Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Way doesn't rise or fall

The Way doesn't rise or fall
those who are blind look for an advantage
sages and wise men escape from this world
where counterfeit truth prevails
rein in your senses don't indulge them
be ever mindful and nothing else
lose your body beneath a patched robe
and say good-bye to a thousand rebirths
A life lasts one hundred years
but which of us gets them all
precarious as a teetering thatched hut
or a leaking boat in a storm
mediocre monks are pathetic
would-be masters are sadder still
the world's empty ways aren't what they were
some days I shut my old gate tight
Green mist red clouds a trail through bamboo
and a hut where quiet lasts
just let go and worries end
stop to think and the mind reappears
an unpolished mirror holds millions of shapes
a bell doesn't ring until it is rung
our original nature is the real buddha
nothing solid or empty nothing old or new
A monk in the wild sits quiet and relaxed 
he survives all year on what karma brings
bamboo and yellow flowers occupy his thoughts
white clouds and streams simplify his life
he doesn't mistake a rock for a tiger on a hill
or the image of a bow for a snake in a bowl
in the woods he knows nothing of the world's affairs
at sunset he watches the crows return
~ Stonehouse
from "The Zen Works of Stonehouse"
Book One: Mountain Poems
translated by Red Pine

Ich stehe mir im Weg

People don't realize how much they are in the grip of ideas.
We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.

~ Saul Bellow

doing so,
"Ich stehe mir im Weg"
I stand in my own way.


Knowledge always deceives.
It always limits the Truth, every concept and image does.

From cage to cage the caravan moves,
but I give thanks,
for at each divine juncture
my wings expand
and I

touch Him more

~ Meister Eckhart

Michelangelo spoke of his work as releasing 
"Prisoners in Stone"

and we too, 
captured in invisible "stone"
wait for our Michelangelo to free us.  

When I was the forest

When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky

no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not

It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came,
and I wept, I wept. And tears
I had never known

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged – I begged to wed every object
and creature,

and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
And He did not say,
“Where have you

For then I knew my soul – every soul -
has always held

~ Meister Eckhart
Daniel Ladinsky translation

Friday, August 27, 2010

choosing drifting

a shantyboat community by the river's edge.  

After building their "shantyboat," out of mostly salvaged materials, 
Harlan and Anna set out on the river, 

I had no theories to prove. 
I merely wanted to try living by my own hands, 
independent as far as possible from a system of division of labor 
in which the participant loses most of the pleasure 
of making and growing things for himself.  
I wanted to bring in my own fuel and smell its sweet smoke 
as it burned on the hearth I had made.  
I wanted to grow my own food, 
catch it in the river, or forage after it.  
In short, I wanted to do as much as I could for myself, 
because I had already realized from partial experience 
the inexpressible joy of so doing.

This is a windy day with a secret exhilaration about it. 
When I look at the rough water patched with cloud shadows, 
the boat pitching slightly in the wind waves -
 all this from a higher plane somewhere above these little affairs.  
Yet they are a part and lead into it. 

The pure delight of drifting.  
Each time, it was a thrill to shove out into the current, 
to feel the life and power of the river, 
whose beginning and end were so remote.  
We became a part of it, like the driftwood... 
The tension and excitement, the near ecstasy of drifting.  
We had to stop often and take it in small doses.

~ Harlan Hubbard
from Harlan Hubbard and the River - A Visionary Life
by Don Wallis
block prints by Harlan Hubbard

can you find your true identity?

How arbitrary, the ways in which we identify ourselves.
This fan chart used in genealogy helps demonstrate this fact.
10 generations here, taking us back only to the mid-1600's, 
and in that 10th generation, 512 equal contributors to 
my genetic inheritance.  I derive my identity, and even think of myself
as being related to maybe 2 of those.
That's about 2 tenths of one percent of the total genetic influence.
511 other surnames that could equally well apply.
How seriously we sometimes take ourselves.

Prayers for the Earth

For once on the face of the earth let's not speak in any language
Let's stop for one second and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines.
We would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea would not harm whales
...And the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire,
Victory with no survivors
Would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity,
Life is what it is about.
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single minded about keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
~ Pablo Neruda

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I find that somehow, by shifting the focus of attention, 
I become the very thing I look at, 
and experience the kind of consciousness it has; 
I become the inner witness of the thing. 
I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness,
you may give it any name you like. 
Love says "I am everything". 
Wisdom says "I am nothing". 
Between the two, my life flows. 
Since at any point of time and space 
I can be both the subject and the object of experience, 
I express it by saying that 
I am both, and neither, and beyond both.
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far off farm,
I hold still and listen for a long time.
My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.
My soul turns into a tree,
and an animal, and a cloud bank.
Then changed and odd it comes home
And asks me questions.  What should I reply?
~ Hermann Hesse

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

snug harbor

To achieve more perfect
harmony with the river
and at the same time 
live close to the earth
... I became a shantyboater
~ Harlan Hubbard
from Harlan Hubbard and the River - A Visionary Life
by Don Wallis

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a man and a horse

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. 
The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, 'Where are you going?" and the first man replies, I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. 
We are always running, and it has become a habit. 
We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. 
We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
from "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching"
art: "Summer" by Harlan Hubbard 

Monday, August 23, 2010

longing for your giant self


In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: 
and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, 
carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends 
and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, 
"Wherefore are you slow and halting?"
For the truly good ask not the naked, 
"Where is your garment?" 
nor the houseless, 
"What has befallen your house?" 
~ Kahlil Gibran
from "The Prophet"
art: "Shantyboats at Sunrise"
by Harlan Hubbard

the art

When I paint a landscape,
I try to paint heaven,
and my joy at being there.
There is no artist,
living or dead,
whose work would satisfy me
as an expression of my life.
Nothing was ever painted 
that I would like to have done.
No one ever expressed me.
My painting could not have been done by anyone else,
nor in the past.
It is growing more and more unique and personal.
The beauty of the snow, 
the pleasure of seeing it
and being out in it.
To express that is the end of art.
I would like my paintings to be as real as the rain and stones,
yet transcend reality into sublimity.
My pictures follow their own course.
I draw the geographic form, but as the painting goes on,
there springs up a design which is unpredictable,
unconscious, and as perfect as my sense of harmony makes it.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from his journals, taken here from
"Harlan Hubbard and the River - A Visionary Life"
by Don Wallis
art: "Crossing the River"
 by Harland Hubbard

Sunday, August 22, 2010

seeing reality? true ideas?

There's no state in which one is seeing reality. 
WHO is seeing WHAT? 
You can only BE real. 
(And that you are always.) 
The problem exists only in thinking.
Let all false ideas go, 
that's all. 
There's no need for true ideas. 
(Since there are none.)

 Nisargadatta Maharaj

a more direct revelation

Much as I admire the Christian principles and teaching, 
and the people ... who follow them,
...for myself I require a more direct revelation, 
not one that must come through so many minds before it reaches mine.  
I must have a faith that I can see and hear, 
one that I can feel without thinking or even trying to put it into words.  
It is not for anyone else, it is a personal faith.

~ Harlan Hubbard
.from his journal, 1959


Go deeper


Go deeper than love, for the soul has greater depths,
love is like the grass, but the heart is deep wild rock
molten, yet dense and permanent.
Go down to your deep old heart, and lose sight of yourself.
And lose sight of me, the me whom you turbulently loved.
Let us lose sight of ourselves, and break the mirrors.
For the fierce curve of our lives is moving again to the depths
out of sight, in the deep living heart.

D.H. Lawrence
photo: Kilauea lava lake

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I must break forth from my old self

Now I must break forth from my old self,
cast away old traditions,
unbind my eyes,
so that I may have a broader vision of truth;
so that I may come to this river, as I do today,
and not find it cluttered with emotions and thoughts of former days;
or its shore lined with drift of cities.
I must see the elements as they are...
~ Harlan Hubbard
from his journal, quoted here from
"Harlan Hubbard and the River - A Visionary Life"
by Don Wallis

After Anna's death

He was not lonely because he had no desire to return to the past: 

"I am not one of those who enjoy thinking of their past life.  
For me, it is gone, and I have no desire to resurrect it even in thought."  

He saw the pain and imperfection of the past, and he did not want it back. 
The present was enough; it was all he asked.  
And the present provided him sufficient company.  
He was newly and generously mindful of the creatures who lived with him in Payne Hollow:  

"This hillside is common ground for me and the little wild animals who live here."  

He was attentive as perhaps never before to the presence of possum and chipmunk, 
cricket and katydid, bullfrog and dove.  
When he woke long before dawn, the night song of the katydids 
would be dwindling toward silence: 

"Each squawk you think is the last; but no, some diehard starts afresh.  
Sometimes I lie awake listening.  
Surely now the night is over, but no, not yet.
~ Wendell Berry
quoting Harlan Hubbard in
Harlan Hubbard - Life and Work
art by Harlan Hubbard

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In work perfectly realized

In work perfectly realized 
there is no thought of reward, 
no love of procedure, 
no seeking after good, 
no clinging to goals, 
whether of attainment 
or of god himself.
~ Meister Eckhart 
art by Harlan Hubbard, "Below Madison," 1934

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a distant contemplative spirit

"This continued fair, warm weather, and the ripening of the earth... affords a glimpse of life on a higher level than we know.  It is marvelous that our daily lives go on amid this splendor. No heaven could be more fair."
To see the earth and its creatures in this way is not to see them merely as they would appear to the eye of a naturalist, for he said, "I have little sympathy with the viewpoint of the naturalist."  It is rather, to see into their life, to be aware of the informing spirit which they manifest: "The sound of the crickets is one voice, one manifestation, one of the myriads of the spirit which hovers over the earth." This seems sometimes to be a "distant contemplative spirit, yet so near and real, that watches the writhings of men."  At other times it seems to be immanent, at one with the creatures it informs, and this leads him to dispute the scientific reduction to fact: "I watched the fireflies as I looked down into the bottom land, like a basin in its wall of dark trees, all filled with the flashing, moving light... Their wild dance suggests the supernatural.  The scientist would explain it probably as the mating of insects, but how would he account for the joy it raises in the beholder?  That is the supernatural part and it can't be explained away.  It is more real than the scientific fact."
~ Wendell Berry
quoting Harlan Hubbard's journal from 1963
art by HH "The Hawthorne Tree," 1985

The mind tries to live

The mind tries to live by the artificial structure of the world, 
but the body will have none of it, holding to primeval forces.  
People try to be all mind...
this has gone so far that now... 
the earth itself is but an idea.  
As animal, man has suffered from this and degenerated... 
The only hope and consolation is the perception of beauty, 
the revelation today of that which was God.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from his journal, written in 1937 
Quoted here from "Harlan Hubbard - Live and Work"
by Wendell Berry

The soul that is attached

The soul that is attached to anything, 
however much good there may be in it, 
will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. 
For whether it be a strong wire rope 
or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, 
it matters not, if it really holds it fast; 
for, until the cord be broken, 
the bird cannot fly. 
~ Saint John of the Cross

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

He wanted to drift

He wanted to drift on the river not so much to see where it went 
as to be one with it, to go with it as virtually a part of it.  
He wished perhaps to live out a kind of parable.  
One cannot drift by intention - 
or at least, in intending to drift and in drifting, 
one must accept a severe limitation upon one's intentions.  
But in giving oneself to the currents, 
in thus subordination one's intentions, 
one becomes eligible for unintended goods, 
unwished -for gifts - 
and often these goods and gifts surpass 
those that one has intended or wished for.
 And so a drifter subscribes necessarily to a kind of faith 
that is identical both to the absolute trust of migrating birds 
and to the scripture that bids us to lose our lives in order to find them.  
Harlan stated it in 1932 with characteristic simplicity: 
"I believe that whatever we need is at hand."
~ Wendell Berry
from "Harlan Hubbard - Life and Work"
photo by Ansel Adams

For this is my wilderness

I looked up with a wild duck's eye into the trees 
waving as the wind rushed through them... 
Suddenly I felt alone on earth, 
as I do when lying on the damp ground in spring
 to see the bloodroot raising its leaf sheath through the mold.  
These moments are not rare.  
I can summon them whenever I fee the need to retire into the wilderness.  
For this is my wilderness, 
untouched by man, 
of infinite grace and harmony.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from "Payne Hollow - Life on the fringe of Society"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I discovered a truth

I discovered a truth that seemed to me a revelation... 
There seemed to be two universes which I termed the world and the earth, 
in either of which I could choose to live.  
Then I saw there was but one, 
and that I was living on the earth looking directly into infinity.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from the afterword of "Payne Hollow - Life on the fringe of Society"
afterword by Don Wallis
art by the author, River Hills, 1935

The Great Way is not difficult

The Great Way is not difficult 
for those who have no preferences. 
When love and hate are both absent 
everything becomes clear and undisguised. 
Make the smallest distinction, however 
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. 
If you wish to see the truth 
then hold no opinions for or against anything. 
To set up what you like against what you dislike 
is the disease of the mind. 
When the deep meaning of things is not understood 
the minds essential peace is disturbed to no avail. 
The Way is perfect like vast space 
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. 
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject 
that we do not see the true nature of things. 
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things, 
nor in inner feelings of emptiness. 
Be serene in the oneness of things 
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. 
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity 
your very effort fills you with activity. 
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other 
you will never know Oneness. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grace Note

It is at last any morning
not answering to a name
I wake before there is light
hearing once more that same
music without repetition 
or beginning playing 
away into itself
in silence like a wave
a unison in its own
key that I seem
to have heard before I 
was listening but by the time
I hear it now it is gone
as when on a morning
alive with sunlight
almost at the year's end
a feathered breath a bird
flies in at the open window
then vanishes leaving me
believing what I do not see

~  W. S. Merwin
art by Van Gogh

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The painter Harlan Hubbard

The painter Harlan Hubbard said
that he was painting Heaven when
the places he painted merely were
the Campbell or Trimble County
banks of the Ohio, or farms
and hills where he had worked or roamed:
a house's gable and roofline
rising from a fold in the hills, 
trees bearing snow, two shanty boats
at dawn, immortal light upon 
the flowing river in its bends.
And these were Heavenly because
he never saw them clear enough to satisfy his love, his need
to see them all again, again.

~ Wendell Berry
art by Harlan Hubbard

What is usual is not what is always

What is usual is not what is always.
As sometimes, in old age, hearing comes back.

Footsteps resume their clipped edges,
birds quiet for decades migrate back to the ear.

Where were they? By what route did they return?

A woman mute for years
forms one perfect sentence before she dies.

The bitter young man tires;
the aged one sitting now in his body is tender,
his face carries no regret for his choices.

What is usual is not what is always, the day says again.
It is all it can offer.

Not ungraspable hope, not the consolation of stories.
Only the reminder that there is exception.

~ Jane Hirshfield
photo by Eliot Porter


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sky: An Assay

A hawk flies though it, carrying
a still-twisting snake twice the length of its body.

Radiation, smoke, mosquitoes, the music of Mahler fly through it.

The sky makes room, adjusting its airy shoulders.

Sky doesn't age or remember,
carries neither grudges nor hope.
Every morning is new as the last one, uncreased
as the not quite imaginable first.

From the fate of thunderstorms, hailstorms, fog,
sky learns no lesson,
leaping through any window as soon as it's raised.

In speech, furious or tender,
it's still of passing sky the words are formed.
Whatever sky proposes is out in the open.

Clear even when not,
sky offers no model, no mirror - cloudy or bright -
to the ordinary heart: which is secretive,
rackety, domestic, harboring a wild uninterest in sky's disinterest.

And so we look right past sky, by it, through it,
to what also is moody and alters -
erosive mountains, eclipsable moons, stars distant but death-bound.

~ Jane Hirshfield