Zen 101

Friday, March 31, 2006

Change the World Today!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Today is a day you can use to change the world. Rita, a member of my Zen Living Yahoogroups list, my Yahoo 360 friend, and Child Protective Services Worker in California, invited everyone to do something today to Change the World.

I am passing this invitation along.

Each one of us, doing something good, can and will make a difference. Small as a smile and invitation to talk, large as picking up trash along a pathway, each act of kindness to self and others creates goodness in the world.

Now, go change the world.

Be well.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

In Zen we aspire to leave no trace. That is, to live without self-interest. How do we attain this? We behave for the benefit of others. And if we are acting for others fully and completely then there is no room for anything else.

The value that we place on ourselves should only be the value needed to sustain us for our work. We eat so that we may benefit others. We practice Zazen so that we might benefit others. We clothe ourselves to benefit others. We are in relationship to benefit others. With this right understanding, all other paths of the Noble way unfold with ease and genuineness.

In the absence of self, what is there? Compassion. Our practice is to make compassion a living manifestation in the universe. We do this through continuous , moment-to-moment generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom.

We realise that we are the other shore and that we attained the other shore and that we have never left.

Be well.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Being Present

This morning we awake to the cries of Baby Tate and a telephone call from New Mexico. Tate is grumpy, but always willing to giggle for a moment when Pappy Zen makes odd faces. Susanne, our neighbor at the Refuge, called to say that my old friend, Shaker, was collicking last night. A veterinarian visit later suggested she was OK. This morning Susanne says she is lethargic.

To be alive means to feel. Sometimes we feel good, sometimes not. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes not. To be awake means that when we are hot, we are fully hot; when we are cold, we are fully cold. Enlightenment does nothing to make what is there better. It is what we call being one with the universe and the universe is a vast container. Being one with being sick means fully being sick, present with our sickness, completely. A thought of escaping our sickness leads us to suffering as it adds duality to our consciousness, separating us from ourselves, adding a discernment.

When someone we care for is suffering, we suffer. When we are hot, we are hot. When we are cold, we are cold. As we are these things, we naturally do what we can within them. We care for our suffering. We add a blanket, take off a blanket, but we do so without the effort of mental anguish.

The ability to do this comes with the wisdom of mindful presence.

Be well.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

In the morning we will be leaving for Memphis to visit our daughter, not-son-in-law, and grandbaby Tate. We are looking forward to the drive and the visit. I will post from Memphis when I get there.

Driving long distance is sort of like running long distance: an integration of things occurs as we settle into the drive. At first its all a flutter, did we pack this, forget that? But as the drive continues, just as with running, and sitting Zazen, a natural rhythm develops or settles in. This is our natural state when mind is not overly intruding. It is good practice.

Finding a way to make this naturalness a part of everything you do is the Third Pure Precept in action.

Be well.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Being a Buddha

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

When we sit Zazen we gather ourselves together, fold our legs, and sit down. Our breath comes together with our mind, our skin, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Mind rises and falls, dances a fast dance, then slow dance, sometimes no dance. There comes a moment of integration. Stillness. Once again things begin to stir, once more thought, once more feeling, taste, touch, and sound. Stillness, motion, no difference, no preference. When sitting, just sit.

This practice enables us to see clearly how we are buddhas in each moment. The moment we set aside our preferences, navigate according to our precepts, manifest the perfections, we are buddhas. This is so in the middle of choppy waters and calm waters; in the middle of stinking garbage and wonderful roses; when we are suffering and not suffering. Buddha means awake. Nothing more or less. Awake.

Living awake changes everything and changes nothing. Living awake means coffee is both coffee and not-coffee at the same time, no difference. Concept and experience clearly seen as separate and the same. So difficult, so easy.

I invite you to engage yourself in this practice. Sit. Gather yourself. Awaken. Move on.

Be well.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Full Cup

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

There is a story about a scholar who visits an Old Zen Master to receive instruction. The Master pours tea into a cup for the scholar; full, the cup overflows until the scholar shouts "stop!"

Unless we are willing to empty ourselves of what we think we know, there can be no room for what presents itself in each moment. Zazen is like a slow leak.

Take your cup and go.

Be well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Balancing Act

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

With so much going on outside in the world, it is easy to go there and get lost or caught up in the whirlwind. Our perception is that it is outside of us and is so important that we must do something. War, poverty, injustice, disease; these are awful things worthy of our attention and our energy.

Yet, in truth, these things are not out there, but inside of us. In our minds and our hearts. We respond with a disturbed body, we become ill. In such a condition we are not present for our friends and family. We are not fully there for our co-workers and employers.

These things are important. We should do what we can to ease suffering, stop violence, bring health to the ill. We should do so, however, with a healthy mind, a healthy body, and a wholesome heart. This requires us to establish boundaries, maintain these boundaries, and nurture those boundaries.

A boundary is a point where doing begins to hurt us.

Recognizing that there are limits to our power and capacity to be of service, to absorb suffering, and to be present, is a necessary first step. Willingness to say no is the second step. Finally we must nurture ourselves as a third step. Eating well, getting enough sleep, getting exercise, practicing Zazen, openning our hearts to others in discussion: these are ways of taking good care of ourselves.

In the absolute sense we are one with the universe. In the relative sense we are just a finite body with finite energy. Our practice is to live between the two recognizing the truth and needs of both.

Be well.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good Night and Good Luck

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Yesterday we watched "Good Night and Good Luck" a film about Edward R. Murrow and the McCarthy era in the United States. It was well worth watching and I am glad we bought it so we can watch it again a few times over. George Clooney did a wonderful job. It is an eloquent film.

The film is quite a reminder of things. A reminder that fear can drive us to the brink of willingly giving up our freedoms and responsibilities in order to feel safe. A reminder that such fear can be very easily exploited. And a reminder that keeping vigilant and courageous has its costs.

Of course, we don't need to be reminded. We are in a similar era. Our fear and safely needs are being exploited on a daily basis. In this din of warnings, people tend to cower, acquiesce to the powers that be in order to be assured of their safety. While safety is not such a bad thing, being safe at the price of freedom is.

We must be diligent in two directions simultaneously. We must be witness to the erosion of our freedoms and to the threat to our lives. Indeed, there are those in this world who would kill us, so afraid they are of change. Yet to become them is not progression but regression. In order to be safe and free, we must be without hindrance.

How to be without hindrance? Practice Zazen.

Be well.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Three Years

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Please take a few minutes today and consider peace. This is the third anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. Peace happens when we become peace. To become peace means to become complete within ourselves and others. Our practice, Zazen, Kinhin, Samu, Oryoki: all are peacemaking practices. They are practices that teach us serenity in a flood of world activity.

When we sit, we sit. When we walk, we walk. When we work, we work. When we eat, we eat. Nothing special. Nothing added. We are serene reflection in motion.

To be at war is to be at conflict and to be angry, greedy, and deluded. Who wishes to walk that path?

Today, please take a small sign that simply reads "Peace." Go outside and stand.

Be well.

Friday, March 17, 2006

One Way or the Other?

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Jeff, a faithful reader of my blog, quotes Warner-sensei and asks a question:

Society is offering us two options both of which are completely wrong. The hawks are wrong and the doves are wrong because both sides only want to see more conflict, more wars, more suffering. What's wrong with the hawks is far too clear to bother stating. But the doves cannot be happy unless there are hawks for them to fight against. The "peace movement" is only happy when there are wars to protest. They don't have the slightest interest in peace. ~ Brad Warner


So, Do you understand what he is talking about here? I'm not sure I get it..


Warner-sensei is pointing out a deep truth here in a way common among classical Zen Teachers. The truth is in neither one position or another, but in the fact that suffering arises when we cling to one position or another. True happiness comes when we cease seeking and begin experiencing. This is why we should not "fight" against war, poverty, racism or any other injustice. Our practice is to be.

When we are peace, compassion, wisdom, with no "I" involved, then what? No struggle. Zen Buddhism, in the "engaged" sense, is just so. We don't say we do, we do. We don't fight, we become. We are witnesses and participants in the world. We witness violence and participate in peace.

All of the true non-violence teachers understand this: do not strike back, yet do not yield in the heart/mind. Our bodies will break, as Gandhi points out, and they will have our broken bodies, but they will not have us.

Conflicts in absolutes are always understood by seeing the absolutes as relative.

Be well.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


With palms Together,
Good Morning Sangha,

This weekend will mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war. We will mark this with peace vigils throught the US. In our area, there are vigils planned in different locations:

In Las Cruces: 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM in the parking lot across from the Federal Courthouse.

In El Paso: 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM, at the San Jacinto Plaza, Mesa/Oregon and Main/Mills Sts.,Downtown El Paso. Contact Merlyn or Joe at <jheyman@elp.rr.com> for more information.

Peace does not come without effort. Peace is an active process. We must deliberately put down arms, we must deliberately attempt to find other ways to solve conflicts, address grievences, and correct wrongs. Adding violence just adds violence. It resolves nothing. Our government will continue to misbehave until we make it unacceptable by moral authority, electoral process, public opinion, and the weight of our votes.

I am not naive. I do not believe standing around on a corner will stop a war. But what I do believe is that standing around on a corner with simple signs of consciience will begin to create conditions for alternative views in people. We must stand as witnesses. The majority must not be silent. Every day soldiers and civilians in the war-torn parts of this world are suffering and dying without a voice saying enough. We can stand for an hour as a voice to help in some small way bring them home. And if we don't have the time, there is something clearly wrong with our priorities.

Be well.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Encouraging Zazen

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Zazen can be the foundation of our life. When we make it so, it is the ground we walk on, the support we have through the day, our greatest teacher, our stalwart companion. . What is it about this practice that makes it so?

Deciding to take a seat, gather oneself together, enfold one's hands to complete a circle, and place our attention on witnessing only, enables us.

It enables us to settle down. It enables us to pay attention to the inner workings of our lives. It enables us to see the interaction between the inner and outer workings of the universe. All without having to do anything about anything.

Over time a certain deep and abiding trust develops from this practice. A trust in the universal processes of living and dying. We learn that we can let go and everything will still exist. Me and you cease to have real meaning. We see that we create meaning, and in so doing we create our suffering.

All of these rise and fall in our awareness, and still we don't engage them. Our job is to simply witness.

I encourage each of you to take up this practice. Make this practice a model for living.
Any moment will do. Just pay attention. At some point, decide to sit more formally. Find a time, find a place. Sit down and practice Zazen.In that moment, know that peace is not only possible, but a reality.

Be well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

RE: [Zen] Book Summary: "Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames" Thich Nhat Hanh

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

I wrote a short reply to a threaed on a email list I am on. I thought I would share it to this blog:

This is a most interesting thread, I feel. TNH's work is so large. He speaks so clearly and so directly and with great passion and compassion. I have divided his work into two piles: practice tips and sutra commentaries. The latter are most interesting and valuable, IMHO. The former, depending on their publishing date are useful to not useful: earlier work being much more useful, later work being more "fluff" as you say.

Here is the thing, though. It seems that fluff can be a good thing. At least to me at times. It reminds me that my critical mind should be more compassionate. It teaches me that simple is sometimes far more clear and helpful than complex walnut cracking koans. So, useful is such a relative term. There is a place in my world for both.

When angry, or deeply hurt, it does not help much to offer softness and tenderness. We seem to want others to share our anger, justify it, and nurse it. THN will not do this. Instead, he is simply there. For good or ill, like him or not, he is simply there. We can rant. He will listen. We can rave. He will listen. At some point when we are spent, he will hold our hand.

If it weren't for the fact that he has suffered so much, like HHDL, and still maintains himself deeply in compassion, I would say he is just plain silly. Unacceptable to the modern temper. Yet, there he is. A monk who has witnessed and survived horrors and still loves deeply.

In my book, there is something to be learned from this. Maybe that something is that a little fluff tends to soften up our harder edges.

Be well.

Bill Smart <BillSmart@HHS1963.org> wrote:
On Monday, March 13 dkotschessa posted:

>Short review:
>This book, while it contains many gems that have been extremely
>helpful to me, is going to be very hard for some people to read.
>By all accounts Thich Nhaht Hahn is a beloved teacher with a
>profoundly peaceful presence that effects those he comes in contact
>with. Unfortunately, when put to text it, specifically in this book,
>what results is a fluffy and almost embarrassing tone to read. The
>self-help gurus of previous decades come to mind, which were embodied
>by Saturday Night Live's Stuart Smalley.
>Yet the information has been invaluable in my life. So that it is
>not wasted, I put together a book summary for my own reflection so
>that I needn't endure the entire book again. What follows is that
>summary so others might benefit. [...balance of a long and informative
review >snipped...]

Thank you for your posting and review of Thich Nhaht Hahn's book on
managing anger.

I was especially impressed by your courage in stating the plain fact that
the writing style was 'fluffy' and reminiscence of the late-1990's
'self-help' gurus. I have not read this book by TNH and don't intend to. I
have read two of his previous books and had the same underwhelming
impression that you had, at least in part. At least you found some gems
under the fluff that you were able to apply. That's very good.

Although I know I come across in this forum as an 'anti-book' person (and I
am to a great extent), I have just finished reading three very good books
that I would recommend to anyone:
- THE ZEN TEACHINGS OF MASTER LIN-CHI translated by Burton Watson
- MOON IN A DEWDROP - Writings of Zen Master Dogen edited by Kazuaki

These books are definitely not "fluff' and all contain what I consider very
fruitful insights into zen practice. I can easily post a review of these
books and sum up their total message in one word: Zazen! (Or maybe that's
two words in Japanese - 'Sit Zen')

I will however quote one passage from MOON IN A DEWDROP from the chapter
Face-To-Face Transmission written in the year 1243:

"If you do not realize the fruit at this moment, when will you realize it?
If you do not cut off delusion at this moment, when will you cut it off? If
you do not become a buddha at this moment, when will you? If you do not sit
as a buddha at this moment, when will you practice as a buddha?"

Any questions?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Leaving Home

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

This morning there are clouds in the sky over the desert. Yesterday was another windy day. My hope is that this afternoon will be beautiful and sunny with a clear sky, but if it isn't, well it will be beautiful as it is and I will appreciate it.

Each day offers itself to us as a partner in our experience in this process of life. Our practice is to be open to this process and receive its teachings.

What does this really mean?

Partly it is about leaving home. This means leaving what we believe we know at our bed as we rise and enter the day. If we go through our day knowing then what are we learning? What sort of room is there in our heads for something new and different?

Leaving home is scary. It requires courage and faith. Courage to face things without a shield, faith that what we receive will not harm us.

We are life's students. Adult learners who have immense capacity for both enlightenment and delusion. One requires a shedding of self, the other grasps the self. When we shed our self: our assumptions, our beliefs, even our self-proclaimed values, we are truely open to learning by direct experience.

So, today, please practice this sort of openness. Have faith that the process is what it is and in the end you are one with it. Have courage to be there, present in each moment. A buddha.

Be well.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

As the sun rises and warms the desert, I am sipping hot green tea at the computer. My heart is still and I am opening my eyes to see you. We are each a part of this wonderful universe. Each necessary. Each vital. The universe cannot exist without us. As each thing has its causes and conditions, each thing is deeply interwoven in the fabric of space and time. Where does one begin and end? Truely? Seeds from parents are planted and arise producing seeds that are planted and arise and so on and so on. Small changes here and there, divergence, complexity, life.

So, as I type here and am aware of the keys touching electrical pads, sending pulses out through fiber optic cables, patterns abound, connect with other patterns, and there we are: a universe. We are one, here and now. As you read. As I move on through my day, and you yours. My message is with you and you are with me. We are together. A good thing.

If we live this way, how difficult to injure each other! How difficult to willingly cause harm! Be peace today. Be yourself.

Be well.

Request for dana:

Last night we watched a plea for assistance from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. I would urge anyone to support this work. A small thing for a very important task. The toll free number is: 1-800-785-9539. Call a make a small donation today.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dealing with the News

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

On my Yahoo 360 blog I have been recounting the Ten Grave Precepts. Today's precept is the fifth which asks us not to cloud our minds. Usually this is taken to mean not to drink to the point of not being sober. It is also a invitation not to ingest drugs or other toxins that will injure us or otherwise cause harm. Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Worker has suggested that this precept includes taking things into us such as images or information which will poison us. Poison us with greed, hatred, and delusion.

This morning's news included a piece on the killing of Mr. Tom Fox, a Quaker and a Christian Peace Worker in Iraq who was taken hostage. Reports are that he was beaten, cut, and then shot in the chest and the head. Bound, his body was dumped on the street.

There are several "Friends" on this list. My deepest condolences to you.

My sense is that to avoid news can be harmful, as harmful as hiding one's head in the sand. The problem isn't the news or the images, but in what we do with them. If the images and the news causes hatred and anger, big problem. If, on the other hand, the information invites us to examine ourselves, our feelings, our relationships, our own actions, and thereby causes us to stand upright in the face of these three poisons, then we are being bodhisattvas.

The Buddha invited us to sit in a graveyard and be with a decomposing body. The image, the scent, the processes of decomposition are all "poisons" to those who seek nothing but the flowers of life. Yet all flowers eventually lose their bloom, wilt, keel over, wrinkle-up and die. They then become part of the environment, enriching it with nutrients for the next seed beginning to grow.

When we stand apart from the natural cycles of living and dying, loving and hating, we are not able tro help, we lose touch, live in a fantasy, and become incapable of connecting to others.

So, we should sit with this atrocity. We should invite our feelings to enter us, process them as we would the presence of a decomposing body in our living room. Turn away the eyes and you become salt. Care for the body and you become a bodhisattva.

It is most challenging work.

Be well.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What it is

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

When we are being in the present moment, as it is, there is no room for anything else. This moment, as it is, is full and complete. So, what is this moment, as it is?

Sitting Zazen without sitting Zazen. Cleaning without cleaning. Talking without talking. Eating without eating. Listening without listening.

Zen is being complete in this moment without adding words, names, labels, judgements, thoughts, likes or dislikes to it.

When we are correctly oriented to living this way, everything becomes easy. No problem.

Living this way allows our breathing to be what it is: free.
Living this way allows our Buddha-nature to flower.
Living this way allows our love to be itself.
Living this way allows our compassion to enfold the planet.
Living this way allows all things to be One.

Be well.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

No one was beheaded

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Yesterday's Peace Vigil was a great success if one measures success by the vibrancy of a group. We stood against the wind, a cold wind blowing across the desert valley. There were a couple of dozen women and a few men standing there along the avenue lacing the Federal Building. Public television was there. A few print media were there. Cameras were happy.

Passersby honked their horns in support. A few lifted a finger expressing their disapproval. This is America. No one was shot. No one beheaded.

That morning I met with local people interested in Jewish Law. The topic was "Should clergy marry people in a religious wedding without a license?" This is an effort to have a marrage sanctioned by God, but avoiding the problems with Social Security pension laws, although a few dissented, the answer was a clear no. We should not engage in deceitful behavior. During this discussion, a Christian minister made a few comments about homosexual unions, a heated debate ensued. Again, no one came to blows. No one was beheaded.

I noticed the authorities arrested three college students in the arson attacks of several churches in the deep south. No riots. No killings. No beheadings.

Last night at Zen Center, we sat Zazen in perfect stillness.

It is possible to have passionate views far apart from our neighbors and not bring harm to them. That is a very hopeful message. While we in the United States are far from perfect and we do in fact harm others in our behavior, we still have something we can offer the world. This should be our message..

Be well.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Another Day for Peace

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Sangha,
This afternoon we are scheduled to do a peace vigil at the Federal Courthouse in town. I have my simple sign which reads, "PEACE." I will join others at 4:00 PM, the appointed hour.
It is important to add our voice against war and violence. That it does not cause an end to the war is unimportant.  Witnessing is.  Eventually this war will end, they all do. Eventually another will begin, it usually does. What we can do is be a steady voice for peace and against violence.
The wind is picking up here in the desert southwest.  It will be interesting out there on the streetcorner. Thankfully, it doesn't appear it will rain on us.
So, if you are available at 4:00 PM wherever you are, please stand or sit for a few minutes with us as we witness for peace. If not today, then when you can.  Or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, or to the President, or to your congressional representative: your voice is important.
Be well.
Miles ran or walked today: 3.5

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
So Daiho

James Madison's warning: "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Zazen at Zen Center of Las Cruces: Sundays 10:00 AM; Wednesdays 7:00 PM
Zazen at Dharma Mountain Zendo: Sundays 10:00 AM

On the web at http://www.daihoji.org/ and http://daihoji.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Courage to Be

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

This morning I read with great sadness of the death of Dana Reeve. This woman was a great bodhisattva. Her memory, like that of her husband, will be a blessing for us all.

It is not difficult to find models for us to live by. Dana and Christopher Reeve were such models. Then so is a small one named Jennifer I saw on Discovery Health Channel the other day who was born without a face and endures tremendous pain and suffering as she undergoes a countless series of surguries to build her a face. Then there is her family, and the doctors and nurses, her extendeded family, neighbors and friends. When one tosses a pebble into the pond where do the ripples cease?

Dana Reeve was only 44 years old. She had never smoked a cigarette. Yet one in five women contract lung cancer who have never smoked in their lives. One wonders. These are people who led their lives fully. They developed great courage and compassion. They suffered, but they also succeeded.

When we live our lives in this way, directly, being with each event, each feeling that arises and still maintain our balance and our determination to be of service in the world, we are living buddhas.

I saw video of little Jennifer shortly after a massive surgery, pick up a striker and play with toy bells. The sound of the bell is both a call to mindfullness and a reminder that there is always joy in our lives even in the midst of great pain should we choose to experience it.

Be well.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


With palms together,
Good Evening Sangha,

This evening I was thinking about what I could possibly write about. I thought about this:

50 Simple things to do:

Turn off lights when you are not using them.
Use energy saving bulbs.
Cook as little as possible, use cold foods in the summer.
Buy in quantities, then parcel into smaller portions for storage and later use.
Use a half shot glass of bleach in a spray water bottle instead of a cleanser to disinfect counter surfaces.
Flush the toilet less times per day.
Turn off the tap when not actually using the water.
Set your water heater on medium rather than high.
Bike rather than drive.
Walk rather than bike.
Park as far away from the entrance of a store as you possibly can then walk.
Eat six times a day, but smaller amounts.
Eat fruit.
Eat veggies.
Drink juice.
Drink lots of water.
Make as much from scratch as you can.
Enjoy yourself.
Each day for a week eat something you've not tried before.
Eat more nuts.
Smile as often as possible, especially when you don't feel like it.
Tell your partner you love them.
Show your partner your love in non-verbal ways.
Work less than you think you should.
Turn off your cell phone for a day.
Begin a diary.
Stop writing in your diary.
Shift gears often.
When biking, wear a helmet.
Be kind to animals.
Adopt a pet.
Be kind to children.
Adopt a child.
Support charities as you can.
Visit a new place once a week.
Lay down on the floor at least once a day.
Use more bicarbonate of soda.
Use more vinegar.
Reject most TV.
Reject most movies.
Read a book.
Then read another book.
Then tell someone about the first book.
Join a club.
Make love as much as possible.
Hug your kids.
Listen to as many people as possible.
Look people in the eyes

Above all,
Be well..

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mindful Silence

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

My suggestion for today is to spend the day in mindful silence. It is a good practice.

Speak only when spoken to in as limited and gentle way as possible. When we do this we are placing ourselves in the position of being open to our lives in a way that doesn't happen when we are busy with our minds and mouths.

Knowing that we are not speaking, we can listen more closely. Listening more closely enables a more intimate connection to be made to our world. It is in this intimacy that profound change occurs.


Due to lack of participants, today's Zazenkai at Zen Center is cancelled. Please remember we have our Hannamatsuri sesshin scheduled for the first Friday weekend of April.

Be well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

On Being Soft

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Maintaining a sense of interest in the well-being of your partner may be in your own best interest in the long run. When we speak and (otherwise) behave with our partner with loving kindness, we soften ourselves and our partners, making our union a more joyous and comfortable one. On the other hand, when we speak to our partners with anger and behave in a hostile, controlling manner, we harden ourselves and our partners, making our relationship brittle.

It seems that these truths may be deeper and more concrete than we might expect. Researchers suggest that anger and hostile interactions with our partners contributes to coronary atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.

"In a study of 150 couples, mostly in their 60s, researchers found that women who behaved in a hostile manner during marital disputes were more likely to have atherosclerosis, especially if their husbands were also hostile."

"In men, hostility -- their own or their wives -- was not related to atherosclerosis. However, men who behaved in a dominating or controlling manner -- or whose wives behaved in that way -- were more likely to have clogged coronary arteries." says a study from the University of Utah as reported by Reuters Health News.

A gentle way is a healthy way, it would seem.

"The only group of men that had very little atherosclerosis were those where both they and their wives were able to talk about a disagreement without being controlling at all," (Dr. Timothy) Smith said. "So the absence of a power play in the conversation seemed to be heart protective for men," he concluded.

My sense here is that perception plays a major role in this. How we perceive, leads to how we think, feel, and respond behaviorally. Even if there is no outward behavioral response, perceiving ownself as being in the presence of a hostile and contriolling person, may increase our risk. Interesting. So, what are we to do?

My practice tells me that understanding process without becoming caught in process is a key to dealing with this. If we were to clearly see ourselves as simply being there, with no investment one way or the other as to outcome, taking a long view, a hopeful view, of the interaction, we would be much better off. Too often we are caught in the minute points of an arguement. Who said what with what sort of tone, intending what to whom. Or some equal variant on this theme. We wish to be understood, we wish wo be accepted. We wish to be agreed with, heard, validated, something. Yet, our partner keeps hammering away.

Our goal should be to be present in these arguenments without racheting them up. The best way to do this, I think, is to make yourself available in that moment to listen deeply to your partner. Love her/him in their pain or their confusion or their anger. This requires us to be willing to set aside our own agenda and needs.

To do this we must possess and maintain a faith that our needs will eventually be addressed. My experience is that these "needs" are almost always immediate and responsive to our partner's request to have their needs met. In other words, our "needs" are really more about our unwillingness to give up ourselves to our partners than an actual need itself.

Here's the thing: needs come and go. Why be bothered by the tit-for-tat of power and control? Especially now that we have some evidence that it is hazardous to our health.

Be well.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Who am I?

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

What is the "higher" truth? Does God exist? Is there a Heaven? A Hell? Where do we fit in along the way? Was there a beginning? Will there be an end? Who am I? What ams I? How should I live my life? How should I treat my friends, my family, strangers? Where do we go to get the answers to these questions?

Some would say we should go to Church or Synagogue or Moque or Temple. I would agree. A good religious center would then take us and sit us down and ask us to take a backward step. A good religious center would not give us answers to these questions, instead they would invite us to examine ourselves, deeply examine ourselves. Of course, in the process of this examination they would offer us tools.

Liturgy is such a tool. Means of practice, such as dailty rituals, meditation, chanting, are such tools. Prayer in its many colored and textured varieties are such tools. But these are not the answers themselves. It is a mistake to think that because you bow and light incense you are connecting to anything. It is a mistake to think that because you put on a prayer shawl or a robe that you are getting closer to God, being like Jesus, or becoming a Buddha. These are important practices and they will orient you, but they are not the thing itself.

The thing itself comes from inside out. It is in your heart/mind.

The backward step is, of course a step into stillness. A step into your "still small voice." Not just listening to that voice, but enjoining that voice. You and that voice are one, just as you and your God are one, just as you and Jesus are one or you and Buddha are one. This One, regardless of name, is there whether we feel it or not, see it or not, experience it or not. The questions I asked at the beginning are our invitations to discover this One.

It is now your turn to take this backward step. Be still.

Be well.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Someone suggested I might be considered an "extremist." I smiled deeply as I read it. I wonder. Perhaps. I don't consider myself an extremist. I see myself as an able mediator, a negotiator who seeks balance and something for everyone. My views are informed by both my experience and my values, intertwined as they always are through time and process.

My views on violence are informed by witnessing violence against my mother, brother, and myself by my father. They are informed by my experience as a combat infantryman in Vietnam who hunted human beings for a living and was wounded in the process. They are informed by thirty years of clinical work with trauma survivors in mental hospitals and outpatient clinics. I see no value in violence. None.

However, I am also informed by the fact that there are violent people in the world who would do harm to me and my family, my community, my nation, my world. This is a fact of life. And so, we are left with a question. How do we protect ourselves from those who would cause us harm without ourselves causing harm?

It is at this juncture that we need to take a breath. Because, we are so bombarded with images of violence, the news casts threats of violence with such a wide net, that we seem to think we are each in immanent danger and should act as if the world were a hostile and violent place. This is simply not true. Yes, there is violence in the world. No, not every person poses a threat of harm. Not every stranger is an enemy lurking in wait to attack us. For every act of violence, even in the Middle East, there are countless acts of selfless heroism, attempts to help and care and nurture those in harm's way. We see the bomb's damage, but fail to see the hundreds of people picking up the pieces and loving those who are injured.

You see, as I see it, most commentators only go so far as to justify violence with the fact that violence exists. But if we are value driven, and our value is sanctify of life, and the nurturance and protection of life, then (it seems to me) we must go farther. It is in this "going father" that most of us get hopelessly lost or confused. We seem unwilling to step outside the cultural, conventional wisdom box and see with unfettered eyes.

So, how do we protect ourselves without causing harm?

An extreme position would be to run away. Flee the situation. A less extreme position would be to offer assistance to those wishing to cause harm. We might consider listening to them, deeply listening. Most anger is caused by perceived injury or threat. What is the injury? What is the threat? Is there something we can do to help? Is the anger caused by an unbalanced mind? Are there therapies or medications that can help? Do people have enough food? Care? Housing? Do they have hope? Are they being treated fairly?

We take Four Great Vows daily: However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all; however inexhaustible my delusions are, I vow to extinguish them all; however immeasurable the Dharma teachings are, I vow to master them all; and however endless the Buddha's Way is,m I vow to follow it completely.

These vows do not exclude a single being, not one from here to eternity. It does not matter whether they are ugly, fat, skinny, kind, or killers.These vows do not exclude delusions that keep us smug and healthy, they include all delusions including ones that suggest some people are just plain not like us and therefore unworthy of our care and love. These vows do not exclude Dharma teachings that are impractical or uncomfortable or opposed to conventional wisdom. Lastly, these vows are not for just this moment, they are for all moments in every context and in every location.

Extreme? Perhaps. Our vows ask us to follow a middle path through the maze life presents us, leaning not too far this way or that. Still, values must drive our choices, rather than what we knee jerk think should be done. We must use our intelligence, our compassion, our resources, and our wisdom to make a better world. It is our work. Its what we do as human beings.

Be well.