Stone Barns Sutra

October 24, 2010 § 26 Comments

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker a few weeks ago.  Two lawns sat separated by a fence.  One lawn was wild and full of weeds, while the other looked perfect:  “I’m greener, yes.  But am I happier?” mused the seemingly perfect lawn.  Yesterday, I had a very interesting little lesson in the way the mind yearns after a better life and self, the way the grass is always greener, yet is it happier?   It was beautiful fall day here in the Northeast.  Aware that the autumn leaves and soft weather aren’t going to hang around forever,  I tore myself away from all the work I thought I should be doing to spend an hour or so walking the beautiful lanes around at Stone Barns, a sustainable farm that overlooks the Hudson River.  We saw flocks of turkeys and crops and cattle and sheep on the hillside.  There were even a striking number of adorable puppies bouncing around, taking in the sights.  It was perfect…or almost…except that I suddenly thought of seeing photos of Stone Barns in a Martha Stewart Living Magazine  that I had flipped through recently…and that started this little subliminal hum of worry that I wasn’t being as industrious as others.  Why didn’t I ever seem to entertain?  Why wasn’t I accomplised and successful?  My friend and I left after awhile, and after deciding that we really couldn’t afford the pies and things for sale and Stone Barns.  Who did I think I was, Martha Stewart?   We decided to pick up food to cook at a market in the village of Katonah.   As my friend picked out chicken patties, I noticed a woman standing beside us, waiting for the butcher.  It was Martha Stewart!  My friend let her go ahead, since she herself could not make up her mind and Martha clearly knew what she wanted.  “Do you know who that is?”  I whispered.  “I know, I know,” whispered my friend with no particular interest.  “Now you can say you shopped with Martha Stewart,” the kindly butcher said to us.  I couldn’t help noting that Martha hadn’t looked particularly happy.   Suddenly, I found it extraordinary that I had thought of her at Stone Barns, as if she existed in a magazine photo paradise–as if Stone Barns itself was a world beyond labor, beyond suffering. As if all that beautiful green grass was really happier than I am.

The Buddha was radical–turning peoples’ attention to their lived experience.  He wanted us to investigate the way the mind works–especially the way the craving to have something and to be or not be a certain self  keeps us stressed and miserable.    The cessation of suffering that the Buddha offered can sound very small and uninspiring- like being promised an end to a headache enough but is that all there is?   But what the Buddha was really pointing towards was another way of living, anchoring our selves in the present moment where the true vibrancy of presence might open to us.   The Buddha offered a path and many different maps to this path, many qualities of heart and mind, of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, wisdom, compassion, etc. etc. that could help monks penetrate to this state of presence.  But I’ve found that for this ordinary worldling, it is often in a time of loss or disruption or uncertainty that my hopes and dreams for myself fall away and I come to rest in the present moment.  I let go of the worry and hurry, the incessant planning and business–if only for a short time–to remember what really matters: to be loving, to voluntarily participate in this life in a helpful, nonharmful way.   It has taken me a long time to realize that the Buddha wasn’t urging people to abandon and relinquish suffering in the sense of ridding themselves of life, running away or repressing themselves.  Just the opposite.  He meant know your life, really touch in with the feel of it, know the pull of craving, of the desire to run away.  Dharma practice is very personal, very humble and earthy.  We have to come down out of our dreams and check in with ourselves.   When there is no craving, no stress, no hope of escape from who we are in this present moment, what do you suppose we have?   I think it’s a special kind of faith that takes the form of openness, of a willingness to be here.

§ 26 Responses to Stone Barns Sutra

  • Tracy,
    You are such an inspiration with your weekly blogs.!
    My unedited thought while reading it was that I would be more impressed by seeing you than Martha Stewart any time!…I guess that made your point a little more succinct! :~)
    I know this is not the response you are looking for, but I couldn’t resist.
    Your humility and honesty in seeking the truth are always uplifting.

    • tracycochran says:

      You are very kind, Elizabeth. It was an interesting moment/teaching–to see that Martha Stewart isn’t Martha Stewart either, but mortal, subject to suffering, buying chopped meat all alone. I was actually thinking about you yesterday, wondering how I might get in touch with Paul Knitter.

  • tracy, thanks for your inspiring post. a great dharma teaching.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    I am hoping that when I step out on our front porch soon, that I will hear the cicada’s singing one last time, before fall takes over completely here in Southeast Texas.

    This is my simple desire of the evening.

    I’ve started reading the new book by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity.

    http://www.contemplative.org/

    As a fellow contemplative, Cynthia would love what you have written above Tracy.

    I agree with what you are expressing on the Buddha’s thought and mindfulness. We should embrace life fully with all its diversity, life does call out to life, life is affirming. Still, desire and sorrow are part of the journey, as much as love and joyfulness.

    If we could read the following through a Buddhist lens of Inter-Being and Interconnectedness, we might see that these words express something similar.

    John 10:10-18

    “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

    The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

    Tracy – “I let go of the worry and hurry, the incessant planning and business–if only for a short time–to remember what really matters: to be loving, to voluntarily participate in this life in a helpful, nonharmful way. It has taken me a long time to realize that the Buddha wasn’t urging people to abandon and reliquish suffering in the sense of ridding themselves of life, running away or repressing themselves. Just the opposite. He meant know your life, really touch in with the feel of it, know the pull of craving, of the desire to run away.”

    This is the promise that Christ brings to a Christian when he says; “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” or when Christ tells us “I came that you may have life, and have it more abundantly”.

    “To believe this, to believe in Christ as a Christian does, points to a way of viewing God as a Verb, in relationship, and Inter-Being.” – Paul F. Knitter

    • tracycochran says:

      Thank you, Ron. I love this. Just yesterday evening–and often–I was describing mindful awareness to someone as the quality of awareness a good shepherd has, or a good mother. In other words, you don’t have a head full of ideas but an open, caring awareness. Awareness itself can be suffused with caring. Indeed, it can be a really pure form of love since it is open, all-embracing…something to aspire to. I would like to get in touch with Paul F. Knitter.

    • Scott Pitz says:

      Ron,

      God in Hebrew IS a verb – Yahweh, I AM What I AM, or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. God is BEING, literally the first person of the verb, to be.

      But, I’m sure you knew that already. I hope you all have great fall seasons. Got the fire burning yet, Tracy?

      Shalom,
      Scott

      • tracycochran says:

        Hello Scott:

        Thanks for this. It’s good to know. I was just outside collecting kindling. I hope you’re have a lovely fall season in Pittsburg.

      • Ron Starbuck says:

        Hi Scott,

        I did know that God in Hebrew IS a verb. One of the best explanations I’ve read on this is from Rabbi David Cooper, who wrote, God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism.

        In Jewish philosophy God is also without gender.

        Rabbi David Cooper was actually featured in the Parabola issue on God, not that long ago.

        GOD
        (Volume 33, Number 2)

        ARTICLES
        THE GODDING PROCESS David A. Cooper
        A revelatory understanding of God, from the Kabbalah

        I remember how his discussion of God as Ein Sof (unending) and Ain (no-thing), without form, sounded in some ways very similar to the Buddhist concept of Śūnyatā, or emptiness.

        “Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation?”

        From the Heart Sutra – “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is form. Emptiness does not differ from form, and form does not differ from Emptiness.”

        It always fascinates me how these concepts can come together and merge together in some way from more than one tradition.

        Peace,

        Ron

  • tracycochran says:

    thank you, joyce.

  • Alex says:

    Your comment about being part of life reminds me of a criticism I once heard about a key word the English translator used in “Search for the Miraculous” by P.D. Ouspensky of the word Gurdjieff used for “identification.” The word in Russian that Ouspensky used was “Отождествление” (from page 204, Chapter VIII, of the Russian version found at: http://fway.org/onlinelib/72-2009-04-27-18-50-21.html ) which can be translated to “identification” but it can also mean, “equating” or “merging.” I think for a long time I thought that “non-identification” meant to separate or hold back some part of myself (i.e. my thought probably that kept repeating “don’t be identified”) out from whatever was happening “in the moment” and creating some kind of observer. Now I think that was an incorrect way of looking at it. My current way of understanding this is that Gurdjieff was saying is that we merge or equate a part of oneself with what we are doing to the exclusion of other parts (i.e. in comparison with the presence of three-brains-being-awake). Identification means lack of self-remembering or lack of mindfulness towards the present moment; thus non-identification requires an awareness of the self in its complexity (perhaps the way Nisargadatta approaches this issue) and an engagement with the present moment, not a retreat from the world.

    So when you say: “It has taken me a long time to realize that the Buddha wasn’t urging people to abandon and reliquish [sic] suffering in the sense of ridding themselves of life, running away or repressing themselves. Just the opposite. He meant know your life, really touch in with the feel of it, know the pull of craving, of the desire to run away.” This is also what I now feel Gurdjieff was suggesting, non-identification does not mean separating from life or trying to prevent un-necessary suffering; it means putting all of your human potential (all your “centers” in Gurdjieff terminology or “body, mind, spirit” as the Orthodox Christians call the three levels of the human factory) towards functioning and participating in life and finding knowledge of the suffering, or, as Rumi suggested, “The cure for the pain is in the pain.”

    Thank you for take on this from a Buddhist perspective, it is very useful.

  • tracycochran says:

    Thank you for your take, Alex. It is very interesting and useful…and I’ll fix the typo.

  • if you don’t think being an editor of parabola magazine is “accomplished and successful”, i don’t know what is.
    in my experience we all have that subliminal hum. we just use it differently. i think most people just dismiss it along with the other noise and inner dialogues.

    but where would i be if i didn’t self-urge?
    the only way i see to shut up that voice is by actualizing my dreams and desires. that may never happen, but the trail of efforts is apparent not only to me when i think about it, but given in the semi-important ‘feedback’ from others.

    and am i not at my happiest when i am energetically pursuing my own peculiar style of aims? bit by bit i gain some self respect just for keeping on trying to catch that brass ring.

    it doesn’t even matter if i am being driven by illusions some of the time. what matters is that i keep a thread of presence going through all of it; even when i am tired, which is when i least like to see myself. but i do like to see myself when i make an effort even though i am tired.

    for me, the worst suffering in life is missed opportunities.
    i am not able to change the reality that i am a veteran dreamer, so i get behind my dream and push. and with a little help from my friends who pull me….

    i am grateful to at least be in a sled that is going somewhere other than over the cliff at “victor’s revenge”.

  • correction: the trail of ‘results’ of efforts.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy

    But I’ve found that for this ordinary worldling, it is often in a time of loss or disruption or uncertainty that my hopes and dreams for myself fall away and I come to rest in the present moment. I let go of the worry and hurry, the incessant planning and business–if only for a short time–to remember what really matters: to be loving, to voluntarily participate in this life in a helpful, nonharmful way. It has taken me a long time to realize that the Buddha wasn’t urging people to abandon and relinquish suffering in the sense of ridding themselves of life, running away or repressing themselves. Just the opposite. He meant know your life, really touch in with the feel of it, know the pull of craving, of the desire to run away. Dharma practice is very personal, very humble and earthy. We have to come down out of our dreams and check in with ourselves. When there is no craving, no stress, no hope of escape from who we are in this present moment, what do you suppose we have? I think it’s a special kind of faith that takes the form of openness, of a willingness to be here.
    ********************************

    I think we have an experience of reality Simone Weil suggested in the following:

    “Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.”

    “There is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present too.”
    *********************************

    I’ve put this together with what Gurdjieff explained in ISM:

    “A man can keep silence in such a ways that no one will even notice it. The whole point is that we say a good deal too much. If we limited ourselves to what is actually necessary, this alone would be keeping the silence. And it is the same with everything else, with food, with pleasures, with sleep; with everything there is a limit to what is necessary. After this “sin” begins. This is something that must be grasped, a ‘sin’ is something which is not necessary.” G.I. Gurdjieff
    ******************************
    “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” Simone Weil …
    *************************

    Now I see how little I understand. How do I know, admit to, and act in accordance with, what is necessary when I don’t know what it means? For example:

    “If Mr. Gandhi can protect his sister from rape through non-violent means, then I will be a pacifist.” Simone Weil
    *******************************

    The compassion suggested by pacifism is one thing. The reality of rape is another. How do we reconcile them in accordance to what is “necessary?”

  • tracycochran says:

    Finally, I think I understand the quote about detachment with pain. It is pain–no escape situations–that allows one to let go completely. Otherwise, we let go a little. This is also the place of seeing, of being silent without others noticing.

    As for reconciling violent realities and pacifism, I think being in the moment shows one what is necessary…a strong stand needn’t be violent…or mindless.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    Meister Eckhart – Emptiness – Kenosis:

    “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.”

    “Therefore discard the form and be joined to the formless essence, for the spiritual comfort of God is very subtle.”

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy

    Finally, I think I understand the quote about detachment with pain. It is pain–no escape situations–that allows one to let go completely. Otherwise, we let go a little. This is also the place of seeing, of being silent without others noticing.
    ********************

    I’ve always thought that this had something to do with the success of AA. It allows a person to hit bottom: let go completely. Only then can the Spirit help since it is not defied by our imagination. Then we are seen for what we are and we can let go.

    I once learned that the Crucifixion was a conscious drama. It was the effort to bring about Armageddon within the Christ so as to attract the help of the Holy spirit for re-birth as an act of higther reconciliation. The idea is that Christ as the affirming force consciously endured the highest denying force represented by the Crucifixion and human attitudes attached to it. The struggle created the void for the Spirit to enter at such a quality that its energy could serve as an awakening experience to those having become open to it.

    It is not something we are capable of since we lose presence at the slightest provocation.
    *********************************
    “As for reconciling violent realities and pacifism, I think being in the moment shows one what is necessary…a strong stand needn’t be violent…or mindless.”
    *************************

    I’ve always felt the same. Violence is not defined by the reaction but rather an emotional attitude. This article helped me to see that this idealistic pacifism often described as spiritual is really just misguided feelgoodism.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/220530/dalai-lamas-army/dave-kopel

    “This raises an interesting question: Can an ethical follower of Tibetan Buddhism kill someone in order to save the Dalai Lama? Or in order to fight religious totalitarianism in general?

    Absolutely yes. Although some Westerners imagine that the Dalai Lama is an absolute pacifist, the teachings of the present Dalai Lama and of his predecessor, as well as the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, all legitimize the use of deadly force against killers and would-be tyrants.”

    *****************************

    It’s back to this question of what is necessary and its relationship to “attitude.” I don’t know the attitude of these monks. What gives us the right to kill?

  • Tracy,
    Some of what I think you are saying is that we need to try to be “open” to what we are experiencing. Then look at it and see what part of it is “ego”, and in a way “delusional”.
    the other day I watched a movie (can’t remember the name), but in the script we siblings that were very close. at the end of the movie, I thought.”Gee, my 5 children aren’t that close.” That lead me to my next thought: I should call each one of them and tell them that I hope they become close before I die. (Don’t laugh!)
    After that, I realized how ludicrous this thought was!
    First of all, before the first thought, I was pretty content…then the thought (grass greener on the other side)….Then “fix it”…which I know I can’t do, and also, I don’t even know if the first thought is true!
    And so, I go to your conclusion:”But I’ve found that for this ordinary worldling, it is often in a time of loss or disruption or uncertainty that my hopes and dreams for myself fall away and I come to rest in the present moment. I let go of the worry and hurry, the incessant planning and business–if only for a short time–to remember what really matters: to be loving, to voluntarily participate in this life in a helpful, nonharmful way. ”

    I might add,and to be grateful for this present moment!

  • tracycochran says:

    And I might add that ego busy fixing and spinning illusions is lovable too!

  • Nick_A says:

    Tracy, could you send me an email addy through which I could reach you.

    I’m working on an ancient legend that is somewhat universal but most are unaware of. It means many things including ultimate resistance to man becoming himself. That is an important topic during these times in which imagination is so dominant.

    Since I am connected to it by art, I’ve been compiling information and will try to create an article.

    Since I will eventually submit it to Parabola, I’d like to run it by you and get your feedback since you are aware of esoteric ideas and are also a good writer.

    It is a real challenge for me to try and place these parts into a whole I am aware of and in which these parts all fit.

    All feedback appreciated.

    Nick

    • tracycochran says:

      Hi Nick:

      You can send it to Parabola and direct it to my attention. Good luck. I know what a long, hard march writing can be.

  • Nick_A says:

    Thanks Tracy, I’ try that. I’ll send it to the editirial email with your name on the subject. In the meantime you wrote:

    “I let go of the worry and hurry, the incessant planning and business–if only for a short time–to remember what really matters: to be loving, to voluntarily participate in this life in a helpful, nonharmful way. It has taken me a long time to realize that the Buddha wasn’t urging people to abandon and reliquish suffering in the sense of ridding themselves of life, running away or repressing themselves. Just the opposite. He meant know your life, really touch in with the feel of it, know the pull of craving, of the desire to run away.”
    *************************

    It is like a muscle that has to be worked or it atrophies. It is more than “wonderful thoughts.”

    As usual Simone makes the point in her brutally honest manner. Nothing lovely about this brutal truth. I think you will appreciate it:

    “Let us not think that because we are less brutal, less violent, less inhuman than our opponents we will carry the day. Brutality, violence, and inhumanity have an immense prestige that schoolbooks hide from children, that grown men do not admit, but that everyone bows before. For the opposite virtues to have as much prestige, they must be actively and constantly put into practice. Anyone who is merely incapable of being as brutal, as violent, and as inhuman as someone else, but who does not practice the opposite virtues, is inferior to that person in both inner strength and prestige, and he will not hold out in . . . a confrontation” — Simone Weil

  • I enjoy reading all the responses, especially those that explain how they relate to what Tracy is saying in their own personal struggles.
    While it is great to quote, and maybe necessary, it is helpful when it is accompanied with stories that back up “how it works”.
    For instance, I agree with Nick’s comments above:

    Finally, I think I understand the quote about detachment with pain. It is pain–no escape situations–that allows one to let go completely. Otherwise, we let go a little. This is also the place of seeing, of being silent without others noticing.

    I had that experience when I was diagnosed with breast cancer…I did let go,and told my God that whatever would be would be, and that I knew He would be with me all the way. And He was! However,the feeling was the most dominant, but then there would be times…and then that’s when paradoxically, others would help, and encourage.
    I do think that’s how the “letting go” works.
    We surrender, but then we have to always do our part. Surrender is an active process…. At least this has been my experience.

    • tracycochran says:

      Surrender is an active process in my experience also, Elizabeth. And it’s ongoing. It really is an act of faith in something greater than myself.

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