Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Each and To All

When cloud dappled sky speaks
to light dappled earth,
We are a unity.

Bodies dash about,
thronging like the tides,
some huddling in pools,
while the greater array
eddies and ebbs, then flows.

All that might be planned
harbors no certainty,
but we forge ahead with intent.

Every measure, every moment,
is a work, a furthering, a passage
to any next, any new, any now.

Ships that sail do not all land,
but those that find harbor
disembark with gratitude,
blessing the firmness of land,
sending praises to Providence.

Settling in foreign places,
sometimes leaving all traces
of “home” behind,

Natives might eye with suspicion
these arrivals for signs of danger,
or threat of infection;

But, when the quake comes,
the fire, the flood or storm,
Everyone joins together.

When people-dappled life sings
to assuage a disaster-torn world,
We truly are a Unity.

And thanks be
to each and to all
for that gift, that blessing.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen
As a descendant of families who arrived on the Cape Cod shores of North America in 1620, I see today’s refugee crisis as somewhat parallel to that bit of our history. Refugees from foreign shores are fleeing tyrannies and oppression, in order to find a better life, or at least a place where they can be free to practice what they believe. To feel “at home” and to “be safe”, these are rare and precious gifts. Our history continually reminds us that we are most human when we share. So, on this day, tomorrow, and all the days that we are privileged to live, let us share what we have and what we love with one another

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sutra of No More Sutras

Thus I have heard, once and forever.

In the wake of Shariputra’s death and parinirvana, Ananda spoke,
voicing the thoughts of those assembled.

“Honored teacher, we know your time with us nears its completion.
Pray, tell us how to continue beyond your extinction?”

The Buddha opened his eyes and offered his smile to all,
and then he spoke:

“For many years, we have thus assembled,
and I have given voice to the music of one vehicle,
three treasures,
four noble truths,
six perfections,
ten powers and ten precepts,
twelve causes and thirty-two signs.
I have spoken and chanted into the ten directions:
and these sayings and singings continue to vibrate through the chiliocosm. “

“To you, a good doctrine has been given,
acknowledged by buddhas and arhats,
past, present and future,
and expertly remembered by you, honored Ananda.
Many sermons have been set down,
by scribe after scribe,
in scroll after scroll after scroll.

“Good cousin, Ananda,
these teachings of the way
have been the making of a raft,
one strong enough to float above
the ever-flowing stream of happening
and even of dharma practice.

“But this raft must now be untethered and released,
and each adept must engage
the singular stream of unfolding—
the teaching, and also the teacher,
must be released into the wild unknown.

Because, any other course would come to ruin
in grasping and corruption.”

All present, on hearing these things, quietly bowed their heads.

“Do not sorrow, Dear Ones,
do not sorrow; the great void is not to be feared,
for truly it is indicative of endless potential,
which is Presence,
gleaming and differently perceived in each moment.

“How the good doctrine will flourish
on the ever-flowing river
cannot be foretold by the Tathagata,
nor by all the ranks of adepts in every dimension,
neither can time tell.

“To reside on the scroll
is to miss the point,
it is a surrender to inaction
that borders on forgetting;
one can rapidly become lost
in the thicket of serifs and diacriticals,
grammars and dialecticals.

“This leads to doubt.
Doubt leads to discussion.
Discussion leads to arguments and grousing,
parsing and chasing
after forms and meanings.

“In the end, this activity is
so tarry illogical
to the reality of eternal moment.”

The birds in the trees stopped singing,
cocking their heads to listen.

The butterflies found a place to light,
so they could hear.

The trees bowed their limbs lower.

“The chasing after merit
is also like the chasing after forms and meanings.

“There is only the Way,
and the truth of the Way
is where the heaping of merit occurs
never for the individual,
but only for all of existence,
as served by the Three Jewels.

“These Jewels are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha;
compassion, frugality and humility;
right view, right knowledge and right conduct;
thought, word and deed;
essence, vitality and spirit.

“Any heaping of merit is
unknown and unknowable,
but indeed present in eternal moment.

“Every being who does right in the moment
heaps merit onto the wheel of time and change,
for all and for all time.

“There is no such thing as competition;
all conscious right actions are integral
to the completion of perfection.
This is the essence of the Middle Way.”

A single ray of light burst forth
from between the Buddha’s brows,
touching all with understanding.
The birds, the butterflies and the trees
arose jubilantly.

“Take to the raft of the Way and journey.
Be the gift of goodness in the World.
Do not write it or discuss or plan it.
Be it, in the best way you can, in the moment;
this is how the teaching grows and spreads
to all generations.”

When the Buddha finished this Discourse,
all present were filled with the joy of this teaching,
and, taking it sincerely to heart, they went their ways.

© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


As the last student straggled in to take a seat, Teacher logged the daily attendance. She asked the students to pass the previous night’s homework forward, then collected the papers, tamping the stack of sheets on her desk, to tidy them. She had done this at all the class meetings, for every class over the course of forty years.

Something about the way in which she did it today caught the attention of the class. Everyone became uncharacteristically quiet and attentive.

Tucking the stack of papers into the folder reserved for them, she turned to the class, smiling.

“Today is a very important day. Oh, I know there is no holiday or festival noted on any calendar, but, indeed, this is an important day.”

Turning to the black board, she took the chalk and wrote the following equation:






The students waited. This wasn’t a proper equation; there must be more to it.

Turning back to the seated students, she said, “Shortly, I will be leaving you. A new teacher will come to see out the rest of the term with you. This is my last day; I am retiring. I know there has been no prior announcement; this news may be a shock to some, a delight to others—“ she had heard some intake of breath, some rustling of papers, some fidgeting, “but I chose this hour, before lunch, to be my last.”

The atmosphere was suddenly charged with an odd collective mood, as well as mild curiosity.

“I did not want to leave without offering one last problem, which you see on the board before you.” She paused, obviously having anticipated questions.

Cameron took the bait. “Uh, Miss, that, what you have written up there, is not a real problem, is it?”

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for just a moment, letting the world settle around her.

“Well, you won’t find it in the textbook.”

That was enough to break the tension; there was some snickering, particularly from those in the back row. She thought, ‘I must leave a note for the new teacher about the back row…’

‘I will confess to you, this is not pure math. It is rather, a philosophical problem with sociological implications.” Glancing at the clock on the wall, she continued, “ah, well, tempus fugit, and so I must soon be on my way. However, I need to give you a bit more information, so that you can really work on this problem.”

Turning back to the board, she took up the chalk, pausing just long enough to savor the dry, powdery feeling of it in her hand. She made a single alteration to the equation:






Shelley didn’t bother to raise her hand, “What does that mean?”

Without turning or answering, she raised her fingers, making small erasures, so that the equation looked like this:






She knew they would not understand. That is actually why she was offering them this lesson.

“This is, believe it or not, my gift to you. I hope you will work on this and find the solution. Indeed, school will not be out for anyone who does not attempt to solve this vital problem.”

Brett shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t think all the information is there. I don’t see how this can be solved.”

“Brett, thank you. I have left out one vital piece of information, which I will give you before I leave. For now, I will make this small change.” She turned back and altered the equation again.






 “We are solving for Z?” Chloe, a student who was always struggling anyway, was clearly distressed. This exercise was as clear to her as mud. All she could picture in her mind was the potential for “F2” to appear on her exercise paper.

“Ah, Chloe, thank you for that opening. No, Z is known; I will give this to you at the end. But, there are some things I must say about the multiplicand.” She leaned on the edge of her desk, crossing her arms and looking up toward the ceiling.

“As I said, this is a philosophical problem, one in which, as long as you live, YOU are the sole multiplier who figures into the expression, each and every day. YOU are required to engage with everything and everyone that the multiplicand represents, in order to solve for the product.”

She lowered her eyes, scanning the faces of her students. A few had a bemused look on their faces, as if it was all a joke.

“As to the multiplicand, this will be different for each individual YOU in this room—indeed, for every YOU everywhere in the world. The multiplicand is the factor you are tasked to discover in this problem. YOU and the product must be understood to be constants. And, the way you multiply yourself with the multiplicand will depend on the precise circumstances in any given moment—specificity about which I cannot provide. I highly commend this exercise to you, and I hope you will share it with others.”

The phone rang, with a jarring suddenness.  Going around the desk, Teacher took her seat and picked up the handset. The students tuned their ears toward the desk, straining to hear anything.

“Yes. I am on my way,” she said, and as she was replacing the handset, she was pulling open her file drawer. She pulled out her purse and gathered up her briefcase.

“The time has come for me to leave you, but I want you to know that this—“ she gazed around this room, this last one, representative of all the rooms she had ever occupied in the course of doing this work—“this has been a privilege and an honor I hope to have lived up to. I want to thank you for all that I have learned.”

She started for the door.

“Wait.” It was Chloe, “Don’t we need to know what the product is?”

“Ah, yes. Thank you, Chloe.” She patted the girl’s shoulder, to reassure her, as she returned to the blackboard.

Shifting her briefcase to her left hand, she took up the chalk one final time, used her fingers to erase the “Z” in the product area of the equation. She put down the chalk, rebalanced her bags while turning, and headed out the door.

“Best of luck to you all!” She said, cheerfully and went on, without a backward glance.

Her students stared at the board. There were yet fifteen remaining minutes of class. They did not know what to do.

Was someone else coming?

Was this equation a real assignment?

Would they be graded?






© 2015 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen