Zen 101

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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 better. This is the Bodhisattva Way. Our way is to bring harmony into being.

The deluded mind sees property as a possession, something one can hold onto forever. Greed has taken over much of our country: finance, mortgage, Wall Street, all manner of business. Profit is all. (Please, I grant there are some companies, etc., that do not behave poorly.) In such an atmosphere everyone is vulnerable, trust is eroded, civil society is threatened. This is why greed is considered one of the Three Poisons.

The antidote to greed is generosity. If we catch ourselves being greedy, we should automatically give. Better to give in error than build and maintain a greedy heart.

Its all practice.

Be well,

Monday, December 29, 2008

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 others, accountable for our own feelings, and that we will trust ourselves to deal with them.In the end,, practice to speak kindly and with compassion..

Be well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

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 balance.

For example I was recently banned from a online blog because I spoke against an industry that promotes violence through video games. I said his company produced useless products that people wanted and that this was a waste of resources. I spoke directly to the manufacturer and told him I hoped his business would fail. I would say the same to gun companies, bomb companies, chemical weapons companies.

Some of this was hyperbole to make a point. Teachers do that. He could easily transform his business into one that produces no violent games, does not promote warfare, but instead produces products that nurture humanity. So, in essence, I do believe we should work to transform or close businesses that produce products that are harmful.

Did I criticize this man? No. I criticized his business.. Was it a violation of the sixth precept? I don't think so.

Since then, I have read numerous criticism of my conduct on that blog. They remind me of all the snide remarks made to me during the early phase of the Iraq war as I was sitting zazen holding a sign asking for peace.

We must stand for our values.

On the other hand, to say harmful things about a person without the aim of benefit is not acceptable.

Be well..

Saturday, December 27, 2008

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 dollar business, violent or sexually explicit video games are at the fingertips of children and adults everywhere. Our brains are being transformed in the process. A result of this transformation is a need for more, on the one hand, and a distorted view of reality, on the other hand.
We must practice with this. As we sit, we should notice the thoughts and images that come up. Are these in any way connected to the "real" world? Are they a result of our desire to see in a certain way?

When we see a news story on violence somewhere in the world, like those this morning of Israeli counter attacks against rocketing Hamas, do we feel good or ill as a result?

The fact is violence is violence and yields a physical, emotional and psychological response. We must commit to a practice that enables us to see these effects clearly, sort them out and set ourselves free from them. A disciplined spiritual practice would have us reduce or eliminate our exposure to such images while working on replacing such images with healthy, wholesome ones.

Some might say this approach does not meet the litmus test of reality. I say reality is what we make it. It is true the world is a place with danger in it, but it is also a place with tremendous love and compassion. I believe it is time we give much fuller attention to the latter and far less to the former.

May you practice to develop a clear mind.

Be well.

Friday, December 26, 2008

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, such as telling an angry person with a gun who is chasing another person which way that person fled. Sometimes remaining silent is the best practice.

It turns out that precepts are not as easy as one, two, three.

Be well.

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 precept is: I vow to use my sexuality to nurture and enhance my life and the lives of others.

We use this version in many of our Jukai Ceremonies. It places sexuality in a positive light and asks us to be positive about it. It also takes it somewhat out of the prurient mode and into the mode of healthy living.

To view sexuality in this way makes the steamy sort of understanding put forth in the media in a unhealthy light. Sex is not about self fulfilment; its about nurturance of others.

Just like any other aspect of humanity we can use it toward an evil end or a good end: the choice is always ours. What is important to remember, in my opinion, is that it is not the tool that is the "problem", but how and to what end that tool is used.

Be wise.

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 seem of late that our society is leaning toward gain regardless of the ethics involved as a base value. When we commit to a disciplined spiritual path, this can no longer be the case.

May you be a blessing in the universe.

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 ourselves. So, we often frame this precept in the positive, that we vow to respect all life. This leads us to consider the many ways we may nurture life, to be in-service to life, and to appreciate life.

Each of us is responsible for our own decisions regarding this precept. some of us eat only vegetables and grains. Others allow fowl or fish. Still others allow for red meat. The what is less important than the appreciation we give to the being who gave its life that we may live. It is so easy to be mindless about the food we eat. Not recognizing the many hands and many lives that went into its preparation. Zen is about noticing and appreciating. This is the first grave precept.

On a personal note: Last night we were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, her partner, and our grandson Tate. We were also blessed with the presence of our son, his partner, and granddaughter Olivia. Lastly, we were blessed by the Hanukkah lights, the first of many during this festival of lights. Our other son is to arrive sometime this afternoon and so, for the first time in many, many years we will have all our heartbeats under the same roof.

Be well

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 compassion for others. We are social beings who live in groups. We are dependent upon each other for our existence, as well as our self-worth.

The child cries; we take care of her. The dog wants out, we let him out. The community needs help, we help. We do these without real self reference. We do them in reference to the other. To actually meet the needs of the other. This is the Zen way.

To follow this Way is a challenge. We must first become aware of ourselves and our internal responses to others. We must then work with these responses, turning them from a internal focus to an external focus. We must be willing to see without our own basic assumptions clouding the picture.

Some of those basis assumption have to do with what we are taught about others. Strangers are suspect, Homeless are lazy and willfully homeless. Mentally ill people are dangerous or just plain faking it to get people to feel sorry for them. People should work for a living and not be dependent. Me first, others second. I do not have enough myself. And so on.

While some or all of these may contain some degree of truth, they are judgments, mental constructs, that inhibit our willingness to step out of ourselves and work for the common good. Moreover, such concerns should not be the concern of the bodhisattva. ; Our vows are to cease doing evil, do good, and create abundant good for all beings. We don't get to decide in what situations we will cease doing bad things or do good things. We decide to become the embodiment of these precepts.

Now, does this mean that we give dollars to everyone with their hand out? Not necessarily. Compassion doesn't work that way. Our help is real help. Help that is pragmatic; help that works to actually benefit beings. Giving alcoholics money to buy booze is hardly helpful. A bodhisattva with a clear mind will see the big picture and act accordingly, naturally.

As it states in the Shushogi, "Those who receive the precepts verify the unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment verified by all buddhas of the three times, the fruit of buddhahood, adamantine and indestructible. Is there a wise person who would not gladly seek this goal?"

Be well.