Showing posts from January, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Soku Shin, Suki, and I just got back from a 2.6 mile desert hike. Suki did what Suki’s do, and gave chase to the myriad rabbits inhabiting the desert. Soku Shin did what Soku Shin’s do, talked with friend Caiti along the way. I did what I do, walked residing in my thoughts.

My thoughts are in a bit of a turmoil this morning. My Teacher who has always been a bit of a challenge for me, has sparked some conflict again. It has set me to wondering about the role of Teacher as we “advance” along the way. A friend recently asked me what being a “roshi” meant to me. I was taken aback by the question as I had never really given it much thought. He is in a position to have that honor bestowed upon him and he is concerned about it.

Rightly so.

I feel it is rather like when I finally was awarded a PhD and a license to practice independently as a clinical social worker. Oh my, big, deep breath. What are the expectations? Can I meet them? And on and on…

Love Your Enemies

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Events in distant lands are troublesome. Political unrest, religious oppression, killing, all seem rampant. There is a degree of inhumanity and intolerance that just seems plain wrong. I read a story of the brutal stoning deaths of a couple in Pakistan, the hanging of a woman in Iran, and the beating death of a gay man in Africa. Of course, we in the US have our share: the killing of a father and daughter in Arizona by vigilantes, and this morning, I read about a mother who shot and killed her teenaged daughter and son because they would not stop “mouthing off.”

Violence has always been a part of our world’s landscape and living in the self-righteous, often squeeky clean, dreamscape we create for ourselves, it is difficult for us to imagine such things. Yet, there they are.

I read with a sense of horror on the one hand and compassion on the other. I want to understand the killers so that I will somehow be able to make sense of their action…

Zen in Motion

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

So decadent, I am tying sitting in a tub full of hot soapy water. Actually, I am treating a bunion and two “corns” that have appeared on my feet of late. Painful, they are getting in the way of my training for the Bataan Death March at the end of March. I have already decided to take the short course, 15 miles is about all I can get up to between now and then, but even this is being threatened by these little toe tigers biting me.

On my runs/hikes lately, I have been practicing running meditation. The thing is to get into a rhythm of breathing, syncing breath with footfalls. Usually it comes to two steps with each in breath; two steps with each out breath, exception being running up hills.

The synchronicity is rather like a mantra.

Free to consider each new breath with a new view, a new thought, a new feeling, the miles fall away. This is one of the things I have missed about distance running and am so happy to be able to experience again…


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Master Dogen taught that to study the Way is to study the self. This study is the act of burning away the construction we call self, allowing the pieces to fall away, and supporting what remains as that which was not born and that which will not die: our true nature. This is the universality of everything, the Great Breath, not one, not two, just this.

How do we “get there”? Simple, we get out of our own way. We realize we are already there, that there is no there, and that the desire to get there, the imagining of a there in the first place, is all part of the delusion.

We practice stillness. This is the practice of just coming and going, the practice of breathing in and breathing out, the practice of practice itself: zanmai o zanmai. The Samadhi that is the king of Samadhi.

Does raw land allow our plants to grow or do we need to till and otherwise care for the field? Do we need to weed and water? Do we need to fertilize? For our crop to be…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

A short rant inspired by my study of the Buddha’s Nine Contemplations on a Corpse.

I remember walking through the streets of some Third World country a few years ago and coming upon a rotting corpse. What had been a man was now just there in the street covered in flies and other vermin. I was surprised to see him there, dead and all, just rotting as if he were like the other garbage strewn along the street. But this had been a human being.

The image, like so many others in my disappointing mind, is rather like a still life. I have it framed there. Another image, a bloated, purple body wrapped in my poncho in the jungle. It had been a Buck Sgt who decided to be John Wayne or something, but now was leaking out through various cuts and holes torn into him by a raging monsoon river. Or of a small boy, beaten by his parents, his arm twisted until it broke. I held him while the ER doc set it. Or the voice of some self righteous redneck family cour…

Today at Clear Mind Zen Temple

Today at Clear Mind Zen Temple:

3:00 Yoga

6:00 Tai Chi Chih

7:00 Zazen

Be well.

Put a Little Zen in Your Life

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The aim of practice is practice itself and practice itself is to wake up. How hard is this? Very. It requires our every moment awareness, diligence, and effort. We practice; we live. We fail to practice; we die.

In Zen, life and death have nothing to do with breathing, cell division, or metabolism. Life and death are synonymous with awake or asleep. Awake we see the big picture; asleep we reside in the details. Just as everything asleep needs to wake up; everything awake needs sleep.

What is the big picture? What are the details? These are the questions that arise through our practice, these are the things, the body and mind, that fall away.

It is cold; it is not cold; cold is our mind creating cold. When one, cold and hot disappear. Body and mind fall away. Awake we need no coat; asleep we need a coat.

Just so, what is practice?

Be well.


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I would like to talk about commentary. I read the news rather than watch televised news and I have discovered at the bottom of several news stories a comments box. Also on the blog sites I post to, these are common. Commenting on things could be a wonderful way to discuss an issue, but this does not seem to be the case.

People who comment do so anonymously in the main and they do a sort of hit and run thing in the process. Everyone is a wit, apparently. Often the quality of the wit reveals much too much of the person posting the witticism.

Someone messaged me: “You are a disappointment.” I replied, “Sometimes we just have to move on. Disappointments, expectations, assumptions, all are grist for the mill of practice. May you be a blessing in the universe.” To which they responded, “Just more bullshit…”

What, exactly, is this poster’s point? Is it to hurt me? Is it to help me? Or rather, is it about themselves and their own situ…


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night was spent at a retreat for our city’s Peace Village Board and Staff. I was invited to join the Board and accepted. Clear Mind Zen Temple has been a part of Peace Village for four years now offering meditation instruction and practice to the children who attend. It has grown from a week to now a proposed three week camp which includes a wide variety of activity offerings. The retreat was an excellent experience and I look forward to completing the process today from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

I woke this morning with peace on my mind and wondered what exactly peace is, after all. Can we say it is an absence of violence or conflict without doing it a disservice? Defining things through negation does not assert anything at all. What can we assert about peace?

I believe peace is not a noun, but rather, it seems to me to be a verb. Peace is action, it is compassion and acceptance, mutual respect, generosity and patience, all rolled into one …

Work in Progress


Crime and Punishment

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we went to see a little theatre production of ”Crime and Punishment.” It was typically Russian. The actor’s “book” must have been seriously overwhelming as the play was a playground of words and the ideas they reflect. Actually, it was more a park than playground, with the slow moving Russian author filling long dark winters with monologue as he sat on benches or walked slowly along a winter’s path. Too cold for dialogue and lively would be unheard-of.

In any event, the play was wonderful and the acting superior to anything I have seen in that theatre since I’ve lived in Las Cruces. The director’s blocking was interesting and allowed some movement in the otherwise still, inner reflection, of the characters.

It was particularly delightful to be there to support fellow Zen monk, Algernon D’Ammassa. Algernon is a Zen priest in the Korean Zen tradition and lives in Deming, NM. He proved to be a serious actor who brought depth and matu…

On Being Yourself

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

On being yourself.

The most difficult aspect of being ourselves is letting go of our concern about what others might think. What others think is always not very far away as we behave during the day. We expect it of ourselves and others and often think of it as a conscience. On most levels this is a good thing.

To let go of our concern for the opinion and judgment of others seems to suggest living without a conscience at worst or lack of care at best, but I don’t think this is so. In the Ten Ox-Herding pictures, those famous depictions of an ox herd’s path to awakening, we see in the end, a man with a broad smile, at ease, and bringing joy and life to the world around him. He is ’free and easy in the marketplace’ but in the marketplace he is.

When we shed our mind’s eye and see with a clear mind, our service truly begins. There is no self to be protected, nothing to be concerned about regarding ourselves, and so we are completely present wi…


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Be forewarned: What follows is a political statement from an avowed liberal.

This morning I woke thinking about my country. Sleep is a wonderful nurturance. In the Soto Zen Sutra book there is a chant called the Gokan No Ge and we recite it as part of oryoki, (eating meditation). One of the lines says that we are eating “for our parents, teachers, leaders, and homeland,” these are the four benefactors. (As an aside, I have noticed that many centers drop the actual list of benefactors in favor of simply saying, ‘the four benefactors.’) I suppose patriotism is a bit of a problem when our practice is to open ourselves to the universality of all things. Still, it is important, I think, to keep in mind what frees us and what retains us. The United States, as far as I am aware, was founded for the sake of freedom, in response to tyranny, and has made freedom its abiding and deeply held creed since its inception.

Conservatives seem to struggle with…

Healthcare: Whatr's the Issue?

With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

This afternoon, after yoga, I decided to read the Healthcare Reform Law, since the Republican controlled House decided to vote to repeal it today. Just what is all the fuss about?

My read of the law suggests that it is rather straightforward. It protects people from being dropped, protects children (and later, adults) from being denied due to pre-existing conditions, and creates a framework for everyone in the United States to be covered by health insurance. For the life of me, I cannot see what the argument against it might be.

I suppose, as I read in some blogs, it might appear to be socialized medicine. So? Private care has not stepped up to the plate and, frankly, service at physicians offices and hospitals could use a good overhaul.

My reading suggests the law will reduce the federal deficit and this is a bad thing?

As Zen Buddhists we vow to do good for others. It seems to me, there can be no greater good than our health. A society…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

It is late in the morning already. There is something about being cradled by your partner that is arresting. In such a position, it is best to release one’s grip on schedule and relax into it. Such good practice.

My colleague, Jue Miao Jing Ming, is working on his message regarding re-incarnation for the Zen Living list at In the meantime he has asked me for my thoughts regarding a book which explores past-life regression. While I have not read the particular text, I have read several excerpts and reviews, but more to the point, have some experiential understanding of the phenomena.

Similar to near death or death resuscitation experiences, past life regression stories are anecdotal evidence. Assuming the individuals are not being guided,, they are simply reporting what their brain is telling them. Our brains are totally unreliable organizers of sense data. Our brains rush to place data in categories. We see this in experiment…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Recently, we decided to begin an educational exchange series on our Zen Living email list. My morning post is my position on our Order’s understanding of “Re-incarnation.”

The Soto School of Zen typically does not use the term, “re-incarnation,” but rather, chooses the word, “re-birth” to refer to continuation of life in the eternal flow of living and dying. To re-incarnate would mean a transmigration of a unique individual’s ego or ‘essence’ into another form after death. We hold to the Buddha’s teaching that there is no such thing, that there is no “soul” that survives after death as a manifestation of a unique individual. I quote Kennett-roshi, Founding Abbess of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives,

“A new being is neither absolutely the same as its predecessor (since the composition is not identical) nor entirely different, being the same stream of life-force which, like electric current, can be tapped when a new bulb is plugged in…so wi…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Mark, on our Zen Living list, wrote to ask why we don’t use our native language in Zen rather than foreign words.

Very good question and one often asked. He framed his question with this:

“To me the words, regardless of the language, are only labels we place on reality and not actually reality. Who was it that said, "The teaching that is spoken is not the true teaching"? The fullness of sitting for meditation cannot be described in any words that I have heard or read, yet it can be experienced.”

I do not exactly disagree. In fact, I agree with Mark. Words are, indeed, just labels. So, then, as such, should it matter which words we use? Actually no, so there may be something else going on, something under this question. Or some other reason for using one word over another.

Is it that we do not like foreign words? Is it that we resist learning new words? Is it a resistance to difference itself or to the fact there is a Teacher offeri…

What is Zen?

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday was a day full of goodness. Zazenkai was very special to me as my partner, Kathryn Soku Shin, took the precepts with her teacher, Rev. Bobby Kankin Byrd. It was also a delight to witness Michael Inmo Dretcsh, an Army Neuropsychologist, do the same. We were very pleased that my Teacher, Rev. Hogaku Shozen McGuire-roshi and his partner, Rev. Shin Getsu McGuire-roshi were in attendance for the ceremonials, as well. The day was spent in Zazen, but was interspersed with experiencing the film, “Zen”, the story of Master Dogen.

So much of what we do today in Soto Zen are directly traceable to this authentic and courageous seeker of the Way. Dogen’s Zen was clear and direct. Sit. Practice. Let body and mind fall away. So simple, yet so challenging.

We, in the Order of Clear Mind Zen, seek to follow him, not imitate him. His Zen was his moment’s Zen, meeting directly the requirements of his time and place. He went to China, found his true …


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Two notes:

Tomorrow we will host Both Sides/No Sides Zen Sangha's Zazenkai and Jukai ceremonies. Rev. Bobby Kankin Byrd will lead the Zazenkai and his students, Kathryn Soku Shin Masaryk and Mike Dretsch will receive the precepts at 4:30. This event includes Oryoki lunch.

Please consider joining us for all or part of the day, but let me know if you are attending so that we can get an accurate count for lunch.

Today at Clear Mind Zen Temple: We will practice Contemplative Yoga at 3:00 PM, our Zen Dicussion group will meet at 4:00 PM, and we will practice Zazen at 5:30 PM.

The Challenge

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night was a delight at the Temple; two people came, new to us, and attended the Zen 101 group and then sat with us. This couple has been a part of an interfaith discussion group for some years now. I attended a meeting of that group a few months ago with my Teacher and close friend Soku Shin.

It is always good to see new people come to the Temple and begin to learn something about Zen as it is actually practiced. We get so much of what we know from books, movies, TV, and the Internet, rarely actually experiencing the thing itself.

Master Dogen says, “You must…abandon a practice based on intellectual understanding, running after words, and clinging to the letter. You must turn and direct your light inward to illuminate your true nature.” (Fukanzazengi)

Most of us today fail in this abandonment, so easy it is to believe we know through our mind’s eye, rather than through the Dharma Eye of practice. Knowing is not realization, just as e…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The events of this past week as well as discussions in our groups at temple lead me to ask, is it possible to speak without creating some form of duality? No, but! It is silly to think that we should live without duality. If I ask you to care about this or that, I am creating a dualism on several levels. So? Do we not live in a relative world? Forget the relative at your peril, my friends.

We are our actions and we are responsible for our actions, and just as we are interconnected with all things and interdependent with all things, we are also, therefore, responsible for the actions of others as well. This is a challenging notion in this era of Me. if I am one with everything, then everything is one with me. I and Other are One My responsibility is both personal and social.

Our speech is an aspect of our behavior. We should be aware of how it affects people and know that if we yell “Fire!” in a crowded room with minimal egress, we are respon…


With palms together,

The comments in the comments sections of the news stories regarding the Arizona shootings make me feel as sick as the actual shootings. Liberal loonies, Right wing fascists, Dumb this, Stupid that, each polarized side blaming the other and, in the process, ratcheting up the already high emotion. Are liberals to blame? Are conservatives accountable? Can we actually talk to one another these days?

Violence and threats of violence seem to be part of the political landscape at this point. Packages are igniting, rocks thrown, bullets fired, all over what? How to be a better society? I think not. We live in (and support) a culture of violence in both word and deed. We should not be surprised by recent events.

Our media share a lot of responsibility in the current situation. Television networks like Fox News and MSNBC, conservative radio programs like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, liberal commentators on Air America, commentators who use sarcasm and poison to get pos…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Mushotoku. This is something we all need to practice. It means practicing with no aim at all. It is, as Phillipe Coupey says, the philosophical essence of Soto Zen. What does it mean to practice with no aim, no idea of gaining anything, not even satori? It means releasing oneself from ideas.

We practice to practice and practice is all there is. In everyday life our practice is to be awake and present to everything: the feel of water on our hands as we wash them; the feel of toilet paper; the scent of the person we are sitting next to. Nothing escapes our attention and nothing sticks.

We might take issue with this. We might want more. We might come to this practice to become better people, healthier people, less troubled, less angry, or less stressed, but these will act as stains on our practice. Our want needs to drop away.

This practice begins and ends with you. In the beginning it is the small you, the “small mind” of your existence. In…


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Our Zen 101 group is doing well. Last night we discussed the passages of the Fukanzazengi that relate to the Buddha and Bodhidharma and how it was that they practiced Zazen. There is a Japanese word, Kakusoku, which refers to maintaining awareness. In Zazen, it is the effort of practicing not-thinking.

We sit with no particular aim in mind. We sit just to sit. Naturally, the world rushes to us in the form of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. We need to move. We need to check on something. Our body is not cooperating. Judgments arise: this is stupid, I hate zazen! What, is the timekeeper asleep?

Kakusoku means we notice and return to this moment, as it is, letting everything we are thinking, feeling, or otherwise sensing, fall away. Letting without deliberation. Letting in the sense of allowing. The reality of our world is that everything changes. Kakusoku is our actual experience of this.

The TV commercial asking “What’s in your wallet,” …


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Already it is a lovely morning. The temperature is a reasonable 32 degrees with signs that it will rise into the 50s. The sky is a clear blue. The sun is beginning to peak over the mountains. I have my running clothes laid out and ready. The coffee just finished being made. All is right here in the Mesilla Valley.

Zen is like that. Everything is itself. No pretense. Pretense is an anathema to true Zen. The coffee is made. A Zen teaching. The sun is in the sky. A Zen teaching. And the teaching itself? Life is to be lived and experienced directly. We do not shy away from this or that; this or that is our life.

So, time for a run. Let's do it!

Be well.


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday afternoon after Zen services, Soku Shin, Suki, and I went for a desert hike. We ended up doing 4.2 miles over often very rough terrain. It was very good getting out and doing something physical. I have missed the awareness that comes with it: the air was crisp, the sun was high, and the sky very blue. A wonderful combo for a hike.

At the Temple I addressed that part of the Master Dogen’s Genjokoan that speaks to the study of the Buddha Way, the part that says, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self” and “to study the self is to let the self fall away.” “To let the self fall away is to be realized by the myriad things.” So, the Buddha way is a selfless way, a way leading to unification with all things. And when we are unified? Does the we of We continue to be? Or is there just the all of All, leaving All empty, as well? I think it is so.

Long distance running, bicycling, entering a koan, becoming one with the mountains: such…