Zen 101

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Notes Regards the Order

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

In a meeting with a student this week, we discussed several issues related to the practice of Zazen in the Zendo, the role of teacher and student relations, and commitment to practice in the Sangha. If became evident that we should offer reminders from time to time about a few things.

Before I address these, please keep in mind, our Zendo is a training facility of the Order of Clear Mind Zen. We are established to practice Zazen in the Zendo, practice Engaged Zen in community, and train students to become Lay Priests or Dharma Teachers in our Order. Those who are Novitiate Priests and Full Priest are expected to manifest their priesthood in their communities through some sort of Engaged Practice or through the establishment of a Sitting Group in their area.

Regards the Zendo: First, it is important to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the clapping of the han. When we arrive just before the bells that begin, it is disruptive to the serenity of the Zendo. It is important to wear dark, if not black, clothing, unless you are a Dharma Teacher (in which case, you would wear white). Talking should be reserved to the foyer or kitchen (and then, in a low voice). During Intensives there is no talking.

Next, in spite of the generally relaxed nature of our Sangha, a teacher-student relationship is a formal relationship. It is not a friendship, although a teacher and student may become friends, in terms of the Zen relationship, it is formal. Conversations of a teaching nature are always formal. Gassho and bow is expected. Your feelings regarding how a teacher addresses you should be grist for the mill of your practice. If you do not have a teacher and want to establish a teaching relationship, you must bow and ask formally to become a student. The prospective teacher will ask you to make an appointment for a private interview or he or she may not answer right away…again, practice with this.

Lastly, serious Zen students, that is, those with a teacher, are asked to demonstrate their commitment to the Order by attending as much as possible the practice opportunities provided. This means participating in weekly services, classes, and so forth. Attendance at Zazenkai and Sesshin is expected. As we often say, Zen as practiced in our Order is not for everyone. Yet, everyone will benefit from the practiced discipline that regular practice provides.

I hope this helps!

THIS WEEK: This week at Clear Mind Zen Temple we will practice Zazen on Thursday Evening at 7:00 PM, offer Study Group at 7:00 PM, and offer Zazenkai on Saturday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. If you would like to reserve a seat for Zazenkai, please let me or Rev. Kathryn Shukke Shin know as soon as possible. We ask for a $15.00 donation.

Be well

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When It's Dark

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

It is the day after Christmas and as I read through the religion section of the Huffington Post I was struck by the number of posts addressing gun violence and war.. It is clear to me that we live in a violent world and, it would seem that religion is going through some soul searching, as well it should. But it is also clear to me that we live in a loving world, a world that cares that there is violence, cares for those who suffer, and cares that the suffering has not stopped. Stories of heroic teachers, firefighters willing to risk their lives for others, and so on, support this. One post written by a rabbi was particularly interesting in that it took to task those who would claim God was punishing humanity for its fall into moral neutrality if not downright moral fall. He argued we should question God and ourselves regards the continued suffering of humanity. I agree, not so much on the challenging of God, but more on our need to challenge ourselves, as it is we ourselves who bring suffering into the world.

Our world is not a moral agent. If our world were theatre, it would be the stage upon which we act out the play, be it tragedy or comedy. We make ourselves in this play, writing our own parts to play. How will we act today? Will we manifest our precepts and allow our six perfections to come forth? Through not killing, lying, harming each other with our bodies, stealing, intoxicating, gossiping, slandering, giving way to anger, not being greedy, and not denying our true nature, its teachings and our society our perfections of generosity, morality, patience, vigor, meditation, and wisdom arise. Years ago, in a textbook I co-edited, my Social Work mentor, Howard Goldstein, framed these as “the person of principle” and I saw them as manifestations of “the person of spirit.” Today I fail to discriminate between the two. Principle is the frame through which our spirit shows itself.

These are always in conflict as we cannot follow the precept against killing, for example, without the potential for the necessity of killing to arise. How do we support life in the face of those who would take life? Of course we should exhaust all possible and reasonable methods to stop others from killing, but in the event these fail we cannot put our heads in the sand hoping the killing will stop.

What we can do is manifest our willingness to reason, our willingness to care, and our willingness to understand and love those who would harm us and others. The true message of the darkest part of the year is in the fact that we can light a candle and bring light into the world. We can do this in spite of the fact that it is, indeed, dark outside. For Zen Buddhists this candle is our precepts and the light is our perfections. May we each offer the light of our candle today.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Loving Way

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

The Buddha Way I know and live invites difference. It is a Way that is completely and totally inclusive as there are no beings outside of the One. So, while in the One there are many, none should escape our love and compassion. When we fall into delusion and see one among many without the context of interdependence hate may arise over the behavior of the one. The Buddha taught that the antidote for hate is love.

When people live outside of their humanity it is easy to lose sight of a social context. This loss is like an arrow that flies simultaneously in both directions. The outsider frames the insiders in ways that allow the outsider to do harm. The insiders do the same to the outsiders. In such situations it is a challenge to apply the Buddha’s medicine for fear of being wounded. As the arrow flies toward us, do we drop our shields? Perhaps.

I know when someone deeply hurts me or the one’s I love I am not so quick to love them. In fact, as a combat Infantry veteran, my first response is to “close with, kill or capture the enemy.” It takes work to let this first thought and the feelings associated with it to fall away. Looking for context helps, remembering the interdependent nature of things also helps. Violence never occurs in a vacuum; not even the senseless violence of mass murder.

I must add here that seeking context for understanding does not mean excusing behavior. We often think that if someone we hurt “just understood us” that person would forgive us. Not necessarily so. Understanding does help us move into a next step, that of actively trying to help those who hurt us. Understanding allows another person’s behavior to be understood as human behavior, which is to say, kindred behavior. This is exactly behavior all of us may be capable of under the right conditions. Because it was possible for John to do something evil means it’s possible for Jane to do the same. We do not like thinking of ourselves in that way. Yet, there it is.

It may never be possible for the outsider to be brought inside, but, it is always possible for the insider to realize the oneness of the universe and include the outsider in their care and love. When faced with the slaughter of children --- or adults for that matter, or even a single being --- or practice of applying the Buddha’s medicine can be seriously challenging. To offer love to those who harm us is the essence of a deeply spiritual path. May we each practice this way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dues and Donation Request

With palms together,

Please consider a donation to our Order this week. And if you have yet to pay your dues, please consider doing so. Our Order and temple is dependant on your generosity. You may make your donation by going to our website and clicking on the "Donation" button at http://clearmindzen.org Thank you very much.


Saturday, December 15, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Sitting out in the courtyard of our residence in 38 degrees was refreshing, if not brisk. I could see that the sky, though dark, was cloudy and our weather report for the day id cool and cloudy. We are blessed here in southern New Mexico with sunny days a majority of the time and so, when it is cloudy, we learn to appreciate those sunny days.

Appreciation and gratitude are important aspects we should develop in our practice. They are not the same. We develop gratitude for what we learn to appreciate. In our everyday practice, our focus should be on seeing that which is in front of us, not just simply looking at it. Appreciation is the act of opening ourselves to that which we see. To look at something simply means casting our eyes upon it.

To see we must look more deeply. What is it? Form is just the beginning. Texture, tone, hue, taste, touch, and feel are all part of seeing. Connection to other things is the next level, as well as interdependence. How does what we see relate to other thing? What made it possible for what we see to exist?

When we set aside our preconceived notions, we begin to appreciate and following this, a deep gratitude opens within us. I recall first encountering Shakespeare and thinking, "This sucks!" Such arcane language! Such odd manners and mannerisms! Yet, as I studied his plays and sonnets, I was able to see Shakespeare in the context of his time and see the applicability of his themes to contemporary life. I opened myself to his teaching and began to truly appreciate his work. I even got to the point where I was granted permission as a senior undergrad to teach a summer course in Shakespeare at my small college. I am now grateful to Shakespeare for his sensitivity, wit, and pathos.

So, now, sitting outside in the cold I appreciate both the cold of the outside and the warmth of the inside without much effort or thought. The practice of Zazen makes this possible as we sit with a wall teaching us how we feel, think, and see. We are left with nothing, thus open to everything.

We will practice Sunday at 10:00 AM. Please consider joining us.

Be well.

Friday, December 14, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

We will be having quite a wind storm here in Las Cruces today. The air was cold against my skin while I sat outside under the stars. Now, sitting at my desk, having finished another painting, my face seems warmed by the contrast of the heated air in our house. We are so fortunate to have such a luxury. There are those I think about who I see walking the streets without a home. I wonder how they survive or how it is they continue to live, knowing that many do not.

The other day the Southern New Mexico Harley Owners Group did a Marine Corps. Toys for Tots “run” to an elementary school. I had signed up to be one of Santa’s escorts. After arriving, a disheveled father with rotting teeth came up to us with his little girl. She was tightly holding her Christmas packages. Both were dressed in rags. They both thanked us for doing this and the father said that without this help his daughter would not have had Christmas. The image of these two hungry, poor, and clearly suffering people struck me hard.

As I ponder this, my mind returns to the jungles of Vietnam and my experience of living out in the bush exposed to the elements for days at a time with little more than the shirt on my back and a plastic poncho. There, it was such a delight to open a C-rations pack to find a can of fruit or a tin of peanut butter I used to heat water for hot chocolate or coffee. In-country, when I saw the faces of children in abject poverty, fearing us or holding us in contempt as we walked through their villages, I felt a sense of pity for them for feeling such things. And later, after being shot and having physicians give me little hope of either living or using my left side again, thinking I will find a way to not have such realities hinder me.

Our world changes, sometimes dramatically, in a heartbeat, it sometimes seems.

What is important isn’t that it changes, change is our true nature, but rather how we face that change. For me, sometimes I hide from it, denying the everyday forces that shape my world. Sometimes I minimize the change itself or its effect on me. Other times, I face it, only to have my heart and or body broken by the same forces. Yet, there are times when, in spite of, or because of, that change, I find myself transported to a whole other realm of existence, that existence which comes with practice and a willingness to assign meaning to change. In such times, all of the other responses are rendered equally meaningful.

I believe this response, the response of contextualizing and attaching meaning to a situation, has been key to both my survival and my “success” in life, such as it might be. I believe success isn’t measured by money in the bank or luxuries in my home, or even that I have a home. Rather, it is measured by a fluid ability to look deeply into what appears in front of me. I remember, even at an early age, imagining the context of my situation. I recall moments, when faced with a hardship, looking to find something positive in it. When my father would yell at me or chase me in order to give me his belt on my behind, I recall trying to understand him or trying to find ways to make it ‘not so bad.’

Today, on my zafu, I often have such memories arise and review the thoughts surrounding them. I wonder what it was that allowed me to face things in such ways. Frankly, I have no answer in terms of the conditioning, but I do believe it was that process of contextualizing and assigning meaning to those events that was its source. I have learned from the practice of looking deeply, most often unconsciously, but sometimes deliberately.

The Buddha taught us, and our practice confirms, that all things are conditioned; all things arise when their moment presents itself and all things fall away when conditions are no longer present for them to exist. At first glance this may seem sad, but in the grand scheme of things, it is perfect. May we each seek to discover this perfection.

Be well

Thursday, December 06, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

We begin Rohatsu sesshin this evening and will continue thru Sunday at noon. Rohatsu is a very special time of year for us as we celebrate and honor the Buddha’s enlightenment through our practice. On Saturday at 10:00 AM we will honor Polly Skikan Perez as she becomes a novitiate priest and Rev. Soku Shin as she undergoes Shukke Tokudo and becomes a full priest in our Order. On Sunday at 10:00 AM we will also honor Tucker for taking the Refuges, Mitsugo for taking Jukai, Ryugin for becoming a Novitiate Zen priest, and, of course, Revs Daishugyo and Shoji as they undergo Shukke Tokudo becoming full priests in our Order. Friends and family are welcome. Please consider joining us for these events as well as to take advantage of our many opportunities to practice.

May you each be well and free from suffering

Monday, December 03, 2012

Sesshin Update

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Arriving this week will be John Shoji and Kathi Ryugin Sorenson from California and Ron Mitsugo Zacharski from Virginia. We hope Ron gets here in time for sesshin! Rev. Shoji should arrive Tuesday or Wednesday I understand, and will be staying at the Temple. Ryugin will arrive Thursday. We also have Jeff Zenshin McGuire arriving from Santa Fe. Jeff, John, and Kathi will be attending the entire sesshin with us, along with Tucker, Kathryn, and me. I am uncertain as to when Rev. Kankin and Polly Shikan will arrive from Texas, but I am under the impression they will be in attendance at least Saturday. There are still seats available so if you are interested in sitting with us, please email Rev. Soku Shin ASAP.

We begin on Thursday evening. Our opening Dharma talk will be presented by Rev. Tamra Kobusshin and will serve as the introduction to her lecture series on Master Dogen’s Fukanzazengi. The series will continue each Thursday for three weeks. I am considering opening the Zendo for a full day’s sitting on Friday as we will have Zensters in residence. If so, we will begin at 5:30 AM and use Saturday’s schedule (without Oryoki, previously posted).

Lastly, it is time for me to ask for dues and dana. Please consider making an offering this week!



Friday, November 30, 2012


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The following is our sesshin schedule. Please consider joining us as much as possible. We ask for $5.00 donation each for Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, and $15.00 for Saturday. You are welcome to stay in the Temple Friday and Saturday nights. Bring a sleeping bag, pajamas, bathroom necessities and a willingness to practice as often as possible through the night. Remember, sesshin is silent.

We will serve snacks on Thursday and Friday evenings after closing ceremonies; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday; and breakfast only on Sunday. It is important that we know if you will be attending and what meals you will be present for. Please confirm your reservation with Rev. Soku Shin ASAP.

Be well.

Tentative Sesshin Schedule:

Thursday PM

06:00-09:00 Welcome. Opening Ceremony, Recite Three Refuges, the Heart Sutra, Tea Service, Dharma Talk, Zazen: Three Periods

09:00 Close, Recite the Hanya Shin Gyo, the Four Great Vows.

Friday PM

06:00-09:00 Welcome. Opening Ceremony, Recite Three Refuges, the Heart Sutra, Tea Service, Teisho, Zazen: Three Periods

09:00 Close, Recite the Hanya Shin Gyo, the Four Great Vows.


05:00 Wake and Wash

05:30-06:30 Zazen: Two Periods

06:30-07:30 Breakfast

07:30-09:30 Recite Three Refuges, Wisdom Heart Sutra, Opening Tea Service, Teisho, Zazen: Three Periods

09:30-10:00 Samu

10:00-11:00 Ceremonies

11:00-11:30 Zazen: One Period

12:00-01:00 Oryoki

01:00-02:30 Samu

02:30-04:00 Zazen: Three Periods

04:00-05:00 Writing/Study Practice

05:00-06:00 Dinner

06:00-06:30 Clean-up

06:30-08:30 Zazen: Four Periods

08:30-09:00 Close, Recite the Hanya Shin Gyo, the Four Great Vows.

09:00-10:00 Study Period


05:00 Wake and Wash

05:30-06:30 Zazen: Two Periods

06:30-07:30 Breakfast

07:30-08:30 Zazen: Two Periods

08:30-09:00 Break/Clean-up

09:00-09:30 Zazen: One Period

09:30-10:00 Preparation

10:00-11-30 Services and Ceremonies

11:30 Close, Pack, Return home.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Buddha Way

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

It is said Master Bodhidharma sat in a cave for nine years. He taught that Zen was a way beyond words and letters. He was pointing to a fundamental truth, the world we perceive is a perception, a construction of our mind, and the actual truth is not the perception. Thoughts are about something, not the thing itself. Concepts are our thoughts about our thoughts. Constructs link these together to form an understanding. It is easy to see that all of this, our construction of reality, is not reality itself. Understanding is just as false.

The fundamental truth, the absolute truth, is not to be conceived of, but actually experienced. Bodhidharma said, when asked who he was, “Don’t know.” When we “don’t know” we free ourselves to directly experience without the chimera of thought. So, we say, “just sit.” It is not the sitting that is key, but the “just.” When in a state of “just” or rather, in that place just before thought arises, the thinker is no longer present and only the experience, without the one experiencing, exists. So we say, “when walking, walk; when sitting, sit.” In other words; just walk, just sit. When in this place we reside in realization. We have “actualized” our practice, which is to say, we are fully alive.

What does it take to break free of the jailer, which is to say our Small Mind, the mind of perception and thought construction? Not much: just a willingness to sit down and shut up; a willingness to step out of the box of our constructed understanding to see without looking.

More easily said than done!

Our Rohatsu sesshin begins at 6:00 PM on Thursday December 6th. Please consider joining us as we practice the Buddha Way.

Be well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

So, today our thoughts are to turn to giant sales and spectacular savings as we rush around the giant Turkey which has become the sales symbol of the season. Store ads are relentless. Internet sites with pop-ups remind us that we are missing out unless we HURRY to Wal-Mart or K-Mart or some other Big Box store waiting anxiously to soak up our money, providing us with the delirious joy of spending that which we really don’t have.

I, like the infamous character in Melville’s short story,” Bartleby the Scrivener,” would prefer not to. Instead, I would prefer to struggle through the process of uncovering that which I am grateful for. It’s not easy, you know, to see that which we take for granted. What does it take to see the invisible, the commonplace?

I believe the place to begin is in our own heart/mind. Sitting quietly at this keyboard, I realize how much I depend on the many lives and hands that makes it possible to have and use such technology as this keyboard, PC, Internet connection, and so on. Such marvels allow us each to come together, albeit, briefly, but none-the-less together. I appreciate the feeling of my heart beating inside my chest and realize at least once daily that I ought not take that beating for granted. I deeply appreciate the touch of my partner in the early mornings as we lay together and talk about our day to come. I appreciate the fact that there is, indeed, a day to come.

We so often and so easily take for granted our everyday life and yet it is precisely in this everyday life that the true dharma resides. While we say it is nothing special so as to avoiding attachment and desire, it is, indeed, something very special: it is our universe and without it, we cease to exist. Likewise, without us, the universe ceases to exist. We are interdependent in a lattice work so intricate and infinite that only when our mind falls away can we see. I am deeply grateful for this.

My suggestion? Don’t go shopping. Stay at home or join friends. Eat, play, and notice.

Be well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Compassion and Mindfulness

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

For whatever reason, I went to bed very early this evening and now woke at 11:00 thinking it was morning and feeling as though I had slept the night. Oh well, I’m sure if I slip back into that nice warm bed sleep will once again grace me with its restorative powers.

A student has been writing a lot about compassion and mindfulness. A good thing, as we all need to bear in mind that being present and being compassionate are true gifts for all beings. From a Zen point of view, compassion and mindfulness naturally arise from our non-dualistic state of being. When in a state of duality, sympathy is the more likely experience. If I practice mindfulness by saying, “picking up the cup, I am aware that I am picking up the cup,” I am practicing mindfulness, but not being mindful. In a true state of mindfulness, there is no separation between the “subject” and the “object” of our practice, there will be just the direct and intimate experience of the moment as it is.

To be compassionate means we are “with” “suffering.” This “with” is interesting. We might take the practice of compassion to be the practice of being with the suffering of others, but I don’t believe this would be in accordance with the Buddha Way. Why? Because to be with the suffering of others means we have an idea born in duality. (For a thorough treatment of this please review The Diamond Sutra.) We have created a “me and you” situation where I am somehow different from, or apart from, you. I am not. (And thus, according to the Buddha, I am not a bodhisattva.) To be truly compassionate we must be suffering, that is, “with” suffering. To me, this means doing practice which helps to develop mirror neurons (those brain cells that enable us to “mirror” the feelings of others). We call this process “empathy,” a process that enables us to experience our oneness with others.

Thus, compassion and mindfulness are rather radical realities, not concepts, which reflect our true nature, the nature interdependence and interconnection: the nature of oneness.


Our Rohatsu sesshin will begin Thursday, December 6th, and conclude Sunday, December 9th. We will practice 3 hours each weekday night beginning at 6:00 PM, from 6:00 AM through 9:00 PM on Saturday, and 6:00 AM through 12:00 PM on Sunday. Lunch on Saturday will be oryoki. Our practice schedule will be rigorous, but will include bodywork, art practice, and study practice. We ask for a small donation of $30.00 to offset expenses. Please let Rev. Soku Shin know if you are planning to attend any one day or all days of this opportunity for intensive practice.

Be well

Saturday, November 10, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Waking early this morning I had an opportunity to experience the weather change from stillness to windy. Not a good day for a motorcycle ride, so I will stay home or nearby, paint perhaps, read perhaps, and practice Zazen on my cushion.

I’ve been writing about teachers lately, so perhaps it is an opportune time to write about students. How should a student relate to a teacher? What should a student do to be a student? What are the expectations of a student held by a teacher? How does one end a teacher/student relationship?

First, it is important to say from the outset that there are as many Buddhisms as there are teachers, centers, and temples. Each led by a teacher who has his or her understanding, often gained through years of practice with their teacher. So, any answer I might provide will, of necessity, be mine and my teacher’s, his teacher’s and so on. There are definite differences.

In Zen, there is a long history of teachers saying very little to their students. The expectation is that the teacher will provide a frame of practice where the student will discover their own answers to their questions. Any answer a teacher offers will be the teacher’s, not the students. To be authentic, which is one aim of our practice, one must look to oneself.

We should treat teachers with respect, but not as if they hold the answer. We should wrestle with our teachers, not necessarily directly, but rather in our heart/mind. My teacher often said and did things that sent me into orbit. How could a Zen teacher do or say such things as he so often did? This was my koan. And I chewed on it for a very long time.

I once asked another teacher to become my teacher. He asked if my teacher were dead. I said no. He refused. His point was, from his point of view, an authentic student/teacher relationship was lifelong. My desire to leave my teacher was for me to practice with. My reasons were mine and not my teacher’s. Until I got that, I mean really got that, I was a mess.

Today, too often teachers want to keep their students happy so they don’t leave the Center. So, they re-enforce what the student thinks is correct, do not challenge overmuch the student or his/her goals, and in the process do the student and the Way a great disservice.

A quick review of Buddhist magazines and advertisements for Dharma Centers suggest an effort to make themselves spas, or nearly so, kowtowing to the dollar, the self interest of potential and actual students, and making it something nearly egoistic to be a “Buddhist.” Frankly, the Buddhist magazines might as well be called “Self.” No wonder we in America are getting the reputation of being self-centered and increasingly irrelevant to the original aim of the Buddha himself, which is the extinction of self and the Bodhisattva ideal of selfless service to others.

I can therefore, understand the confusion of students who might come to our center where we have no frills and practice Zazen and the forms associated with it. Students must grapple with their underlying motives, must work to end their slavery to self, and be willing to engage in a disciplined process of self discovery leading to something quite unintended, a deep care and love for all beings.

We are an engaged Zen Order and most of us practice engaged Zen in our private lives. We might volunteer at the soup kitchen, sit in parks or at the courthouse, do hospice work, teach Zazen to children at Peace Camp or elders in retirement communities. As when I was a Child Abuse Unit supervisor who insisted my workers examined their feelings and assumptions about perpetrators, It is important for us engaged Zen practitioners to intimately know ourselves in order to be effective practitioners.

Be well.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On Teachers, Part Two

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Recently, I’ve been caught up in the questions of what it means to study Zen, what it means to become the student of a teacher, and what it means to train for the priesthood. These are important questions in the world of Zen. And they are challenging due to a variety of factors.

First, one does not “study” Zen. For Zen Buddhists, Zen is not a subject to be read about; it is a practice to be experienced. Reading too often fills student’s heads up with “ideas and concepts” and these actually get in the way of true study, which is the study of the Buddha Way, the study of the self. Yet, we read, as reading is what we Westerners do. We want to “know” something. We Google, go to Wiki, read books, journals, and magazines. We watch YouTube videos, movies, and documentaries. But the result is not true “knowing.” Such knowing is shallow and superficial; it can impress, but not sustain. True knowing is something else again. It is eating the watermelon, not describing it. It is riding the bicycle, not talking about it. When we study in Zen, it is to bring consonance between the inside and outside, to come to a unification of body, mind, and environment. As Master Dogen said, ‘to study the way is to study the self’ and in this study, the self falls away. This is as deep as it is dynamic, but it is also quite uncomfortable.

One does not walk into a Zendo and announce that he wants to become a priest and needs a teacher. This is both a complete misunderstanding of “priest” and hubris to boot. A Zendo is not a university and ordination is not graduation. I have found wannabe students to be of three types, broadly speaking: students who enter with eyes set on the credentials of robes and titles; those who approach with humility and deep respect, but still have an ideal in mind; and those who truly don’t know what they want or even why they are in a Zendo in the first place. These descend in terms of challenge. With the most authentic being the last.

The priesthood is not a vocation you train for as one might in a vocational college. It is not a credential. It is a life. Robes are not handed out to be chevrons on a sleeve or a set of letters behind a name. They do not elevate, in fact, they do the opposite. Being a priest is being a priest in a lifelong, complete, and total commitment to selfless service.

After coming to a Zendo, practicing for some time, a student may ask a teacher to create a formal teaching relationship. Please understand, this is not done lightly. Nor is it accepted lightly. It is a commitment to change your life. It is also a very different type of teacher/student relationship than most of us have ever encountered. It is not a friendship. It is not horizontal. In Zen, the teacher has the final word: accept it, chew on it, but don’t walk away from it. The teaching is there to help you, or insist that you let yourself drop away. This often requires intense scrutiny and uncomfortable self-examination. Defensiveness is the tell-tale heartbeat of ego.

Zen teachers can be gruff, funny, contradictory, unassuming, arrogant, compassionate, and dispassionate. But most of all, true Zen teachers care. What do they care about? Mostly about their students coming to a clear mind.

Be well

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Everyday Zen

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The Zen of everyday life: wake at 4:30 AM, make coffee, wash face, brush teeth, do laundry, put away books, wash dishes, sit Zazen in the courtyard, put away laundry…not necessarily in that order. Someone asked , “How do we take the cushion with us?”

In a text conversation with Soku Shin last night (she’s in El Paso to lead the Sunday service there) we talked about Zazen and being. We came to the conclusion that Zazen and being were one and that to take it off the cushion was a sort of ‘being in action.’ The cushion is a metaphor for our state of mind through the day.

So, as I go through my morning tasks, I go through them as directly as possible, letting non-task related thoughts fall away and returning to the task at hand. This is what we mean when we say, “just” in front of something like sitting, walking, or doing samu.

We sometimes call this ‘mindfulness,’ but I believe mindfulness can also be a trap as it often creates a dualism between subject and object. This dualism can be resolved by dropping the “I” in the mindful statements we often recite as ‘mindfulness practice.’ There is no “I” picking up the cup, for example, just awareness. We practice Zazen (or being) in motion to release our ‘self’ as we go through our day.

Now to fold and hang my just finished laundry.

Be well.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Coffee Cups

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Sitting outside in the courtyard this morning was refreshing. It was 39 degrees and the sky was clear. I sat on a Mexican blanket folded in quarters. The patio is split level, so I put the blanket on one level, sat down and placed my feet on the lower level. I find with my back pain this is helpful. The sky was clear and the stars were bright. My heart opened and I sat with myself until myself decided to leave. What remained I do not know.

One of my students is struggling with the principle of “not knowing.” Many, if not most of us, struggle with this. Our culture places such a high value on “knowing.” We cannot get into college or graduate school without knowing, nor can we get a good paying job without knowing something, but this is not what “not knowing” is about.

Not knowing places its focus on seeing. When we look at something or encounter something we too often don’t ask what it is, we assume we know what it is. This assumption literally gets in the way of truly knowing it. To know something we must see it for what it is. Looking for something assumes we know what we are looking for and it is this picture in our mind’s eye that gets in our way of actually seeing something.

If looking at the coffee cup on my desk and I say it’s a coffee cup I would be correct and incorrect at the same time. Of course it’s a coffee cup. There is coffee in it. Yet “coffee cup” is just a label that tells us nothing about the true nature of the cup itself. What is it we see? Do we see the clay from the earth and the potter’s hands as she threw the cup on her wheel? Do we see the water and its source that made the clay more fluid? Do we see the many hands and many lives that brought us the cup? Labels, knowing a cup is a cup, do not do this for us. Only looking deeply as we touch the cup in our hands do we know a cup is not a cup, but the whole universe. In this, we are not knowing, as that which is the entire universe ceases to have any separation at all and it is in separating that arises what we call knowing.

When we come to things with a “don’t know” mind we offer them an opportunity to speak for themselves without our opinions thrust upon them as a dress over a woman’s body or a suit of clothes on a man. It is refreshing indeed.

Be well

Friday, October 26, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I sat on my living room floor amid my teacher’s artifacts. His robes, papers, books and boxes of incense surrounded me. I found the guest book from his Dharma Mountain Zendo where I first met him is December of 1994. I felt so alone with my memories of him. He had an imposing demeanor, tall, bald-headed, and robed, Hogaku-roshi worked hard to bring the dharma to his students. In his work with me I loved him, hated him, chewed him up and spit him out and he did the same with me. Together we struggled to know our truth.

I am now alone, his Dharma successor, and charged with the task that his teacher, Matsuoka-roshi, gave to him. It is a heavy load and I feel it in my bones. It feels like an onerous task.

A Zen teacher is alone. He or she must rely on his or her practice. It must be strong, yet fluid. Like water surrounding a root, the student and teacher must consume themselves. At some point there is no wood and the water is now enriched. Water flowing in the stream.

I will be the water and the root.

Be well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Free & Easy

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It is a Sunday morning and I woke at the late hour of 5:00 AM. I sat outside in the courtyard for 30 minutes paying attention to the morning starlit sky, my breath, and our two small dogs, Binky and Suki, as they sat with me. Attending to the moments as they arose and fell away I felt myself doing the same: Arising, attending, and falling away. Right Effort, one of the eightfold noble paths, requires concentrated effort on the task at hand; not too much, not too little, but something in the middle. This something is non-grasping.

What does it mean not to grasp? It means letting yourself be supple. We want, we need, but we do not hold tightly to these desires. We go in the direction of our goal, but are not alarmed when we either do not reach it or start to deviate from it’s accomplishment. We make easy adjustments in our relationship to it. When we cannot, we are said to be “stuck.” Rigidity is an anathema to the Middle way.

As we go through our day, develop goals, have opinions, and so forth, we practice letting go. We practice developing an attitude where our mind is free and easy, as the tenth ox-herding picture depicts. This has been my practice for over 40 years ever since I was wounded in action in Vietnam and my body permanently limited. Life presents us with daily koans. We must practice to resolve them and the best way to do this is to relax our attitudes, ideas, and opinions about our goals and the people, places, and things in our lives. This is why a moment to moment practice is so important.

We will practice Zazen at 10:00 AM this morning. Everyone is welcome to join us.

Be well.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romancing Zen

With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

At 58 degrees, the early morning air is approaching cold for us here in southern New Mexico. It is 3:30 and I am awake reading email after sitting Zazen in the courtyard under the stars. One of my students wrote to me about Brad Warner having just discovered this rather unique Zenster. He asked if Zen were not “supposed” to be a personal practice and whether the precepts are to be personally understood.

My student’s confusion is a common one as he, like many others, brings an assumption to what he studies as regards what Zen is “supposed” to be. In an earlier discussion with one of my disciples today, I quipped, “D. T. Suzuki did a lot of damage to Zen while he popularized it.” I say this because I think Suzuki’s work romanticized Zen for an American audience who, at the time, had a view of the East as something mystical and inscrutable. Alan Watts, ever fond of Suzuki’s thoughts, continued to popularize the koan/satori inscrutability flames that tickled the Beat Zen generation.

My student gains his idea of Zen from what he reads rather than from his practice. Again, a common error in the West. We like to read about something and replace, as a result, intellectual understanding for realization. We like to watch movies or T.V. shows and enter these as if we were living them. We are informed through this near visceral experience and believe our understanding is the same as actual realization. While books and other media often bring us to Zen practice the truth is this: Zen is nothing special. It is not an “understanding” or a “feeling.” Zen is not a bromide. It is not a path to health, well-being, or anything else. True Zen practice is absolutely without a goal.

In fukenzazengi, Master Dogen says we should just sit down, take up the posture of the buddhas and ancestors, and reside there. It is in this posture that we are awake. Sitting upright with hands in the cosmic mudra, letting thoughts and feeling come and go, is practice-realization. There are no “supposed to” aspects of this practice. There is only the direct experience, unadulterated by thoughts and feelings, of what is right there in front of us. Entering what is there without holding onto it is our way.

We will practice this thousands of years old practice Sunday at 10:00 AM. Please consider joining us.

Be well.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dana Request

With respect,

If you would like to make a donation to our Order, please do so ASAP as our rent is due on Wednesday. You may do so by using the Paypal donate button. Your generous support of our temple will be greatly appreciated!

In Gassho

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hours, Students, etc

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

Forgive this second note for the day from me.

It has recently come to my attention that there is some confusion as to when we are practicing at the Temple. Admittedly, we have changed our hours several times this year in order to answer requests by those in the sangha for additional times to sit, etc.

We originally sat on Sundays at 10:00 AM. This was so since I re-opened the Zen Center of Las Cruces in the year 2000 and continued on at Clear Mind Zen Temple. Some months ago the sangha suggested we adjust the Sunday time to 9:00 AM in hopes of making it easier for people to attend. This did not help, as we remained at the same number of steadfast sitters. We agreed, then, to return to our 10:00 AM time. It was also suggested that we add a second evening for those who could not make it to our (one time) Monday night Zen 101 or our more advanced Zen Study group on Thursday evening. I diligently came to sit on that added evening and found myself 99% of the time sitting alone. The same thing happened recently when I spent a month at the Zendo and offered zazen every weeknight.

At this point I am making a unilateral decision. These are our practice times:

Thursday evening at 6:00 PM Zen Study Group

Thursday evening at 7:00 PM Zazen

Sunday morning at 10:00 AM Formal Service

There will be Zazenkai on the first Saturday of each month with the exception of those months where we practice Sesshin. Zazenkai will begin at either 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM at the discretion of the Doshi.

We are beginning to differentiate between Zen Students and Zen Participants. Zen Students take up a large amount of our time which we willingly offer. However, there are decided expectations of a teacher/student relationship. In order to have private Dokusan with a teacher one must be a Zen Student. A Zen Student is a person who has committed to weekly practice with the Sangha (either through Zen Study/Zazen or through Sunday services). Zen Participants are those who have not made such a commitment. Zen Participants may have dokusan when available at Zazenkai or at Sesshin. Zen Participants are welcome to request admission as Zen Students at anytime. They must simply request a meeting with a teacher. At this point I have authorized the following priests and novitiates to offer dokusan: Rev. Kobusshin, Rev. Kankin, Rev. Dai Shugyo, and Rev. Soku Shin. Revs. Dai Shugyo and Soku Shin are granted this as a special provision and teach under my direct supervision.

Be well


With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

There are times when anxiety simply overwhelms us as a wave overtakes us forcing our bodies to bend and roll out of control. Just so, the best response is to allow the wave to do what it does and resist fighting with it. Waves are far more powerful when we fight them, as when we roll with them. So, too, anxiety.

Anxiety is simply fear. We foresee issues coming at us like the waves on the beach. We fear their power to bowl us over. Yet, here’s the thing: their power is our power. When we yield to our fear and let it wash over us without resistance, we begin to feel like water resting in its lowest place, a calm pool on a quiet afternoon.

Even if the weather is raging there we are, calmly abiding in our own reality, a reality composed of our easy breath in the long view, the universal view, the view of the moon and stars opening themselves to us each night as they have throughout infinity. We are able to calmly abide because we have practiced unification with all there is. We have realized there are not stars or moon or this or that: there is only this. And in this, all there is resides completely and forever.

To roll with a wave is to realize we are water. Wave and water are one in the same. Fear results from thinking we are separate. As we get to know our true selves, our anxiety falls away and we embrace the cosmos as it unfolds because we have realized the cosmos and ourselves are not two, but one.

Be well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Zen

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

I became a novitiate priest in the Matsuoka-roshi lineage in 1999. At that time my teacher, Ken Hogaku McGuire-roshi did not use clear guidelines for progression through the “ranks” as it were. Instead, as many Masters before him (including the Buddha himself) he used his own intuition. Matsuoka-roshi, it is said, ordained people before they were “ready” and by this his critics mean before they knew the appropriate blocking in the grand theatre of Zen. Matsuoka’s perspective was, as I understand it, students would ‘grow’ into the priesthood. Of course, as has been the case with me, when your Sangha is small you must use the people you have to fill the positions necessary in order to make the Zendo function. This requires appointing people before they are ready and working with them as they grow into the role or not.

Matsuoka-roshi was a true pioneer of Zen in America. He knew Americans were excellent candidates for the practice of Zen. He also knew that the dead Zen of Japan, that “cathedral Zen” Senzaki-roshi often referred to, would not fly here. True Zen, the Zen of everyday life, had to be alive. It had to be dynamic. It was not the Zen of ornate robes, perfect gassho, and the correct number and order of liturgical elements. Matsuoka-roshi’s Zen is, as was Senzaki’s, “living room” Zen.

Hogaku-roshi offered me the authority to form my own Order in 2005 when he granted me the “rank” of “Roshi.” Inside my head I believe conferring of “rank” is silly. The ordination process was high theatre. I was most uncomfortable being an actor in it. Yet, there is a long tradition of teacher to student transmission, so long it goes back to the Buddha himself. Who am I to break with it? What I will break with is the meaningless parroting of old practices. Our Zen here in America must be authentic, which is not to say church Zen, but rather the living Zen of everyday, ordinary, experience experienced directly.

How we pick up a cup is equally important as how we place a rakusu on our head (and in some ways far more important, as a cup is an everyday part of the universe, whereas in American lay practice, a rakusu is an ornament for weekly service). My Zen is the Zen of the everyday, not the Cathedral Zen of actors wrapped in brocade and bowing without true respect at the appropriate bell.

Treat your cup as yourself and yourself as the universe and you are a true practitioner in my book. Treat your enemy as you would yourself and you are a master. These are the true practices of Zen. None of this should be taken as an escape from proper liturgy and the forms associated with it. It is to say that the way and manner with which we and the forms become one is of utmost importance. Zen Liturgical Forms, teacups, turning on a lamp, eating a meal are all the same. It is our unification with these that leads to an awakened and compassionate life.

Be well

Friday, October 05, 2012


With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Fall is clearly upon us in southern New Mexico. The morning air is decidedly cooler even though the late afternoon temps still reach 90. I am waiting patiently for our first real cold snap, that event that triggers leaves turning and pumpkins to be carved.

Patience has never been one of my virtues.  I have always been an intuitive person who leaps onto something and makes it happen. Lately, however, I seem to be doing much less of that, hell, much less of anything, preferring instead the comfort of sitting quietly with my Soku Shin, our dogs, and perhaps a glass of wine. Perhaps this is a result of the pain I experience daily, but I think it is more likely simple aging with a loving partner who enjoys my company.. 

We often do nothing but sit together and talk, yet we've noticed our most loving and life enhancing conversations are those we have while laying next to each other in our bed on our sides facing each other under blankets.Such intimate, softly spoken moments are delicious. They are to be savored like a fine meal with a marvelous dessert. They take time.

At this stage of my life I am much less interested in making things happen, let the young ones do that, instead, I am much more interested in the moment to moment quality of my life. That quality, of course, is always there, but it takes both patience and practice to bring it to the surface.


Thursday, October 04, 2012


With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

An old acquaintance who once visited me at the mountain refuge wrote:

Dear Harvey,

Thought you might like some reaction to your rather down news lately. We haven't known each other much or long, but you feel like an old friend. I very much do appreciate your openness in posting about your health and relationships, and it certainly is powerful Zen teaching in showing how a person of Zen responds to challenges. You have my admiration.

At the same time, I feel sad for your sake. If only the words of Dick FariƱa were true for me and you —

Well, if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,

And give them all to me.

You would lose them, I know how to use them,

Give them all to me.

But I am far from that kind of Bodhisattva as yet. This is the best I can do. Hope this helps.


I replied:

Dear ____, it’s not sad, really, it’s more exciting than sad although there are sad moments. I feel invigorated by the prospect of divorce and committing to my life with Kathryn, a woman who has truly been my partner over the last three years. It’s very much like a rebirth I suspect.

My physical condition is a challenge but I embrace it wholeheartedly. We should not be surprised or dismayed overmuch as our bodies begin to come apart as we age. At 65 I'm happy enough to still be alive. The pain is just another companion.

I hope you are well and happy. Thank you for writing. It is always good to hear from you.


My acquaintance is indeed a bodhisattva. He lives alone far away in the north east. He makes malas, very beautiful malas, and in this message helped me very much. It is in their small kindnesses and occasional acknowledgements, that bodhisattvas are found.

Be well.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


We will host a one day intensive meditation retreat on Saturday, October 6th at Clear Mind Zen Temple from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  A modest $15.00 donation is requested to cover food and supplies.  If you wish to attend, please reply to me at harveyhilbert@yahoo.com


Sunday, September 16, 2012


With respect,

Yesterday I posted a note that included information about my personal life. A member replied saying politely that my personal life was none of his business.  Those who have been reading my posts over the last 12 years or so know that I frequently use events in my personal life as exemplars of the challenges of Zen living. While this is useful to students, I think there is another more fundamental reason for such postings. 

In the world of Zen there have been far too many examples of secrecy among teachers leading to the very real possibility of harm to their sanghas. I have always felt I should be as transparent as possible so as to avoid this. But more importantly, I see personal and professional as an artificial dualism. My life has been an open book.  Seamless, if you will.  I believe strongly in self disclosure as both a teaching tool and method of insuring authenticity.

Clearly I have made mistakes, but I see these as teaching tools both for myself and my readers. We cannot live our lives without error.  And as this is so, why not use error as a teacher rather than something to retreat from or hide?

Students should know their teachers are human beings and titles and degrees are not guarantees of infallibility.

May we each be well and make ourselves a blessing in the universe.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Schedule and Personal Note

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This week at CMZ Temple we will practice zazen Monday through Friday at 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM. Park Practice is Wednesday at 9:00 AM. Elder Practice is at 10:30 AM on Wednesday. Zen Study Group is at 6:00 PM on Thursday. For future reference I will offer a talk on Zen Buddhism on the 27th at 10:00 AM at Morning Star United Methodist Church. We will host a Zazenkai on October 5th.

On a personal note:

In the interest of transparency, as most of you know, I am currently legally separated, not divorced, from my wife, Judy. Our separation was complete down to division of property and income, but as are all separation agreements, this was a temporary state. We were still married in the eyes of the law and this has caused a lot of stress on my relationship with Kathryn. So, on the 25th of this month Judy and I will be going through a mediation/arbitration process which will end in a divorce on that day. Our arbitration agreement is that if we cannot reach a mediated settlement, the mediator becomes an arbitrator and will issue a unilateral settlement and divorce on the same day. Shortly after that, Kathryn and I will undergo a commitment ceremony as a first step toward marriage. Judy and I have been legally separated for over two years now. It is time we finalize the complete end of our marital relationship. This has been a challenging time which will, hopefully be concluded on the 25th.

Be well,

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Dana and Dues

With respect,  It is that time of the month when I ask that we practice dana paramita, the first of the six paramitas. Your generosity supports our Order and our Temple.  Please consider making an offering today.  Thank you and nine bows,

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

This Week

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

As most of you know, I have taken up residence at our Temple for retreat. My practice schedule is Zazen M-F at 7:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 7:00 PM, Sunday at 10:00 AM. We conduct our weekly Zen Study Group on Thursday evening at 6:00 PM. On Wednesday we do park practice at the city hall on Main Street at 9:00 AM and practice with the elders at Golden Mesa retirement community at 10:30. If you intend to practice with me during the daily morning and afternoon periods, please email or call in advance as it is possible I will have other commitments at those times.

Temple practice requires a commitment to moment to moment practice. I am alone most of the time. I often sit through the day, mixing sitting with study. Occasionally, I will sit on the stoop and just watch the sky. This morning I did that and watched the moon as it appeared behind some lovely white clouds.

I am cooking and washing dishes for one. Each time I wash the dishes I think of Master Dogen and his use of Tenzo as an exemplar of everyday practice. Cooking and washing are everyday activities, as is Zazen, watching the moon, or study. In a very real way, all activities are our Zazen practice when done in Big Mind. And when done this way, even Zazen falls away. We are simply living with our Dharma Eye open.

I hope that some of you take advantage of our practice times and visit the Zendo. In the meantime, be well.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day, Not!

With palms together,

This is Labor Day and I think we have forgotten its meaning.  Contrary to the comments back that I receive in passing about this weekend being a long weekend, it is in fact  meant to honor those who actually labor to earn a living. Labor is a word we tend not to apply to ourselves.  Labor conjures up images of factory workers, construction workers, and laborers, not management-level desk jockeys, bean counters and pencil pushers. Labor Day honors those who actually work for a living. And most of us really don't have much of a clue as to what that really means. 

My father was a house painter most of his life and a maintenance man in a hospital in his later years.  I remember him coming home with overalls covered in paint spatter.  My brother was a refrigeration man.  And I spent a good part of my early adult life as a dishwasher, short order cook and pie maker, before I "moved up" into management, graduated late in life from college, and went on to become a psychotherapist.

From my experience, labor requires sweat.  Labor requires the ability to get a job done often under awful circumstances and keep our mouths shut in the process.  It requires us to be deferential and socially appropriate when those "above us" don't give us much more than the time of day...that is, if they actually see us at all. Yet here we are celebrating "Labor" while most of those who actually labor must labor on this day while those who don't labor enjoy a back yard Bar-B-Que.

What would actually honor those who labor would be for us who don't labor to labor for one day in their place.  Never happen.

Be well.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday I had the most wonderful experience of presenting a teisho to an Advanced Art Class at a local high school which specializes in teaching the creative arts.  The students in attendance were bright, intensely curious, and described as "risk takers" by their art teachers.  I was grateful for the opportunity to meet them and learn from them.  Its this sort of thing, as well as today's opportunity to marry a couple, that makes the Zen priesthood so rewarding. 

I spoke to them about taking on and developing a creative mind that arises from the Zen Peacemaker Precept, "Not Knowing."  When we approach a canvas, sketch pad, or writing paper with a "Not Know" mind everything is possible.  Just so, life itself. 

Such a mind can be developed through our practice, but also through the surprises that life itself offers us.  When we are surprised by something our mind feels open and fresh. We might feel anxiety and, as uncomfortable for some of that anxiety is, it can serve us to remain alert. Being alert is akin to mindfulness. When we are mindful things are able to present themselves as they are. It is here that creativity can blossom. 

In college some years ago I had an art professor insist that we feel the things we attempted to draw.  At the time, my mind was closed.  I was clearly unable to feel the leaves of the plant in my still life.  This inability made the drawing dead. That I now can touch a leaf with my heart opens me to seeing a leaf without seeing a leaf.  A leaf is an image in my mind, it is not the leaf's true nature.

Let us practice to see clearly.

Be well.

Friday, August 31, 2012


With respect,

It would appear I am facing yet another major change in my life. Kathryn and I have decided we will no longer live together. I am moving back into the Temple and will take it as my residence. This will mean some reconfiguration of the space, but is possible. I do not want much space and do not need most of the things I have collected.

Its odd how these things unfold. In this case it was a rather sudden and deeply disturbing change. I do not wish to share the details, but suffice to say, it was necessary.

I will share more as I am able and the situation allows.

Be well.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On a Friday Morning

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning we spent quite a bit of time cleaning and organizing the residence.  Clearly I am limited in my abilityand capacity, but Rev. Soku Shin seems to have inhereted genes from the Energizer Bunny.  I did manage to organize the studio/study and re-organize the courtyard funishings.  But this pales in comparison to Ms. Bunny. 

This, as well as some discussions with my physical therapists have taken me aback.  It is becoming quite clear that I will not recover to a state similar to that before I began experiencing leg pain.  I will likely not run again, hike, or even walk very far.  For someone who identified himself as physically active, a marathoner, and so on, this is a challenging reqality.

Yet, every loss has the potential to be a teacher.  Every moment, an oppoprtunity to rebirth myself.  Closing one door, we often say, opens another.  So, here I am with doors closing and other doors opening. The Zen of the Every Moment lies in this: the very existential view that our remaking ourselves moment to moment demands our adaptaion to impermanence.

Yesterday no longer exists, tomorrow is simply a fantasy: it is in the eternal now that we reside.  May we each live as fully as possible.

Be well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Clouded Sky

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke at 3:45 AM. I fell asleep at 9:00 PM. So I managed to get a bit over 6 hours of sleep. Anyway, I went outside into the courtyard and sat looking at a solitary star (which, I am certain, was a planet). There were no other visible stars as the sky was filled with clouds masking them. The stars of the night sky were there to be sure, but I just could not see them. Our everyday life is like this. The universe we create with our mind is like the clouds hiding the stars. Remove the clouds and the actual sky appears.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No Hot, No Cold?

With palms together

Good Morning Everyone,

The sun just rose over the Organ Mountains, offering both brilliant light and searing summer heat. We in Las Cruces are desert dwellers. Our environment is typically hot and dry. We are now, however, on the back side of the rainy season, although not much rain has come our way, still, the air is wet and the heat creates a sauna within which we sweat. Those of us with refrigerated air are prone to stay inside; those with swamp coolers, well, let’s just say swamp coolers are not at all effective in humidity. People who live with swamp coolers in a humid environment suffer. Yet, refrigerated air also brings suffering. When we stay inside and our bodies adapt, our ability to go out of doors is compromised. As with Old Tozan in Case 43 of the Blue Cliff Record, “How do we escape heat or cold?”

In either direction, there is suffering. Life is like this, with every in-breath there is birth and the construction of our world, with every out-breath there is death and the destruction of our world. How can we escape it? This question reminds me of another koan, Case 83, “The ancient Buddhas and the pillar merge --- what level of mental activity is this?

Yesterday morning I sat in the courtyard witnessing the sun rising over the mountains. I began to sweat. I felt my body giving up its water. And then, I saw the sun in a sweat drop. The sun was -- and was not-- in the sweat drop. There was heat and not heat at the same time. Heat and cold are words we use, they point to something we add to a given moment, just as by suffering we mean: things are not the way we think they should be.

Can we enter a stone pillar? Can we abide in heat or cold without being hot or cold? Can we encounter our daily life as it presents itself and appreciate it fully?

Of course we can, but will we?

Only our practice knows.

Be well.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blog Follower's Invitation

With palms together,
Good Morning Bloggers

I would like to that you for being "followers" of my blog.  I realized this morning that I rarely post anything on Blogger that I don't post in other venues.  So, I want to invite you each to post a comment on the content of this blog and let me know how you feel about something. 

If you have followed my blog for some time you will know that I have often taken personal life and commented on it from a Zen perspective.  I have done less of that of late.  Moreover, I have not posted much about Zen and its practice either.  What I want to know is this: do you prefer straight Zen talk or content from my everyday life with a Zen commentary?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Friday, July 20, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It is the middle of the night and I have greeted it’s darkness over and over again with an open heart. The sounds of a sleeping world are my companions. A cooling breeze is my blanket. What’s this? I feel as though I am but a shadow in the corner . The fox and the monk are one as karma is the product of a deluded mind.

I realize I have not been posting much and what I have posted has had more to do with my pain than Zen itself. This realization brings me to the question of Zen in Everyday Life, a theme I am exploring in my new booklet under the same title.

At our Zen study group this evening the question came up about practice realization in our daily life. It sprung out of the text of Master Dogen’s Genjokoan. In that text Dogen Zenji says in the comings and goings of practice realization we are deluded, but in practice realization, comings and goings are practice realization. Rather like form is emptiness and emptiness is form, if you get my meaning.

If we live in practice realization our comings and goings (read everyday life) are not deluded. This means we address our lives as not separate from things. In fact, in practice realization, there are no things. We, and the “things” before us, are not separate, but one and we are one with them. So, the cup I am just now sipping from is myself as are the keys on this PC. In this state, the tricky part is, there are, in fact, no cups or keys, no me to sip or type. An infinite circle is no circle at all, as Glassman-roshi points out in his book, “Infinite Circle.”

As we practice and approach infinity we discover our truth, this truth is actually quite simple, in the infinite, there are no limits and as a result, everything falls away as “things” and only the vast emptiness of our true nature resides. Touch a cup and you touch everything that is, touch everything that is, and cup, you, and touch are one. How do we then disrespect the cup without disrespecting the universe?

Yours in the dharma,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Status Update

With palms together,

Good afternoon all,

It seems the two procedures I have undergone to correct my lumbar spinal stenosis have not been effective. My condition is worsening and an appointment with my doctor today resulted in scheduling another procedure called "mild" which is supposed to be effective in most cases. I am scheduled to have this procedure on Friday at Mountain View Hospital. The procedure involves inserting a needle into the part of my spine that has calcification, removes the bone matter, thus relieving the pressure on my spinal cord. It requires about a three day recovery according to the literature. Due to my current condition and this coming procedure I must cancel all temple activities including dokusan until Monday. My jiisha, Rev. Soku Shin, or myself will keep you apprised of my progress. I apologize for this inconvenience and hope to be back at work on Monday.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

On August 3rd I will travel to Upaya in Santa Fe for a weekend retreat with Roshi Bernie Glassman. I am most interested in his way of engaging people toward engaging the world in order to make the world a better place. It seems to me we spend next to no time on this question. Yet every day we recite the four great vows of the bodhisattva.

How do we live our lives? While obsession ought be addressed as something that leads to suffering, some obsessions are better than others, don’t you think? Are we self obsessed belly button watchers or are we bodhisattva warriors obsessed with creating conditions for improved living? If we are to have one obsession, which would it be?

Our every breath as bodhisattvas ought be directed at freeing others from suffering. Yet, to say such a thing creates, in itself, a duality which traps us in our own suffering. Because this is our choice, we are not actually suffering. The freedom of others is dependent on our freeing ourselves: free yourself and all beings are free. Through this we see the truth of suffering.

Let us practice together: Sunday at 9:00 AM at Clear Mind Zen Temple.

Be well.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


With respect to all,

Today is a full day of interviews, class and zazen. This morning, however, I will ride over to the Pain Management Office and camp out hoping to see my Doctor in between her appointments. The piriformis muscle is still inflamed and is creating continued sciatic pain in my left hip and leg. I was hoping to be done with this for awhile, but it seems I am not. So, we will see what she says, if I can manage to see her.

This afternoon we have several interviews and this evening we will address chapter 9 of "Realizing Genjokoan." We follow study with a period of Zazen, the Hanya Shin Gyo, and the Four Great Vows. The chapter of the text is about "The Moon in Water." This is the section where Master Dogen refers to realization as moon in water, using moon as self, as emptiness, and in the water as 'the middle way.' As many of you know, Dogen had a thing for the moon. He stared at it alot, used it in many of his teachings, his poetry, and in effect, it becamea mandala for him.

It seems many of us in the world of Zen have a thing for the moon. The moon seems to rest in the sky, floating as it were, above us, offering our mind's eye a place to rest in the night. It becomes a picture of tranquility.

Please consider joining us this evening at 6 for study and again at 7 for zazen.

Be well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


The sky is cloudy with heavy rain clouds. I am sitting in the courtyard with you. Suki and Emma are sitting withme. Binky is with Soku Shin who is not yet awake. The courtyard is awash with sounds of birds and insects.

I woke this morning with no pain in my leg, but the piriformis muscle is still very tight or I have a bruised hip joint. At least it is localized and not shooting down my leg.the procedure yesterday was simple and quick, as well as nearly painless. The Dr was terrific and asked for a card. She wants to learn zazen.

We never know where or when we will meet a student of the Way.

I would like to thank student Craig for his assistance yesterday. Craig came over in the heat of the afternoon and put together our inversion table for us. Thank you Craig!

We will practice zazen tonight at 7:00 pm at the Temple. Please consider joining

us. Gassho.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Driving to my Teacher’s Zendo in the winter of 1998 was a challenge. I lived in Las Cruces and his Zendo was in Cloudcroft. The drive distance was about 90 miles and the elevation went from 4000’ to nearly 9000’. In the winter there was no predicting accessibility. I first had to climb the mountain to Cloudcroft, then climb a long dirt road up another mountain to get to the Zendo which was tucked neatly into the side of a hill. Snow, ice, and whether or not a plow had cleared the road were potential obstacles. In Zen, our relationship to our teacher is not dependent on our likes or dislikes or our convenience. It is about relational commitment to the teaching and practice of Zen.

So each week I would get into my car, often after a 70 hour workweek as a private practice therapist, and make the drive to practice with Ken-roshi in his Zendo and following that, meet with him for his version of dokusan. Ken-roshi was formidable. It’s not that he was that tall, but he presented himself as authority itself. His answering machine message was simple, “Present yourself as you will.”

Over the years Ken-roshi, with Fern-roshi, helped us build our mountain house deep in the forest beyond Cloudcroft. Our relationship was a challenging one with many dips and turns. I was a socially engaged Zenster, he was a conservative, verging on Republican, Teacher. We argued viciously over the invasion of Iraq, poverty, and immigration issues. I could not understand how a Zen Buddhist, let alone someone who had achieved Dharma Transmission, could support war, make discriminatory choices over people, and remain stoically distance over the suffering of others. His Zen was directed at personal responsibility and mine was directed at social responsibility. He came at practice like an engineer and I, a social worker.

So, here’s the thing: we learned from each other. No matter the issue, having passionate dialogue, while emotionally charged, taught us something about ourselves. Ken-roshi’s view on the war changed over time, he told me many times that he supported my street practice, and I understood that the man in front of me was a former Marine of a different, earlier generation.

Yesterday we offered a Memorial Service for Ken-roshi and his wife, Fern-roshi. These were quiet Zen Teachers who lived their Zen without fanfare. Their Zendos were always small and they disliked the Internet and other public opportunities to offer the Dharma. Theirs was personal and in your face Zen. What a student learned was dependent on how self aware the student was. May we each study ourselves, for as Master Dogen Zenji says, by studying self, mind and body fall away and we are in a place where everything is our teacher.

Be well.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Living and Dying

With palms together,

With the death of Reverend Fern-roshi and my recent bouts with my body, my mind has been on living and dying. I just went through a stack of old photographs and found some very old pictures of myself and my brother as young boys, pictures of my travels, the development of my body through my body-building phase, through my horse phase, and into my priesthood. It has occurred to me that unless we are actually living we are dying.

By “actually living” I mean being aware of our bodies as they are in this very moment, living in them, with them as fully and completely as is possible, and with them as they relate and interact with others. I fear too much of my life has been squandered on activities in youth not worth remembering, sleep walking, as it were, through the days and nights of middle age. Grasping for youth in late middle age. And worrying far too much as an elder. Frankly, I love the sentiment in that old phrase, “Don’t worry, be happy!” Yet, it is so difficult when nerve endings seem to be on-fire or have dulled to the point of numbness, and activities that were once taken for granted as mainstays of health and fitness seem no longer available.

We each are dying as we exhale each breath we inhale. It is a fact of the universe that everything comes and goes. As the Genjo Koan suggests, life has its dharma reality as does death. When living, live; when dying, die. We cannot avoid death, nor need we fear it. Our practice is to be awake in everything without picking and choosing what we will pay attention to. I know I personally fail in this everyday in nearly every moment. This is why it is called practice. To practice is to open our senses without directing them. In Zen, our senses include our mind. An open and supple mind can be developed through Zazen.

May we each, through this practice, be free from suffering.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Current Status

With palms together,

As most of you know I spent three days in Mountain View hospital with extreme pain in my back, hip, and left leg. I am not allowed to have an MRI due to the fact that I have some metal in my head as a result of being shot in Vietnam. This meant that I needed a myelogram. This is a procedure where the physician injects radioactive dye directly into the spine so a CT image reveals more detail. I will tell you this was extremely painful, but the result was a diagnosis of spinal stenosis. I have two buldging disks at L4 and L5 which causes extreme pain, numbness and loss of movement in the left leg and hip.

Monday will bring a call from my doctor who is setting up an appointment with a pain specialist who will likely inject a steroid into my spine to relieve the inflammation and allow things to heal.

What all of this means is that I am facing some life altering issues. I will not be able to do the running and walking I have enjoyed in the past. I will likely not be able to lift weights as I wanted to. As it is right now I cannot stand or walk for more than a few miuntes without being forced by the pain to sit down.

Soku Shin has had to take care of me and I am not easy to take care of. I feel quite helpless and I am not at all comfortable with that.

During this sequence of events, though, I practiced Zazen sitting in bed, studied, and learned what I could about what was happening to my body. Patients are not helpless. We have an obligation to look deeply, partner with physicians, and find ways to deal with what is confronting us. I will admit to being somewhat depressed by this and not a little angry. Being in touch with our feelings is what Zazen is all about. Life is what it is, moment to moment. We should live it as deeply and completely as possible.

As I can, I will continue to practice with those who come to the residence on practice days. I will continue to offer dokusan as scheduled. If you wish to see me privately, please do so through Rev. Soku Shin at jiisha2abbot@gmail.com.

I hope to see our Study group on Thursday at 6:00 PM.

Be well.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Sunday morning we will host our formal Zen Service at our residence at 2195 Calle Del Norte in Mesilla, NM at 9:00 AM. We look forward to serving you. It looks as though this will be our weekly schedule:

Sunday Zazen at 9:00 AM Residence

Tues. – Fri. Zazen at 7:00 AM Residence

Mon. Park Practice at 7:00 AM in Gardens

Wed. Park Practice at 9:00 AM in Veteran’s Park

Wed. Elder Practice at 10:00 AM at Golden Mesa

Thurs. Zen Study at 7::00 PM Residence

Please note: It is possible that we will host Brad Warner later this month. He has contacted me and indicated he will be coming through our city and would be happy to offer a talk. I will keep you posted.

Be well

Friday, June 08, 2012

June 8

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I sat in the courtyard for Zazen.There was an early morning chill in the air and the neighborhood roosters were crowing in apparent delight. Some motorcycle, a crotch rocket I believe from the sound of it, was screaming down the highway obliterating the birdsong that otherwise would have caught my attention. Motorcycle engine, birds singing: our mind catches sound and evaluates it. One pleasant, one unpleasant, which is which? Soft and melodious, loud and mechanical, each in accordance with its nature. Accept both, hold neither.

Formal Zen Sunday @ 9:00 AM at our residence.

Be well.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


With palms together,

This morning comes with a bright, hot sun rising over the eastern mountains as if in a hurry to brighten the world. Soku Shin and I spent the morning discussing how we will offer Zen services in our home and when. We also talked about park practice and are looking at spaces on the Mesilla/University side of town as a venue. One area we thought of is the garden that’s just on the Mesilla side of the railroad tracks on University Avenue. We have the following practice opportunities thus far: Street Zen one Saturday per month at the Farmer’s Market at 9:00 AM; one Park practice per week at the Veteran’s Park at 9:00 AM; one Elder Practice per week at Golden Mesa retirement community at 10:00 AM; and one Sunday formal service at 9:00 AM. We would like to add an early morning park practice at the garden at 7:00 AM. We will practice Zazen at our house each morning at 7:00 AM (except, of course, on the day we decide to go to the park) so the question is what day to go to the park? We are also working through our calendar issues regarding dokusan and Zen Study. Could we schedule it at 6:00 PM on Thursdays rather than 7:00 PM? Personally, I want to contain my dokusan times to Mondays and Thursdays.

Please let Soku Shin and I know what your preferences might be. We will work hard to accommodate you within our schedule parameters.

Be well

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


With palms together,

Our last session at the Temple was last night. We held a lively class on Chapter 7 of the text, Realizing Genjokoan, and agreed to move the group to Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM at our residence in Mesilla, NM. Our Sunday service will be at 9:00 AM at our residence, as well.

We are entering a new stage in the Order of Clear Mind Zen, a stage that harkens back to the ancient days when practitioners of the Way simply practiced in parks, offering teaching when asked, but generally modeling the way rather than lecturing about it. We are not here to support a corporation or a formal organization. We are here to support a practice.

We are here, then, to offer opportunities to practice together. We are not here to talk about Zen, per se. So, if you are a student of mine, please understand the following. I will not continue to see you in dokusan unless you practice with me at least once during any given week. If you miss your practice session, your dokusan time will be rescheduled for the following week. For those distance learners, I will accept on your word that you are practicing at home or in your Zendo and we will talk about your practice.

Local students should schedule a time to sit with me. Your choices are: Monday through Friday at 7:00 AM at our residence, Sunday at 9:00 AM at our residence or alternatively, seated practice at Veteran’s Park on Wednesdays at 10:00 AM or street Zen at the Federal building at 4:00 PM.

Regards moving: it seems the 17th is Father’s Day so we will need to reschedule our move for Saturday the 16th. I will rent a U-Haul truck and a storage unit that morning. Please let me know if you can help us.

Yours in the Dharma,

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Temple Closing

With palms together,

Over the last several months we have noticed a steady decline in our member’s Zendo practice and participation. We understand many of us have had vacations, gone on travels, etc., but these do not explain the overall lack of attendance at Zendo for Zazen periods. All too often either Soku Shin or myself drives to the Zendo only to sit alone, something we could more easily and economically do at home.

At this point, I do not believe there is any reason to support a Temple or Zendo. I have approached our landlord and asked to be released from our lease. It seems promising that she will allow us to get out of the last year of our three year lease. I will maintain the Order, but not as a corporate entity, but rather through a series of teacher student relationships without an organization. Historically, this was how it was done. The materials we have, equipment, etc., will stay in my possession for safe keeping in the event we will at another time want a facility.

I have spoken to Soku Shin and we will work out a time where we will offer our home as a place to practice. This will likely be on Sunday mornings. After we have been released from our lease all donations to the Order will be used to support the Order’s teaching and public practice. These donations will not be tax-deductable. If you chose not to offer dana, that will be fine. If you are student of mine, I will continue to teach, but I will likely not take on any but seriously committed students.

Our landlord asked that we pay this month’s lease payment of $560.00 which will take us through to the third Wednesday of July. I will do this. I believe, however, that we should immediately close the Temple as of this week. Soku Shin and I will secure a storage facility for the tans and altars. We will need help trucking them to the facility. If any of you can assist us in this process we would greatly appreciate it.

We have talked about stepping up our street and park practice. I will put together a schedule of periods and places and post them shortly.

For this week, we will host Zen Study tomorrow evening, June 4, at the Alameda address, and will close the Temple afterwards, moving to a Sunday morning only practice at our home on June 10 at 9:00 AM So, as of June 11, we will host our Monday night Zen Study at our home in Mesilla. All in-person dokusan will be conducted in our studio at our Mesilla address.

Be well.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


With palms together,

It is 11:50 PM. Everyone (Kathryn, Suki, and Binky) are asleep. I am wide awake. Kathryn Soku Shin asked that I offer services in El Paso tomorrow while Rev. Tamra leads them here in Las Cruces. Rev. Soku Shin wants me to talk about how I spent my summer vacation, meaning, what did I learn from riding my motorcycle nearly 4000 miles in order to visit my son and his family.

At first I thought I could say something quite Zen like, but I soon recovered from that temptation. The most important thing I learned was not to make assumptions or promises. At each step in our daily life anything is possible. For me, the weather shifting and changing, my body’s unwillingness to adapt quickly or heal from the sciatic nerve inflammation, all came together to betray my promises. I wanted to visit the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, for example, but each way weather and timing conspired against a visit, to say nothing of the gigantic traffic nightmare which defines Atlanta as a place none of us should actually want to go.

I had assumed I could master the weather, get around things, predict things with my cyber gadgets. I did to a certain extent. I could see the storms, plot their direction, and so forth, but in the end, only the personal, actual experience of riding a motorcycle unprotected from the temperature changes that accompany an overcast day, could inform me.

My sense is that these lessons speak to the eternally spoken Zen message of “Be here now!” It is in this now, and in no other time or place, that we live. Climbing over high bridges, riding on rutted and freshly grated road surfaces, having to pay close attention to gasoline consumption, location of gasoline stations, and so forth was an experience of deep mindful practice. In the end, however, they are nothing special. We do not need a 4000 mile motorcycle tour to teach us this, we simply need to commit to our daily practice of living fully in each moment.

“Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering,” sings Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In our life as Zensters there is no real place for assumptions and situation specific promises, there is only our global vow to live life awake. Be happy we have cracks. It is through these openings, we are able to begin to see clearly.

Be well

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After riding nearly 500 miles yesterday I hobbled into a Days Inn to rest for the night. I was pleased with myself and my bike. Over the road I managed to avoid a few serious thunder storms, but did get rained on once. Fortunately, the cheapy rain suit I bought at a Wal-Mart on the way out to North Carolina worked. Somewhere in Alabama the over cast skies cleared and the sun shone down on me. After rain and cold, overcast skies, the son was a very welcome sight.

The ride itself was broken up into 100 mile pieces so I could fill my small gas tank and stretch out my tightened shoulder muscles. Road work is ubiquitous. Causing much caution to be needed. One detour in Jackson, Miss. took me out of my way and on a trek to find out how to get back on the closed Interstate. I am learning to relax a bit more, recalling an earlier time in my life when my motorcycle and I were partners on the road. It is a real pleasure when that moment arises. It makes itself know after the fact as in the ease of pulling up to a gasoline pump without worrying about falling off the bike! Also, I am getting more used to the Harley’s “Jiffy” stand, the kickstand that holds the bike up at rest. My old Shadow’s kickstand didn’t allow the Shadow to lean so far over.

On a different note, thus far I have been asked for money three times at gas stations. Each time a different story, each time I just gave what I had. People seem so grateful when we give without question and immediately.

In North Carolina, seeing my sister and brother at my son’s house was a real delight. I had only met Susan twice in my life. Once in Florida and once in Ohio. She was so young. My father was a person who hurt people. He hurt all of his children. I am happy that we have reconnected. It’s about time, for goodness’ sake.

Now, my focus is on getting home to the love of my life, the one who knows me most intimately and with whom I have chosen to share my life. We are family. Kathryn Soku Shin has been in my every thought along the way. I cannot imagine life without her. I still have two nights away, but I am on my way, and that is what matters most. I hope to be in Las Cruces by Friday evening.

Be well.