Teacher, author and poet, Stephen Levine passed away Sunday at the age of 78 after an unspecified “long illness”.
As noted on his Wikipedia page, Levine was “one of a generation of pioneering teachers who, along with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, have made the teachings of Theravada Buddhism more widely available to students in the West.” Lion’s Roar, in its announcement of Levine’s death noted how he “was influenced by various spiritual traditions. He was also a friend of Ram Dass and, like him, was a student of Neem Karoli Baba.”
Levine’s last book, published in 2013, was Becoming Kuan Yin: The Evolution of Compassion.
The story he tells, of Miao Shan, the princess who defied her father and became a Buddhist nun at White Sparrow Monastry, is central to the Chinese evolution from the male Avalokitesvara into the female Kuan Yin. In the Heart Sutra, Kuan Yin transcends all sufferings, crossing over the sea of suffering. Transcending gender, Kuan Yin becomes even more relevant as an archetypal symbol for our times.
Instead of some cosmic being that exists above our everyday reality, Kuan Yin should be seen as representing the universal capacity of all human beings to give love.
This excerpt from Levine’s book is from Chapter Five, “Miao Shan Observing” and it struck me as rather beautiful:
Miao Shan was learning a lot about true prayer and the levels of loving-kindness meditation available in surrender and mindful service as they infiltrated each action throughout her day. She found her heart in the first breath upon waking, and it called forth her spiritual ancestors, the saints, the bodhisattvas, and the Buddhas of the ages for support.
Each intention was enforced with the clarity and power of love. She learned more about love by watching how unloving the people around her could be. She learned about how mercy could heal, like a poultice, the wounds of absence in the convent’s sad inhabitants. And the parishioners, many out of exasperation, came to plead their causes to some power beyond their own . . .
Some monks not entering the monastery sat in the courtyard in meditative prayer seeking not some Supreme Being but supreme beingness; doing spiritual practice not just for their own benefit, but for the well being of others . . .”
And we bid a sad farewell to Glenn Frey who died yesterday. He was a founding member of The Eagles, the band whose music typified the peaceful, easy (sometimes hard) California country sound. Several years ago, he release a sole album of pop standards and here is a video of one of them, Bobby Troup’s immortal “Route 66”: