Showing posts from January, 2009

Questions and Answers

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night around 1:30 AM I woke with this sentence running through my mind, an apparent snippet of conversation, "Yesterday's choices are today's questions." I sense that this means each choice we make unfolds new questions and, from a spiritual point of view, its rarely the answers that matter; what really matters are the questions. Why?

Questions open us, answers close us. Questions inspire us, answers satisfy us. Questions ask us to look under something, answers assume there is no need to look further.

As in life itself, in Zen practice there are no answers, only questions. How we face these questions becomes critical and determines our character. To answer a question with "don't know" mind, is to not really answer a question, but to open our mind to see what is really there as opposed to what we assume is there.

Let your life be an open question.

(I suspect the degree to which we feel comfortable with th…

The Matrix

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is a very practical tool. It is also rooted in Buddhism, an ancient Eastern religion. A religion without a God, per se. What is a religion without a God? The question is not unimportant, but I suspect it is not helpful either. Buddha set aside anything that was not helpful in his practice. Yet, in doing so, developed a set of practices we tie together over the millenia and call a religion..or a philosophy.. .or a way of life. The latter, being most likely the more correct understanding.

Do words parsing this and that help us get closer to truly understanding ourselves? Do words get us any closer to realization? Words can offer us a degree of clarity between us, but only a degree. It is the heart/mind that must be shared...or to put it in a more contemporary sense, plugged in.

Like Neo in The Matrix, we are able to realize we are "plugged in" to vast Mind. Each of us gives sensation to Mind. We and Mind are, in truth, O…

The Cat's Meow

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the morning Pete-kitty enjoys sitting between me and the computer's keyboard. He wants to be touched. I am trying to teach him patience. :) I move him to the side, put my hand on his neck under his ears and, as he leans in, we care for each other.
Pete often doesn't get it that I want him to stay on the side of the computer and not directly in front of it. But such is life. As long as I reach out to him from time to time, he can be content to sit on my side and wait. Who is teaching whom?

I have often heard that it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. By this is meant those who complain the most, who get between a person and his task, ultimately get that which they need, if for no other reason than to quiet their squeak.

Both parties can learn from this when the light is turned inward.

Perhaps the wheel is not, afterall, squeaking on purpose. Perhaps it is truly in need of attention. Perhaps we need to be still and listen. S…

What Matters

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the greater scheme of things, what really matters? Do the big events of the day matter? Does the sound of a beloved pet matter?

What matters is what we invest meaning in. Things themselves without relation to others have no meaning. They come and go just as we do. But human beings are meaning makers. And we make meaning in terms of our relationship to things.

If we have a distant relationship to nature and natural events, they will matter little. If we have a close relationship to our pets, they will matter.

Regardless, what matters most and what matters least will drop away in the natural course of events. So, what really matters?

The common denominator of all this is relationship. It is very important to recognize that we are all interconnected, interconnected to the point that on the deepest level, we are all one, the entire universe is one. So, what matters most is our willingness to see and openness to nurture, relationship.

It i…

On Not Getting Stuck

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I sat in my Zendo and worked through a large portion of the morning prayers Jews recite each morning. I have a CD that a friend made for me that should help me more correctly pronounce the Hebrew. I downloaded it onto my iPhone, but the thing organized the pieces alphabetically. Oh well. I will have to get a CD player or bring my laptop into the Zendo. Anyway, I then sat zazen for one period. I usually do this in reverse, sit Zazen, then do yoga, then review the morning prayers. So it was interesting to see how reciting the prayers prepared me for Zazen which then lead to yoga. It "felt" better. The one downside is that I usually more study the morning blessings than actually recite them, reciting them takes a bit away from that process.

It is a good idea to change up our routines from time to time. Its rather like stretching, teaching us something about pliability. Care must be taken, however, that we don't ab…

When at the Top of the Mountain, Don't Shout!

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we see clearly through to the Absolute, so what? We realize emptiness, and? Our way is the highway. We don't stop at the top of the mountain. When we see clearly, friends, we see our work.

Agent wrote on Zen Living:

To see something as neededIs not to see something as it isBut it is to add our desire onto itThus, we see our desires as they are, too.

There are ten stages on the famous ox-herding pictures. At some point after seeing realizing the Way, the ox-herder returns to the village. He is "free and easy" in the market place. What do you think he does there? What is his function there?

When the baby cries, what do you do? when to dog needs water, what do you do? Our bodhisattva vow has us responding to the cries of the world; it is not we who cry. We simply care. This is our buddha-heart.

Be well.


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is about all existence in all times. When we thoroughly experience the present moment as it clearly is, we experience all moments. We are karma unfolding and each moment, its flower. Not all flowers are nice. All flowers are nice. Flowers are just flowers. Moments are just moments. Our karma is to see clearly. You have come to Zen Living, a communication branch of Clear Mind Zen.

As I open my eyes, the world is created. Like an artist, I add this shade or hue to that flower. While this flower sits in the shade or wilts. My dog barks to disturb me or to talk to me or to simply bark. It is me who makes meaning.

When we see clearly, we see things as they are. Master Seung Sahn says this means we see function. We see what is needed. Water the flower, dead-head the flower, walk the dog, pet the dog. And so on. The world we create is not about us and our needs, although we would like it to be. Rather, it is about calling us to action.

Put a Little Zen in Your Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Mastering your mind is the aim of Zen practice. What does this mean? It means many things on many levels. Not just one thing. Yesterday I suggested sitting with scissors. Yes. Sit zazen, as a thought arises cut it loose. As a feeling arises cut it loose. We practice not thinking. Thinking is the act of putting one thought together with another thought and another and soon we've constructed a thinking reality in which we reside. This thinking reality excludes the actual reality of our lives. If you want to live in a movie, be my guest, stay asleep. Sometime something will whack you upside the head.

Mastering mind also means knowing/experiencing proper relationship of mind to mind. This is a bit more challenging. In Zen we talk about "mind to mind" transmission. Mind to mind is one mind, experience one mind. We do this by beginning outside of our self. When we open our eyes, do we say "I see you"? Or do we sa…

Sitting with Scissors

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There were five of us last night who braved the chilled evening air to come to the Temple for meditation. It was very good to see Rachel there, and Sam KoKyo, and Patrick, and Colette. We sat in silence and felt the chill in the Temple sanctuary...not as cold as some evenings when I sat streetZen at the Veteran's Park rotunda, but enough to let one know there was little heat.

As we sit, we experience. This is the important thing. We experience without attaching to or investing in, the experience. We experience without desiring to get away from the experience. We just sit with scissors cutting thoughts and letting them float away. Soon, there is no need for scissors.

I am very happy we had an opportunity to practice together.

I read Sam KoKoyo wishes to give me thirty whacks if I say anything. Sipping my coffee, I smile.

I read Dave KoMyo offers me a teaching from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and offers as well a fond memory of my frien…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The sun rises over the Organ mountains as I sit in the comfort of my Zendo. I have recently switched back to sandalwood incense. I had been using cedar. Sandalwood is the incense my Teacher uses in his Zendo. I think I am yearning for connection.

My Little Honey and I had a talk about this last night. Connection is so important, yet a challenge for many, including myself. By connection I don't mean the superficial, acquaintance level. I mean a deeper, much more intimate level. And yet, when I consider any deep connection but with the Infinite in the privacy of the Zendo, I feel anxious and vulnerable. Such a struggle.

My response is to become defensive. I talk. I turn the conversation away. I leave.

Years of practice has helped me "see" these things. And I have adapted in some cases. I rarely use intense anger to frighten people away. Nor do I use the sort of intellectually arrogance sarcasm that was present in my grad sc…

Impossible Expectations

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Impossible expectations are always a source of suffering. Over the last few weeks we have witnessed a war in Gaza. Hamas rockets for years were met with an overwhelming assault by Israel. Hamas places rocket launchers near hospitals and schools then claims Israel commits war crimes when it attacks those launching sites. Israel yesterday ceased fire, unilaterally. Hamas keeps up its rocket attacks. Hamas says it will do so until Israel leaves Gaza. Israel says it will leave Gaza when Hamas stops firing rockets over its borders.

My heart suffers at the pain on both sides.

Hamas says it will not stop fighting with Israel until Israel goes away. Its hate is deep and unrelenting. Hamas suffers. Hamas teaches its children to be joyful when Israelis die. Israelis teach children to be sad when any life is taken. Yet, when faced with a gun pointed at you and an enemy willing to kill you with it, somehow you must survive.

The question is how.

My prayers go …

Danger, Zen Ahead!

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We each are stuck if we believe we have "a path" to walk. There is no path. When we envision "path" we envision and to do so creates an illusion at best and an ideal at worst.

Yet, each us us will speak of our path.

What if the path is not really a path at all, but just being still? I don't mean not moving. I mean inner stillness, inner receptivity.

Path suggests a beginning point and an end point somewhere on the horizon. Zen has no horizon save that which is here right now. There is no where to go.

Few of us believe this. It is beyond our willingness to accept. There must be something better! So, off we trot to find it.

Heaven, Nirvana, Enlightenment. ..all very dangerous words and concepts, you see. To be there is to be in hell.

So, you want ice cream? Ice cream would make you happy? Live in ice cream, live in that happiness. Now stay there forever. How happy then?

It is not our nature to remain in happiness, it…

Being Being

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night's meditation at Temple Beth El was very well attended. I deeply appreciate every one's practice. It is said in many traditions that as people gather together to come close to the Infinite, there resides the Infinite. Like Jacob when he awoke from his dream, "Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it! This is an awesome place!"
We have the potential to experience something very much like this. Each time we sit down and bring ourselves to stillness, there arises the possibility of opening our heart to the Infinite.

Whether its a centering practice performed by Christians, or Hitbodedut by Jews, or Zen by Zen Buddhists, or even the whirling of the dervishes, the point of practice is the same: to let go.

Our ego is so strong and sticks like glue to our senses. It wants to label everything "mine". Yet, meditation allows us to peel away this ego, clean our glasses, and see clearly: the…

Hiding in a Dark Room

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,


Hiding in a quiet moment

In a darkened corner

Of an old friend's house,

I sat in complete stillness.

We just picked away his gloss and left him

As he truly was: naked before the Infinite.

A couple of hats, some shirts, a few socks,

And even a coat or two. The rest away to the

Salvation Amy. I notice

Our clothes disguise us before the Universe.

Like Adam, we hide in the leaves of linen and cotton.

We forget ourselves and who we really are:

Then that singular moment. I am here.


That lovingkindness we Jews call Chesed requires courage. We are required to help our friends through the lifecycle, which is actually a cyclical mirror of our own lives. As we do, we see ourselves through our friends.

It takes courage to be open to this sight.

I look away often. Words are my hiding place. They take me away from the feeling and drop me directly into thought. So slick.

But then, so is stillness at times.

I kn…

Everyday Holiness

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I look forward to a clear, sunny day today. Cool, with a high in the fifties, it will be a delightful day to be outside. This morning I will do the grocery shopping; this afternoon, I will teach a class for the Academy on Everyday Holiness.

I don't feel so holy. Holiness in Hebrew means kadosh. Kadosh is a name for God and has a couple of important meanings. One is dedicated. Another is sanctified. We become holy in relation to God through following His precepts. The sages of the Talmud broke these down into three groups: study, prayer/meditation. and acts of loving kindness.

In Zen it is quite the same. We become buddhas through study, meditation, and lovingkindness and we follow the precepts by making them our own, manifesting them in the world.

My sense is that it is important to not dwell too much on this outside of very specific times, but rather to do our best to open ourselves to what is before us in each moment. The skills learn…

The Downside of Home

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is no place like home. We've had that phrase drilled into us since Dorothy made it so appealing in the Wizard of Oz. Then, there is home is where the heart is. That's a good one too. Home is our comfort zone, regardless of context. We feel at home when we are aware of the conditions and rules around us, when there is a little predictability and thus safety in our lives. These are useful to recover, so home can be, and often is, a respite.

Yet, home is also a place when in our comfort, we call lull ourselves into a sense of intellectual, psychological, and spiritual laziness. We can even fall asleep there and essentially sleepwalk through life. So, sometimes we need to leave home, leave what we know, and experience ourselves as directly, and without supports, as necessary. If we aren't very careful, things "home" can become a prison for our spirit. Habit energy, while it enables us to stay on track, never let…

Just Fix the Tire

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In past notes I have written about every moment Zen. Every moment Zen is Zen in motion, Zen in stillness, Zen in between. We often refer to it as "shikantaza," and although in the main, as with many Zen teachings, the focus is on the cushion of practice, shikantaza is the practice of non-moving mind.
The whole point of practicing zazen is to get to the place where we are able to be stillness of mind itself. Mind like water: at peace, absorbing, reflecting, enveloping, present completely.

Student KoKyo yesterday made the point in dokusan that the early teaching of breath counting can be a block to non-moving mind. It is true. We teach beginner's to place their attention on their breath and to count their breath, in order to give their minds a place to sit. and stay. Yet, very soon, this becomes a way of maintaining a moving mind.

Non-moving mind is fully present mind. A mind that just is. It perceives without attaching, witho…

Who is on First?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

What is the point, exactly, of being awake? If we say we wake up for ourselves to be one with the Infinite, we are revealing we are not bodhisattvas, and will never be awake.

It is similar to the Teacher trick of asking, "who are you sitting for?"


Zen is never about ourselves. Its about the Universe. Each moment on the cushion opens this truth to us: there is no us. We do not come to the cushion; the cushion comes to us.

Last night in class at the Temple we were talking about revelation in terms of giving and receiving Torah. An author points out that the Torah was given at Sinai and we are perpetually receiving, as if these can be at all separated. The Torah, like the Dharma, lives in constant, eternal flow.

Giving and receiving are incorrect from a Zen point of view: nothing was given, nothing received: everything is already One. We come to our practice to attain this understanding. So, we practice to let the boundaries of w…

Morning Light

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning's air is a cold 25 degrees. I am looking forward to sitting with the sun as it rises and gently lights the zendo and warms the desert air. I woke at 5:08 AM this morning. Waking early is a marvelous thing, but does create issues in the evening. I am typically in bed by 8:00 PM and often asleep soon after.

Mornings are a magical time in my view. Everything seems fresh and opportune. The colors go from dark to vivid to washed out by noon desert sun. My dining room faces west so I get to watch the shadow of the mountains in the east slip quietly along the city toward me and then, sunlight.

If you practice Zen, you should learn to pay attention to the subtle changes of your senses as the day opens and closes. These senses are teachings just as substantial as any master's. Better: they are you, in your face, and willing to center you in the moment at any time.

A few breaths' zazen, is all that is required. Call it micro …

Giving and Taking Help

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is an art, largely lost among us today: the art of giving and taking help. Some thirty plus years ago, I attended a workshop given by an elder named Alan Keith-Lucas. He was a gentle man who reminded me of my grandfather. Alan wrote a book entitled Giving and Taking Help which is considered a classic among some social workers. I was reminded of this topic last night.

Bodhisattvas are here to free all beings from suffering. What does that take? Some might say, including myself, practice. And for most of us in the Zen world, practice means zazen. Taking a backward step, stopping, noticing, letting go, etc. are all part of this practice.

Yet, rarely do we teachers (or other helpers) notice how help might be perceived by those to whom we are directing it. Help is a loaded term. And thy processes involved in giving and taking are like a minefield in the soul.

To free a being means that we perceive that being as being not free in the first …


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

It is often said the mind is buddha. In such a case we might write as, "The Mind is Buddha" meaning the universal mind. It also means the mind is awake, sentient, conscious.

Zen Master Seung Sahn has a few phrases he repeatedly uses. They form a poem:

Unmoving Mind
What's this?
Who am I?
Just don't know!
Only go straight!

Each of these lines is a sort of koan. Please study them. Keep them between your eyes. Put them on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of your car.

Answer with authenticity. Live with authenticity.

Last night we had granddaughter Livvie and son Jason visit for dinner. Daughter-in-law Maggie was working. After dinner as I was preparing to exclude myself, a few comments were made at my expense. I, it seems, have the reputation of always having "the last word" and they set out to prove it. As I caught on to this, I smiled. Authenticity can be revealing.

In trying we fail; we m…

Buddha Now

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I am without the benefit of the Internet except thru my iPhone. I hope this will be fixed PM.

Now that we have addressed the Zen precepts, I believe it is important to forget them.

Living buddhas are the precepts. Be a buddha, no worries!

We are buddhas when we take our seat. Zazen is itself practice realization. So, everyone, take your seat!

As we sit zazen, attending to nothing but everything, yet letting everything come and go as it is, what is left? The universe as Buddha! That's all! As we take this Buddha nature off our seat, we deliver it to the world. No problem. Always remember this, keep it in front of your eyes. Then every step will be perfect.

Be well.

The Tenth Grave Precept

With palms together
Good Morning Everyone,

The Tenth Grave Precept: Do Not Speak Ill of the Three Treasures or, as in the affirmative, I vow to value and honor the Triple Treasure: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

This vow completes our vows as Bodhisatvas in the Soto Tradition.Once we accept these vows as our own, we are essentially their manifestation. Thus, to malign them, is to malign ourselves.

We should also look to our motivation for even considering such a thing. Often the people, places, and things we surround ourselves with let us down...or so we think., Such thoughts point to incorrect aims.. If we think that being a Buddhist, or following the Dharma, or membership in a Sangha will solve problems, change us, or make us better people, we are deluding ourselves. And, paradoxically, they will turn against us as they were never part of us.

The Buddha is not a god, not a healer, not a medicine man: he was awake. When we take this refuge, we aim for awakening itself, not …

The Ninth Grave Precept

With palms together,
Good Morning ans Happy New Year to Everyone,

The Ninth Grave Precept: I vow not to become angry.

This precept was one that created much difficulty for me. In the Clear Mind Order we use "I vow to sow the seeds of love in my life." The precept points to equanimity and non-attachment to feelings. Its one thing to feel anger, another to express it, and still another to be caught in it.

Anger is a normal human emotion. We use it to help us gather our defenses and protect ourselves. Yet, anger can hurt others deeply. Words and actions expressed in anger have the capacity to burn into other's consciousness and memory, It is far better to not have this happen.

On the other hand, it is often an equally challenging task to express love. We are vulnerable in the extreme when we soften ourselves, drop our defenses and admit loving feelings. I find this is far more challenging for men and boys that girls and women, but this is not always so.

It is a good prac…