Dharma Talk by Christopher Kakuyo Leibow
For today’s dharma talk, I want to talk about coming home to ourselves. It is really about refuge, time travel and existential homelessness, and returning to our bodies in the here and now.
One of the interesting things I find in sharing the Buddhahdharma is how many of us, when we find Buddhism it is like returning home for the first time –
How many of you have felt that same way? How has finding the buddha’s teaching felt like a homecoming? I know for myself – that my life has been a journey toward home – especially growing up in a very dysfunctional home as one of the poems on my arms reads,
My life is a love letter home Caught in a dust devil spinning wildly
The other thing I have noticed is that when one grows up in that kind of environment one easily becomes lost to oneself – we can become shadows on the wall of someone else’s drama –
I know that I did and as I grew older – without knowing it – I set on a quest to find home –
and home was always out there – somewhere. I have spent a brief and privileged time houseless and it was exhausting – I found that I never really relaxed into my own skin, and that
I never really rested or slept – so much time – how much more is this true when it is not a willing choice but a choice of survival!
Houseless is a condition, homelessness is a state of mind, a karmic inheritance, a delusion of our basic ignorance.
For our discussion today it I want to us to focus at home being something intrinsic to being embodied. For many of us our homelessness is manifested in our disconnect from our embodied nature.
To start I want to go back a few thousand years – the Buddha is dying and he is giving he last words to his disciples and he tells them
“Monks, be islands unto yourselves, be your own refuge, having no other refuge; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things:”
So what do you think the Buddha is telling his monks?
I thought that no man is an Island to himself? As John Donne wrote in the 1600’s
Human beings necessarily depend on one another, as in You can’t manage this all by yourself; no man or woman is an island .
Isn’t that what we teach when we share about radical inter-dependence?
The Buddha was teaching us that we alone are islands but the dharma – the teachings of the buddha, are the island – let those, “let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other.”
What I think the Buddha is telling us is that we miss the mark when we look outside ourselves – for the external objects to make us happy, satisfied, give us meaning – our happiness is not outside ourselves, awakening is not awakening to something outside ourselves
But the awakening within – in an absolute sense everything is already awakened it is all of us that needs to wake from our dream – and our stories.
What I take from this passage from the Buddha is that Our home is the island on the ocean within ourselves – our home is dharma island –
But to get there we need to leave all of the stand ins for home, all of the comforts that take us away from our real hearts desire – to return to the pure land within our own hearts.
This reminds me of the Odyssey by Homer – 10 years fighting wars away from home, imprisoned by the The beautiful nymph Calypso, possessed by love for him
Finally Zeus convinces her to let him build a ship and return to his wife and son.
As Greek gods were wont to do they with all their passions – other gods got in his way – my favorite story is that of the Island of the Lotus Eaters –
So after Poseidon tries to sink his ship for 9 days of violent storms they find themselves beached on an unknown island. He sends scouts to contact the inhabitants, a gentle race who live on the ‘flowery lotus fruit’. Some of Odysseus’ crew taste the fruit,
“of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit of lotus was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to stay there with the lotus-eating people, feeding on lotus, and forget the way home. (9.91-97)
I always imagined them eating the lotuses for years until one day one of them asked how long they have been there and are told 10 years – sometimes it is obstacles of ease, our comfort zones that keep us from our deepest longing – I can guarantee you, the things that mean the most to you, that you want in your life live outside your comfort zones.
I don’t think many of us are any different the Odysseus scouts – we want to find home, the home within ourselves but we trade it away for our flowery lotus fruit – the fruit the eats time with its mind-numbing satisfaction – this could be seen as too much alcohol, too much weed, too much food –
What are some other things we trade away for our journey home to ourselves?
Our journey is less about a place or a destination and more about a way of being. The funny thing about the journey home is that you have far to go and you don’t have far to go –
home is right here right now – and that is the farthest journey for each of us…
because most of us are so far from here right now –
If you have been aware of your thoughts since you arrived this morning –
how long did you spend in the past?
How much time in the future?
That is how our regular mind works a time machine monkey swinging back and forth past and future and maybe swinging through the here and now.
I think out hearts desire for home is how Ethan Nichtern puts it in his book the Road Home –
“ It doesn’t matter where I live. Because I always feel at home. I belong HERE. No matter where HERE is, If you were here, you’d be home now.”
The “here” he is talking about is about our conscious awareness or our heart mind – We are comfortable in our own skin, in the content of our own experience as it is not as we want it to be.
When we are not – we tend to look outside of ourselves for a more stable and fixed abode – the problem is there isn’t one. We end up wandering from yesterday’s solution which has become todays problem and on and on and on.
So what is it getting in our way – from opening the door of our hearts and walking in?
We need to stop,
Returning home is returning to right now –
we can return to right now through our breathing – breathing in and breathing out – we focus on our breathing because breathing is
always in the here and
in the past and not
in the future –
Koyo Kubose Sensei was sharing a story about being at a Inter faith conference posed a question asked by a Christian Minister that went something like this,
As you know Jesus Christ is our Rock our Salvation, the bedrock of our teaching do buddhists have a similar rock – I was listening to this on a podcast and before Koyo Kubose Sensei could respond the first thing that came to my mind was –
this present moment –
Which turned out to be the same answer Rev. Kubose respondeded with –
ultimately any other answer -though functional, helpful and meaningful – would be conceptual – the foundation of everything else is being fully in the moment –
We need to return home to find our home – that seems rather paradoxical-
I left my inner self to find a home outside of myself and so doing I wandered around wondering where I went – During that time I wrote this poem.
Homecoming"I was the same, but I was waiting for myself on the shore to return." - Murakami
It is a difficult time. So
You wait for yourself to come back.
You wait on the
Pier. Watch pelicans
Pirouette in the air; weightless
For a moment and then diving.
The sound of their splash reminding
You of something you just can’t quite
Remember. You sit there eating
Fish after fish, wash them
Down with beer. You have started
Counting seagulls and giving them
Long Spanish names. You choreograph
Ballets, make architectural
Drawings of dreams and have started
To build a home of sea shells. On
The weekends people come just to
See you waiting for yourself. “Where
Did you go?” they ask, you just shrug
Your shoulders. You make new friends.
You take up painting and paint self
Portraits, your image repeated
Like the latitude and longitude
Lines on a map. Early every
Morning you lean against the railing.
The seagulls have joined you. You’ve made
Them tiny red scarves that they
All wear. All of you stare, being
Still as glass as if any movement
Might blur vision. All of you are
Staring out to sea, straining to
See you coming back, straining to
See the prow of the boat cutting
The silver morning water.
I think we see ourselves on that boat coming back –
when we find the boat or the raft is the raft of the dharma.
I also think this is what TS Elitott meant when he wrote
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
So coming home is coming back to ourselves – it is when we stop looking outside of ourselves for home, for something to fill in our feeling of loss, to lessen the sense of separations – when we begin to realize that our search outside of ourselves has been fruitless – We have spent so much time searching that we have become strangers to ourselves.
Home is not a house and what makes a home, as Tom Waits says in one of his songs, When I put your picture up – this house became a home – what makes something home is the engagement with the space and the dance of people and experiences within its walls –
So come homing is an engagement with our hearts it is coming back to mindfulness – I like how Ethan Nictern puts it
“…. meditation is really act of making friends with yourself.”
To really make friends with oneself we need to spend time with ourselves, and engagement with our experiences, all of them – We need to spend more time with ourselves – this also sounds paradoxical how can we spend more time with ourselves than we already do –
Is that really paradoxical?
The message of today’s talk really is simple – spend quality time with yourself – with your heart mind – meditate and reflect on those things that are important to you and begin to feel with your whole heart – avoid eating the Lotus Flowers and breathe into the here and now.
I would like to close with a poem from Derek Wollcot
I have lived in at least 30 residences in my life and only a few have felt like home and the ones that did, I engaged with the space, the door, windows and walls become my friends, I cooked, painted, created, cried, made love and had dreams – more importantly I lived in the space and welcomed guests, and finally I was able to welcome myself.
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
May we all greet ourselves arriving at our own doors – welcome – welcome home!