St. Gregory’s Spiders

July 1, 2013

All that man pursues in this life has no existence except in the mind, not in reality; opinion, honor, dignities, glory, fortune: all these are the work of life’s spiders. …

But those who rise to the heights escape, with the flick of a wing, from the spiders of this world. Only those who like flies, are heavy without energy remain caught in the glue of this world and are taken and bound, as though in nets, by honors, pleasures, praise and manifold desires, and thus they become prey of the beast that seeks to capture them.

St Gregory of Nyssa

from Commentary on the Psalms

Biographical Notes on St Gregory by Thomas Merton from The Ascent To Truth 1951

Gregory Bishop Of Nyssa (in Asia minor), is at once the most important and the most neglected of the early christian mystical theologians.  He was the brother of St. Basil the Great, who introduced monasticism into Asia Minor, whence it was to pass to Europe. The two brothers, together with with another Gregory, Bishop of Nazianz, formed a powerful triad.  They saved the church in the age of its greatest peril–for theirs was the century of Arianism.  And since Arianism denied the divinity of Christ, its triumph would have meant the extinction of Christian Mysticism.  For Christian mysticism would be impossible without the Incarnate Word, and without a Trinity of Persons in the unity of Divine Nature. Both these doctrines were denied by the Arians.  The consequence of such denial, in mysticism, reduces contemplation to the level of poetry, or at best of pantheism.  St. Gregory of Nyssa was born in Cappadocia (part of modern Turkey) about 355 A.D., when the fervor of the Desert Fathers was at its height.  A man of literary tastes, he first married and settled in the world, but later he entered the monastery founded by his brother St. Basil, on the banks of the river Iris.  There he gave himself to prayer, asceticism, and the contemplative study of theology.  In 371 Saint Basil, who had meanwhile become Bishop of Caesarea, consecrated Gregory Bishop of a nearby city called Nyssa.  Although Gregory did not come up to his brother’s expectations as an administrator, he distinguished himself by his theological writings and by his preachings against the prevalent Arian heresy. His was certainly not at age in which contemplatives were tempted to imagine that questions of dogma were mere matters of speculation and therefore had no essential role to play in an “affective” monastic spirituality.  It was, in fact, contemplatives–Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil, the two Gregorys–and the monastic order as a whole who saved Christian theology in the fourth century.

Saint Gregory is the true father of Christian apophatic mysticism, but this distinction of his has been forgotten since the appearance of a certain Christian Platonist of the fifth century, whose works were falsely ascribed to Denis (Dionysius the Areopagite, converted by Saint Paul at Athens in the Apostolic Age). This Pseudo-Dionysius, as he is called, was a follower of Proclus, the last of the great Neo-Platonists (fifth Century A.D.), but in his reconciliation of Platonic ideas with Christian faith he was also following in the footsteps of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who had died at the end of the fourth century.  Since they were supposed to spring from the Apostolic Age, the works of Pseudo-Dionysius acquired such prestige that all subsequent apophatic Christian Mysticism has rested on him.  In actual fact, Gregory of Nyssa was not only the true fountainhead of this mystical tradition but was also perhaps a greater philosopher and theologian than Pseudo-Dionysius. Two great followers of Saint Gregory of Nyssa share with him the honor of laying the foundations of mystical theology. The were both hermits at Nitria, in the Egyptian Desert. On was Saint Macarius of Alexandria, the other Evagrius Ponticus.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa played such an important part in the Second General Council of Constantinople that communion with him was henceforth a proof of strict orthodoxy.  His greatness as a dogmatic theologian has never been forgotten.  His mystical and ascetical works have always been well known in the oriental church. Only in our own day have they been rediscovered by the west.

But then it occurred to me in my predicament that having the Feds open your mail might come in handy.

June 28, 2013

Our hero pauses awhile from amidst a hearty outburst of “Hallelujah I’m a Bum” and begins:

I guess pretty soon I”ll be headed back to Spokane and take up my task of wintering in.
I do a little light farming or heavy gardening, whichever.

You know, that kind of farming is hard if you’re in this traveling profession.
Of course when you sing like I do you’ve got to be ready to travel with considerable alacrity.
I’ve got a Greyhound bus ticket in my back pocket all the time.

But you see, quite often I’m not back in town in time for my plowing or my planting. That’s awful.

Now, one time I was sharing a platform in New York City it was, with a bunch of high-powered labor politicos. It was a benefit for the Farmworkers, that’s what it was. I remember Richard Chavez, Cesar’s brother, was there and so was Bella Abzug, former Congresswoman from the State of New York. Remember her? Wonderful woman! I mean, she was loud, vociferous. Big hats.
She was yelling at that audience, a righteous beef it was, about how the Feds, the FBI, had been opening her mail for ever so long.

Well, I knew the feds had been opening my mail for at least 20 years. Reading all my personal radical mail. And it never bothered me because I figured them birds had to learn that stuff somewhere and it might as well be from my mail.

But then it occurred to me in my predicament that having the Feds open your mail might come in handy.

I sent Sheila, my partner, a letter through the United States Mail and I
said in it:

“For god sakes don’t plow up the backyard! That’s where the guns are buried.”

The National Guard rolled up, dug up the whole back yard in time for me to come back and plant the damn thing.


a little interstitial rambling from the mighty U. Utah Phillips

available on his collection We Have Fed You All A Thousand Years

Hey! Dump the bosses

All the bosses

Off your back

Read this aloud slowly. It is very clear.

May 9, 2013

If you exist any day you are not the same as any other day no nor any minute of the day because you have inside you being existing.  Anybody who is existing and anybody really anybody is existing anybody really is that.

But anything happening well the inside and the outside are not the inside and the outside inside.

Let me do that again. The inside and the outside, the outside which is outside and the inside which is inside are not when they are inside and outside are not inside in short they are not existing, that is inside, and when the outside is entirely outside that is it is not at all inside then it is not at all inside and so it is not existing.  Do you not see what a newspaper is and perhaps history.

Gertrude Stein

Narration 1935

I like the way James Joyce rolls

April 19, 2013

the Wheel of Dependent Origination:

In the ignorance that implies impression that knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that entails the ensuance of existentiality.

Finnegans Wake

on page 18 of my penguin paperback


not truth but stability, a kind of strange stability

April 10, 2013

Don’t accept commonplaces, not because they’re common, but because they’re foreign.  Find your own; study them but don’t reveal them, just so you know what seem your necessary half-truths: shabby curtains, imperfectly blotted-out mistakes with their place in your life being not truth but stability, a kind of strange stability–old trolleys in a sprawling city. Dare look at them squarely.

Go down, yes, down into you, toward that huge aisle of shelves of unglorified needs.  You have to. Afterwards you can, you must, come back up.

Henri Michaux from Tent Posts

translated by Lynn Hoggard



March 18, 2013

He who bends to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.


William Blake

not the things but their limits

February 25, 2013

The world of the happy and that of the unhappy, the world of the good and that of the evil contain the same state of things; with respect to their being-thus they are perfectly identical.  The just person does not reside in another world. The one who is saved and the one who is lost have the same arms and legs. The glorious body cannot but be the mortal body itself. What changes are not the things but their limits.  It is as if there hovered over them something like a halo, a glory.

G. Agamben

trans (Michael Hardt)

The Coming Community

Two Poems by Yannis Ritsos

February 20, 2013

These were translated by Scott King and posted at his wonderful website:
HINTS: The Poetry Of Yannis Ritsos


Clay: 27

Empty rooms
naked beds
the broom in the corner
the vacant cage
and this mirror
dark, gluttonous
still insisting
you look into it.

Athens—January 18, 1978




Closed shops. Flour spilt upon the pavement.
Sandbags heaped by the shelter. Hands folded,
sad, he sits behind the garden’s gate. A mob
of swallows flies over, their shadows crossing
his face. He bends over and gathers flowers.
He makes a wreath. Will he put it on?

from Correspondences (1987)


February 19, 2013


Poems from an American Concentration Camp

February 14, 2013

Nyogen Senzaki Formal Portrait

I have arranged these poems found in the collection “Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy” in chronological order in the hopes of bringing out the narrative of Senzaki’s imprisonment at Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

Parting May 7, 1942

Thus have I heard:
The army ordered
All Japanese faces to be evacuated
From the city of Los Angeles.
This homeless monk has nothing but a Japanese face.
He stayed here thirteen springs
Meditating with all faces
From all parts of the world,
And studied the teaching of Buddha with them.
Wherever he goes, he may form other groups
Inviting friends of all faces,
Beckoning them with the empty hands of Zen.

December 6, 1942

A swarm of demons infests the whole of humanity.
It resembles the scenery of Gaya where Buddha fought his last
battle to attain Realization.
We, Zen students in this internment, meditate today
To commemorate the Enlightened One.
We sit firmly in this Zendo while the cold wind of the plateau
Pierces to our bones.
All demons within us freeze to death.
No more demons exist in the snowstorm
Under the Mountain of Compassion.

Heart Mountain January 1, 1943

Morning haze gives an illusion of California.
The east wind promises the coming of spring.
Within the snow-covered plateau of internment
Evacuees can go no place else.
They can admire only the gorgeous sunrise
Beyond the barbed wire fence,
Above the hills and mountains.

February 14, 1943

“Those who live without unreasonable desires
Are walking on the road of Nirvana.”
So Buddha said on his deathbed.
Evacuees who follow him, learning contentment,
Should attain peace of mind
Even in this frozen desert of internment.
See a break of clouds in the East!
The winter sun rises calmly,
Illuminating the light of wisdom.

April 13, 1943

Sons and daughters of the Sun are interned
In a desert plateau, an outskirt of Heart Mountain,
Which they rendered the Mountain of Compassion or Loving-Kindness.
They made paper flowers to celebrate Vesek, the birthday of Buddha.
“Above the heavens, beneath the earth, I alone am the World Honored one,” said the baby Buddha,
Declaring the spirit of independence and self-respect of each sentient being of the world.
Hey! You! Stupid sagebrush and timid cactus!
Why don’t you stretch out your green buds to answer the call of spring?

October 3, 1943

Autumn came naturally to the exiled life.
We commemorate again Buddhadharma, our patriarch.
The four ways of conduct, as he taught us to practice them,
Were carried by us during the past 12 months.
The seeds of Zen were planted deep
And covered well with earth.
Who knows and who cares what will happen tomorrow on this tricky plateau?
Before long, cold clouds may cover us, and snowstorms may visit us
With no effect on our equanimity.

November 7, 1943

In this part of the plateau we have no woods,
No trees around us.
If the snowstorm comes to the village of honeycomb,
One may fail to tell either east or west, south or north.
Our imagination, thus, goes back to the Gobi Desert of ancient times,
Where many Chinese monks perished on their way to India.
Thanks to America!
The lamp of Dharma burns in the exiled life.
Today we commemorate Soyen Shaku, the pioneer Zen teacher in the land of liberty.
We offer incense to his portrait, with no wild flowers,
But the fragrance of the faith.

December 12, 1943

The frozen clouds of the winter
Hung stubbornly around the Himalayan Mountain.
The dawn, however, came to Gaya,
And the effulgent light illuminated the surroundings.
It is not strange that a mediocrity became the Buddha.
Lucifer and Vesper are merely two names for Venus.

New Year’s Day January 1, 1944

There is nothing more auspicious
Than the rising sun
On New Year’s Day
In the exiled life.
Within a hundred miles of this naked desert,
Not a thing comes to sight.
Ten thousand Japanese are here
As American guests.
What are we enjoying in the day?
No one knows but themselves.
A spring breeze of laughter swings out from each cell.

February 13, 1944

“In the spring garden of discipline,
Perseverance blooms its first flower.”
So the Buddha said in his last teaching.
Hundred thousand brothers and sisters!
You have pined long enough.
The emancipation is not far from you.

April 9, 1944

An evacuee artist carved the statue of baby Buddha.
Each of us pours the perfumed warm water
Over the head of the newly born Buddha.
The cold spell may come to an end after this.
A few grasses try to raise their heads in the tardy spring,
While the mountain peaks put on and off
Their veils of white cloud.

December 10, 1944

Mountains and rivers do not conflict.
Grasses and trees live harmoniously.
Nature itself manifests loving-kindness.
Eighty-four thousand delusions
Cover the eyes of man.
He dreams the whole world
In a fighting mood.
He sees not the morning star
In the same way as Buddha did.
Unless he enters into deep Zazen
And emancipates himself
From his own conflicts,
He cannot comprehend
The beautiful cooperation of this Universe.

Spring Message January 7, 1945

Man makes enclosures by himself
When he thinks himself
Separated from other beings.
Bars as such should be taken off.
The sooner the better.
One hesitates and loses time in vain.
nothing disturbs unselfish man
who harmonizes with heaven and earth.
He goes freely like a floating cloud
Or running rivulet–
Without fighting.

February 18 1945

On his deathbed
Buddha taught his disciples
To practice forbearance.
Man should act like the willow branches,
Which bend gently against the wind.
Three times we have commemorated
Buddha’s Nirvana Day in this plateau.
We did not learn much during the past three years.
We are ready, however,
To face the world with equanimity,
Taking smilingly the snowstorm of abuse
As well as the sunshine of honeyed words.
Praise be to the Buddha, the Enlightened One.

April 8, 1945

Land of Liberty!
People of Independence!
The Constitution is beautiful.
It blooms like the spring flower.
It is the scripture by itself.
No foreign book can surpass it.
Like the baby Buddha,
Each of the people
Should point to heaven and earth, and say,
“America is the country of righteousness.”

Closing The Meditation Hall August 15, 1945

Fellow students:
Under Heart Mountain
We formed a Sangha for three years
And learned to practice
The Wisdom of Avalokitesvara.
The gate of the barbed wire fence opens.
You are now free
To contact other students,
Who join you to save all sentient beings
From ignorance and suffering.

October 29,1945

For forty years I have not seen
My teacher, Soyen Shaku, in person.
I have carried his Zen in my empty fist,
Wandering ever since in this strange land.
Being a mere returnee from the evacuation
I could establish no Zendo
Where his followers should commemorate
The twenty-sixth anniversary of his death.
The cold rain purifies everything on the earth
In the great city of Los Angeles, today.
I open my fist and spread the fingers
At the street corner in the evening rush hour.

December 4, 1945

This world is the palace of enlightenment,
In his own place each person is a hero
Striving for what he would attain.
You also may have ideals,
Even forty-eight of them,
Only to be dispersed like early stars.
See! The new moon rules the heaven!
If you do not realize truth this moment,
It is nobody’s fault but your own.

Alone on New Year’s Day January 1, 1946

Like a snail I carry
My humble Zendo with me.
It is not as small as it looks,
For the boundless sky joins it
When I open a window.
If one has no idea of limitation
He should enjoy real freedom.
A nameless monk may not have
The New Year’s callers to visit him,
But the morning sun hangs above the slums.
It will be honorable enough
To receive the golden light from the East.