Zen 101

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning it is a delightful dark outside. The bulb in the door light has blown out and I am pleased at its passing. Darkness seems underrated, light overrated. In the darkness, we more easily access stillness. In the darkness, we more easily access ourselves. Light provides a myriad of distractions and takes our attention away that we might see what is there to see. So, a blown-out light bulb provides a respite from the light and I reside for a moment, with Suki, in the dark as she does her morning business.

Suki seems to be doing a little better. Less hacking, no blurry eyes, and her nose seems much better. I have an appointment with a veterinarian tomorrow. I am hopeful she will offer some medicines in addition to that which I am using. She has a lot of heart. Clearly, she struggles valiantly to be well.

Zen life is like that, putting one foot in front of the other aiming to complete the journey, but not really knowing what that means. We abandon meaning for the sake of the experience of each breath. And when asked, “Is that all there is?” We say, “Yes.”

Each breath is life itself, entirely and completely. Each blink of the eye, turn of the mouth, movement of a finger or foot, is the universe arousing itself. Being well is nothing more or less than being awake in this arousal.

May your journey today be what it is, but that it is peaceful and safe.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Suki's Moment

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Life seems to test us. Life does not seem to test us. On the one hand, as our brain separates us from what life is, we can perceive it as something outside of us; testing us, embracing us, celebrating, or supporting us. On the other hand, if we realize there is nothing outside of us, that this inside/outside is just a function of our brain perception and organization and not reality, then nothing is presenting itself in any way, we are just living.

Suki is still sick. Another trip to the shelter revealed a threat to her life. The vet tech thought that maybe she had distemper. Since I do not “own” her yet, as the mandatory waiting period and spaying has not occurred, they could simply seize her and put her down. We are trying a heavier dose of drugs and a few other things. She seems to be doing well, but for the cough, and has no symptoms of distemper itself.

One way of looking at this situation is it is another loss in a row of losses. I could add them up, say OMG, and feel like crap. Another way is to say, “Suki is ill, care for her.”

Tomorrow is an imagining, yesterday a fictionalized memory. This moment, this moment is all there actually is. My function in this moment is to care.

Be well.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning the air feels heavy. The rainy season is fast approaching. In the desert southwest we typically get rain, often heavy, in the afternoons each day through August and sometimes into September. It is a pleasant season overall, cooler due to the afternoon overcast sky, but the humidity rises and in can get quite uncomfortable, especially in large black robes.

Yesterday, we held our Zen discussion group and the section of the Platform Sutra we addressed was the Fifth Patriarch’s request for his students to show their understanding and the senior disciple’s poetic reply. He writes on the wall,

“The body is a bodhi tree

The mind is like a standing mirror

Always try to keep it clean

Don’t let it gather dust.”

As a corollary, I introduced a koan Student that John S and I were working on, Master Langye’s “Original Purity.” This is Case 6, from Master Dogen’s True Dharma Eye and puts forth the notion that all things appear and each of them are dharma gates: so what is purity?

These two points of ancient text stand as kyosaku. The senior disciple has part of it. He teaches us serenity and practice, but he does so with an aim: the aim of purity. Red Pine points out that the poem “is not the teaching that sets us free, but the teaching that itself becomes a burden…”(p.99).

Master Dogen’s koan offers us a way through the problem: everything is pure, everything. As Daido Loori points out, “There is nothing outside of it.”

The result? Pure and Impure lose their meaning. What is left is absolute Oneness.

Rain is not rain, it is just what we call rain; rain is just rain and it appears as though we might get some today.

Be well.

Friday, June 25, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning is Street Zen at Sagecrest Park. I enjoy very much sitting under the trees at this pleasant little park. Birds do their morning dances and people walk their dogs, gathering in small pockets of the park to share stories.

Afterwards, I am going to T or C to talk with our webmaster. From there, its back to the Zendo for a Dokusan appointment followed by our weekly Zen Discussion Group at 4:00 PM. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Sesshin approaches for the second weekend of July. We have space for one additional person at this point. Confirmed registrants include Daiho, Bussho, Zen Shin, Dai Shugyo, Soku Shin, and from California, Ko Myo, Casey Cochran, and John Sorenson.

Donation for the weekend is $25.00. Meals included.

Please register now if you want to attend.

Lastly, we have availble copies of my booklet, "The Zen of Trauma" ($2.00) and the DVD short independent film, "Street Zen" ($12.00) . If you would like a copy, please email me.

Thank you.

Be well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

A morning like any other: wake, get up, and walk Suki around the building. She particularly enjoys wrapping herself around something and looking at me to see if I can solve the puzzle. Invariably, I do and she is delighted to be able to continue our walk together.

Suki is suffering from a case of Kennel Cough and we have been treating it with medicine the shelter gave us, and by using a humidifier. It is difficult to experience an animal suffer. I gave her pill this morning wrapped in peanut butter, and then sat on the floor brushing her while she licked the remains of the peanut butter from her chops.

We all need nurturance and more often than not, our best nurturance is that which we derive from nurturing others. Giving others the gift of touch or kind speech gives us the opportunity to open our heart and in so doing, our true nature has an avenue to manifest.

Caring changes everything.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Social Action, Part Four

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone.

Social Action, Part Four

The Three Pure Precepts originate from the Dhammapada (v. 183). Here the Buddha says, “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind -- this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” We in the Order of Clear Mind Zen argue that the impetus for social action comes directly from these. In the Mahayana tradition, cleansing one’s mind was replaced by the more socially responsible Bodhisattva vow, to bring about the awakening of all beings.

As Zen practitioners we understand the relationship between freeing one’s self and freeing all others is an intimate one. We are, in a very real sense, already free, already one. Yet, the clouds created by the Three Poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion obscure this fact. Our practice is to cut through these clouds in order to see with complete clarity: as we are already free, so are all other beings.

In Zen, we realize evil does not exist as some force independent of us. There is no devil making anyone do anything. Just so, there is no God pulling our strings either. It is therefore our job, with the taking of these precepts, to avoid creating evil on the one hand, and to bring about good, on the other hand. The two fold into the last, which is to say, we avoid evil and do good for the sake of freeing of all beings.

This said, we still have a responsibility to create the conditions upon which others may come to see their own freedom. In this, we address the three poisons directly. It is our way to reduce and eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We do this through manifesting the three antidotes: generosity, compassion, and wisdom. We work simultaneously to reduce or eliminate social conditions based in the poisons while offering the three medicines.

Human beings must have their basic needs met. We must have food, clothing, and shelter. We must be free from fear, fear of oppression, exploitation, and abuse. We must also be offered the tools to arrive at our own freedom. These tools include the contemplative practices of Zen Buddhism.

Be well

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Social Action, Part Three

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Social Action, Part Three

Master Dogen said in his Final Instructions, “This monastery is an excellent place. We may become attached to it, but we should live in accord with temporal and worldly conditions. In the buddha-dharma any place is an excellent place for practice.”

To live away from “the world” is a marvelous thing. It enables us to go deeply inside and experience ourselves intimately as we go through the tasks of living. At our Refuge in the mountains where we lived for three years, the first two years we lived without electricity. Our lives were very slow and very deliberate. If I wanted to make biscuits for breakfast I needed to get up at 4:00 AM and get the wood cook stove going. If we wanted water in out tap, I needed to make sure we had the gravity feed tank full. Once or twice a week we would start the generator in order to accomplish tasks that required electricity, such as pumping water, charging the laptop’s batteries, etc.

Under such conditions, meditation and mindfulness were both easy and required. I could (and did) easily hurt myself without mindfulness at the stove or with the axe cutting my daily portion of wood. Meditation was a cinch since without lights, when the sun went down, contemplation came naturally. Eventually, however, we had to leave the Refuge. Groceries were necessary, meetings at the Volunteer Fire Department were scheduled, and visits needed to be made.

It was during this period of my practice life I determined Engaged Zen was necessary. Engaged practice is the practice of not being on auto-pilot. Engaged practice is the practice of the buddhas and is an antidote to the sleepiness of a life become so easy to cruise through. To live in engaged practice requires a commitment to wake up and stay awake.

Social action is a natural consequence of living with our eyes open. When we are awake to the fact that turning on the lights just to have the lights on, or turning on the television just to have it on, is wasteful and and example of sleeping in the present moment, we turn them off. We might replace our incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient spirals. This might lead us to consider not driving our cars so much or finding ways to use less consumable products.

Living away from people teaches us the value of silence and thus the value of right speech when we are with others. Idle chatter is never a good idea and leads to hurtful gossip. Our world is made completely of our own construction. If we need to hate we will find something or someone to hate. If we need to love, we will find something or someone to love.

When we encounter situations and people who are harmful, we engage them with mindful compassion. War is harmful, we engage those making war with peace and understanding. Social Discrimination is harmful, we engage those who discriminate with the wisdom of non-duality. We offer alternatives such as serene reflection meditation and generosity of heart/mind.

Social action is not something writ large with big signs and electric lights. It is the simple practice of walking in the world with our eyes and heart open coupled with a willingness to engage what comes before us in the simplest and most direct manner.

So, as Master Dogen points out in the opening quote, “In the buddha-dharma any place is an excellent place for practice.” This means taking the serenity and mindfulness of our zazen and walking through town with it, through work with it, and through play with it.

May we each be a blessing in the universe.

Rev. Harvey Daiho Hilbert-Roshi

Order of Clear Mind Zen

Clear Mind Zen Temple

Our Order's Store

Telephone: 575-680-6680

See Roshi's personal Calendar

Monday, June 21, 2010

Social Action, Part Two

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Social Action, Part Two

What would Buddha do? Who knows? Who cares? To have such an idea is to consider an ideal, a dream, and wish to impose it on the dharma in front of our eyes. Every situation presents itself as it is and requires our direct and immediate action, even if that action is simply to consider.

How would a buddha address racism? Religious intolerance? Social and economic inequity? War? This is a slightly different question, as we are not talking about a historical person, but rather ourselves when our eyes are open. Still, it takes us in the wrong direction as it asks us to guess by imagining two thoughts: ourselves as awake, and that we are awake in some scenario we might encounter. Next, we might ask is there any such thing as religious intolerance, war, social injustice, in the first place? Or are these, as well, just ideas?

Our common sense says, “of course there is such a thing, I have seen it!” You might say, “Roshi just used a pejorative phrase referring to fundamentalist thinkers as ‘Fundies’!” You might be right. On the other hand, what is under the question? What is the thing itself? The thing before the thought? Which is the issue, the injustice or the label or are they equally so?

This is what this bodhisattva did: On his matter of “Fundies” I decided to ask my friend Garland. We happened to be together at a gathering yesterday. Garland is a man who walks around the City of Las Cruces dragging a large cross on his shoulder. He comes to Torah study with his New Testament. Last year, an accomplished pianist, he gave out CDs of Christmas music to congregation at Temple Beth El. Garland’s response is always based in direct, literal translation of the Bible. He is as close to fundamentalist as I know. So, I asked him about the phrase and the “Left Behind” series I referenced in an earlier post.

He considered these for a moment or two. He agreed that the phrase “Fundie” could be pejorative, but he said it was a matter of perception. He himself rejects the idea that he is a fundamentalist, except that he refers always to his spiritual source when walking in the world. He also told me he thought the books were based on the book of revelation and that he avoided them as they presented a vision of God he was not inclined to agree with, namely a judging, wrathful God. He thought he books were scary, as well, and would not recommend them. Unfortunately, at that point I needed to leave to assist a friend.

What to do? Ask. Healthy living and honest communication requires a bit of a willingness to set aside the baggage of what we think we know and act in the moment from our heart. Garland and I are on opposing sides regarding the Iraq war, opposing sides regarding abortion, opposing sides regarding prayer in schools, etc. But we are on the same side regarding the core issue: living with heart as directly as possible. His source is his text and how he frames his understanding of it; mine is my practice and the lessons I derive from it.

We get into trouble when we begin saying true Buddhists act this way or that. A true Buddhist is first, not a Buddhist, and second, acts without preconceived shoulds. He calls a spade a spade, knowing it is not a spade, and works to get to know spadeness seeing it as both spadeness and not-spadeness at the same time, while not ignoring either. Yet, he can do nothing if he is afraid of the encounter or worries about what others might say.

I have two missions in my life as a bodhisattva. First is to brandish the sword of Manjushri to kill the Buddha in me in order to be a buddha in life, and the second is to offer my experience of that sword to others.

Be well.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Social Action, Part One

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The workshop went very well, although I was exhausted by afternoon. It is a considerable amount of work to organize, market, and conduct a workshop. I am not as young as I used to be  and it shows.

We had a reasonably good attendance and wonderful participation by those who did. People shared very challenging stories from their past. We sat in mindful silence, practiced deep listening meditation, eating meditation, and writing meditation. Toward the afternoon, we practiced yoga and T’ai Chi Chih. My Teacher, Hogaku-roshi acted as the summation guide.

I would like our Order to do more of these in various parts of the country. We are looking to do one in Northern California in September. Survivors of violence need a little space and recognition of their suffering.

As I listened to people speak, I heard the voices of the perpetrators through the survivor’s mouths: “I am going to f*** you and if you tell anyone, I will hunt you down.” I marveled at the woman attending with still fresh stab wounds made be her ‘boyfriend.’ The subtext of violence is fear and control, it is about domination and subjugation...and it depends on our silence.

People who believe they have the right to harm others need to be addressed. People who believe they are somehow better than others by virtue of gender or race or class, and therefore have a right to control or speak for others, need to be addressed.

I remember a time in South Carolina where I was a social worker in a rural community. A White farmer and a Black share-cropper were having a fight. The White farmer was angry that the Black sharecropper had a voice. He felt the sharecropper owed him deferential silence, after all, he “gave him everything he needed.” This, in a place that religiously insisted it was their right to keep “Whites Only” restaurants, restrooms, and water fountains. He actually told me, “Why that boy, he don’t need to vote, its what wrong with this country.” The “boy” was twenty years his senior and a veteran of WW II.

In the face of such nonsense, we are wrong to remain silent as our silence supports the aggressor.

Next, “what would Buddha do?”

Friday, June 18, 2010

When not sleeping, make ink, use brush, and create a world.


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The other day I saw a book, one of the “Left Behind” series. Good grief.

There is no one left behind.

I recall my visceral yucky feeling when I first encountered this series of books. I listened to interviews of the author. I was not a happy camper. Actually, at the time, I was quite annoyed. In the world of religion, beliefs such as those espoused by fundamentalists are the most toxic. Fundies completely and deliberately misread text, stand on that misrepresentation, and live with their eyes closed in a world of horror, which they themselves have created and want to thrust on others. I pity them.

Life is deeply and completely organic. It is total, seamless, metabolic process. The “I” that “I AM” is just “memory me”. It has no independent reality apart from the organic processes that enable it to exist. Left behind? Say what?

This reminds me of a conversation we were having at PrayerWorks this week. Someone brought up heaven, what did we think? I thought, hmmm, a place, which no one has ever been to and returned from, what can anyone say? Yet there are those who speak with absolute authority on the subject. Any discussion of heaven is actually a discussion of life after death. And on this, we must remain silent or risk speaking nonsense. What we can examine is our need to hold on to an “I,” a “me” that somehow (and for some reason) “lives” on after death. What’s that about?

I suspect it has something to do with fear of extinction or permanent loss of consciousness. Our practice helps with this, as our practice is to open our grip on such notions in order to let them go. I gave up my “I” in fits and starts: slowly over the years since facing directly my own mortality in combat and subsequently, on the cushion, but more directly and quickly with my diagnosis of a prematurely aging brain. Facing death regularly in its variegated forms will do this. The process exposes concepts for the chimera they are, as we, moment to moment, experience actual life, as it is, directly.

Left behind? I insist! It is where the people are.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Everyday Practice

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Practice must be disciplined in order to be of help to us. When we do things as we feel like doing them or when we think we have time to do them, we give too much power to either our feelings or external events. A disciplined spiritual practice is a practice that assists the growing of the dharma from the inside out.

This self-discipline is something we moderns do not seem to want to hear about as regards ourselves. Yet, I often hear it is discipline that is most needed among others. We all have excuses, don’t we?

We practice according to a schedule. Adherence to that schedule is important, not for the schedule, but for us. Within a schedule of practice there is, paradoxically, great freedom. It is rather like being set free on a playpen. The borders of the pen keep us together, so to speak, and on task: it is a playpen, after all. Yet within those borders we can be open and explore.

Scheduled practice is only one side of a disciplined spiritual practice, however. The other side is the side of mindfulness. Are we disciplined in our willingness and effort to stay mindful through the day? Do we appreciate the feel of the keys as we type or they clicking sound they make? Do we recognize the many lives that brought us the keyboard or the monitor that allows us to be connected as we are?

Every moment buddha is every moment awareness. Create a practice schedule for yourself, but don’t forget that practice is every moment and everything. Stick to it. Let me know how it goes.

A bow to each of you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Notes for the Day

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning a short bicycle ride to Sagecrest Park for zazen at 7:00 is followed by Tai Chi Chih class at Mountainview Regional Medical Center, and then by Prayerworks at Cyrille Kane’s residence. A break for marketing the weekend workshop will be followed by a meeting with Dalene Fuller Rogers this evening.

I feel up to this day because I got a good night’s sleep last night. Its amazing what a few hours of sleep will do!

Yesterday we took Suki to the vet as she has developed a bit of Kennel cough. A half hour wait got us a few pills and instructions to use Robitussen.  Suki is happy.

Also yesterday I saw my psychiatrist who gave me a journal with tons of articles about recent work with gunshot wounds to the head. He thinks there might be something modern medicine can do about my degenerating brain. Medicine Man, he! Still, I will look at them.

The world is a place we live in. We should be at home in it, but this means we should be taking good care of it, not abusing it. Our bodies, likewise: I know I sometimes push myself too far. And like Nature does for the world, so too it will do for my body and will tell me in no uncertain terms, “Back off!”

Time to dress for zazen. A bow to each of you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mokusho Zen, Part Six

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

There are birds. I hear them as they speak. Their sound is my sound: one. Where are they?

What a nonsensical question! In a formless field of emptiness, there is no “where”: “they” and “me” do not exist independently.

I eat my morning toast with all beings:

You eat your eggs and bacon with all beings.

Sun, moon stars, wind and rain;

Trucks, roads, refineries, sales clerks, cooks, and dishwashers;

Pigs, farmers, chickens, worms, ladybugs, ants, and bacteria;

Everything is here now with us as we enjoy this moment together.

When we practice Mokusho Zen, which is to say, living awake in the everyday, every moment world, we reside in this field free and easy, and live for the benefit of all beings.

Be well.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

KRWG: Dalene Fuller Rogers and Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi (2010-06-11)

KRWG: Dalene Fuller Rogers and Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi (2010-06-11)

Mokusho Zen, Part Five

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Mokusho Zen, Part Five

This morning I woke to the calm stillness of my inner world. The field of boundless emptiness, as Hongzhi refers to it. Master Hongzhi was a 12th century Master who laid the groundwork for what is called Silent Illumination, which came to be known through Master Dogen as Shikantaza, and that I am offering as Mokusho Zen. In this field of emptiness, self has fallen away and as a result, everything is present exactly as it is.

One of the reasons I recommend waking so early is that the day has not shrunk nor has it intruded. The day is still there, but unfolding, if you will. The silence of the morning is silence of the infinite. As a quiet, but persistent presence, we see with fresh eyes, undisturbed, and clear eyes. Our heart has an opportunity to speak and be heard.

The day is not a” day.” The day can be experienced as one singular moment after another singular moment. Lived as we do in walking meditation: we breathe in on one step; breathe out on the next step. We have nowhere in particular to “go,” as we are always right where we are. So, morning, in its quiet, expansive state, offers us a teaching. Be still, be alive, be what is there in front of us to be.

Be well.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Zazen in the Park

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning we sat at Sagecrest Park under some rather large trees. The birds were up, the bees were up, the flowers and the trees were up, it was clearly “upsy-wupsy” time. Student Dai Shugyo and I sat alone amid the torrent of morning sound.

As I sat I considered the universe. No small task, no large task either. All one need do is look deeply at the ground in front of him or her. Under the grass: ants, worms, and other small critters. Above the grass: birds, dogs, and humans. In the sky: birds, clouds, and planes. All being in place as they are, moving on the one hand, not moving on the other hand. Everything is point of view. The universe resides in the ant crawling across my foot. No need to see the Grand Canyon or Angel Falls, or the Earth from the moon: Everything is there right in front of us if we only open our eyes to see.

Zazen in a park does that. Crazy, isn’t it?
Be well

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mokusho Zen, Part Four

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Mokusho Zen, Part Four

Hongzhi was a 12th century Zen Master who formulated much of the “Silent Illumination” teachings which powerfully influenced Master Dogen. Hongzhi writes, the whole purpose of practice is to “graciously share yourself with the hundred grass tips in the busy marketplace.” He teaches us to “Stay with that, just as that. Stay with this, just as this.”
In Hongzhi’s teaching of shikantaza there are no ranks. He teaches the field is already with us, this field being Buddha Nature. As Taigen Dan Leighton adds, “Nothing is external to this luminous present mind.” (Cultivating the Empty Field: the silent illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi)

How do we experience what is already there hidden in the bushes of our mind?

Simple. We relax. We notice.

Dogen suggests we turn the light inward and take a backward step. By this, he means we open our attention to our internal world as the external world cradles it. As we sit, walk, or lay down, are we fully aware of what is happening? Do we notice the dynamic interactions between body, heart/mind, and environment?

Dogen argued that as we open our attention, notice our own interactions, the body and mind will, paradoxically, fall away.

Practice: The next time you take your seat and you find yourself feeling itchy somewhere, instead of scratching the spot, put your mind on it as fully and completely as possible. Experience the sensation of the itch completely and watch it. What happens? The itch falls away.

May we practice to do the same.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mokusho Zen, Part Three

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,
Mokusho Zen, Part Three

Master Dogen writes, “If a human being, even for a single moment, manifests the Buddha’s posture in the three forms of conduct, while that person sits up straight in Samadhi, the entire world of Dharma assumes the Buddha’s posture, and the whole of space becomes the state of realization.” Bendowa, section 20

Dogen Zenji has said a mouthful with this utterance. In one broad stroke, he sets the stage for Every Moment Buddha practice. A little later in the text he says, “The practice is not confined to the sitting itself; it strikes space and resonates, (like) ringing that continues before and after a bell.”

So, what is meant by manifesting the “Buddha’s posture”?

When we gather mind, body, and environment together and reside with them as one, we are manifesting the Buddha posture. In this context, then it does not matter the “form of conduct” at all. We can be sitting, walking, or lying down. In fact, as we live in this “Every Moment Buddha,” forms of conduct, body, minds, and environment, resolve into one seamless present.

What to do next comes quite naturally, but never easily or clearly. For example, the other day I was talking with friends. These friends have been struggling with me since my separation. They report matters of loyalty to be the core issue between us. I would agree in retrospect, although in the moment, I did not.

I have a new female friend and we are quite close. These friends do not want me to visit them with her. Moreover, an invitation to dinner at my home would be rejected if she were present and, of course, an invitation to their home is for me to come alone. They claim this is due to their loyalty to my former partner, also their friend. It is clear to me that they are suffering and I feel badly for them. They believe they need to make a choice as to where their “loyalties” lie. The truth is such beliefs divide us rather than bring us together.

People in such situations have divided themselves and suffer as a result. Loyalty when used this way is hurtful, as it becomes a source of division and pain. Every Moment Buddha would have each of us together see through the other’s eyes, for the sake of deep understanding and connection. Our heart opens as we become more inclusive and as we release ourselves from the grip of duality. In this state, we are practicing Mokusho Zen.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mokusho Zen, Part Two

With palms together,
Good Afternoon Everyone,

Having ground some ink on a grinding stone, I am now holding my brush upright above the paper. The brush is wet and seems to anticipate. I wait and consider. Where am I? The ink I mixed with tightly pressed, circular strokes. In a moment, the brush will fall and be committed to simple, broad strokes. Zen is like this.

We enter a Zendo with deliberate and mindful steps. As we approach our cushion, our hands move from shashu to gassho. With palms pressed together, we might rest in the moment just before we bow to our cushion, that which supports our practice, and then turn and bow to the Sangha, a community which supports our practice, then we take our seat.

Where else is there to be? Wherever we go, there we are, and so the task is to be there. In the moment before taking our seat, there should arise the question of our commitment. In this moment, we draw our self together and make a decision. The brush falls to paper and we make ourselves in a simple downward stroke.

Although the adverb, “just” is used extensively in Zen, we rarely see anything written about it. Just means, exactly this and no more or less. It means precisely”this, and not that.” Therefore, when we say, “just” sit, we mean literally, just sit. Add nothing; take nothing away. Just sit. Exactly and precisely, just sit.

Practice this way, not that, attention to this, not that. Let body and mind drop away. Right. Our mind is a powerful weapon against non-duality. It steps right in and says, “Enough! Let’s watch a movie!” We worry some more.

Can we just sit down and shut up? I mean, is that possible? Of course, it is possible: worry less, do more. In the meantime, just say, “Yes” when the bell rings.
Be well.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Mokusho Zen, Part One: Shikantaza

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Mokusho Zen, Part One

Zen itself is the Way, walking its path, a delusion.

Shikantaza is not just sitting. It is “just” sitting, “just” walking, “just” eating, “just” talking, and “just” lying down. It is “just” seeing, hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and thinking. The shikantaza of the ancients is the gateway, the beginning practice of practitioners. It was a tool to aid us in the development of every moment buddha. Somehow, we got stuck, though, and every moment buddha was left in the Zendo. The practice of shikantaza is actually an invitation to every moment practice.

The ancients thought of Shikantaza as the highest practice of Zazen. Shikantaza, which means, whole-heartedly hitting the mark while sitting, was the way Zazen was taught by Master Dogen. He learned it in China as “Silent Illumination” practice. We teach it today as Mokusho Zen, the upright practice of living with what some call “the third eye” open. It is here that all six sense organs are just awake to the present moment. It is here that they function naturally. It is the practice of what Uchiyama-roshi called “Opening the Hand of Thought”.

We say, when sitting, sit; when walking, walk; above all, don’t wobble. Wobbling is life without Zen. Wobbling is multi-tasking. Wobbling is doing this, while wishing to do that, and in the meantime, doing something else entirely. How often do we get lost in our day, miss something delicious whether a picture, a sound, or a moment with a loved one, because we are “inside” somewhere else? Wanting to be present is just a thought, being present is being there without the thought hanging around as window dressing.

My next series of teachings will be on this practice, the practice of Every Moment Buddha or Mokusho Zen.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Way, Part Eleven

The Buddha Precepts, Part Eleven
Do not speak ill of the Three Treasures: Respect and value all aspects of the Great Way.

This precept is a sort of capping verse to the whole enchilada. All of the precepts, indeed all moral behavior, flow from non-duality, the great Oneness of Everything That Is. To speak ill of any one part takes us away from our true selves and allows evil to arise.

Old Homeless Kodo used to say, “The person who has left home must create his own life.” The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are our refuge, they are the home we let arise when leaving home. They are our natural inherent state of being. It is said, ‘one minute Zazen, one minute Buddha; five minutes Zazen, five minutes Buddha. I say every moment Buddha

I say this because Buddha is universally present, it is only that we need open our eye to see. To speak ill of the three Treasures is to duck with closed eye under the cover of delusion and wrap ourselves in the cloak of ignorance. When we understand the Buddha Way is not Buddhism, we understand it is every breath, every step, and everything we do throughout our day.

Be well.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Way, Part Ten

The Buddha Precepts, Part Ten

Do not get angry: Respect and value tranquility of heart and mind.

It is telling that the only feeling addressed in the Grave Precepts of Zen is anger. We do not vow to be happy or vow not to be sad or afraid, but we do vow not to get angry. What is this about?

Anger is a destructive feeling. It separates rather than unites. It enables us to do great harm and feel good about it in the process. Most of all, anger blinds us. Anger is one of the Buddha’s three poisons. Anger is a poison that takes away our sight, binds our reason, and kills our heart.

In Zen, we take the attitude that we create our universe through our thoughts. It is not that the universe does not exist apart from us, but what the universe is, what it means, is our creation. Our universe can be threatening and dangerous or it can be a peaceful refuge. We turn people into devils hell-bent on causing us harm one day and on another, those very same people can be our friends. The universe and all that is in it are the same. What changed are our thoughts about it. Change the thoughts; change the world…that’s what love’s got to do with it.

Everyday situations can become quite toxic when we assign anger-provoking meanings to them. This person slighted us, that person cheated us, and so on. On the larger world stage, countries do the same: this behavior is provoking, that behavior threatening. The resultant fear and anger allows us to justify aggression.

Yet these moments can be wonderful opportunities to look more deeply into ourselves. They invite investigation, not solution. The tendency to respond in kind must be avoided. We practice to remain open. If we are threatened, address the threat: check it out. What is this feeling doing to me, to my morality, my ethic? What about the situation is a threat? Does the feeling of anger help or hinder me in this situation?

If we really want serenity, peace of mind and body, we must be willing to take that backward step and accept ourselves on the cushion facing a wall. In truth, anger arises and anger falls away. No need to pass it on.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Way, Part Nine

The Buddha Precepts, Part Nine
Do not be greedy: Respect and value generosity of the material and spiritual.

We do love our things, my things, your things, everybody’s things. No problem! Love values. Yet, when we want our things, need our things, when we cannot live without our things, big problem. This precept teaches us that the way we live with our things is relational. We live with our things by being generous with them. Looking deeply, we see our things are not our things, that we have a hand on them only briefly and that they actually are the universe. Understood in this way, generosity means letting go our grip on what we do not possess in the first place.

Greed is one of the three poisons, the Buddha taught. Greed means possessiveness, it means aggrandizement, it means wanting more and more, even at the expense of others. Greed is short sighted. It separates us from others and diminishes our capacity to see clearly our interdependence.

Greed involves both things material and spiritual. As Zensters we offer ourselves to the universe. I offer you me, my time, my home, my heart, my dharma. I do this in the form of opening. The Buddha taught that the antidote to this poison of greed is generosity or “dana.” Dana paramita is the first paramita, the first perfection, if you will. Dana releases us, frees us.

The koan-like aspect of this practice knows we own nothing. How can we release anything? If we release our material stuff, how do we live? Am I to give you my house, my car? In a manner of speaking, yes. I do not possess my house; it possesses itself. I do not possess my car; it too, possesses itself. I am just the caretaker. Most importantly, however, I practice not to let these things possess me.

Generosity is a serious teacher, be its serious student.

Respect and value generosity of the material and spiritual: Do not be greedy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Way, Part Eight

Buddha Precepts, Part Eight

Do not elevate yourself by criticizing others: Respect and value yourself.

This precept is about us. When we criticize others for the sake of elevating our selves, we are actually lowering ourselves. The precept before this is about separating ourselves through gossip, it is about them and our relation to them. This precept is more about our relationship to our selves.

When in the presence of others and we see someone else doing something in a way different from how we might do it, what do we do? Internally, we tend to evaluate it as “not right.” While this is a problem for many of us, as we just cannot seem to resist either the valuation or the sharing of it. This precept goes to our intent.

We can evaluate for the sake of helping, for the sake of protecting, or for the sake of efficiency, as long as those evaluations are both necessary and sought out by the other. But when we evaluate for the sake of showing our superiority, for the sake of demonstrating our expertise, or for the sake of making ourselves look good in the eyes of others, we are misusing evaluation on the one hand and demonstrating our own emotional and psychological insecurity on the other hand.

When we need to put others down in order to feel good about ourselves, we show our insecurity and our willingness to harm. These put down critiques become habitual and we can easily become known as toxic. They are challenging habits to break.

Advice: Begin a practice of mindful speech. In order to practice mindful speech we must be willing to consider both our word’s necessity and their intent. Second, create a space between you and other, In that space look to see both their value and the value of their way. Each of these are our teachers. Third, take up a practice of good enough. More often than not, our criticisms are about our ideas of perfection, unattainable ideas, by the way. For practice, say “good enough” from time to time and reside with the thoughts and feelings that arise in such a practice.

Letting others be who and what they are is an important Buddhist practice and central to our Way; learning to recognize and value ourselves is equally important.

Do not elevate yourself by criticizing others: Respect and value yourself.

Be well