Zen 101

Friday, December 30, 2005

Clear Mind Zen

With palms together,

Good Evening All,

Today I met with the priests that comprise most of the Board of Daibutsuji. We discussed many things, schedules, sangha needs, etc. But most importantly, we agreed to establish our own school of Zen Buddhism in America, severing our links to Sotoshu in Japan.

Our school will be called, "Clear Mind" and our focus will be on the development of Zen as an everyday practice. Our hope is to redefine religion from its western sense of worship of a diety to a sacralization of daily life.

We will practice from a Soto tradition, but not be limited to it.

Zen in America must become a uniquely American experience and practice. To do so means we must leave Japan to the Japanese and walk our own path.

I look forward to this experience and would appreciate your thoughts.

Be well,

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering

So Daiho-roshi
On the web at http://www.daihoji.org/ and http://daihoji.blogspot.com/

Yahoo! Photos
Ring in the New Year with Photo Calendars. Add photos, events, holidays, whatever.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

City Life

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

It is a sunny morning here in the desert southwest. Morning zazen is done. A breakfast of noodle kugel and sour cream is done. The dogs have been out. Shortly we will walk over to the gym and lift weights, run, and walk on the treadmill. Then it will be time to return some things, eat lunch, pick-up some groceries and come home.

Life in the city is so much different from life at the Refuge.

Last night we had guests for dinner. The night before we had guests for dinner. We rarely had guests at the Refuge: too difficult to access.

At the Refuge we planned our trips to the store as a trip to the store was a trip to town and was a trip of six hours or more. Here in the city there are many jewels to attract the eye of desire: books, household things, people. At the Refuge, the jewels were just there, like a breath: the trees, the sun, the animals, the silence.

It is rather like living in Big Mind and Little Mind. We must se them as essentially the same. Navigating freely without trepidation, we center ourselves through our practice of zazen and through the practice of daily ritual. Things here, people there, vast emptiness everywhere. When we are non-attached, non-invested, and are willing to embrace life on its own terms, then we are free.

Non-attachment does not mean non-caring. Non-attachment does not mean a lack of choice and discrenment. Values are buddha-nature, they arise through our actions. Non-attachment means acceptance that this is and that is. We engage to assist when assistance is required. We engage to love. We engage to nurture. We disengage to love. We disengage to nurture. All part of the natural processes of life itself.

I hope each of you is well.

A deep bow,

Monday, December 26, 2005


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning as I opened my eyes the desert sun was rather high. I vowed to see with clear eyes and reduce violence, then got out of bed to make the coffee, walk the dogs --- who were very patient --- and begin my day.

There is something very beautiful about routine. Routines, everyday rituals, are the hangers and organizers of our everyday. In one sense they make everyday events special. In another sense we recognize their everydayness.

When we are young we want to press against the everyday, breaking it, no smashing it, on the ground of change. Our goal is to experience our limits and push them. Not bad. We expand our minds and bodies. We grow stretching toward the light of day.

As we age, we shift our gears little by little, wanting to have a break. We begin to view change as a threat sometimes or at the least an inconvenience. We begin to delight in the common. We take comfort in the sameness of daily routine.

As we age more, we look back. Sometimes wanting not to let go of that youthful vigor and excitement we once were possessed by. At other times we welcome this opportunity to review. Review deepens our understanding. It contextualizes the processes of life. Blessed perspective.

In each of these times, our orientation is seemingly different. Zen teaches us that they are the same, however, and it is our effort to grip something tightly that is problematic and in the processes disallows us the moment and all that it has to offer us.

When we rise, at whatever age, and vow to see things clearly, that is enough. For then we are seeing without lusting, seeing for seeing itself. It is in this moment that we are truly free.


A deep bow,

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Pause and Be Still

With palms together,

Good Evening Everyone,

In the middle of everything it is important to pause and be still. This morning I woke aware that today would be a full, but delightful day. We cleaned, started the afternoon meal, and put the finishing touches on things. I left for the Zen Center in my robes. It was a beautiful morning. Rev. Dai Shin had tea water ready, as well as the alter. She and I talked a bit and then sat in silence in the zendo.

As I sat, I was aware of the stillness enfolding me. The wall, so white, opened and there I was, just there. Two priests doing what priests do all over the globe. Afterwards, we bowed to each other and left the zendo.

Returning home, I vacuumed as Judy finished the dinner preparations. The rest of the day was spent with friends visiting from El Paso. We had a wonderful afternoon meal. Great conversation, lots of laughter. and planning for other adventures together. The day concluded with Hanukkah candles and a gift to each other.

There was a sort of seamless elegance to the day today. Zazen was there, a part of the day, like taking out the trash or making the bed or preparing and eating a meal. Elements. Independently nothing special, but woven together becoming a meaningful tapestry.

This is enough.

Be well,

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Just Be

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The recent comments regarding reducing violence have been floating around my mind over the last several days. This is neither good nor bad. When we have something on our minds, in one sense, means that we are paying attention to something. Yet, in another sense means we are being distracted by thought and, therefore, not seeing clearly.

Thinking about reducing violence and being peace will not make it happen, just as thinking about enlightenment will not bring it to your mind.

Practice realization, as Master Dogen points out, is just practice. One thing already containing the other, but (in a very special sense) in motion. There is no thinking about peace. There is just peace. There is no thinking about reducing or eliminating violence, there is just being the elimination of violence, period.

We accomplish this through being these things.

Just as in any other aspect of our practice, right understanding provides a clear framework for all that follows. Clear mind is right understanding. From clear mind comes right thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation.

To be "right" means to be from the center: direct expressions of buddha-nature. This is non-equivocating compassion.

So, when we set out to bring about peace, we are already mistaken. Just as polishing a tile will not make a mirror. Just as sitting zazen will not make a buddha. We are buddha from the beginning.

Do not set out. Just be.

A deep bow to each of you.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Clear World

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

In the clear world of nothing added, I taste sugar. I taste salt. I taste hot. I taste cold. I do not taste the words. The words are something added. So, when these things come to my tongue and are just there. I am in the clear world of nothing added. I am experience without the "I am." If I say, " I like sweet!" Or "how awful, soooo sour!" I am in the world of something added, and no longer in the experience.

It is our practice to stay as much as possible in one world and not the other. Our world is the world of the direct and present. The other is the world of expectation, valuation, discrimination. One is non-dualistic where everything is one. the other has an "I" separating ourselves from our experience.

At the same time it is also very important to recongnize and understand that both worlds are one and there is no two. The world of nothing added is pure, direct, "thus." The world of something added is the world of valuation. Big mind, small mind: Emptiness and form, form and emptiness. Like our breath, these things open and close, rise and fall in a rhythm all their own.

Our practice is to join this rhythm. Feel this rhythm. Accept this rhythm.

This is a serious practice, the practice of living in the clear world of nothind added. It is difficult because the mind is a tricky, very quick, little rascal. It is untrained and unwilling to be trained. It resists training. It runs from training! It shouts. It cries. It demands. Its a two year old baby on a tantrum. It wants to have a purpose: and its purpose is to think.

Training our minds to live in both worlds as one without hindrance is our practice. and is very simple. It is just to taste the sweet. Just to taste the sour. It is also to recognize a thought is just a thought, and a feeling is just a feeling. How hard is that?
Open your month and taste. Open your eyes and see.

It is enough.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sit on your butt...Not!

With palms together,

Good Evening All,

Our Zen is not a sit on your butt and do nothing Zen. When we sit on our butt we are doing something; we are being buddha-nature. When we stand. we are doing something, we are standing buddhas. When we are walking, we are walking buddhas. When working we are working buddhas. So our Zen is a Zen in motion. Our Zen is a pure form of being in this world, not separate from it. Our Zen is Buddha himself.

No wobbling allowed. We exist in the world. We see something. We do something.
To do without thinking requires a clear mind that sees clearly what is there. It requires a complete union with buddha-nature, There is this, there is that. They are the same. An I-Thou of the infinite.

Compassion comes naturally to those who live in the world. When we live outside of the world, compassion is much more challenging. Living in the world, we see, feel, taste, smell, the suffering of others. We suffer with them as we are with them. Living outside the world, in our thoughts and feelings and assumptions, it is easy to make judgments about others, others' actions, in-actions, values, attitudes, etc. We see them and ourselves as different, somehow separate from ourselves.

Our practice must take us into the world, deeply into the world, where we exist in the same space as all beings. . When we exist in the same space, where is there room for difference? Where is there room for judgment? So, when we exist in the same space we exist in the clear world of nothing added.

Be well,

In the Center

Sitting quietly
in the center,
the universe all around:
no center, no universe.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hero Zen

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday was a challenging day for us here in Cloudcroft. Dharma Mountain Zendo sits next to a log cabin tucked up on a mountain. Friends of McGuire-roshi's and ours, who live in El Paso, own this delightful little cabin in the woods.

The day before yesterday, Ken and Fern Roshi were leaving the zendo to go to Alamogordo. As they passed the log cabin they noticed a car with a trailer was just leaving the cabin with a bed and other items. They called our friends in El Paso and discovered no one was supposed to be there. Ken Roshi chased the car and blocked it at a cattle guard. But the driver, a woman in her 40s, slipped around him in her car and Fern Roshi jumped out of thei car and ran across the meadow to block the driver. The driver refused to stop and ran over her as she stood in front of the oncoming vehicle.

Our friends from El Paso came up, they called us yesterday afternoon to help.

We immediately drove over to the Zendo. The Sherrif was there. Fern Roshi looked horrible. She is bruised and cut all over her body. Our friend's cabin was practically stripped of its contents and our friends were very upset.

We sat and talked about feelings for sometime. It was good to get these things out. What does it mean to be robbed? What does it mean to be almost killed trying to stop a robber? How do we proceed? What is the role of each of us as friends? We all sat there in the living room of the Roshis' living quarters talking.

In the meantime, the Sherrif got a tip that there was an antiwque store in Alamorgordo that might have some of our friends items. Ken Roshi, my wife, and our friends climbed into our truck and we drove down off the mountain to the store. As we approached the stotre, sure enough a red rocking chair that belonged to our friends was right thee for sale on the front porch of the store!

Practically 80 percent of the items in that store were stolen merchandise. There were other victims there with lists of their lost things identifying them. One such person wanted to beat the you know what out of the woman thief.

It is so rare that stolen items are found. My wife and I have been burglerized several times in our life together. It is an awful feeling to come home to discover someone has broken into your home, looked through your personal things and stolen valuables, often items with great sentimental value. None of our things were ever recovered. Situations such as these certainly clarify our relationship to our precepts. They also give us grist for the mill in working through our relative attachments to things, as well as to our faith in our own security and ability to live without hindrance.

As of last night, Fern Roshi seemed to be OK. She refused (in her stoic manner) to go to a hospital for evaluation, but she was very sore indeed.

In the end, at least this far into the end, the thief has been caught, much of the stolen property of several unsolved burgleries recovered, and all is well this morning.

Today we must pack up the Refuge and get ready to close it for the winter. In the morning we will be moving down to Las Cruces. There is so much to do. So, we will just do one thing at a time until it is done.


I very much appreciate the discussion on the Yahoogroups' ZenLiving list surrounding the Williams execution. My personal sense is that the issue of redemption clouded the question of the propriety of the State taking life.

My question is, how is it possible for those who take the Three Refuges, and the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Precepts, all of which are about relieving suffering and being a buddha, to sanction killing a human being coldly and without mercy?

And secondly then, what is an "appropriate" punishment for a convicted murderer?

Be well all,

Monday, December 12, 2005


With palms together,

A week or so ago, a Vietnam vet was executed. I think he was the 1000Th person killed by the state since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capitol punishment. Tonight another vet will be killed, though he is a different sort of vet. He is a veteran of the streets. A killer, gangster, no doubt. Perhaps reformed, I don't know.

War does funny things to people. Hell, life does funny things to people. We pride ourselves in our ability to understand our world, learn from our mistakes, grow as a culture, and yet, here we are, living out vengeance.

These executions should cause us to at least take a breath and pause for a moment.

What are we doing?

Retaliation, it seems to me is a mark of a primitive mind. It is criminal behavior. It is what we expect of gangs and barbarians.

An eye for an eye, people say. Really? When was the last time the state blinded a person or knocked out his tooth. Jews made it nearly impossible to execute someone when convicted. But this "Judeo-Christian" society? Gosh, we have had a thousand opportunities to show mercy and in each case turned away.

We need to keep society safe. Right. And killing people does that? Are we really keeping society safe? Who does the death penalty punish? The one executed or the executioner? Is there a difference? Who really could cast the proverbial first stone? What is the moral foundation of this ethic?

My sense is that we diminish ourselves greatly through state sanctioned killing. But then we are not really a civilized society, are we? We pretend. We talk the talk, but abhor the walk. We like to look civilized. But appearances are truly deceiving.

Civilized societies take care of their ill, their elderly, and their poor. Civilized societies do not execute children. Civilized societies do not poison the atmosphere for the sake of a few dollars more to add to the already excessive profits of oil companies. Civilized societies do not sanction the possession of handguns, nor do they need them. Civilized societies provide funding for research to cure lethal illnesses, regardless of who is ill or how they became ill. Civilized societies teach their children and each other how to love. Civilized societies cherish peace, life, and liberty.

We can do better than this. We must.

As we are all one, including the executioner and the executed, I ask we each recite the prayer of atonement for ourselves this evening.

Be well,

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
Sodaiho Roshi
With palms together,

Good Afternoon,

We are preparing to leave the refuge for the winter months. We have leased an apartment in Las Cruces and will be moving there next weekend. This comes as a sort of acknowledgement, I suppose, that we are not interested in dealing with the harshness of the mountain winter this year. There is a freedom that comes with this decision.

I would like to talk with you a little about this freedom.

Our thinking, as I have suggested to you before, often gets in our way. We all too often over-think things, stumbling this way and that, in our effort to get things right. And sometimes the thinking gives rise to great fear, greed, or hatred: the poisons that paralyse us or push us to do and say that which we would not otherwise do.

In the Zen tradition, we try to think in terms of "right" or "correct" thinking, action, speech, and so on.

Correct thinking is that which allows us to do what the situation call for. To have correct thinking, we must "see" as clearly as the moon reflected on a still pond's water. When we have a clear mind, it reflects exactly (and only) what is there in front of us, with nothing added. We then know what to do. We call this correct undederstanding.

Incorrect thinking is that which gets in the way, distorts, poisons, or otherwise disturbs us. It gets in our way and often causes us to wobble along, uncertain of what step to take next or in what direction to take it.

With correct thinking, when we are sick, we see a doctor. We take our medicine. This includes all forms of sickness: physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional. When depression comes over us, we see a doctor. We take our medicine. When we feel alone and without connection to the heart of the universe, we go to our Three Treasures, the Buddha's example, the Buddha's Teaching and our Friends. We take the Buddha's medicine, stilling our mind, refreshing our heart, and centering ourselves.
Likewise, with correct thinking when the dog barks, we naturally let him out or feed him or otherwise tend to him. If our children break something, fail to acknowledge us, or in some other way 'bother' us, we pick up the pieces, accept them, forgive them, love them, and easily go to the next thing before us to do.

Complaining is "something added."

Complaining, as I so often do, can be a way of letting out the steam we are building in our heads with incorrect thinking. Sometimes it is good to let out the steam. Sometimes not. If others are present,m silence is better. Better still is not having the steam arise in the first place. That is our practice. That is our work to be done each day.

When we live this way we are living completely free. Just there. It is in this that we can see that the true shackles are those we create in our minds.

Be free.

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
Sodaiho Roshi
With palms together,

This morning is the 8th day of the twelfth lunar cycle of the year: rohatsu. On this morning the Buddha looked up at the morning star and had a profound realization. He clearly saw that all things in all times are one, of one substance, interdependent and infinite, eternal, and always changing. But then he stood up and took a long walk.

He didn't go anywhere. There is no where to go. He was simply present, fully present with whoever he was with and in each moment, there was no difference between he and they. He saw clearly.

We know from his example and from the multitude of buddhas, before and after, that this kind of present moment living is possible even today. With practice and right understanding each of us are buddhas. Some of us are buddhas-in-waiting, but all of us are already buddhas.

As we take our next step into the new year please avoid making big plans. Have a place and live within it as fully as you possibly can: seeing clearly, tasting clearly, smelling clearly, feeling clearly, perceiving and thinking clearly everything just as it is with nothing added. This is our way.

On my calendar this morning it says:

Bring me a pearl from the bottom of the sea without getting wet.

What does this mean? If you read the words and get stuck in them you do not understand. What pearl? What sea? What does it mean "to bring"? What is "getting wet?"

When we understand this is not about thinking, not about words, but rather about correct action, then we are on the path. Our lives become actual expressions of that path.

What is your expression?

Be well,

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
Rev. Sodaiho Roshi

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Practice is just something we do every day. It is really nothing special, but then, nothing is. Ours is to just be as simply as we can be.

We may not sit down on a cushion and practice zazen, but as long as we live in each moment with our eyes open and our hearts in the right place, we are practicing Zen.

I try to encourage my students to sit daily, twice daily actuakky, but I am not always successful. I may not be a very good Teacher.

Still, I sit each night and most every morning. I sit alone usually in my small mountain zendo. It is often cold as the fire in the potbellied stove has usually gone out. I light incense and a candle. The flame and smoke blanket the brass statue of the Buddha that sits before me. My cushion supports my practice. The light washes my heart. It is quiet and my mind settles finally.

Tomorrow will take care of itself.

A deep bow to you.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Team Zen: Race for the Cure

This morning's race was very interesting. I have never done a run with sooooo many people involved!!! There must have been several thousand people doing this race! Geeeezzzz. We were squished in the middle somewhere and it took nearly a mile for the runners/walkers to get a spread so that we could navigate to the outside and start actually running.

The course was absolutely flat and wound through Biggs Field, an army airbase near Ft. Bliss, Tx.

I thought it would be cooler than it was, but the temps climbed quickly and it was getting pretty hot by the end of the race. The start time wasn't till 9:00 AM and they had a very late start.

Team Zen was represented by six members of our Zen group, as well as one of our member's (Roberto) wife and two kids.

Jerry, Shoji, and Rev. Judy Harmon took up positions near the front where they found Roberto, who apparently ran with a stroller! (I was too far in the back and never saw them during the race.

I decided, since I am racing again on Saturday in New Orleans, that I would run along with Bonnie, one of our new Team Zen members. This was her first race. We did a 3:00/1:00 run/walk ratio for the first two miles or so...couldn't get much of a thing going during the first mile due to the massive crowds.

Dodging walkers and kids was an exercise in mindful practice, let me say!

I invited Bonnie to go slow the first mile, faster the second mile, and faster still on the last mile...depending on how she felt. All along the way there were cheerleaders from local high schools. We thanked them all as we passed them by.

On the last mile, we decided to pick up the pace and do a 00:30/1:00 fast run, fast walk ratio. Bonnie's knee began to bother her a bit and we slowed at the end, but finished with a nice form in a little over 45 minutes (between 45 and 50), I think. There were some starting issues that distorted the whole timing thing with so many people, such a late start and all. I could'nt see the clock at the end, started my GPS a couple of minutes late...so, who knows? Doesn't matter, we really enjoyed the experience!

One of our Team members, Shoji, finished in just over 28 minutes!

After the race we all stopped at a local restaurant for brunch and to enjoy our companionship.

It was truly a good thing to do this race.

See ya!

Be well,

Saturday, February 19, 2005

On Not Chopping Wood Today

Every morning after zazen I step outside and split wood with my maul. It weighs eight pounds and I am used to the feel of this piece of metal as it splits the twisted rounds of cedar we use to cook with and to heat our Refuge deep in the mountains of southern New Mexico.

I am a zen buddhist monk. A married priest in the Soto tradition, who has just split away from his home Temple to create his own.

Today, however, I am on the road, in a city where there is no wood to chop. My hands are empty.

So, instead, I sit at a friend's computer and create this blog.

I wonder about the nature of this empty hand. Idle, I am suffering. People who live in this world of convenience, who live without moving their bodies much, do they have a sense of the deep and intimate connection of body and mind that hard, concentrated work provides?

I am reminded of the story of an old zen monk who failed to eat one day. He as ill and did not work. Alarmed, his brother monks asked that he eat. He said, "No work, no food." Simple elegance.

May we live in peace.