Sunday, April 29, 2007

What Page Was I On?

One of my favorite movies is 84 Charing Cross Road. It is the story of a transatlantic friendship that is begun over books. Helene Hanff (played by Ann Bancroft) and Frank Dole (played by Anthony Hopkins) carry on a twenty-some year correspondence revolving around books that Helene Hanff wants from Frank Dole's bookshop in London. Every facet of this movie interests me but I am particularly struck by how each book that Helene Hanff receives makes reference to or inspires her to read another. There is an interesting exercise for all of us in following the progression of our related reading materials.

I have been reading John Lane's The Spirit of Silence. Several posts back, I made reference to the Zen poet Ryokan (April 10, 3007, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"). Lane had a brief discussion of Taigu Ryokan in which he quoted the poem that I included in my previous post. The words of this poet resonate deep within me. So much, that I felt called to read more about the life and works of this man. I ordered Great Fool: Zen Master Ryokan, Poems, Letters, and Other Writings. I think that part of the reason that I am so drawn to him is that in my mind he embodies much of the same spirit that I see in St. Francis. Thus far I have only flipped through the book. I know that I have barely touched the surface of the great wisdom that lies in these pages of Taigu Ryokan. How do I know this? Because the following leaped to me from the midst of this text's 300 pages.

This poem is from the collection, Butterfly Dreams

What was right yesterday
Is wrong today
How do you know what's right today
Wasn't wrong the day before?
Right and wrong aren't something fixed
You can't tell in advance the pros and cons
The foolish are stuck on a single note
So wherever they go, they're out of tune
The wise penetrate to the source of things
And pass their time roaming free and at ease
Forget about knowledge and ignorance both
And you can call yourself one who has the Way

In a nutshell, I believe that the message here is that living in black and white makes one "foolish" and "out of tune." Most of life is lived in they grey area - some days it leans more towards white and is lighter; other days it's cast is dark as it moves more towards black. The good news is that it never remains in one place. Life, we, are in a state of constant flux. This is a good thing. Change is always available to us if we are willing to be open to the present.

This one if from Dream Dialogue

People's minds aren't all the same
Any more than people's faces
Everyone clings to his own point of view
Incessantly arguing over right and wrong
"If you think like me, you're right
even if you're wrong"
"If you don't think like me, you're wrong
even if you're right"
Whatever is right to you is right
Can't you see that's wrong?
From the start, right and wrong are both in you
But the Way itself isn't like this at all
Only a fool would ever attempt
To fathom the ocean with so clumsy a pole

Here too, Ryokan urges that we not fixate on right and wrong. I think he is asking us again to be open to all that is around us. If we form an opinion and then cease to have dialogue around that topic, personal growth stops. We must be willing to always be open and flexible. Judgement, either right or wrong, affords us nothing.

Just as Helene Hanff made her way through books, always being open to the gift that each one brought to her, I too make my way - not worrying too much about whether what I am reading is "right" or "wrong". Obviously I have formed opinions. They may not be right tomorrow but, for me, today, they are. What you discern from the words of Ryokan today is yours. Read today. And, read tomorrow remebering that it is a new day.

Maybe I should put down this book and again watch 84 Charing Cross Road? Will its message to me still be the same? Does it really matter? I don't think so. If the message changes, I needed to hear/see/read something different.

An interesting aside to this idea of change - When I was in London, I wanted to see 84 Charing Cross Road. I wanted to see the shop. I knew THE shop was not still there but the building must be. So, down the street we strolled to discover that what I thought would be a quaint English shop had been consumed by American commercialism. 84 Charing Cross Road was the address for Pizza Hut.

"What was right yesterday is wrong today . . ."