Zen 101

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Forget the Buddha: be yourself

Good Morning All,
Sometimes we can "know" the Buddha too much. We read his words, study his life, and think we have an idea of what it is to be a Buddha. This is the precise moment we should kill him, cut him into little pieces and spread him on the ground to serve as compost.
Keeping the Buddha prevents you from being a buddha. He becomes a mouthpiece only, so you cannot speak, but to mouth his words, dry and stale as they might be, and offering little nourishment to the world. Or maybe he becmes your clothes and you wear him like a talisman on your body. Forget him. Be yourself.
An Offering

Time to get naked.
Time to let yourself come out.
It is you, afterall,
Who is the real Buddha,
Not some dusty words on paper,
Or puke from a teacher's mouth.
When the teacher teaches, run.
Find your own place in the sun.
Then open your self ---
And be.
See ya.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Live or Die: there is no such thing

Good Morning Everyone,

The Buddha taught that we should be very careful to see clearly, in fact, seeing clearly and being completely at ease with what is there, is a sort of code pointing to awakening. If I say "this is a cup" and my mind has fixed itself of "cupness" I am not really seeing the object I am calling a cup. I am seeing with my mind's eye. And if we see someone about to harm us? How do we see clearly then?

In the martial arts, it is very important to develop an ability to make your mind like water. Still water reflects accurately what is around it. It fixes on nothing. In Zen, we do the same. We call this non-attachment. Non-attachment means non-investment. We suffer in direct proportion to our emotional investment in something we perceive we are about to lose.

So, self seems central. Our mind's eye records for the self; it is in service to the self. Unless we re-wire it. Training to let go of self, lets go of fear, and fear distorts, causing ripples in the water. Training to let go of attachments, non-investment in outcomes, is key to our success and allows us to see clearly.

So, someone is trying to harm you. You are unconcerned about yourself. You can see him clearly. His suffering, his pain, his craziness. You can meet his needs, sidestep his assault, embrace his pain. You live; he lives: two have not just survived, but thrived. The seeds of kindness and compassion have been watered.

What is a cup if not a cup? Cup is just a concept, a word. The thing itself is what life is all about. Live without the labels, live without fear. Know there is no "live", no "die". Be present.

Be a blessing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Seeking Ourselves

Good Morning Everyone,

When we seek something in intangible, we often do not find it. Somehow the act of looking gets in the way. We typically have an idea of what the "something" looks like and we set out to find something that corresponds to our idea. If we are searching for God, the Infinite, or Enlightenment, big problem, as we really have no idea what these look like. We only have our ideas about them.

Now some might say, yes, but these ideas are based on text references, such as biblical sources. Others might say, we we have Masters we can go to who will help point the way. Yes, true, but in both cases, the way is not in the picture the text or the Master presents, but in what unfolds as we seek.

Spiritual inquiry requires us to seek without any real idea as to what we will find. This is why it is so very difficult. In the beginning we have an idea, we want to have God in our lives, or faith, or enlightenment. Somehow these things sound wonderful and maybe even necessary to us. Perhaps we have been suffering, perhaps a loved one has died or left us, or maybe we3 just feel something has been missing in our lives.

We go find a book or two or three. Some may go to the Bible, others to books on religion, still others to church, synagogue or temple. We are seeking something. The books, churches, and religious teachers offer us an idea. "Oh, that's what I'm looking for" we say. But it is only an idea. Ideas, like other thoughts and feelings are rather temporary. In our minds and hearts they come and go. They are unstable, even absolute faith cannot last in our mind's eye for very long before it is replaced by another thought.

Many of us placate ourselves with these ideas, this "faith" or "belief" and never go any deeper. We convince ourselves we have found what we are looking for and that is that.

Yet, I suggest this is a shallow faith, it is a faith in the image of something, rather than the substance. This faith only gets us so far. So often this faith is shattered easily by the most ordinary of human experiences. True seekers must go beyond this.

The moment we acknowledge the this terrible truth becomes the moment we are true seekers. Images and ideas are scattered in pieces on the floor and we step out of the boxes of religion into the true light of day. You see, religion paints a picture, but we often mistake the picture for the thing itself. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it still is only a picture and words are just words, and like the coffee spoons of T. S., Elliot, they measure out our lives in a hollow lifeless way.

Our task as seekers is to seek. We must never actually find.

Be well.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Life's Little Requirements

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I made a nice breakfast for My Little Honey and me. I fired up the oven and whipped up some biscuits, while frying each of us one egg, over medium, and one fake sausage. Served with butter and strawberry jam, the pups were drooling before the plates got to the table.

Sipping coffee, we are now attending to our individual Internet business, she working on a second novel, me scribbling to you. Pete-kitty is curled on a chair by the window, Tripper is curled on the floor below him and wise old Pepper is sleeping at my feet.

In a little bit I've got to get changed and walk over to the synagogue for Talmud study. After that, I go to the downtown mall for a peace vigil. Its another Saturday and I'm feeling a bit guilty for not having gone to synagogue last night. We rarely miss, but there are times when its best to stay away, and since My Little Honey isn't quite up to snuff, this was one of those times.

Life is like that, you know. Our willingness to flow with change is a mark of our spiritual well-being. Sticks tend to break, while branches often bend. Our willingness to stay connected allows a healthy flow of nutrients and the water necessary for our pliability. Break yourself off from the community or family and you dry up, become brittle, and are far more easily broken.

If we remain within our practice regardless of where we are, then our practice becomes our refuge, our reality, and our community. Like life, it must be pliable and connected. It requires water and nourishment. It requires sunlight and fresh air. Those who practice in the dark, live in the dark, and as a result, cannot withstand the light.

Be well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Peace: Let it Begin With Each of Us

Good Morning Everyone,
Yesterday afternoon I sat zazen at the Federal Building bearing witness for peace. It was a wonderful practice period with a few people who have become Wednesday afternoon allies. We practice in virtual silence with an increasing number of honks of horns in support over the last two years I've been at this. We rarely get a negative comment, rarely.
In fact, yesterday we had a press person visit us and do interviews while some attorney stopped by to offer his support for our work. These are not uncommon occurrences. Even the construction workers give up thumbs up as they pass by us.

I think peace is on every one's mind and the only real question is how to best achieve it.

My point of view is really simple, but perhaps I am a simple person, peace comes when we become peace.

Be well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Our Zen is our life, not our rules or precepts or even our practices about our life. It is very easy to confuse the two. Frankly it is easier altogether to create a temple with a nice alter, beautiful Buddha, and fragrant incense, than to walk the walk of Buddhist life. Such a temple makes us feel like Buddhists, but if we are not buddhas as we leave, drive our cars, interact with our friends and co-workers, and go through our day, then the temple is really just a shallow idol we pay homage to, a pretense, so to speak.

Walking the walk requires us to actually make our practice our life itself. The means we must think-feel our way through our precepts and make them living expressions of our Buddha Nature. Sitting like a buddha is not being a Buddha.

We must ask ourselves how is our life informing our practice, how are we actually being buddhas? Some might say we should "just sit" sooner or later a light will go off. Yeah? So what? Unless we change our life and go out into the world with that light, we might as well be in the dark.

To eat meat, not eat meat; to sit in witness or not sit in witness; to be buddhas or pretend buddhas, has nothing to do with eating meat or bearing witness, but it has everything to do, with being a Buddha. These things, like the old story of polishing a tile to make it a mirror, do not make us Buddhas or Buddhists. We are already Buddha. Life is already Dharma. Humanity is our Sangha. It is our decision to live our lives as Buddhas that makes a difference.

How do you do that?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

There's Nothing to Do!

Good Morning Everyone,

"There's no where to go!" "There's no thing to do!" Any parent or couple married longer than a couple of years has heard these laments. These are the words of boredom. I occasionally feel bored myself. Yet, rather than dive into whine, I prefer to experience myself in the state of boredom. What does it really feel like?

There is the sense of being trapped, the sense of numbness, the sense of pure flatness, or the sense of restless despair that sometimes masks itself as boredom. We often lack the language to deal with such states and feelings, as dealing requires a naming of sorts, a dialogue -- even if it is just interior dialogue.

More importantly, though, is the need to be aware What is it? What is it!

Too quickly we rush to answer our feelings: we rush to label or we rush to solution. Delay here is a wonderful strategy. Feel. Be the feeling. Experience yourself as uncomfortable as it might at first be.

In the process, we learn a few things. First we learn we are not really slave to our impulses. second, we learn that being bored, or flat, or even trapped, is not all that bad. Third, we can learn that such feelings are more a result of our thoughts about a situation than any actual reflection of that situation.

We would not learn these things without being still.

Stillness is a great teacher.

Be well.

Harvey Sodaiho Hilbert-roshi
Clear Mind Zen
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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Two Fires, One Flame

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I sit at my desk in my little home Zendo surrounded by relics. On one wall are three enclosed bookcases. In the bookcases are large sections of books related to Zen on one side and Judaism on the other. Under the enclosed cases are various framed photographs, various menorahs, my begging bowl, a ceramic bearded Jew with a talit over his shoulders, a seated buddha kitty statue, and a brush set for calligraphy.

On another wall, a silk painting of a Hanoi street I bought in Vietnam.. Across from it is a photograph I took of a Vietnamese village in the central highlands of Vietnam. My desk sits under it crowded with several potted plants, my laptop, and the books and notebooks that are in my present moment.

Then there is my small rough-hewn wooden alter table. On it a statue of Buddha, a statue of Jizo bodhisattva, a water offering, an incense offering and a candle. Mt cushion sits in front of it, inviting me daily to practice.

All of these are true relics as they offer glimpses into what was. Other moments no longer present, yet are capable of being re-animated by my mind. Books reveal the footsteps of others; notebooks map our current path, and at bottom, there in the silt, nothing but the present. So, I wonder on one side of my mind at times who I am, read the relics, then note what I have now become, while on the other, I dismiss the thought entirely on my cushion in favor of just being. There really is a reason why my Navajo medicine man friend named me "Two Fires".

When we label ourselves we kill our true nature; without a label we are forever in the eternal now. I believe my name should really be "Two Fires, One Flame".

Be well.

Harvey Sodaiho Hilbert-roshi
Clear Mind Zen
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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Being Everything

Good Morning Everyone,
Someone on a blog this morning suggested I was rather narrow in my themes.  I thought it a curious perspective.  Admittedly, I write mostly about religious/spiritual themes, but I try to talk about them in a very wide spectrum of applications, anywhere from teacups to space-time relativity.  In any event, the comment gave me pause and I reflected for a bit on it.
Most of us tend to compartmentalize our lives: this is religion, that is cooking, this other thing is sports, and over here is work.  My consistent point of view is that this is not only false, but spiritually dangerous. Its part of the reductionism that was epidemic in the 19th and 20th centuries.  It even has lead scientists to try to find a God spot in our brains, for goodness sake.
Spiritual life is a whole life.  Its about seeing everything as our life, our breath, and our intimate connection to everything else. We are not separate, but completely one.  When we talk about being a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, we should keep in mind that these are just labels for paths to the same thing: actualization with and as the Infinite.
I don't like clubs, especially exclusive clubs.  Although it wasn't always so, I practice inclusiveness as much as possible.  It is important for us to realize we create our own issues when we treat a stranger as somehow different from ourselves.  This acceptance of everything, however, is not permission to be crazy or hurtful or to tolerate such things in others. Part of a disciplined spiritual practice is learning to say no, at least as easily as we say yes.
When we practice meditation, we are creating a space for this oneness to be seen through the very discipline of acceptance without attachment or avoidance.  As we sit quietly, thoughts arise, feelings emerge, and we might want to follow them.  We gently notice them and return to being present.  We begin to see everything appears related to everything else: thoughts relate to other thoughts, feelings relate to other feelings, and all of these relate to each other.  It is a perfect storm and we are its eye.
Be well.

Rev. Dr. So Daiho Hilbert-roshi 

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Extraordinary Book!

Hello All,

My Little Honey has just completed her novel, "The Extraordinary Magic of Everyday Life" available through Lulu.com as a paperback book or ebook download.

Please consider taking a look!!!


Rev. Dr. So Daiho Hilbert-roshi
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Monday, February 04, 2008

Enter the Storm

Good Morning Everyone,
For one who is one with the storm, there is no storm. Separating ourselves from the storm, resisting it, makes the storm strong.  If we practice relaxing into the storm, peace. We oppose it, become an oak tree, unbending, rigid, we will be uprooted. Not resisting the storm we are like a palm tree in a hurricane, bending and yielding to the wind, we become the wind itself: storm and we are one, no problem. 
Do storms cause damage?  Of course.  Should we not prepare for them?  Of course.  But our attitude and willingness to be present determines both the extent of the damage and most importantly, our experience of the storm itself.
Zen teaches us to be free and easy in the marketplace.  Open and accepting of difference, we become adaptive, we struggle less, we are interested in the world around us for itself as opposed to its use-value.
There is an old Daoist concept of going to the low places. By this is meant relaxing into the world around us, like water does, forming still pools at the lowest places of any environment, not resisting gravity, but going with it.  We yield to the rocks, wash around the trees and leaves, and flow to create pools in shady coves.
When we live life like this we live in serene reflection meditation.
Be soft, be yielding, be peace, be well.. 

Rev. Dr. So Daiho Hilbert-roshi 

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Saturday, February 02, 2008


Good Morning Everyone,

We should have faith in our practice. As we sit in serene reflection meditation or manifest the precepts through mindful living, we trust that the fruit of these practices is actually in the practices themselves. Each time we recite a mantra, a sutra, or a prayer, we affirm our faith in our practice on the one hand, but actually manifest it, on the other hand. This is ' instant Zen.'

People new to Zen sometimes have the understanding that they came to Zen for their health, to reduce stress, or to learn to manage their lives better. These may be accomplished through our practices, we think, eventually, but it takes a skillful and open eye to see that they take place immediately. It requires faith on the one hand and a great deal of diligence on the other hand. Yet if we relax into the practice, let go of the worry, and forget the search itself, we see that it is right there before us.

When I place my palms together, bow, and then look directly at the person in front of me, I am revealing both my faith and my knowledge that each person holds Buddha's heart. The person may not behave in a way we typically understand as being Buddhist, but any behavior is one or another side of the dharma. .

I encourage each of you to take up the practice of Zen, whether you are a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Baptist, a Muslim, or a Wiccan, it really doesn't matter: each path is an aspect of the Infinite.

Tripper is nestled in on my side as I sit writing. He is a cockapoo, one of those terribly cute "designer" breeds being created of late. He looks for all the world like a small "Benji" and behaves in the most loving and energetic way I've ever, in my sixty years, seen a dog behave. This morning after Talmud Torah, after Brunch at the Clubhouse, after sitting streetZen at the Environmental Center, Tripper goes to the beauty shop to get beautified. He really, really needs it.


May you each be a blessing in the universe.

Rev. Dr. So Daiho Hilbert-roshi
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Friday, February 01, 2008

Making Life

Good Morning Everyone,
It is cold enough outside that our heater clicked on this morning sending warmth throughout the condo. I have mixed feelings about this as heat costs and money is in short supply. Our refuge in the mountains was a bit simpler though more difficult.  We chopped wood for the stove, built a fire and in an hour or two the house began to warm.  The differences, aside from the obvious, were in the deliberate nature of life. Living wasn't automatic. 
If we wanted clean dishes, we washed them by hand with water collected from our roof and pumped up to a tank on the hill behind the refuge so gravity would send it back into the house. If we wanted to cook, we made a fire and waited for the cookstove to get hot enough to cook. When we needed something from the store, it was a day trip.  Nothing happened on its own.  We were intimately involved with living.
Here in the city, we live much more in our heads as our bodies do very little and are, comparatively,  far less involved. For myself, I miss the deliberate and intimate life the refuge afforded me. It was harder, to be sure, and I don't really believe I should go back to it full time, but I still yearn for that connection with life itself.
To make such a connection we must make it.  Jews have a way of phrasing things that says this.  We "make Shabbos"  we "make a blessing"  and so on.  Or, as my grandfather used to say, he was going to "make water" when he went to the bathroom.
What these mean is that we create our connection through our activity by being conscious of the activity as we do it.  We are partners with the Absolute in our own creation. Life is never singular.
If you want a spiritual life you must make your life spiritual and to do this you must become intimate and deliberate in its making. 
Be well.

Rev. Dr. So Daiho Hilbert-roshi 

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