Aug 31, 2010
“Together Under One Roof,” by Lin Jensen
Lokabandhu, a peace activist, finds Lin Jensen’s new book to be a moving evocation of Buddhism’s ethos of lovingkindness.
Together Under One Roof is Lin Jensen’s third volume, and follows in the footsteps of Bad Dog! and Pavement (already reviewed here). It’s a more slender volume than the others, but still a delightful read and in places very moving.
Like the others, it’s a series of essays in which he takes an ordinary event and reflects upon it, drawing out of it some nugget for reflection, some correspondence with the teachings of Buddha or Zen, some motivation to deepen his practice. In this way he — and we — come to see ourselves as part of the “Buddha’s Household,” all here on this planet, all doing what we can to survive, all presented with innumerable daily opportunities for generosity or transcendence and, often, all making a mess of it, time and again.
Sometimes the correspondences seem a little strained and one wonders whether he felt an obligation to come up with something every day, perhaps — for instance in the essay on “Naming Buddha” (p. 10), where his reflections arise out of reading the dictionary and the images evoked by the “double-disc harrow.”
Sometimes the correspondences are deeply moving, and never more than when Jensen is writing about peace, the need for peace, and the many factors in present-day society that militate against peace. This is where his passion and the book’s power lies. Continuing with the theme of words, and the importance of the meaning of words, he says,
“The vocabulary of ambition, greed, hatred, and force [...] is the sort of vocabulary that disguises its intent in euphemisms like “national interest,” one of the cruelest expressions current in the English lexicon. The phrase’s capacity for cruelty lies in the narrowness of its application and in the fact that the phrase is so familiar that it goes unquestioned and unexamined [...] the struggle for a peaceful society is as much a struggle over who controls language as it is over who controls wealth and armaments”.
This is contrasted with Jensen’s own love of and passion for peace, beautifully expressed in what is in effect his creed — “The single complete and encompassing value is the brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings – human, animal, plant, and mineral; sentient and insentient” (p. 52–53). And later, “from my viewpoint, Buddhism is not about getting enlightened — it’s about being kind” (p. 185).
Together Under One Roof is a mature work, the fruit of a lifetime’s practice and reflection. It has an almost deceptive simplicity, with Jensen’s home-spun images softening the reader to be all the more powerfully affected when he makes his points.