kobayashi isa

kobayashi isa

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

jonathan and david

September 11th, 2001 was a day which left me all alone completely and absolutely and eternally in this world in a way nothing else in my life ever had before or since. I happened to be staying in a hotel in Muscat, in Oman after living there five years working at Sultan Qaboos University. I was about to begin at a new private university and was waiting for the new work visa. Another teacher at SQU called and told me to turn on CNN, and they were showing the first rerun in the first minutes, (not yet 9:00 o'clock yet in NY) of a plane hitting the WTC. For the next two weeks, I watched either CNN or BBC night and day, and only slept a minute at a time at most. When the Towers collapsed, I called my “best friend” who proceeded to lecture me on how we “Americans” will have to learn our lessons now...

The WTC was something very personal for me. It was something so beautiful for me, one of the most beautiful works of architecture ever. I spent a lot of time over the years seriously studying it from all over the city. In the 80s I used to deliver to the WTC every morning at 8:45 AM, the exact time of the first strike. I was living in a Zen Community and in charge of deliveries for their bakery, and our best customer at that time was a restaurant at the WTC. I had spent many hours looking at the WTC as a structure, and its relationship to itself and its social surroundings. Its twin~ness, its exaltedness, its whiteness, its brightness, the way it reflected light, the way it stood for coming home no matter from which direction you entered the city. While at the Zen Community, I also met my sheikh and I became Muslim in the shadows of the WTC, and so did my brother and my mother. She told me after my father died, that he had become Muslim secretly before he died. It was in its shadow where my brother married his wife who is from Tehran, and it is where one of my sisters lives, and it was in its shadow where I had the closest and most intimate relationships with a community of friends that any person could have. It was where I began my first study of Sema, the meditation practice of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, called whirling, but really a prayer of the heart, and the practice of kenosis: the Shakers say: when true simplicity is gained, to bend and to turn we will not be ashamed. The collapse of the WTC and the death of so many people as an act of hate shattered all my structures, shattered all I knew, all I believed, all I loved. I didn't know for months how many of my friends died that day.

Its collapse and all people who died at that instant was for me the collapse of all I knew not just as ideas in the head but as living itself. Duality, twin~ness is such an archetypical representation of the unity of the soul with its universe. The twin collapse was for me the collapse of my whole inner and my outer world. All around me, my Arab friends no longer trusted my being non-Arab, and my non-Muslim friends no longer trusted my being Muslim. What had been a network of love became a network of suspicion and hate. The faith whose name itself means peace became the very symbol of all I hated. Healthy wholesome fruit trees do not grow poisonous fruit.

Within myself, I could find no way to condemn anyone despite how I hated them because I realized at once that that hate which brought down the WTC and piloted those planes was the same hate that consumed me. I hated them. I hated the ones whose hate drove them to hate. I hated the ones whose hate taught them to hate. I hated the hate in me. I hated all the hate around me and that had swirled around me all those years that led up to September 11th. We all knew it was going to happen some day one day and none of us had the courage to say no. I knew I would never find the way to humanness again, and I knew nobody on the planet would ever find that way to humanness again until I purged myself of all that hate and all the excuses for hate. If Islam, PEACE, is not the way to peace, if being at peace is not the way to peace. Then how is peace to be.

This was not a sectarian problem. Peace is not a sectarian question. All spiritual teachers practice the same peace. Peace is at the center of all practice. Prayer of the Heart and the way of kenosis, the way of bowing in peace to love, the way of the Bodhisattva, dharma, the holy circle of the sufis, of the first nations, of the Hassids, of the !Kung healing ceremonies, the interdependent co-arising of the Mogen David, the Star of David, and of the Tao in the Tao Te Ching are the same.

The vow to free all creatures and the practice and its application to life at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and on your dates, and at work and when the guy behind you honks his horn before the light turns green even!!! How to do that. It is not a problem to be solved. There is no answer to that question except to do it.

For me it was no longer enough to believe, to affirm, to say it is so. I couldn't believe. I no longer had faith. Believing had become a fig leaf. For me it had to become reality. It is so painful to feel abandoned by those whom you have loved but even more is to realize that you yourself have never really taken your own part of the bargain as seriously as you expected everyone else to.

There is no theology, no philosophy, no doctrine, no ideology which cannot be transformed into tyranny, that you can't use to lie, to hide behind, to blame. The answer is personal, existential, face to face, in your face, not in rationalization, ratiocination, justification, excuse, reason, pretexts, subtexts, proof texts, text analysis, but just in choosing. Belief, trust, faith are choices. Truth is not a sum of the parts. Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi says it does not matter how many times you have failed. Whatever you have done, he says, you are welcome. Chrysostom says, it does not matter, Pascha, Easter is for everyone, all of God's creatures, and no one can say they are not raised again with Christ. Paul says that yes, there are men who have sunk so low they wear their sins on their bodies, but it doesn't matter. By faith God cleans us. God says in the Haggaddah for Passover, I save you myself, by myself with no help from nobody and for no reason to except that I choose to because I am God.

Johnny Cash sings a hymn which is so pure and so simple. The man, an alcoholic and a failure, asks if I give my soul to Jesus will my clothes be clean again, will I have new shoes to wear, will my son love me again.

You cannot let the words and the ideas and the explanations get between you and love, between you and loyalty to the ones you love.

You cannot stand alone. You cannot live by taking but by giving and that means you must have someone outside yourself, a friend, the friend, to give to. The Song of Songs is a love song. It doesn't matter who loves whom, even Our Lady of the Flowers, the lowest of the guiltiest of the low, according to Genet is the friend. The Twin Towers will forever mean to me that necessary relationship. Those Twin Towers cannot be destroyed. Friendship is a form of family that is more profound than any marriage by any rite. Marriage is family to family. Friendship is soul to soul. Friendship transcends any religion, any philosophy, any legal partnership, any agreement or social norm. It is deeper than our own biology.

The last thing Mohammed (saws) says to us as the prophet is that the era of the tribe, the social unit, the cultural social category is over. We are one whole community, all of humanity without distinction. He does not make this a matter of doctrine but declares it fact, a matter of practice, our choice.

When Shems met Rumi, Rumi at last realized what all the scriptures and all the hadith and all the jurisprudence and all the meditations and all the mystics and mysticism he knew could not tell him. Love is stronger than the grave, stronger than all laws, stronger than all considerations, stronger than all chains and jails and armies and all hates. We are free to love. Love is not a commandment. It erases all commandments. We are only free to love. Love is the only freedom.

Love is not a feeling. Love is not a whole lot of fun. It doesn't make you look any prettier. It doesn't make you any smarter. It doesn't make you any nicer as a person. It is a hard choice. Love is the hardest of all choices. It is a choice you make yourself without help from anyone anywhere, not God nor Buddha Nature nor you mother, or the teacher in first grade you remember who loved you so much. It is a choice you make without any guarantee. Without any hope. Without any proof. Without any reason.

When Fr. Mychal ran into the WTC in certain knowledge of his death, it was not because he was inwardly happy and fearless. That is not the reason. He ran in because his friends needed him. I don't know if I would have done it, could have done it.

Books are not manuals. However the Records of the Saints by Fahruddin Attar and the Duties of Brotherhood by Imam al-Ghazali are two records, koans, against which I from time to time measure my own commitments. These are two books which Shems and Rumi knew. Even when Rumi was still just a young boy, Ibn Arabi had already recognized and authorized Rumi's enlightenment and spiritual maturity. Before Shems came on the scene he was already a spiritual teacher and only secondarily a scholar. But Shems changed him.

In short order, hatred removed Shems from the scene, but for Rumi, there was never again any going back. According to Ghazali, friendship is at its perfection when all you have and all you know is given over to the friend.

The ceremony of sema, the “whirling” of the dervishes is a sport of young people. Few are able to continue the physical discipline beyond their 30s, like top football players. I began to study sema when I was already over 40. It is a sport that cannot be done by anyone on their own. It took one friend of mine no more than a minute, maybe less to give me the key to it. He touched my hip and shoulder and at once it was clear, the physics of it, the physiology of it and like zazen, once you have done it physically even once, it changes your life. Dogen Zenji says that sitting once, you are Buddha. It is true. Just simply so. There is no explanation of Sema. And there is no gate but friendship.

It is many years now since September 11th, and my friend who simply touched my hip and shoulder so many years before that showed me that center from which one simply chooses, and all the movement after that follows. Like a potter centering the clay, or a zen teacher straightening your back or a yoga teacher moving your thumbs into the correct mudra, or Julia Child dropping the chicken on TV, it is only that face to face which breaks through all the crap. And if you give your soul to Jesus your clothes are cleaned and you get new shoes. Each and every time.

I know I have a long way to go before I am healed of September 11th, before the hate is cleansed, but I know my friend is there. I always have the friend to give my all to. The choice is all I have. He touched me all those years ago, and at that moment I was able to choose, and all I have to do is choose again and again and again and again, no matter how long it takes. It is never too late and never too soon. You just choose to do it. That is the only choice you have. The touch is real. Not a promise, not an idea not a dogma or a doctrine or a contract or a hope or a dream. It is not an expectation. It is an aspiration, a choice.

1 comment:

tish davis said...

Isa- It is so sad that hate cuts off a hand instead of offering a hand in peace. Sept 11 did not horrify me as an American but as a person. How can we do this to each other? I believe we are all the same regardless of skin color, country of origin, religion. And in the concept of "same" there is nothing to fight over. Perhaps someday World Peace will be a reality instead of words on paper and the dreams of an aging parent. Best wishes to you and your family