Zen 101

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.