Zen 101

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.