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by mykel
Rated: 18+ · Book · Experience · #2145320
Observing the waxing and waning of the seasonal moon and its reflections...
         The title of this blog, “Apricot Moon,” is inspired by meditations on the Chinese lunar calendar as presented in The Lunar Tao, Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons, by Deng-Ming Dao. In spite of its roots, the purpose of the blog is not to propagate an “ism.” It does not require any familiarity with Asian philosophy, or, for that matter, invite agreement or disagreement with any particular point of view. This is meant to be an observance of the passing of both the internal and external seasons, an examination into the myriad events and changes occurring in those seasons, an exploration of a landscape in which discovery and contemplation may be revealed and celebrated. May it also be a place where many voices can be heard, a meeting place for those who try to write eloquently and live genuinely. Here, then, are the recurring phases of the Apricot Moon…
September 28, 2020 at 9:06am
September 28, 2020 at 9:06am
#994458
In the Osmanthus moon…

On October 1st, we will see the Osmanthus Moon at its fullest. Osmanthus, also known as Tea Olive or sweet olive, is one of the ten most famous flowers in China. A beloved tea with a lovely scent and flavor, it can be used medicinally to promote healthy skin, lower blood pressure, counter stress, and reduce inflammation. Sources claim the flower is full of antioxidants that promote health and support lung, kidney, and liver function.”

The Osmanthus Moon celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival in Asia, a festival also know as the Lantern or Mooncake Festival. It is usually held on the the night of the full moon in the 8th Lunar month, corresponding to mid-September to early October in the Gregorian calendar. The moon is predicted to be full on October 1st of this year. The Chinese believe that the Osmanthus moon is at its fullest and brightest at this time, and the Moon Festival coincides with harvest time in Autumn. It is also a favorite time for Buddhist and Taoist saints and sages to die.

One of the holiday favorites are mooncakes, a rich pastry traditionally consisting of bean or lotus paste, sold and consumed in great quantities during the festival celebrations. While they may be a favorite for the young or inexperienced, I have observed hat many people consider these cakes to be too heavy and sweet to enjoy, so they avoid them. A skillful chef can certainly make a less cloying variety of mooncake with flaky pastry and marzipan, but such an innovation might be regarded as a poor facsimile of the traditional mooncake and a Western corruption of an Eastern delicacy. Still, the mooncakes are produced in great quantities; you find them everywhere. They are the edible icon of this yearly celebration, so popular that their sale is sometimes tracked as an economic indicator during the festival period.

The Moon Festival is a celebration of the yin principle, a time to comprehend and honor that which is illuminating, airy, and receptive. Hence, it is a time for women, mothers, poets, emotion, creativity, intuition, nature, art, gentleness, mysticism, and the pure miracle of life. The Autumn equinox stands at the gateway of the movement into the yang principle, the active power of technology, government, money, warriors, champions, and patriarchy. It celebrates and encompasses the fullness of yin and the transition into yang as yin and yang engage in their endless dance and transformation in the Tao. Yinyang expresses the principle that “opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”

The idea of the “man in the moon” or a face in the moon is perceived differently in Asia. There, people view the Jade Rabbit. The story of how the rabbit came to be immortalized in the moon goes as follows: once upon a time, three weak, old men were wandering about the earth; they were really three of the Immortals. They met a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey gave their food to the men, but they did not have enough and the men were still hungry. The rabbit had no food for the men, and out of pity and compassion for their desperate plight, it threw itself into a fire to provide its own body as a restorative meal for the wanderers. , but the rabbit had nothing to eat. Deeply moved by the selflessness of the rabbit, the Immortals restored it to life and sent it to live in the Moon Palace until the end of time.

While COVID-19 will make it hard for people to convene for the Moon Festival this year, it can still be celebrated in many ways and its principles commemorated and extolled. Here in the United States, we stand at a critical moment in our history where the very fate of our country hangs in the balance. Illness is ravaging our country, and the harsh judgements and divisions among our people seem to be showing themselves with increasing clarity and, sometimes, violence. The arousal of deep convictions and passions flare are the lighting of the stove that brings fire, warmth, and meaning to our lives, but it can also bring destruction; that fire has to be handled wisely and carefully.

The Chinese god of fire is sometimes known as “the Wisher of Warmth.” He is very intelligent, often depicted with a bright red face, but tends to have a very bad temper. The fire of anger that comes forth from the strength of conviction can produce transformative results, but it can destroy us if it is not handled compassionately and wisely. Yes, the times are grave and we are in a somewhat desperate and critical moment. This is a time for controlling temper, not indulging it. After all, tempering is the avoidance of excesses, to moderate and control - and focus in a non-violent, life-affirming way - our temper and passions. Compassion, love, and wisdom will preserve the Wisher of Warmth and not transform him into the Destroyer by Fire.

The Moon Festival is a time for gathering and reunion, gratitude and thanksgiving, prayer and aspiration. In gathering, the idea of harvest and pulling in the crops shifts to families and friends gathering and reuniting, a time for coming together. In gratitude, we give thanks for the harvest, for harmonious unions, and for the blessings we receive. And prayer is an integral part of the festival, too. In the most base sense, it is an opportunity to ask for some kind of satisfaction in weather, health, long life, the realization of one’s desires and aims. On a higher level, it embodies the invocation and manifestation of the fullness of Buddha Nature, a radiance that illuminates all-beings without exception. It celebrates inclusion, people coming together, community, and a deep wish for spiritual freedom and liberation. This is our true wish: may all beings may be free from suffering. Make a point of looking for the Osmanthus Moon this year. Look, remember, and aspire.


June 28, 2020 at 11:54am
June 28, 2020 at 11:54am
#986703
         The pomegranate is a Chinese symbol of fertility, and my thoughts in this moon revolve around the idea of spiritual fertility. How do we cultivate our true nature, our Real Self? Is there a place of true peace within us? Does it even exist? Are we able to find it? What does living in harmony with one’s true nature and not moving away from it really look like? In the Zen Buddhist tradition, living in accordance with one’s true nature means abiding in the mind of meditation (as much as possible), keeping the Precepts in order not to harm living beings (including oneself), and living in a way that benefits both self and other. The Taoists believe that there is a place inside of us where we feel most free and content, but we abandon that place to follow fame, a career, or another person. Not that these pursuits are inherently bad in themselves, but in doing so we often lose touch with ourselves. Somewhere along the road, we feel caught or stuck, and we natuarally long for the freedom to be ourselves and live in peace.

         That spark of longing, that desire for freedom, that sense of existential constraint, can be summed up in the words of Tao Qian (367-427), a Taoist poet:

A caged bird misses the old forest.
A fish in a pond misses the old waters.


         Tao Qian’s solution was to retire to a country life; he moved to a small farm, worked the land, drink wine, cultivate chrysanthemums, and wrote poetry. These activities were his expression of the inner peace that he found and manifested as a result of ‘escaping the net,’ abandoning the entanglements of ordinary society with its striving and scheming. He remarks,

For too long I was shut in a cage.
I only hope that my wishes won’t be thwarted.


         What is the best I can do? How authentically can I live my life? How deeply can I reach for something truly real? How can I best help myself and the beings around me?

         Most of us do not live in the place that Tao Qian describes. All manner of forces drive us: social, political, familial, economic, emotional, karmic. These are our experiences, the warp and woof of our lives. Still and all, we long for spiritual freedom and truth. Given the diversity of humankind, different people will have different answers to the questions posed above. There is no one way of expression that fits everyone. But we all have the same question, albeit with different variations. A Buddhist teacher wrote:

The life of birds is the sky.
The life of fish is the ocean.


         If we can dream about it, we can reach for it; if we reach for it, we come closer to it; the closer we get, the more it beckons us. And the more it beckons us, the seeming distance diminishes. After all, we are already living within it, are we not? May we all find a way to realize this.

June 14, 2020 at 12:18pm
June 14, 2020 at 12:18pm
#985635
         As the Plum Moon of April waxed and wane, the verses of the gospel song, Down By the Riverside, boomed and reverberated in my mind:

“Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside

Ain't gonna study war no more.”

         In the Christian Bible, the Prophet Isaiah declares, ““They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift sword up against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.” This verse celebrates the wandering Israelites crossing the River Jordan and entering into the Promised Land. More than two millennia later, in the time of the American Civil War, the same event was called to remember in that famous song:

“Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside

Ain't gonna study war no more.”

         John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. In metaphor, the image of the “long white robe” evokes entering into the waters of Jordan, spiritually cleansing and purifying the soul in preparation for entry into heaven:

“Gonna put on my long white robe

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

Gonna put on my long white robe

Down by the riverside

Ain't gonna study war no more.”

         This admonition to disarm prior to entering the sacred waters of salvation runs through many of the great teachings of this world. A Taoist master writes,

If you want to pray, let go of your spear.
If you want to bow, unstrap your armor.

         To live with an open heart and spirit, one must lay down the armor of power and aggression, of striving and competition, and learn to live in peace and harmony with oneself and one’s fellow beings. But what happens when we try to do that? What happens if the world doesn’t want to be peaceful? How do we live without armor, but also without burying our heads in the wet concrete of apathy, despair, indifference, or cynicism?

         We all witnessed the horrific images of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd as he begged for breath and cried for his mother until he died. I wept for him, at the brutality of such an act. Such cruelty and indifference to human life and suffering is appalling and outrageous. George Floyd died and the police killed him outright, in the open streets of Minneapolis, in front of the whole world. Since then, many cities around the country have exploded in protest, many of them turning violent. Some state governments have called out the National Guard to suppress the “unrest,” federal leaders t have responded with callous, unskillful responses that have inflamed the conditions and made them far worse. The African-American community is bleeding and crying out for justice. And many citizens of all colors are seeing in stark relief the oppression of an unrestrained law enforcement that perpetuates racism and kills citizens. The system is immoral, unsustainable, and crumbling. In the name of all that is good and just, a log-overdue change must come. When? How long must people suffer?


         ‘Laying down sword and shield’ in such a world is a tall order. Having an open heart, dedicating oneself to the sacred in daily life, disarming, finding lasting peace in oneself and in the world seems impossible. The deaths of George Floyd, Breeona Taylor, and Ahmad Aubery (and countless others) have deeply grieved and outraged many people. Their gratuitous deaths have summoned a passionate response, and in the midst of such deep passion it has become all too easy to hate those people who perpetrate this obscenity: hate the police, hate white men, hate the state, hate the government, hate, hate, hate. The moral outrage and righteous anger are intelligible in the light of brutal system that allows its agents to kill with impunity, and the reciprocal response of anger and hatred brings more fuel to the fire already present.

         The Buddha described the mind that thinks, “This is an enemy; this is someone who does not deserve happiness; this is someone who deserves every misfortune…” like a partially burnt log from a funeral pyre. It has already been cut from a tree and taken from the forest, so it can never be returned there, and it is so damaged from fire that it can’t possibly be turned into useful timber. Clearly, there are people, communities, regimes, situations towards which it seems impossible to feel any sense of loving kindness; we perceive them as cruel, nasty, vindictive, punitive, and vicious, and their actions confirm this. In such circumstances, are resentment and rage understandable? Yes. Passionate outrage? Ditto. Are these actions unconscionable? Definitely. Should something be done? Absolutely.

         But..... here is a place to take a breath and reflect. Hatred is an affliction, a disease, a sickness. Succumbing to hatred results in injury to ourselves and those around us. It generates more, not less, suffering to any situation, acting like gasoline to stoke the flames of anger and hatred ever higher, spreading it ever farther and faster. It also accomplishes the task of those who ignorantly, indifferently, or deliberately wish to cause harm. It simplifies everything by turning beings into objects. Solutions to situations generated by anger and hatred usually have tragic consequences. Yet something must happen and here must be justice. What is to be done?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ1gHm8v3ek .
May 17, 2020 at 9:39pm
May 17, 2020 at 9:39pm
#983829
First Movement

         The Clear Bright Festival arrives early in the Peach Moon, its celebration honoring both the dead and the living. During the Clear Bright, traditional families travel to the graves of their loved ones to maintain them. In China, these graveyards were usually situated on hills or mountains where the elevation, scenery, and drainage were optimal. The mourners clean the curved tombstones, sweeping, washing, weeding, and ensuring the graves are neat and tidy. All members of the family participate in this activity, from the oldest to the youngest: everyone is included. On the way to the cemetery, the older family members tell stories about the departed so the young get to know who their relatives were as they make this annual pilgrimage. After cleaning, the family makes an offering of food, often consisting of the deceased’s favorite foods and pleasures, including wine, tobacco, sweets, and anything else the dead loved in life. The food is placed in bowls with chopsticks, and sometimes the family partakes of the food at graveside to share the meal with their lost relatives. None of this food is wasted. This celebration may become a family picnic at the graveyard, or the family may venture to a local park to enjoy the meal. As the family departs from the grave, they bow three times to respect and honor their relatives. This communion with the dead helps to foster gratitude for one’s relatives, and instills a sense that the inevitability death is less of an ending and more of a threshold.

         To our eyes, the Clear Bright Festival may seem a melancholy occasion; we all grieve for the loss of those we love. While the festival ostensibly honors the dead, the acts of commemoration, communion, and commonality shared by all also celebrates life. The festival occurs when the harshness of winter is over and the spirit of spring warms the world. The air freshens, softer breezes blow, and the fully budded trees and flowers bloom and leaf out. The light becomes clear and bright. Colors intensify. Farmers plow fields, lovers court, and children fly kites. Families go out for picnics, and the sounds of singing, dancing, and merriment reverberate. For the Chinese, the ubiquitous, staccato pop-pop of firecrackers serenade both the departed and the living. Tears of grief and loss water the soil of life and the seeds of hope.

         The COVID-19 pandemic has been a free fall of sickness, loss, and tragedy throughout the world. No one is untouched by its devastation. Over two million people have died, tens of millions have lost their jobs, and many, many more will face deep hardship and suffering as a result of the virus and its accompanying conditions. An emergency room nurse is faced with caring for infected patients without proper protective equipment. A firefighter removes more corpses in a day than he sees in a week. Friends and relatives contract the virus and sicken; some recover, others don’t. Others, like me, have kept their job, work from home, practice physical distancing, and refrain from going out. An introvert by nature, my gaze naturally turns inward to reflect on the causes and conditions that have accompany this tragedy. Many, many people are suffering deeply. As the death toll rises, there are lessons we can learn, precautions we can take, and suffering we can reduce - if not eliminate eliminate - if we cultivate the wisdom to learn from catastrophe that has exploded in the midst of our human family.

Second Movement

         The Peach Moon has waxed and waned, and the Clear Bright Festival has come and gone. The tsunami of the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the countries of the world. Even the places and people who seemed previously untouched have been affected, and the end of this tragedy is nowhere in sight. In the past month, over 200,000 people have died. Different countries have had varying degrees of success in coping with the epidemic, and the United States is the epicenter of the virus with 25% of the world cases. These are grave times, a time for deep reflection on the wisest ways to reduce further suffering, a time to mourn the loss of so many people, a time to honor those who cannot escape the conditions of contagion, those who endanger themselves to help others survive, all those who perform a hundred million selfless acts daily for the sake of others. Every day we witness the power and beauty of kindness, compassion, tenderness, and love that inspires us, as well as the depredations of profit, exploitation, neglect, and cruelty.

         History tells us this has happened before and it could be much worse. Tens of millions died in the great flu of 1918. The Black Death in Europe killed over one third of the European population. Our addiction to endless war has claimed the lives of countless innocent victims. But this is our time and our historical moment: suffering is suffering: we do not know where this will go, who it will touch. and when it will end. The grievous uncertainty of not knowing magnifies every unfolding event and development. . Surely, the death of one person is the death of us all, and particularly tragic if that death is premature, preventable, or unnecessary. To see death up close, face to face, is to bear the mark of impermanence, profoundly altering our worldview. Grave and profound, yes, but not all bad. Once our own fragility is exposed and we feel threatened, we can embrace it. In so doing, we can discover that we possess the discernment to make better choices that will result in lessening, minimizing, or even eliminating suffering in the future. That discernment operates on many, many levels, from the national to the mundane and personal.

         When the specter of illness, especially grave illness, is close at hand, the intimate reality of impermanence seizes our attention; it forces us to confront its reality. The Buddha once praised someone who came to him to ask questions about life and death. The Buddha taught this person that birth, aging, disease, and death came to every person, each in its own way and at any time of life; there was no escaping it. During this dialogue, the person often asked questions pertaining to the details of his own life, but the Buddha often remained silent in response, giving the questioner to understand that the reality of the impermanence of birth and death touched every life deeply and intimately. Through his ardent questioning and the Buddha’s silent responses, the questioner went away with a deep understanding of impermanence. When asked what advice he had given to the man, the Buddha replied that the questioner was like a good horse who moves after seeing only the shadow of a riding crop: he had fully realized the impermanence of all things.

         What is death like, up close? Taoists call it leaf, bird, and song. A leaf falls from a tree; it withers, browns, and dies. It still moves when touched by the wind, but it is no longer green, no longer attached to the tree, no longer dancing in concert with the shimmering, green mass of its fellows.In sitting with someone we love who has just died, there is often sense of muted shock before and as the loss sinks in, accompanied by a passionate hope that their eyelids will flutter, their limbs will move, or their lips will speak. But no, there is no flutter, no movement, and no sound; that bright spark that kindled their life has burnt out. The longer we watch in vigil with them, the deeper we realize that they are truly gone. While our beliefs may offer comfort in speaking about passing, transition, rebirth, the movement of soul or spirit or energy, their life is no longer here with us. This is the great humility that partakes of pain, of silence, and, for some, darkness, for others, hope. Still, life continues as we continue. Outside, the light is streaming; birds fly through the sky, and their song is still heard loud and clear. It is a disorienting feeling, unreal, since our life feels overturned and forever changed, while all around us, daily life proceeds as normal. Meeting death like this, we are now possessors of a two-fold, solemn knowledge: everything in life matters because we are mortal and alone, and nothing matters because we are mortal and will die. How we hold this knowledge will ennoble us lead us into bleak despair. How we live with this knowledge will determine the texture and quality of our life.

         During an epidemic like this, impermanence has a crescendo effect, increasing in tempo and proximity. When we hear about or see images of those far away sickening and dying, we feel sympathy and sorrow. When someone in our own community is touched by the illness, that feeling deepens. Deeper still does it penetrate when our loved ones become sick; and we embrace its deepest intimacy when we ourselves become the prey of illness. Some of us will recover, some of us will not. While the details vary, the principal is clear: birth and death are grave events; impermanence is as real as gravity, and our precious human life is exposed and vulnerable to it.

         Caring for the dead is a rehearsal for caring for the living and part of being human. Remembrance is not morbid; it does not extend grief but honors humanity. We still remember those we have loved, and their effect upon our lives still exerts force. We live now because of the lives of others; that recollection generates a spirit of gratitude and compassion. A Buddhist poem says, “Light goes with darkness as the sequence does of steps in walking.” In the midst of great sickness and death, there is much to honor and to celebrate. Many have responded to the pandemic with great courage, commitment, and kindness. Over and over, good people stand together to help and care for each other.

         Music, the universal healer, is flowing throughout the world. Musicians everywhere are making offerings to help people and lift their spirits, from benefit concerts to orchestral musicians playing from home, from opera singers warbling out the window to their neighbors and communities to neighbors assembling at their windows and balconies, beating on pots and pans in gratitude for the essential workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way for the support of their fellow beings. We all salute and cherish the doctors and nurses who play music or sing or dance for their patients and colleagues to cheer and encourage them. Impermanence also means that everything does change, sometimes for the better. Each and every one should be remembered and honored for their offerings.

Next Movement

The next movement is still unwritten. Look now to the Plum Moon….




March 22, 2020 at 12:50pm
March 22, 2020 at 12:50pm
#978825
Saturday, March 21st, 2020

It feels appropriate to resume writing in this blog today, the second day of the Apricot Moon. This is the month of the Spring Equinox, a time of change, of transformation, at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, the time when day and night are of equal length. As I write today, we are in the midst of a global pandemic of Covid-19. There are currently over 300,000 cases of Coronavirus reported, and over 13,000 of my sisters and brothers throughout the world have died. I live in the state of Washington in the United States; we have the second highest number of cases in the nation, and we have seen the highest number of deaths. The governor has not locked down our state yet, but that might well be coming soon. I am in the high-risk category, and I am feeling cautious but not yet fearful. This is an important time, a good time for introspection, a time for reflecting on purpose, values, and attitudes.

I live in a rural / residential area in Snohomish County near a twenty-five mile long bike and walking path called the centennial trail. You wouldn’t have thought that there is a great crisis occurring from the faces of the people that passed by. There were a lot of bikers on the Trail, whizzing by in their colorful jerseys highlighted by the black of their cycling pants and knickers. Many families turned out for a Saturday stroll, with a salmagundi of strollers and tiny cycles for both young children and dogs. One biker shot past me, the head of a small Irish setter protruding from the top of his backpack. It lifted everyone’s spirits to be walking on a bright, sunny Spring day. At one point, I looked up to catch sight of a pair of red-tailed hawks drawing circles in the sky. Truly, it was a lovely day….

Today would have been a few days past the date of the Spring Blue Dragon Festival. In olden times, the families of Northern China would celebrate this day by drawing water before dawn and making a special offering called “attracting the dragon to the fields” to lift its head and send out rain to irrigate the fields. In our area of Washington, the dragon started early this year by generously sending out rain almost every day beginning in January! By the time March rolled around, many of the fields were under water. Had the farmers been celebrating this ancient tradition, I think they would probably have requested the dragon to please hold back now. Our rivers have been flooding and the fields have been covered with water. Only now is it beginning to recede, another reason to appreciate and be grateful for today’s sun.

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

I am watching the progress of the epidemic as reported by a great website developed by a seventeen-year-old high scholl student, Avi Schiffman. Ncov2019.live is tracking all the reported cases of the virus world wide. In the past 12 hours, 14,000 new cases have been reported. While I am not paying close attention the number of deaths, I do see that Italy has been very hard hit, and my heart goes to that beautiful country and the wonderful people who sheltered me for seven years during my early life. I am concerned about a friend of mine who still lives in Rome. He is high risk, has suffered a stroke over the past five years, has developed diabetes, and also has epilepsy; he is 80 percent blind. It is all too easy to step back in time to my memories of him, when we went on camping trips in Southern Italy, drove his Land Rover to Sicily in the spring of my senior year in high school, and adventured into the kif-scented streets of the Casbah in Tangiers together. In those days, we were unaware that Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg had all trod along those very same streets.

I currently work from home at the requirement of my employer. The governor of Washington has asked citizens to minimize travel, and those in the high-risk category, like myself, are asked to stay at home. I prefer a course that will preserve lives, with the modification of taking a daily vigorous walk to keep up my energy and shake the cobwebs out.

Having been fond of history my whole life, I have seen and read many accounts of disease and epidemics that have swept over areas, countries, and the world. I do confess that I never thought I would be living in the midst of one! I hear the echoes of British statesman Joseph Chamberlain during a speech he gave in 1898:

I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times. I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety.


Hear, hear. Nevertheless, aging, sickness, and death are all part of the cycle of birth and death; I do not say this with indifference but, hopefully, with acceptance. To expect the worst, hope for the best, and do the best one can allows one to step forward without despair. I reflect on all the friends and folks I have known, both living and dead, and I celebrate each and every one of them now. I have few attachments and few friends; I do not long for sickness and death, but they come and go unbidden and unhindered, just like the chickadee outside my window, probing the budding blossoms of the white magnolia. I try to sit still and breathe. may I be able to accord with the conditions at hand.

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