Showing posts from March, 2008


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We are in a chilly, overcast Memphis. I forgot just how cold damp air can feel. So, now I'm reminded and it can go away anytime!

This morning's mail brought up a few things for me. It seems we all like to learn and one of the ways we learn is by reading. Some of us read to gain a certain feeling, create an internal environment such as the warm, fuzzy sort of thing we get from reading Thich Nhat Hanh.

Some of us read to get something hopeful, something positive in our lives. For the same reason we might watch Oprah on television.

Yet, I wonder about this. Such reading and watching is not practice. Its like getting some mind candy. Such reading and watching is like wrapping oneself in a warm blanket. It feels good, but we don't get an accurate sense of the actual temperature of our world..

Zen is not like that. While Buddha taught us to plant the seeds of compassion, of kindness, and so on, he also was a realist who taught us a wa…

Your Actual Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is the practice of living your actual life as it actually is. Many of us live our life as if we think it should be something else, better: more money, more love, more peace. But this is not the Zen way.

In an effort to live the Zen way, though, we think we should know what this "Way" is, so we pick up a book and read, learning about what others say the Zen way is. We think we are inadequate to know the Zen way, that just sitting is somehow not enough. But this is not true.

Sitting Zen is the Way. Sitting Zen will open your heart and mind to your actual life. It will teach you to be in your actual life fully and completely as it is.

Books point us, guided our mind, or offer suggestions about our practice, but it is our practice that is our teacher and we must never forget that.

Zen is awareness; it is presence of mind. Seated Zen disciplines us to be present and have awareness of mind at all times. It teaches us all we really …

Authenticity and Purity

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We returned from the Refuge yesterday afternoon after a wonderful two days of retreat. During this time I studied Master Dogen's Eihei Shingi, a collection of standards for the monastery (which includes Tenzo Kyokun, his Instructions for the Cook), as well as a rather large book on the history of the Jews. I noticed both groups sought methods for creating purity, by which it seems they meant somewhat different things in different points in time and context.

In both cases, however, practitioners were asked to separate themselves from others, either through monastic life in one case, or in creating "special" markers for the tribe in the other case. In Zen, people shave their heads and retreat in sesshin, Jews circumcise and enjoy shabbot, interesting.

In both cases, the drive to separate is a drive to come closer to the Infinite at the same time via that separation. In both cases people lack the words to sufficiently convey the expe…

A Middle Way

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The noise of the dishwasher is loud, but rhythmic, and I notice my mind follows its cycle with no effort at all. As this synchronicity happens, I easily let go of the sound since nothing clashes. Harmony.

The Buddha taught the Middle Way, a way that when followed, produces harmony with all things, all aspects of our life. Yet, sometimes discord is necessary. Sometimes we must eschew harmony in order to right a wrong. Wherefore?

Because we are or seek to be in harmony with the universe does not mean that others are as well. Tibetan monks are in harmony, they follow the Middle Way, practice with great diligence, and because this is so, are deeply offended by the oppressive tactics of their Chinese invaders.

The Japanese monks during the years preceding and during World War II were in harmony, but were so culturally fixated on order as the highest good that they failed to address the oppressive and militaristic nationalism of their own country.

In …

Clear Mind Zen

Good Morning Everyone,

Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is called Kie Sanbo and it is the first ceremonial step in becoming a Zen practitioner in the Clear Mind Sangha. We are asked to say, "Namu kie Butsu; Namu kie Ho; Namu kie So". Why?

Why, if in the Clear Mind Sangha we are open and accepting of all religious faiths and traditions, do we ask people to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha?

The answer is somewhat tricky and to some extent relies on the realization of the three terms used. Buddha is not the person Gautama who historically became a Buddha, but the realized Buddha as both a model and an actuality.

When I go to Buddha for refuge it means I take refuge in awakening itself and see the Buddha as a model of that awakened personage. We could just as easily say the same of the Patriarchs, Moses, prophets or Jesus. Each awakened person is a model, a potentiality for our own awakening.

Similarly, the Dharma is reality, things-as-it-is, Suzuki-ro…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

As you probably are already aware, this is the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. Thousands dead and wounded, billions spent, and a mortgage that will last for several decades in terms of treatment for permanent veteran disabilities, family disruptions, and economic chaos.

Please pray for an end to this disaster, a speedy delivery of our troops home, and a peaceful future.

Also during your prayers, keep in mind the religious and ethnic freedom of our Tibetan brothers and sisters, as well as oppressed people everywhere.

Spring is coming to our hemisphere, let it bring signs of hope through our behavior.

Be well.

Good News

Good Morning Everyone,

The morning air is wonderful: cool, but not cold, with a slight early morning breeze gently moving the blinds so that they perform like wind instruments in an orchestra. I am sitting on the sofa with Tripper and some coffee, listening to these and other dawn sounds. There were times in my life when I would wish to be carried away by the wind, but no longer. At this place in my life, I would prefer to just reside and appreciate whatever presents itself. Gentle breeze or storm, each should be equally welcome as they are only gentle or stormy as we apply the notions.

This is the practice and we are never always in its embrace.

There are times when we wish just to be left alone to reside peacefully in our thoughts. There are times when we are less able to be pliant or even simply present. We practice to make these moments less frequent and more brief in duration. Just so, we practice Zen as life.

Yesterday we finally leased our vacant condo! A great relief and welc…

What's Important

Good Morning Everyone,

Question: What is the most important thing to do? Answer: Not live as if this is more important than that.

When living a Zen life, we live with everything as it is. So, in this moment, the most important thing are the keys on my keyboard as my fingers touch them while writing to you.

There are many "also importants" such as Pete-kitty resting on the arm of the sofa as I type, the sound of the morning dove's outside, and the pleasurable thought of My Little Honey nestled in our bed sleeping just now. But, the most important thing is always the thing we are doing. What we are doing is our life.

More important, less important; more valuable, less valuable: these judgements get in the way of actual living. They also get in the way of our appreciating our life and the lives around us.

Practice to appreciate what is there before you.

Be well.


Good Morning Everyone,

One should not sit without a time keeper. If not in a Zendo with a timekeeper, use a timer. I use my wrist watch alarms. Each period is 25 minutes. You can use less or more, but to sit without a time limit allows for Sloppy Zen. Sloppy Zen is Zen without discipline. Sloppy Zen is anything goes Zen.

Last night at Zen Judaism, a participant talked about his experience of "seeing the light" by which I believe he meant, slipping into a deeply relaxed state where time essentially stopped. This is one type of meditation practice, but it is not zazen. If our aim in our practice is to relax, allow stress to dissipate from our mind-mind, then this "seeing the light" meditation is useful. If our aim, however, is to be present regardless of environmental or internal factors and without getting stuck on them or by them, this is not effective practice.

Zazen, Shikantaza Zen, is the Zen of the Buddhas and ancestors. It is what Master Dogen calls &qu…

What's This?

Good Morning Everyone,

Monotheism, the belief in one God, is a ubiquitous belief in the West. I said in an earlier post that it was a cultural belief and, as such, forms part of the sociologic fabric of our lives. Yet, we rarely address this belief. Its rather like a "fact" held, but without a serious discussion of the fact's perimeters. There is a cultural assumption that we all "know" what "one God" means. Yet, in truth, we do not.

God is so diversely understood as to render any one understanding of Him/Her/It virtually meaningless in terms of consensus. This is partly due, I think, to the fact that we assume so often we each "know" what the other means when we refer to God, but also I think, to a real unwillingness to explore the topic. We prefer, in a sense, the anthropomorphized version of God so deeply ingrained in our consciousness and pervasive in our religious literature.

Zen demands us to ask, "what's this" at every tu…

Hiking and Sitting: Zen Training

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I will be hiking with a new friend who is here in the condo complex for a short time, as he lives in the Virgin Islands. The weather is cooperating, I think. Its supposed to be sunny with a high near 70 today. Currently, its 43 degrees outside. Delightful for a morning hike through the desert.

Some people enjoy company on their runs. While I will enjoy this man's company for a hike this morning, I confess, I do not enjoy company during training runs, in particular. While I welcome an occasional training partner, like my friend Katie, I would rather be alone on distance runs. Part of the reason for this is the value of concentration during training. Its one of the reasons silence is thunder during meditation retreats.

Training is a relationship with interior awareness and experience of a challenge. We say we will run hills, a set of four, six, eight, or ten hill repeats. Or we set out to do speed repeats. Or a long slow run to increase endu…

Being One

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I talked with a Zen student of mine on the telephone, I also received emails from several other students, each asked if I were OK. It seems of late I have not been posting as regularly as I have in the past and my students have detected a shift in my tone. They are good students! They will make good priests in the Zen tradition.

I have not posted as often because I have less to say just now. Not being affiliated with the local Zen Center I founded has left me as a fish out of water, one might say. One of the things I have done, then, is I dove into the Jewish pool at Temple Beth El here in Las Cruces. I study Talmud there once a week, attend a weekly discussion group, a weekly breakfast with the boys, and offer meditation once a week there. I even joined the Mensch Club. This, in addition to weekly Shabbot services on Friday night. My reading, outside of a renewed study of Uchiyama's "How To Cook Your Life", has b…

A Rock and a Rard Place

Good Morning Everyone,

Zen teaches us how to relinquish our desires: we observe them for the wind in the flags they are. But then, what do we do with the flags themselves?

In a discussion on the Zen Living list I moderate, list member Enryu rightly points out, when the pot is empty, its difficult, if not impossible to let that emptiness go.

List member, Hsin says, when he is hungry, he eats. Yes, poetic reflection of an age-old Zen poem.

Yet, when hungry and there is no food? When cold or threatened and there is no house?

Zen vows, both the Three Pure Precepts, and the Four Great Vows, offer us a way of understanding this relationship.

We are to stop doing bad, do good, and bring about good for all, says the three pure precepts. We sit in paradox and contradiction when we accept the four great vows. In the first of these, for example, we are to free all beings, knowing we cannot free anyone, even ourselves.

States of mind versus states of being. When we think of something we should al…