Showing posts from June, 2009

More or Less Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

With this day opening like a sleepy eye, I step out gingerly from its lid to breath the fresh morning air. It is laden with moisture, a sure sign we are in the rainy season here in the desert southwest. I have opened all of our home's windows. I am listening to the crickets do their thing as my fingers find keys to partner with in this dance we call communication.

Over the last two days I have been thoroughly absorbed in creating a website for Temple Beth El. Jane, my Webmaster, is also Webmaster for our Clear Mind Zen site. We have learned together over the last ten years or so about how to make a website and more, importantly, how to work together.

My Little Honey slipped into the background, text, color, pictures, html glitches, these were in the foreground. I am thankful and deeply appreciative of My Little Honey. Even so, somewhere in the middle I took a break to take her to see "The Proposal" starring Sandra Bullock. …

Take a Breath

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

A late start this morning caused by a difficult night. It seems I was constantly awakened by various things, usually Tripper, who has taken recently to whining a lot rather than jumping up onto the bed. I think Pete-kitty nailed him a time or two on the leap and that did him in. Pete-kitty likes to sleep either in my arms or at my feet. Woe to any who approach in the night.

So, I see it is morning and once again I am awake. Rather like Groundhog Day around here. The mountains remain. The sky is beautiful. Judy is anxious.

When life is life as it is, we just live. Which is to say. Take a breath, take a step. Sip your tea. Eat your breakfast. Do your work.
Nothing special. And when life is extraordinary? Take a breath, take a step. Sip your tea. Eat your breakfast. Do your work.

I so much enjoy Master Dogen's Instructions to the Cook. He reveals an approach to living that is grounded and measured. It is deliberate, even when plannin…

In the Meantime

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Contemplating a blank page
contemplating one's self.
We paint temporary pictures with words:
once drawn, no longer true.

Moving, changing, evolving:
these are words with ground.
Without ground,
no such thing.
So, what is ground?

The philosopher speaks
Go to the bathroom.
Flush the toilet.

Be well.

A Simple Question

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Miss Vivy Wong wrote to me on my Live Journal Blog, she asks:

Subject: A small questionAre you sure that Buddha taught we should walk, approach a home, and simply stand with our bowls? No offense, I just wanna figure out this point. I am from China. In my country, we all believed that Buddha approached a home and stood with his bowl just because he wanted to ask for a meal, of course without any meat.You know, Buddha lived a hard life, and he had little income. So he had to ask kind-hearted people to offer him some food. Therefore I think Buddha doing that is not a kind of practice.

This story and tradition comes from the Diamond Sutra, section one. According to one commentator, Chiang Wei-nung (1871-1938), "The purpose of begging is to conquer egotism and arrogance, to overcome attachment to flavor and taste, to concentrate the mind on cultivating the Way, and to cause others to be embarrassed." (please refer to the Red Pine translat…

Help Needed

Hello All,

A new version of our Clear Mind Zen website is up. We have re-worked our graphic logo to correspond with the emblem sewn on our Order's rakusus. Shortly we will collapse the links on the site into categories to make it more navigable and visually pleasing. If you have suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.

Clear Mind Zen sangha is growing. I would like to establish a Temple outside of my home once again. Incense, candles, zafus and zabutons are needed. Printed material is needed. Rent would be needed.

I am asking for donations to establish a Clear Mind Zen Center here in Las Cruces. If you have a spare dollar or two, please consider going to our website and offering it to us through our donation link to PayPal.

If you would be interested in joining us in Las Cruces at a Center, please let me know.

I look forward to being in-service to you.

A deep bow of appreciation.


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

As our work week begins, may we each approach our work as a spiritual activity, that is to say. an activity of mindful practice. Our daily lives, including our work, are a laboratory for I-Thou, I-It examination. Do we approach things as things without value, merit, or dignity? Do we treat the bus driver with the same respect as out rabbi or priest? When we touch the keys of our computer are we experiencing the universe and at the same moment plastic?

Spirituality is nothing more than awareness of life in its entirety. We cannot shut out this, open that. Everything is necessary. Everything has a purpose. Our, perhaps unique, position as human beings is that we can come to a place where we are able to experience this.

Respect, contrary to opinion, is not earned, it is given.

Be well.


With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

A recent exchange on Zen Living and elsewhere, brought some clarity to a commentary by John Daido Loore-roshi of Zen Mountain Monastery on Case 107 of Master Dogen's Mana Shobogenzo. I will quote it in full here:

Yunmen's " Two Types of Sickness"

Yunmen said, "When light does not penetrate fully, there are two types of sickness. One is that in facing objects it is still not clear if there is something before you. The other is that even having understood the emptiness of all things, in a subtle way there is still something that seems like an object, this is also the case where light has not fully penetrated.

"There are also two types of sickness regarding the dharma body. One is that even having reached the dharma body, one abides at the margins of the dharma body because attachments to the self-view still persist. The other is that even having penetrated it, one cannot let go of having penetrated it. You should exami…

Father's Day

With palms together,

Happy Father's Day to each of you fathers out there. I hope each of you is well and thoroughly enjoying your offspring!

Fathers get shorted a lot. We are so often portrayed as stumble bums or workaholics or drunks or worse. The reality is most of us do a pretty damn good job doing what we believe we need to do for our children and our families. So often, though, these beliefs get in the way of intimacy with our children.

Work is good, but so is home. Fun is good, impulse can be exciting, but we should also value and work on being the steadfast presence of a patient man.

Many of us must overcome years of abusive fathering. Doing things "right" is an echo in my mind. Failure was common. Shame was never far away. Yet, there it is. A contradistinctive model for ourselves.

The trick is to get the right balance. Correct methods are important, as are other fatherly values such as promptness, work, responsibility, and protectiveness. Err to the right, b…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The other day I was in Walgreen's looking for Band-Aids. There are Band-Aids for every conceivable injury. No one size fits all mentality here. Many sizes, shapes, colors, patterns, and even Sponge Bob Square Pants, are available. Across the aisle were various headache remedies, cold remedies, allergy remedies. To be in Walgreen's is to be in the middle of America's love affair with symptom relief.

As a therapist, I saw the tide turning years ago when therapeutic models focused on symptom rather than cause. Brevity was tauted as insurance companies and willing therapists praised brief, solution-focused models. Yet, in schools we were teaching systems approaches, exploring the interdependent causal (dare I say, karmic) linkages between this and that.

Ecclectic approaches were popular as we thought of therapeutic tools in tool-bags. Never mind the internal inconsistency of the models, we were pragmatists!

As America shopped for sy…

Two Dogs and a Moon

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning's light is softly diffused by clouds behind the eastern mountains. I see a crescent moon and Jupiter I hear our drip system as the water flows out to the plants. I smell my two dogs as they lay near me on the bed. It is a delicious, soft, moment.

Everything is in relation to everything. This means there are things and there are no things. When we see things, we see with relation; when we see no things, we see in pure, seamless, existence. Systems and subsystems are constructions of an organizing brain. No brain, no systems.

Its a beautiful universe if we leave it alone and see it as it is. Some of us find beauty in discriminating patterns; others find beauty in the largest pattern, which is to say, no pattern at all. These are the dependent co-arising truths of Zen.

Be well.

Sesshin Announcement

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

Obon Sesshin will be Friday at 7:00 PM through Sunday at 12:00 PM July 10-12.

Sesshin will be held at our Refuge in Cloudcroft. If the weather does not permit, I will seek an alternative site, perhaps at Dharma Mountain Zendo.

We ask for $25.00 donation. All meals are vegetarian.

Please reply as soon as possible with your reservation.

Be well.

A Koan

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Case 46 Kyosei's "Voice of the Raindrops"

Main Subject: Kyosei asked a monk, "What is the noise outside?" The
monk said, "That is the voice of the raindrops." Kyosei said, "Men's
thinking is topsy-turvy. Deluded by their own selves, they pursue things."
The monk asked, "What about yourself?" Kyosei said, "I was near it, but I
am not deluded." The monk asked, "What do you mean by 'near it but not
deluded'?" Kyosei said, "To say it in the sphere of realization may be easy, but
to say it in the sphere of transcendence is

Setcho's Verse:

The empty hall
resounds with the voice of the raindrops.
Even a master fails to
If you say you have turned the current,
You have no true
Understanding? No understanding?
Misty with rain, the
northern and southern mountains.
from The Blue Cliff Record, translated by Sekida

The Dao that can be spo…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the silence of early morning, zazen tends to be still and easy, except for Tripper wanting to cradle his twenty old pounds into my cosmic mudra. We sit together. It is good.

Zazen is not always so pleasant.

Yet, pleasant and unpleasant are part of the training. To be completely present in both, seeing through them to expose their true nature: this is zazen. In such a sense, there is no good zazen or bad zazen. Just zazen.

So, the point is in the training: disciplined spiritual practice. The bell rings, we sit. Food is prepared, we are cognizant of its value and its sacrifice. We go to the bathroom and are aware and grateful that everything works as it is intended...and when it doesn't, we are grateful for that awareness and the physicians and medical professionals who are there to heal us.

As we see, Zen Training is in every moment.

This is the most important point. The universe does not offer you anything, there is no you. The univers…

Meaning What?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Each morning we open our eyes only to close them again. Like Sisyphus, we roll the stone up the hill, but to have it slide back down, yet compelled we are, to push it back up. Albert Camus thought this was absurd.

He was incorrect. .

Its not getting the rock to the top of the hill that is important, nor is it actually opening our eyes. What is important, it seems to me, is we are living--in-process. Living is what we do and living requires repetition, breath in, breath out, food in, crap out. What is the quality of our living? Forget your goals, for a moment, those god-awful grade cards, and concentrate on your life in this very breath. I am bathed by cricket sound, the soft sigh of Tripper on a zabuton in the Zendo, and the delicious cool morning air coming in from the desert through my window. This is the quality of my life just now.

If our goal is to get to the sun, big problem. Even if we could, that goal would kill us. On the other h…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone.

"Show me a piece of paper with only one side!" Matsuoka-roshi would sometimes ask my Teacher, Hogaku-roshi. He in turn, put it to me. Forget a mobius can see both sides of the strip. Forget "sides" Sides will just get in the way. This is similar to the one-hand clapping koan.

Koan work, though not a primary teaching method in Soto Zen, is still actually used by Soto Masters. Master Dogen has an entire collection he used in a lessor known work called "Mana Shobogenzo" and the Shobogenzo itself, is a collection of koan seeds.

What is a koan?

It is NOT a riddle. It is not a puzzle. A koan is a nut, or better yet, a fruit, to peel and bite into. The only way to "solve" a koan is to actually eat it.
We cannot realize a koan through the intellect. It is non-conceptual. We can answer koans only through intuitive slight of hand.

In Soto Zen we sit with no purpose whatever. Yet we deliberately tak…

Without Words, Without Silence

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Case 24 of the Gateless Gate is always instructive for us. In Senzaki's concise version, a monk asks Fuketsu:

"Without speaking, without silence,
how can you express the truth?"

Fuketsu observed,

"I always remember springtime in southern China.
The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers."

Like many koans, this approaches a key issue in Zen. How do we express the truth? Words? Silence? Neither are acceptable as both are prone to spin and distortion, neither is the truth, just a representation of perception.

Fuketsu answers weakly, though he is pointing us in a direction. His answer is weak because it is a copy of something he has heard, an old Chinese poem. A better answer, if he were in the outhouse, would have been a fart.
The truth is what we are just now. The truth is not our words, not our silence, but our manifestation of ourselves.

If Fuketsu were amid those birds, and they were chirping, his answer w…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I will sit streetZen at the downtown mall. I do this as prayer work, a witnessing on behalf of sanity and serenity. Our world seems so filled with hate and violence. Hateful people killing other people, greedy people raping the Earth and her resources, deluded people believing they are somehow independent of everyone and everything else and justifying tyranny in that way.

I know it is not so.

Our world is filled with peaceful, loving people, people with deeply compassionate hearts.

When I practice Zazen on the street, people seem warmed by this example. These are the people I witness on behalf of. These are the people who need support. We cannot sustain love in a world filled with messages of hate, greed, and delusion. Countermeasures are necessary. In Zen we understand these to be love, generosity, and wisdom.

If we want a world, public or private, to be serene and compassionate, then we must be serene and compassionate.

Zazen i…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

I am writing in the blog portion of my new Yahoo Profile. This is the old Yahoo 360, now reincarnated as Yahoo Profiles. If you were a connection of mine on Yahoo 360 on either Buddhist99 or harveyhilbert IDs, please connect to me on the Yahoo profile, harveyhilbert.

In any event, it is morning and we finally were able to finish watching "Last Chance, Harvey" last night. I am a little disturbed that the name "Harvey" is so often portrayed as a weak, timid person, a stumble-bum, or a fool. Yet, there it is. The good news is that these characters, including the Harvey of this film, often rise to the occasion. Dustin Hoffman is himself, a bit self-effacing, but clearly authentic. The film is worth watching if for no other reason than it is a portrayal of small triumphs with large implications for our behavior toward one another. One added benefit, the film is a love story without a single sex scene, naked chest, or bare…

Embraceable You

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Enjoy your happiness! Everywhere I see people smiling. Store clerks smile. People at social gatherings smile. Commercials have smiling, laughing faces; content, loving faces, excited, joyful faces. People are happy, happy, happy! Or sad, sad, sad.

I have noticed people often don't quite know how to experience happiness or contentment or serenity. And they run away from uncomfortable feelings, mask them with chemicals, or just plain deny them.

I hear so often, "how am I supposed to feel?" This phrase is particularly telling. Is there some cosmic measure? Some litmus test of feeling against which we pass or fail?

Under the phrase is a sense of hostility toward the feeling itself. As if a feeling of humiliation or anger or even happiness is somehow not me even if it is me who is actually experiencing it. Perhaps we don't know how to experience ourselves?

To experience oneself means to experience directly that which is unde…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is a koan Nyogen Senzaki addresses in his book, The Iron Flute. Senzaki is, with Uchiyama, one of my favorite Masters. He lived a quiet life as a clerk or dishwasher in the United States. He had no temple, save what he referred to as his "floating Zendo." And yet, he was a powerful Zen Master.

The koan is the case where Hui-Chung expells his disciple. In this case, Hua-Chung is sleeping, A visitor to the Temple asks if Hui-Chung is in, Hua Chung's disciple says "Yes, but he doesn't want to see anyone." The visitor inquires further, by saying, "You are expressing the situation profoundly." Where upon the disciple says, "Don't mention it. Even if the Buddha comes, my teacher does not want to see him." To which the visitor replies, "You are certainly a good disciple. Your teacher ought to be proud of you." When Hui-Chung woke, the disciple repeated the dialogue to him where…

Dropping A Coffee Cup on the Floor

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Dropping the coffee cup on the floor, we see the relevance of Zen is its discordance. Zen is so often thought of as this flaky sort of "oneness" with monks floating along not disturbing the sand under their feet. Compassion has come to the marketplace with huge price tags. Everyone is smiling. Oy.

Not always so.

Zen is not like that. Zen is Jizo's staff with the noisy rings. Its a kyosaku slap and the floor. Its a rattle your brain koan. We are not supposed to walk around in perfect bliss, you know. Zen is about paying attention to something larger than our creature comforts: to the Koreas and Japan and Iran and Iraq and India and the United States and Israel and Saudi Arabia, to Africa, to Antarctica, to Greenland, to Central and South America, and to our neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

Zen is the moment the bell is invited to ring, the moment two cars near each other on a collision course, the moment a weapon is drawn, the mome…

Enjoy Your Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning a moon
so large and beautiful
sat just above the horizon.
It nearly took my mind away.
I stopped and witnessed this wonder.
Then, the dishes called,
and the plants needed water,
and the coffee needed to be made,
and the Zendo required my presence.
Each a wonder of its own.

Please enjoy your day.

Be well.

Oh My

With palms Together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Practice is nothing. Without practice, everything.


Here's what I mean. When we practice we realize no thing ness. When we don't practice, we live in thing ness. On the one hand non-duality, no thing ness. On the other hand, duality and thing ness.

It's the difference between experiencing the world as I-Thou and I-it.

Life is lived most fully in relationship. When we realize our relationships are essentially non-dualistic, that is, based on an interdependent, interconnected oneness, then we will treat the "other" as "me". This understanding opens the door to empathy.

The Zen of everyday life is the Zen of oneness. At a meeting the other day I talked about my renunciation. When a person enters the stream, one renounces self. The work is to see no-self. To see oneness.

This is very challenging because we believe the messages of our brain. From a certain POV, our brain sees itself as the center of the…

Zombie Slaying

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We did a nice 2.84 mile desert hike this morning with Judy, Eve, Allen, and Rachel. Of course, dogs Tripper and Lacey went along, as well. The sky is overcast a bit so the sun was hidden as it rose over the mountains. The air is a bit humid, but cool, so the walk was comfortable. I have our dishes in the dishwasher, my clothes in the clothes-washer, and coffee on my wooden clappers which act as a coaster in the zendo.

Walking and talking, looking after dogs, and just plain enjoying the company of friends is such a joy. While not, in itself, contemplative, it is deeply "spiritual". By this I mean such moments bring us to life.

We make life so passive so often that we forget it is to be lived. Deliberate living is Zen Living. It requires attention. It requires discipline. It requires pliability and flexibility. Life demands us to be awake in order to be lived.

When we live passively, we are the walking dead. We are modern zombi…


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Internet Student Rose asked about streetZen. So, to answer her I am writing today about my practice, the practice I call streetZen.

Bernie Glassman-roshi, founder of Zen Peacemaker Sangha, wrote a wonderful book entitled, "Bearing Witness". In it he describes his street work. Bearing witness to homelessness, poverty, war and so on. His practice includes actually becoming homeless for a period. Taking nothing with us, we just sit with the population we are bearing witness on behalf of.

I used to participate in peace protests after I returned from fighting in the Vietnam war. I was uncomfortable with the adversarial role I often felt the protesters had with others. It was about peace and non-violence, but anger and patriotism are a challenging poison to serenity. Awhile ago I met my friend, Claude Anshin Thomas, author of "At Hell's Gate", and street Zen Priest. Anshin practices homeless wondering and lectures on Pe…

Show Me Don't Tell Me

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is a maxim in writing which has wide application in life: "Show me, don't tell me!" I said this to son Jacob last night. I could see he struggled with it and finally asked how.

Ahhh, the answer. A koan has no answer. We fool ourselves if we think there is an answer. Only unfolding questions and our presence matter It is the authenticity of our presence as we address the questions that is the "show me" of life..

We live in our heads. Its a sickness we Americans inherited from the Age of Enlightenment which really was a turn toward a sort of narcolepsy of the soul. We left our affective, intuitive dimensions to wither and put our energy and nurturance into our reason and intellect. In short, we thought ourselves to sleep.

So. here we are today, living in our heads, thinking, thinking, thinking. Not bad. Thinking is a tool. A tool. Thinking is not reality. Nor are our thoughts who we are.

Who we are is wha…

Life and Death

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I read a few of my Dharma Grandfather's Teishos. They had to do with Zen in everyday life and included many reference to the Vietnam war and the self-immolation of Buddhist monks. I have a photograph of one of them and, of course, fairly vivid memories of seeing this on the TV news.

The teishos and the burning monks brought my mind to look at life and death. Life and death are the key issues of Zen priests and practitioners. Life and death is the source of seeing clearly.

We are asleep most of the time. Walking like zombies through our day. Wake up!When we practice Zen and commit to facing reality, we are committed to finding the answer to life and death...and there is an answer. When our eyes are open, there it is.

Practice to open your eyes.

Be well.

Peeing Along the Way

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Summer weather is here forcing me to move morning Zazen back to 5:30 and my workouts to 6:30. I have a 30 minute window now each morning to write to you between 6:00 and 6:30. The exception is this morning as it is today that I am using to revise my schedule. :)

Speaking of this morning, we went out at 6:30 and did a short, but intense, 1.5 miles in a new park. The park has compacted crusher-fine pathways and even includes well placed water fountains. It is one tangled mass of winding paths and hills, some quite steep. So, while it is a short loop, if you take it a a good clip, your heartrate will reach target in no time.

We took Tripper and Pepper this morning which slowed things down a bit. You know, dogs love to stay in the moment, sniffing and peeing everywhere. We human beings go at it with purpose. Which suggests purpose takes us out of the moment. And it does if all of our attention in on whether or not we are achieving our purpose.

In Zen…