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Showing posts from July, 2009

The Great Matter

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I have the privilege of addressing active duty soldiers who are combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in a military hospital which is devoted to their care. I am being asked to address them as a fellow recipient of the Purple Heart and as a Zen Teacher. I am being asked to talk to them about being awake, Zen, and the path of meditation. It is an awesome and humbling task.

From the Shushogi we learn that the most important task for all Buddhists is the clarification of life and death. The Shushogi says:

"...if the buddha is within birth and death, there is no birth and death. Simply understand that birth and death are in themselves nirvana; there is no birth and death to be hated nor nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, we will be freed from birth and death. To master this problem is of supreme importance."

Soldiers encounter such opportunities potentially in every moment. Are they prepared? Are any of…

Wednesday

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
Today is Wednesday: I will attend the Breakfast Discussion at Temple Beth-El, followed by Torah Class; I will practice streetZen at the Veteran's Park at 4:00 PM, I will sit in meditation at Temple Beth-El at 6:00 PM, and we have a special Erev Tisha B'Av Remembrance this evening.

I ran a 1.6 mile set of hills this morning. I was by myself as Eve and Allen got in late and Judy was sleeping so soundly I did not want to wake her. It was good to get out there and do that. It relieves much stress, as if I had a lot of that. But it does allow a time for meditation in motion. Something I have actually missed since I stopped marathon and half marathon training. Zen in motion is what I would call a runner's high, though not quite the same. There is no euphoria involved, just the simple presence of feet on earth and breath entering and leaving and sweat pouring out and flies buzzing around. Just being alive and in motion. Its a very …

Constancy

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The sound of the dishwasher creates a certain rhythm in the morning. A night of family, dinner, video games, running around the house, leaves quite a mess in the morning. I wake to it and begin by reheating last night's coffee as I empty out the dishwasher in order to reload it with a fresh batch of dirty bowls, pans, and plates. The plants needed water: water the plants. The dogs needed water; water the dogs.

The occasional question creeps into mind, 'why such a mess?' I set it aside and enjoy scrubbing out the pot, feel the hot water on the back of my hand. Drop that thought. 'And that stove? Does Jacob always have to coat the stove with whatever he's cooking?' Set it aside, wipe down the stove and appreciate its smooth, cool surface. Drop that thought.
Practice is constant: notice, let go. Notice, let go.

At a point, 'notice' and 'let go' are one in the same. This is the point of no-self.

I lik…

To Toe or Not to Toe

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This past weekend just before it rained, I walked our property line at the Refuge. The air was delicious climbing the mountain side through alligator pine and oak. Small blue, yellow, and occasional orange flowers were there under the yarrow and would peak out once in awhile. I tripped over a fallen branch hidden in the grass. Dharmas are everywhere.



In Case 23, Think Neither Good, Nor Not-Good, we read the story of the Sixth Patriarch and his being chased down for the Dharma. "Think neither good nor not-good at this very moment, what is your true nature?" asks Hui Neng of Myo.

We often say everything changes and believe this "everything changes" to be apart from 'everything changes.' My bleeding toe, once whole, is dharma. My whole toe is dharma. Tripping is dharma. What is my true nature?

Both process and non-process are empty. Creator and creation are one: suchness and thusness, teaches Senzaki, on this point (Se…

Stellar Jays

With palms together,

Back at my residence, down from the mountains, the air is different. Just a little thicker, although it did rain at the refuge yesterday afternoon. Having a refuge is a great gift. I am periodically able to get away from the desert, enjoy some silence, or at least noise of a different kind. Stellar Jays squawk, hummers blitz by with shrill, high pitched tones of territorial aggression, and the flag of our deck, flips a beat in the breeze.


Son Jacob and I discussed this classic koan while on the deck with the flag. The wind moves, no, the flag moves: no, it is your mind that moves. We trailed off into wonderful tunnels of space-time. Folding space, time itself, and the role of the perceiver. Does anything move? What is movement if not something defined by relative relationships? All very heady. Not very Zen.

Feeding the birds when the feeder was empty; this is it.

Yet, the moment of self reference assumed in that statement, suggests I might as well be a rank …

Upaya

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

My last two days were spent at Upaya Zen Center, a monastic cluster of unasuming adobe buildings, people, trees, flowers, birds, and programs. I went there to meet Joan Halifax Roshi, someone I have admired and followed for years. I also met Sensei Beate Genko Stolte, their co-abbot.

My aim was to get a better understanding of Upaya, its programs, and how it functions. I wanted to learn about their chaplaincy program, in specific. On first approach, the center appears unkempt. Gardens seem untended, pathways are encroached somewhat by flowing plants. My son, a French Chef, explained these were classic french style gardens. And my discriminating mind found a bell.

We are both from a Soto tradition, yet there were many differences in our practices. Some subtle, others not so subtle. Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka Roshi taught a Zen that was clear, direct, and unadorned. We sit facing a wall. In daily practice, we recite minimal sutras (one, the He…

So?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We both use our mind and set our mind aside to be bodhisattvas. Our mind creates time, visualizing a past, creating a present, imagining a future. When we set aside our mind, we live in the exact present. We both, therefore, grow old, and do not grow old. We are born and not born. We die and don't die. So, "growing", "birth", "death", these are ideas of mind.

If I say I hate growing old, I am speaking from duality. I am not old. I am not young. I am not sick or well. I am this moment as it is.

So what?

Don't you just love the so what of things? We can get so fascinated with the language of Zen, its mystery, contradiction, esoteric quality. We can be philosophers. It is most important to know that if we are these we are asleep. "So what?" is the bell of awakening. Never forget it, always ask it.

Plan when it is time to plan Master Dogen teaches in his Tenzo Kyokun, Instructions to the …

Mutual Aid

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night after a wonderful meal and considerable chess, I took a walk with Tripper. We put in a mile plus a tenth. It was after nine. Unusual for me to be up and about that late. I came in, took a brief shower, sat for a few minutes, and went to bed. This morning after zazen I managed to complete a fast walk in the park with Allen and Eve just as the sun was rearing its mighty face over the mountains. It was a mile and three quarters, the walk. We in the desert are not used to the humidity levels we have been encountering. Dry heat is far easier to endure than the damp stickiness of humid air. Within the first two or three tenths of a mile, Allen and I reported breaking a sweat.
My friend Allen is doing wonderfully well. His scar is nearly disappeared. He is walking strong and feeling better each day. Having brain surgery is no small thing. Zen teaches us that we do better when we actualize in the thing itself. Allen has taken …

Peace Village

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we will begin our second week of Peace Village here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I am looking forward to sitting with bundles of wiggle worms. I am honored to be asked yearly to return to teach these children. Every year it is actually a delight and an affirmation of our society's commitment to peaceful living.

It is not important that everyone believe this, in fact, believe nothing. The thing that is important is that we do.

Practicing peace is a precious gift to the universe. It involves a lot of inner work: A willingness to stop; a willingness to not act when we are chomping at the bit to do so, and a willingness to allow another her point of view and see it's value.

Children can learn to be still. They can learn to mouth the words of peace, but they need parents and communities who are willing to walk that walk. Peace Village creates an opportunity to do just that.

May we each be a blessing in the universe.

Enso

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is often pictured by the enso, a brushed circle of ink. Why? There are a variety of reasons, I suppose, but I believe a basic one is to point to the timeless unity of Zen. Tozan in the Rinzai tradition has his five ranks; Seung Sahn has his 360 degree Compass, and Master Dogen, his Genjo Koan.

To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Those who enter the stream, do so in order to achieve enlightenment. Yet we discover soon enough, that holding such a goal is actually an obstacle. Seeking enlightenment is a big mistake, according to many masters, including Seung Sahn. There are those who chatter on and on about enlightenment. One gets the idea that it is a sugar …

Listen Up!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning we practiced Jewish meditation at Peace Village, chanting a variant of the "Sh'ma". I replaced, "Hear, O Israel" with "Listen up, Everyone!" The children seemed to respond well to the chanting.

Personally, I am not a mantra sort of practitioner. I enjoy silent illumination. But then, perhaps that's a pretty good reason to do something different. Daido Loori-roshi often suggests that we should move away from that which we know or are comfortable with to that which is uncomfortable. If we are "good" at shikantaza, perhaps a koan or two is in order. So, sitting there, chanting "Listen up, Everyone, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" was a useful departure from my norm.

This afternoon at 4:00 PM: streetZen at Veteran's Park and Meditation at Temple Beth El at 6:00 PM.

May you each be a blessing in the universe.

Enlightenment

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When we speak, we are communication thoughts. It is important to know that thoughts are not the things they point to or describe or name. Thoughts are just thoughts. So when we talk about being "awake" we are speaking about something, but not the thing, only our thought about the thing. All talk of enlightenment is a barrier to the experience itself.

Some intellectual practitioners, academics, and so forth, get themselves all excited about enlightenment. Its like people at a chess club discussing various "lines" in a game. All very esoteric, abstract, and a lot of fun. But not particularly useful.

Zen is about doing awake: Not being awake, not seeking awake, not being led to awake. The Buddhas and the Patriarchs, says Master Dogen, practiced awake. How? Zazen.

Master Dogen writes, "To suppose that practice and realization are not one is nothing but a heretical view; in buddha-dharma they are inseparable. Because prac…

Peace Village

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

This morning we taught Zazen to about forty children at Peace Village at the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Las Cruces. We will visit with them each morning for two weeks. I am assisted by Student Reba Zhen Shan Montero. The period began with a song focused on peace and then instruction of seated Zen practice. We had them sit for five minutes then offered an opportunity to talk about their experience. As the days pass, we will increase the length of time and add walking meditation.


Peace Village children, I have found over the four years I have been doing this, are very open to the practice of Zazen. The key is to keep the periods short and offer opportunities to talk. The wiggle worms eventually settle down. And most children seem interested enough to practice with a certain amount of diligence. Not correcting or judging is also important. I like to think of their time in the sanctuary zendo as a stress-free, settle-in time…

Obon

With palms together,
Good Evening Everyone,

We just concluded sesshin. Revs. KoKyo and Kajo are now priests in our lineage, and Rev. KoMyo is a Disciple. Obon is a particularly inspiring time. We practice to offer any merit derived from our compassionate practice to all of the universe, especially those suffering from greed, and excessive attachment to things. We think of these beings as Hungry Ghosts. Tenzo Jacob created sweet-cakes, Rev. KoMyo wrapped them, and this morning each of us took up a cake, carefully unfolded it, and offered it to the universe. We were all moved by this experience of generosity and deep caring.

As Zen Buddhists we practice not for our benefit but for the benefit of all beings. We chant, "beings are numberless, I vow to free them." So our lives are a commitment to be in service to others. To practice Zazen is to study the self, Master Dogen says, and as the self drops away we are open to be taught by all beings. So, our service is always a le…

Every Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

After a steady morning of doing Zazen, hiking and running in the desert (2.4 mi), doing dishes, and so on, KoMyo has prepared a wonderful pot of oatmeal. The scent is calling me to the table.

We will be leaving for sesshin at 3:00 PM this afternoon and will return Sunday afternoon. I am looking forward to being at the Refuge for a few days.

"Setting aside one, you gained seven." (a line out of the Blue Cliff Record, Case 6 Every Day is a Good Day) Katsuki Sekida notes, "You put the past aside, you ignore even enlightenment; that is 'setting aside one'. And in penetrating into the present moment's activity of consciousness, you meet with many things; that is how 'you gained seven'..."

Awake means living in multiple moments that are not at all multiple. We recognize a past, a present, and a future, but we know these are just mental constructs. We recognize a "me" and a "you" a &quo…

Pay Attention

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The morning light seems to rise from the ground, and while it is beautiful, it means nothing in itself. Dark and light are the same. Nirvana and samsara, heaven and hell, good and bad: same-same. When we behold beauty, we behold ugliness. Beauty excludes ugliness and thus becomes ugly. A good that excludes bad, excludes itself. If heaven excludes hell, then heaven is hell. Do you understand?

Live in your world. Embrace your world. Seeking bliss is like seeking a narcotic; its use excludes us from being awake. The same with peak experiences. Peak experiences are to be avoided; they separate us from the everyday. Avoid feeling good; avoid feeling bad: reside in the great middle of each moment and be authentic in that residence.

Practice Zazen. Eat life. Share your food.

Be well.

Late

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Late edition today: dishes, a walk, and waking up late took me off schedule. Floating along, son Jacob made the tuna salad for Breakfast Club, and I have a few minutes to write to you now. Friends Allen and Eve just walked in, maybe less time than I thought. So it goes.

Time does not exist, really, there is just this typing on these keys, just now. Late is a notion invented by our mind focused on a point in thought. This point is chimera. Being present is being alive. In a certain sense, then, being in time is being asleep. Time and being are one and in this oneness, time itself, loses its meaning.

So, what happens if we are late? Are we still ourselves? Is our world still not intact? The walls don't crumble, the curtains aren't rent, and the earth doesn't open up and swallow us. We are here.

On the other hand, being prompt is essential to civilized life. Thus a problem. Solution? Plan properly when it is time to plan, b…

So?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

So, a student enters a training center and says, "please teach me." The Teacher asks, "Have you finished eating?" The student says, "Yes." The Teacher replies, "Go wash your bowl!"

Case 7 offers us a direct teaching. Very important; deeply profound. Most of us we want teachers to teach us with fantasies of mind. We want our heads filled with thoughts, as if to say, thoughts are the universe. We want to feel smart, philosophical, poetical, artistic, social, loving, etc. We think we can think ourselves into this way of being.

Zen is far more economical: go wash your bowl.

What more is there to teach?

Be well.

Let Go and Live

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

A little while ago friends Allen and Eve walked with me as I jogged 1.5 miles of hills. I did this sort of in-place jogging, enough to break a sweat and really enjoy myself. At home, I did a few different upper body weight exercises, including push ups, then stretched out with a few minutes of yoga. I woke late today, missed writing practice and zazen, but am catching up now.

Sometimes life would be out of sync if we had sync to begin with. No sync, nothing to be out of: when hungry, eat, when sleepy, sleep. Or so I sometimes say. Zen is like that.

Here you are. Zen practice, says Kyogen, is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a cliff. In the ravine below, a man asks him, "Why did Bodhidharma come to China from India?" If the man in the tree does not answer, he fails. If he answers, he falls and loses his life. So, what should he do? (Case 5, the Gateless Gate). Always between a rock and a hard place; the devil a…

Assumptions

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning My Left Hand showed itself again. I weed whacked the small patch of grass My Little Honey left last night with our new weed whacker. This paralysis thing is always just a little twisted. Sometimes I can get get my fingers around something and sometimes I can't. It appears always that the assumption is I cannot do something. Bad assumption for a person with a disability. We must assume we can, then set about finding a way to get it done.

I also started two holes for my tomato plants. Just now they are not large enough, but they will get bigger. And when I raked up the cut grass, I saw patches that need whacking.

Disability can create either mindful practice or insane frustration. When I assume I "should" be able to do something "like everyone else" its frustration. When I set about doing it with a beginner's mind, with no expectations, no "how it should be dones", its an excellent practice…

1,2,3

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

streetZen this morning after a walk with friends. It is the 4th of July and we celebrate independence from tyranny. The only true tyranny is the tyranny of mind, however. Mind that designs traps; mind that establishes problems; mind that resides in thought: this is the mind of tyranny.

Become independent of that mind. Reside in the experience of interdependence.

1,2,3 is not 1,2,3; it is 1,2,3. What is the difference? Experience one and many simultaneously; let go of one; let go of two.

The soil receives the rain water, but does not keep it.

Happy Days,

Life Appreciation

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Profound is like a bell only because we are a species of dullards. It is actually quite ordinary. A person who walks with deliberation, mindfully placing his feet on the ground, mindfully opening a door, or slicing a tomato, is deeply and profoundly there. There is something very wonderful about the feel of a sharp knife cutting through a tomato. The smell of an onion's juices being diced, or the smooth sheen of a dining room table as it is being polished. Wonderful, but not special.

If we allow our mind to create fictions of later and earlier, we are asleep as we do these things, and miss their everyday wonder.

As a species, we are very bright, able to penetrate the absolute reality of our universe. Creative, we improve our universe, lengthen our lives, and vegetate in front of televisions. Eyes closed and unschooled to discovery, we slug back drinks that dull our minds, inject ourselves with chemicals and escape this very moment of o…