Archive for November 7th, 2009


As temperatures decline, and venturing out of doors is no longer a shirt sleeve affair, my thoughts turn to my love of amateur astronomy. The cooler temperatures of winter nights are a boon to visual astronomy, since there are fewer atmospheric distortions associated with the warmer and more humid days. It’s been a very long time now, years in fact, since I’ve pulled out the telescope for a long night’s program of viewing, largely owing to considerable business travel and the press of other projects.

As I type this post, I am looking at Jupiter high in the southwest sky with the naked eye: the brightest light in the sky since the waning gibbous moon has now set. I am recalling the views through the lens of past solitary sessions at the beach, at a local observatory, and in my back yard. On my very first astronomy outing, many years ago, I recall that what I saw through my lens of Jupiter was pretty disappointing. It appeared as merely a very small circle of light. Nothing exciting really (having been spoiled by exposure to NASA & Jet Propulsion Lab  images from unmanned probes and, of course, the Hubble Space Telescope). But, after a time and persistency, my eye learned to differentiate more of the finer details: cloud striations, Jupiter’s largest moons, and the giant red spot. It took patience and concentration, but the rewards of a personal viewing session are so much greater than those one gets from looking at the professional images.

Planetary astronomy has much to give the amateur by way of vistas that set the imagination ablaze. Ironically,  professional astronomers have little time to just look at the stars, given the limited observatory time they get for their research viewing. This is why the amateurs are the ones  that discover new comets and asteroids.

For me, the real treat is “deep sky” viewing of the objects in the Messier catalogue (nebula, galaxies, star clusters, double stars, pulsars, quasars and globular clusters) . The enormity of the mystery makes completely worthwhile all the effort of going out into a cold night, traveling to a spot without too much light pollution away from cities and towns, and setting up all the equipment.

I am awestruck each and every time I think about it:

  • The light I am seeing started traveling towards Earth thousands of years ago, and  in that one moment looking through the lens, that historical light falls on the retina of my eye for me to ponder.
  • Everything I can see is moving away from my vantage point and eventually will no longer be visible. The sky in the distant future will be without visible stars.
  • We look out into an ineffable infinity of space and it’s all rushing away from us into an ever greater infinity ( a mind-numbing koan in its own right).
  • What I see ( a plethora of stars) is dwarfed by what I can’t see ( dark matter).
  • I am finite and infinitesimally small by comparison to any of the objects I study, yet I am conscious of them and write poetry and prose about them.
  • An infinity within reaches to an infinity without.

As I peer through the lens of the telescope, I become the eyes and voice of the stars as I celebrate their mysteries. This too is priesthood. This too is sacramental.

I join in the Christic dance, the Yoga of the Cosmic Heart, performed in an unimaginably large cathedral with many-hued candles burning everywhere, each with its own unique character and structure ( white dwarfs, blue dwarfs, red giants, neutron stars). The Light of the Cosmos is made personal in consciousness. In being observed, the Light fulfills its movement toward awareness, consciousness. I observe, participate. I am here and there. They are there and here.

Behold, the iconostasis of Heaven.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In Zen practice, the Dharma combat is an intense short session with a teacher that facilitates breaking through to clear sight. Often, the brief meeting surrounds a koan that the student is working through. In my experince with a local zendo and the roshi of that community, the session would begin with the question: What is your koan? I would restate it and the Roshi would then pose the koan to me again expecting a reply.

An Abrahamic Dharma is a compelling basis for Zen practice using the koan-like material of which there is ample supply from canonical scripture and the apocryphal texts of the Nag Hammadi Library that I have made comment on in my last few posts. So, I am opening this post as an invitation to this practice of virtual Sanzen whereby all who choose to reply can benefit from one another.

My intent, then, is to upload a Sanzen challenge once a week as grist for the meditative mill for anyone who might find it a useful process. I will share some of my own reflections later in the week.

This first koan challenge is taken from the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “Be Passers-By”.

How do you show this?

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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