Zen 101

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Courtyard Zen

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

The morning light has not yet made its appearance in the east. I am barely awake myself. Today we will practice Zazen with the elders at Golden Mesa at 11:00, and later, Street Zen at 4:00, and still later, Zazen in the Zendo at 6:00. In between, a few private interviews.

Lately, I have felt myself feeling adrift. This feeling seems closely associated with a waning interest in painting, writing, and other creative efforts. What I seem to want to do mostly is sit in the courtyard of our house looking up into the depths of the New Mexico sky.

This practice is not unlike Zazen. It is certainly, “just sitting,” but without the benefit of robe and zafu. Thoughts are barely perceptible and float in and out of my awareness without much of a trace. I could not tell you what I am thinking most of the time, because it seems to me, most of the time I am not thinking.

When we loosen our grip, and let go of any attempt to control things, life seems to do just fine. The grass does, indeed, grow of its own accord. We are Buddha-Nature’s witness to itself.

Be well

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sweeping Zen

On the front page of Sweeping Zen:  http://sweepingzen.com/

Monday, March 19, 2012

Schedule Changes

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Today at Clear Mind Zen we will practice Zazen at 6:00 PM in the Zendo. We will follow our evening practice with our Zen discussion group. We will conclude our discussion of chapter three of our text and, hopefully, open chapter four.

Please Note: We are making our five day intensives more accessible to everyone by having evening hours beginning Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Saturday will be from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Our fees will be $5.00 per evening, $15.00 for Saturday, and $5.00 for Sunday. If you have already paid for the full five days under the old schedule, we will gladly refund your offering. A reminder: Those who are paying dues at the “Great Benefactor” level are not required to pay, your sesshin fees are included in your membership dues. If you are paying dues at the “Sustaining Member” level you will receive a 25% discount.

A further schedule change: We will no longer offer morning Zazen. All of our Temple-based activities will be in the evening. Evening Zazen will be at 6:00 PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Lastly, if you buy your books through Amazon, please consider clicking through to Amazon via our website links. We have partnered with Amazon and will receive a portion of the purchase price.

We hope to see you soon.

Be well

Friday, March 16, 2012

Morning Light

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke in a slight funk. The painting I was working on is now finished. Our websites are as completed as I have the ability to make them. And, what was my Mountain Refuge has a contract on it. What was once so meaningful, will be no more. I sat outside watching the sunrise with this.

These last three years have been a time of dramatic change in my life. The dust has now settled, more or less. At 65, I am looking at exploring the wilting of the flower of my life. All that has happened has happened and is past, fading now in memory, and losing its significance to any but me, residing as it does, in some recess of my brain. Our lives open, bloom, grow, and turn. All the while others come up, and others fade away. Everything changes always in every moment and it is all here now. As Dogen teaches, ash is ash, firewood, firewood: each day is itself. We are charged to manifest ourselves in each moment as fully as possible. The fading flower lets go.

Soku Shin remarked yesterday that my paintings have a “primordial” quality to them. Yes, I see that, though I am not conscious of it as I paint. As I look at my life I am discovering mystery.

Be well

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Comes

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday afternoon I put the top down on my old Saab. This car is nearly twenty years old and I have grown to truly appreciate her. When the top is down the world is invited in, or shall I say, I have lowered the barriers between the environment and myself. It is a good feeling to be outside in fresh air. It is coming to be spring here in New Mexico.

My hope, now that our websites are nearly completed, is that I will be able to turn my attention to developing our engaged practices and assisting others in establishing sitting groups around the country. Zen is a powerful practice that has the potential to change our lives through internal transformation. We need to slow down and pay attention in this new millennium. Our world has become one vast, instantaneous network of different peoples and cultures. As we come to know in each flash of news what is happening in every corner of the globe we can begin to see our interconnected reality. This reality is our actual life.

This morning we will practice Zazen at the Zendo at 10:00 AM. From there we will go to Golden Mesa Retirement Community and offer meditation training to elders residing there. This afternoon at 4:00 we will practice street Zen at the Federal Building, downtown Las Cruces. A full day of Zen.

Be well.

Monday, March 12, 2012


With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Practice is the cornerstone of Zen. We practice not to become buddhas, but to realize our buddha nature. Zazen is a disciplined practice. While Zazen can be a home practice and even a workplace practice, our Zendo practice is foundational. Zazen should not be thought of as something to be done when it is convenient, it is not a practice one does if one has the time. Zazen practice is the highest priority for those who have stepped onto the path. It is a practice we make time for, period, end of sentence.

As abbot and teacher, I encourage you to come to the Zendo as often as possible to practice Zazen. Our Zendo is available to you for your practice almost anytime. Our regularly scheduled practice times are Sunday through Thursday at 10:00 AM and Monday and Thursday evening at 6:00 PM. If these times are inconvenient and you would like to come to the Zendo at another time, a simple call to us will open the door.

A word about our up-coming Intensive Retreat:

We have reconsidered our Five Day Intensive Retreat Schedule and are changing it to accommodate those who are working or who are in school. We will do our Five Day Intensives in the following way: Wednesday through Friday from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Saturday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Our Hanamatsuri Intensive will thus begin at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, April 4th. Please register with Rev. Soku Shin as soon as possible.

This evening we will continue our study of the Genjo koan and are still in Chapter Three of the text. We hope to see you at 10:00 AM this morning and at 6:00 PM this evening. Study Group is at 7:00 PM.

May we each be a blessing in the universe.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Engaged Zen

With respect, this is the content I put up on our Engaged Zen site at http://daihoroshi.org/ to introduce the topic of engaged practice.

Our world needs our help. Engaged Zen practice is about alleviating suffering. Our social structures are sometimes inadequate and often create conditions for suffering to arise. Our practices are directed toward changing these structures or assisting directly in care-giving. Change and Care-giving must be understood within the context of our precepts. We are not here to impose, but to invite. We are not here to destroy, but to build. Our practice is to invite change, offer nurturance and support, and assist where we can to make our world a better place.

Some possibilities:

Consider vulnerable, disenfranchised populations. There might include, homeless, poor, victims of violence, mentally ill, and those who are ill or dying. Consider what services exist for these populations. Look into your community’s social and human services organizations. What are the needs? Where are the loopholes?

Consider working for peace and non-violence through bearing witness. Practicing Zazen in public spaces offers a model of serene reflection that is not about conflict, but an invitation to slow down and reflect.

Offering Meditation instruction to closed in-groups such as elders or prisoners might be another venue. Look into local nursing homes, retirement communities, or correctional facilities. Are there pathways to help there?

Engaged practice takes a willingness to see what is needed and the courage to step up to offer our assistance. As in all things, patience and diligence are necessary. We are here to consult with you.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

To See

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday’s wind storm is past, so this morning I went outside onto the courtyard, reset the chairs and tables, watered the plants, and picked up my binoculars to see birds fluttering in the trees. It was 42 degrees or so and the sun was just peaking up over the mountains. Suki had a great time trying to eat the water streaming from the hose as I watered and so I had to towel her dry. The smell of her dog dampness, the fresh air, and the sounds of wings aflutter were wonderful. It is a beautiful day.

There are simple things in our lives that so often go unnoticed unless we practice mindfulness. Some of these are pleasant, some not, but all are aspects of our lives and when directly experienced, complete us in unimaginably beautiful ways. If we just pay attention.

An artist sees without necessarily looking at objects, for example. Lines, positive space, negative space, and color all combine to yield something our mind organizes and labels. If we approach seeing with a looking eye, we will invariable fail to see. We might practice seeing without looking. This means just letting that which is there in front of our eyes appear as it is without reference to what it is. What it is is in our head and, as a filter, will distort the thing itself. To see clearly, we must let go of the what of things.

Be well

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Genjokoan Discussion

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night's discussion was animated, thorough, and dynamic. We are indeed fortunate to have such thoughtful, inquiring, and dedicated practitioners coming together in our Zendo to manifest the dharma itself. We had only one open seat, which is delightful.

I saw many of us have our paradigms seriously challenged this evening. The sense of the questions coming to and fro was, "What do you mean, there is no separate and abiding self that survives 'us' after death? " And, "What about 're-incarnations?" and so on...

One thing I would like to say is this, Let's let our practice answer our most disturbing questions. Disturbing questions and challenging teachings are what our study practice is all about! The question I asked Leslee, "Show me one thing about you that is unchanging,." is an "Everyman" question intended to help us cut through our paradigm of a constant "I." This question is akin to the ancient, "Show me your original face, the face you had before your father and mother were born."

Such questions are not intended to have actual answers, rather, their intent is to take us to the edge of our paradigm. We are asked through the work on the question, to pick up a hammer and shatter the paradigm we use to frame our existence.

The daily practice of zazen should be the starting point of our inquiry. Remember, if we think we "know" something, we will never see the thing we think we know. In Zen practice, we open ourselves to "don't know" and reside there.

Be well.

Monday, March 05, 2012


With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

Along with our spring winds and warmer temperatures comes our Hanamatsuri Sesshin. It is during this time that we, in our Order, honor the Buddha’s birth. Siddhartha was a prince, born into the Sakya clan in India some 2600 years ago. When he heard the suffering of the world he suffered. He left his palace and his family, cut off his hair, and began to walk the path of a bodhisattva. We are very fortunate to have his model as a teacher. He lived an upright life, a life of serene reflection meditation, a life of peace.

Our lives today are not much different from the Buddha’s life. As human beings we all want and need common things. We each feel the poverty of our lives, be it money, time, or relationships. Pressed this way and that, we experience stress and anxiety, anger and sadness, and even joy and sometimes happiness. But all of these are fleeting, just as our lives are short: the candle burns.

What the Buddha taught was a way to live in the eternal now. And to live in this now without suffering. We cannot learn this teaching through our intellect. We learn it through studying ourselves. It is this study we call Zazen and Sesshin is its complete practice.

We will practice sesshin from Wednesday, April 4, through Sunday, April 8, beginning each day at 8:00 AM, closing each day at 5:00 PM. Please consider putting this period in your calendar so that you might join us.

Lastly, we continue our study of Master Dogen's Genjokoan this evening at 7:00 PM following our evening service.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Philosophy or Not

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

“Mahamati, what I speak of as eternal and inconceivable is eternal because it is based on the attribute of personal realization and because it transcends the existence and non-existence of what is created. …As this (such discussions) distracts people from the attainment of personal realization of the realm of buddha knowledge, it is not worth talking about.” The Buddha, The Lankavatara Sutra, Red Pine trans., p. 91.

In section XVII of the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha addresses the question of the eternal and inconceivable first cause. In very few lines he makes short work of First Cause schools, essentially denying creation ex nihilo. Further, as in the above quote, he flatly says such discussions are not worth talking about as they are distractions from our real purpose which is the personal realization of the truth.

At first blush we might say, “What?” Discussion leads to the truth. After all, this is what all philosophy is founded upon. But the Buddha is making a point that discussion is in service to projection and therefore, acts as a smoke screen to clear mind.

Those of us new to Zen often come loaded with books, the two Suzuki’s, a few Dalai Lamas, and maybe a copy or two of Brad Warner in a bag. We know what we are talking about! Yet, this is it exactly. We know what we are talking about, but what we are talking about is not it. As they say in Maine, you cannot get there from here.

Study in the Zen sense is not intellectual, but practical. It is the practical application of everyday mindfulness, through body, speech, and mind. Discussion of concepts is just discussion of concepts: it gets us no closer to the moon than the end of a finger pointing to it. Yet, we are seemingly addicted to our need to converse, communicate, and so on.

On the other hand, in an earlier part of the same sutra, the Buddha points out that he must use many means to teach and says in verse, “Thus, my teachings are diverse/ tailored to the situation/ if a teaching doesn’t fit/ then it isn’t taught. Because each patient differs/ good physicians adjust their cures/ buddhas thus teach beings/ according to their capacities.” The Buddha, The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 79.

So, it would seem we could consider discussions of concepts, theories, and even conversations regarding First Cause as useful provided these are understood as skilful means toward creating conditions within which (through our practice) we find personal realization.

As Red Pine notes of this section, “Amen.”

Be well.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Matsuoka-roshi on MP3

http://clearmindzen.org/ has an MP3 of Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, the first Soto Zen Teacher to establish Zen Practice in America, chanting the Maka Hanya Haramita Shin Gyo.  Cleck it out on the Practice - chanting page of the site!