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!