Showing posts from May, 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 t…


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 …


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…

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 …


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 …

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 tornadoe…

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…


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 min…


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, bu…

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. W…

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 …

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…

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 onl…


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.


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 fir…


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 expe…


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 …

street zen


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…