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Showing posts from September, 2006

A Single Step

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

There are always moments when we don't feel like doing what we are supposed to do. Small Mind whispers, "do it later, it'll be OK." Or, "you shouldn't have to do anything you don't want to do." Or, "its just one day, it won't matter."

These are the whispers which take us away from enlightened living. They help us keep our eyes closed. They keep us slothful, lazy, and ignorant.

Enlightened living is immediate, direct, diligent, and vigorous. We do because it is ours to do. And the whole universe is us so everything is our responsibility. So what is it we should do?

Understand a leader is by definition alone. Because you are there by yourself does not mean you are not making a difference. Become informed. The world needs informed individuals. Be willing to act. The world needs engaged human beings. Become fearless. The world needs people unafraid of what others might think. Become enlightened. The…

Grandparent Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

In Memphis, we are enjoying Baby Tate immensely. He is nothing but cute, inquisitive energy stuffed into New Skin with eyes and fingers, mouth and feet.

Our practice is being witness, guide, protector, clown, and nurturer.

I've exchanged my morning zazen for a kindergarten of one. We learn to make cereal bowls into bells, Cheerios into offerings, and dirty diapers, incense.

This is the Way of Grandparents.

Be well.

The Thirty Second Zen Master

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Our practice is not talking practice, its not philosophy practice, its practice practice. Zazen is something we all would like to do. Many people want to meditate. Few do.

Everything is a problem. Not enough time. Our back hurts. Our legs hurt. Its too noisy. There is nowhere in our homes that we feel comfortable. Our spouses aren't supportive. We have children, dogs, cats, jobs... you get the idea.

All of these, however, are not problems. They are real opportunities. Zazen is not outward, it is inward. Zazen is about our attitude: right understanding. When our understanding is correct, then everything becomes zazen.

So, what is correct understanding? When we are completely present with ourselves and our activity. When the map, compass, body, and mind are in complete alignment, that is right understanding. With this understanding every step is the correct step, naturally.

We attain correct understanding, however through our practice of …

Boxes

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The other day someone said to me they "had enough religion." That comment, meant to be an offhand reply about coming back again to a service, has stuck with me. Like one of those scriptural phrases or a line of poetry, it rolls around in my mind.

A comment like this suggests religion exists outside of us. I suppose for some this is true, they slice life into pieces and create boxes: this is spiritual, that is religious, this is philosophical, that is scientific, and so on.

Actually, we all do this. It is an aspect of our mind, created by our brain, that we do it. Ad like any organ, it functions autonomically. What do we do with the products of such production?

Some of us take this products seriously, see the slice as existing outside of us, as if we were simply remarking on the natural state of the universe. We fail to see how silently and how quickly our mental knife cuts, sorts, and moves on. In fact, we fail to see we are doing it a…

The Great Teacher

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The desert air is cool. I am sitting by the living room window and feeling a chill from its touch on my shoulder through the open window. The feel of natural air, unconditioned by our machines, is a delight. The less we process things, it seems, the better they are.

So too with zazen.

When we sit down on our cushion. We should just sit down, back upright, shoulders open, and head erect. We feel the bones as they seem to organized themselves one on top of another while taking our seat. There is nothing special about this save the deliberate nature of being still. Nothing conditioned. No machine involved. There is just zazen.

We should not process this experience while in the experience. Processing things takes us away from them and in fact, kills the moment. Being witness with a student's eye is being there without a self. A student's eye is unencumbered by the dust of "things we know."

Practicing this way is the great teacher.

Be w…

Compassion

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

As I walk on this earth, so do you. As I sit on this earth, so do you. As I eat, sleep, love and hate, so do you. We are the same, you and I. Just different reflections of Original Mind at work. So when I suffer, so do you. When you suffer, so do I. Our understanding of each other in each of these gently sweeps away the residue of the illusion we are separate. If we allow it. Compassion must be voluntary. We allow our feelings to loosen and let go. We allow ourselves to open to others. We become vulnerable, and in that vulnerability, we become the water for the parched plant. It is not easy to be so vulnerable. Vulnerability demands of us. It requires we actively address those things that would harm us. So that we might continue to enjoy our vulnerability and nurture others. Addressing harm, however, without protection, requires a willingness to experience pain. This is why compassion is courage in another form.

Frankly, I am not so good with this.…

Enough

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Last night we attended New Year's service at Temple Beth-El. The sanctuary was crowded. Everyone was dressed nicely. There was a banquet of sweets in the social hall. And there were armed guards outside the door.

Yesterday's newspaper had a very interesting op-ed piece by Charles Krautheimer. I usually take issue with this conservative, but on this occasion, his words resonated like the bell in the Zendo. He talked about the irony of Muslims protesting with such viciousness statements that suggest their religion was spread through the sword. He noted that monotheism, in general, has a history of such behavior: all of monotheism.

And how can it be otherwise? By definition, monotheists hold one god, praise one god, hail one god. Each slice of the god pie has its supporters, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and soldiers. Each rallying to set their particular understanding above others and in the process...or perhaps to support the process...Denigrating…

In the Meantime

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Have you ever thought about the phrase, "in the meantime"? Just what does this phrase mean? A mean is a number achieved by adding the universe and dividing the sum by the number of its parts. The mode is the number which occurs most frequently, and the median is the number that is dead center of an array of numbers. In the meantime?

I think it means now. Before the next moment, but after the last. If this is the case, all of our lived time is meantime. We are very casual about this meantime. We see it as something occurring between other matters, often matters of consequence. Yet, how is this so? Matters past and matters future are matters immaterial. They are not real. They are constructions.

So, I live in the meantime. The meantime is mine. And like other base things settled at the bottom, those living in the meantime are still within the current. In being nothing special, we are everything that matters.

So, join me in the meantime. …

Accept the Stone

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

There is no peace outside of that which we make for ourselves. When we are at peace with ourselves and live in serene reflection, the disturbances of life are just ripples on the pond. Allow the ripples. Accept the stone. No problem.

Our world seems full of pain and suffering. People killing and maiming. People starving. People threatening other people. We might think these are about power and control or money or oil, but I think not. My sense is these are caused by people who suffer greatly. They are victims of their own thoughts and the brains that create them.

When we discover we do not have to be victims, we are free. At that moment of discovery, we realize all of our suffering is created by our mind and its need to have something to do. This is not to say that our pain is not real. If I touch the griddle at Zen Center as I did the other day, it will burn me, as it did. Yet, that is not suffering. Suffering occurs when I get caught in a web of th…

A Hammer is But One Tool

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

As someone who has spent a lifetime developing a critical mind, I am now spending the rest of my life learning to see it as both a tool and a hindrance. We should each strive to develop our mind. Critical thinking and a sharp wit is important. Knowledge is important. Yet these are not ends in themselves, but rather tools. We must know not only how to use them, but also how not to use them. We must know when to use them and when not to use them.

In spite of what I was once taught, a hammer will not fix the everything. Sometimes a screwdriver, sometimes a chisel, sometimes a pair of pliers: it is not a one tool fits all world.

Zazen can assist us with this. Zazen is being present regardless. It is using discipline to bring our attention to bear without needing to change anything. So if we have reached point "A" that is where we are and we enjoy point A. A thought of point B takes us away from point A. A thought of point B diminishes point B. …

Get a Grip

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Zen living is an everyday experience. It really does not matter what religion you follow, whether you believe in a God or not, or much of anything else. Zen living is living with an open eye and open heart. Zen living is living with a willingness to be still even when in motion. It is an attitude and a practice. It cam become a religion. It can become a philosophy. Yet in either case it is both and neither.

If we commit to a meditation practice and meet our daily commitment, several things will happen., First you will develop a deep satisfaction over having committed to setting aside time to be with just yourself and your experience of yourself. Second, you Will learn a great deal from this time on the cushion. Third, you will develop the ability to remain present regardless of the experience.

In the end, you learn what you already know. Your time with yourself on your cushion serves as a confirmation of this knowledge. Finally, you discover it is no…

Sesshin Weekend

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Our sesshin was a real success! This was the first sesshin we allowed attendance to be staggered. It was a little uncomfortable for those control freaks among us, me, to deal with but deal I did.

We also had our Zen Center being re-roofed during the weekend. This meant sitting under tearing wood, pounding hammers, and the chatter of the workers (not to mention their footsteps overhead, as we sat silently through the weekend.

The Sunday culmination of the retreat was beautiful as we each offered a piece of cake to the Hungry Ghosts, a symbolic gesture and commitment to those in need of our help, and honored those who have taken their next steps along the Zen Buddhist path.

Ryan Weeks took the Three Refuges and became Zen To; Mike Mu Shin OMalley took the Precepts as his own, and Bonnie Busho Hobbs entered the priesthood as a Novitiate.



Be well.

Aren't We Special

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With palms together, Good Morning All, In our mind's eye, and sometimes if we are not careful, through our practice, we build elaborate, finely crafted necklaces of wisdom.  Stunning and beautiful, they glitter in the light of our hearts and minds.  Everyone sees our glitter, we ourselves are mesmerized by it. Isn't it wonderful to be so pretty and, well, soooo very special? Then a low rider pulls up next to us, blaring, thumping base notes pound, tatts and cigarette smoke, profanity, and a stare that chills us. The necklace breaks and all those pretty little jewels fall to the floor. Our true practice is the practice of being present without any special mantel. Being present even when the present is hurtful, fearful, or smelly we are able to be our fear, our pain, or our offense. So, what does this practice get us?  Nothing. Practice is not about attainment. Practice is about being and that is absolutely all it is about. So, practice zazen with care.  Do not keep your zazen. Do …

Teaching

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With palms together, Good Morning All, The sound of morning is a deep one. Unseen things are happening in preparation for the emergence of the sun over the mountains in the east. Just as the First Teacher came from the east to the west, so too, our sun casting its light on the world. Bodhidharma was a curmudgeon. He had a beard. It is said that he sewed his eyelids open and sat in a cave facing the wall with his naked eyes for nine years. His student, our second patriarch, demonstrated his earnest desire to be taught by cutting off his arm and presenting it to his Master. Finally the curmudgeon cracked and taught. Today, we take teaching for granted.  Here it is on the Internet, at your community college, at small workshops everywhere. No one jumps through hoops to be admitted. Precious few even see a hoop to pass through. Learning has been studied and teaching has become a profession, just as friendship has become professionalized, the principles of which are now taught in classrooms.…

Being Present

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With palms together, Good Morning All, It is late evening as I sit down to write to you. The rain is gently snapping against the pebbles on the ground outside our apartment window and there is an occasional flash of lightening followed by rolls of thunder. It is perfect weather. Perfection is always about being present. When we are fully present, regardless of what is happening or what we are thinking and feeling, the moment is perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  Imperfection is something we add. Perfection, too, is something we add when we think of perfection, imagine perfection, rather than exist completely with the present. The present is always complete. There can be nothing lacking. We might wish there was something else in our present, but this, too, is something we add. Just being in the present moment is enough and complete, and as a result, perfect. Some of you wondered what I was thinking when I said change was an illusion in an earlier post. Just so, some of you might wonder…

Change

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With palms together, Good Morning All, Although the sun is already high in the sky, the desert air feels cool. There is a breeze off the mountains and a lovely scent comes with it.   My early morning walk required a long sleeved shirt and my robe felt comfortable at zazen. All tell tale signs that we are approaching autumn. Autumn is a wonderful time. The leaves begin their turn from green to yellow to brown. The dogs are a bit more eager to prance. The birds seem happier. Change is in the air. These are equinox seasons, spring and autumn. They are transitions. Like all periods of change, we can use them to reflect on the past, resist its passing, or look forward to the future, perhaps becoming impatient with the present. Yet, when we do, we miss each moment's particular brilliance. Being present with change we see change is really an illusion.  Change only exists in our mind as a mental construction. Pictures of what was and compared to the present and yet again compared to what we …

Good Stuff

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

On this lovely morning, I would like to talk about good things. What are good things? Things that nurture ourselves. Things that we do to nurture others. When you take a few moments to think about it, nurturance is the stuff of life. As plants crave sunlight, water, and soil, so we crave activity, nutritional sustanance, and most importantly, love. In my own life, I am often reminded that I do the first two very well, easily actually, but the last one takes work.

Why is it so challenging to love? In the abstract, love is easy. We can say we 'love this' or we 'adore that,' but to actually love it? This takes some work as well as courage.

To love means to undress. It means to let go of our armor and any other sorts of defenses as we allow another to enter our hearts. For those of us injured by ones who cared for us, this can be exceedingly difficult. We want to love, but are at the same time so wary of it. Love becomes an intim…

Cool Air

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Its a nice Sunday morning and the air is wonderfully cool. Summer is clearly coming to a close. The passing seasons can be gentle reminders of the changing nature of things. Change is rarely sudden, though sometimes it can seem so. More often than not, change simply happens in small increments, detectable only when we pay attention.

Zazen teaches us to pay attention. When we practice zazen we choose to keep our attention focused, our body and mind join together in this focus, and soon, there is nothing but attention.

In this attention resides our True Nature. What is this Nature? Attention itself.

As the sun dims, the flower falls away. The earth receives the petals and the seeds of spring lay in wait. Life is like that. Breathing in, I receive the universe; breathing out, I release myself to the universe. Close attention to these processes reveals everything changes, yet everything is the same.

Then again, sometimes cool air is just cool air.

Be wel…

The Real World

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

To the untrained student, spiritual practice and practical practice seem to be two different things. Spiritual practice makes us feel good, relaxed, special, closer to the Infinite, whatever; Practical practice encounters the real world and considers its dangers, as well as its needs and benefits. While this may sometime seems to be so, it is not always so, and in the final analysis, is never so.

When we practice this way, we think we must go to a special place to practice, dress in a special way, take on a special attitude and posture, and so on, in order to be spiritual. Then when we leave that place we can take on the attitude and posture of the real world, thus justifying our need to be unjust, cruel, and self-centered.

Zen does not differentiate between these two worlds. The Master walks in both at the same time, recognizing what needs to be done and doing it, does so with mind like water, thus revealing the truth, that there is only one world.

B…

Zazen

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Zazen this morning was a quiet affair. I sat alone in the Ino's seat chanting and ringing the bells. Then silence in the upright posture. Zazen is a silent and deeply quieting practice, through the practice periods themselves can be riotous. In the end, just as the breath finds its own rhythm so do our minds.

I read a piece in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind a short while ago that caught my attention. Suzuki suggested that talking about the philosophy of Zen was a little blasphemous. He pointed out that talking about what you do not realize is wrong headed. I suggest it is a little like putting the cart before the horse, or curtainly like mistaking a picture for a thing.

So, what is Buddhism? Sit zazen.

Be well.

Value

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

What is a value? Over the years I have spent being a therapist and now a priest, I have often wondered. My early academic interests were in the areas of philosophy and religion, then social work, which I saw as applied ethics. Core to any 'spiritual' or religious path, is an exploration of values.

A value is a quality we invest with meaning, perhaps. Or perhaps our values are nothing more or less that the named meanings of our lives.

In any event, like all things, value have meaning only when lived, not when thought.

Values that are only thoughtful expressions are window dressing, spiritual candy, or worse: chimera. By thoughtful expressions I mean things we've named and mistaken the name for the thing. For example, when we value peace and do not live peacefully, we are not living authentically. Peace and living peace must be one and manifest in our lives to be a value.

All of our values seem to flow from something, that is they seem to …

Notes

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning we went out early to have our blood drawn at a laboratory as part of our annual physicals. Overnight fasting meant nothing to eat or drink this morning: no tea, no coffee, no breakfast, no morning pills. Zero, nada, goodness.

The nurse at the lab was a very cheerful woman who had been an Army Medic. She was impressed with the scar on my head. War stories. One never has to go to far to hear them. The thing is, these days they are often about what happens after discharge and how our country fails its veterans. We shared easily together.

Then home for a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and peas, yogurt and whole wheat toast, and of course a cup of coffee. Tripper enjoyed waiting eagerly for anything that would come his way in the preparation. I thought of all the hands and lives that went into bring this food to us as I shared with both Tripper and Pepper.

My Little Honey ate quickly and went off to knit with the ladies of the…

Be careful about what you think you see

Labor Day

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

With this weekend comes an opportunity to consider our work. Labor Day weekend has long been a "sale" weekend, a "party" weekend, and a last "family picnic" weekend of the summer. In truth though, most of our holidays are remembrance days. During their passage we should spend some time reflecting on their meaning.

We know that meaning can exist in two ways at least: personal meaning and communal meaning. In each case it is human beings, however, who make the meaning. The communal meaning of Labor Day is often geographic and socioeconomic. If we were living in a heavily unionized city, Labor Day takes on a decidedly different flavor and meaning than say in Miami, Florida where much of the city is devoted to play.

Still, some holidays should have a base line meaning and this meaning becomes a personal; one. The baseline meaning of a holiday is derived from its reason for being established in the first place. Then it is …