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Feet, toes - funny introduction. Memorial Day - historical information. War. Relating Memorial Day to our practice.

AI Summary: 



Vau-du-te is the truth of the Tathagata's words. Hi everybody. Good morning. Friends and fellow practitioners, guests. There are more of you today than I had expected because of the weather and the weekend. Thank you for coming. I have an image in my mind that I gathered about two minutes ago. You know, if you do this practice very long, you usually have bare feet. And you have shoes or zori, something like that.


And you come to the zendo, and of course you have to take your shoes off. So that means you have to bend down. And that means that over the years you probably notice your feet, or don't notice them, but at least you have some kind of contact. You're looking at them hundreds, maybe thousands of times. And today I noticed them again. In fact, I got almost entranced by my toes. And I have a conclusion to make about feet or toes, about toes. Toes are funny. Toes are really, I think toes are very comical. Now hands aren't funny. Hands can be beautiful. You see pictures in magazines of hands. You never see pictures in magazines, usually, unless, you know, it's a specialized magazine. But you don't usually see feet, pictures of feet, advertising. And I always see the big toe, always reminds me, it's like the boss or the mayor.


And then there's all these little guys following behind, or like the locomotive of a train. There's that little caboose, the little one in the very back. Anyway, I think toes are strictly vaudeville. Harlequins. And of course they do all the heavy work, don't they? I mean, they support. They do all the work. In a sense they support all of our weight. They carry us around the world. They do all the support work while the hands get all the fun. You get to touch everything and feel things. I hope you Pisces in here are not offended. Pisces rules the feet, you know, not here. Anyway, you didn't come to hear about toes. And I really didn't come here to talk about toes. But now that I did, I'm glad I did. You know, today, this weekend is Memorial Weekend, of course.


And so I thought it might be appropriate to say, to look at this holiday, this Memorial Day. Because a lot of complicated feelings in this day and age about it, I think, at least for some people, some of us. And I thought it might be worthwhile to both look at the day historically and also how it relates to practice. Since it is about the question of death and dying. You know, I didn't know myself much about it. I haven't done any real research on it, but I did hear that Memorial Day is actually begun in 1868. Did you know that? For the Civil War, for the veterans of the Civil War.


And particularly the Union at that time. And that's understandable, you know, a great Civil War that resulted in enormous carnage. And divided a country, a culture, against itself. Family against family and so on. One would want, one would see the necessity, even, for some kind of closure, some kind of healing. Some kind of recognition of the sacrifices that so many made in that war, both North and South. And in fact, I'm told that to this day, the South has, besides this day as a national holiday, many of the states of the South, correct me if I'm wrong, have their own Memorial Day for remembering the Confederate dead. Did you know that? Several of the states have their own day for remembering the past. You know, it's hard for me to imagine something like a Memorial Day in the ancient civilizations.


I can't imagine that the Greeks or the Romans, particularly the Spartans, would have had something called a Memorial Day in the sense that we'd know it. Maybe some sort of mythological paying of homage to the greater powers, Mars or whatever. And you know, the Trojan women, the story was that the mother would say to the son, come back victorious or come back dead on a shield. So it had a lot to do with the values of a culture, how we remember the fallen in conflicts. Anyway, I find it difficult to imagine, or even in the Italian city-states, the medieval times, the Renaissance and so on, that they would have had something called a Memorial Day since most of the battles and armies were fought by mercenaries. There didn't seem to be kind of a grassroots movement.


It was not such a thing as the draft. And earlier, of course, they were often fought by slaves. So, you know, when did this thing come about? This idea of a Memorial Day for a particular group of people, a particular group of those men, usually, who had died for some so-called national purpose or greater purpose. And of course, I think it had to be the 19th century where this thing really became important. The Napoleonic times definitely was a time when conscription began. The time after the revolution, the American and French revolutions, in which the sense of equality, so-called common man became important rather than just a Caesar or an emperor. I don't know if the Grand Army and so on, after their disasters at Waterloo


or the great battles of Borodino and Austerlitz and so on, those particular disasters, human disasters, if there was a national recognition of the suffering that had resulted for so many millions, actually. Probably, but at least the idea came about that a group of people were dying for a just cause, dying a sacrifice for some kind of justice, a just cause. I remember Memorial Day before the Second World War when I was a child, and by that time, of course, it was much more a family day, as it is now, going to the graveyards of your relatives and laying flowers on the graves and cleaning up the gravesides.


I can remember playing around the graveyards, the old gravestones, hearing about and noticing the flags on certain of the... and asking my mother, what are those for? And she said, well, those were for the soldiers who died in the Great War, the Great War of 1914-1918 recognition. I said, what do you mean the Great War? Oh, there was a great war, to end all wars. And, of course, planes would fly over and drop flowers, the military such as existed in those days, which wasn't much. And there was, of course, the unknown soldier and the rituals at Arlington and so on were going on, but I didn't know much about them. It wasn't until the Second World War, the end of the Second World War, that I became aware of what we call Memorial Day as being something more than just going and sprucing up the family graveyard. And although this country didn't suffer the catastrophes and losses


that Europe and Asia did, by any means, still, there was half a million dead, something like that, and stars and windows of... gold stars and mothers' windows and so on. Anyway, there was a family sense of loss and there was a sense of... What should I say? Of national... There was a very naive, I guess I would say, a very naive sense of a national identity pulling its weight, our weight, against forces that once they were overcome, we could go back to a so-called normal life. Oh, how sweetly naive and dumb we were, so many of us in those days, to believe that that was the truth of the world. Well, I bought it. I was a kid, of course, and I was enamored by millions of men going off to war


and coming back heroic defenders of some faith or other. I wanted to be one of them. And so when they played taps or when the planes came in, dropped flowers and so on, I would think of the dead. I would think of all of those who had gone and had sacrificed themselves so that there could be at least something in the world different from what we had been taught, at least to believe was evil or... dark. We were the good guys. We wore the white hats. They had died for a reason. It was understandable. But, of course, you know, there was another part of this. Before the Second World War, at least since the times of chivalry, there had been a kind of code of honor among the combatants


that the civilian populations should be spared the disasters of war as much as possible. This was, of course, not always observed, not even in the Napoleonic Wars, Lord knows, in Spain and so on, some horrible things that happened to civilian populations. And, of course, before, in the days of Genghis Khan and in the old days when clans fought one another and encircled their castles and so on, the people were wholesale. There was wholesale slaughter of civilians. It was the way things were run. The women were either raped or sold into captivity as concubines and so on, and the men were either slaughtered or, if they were worthwhile, they were forced into labor. It was the way the world worked. But then something had developed where maybe the instruments of war became much more powerful that the civilian population should be saved from some of that. So in the Civil War, our Civil War at least,


from what I've read, civilian populations didn't suffer so much in terms of loss of life as they did, of course, loss of property, loss of values, and those kinds of dying. But the Second World War, we opened the doors again on everybody's fair game. And we all contributed to that. And I don't think even in this country for a long time we recognized the kind of dogs we had let slip, actually, by doing so, by the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo and, of course, the atomic bombs and so forth. Anyway, the complete devastation of the cities and their populations has been fair game. And that particular tendency, of course, as we know, has carried on up to this day so that now, in our many little wars around the world, there are many more civilian casualties than there are combatants in many cases. So this is something to consider


when we consider Memorial Day, just for whom are we holding these memorials? Genocide in Africa, India, the Balkans. All these crimes have been perpetrated since the end of the Second World War. And, of course, it was only five years after the Second World War that the Korean War started. So my generation, the generation that was born in the early 30s, too young for the so-called glories of coming home victorious in the Second World War, could catch that one. It would seem after that that each one of our generations, in this country at least, could have their own little war. But by this time, at least as I remember it, the whole new attitude had settled. It was cynical among the fighting men themselves. It was an attitude of desperation


and of hopelessness in many cases. I don't believe that when I went to Korea that there was anybody that I knew, whether they were from West Virginia or the South, who actually believed we were going to fight the Chinese and behind them the Russians, who by the way had been our noble allies only five years before, that there was a single one there who went to believe they were fighting from some abstract idea called freedom. I don't believe so. But I do believe that we discovered, which men in most wars and probably always will discover, that ultimately when it gets down to it, what you fight for are your friends, what you die for are your buddies. And then of course, all of us here know what happened in Vietnam. And I think really dealt a death blow


to our naivete in this country, finally. And I wonder how many, why people today, young men today and women now, want to go to war and sacrifice themselves. This is my opinion, I'm speaking from my own opinion, from multinational corporations. In a world of growing interdependence and globalization, why anyone would have some ideal that we're fighting for values worth dying for on a battlefield, that those values could not be demonstrated or


adjudicated or processed through diplomacy, through international agreements and so forth. But it's still happening. It just happened again. And now we have, in the East, a whole series of nations, and they're not actually nations, a series of people, countries, what we call countries, who are held together with a religious ideal, Islam, where you're Islamic first and your national identities are second. People who are willing to die for that, their religious ideals, rather than have McDonald's maybe or Hollywood movies set their tone for how they want to live. So,


what does this day mean to us now? Besides the fact that we go to our families, we recognize our families, the loved ones that have departed from us, for all of those who have died, who have given their lives, where does it stop? When we blow taps today, aren't we blowing taps for humanity instead of a group of people who died in this country or that, for this reason or that? Ahem. But I, I personally, and of course I want to, I hope I can connect this with what practice is about in a minute or two, but first I want to say a little bit more about there are among us,


even now, and not only in this country, but all countries maybe, men and women who have survived the horrors of combat and for whatever reason at least want to remember their beloved dead. And there's some poems about this. There's a short one, Memorial Day, it goes, Of course for the ones who were there, this day may bring back the smell of nitrate in the thousand-yard stair. Never mind the whys and wherefores, this day may stand like a ghost in the door, waving to the ones who made it back from over there. There is a poem, there's an American,


African-American poet Yusuf Kumanyaka, you know his name? Yusuf Kumanyaka, I think that's how you pronounce it, I'm not sure. He's a Native American, African-American, born and raised in the South, went through the Vietnam War and discovered his gift for poetry. Became later a Pulitzer Prize winner, is now teaching at Columbia University and sits on an amazing poet. Written extensively about the experience of loss on all sides, what this means. Now here's one attitude, here's one result of a death in a war, and it's called Between Days. And I'd like to read it to you. Between Days.


Expecting to see him any time coming up the walkway through the blue wood and the bloodwort, she says, that closed casket was weighted down with stones. The room is as he left it 14 years ago, everything freshly dusted and polished with lemon oil. The uncashed death check from Uncle Sam marks the passage in the Bible on the dresser next to the photo staring out through the open window. Mistakes, mistakes, she says. Now he's going to have to give him this money back when he gets home. But I wouldn't. I'd let them pay for their mistakes. They killed his daddy and Janet, she and her three children by three different men. I hope he's strong enough to tell her to get lost. Lord, Lord, mistakes. His row of ten soldiers lines the windowsill. The sunset flashes across them like a blast.


She's buried the silver star on the flag under his winter clothes. The evening's first fireflies, the evening's first fireflies dance in the air like distant tracers. Her chair faces the walkway where she sits before the TV asleep as the screen dissolves into days between snow. So there's all those also who on this kind of day remember. Those who were so close to them and who hang on to the memory and won't let go of it. In fact, I have a distant relative in my own family that I remember from my childhood. Her son, she lived on a farm. We used to go visit them in Minnesota. Her son was killed in the South Pacific. She held on for over ten years, wouldn't let anybody go into his room. Kept it exactly the day he left it and so on.


Could not accept, could not accept the truth of his going until one day, all at once, she let it go. And then she changed. Her whole life changed. In fact, she divorced her husband, went out into the world and got a new life. Amazing story anyway. Those kind of little mini-dramas millions of times repeated in this country, all countries all over the world, you know. Here's another one that he wrote himself about his experience. I think it has to do with the Vietnam Memorial. It's called Facing It. Here it is. My black face My black face fades Hiding inside the black granite I said I wouldn't Damn it, no tears I'm stone, I'm flesh Damn it My clouded reflection Eyes me like a bird of prey


The profile of night slanted against morning I turn this way, the stone lets me go I turn that way, I'm inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference I go down the 58,022 names half expecting to find my own in letters like smoke I touch the name Andrew Johnson I see the booby traps white flash name shimmer on a woman's blouse but when she walks away, the names stay on the wall Brush strokes flash A red bird's wings cutting across my stare The sky, a plane in the sky A white vet's image floats closer to me Then his pale eyes look through mine I'm a window He's lost his right arm inside the stone In the black mirror, woman's trying to erase names No, she's brushing a boy's hair So what are the ideas?


You know, the question of death is interesting because we've moved from a kind of a collective progression in our culture from fear of death to fascination with it to a kind of acceptance of it and now in this kind of culture in this kind of setting that we have here into insight, toward insight into death into the great message which is the great message of the universal is not that we survive the great message is that we awaken into a process in which nothing whatsoever ultimately survives and the awareness of death becomes our practice not just death down the road not death in some particular context but death from moment to moment from breath to breath, from day to day the letting go


of the attachment to the separate self-sense the separate self-sense not only as an individual not only as a family member not only as a member of a community, of a business or a national identity all identities dying from moment to moment all clings to forever in whatever war, in whatever place however we look at it dying, grief going through the process of grief and letting go and there's no way out of it there's only a way into it and there's not a person in this room sitting here who has not experienced losses losses of identity nameless wars family wars business wars and so the question then is


what is the principle teaching? I think, what is the principle what does the principle word come down to? in dealing with this kind of situation I think it comes down to the word sacrifice from moment to moment giving up our attachment and the impossibility and the recognition of the impossibility of doing it I can't do it and the echo comes back do it, do it, do it I can't do it do it, do it, do it, do it I won't do it do it, do it, do it, do it because whether we want to do it or not it's all going to get ripped off in some sense every day, every minute is a memorial moment is a memorial day from the point of view of practice from the point of view of attachment from the point of view of losing something beloved well in my version of the Buddha story, you know


it's like, you know men, they're never around when you need them, you know he's off somewhere in the world doing important business his wife is lying back home staring into space with her dead eyes he gets the message comes over to a telegram somebody hands it to him and says you've got to get home, your wife died he tries to fly back from his important business gets delayed on the way and so on and finally comes home to face that to face that it's not quite the same as sitting in a cave somewhere not the same as getting the final signature on the business deal he had to face that face staring at him with dead eyes and that's when he decides to cut his hair that's when he decides to strip off his old identities that's when he decides to go out into the world again and leave the fruits and flowers of anything that he considered holy or sacred


to find out how to end that agony that's the job we all have that's what Buddha is to me and here's another poem of course this one you will know this one is by my friend Pablo Neruda a beautiful poem this part was used in a movie but I think this is even in translation is very moving if suddenly you do not exist if suddenly you no longer live I shall live on I do not dare I do not dare to write it if you die I shall live on for where a man has no voice there shall be my voice where blacks are flogged and beaten I cannot be dead when my brothers go to prison when my brothers go to prison


I shall go with them when victory not my victory but the great victory comes even if I'm dumb I must speak I shall see it coming even if I am blind no, forgive me if you no longer live if you beloved my love if you have died all the leaves will fall on my breast it will rain on my soul night and day the snow will burn my heart I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping but I shall stay alive because above all things you wanted me indomitable and my love because you know that I am not only a man but all mankind that's a wonderful poem, isn't it? that's called Dead Woman in translation so there are those are three or so


poetic expressions of people's experiences that come to our come to mind or come to the fore so to speak on a day like this on a weekend like this a time to remember time to get in touch with that kind of loss the veteran in you that is suffering the one who died for that you sacrificed for the one that you gave up the one that will never come back the one that will never come home again we have Veterans Day and other days you know take care of the the more flag waving aspects of it I do not see Memorial Day as a flag waving day I see it as a day to open the heart and they include everyone everyone, everywhere in all countries men and women it cuts across all lines and maybe all the way back imagine the cries that have risen in this world


from the wars that we have suffered the battles we have been lifetime after lifetime engaged in no wonder the ocean is filled with our tears no wonder fire burns with our eyes looking at that kind of thing no wonder the women in Cambodia went blind went blind to seeing the atrocities went deaf I remember in Korea one of my friends going deaf nothing wrong with his ears he could not hear it anymore he did not want to hear the cries of the wounded they could not find anything wrong with him he just shut it off Memorial Day for them for that I do not see any other reason for me to sit here and talk to people if that were not the case in the world and what would be the need for Buddha Christ Allah whoever if this was not the case this is the case


this has been the case this will continue to be the case it is called the world it is Memorial Day 2003 we must celebrate it and celebrate our lives joyously together must indomitable he said be indomitable as all the heart of man indomitable of humankind I cannot do it alone I fall into hopelessness I fall into helplessness by myself when I read the paper in the morning when I hear the news and so on when I shut myself away from it when I say all those fill in the blanks


when I point my fingers and when I say if only they would wake up I would be happy and I know I'm conning myself I can't help it that's why I wear all these robes all this cloth for centuries people have been putting on robes you know this was the Indian robe and then this was the Chinese Confucian robe that's the Japanese robe under that's the American t-shirt and under all of it is our pimpled warded wrinkled differently colored flesh human flesh stuffed with consciousness and pain good job I need you you need me


and next time we meet some of us won't be here and some of the people that you know today will no longer be around bye bye any day now I just said goodbye to my first wife haven't been with her for 40 years we married over 50 years ago she was a foreign national Japanese we have a son and I thought when she went I would feel some grief but you know what it was like the way I look at it was like a you know how you might have in your smoking days you might have dropped a little ash and you look down and suddenly there's a hole a little hole in your pants or in your shirt


or something a little hole was burned there it's like that I look down and suddenly there's this little hole in my life well somebody's around even though we don't see them anymore even though they're not our friends even though they're even our enemies they're still in the world we have that feeling they're here and in this day and age you're not six degrees of separation you're about one boom hit the dot com or hit the google or something you'll find them right away but suddenly they're not there you know you can't find them anymore they're gone they leave a hole when too many holes happen too fast who are we? we're just holes that's what interdependence means I'm made up of everything that's out there of you it's all my relationships with everyone else so I suddenly I found this hole in my life and then through that hole came all the memories I did tell her once I loved her she said the same to me and then she was gone


I was gone we were all gone new relationships new loves you know how it is it's an old story so anyway this is a day that's full of holes and as we walk along there's another thing I was walking along looking at my feet walking in the dew you know the dew the heavy fog I was thinking alright alright walking along leaving your footprint behind you and there's a name in each footprint another name the name of those that are gone you live long enough you can walk a mile and fill every footprint with a name Memorial Day well I think that's my spiel we're going to get together


in a few minutes and talk some more so if you have questions we can discuss a little bit more I know I always leave out the most important thing I always do you know but I'm sitting here just a moment to say oh I was going to tell him this and later the most important thing I had to say I didn't tell him but it seems in my world at least it's set up that I won't remember it I can sit here until tomorrow and I still won't remember it until I get back and then oh yeah it'll come then well even if you're an atheist even if you don't believe in anything say a prayer we need it may our intention may our intention may our intention for the


for the thank you