Zen 101

Thursday, April 29, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is a perfect practice for everyday life. Zen is everyday life lived with eyes wide open and mind attuned to exactly what is before us to do. In such a way of life everything is practice: being ‘late’, being ‘on-time’, doing the laundry, doing the dishes, driving the car, making sales calls, planning tomorrow, everything.

To help us accomplish this, Buddha taught his Four Establishments of Mindfulness Sutra. The sutra teaches deliberate living. As we go through our day, we deliberately place our attention on what it is we are experiencing in body, sensations, mind, and dharma (or mental content). A gatha of sorts is its ground: “typing on my computer I am aware that I am typing on my computer.”

This is a deceptively simple, but deeply rich practice. As we go about deliberate living, our own responsibility for ourselves arises to greet us. We begin to notice everything including that which we can do and that which we cannot do. We begin to develop the wisdom to know the difference. Our willingness and unwillingness come into consciousness. And in this, we make decisions.

So, let us begin today to be the perfection of wisdom.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mokusho Dharma Center

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning brings a coldish, wet chill to the desert. I woke and closed the windows and am now sitting in the dining area writing to you before I take my seat in the zendo.

At the Omega Institute, I found a lovely statue of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. He is about ten inches in height, intricately detailed, and has a fine sword at high noon, ready to cut through delusion.

I have been looking for such a statue for years, literally. Manjushri is the bodhisattva of choice for zendos. However, he is hard to find at a reasonable price. Several benefactors stepped up to assist me this month. There was an anonymous patron of Anshin who made dozens of scholarships to Omega Institute available; there was an anonymous patron in El Paso who donated cash, several Sangha members donated smaller sums, and a generous benefactor here in Las Cruces donated to Clear Mind Zen. Thanks to these generous benefactors, I was both able to attend the Costs of War retreat and purchase this statue for the zendo. I am grateful to everyone.

My Dharma Grandfather, Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, wrote:
"...one should know the Living Zen in which one puts their whole self. In this Living or "Mokusho Zen,” one does not confine their Zen life to merely reading, discussion, writing or poetry, expecting enlightenment every day of their life to descend upon them from mysterious realms. Instead. one finds it in one's daily life, no matter where they may be" The Kyosaku, pp 134-135.

At Omega, Anshin gave me good counsel. He suggested I do what I do. What is that? I practice by making myself available to you. I bear witness to the suffering caused by violence. Finally, I offer teachings of practices that enable a peaceful life to be lived.

To that end, I have decided to establish a Dharma Center here in Las Cruces. This center will be the headquarters of the Order of Clear Mind Zen and will act as a practice center, training center, and a refuge. I will call it Mokusho Dharma Center.

If you are interested in supporting the establishment of our headquarters practice center, please do so through our Order’s website. I cannot do this alone.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Buddhas and buddhas

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

My flights home proceeded well: Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY to Detroit International to Atlanta to El Paso.. I had a small layover in Atlanta so I was able to get something to eat. I had aisle seats all the way and am happy for this.

My in-flight book is the Diamond Sutra, translated with commentary by Red Pine. It is the best version of this most important sutra and the commentaries span the centuries. It is very accessible.

Anyway, the teachings in the Diamond Sutra are the essential teaching of the Buddha. It teaches how to live an awakened life. It teaches the paramitas. It teaches heart of wisdom resides in selflessness and non-selflessness, buddha-dharma and no buddha- dharma. This sutra tangles the mind and forces us to practice.

The Buddha teaches in this sutra that what something is, is not what it is, it is just that we call that something something. This is a very important point as it demands we see more deeply than our words and ideas permit.

From the point of view expressed in this sutra, anyone who believes they have attained the four states of attainment are deluded: even when arhants. If one claims to have attained anything at all they reveal, according to Conze quoted in Pine, “an underlying attachment to a goal and to a self that would have denied the very arhantship…attained” (p. 166). Can someone be buddha and not buddha at the very same time? It is the only way. Those who are buddhas are not buddhas and therefore are buddhas.

In such statements, the Buddha teaches a subtle message: getting rid of the “I” of life makes an “I” possible, an I that is authentic and present, and not the least concerned for self, but rather, has an eye toward the deeply interconnected universe. Pine argues: “For unless detachment is based on compassion, it may lead to nirvana, but it does not lead to buddhahood” (p.157).

To be a buddha we must live in compassion for others, knowing there are no others, just the universal one arising as other. Touching the suffering of self and others is touching this essential core reality.

Be well.

Monday, April 26, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

When I wake up, I place my attention on your heart. I do. I open my eyes and look to the universe, seek out every imaginable being, and bow. Life is so very precious. All of life. And this makes even that which supports our lives equally precious: chairs, tables, cushions, forks, spoons, beds, floors, even notebooks and iPhones.

We practice to nurture both beings and the support of beings. We practice, in the end, to support the entire universe. Not just my corner, as opposed to your corner, or my clan, as opposed to your clan: mutual aid is our foundational survival strength and defines our humanity.
I am appalled by the recent legislation of Arizona. Aside from the racial/ethnic profiling aspect which is completely unacceptable behavior in a free society that values and cherishes diversity, it gives in to fear.

Fear is a terrible thing. It enables all sorts of not so good things to be done in the name of safety. The trouble is, once it is out of the box, none of us are invisible to its eye. If you look a little different, you are suspect when fear resides in the observer’s heart.

“What’s that you are wearing under that shirt?”
“Fringes, you say?”
“What are they?…Where did you say you were from?...ID, please.”

They screened my priest’s robe the other day. I felt offended and suspicious. Some readers did not think it such a deal. It gave me a lot to sit with.

Be well.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Morning arises with birdsong. I am happy and grateful to be awake. This retreat is challenging as it is touching me very deeply. So many people in such deep suffering. I have spent much time listening. And walking. And sitting. And listening. I am coming to conclude that the sufferings we experience, the injuries we receive, the hurts we feel: these are opportunities for grateful generosity. Even if we are the perpetrators of the harm. When we open ourselves to the suffering within and around us and enter it as completely as possible, there resides our heart. Our humanity is in the beat of that heart. Without the gift of suffering no path such as this would be walked.

Listen deeply,
Be well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Day

With palms together,

Omega afternoon:
samu interrupted
by thunder showers.
Raking raspberry bushes,
clearing winter residue,
seeing spring
slip up
through the dirt.
I am grateful.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


With palms together,

Arrived in Newburgh, a town near the Institute, and am sitting in the airport Quiznos with three other vets. We are anticipating the retreat and learning about each other. One woman with sexual trauma, one Iraq war vet, and two Vietrnam vets: each of us in various states of repair.

The retreat, I understand, is full, and it looks as though it will be a challenging week for all of us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I am on my way to Omega Institute in New York for a Veteran's retreat. I will return on the evening of the 26th. I will try to stay in-touch as I can via the Internet. For those of you, who sit with me in Las Cruces; please enjoy your continued practice. I look forward to my return and our working together in zazen, private interview, and group discussion.

Up-coming projects include: Establishing Weekly Zen Discussion at Zendo on Fridays at 4:00 PM; establishing the Juarez Zen Center on Sundays at 11:00 AM; planning for Summer Sesshin in July; planning for two week Peace Village also in July.

Be well.

Monday, April 19, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today I do some housekeeping details in order to leave early in the morning Tuesday for the Omega Institute. There I will meet up with friend, Rev. Claude Anshin Thomas, and will practice with him for five days working with veterans within whom the thought of enlightenment has arisen.

This thought is not a bad thing; thoughts are directions from our mind’s working. Often in Zen we say, “well, it’s just a thought and thoughts have no substance.” Some take this idea to mean we should dismiss thoughts altogether. Nonsense.

What is a challenge is to mistake a thought for more than it is and at the same time hold on to it as if it is truth itself. A thought is an element of mental process, no more or less.

The thought of enlightenment is the thought of resolution to our suffering: such a thing is a motivation for practice, but not the practice. If we want to run a marathon, for example, we must have more than a thought about it, but the thought is an essential first step in this very long process.

So, tomorrow I fly to assist all beings in the next step.

Be well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be Well

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The morning hour has come and I am awake feeling much better. Being sick is uncomfortable and I learn a lot from it. We should always pay close attention when we are uncomfortable as it is in such moments we are so often ready to receive a teaching.

The gift I receive from illness is the challenge of being nurtured. It has nor beem my way to easily accept help or ask for it. I am naturally inclined to suffer in silence, thank you very much, but such a way in not particularly healthy nor does it enable others to be in-service.

Lately, steps along this path have been helpful,. A teacher both teaches and is taught. Thinking being ill is a bother to others declines their heart and that is harmful to the generation of loving-kindness. It is important for each of us to be loving. Our universe thrives on it. We grow stronger through our mutual aid and the recognition of our interdependence. It takes some of us quite awhile to learn these lessons and accept them.

I am grateful to all of my teachers along this way.

Be well even when ill.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

This morning came with thunderclaps, lightening, and rain. I spent the night at the house with some sort of stomach virus yanking my chain. And the task of moving the rest of my things out of the house had to be put on hold. I completely missed friend Allen who had come to the condo to help me with shelves. Then, son Jacob came to the rescue, schlepping everything into the car but the butsudan.

I am now installed on the air mattress in my room practicing mindful illness. Tiny laptop and Jisha by my side.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Buttered Toast

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today is a sunny day with a threat of rain sometime. It would seem there is always a threat of something if we listen to the news. I chose not to. Whatever is there is there: my life is to meet it as completely as possible. Although I did not sleep well, I still woke at four and listened to the stillness of the early morning.

My heart/mind is opening, but I sat Zazen early today troubled by my lack of sleep. Sitting quietly, my eyes felt heavy, and I was mindful of a deep desire to just fall asleep there on the cushion.

Let go, I say to myself. Just be present. An owl hoots. A cockroach asks to be invited in. I say no and invite him out. Another bird is warbling. I consider my day: Zazen at Veteran’s Park at ten, coffee at Barnes and Nobles’ afterwards. An open afternoon presents itself although I will likely visit the hospital and the nursing home.

And after that, nap and study time.

But just now, buttered cinnamon-sugar toast awaits my mouth. I am grateful indeed for the many hands and lives that bring such delicious foods to me!

Be well, y’all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sit Down and Shut Up

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

There is a place of no suffering. It is a place where we live in complete freedom and complete responsibility, yet without fear, without pain, without loss. I touch this place on very sweet occasions. Rare, like the so sweet passing chill in the air on a hot summer’s day, it is not something that can stay with us. Unless. Unless.

Yesterday I felt very tired. The day before was quite long and exhausting. I left Torah study early, took a nap, and found that I had slept right through the first meeting of a new class I had looked forward to attending. Dokusan with Student Dai Shugyo was followed by another rest period, then off to do meditation at Temple Beth El.

Usually this is followed by yoga, but yesterday was different. The Social Action Committee had scheduled a meeting right in the middle of the class. Since I was invited to become the next chair of that committee, I attended.

After the committee meeting, I went home to meet with my Jisha, Soku Shin. We talked about our day and about me in relation to it. My Jisha helps me clarify; she is like a living kyosaku. What I am coming to address in my life is a repeated theme: how to deal with negative comments and views regarding myself.

Some people’s assessments of me can be quite hurtful and for years, I have had these assessments passed to me through my loved ones and friends. It always feels like a mystery to me as my view of myself is one that suggests I am a person who is nearly always kind, open and caring, willing to help, and willing to set aside self in service to others.

So, when I hear I am somehow not as good as I should be, that I hurt those I care about, and that those I am in relation to can ‘do better’, I am stunned, actually. I wish people could just say such things directly to me rather than go through my friends and loved ones. Such moments are serious teachers and I need to pay close attention to them. As a result, I feel the need to sit down and shut up.

So, for a while, I think I will.

Next week I am off to NY for a retreat with veterans and to visit with Claude Anshin. I look forward to it.
Be well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ride On!

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I am waking up to “kids” in my Zendo. Youthful medical students from all over are riding across America on their bicycles offering talks on health related issues. Temple Beth El is hosting them overnight on their way from San Diego to Washington, DC. Temple members divided up the group, offering our homes to them for the night. I have four and Zen Student Colette has four. Last night they enjoyed stories, some wine, and my community’s hot tub. This morning they will climb on their bikes and ride to El Paso where they will offer a talk.

Young doctors with great compassion: impressive. You may follow these athletes here:


May they enjoy a safe journey and continue to be a blessing in the universe.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Days of Wonder

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
Yesterday’s morning Zazen was particularly still. I had spent much of my early morning repairing a very old mokugyo that was damaged by someone using a drumstick on its surface. A mokugyo is a hollowed out wooden block made to look a bit like a fish with bulging eyes and is used to keep time in chanting. This one was scratched, pitted, and pitiful. For several days, I have been oiling it with lemon oil, as it was so dry it was like tinder.

Anyway, I took out fine sandpaper and sanded and sanded and sanded. Then I scraped out the red paint some prior owner had painted in its face and oiled some more. Time got away from me and I suddenly realized my samue (black work clothes) were full of sanding dust. I barely got to the park on time.

There is something about this particular mokugyo that has caught my heart. Maybe it is that it is just so pitiful, maybe because its small, or even that I traded it with the Both Sides/No Sides Zen community for the larger mokugyo I had in my Zendo. They had purchased the beat-up little gal off the Internet for about four dollars I understand.
Everything needs a home; everything needs love. I have grown fond of this mokugyo (I am naming, Harriet) because it is just my size and reminds me of myself. I am inviting Harriet to help me bring my body, speech, and mind together each morning as we chant: kan ji zai bo satsu gyo jin hannya hara mita ji sho ken go on kai ku do issai ku yaku…

In the afternoon, we visited two people, one a homeless man in the hospital for pneumonia. The other is an elder who craves company. He lives in a nursing home. With the former, we listened, with the latter we talked out under a tree and listened to birds and the flow of water from a fountain.

April 13, 2010
This morning, a new day, Clear Mind Zendo, in conjunction with Temple Beth El, will host 5 bicycle riders of a group of some 25 riders who are riding across America for World Health. I have several air mattresses and will make sure everything is in good shape for them.
Yesterday two benefactors offered very substantial donations to the Order of Clear Mind Zen. I am considering how best to use this money and believe a part should be used to purchase new zabutons and zafus. Purchase of student supplies should be next; things such as rakusu rings, jizu beads, and the like, since we offer these to students without charge. Yesterday we did purchase a small standing Buddha for Hannamatsuri ceremonies, as well as a wall hanging expressing a teaching of the Buddha, a small button that asks, “What would Buddha Do?” and a small “Co-Exist” window sticker The balance will be held in savings.

We are grateful for these and other recent offerings of dana. Surely we are beneficiaries of very generous hearts,

Be well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekly Update

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Waking at 3:30, I did what anyone would do, prepared the residence for the day. I made coffee, sorted change, put the clean dishes away, set up the altar, made toast, and ate. I am now here at the computer, seated n my room, and considering my day with you.

My Jisha (assistant) went through my weekly calendar yesterday on our way to El Paso. We were looking for ways to better organize my efforts, as well as to see just how thin I was getting pulled: not too bad, actually. In the end, a few things sorted themselves out. My task at this point is to put together a list of my aims and set them in a priority. I am working on this, but I can say these are the main categories: Zazen/Contemplative practice, Engaged practice, Teaching, Temple work, Order of Clear Mind Zen Administration, and Personal time.

The Juarez project has solidified. I will go there on the third Sunday of the month, offer assistance and a Teaching, and then return to Las Cruces in the afternoon. We have decided it is best for me to walk across “the bridge” into Mexico than drive. My students will meet me there and take me to the new center. This means it will be the third weekend of each month that I will also be in El Paso for the Both Sides/No Sides Zen Community.

I am also offering a weekly time for those interested in Zen to gather at my residence for an informal discussion of Zen, its practices, and teachings. I am scheduling this for late Friday afternoon from between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM, weekly.

Lastly, donations to support these activities are always welcome. There is a donation link on this page. Thank you very much!

This week:

Daily zazen at Roshi's Zendo at 7:00 AM
Monday 10:00 AM Veteran's Park Zazen
Monday 4:00 PM Spirituality Discussion Group
Tuesday 11:00 AM Veteran's Park Zazen
Tuesday 4:00 PM Meditation and Yoga, Temple Beth El
Wednesday 5:00 PM Meditation and Yoga, Temple Beth El
Thursday 10:30 AM Zazen at Unity Church on Wyatt
Friday 10:00 AM Veteran's Park Zazen
Friday 4:00 PM Zen Discussion Group

Be well,

Saturday, April 10, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I spent considerable time with my Teacher, Ken Hogaku McGuire-roshi. He made several suggestions about my residential Zendo, smacked me with his kyosaku a few times regarding my busy schedule, but most of all we talked about our practice. He thinks I overdo things and do not give myself the nurturance I need to continue to do my work. He is correct.

In a couple of weeks I will leave for the Omega Institute in New York state to participate in a retreat for veterans conducted by my friend Claude Anshin Thomas. Anshin amazes me. He was a door gunner on a Huey in Vietnam, survived being shot down several times and found himself in the lap of the Buddha decades later. I am going to practice with him, deepen my relationship with him, and learn from him.

May we all open to the teachings of those around us. The entire universe is our teacher and we are so often so busy that we fail to be present and miss its teachings. One day we open our eyes only to come face to face with the Infinite and look back with great sorrow.

Our lives must be lived, lived whole-heartedly, and without reservation. Invite the bell to ring.

Be well.

Today: Temple Services at 10:15, a noon talk on a unique Peace Camp, and at 3:00 PM a meeting in El Paso regarding creating a Juarez Zen Center.

Donations to the Order of Clear Mind Zen go to support our practice, help defray travel expenses, and help produce handouts to those who wish to receive them. Please consider making a small offering.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I Vow

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today is another full day. Beginning at 7:00 AM Zazen (daily at my Residential Zendo) I have Breakfast with the Boys at 9:30, Zazen at Unity Church at 10:30, a Peace Celebration Planning Committee Meeting at 1:00, a Hospital Visit after that and a Hebrew class at TBE at 7:00 PM.

I enjoy days like this, days that seem to flow from one activity to another. Maybe it’s the flow, maybe it’s the variety of experience, or maybe it’s just the experience of being in service. It really does not matter, nor does it matter whether I enjoy them or not.

We do and then we feel. Our commitments are a higher priority and value than our feelings about our commitments or the experience of doing our commitments. Commitment arises from vow. In Zen, as we recite our Four Great Vows, we say “sei gon” which means a prayerful vow. This is something a bit more than a promise; it’s a commitment to practice a unity between two things that are, in essence, One: Self and Other. A Fearless Bodhisattva just does with a whole heart.

So “like,” “don’t like” are not really factors to consider regards doing. They are factors to consider in understanding ourselves. But that is different work and the subject of another time.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

On my small altar in my bedroom, where I sit to write to you, is a Medicine Buddha, a small statue of Kannon and a set of photographs. The pictures are of my father and grandfather on one side and my grandfather and myself on the other side. I have placed the Bodhisattva of Compassion in the vortex between them.

My father was a wounded healer. I first wrote warrior, but corrected it as he was a medic during world war two in the south pacific. His job was blood and guts. And forever after, he washed himself with beer and whiskey.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was a gentle soul, a farmer-gardener, who made paper for a living in New Jersey. I have fond memories of summer visits, cherry trees, flowers, and tea with cinnamon sugar toast.

Together they gave rise to me. I hold Kannon in my heart center forever there to accept the cries of the universe.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Wake Up

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Awake overnight, I take advantage of the space to practice zazen and to write to you.

A monk asks, “If there is no hint of cloud in the sky for ten thousand miles, what do you say about it?” The Teacher replies, “I would punish the sky with my stick.” Queried further, the Teacher is asked, “Why do you blame the sky?” Teacher replies, “Because, there is no rain when we should have it and there is no fair-weather when we should have it.”

In his commentary on Case 32 of “The Iron Flute,” Nyogen Senzaki says, “A Zen monk punishes everything with his big stick; even Buddha and the patriarchs cannot escape that blow of Zen. His stick is the handle by which he can shake the whole universe.”

There is no room for complacency, no time for sleep. We are to be awake in order to function and our functioning is to heal the world. Complacency suggests a sleeping conscience. Just like in Zazen, where a Teacher is ever mindful of his student’s eye, we all should be mindful of the state of the world around us.

Our practice challenge is to wake up!. Our world deeply needs our willingness to embrace it, help it, and heal it.


None of us are blameless.

Be well

Monday, April 05, 2010

Notes for the Week

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today I sit zazen at the Veteran’s Park at 10:00 AM. The early afternoon will be for accounting and the late afternoon for Study Group at 4:00 PM. Today our small group will meet at McGuire-roshi’s home out on the East Mesa. I invite any of you to attend either my morning zazen or afternoon Study Group.

I have turned my condo into a Zendo. I have decided that, since I am now a full time monk, I will offer myself to you full time. This means if you want private Zen instruction, please call me to make an appointment and I will receive you. My condo is “ground floor”, on a courtyard. It is rather pleasant and I think the space will be a wonderful space for practice. If you cannot visit in person and would like to have a conversation via “chat” or telephone, please let me know and we will schedule a time. I am on Facebook and Tricycle both of which have “chat” functions. Also I have Skype and can do video conferencing.

As to accounting, I am reminded that it is time to ask for dana. It is not that I am poor and cannot afford to provide either for myself or for CMZ. It is rather an obligation we each have to access that aspect of us that is called Generosity. Touching this space is excellent practice and really should be done, according to our tradition, without a thought of self.

If you would please consider ofering a few dollars to my dana bowl either in person or via PayPal, CMZ would greatly appreciate it. You may access CMZ PayPal through our website: http://www.clearmindzen.org

Lastly, in a few weeks I will be traveling to New York State to the Omega Institute in order to participate in a Zen retreat for Veterans. I do not travel easily. Something about my PTSD has issues with security and trust, etc. But I AM working with this. I will also be meeting with dos personas from Juarez, Mexico to begin the process of creating a Clear Mind Zen affiliate in that violence-rife city.

We will need donations for Zafus, Zabutons, altar supplies, a Buddha, a bell, and a Mokugyo. This is what Sangha is all about. We must offer our presence to the people of Juarez and create a safe and peaceful space. I need your help.

Be well.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Legend has is that the Israelites were held as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years and then were freed; legend has it that a man named Siddartha was born and would offer hope to the world as the Awakened One; legend has it that a man named Jesus was executed and rose from the dead. Each of these in different centuries, but in the same season: the spring equinox.

There is something about spring that stirs us and offers us light in darkness. For some, it is the religious significance of the season, for others, the blossoming leaves on trees suggests a natural rhythm to life itself. We are once again on the move coming out of the cloistered cold walls of winter.

Cycles point to process. Each of these historic or metaphoric events recognizes and reminds us that our liberation from bondage is not a “one time does the trick” thing, it’s a process, an eternal process. As it turns out, just like finally achieving a long sought after goal, another, even better goal surfaces to lure us on.

We all live in bondage as the Infinite through Moses, Buddha, and Jesus taught, and there is a way out of this bondage, its called ‘going forth.” The Israelites left everything they knew and went out into the desert, the Buddha left everything he knew and went out into the wilderness, and Jesus did the same. What were they thinking!

A full cup cannot be refreshed. To learn, to open, to be free, we must drop away what we think we know and take a step into the unknown. This is the step of faith, the step that leads to our own personal transformation: it is the step of liberation. This is spring.

Be well.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Both Sides/No Sides

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Today is a wonderful day. The sun has not risen yet, but the eastern sky is pregnant. This morning several Order members will drive to El Paso to the Both Sides No Sides Zen Sangha. Also meeting there will be my Teacher, Hogaku-roshi, his wife, Shin Getsu-roshi, and several of my priest disciples. It is always a delight to have everyone come together, but doubly so for such an occasion as Shukke Tokudo, priest ordination.

In ancient times, priests were required to leave home in order to enter the Way. It was believed, and so Master Dogen taught, that the duties of a householder precluded the aims of a priest. Renunciation of all worldly things, including family was understood to be necessary.

Today, we do not necessarily hold that view in the Zen world. Although some monastic centers such as Shasta Abbey (Order of Buddhist Contemplatives) does require celibacy and priests are not allowed to be married.

The Order of Clear Mind Zen takes the position that householding is just as clear a dharma gate as monastic life, or the challenges of celibacy, or those of he life of a wandering Buddhist. It is the attitude one takes toward any given moment that allows the Dharma to emerge.

An attitude of “Don’t Know” and “Just Go Straight” as Master Seung Sahn was fond of using, is essential and possible within home life. In fact, I would argue that home life is an incredibly powerful Zen practice arena.

Still, there is something to be said for waiting until we have a few years under our proverbial belts. Elders are not always so prone to so eagerly jump into change, often have the wisdom only a long view can provide, and have often mastered a degree of patience those younger students do not share.

In the case of today’s ordination, Student Hen Shin, has waited, churned, and stewed with Zen for many years. I have churned and stewed with him. Hen Shin is a remarkable poet (Goggle Bobby Byrd) and a man with an incredible social conscience. Together, he and his student, John, built the Both sides/No Sides Zen community which bridges both the US and Mexican communities in the El Paso/Juarez area. I am indeed blessed to call this man my friend.

Be well.

Friday, April 02, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The morning air is chilly again and my bones ache as I roll over in my sleeping bag bed in my empty room. I wait eagerly for summer as my body feels so much better when it is warm and sweaty.

There is an old koan that talks about no hot, no cold. When we are in a centered place, the place of prajna paramita, a place of just this breath with no discernment, there is, indeed, no hot or cold. Yet, this place also has hot and cold: So, when hot, get cooler; when cold, get warmer. The truth of Zen is that both are true simultaneously. The Absolute Truth contains the Relative Truth and the Relative Truth contains the Absolute Truth.

So what?

When my bones ache, I take an anti-inflammatory pill. I do so without judgment, discernment, or second-guessing. To live this way is to live at one. At the top of the hundred-foot pole we step out in complete faith.

Be well.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I visited a Nursing Home to arrange visits and transportation to services at Temple Beth El. The person I was visiting sat in his wheelchair slumped facing his bed. He was still, as if in deep meditation, and indeed, had studied with Senzaki roshi years ago in California. We talked for a little while, or what passed for talking, mostly him asking me the same questions and I answering the same answers. Every once in awhile he will say with fire in his eyes, “Zen!”

I practice kinhin through the halls on the way out of the home whispering to myself, “Gya te, gya te, hara gya te, hara so gya te, Bodhi so waka!”

Be well.