Showing posts from November, 2010

What's Important?

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I am to speak in front of a college class on the topic of Buddhism. This is always a pleasure, but a curiously challenging one. How does one communicate what Buddhism is? Typically I begin with the story of his enlightenment and this might be apropos as we are close to Rohatsu. Then I address the different flavors of Buddhism, finally arriving at the core practices. I am careful to say that Buddhism is really not an “-ism” as it has no theology, philosophy, or dogma, although some argue this point. Any “-ism” that arises, arises from an individual’s own understanding from practice and study and not a doctrinal overly. This whole exposure has a 50-minute frame.

So, I do the best I can and try to be as personable as possible.

This last point seems to me to be the most important, yet often overlooked. Teachers need to know that it is not their words that are so much important as their posture. Are we open? Are we joyful? Are we ce…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The days are getting short again. Fall is clearly here and the leaves are already on the ground. This morning, early, I looked out at the eastern sky and saw the stars, the moon, and the town’s night lights. I wondered how often it is that I don’t see the moon, or the stars, or the night lights, as I am so thoroughly consumed with what the Little Prince called “matters of consequence.”

What could possibly be more consequential than thoroughly being in the moment I am in with beauty all around me? I am reminded of an encounter with a Navajo man when I was a therapist working on the reservation. He had lived off the reservation for some time and was feeling lost. He could see no beauty.

Now, if you know anything about the People, you should know that “to walk in beauty” is the highest good and it is derived from being one with the land and the natural world. We took a short walk outside of my office. I asked him to stop. I asked him to look d…

Nothing Special

With palms together

Good Afternoon Everyone,

Zen is easily understood, but had to attain. The easy is that it is direct. Want to know? Experience directly. There is absolutely nothing mystical about it. So, if it is so easy, then why do we need all the words, why do we talk a seeming double-talk? The truth is, we don’t and too often the words get between us and our attainment of the moment. Thinking about something is not the thing. Painting a picture is not the thing. Graphs, charts, and pointers are not the thing. Each of these are creations of our mind to make a picture of that which cannot be spoken, drawn, or otherwise communicated.

Easy, but hard.

The easy part is just experiencing ourselves. The hard part is letting go of the idea that there should be something more. We want more. We want fancy. We want mystical. Such things make us feel special. But we are not special and Zen is nothing special.

Drop away from special. Live your life as it is.

Easy, but hard. So it goes.


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

May our day be one filled with serene reflection. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It seems to me another word for thanksgiving is gratitude. Gratitude requires three things of us. Gratitude, as a quality of selflessness, requires us to look outside of ourselves for those things that nurture and support us. Yet, at the same time, it asks us to look inside for the many points in our heart we are touched. Lastly, gratitude needs to be expressed in some way.

What do we do with our gratitude? How do we express it? I hope having gratitude means a bit more than our traditional meals, a day off, and sales at local stores. For me, I am grateful for the opportunity to look at my life and the many people who have steadfastly supported and nurtured me over this last very challenging year. I also am grateful for those who did not. Sometimes the sting of failing friendships puts things in perspective. Perspective is a quality of wisdom.

Today: …


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

“Buddhism is a religion of action, not of words that so often mean nothing…peaceful sit-in demonstrations are examples of great action in silence. …Nothing will ever be achieved unless action is taken.” Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, The Kyosaku, p. 319

Matsuoka is referring to the protests against segregation in America during the sixties. His point, though, is simple and straight forward: we are not simply meditators. Followers of the Buddha Way have an obligation to act in the face of evil. Buddhism, he says, is a religion of action, and so it is. Any word would be a waste of breath. Silence is thunder, he used to say. But silence in a certain way. Silence with an attitude.

What is the attitude? The attitude of Zen: still, courageous, and upright.

These days far too many of us are complacent. We have truly become sheep or worse. We are either sleepwalking through life or busily burying our heads in the sand while all around us bad things a…

A Simple Person

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

“Zen asks you to be a simple person.” Matsuoka-roshi says. “It asks you to disregard notions about yourself, about others and about life which you may have acquired before you began seeking the truth of Zen.” (p.398, The Kyosaku)

For Matsuoka, a simple person is one who has let go of what he was, what he knows, and what he needs. He is a person who is just present, open, empty, and receptive to the teachings, which arise from him, from his teacher, and from the Buddha.

This is a ‘don’t know’ mind. The mind of one who sees clearly, but does not cling to what he sees. Very difficult this is for most of us. We want to hold onto our understanding. We want to discuss and debate and analyze. As we say in the south, we want to show ourselves. We might ask ourselves why.

The truth of Zen is in living Zen. It is in our humanity expressed through our daily lives. To behave in loud and aggressive ways reflects a mind that is needy. To behave in ways …


With palms together,

Good Evening Everyone,

The Clear Mind Zen Temple will offer a simple Thanksgiving dinner between 5:00 PM and 6:30 PM followed by a Thanksgiving Zen service at 7::00 PM. Our meal will be vegetarian. If you wish to bring a dish to share, it would be very welcome. Please email me your reservation.

Yours in the dharma,


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Buddha sat under a tree and faced his fears. His adversary threw a world of hurt at him, but he did not budge. What did Buddha know that enabled him to live in such a way, in the open without doors, locks, security guards, or armies? His world included murderers, thieves, and sadists, didn’t it? Yet he chose not to lock himself away. Why?

When we live in fear, we are at fear’s mercy. When we live in suspicion, we live alone. This is not human. Human beings are, by definition, social beings. We depend on each other, nurture each other, and inspire each other: we should not define ourselves as individuals so much as community.

So, fear is a powerful enemy if we experience it, a powerful tool if we wield it. We have been groomed to respond to fear with artifices of protection: armies, police, and militia. Doors, double dead bolts, security systems, weapons, all provide us with a way of coping with fear. Remember though, coping is not dealing. T…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The morning light emerges from the dark and I find myself sitting quietly with it. I notice subtle changes expressed through body, speech, and mind. Sitting quietly, being witness, itself changes something in us. The act of just sitting is a deeply profound and life altering experience. It is the heart of the Buddha’s awakening. It is the complete teaching.

What is the teaching? “Things as it is,” says Shunryu Suzuki. What is this? Everyday life manifesting everyday life or, as Uchiyama suggests, self manifesting Self. We practice to live within it.

Just now, for me, this moment contains light. It contains the aftertaste of coffee in my mouth and the still chilled feeling of my bare feet that have not warmed since taking Suki out for her morning ‘business.’ To live within it requires us to notice the life we are, in fact, living. How is it for us? Is this breath enough? Do we cry for more? Want less? Worry about losing it? Gaining it?

For me…

Matsuoka Day

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

What to keep, what to let go of? What to revere, what to dismiss? When traveling to another country to offer the dharma, what would you bring? What would you leave behind? I recall a film or TV show from my childhood where the last scene involved such a question, if it was the end of the world and you were escaping to establish humanity on another planet, what single book would you bring?

Rev. Dr. Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka-roshi was one of the first Japanese Zen Masters who were dispatched by Soto Shu headquarters in Japan to face this choice as he entered the United States. In 1949, Matsuoka-roshi established the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, the first Soto Zen Temple to be established in the United States.

Zengaku Matsuoka-roshi was a powerhouse Zen Master, a black belt, he often travelled across America introducing Zen Buddhism wherever he could. He established Zen Centers across the US. Although all of this is true, his pioneer work was ecli…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Stress is a powerful experience of thoughts colliding. We concern ourselves with what might happen, imagining all sorts of things, and come, sometimes, to a place of utter paralysis. Under such conditions we are rather like the proverbial deer in the headlights: stopped dead in our tracks, staring right at the danger, and completely unable to move. At such times, it is important to open our so-called third eye.

Our third eye is the eye of wisdom. It is the eye that sees the entire universe. It is the eye that places all things in the larger context. When seeing with this eye we can ask ourselves critical questions because the pressure is off. Third eye is the eye of Big Mind, expansive and infinite; it can help us see what is really important and what is not.

Maybe it’s not so much the third eye that allows this view, but perhaps instead, it is the backward step we take in order to open it. Taking the backward step is the Zen way of stoppin…

A Day

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Tuesday night we had our first Zen 101 group meeting. I was not happy with myself. I spoke far too much. We love to talk about Zen, don’t we? Good grief. The good news is that after all the talking we sat for two periods.

Wednesday morning the Zendo is empty. I sat in the quiet and joined its emptiness. There is only this space, you know, and my breath kept me close to home. With it, I centered myself in the here and now.

Just as yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow a dream, this moment is a fiction as well. Anything I might say about it is not it. Yet words come from deep inside. It can be lonely inside our heads. Words invite thinking and thoughts become company.

We try to escape our present-moment-self with words and ideas. Rather like making things up as we go, our universe unfolds in our mind’s eye. Yet, our way is not to escape, but rather, to live each moment as it comes and as it presents itself as it is. So, we notice our thought…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke vowing not only to free beings from suffering, but also to write a morning message to you. This business of vowing to free all beings even though they are numberless has been a thread of conversation between me and disciple Dai Shugyo of late. What does this vow mean? How can this be done?

I say, “Show me a piece of paper with only one side!” Nothing comes out of his mouth. A good start.

When we focus our attention on the words, we are going in the wrong direction. Yet words and their meaning are our way of communicating. Yes, I agree. They are one way, but not the only way and often the words are less a communication of something than an invitation to something. In this case, an invitation to move our mind.

Where is your mind? If it is on freeing, it is in jail. If it is on doing, it is in jail. If it is on numberless beings, it is also in jail. If I ask you to show me a piece of paper with only one side and you place y…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Interesting. Yesterday afternoon’s Zen Discussion group seemed to be caught on the question, “what is our function?” Most leaned toward survival and safety as first priorities and that is an understandable point of view. Many warriors, including Buddhist warriors, and myself, have made this claim. Yet, today I am not so sure. It depends on how we understand survival and safety.

More often than not, when we talk about personal survival and safety, we create an imaginary scenario wherein someone might attack us and threaten our lives and well-being. We often simplify the picture by using early man scenarios. Oddly enough, these scenarios almost always use hunter models where weapons are involved and present in the scenario, rather than an agrarian model where the gathering and growing food demands cooperation for survival. Cooperation becomes the definition of protection itself and survival depends on mutual aid.

Someone always raises the, “if…

A few questions

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Zen Master Seung Sahn asks, “What is our function?”

Let’s look around. A table I am writing on is made from the wood of a tree killed in the forest. The food in my refrigerator was grown and killed for me to purchase. The clothes I am wearing, the fibers, the dye, the weave, all done on a massive scale, shipped to my store in boats, trucks, and trains. The air I am breathing is filtered. The water I drink is processed and then filtered. The coffee comes from large plantations grown on what was rain forest. Yes, when I look around, it would seem my function is to use and not just use, but also to use in excess and at any cost. Who am I that this is should be the case? Am I alone in this abuse? No. At last count (a few seconds ago, according to the World Population Clock) there were 6,855,134,658 persons on this planet. Who are we that this should be the case?

Is using the planet and its resources truly our function or are we simply out of con…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Sitting down to write about Zen is a strange this to do. There is nothing to be said. Every word is a lie as it is the true nature of words to deceive us. They are always mere representations. Not the thing themselves. When we are asleep we fail to see this. When awake, we say nothing: Awake is the realm of doing.

Our Temple will be taking up the study of the text, “The Compass of Zen” in our weekly discussion group this Friday at 4:00 PM. The text is a book developed over the years by Zen Master Seung Sahn. I have enjoyed this text myself over the years. It is a clear, direct dharma gate in itself.

Who are we? What are we here for? What are we to do? These are his questions and he takes us through the many layers of Buddha’s way to get to center. He assists us in our effort to see what our next step actually is, not what we think it ought to be.

Please consider joining us as we enter the Compass.

Be well.


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

In the beginning, God spoke, and everything came into being. Or so they say.

In such a view, God stands outside of time, but since time and being are one, this could not be. So being happened and with it, God came into existence. Consider this.

We ask, well what caused being to happen? We answer nothing. Before being happened, nothing existed, including time. Cause, therefore, also could not have existed. Consider this.

We say, well there was the original material of the universe. We answer, can anything “be” without a perception? In the instant the universe appeared, cosmic consciousness appeared and with it, matter appeared. Consider this.

In the relative view, we are but a part of an infinite network of connections which gives rise to the view of no parts, just one. When we reside in no parts, wholeness, parts, and everything else drops away. What is left?

Just this.


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

“The dharma is incomparably profound and minutely subtle…” I have been chanting this nearly daily for some time now. I have come to realize life is like that, the dharma. Actually, life is the dharma: Life unpolished, life without our fine gloss. Just life as it is: nothing special. This is the profound aspect of the dharma. And its subtlety is the very thing it uses to hide itself. A delicate membrane of ignorance covers our eyes of its truth. A persistent membrane, one that keeps rebuilding itself, over and over and over again until our practice reveals that both the gross and the fine are one and there is no membrane, no ignorance, and no wisdom. Indeed, there is no dharma.

We like being contained in this membrane. It helps us feel safe. We feel in control. We feel we know what’s what. It’s a warm and moist place. Who really would want to leave it? Like living in a holographic world where we are exactly what we think we want to be and ever…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Ceremony is an interesting thing. We Americans appear to both love and hate it. We are suspect of rules, forms, and expectations, yet on the other hand, we seem to take particular pleasure in witnessing others in ceremony. Opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies: we love to play dress-up if only to watch others go through the motions. When asked to participate, however, we seem hesitant, awkward, or sometimes just plain hostile.

Those who come to Zen are often quite surprised by our ceremonial forms and rituals. I don’t know, but it seems people think we are a rag-tag, iconoclastic bunch of misfits and so, when they come into a Temple and are asked to remove their shoes, place their hands in special positions, and even bow, well, my goodness, they often just don’t know what to say. “Do we really need ceremony?” We suddenly ask. “I don’t feel comfortable,” another might argue.

Why do we have so many forms? Why ceremonies at all? The short answ…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Life has its ways of demanding that we pay attention.

After three refrigerators and several repairs of refrigerators, it seems the refrigerators were not the problem, but the receptacle in which they were plugged was faulty. My chess rating was three hundred points higher than it is now and I just got beat twice by someone who was likely ten years old and who behaved like it. When bills are not paid, someone will try to collect on them. In each case, someone was not paying attention and in the end some sort of bell was invited to ring.

What is interesting to me is the sound of that bell.

Is it a soft and gentle bell, a loud bell, a sharp and jarring bell? What are my responses to these bells?

Last night I offered a dharma talk on the kshanti paramita, that is, the perfection of patience. When we practice patience, we must open ourselves and allow the bell, of whatever type, to ring. We must allow the bell to teach us.

When beaten by a brat…

A Mess

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Recently at Clear Mind Zen Temple, we have been discussing elements of the Diamond Sutra. I have been using Dwight Goddard’s selection from his, “A Buddhist’s Bible,” as I like how he re-ordered the text so that the paramitas come together.

This sutra is a powerful teaching tool. But it is very subtle and so much is missed by a superficial reading. Moreover, the sutra teaches how we are to manifest ourselves as the dharma, rather than talk about it (not that talking about the dharma is a bad thing, but rather, talking is just talking, and as Buddha himself points out in the sutra, words are just words: they ought not be confused with the actualization of what the words point to). The sutra is all about us showing what is naturally there in our behavior.

I really needed to refresh myself with this sutra yesterday. It seems a number of things came together all at once. Our altar’s “stage” was installed, the refrigerator and stove were replace…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning was a chilly 46 degrees. I woke very early as a result of my good ‘ole left leg jumping up and down in my sleep. So, at 2:00 AM I finished laundry, put dishes away, and stitched a tear in a robe. I dropped back to sleep at about 4:00 and woke again at 5:00. Zazen was quiet. There was no one in the Zendo but myself. Last night, as well. I enjoy this quiet time very much, perhaps too much. Zazen is neither enjoyable nor not enjoyable. It is just zazen. Practice is just practice. It is nothing but being present, adding nothing, talking nothing away.

Later in the morning, after voting and after making and eating breakfast, I spent some time at the orthotics place and had my new brace fitted. I found a pair of Asics gels for $40.00 and as very pleased that the brace and shoes are now fitted together. Perhaps now I will be able to run without too much ado. My prosthetic guy, Robert, is great. We spent a lot of time working on the fit …

The Non-duality Rag

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The Non-duality Rag

So, this morning a cold wind

slipped across my skin

from the open window.

I snuggled with Suki.

She, too, seemed to feel it

and sought the warmth

of my body.

We care.

That is a good thing.

Last night

I watched a documentary

by the Dalai Lama

on the Four Noble Truths.

In his introductory comments,

as he so often does,

he said every world religion

has the potential to create nice human beings.

He defined this “nice”

as being caring and compassionate.

Yes, our practice

is to manifest care and compassion.

We are nice.

Such a way of being

requires others.

Without others,

no compassion is possible.

Without others,

no caring is possible.

Others are essential.

This is why we can say

there is no caring

and there is no compassion.

There is just

caring and compassion.

I cannot care for you; I care.

I cannot be compassionate for you; I am compassion.

Then it gets really weird:

where is this “I” that ca…