Zen 101

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