The fragrance of Grace


Those who have not yet been saved

will be saved

those who have not yet been set free
will be set free

those who have had no rest
will have rest

those who have not yet attained nirvana
will attain nirvana.

The Lotus Sutra, ch. 5





12 thoughts on “The fragrance of Grace”

    1. Thanks for sending it!
      The cherry blossom season in Japan sounds wonderful. We have a lot of cherry trees here, but not as blue sky as you have. Everythings a bit hazy with dust from China.

      1. Cherry blossoms in Japan as wonderful as cherry blossoms in Chernobyl, beautiful, but what you gonna do with it, you cannot it the cherry. Forgive me, ChongGo sunim, but it is as if people don’t realize what radiation is, as if it is not even there, it is like admiring a painting when museum is on fire. Lately this Earth seems pretty small to me and everything happening on it bothers me too much and such nice words as in Lotus sutra, ch5. seem right only if “eventually” is added, and how long that would be … well, I have to go to paint the lantern, hopefully it would turn out well

      2. There’s suffering in the world, and yet the blossoms bloom regardless…

        There must be some Dharma somewhere in that.

  1. T

    Here’s a copy of an update I offered this morning on the “Bringing Compassion into Action- page (just before I saw these posts about cherry blossom season in Japan).

    I hope my experience here from the other day can help give you just a little grin as you commit yourself to the painting of your lantern.

    Marcus, and others,

    I finally got to my next scheduled 1:1 with my teacher and we had a very serious talk where I basically challenged her somewhat fiercely on her commitment to our teacher/student relationship, and she challenged me to be honest with with myself how I insert in others minds, that because they make no comment or show no outward signs, that means they don’t care or are not concerned or praying for Japan, and in turn, those thoughts I inserted, cause my suffering. I saw she was right in that. Now I can hope, choose to invest once again, in the belief that she is equally able and willing to learn and grow from what I asked her to reevaluate about how her own choices may effect others.

    This working through between us actually took two sessions and the morning before her second call, I was sitting in Jhana practice. In this concentration technique there is a “light” that can appear when the focus gets strong. I’ve been having trouble doing it at all, because of all my invading grief and thoughts about Japan. This morning, I knew however that I must find some way to surrender these obsessions and suffering regardless of what I decided later about my teacher. It was just too painful to stay angry any longer and I had no idea what to do with this in the midst of attempting Jhana practice.

    Just then though the “light” I mentioned did happen to arise ever so faintly in my mind’s eye. And next, the insight arose, “just throw it all, like chord wood, into the light…don’t try to figure it out any longer. It’s just dukka. Throw it in and see what happens!”

    So out of sheer desperation and exhaustion and just having absolutely no idea what else to do, I did just that. And when I did, the glow of that light, immediately flared up, becoming very intense, very real, very clear. I could feel the heat of it on my face and I was breaking into a sweat, breathing faster, almost panting.

    I next had the thought/vision of the huge fires I’d seen built by the Shingon monks at the top of Hagurosan in ritual celebration, and the floating candle lanterns of Bon,
    and a wave tears came to my eyes. A quaking sigh of relief and surrender to my chest.

    So I decided to invite in my mind, as a metta practice all the dead from this disaster to sit with me, right then and there, round that blaze to throw in all their burdens as well, and to warm themselves, be comforted, relieved and healed, and no longer alone nor ignored. Next, it seemed only obvious now that I should invite all my teachers, and all of you, who’ve offered you help and concern as well, and finally, all the others suffering in the world, either because of tragedies inflicted upon them, but also all those who were blind to the suffering they were causing.

    In this light it was readily apparent that anything, anyone, so-called “good” or “bad” could be invited just as well to throw their dukka in. And the flame, and the warmth, and the clarity, and the healing of that light only got brighter…and I also saw that everyone one of us there care a little or a huge spark of that light within us. We all have the choice, at every turn of events to either contribute to the dukka, or the light…

    Right about then my phone rang and my teacher was on the other end. Needless to say, our conversation went just a bit differently than the one of the day before. She was very helpful in contributing to my confidence in what I’d just received and how I might work further with it via both Jhana and vipassana practice. I especially noted that she kept repeating something to the effect that, “everything, all the time, in or out of practice, can be used to take us either toward dukka or compassion and enlightenment”.

    Once again, it’s always so amazing and encouraging how when we just surrender and commit everything to the light of our practice how all the teachings of the dharma, of the truth, become so suddenly obvious. And oh, what a relief!

    We decided we will continue our work together upon my return from Japan. Yes! My wife and I decided, we simply had to go, to take some kind of decisive action, to go and try to at least help our own family, our “furusato”=hometown, and neighborhood, in some small way.

    I will repair the shoji and realign the doors and windows of our Okaasan’s home. The house has been leaning more every year and now with all these quakes most of them won’t close properly without repair. It’s a great adventure for me to walk to the local hardware store and try to figure out which tool, glue or paper to buy when I can’t read a single label or sign.

    Because I’m taller, I can make myself very useful cleaning the upper walls, shelves and ceilings that others can’t reach.

    I will try this time to introduce myself to the local Buddhist monk (my wife tells me he’s very old and drinks a lot) and offer my help in any small way he will allow.

    If nothing else, I can sit, I can chant, I can sweep the tatami or rake the stone pathways…I’m sure some fateful and memorable opportunity will present itself.

    I’ve never been there in the Spring before, so I’m hoping maybe the family will agree to allow me to treat them to a bus ride and day or overnight visit to nearby Hirosaki Castle and their cherry blossom festival which should be in full bloom.


    In appreciation for your many fierce contributions to our light here in.

    I’m reminded just now as well of something a friend of mine said over 30 years ago, while we both were standing ’round another bonfire on the first night of a five-day retreat.

    He said, “Death is a fierce mirror…”
    At that retreat I only knew him as “Stephen”. Later I was told he was Stephen Levine.

    You may consider me now your “onjin”. Research that!


  2. T

    PS When I posted the above copy it got distorted a bit. The final comments after the asterisks were offerings specifically to you (T).


    1. Thank you !
      “fierce contributions” – that is so funny!
      Well, this practice- of discovering your own true self- needs courage, at times it can be so vast that you can’t even talk about, and at times it is really difficult to combine everything together.
      Sometimes you outgrow your teacher and go find a teacher that cannot be outgrown, then you can learn really fast, sometimes your inner teacher comes to teach you and then even a snowflake or wind can be your teacher.
      Here’s a bit of firece – you are a little too ‘technical’ about the practise, but the wall that separets you is realy, realy thin.
      Thank you for practising! (and inviting everyone with you!)

  3. T

    Thanks for your continued invitations, as well, to all of us along your own explorations of this convoluted river.

    It would help me to know more what you meant by “technical” .

    Actually neither my current exploration of “Jhana” at my teacher’s direction or the visualization that spontaneously presented itself the other day are my usual practice nor the approach I’ve favored over the past many years.

    I was desperate, so I “let her roll” the other day and it proved very helpful. Since then, by the way, whenever I catch myself, in mindfully observing my daily activities, inserting motives in other people’s heads that may well bring me more suffering, I just look for the flame or light inside them or my self, and toss those thoughts quickly in, “Just more chordwood!”

    As far as the Jhana techniques are concerned, I was very skeptical when my teacher first suggested it for me. I balked at zen long ago for similar reasons and I much prefer, simple prolonged silence, solitude, and direct open-eyed observation of nature. That organic miracle of wilderness that vast, freedom filled, infinite space of nonjudgement, “No mind” that sits just inches from our face, that enters and feeds us with every breath, and that extends from there out to the furthest reaches of the universe. That’s actually where I get the understandings I most trust.

    But despite my resistance, I must admit that as I explore deeper into this rigid jhana “technique”, it does seem to be
    useful for sharpening my focus to levels of observation that before, I didn’t even know existed or were possible. For just one example, like slowing myself down to the point where breath itself, appears optional, or to where I see the space, the interval between each word in a thought, phrase, and then, break that down still further to “hearing” or perhaps just feeling the words themselves as jsut random reactive vibrations with similar emptiness even between each of those. “form is emptiness, emptiness is form”

    Jhana is like having the sword master tell you that your first practice “Kata” is to sit and sharpen your sword, using a silk scarf…and do absolutely nothing else till he tells you you’re ready to stop. For hours and days, you’re sure this is ridiculous, impossible, foolish, some cruel trick, nothing is happening here! But then just when you’re about to give up, you notice that the blade is getting a little sharper… and in it’s new refection the silk scarf is suddenly shown to be made up of thousands of incredibly beautiful gossamer threads! Maybe I’ll sit here, just keep polishing a little longer… and see/feel what shows itself next.

    I don’t know yet, but my current supposition is that this is all only a skill, a tool to be sharpened, that will similarly bring, sharper clarity, precision and skillfulness to my vipassana practice and mindfulness in daily life. For now, I’m willing to give fully to it and trust my own heart, or perhaps my current teacher’s for when it’s time to explore the other bank of the river. Perhaps next we’ll try an oar, like Musashi?

    Iro, iro, arrigato gozaimashita,


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