The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, 
poems and humor.

January 2014

This Month's Contents: Excerpts from Zen Enlightenment; Origins and Meaning by Heinrich Dumoulin | Sacred Way by Eloratea | Interview of artist Jerry Wennstrom by DREAMWalker Group | The Quiet Garden by Gordon Gross | New documentary trailer: Traveling Lighter with Paul Hedderman by Poetry in Motion Films | Traveling Lighter video excerpt | Ripples in a Pond by john erik ege | Humor | Quotes | Reader Commentary |

Editor's Note
by David Weimer

A Heartbeat from Heaven

We are living on the border
Of eternity each day;
We are just as close to heaven
As the stars so far away.
And the only thing between us,
Whether we are big or small,
Is a tender little heartbeat,
Just a heartbeat, that is all.

In this land of sin and sorrow,
Whether old or in our prime,
We are only just a heartbeat
From the grave at any time;
No one has a lease on living,
Any moment death may call,
It is only by God’s mercy
That we live and breathe at all.

It was sleeting.
Many people were underdressed.
Shivering and dripping noses were in evidence.
A strong wind blew down our necks
and a green cloth awning provided little shelter
from the late December weather.
I was at a graveside memorial for Juanita,
who I’d done handyman work for in the past.
The woman officiating stood by Juanita’s coffin
and read this poem aloud.

I excerpted the first and third stanzas.

Read Heartbeat in its entirety.

Happy New Year.
Thank you for visiting the Forum.

Zen Enlightenment; Origins and Meaning
by Heinrich Dumoulin

Zen Enlightenment

The following excerpts are from
Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meaning,
by Heinrich Dumoulin, 1993. Weatherhill, Inc.
(originally published under the title,
Der Erleuchtungsweg des Zen im Buddhismus,
1976. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag).


The German writer Karlfried Graf Dürckheim spoke of this transcendence as follows: “It can occur to us in these experiences that the supernatural or supermundane is not to be sought outside the human being, but that the core of the human being is something that transcends his natural state of personality as conditioned by the world…” (p. 63)

Everything is at stake. The practitioner must transcend both Being and Non-being. The mu (not) that is the solution lies beyond affirmation or negation. Immediate experience makes contact with the absolute (p. 71).

Dōgen was a perpetual questioner and seeker. For him nothing in this constantly fluctuating life was ultimate (p. 90).

Dōgen’s zazen is not a gradual purification of the mind in the manner of wiping a mirror. As he often enough emphasizes, there is no causal connection between practice and enlightenment. Practice is not the cause that brings about enlightenment. Various things can occasion the experience of awakening to enlightenment, if the mind is ready. To be sure, nothing is more valuable for the preparation of the mind than zazen (p. 94).

“…You may say that you understand but still cannot give up certain things; and practice zazen while holding on to various attachments. If you take this attitude, you sink into delusion…. Without arguing about who is clever and who inept, who is wise and who foolish, just do zazen…” (p. 96)

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that the Zen disciple was being educated to a merely passive state of mind (p. 98).

Reality lies beyond affirmation and negation…” (p. 108).

The enlightened view of reality is inexpressible. The being of Buddha-nature and the nothingness of Buddha-nature are only accessible to immediate experience. Rational statements cannot be made about either….

…The slander of the three jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, like the expression “kill the Buddha,” belongs to the paradox of the koan. It is not a question of reprimand here, but solely of the inexpressibility of reality (p. 118).

“It is the non-believers who steadfastly maintain that Buddha-nature is there or not there depending on movement or non-movement, that it is active or not active depending on consciousness or nonconsciousness, that it is nature or not nature depending on knowledge or non-knowledge. For a long time unknowing ones have taken the activity of consciousness for Buddha-nature and the original face—those are people who deserve to be laughed at.” (p. 121)

Like all mystical experience, Zen enlightenment is ineffable. It is, however, worthwhile to make efforts toward some knowledge of this significant phenomenon, even if such efforts are inadequate. Two ways suggest themselves: describing the phenomenon psychologically and attempting a philosophical understanding of the essence. But the latter approach cannot produce strictly valid results in the case of an experience that absolutely transcends any human categories of thought (p. 140).

It is likely that this enraptured joy is closely connected to the liberating experience; yet the two are kept distinct. Hence the Zen master Yasutani says: “If the enlightenment is profound, the joy too is great. But joy and enlightenment are two different things.” (p. 144)

Master Yasutani explains the essence of Zen enlightenment as follows: “Enlightenment means seeing through to your own essential nature, and this at the same time means seeing through to the essential nature of the cosmos and of all things. For seeing through to essential nature is the wisdom of enlightenment. One may call essential nature truth if one wants to. In Buddhism, from ancient times it has been called suchness or Buddha-nature or the one Mind. In Zen it has also been called nothingness, the one hand, or one’s original face. The designations may be different, but the content is completely the same.” (p. 152).

I was introduced to the master as a student of Zen, but had difficulty in engaging him in a conversation. What I told him of my readings in Zen literature was obviously of little interest to him. He gave my questions monosyllabic answers and clearly indicated that he considered talking about Zen to be basically useless (p. 154).

The oxherd has lost his ox and stands alone on the vast pasture (first picture); but can the human being lose his Self? He searches and catches sight of the tracks of the ox (second picture); there is a mediatory assistance, in which religious things like sutras and monasteries can also play a part. Following the tracks, he finds the ox (third picture); but this is still a distant, intellectual knowledge or intuition of the ox. With fervent effort he tames the beast (fourth picture) and sets it out to pasture under careful surveillance (fifth picture). These two stages comprise practice in the Zen hall, the severe and painful practice until enlightenment is grasped, and the irrevocable practice of the enlightened one. The practitioner finds complete certainty; already the oxherd straddles the back of the ox and rides home triumphantly, playing the flute (sixth picture); ….Now the two have become one; the oxherd in his freedom no longer has need for the “ox” and forgets it, just as the trap and the net become useless after the hare and the fish are caught in the famous parable of Chuang-tzu. The oxherd stands alone with the ox (seventh picture). Now both oxherd and ox have disappeared in the securing, embracing nothingness of a circle (eighth picture). When the oxherd reappears, everything around him is just as it is (ninth picture)—the everyday life of the enlightened one. And the oxherd enters the town and the marketplace and bestows goodness to all about him (tenth picture). The enlightened one lives with his fellow human beings and lives like them, but the benevolence he radiates has its source in his enlightenment (p. 155).

Learn about this author

Sacred Way
by Eloratea

Come, meet us at the summit,
where all opposites reconcile
permanently and irreversibly;
It is a stunning view from here
on the broad valleys of humans'
confusion and on the raising gulf
of delusion.
But to join us you will have to climb up
the mountain path passing by the old
ruins of outdated conceptualizations,
limiting descriptions and
unnecessary reifications.
As you will climb higher, the breathing
will become more and more difficult,
the way more and more rocky and
also the weather more unfriendly.
But if you continue and spontaneously
recognize that it doesn't matter,
you will notice that you don't need to
breath[e] any more and that your steps
don't need to touch the earth.
Than you will be here, at this special
place, where unchangeable purity and
absolute indivisibility of the Spirit rule.
You will be heartily welcomed and
you will know us as we know you.
You will see with our eyes and
we will be looking through your eyes.
We will fl[o]w down together with the
purifying, crystal clear waters of this
sacred mountain and we will blow with
their mighty winds in all ten directions,
reshaping completely old world -
into the new one.

An interview of Jerry Wennstrom
by DREAMWalker Group
(where he discusses
his radical shift
and metaphoric "dying")

[Click on the image below to see more sculpture]

Three Graces

At the age of 29 artist and author Jerry Wennstrom let go of his identity by destroying his large body of art and giving away all of his possessions. After living a deliberately simple, spiritual life for 15-years he eventually moved to Whidbey Island, married his life partner, Marilyn Strong and began doing art again. He now has a large, new body of art, travels nationally teaching, lecturing, and presetting his art and the films that were made about his life.

DREAMWalker Group: As a culminating creative act you destroyed your large body of art, gave everything you owned away and lived this way for over 15 years. This pivotal act shifted the focus of your life and took you away from your identity as an artist/painter. What meaning did you find in this radical shift?

Jerry Wennstrom: I found all the meaning in the world! The shift itself continues to be the most important and meaningful experience of my life. I am convinced that high art and the cutting edge of the creative human experience can only be accessed through a direct relationship to the source. The absence of any interface and trust in something unseen are required of this relationship.
It is in our willingness to courageously turn and walk into those areas of our lives where our identity, as an ego, might come undone that we find inspiration. It is in this undoing that we find our true identity, separate from any limiting, known reference point in the world. As our controlled, ego creation begins to diminish, a unique creative expression begins to emerge.

Most of us seek some kind of individual expression in the world, and we do so, mostly, in insignificant ways. These ways often reflect or slightly improve on what others might already be doing. To fully inhabit one's individual expression, without reference point to the known world, is a very lonely business. It is this inherent loneliness keeps most of us from fully exploring the territory.

It is the nature of the ego, bent on control, to fear change. The ego interprets any radical departure from a personal or cultural fix as sure death to its existence and it is entirely correct in this assessment. Something old and calcified must die for anything new to be born. It is in the metaphoric "dying" that the inspired possibilities for our lives come alive. There is a quote by Yogananda that alludes to this strange paradox, "To set out on any holy purpose and to 'die' along the way is to succeed." Most of us are too busy "surviving" to open ourselves to the unreasonable requirements of this paradox.

DWG: How did death lead to renewal for you as an artist?

JW: Seeing the pitfalls of denial and fear in myself as a young artist, I saw no alternative but to face the metaphor of death and open myself to the potential it had to influence and enhance my life. If art is to deliver all of one's reality onto the solid ground of a more meaningful and inspired life (which is what I believe it should do) then it was the gift of death that did this for me. As a path of discovery, I believed in art with all of my heart and soul, producing an enormous body of work.

This path took me to an edge where I could do no more with my will, intelligence or good intentions. I was experiencing the death of everything I most identified with as an artist. It was here that two choices became clear to me. I could back away in fear or I could trust the path of art right to the very end and surrender to something unknown, which is what I did.

In retrospect, I find it paradoxical and a little comical that "dying" of my identity as an artist has done more to bring my artistic expression into the public light than years of painting in the studio ever did!"

DWG: How does the artist's personal experience, like you describe, ultimately have an effect on society?

JW: We are in a transitional period in our world and many of us are intuiting the need to stop and look more deeply at the way we live our lives. A deeper inquiry has the potential to tap into and express the zeitgeist, (the spirit of the times). It is our individual connection and quiet response to the zeitgeist that ultimately effects social change.

As a result of my own response, I left behind the discipline of active doing (painting) and opened my life to a new kind of discipline-the discipline of conscious being. Being took me into a more formless relationship with inspiration. An inspired moment will always expand our small ideas about our world and ourselves. I gave myself to exploring the holy science of an inspired moment, separate from any form-art or otherwise.

The choice to leap into the void as I did was not a choice based on reason, so a rational explanation is inadequate to describe its effect on society in any literal way. It was an intuitive decision and one can only intuit the meaning as one would a dream or a myth. I sensed this single act would set in motion the right conditions that would require me to look to the source of inspiration for everything I did. My intuition proved to be correct and life began to unfold in ways I never would have imagined. The new life that I gave myself to involved creatively tending all aspects of life with equal attention.

DWG: You have had quite a positive response to your book and the Parabola documentary film that was made about your life and art. Why do you think you are getting this attention and why are people responding the way they are to your unusual story?

JW: I think there is something in my story that has found a resonance in the hearts of others going through similar experiences. It gets back to the zeitgeist. When any expression strikes a chord in the heart of culture it usually does so because the creativity of the person doing the expressing has tapped into something universal-something we all recognize and identify with as our own. When we have been inspired by an experience or an idea we feel we have found what we have been looking for.

There is a joy and a freedom that comes through that has the potential to reawaken the desire to live more fully. The interesting paradox about this phenomenon, however, is that most of us identify with an inspiring experience and treat it as our own even if we have not found the courage to meet the requirements of such an experience. At some level this identification is justified, in that the emerging mythology belongs to all of us. However, as individuals we must find the courage to move forward into the reality of our own inspired experience and allow it to transform our lives.

DWG: Your current interactive sculptures are both powerful and whimsical. How did your new level of creative exploration inspire these unusual "beings"?

JW: In retrospect I see that my sculptures are an expression that developed organically, out of my exploration into the metaphorical death I experienced. The greatest gifts are easily overlooked in the life-experiences that challenge or frighten us-the experiences that look like death to the ego! By continually facing my fears some essential template of understanding crystallized for me. First and foremost was the initial, terrifying experience of jumping into the void. I then gave myself to the challenge of looking for the gift in every experience that came up naturally in life, especially those experiences that frightened me.

The art I am involved with now reflects this same challenge.

Recently, a man visiting from St Louis was standing in my studio, surrounded by many of my large coffin-like sculptures. He said, "You know-if someone was not in a very good state of mind they might be a little frightened by your art!" Clearly, there are some people who see my sculptures as spooky and death-like. Paradoxically, for those who can go beyond their initial fear and interact with the pieces, they walk away joyful, inspired and bearing gifts.

DWG: How do you balance the impersonal elements of metaphor and death and with the personal daily task of maintaining human relationships?

JW: One's true understanding of the creative power of death becomes the basis for the renewal of all things-including relationships. In trying to maintain a healthy relationship, we must do our best to be kind, compassionate human beings. However we will inevitably come to the limit of even our best intentions. It is here that we feel our powerlessness as human beings. Fear and control are often the way that many of us react to this powerlessness; however, the only real and effective option to this dilemma is surrender. It is this final act that holds all that we love in place in the world. The paradox of this impossible situation can only be resolved by keeping in mind that doing our best in relationship is never quite good enough. It is wisdom to know that it is not completely in our power to hold what we love in place. If you have a spiritual sense of things you might call the unseen glue that holds our world together-grace.

DWG: With such a major journey behind you, what are your hopes and dreams as an artist at this stage of your life?

JW: My dream has always been to touch the world in some significant way as an artist. I am at a place in my life where my art and life are reemerging in the world in a way that seems to have taken on a life of its own. There are events unfolding just as they should and I wouldn't know how to better direct the process. My dream is to remain watchful and see what the next moment might bring and how best to respond to what comes. I hope to stay open and aware enough to allow the spirit of the time to flow freely through everything I do. If I can accomplish this, I believe all else will come with the territory.

© 2008 DREAMWalker Group. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Wennstrom is the author of The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation
and the subject of Parabola and Sentient Publications videos, In the Hands of Alchemy and Studio Dialogue.

For more information visit his web site or email .

The Quiet Garden
by Gordon Gross

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said, ”Enlightenment is impossible without a garden.”

We might wonder what was meant by his proclamation as we have many accounts of people who attained enlightenment and seemingly didn’t have a garden. There are the historical mythical figures of Buddha and Bodhidharma who both meditated for many years without a garden and in our time of the Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa who spent a great deal of time in a cave in Nepal before attaining enlightenment with no garden present. So what was meant by that old fox Suzuki? Often, the discussion of enlightenment is somewhat like a cat chasing its tail as there is no fixed state that indicates said attainment only the ongoing proof of behavior. It is this behavior and attendant activities then that might interest us in attempting to understand Roshi Suzuki's teaching.

We have to consider first what is meant by, “garden?” Most of us would agree that a garden is an area that has been cleared, cultivated and tended to produce an arrangement of useful plants and/or flowers that don’t naturally grow there. A garden can only grow when a plot of soil is cleared and prepared. Before we clear an area for our garden we must then, if we can, find an optimal spot and soil. A quiet area is best but this is not always possible and some practice gardening where they are such as in prison or at work but some find rich soil in a monastery, zendo, sangha, temple and other places. Any place we can sit quietly on a daily basis though, is good enough for our clearing and planting purposes. Clearing the soil is at first simply sitting in meditation. When we sit for the first time we notice that there are many things already growing in our garden space. We find it is choked with weeds that endlessly spring up. They clog our garden area and we notice little else but the seed pods that these weeds produce and that we react to. As we sit quietly over time, day after day, week after week and year after year, we might begin to notice that the weeds have thinned out and we begin to notice some clear space. Another thing we might notice is that the clearing of the area for the garden takes time. We cannot weed in one sitting or in a month or two and be done with it. A quiet vibrant garden space is the work of a lifetime. Someone once told me, ”I tried meditation once. It doesn’t work.” I agreed with his insight.

When an area has been selected, it is important to plant within it seeds that are healthy and will grow into beautiful plants. To have a healthy garden we must choose our seeds carefully. Every day we plant seeds within us and sometimes are unconscious of the seeds we choose or even that we are choosing them. The healthy seeds are those seeds that grow nourishing plants such as compassion, patience and mindfulness of speech, thought and behavior. The unhealthy seeds we take in are movies and television and other media and interaction with people that promote violence, insensitivity to the welfare of others, excessive and pointless sensuality, greed and desire for material objects that contribute nothing to the well- being of others or ourselves.

All Gardens need water to grow. In the Buddhist tradition there are three jewels, which are Buddha, dharma and sangha. The Buddha refers to the desire for enlightenment or a desire to grow a garden. Dharma is “truth” or the seeds we plant and sangha is the community of people that share or “water”. We are nourished by interaction with others on the same path. It only stands to reason that our garden will produce more vibrant flowers and nourishing plants if we have a master gardener to share gardening tips with us. The sangha or group meditation is also where cross-fertilization takes place. Fertilization is necessary if other gardens and flowers are to grow.

After many years when a garden is finally producing flowers, it is of course usually the desire of every gardener to take some of them and share them with others. Some gardeners grow only weeds of hatred, anger and aversion and share only those. Others grow magnificent plants and flowers and share those via their teachings. In your mind contrast the emotional content of a radio show hosted by Rush Limbaugh with the emotional content of a group teaching by the Dalai Lama or any other compassionate spiritual leader.

We know what happens to any garden when the gardener stops tending it. It soon becomes choked with weeds and the flowers and nourishing plants die. Patience then, is necessary in gardening as gardens change from year to year and season to season according to conditions. Sometimes we experience a drought when everything is brown and withered and there is no garden to enjoy and so we are sad but this in time passes even sometimes after years of drought. Then we have a year or two or perhaps more of abundant rain and plentiful harvest, then we feel are happy, but this perception also passes. Gardening then, is a process not defined by attachment to any given year's activity.

Of course I don’t know everything there is to know about gardening and perhaps it is possible to experience enlightenment without a garden. That Suzuki fellow was a far better gardener than I. One thing I am somewhat certain of is that if we are patient and take the time to clear away the weeds, and carefully choose and then tend the seeds we plant, the garden that grows within will produce beautiful flowers we didn’t expect and the result is well worth the effort.

"Earth laughs in flower."-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

~ Email

Traveling Lighter with Paul Hedderman

Traveling Lighter on the path through life from Shawn Nevins on Vimeo.

"Probably none of you are here for 'nothing,' but if you could come away with that, that would be something."
~ Paul Hedderman

Practical and profound, Paul Hedderman's philosophy blends his experience in recovery with the wisdom of Advaita and Non-duality. He calls on us to consider our deeply held notions about self and awareness under a fresh light, and points to a simpler and lighter way of being in the world.
A man of no pretense, Paul's unique language and solid presence bespeak the depth of his understanding of the human condition—in which the original addiction is the mind's addiction to being a "self."

Explore other spiritual cinema by this documentary filmmaker.

An excerpt from Traveling Lighter:

Ripples in a Pond

A still pond in the forest…
A leaf lights on the waters;
Subtle ripples go from leaf to shore
And back and back and back
Ever fading, never gone

To dive in sun and stars
Through leaves yet fallen
Falling, felled
And come out dry, ha…
It would take a miracle!
To splash in the faces of God
The ripples are all contained
Fainter, ever fainter
Never gone.

If God remembers us,
Even those memories are alive!
Subtle ripples of leaves now sunk,
Layer and conceals the depth of eternity.
And a breath steers the leaf
Towards changing shores where no one stands
Not for long, as foot prints fade
Like ripples on a pond
Fainter, ever fainter
Further, ever further but never there.

~ john erik ege


"If I'm going to do something that could be provocative or artistically relevant, I have to be prepared to put myself in a place where I feel unsafe, not completely in control. I have no fear of failure whatsoever, because often out of that uncertainty something is salvaged, something that is worthwhile comes about. There is no progress without failure. And each failure is a lesson learned. Unnecessary failures are the ones where an artist tries to second guess an audience's taste, and little comes out of that situation except a kind of inward humiliation."

~ David Bowie


Reader Commentary

Thanks for the Forum! Nice job! I was going to say, 'You've out done yourself this time!' but then I got around to reading the 'addicted to seeking' story which brought up my recurring concern again about 'who is in a good position to talk about what' and whether a seeker/non-finder is in a good position to take on the topic that he tackled.

Ideally a seeker/author would describe their own person experience with their topic/suggestions like self-inquiry questions and experiments, plus what they think they got out of them in their own search/path. (Come to think of it, this same consideration might apply to the 'surrender' topic/essay.)

But still, it's an impressive issue!


~ Augie

I really liked Peter's Addicted to Seeking piece. Echoes my own understanding.

Let's start a Finders unanimous.

~ Karl

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