Zen 101

Saturday, May 31, 2008


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The sun is rising over the mountains and the cool desert air is rapidly warming. We are forecast to hit the 100 degree mark today, tomorrow, and the next day. We have our thermostat set at 82 degrees. Our ceiling fans cool us nicely, as the condo is set facing east so that by afternoon, the windows are all in the shade. I open our windows overnight and close them around 8:00 AM, dropping the blinds as well. This procedure allows for fresh air overnight and cooler inside temperatures through the heat of the desert day.

This is my "off" day from exercise and I look forward to not running, biking, or swimming. We all need a rest day, a day to recover ourselves, nurture ourselves, and re-set our spirits.

In Judaism we call this day Shabbat. Christianity refers to it as Sabbath. Zen has no such day. I've wondered about this. Why no day of rest in Buddhist practice?

In the days of the Buddha (and even today in some places) monks arose early and walked to villages where they stood silently in front of houses with begging bowls seeking food. A day without begging was a day without food. Monks had no possessions other than their robes and begging bowls. They did not cook, nor did they store up things: monks were "shukke," home-leavers.

There are other reasons however. The categories of work, play, and rest, are mental constructs. We add these concepts to our activity. A being who is awake lives without such categories. From an outsider's perspective he or she might be working or sitting or resting, but from an insider's point of view, he or she would always be at stillness. When we practice Zen, we practice being awake in all postures: sitting, walking, lying down. This "awake" is very particular. It means being one: no separation between the person, activity, and environment. No separation between the consciousness of this or that. Just this. Living thus means we are never in opposition. By definition, there can be no work: we are always at rest.

This is every moment Shabbat.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Zen is Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
Zen practice is life practice; life practice is Zen practice. All of life is our way and it offers us many paths upon which to walk. As we wake we might say, "This morning as I wake, I vow with all beings to see each thing as it is and not to forsake the world." This simple vow demands of us that we practice mindfulness with each breath and each step while embracing each thing in our awareness.

Its easy to embrace birdsong in the morning or a gentle breeze through leafy trees. It is much harder to embrace the stench of exhaust fumes or the sounds of loud, drunken people at a restaurant. Yet, each offers us something: opportunity to practice compassion. Compassion for our environment being polluted; compassion for people who want to be happy, but choose poisonous means to achieve their end.

Our practice is the practice of engaged action. We are asked by our opportunities to seek ways to cease causing harm, to do good, and to bring about abundant good to all beings. These opportunities may be direct or indirect. Directly dealing with exhaust fumes may require the use of face masks (as they do in Japan) or through the indirect means of purchasing a car with higher fuel economy and lower emissions, riding a bike, or walking. Directly dealing with loud drunks, a word to the management, might be in order, or leaving the premises with a comment to the management. Indirectly, we might support drug and alcohol education in schools and in our organizations. We might support and encourage disciplined spiritual practices such as meditation, avoiding high doses of alcohol, and increasing our ability to understand deeply the interconnectedness of behavior and environment.

Every time we become annoyed we should feel the annoyance and understand it as an immediate call to practice. Every time.

We should stop, look deeply and listen.

In these ways, life is Zen and Zen is life.

In these ways, we become our practice.

Be well.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We are awake and moving this morning with a lot to pack into a small car. Our trip to the Refuge will be leisurely (my morning mantra) and stress free (my promise). He-he-he.

Anyway, preparing for anything can be stressful. We imagine all sorts of things. Some of us imagine bad things (I forgot the corkscrew), others of us, good things (let's enjoy being together), and depending on your type, so goes your journey.

I have for years been the 'bad things' type, only recently...with the help of a Zen practice...moved over incrementally to the 'good things' type. Maybe my meds help as well, to be really honest :). And I have noticed as I shift that sometimes others have a hard time with the shift itself. Old perceptions, you know, are a challenge to change, but we continue along this wonderful journey anyway.

We are going to the Refuge to host a retreat for Temple Beth El's Religious School. We have nearly thirty people coming, I hear. (Beating away the 'Bad things' thoughts) I look forward to seeing everyone and enjoying their company. I am looking forward to hiking, sitting around a fire at night, watching the stars, and watching others enjoy the Refuge itself.

May good things rule!

See ya!