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The Eighth Grave Precept

The Eighth Grave Precept

The Eighth Grave Precept is: Do not be stingy with the Dharma or property. In my Order we use: I will be generous with what I possess. Other translations are much simpler, "I vow not to be greedy."

Another koan: how can we be greedy with what we possess when, in truth, we can possess nothing?

This precept, like all of them, can be read at least in two levels: the ordinary and the extraordinary, with Small Mind or with Big Mind.

On the Small Mind level we are talking about actually sharing what we hold in our hands, our houses, our banks, and our heart/minds. As we realize aspects of the Dharma, we should share when asked or when needed.

On a Big Mind level, we realize there is nothing that we can possess, so we have nothing to offer, but more, nothing is needed. All is perfect just as it is. We just are not able or willing to perceive this and let it rise up.

A harmful thing happens, we engage it without attachment or emotional investment and make it bette…

The Seventh Grave Precept

The Seventh Grave Precept

This precept says that we vow not to praise self and slander others. This precept points us to treating everyone as equals, a very challenging precept to put into practice. Equality is a key reality from a Zen Buddhist point of view. When we see our true nature as One, than how can we not see others as ourselves and treat them as ourselves? The need to elevate ourselves is a need of the ego. By slandering others, insecure people feel they are placing themselves on a better footing. When if fact, that footing is illusion.

As we witness a person mistreating another, do we feel some bit superior? We would not do that. As we speak to a waiter or waitress, how do we speak to them? As equals?

We practice to become sensitive to our own internal processes and do the work we need to do as a result of what we discover.

Equality demands that we trust each of us is able to listen and process what we communicate and is communicated to us; it demands that we do not hold…

The Sixth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Sixth Grave Precept

The first five precepts are those taken in some traditions by lay practitioners. The next five, then, separate lay practitioners from those who are stepping up and traveling along the way of the Bodhisattva. They represent an increased demand for mindful attention.

The Sixth Grave Precept: I vow not to criticize others. In my order we use a slight variant: I vow to speak kindly of others. This precept is a precept that points directly to right speech. We should always try to say kind things about others and avoid unkind things. Yet, teachers often say things that are critical of a student. Parents say critical things of a child. Society says critical things about its outlaws. This precept points to idle chatter, to gossip: speech that has little value in that its aim is to spread rumors.

We have a positive obligation to criticize wrong, especially harmful behavior. We have an obligation to stop harm.

It is a difficult …

The Fifth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Fifth Grave Precept: Do Not Deal in Intoxicants.

The Fifth Grave Precept is our vow not to cloud our minds with intoxicants. Hmmm. Does this mean no wine with dinner? Not really, the point of this precept is that we vow to live with a clear mind. The problem comes in the fact that wine and other drugs have effects on our perceptions. But its not just drugs. We can intoxicate our minds with video games, television, news stories, books, magazines, foods, sex, etc. Too much of anything leads to a distorted version of reality. Its a cloudy mind that is the issue.
Drugs and alcohol we understand in terms of their intoxicating power. Yet, the power of electronic media, print media, and the entertainment industry has similar effects. When wee are inundated with images, messages, and invitations to meet every pleasure need, we seem to crave more. People can become what are now called "News Junkies", pornography is a multi-billion dol…

Fourth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The Fourth Grave Precept is: Do not lie.

This precept, like all the others,is geared toward what makes for a civilized world. One of the foundations of civil society is trust. In order for us to function together we must trust that what is said to us is honest. Lying about, distorting, and otherwise "handling": the truth erodes this trust.

Yet, we have a similar paradox as with other precepts. What is the truth? Truth is subjective. It is perception and perception can (and is) distorted by experience. so, if we have been robbed by people of a certain background, we may perceive people from that background to be "suspect" when in fact, they are not.

Better then, that we focus our attention on our own speech. We should speak only honestly with right thought and right understanding. We should not try to deceive.

Yet, always we should have in mind the maxim, 'do no harm'. Sometimes telling the truth can be harmful, …

Third Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we address the Third Grave Precept: Do not commit sexual misconduct. This precepts points directly at us and our society. We reflect ourselves in our art forms, if we can call them that: Desperate Housewives, The L Word, Californication...even Boston Legal. So much television is devoted to attracting viewers through sexual content that it is nearly impossible to turn the box on without seeing one seductive Victoria's Secret woman or a Hanes commercial, etc., etc. Then we are to walk away and keep our eyes to ourselves...whoops did you see that woman wearing nothing but lingerie at K-Mart? Or how about yesterday when a lady wearing pajamas walked past me in Wal-Mart. Eyes in head, head straight.

Sexual misconduct is all in the mind. Its also all about relationships. Its about health. Its about trust. Its about caring. Its about loving. Its about everything that is so challenging in our culture.

Another way to frame this…

Second Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we explore the Second Grave Precept: Do Not Steal. To accept what is not given speaks to a breakdown in social and personal boundaries. It suggests a profound disrespect for the property rights of others. But more than that, it points to our own greed.

Stealing takes so many forms it is easy to violate this precept without care. Accepting more change than you are entitled to at a cash register for example. Accepting a mistake on the sale price of an item at the department store, for another example. These are forms of stealing. One does not have to hold someone up or slip something into one's pocket in order to be a thief.

This precept asks us to be diligent in our dealings with people, things, and money. A borrowed, but never returned book, for example is a kind of stealing. Loans are time-limited. And so on. So, it is our responsibility to do our own due diligence in returning things borrowed in a timely manner.

It would…

The First Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The other day, I addressed the The Pure Precepts. This morning I would like to talk about the first of the Ten Grave Grave Precepts, do not kill. This precept is first among the Ten Grave Precepts. It is a very challenging precept for many reasons. Like most precepts its paradoxical. We must live, in order to live we must eat, in order to eat we must kill, yet here it says: do not kill. How can this be?

Moreover, even as we breathe or walk we kill. As we drink water we kill. Even if we are vegetarian, we kill. So how can we follow this precept?

Killing is more than simply taking a life, although that is its meaning. This precept is about the wanton killing of beings for no purpose, but to kill them. We are asked not to kill for the joy of killing, as a game, or a sport. We should try to avoid killing unintentionally, as well.

To meet this precept we must act mindfully around all beings. We should not kill for any reason but to sustain our…

Three Pure Precepts

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I would like to talk to you about the Three Pure Precepts. In Zen Buddhism, these three precepts are core. These are: Cease doing evil; Do good; Bring about abundant good for all beings. It takes a lot of personal work to enact these precepts, even more to make them our own.

The reason these precepts are so challenging is that they point to a way of being as a Buddhist that is selfless and always in service.. In contemporary society this is difficult as we are constantly reminded to acquire, protect our acquisitions, and let others be responsible for themselves. But this is not the Zen way.

The Zen way is to release the self of its grip on us by practicing to realize its true nature as empty, with no permanent existence at all. We are dust made into form and will return to dust again. When we break through and realize this truth we can see that all that is left is our function as human beings.

True human beings function out of com…

Relax and Be Free

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning was a chilly 45 degrees according to my thermometer as we headed out the door to meet friends Eve and Allen for a brisk morning walk. Actually, I needed less brisk, but then there was a morning breeze with that chilled air, so we naturally had a quick pace. Somewhere along the way I asked Allen to slow down. It was a rest/easy walk day for me.

In practice it is important to know the aim of your practice. Its part of the discipline. This is the meaning of that old saying, "When sitting, sit; when walking, walk: above all don't wobble". We do not sit zazen then in the middle of a sitting period decide to begin chanting practice. Likewise, if running a long, slow run, we don't in the middle decide to do speed repeats. Each practice has its place and its purpose.

Many of us are impatient, however, and think more is better. In training this leads to injury or burnout. In Zen practice, the same: we become so goal…

Team Zen

Good Morning Again,

A Team Zen Update: This morning I did a hard hill repeat workout (8 repeats) in the desert on sandy trails and steep hills. I completed 1.75 miles in total. My modest training schedule is as follows: Sunday, long run; Monday easy walk; Tuesday, desert hill repeats with a trail run base; Wednesday, easy walk; Thursday, interval run; Friday, easy walk; Saturday, off.

Shortly I will add a little biking, easy kick boxing, and some free weight training again, but I need to get a base established first. (Our garage is almost ready to act as a gym.)

I plan to increase my distance, repeat numbers, and interval numbers by 10% or so weekly, with the goal of completing the 15 mile portion of the Bataan Death March in March 2009.

For those of you who don't know, we had a "Team Zen" at the Zen Center for a couple of years and did local races. We made t-shirts that had "Stillness in Motion" printed on the backs. It was a lot of fun.

Fitness Training is …

A Refuge Weekend

With Palms Together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our weekend went well in the mountains. As we arrived there was a person there looking at the property. The refuge is still for sale, technically, as there is a real estate contract in place, but we will only accept a very good (close to asking price) offer for the place and I would have many regrets selling it. On the other hand, it does require a degree of work we are no longer able to commit to (or do) on a regular basis. Its nearly six acres of fenced forest with a meadow, a wood burning cook stove requiring chopped wood, and water to be pumped from holding or collection tanks to the gravity feed tank on the ridge behind the house. The vegetation nearly took over the place this summer. I am anticipating fence repair as trees inevitably fall across fences in the winter. This means getting out the chain saw. Goodness.

On the upside, son Jason and daughter-in-law Maggie did a great job doing much of the work. Jason got the 4 wheeler g…

Becoming a Sage

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday we spent the morning with friends at the hospital. Our friend, Ken Kessen, underwent another major oral surgery to remove areas of his mouth affected by cancer and other issues. Please keep him and his wife, Deana, in your thoughts and prayers.

Being with friends as they struggle is something we are becoming quite familiar with. I think it is a sign of our particular age and place in the life-cycle. I was talking with someone at Temple yesterday who is witnessing her parents age and deteriorate in these, their final years. She said she wished God had set things up so that we live until we go out like sparklers. I understand the sentiment. Some of us are for sure fortunate if we die in our sleep with little to no warning. Yet, on the other hand, a process of dying has its advantages, as well.

While I would not wish long periods of painful suffering on anyone, I do think, aging itself is a stage of life that can be useful to all. W…

Mood

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Feeling good about the market rebound yesterday, I cautioned myself. It is important not to let our emotions determine our mood. What? Our emotions are our mood, you say. Not so.

Our mood may be a reflection of our emotional state, but our mood, it seems to me, is much more complex than that. Mood and attitude: our stance with regard to ourselves and our world is an aggregate of thought, feeling, behavior, and core beliefs. Our mood, then, is a dynamic reflection of our core beliefs, our core selves.

Mood. I really do not like that word so much. I prefer not to be in a mood or moody. I prefer to be present. If I am happy, I am happy; if angry, angry. An overflow of feeling into mood is not comfortable, nor is it good for us.

One of the best ways to make our mood stable is to recognize that thoughts and feelings are not us; they are transient reflections of our core beliefs. Our brains produce thoughts, we respond with feelings, and the wh…

Varieties of Religious Experience

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we had Sunday dinner with our son, Jason, his wife Maggie, and our granddaughter, Olivia. Sunday dinner is a family tradition that began when our children moved out of the house after high school. They were invited to come to dinner on Sunday and could bring friends with adequate notice. Over time we amassed a few ex-girlfriends and an occasional ex-boyfriend, who would continue to visit even after they were "ex's". Our dinners were always open and inviting and we truly appreciated getting to know the people in our children's lives. Now that we have children once again in the neighborhood, we are delighted to continue this tradition.


Anyway, last night Olivia discovered the Zendo. At three years old, she was quite impressed with its emptiness. The gong and small bell delighted her, the mokugyo made her stop and take notice with its deep, wooden sound. I taught her to sit, gassho, and bow. But most of all we e…

Crisis

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Nothing is forever. Oh, how we resist this simple truth! Beaches erode, we attempt to shore them up; age takes its toll, we attempt to repair or prevent it; our economy goes to the dogs and, yes, we try to buttress it, prevent the loss of our fortunes. Everything changes: its the nature of the universe.

Yet, our safety is threatened. Our comfort and security is in question, not in some far off desert, but right here on Main Street.

What to do.

A few months ago I was threatened with a serious reduction in my pension. I freaked. We were in the process of our credit review and the closing processes on our new house. My mind was not as elastic as I had hoped.

What I did: I saw my psychiatrist; I took time to sleep, to practice meditation, but I also took the time to engage the VA and the DAV. I was committed to health regardless of outcome.

Zazen helps us see clearly that life is a full process of birth and death...to the point that we see there is n…

Another Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

It is early morning. The air is incredibly still. Pete-kitty has joined me on my desk and Tripper is at my feet. Shortly I will leave them for the Zendo, but for now they are wonderful furry company.

We have just completed our yearly "Days of Awe" where we open ourselves to a New Year and work hard to examine ourselves and our relationships so that we might repair them, address wrongs we might have done, and close things out so that we might begin our new year with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Sometimes we are more successful than other times.

In Zen we chant a verse of Atonement daily. A new translation from Soto Shu says it this way:

All my past and harmful karma,
born from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
through body, speech, and mind.
I now fully avow.

It is very important for us as human beings to examine ourselves, to know ourselves intimately. We should know what makes us tick. We should connect the dots between thou…

High Maintenance

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the morning, the early morning, the air has a stillness that is just so inviting to the soul. There is a clear sense of the earth having rested, settled, and in the east a rising sense of expectation. Of course these "senses" are not real, they are perceptions of a mind joined with that earth.

Perceptions are a funny thing. They come in different shapes and sizes and, more than likely, are fairly distorted by a perceiver's point of view. In Zen we work to cut through these distortions, to see as clearly as is possible what is actually there, only to discover nothing, a vast emptiness of process. Even this process is not real, it is but a mental construct, and explanation our mind offers to name what we experience.

Recently, My Little Honey and I had a few words over whether or not I was "high maintenance." It seems others who know us have commented that I am a high maintenance sort of person. I took great offen…

Creation

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Clearly fall is upon us here in southern New Mexico. The early morning sky was seriously overcast as the mountains were nearly hidden in them. Lightning flashed in the pre-dawn. It has rained a coldish, miserable sort of rain and much of the landscape has that gray look that always seems to accompany a seasonal temperature drop.

I stood outside by the rock wall cleaning i-robot of this morning gatherings of dust and dog hair. It was pretty wet and nippy. Marvelous light on majestic mountains was my backdrop. Robot is recharging now and I am enjoying a little coffee. Zazen went well, if not a tad droopy. Of late, I seem to have little energy.

Here's the thing: such things come and go and I firmly believe they are tightly connected to our inner self. When we are purposeful, we feel better; when we are in motion, we feel better. The key is to have an aim and be in motion at the same time while then re-enforce the positive thoughts and f…

Clear Mind Zendo

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Clear Mind Zendo had a crowd last night. Hmmm. Two people, Bobby and John, came up from El Paso, very gracious of them both! And two local students, Rev. Kajo and Colette, were present. My maximum seating is six including myself, so it was a good test of the Zendo to accommodate a "full house" :)

This Zendo is intended for Zen students to come and sit with me. It is not a Zen Center, per se. I do not intend on incorporating, filing church papers with the state, or any other such nonsense. It is only a place to practice zazen and touch the Dharma.

So, I woke this morning with a sense of accomplishing a purpose. We all should have an aim in our lives, not an obsession, but a direction.
Mine I suppose is to be a religious teacher to any who approach me knowing I have nothing to teach. For a student to know this he must have some basis in practice already. Zen is like that.

Be well.

Announcements: We will sit this Saturday morning at 8:00 AM …

Peace

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I woke a little late this morning, passing by my wrist alarm as if it were a pesky fly. So, zazen will come after this missive. It is Wednesday. Today we sit at the peace vigil at 4:30 PM and again in the Zendo at 7:00 PM. For reasons I cannot recall other than the vague sense of family and moving issues, I have not been at the vigils for several weeks now. So, I look forward to returning to this practice. Especially now that the weather is not quite as hot. Besides, this is a new year for me and an opportunity to re-commit to peace action.

Peace is a tricky thing. Peace activists cover the waterfront from complete pacifists to those who are simply opposed to this war (the one in Iraq). Some Zen Masters might say we can be at complete peace while swiftly cutting the head off an opponent. Most others might say, surrender all violence and consider all alternatives to violent action in the cause of peace. I am somewhere in there. To not ki…

Life As It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning and L'Shana Tova,

Last night was the beginning of the Jewish Days of Awe, the High Holy Days. Judy and I were blessed to be invited to sit at the bimah during the service as we each read parts of the liturgy. I must say, it was a wonderful experience!

I wasn't so sure I was going to be able to get through it. My body and mind do not do so well as evening approaches. We had been graciously invited to join friends at a New Year's Eve dinner celebration which began at 5:00 PM. I had taken part of my evening meds so that my leg would not go spastic during the evening service and they kicked in, masking it even more difficult for me to be both alert and physically stable. I ended up resting in my friend's study before and after the meal.

It is interesting to witness these changes in my body and mind. I used to be such a night person, often staying awake until near dawn only to go through the next day with a high degree of energy. At this …

Moon in a Dew Drop

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Koans are an interesting form of Zen practice. In the Soto school, we do not use them very much, but there are many Soto teachers who are also trained in the Rinzai sects' methods and use them more extensively. Master Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York state comes to mind. Soto's reluctance to train with koans is not to be taken as dogma. Master Dogen himself was thoroughly conversant with the various koan collections and, indeed, created a collection himself. Master Dogen founded the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism.

What we should not do is replace koan practice with shikantaza. Shikantaza, the practice of just sitting, is foundational to our way. Sitting with a koan in mind is not shikantaza. On the other hand, we have ample opportunity throughout our day to examine life itself: the most profound of koans. And everywhere it presents itself to the mind that sees.

Master Dogen had a phrase, 'moon in a dew drop'. This phr…

Zazen, the Pause that Refreshes

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Ancient traditions have us practice zazen several times daily. I suppose the old ones, beggars that they were, had little else to do! Today we sit often zazen begrudgingly. We feel as though we steal time from activities or loved ones in order to gather ourselves together in a Zendo just to be still. So precious do we feel our actual presence in everything actually is! Oy.

So, sit zazen we must. Learning to take the time to bring ourselves to a stillpoint, allowing the universe to continue without our hustle and bustle, is incredibly important. Such a stillpoint is the seat of the Infinite. In this stillpoint we open like flowers and receive. It is very nurturing.

Not only do we receive, but we offer, as well: we offer our peace, love, and compassion, all rolled up into one practice, the practice of zazen.

In the quiet of the morning, it is good to sit zazen. In the quiet of the late evening is a good time to practice zazen. At odd times …

What to Do!

With palms together,


Strong Zen: we are now wireless and untethered from a hard-line to the laptops, but one of our phone jacks is inoperable. Thank goodness for wireless, walkaround, phones. So, our bedroom is a maze of wires and blinking lights, but I am able to sit at the desk in the living room and write to you.

This was a several day, many continuous hour process. I am pleased that it is over, but also pleased that we managed to get through it with a minimum of serious stress.

I look forward to getting back to short dialog and daily posts.

I was studying koan case Number 36 in the Gateless Gate collection translated and commented upon by Senzaki roshi outside on the patio this morning in the pre-dawn hours. The case is entitled, Meeting a Master on the Road.

Gaso said, "When you meet a Zen master on the road, you cannot say speak, you cannot remain silent. What will you do?

Dear Zen students, what is your answer?

Be well.

To Be a Better Person

With palms together,Good Morning everyone,

Today brings a new day. Fresh with possibility to make ourselves better people in each moment. What is a "better" person? One who is good? What's that? One who cares about others? What's that? Terms like these beg the question of right living. We say better but only understand it dualistically: better than I was, perhaps, or better than others perhaps, or better as opposed to worse, meaning what? More good than bad? What does that mean? These are all references to relative standards. Usually relative to some Absolute we imagine or read about or are taught.

Some say we just need look at the Torah or Bible to find the good, the rules of conduct that will bring us closer to God. These are the "deontologists" of the world who see right in following a set standards of rules. Yet, opponents of this ethical point of view will quickly point out the difficulties of rule based ethics: they are typically relative to…

Still Not Online

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We still have no Internet or telephone at the new house. It seems that the house line is not connected to the rest of the world. I assume this is a temporary setback. It took a lot of Zen to get through that setback. :)

Anyway, I have a few changes to make to Clear Mind Zen's weekly schedule.

First, the Zendo is open to my formal students only on a daily (M-F) basis at 5:30 AM to sit with me as we practice morning zazen.

Second, I am changing the public Thursday evening zazen practice period to Wednesday evening at 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

Third, I will host a monthly half day Zazenkai on Saturday morning from 9:00 AM t 12:00 PM. This will occur on the first Saturday of each month except those months involving sesshin.

Please call the night before to let me know if you are coming to any of these opportunities to practice with me.
I hope to be online at the beginning of the week sometime. Until then, /\

Be well.

Well Worn Paths

With palms together,Good Morning Everyone,
This morning I am back at Daihoji Refuge. I drove through a raging rain storm coming up the mountain, but arrived safely and this morning it appears less cloudy. I woke at 5:30, started a fire in the cook stove, lit my candle and incense, and sat zazen. One of the pleasures of a day, to brings things to a stop and just listen.
Just before I woke, I had a thought, "If you don't like ritual, try driving without a road." I rolled over and wrote it down in my journal. In truth, I've done both and a road is much better. I wonder were the thought came from in the first place? I have been resisting ritual off and on for some time, favoring a much wider application of mindfulness practice, but including short periods of zazen, morning prayers, reciting the Sh'ma, etc.
I remember being a kid and walking through meadows where others had made a path before me. We used to call them "deer paths." There was something…

Cloudcroft

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The mountains are a delightful mix of sun and cloud with raindrops falling from time to time. I have been steady at work on getting my book edited. The process is, well, good practice. I am using one single year of my teishos from December to December and editing each of them. They are from my great year of transitions from Zen Center to Clear Mind Zen to streetZen with a twist of Zen Judaism. As you each know by now, my teaching typically begins with a few details in my life and moves out from there. I see this as an experiential application of Zen and an unfolding of my own story in the process.

There will come a time when I will need to present to a publisher a market. I was wondering if any of you could write a short note back to me as regards your willingness to purchase such a book. You are, of course, NOT obligated. But I will keep all such notes and use them to persuade a publisher that there might be a market for this book.

As to m…

Begin and Be

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

The best way to begin a disciplined spiritual practice is to actually begin. We can read about such practices all day and night, but until we actually begin, we are no where. Of course, in a manner of speaking, there is no beginning and no end. In truth we are all involved in a spiritual practice and will be until the day we die. We may not be aware of it, we may not be very disciplined about it, but we are involved with every breath we take.

Yet, a true, disciplined spiritual practice, a practice that opens one's heart to the Infinite, is a practice that requires a commitment and a practice.

So, what does it mean to begin a disciplined spiritual practice? It might mean setting a daily time for meditation. This meditation might be seated or walking or even lying down. It might mean deciding to light the sabbath candles at sunset on Fridays. It might mean the we decide to recite the morning prayers from the siddur. Or we could recite bl…

It Takes a Community

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Apparently it rained overnight as we woke to raindrop spattered windows and high humidity. Clouds are hanging on the mountains. In spite of this overwhelming beauty, we have decided not to go for our morning walk. Both of us have a busy day today. We will be at Temple Beth El assisting with the Open House. The Religious School, the Academy, the Sisterhood, the Mensch Club, the Board and Rabbi, will all be present to welcome individuals and families to our community. We are both excited.

Community is so important. We cannot live our lives as rugged individualists, as romantic as it might sound. We are human beings and we require community to maintain and refine our humanity. Our schools, churches, mosques and synagogues, community centers, parks and recreation centers, are all human communities established not only to nurture us, educate us, entertain us, distract us, but to humanize us, as well. We cannot be full and complete human beings…

Life is Change

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our living room is looking very strange. Paintings that once adorned the walls are stacked now against them, boxes are stacked with markers telling us to what part of our house they belong. The kitchen has been packed. The library has been packed. The bathrooms have been packed. We are left with the odds and ends necessary to continue to live in this condo until Tuesday when son Jason arrives to move in. Over this weekend we hope to move the boxes and the furniture to the garage, then on Monday we will thoroughly clean the place.

Our new house will not be ready for a few weeks yet. So we will be living in Jacob's apartment in Old Mesilla for that time. The house is looking good, though. The stucco is done. The tile floors are pretty much done. The kitchen cabinets are nearly finished. The interior has been painted. The fireplace is done. Still to do: the rest of the tile, the carpeting, the rest of the cabinets, the granite counte…

Appreciate Your Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we appreciate our lives our lives assume meaning. Appreciation requires us to stop, open, and experience. We stop our self talk, that constant chatter going on in our mind by directing our attention to something outside of ourselves, then we experience that something. We can experience with all of our sense organs: our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind. These organs become gates and we should practice to keep them open, not closed.

Our sense organs are conduits, not containers. We should not hold onto our experiences, try to possess them, retain, them, or even treasure them. In holding on to an experience, we deny new experience by a constant comparative process. We discriminate. We hoard. We suffer. We fail to truly appreciate.

Often we try to experience. We set out with great deliberation to have an experience. Our mind becomes charged with anticipation. And while anticipatory joy can be nice and can actually extend our exp…

Daily Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In another day or so I will continue my brief commentary on the Faith Mind Poem. I find this poem to be a clear reminder of how we should make our lives our practice. Its a challenging life, the Zen Way. Open, flowing, without attachment, yet at the same time, in the very midst of things. We practice to love without possessing, care without concern for being cared about, and do these with no self. A tall order in a materialistic, self-absorbed culture.

This is why it is practice. No one can live it all the time and without fail. What we can do is practice to stay self-aware. This is the core of mindfulness practice. We lift a cup knowing we are lifting a cup, knowing the cup is not a cup, but just what we call a cup. We listen to others knowing we are listening to others, recognizing when our ears turn to our own thoughts and away from the person in front of us. We gently return our attention to the other.

This is excellent practice. It is …

Sitting Still

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night our small group of dedicated meditators sat Zazen at Temple Beth El. We sat upright, focusing our attention on our breath, and were simply present. The sanctuary has its own sounds. Temperature changes as the sun goes down cause buckling sounds to crack and pop slicing through the silence that otherwise pervades the building.

Two periods of Zazen, one period of Kinhin. I talked about moving our Zen mind from the cushion to our relationships, how self arises to defend, agree, or parry our partner. We talked a little about how thoughts seem to race sometimes, teasing us almost, to break away from our concentration. It was an open and easy discussion. Then we went into the social hall for tea and cookies.
Earlier in the afternoon, with the sun blazing and the temperature at about 100 degrees, I sat Zazen holding a small umbrella on the sidewalk at the Federal Building. I propped my small placard, which simply reads, "PEACE&quo…

The Zen of Relationship

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning Judy, Eve, Allen and me hiked through the desert, a desert saturated by summer rains. I have never seen our desert so lush, green everywhere. There were grasses growing on the desert floor and flowering plants in bloom everywhere. We took a trail we don't take very often and then went up an arroyo. The arroyo was a wide swath cut wider and deeper by the recent raging water coming down from the Organ mountains. From the arroyo we bush whacked across the ridges to get back to another trail that would take us to our starting point. By the time we were done, we were really feeling the effects of rugged hiking. After a breakfast of cold cereal we talked extensively. Judy and I do this from time to time. Sometimes its pleasant, sometimes not, but in the end, we feel closer together for it.
How does Zen fit into our relationships with each other? Buddhists are often accused of being self-absorbed naval gazers. Zen is often pr…

Getting Through

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I see the sun shining in through sporadic cloud cover. We have been flooded with rain over the last three days beginning Friday. I hear the Rio Grande is close to cresting near El Paso. A news story suggested we had nine inches of rain in the Sacramento mountains which includes Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. Our Refuge is in the mountains east of Cloudcroft.

We shared the weekend there with two other couples, close friends of ours. Who knew it would be such a weekend! Sheets of rain all day and night over two days left the dirt road a river. We spent the weekend reading and talking, cooking and eating. One set of friends had a camper, the other set, a tent. It turns out both camper and tent sprung leaks. The second night we spent together inside the refuge. I practiced much meditation, the non-apparent kid. Sitting in a recliner focusing on just being present. I read through Thich Nhat Hahn's wonderful little book on The Ene…

Three Prnciples of Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This week I go to Peace Village again to offer meditation instruction and practice to the younger children. I have found that young children can practice Zazen very well for short periods. They have open minds and are willing to learn. This openness is key. It is awareness itself. To be open with no closed openings is to allow everything to flow. One of the principles of Zen is open-mindedness.

A second principle is the principle of moving from inside out. We begin our practice, that is, come to Zen, with an interest in ourselves. We wish to improve, remove an obstacle, solve a problem, find happiness. As we develop our practice we discover our deep interconnected nature, we release our interest in ourselves and open ourselves to an interest in others. We come to an awareness, a recognition, that we and others are actually one. Taking care of ourselves is taking care of others: taking care of others is taking care of ourselves. The univers…

Stillness

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Its a gray morning this morning. Although the temperatures are lower, the humidity is higher, and things feel close. At 7:00 AM our neighbor, who just recently moved in, rang our doorbell. She held her kitty in her arms. The cat was dead, killed by accident in her garage door. We invited her in, listened, and helped by calling until we found a local veterinary clinic that was open. We took her and her cat to the vet to have it cremated. Life is so unpredictable.

From there, Talmud class and a discussion surrounding issues related to "times of danger" when Jews were vulnerable to having their newly wed wives deflowered by local rulers. Was she obligated to kill herself or submit? Legal discussions blend with morality and ethics, culture and culture clash, through a long history closely documented and richly discussed.

And now, at home with a cup of coffee and dogs sleeping at my feet, I am looking forward to being still for awhile.…

Zen Buddhism

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen Buddhism is the practice of the Middle Way. A way between extremes, the practice informs us, teaches us, and frees us from greed, hatred and delusion. It is, and isn't, a religion, a philosophy, a way of life. Its a way of being in the world.

We practice Zen Buddhism in order to be at peace. We practice Zen Buddhism to be present. We practice Zen Buddhism to live.

What do Zen Buddhists believe? Whatever they want. Zen Buddhism is not about belief or worldview or cosmic conflict: its about residing in peace.

Are there articles of faith? No. There are instead principles of practice. The focus is on experiencing the truth of your life as it is in this moment.

Zen Buddhism does not focus on the past or the future.

The principles of practice are simple. On the interior, be stillness. On the exterior, stop doing evil, do good, and work to bring about good for all. How hard is that?

Be well.

Making Peace

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
This week I go to Peace Camp each morning to conduct a morning meditation with the children attending. I am looking forward to this. It is a delight to sit with children. They are always fresh and interested in something new. Peace Camp is hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Las Cruces, but is supported by several other churches, the synagogue, and Clear Mind Zen Sangha, as well as many local organizations and businesses.

So, we will sit in the sanctuary and be still. Starting the day with attention to our breath. We will make a vow to bring peace into the universe by making ourselves the very peace we desire.

I encourage each of you to sit in peace this morning then to get up from your cushions and make peace in the world.

Be well.

Life As It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

To practice Zazen is to practice enlightenment itself. We take our seat with complete deliberation. We sit down, gather ourselves together, assume he cosmic mudra and remain present. This being upright, being present, is the heart of practice. It is life itself. In this practice there is no reliance on anything but your own willingness to stay in the moment. No text, no sutra, no mantra, no mandala: just this: life as it is.

In this presence, everything opens. The mind is not processing, appearance comes and goes. Sounds come and go, as do feelings and all other senses. Nothing gets stuck, everything flows.

When we look back on this experience we see its cosmic implication. If we are willing to set aside the "I", life itself can be seen clearly for what it is, a continuous, unfolding process. Our "I" is like a dam constructed to halt the flow. We want to keep this slice of the process, this life as it is. But stopping…

Everyday

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke to the need to drive to the store to buy coffee. It seems we used the last of our coffee last night. Early morning store runs are always interesting. The grocery is just opening, few shoppers, clean floors, the beginnings of hustle and bustle. I chose a dark roast by Folgers, something called Black Silk. I am no coffee expert, clearly. I like ordinary coffee and avoid Starbucks altogether. We'll see how this new stuff tastes.

When we lived in the Refuge and made coffee in a stove top percolator, the aroma of the cedar woodfire seemed to add something to the coffee. And for the longest time we used a small French press here in the city, but my son recently bought us some sort of super duper coffee maker and now we are in the modern age.

I am not so sure the modern age is all its cracked up to be. Labor saving devices make us fat and lazy. Further, and most importantly, they take us away from the nature of the proces…

Enjoy the Everyday

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We so often look for wonder in the big places, the edge of the Grand Canyon, some mountain peak, the completion of a grand dream like running a marathon, and while these are wondrous to be sure, to seek wonder solely in them often blinds us to the wonder in the ordinary. We often here people say, 'what's so special' about this or that. We hear people talk with dreamy eyes about planned adventures, sometimes to exotic places, and I feel good for them, but at the same time, sad.

Each and every day has its wonder. We wake in the morning to see a sun rise. We see the darkness turn to light. We hear the world wake up. My Little Honey brings me a cup of coffee. It tastes really good. I watch Tripper as he dances in dogged excitement waiting for his turn to go outside and smell the world. Ordinary wonders.

As we sit in the stillness of Zazen, we begin to notice the details of the moment. These details are often obscured in everyday li…

Just Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The sun rises over the mountains in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I often sit with it as it does. Its a marvelous transformation of night into day, sleep to awake, and stillness to motion. We appreciate both the stillness and the motion. Eventually we come to realize they are one.

The Zen of stillness is the Zen of being seated while the world swirls around us. The Zen of motion is the Zen of being the world swirling. Awake we know there is just Zen.

Be well.

Libertarian Food for Thought

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I just read a study at livescience.com which reported that happiness in the world in increasing. The happiest, Denmark. The unhappiest, Zimbabwe. The United States ranks 16th.

The researcher, Ronald Inglehart of The University of Michigan, says, "The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives."

In a survey released last week, pointed to one reason the US is not closer to the top: Baby Boomers are generally miserable compared to other generations.

The livescience articles adds, "Further, a public opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center in April found that 81 percent of Americans say they believe the country is on the "wrong track." The response is the most negative in the 25 years pollsters have asked the question."

Link

Maybe we are finally getting the point that an open society is a living, dynamic, and happy thing. Effort…

To be Worth Our Salt

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There are sixteen vows to being a Zen Buddhist. They are: Vow to take Refuge in the Buddha, Vow to take Refuge in the Dharma, Vow to take Refuge in the Sangha. Vow to Cease Doing Evil, Vow to Do Good, Vow to Bring About Good for all Beings, Vow not to kill, Vow not to steal, Vow not to misuse sex, Vow not to lie, Vow not to intoxicate the mind, Vow not to gossip, Vow not to elevate oneself at the expense of others, Vow not to be greedy, especially with the Dharma, Vow not to indulge in anger, Vow not to speak ill of the Three Treasures.

It is important to note that these vows are both positive and negative. We must not only vow to not kill, but also affirm life, for example. A religious life is not simply rule based, however. A religious life is a life devoted to being awake. From a Big Mind perspective, what is killing? What is supporting life? This planet is but an infinitesimal speck in an expanding, boundless universe. There is no num…

On Pins and Needles

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I plan to meet my son in Old Mesilla for a bike ride. I have taken the last four days off from exercise in order to recover from a tweak in a hip muscle and an inflammation of my skin disorder (chronic folliculitis). I took a Zyrtec to relieve the terrible itching and it pretty much knocked me out for two days. Now the Zyrtec has worn off, I have some energy, and the itch is steadily returning.

I often sit with this itch. I watch it as what feels like pins stick my skin and remain there for awhile. I watch my response. Most of the time I float with it. When I am not mindfull, however, yikes, I scratch it...not good. Like a lion the thing roars. More follicles get inflamed and I am desperately searching for something to calm it down. These things used to be on my neck. I now have some on my forearm. They seem to be getting better overall. Fewer follicles are subject. But those two or three...goodness.

I sometimes am able to…

A Fresh Face

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is a sense of history being made, a turning of a corner in the United States with this election. Senator Obama's youthful, happy face and focus on change, the vibrant primaries with a very strong, very smart woman who ran a terrific campaign for the nomination for president, and on the other side a tired old man treading over the same old stories, supporting the same old industries, big businesses, and wars. In a word, its unsettling.

I like Senator McCain. I think he is a man of character. He fought for his country when many chose not to, was a prisoner of war for years, and yet had the willingness and fortitude to work with his previous captors to bring an end to hostilities post Vietnam War. Like John Kerry, he chose a career in politics to give something back to his country. Both men have been maligned in their careers by political opportunists and operatives.

Yet, here's the thing. Senator McCain is not the man of the hou…

Do Nothing Club

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The day is finally overcast. Clouds are offering us shade from a brilliant and hot summer southwestern sun. This morning we rose early to meet some friends at our new house under construction. The wall framing is up and we did a tour of the house. Its wonderful. From there we went to a yard sale, then on to our friend's home where My Little Honey served up a coffee cake she baked last night. We had a stimulating conversation where I showed myself a bit. Hmmm. Sometimes we need to vent a-little, I suspect. No worries.

So, home now I am faced with a day open and free...the kind I like. This evening we will go to Rabbi Kane's for Shabbat dinner. In between I will sometime do a run (or walk) and a weight workout with a swim (perhaps) to cool off. I also plan to draw out the presentation of my book club selection for Sunday. And still have time for nothing.

Having time for nothing is essential to us all, in my humble opinion. We h…

Zazen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

On the Zen list there has been some discussion of sitting and stretches for sitting. For those of you who have access to Three Pillars of Zen, please consult the excellent advice in the back of the book. Posture, whether seated in a chair or on a cushion is critical. Some, oddly enough, such as the unorthodox Brad Warner, are strong proponents of the full lotus. Others argue that any position is OK as long as the back is upright. Still others, Jon Kabat-Zinn comes to mind, suggest that any comfortable position, including lying down, is good.

I do not favor the notion that position should be comfortable. Our purpose at Zazen is not to be comfortable, not to "zone out", go to some altered state of consciousness, or any other pleasant place. Our aim to to be awake, not feeling good. The lotus and half lotus position offers tremendous stability; the cushion offers the proper cant to the hips so that our knees are thrust down as our …

Notes from the Mundane

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

This morning we clicked on Robbie the Robot to sweep the floors. As Robbie was doing his (or is it, her(?) thing, I went down to the hundred year dam and did a speed workout through the grove beside it. Ended up doing two miles with 4 x 0.10 mile repeats. We then went to the audiologist and My Little Honey was fitted with new hearing aids! She now notices every sound including our kiss (she just left to have lunch with the ladies).

I am busily preparing for our Temple book club this Sunday. It is my turn to lead the discussion and I selected a book by Rabbi Karyn Kedar entitled, God Whispers: stories of the soul, lessons of the heart. The book is a collection of her reflections as a rabbi working with people. Its the sort of thing I write, actually. Stories of real life used as lessons for myself and perhaps others.

Writing is a great way to clarify. The act of putting words on paper...or in this case, a computer screen...is an act of …

Life Itself is the Verb

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we say, "Just this!" we point to the field of deep interdependence and oneness. Just this, the moment we see clearly, the moment the point is understood as both one and many, where near and far, birth and death, fall away, is also the moment to get off our butts and do something.

Awakening is just to open one's eyes; living is to be alive with those eyes open.

As living beings awake to the true nature of reality, we see what is to be done and we do it. There is no real room for should, would, or could. Oneness is seamless. No subject; no object: life itself is the verb.

If we want to live in peace, we just live in peace. Inner and outer are one. No separation. Separation is illusion. A mind at peace with doing is at peace, period.

One might say, but what if killing needs to be done? What if people are causing harm? An awakened person addresses such people with compassion, understanding such people are acting out of an int…

Transitions

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we attended our synagogue's annual Gala. It was our first...we are not really fancy party people...but, after last night, I can tell you, it will not be our last. Moreover, since I am now a board member, a page must be turned and I will have to do things I'm not necessarily comfortable with. This event is a fundraiser for the Temple and contributes mightily to our annual budget. Tickets are pricey and there is a large silent auction of donated gifts.

As we arrived, the wind was blowing very badly. The event was to be held outside under two large tents with the auction held inside. We have been having days of clear skies and triple digit temps so we anticipated being baked as we ate and danced and bid on gifts. Not so. Instead, the sky decided to develop massive clouds, thunder and lightening and, of all things, rain. Everyone in their finery were either windblown or rained on...so we hustled inside, moved the sanctuary c…