Zen 101

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Modest Life

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the Diamond Sutra we find a single description of the Way. It is a model for understanding the paramitas. This description comprises the first chapter and simply reflects the Buddha's day.

What does a buddha do? Before noon he puts on his patched robe, picks up his bowl and walks to town. He takes his time, waits patiently in front of a few homes collecting food offerings.He eats, then returns to the grove, takes off his robe, puts his bowl away, washes his feet, and sits down on his cushion. He then turns his "awareness to what is before him."

In this brief description is everything. Buddha demonstrates generosity by making himself available to teach through a variety of means, including asking for help. He demonstrates patience through his quiet standing in front of homes begging. He teaches vigor through walking, washing, and ordering his life after eating. Sitting down on his cushion he practices meditation, And by doing these five without getting caught in them, he demonstrates wisdom.

It is a simple, but challenging life. Simple is not easy. Simple means direct and clear, unencumbered by convolutions of thought and feeling. A buddha's life is one step in front of another, doing what is there to do without jumping up and down in the process.

Does this mean we cannot reflect joy, anger, sadness, or frustration? No. When these arise, they arise and we embrace them for what they are, fleeting feelings reflecting our innermost thoughts. We feel joy, we express joy; we feel frustration, we express frustration. Yet, we do so in ways that are beneficial. Expressing like a cannon is not helpful. Creating hurt and sadness in others is not helpful. We recognize this and work to bring ourselves back to our breath and calm abiding. What is there before us in such circumstances are opportunities to examine ourselves and strengthen and improve our relationships.

The Buddha taught through his simple day, that we should abide in our day as it is. Yet, we engage it with discipline and an eye toward being of benefit to all beings. Let us be that benefit.

Be well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There are six paramitas in Zen. These are perfections or excellence's. Some might call them values. The paramitas are six manifestations of the facets of our essential face. They are the "what" of us, rather than the "who".

If I ask myself who was I before my father and mother were born, before my father's father, my mother's mother, what would I say? If I said, "Ridiculous, there was no me before I was born!", I could say, "That's skirting the question! I am only approaching the clothing, not the body."

Under the clothes, who is there? Honestly, I must answer with some reference to core elements, eh? Father is there, mother is there. Teachers, friends, neighbors, lovers, wife, children, all are there. The me of me does not exist in a vacuum, the me of me has been, and always will be conditioned, that is, subject to cause and effect and has thus been in existence in some shape or form for infinity. The who of me is always dependent.

So, any word would be incorrect. A word would lead me away from my essential self and into endless philosophical quicksand. We would be entertained, but we would not be any wiser.

If, on the other hand, I asked "What was I before my father and mother were born?" Now this question focuses our attention on something else again. What am I? What is my essential nature? How do I know it? Again, saying any word would be a mistake, I would have to show me myself.

The what of me is purposeful. It is for the sake of, rather than because of (a different, but useful tack on causation). So, too, my essential self The paramitas are expressions of purpose, the purpose of our essential nature, a universal and infinite nature.

Generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom are the essential, core and universal aspects of our being. They are not values, they are manifestations. They are the what of us. They are also the purpose of our existence.

Our practice is to uncover and release them.

Be well.

Monday, December 28, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

In the morning my heart feels the most grounded. I sit, pay attention to my breath, listen to the sounds of my environment, and typically take care of the kitchen, animals, and getting the coffee made. This morning My Little Honey did these as I slept. Apparently, I needed some extra sleep.

Paying attention and opening to what is there are good practice buddies. Resisting engaging an inner voice that wants to interrupt others, inject itself into something, or direct things, is a good third buddy.

Practicing these can be a challenge on two fronts, however. First they are challenges to our own habit energy. Second, they are challenges for those around us. When we attempt to make a change, that change is often met with confusion or resistance by others.

This morning, just now, I was asked to help Judy with a task right in the middle of my writing. I felt irritation. I took a couple of breaths and attempted to do what she asked. Her computer was hanging up, not completing the tasks I was asking it to do. Added frustration and irritation. My mind wandered over to what she had done to her computer to create this situation. Big mistake. Computers are famous for allowing ghosts to get in them and mess things up. Another breath, a smile. While I was working n her machine, son Jason got out her other computer and got the job done... all before I could even shut down the first machine. All the while I am simmering over being asked to step away from my morning routine. Attention to breath, release, smile. Judy wonders what is going on.

Shifting gears, changing course, altering expectations, all of these are challenging for me. I have little problem doing it when the desire to change comes from within me, but serious problems when the request for change comes from outside of me. With practice, these are becoming much less so, yet still, there they are.

After Judy and Jason left to get our new car tagged, I set this writing aside. I did a scan of Judy's computer, made some breakfast and pulled out the vacuum, the furniture polish, and the Windex. Housecleaning was my name. Afterwords, I felt refreshed and ready to come back to you.

Today looks exciting. Plans are for Judy's writer's group meeting at our house at 10:00, streetZen at 10:30, Zen at 3:00, Study Group at 4:00. A full day of practice. I invite anyone who has an interest to join us at streetZen, Zen, and/or Study Group!

Be well.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tea Cups

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The day is dawning cold. I feel my body much more acutely than ever before as I age and the temperatures are low. Those first bends and twists to feed the dogs, make the coffee and load the dishwasher are each mindfulness moments in themselves: great teachers!

I spent a good deal of last night studying a wonderful book on Buddhist yoga entitled, "Mindfulness Yoga, the Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind" by Frank Jude Boccio. This is a serious book which relies heavily on the sutras to make its case for yoga as a contemplative practice. I was fascinated by Boccio's depth of presentation using sources from teachings regarding the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, the Heart Sutra, the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Tao Te Ching, Thich Nhat Hahn, Shunryu Suzuki, his present teacher, Samu Sunim, and many, many others. While I practice yoga daily, even as a contemplative aspect of my morning practice, I never quite related it to Buddhism in general or Zen.in particular.

The other text I was absorbed in, as the temperatures in the living room dropped, was Deepak Chopra's new release, "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul". Much like some of Chopra's earlier work, this book focuses its light on the notion that we have extraordinary powers to make our bodies better, healthier and more in-tune with the cosmos. He divides the work into two major sections, one focused on body, the other on soul, and presents what he refers to as major "Breakthroughs" in thinking and practice. He draws on multiple sources from Christianity to Buddhism to the Hindu scriptures, reflecting these in the light of science as he understands it. Throughout, but not overly intrusive, are exercises the reader can do which render small diagnostic statements. The message: we have the ability to transform ourselves.

While I reserve judgement on the Chopra text, I do find books like his stimulating in terms of re-directing my own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a way that can only be described as positive. There is a basic existential quality to the notion of taking personal responsibility to awaken ourselves, take care of our body/mind/heart, and so on. Yet, the danger is in believing that this work is so powerful that it can replace normative medicine on the one hand, and that if we do get sick, it is somehow our fault for not doing the "right" things or not having a "healthy" attitude, on the other hand.

This is where the Zen comes in, I think. We take each step, mindful of the step and all that is in each moment. We assume our responsibilities with due diligence. Yet we do not define ourselves through them. Terms like healthy, unhealthy, right, wrong, good, bad, are descriptors of values. We use them, but should not hold onto them.

Life offers us itself. Like it or not, we are one with it. If we oppose life, we will ultimately fail and be miserable in the process. If we reside in life, no problem. Everything becomes our clay with which to create ourselves. We might make strong cups from this clay or weak ones. If the cup is broken we can mend it. It is a tradition in Tea Service that the oldest, most broken and repaired cups are the most highly valued. Let us each become treasured tea cups.

Be well.

Friday, December 25, 2009


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

There are so many, many levels of understanding related to Christmas. I see them on a continuum. On one end of the pole is Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who came to be called a Messiah by some and whose followers later made a deity. On the other end of the pole is a holiday, one among many, but nothing particularly religious. In between, a vast array of meanings, each according to the person experiencing the day.

Another dimension is that of like and dislike: those who go completely and gleefully nuts on one end; those who aggressively go "bah, humbug!' on the other. This is accompanied by still another dimension, that of sacred and profane. It gets so confusing.

Someone could not believe Jesus was anyone particularly special and yet hold the secular nature of the holiday sacred! Case in point, the response to those "bah-humbuggers" out there, which is typically, "Ah come on, its something everyone enjoys!" or "Can't you get into the spirit of the day?!"

In my own family, we have those who believe Jesus was God and those who don't. We have those who wish the whole thing would just go away and those who delight in everything about it except its religious origin.

I confess, most of the "season" I wish it would just go away. But on the day itself, when all the craziness is said and done, I do enjoy witnessing the delight in people as they offer and receive the blessings of the day.

Wherever you might be in the scatter-gram result of my ridiculous multi-dimensional analysis, I wish you some delight today even if its as simple (and as miraculous) as the delight of being able to perceive yourself in the world.

Be well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Aching Nose

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

My teacher often would say to me, "If I grab your nose and twist it, you would yell!" The trouble with reaching a state of non-duality is those reaching it often believe they will reside there, should reside there, and ought to be able to reside there...forever. Not so.

We are human beings living with a central nervous system and all of it's attendant functions. Our senses perceive, our brain organizes, processes and responds. Even when we realize the reality constructed by our brain is not the reality that exists as it is, we still must deal with our CNS and it's chemical and electrical processes.

Creating a pause between thought, feeling, and behavior is only one step. Some get stuck in the pause. Believing that pause is the same as emptiness. It is not. We must take a next step. A next breath. A next meal. We must continue to function in the world.

So then, what is this function? Is it to sit in serene reflection under a bodhi tree? Perhaps. Facing the world with a clear mind reveals function. When angry, love. When desperately hungry, eat. When caught in the traps of mind, practice. Our universe presents its state to us. When we have a clear mind, we see this state and respond accordingly. It is not a one size fits all world. Nor is it a world we can separate ourselves from.

Be well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Notes for the Day

with palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Waking to the patter of rain today. The sky is clouded over. The temperature is a chilly 37 degrees. I am wrapped in my robe and feel content to just be here at my desk talking to you.

A sense of contentment is a wonderful thing. Very grounding. Yet, contentment can be dangerous. It is one thing to feel contentment for one's self and entirely another, to be content with the condition of the world in which we live. Feeling content to me means I have little anxiety about myself, my own path, my desires, hopes and dreams. Yet, I am a deeply malcontent-ed person as I look out into that other aspect of myself, the world.

So much fear and anger in the world; so much suspicion and hate. So much disproportionate wealth, poverty, hunger, untreated sickness. And such fear about people getting what some believe they do not deserve.

On one level, I would like to eliminate that word and its meaning from our language. Deservedness, like merit, suggests undeservedness and a lack of merit. The assignment of these values is based on duality. I am different, separate from, you. I do (or don't do) "x" and "deserve" "Y". Or "not Y". Yet we are all of the same species, living together on an interdependent world. We have the same needs, often start out in vastly different circumstances, but according to some, should accept the value system of the few who "own" 90 percent of the wealth. On the other hand, we are, in fact, a part of an interdependent universe and as a result each have some responsibility to offer something to the whole. My practice of late is how to come to terms with this. Everyone is important. Everyone deserves the wherewithall to live.

Maybe this time of year is a good time to examine the question ourselves. We must exercise care, though. It is easy to think that the needs of others are there to offer us opportunities to learn compassion and resolve some guilt we may ourselves feel for the quality of our own lives. Yet, doesn't this make the other an object to meet our needs? Meeting the needs of others must be for the sake of others and not for ourselves. So we should approach our work with complete personal contentment and deep grounding.

Just so, these holidays.

Be well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

What follows is inspired by both the film, Avatar, and our weekly discussion group held at my residence.

In a world where species specific ethics is the rule, an organic system cannot sustain itself. In a world of egocentricity, a homo sapien system cannot sustain itself. In both cases, we are on the losing side of the rule. Sustainability requires an aim of system wide sustainability. In Merton's words, 'no man is an island', nor, I will add, is a species.

Classic theology has Man at the center of the world, if not the entire universe, and Self and the salvation of self , is the chief product and process of that creation. It is a theology of death, yet masquerades as a supporter of life. Adherents of this theology place everything in service to a single species and, ultimately on each human being as the crown of creation. Even our care and compassion are placed in service to our needs.

Yet, no system can sustain itself without being open and interconnected to other systems. Our planet depends on such interconnectivity. Our individual lives depend on our interconnectivity to other lives. Energy must be transferred. We must see and behave with the heart/mind of the totality, of One.

Some might call this pantheism. Where everything is God and the universe is imbued as Its central nervous system. Some believe this means an end to a personal God. I don't believe it is so. It is only my need to have something like me as deity that I hold onto such a belief. Release that need, open yourself to the entirety of life and such a egocentric need dissolves.

A system large or small must maintain its equilibrium. If we look at any one part of a system as its key element, then we might understand a system's self regulatory balancing as cruel. But sustainability is both the end and the means.

Only through a willingness to see through the eyes of the other can we understand our actual relationships to all things. The film, Avatar, explores such themes in creative and beautiful detail. It is a rare effort to open our heart and open our eyes to things bigger than ourselves. What a wonderful holiday gift.

Be well.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

There is no where to go that we have not been. Yet, we always seem to seek something new. Brain on drugs. Every feeling, every sensation,smell, taste, touch, sound, we have experienced either directly in life or indirectly through media. There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun, yet there it is, the next step, the next adventure, trip, meal, movie, partner. Its dizzy making.

What we avoid experiencing is stillness. Serene reflection. Our actual self.

This gives a somewhat different meaning to recovery. Rather than seeking recovery from, we experience recovery of. It is a deeply profound difference with very different assumptions and starting places.

Our original self is our original mind, like that great void across the deep in Genesis, it is our Original Nature. We need not recover from our addictions, distractions, and other delusions, instead we take a backward step and allow them to just be what they are: our job is to see them clearly for the nose-rings they are, for the deluded thinking they are, and for the escapes they offer.

In this place of serene reflection,we release our grip on thought, we let go, and reside in our Original Nature. Taking that next step first requires getting to a condition we call the top of a hundred foot pole. Yet here is the rub, there is no top; there is no bottom. Top and bottom are one in the same. Now what?

When things are buzzing around, witness the buzz. Invite the fly out the door. No where to go; nothing to be.

Be well.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Testing is Not Living

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

When we fail our lives seem as if for nothing. Our thoughts scream, our feelings blister, and our hearts feel empty. If failure is a pattern, we begin to think in terms of futility or a corruption of our personality, a loss of soul. Yet, all of this is based in what? A measure we create in the first place and hold out as if it were a litmus test of our worth.

Not so.

Our test is not in our failure or our patterns, but rather in our recognition and willingness to take the next step. Always, it is to do what is there in front of us to do.

Listen to the screams, they are our teachers. Listen to the thoughts, they are our teachers. Listen to our feelings, they are our teachers. Yet, none are the end point, but rather the beginning.

Just so, the successes in life. Another false measure, easy to be mistaken for the moon and not the finger pointing to it. We bathe ourselves in good feeling, positive thoughts and embrace a sense of invincibility. Each are our teachers. Pay attention!

Things always change! Therefore positive and negative are never infinite, but always reside on an infinite continuum. It takes a human heart/mind to assign a point on a fabricated measure in order for them to make any sense at all.

Because everything changes the most important aspect of our lives is how we engage the moment we are in. Just what is our next step, anyway?

Be well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Buddhism

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

In spite of all the books, references, and times it is refered to as such, there is no Buddhism. For there to be a Buddhism, there would need to be a set of beliefs, a dogma, something the "-ism" would reside in. If we seek to adopt a set of values, we are lost. If we believe in Buddha, we are lost. We must allow the sword of Manjushri to set us free.

Followers of the Buddha Way take a backward step. We sit down. We reside in stillness. In this stillness our skins fall away allowing us to touch our True Nature, our True Body. Say what it is, and it is no more. Hold it out as an ideal and it is as good as a stuffed animal.

All that we think we know about Buddhism is delusion. We should get rid of it. It is worse than trash, it is toxic to our practice, which is to say, it closes our eyes. To use a phrase popularized by my friend, Brad Warner, sit down and shut up and in the process, allow our eyes to open.

Be well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Everyday: Think About It

With palms together,

Good Evening Everyone,

Everyday is a wonder. I look at my hand and marvel at it. I look at my other hand and marvel at it, as well. They couldn't be more different, yet are of the same body. One moves with ease and has tremendous sensitivity. The other hardly moves and when it does it curls into strange twists and strains almost against itself. I feel one, barely feel the other. Just so, my heart/mind.

I consider the cause. A single bullet to the right side of my head on May 29, 1966 is the obvious cause. But equally present was my youthful willingness to go to war. My culture's willingness to have me go there. All of the propaganda, all of the socialization, and religions unwilling to stand up and shout against the grain, "There is another way!"

When I returned from combat, I decided I could no longer support war. Talk is cheap, though. So I protested. At that point in the Vietnam War, people didn't like protesters.

All the same arguments I hear today. What would you do if.... You know, enemy at the gates, etc. Sometimes I feel like doing an Arlo Guthrie on them, "I want to kill!"

Killing should be personal. Perhaps if it were, we might have less willingness to do it. Its easy to drop bombs, fire rockets, and artillery. Even easier with unmanned drones. No muss, no fuss. That's not real killing.

Real Killing is torture. It never stops. There are few days that go by that I don't have a memory of killing. My hand and my rather oddly shaped head see to that.

Yet, on the other hand, my heart/mind spoke loudly when I saw the Trade Centers attacked. Some terrible stuff, that. "I want to kill!"

Yes. And then what?

If the violence is far away and the stench not in our nostrils, no problem. Imagination is a poor simulator. For those who do violence, up front and personal, things are different. As we Buddhists are prone to pontificate, a moment is an eternity. As an Infantryman I attest to this truth.

And that dog eat dog crap is just that, crap. Real survival is based on mutual aid. You want to be strong? Love your neighbor even if he hates you.

Practice to create a pause between thought, feeling and behavior. Reject violence and warfare. It leads to nothing but more of the same and, believe me, it stinks. Practice the gentle way, the way of care and love. Hard, I know this, I am still struggling with being loving, tender and compassionate. Yet, I am convinced this is the way.

Life is nothing if not a great teacher to those willing to learn.

Be well.


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Lately, I am encountering questions about the use of violence to confront violence in the world. Is Zen Buddhism pacifist? How do we actually live out our precepts, precepts that underscore a position of doing no harm on the one hand, and doing good, on the other hand?

How do we embrace those that would kill us?

How do we deal with those who would have us kill?

I will answer directly:

I believe the Buddha Way does not embrace or support violent solutions to violent conflict.

I believe we are called to directly confront violence with non-violence and to meet hate with love.

I believe this takes a long and deep practice which results in a dropping away of self so there is "no hindrance in the mind, therefore, no fear". We are not always residing in this place, but must continue our practice so as to 'water the seeds' of our compassion.

Because of this, Zen is not for everyone as very few are at a point in their human and spiritual development where such a way is even understandable, let alone possible.

Is violence necessary? I say rarely. We are far too quick to rely on primitive and thoughtless behaviors. If someone is about to cause harm, we must prevent that harm from happening, of course The question is how. Violence should be the absolute last choice and only if the threat is imminent.

The Buddha Way is the way of stillness in motion. It is selfless love made manifest through every bodily organ. We practice to be walking, talking, and doing Buddhas.

Yes, Zen is not for everyone. But everyone willing is welcome to come and train.


On a personal note, today is very interesting. II will meet with Robert Yee, the filmmaker, and select snippets of video as well as stills that we might use on our Clear Mind Zen website to address streetZen. I also have a doctor's appointment to talk about a sleep study. After that, PrayerWorks at Rabbi Kane's home which takes us through lunch.

In the afternoon at 4:00, it is Meditation and Yoga at TBE.

Be well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Notes

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

This morning's streetZen went well. It was delightful outside. Colette and I were sitting alone, but a woman came by and decided to join us. She had been to the local showing of the short Yee film about me and Street Zen and decided to come by. Such good things happen when just sitting.

During the first sitting period I was visited by a spider. After the others left, I stayed for awhile and was soon visited by a curious roadrunner. The spider crawled onto my head, the roadrunner just walked behind me.

This afternoon I have a Study Group meeting at my residence at four. A delightfully diverse group of participants create a truly wonderful atmosphere. If interested, please join us.

Be well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Winter gets a bad rep. In some places, such as Cleveland, deservedly so. Yet, there is something of value about the winter regardless of where we are. The day opens slowly in the winter. A good way to begin any day actually.

"Slow" is rarely encountered and certainly not appreciated today. "Slow" is too often experienced as a hindrance. We so want to 'get there'! Yet, "slow" assists us by allowing moments of thoughtful deliberation to occur, as well as time to appreciate each moment itself. And due to our own expectations of what a reasonable pace is, to go slower than that expectation offers us a teaching about ourselves.

So, I know when I am in a hurry, I have taken to slowing down a bit. Attention to breath, slowly in, slower out, reside in the center. While I am clearly not always successful, as I do not always practice what I preach, I am always successful when I do practice.

Be well, be slow.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Living Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I would like to talk a little about what it means to follow the Buddha Way. It's a deceptively simple path to nowhere. It's a path where the path itself is the end and the beginning. It is a Way where, "Are we there yet?", is a meaningless question.

More BabbleZen? Put your hands on the table you are sitting at. Take in a breath and release it slowly and deeply. Where are you? No BabbleZen, just being there.

When we are 'there', that is to say, 'here', we are able to experience nothing more or less than 'here.' When we realize 'here' is the whole enchilada then we are free to be completely present and eat it. We release the thought of the next moment and the last moment. We release the grip of feelings, knowing they have very short lifespans and are simply reflections of thoughts and discriminations.

No planning? No dreaming? Not so. We have our thoughts and our feelings, but we do not hold them tightly. We practice knowing these things are present moments activities and we do them wholeheartedly. What we don't do is allow let them lead us around by the nose.

Living Zen is living now.

Be well.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is Knowing Enough?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

From the Soto Zen meal blessings, Gokan No Ge:

First, innumerable labors have brought us this food
We should know how it came to us.

The new farm:

"Find a sheet of printer paper and imagine a full-grown bird shaped something like a football with legs standing on it. Imagine 33,000 of these rectangles in a grid. (Broilers are never in cages, and never on multiple levels.) Now enclose the grid with windowless walls and put a ceiling on top. Run in automated (drug-laced) feed, water, heating, and ventilation systems."

Free range? Make a small opening in the wall, enough for one bird to squeeze through to a 5 x 5 foot dirt patch. This qualifies the mass of birds to be labelled "free range".

Now, after killing, the chickens are placed in a refrigerated water tank, thousands at a time. Referred to as 'fecal soup' by the Government Accountability Project, clean birds are cooled with dirty ones. Hot birds have open pores and absorb the water and "the (new) law of the land allows for slightly more than 11 percent of liquid absorption." (Quoted from "Eating animals" by Safran Foer.)

So its not just the labels that are apparently just 'full of shit'.

Consider not trusting a word, not a single word, of anything written on food packaged in the United States.

Be well.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Opportunity to Help

From a friend:

Hi Harvey

I hope you're doing well this holiday season. The Fresh Air Fund is looking for runners and sponsors to join our Fresh Air Fund-Racers team for the NYC Half-Marathon this coming March 21st and I was hoping you might be able to post something about it on Clear Mind Zen to share with your readers. This is a great way to participate in NYC's premier summer road race while helping Fresh Air Fund children.

Over the last year, support from friends like you helped us give nearly 10,000 inner-city children country experiences that they're still talking about! We rely on donations this time of year to keep our programs strong for the summer months, and helping children is a cause that I'm sure your readers would be interested in. Please feel free to repost anything from our news site here:


Being one means?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

On Face Book yesterday I posted a bit of whimsy, "A universe of one means we are all related." Last night I caught the last half or so of Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God", her one woman autobiographical play on her conversion from Catholicism to atheism. I set my DVR to record the next offering of this show (Sho3, 12/10 @ 5:55 AM MT) as it was a marvelous presentation. So these two points are rolling around in my heart/mind this morning.

Too often when atheists talk about religion, they are addressing a religion with a God framed in dualistic terms. Its a straw man thing. And when we talk about "oneness" we too often talk from with a human centered point of view.

Trouble is, God is no thing we can name. If our argument is with God it must rather be, with our understanding and conceptualization of God. Likewise, if we talk about Oneness we must include everything in that oneness and know that there is no rank order in the One. Just one.

There are profound and extensive implications of this point of view. Regards God, we cannot say anything. Regards oneness, we must consider everything we do as a doing to ourselves and others: Evil and good are one; killing and protecting are one; loving and hating are one.

Why not kill? Why not hate? Why not chose evil? We could and clearly do, but because we are one and our oneness makes us depend on each other, to do so is suicide on all levels. It is this interdependence that is my moral and ethical foundation. The extent that we realize this is the extent of our fullness as a being. Step outside of that realization and we harm ourselves and all other beings. Its an existential thing.

Be well.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

We have a very windy day here in southern New Mexico. The swing on the back patio was lifted and thrown against the house, creating a small hole in our wall. Looking out, looking in. Meditation and Ygoa at TBE at 4:00 today.


create a sangha
in the walled corner,
near Buddha
like so many disciples.

Dry and lifeless
stiff and prickly.
This is how they roll.

Is this what it means
to be aimless?


Look within and see
the seed
grasping to earth
in a flow
as a handless wand
spreads stardust.

A breath.

Be well.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ice Cream

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Through the graciousness of Disciple Rev. KoMyo, I was able to study the video teaching regarding Oryoki (formal meal taking) from Dharma Communications. A monastic setting certainly demands a formal and efficient approach to things, and respect for food clearly must be a priority, yet I believe sometimes it is far too easy for some of us to believe the type of bowl, what color it is, type of spoon and how it is set out, are more important than their function. We call this Cathedral Zen. At Clear Mind we say, "just eat the ice cream".

The story behind ritual is two fold. First, it offers a tool toward efficient accomplishment of something done often. We brush our teeth in a similar way each day. Brushing our teeth becomes a ritual. If there are a hundred of us brushing our teeth at the same time, we certainly would be well advised to have a plan so that elbows aren't cracking and sinks are available. But is the ritual, that is to say, the plan, the same as brushing our teeth? No. The plan is just the plan. Try not to elevate the plan above the object of the plan.

On the other hand, ritual offers us a tool that directs our attention to each step along the way. It is easy to forget we are brushing our teeth and, as we are doing the task, have our mind elsewhere. When we do this, we don't enjoy brushing our teeth. In fact, it is as if we are sleepwalking. Our life becomes the life of a zombie.

Oryoki, as with other rituals, must be done with mindful attention, but not at the expense of losing sight of what is actually going on, in this case, eating. At Clear Mind Zen we use oryoki during sesshin. Not quite as elaborate, but the same elements are present as those at Zen Mountain Monastery. Because we only do this four times a year, each time seems fresh and alive, offering us an opportunity to experience ourselves in the process. It is this experience of ourselves that forms the teaching of practice.

Always residing in "what's this?", we reply, "don't know" and thereby turn the soil of discovery. But when we say only this way, not that, we discover nothing.

A balance is struck when we lighten-up. Perhaps this is the particularly American aspect of our practice and why Zen really needs to be wrestled away from the stuffed shirts of the Japanese Zen bureaucracy American Zen is "Just Eat the Ice Cream Zen". And when standing in line to buy our ice cream, we say hello to those around us.

Here's the thing: We must stand in line. Ice cream needs a cup or cone. There is a ritual exchange of money for the ice cream. In the end, though, its just ice cream: eat and enjoy.

Be well.

Friday, December 04, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We woke to a few inches of snow on the ground. The Zendo was warm and inviting. I opened the window a bit and as we sat, the cold morning air penetrated my samue (working clothes) to wake up my skin. Disciple Rev. KoMyo is here from California and sat with me this morning. We will begin Rohatsu sesshin this evening.

Our sesshin are weekend events. This sesshin, typically done at our Mountain Refuge, will be done in Las Cruces at my residence' Zendo and on the street. It will be a challenge, but then, Zen is nothing, if not a challenge.

When we leave our comfort zone many channels of awareness open. Even our skin seems to be on alert. This is a welcoming invitation to experience the present moment.
Too comfortable is a problem; too uncomfortable, also a problem. To leave what we know is not to jump over a cliff. But, it is to take a step into unknown territory.

So, this sesshin will be a different experience than what we have grown accustomed to over the last several years. If you are in the area and wish to join us, please do. Saturday morning we will begin in the Zendo then move to Veteran's park. In the afternoon we will be in Old Mesilla, then back to the Zendo in the evening.

Lastly, a reminder, Robert Yee will be showing his independent film, "Street Zen", at the Fountain Theatre Saturday afternoon at 1:30 PM. Part of our Study Period will involve watching this film which features members of our Sangha.

Be well.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is always a reason for violent solutions. Violent solutions seem quite efficient and are often in service to an emotional need. Yet, violent solutions are, more often than not, short sighted and suggest a lack of creativity, skill, and patience, to say nothing of a lack of compassion.

Ruthless enemies offer opportunities for quick, violent solutions so all enemies are ruthless. We sometimes say violence is compassionate as it can, we believe, be corrective. Is this actually so? What is corrective about a bully? A sharp word or crack of a stick gets our attention, but isn't there a cost? Moreover, what causes ruthless behavior? And does violence address that cause?

I have used guns, grenades, sharp words, and a kyosaku. The former in service to killing an enemy and protecting my life, the latter in service to family and students. Or so I convince myself. In Zen we are asked to always question.

Is there not a better way?

Be well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

War No More

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Does practice change anything? After years of sitting facing a wall, does it at all matter that such a practice was done? In the morning the sun rises. Has millenia of nights made a difference?

Under the sun, a rock. Does the sand in the desert change or not? Does the rock come and go?

Does anything change anything? Of course it does ...and it doesn't. Buddha taught this arises because that arises in an infinite thread; birth, death, birth, death. When we say they are the same, one thing; when we say they are different, another thing.

To live without war is easy. Just give up the fighting and abandon the who that is doing it. More guns, more war; less guns, less war.

And the who that it is being done to? To live in peace is a challenge. Peace requires a willingness to take our hands off an enemy and put them back on a person who is suffering.

Stop, Listen, Practice!


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Rohatsu Sesshin

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We begin our weekend Rohatsu sesshin on Friday evening and will practice a mix of zazen in the Clear Mind Zendo and streetZen both at the Veteran's Park and in Old Mesilla throughout Saturday. A showing of an independent film about streetZen at the Fountain theatre will be considered part of our study practice on Saturday afternoon. If you wish to participate, please email me (if you have not already done so).

For those attending, please bring sleeping bags, blankets, and your own cushion for streetZen. Dress warm, layered, and in dark colors, preferably black. Evening and early morning practice will be in the Zendo. Late morning and throughout the day we will sit outdoors. Gloves and scarves will be needed.

Morning and evening meals will be indoors. Lunch will be outdoors at streetZen. Sunday morning we will practice in the Zendo and Student Joe Weitzell will take Jukai.

A small donation will be welcomed. Please join us to mark the awakening of the Buddha.

Be well.