Zen 101

Tuesday, June 30, 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. We all need to know we are wanted, needed, and special, especially in the middle of a large and time-sensitive project.

Once the site has been edited for grammar and other glitches, I'll share a link to it with you.

Be well.

Friday, June 26, 2009

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 planning. It is discriminating. Which is to say, every grain of rice, every vegetable, regardless of its condition, has a purpose. We must sort. We must do. Our judgements are to assign meaning, not to take away value. Our lives should be real, one step at a time, fully and wholly lived.

OK. So, when anxious, recognize your anxiety. Take a breath. Take a step. When depressed, recognize your depression, Take a breath. Take a step. The ultimate medicine is engagement.

So, Master SleepyHead recognizes his sleepiness. He will slow down a bit. He will sip some caffeine. And a little later, he will take a nap. Nothing special.

Be well.

PS. Student Aejin, it was so good to see you in chat this morning! Say hello to Hong Kong for me!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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 translation with extensive commentary).

In the culture of India at the time, and still today, beggers (bhikkus) simply stand or sit with a bowl. It is commonly understood that the bowl is to receive offerings. Buddha made this a practice by remaining silent, understanding a higher purpose was involved, a teaching to both giver and receiver, if you will.

The giver was offered an opportunity to practice generosity, the monk practiced patience, standing or sitting meditation, diligence, and wisdom. Moreover, wrapped in the buddha robe, they practiced morality. Thus, in this practice all six of the Buddhist paramitas are at work.

In Zen we call this practice tokuhatsu. It is part of engaged Zen practice.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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.

Monday, June 22, 2009


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 examine this state carefully and see what kind of freedom you re really breathing, as this kind of freedom is also a sickness."

Loori-roshi's Commentary:

When the thought-cluttered bucket's bottom is not yet broken through, even a single weed in a parched field will in time multiply and create a field of weeds one hundred feet high. We must be diligent in our practice, realization, and actualization. Thus it is said, "If you have a staff, I will give you a staff. If you don't have a staff, I will take it away.

"Yunnen's first illness is about not really having arrived yet. His second illness is having arrived, but not being sure that you have. His third affliction is knowing that you have arrived, and the fourth affliction is having arrived and not being able to leave. Therefore, when moving outwardly, do not pursue ramifications. When moving inwardly, do not abide in a trance. In this way you will naturally pass through Yunmen's sickness.Teachers of our school compound medicine in accordance with the sickness, always employing the appropriate technique for the particular time, place, and condition. You tell me, what is your prescription for healing these illnesses?

Capping Verse:

My unmoored canoe drifts freely,carried by the current.With each bend in the river,finding wonder with the flow.

see The True Dharma Eye, trans by Tanahashi; commenyary and verse by Loori-roshi


We must constantly check ourselves, especially if we have even a hint of a thought that we are enlightened. Such a thought is, by definition, nonsense. Moreover, we can get caught anywhere in the stream. For example, I like to sit in serene reflection meditation. When I like this, its a problem. When I don't like it, its a problem. So, just sit, no problem.

If we reside in emptiness we might begin to think there is no where else to be: all is empty. We are so full of being one with the universe that we let ourselves drive over a cliff. Splat! On the other hand, when caught in the relative world, we can become so purposeful that we fail to see the forest for the trees. We lose our skillfulness and reside in an ineffectual scramble to get something done.

What is my cure? My legs are tight, let me adjust my posture.

A bow to each of you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

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, big problem; err to the left, also big problem.

Just as we have three antidotes to the three poisons, so too, we much practice antidotes to extreme responsibility, control, and problem-solving. Practicing compassion, practicing patience, and practicing generosity, may be these antidotes.

Let's practice first and foremost, though, to be present with our children.

With love,

Be well.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


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 symptom relief, it shopped for religious fit, as well. This church "felt" right, that one didn't. And so the religious horizon was increasing populated by new and different churches, synagogues, mosques, and a few and increasingly variant Buddhist centers. Orthodoxy was on the defensive: innovation was the knight in shining armor.

Here's the thing: its all quick fix, based in our own stupid unwillingness to do the work we need to do in order to be human beings in a civilized world. Every one's feelings matter, few people actually think things through. And we grab at the bottle of Orajel to get us through the night.
Zen is a disciplined practice. It isn't a feel good practice. It is not a quick fix, not a pill or a drink, or a hit of bliss. It is work, the real work, of examining the actual nature of the universe with no real aid from anything outside of your actual experience of it. No wonder many people visit a Zen Center and quietly, but very quickly leave. Looking deeply into oneself while staring at a wall is very uncomfortable.

We all want serenity, peace of mind, symptom relief, but we want it without the fundamentals. We don't want to examine our own lives with a cool eye. We want wiggle room. We want to point fingers to other causes of our suffering. Anything but turning the eye inward.

Our fundamentals are the paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. Practice these earnestly and need fewer and fewer quick fixes. Practice these and the annoyances of the self become less relevant as we open our eyes and ears to the suffering of the world.

Like anything else, the solution is the steadfast determination to put one foot in front of the other.

Be well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

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.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

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 spoken is not the Dao. Our realization is a private affair. Too often we seek confirmation that we've "got it". In both the seeking and in the speaking we betray our true status. Our practice is selfless. No enlightened beings may enter: The empty hall resounds with the voice of the raindrops.

Here is life, step into it. Don't ponder it. Don't talk about it. Eat it.
Be well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


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 universe offers itself to itself. When self awareness becomes universal awareness: infinite serenity.

Be well.

On a personal note: My Little Honey will be travelling to Ohio for her 45th college reunion today. She will be gone a week. I expect massive parties at my house. ;) Actually, I expect nothing.

streetZen today at 4:00 PM at Veteran's Park!
Harvey So Daiho Hilbert-roshi
On the web at: http://www.clearmindzen.org
Telephone: 575-405-8522

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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 hand, if our aim were to follow the sun, our day would be illuminated and just think of the things we might discover in the light.

Just because the sun sets only to rise again, does not mean what we saw along the way was for naught.

Be well.

Monday, June 15, 2009


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 strip...you 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 take our seat. A koan arises. Deliberation requires an intent. Shikantaza (to just sit) denies intent.

We vow not to kill, but kill to live. Life itself is a koan.

Answer, please.

Be well.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

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 would be exactly on point. Today, we are so often off point, as we speak from history, conceptualization, prognostication: from everywhere but here.

What is Buddha? My coffee is cold.

Be well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


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 is the practice of serene reflection, a practice rooted in silent illumination on a cushion, then rising into the world. Please consider joining me in this practice.

Be well.

Friday, June 12, 2009


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 butt.

Reminder: streetZen at the downtown mall at 9:00 AM tomorrow.

Be well.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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 under the mirror's image. Feeling images are ubiquitous, but they are like buddha images. In order to experience your own authenticity you must break the images as they arise. Embrace yourself as you are. Learn to experience yourself and reside within yourself. How?

Practice Zazen.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


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 upon, Hui-Chung promptly drove his disciple out of the Temple.

Senzaki says: "The attending monk was displaying his newly attained Zen on the first occasion that presented itself, instead of keeping it colorless. The visitor took in the situation immediately, and his words should have shamed the monk into silence. Instead, the monk proudly repeated the dialogue to his teacher, who drove him from the temple."
Later, Senzaki says, "When one thinks he has Zen, he loses it instantly. Why does he not practice the teaching colorlessly and noiselessly?"

Pride and arrogance are not qualities we associate with Zen. If we realize awakening, we are to be quiet about it. We are never to refer to ourselves as 'enlightened' as that in itself, is evidence otherwise.

We are practice. We are always works in progress and in every moment complete as we are. To be without being, become without becoming, and to do so without announcement is the aim. No bulls in chinashops allowed. No blairing horns. No fancy clothes.

The true enlightened one is invisable, yet like water, changes everything.

We will practice streetZen at the Veteran's Park rotunda at 4:00 PM today.

Be well.

Monday, June 08, 2009

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 moment an addict comes close to his drug of choice, or a homeless person to sundown in the winter.

This is everyday Zen, the Zen of those awake to see, smacking those who are asleep upside the head. Oneness means we are in this together.

Shouting Wake Up! in a Zen Monastery is about as useful as asking dogs to chase rabbits. On the other hand, inviting everyday sleepwalkers to stub their toes or reminding them there is an ecological finitude to planet Earth or suggesting intelligent, non-violent practice may be a viable alternative to deadly weapons, that may be useful.

Concordance is wonderful: it feels good. Discordance is jarring; it doesn't feel good. Spiritual practice is not a narcotic..

May you be a blessing in the universe.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

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.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

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 universe, collecting data from a variety of sensory organs. Locating that data in categories, filtering it through memories and experience, it creates the world as we know it.

In truth, it is mistaken. It collects what it perceives and only what it perceives and it collects as if it were a singular entity. There is far more to the universe than our ability to sense and perceive reveals.

We must come to realize the limitations of our brain and its sensory organs. It only knows what it can measure and it will take that data and store it as if the subject were the center of the universe,.

From a Zen POV, we might say, no brain, no universe. No brain, no any thing. Zen teaches us to experience under, over, and around this center of the universe POV. True renunciation of self means beginning in vast emptiness. It means residing in impermanence. Every I a We, every We an expression of the Infinite.

Express your True Self today.

Practice Notes:

This morning at 9:00 AM I will practice streetZen in front of the SW Environmental Center at the Downtown Mall.

Later this afternoon I will be in El Paso at the Both Sides / No Sides Zen Sangha. The service will be at 3:30 PM, at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place neighborhood. The contact person there is Bobby HenShin Byrd. His cell is 915-241-3140.

I will offer Zen at our Clear Mind Zendo on Sunday morning at 9:00 AM.

In addition, I will practice streetZen on Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 PM at the Veteran's Park rotunda.

If you are interested, please join me.

Friday, June 05, 2009

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 zombies. I remember reading something, I think it was in that classic, "Blue Highways" by William Leastheat Moon, where he comments that people driving in the cars seem to have tombstones in their eyes.

Engaged Zen, Clear Mind Zen, is about zombie slaying. We are here to help wake people up. Get the tombstones out of their eyes. Call them to life. Of course, we cannot do that. What we can do, however, is wake ourselves up. We can live with our eyes wide open, see clearly what is before us, and doing what is there to do.

What is before you now?

Thursday, June 04, 2009


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 Peace and Non-Violence. Like me, he is a combat veteran. His practice strongly influenced me and mine.

So, over the last two years or so I began a practice I am calling streetZen. In this practice I simple sit zazen in public places. The places I select have to do with particular issues, such as the environment, veterans, etc. If I am sitting on behalf of the environment, I consider myself an Earth Witness. If I sit at Veteran's Park, I am there as a Peace Witness. One other form of practice is Soup Kitchen work. I did that for awhile, but haven't recently. In this, I simply volunteer at the local soup kitchen and put in a few hours there.

The ground rules of the practice are simple. Practice zazen. No talking. If spoken to, reply quietly, politely, and with a gassho and bow. At the soup kitchen, the work is similar to "samu" or "work meditation" and the rules would include mindful silence and mindful practice as I cut things, place things, etc.

When practicing streetZen, I place a small sign in front of me. It simply says "PEACE" or "Earth Witness". I also have a begging bowl and sometimes incense. I chant the Heart Sutra at the beginning and end of the sitting period.

I currently sit Earth Witness at the SW Environmental Center at the Downtown Mall in Las Cruces on Saturday Morning from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. I am considering renewing my Peace witness practice at Veteran's Park on Wednesdays at 4:00 - 5:00 PM. as the Temple Beth El sitting group seems to have gone on vacation this summer.

I invite everyone to join me. If not in Las Cruces, then in your own town or city. The world needs Bodhisattva witnesses.

May you each be a blessing today.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

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 what we are. How do we know what we are? First, we might stop thinking about it. Thinking separates us from the what of it. We might feel what we are, but feeling, like thought, is internal. Second, we might look to evidence, our tracks in the sand, if you will. These tracks are our karmic footprints: they include our work and our relationships. But these are mere shadows, a base relief of ourselves.

So, if I ask you to show me yourself, how would you do it?

We Buddhists might argue there is no self to show. OK. Then what could you possibly show the world? The truth of the matter is that there is a self. Its just that the self is fluid and always changing. It is an amalgam in process. Because it is not permanent does not mean that it does not exist. Still, this amalgam is not our thought about this amalgam, that's just our thought about it. What is the self? It is only what is shown.

So, we are back to square one: show me, don't tell me.

When I look at my behavior, I see my true nature. My work is to extinguish the filters, thoughts, fears, and all other obstacles so that my true nature is an expression of my actuality. .I live to be free and easy in the marketplace. I live to be. If there is consonance between these and my actual behavior, fine. If not, I have work to do. Our True Nature is not that well hidden. But the layers that surround it are insufferably tenacious.

Be tenacious as well, be free.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

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.

Monday, June 01, 2009

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, we often mistakenly think that staying in the moment means letting go of planning, etc. Master Dogen says that if the moment is to plan for tomorrow, then planning for tomorrow is our task for the moment. Whatever we are doing, we should do with our full and complete attention. That is the most important thing.

If sniffing, just sniff; if peeing, just pee. Hmmm....a dog's life? Does a dog have Buddha Nature?