrigued and interested they are to learn more. I am on the brink.
Needless to say, the pilots landed the plane beautifully. All those hours playing computer games paid off. Thanks boys.
What comes first; the book or the blog? The answer of course is neither. The inspiration for the central idea comes first. But then it is written and these days it could be either the book or the blog that precedes the other.
This piece of writing is about the process of reading not writing. How do you read a book? Do you read the book and then move onto the next? Or does your involvement and curiosity extend beyond the book? Do you delve further? Do the central ideas in the book excite and interest you to look further? Does it make you want to investigate new ideas and learn new things?
A successful book for me is one that I read with interest, learn new concepts, then go on to investigate more on the central themes of the book. So I search online for the author to see if they have a website. I read their biographical details either on their website or on Wikipedia. I look at the other books they have written. I read on the see if they have a blog or if they are on twitter. I follow the links provided on their website for further investigation.
For example: The Buddha, Geoff and Me by Edward Canfor-Dumas prompted me to locate this website and his bio and other links. The book had made me curious about the chant mentioned but not described. I found the notes about the chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and then wondered what it sounded like. So I searched online for the audio of the chant and found this one on Youtube and this one by Tina Turner.
So then to the further reading: Edward Canfor-Dumas is the ghost writer for The Buddha in Daily Life by Richard Causton. I could not find a copy of this book available through public libraries so I bought a copy online. Returning to the important but under-valued library catalogue I did a cross-referenced search by subject entries from the original book The Buddha, Geoff and Me. This led me to Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck that I am reading now. Her discussion of zazen has intrigued me and provided me with new avenues for investigation.
This process happens whenever I read a book that I enjoy. Frances Mayes books lead me to learn more about Italy and Art and Architecture and The Renaissance and poetry and more. Reading Gluten Free Girl led me to investigate eating and cooking with a gluten free premise and to her blog.
I will also continue on to see if there may be audio or video versions of a favourite book which can sometimes enhance the content of the story, but other times detract.
As a life-long lover of reading I thrive in the online world and the opportunities there are to expand my mind.