Zen 101

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Stages

With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

We were talking about the Ten Ox-herding pictures. Stage Two is “Discovering the Footprints.” The traces cannot be “hidden.” It is, after all, as plain as the nose on our face. What are these traces? How can our True Self be seen? I think, sometimes, the Ox can be like a bull in the proverbial China Shop. At other times, it is like the disappearing Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. *grin* Everywhere and nowhere, we are what we are, always will be, always have been. Our true self is that which never changes, does not belong to us, yet never parts from us. How can we not see its traces?

Stage Three is “Perceiving the Ox.” There is it, the ass sticking out from behind the tree. Who can see its face? When we look for a face we will never see it, all we will ever see are faces we can imagine: these are not the true face, the face of our true self, but rather, our imagination running wild. So pretty, yet so untrue. Someone got a match?

The thing about these two pictures is they tell you all you really need to know. The Ox is right here, no need to LOOK. Its traces are everywhere because it is everywhere. Where is the one place where your true self is not?


Be well.

Monday, May 30, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

A monk asks in all earnestness, “What is Buddha?” The Master answers, “Shit on a stick!”

If you think about this, you will go down the path to delusion. So, be careful. Only in your mind is the smell, feel, or judgment regarding shit.

This koan asks us to see how we set things up, make shiny things in our minds, and fail then to see them clearly. Buddha is often shiny and golden. He is often calm and serene. He is always clean and well polished. Yet this, then, is only a clean and shiny Buddha. And if the Buddha is covered in puss? Or being eaten by worms and maggots? This, then, is a worm and maggot eaten Buddha. Are they the same or different?

What makes a Buddha Buddha? Is it the shine, the gold, the purity? Or do these exist in our mind as Buddha attributes?

Perhaps rather than asking “What is Buddha?” We might better ask, “Where is Buddha?” As Buddha is a figment of our imagination and thus a defilement itself.

Cut through thoughts like this and you will meet buddha.

Be well.

Tonight: Zazen at 7:00 PM, Comparative Religion at 7:30 PM.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The other day in our Zen Discussion Group someone let slip that they did not think shikantaza was the essential method of practicing Zazen in the Soto School. This person was incorrect. I sense her error is based in the fact that the terms “Zazen” and “shikantaza” seem different, and indeed, are seemingly taught differently, but in the end, this is not so. They are one in the same.

The Soto tradition, founded in Japan by Master Dogen, was founded upon the practice of Zazen and its essence is the practice of what is referred to as “Silent Illumination.” Whenever Dogen refers to Zazen, he is referring to shikantaza.

So, why the confusion? I think it is because of how Zazen is taught. Introductions to the practice often include breath watching and/or breath counting, and while one is sitting quietly while doing this, one is not in the posture of Zazen , properly understood.

As Taigon Leighton points out in his introduction to The Art of Just Sitting, “The specific practice of shikantaza was first articulated in the Soto Zen lineage by the Chinese master, Hongzhi Zhengjue in his “Cultivating the Empty Field” where he wrote, “ A person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere.” This is to say, we do not place our attention on anything at all, not the breath nor on the wall in front of us. We just sit not thinking. It is in this practice of whole heartedly sitting that we are awake.

Master Nishijima, in his “To Meet the Real Dragon,” quotes Master Dogen saying the following:

“Zazen is not training to attain enlightenment. It is just the pleasant gate to the Dharma. It is the practice and experience of the perfectly realized truth.” And later, “Just sitting in quietness was the realization of the Truth itself. It was enlightenment itself. To sit sincerely in Zazen was the realization of the state beyond body and mind.”

When Dogen wrote his three most famous fascicles, Bendowa, Genjokoan, and Fukanzazenji, her was referring to shikantaza as Zazen. Zazen and shikantaza are one in the same as is Zazen and realization.

This is what the Soto School teaches and what it practices.

Some of us just cannot resist deconstructing our experience and claiming a place along the way to Complete Unexcelled Awakening. We use methods of the Theravaden school to gauge our “progress” Even Daido Loori fell prey to this by utilizing the Ten Ox-Herding pictures as the foundation of a sort of stage theory of Zen. Just because we “need” to “know” where we are, does not mean we should attempt to get a grade for ourselves. This need is the deluded mind seeking an escape. This is not the way of Soto Zen. It is not the way of Clear Mind Zen.

Nishijima writes, “Master Nyojo told him (Student Dogen) not to be concerned about attaining enlightenment. Rather, he should ‘just sit,’ and in sitting find the essence of Buddhism itself…Nyojo did not promote the study of koans, the counting of breaths or other methods of focusing the mind. He stressed the simple activity of just sitting, and he urged his disciples to find the meaning of practice in practice itself.”

Do not deconstruct your seated practice. Such a practice eviscerates the living and thus, examines, the dead. Just sit. Nothing special. Nothing miraculous.

Be well,

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Rascal

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Zazen is the practice of seated meditation, we say, yet it is far more than that. Zazen is a state of being. What are the ontological elements? Steadiness, serenity, surrender, alertness, openness, in short, a state of being that is upright and aware.

We exist naturally in this state of being until we are encumbered by thoughts and feelings. We collect thoughts and feelings and store them for daily reference. They form a sort of vetting process for us. A process which, in truth, actually becomes a veil clouding our ability to see clearly.

My Clouds:

Growing up in poor in Miami, in a household headed by an addict and a co-dependent partner, I saw what other people had and I dearly wanted it. The good life, the life of leisure and fun. I saw in base relief, then, my poverty. Television helped with this, as well. It framed the world and taught me to turn my wants into needs. I had hope.

I saw, eventually, though, that the rich were rich and the poor were poor and never truly will the two actually come together. When they do, it is carefully orchestrated by handlers, as in the case of Movie and Rock Stars. The rich remain rich, the new-rich remain on the outside looking in, and everyone works to maintain the status quo in the hope that no one will notice. Meanwhile we at the bottom continue to bus the tables and wait on others. Still, I thought, I can beat this.

Great Doubt arises.

My hope, my sense of moving up in the world, seemed exposed as a childhood dream by the war. There were those who fought and those at home who fought to find ways out of the draft. Patriotism and trust in government was wrecked by Vietnam and that Dirty Tricks Master, Tricky Dick Nixon. This man, posing as a Quaker, carpet bombed Hanoi and relentlessly assaulted those who opposed the war. White hats were just a costume to hide the evil men do. These were like the swift strikes of a kyosaku. Wake up!

At home, the VFW told me they didn’t want “cry baby” Vietnam Vets in their organization. I was partially paralyzed, retired from the Army at 19, and often spent hours at a Royal Castle hamburger joint. One night, sipping coffee, I remember a police officer coming in and giving me the third degree. What am I doing there? I think, “What else does a kid retired at 19 do?” I caused suspicion, I suppose. Wake up!

Great Determination arises.

When confronted with doubt some of us collapse. Too bad. Life offers us whacks of the kyosaku to give us great doubt. Contrary to what we sometimes think, it’s not a test, in fact, it’s the real thing. Bad things do happen to good people. Life is not fair. Societies are not structured equally. Some of us have to walk to work…if we have a job to go to. Some of us have to make a choice between food and medicine. It’s all very sad, but it’s all life as it is.

I chose not to collapse. I get a GED. I go to college. I get married. I get a job. Life happens. Somewhere within me is a stubborn rascal. I am not going to go quietly into the night. One foot in front of the other. Washing dishes, baking pies, waiting on tables, taking crap from all sorts of idiots, I earn my keep.

Eventually, I get a Ph.D., start a business, and become successful. But who am I?

I have learned not to trust anything but my true self. What I have also learned is that “my” true self is “our” true self, the cosmos. A Ph.D., a successful business, and a life in service to others through that business, was not enough. The backward step demanded to be taken.

Great Faith arises.

When living fully awake, or when living asleep, life is what it is: a great metabolic process with no beginning and no end. In either case there is no difference. What differs is how we relate to it. To fully appreciate our lives we must surrender ourselves to the fullness of the universe itself. We must take that step off the cliff of doubt. Or jump off the pole of awakened being to make ourselves in the world. This takes faith, not courage. Faith that things are what they are, and unfold as they will, and that through it all we are what we are: human beings making choices.

In those choices our true self arises. In this there are no excuses. We are what we do, not what we would like to do, think we are, or try to be. I believe words like “try” “think” “want” are contemporary profanity because they, in fact, profane us. They are the words we use to deceive ourselves and others.

The Mantra of the Upright.

Get out of thought; get into action. Don’t try, do.

Be well.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Recently my practice as abbot and founder of this Order has become challenging, well, more challenging than is usual. We are experiencing a degree of growth that can be a challenge in and of itself. Yet, growth we expect. What I didn’t expect was being faced with such a need for volunteers to staff the Temple, lead groups, and do some of the background work that is essential to the Order itself.

We currently have four groups a week: Comparative Religion, Zen 101, Women in Zen, and Zen Discussion. We are practicing Zazen Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday as formal Zen practice periods. We have two Zen in the Park periods and one Tai Chi Chih class. We are working with Sangha members Tamra and Shelley to bring formal Zen practice to Mesilla and are traveling to El Paso regularly to offer teaching at our Both Sides/No Sides Sangha there. I received a letter from the CYFD Superintendent asking to meet with us regarding bringing meditation to the J. Paul Taylor Juvenile Correction facility here in southern New Mexico. On top of this, our webmistress has asked to be relieved of her responsibilities in that area. We are going to T or C this morning to meet with her.

Our Membership Committee is evolving into a Membership Council. This council will meet to approve membership applications. New applicants will have to go through a screening procedure to be approved as Members of our Order. All Members will be expected to honor their practice commitments.

We need members who are serious, engaged and willing to assist. We have a need for individuals to volunteer to be present certain nights of the week to act as greeters and representatives of the Order. We also have a need for one additional member to become a part of the Membership Council. If you are willing to do this, please contact Rev. Dai Shugyo through our Order’s email address, clearmindzen@yahoo.com.

Lastly, Soku Shin and I have decided we will host the “Gatherings” at the Temple instead of our home after Friday’s group. We will also host the once a month Sunday Gatherings there as well.

Up-coming: Zazenkai on the first Saturday of June. I will have several of my paintings on display at the Southwestern Jewish Art Festival at Temple Beth El, June 12. Tickets are $20.00 and includes champagne, mimosas, and a variety of foods. Please consider coming to that event.

May you each be a blessing and I look forward to seeing you soon.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Not Waste Time

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The news this morning was difficult to bear. The city of Joplin was devastated by a massive tornado going into the night. People were left to withstand nature’s carnage in the dark of night. As I read the story and watched some video, I was moved to those still, silent tears that come from deep within my heart: people are frightened, huddled against the terror of chaos with little ability to secure themselves, I weep for them.

My heart touches theirs as I have been in that darkness and cannot tell you how overwhelmingly terrifying it can be. Combat in Vietnam; hurricanes in Miami; violent, psychotic assault; these things can touch us to the core in ways that destroy our very foundation, that foundational platform we use to get through the day.

Zen teaches us that nothing is permanent, that everything changes, and we are OK with that as long as the change is slow, giving us time to deal with it. But in the case of such disasters as tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami, and bombs, we are less able to withstand the assault to our senses. In such times we pull our emotional selves in tight and go into action. Like the medic that braved machine gun fire to assist me, ordinary citizens in Joplin franticly search for survivors and render what aid they are able. It is later we undo ourselves, asking the core question, “what does all this mean?”

For those survivors, life will not be the same. A cold glass of milk, a marshmallow, or a simple daisy will speak to them in ways they never quite imagined. As a survivor myself, I take it as my sacred trust to reaffirm the teaching from the Sandokai: Do not waste time.

Be well

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Order's Rules for Zendo Behavior

The Order of Clear Mind Zen

Rules for the Zendo

1.) Silence is thunder. Zen etiquette calls for a deep and abiding silence in the Zendo. The Zendo is a solemn practice hall. We enter it to do the work of enlightenment: freeing all beings from suffering through the practice of Zazen.

2.) Please turn off your cell phone and do not use it in the Zendo.

3.) It is customary to remove our shoes before entering the Zendo. Gassho, bow, and enter with the right foot. Walk in “shashu” (left hand in enclosed fist, right hand covering it, elbows extended horizontally) to a cushion, bow, and take your seat facing the interior of the Zendo. Place your hands in the “cosmic mudra” (left hand in right, thumbs lightly touching) and practice Zazen until you are given further instruction.

4.) Please do not keep drinks or food at your Zabuton during Zazen periods. If you require water to take medicine, take the medicine before Zazen or by stepping out of the Zendo during kinhin.

5.) When walking in the Zendo, please place your hands in “Shashu” and walk slowly.

6.) Bells or claps of wooden clappers (hyoshigi or shaku) govern all movements.

7.) Loose fitting clothing is best, dark colors are preferred.

8.) When practicing seated meditation, please avoid movements of any sort. If you must adjust your posture do so very quietly and with care not to disturb others. Expect the Ino or the presiding priest will offer correction to both posture and excess movement during practice periods.

9.) The priest is referred to as “Reverend,”and if appropriate,  “Sensei,” (Teacher) or “Roshi” (Old Teacher).

10.) During Tea Service and Teisho it is customary to sit with hands in the “cosmic mudra.” Please do not interrupt the officiating priest. A question and answer period will be announced.

11.) You are NOT expected to chant, make vows, or recite anything you do not feel comfortable reciting, vowing or chanting. However, we strongly encourage this practice!

12.) Bows. Bowing is an important practice. It teaches us humility and assists us in lessening the grip of self. “Gassho” refers to the placing of palms together as a lotus bud. This symbolizes the bringing of the active and the passive, the self and other, together in its original ‘non-dualistic’ existence. Bows are done from the hip. A deep bow is a profound demonstration of respect for both self and other.

13.) Once seated during Oryoki please do not get up from your seat.

14.) Dana (Charity) is practiced quietly and typically without request. If you should wish to make an offering, place your offering in the bowl provided. It is located on the foyer altar table.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Zazenkai today. This is a day to spend in mindful silence. This is a day to allow the peace that resides within you to unfold. Each of has this peace. It is the stillness that resides in the space before thought. Our thinking mind is an oar in the water. It tells us to row and with each stroke, soft or no, our water is disturbed. Zazen is the cessation of rowing. And Zazenkai is a day of stopping.

If you are unable to come to Zazenkai, home practice is an excellent opportunity. Chose a time, sit in front of a blank wall, and breathe. First, however, you must settle things. Ensure you will have no intrusions or disturbances. Shut off cell phones. No radio, stereo, or TV. The length of time you sit is not as important as the quality of the time you sit. By quality we mean being awake, aware, and steady. No moving. No getting up and wandering around. No scratching. No stretching. Just sitting still.

In the event you can only do this five minutes, then you have five minutes “buddha.” Spend the rest of your day in mindfulness. This means orienting yourself to be completely aware of everything you are doing and how it feels to do it without holding on to any feeling or thought whatever. Picking up a coffee cup, you are aware that you are picking up a coffee cup. Putting down a coffee cup, you are aware that you are putting down a coffee cup. And so on.

What is the point? Serene reflection. Serenity. Peace. How hard is that?

Friday, May 20, 2011


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We have been considering sangha of late and what sangha really means.  It used to be that sangha was a group of monks who practiced together, lived together, and wondered together.  That was some time ago.  Through the centuries, though, and with the ascendancy of lay practice centers, sangha has widened to include nearly everyone and, in some cases, everything, in the universe.

Many lay practice centers welcome people in off the street, visitors who are curious, who might want to learn, and yet, have little real sense or desire to join a sangha. Visitors and people who simply attend, are not sangha members. We, in the Order of Clear Mind Zen, have just completed our grandfathering period.  From this point forward, sangha members will be those who have joined and, once accepted, become members of the sangha.  I think it should be said, a sangha is a commitment to join a group and support that group.  It is not about the individuals needs, but rather the group's needs.  This is where we, in America, seem to have an issue, because we seem to be all about ourselves. The Buddha Way is not that way.

Sangha today may not be place specific, but could be connected through the virtual reality of the Internet.  I have students in far away places, most I have met in person, some I have not, yet in each and every case, I feel a commitment and connection to them.  I am here for them; they are here for me,.  In a very real sense, in this, then, there is no "them" or "me," there is just the "sangha."

For those living in or near Las Cruces, NM, please consider visting us and at some point, joining our sangha.  If you are not in the area, please consider talking to me personally over Skype video chat.  Simply email my Jiisha, Soku Shin, and set a time. 

Be well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Membership and Schedule

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we meet with the membership committee and discussed its role in our Sangha. Sangha Membership is an important commitment and one that ought not be taken lightly. There are both benefits and responsibilities to membership in this Order. One does not come without the other.

What are the benefits? Primarily mutual support for our practice. This is accomplished through the availability of a Zendo, Zabutons, Zafus, Teachers, the Roshi’s library and other resources, as well as the many practice opportunities the Order provides. What are the responsibilities? Mutual support of each other in our practice is primary. This occurs through the member’s physical and spiritual presence in the Zendo and at activities the Order provides. Secondarily, responsibility also includes the maintenance of the Temple and support structures as well as the support of its abbot.

Recently, we have experienced a surge (of sorts) in attendance at our groups. We are hopeful this will translate into higher attendance at our regularly scheduled practice periods. In order to better accommodate this and reduce the “watering down” effect of too many formal practice periods in a given week, we are changing our practice schedule as follows:

Monday Zazen at 7:00-8:00 PM

Tuesday Zen 101 Group, Zazen at 7:00-8:00 PM

Wednesday Tai Chi Chih at 6:00, NO ZAZEN

Thursday Women in Zen Group at 5:30, NO ZAZEN

Friday Zen Group at 4:00 PM, Zazen at 5:15 PM, Gathering at Abbot’s Residence at 6:30 PM

Saturday No Zazen

Sunday Formal Zazen at 9:00 AM

The Temple will be open for dokusan by appointment with the Abbot. Call 575-680-6680 to schedule an appointment.

Be well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stage One

With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

NOTE: No Zazen this evening as we will be involved in a Membership Committee Meeting.

Last night’s Zazen 101 Group was exciting. We had a total of nine people in attendance and three stayed after to continue the discussion. Our talk was on the First Ox-Herding Picture which is about beginning to seek our true self, what is referred to as “the Ox” in the series of paintings. We are the herder, pushing our way through the grasses of our lives, finding that what once was true is true no longer and seeking a deeper truth, a truth that was never born and never dies.

I read a piece I had written a few years ago on this stage of practice. I was struck at the time with how being wounded in Vietnam was a show=-stopper, real world-changer for me. But it does not have to something as dramatic or traumatic as combat. It can be anything that points to the reality that what we know is an illusion. A group member talked a bit about reading as that sort of gate, for example. Another thought a comment her child made did the trick. The point is this: each of us are seeking. We want to know who we are, what we are, and at the root, what our purpose is.

Often people see these questions as philosophic or religious. I see them as both and neither. Frankly, I really do not care whether they are religious, philosophical, spiritual, or any other head thing. What is most important is our attempt to address them and in Zen, we do this through our practice. The Eight Gates are practice gateways to exploring these questions in ways that are both meaningful and productive.

In our next group meeting we will explore Stage Two: Seeing the Traces or Discovering the Footprints.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Stages

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night at Clear Mind Zen Temple we had a nearly full house with eight of us practicing together. It was good to see so many zafus being put to good use. This evening we will host our Zen 101 Group at 6:00 PM and follow this with a practice period. The section of the text, “The Eight Gates of Zen” we will address is “The Ten Stages” from pages 39 through 78. I know we will not get through all of the stages this evening, but we will make a beginning.

The stages are based on the Ten Ox-Herding pictures and are an effort to offer some idea to students a sense of where they are in their practice. Much more a Rinzai notion than a Soto one, the idea of stages is a standard for Rinzai and a challenge for Soto. In the Soto tradition, we are taught that the practice of Shikantaza is, essentially, enlightenment itself. So, what need of “stages”?

Come this evening and we will discuss this question among others. If you are not able to come, I will begin to address these in a post tomorrow.

Lastly, remember, we will be hosting a joint Zazenkai this weekend with the Zen Center of Las Cruces. It will begin at 10:00 AM and close at 4:00 PM. Please reserve your space now by replying to this email.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking Refuge

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

What does it mean to be a follower of the Buddha Way? Yesterday at Temple, I offered a teisho on entering the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I taught that the thing taking refuge requires first is a willingness to relinquish self. To study the Buddha way, Master Dogen says, is to study the self, and as we practice this Zazen, mind and body fall away. To practice Zazen is to relinquish the self and allow it to fall away.

We sit upright facing a wall. We do not move. We practice releasing our urges, our thoughts and feelings. We sit upright facing a wall. That is all. And in this sitting, we are taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. How so?

Buddha is the state of being awake. Present, Eyes wide open. Everything is there with us. Everything, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, are present and we are allowing them to just be. At some point the allowing ceases, there is no director directing, no perceiver perceiving, there is only awareness itself.

What is awareness aware of? The Dharma. What is Dharma? Pinch yourself hard. Sip a cold glass of water or a hot cup of coffee or tea. Experience directly what is there in front of you. It is your teacher when you get out of your own way.

Sangha is the non-dualistic universe itself. We like to make distinctions: this one is a monk, that one a lay person. This one is White, that one Black. That one over there is a Jew. Oh, and here is a flower, there is a weed. Distinctions. Duality. Delusion. In truth, everything is one, dependent on everything else. A great living web; an eternal green braid. Sangha is our home. It nurtures us and we nurture it. We cannot really do otherwise because if we do, we die.

When we sit facing a wall long enough these truths become manifest. They come from the inside out. They are not “laws” they are the actual nature of things. Entering the Buddha Way is the practice of becoming synchronous with reality.

Be well.

Friday, May 13, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Waking this morning, my body tells me I am getting older by the day: the pain in my lower back, piriformis, and knee is creating a bent, hobbled look. Very unbecoming. Not at all youthful. But wait, I am NOT youthful, I am old and moving on to wise 

I don’t know about that last part. Maybe I am just growing old. Nothing worse in my mind than an unwise old man. Wasn’t I paying attention to life’s lessons? Maybe I was just too busy being busy.

Last night I painted a bit after going through the “Webinar” presented by Ambercare for professionals. I wrote my piece on it and sent it away. Then picked up a broad brush and made large strokes of a vibrant green on an already green canvas. I am seeking life in the grass. I look into it. I do not know what will emerge.

Maybe my heart. Maybe a butterfly. Maybe they are one in the same.

Be well.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we went to our first Ambercare Hospice Training session. We had a diverse group: elder volunteers, administrators, and a CNA. Two Zen Buddhists do stand out a tad, if not by our POV, but by our essential silence. We watched the documentary, “Solace” which featured several Buddhists including Stephen Levine and Joan Halifax-roshi. Joan is so clear and right there. She is amazing.

I am not sure I will write too much over the next year of this training about it. Then again, such training opens thoughts and feelings. A physician talked about his surgical experience in Viet Nam which spoke directly to me. He talked about the sense of one soldier coming under fire to rescue another. I had such an experience myself and never quite thought of it the way he talked about it. He said it was an experience of unification. I experienced that, but never put my finger of it as that, itself.

On the ground in the dark, wounded and still under fire, a medic ran to me to treat my wounds. There was no hesitation on his part. I remember his voice. He was soothing and calm. There was just us, this group of men, including “the enemy,” on that muddy jungle floor that night. Our lives were one seething process: death, life, pain, joy.

From that night forward, over these last 45 years, I have lived in the moment, letting the promise (or the threat) of tomorrow go. I am grateful for this experience as it allowed me to see the absolute value of the present moment. Just this breath. It is the entire universe. Appreciate it.

Be well.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night we drove to El Paso to provide Zen Services to the Both Sides/No Sides Sangha. Student Rose traveled with Soku Shin and I. Soku Shin acted as the Ino and I did what I do. My Dharma talk was on Jukai.

I find it wonderful that the Jukai ceremony and vows we use today are the same (or very similar) to those used by Master Dogen of the 13th century. We are nearly word for word in the 10 Grave Precepts, although certain slight modifications have been made.

Jukai is nothing more than a certification that one has become the precepts themselves. One has become, or vowed to become, buddha, dharma, and sangha. One has become ahimsa (a vow to cease doing evil), good itself, and is busy creating conditions for good to arise. And lastly, the student has found an authentic way to be a manifestation of the ten grave precepts: No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, no clouding the mind, no gossip, no elevating self at the expense of others, no giving way to anger, no greediness, and no speaking ill of the three treasures. The teacher recognizes the student in a ceremony, offers a rakusu, and that is that. The student is now in a place to practice even more deeply. Perhaps one day, she or he will become a “patriarch.”

These precepts speak to the dimensions of Zen practice. As such, they do not come about on their own, nor are they imposed from on-high. Zen has no God telling us what to do. Zen Buddhism, properly understood, has no Church. We are each flowers in a bouquet called sangha. The precepts are the flower’s petals as the stamen sits in serene reflection.

Be well

Please Note: Due to our previously scheduled Ambercare Hospice Training Program Soku Shin and I are attending, we will not be at Temple for Zazen this evening.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


With respect,

Good Evening Everyone,

A recent comment on a Facebook blog made me think a bit. One of my students posted a link to an opinion piece in a magazine by the renowned Dr. Noam Chomsky. I commented on it and a reader of my student’s page commented back that I was “dismissive” of a person who was a “vast fount of knowledge.”

This phrase has stuck in my mind. As well as the perception that I was dismissive. Perhaps I was. Is that wrong? Perhaps. Another time for this discussion, I think, but now I would like to address the notion of “knowledge.”

Knowledge is an area of philosophical investigation known as “epistemology.” Frankly, Zen is all about it. Epistemology examines how we know what we know, its scope and validity. Zen is all about this. We might say that Zen practice is the highest form of epistemological investigation. Why? Because it begins with a radical deconstruction of the knower and the known.

Descartes thought that he found a truth that served as the basis of all knowledge, he said, “Cognito ergo sum,” I think, therefore, I am. He supposed that knowledge was a reflection of internal brain processes, although he likely would not use that language. Many of us today make the same mistake, we think what we think is knowledge.

Yet thinking is just our mental processes at work. These bear no relation to the “objective” world, as if there is such a thing. But rather are reflections of our neurological activity, playing in the playground of our senses. A thought is just a thought. It represents something we have constructed from a perception, another set of electrical impulses striking our brain, but it is not the thing itself.

What do we know? Nothing. We create a system of thoughts, categorize and share them, and call it knowledge. The only true knowing is not knowing: it is prior to knowing, prior to sensation, it is the face you had before your father and mother were born. Anything else is an imposter posing as knowledge. Chomsky thinks. He relies on his thoughts, which are well organized and articulate, but just thoughts. Are these thoughts “knowledge”?

If you say yes, you are saying abstractions are the universe and more, it is the thought rather than the direct experience that counts. Zen says otherwise.

Thoughts do not count as knowledge. They are thoughts about something. What is the something? If you say it is this or that you are still in the abstraction. In Zen we directly experience the thing itself and let the thoughts drop away. This is true knowledge.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Osama and Me

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The killing of Osama bin Laden has been celebrated. People have been dancing in the streets, waving flags, and celebrating shooting a killer in the head through his left eye. There is a great relief, perhaps a release from fear, it seems to me. Frankly, I see such a thing with a degree of disgust, relief, and admittedly, a degree of satisfaction. I am, it seems, a human being.

Osama bin Laden was a cold, calculating mass murderer. He hid from the world and directed his poisonous actions as if he were a long distance orchestra director, never really touching those he killed, not having to deal in any way with the pain and suffering he caused. We might say he was a coward.

What do we do with him? Or more precisely, with ourselves in response to him and his sort of actions? I read a story just last night about the killing of a Los Angeles neo-Nazi, someone who actively and, in your face, spread hate. Again, a sense of disgust, mixed with relief. Another toxic person no longer able to cause harm.

Our precept says, “I vow not to kill.” It also says, "I vow not to be angry.” Our there poisons are “greed, hate, and delusion.” Our three antidotes are “generosity, love, and wisdom.” I recite these often, if not daily, aloud or to myself. I am reminded of them each and every time I hear of people like Osama or the Nazi. I see myself.

To want to kill, to cause harm, or to take any joy in the killing or harming of another is the same across the board. As Gertrude Stein once said in her poem, Sacred Emily, “a rose is a rose is a rose.” Osama took pleasure in the killing of those he thought were his enemies. We take pleasure in the killing of him. How are we not the same?

To love we must love, to be generous we must be generous, and to be wise we must be wise. This takes a great deal of courage and a willingness to set self aside in service to generosity, love, and wisdom. Clearly, I am not there yet myself, but I have dedicated my life to the practice of getting here.

I wish to mourn for that part of me who wishes to revenge. Let that part of me rest in peace.

Be well.