Zen 101

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday was a wonderful day. Soku Shin entered the Order as a Novitiate Priest, the service and ceremony was extremely well attended (Soku Shin and I had to sit Zazen in the outer room!). We then went to lunch at the Village Inn and after that several folks came to the residence for coffee. The last person left at about 4ish and we were plain tuckered out. We watched a few episodes of “Saving Grace” on our DVD player (we do not have a TV) and sipped some wine.

Sometimes certain events just find a place in your heart, you know. Unsui and Shukke Tokudo are such moments. These are ceremonies where one takes lifelong vows, a very serious commitment. Soku Shin mentioned to me that speaking these vows aloud in a public ceremony was very moving. It is, indeed. To enter the priesthood is to leave service to the self and travel a path of service to the universe. All personal things must drop away. One must open one’s heart and take residence in the suffering of others.

In the “Saving Grace” episode we watched there was a father who dowsed his child with gasoline and lit him on fire. The father was vilified by all but “Earl,” the angel. My heart was with the child, with Grace, with all the officers enraged by the father’s despicable act, but it was also with the father who was suffering greatly himself. I think we gain the ability to be in the suffering of others through our practice and experience of actually working with those in great pain. One without the other is both hollow and shallow.

The danger of working with the suffering of others without practice is that we will tend to build walls around our heart, begin to hate those who inflict suffering, and in this, attempt to protect ourselves. No one wants to think fathers are capable of such atrocities. In truth, however, we are all capable under the right circumstances. Our practice allows us to see this by penetrating the delusion of duality.

Being one with the universe has significant implications.

Be well.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Was awake last night after a few hours’ sleep. I finished a painting I am calling “Eden,” wrote a few quick email replies, and took down my copy of “Realizing the Genjo Koan” translation and commentary by Okamura-roshi. This text is very important as it addresses everyday life as an awakening and awakened person. I say both because we are actualizing both in each and every moment. As Okamura points out, “We are both universal and individual, and this universality and individuality are not two separate aspects of our being: each of them is absolute. One hand is 100% hand. Five fingers are 100% five fingers.”

I write about this fundamental aspect of Zen frequently. It is essential that we realize the truth of holding these two apparently contradictory views simultaneously. Because to not do so allows for sleepwalking on the one hand and quietism on the other hand.

If we are stuck in “five fingers” which is to say, individuality, we are in a dualism that allows for all manner of egoistic and narcissistic evil to arise. If we are stuck in “hand” then everything is one and nothing really matters as whatever is, is, and we should not attach to anything.

Living interdependence and deep interconnection means we live with five fingers knowing they are hand and live with hand knowing it is five fingers. Grasping one is at the expense of the other. In our Zen we practice to let go of all grasping.

Just because we do not grasp does not mean we do not engage. We engage without investment of self. My well-being is not dependent on the outcome of my practice or something I am working on. If I am practicing to end war and war continues, I do not stop practicing ending war. This is so because on a very deep level, as I practice to end war, war is ended, regardless of whether or not war continues. Just as our hand is a hand and simultaneously five individual fingers, so practice and realization are one and not one at the same time. Or to use Dogen’s phrase, “The depth is the same as the height.” We make the universe we reside in.

Be well.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 25b

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I was reading the news and found myself mystified once again at my countryman. Self interest and “blame the other guy” are our apparent focus and mantra, respectively. We don’t want taxes, but we want better roads, warplanes, bombs, rockets, and ships. We don’t want (and are increasingly suspicious of) scientific research, but we want the best medical care in the world. We want somebody else to pay for everything, but we want to determine what they will be able to pay for and where their money will come from, or where it won’t.

Stem cell research is essential to medical research. The choice of abortion is essential to the health and well-being of women. Health insurance is essential to the health of the nation. Roads and bridges are essential to the flow of commerce, to say nothing of the safety of people. Safety nets like unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare are essential to caring for those who are otherwise unable to care for themselves and by maintaining such programs, we build our character as charitable and generous human beings.

Yet, the view I read is a view that would take away these supports and throw us into a state of anarchy. We don’t trust government, so let’s make it smaller. And this means what, that we should trust industry? Do you really think an industry will monitor itself at the expense of its short term bottom line? Do you really think that private health insurance which profits from controlling utilization will make us healthier? Like the automobile industry would have somehow saw the light and made safer and more fuel efficient cars without the government forcing them to do so! Right.

Those of you on the Tea Party side of this equation might take a lesson from such things. Cigarette companies taught you cigarettes were safe and that it was bad science that said otherwise. Car companies claimed they could not afford airbags, seatbelts, and more fuel efficient engines. It was government, that big, bad ogre which took these industries to task and as a result, we have safer air and more fuel efficient and somewhat safer cars.

Those of you on the side of government take note as well. Government fueled by fear with unbridled controls means great threat to your privacy and freedom. The CIA has been working closely with the NYC Police Department to spy on citizens even outside of New York, infiltrated bookstores, scans computers, and does any number of undercover ops here in the US without benefit of oversight from anyone. Of course this is OK because they were only spying on Muslims and we know they are all terrorists, right? Wrong.

Something the Buddha taught can be of great value today: the middle way. Stay away from extremes on the right or left. Extremes in anything, including religion, are not a good idea and eventually lead to great suffering.

Just something to think about as we read the morning news.

August 25

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I am feeling much better after taking a day to rest. Tuesday was a long day at the Temple and three bike rides back and forth. All told, 12 and a half miles. It was good, but the afternoon heat on one ride was a bit much. On top of that, while walking through the Temple foyer, I tripped and broke a toe on My Left Foot. At home Tuesday night Soku Shin taped it, but it is quite sore yesterday. Needless to say, I did not do a run Wednesday morning so Suki had to be satisfied with a quarter mile walk. I don’t think she is happy ‘bout that.

Dogs, like people, are creatures of habit. Whereas dogs habituate, they are also ever alert. We humans habituate our daily routines, but in the process essentially sleepwalk through much our essential activities. Rarely on alert, we give ourselves over to habit and use our brains to assume everything will flow as predicted, as it always does, that is, until something happens.

This week something happened on the East Coast of the United States. An earthquake informed people the ground they walked on wasn’t as firm as they had assumed. Something radical happens when that which we hold as a firm foundation shakes.

In Zazen, we practice to release ourselves from any firm foundation, as we discover through our practice no such foundation exists, ever existed, or will ever exist. Everything is change; nothing is firm. Now what?

Making such a discovery is only the opening verse in an epic poem of our spiritual journey. Next we must let go not only of our attachment to what we erroneously thought of as a firm foundation, but also of our desire to seek a firm foundation at all. These are very challenging verses to write as they require us to have faith in the unfolding of the cosmos.

When we realize non-duality, attachment to self falls away and non-attachment to self naturally arises. With no self, the universe is “us.” All time is one. When this is realized, there is, as the sutra says, “no hindrance in the mind. No hindrance, therefore, no fear.”

There is a danger here, though. The danger is becoming attached to non-attachment. In the world of buddhas, there is no attachment, even attachment to non-attachment. We must keep in mind emptiness is also form.

So, we come full circle, as it were. The opening lines of the epic poem start us on the path. We realize everything changes. We come to see there is no self and there is no other. There is only this that is prior to thought, prior to feeling, prior to sensation. We are both self and non-self. We are both one and all. We are “thusness” itself. Yet this “thusness” manifests itself as form. We call these forms the paramitas.

Be well.

Today at CMZT: Zazen at 9:30, Sewing Group at 5:00, Zazen at 6:00. Dokusan through the day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 23

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is about disciplined practice and yet, paradoxically, it is this discipline that leads to freedom. What is this freedom? According to Matsuoka-roshi, my dharma grandfather, it is freedom from mind and body and all attachments derived wherefrom. He, like Seung Sahn, used the points on a compass to explicate this. These cardinal points are really markers pointing to the depth of our practice on the one hand or the degree of freedom we have “attained” on the other hand.

At zero degrees we are what some of us might refer to as asleep: living in small mind, attached to name and form. At 90 degrees we see differences in things by varying degrees: we are attached to exteriors. At 180 degrees we have transcended attachment to thinking, attained “emptiness,” but have attached to it. At 270 degrees we attain “imaginative thinking.” We have what both Masters referred to as “Freedom I.” that sense of “I” that is free from the constraints of logic, reason, and so forth. Here the moon can sing, ants might soar, and mountains walk. The danger, as in every step around the circle is in getting caught in it. “This ‘freedom I’ must be transcended also” says Matsuoka. So, at 360 degrees we reach complete non-attachment to thinking. Here we are free from everything: all desire, all name and form, all discrimination. It is here that we are born.

Being born is being free. It is an opportunity to be the buddha you are. From this freedom arises the paramitas, those aspects of our true self hidden by the constraints of thought, name, and form, as well as the need to hold and protect them.

What would it be like to be completely free? This is your practice.

Be well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke later than usual and, as is the case when such things happen, pressure builds. My morning routine has not been the same for awhile. I feel it, too. Typically, I wake early, say around 4:30. I practice a bit, sit at the computer and gather my thoughts, write, and sip coffee. From there I was in the habit of going for a run, doing a weight workout, shower and get to temple. Somewhere in there I would have some peanut butter toast.

When I wake late, everything is squeezed together. This morning Suki needed to go out right away. I did my run with her, a 1.1 mile jog around Mesilla as soon as I got out of bed. Made a protein shake, espresso coffee and tried to settle into the PC. Of course when in a hurry it is inevitable that things don’t work quite the way you want them to and I needed to re-boot the PC.

So, here it is 7:37 and I am just now settling in to write having not had the benefit of a time in meditation. As I sometimes say, “Arrrggghhhh!”

Yet, this is a dharma teacher, this state of being pressed, and a much better teacher than the calm and serene early morning quiet time I often long for. Soku Shin tries to humor me. I deeply appreciate that, but it is not helpful. The only thing that actually helps is to settle down, attend to my breath and be in the chaos residing in my mind.

A casual glance over at Suki reveals a relaxed puppy curled up at Soku Shin’s feet. She is mindful of her breath. Her body is fully flush against the floor. She has run, she has eaten, and she is with her pack. In doggy terms she is complete.

As I sit here at the PC writing to you, I notice my body sinking into my chair, the smell of the coffee near my hand, and the clatter of the keys as both Soku Shin and I do our morning communication with the world., My body is relaxing from its exercise and I am feeling much more centered. Now to the peanut butter toast and a shower. Then on the bike to ride to the Temple. Life is good.

Monday, August 15, 2011


realization, just as Dogen understood Zazen. If we are uncomfortable, it is important to face that discomfort not step away from it.

Here are a set of truths: Spiritual practice is a discipline. Every discipline is uncomfortable. Comfort is awakening’s enemy.

The Order of Clear Mind Zen is fairly simple with straightforward practices. Few frills. We offer Sangha membership, Zazen, and study groups. You may use a chair after it is determined that you cannot sit on a cushion or use a bench. If you cannot sit still we will invite you to practice harder. Our building is air conditioned and we do not have access to the thermostat. We have a small fan and use it when the Zendo is full. All of this, though, is window dressing. When you come to a Zen Center you are coming to practice Zazen. It is a practice that can be challenging. This is where the commitment to a disciplined practice comes in. The Buddha referred to this as the development of kashanti, (patience or forbearance) a word we rarely use today (I wonder why?!)

The thing is that without kashanti we become weak. Dependent on ease, we never really face ourselves.

Be well.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 13

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday was a challenge. After moving all of the books and finally getting the bookcases moved to the residence, my old SAAB got sick. I am not sure what is wrong with her, but she will not start. On top of that, I seem to have misplaced the keys so I cannot even try to start her again or look to see what might be the trouble. I think the keys may be at the Temple, as Soku Shin drove us there yesterday when the SAAB had her issues. Then there is the painting I am working on. It is not doing well. It seems drab and lifeless. Lastly, at bottom, I am completelt broke. So, what was to be done?

Last night we sipped a glass of wine, ate brown rice and lentils followed by a portion of salty potato chips. We watched a DVD, cuddled, and fell asleep.

When I woke this morning I decided I would do what is there for me to do. It is Saturday, my day off, so I will enjoy this day. I will take Suki for a run. Perhaps Soku Shin and I will go for a bike ride. I will bring life to my painting. And, in the end, we will enjoy this day. In this practice is the secret to a life well lived: enjoy. Life is far too short to get mired in attachments.

On the Temple side of the equation:

We have purchased the tickets for Taiun-sensei's trip to New Mexico. For those who assisted, thank you very much. We could not have done this without you. So far we have 15 registrations. I believe we will be able to seat a maximum of 20 in the Temple if we include the space in the foyer and add a line in the center of the Zendo. Sleeping arrangements will need to be divided between the Temple and our residence, as well as those living in the area returning to their homes overnight.

Our Tenzo and I have had extensive conversations regarding oryoki. She has suggested, and I concur, that we ask members of the sangha to each purchase an oryoki bowl set. This will eliminate the need for Soku Shin and myself to wash and re-wrap the bowl sets after zazenkai and sesshin, a considerable task. I have done a search on the Internet and found the economy set from ZCLA is about $45.00. Rev. KoMyo in California is working with the manager of their store to create a special deal for us if possible. You will need to make this purchase before sesshin so that you have your own oryoki set for meals.

Thank you for your time in reading this. May your life be a blessing today. I hope to see you at Temple tomorrow!



Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 11

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Today at Clear Mind Zen Temple we will sit Zazen at 9:30 and again at 6:00 PM. Soku Shin will lead our Sewing Group at 5:00 PM. If you are sewing a rakusu or wagessa, or want to, please consider joining her.

Sewing the Buddha’s robe is a deep, contemplative practice. The Buddha’s robe is a manifestation of morality. It is done slowly and with great reverence. With each stitch is offered a reminder that we are one with the buddha, awake, and deeply practicing to end all suffering. So, it is your effort to bring morality into the universe. It is a manifestation of your true nature.

The original robes were made from cloth coverings of bodies in charnel grounds. These rags were washed and dyed, cut into strips, and sewn in the pattern we have today. Each member of the Buddha’s Order received three robes. These, along with a begging bowl, were pretty much a monk’s sole possessions. To become a follower of the Buddha Way at that time meant a complete renunciation not only of family life, possessions, etc., but also of self. It was thought that when we renounced self, our true nature would be unimpeded.

This is a tradition that cuts across most religions. Abraham “went forth” left what he knew, as did Moses and the Israelites. Jesus went out into the desert, leaving what he knew, and in this home-leaving spiritual seekers freed himself from the bonds of “knowing” and was thus in a place where his cup was empty and he could be taught.

Today, we do something similar. We enter a Zendo leaving what we know at the door. We raise the Buddha’s robe to our head and recite a brief chant. We open the robe and wrap ourselves in it. This is followed by our verse of atonement which both reminds us of the fact that we create the conditions that create harm, resolve to cease doing this, and invoke non-duality once again. From here we receive the Three Treasures: we take refuge in being awake, live in the real world, and support harmonious community interaction.

Our day begins with the robe of benefaction, a reminder for us that we are here for the sake of others. It is up to us to have the courage to take the next step.

Be well.

Monday, August 08, 2011

August 8

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Recently, I have had the pleasure of listening to a few conversations regarding subjects near and dear to me. These conversations regard the brain and perception. My clinical training and experiences, relationships, and other issues, have added to the context of these conversations in my mind’s eye. I would like to comment now.

To use the arcane language of the ancient sages, in the mortal world, categories and divisions are erected in order to understand things. In the world of the Buddhas, which is to say, in the Zen world, a world of “Oneness” and “Interdependence,” categories are obstacles to understanding. In the soft sciences, “systems theory” has helped us see the interrelated nature of all things, that systems are composed of subsystems and all of these are completely connected with one another. My understanding at this point is that physics is coming to a similar place. The Buddha himself taught this with his sutras addressing dependant co-arising: this is because that is. And, from the Diamond sutra, any bodhisattva considering beings as separate from other beings is not a bodhisattva.

When we look at a single system, let’s say the nervous system, if we look at it without understanding that it is seamlessly interconnected with all other systems of the body and universe we will miss very important relationships. Treating it as an independent system, will, in effect, kill it. Moreover, the fact that it is a separate system at all is a function of how our brain perceives and organizes data, not a reflection of the actual thing itself. Looking at a brain, we are not seeing a brain: we are seeing our brain’s representation of a brain and that representation is dependent on our own brain’s sensory acuity.

A blind woman perceives a piano. A deaf man perceives a piano. Are they the same or different? The perceptions will form a picture in the individual’s mind’s eye based on the available sensory data, integrate that data with information gained from other sources, and each person will intuit “piano.” Each would be right; each would be wrong. Or rather, we should we say each would be incomplete.

Zen is about complete. It is about living in the world as a whole, not as parts. A brain functions according to its limitations. Do not mistake its function as complete or even near complete. Its function itself becomes an impediment when we use it as a tool to understanding. We are only able to understand within the parameters of its function.

The practice of “looking deeply” a practice of opening one’s eye to the totality of what is in front of it, begins to dissolve the boundaries and limitations of the brain’s function. Aristotle can be helpful here. He argued four causes were present in everything. When we look at a piano, we see the material construction (wood, plastic, metal) We could see the formal construction (how it was put together). We could also see the efficient construction (that which brought the piano into being). And we could see the teleological construction (its function and purpose for being). In each case, we should not limit ourselves to the immediate thing in front of us as that would miss very important aspects of the piano. The material came from other materials; the builders hands are present in the piano. The mind of the designer and inventor of “piano” is present in the instrument, and, of course we, with our intent to play the piano, are there, as well. In a very deep sense, everything in the universe is in that piano. It is made of the same stuff we are, as are the sun and moon, the stars and asteroids. When we look at “piano” with only one view of it, we are depriving both it and ourselves of piano’s truly rich nature.

If we do this with sentient beings, we risk all manner of sorrow. Doctors miss-diagnose or fail to see the interactive and synergistic effects of systems and sub-systems, city planners fail to see how building “X” creates problems for “Y,” and we fail to see our karma being established in the world. It is akin to the old saw, he “misses the forest for the trees.”

To carry this one step further, we have a wonderful ability to see and identify trees, but are less adept at seeing and deeply appreciating forests. Moreover, to paraphrase the Buddha himself, the forest isn’t the forest, it’s just what we call a forest.

Be well.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

August 6

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

In the months prior to August 6th 1945 the United States and its allies fire-bombed 67 cities in Japan. These were attempts to seek the surrender of Japan, Japan refused. So, this morning 66 years ago, the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs on cities in Japan. In an instant between 90,000 to 166,000 men, women and children were killed in Hiroshima. On the 9th, another bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki, another 60,000 to 80,000 or so people killed. On August 15, Japan surrendered.

It is difficult to imagine these explosions and the great pain and suffering they caused. It is not so difficult to imagine the desire to make them happen. We were a world desperately seeking an end to war. We were a world filled with hurt and anger. We were a world which had systematically de-humanized the Japanese people.


Attachments to anything, including peace, can lead to great suffering.

Hurt yields anger.

The ignorance of duality leads to the objectification of others.

Objectification opens the possibility of de-humanizing.

De-humanizing allows for breaches of ethical conduct.

If we believe we have advanced much past this, consider the TSA’s creation after 9/11, the justifications to invade and occupy other countries, erode our privacy, and our national willingness to hate and de-humanize Muslims. Recently a 90 some year old woman had to remove her adult diaper in order to board an airplane. A pregnant woman had her insulin confiscated. Young children are inappropriately touched routinely be security forces. A town in Tennessee debated whether or not to ban the establishment of a mosque. All of these acts are justified by our fear. Some may say they are reasonable. I say to the extent we believe this is so is the extent to which we have slipped into delusion.

Today we practice a day of meditation in memorial to those who died and those who inflicted the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. May our practice lead to freedom from fear.

Live in peace.



Friday, August 05, 2011

Memorial Days

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Today at Clear Mind Zen Temple we will prepare for tomorrow’s Zazenkai (Day of Meditation) which coincides with the annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial Day. In Japan this day is remembered as “A-Bomb Day” and participants often light lanterns for those ancestors killed by the atomic bomb strikes on these two cities near the end of World War Two. During our Zazenkai we will mark these catastrophic events by lighting two candles and reciting the Great Compassionate Dharani, a chant that evokes the that aspect in us we call compassion to act in the world..

War is never a good solution to conflict among nations, just as violence is not a good solution between individuals. We have these marvelous brains able to look into the deepest realms of inner and outer space, unlock the mysteries of the genome, and even travel in space, yet we cannot seem to think our way out of using bombs and guns to solve our conflicts.

Events such as memorial days honoring those who died are meaningless without a commitment to changing behavior so as not to pile up more bodies for our children to honor. Personally, I would rather understand memorial days as times of committing to peace than remembering war because the danger in remembering war is that it often arouses feelings of great sadness and hurt. We know from our practice that such feelings are often at the source of our anger toward those who hurt us and act as justifications for additional conflict.

Let us each commit to peace, bringing about peace, and the practice of non-violent solutions to conflict.

Be well.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

August 4

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday afternoon we had a surprise call and delivery of furnishings from my former teacher's Dharma Mountain Zendo in Cloudcroft. He has retired and has dismantled his Zendo. We now have elevated tans along each wall. We had to remove one of the partitions in order to accomodate these beautiful and classic Zendo furnishings. We also received a chest of drawers used to keep incense and other ceremonial objects. We will spend the next two days getting the Zendo back into shape from everything being moved around in order to be ready for Zazenkai on Saturday. My thanks to Ino Dai Shugyo, Jiisha Soku Shin, Tenzo Tamra, Sangha Member Marcos, ZCLC Members GoZen and Pierre, and friend Artie who helped move everything, tear down the partition, and otherwise assisted in this unexpected process.

We have one remaining seat available for Zazenkai. If you are interested in attending and practicing with us this coming Saturday from 9:00 to 4:00 PM, please email me as soon as possible.

Today at CMZT: Zazen at 9:30 AM and again at 6:00 PM; UN Peace Day Celebration Planning Meeting at Unity Church at 1:00 PM, and dokusan at 2:30 PM.

Be well.