Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zen & the Art of Fountain Pen Maintenance

It's a pleasure to find kindred Net spirits. In researching tenuous Irish-Buddhist connections, I'm encouraged by Tony Bailie's reading of Gabriel Rosenstock's Irish-language Zen meditations and Ben Howard's critical essay on Irish poets' Buddhist themes. Perhaps Prof. Howard might profit from Tony's "Coill" 2005 verse collection?

I wrote Ben Howard yesterday after not being able to find, strangely, his 2005 contribution to Irish literature. It's an essay, "How the Buddhadharma Came to the West," about Rosenstock, Ciaran Carson, and Michael Hartnett. I have no way yet of knowing its details yet, as the journal "An Sionnach" could not be located on EBSCOhost, which my college subscribes to, but only on a variant that some public libraries (none around here) use! The ILL loan I tried found no takers, and while Caltech of all unlikely places listed this rather obscure journal on WorldCat, it did not actually have it on the shelf, go figure.

Well, the professor emeritus from Alfred U. in upstate New York responded promptly! He's sending me a copy of the elusive journal. I thought it was defunct as its website that I consulted appears to have stopped two years ago, after a few issues listed tantalizingly only as a table of contents. I had sent its editor an article for consideration years ago about Paul Durcan's "The Hat Factory." I never heard back, so I blamed the silence on my own scholarship or its lack. Then, finding its website stopped in 2007 the other day, I was oddly cheered, not for the demise of the Creighton U. journal (a sister school to my Jesuit alma mater, after all), but for that as the reason my essay languished unpublished. Today, after reading the e-mail, I am happy to hear that the journal lives on-- Prof. Howard tells me the new issue with poems by Carson has just appeared. Still, I feel diminished as an erstwhile writer myself by wondering what slush pile or trash heap holds my manuscript!

Such are the ways we learn humility, thank others for favors, and spread the message that friends on the Web, poets (who in Tony's case are both!), and critics combine to share what we know and love with each other. I enjoyed Ben Howard's wonderfully titled "The Pressed Melodeon" years ago as a concise book-look at contemporary contexts and practitioners of Irish verse, by the way. Thinking I had reviewed it on Amazon, I went yesterday to check, but somehow I had not posted about it, so I rectify the oversight by recommending here.

He also reminded me about a website that I have written about on my blog in Irish last autumn, "Dzogchen Beara" in Garranes, near Allihies, Co Cork. Founded by Sogyal Rinpoche for his Rigpa hospice foundation, this is a half-otherworldly-- from what I can gather from the setting on the dramatic western coast-- location that one day I hope to visit. I wonder if many Irish, with their Catholic overlay, gravitate more towards the Tibetan panoply, whereas the Presbyterians of the North, for example, might roam closer to Zen by cultural habit?

By the by, Tony knows much about a man he met: the Kerry-born shaman-- I cannot think of a better term-- the late John Moriarty. For all his calling his conceptual reborn earth "Buddh Gaia," he writes in his voluminous, Blakean half-chanted, half-mystic, all-mightily thundering volumes little that I have so far extracted specifically about the dharma in Erin. He was probably too ravenous an intellectual and too learned an adept to stop at any one mythic or philosophical fountain for long to taste some Pierian spring. He drank deep, a dangerous thing. But, as Tony commented the other day in his post on "Jung & Moriarty," the loss of the sacred in Ireland as elsewhere is no mere mythopoeic construct. The shattering of our covenant that respects the planet and the language and the heritage brings us closer to an apocalypse, a psychic tearing of our atmospheric veil. It's serious, as much as global warming to me, for if we lose sanctuaries, than just as Gaeilge withers and seanachies fade, so will our sustenance. This may plant me among the hippies, the channellers, or the crystal Methodists, but I do fear this spiritual death's portent.

Contrarily, if desperately, such inventions as "Celtic Buddhism" that I am tracking may represent a renewal, and end-run, around the bog that we dig ourselves deeper into. Alan Jones over at his "Independence Cymru" blog earlier this month under "You Have Been Warned" posted the Archbishop of York's castigation of the consumerism that lured us into our financial swamp. Moriarty would've joined John Sentamu's jeremiad. It fascinates me how in secularizing Ireland, the spiritual still pulls many along, and the research I am pursuing tries to make some sense out of such syncretism, which I predict will smooth over for at least a few educated and/or fed-up folks the psychological and political clashes so many are now trapped in by fundamentalism.

For instance, not off topic: I read this week of: a) papal insistence this decade that basically, "extra ecclesiam nulla solis"; b) refusal of Orthodox Jews to allow non-Jews to sit at their seder table; c) protests by hordes of Afghan men screaming "dogs" at far fewer women protesting a law that-- unless she's ill or injured-- allows males to demand sex every four days from their spouse. What seems gingerly avoided by the Western press, furthermore, is that I recall that this is not a Taliban throwback, but very venerable Islamic doctrine. Of course, many men who will never darken the doors of a mosque may favor such a ruling too; not sure if the nobodaddies of Organized Religion Itself can be blamed for this jurisprudence, but it's not helping to fix it.

Away from the mobs, call me romantic and/or morbid, but the juxtaposition of the lonely shore where once wailed An Cailleach Bhéara with arrival of the sangha devoted to the Tibetan art of living and dying about which Sogyal has written so eloquently with the help of his translators (see my inevitable review on Amazon and on this blog!) does permeate a deep well of wisdom buried deep in a motherlode of both the Western and Eastern traditions. It may not be out of this world to say that perhaps in such a place I would like to die. If I am blessed for me or my loved ones to have any control over that crucial choice for me someday.

Finally, Prof. Howard directed me to his own "Practice of Zen" blog. I like the way he-- like the original (re-)designer of "Blogtrotter," Carrie, did here but then the html code reverted-- manages to cut the whole post so only a teaser shows. I have the boilerplate for this still on every blank template where I create my blog entries, but it does not "take" anymore, so you get my verbosity.

Contrast my blather with his sample entry about Zen and emptiness as encountered in a fountain pen. I used to get Fahrney's catalogue from D.C., but either they went out of business or my business with them shrank. Still, in flusher days than these now, I purchased a few wonderful pens from them, and among my last and my favorites is a thick, canary yellow "music" nibbed (I like oblique ones too as they fit my awkwardly held hand when I write in the crooked angle I do) "1911 Sailor" Japanese model. I don't know if mine's the same as the coral one Prof. Howard loves, but he makes a thoughtful meditation out of the four components of his beloved pen.

Here it is, and more on his simple blog follows. As I have more than one reader of my own fussy blog who pursues the wisdom that came from the East, I share with you this example from a critic who is also a longtime practitioner of Zen. "Of Fountain Pens and Emptiness." (Practice of Zen blog: 2/19/09.)


Wonji Dharma said...

I have found your comments interesting and provacative. My mother was born in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin and my father was a second generation Irish American. Thanks for the posts, it appears that you know much more gaelic than I.

Tony Bailie said...

John, thanks for mention.
On the issues you raised about schools of Buddhism that different traditions in Ireland might gravitate to... I know two practising Buddhist, both of the Tibertan school and who both come from the Protestant tradition. I once briefly interviewed Paul Haller, who is originally from the Falls Road in Belfast and therefore (with my native capacity to sus out 'what he is', was probably born a Catholic) is now the abbot of the Zen Centre in San Francisco. And although I'm a West Belfast boy myself (until I was three) I've always been more drawn to Zen Bhuddism, as a philosophy rather than as a practitioner. Typical, even Buddhist here are branded as Taig or Prod.
I suppose that stands your theory on its head somewhat but can't really be seen as defintive and I can see where you are coming from in terms of Tibetan Buddhism with its rituals, incense and iconography appealing to someone from from a ritualistic form of Christianity as opposed to the more personal witness reformed tradition.