Zen 101

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stillness and Revolution

With respect for all,
Good Morning,

The time is 9:07 and I am sitting outside at our patio table. The sky is a brilliant blue, cloudless, spreading from horizon to horizon. Public radio is offering “Performance Today” giving me a selection of beautiful classical music and for a moment here and there I am floating along the rivers of violin. Beautiful.  

The birds are at the feeder and I’ve filled the birdbath. Suki is at my side, Kathryn is in her “chambers” doing her morning rituals involving coffee, chess, and radio. What I am describing is our fairly typical morning time, although we usually begin in the studio with conversation and coffee. Today we both woke early.

Coffee, paper, pen and the world around me; this is my life, or a god part of it, for if not pen and paper, then brush and canvas. It is a world of discovery through stillness and application through action. We sit in stillness and the world as it is rising up around us knocking on our consciousness.  We walk in stillness and the world around us becomes a soft stream joining us in each step.  Letting our self created ideas of is and ought come and go, there is only this sound, that sight; this thought, that feeling.  What a wonder it is!

So, reflecting in the stream of the morning’s stillness, our lives take on a character.  We will manifest that character through our actions during the day and night.  Who are we?  What are we capable of?  What is in front of us this morning to do and how will we be in the doing of it?

Will we be gentle in tongue and step?  Will we be compassionate for those who are angry and hurtful toward us or others?  Will we be the buddhas we already are if only we were to allow ourselves that level of vulnerability and freedom? 

I don’t believe we will be as we wish.  I believe to be the person we would wish to be takes practice and deliberation.  It takes discipline and a willingness to reside in doubt.  Few of us have these attributes of character, although we each have the capacity. My prayer for the day is that I will, myself, bring into the world the love and compassion I feel and do so without fear.  Now that makes my morning a first step toward liberation and revolution.


Yours,

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Keep it Real

With palms together,

There are days when aspects of our lives seem overwhelming and there are days when everything seems like a dream come true, delightful and to be cherished. We tend to seek one and avoid the other. I have learned this is a mistake because we are always too close to actually know which is which, and indeed, they may not be different at all, depending on our point of view.
There was a Buddhist sage who taught us that to choose one or another takes us away from the Dharma. Why? Because the Dharma is simply the direct experience of reality. This is where we practice to abide. So, the "good" days and the "bad" days are neither good nor bad, they are simply and completely, our days.
To have a preference and to abide in that preference takes us away from what is actually there before us. Our life as it is in that moment, and the fact is, there can be no other moment. So, when happy, be happy; when sad, be sad. There is nothing more.
If this sounds a bit pessimistic it is not. What can possibly be greater than being awake in each and every breath? Regardless of our experience, each experience is but one facet of a greater diamond called our life. When dark here; light there. We might consider the flowers that bloom or the birds that sing or the clouds passing overhead. We might remember those who came before and those who will be to come in this vast eternal golden braid. Our pain on one day may be our joy in the next. But even if its not, it is still ours to experience and ours to learn from. 
May we each remain in the present, period.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Zen of Holy



The Zen of Holy

And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I the LORD am holy, (Lev.20:23)

In the beginning they say the holy spirit swept across nothing and in a word the world was born.  That same spirit breathed life into mud and told the mud to name everything.  In the final chapters, so they say, the holy spirit told humankind to be holy, and to do so all they had to do was follow a few rules, and so they tried…but the rules were too difficult, don’t you know, and so?  We humans once again fell from grace.  Yet, in doing so we fully realized ourselves and THAT who always was and always will be suddenly goes silent: when all is One, there is no one.

Zen practice is like that, isn’t it?

We come to Zen seeking something, often salvation, a new life, a better life, or a life worth living. Such lives are hard.  They are hard because we need to let everything we know and care about fall away in order to be truly present. Being present, awake in the moment opens our hearts and minds. We can become afraid. We don’t know what will become of us through such an act; it is a serious leap of faith. So serious it is that few of us are either capable of, or are willing, to go there.  So, what do we do? Well, I think its  like we side step our way through the gates of bliss not knowing fully what to expect and yet expect our rewards will be greater than our efforts.  

A rule with a different view:  We often believe if we sit on a cushion long enough keeping an “open” beginner’s mind, our thoughts, fears, and concerns will fall away.  We chant:  “how wondrous and glorious are the clothes of enlightenment, formless yet enfolding all treasures. Wrapping ourselves in the Buddha’s teaching we free all living beings.”  We put on the robe. But not in any sort of serious mind, we just put it on. Like the saying, “the clothes make the man”  perhaps we think if we wear the robe some level of holiness will rub off on us and a buddha we will be. Within a second or two we forget all about the Buddha’s teaching, the robe, and frankly, anything else because we are now facing a wall, thus facing ourselves.

Master Dogen essentially argued that when we take our seat in the manner prescribed and practice in this way, we are in a state of what he called “practice realization.”  I call it “holiness.”  In the holy there is no two, no other, nothing impure, nothing profane.  In fact, even holiness evaporates. There is just this breath, then the next.  There is just this thought falling away and that thought falling away.  And in this know nothing place holiness arises.

Holiness is nothing special, it is with us in each and every breath. The sutra says there is nothing sacred and nothing profane, in fact, as we practice, holiness itself is rendered meaningless and in that moment, it too, falls away.

The Zen of Holiness then is a holiness gained, therefore lost. We don’t walk on water, but we do love each other.  We don’t perform miracles, but we do treat each other with a profound compassion. We don’t go to heaven, but remain here in this most needy world, offering a way, just a way, for each of us to live fully and completely.  May we each realize such holiness.