Zen 101

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Zen Tango

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

This morning I wrote a short note in my Yahoo 360 blog:

We are at the end of the first month of the new year. Most of us have, by now gotten used to the 06, then again, there is me. I am slow to notice the outward manifestation of change. I think that is because I am change itself, mostly dwelling in the moment, not looking at the horizon so much to see where I am. On the other hand, maybe 05 and 06 do not really exist. Maybe it is only this key pressing to making contact that exists, but only for a moment. It is an odd sort of dance this absolute and relative tango.

In Uji, one of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo essays, he uses a boat slipping along against the shore as a way of teaching the interrelation of Time and Being. And there is an old koan that addresses a similar issue: two monks pointing to a flagpole arguing (always two monks arguing). Which is moving, the flag or the wind?

We have talked about the two truths of Buddhism, the absolute and the relative. These truths are not independent. Buddha taught that all things are interdependent, this includes time, being, and space. Our "moment" consciousness interacts with our "ever" consciousness. When the interaction is choppy and stilted, we have a dance that is in dukkha. When we have an interaction that is easy and flowing, seamless, then we have a gracious waltz, no suffering. We do a sort of tango with these dances. Sometimes easy, sometimes difficult.

It is important to recognize they are both dances: dukkha and the absence of dukkha, samsara and nirvana, relative and absolute, time and being. Both exist, both do not exist. Only together is the universe made.Only together is it understood. Only together is it attained.

So, what does this mean in terms of Zen Living? Do not let your mind be an obstacle.

Be well.

Monday, January 30, 2006


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

To sit each morning and each evening is an excellent way to begin and close your day. Stillness allows us to gather ourselves, calm our minds and bodies, and form the necessary mind to enter the world and leave the world as buddhas. The act of lighting a candle, lighting incense, bowing, then sitting down on the cushion is a profound act of discipline and dedication. In this small theatre for no one to see, there is just you. Placing attention on our breath, allowing what is present to be present, and accepting the gifts of that moment regardless of their qualities, is of enormous benefit. But even if it wasn't of any benefit at all, we should still sit in stillness.




Sorry that I am a little late this morning with my message. I spent some good time late last evening building a table and chairs for the computer and when I woke this morning my mind seemed to stay on the pillow. Housework and lunch has remidied that and here I am.

Yesterday's Zen Center zazen was a wonderful experience. Edgar and Cynthia visited us from Juarez. Several of us were able to have lunch together at the International Delights Cafe. We decided to begin a Jukai class each Sunday afternoon after lunch, and at this point there are four registrants. If anyone is interested in attending, please feel free to drop in at the zen Center each Sunday at 1:00 PM.

This coming Saturday is Zazenkai. If anyone is interested in joining me, we will begin at 10:00 AM and close at 4:00 PM at the Zen Center. Notice is important so that I can arrange for ther lunch.

Rev. Dai Shin has returned from her sojourn! We look forward to seeing her on Wednesday evening at Zen Center for zazen.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


With palms together,
Good Morning All,

At the conclusion of the Wisdom Heart Sutra we chant "Gate, gate, gate, paragata, parasamgata, Bodhi Svaha!" Or, Gone, gone, gone to the other shore, attained the other shore having never left, Awaken. Hooray!" Gate, pronounced gah-tay, is the sino-japanaese word for paramita. We translate paramita as "perfection" or "excellence." It is understood to be a reference to attainment. So, this dharani, (short mantra) is saying that attainment is something we already possess, even though we strive to attain it. The "other shore," attainment, enlightenment, is with us right now, right here. It is us. It is the universe.

The combining of qualities and notions such as "shore," "perfection," "excellence," "crossing," never leaving, attaining, etc. is a linguistic way of picking up a hammer and cracking ourselves over the head. All one, yet different. This shore, this moment, this understanding is the same as that moment, that shore, that understanding. And there is no real movement from one to the other because they exist in the same time and in the same space simultaneously.

Our effort to be good people, to sit strong Zen, is nothing more than the sweat equity involved in growing a tree knowing that the fruit, the branches, the roots, and shade of that tree already exist in the seed, in the ground, in the air, and in the water. We still make the effort. We still till the soil, plant the seed and nurse the plant. Yet when we do so with open eyes, effort is bliss.

Be well.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oh say (what) can you see?

With palms together,

I read a story yesterday on the Associated Press wire, I think it was, about documents that suggest the US Army took wives and children hostage as a tactic to coerce insurgents to surrender. If this story is true, I am appalled. More than appalled. I am sickened. For so many decades the United States has held itself out as the "good guy" in world conflict. We make much ado about insurgents taking hostages, about our not negotiating with "terrorists." Yet, here we are.

Has our moral compass been so thoroughly disrupted? Are we so fundamentally broken? I am deeply worried about my nation. Our people seem to have lost faith. We have seemingly been sold a bill of goods by our government and the conservative, Christian Right who, evidence would suggest are mean-spirited bigots who will apparently condone pretty much any behavior in the name of their values.

Torture, hostage taking, holding "enemy combatants" forever without trial or charges, premptive invasion of another country, domestic spying, corruption, ...all recent Republican efforts. Its as though when they achieved power in government they felt free to throw off the shackles of civilization and live as they saw fit regardless of the rights of others.

What's a good Buddhist to do?

Be well.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Zero Tolerance

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

We have all heard of "zero tolerance" policies. Zero tolerance is a masculine vote getter. It is strong, unbending, decisive. It allows no "wiggle room," no "fuzzy" thinking. It is for communities that "know" what they want, or more precisely, what they don't want. And like art, these communities, "know it when they see it." All of which, of course, abandons thought, dialogue, understanding, and compassion. Zero tolerance disallows forgiveness. It cannot permit gray. It fears examination.

I once worked with a sixth grade child in a Middle School. He was suspended for making a gun out of his hand, as in a pantomime, and "shooting" at another child. He violated the school's "zero tolerance" policy against weapons and violence. Another child suspended for teasingly kissing a girl in the cheek. They were in the second grade. A violation of sexual harassment policy.

From a policing point of view, zero tolerance is a cop's dream. School administrators, police and sheriff departments, and politicians are off the thoughtfulness hook.

From a reality point of view, it is a nightmare, disallowing play and experimentation, disallowing intelligent discussion, a broad horizon of ideas, and an relentless unwillingness to engage differences between cultures.

It is not an expression of the Middle Way.

Now here is where it gets sticky. We will not "negotiate" with "terrorists." We must get a grasp of the language issues here. On the one hand this zero tolerance policy is understandable. Those who employ violence to get what they want should not get it. On the other hand, we are using the label "terrorist" all too easily as a way of avoiding examining the feelings and motivations behind the "terrorist" behavior. From my point of view, for instance, violence is violence. In each case violence is a terror. It injures, maims and kills. It really does not matter whether that violence is dressed in a "good guy" uniform or a "bad guy" uniform or no uniform at all.

Negotiation is what? Talk with a purpose of finding a middle way. A way to resolve differences and discover an equitable solution. When we have a zero tolerance there are no solutions except to silence the other guy. Easy. No thinking, no examination. Just stop the other guy from being a thorn in our side, from putting his finger in our nice little cake we've baked and called civilization. I don't know about you, but when there is tape across my mouth my only wish is to tear it off.

So here is where it really gets sticky. What if we are talking about Hamas. What if we are talking about the "side" that blew up the World Trade Towers. Is it one thing to have a zero tolerance against children pointing imaginary guns in school and another to fly airplanes into building? Indeed. Silly question. The thing is, if we refuse to examine the karma in our world, that is, the linkages between cultural and religious perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they conflict with others, we are destined not to find solutions. The stronger the effort to not engage, the stronger the effort to engage. People will be heard. It is our job to listen.

Be well.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just Do It

Good Morning All,

This quote from one of my favorite books and Teachers, is very important to keep in mind as we go through our day. I thank Tricycle Magazine for providing this quote for us today.

I have been attempting to teach this point throughout my career as a priest and therapist. It all begins with a simple choice: be a buddha. Whoah! Too much? OK, well, then, be good. How's that? Still too much? Well then, be good for ten minutes. Still too much? OK then, try a different tack, don't do bad. Too much? Don't do as much bad. Do as little bad as you possibly can.

Here's the thing, when we bring 'doing good' or 'not doing bad' to our consciousness, we are waking up our buddha-nature and giving it permission to exist in our lives. When we think we must "be buddhas" then it is overwhelming and we soon lose hope and go back to our old ways. Recrimination is a poison that erodes our practice.

So, strive. Lean toward being a buddha. Turn your boat in that direction and float if you want, paddle, or row hard. Its in the turning of direction and commitment to steer that makes us a bodhisattva.

Now, just do it.

Be well.
Tricycle's Daily Dharma: January 26, 2006
  • An Ordinary Person
    A bodhisattva is an ordinary person who takes up a course in his or her life that moves in the direction of Buddha. You're a bodhisattva. I'm a bodhisattva; actually, anyone who directs their attention, their life, to practicing the way of life of a Buddha is a bodhisattva. --Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  • Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Scents of Life

    With palms together,

    Good Morning All,

    This morning the sky is cloudy. The grass was wet as I walked the dogs. There was moisture in the air. All of these are fresh and common to my senses. Gray, the seeming dampening of color, is soundless, mute stillness hiding the sun's rise across the sky.

    I enjoy such mornings. This morning I went outside with small plastic bags and the dog's brushes. I brushed each of them in their turn. Then picked up all the dog waste in the area. I noticed the scent of the water in the dirt and on the grasses and shrubs. Earth. I noticed the feel of the dog's hair as it came off in their brushes. Doing these little jobs keeps us in touch with life. It is one of the things I miss somewhat about life in the forest. Life surrounded us there. Racoons, bobcats, skunks, deer, elk, coyotes, cattle: each with their habits and scents. There, when the dogs went out, they were on a mission to secure the property boundaries. They had work to do.

    I would split the day's wood for the cookstove, check the water levels in the tanks, feed the horses and alpacas, and enjoy the wind as it moved through the pines. If nature called, there was no need to do anything but follow the call right there.

    Here, there are apartments stacked nicely into geometric patterns. Each trimmed and painted. Toilets wash away the residue of our human processes in a sanitary flash. No scents of life, rather the scent of cleansers and soap permeate the air. The work we do is more the work of withered flowers than of human beings. We sit around, pale reminders of what we were. Still we keep at it.

    Now, neither are good or bad. Life's processes are just what they are regardless of where and when. There is a purpose in youth. A purpose in age. A purpose in the mountains. A purpose in the city. It is our life's work to discover them.

    Be well.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Not my America

    Good Morning Again,

    I Just read this article and could not help myself. I felt it was important to post this as widely as possible. This is not my America. It is not what I defended in Vietnam. It is not what I grew up to know about us. This story and the story about the outsourcing of torture by the US as reported by the EU is deeply troubling. We have voices. We should use them.
    Be well,

    The Other Big Brother

    The Pentagon has its own domestic spying program. Even its leaders say the outfit may have gone too far.

    By Michael Isikoff

    Jan. 30, 2006 issue - The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.
    But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.
    A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention—although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
    CIFA's activities are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security. In December, the ACLU obtained documents showing the FBI had investigated several activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, supposedly in an effort to discover possible ecoterror connections. At the same time, the White House has spent weeks in damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants.
    Last Thursday, Cheney called the program "vital" to the country's defense against Al Qaeda. "Either we are serious about fighting this war on terror or not," he said in a speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. But as the new information about CIFA shows, the scope of the U.S. government's spying on Americans may be far more extensive than the public realizes.
    It isn't clear how many groups and individuals were snagged by CIFA's dragnet. Details about the program, including its size and budget, are classified. In December, NBC News obtained a 400-page compilation of reports that detailed a portion of TALON's surveillance efforts. It showed the unit had collected information on nearly four dozen antiwar meetings or protests, including one at a Quaker meetinghouse in Lake Worth, Fla., and a Students Against War demonstration at a military recruiting fair at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Pentagon spokesman declined to say why a private company like Halliburton would be deserving of CIFA's protection. But in the past, Defense Department officials have said that the "force protection" mission includes military contractors since soldiers and Defense employees work closely with them and therefore could be in danger.
    CIFA researchers apparently cast a wide net and had a number of surveillance methods—both secretive and mundane—at their disposal. An internal CIFA PowerPoint slide presentation recently obtained by William Arkin, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about military affairs, gives some idea how the group operated. The presentation, which Arkin provided to NEWSWEEK, shows that CIFA analysts had access to law-enforcement reports and sensitive military and U.S. intelligence documents. (The group's motto appears at the bottom of each PowerPoint slide: "Counterintelligence 'to the Edge'.") But the organization also gleaned data from "open source Internet monitoring." In other words, they surfed the Web.
    That may have been how the Pentagon came to be so interested in a small gathering outside Halliburton. On June 23, 2004, a few days before the Halliburton protest, an ad for the event appeared on houston.indymedia.org, a Web site for lefty Texas activists. "Stop the war profiteers," read the posting. "Bring out the kids, relatives, Dick Cheney, and your favorite corporate pigs at the trough as we will provide food for free."
    Four months later, on Oct. 25, the TALON team reported another possible threat to national security. The source: a Miami antiwar Web page. "Website advertises protest planned at local military recruitment facility," the internal report warns. The database entry refers to plans by a south Florida group called the Broward Anti-War Coalition to protest outside a strip-mall recruiting office in Lauderhill, Fla. The TALON entry lists the upcoming protest as a "credible" threat. As it turned out, the entire event consisted of 15 to 20 activists waving a giant BUSH LIED sign. No one was arrested. "It's very interesting that the U.S. military sees a domestic peace group as a threat," says Paul Lefrak, a librarian who organized the protest.
    Arkin says a close reading of internal CIFA documents suggests the agency may be expanding its Internet monitoring, and wants to be as surreptitious as possible. CIFA has contracted to buy "identity masking" software that would allow the agency to create phony Web identities and let them appear to be located in foreign countries, according to a copy of the contract with Computer Sciences Corp. (The firm declined to comment.)
    Pentagon officials have broadly defended CIFA as a legitimate response to the domestic terror threat. But at the same time, they acknowledge that an internal Pentagon review has found that CIFA's database contained some information that may have violated regulations. The department is not allowed to retain information about U.S. citizens for more than 90 days—unless they are "reasonably believed" to have some link to terrorism, criminal wrongdoing or foreign intelligence. There was information that was "improperly stored," says a Pentagon spokesman who was authorized to talk about the program (but not to give his name). "It was an oversight." In a memo last week, obtained by NEWSWEEK, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered CIFA to purge such information from its files—and directed that all Defense Department intelligence personnel receive "refresher training" on department policies.
    That's not likely to stop the questions. Last week Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee pushed for an inquiry into CIFA's activities and who it's watching. "This is a significant Pandora's box [Pentagon officials] don't want opened," says Arkin. "What we're looking at is hints of what they're doing." As far as the Pentagon is concerned, that means we've already seen too much.
    © 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

    The Flavor of Your Kindness

    With palms together,
    Good Morning Sangha,

    Each of brings energy into the world. Some bring angry energy, some happy energy, some sad energy, and each of these eneries are expressed through our affect and behavior. It is reflected in the choices we make. People see us and see reflected in us the energy we are communicating. In this way, the energy travels.

    It is important for us to understand that which energy is being expressed is a result of the thoughts we have and that these thoughts are based on perception, though in most cases a perception distorted by our memory. Our memory forms a virtual encyclopedia of senses, experiences, concepts; it is our universe and is kept active by a little monkey that seems to delight in stirring the couldron.

    The thing is, we have the ability to see directly without the couldron of history. In so doing we see without distortion. We see without our history. In such cases we see exactly and precisely what is there with nothing added; no discrimination, no like, no dislike, no name. When we see this way only Buddha-nature is communicated in our affect and our behavior.

    I often rant about the fall of civilization, both western and eastern. I rant about materialism and hedonism. I rant about Wal-Mart and McDonalds, about obesity and (to borrow from another religious tradition) the other deadly sins. These rants contain an expression of affect and are a behavior. They betray, to a certain extent, a standard and a judgement regarding a deviation from that standard.

    Where does this standard come from? Is a moment of the cushion or on a walk or in an activity which reveals a clear perception of the buddha within that standard? And if so, what do we do with it?

    As we allow this buddha to arise and manifest itself in us, we are manifesting the excellences of our Original Nature. We are the paramitas: generosity, patience, precepts, vigor, meditation, and wisdom. We know that on the one hand, all things are the dharma and are expressions of the universe in process. We know on the other hand that some of these expressions are conducive to the discovery of harmony and compassion, whgereas others are distractions, poisons, if you will, that take us away from a compassionate heart.

    It comes to intent. Intent is key to the proiduction of karma. If our rant is for the sake of bringing beings closer to the attainment of perfection, then it is one thing, a noble purpose. If on the other hand the rant is for our personal gratification, to simply "vent" or to prove another is wrong, corrupt, a failure, whatever, then this is a sin, a mis-step along our path.

    All of our affect, all of our behavior should thus be evaluated by us as we get up from bed and go through our day. Our practice is to bring our buddha-nature into the world through our compassionate action.To do this we need to recognize our intent and act for the correct purposes. To do this, we need to develop a strong zazen practice. Time with ourselves on the cushion in quiet stillness and serene reflection is a direct patrh to clarity.

    With deep love and affection for all.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Kyosaku: Ford, Greed, Hatred, and Ignorance in America

    With palms together,

    Good Morning Sangha,

    GM is laying off a ton of workers. Ford is laying off a ton of workers. China will be importing a ton of their new luxury cars priced in the high teens. Wal-Mart is opening new stores in China. Our religious leaders get richer and richer and more narrow in their view. Our politicians cannot conduct a dialogue without an agenda or blowing a gasket for the benefit of national television. We have a president that uses 'stay the course' as a mantra for conservative laissez-faire, unthinking, misdirected, we are floating in a cesspool of our own making.

    Here's the thing. Not every citizen "deserves" two or three cars, a four bedroom house, five televisions, three computers, riding lawn mowers, a few Blackberries, several telephones, and a pear tree. Not every citizen "deserves" a college education. Not every citizen "deserves" several credit cards, several loans, and a few home equity lines of credit. Don't believe Madison Avenue. Marketers don't want you to think.

    Unions have abused their power. Companies have ignored their workers, pandered to their stockholders, and lost sight of their civic obligations. Moral and ethical behavior is only thought of as a bat to beat someone who is caught in the act, not as a guide for living. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

    Personal discipline? Few possess it, even fewer cultivate it. The phrase is used only to point to the faults of others we don't like rather than a gauge with which to assess our own conduct and improve ourselves. We don't have time for personal discipline. We don't have time to think. We don't have time to reflect on our options, to trace each option's line, as chessplayers analyze moves on a board. So we are prone to take the first silly, misbegotten step that comes to mind. And too often that step is to grasp mind candy, body candy or emotion candy. An educated electorate is too much to ask with 10 second soundbites and a relentless unwillingness to go past the candy to get to the meat of the meal. Who wants to study to learn when we can have it instantly...or a reasonable facsimile in the form of cliche and otherwise well worn phrases.

    We have so many wonderful resources! Such wonderful opportunities and tools to use! I am ashamed of us. We could be so much more.

    Where can we go from here? There are other parts of the world hungry for a piece of the golden apple we are letting rot on the ground in our own back yard. There are billions of others willing to work, to sacrifice, and to do whatever it takes to get that apple. Understand this: our greatness is not inherent. Our greatness came as a result of our willingness and need to engage a new world and make it blossom. Without that willingness or that need, we will be sipping vinegar.

    Be well.

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    Meeting your self

    With palms together,

    Good Morning All,

    Yesterday I had the honor of visiting a Zen Center in El Paso Texas and there met a young Zen Teacher from Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. She teaches from a different Zen tradition than I am from and so it was interesting to learn from her. Her tradition integrates Rinzai and Soto schools. It is called Sanbo Kyodan, and was transmitted by Yamada Koun-roshi, the same teacher as taught one of my personal heros Robert Aitken-roshi.

    We sat in stillness for several periods beginning at 8:00 AM. Then broke for a short work meditation (samu) period. As we sat again, Rev. Valerie began a wonderful Tiesho regarding one of the koans springing off the poems contained in the Platform Sutra. This is Case 23, "Neither Good Nor Evil" from the Gateless Barrier. This koan invites us to begin to see the power of Right Effort as we discover what Ven. Ananda discovered over 2600 years ago: just stop struggling.

    There are so many "gates" to the opening of our eyes. But they appear only to those who come to them through effort and sincerity. It is rather like learning to paint or take excellent photographs or ride a bicycle. We must practice with right effort, learning, integrating, tilling the soil until that single moment when, a crack of sound, a glimmer of light, a faint smell, that "something" happens which opens our eyes.

    I invite each of you to develop your practice in this way: study. Study yourself and your world. Learn. Work hard in the middle of it and in the process, be open and willing to see.

    Be well.

    Saturday, January 21, 2006

    [Zen] Unity in spite of differences.

    Good afternoon All,

    This message was posted to the Zen Forum at Yahoogroups by my friend Al. I wanted to share it with you because I believe he hits the nail right on the head. When did it become cool to be so mean, rigid, and unwilling to listen to a diffeent point of view?

    My wife and I chanced upon a few minutes of Jerry Springer the other day. My goodness. And the "discussion" by the t.v. news talking heads isn't any better.

    I hope we can dig our way our of this craziness.

    Be well.

    Al <actionheroes@earthlink.net> wrote:
    To: <Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com>
    From: "Al" <actionheroes@earthlink.net>
    Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2006 08:32:16 -0500
    Subject: [Zen] Unity in spite of differences.

    This PETA & Cat Zen discussion has really illustrated something to me. It
    all started with news about a guy who tried to kill a rat and it burned down
    his house.

    It has continued with some interesting information, but also a lot of folks
    demonstrating deep feelings or hardened attitudes and opinions about cats,
    dogs, PETA, and various other issues.

    Some person joined to state that she was going to be banned because of her
    love for animals, and then she quit (banned herself?). Are so many people

    Then this morning I was listening to the radio, and Michael Medved came on
    to push some book he wrote about how he used to be a volunteer for Bobby
    Kennedy & George McGovern and then became a "Reagan Republican." Medved then
    went on to ridicule and lambaste liberals, Democrats, etc.

    What I realized is that people no longer respect each other. There is no
    respect for ideas or other people. We should all be able to have a
    light-hearted discussion about cats, dogs, or politics without hurting each
    others' sensibilities. But nowadays, there seems to be an nasty attitude
    that permeates all discussions. That smug anti-intellectual attitude is that
    there is only one right answer for any question, and that anyone who
    proposes a different opinion is either stupid, deluded, or anti-American,
    anti-British, subversive, mentally unbalanced, "has issues" or is somehow
    incapable of intelligent thought.

    This smug, snide, and superficial attitude is propagated by Rush Limbaugh,
    O'Reilly, and every so-called Conservative radio host I have heard.
    Unfortunately, what passes for Liberal radio is just as bad. I have heard
    Randi Rhodes and that guy who used to be a comedian on Saturday Night Live,
    and they exude the kind of obnoxious smugness that makes people want to
    throw up.

    Anyhow, I guess I can't change anything about the way civilization is
    de-evolving. Back in the era of Enlightenment (the 1700s); people published
    some incredible books and had some incredible debates filled with hope and
    ideas that were radically different, and debate flourished.

    People can have totally different opinions and still be friends, meet for
    lunch, go to the park and have a picnic, or go to the movies together. We
    should not seek to associate only with clones of each other.

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Moving Practice

    Good Morning Everyone,

    There is Zen of Stillness and there is Zen of Movement. In the Zendo we practice both: zazen and kinhin. There is a reason for this. We talk so much about the ideas of Zen. We talk about the paramitas, the precepts, sitting zazen, etc. In spite of all the words, Zen is not about them. The talk is about walking the walk. In this case, the walk is literal.

    Today is the last day of my modified training schedule which includes a longish run/walk. Also today I will work my legs with weights. Beginning Monday morning my workouts will change, upping the volume to several sets of heavy weight Monday through Friday each day targeting a major muscle group: chest/back, arms/shoulders, legs, chest/back, arms/shoulders. I will do a short treadmill run following each of those workouts and on Tuesdays and Thursdays go outside for a longer run. Saturday will be rest and Sunday will be my Long Slow Distance run day.

    Daily hard and vigorous exercise is a good Zen practice. We enter this practice with an open mind, accepting of our body and its limitations, as well as its need to be stressed. We were built to move. Our muscles and cardiovascular system demands it; our digestive system works better with it; and our central nervous system has an opportunity to integrate with our total body.

    It is challenging for us to begin and stay with this practice. We find all sort of reasons not to do it: time, pain, lack of inclination, ideology, fear. The same reasons we use not to sit zazen. Or do other practices which will nurture both our bodies and the planet.

    Let me encourage each of you to begin a moving practice today. Walk, bike, lift, play: it really doesn't matter. Just do this practice with right concentration and right effort. Being mindful in each movement we increase our awareness of, and integration with, our mind and body. As we progress we will feel stronger, healthier, and more confident.

    Be well.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006


    With palms together,

    When we open our eyes in the morning and get out of bed, we are not necessarily awake. We might be thinking of what we have to get done this morning or what we must do this afternoon or this evening. We might be feeling a bit tired or grumpy or our muscles might need a stretch. We might smell the coffee in the air or the car exhaust as we leave our homes to go to work. We might see a flower and say to ourselves, that's an awfully pretty flower!

    But this is only awake to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. It is not being awake.

    Being awake is being before the thoughts, the feelings, the sensations. Being awake is seeing directly with a clear mind reflecting only what is there, and in so doing becomes us. Thought is just thought. Feeling is just feeling. Smell is just smell. Flower is just flower.

    If we open our eyes like this, our Buddha-nature opens with them. Our Buddha-nature and the thought is one. Our Buddha-nature and our feeling is one. Our Buddha-nature and the flower are one.

    Does it matter?

    Second guessing, concern, worry...all take us away from being fully present. When we are not fully present we are living in something that has no foundation, no reality. Thoughts, feeling, and sensations have no reality of their own. How can we be present with the flower or our wife, husband, child, co-worker, client, worlk, when we are only with their idea?

    So, this is our practice: be with what is there without regard for what we "think" of it, "feel" about it, or "sense" about it, and more, without regard for the next moment.

    Be well.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Ten

    STAGE 10

    He closes the thatched gate to his hermitage
    so that even the thousand sages do not know of him.
    He buries the light of his own knowing
    and goes against the tracks left by former sages.
    Carrying a gourd, he enters the marketplace; holding his staff, he
    returns home,
    Bestowing Buddhahood on barkeeps and fishmongers.

    Shoeless and bare-chested he enters the marketplace;
    He is daubed with earth and ashes, and a smile fills his face.
    Making no use of the secrets of gods and wizards,
    He causes withered trees to bloom.
    So Daiho:

    When we are buddhas there is no need for the signs and symbols, the shoes and the robes, of the Buddha. There is no need for sticks and whisks, special words, or bells and incense. Transformative process is like this.

    Our presence is enough. The way we open a door. The way we smile. The way we invite. The way we say no. Each speaks as silence is to thunder.

    When we are buddhas there is no Zen apart from us. Our way is Zen, regardless of how Zen came and went in the past. So we set out on our own way, free of the trappings of our Teacher, free of the trappings of the Buddha himself.

    In so doing, what was once a stiff, old teaching or a vericose-veined Temple, is now living and vibrant. This is dialectic. This is life.

    We still wear our robes. We still shave our heads. We still light our incense and make bows. There is a deep and profound difference between habits and manifestations. Just as there is a difference between a candle without a flame and a candle burning bright.

    In this so-called "Stage" we are understopod as beings in full expression of Buddha-nature. Our each action is a seamless expression of Buddha-dharma. Our bodies are the body of the Buddha. The notion of these stages happening as sequential events is very misleading. While it is true, in my opinion, that in order for seeds to sprout, the ground of our being must first be tilled by both life and death and a true practice, there is no moment within which the Buddha is not present within each of us. So in each moment an eye may open and light shine forth. Our continuous practice is to assist us, so to speak, in keeping our eye open regardless of the time of day.

    With love and a deep bow,

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    The Other Side of One

    With palms together,

    Good Morning Sangha,

    This morning I awake to see I killed an old man last night. Strapped his ass down and filled him full of poison. I also stood outside the death chamber as a silent witness. And slept in my bed, comfortable and thoughtless as to what I was doing.

    When we say we are one, what do we mean? When we say we are all buddha-nature waiting to crack out of that vast emptiness we could call a cosmic egg, what does this mean?

    If we are all one, then we are all killing, all witnessing, all crying, all starving, all sleeping, all fucking, shitting, eating, and whatever else we human beings, mice, worms, cats and dogs do. So, then, what is our responsibility?

    When you get up this morning, that question is your practice.

    Be well,

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Nine.

    STAGE 9

    It is originally pure and clean without a speck of dust clinging.
    He observes the flourishing and dying of form
    while remaining in the silence of no-action.
    This is not the same as illusion; what need is there for striving or
    The water is blue and the mountains green;
    he sits and watches phenomena take form and decay.

    Having come back to the origin and returned to the source,
    you see that you have expended efforts in vain.
    What could be superior to becoming blind and deaf
    in this very moment?
    Inside the hermitage,
    you do not see what is in front of the hermitage.
    The water flows of itself and the flowers are naturally red.

    So Daiho:

    The bodhisattvas whisper in our ear. We see poverty. We see war. We see cruelty and illness, sickness and death. We see our neighbors stealing, lying, cheating, and swindling. We see the world manipulating as if it is OK because we are, afterall, just putting a positive "spin" on things.We see this all as one side of the human coin. And the bodhisattvas whisper.

    We are here to attain clear mind then step out into the universe to assist all beings. We are here to help. To save. To nurture. To witness. To do what is there to be done.

    There should be no distinctions here: just wash the dishes, write your congressman, talkk to your neighbor. No better or worse, higher or lower, just the simple and clear experssion of buddha in action. Saving a fly from death is the same as saving a man from execution. It is our true nature to witness.

    So here it is: our practice is to destroy the stored assumptions we carry around on our backs, these multiply colored filters through which we distort our perception and thus, skew our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Our practice is to develop clear mind. To perceive without history and distinction, without distorted thought and feeling, then to seamlessly behave according to what is there to do.

    Our time on the cushion is time with the ultimate therapist who cures us and sends us on our way.

    Be well.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Eight

    STAGE 8

    Ordinary feelings have fallen away, thoughts of holiness are all empty.
    We should not linger where there is Buddha; we should pass quickly by
    where there is no Buddha.
    If we do not stick to either, it will be difficult for a thousand
    eyes to perceive us.
    For myriad birds to carry flowers is a shame all around.

    Whip, tether, person and ox - all are empty.
    The blue sky spreads out far and wide, it cannot be communicated.
    On a red-hot oven, how can there be any place for snow?
    Having come this far, you understand the intention of the patriarchs.

    So Daiho:

    We chant the Wisdom Heart Sutra, all bowing with the sound of the bell. We adjust the flowing robes and sit facing the wall. We rise and walk, feeling each footfall, each stiff muscle relax. We sit again. We sip our tea so graciously served. We listen to the Dharma, incomparably profound and minutely subtle. When we do this awake, there is no room for even a single thought, not a single feeling. The oven is, indeed, hot.

    Practicing like this there is no practice and no practitioner. There is simple awareness in motion. The tools are just tools and are no longer necessary. But because we are buddhas we continue: through time and space there we are; one, all, none.

    Just so, we get up in the morning and great the day. We say hello to the kitty, the dogs, the coffee pot. We sit zazen, we wash our faces, clean our teeth. We go to work, driving, walking, running, sitting, eating, talking. Done fully and completely, there is no room for wobbles.

    As the present moment yield of all causes and conditions before, lizards now speak and slime walks. The combustion of creation is settled in form. And in process. And in form. And in process.

    In this place, beginning and end have no meaning.

    Be well.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    With palms together,

    If I am originally water and I gradually become wave, what do I do?
    If I am then sky and I suddenly become bird, how do I see sky?

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Seven

    STAGE 7

    In the dharma there is no duality; the Ox is the foundation.
    It may be compared to the rabbit and the snare;
    it is expressed in the difference between fish and weir.
    Like gold coming from ore, like the moon emerging from behind the
    The Single Way of cold light has been shining
    ever since the time of Ion beyond the kalpas.

    You have mounted the ox
    and already reached your home in the mountains.
    The ox is gone and the person has nothing more to do.
    Though the morning sun has already risen three bamboo lengths,
    he dreams on.
    The whip and the halter, no longer of use, are hung up in the stall.

    So Daiho:

    Opening my eyes this morning, I thought of you. My dogs, Tripper and Pepper waited patiently, the coffee was made, bows made, the incense was lit. Nothing here is apart from one another. You, I, dogs, coffee, incense, and all of the actions are the same without any distinction. Distinction is an illusion of mind.

    These things were always there and will always be here. And more, there really is no here or there, then and now. We call this our original nature. Our original nature is our continuous nature, our perpetual nature. Once understood, once attained, we realize it's true nature.

    So, then, of what use language? So, then, what use zafus, robes, dog leashes, coffee?

    May All Beings Be Free From Suffering

    Saturday, January 14, 2006


    Sitting seiza our hands held in gentle repose, the heart and body settles as we open to the universe. Seiza is a traditional knelling position. Often used by women and used in Tea Ceremony, it possesses great elegance on the one hand, and positions the body in a receptive form, allowing a gentle face to emerge, on the other.

    To sit seiza, simply kneel. Pleace your hands in the Cosmic mudra, keep your shoulders straight and open, tuck your chin slightly.

    You may use a zafu on its side for support or a specially constructed seiza bench.

    I find sitting this way is an excellent tool in assisting me to get in deep touch with the feminine within. It is difficult to feel aggressive feelings in this pose. Much like gassho assists us in opening ourselves to compassion and releases anger, seiza opens us to receptivity and relaxes defenses.

    As always, when you sit, sit with dignity.

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Six

    STAGE 6

    The battle is already over, gain and loss are also empty.
    He sings a woodcutter's rustic song and whistles a child's tune.
    Straddled on the Ox's back, he gazes at the clouds.
    Though you call him he will not return;
    though you try to catch and hold him, he will not stay.

    You mount the ox and want to make your way slowly home.
    A barbarian plays the flute in the red glow of sunset.
    Each measure, each tune is filled with ineffable tones.
    Among true intimates, what need is there for words?
    So Daiho:

    Mind comes and goes like the clouds in the sky, as do all things, when we attain oneness with them all, in whatever form, we are on the Ox. We are pure joy. We have attained the realm of emptiness and see ouirselves as having arrived. All things are meaningless. All things are fleeting. Since we cannot kepep anything, there is no need to value anything. Then 'among true intimates, what need is there for words?' The sea talks to itself in deep silence.

    Still, we have not attained the deep abiding. We see bliss as something separate from pain. When the sea is the sea that is not all there is: waves are there also.

    A magician flips the coin and in the sound of the spin we are two.

    We see good as something different from evil. Vietnam. Killing. Wal-Mart. Shopping. Eating. Shitting. Hugging. Loving. Not different, yet different. We do not understand the coin.

    A deep bow

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    In the middle of normal

    With palms together,

    In the middle of normal, today:
    Zazen, breakfast, banking,
    grocery shopping, laundry,
    house cleaning,
    writing and emailing.
    The laundry is folded,
    hung, and otherwise
    put away.
    The groceries
    are put away.
    And our Shabbos dinner
    is being prepared.
    I have incense lit
    in the Zendo
    with the door open
    so that the fragrance
    of sandlewood
    moves through the rooms.
    Countless smiles:
    Life is stillness in motion.

    Be well

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Five

    STAGE 5

    Once thoughts rise up even slightly, they are followed by other
    Through enlightenment, they become true; in delusion, they become
    It is not due to our surroundings that they are there;
    they are only produced by our mind.
    We must pull the Ox firmly by his tether and not allow any doubts to

    Whipping does not depart from the body at any moment.
    Lest he follow his own whim, entering the dust and dirt.
    If you devotedly tame him, he will be pure and gentle.
    Without bridle and chains, he will follow you of his own accord.

    So Daiho:

    I learn unevenly: trying to learn to walk again, I often stumble. Learning to be a therapist, I sometimes fail to listen. Learning to be a human being once again and not a hunter of human beings, I sometimesa see myself kill.

    Images are the worst: coffee spoons, cigarettes, motorcycles, medals, beads, long hair, beard, no beard, shaved head; badges of this and that. Like mud they stick to my boots and cause me to grunt while walking. I just want to fly. Zazen releases the weight of the badges. Then,

    Nice guy. Feminist. Buddha. Vietnam Vet.

    Illusions not even as real as spooks in the night sky.

    Faith in our practice is foundational. Coming to the mountain Zendo, meeting my Master, I sit each day. His life is nothing to write home about. Most Masters live this way. Ordinary living that is all. So I don't write home.
    It is important to recognize the chimeric quality of thoughts and feelings. As one old friend used to say, "a bag of shells, Harvey, a bag of shells." When we see our thoughts as important or profound or valuable we are lost. When we see them coming and celebrate them we are lost. Only when they are seen for their true nature, the nature of wind across the desert, are they in their proper context.

    So here it is: just sit. Sit in the morning. Sit in the evening. And in between, steer yourself directly.

    Be well


    With palms together,

    Good Morning Everyone,

    There is a cold front moving through the desert. Yet the sun warms the air quickly. Just so, sitting facing the wall.

    Zazen is a burning practice. It melts away the self. And as it does, all things become cool springs, welcomed, often devoured as they arise.

    We simply eat.

    To sit Zazen on a regular basis is to stregnthen our effort. It is a practice of the Excellences and the Eightfold Noble Path all rolled into one cucumber sitting upright on a bed of lettuce.

    We simply eat.

    Soon it is time to rise. Just as when we fill our bellies at the table, we should rise slowly. We should continue holding our mind in everpresent stillness, a sort of stillness in motion, that takes us through our day, concluding once again on the great cushion.

    Please enjoy the warmth and the practice it yields.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006


    With palms together,

    Good Morning Everyone,

    Smiling is very good practice. Even when we are sad, we should make an effort to smile. Our world has enough pain and suffering, frowns and crying faces. Our practice is to add joy to the universe and we do this with a simple smile.

    Each day practice smiling. Each day behave as if you are a smiling buddha. In reality, you are, regardless of how you feel that day. When you take on the smile, the universe smiles with you, even if it is in a lot of pain.

    The dog barks: smile. The postman brings a bill and you have little money: smile. Someone treats you with disrespect: smile.

    Such practice displaces bad feeling. New, good feeling then has an opportunity to grow. Pie in the sky, you say? Hmmm. I like pie.

    Be well,

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures: Stage Four

    Ten ox-herding pictures
    Verses Composed by KAKUAN Zenji

    Stage 4
    Seizing the ox

    For a long time he has been living in obscurity in the countryside;
    today you have met him.
    Because he enjoys his former situation so much, it is difficult to
    drive him out.
    He cannot stop loving the fragrant grasses;
    his stubborn will is still strong and a wild spirit remains.
    If you wish to make him pure and obedient, you must apply the whip.

    You have exhausted all your faculties to take hold of him.
    Because his spirit is strong and his strength abundant,
    it is difficult to rid him of his habits.
    Sometimes he goes to the top of the high plain.
    Other times he resides in clouds and smoke.

    So Daiho:

    Orgasm is like that, so is riding as motorcycle at 90 mph without the headlights at midnight.

    We sit in silence and in a moment everything is nothing.
    Our eyes flicker.
    Pulses are just pulses.

    Impulse and impatience are the great teachers subverting themselves.
    In the end, we must grab them by their short hairs and speak.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Morning Donut

    With palms together,

    Good Evening Sangha,

    We are returned from Mexico. At the border we were asked to pull around the back of the Inspection Station and exit the truck. Then this rather massive machine was driven past our truck. Apparently, it was a large X-ray machine that scanned the truck for illegals or whatever.

    Another couple was standing next to us. There was a baby in a carrier sitting on the pavement next to them. We took a peek to see a most beautiful little baby girl with lovely dark eyes and black hair.

    Once the Very Large Machine passed us, we were let go. About a few miles up the road we were stopped once again and inspected. A nuisance, but I suppose it is necessary to keep us safe from all those dangerous migrant laborers.

    Entering the dentist's office we were confronted by the heavy antiseptic scent of cleanser. The office was just openning and the cleaning crew was just wrapping up. The receptionist who doubles as a dental technician wanted a donut. Fortunately there was a bakery across the street. I walked over and bought four donuts. The technician was very pleased.

    My Little Honey's mouth is now full of brand new crowns...lots of them. She is delighted. I am delighted. We ate none of the donuts.

    Sometimes it is just taking care of the business of taking care of ourselves that is the most wonderful thing we can do. Other than, perhaps, reading a few of Master Dogen's essays from the Shobogenzo in a dentist's office on a dirt road in a small Mexican border town. And I suspect that was my morning donut in itself.

    Be well

    Ten ox-herding pictures : stage three

    STAGE 3

    If you attain by way of sounds,
    you will encounter the source of all seeing.
    The six sense organs are each no different from this;
    in all actions, the head is revealed.
    It is like the salty taste of the water,
    the binder in the paint.
    Raise your eyebrows,
    and this is nothing other than THAT itself.

    The bush warbler sings on the branch.
    The sun is warm, the breeze gentle,
    and the willows on the riverbank are green.
    There is no place you can escape from him.
    That majestic head and horns could never be painted in a picture.

    So Daiho:

    In all of the women, books and chess, there was still something missing yet demanding to be found. I often found myself sitting on one of the keys waiting for the sun to come up. Fascinated with morning light. Angry. Hurt. Wanting o blame G-d, men, and country.

    Such wounds as the wounds of war are forever open.

    The sea was rolling in and out. The jobs came and went. So did the wives. Is this all there is?

    No. A shadow.

    I met a man named Bernie Schmidt. He was a loud man. He was a strong man. He taught me a few things. He taught me about shouting and learning and studying and not taking second best. He taught me compassion did not mean making excuses. He taught me to love without so much concern for white bread notions of normal. He made 'joyful noises unto the lord!" But was not a religious man. He offered me a copy of Walden and a copy of The Way of Zen.

    Not too long ago my friend of nearly forty years died.

    The shadow stirs.

    Be well,

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, One and Two

    Anu, a friend from Africa, recently asked us to discuss the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures on our Zen Living Yahoo Group. I am posting each stage and my response here in my blog.

    Anu writes: It appears that all that is known about the author of the verses to the ten ox-herding pictures, master kakuan shion, is that he was a disciple of daizui genjo [1065-1135] and the twelfth in the line of master rinzai. His dates of birth and death as well as other information are unclear.

    Stage 1 :Seeking the oxIncessantly you brush aside thick grasses in pursuit;The waters are wide, the mountains far,and the path leads on without end.Sapped of strength, exhausted in spirits,knowing no longer where to search,You only hear the sound of the evening cicadaschirping in the maple trees.

    So Daiho:
    May 29th, 1966. The Central Highlands of Vietnam, near the Camnbodian border. It is night. Very dark. The jungle is quite wet. I have just been in a fire fight with a whole lot of North Vietnamese solders. They have us surrounded.

    I feel my head. There is a hole in it. I am terrified. Gunfire and grenades build this fear.

    I hear the screaming of the dead and dying. I am tired, but cannot go to sleep. I fear I might not wake up. I look to the sky, what I can see of it through the dark canopy of trees. It is a black hole in the universe. I ask G-d to save me.

    No answer.

    In the morning the few of us who survived being overrun are medevac'd out. I leave Vietnam unable to use the left side oif my body. I am 19 and a high school droip out with a GED.

    What's my next step?

    Stage Two:

    Anu writes:

    He has understood the meaning of the sutras and knows about the tracks through the teachings. It is clear to him that all vessels are made of gold, and he knows that the myriad things are himself. But if he cannot distinguish between right and wrong, how can he separate the true from the false? As he has not yet entered this gate, he can be said to have merely seen the tracks. Btw, background to the introduction . . .To each of the ten pictures of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures Master Kakuan has first put a "Verse", and at the end his disciple, Jion (some say Kakuan himself, others say the friend of Kakuan) is said to have put a "General Introduction" to the entire work as well as a "Brief Introduction" to each one of the Verses.

    Stage 2 :FINDING THE TRACKS At the waters edge, under the trees - hoofmarks are numerous.Balmy grasses grow abundantly - can you see them or not?Even if you go deeper and deeper into the mountains,How could his nostrils, well compassing the heavens,hide him at all?

    So Daiho:

    So, at 19 on the streets of Miami with a "Retirement" certificate from the US Army and a body that only half worked, I set out to discover life. Here's the thing: trauma disrupts cognitive and emotional processes. Those of us who have experienced such things, 'know the sutras' but are suddenly on their outside looking in. There is a crack in that cosmic egg that has nurtured us and kept us asleep for so long and now the brilliant light of day is streaming down and we squeeze our eyes, not knowing which way to turn.

    I attend peace rallies. I attend college. I sleep with women. I drink. I ride a motorcycle. I read books. I learn to play chess at a chess club. I find jobs and lose jobs. The tracks are everywhere. I have found myself in a world without G-d. A world rushing faster and faster and I am on the outside looking in. Do I really want to go there?
    Be well,


    With palms together,

    Good Morning Everyone!

    Over the weekend we had many wonderful things happen. Saturday I spent the day in meditation at the Zen Center. Sunday I did meditation at Zen Center on Sunday morning. And in the afternoon we were given a welcome to Las Cruces party at a friend's home.

    We are settling into our community here. It is very different from our life in the mountains. I am finding myself struggling a little to get into a routine. I love routine. Routine grounds me. I take great comfort in it.

    Here in the city, there are so many competing interests: bookstores, movies, grocery stores, the Zen Center, the Temple Beth El, friends, theatre. I want to run. I want to workout. I want to get more involved in the local peace movement. I want to be inservice to others.

    And there it is: I.

    For a moment, relaxing would be a good thing. Taking a nice deep breath. Noticing the beauty and wonder of this very moment, of this very edge. There is nothing to do but to take the next step and take it fully.

    My faith is that when "I" do this, "I" will lose its much of its power to lead me around by the nose. Values have an opportunity then to arise and be my guide. So, there at the intersection of Is and Ought are my values: compassion and service, health and fitness, community and family.

    Be well

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    A day in the life of a priest

    With palms together,

    Good Evening Sangha,

    We began this new week today with zazen services at the Zen Center. I arrived a little early, carried in my little Dirt Devil hand vac and cleaned the cushions. I also washed the tans with wood cleaner and generally enjoyed being in the Zendo alone.

    The alter ready, and the hour came, I invited the bell to ring.

    Zazen is a wonderful process. Hardly just sitting, it is a dynamic interaction with the universe. But then, so is cleaning the wood and sweeping the cushions.

    Tea service, a few bows, and we were done. The work of saving all sentient beings on its way. Stepping out into the New Mexico sun, my black koromo heated immediately. I walked slowly to my truck, not really wanting to leave.

    This afternoon we went to a friend's home. It was a "mutiparty" celebrating his 72nd birthday, his dog's second birthday, and our welcome to Las Cruces. Many of our friends were there. My friend, Ken, seemed happy. It was good to see him smile. Someone brought us a large box of fruit for a welcoming gift.

    We stayed awhile, conversed with an artist about art and university students, ate canopies, and also talked about religion and its relationship to art. Then we helped our hosts clean up.

    Tonight I read through the posts on Zen Living's email group. I don't have the energy to address them this evening. I think I want to go into my zendo and be quiet.

    You know, its quite a life we lead as human beings. We are so fortunate to be human beings in the first place, but to be blessed by a loving wife and kids, good friends, excellent resources, and zazen is sometimes almost too much to accept.

    We should all count our blessings no matter their size or weight.

    Be well,

    Cleaning the Zendo

    With palms together,

    Good Morning Sangha,

    Yesterday's Zazenkai was a good practice. We sat three periods in the morning, walked a half mile to have lunch, returned, sat again two periods, cleanerd the Zen Center, sat again two periods and went home.

    There was nothing special about this day. The opportunity to mindfully refill the lamps, dust the butsudon, sweep the floors, was ordinary. Sitting on the cushion was ordinary. Bowing was ordinary. Lighting incense was ordinary., Chanting the Heart Sutra was ordinary. Reciting the Four Great Vows was ordinary.

    We just did these things, as they came time to be done. When we go through a day like this we are buddhas.

    A reminder: Sunday Zazen begins at 10:00 AM this morning.

    Be well

    Friday, January 06, 2006


    With palms together,

    Good Morning Sangha,

    Last night was troubling. For the last three years we have lived without television and now we have one sitting in our living room. I found myself watching it.

    So many words. Such silliness. Mindless laughter over stupid behavior. Violence framed as the pinnacle of drama. The pictures of people happy over the illness of a person are disturbing. Fundamentalism in whatever arena is disturbing. Pat Robertson is disturbing. The people who seek counsel from him are disturbing.

    Yesterday on our drive to Mexico, we listened variously to CNN, Fox, and the BBC on our XM Satellite Radio. Interesting the dramatic difference between the American stations and the BBC. We are fortunate, I think, to have access to the BBC. And to PBS and to NPR.

    Still, the silence of the Refuge is so appealing. Few words. No phosphorescent dots on a screen reflecting or distilling a violent, obsessed world, always attempting to sell through misery and our perverse need to see it.

    Thank goodness for the process nature of things. Change is one thing I count on to relieve my suffering.

    Be well

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    A second cup of coffee

    With palms together,

    Good Morning Sangha,

    This morning was delicious. The sun is up and the sky is delightfully blue. Our dogs, Tripper and Pepper have enjoyed their morning walk. The coffee is made.

    Last night I sat in my zendo late in the night. The stillness was just wonderful. There are times on the cushion that time itself disappears. I look over and the sticks of incense on the alter are gone. Where did they go?

    I have not yet read the morning news. Not yet read of another death in Iraq or another killing, rape or robbery in my country or the world. I have not read about the stock market or the state of healthcare. I have not read about this natural disaster or that made-made disaster. Just now, I sip my coffee and see you in my mind's eye.

    I see my sangha, I see my neighborhood. I see my country. I see my world. I see my universe. I see my ancesters and my descendents. Last night as I sat on that cushion, I breathed in violence and breathed out peace. My small contribution to the effort.

    Time for beakfast and a second cup of coffee. Time then to sit zazen. Time then to run. Time then to smile at the world and invite peace to be.

    Be well

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature?

    With palms together,

    This morning I sat in my zendo and stared at the wall. My dog Tripper was having none of it. He brought in his toy, a piece of fluff that looks just like him, and laid next to me on the zabuton. He stared at me. Then grumbled. Then whined. Then barked.

    He decided to wrestle with my sutra book in its cloth case. He decided to invite the bell to ring with his tail. He climbed on my lap and licked my cosmic mudra.

    Barking, growling, wrestling, bell ringing, licking: just wind against the chimes.

    A deep bow

    Morning Coffee

    With palms together,
    Good Morning Sangha,
    I pour the coffee.
    I cannot pour the coffee.
    I just pour the coffee.
    Depending on your understanding, each statement makes sense or doesn't make sense.
    We should not mistake our words for true nature. Words are just thoughts as sound. We live with words.  They assist us to communicate.  Yet they often distort or destroy our communication. Coffee is not coffee.  Pouring is not pouring.  Yet coffee is coffee and pouring is pouring.
    Our practice assists us in not mistaking coffee for coffee. Our practice helps us see coffee as coffee.
    Clear Mind Zen. Soto Zen. Rinzai Zen. Korean Zen. Vietnamese Zen. Chinese Zen.  Words.  All the same or different?
    If you say they are the same you are mistaken.  If you say they are different, you are mistaken.
    Just pour the coffee.
    A deep bow,      

    May All Beings Be Free From Suffering

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

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    Monday, January 02, 2006


    With palms together,

    Good Morning Everyone,

    This morning after sorting out my pharmacy for the week (a seemingly endless job anymore), I have been busy writing some changes to our websites, giving instructions to create a new website in honor of Matsuoka-roshi, our dharma grandfather, and thinking about Clear Mind Zen.

    But thinking about is not good.

    Thinking about takes us away from clear mind and brings us to thoughts, feelings, and other clouds over the water.

    Instead, we should just be clear mind.

    Vowing to see things as they are, I rise and engage the world. This means I vow to engage myself as I encounter myself in the world through my interactions with others. Each time we encounter another we are facing ourselves. We see something of ourself in the face in front of us: love, need dislike, anger, fear, whatever. Each is an opportunity to practice and make our world a better place.

    This afternoon my Teacher, Hogaku-McGuire-roshi and his wife, Shin Getsu-roshi will visit us for dinner here at our new apartment. I am pleased.

    Just putting one foot in front of another is the best way.

    Be well,

    Re: [ZenLiving] Authenticity

    With palms together,

    This is an interesting editorial on Antiji's website regarding this very issue:

    Buddhism for the dead

    Ten years after Aum (Part 7)

    Japanese Buddhism has turned into a service industry that offers funerals and memorial rites for money. The Buddhist organizations, including the Soto Zen school, function like big corporations with the aim to gain profits, while the temples themselves have turned into the home of the resident priest's family, who act as the local representative of the "funeral corporation". The Rinzai and Obaku school remarks during their symposium that even the parishoners who support the temple - that used to be the center of the activities of the local community until one or two hundred years ago - do not feel welcome there anymore. They say that the reason for this lies in the fact that the priests started to marry after the Meiji restauration (in 1868), and that the wife performs a central function in the temple. That means that the "temple wife", as she is called in Japanese Buddhism, is not so much the wife of the priest as an individual, but rather is married to the temple itself. On the other hand though, the temple for her represents the home for her family, and she will not be willing to open the doors for anyone - let alone spiritual seekers of truth that do not contribute to the temple's donation box and whom she or her husband has nothing to offer anyway. Anyone who is looking for the Buddha's teaching is told to stay away, and even the parishoners can visit the temple only to attend the services which they pay for. Today's temples are anything but a "soul asylum" - it's where you go to buy a grave. The rule of the wife in a Japanese home can be so strict that even her husband (the resident priest in this case) does not feel welcome anymore and kills his time in the next body building studio or game center. Whenever some customer asks for a funeral service at the temple, his wife will contact him on the cell phone, and in no time he changes into his monk's robes and is on his way to the parishoner's home.

    In the Buddhist world of Japan, when monks speak of their "master" they mean their father, while their "disciple" is their son. Since the Meiji restauration, it has become an exceptional case that someone from outside the temple family ordains or trains there as a monk. The monks of course do not have the feeling that their profession is holy, they do not feel that studying or propagating the teaching of the Buddha is their mission. The practice of the Dharma for the sake of the Dharma that Dogen Zenji speaks of is not an issue anymore. A Buddhist temple is a family business that you inherit from your father - for one to make easy money but also to keep up the (family) tradition.

    Three and a half years ago, when I became the abbot of Antaiji, I had to attend a two-day seminary at the Soto headquarters in Tokyo (which by the way also functions as "Grand Hotel Tokyo"), where they taught you all you need to know to be a full-fledged Buddhist priest. One of the lectures was about "the attitude that a resident priest should have". Hearing this lecture, first I was surprised to learn that a resident priest gains an income from living in the temple. As both the priest and his whole family live for free in the temple precincts, I wouldn't be so surprised to hear that he is paying to live in the temple - but why should he be paid? As far as I know, none of the abbots at Antaiji ever received an income for being the abbots of Antaiji. The lecturer proceded to proclaim that he received "only 350.000 Yen" (about 3000 dollars) of income from the temple each month, but as he had no children and also worked part time at Komazawa University, spending the rest of his time growing vegetables at his temple, he "gets along all right". What the hell is he using 350.000 Yen per month for when he is just a hobby farmer that works as a college professor part time? And what "attitude of the resident priest" did he try to communicate to us? I did not fully understand.

    But when you think about it, it is just a matter of course that the resident priests receive an income for representing the local affiliates of the funeral corporation. But then they should pay the corporation also a rent for living in their buildings. And in a place like Antaiji, where everyone eats the food that the tenzo cooks in the temple kitchen, we would have to pay a certain price for each meal, or the monthly board. In return, we would get paid for the work we do in the fields, and maybe should even receive a fixed amount of money for each period of zazen we sit? After all, we are keeping the practice at Antaiji going by doing zazen. Of course this is only a joke, but this is actually what the Soto school is expecting from the priests: They are supposed to seperate their private lifes from their function as a priest, i.e. they work as priests for the temple for a certain part of the day, and for the rest of the time they are "off-duty". The priest gets paid for his services, the costumers (the parish) pay for it. This has nothing to do with the life we aim at at Antaiji, where all the 24 hours of our daily life should be practice. Practice is our life - we don't pay for it, and we don't get paid for it.

    I realized just how great the gap between our life here and the situation of the Soto school in general is when I looked at the questionaire that the headquarters sent us the other day. It started with the question concerning the members of the sangha (the community of practioners). The Chinese (and Japanese) term for the Sanskrit "sangha" consists of two characters meaning "thicket" and "forest". The meaning is that the members of the sangha join together just like the many different kinds of trees and bushes growing in a wild forest. There are small ones and big ones, there are straight ones and crooked ones - all united for the sole purpose of practicing the buddha way. The Soto headquarter's questionaire on the other hand asked if the desciples of the abbot were "1) his real (i.e. not adopted) children 2) adopted children 3) a spouse of one of his children 4) the children of other members of the family, or 5) others". That someone from outside the family becomes a student of the resident priest is today considered an exceptional rarity. Blood-relationships used to play no role in the Buddhist sangha, they used to be the exception - today they are the rule. Your career as a Zen priest depends solely on your family background. You are born into the Soto school, otherwise you will forever be an outsider. The questionaire goes on to ask questions like: "Do you think that the souls of the ancestors can curse us?" or "Is it OK to perform a funeral on a tomobiki day (a day which is reserved for the performance of marriages and other events, as any event performed on that day is supposed to 'pull/affect a friend (Jap. tomobiki)'?" The Soto schools questioning has obviously come quite a long way after the quest of figures like Shakyamuni, Bodhidharma or Dogen Zenji. At the end of the questionaire, there was some space for people to feel in their opinions freely. I wrote:

    "How will Soto Zen develope from now on? Will we continue to aim at making more and more money through funerals in order to protect the temple buildings? Or will we take a step back and reflect on what our ancestors aimed at with their practice? Or will the Soto school just disappear, as a redundant relict of old times? It might also happen that the school devides into two different organizations, one that sees it as its task to provide funerals and other service for money to anyone who asks for them. The other aimed at preserving the teaching handed down from Shakyamuni Buddha to Dogen Zenji to us. One day it might happen that the temple where I am abbot - Antaiji - will break free from the dead frame of the Soto school and walk its own way. We need some fresh air, not the smell of dead rituals and dirty money."

    But before continuing to examine the historical background of the decline of Japanese Buddhism (and the question if it is really a decline in the first place), I want to take a look on how the Soto officials dealt with the Aum incident ten years ago, and also explain briefly what I personally think that Buddhism is all about.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006


    With palms together,
    Zen is neither Japanese or American, Chinese or German, Zen is just Zen.
    We should leave all such distinctions aside. We are about practice.  We practice to discover our true nature. We practice to be buddhas. 
    When we come to Zen, however, a Teacher and his or her Zen Center practices with a set of clothes, a language, and a set of customs, if you will.  It is these clothes , languages, and the assumptions that go with them that create "American Zen" or Japanese Zen" or some other "Zen." 
    When I say we are severing our ties with Soto Shu, I mean that we are setting out on our own, walking in our own authority, and not being tied emotionally, financially, or in any other way, to Soto.
    My Teacher's Teacher (my dharma grandfather) Matsuoka-roshi was a Soto Zen Bishop.  He was sent to America to establish Zen Centers and bring the dharma here to the US.  He was assigned here by Sojiji, a training center in Japan.   He was a poor monk, not clever or sophisticated with money.  While he managed to establish several Zen Centers on both coasts, he took very little money and had little to share with Sojiji.  Now Japanese Zen is all about authority, control, and money. If Matsuoka sent the money everything was fine.  When Matsuoka could not send the money, things were not fine.
    Our model here in the US is his. We make little money from the dharma, ceremonies, ordinations. We modify our ceremonies to fit our neighborhoods and the cultures we exist in.  This is classic Zen Buddhism. Adapting, changing, growing: a dymamic , living, force. Soto training centers such as Sojiji seem to be bent on continuing their existance for the purpose of regulating and authenticating (for a fee, of course) Zen.
    Want to know Zen?  Sit on a cushion and face a wall. With practice comes clear mind, with clear mind comes clear thinking and all of the other paths of our way.
    So here we are in a New Year.  Let us rejoice in our own authority!
    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/

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