Zen 101

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

As a elder in the Zen Peacemaker Sangha, I ask that you consider the following from the Zen Peacemakers:

"For Your Information: Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers are offering a free subscription to BEARING WITNESS: A Newsletter for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. This e-Newsletter offers profiles, links and articles on the groups and individuals committed to this practice, emerging service projects and social actions as well as the history, ethical bases and philosophies comprising this multifaceted global movement.

To subscribe, please link to: http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/subscribe Bernie has also created two resource directories for this work, a Directory of Socially Engaged groups and individuals: http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/doing_directory, and a directory of learning resources: http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/learning_directory

Thank you,

May you each be a blessing in the universe,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Light in the Dark

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

A sore throat and sniffles greeted me this morning. Still there from yesterday, I decided not to go out for a walk/run/bike today. This morning Zen services at 9:00 AM; this evening Erev Yom Kippur services at Temple Beth-El at 8:00 PM. In between, a class on the sacred art of lovingkindness at 3:00 PM. Within each moment, vast emptiness, :).

My altar needs candles. I had my Daughter-in-Law pick-up a bag of tea light candles a few days ago, but she has not brought them over as yet. So, I will use an old round candle nearly burnt to the quick. There is no trash, as Master Soko Morinaga says. May each of us burn brightly and be a light to the world even to the last breath.

Sounds awfully dark, doesn't it, last breath and all. Yet each breath is a last breath. Each moment the universe is created and kpasses away with each cycle of our lungs, each sweep of the second hand of the clock. Going into time deeply, there is no first, no last, just this. Still dark?

OK. How about, there are only infinite moments. Eternal Life opens in each. As a flower with seed seeds to flower, so we open our eyes to see the Infinite. Seeing the Infinite we recognize eternity. Recognizing eternity, where is death, where life?

No bother.

Our compassion and lovingkindness steps forward out of the shadow of fear.

May we each be a blessing in the universe today.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Each Day

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today is very busy: Talmud class, Shabbat services, Havdalah after dinner. I have moved Saturday streetZen to Friday morning. We are approaching Yom Kippur. This day we stand before the Infinite. All month we have been preparing for this: examining ourselves, our relationships, our words and deeds. On Yom Kippur the book closes.

There is something very wonderful about this process. Examination is followed by an attempt to reconcile, to forgive and be forgiven, and to close the story's chapter in order to take the next step.

These are moment to moment dramas.

We notice. We act. We move on.

Zen teaches us to be present in each moment and notice. Seung Sahn says then 'only go straight.'

We recite the prayer of atonement each morning "All my past and harmful karma, born from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
through my body, speech, and mind, I now fully avow."
We might wash our hands three times or once, we might recite prayers or blessings after each step of the morning or not, and mark the passing of each portion of the day with some sort of blessing or gatha...or not. All of life's processes are on a continuum. Each of us steps up differently and in our own time.

The thing is, is to notice and allow ourselves to be grateful...even for the challenging stuff.

So, while we might close the chapter, we retain the lesson by recognizing its value and integrating it into our lives.

Be well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Puddle Mind

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

An early morning chill in the air adds a sense of freshness to the day. Crisp air feels clean and clear. A mind must be chilled as well to be clear. One of the "kleshas" is "passion". The connotation is heated, stirring, rolling, as the surface of the surf when water is pushed and pulled to form a tumult of waves at the beach. Zen mind is the mind of pond or, better, puddle and residing in stillness.

Chill: to settle down, abide in the moment as it is.

When chill when we let the passion flow without resisting it. Recent rain storms here in the southwest have demonstrated the futility of trying to channel the flow of raging water storming down from the mountains. When passions meet an obstacle, they tend to find a way to roll over it, around it or undermine it. As a hardwood tree in a hurricane, if the obstacle refuses to bend with the wind, away it goes.

How to we become mind like puddle?

Flexibility seems to play a part. Yoga practice teaches us to relax into an asana. Stillness seems to play a part. Zazen teaches us to be still even when we cry. Being present seems to play a part. Watching water as it flows to the lowest place and there residing in stillness teaches us to let go of our idea of self-importance as we touch the Infinite when we touch the earth.
Be a pond? Be a puddle? Your response should be informative.

Be well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

One of my fascinations in life is the role story plays in our lives. In training as a social worker my early mentor, Dr. Howard Goldstein (may his name be for a blessing), taught through demanding we examine story as key in understanding our clients. Somewhat dramaturgical, this idea is that we create stories where aspects (he refers to them as "persons") organize our perceptions and suggest responses.

This seems to me to be an integration of role theory and phenomenology. Oh, boy. We create a story through events in our lives, create parts, put ourselves in the play and then manifest the whole thing as we live out each moment.

Zen practice is the practice of examining this process and cutting it.

We are not a role, nor are we at the center of any story. We are the Universe. Story, while helpful, is a conceit. It is at root deceitful. But more importantly brings past karma into present moments as mechanisms for distortion. As Rabbi Shapiro says in his brilliant synthesis of major religions, including Buddhism, on "the sacred art of Lovingkindness":

"Spinning drama is what this self does. This is how narrow mind functions. But believing the drama to be other than a story is a trap that imprisons you in narrow mind. Anger is how we spring that trap. ...(the drama) is just another belief narrow mind conjures up to maintain a sense of self and self-importance..." (p.132).

This is an arrow in the heart of the matter. Retaining our story puts us in the center of the play, our anger keeps us there. To give up the story, takes us out of the play...afterall, there is no play in truth. And we are not the center of the universe, nor the center of our lives. We are the Universe, one, complete, and wonderful.

Cut the thought: undress the present, return to the present, and stay in the present. Be the buddha you are.

Be well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Peace Day 2009

With palms together
Good Morning Everyone,

This evening we practice for peace together in support of the United Nations International Peace Day at Temple Beth-El. A number of local religious groups (including Clear Mind Zen) have come together, created an interfaith choir, and will offer songs, prayers and chants in support of peace. The event begins at 7:30 PM here in Las Cruces.

To honor this day I will practice streetZen at the Veteran's Park at 10:00 AM. If any of you are available and are interested please join me.

May you each be a blessing in the universe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

Today has been very interesting. It began with an early 4:30 rise, zazen, and putting together an outline for a workshop on "Compassion Fatigue" for a local hospice organization. I managed to get in a short 1.5 mile walk through the desert park with friends Eve and Allen, but had to leave early to get to the hospice in time for the workshop at 8:00 AM

From there to the Temple to hear the finish of a discussion on the differences between the Christian "Old Testament" and the Hebrew Scriptures. On thing that came out: Jews are most interested in asking questions, Christians seek to find answers. As an aside, my sense is that Zen Buddhists just want to live as fully as possible. Scripture is relatively unimportant in Zen; it's the practice that is the Way and through the practice, the "scripture" reveals itself in our own original face.

Anyway, compassion fatigue, for those who don't know, is a potential condition arising from prolonged work with suffering. We used to call it "trauma by proxy" or "secondary trauma" when I was a clinician. Its a troublesome phenomena that can affect both an individual and an organization. It mimics post traumatic stress disorder in many ways and is an extreme form of burn-out.

Many Buddhist practices can be helpful in dealing with this. Practices like tonglen, zazen, and mindfulness practices as taught by the Buddha in his Four Establishments of Mindfulness sutra can be very helpful. Working to know our limits and establishing boundaries are also helpful. I have found that the basic practice of shikantaza to be the most helpful to me. This is the practice of "just sitting" wholeheartedly hitting the mark. No props, no breath counting, no watching the breath: just sitting. Developing the discipline of this practice is key. We are faced with ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, our internal 'movies' and so on, yet we just sit.

This is helpful as it develops the ability to be present in the presence of whatever. We do not take in and keep anything. We take it in and let it go. We become porous and Teflon like at the same time. The value is that we can be present with another's suffering without making it our own.

While this is a great skill, even harder, it seems to me, is the skill of appropriate response. I can be present. I can float like a duck. But I confess, I am often lost in exactly how to respond...especially with words. I would almost rather remain silent.

Sometimes this is good. Other times silence is not so good. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Be well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The meaning of words, goodness, they form such peculiar common ground. A word is a vocal symbol for something. To the degree to which we share an understanding of the symbol determines the degree to which we understand each other. The rub is that understanding is never pure. It is always distorted by our prior experience and memory of that experience. Moreover, the symbol itself has an often unspoken social meaning. It all gets so convoluted. Yet, we think we understand each other.

Sometimes shared agreement on a meaning is reached. What becomes important is the shared agreement, not the word. The word is just a trigger, so to speak, which fires up recall of the underlying shared meaning. But even this is not the thing itself.

Just because we share an understanding of something and the common words pointing to it, does not mean we are in actual touch with that thing. In such cases, shared meaning clouds our mind and we think we are in touch, but are only touching a cloud.

So a word is a symbol that points to something, but is not the thing. A meaning is something, a thought or belief, we assign to a word or an experience. And because each of these are thought processes, they are dualistic, produced as a result of sensory data being processes by a brain that sees itself apart from that which it perceives. Its all just chemical and electrical processes that dupe us.

So what is this? What is a cup or a foot or a computer? What is love, compassion, hate, distortion? These are words pointing to something, but not the things themselves. To uncover the truth we must set aside what we think we know, drop our baggage, and take the next step totally naked.

I'm getting a headache.

I take an aspirin. Simple. Not complicated. Zen.

Be well.

Monday, September 14, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This weekend was a beautiful one. Two of my wife's friends from graduate school (class of 1966) visited. It was the first they've seen each other since that time. They used to drive to their field placements in Akron together from the Cleveland area a couple of days a week. All three got married, had children, and then lived out their lives. Now, over forty years later, thanks to the Internet, they have reconnected. Its as if the intervening forty odd years did not exist. It was fascinating to witness.

Much older, grayer, and wizened, these three students, now Masters, came face to face with a sort of timelessness and a shared construction of reality with a few cracks. "Remember? Don't remember?" As each sought common ground, they each differentiated with the expectation of inclusion.

I admire My Little Honey and her two friends. This took courage. Clearly, people can and do care deeply for one another, and the constructions we call memories, can form a sort of knitting that holds each together.

Being in the moment, appropriate is the moment, and each moment's condition demands its own attention and authenticity. Letting expectations drop away like so many bags at a train station, we learn to recognize there is wisdom in letting go of those worn too thin.

Time to create a new story. Perhaps. But this time we should know: our stories don't define us; how tightly or loosely we clutch them does.

This is the Zen of Now.

Be well.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life Bites

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is neither mine nor yours. Awareness is neither mine nor yours. This moment is neither mine nor yours. Awakening is neither mine nor yours. Mine and yours have no place in the world of Zen. Even place itself does not exist. Mine and yours are convenient fictions we live by. We give them legal sanction, moral sanction, and sometimes even spiritual sanction. So: Everything is no thing.

Yet, a mosquito has bitten the back of my knee and it itches. At 4:30 AM Tripper barks and Judy grumbles. Our water is hard and leaves a residue on our glasses. No thing is everything.

We can say these do not exist, that mine and yours, like I and Thou, are based on constructions of a mind created through a neural net. But we live within this net. When our net collapses: so collapses mine and yours. So collapses mosquito, bite, itch, dishes, Tripper's bark. So collapses I and Thou.

Zen is living in both with full awareness of both and acting accordingly.

Be well.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Where Are You?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Going out into the world, going inside, good grief! Enough going. I practice not-going. Practicing not-going is to practice Zen. Everything is here now: no path, no attainment, no 'other shore'.

Of course, sometimes "I" "go", as in playing iPhone games, wandering around looking at things, diving into Torah or the Sutras, etc., yet, this is just the shift of an eye, isn't it. One "eye" says "this is relative to that", suggesting two. Another "Eye" says "this and that are one and seeing a 'this' and a 'that' is a delusion, a mortal mind-trick". The Infinite is constantly demanding of us, "Where are you?!"

Watch out for shifty eyes.

Practice not-going and witness an eternal Eye.

Be well.

Monday, September 07, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Last night son Jacob invited us to dinner at his condo. He prepared a wonderful dinner, bread, arugula and butter lettuce salad, and sole, all prepared exquisitely. The condo was spotless, extremely well appointed, and very comfortable. I was out of my comfort zone.

Fidgeting, I played a game of "paper toss" followed it by winning a chess game on my iPhone. I wandered around looking at his pictures and books. My Little Honey and Jacob talked and talked.

The other night we had dinner at a friend's. At the dinner table, I checked my email on my iPhone. One of my friends asked me to please put my iPhone away. Interesting. She was right, of course, and others have made comments about my inattentiveness at functions. If its not the iPhone, its wandering, if not wandering, its meditating. Something has changed.

It wasn't all that long ago that I wouldn't be caught dead owning and using a cell phone, when people commented that I was so 'alive' and it was a challenge to pull me away from people. For all my talk of being in the moment, being mindful, and being compassionate, I am very far away.

Maybe its a phase. Maybe I am adapting. Maybe its all the drugs I have to take. Maybe I am bored. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I wish I knew. I read last night about a couple of rabbis. One asks, "Who am I?" The other replies, "Who is asking?"

What I know is this: I practice.

The Buddha taught:

Whoever sees suffering, sees the making of suffering, the ending of suffering, and the path that leads to the end of suffering.

Whoever sees the making of suffering, sees suffering, the end of suffering, and the path.

Whoever sees the end of suffering, sees suffering, the making of suffering, and the path.

Whoever sees the the path that leads to the end of suffering, sees suffering, the making of suffering, and the end of suffering.

(the First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma sutra).

Be well.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Zen is Eternal Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Dishes. They wait each morning for my hands. Lately, I have taken to washing them by hand. Hot soapy water feels like silk. Cold rinse water is a relief to the heat. And the drying cloth sooths both dish and skin. Each dish a family member. Each spoon a reminder of the sweetness added to My Little Honey's coffee. Leaning over the sink, I untuck my hips and spine, reaching upward, I feel the gentle tug in my hamstrings. Feet planted. The saltillo tile cools my heels.

Zen in the kitchen.

Shortly, Zen in the Zendo where incense waifs through the air, I will hear the candles burn, and the walls will become mirrors for this ancient, eternal soul. My back will arc a bit; I will slump a bit. Patterns will form on the wall, movies will play in my head. Some student will adjust posture, and as with a dish in the kitchen, I will be made present again.

Zen in the Zendo.

As Master Kennett wrote, "Zen is eternal life."

Be well.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I will miss streetZen as I have an obligation that takes me away at that time. Life is like that. Things happen and we meet them along the way. Do we meet them with grace? In this particular case, yes. However, sometimes receiving and enfolding challenges in silence is all we can muster. Grace? I doubt it. But not resistance either. In such moments we easily assess where our hearts are. Although we know they are the hearts of a buddha, they beat alone. Inside this butsudan of a body, the chamber offers light and moisture. The echo of buddha may seem hollow. But it is the pervasive silence that is the matter. Let it become warm in the glow of the candlelight and open to enfold the world.

Be well.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Compassion Fatigue

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I wrote a very long note on compassion fatigue. I did not post it. Too long. Too technical. Here's the skinny. When we care, we open our hearts, when we open our hearts, suffering enters. Unless we release it, not keeping it as our own, we too, will suffer. As suffering caretaker's we have great potential to harm those we care for, so it is imperative that we care for ourselves first.

What suffering is mine? What suffering is yours? Our buddha-nature is one, all is one, wherefore, yours, mine?

A few points:

In a Big Mind Universe, all is One, yet, I hurt, you hurt. The fact that we both hurt is our oneness. The hurt I experience is mine to deal with. The hurt you experience is yours. We share the experience, then, of recovery from suffering. Keeping the ownership of suffering clear is essential.

When I am with you and your suffering, I am with you and "your" suffering. Keep it clear.

The suffering I experience in the presence of your suffering is "my" suffering. Keep it clear.

We share "suffering" .

We share "compassion".

As caretaking human beings we must address our own suffering.

We practice zazen. We practice kinhin. We practice an open heart in all that we do.

The breeze enters, the breeze leaves.

We must be willing to release our grip.

Be well.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Disturbance in the Force?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

If I say, as characters in "Star Wars" did, "...there is a disturbance in the Force," I believe I am saying that the balances between the good and the bad are tilted, things are askew, if you will. At first, when the film first came out and I was a young man, I saw this as very Zen-like. But that is a poor understanding. The Force can have no "disturbance": Buddha-nature is what is, completely empty of substance, yet pervasive. Our unenlightened characters go about, then, attempting to restore balance to the Force. Much like proselytisers of any faith tradition, they go forth to straighten out those who are bent.

Yet, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God (the Infinite) is quoted as saying, "I am the Lord and there is none else, I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe..." (Is. 45:6-7). The enlightened bodhisattva, Isaiah, is pointing out a foundational truth of the Universe: it contains everything. Hmmm, buddha-nature pervades everything, is everything, and this includes the dark side as well as the light side much like the Dao.

This is foundational, but really unimportant. Buddha-nature is what it is. What is important, actually essential and critical, is our response to it. If there is ever a "disturbance" it is interior and within us. It arises when we loose sight of the spacious mind that allows us to place in context the rumblings of narrow mind. A proper response is equanimity, a floating, gentle embracing of what is paired with an offer to learn the practices of serene reflection meditation.

An open hand is far more effective than a closed one. An open hand offers, but does not grasp or cling. A closed hand cannot accept and is often used to force open other closed, insecure hands. Let us each practice with this today.

For those in the Las Cruces, NM area, I will offer an opportunity to practice meditation at Temple Beth-El from 4:00 to 4:30. We follow meditation with yoga for beginners from 4:30 to 5:30. Everyone is welcome.

Be well.