Zen 101

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Don't Waste Time

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Last night our Study Group finished our study of “Living by Vow,” an excellent commentary on the key chants used in our Zen tradition. Next week we will begin our study of “Moku-Rai” a text of writings by Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi.

In our group last night we closed out the Sandokai’s last verse, the first section reads:

Hearing the words, you should understand the source:

Don’t make up standards of your own.

If you don’t understand the path as it meets your eyes,

How can you know the way as you walk? (p.246)

As in a segment of the Heart Sutra, we should begin in the vast emptiness of Samadhi. This emptiness is the Buddha Nature from which all things manifest, including standards for life. To make up standards of our own separates us from our True Nature and creates duality. Meeting the path as it meets your eyes is an admonition to only go straight, doing what is in front of you to do.

Duality has no ground. It is relative. Discussion of philosophy and logic cannot lead us to non-duality, only practice does that. As Okumura points out, “Any theoretical system of concepts or thoughts is a distorted copy of reality. We can only practice it, experience it, and nod our head.” (p. 247)

This is very important and often ignored by students and teachers alike. We human beings love to think about things, talk about things, and sit for hours with coffee contemplating things. True Zen demands we put a stop to this wasted effort. If we want to get to the source, we must practice letting go of our ego-self so that the source may be seen. The source then manifests through our actions.

“I humbly say to those who study the mystery,

Don’t waste time.”

In this last line, we may see Dogen’s source for his first lines in the Shushogi, ”The most important issue for all Buddhists is the thorough clarification of the meaning of birth and death.”

Be well

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Silent Illumination

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It is late in the evening, approaching early morning, and my mind is at rest. I just read a short section in “The Kyosaku” by Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, my Dharma grandfather. In it he speaks of Zen as quietness and action. He says, “Soto Zen is an intuitive way, with little attachment placed on the knowledge of the mind in finding the truth about life and about its deeper meaning. Education is respected, but it is felt that the experience of the deep meaning of life will not be found in philosophical arguments or illogical questions and answers like the koan.” (p. 274)

Where might we find this “deep meaning” of life then? And what exactly does “deep meaning” mean? Frankly, I am of the experience that it has no meaning at all save that which we assign through our thoughts and feelings. Which is to say, it is highly subjective and therefore relative. Master Dogen (refining what a predecessor (Hongzhi [see "Cultivating the Empty Field"]) called “Silent Illumination” ), put forth the notion that “just sitting” was enlightenment itself, or what he referred to as practice realization. No steps or rungs, no higher or lower, intelligent or stupid: just the practice of the Great Way, a way of deep respect for all beings whether high school drop-out or holder of a fancy PhD.

My personal sense is this: the brighter we are, the more inclined we are toward mistaking concept for reality. The brighter we are the more inclined to have great faith in thought and logic, and the empirical way…and, as a result, the further away from the phenomenal truth. Knowing what something is is not knowing it at all. For in “knowing” we reside in the world of thought, which is to say, the world of fingers pointing to the moon.

Be well

Thursday, October 17, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Wake Up!

If a teacher only tickles our ears, offering up what we want to hear, they aren't much of a teacher. The potential of a seed is only realized through much struggle, as it pushes through the ground and into the vastness under the clear blue sky (from a Facebook friend)

There is a koan about escaping hot and cold weather. A young monk is cold in the Zendo and asks his Master how to escape it. The Master asks him to find a place where there is neither heat no cold. The young monk struggles with this. In Matsuoka-roshi’s commentary on this koan, he says heat and cold are symbolic of our suffering in life. He acknowledges that we each suffer and want to find a way to live in happiness. Matsuoka-roshi says the way to do this is thru the practice of non-attachment.

“Non-attachment means rising above life and death, and happiness and suffering. This is how we can avoid extreme suffering in life, and how we can have happiness. It is important to forget about finding a place where suffering will not exist and happiness will abound. Zen teaches us that we must not remain attached to the joys of happiness or they will disappear. …he (the Master) told the young priest to die to the cold and to die to the heat. This means to die to suffering and happiness.” (The Kyosaku, p. 109)

Matsuoka-roshi goes on to add, “Many people do not like to hear these words…” I suggest this is an understatement and at the same time a reflection of our current societal mindset. We live in a world where immediate gratification is often thought of as the highest good. We do not like suffering of any sort (understandably so), but seem to try to find happiness in gadgets, media, sex, drugs, or alcohol. We seek happiness and avoid suffering. Yet, the truth is, the true nature of suffering and happiness is itself a great teacher.

Non-attachment to these twin horns does not mean giving up happiness or accepting suffering. What it means is that we practice to recognize their truth in our lives, embrace this truth, and move in the direction of alleviating the causes of suffering and manifesting happiness. To “die” to these is to release ourselves from them by changing our relationship to them. When we are cold, we know we are cold and just wrap ourselves in more clothing or blankets. When we are hot, we reverse this. But we do these with a serene heart/mind. Our desire to be free from their grip closes the “hand of thought” and causes us to suffer. Conversely, opening our grip on our thoughts and feelings frees us just as relaxing our fingers allows us to escape the old Chinese Finger Puzzles we may have played with as children.

Be well

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Written Thursday morning:

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It is wonderfully cool this morning in the desert southwest. I woke at 4:30 to a clear starlit sky and sat outside to practice both Zazen and canework. Of late I have, once again, taken an interest in the Martial Arts, but this time with my slowly worsening physical disabilities, I decided to select a cane for practice. I had spent a good ten years involved in a Korean form of karate called Moo Duk Kwan, eventually teaching in a small house-based dojo in South Carolina. I gave up karate in 1975 when my son was born, feeling the practice led to a sort of low-grade paranoia

Recently I was told by my doctors that I should not run or walk for exercise. As I kickstart my exercise regimen this leaves a vacuum on the aerobic side. I suppose I will take up biking at this point, and have prepared my bike to that end. It occurred to me that Martial Arts with Cane might be another alternative. When I was a long distance runner I had t-shirts made that said, “Stillness in Motion” on the back with our Order’s logo on front. Studying videos of cane katas, I am learning this phrase equally applies.

I guess the lesson for me is that regardless of our place in this life, regardless of our physical limitations, there are always alternatives and every choice can become a Zen practice, which is to say, a practice that involves dropping away ego identity.

Sunday morning Zazen will be led by Rev. Shukke Shin. Please consider joining her.


Monday, October 07, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

My apologies to those who attended this recent Zazenkai for my lack of presence both in body and mind. I had an unexpected physician’s appointment that morning and had just come off of a very late night doing an Honor Flight escort. I want to apologize as well to those students who sought dokusan only to be confronted by a sleepy teacher!

Self awareness is an essential part of a student’s life and, as a teacher, I continue to be a student. We teachers are also students and sometimes forget that we are fallible human beings with our own issues that need desperately to be addressed. There are those of us who are so full of ourselves that we cannot hear our students as they are. There are those of us who seem to think we no longer need to practice self awareness, convinced we know the Dharma. To the extent this is so, is the extent to which we are far away from the Dharma and, concomitantly, both ourselves and our students.

I cannot speak for other teachers in Zen or even in my own lineage, but as for me, my practice is a 24/7 process of failure. Weekends like this past one are great teachers. I am humbled by them and desire very much to learn from them. My hope is that other teachers, as well as students, are equally committed to self examination.

Please practice with this.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

“In general, in the house of the Buddhist patriarchs, drinking tea and eating meals are everyday life itself. This behavior of drinking tea and eating meals has long been transmitted and is realized in the present. Thus, the Buddhist patriarchs’ vivid activity of drinking tea and eating meals has come to us.” Master Dogen Zenji, Fascicle 64, Shobogenzo, as translated by Nishijima-roshi.

In our practice we may draw a distinction between the Dharma on the one hand and talking about the Dharma on the other hand. The Dharma is everyday life, not what we say about everyday life. The Dharma is not the sutras; the sutras reflect the Dharma. If we want to know watermelon we must eat watermelon. Thus, to know the Dharma we must just eat when eating and drink tea when drinking tea. As Okumura-roshi suggests of firewood and ash in his commentary on the Genjokoan; each has its own Dharma reality,

When we eat or drink in this way we are buddhas eating and drinking in this way. When we eat or drink in this way, we are the ancestors eating and drinking in this way. We and they are one, inseparably. This is not a philosophical discussion and understanding is not the same as realization. Yet, what I’ve just said is just words: at best symbolic reflections of the reality of my understanding and at worst, distractions and self-deception.

Moreover, it is always tempting to be drawn into philosophic discussions about the Buddha Way. These are not so easy to avoid. They are fun and are often intellectually stimulating, but they are not “it.” They are like a mental game. Our practice, however, is no game. Our practice is to cut through the words and ideas such discussions might give rise to and, instead, absorb one’s vital, living self in actually living activity itself. The Zen of everyday life, then, is just this: eating, drinking, sitting, standing, or walking, nothing more and nothing less. Each lives in its own moment.

Do not receive the twirling flower, grow your own. Let this be our practice as we let the rest fall away.

Be well.

PS, Our Study Group will meet at 6:30 in the Zendo tonight. I hope to see you there!

Friday, September 20, 2013

PC, Not

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

Yesterday on the way home from the hospital I saw a truck with a few bumper stickers. One read, “Secure our borders!” I can’t now recall the others. Anyway, I wondered at the time, what the driver wanted to secure our borders against. I suspect it was those pesky illegal immigrants who work in our fields, bringing us the food we enjoy or the cotton we love to wear, or maybe, it was about drug trafficking, terrorists, and other possible threats. Somehow I doubt it. I was wondering to myself if trucks along the Canadian border sport similar bumper stickers. Again, I doubt it as I really don’t believe we see Canadians as a threat, they are more like the dominant cultures, but it’s possible.

So, just what does “secure our borders” mean? I think if I were to ask the driver he would tell me some stories about how illegal’s are draining our resources or that they are taking jobs away from Americans. In the end, though, I think it really comes down to one simple fact, we are afraid. We are afraid that someone or some group will take something away from us. It’s funny that when we operate out of fear the virtues of love, generosity and wisdom are the first to go, being replaced by greed, hatred and the delusion that some groups of human beings are just plain different from other groups of human beings.

For all the teachings of Christianity’s Christ, the Torah and Talmud of the Jews, over the centuries, we still fall into the traps of a fear induced life. The irony is, often those most afraid, who are the most vocal regarding securing borders and such, are those who refer to themselves as religious people.

We cannot be “saved” or “free” if we are still trapped in fear. To be saved or to be freed from the prison of our ego-self, we must be willing to let that ego-self fall away. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, generous, and fearless in the process. Rather than secure our borders I would hope we were secure enough in ourselves to open our borders, even get rid of borders altogether as all they do is separate us from one another and poison us in the process. Our world is one, whether we like it or not. The truck I noticed was made of parts created all over the world. The food the driver eats is often imported. The gasoline he consumes may have come from the Middle East. His clothes were likely made in China and his sneakers in Vietnam. We are one world and the sooner we get on the same page with each other the better.

Lastly, I wonder about the term “illegal.” How can a being be illegal? If we say he or she is one who violated our border crossing laws, ok, but that is what has created the “problem.” If there were no immigration laws and people could freely move about the world, what would that be like? I suggest it would be wonderfully liberating. Perhaps we might come to actually love one another, instead of protecting ourselves from one another: a phenomenon that seems to me to breed distrust and hate.

I think I should leave this note with a question. What are the true values of walls? Our answrs provide wonderful and meaningful insights as to what are our greatest fears.

Be well,

PS. We will host Zazen this Sunday at 10:00 AM.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

Awake late into the night I watched “Crazy Wisdom, the Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.” This is a documentary about that rascal within Tibetan Buddhism who founded Naropa University and rocked the Buddhist world with his behavior, behavior which some say was a teaching in its own right and others might say was a living, on-going, violation of the precepts we live by. Perhaps appropriately so, I followed the film by reciting the robe verse and sitting on my cushion in our residence’ Zendo. Wednesday I will drive over to Palomas, Mexico to be fitted for a new set of sorely needed dentures, and on Thursday Kathryn Shukke Shin will undergo Gall Bladder surgery. As if this were not enough, I found out yesterday that a noise which recently developed in my motorcycle’s engine may mean major surgery on the bike. So, yes, was awake late into the night.

Life can be a challenging, if not a disturbing teacher at times. Trungpa Rinpoche was an extraordinary teacher in my opinion. He was the sort of teacher whose very life itself was the teaching. Referred to sometimes as “the Bad Boy of Buddhism” Trungpa did what some early Zen in America pioneers did, made the teachings available and accessible to Americans. He lived out of the box upsetting the status quo and eschewing expectations of his students. In other words he was himself, an authentic self, who manifested through his teaching and behavior challenges to his students and the Buddhist community at large. While I don’t think his behavior was good for him and those around him in some ways, I do think if we had more teachers like him, perhaps we would be less arrogant with our convictions, convinced as we often are, that our way is the best way.

We will spend the next two or three weeks studying chapter 6 of our text, “Living by Vow.” This chapter is devoted to the central teaching of Zen Buddhism, the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra. I can think of nothing, outside of practice itself that is more important to us than the Heart Sutra. Studying this sutra is a Dharma Gate. Please consider joining us this evening at 6:30 as we begin this study. As for Sunday, I will wait until Thursday afternoon to make a decision whether we will meet for Zazen or not. If everything goes well, we will likely meet, but I will let you know for sure by Friday morning.

By the way, today is the birthday of one of our most dedicated priests, Rev. Dai Shugyo. I will not reveal his age, but it is quite golden.

Be well

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Talk TOO Much!

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

We are preparing for Kathryn’s gall bladder surgery this coming Thursday. We are hopeful that it can be done the relatively “easy” way, but are concerned she will need the large incision variety due to some old scaring tissue. We would like things to go smoothly and perfectly. But, we never know how things will unfold. As a result of this, I will not be available for a few days after her operation, especially this coming Sunday for services at the Zendo. Rev. Dai Shugyo will be offering our precept renewal service unless you hear otherwise. We will keep you posted.

Just like in medicine, in Zen it is a truth that there are no perfect answers, nothing to measure ourselves or our practice against. We might think that stories of enlightenment, “successful” practices, and other highly subjective measures are standards, but the only true standard is within each of us as we go through our day and encounter each moment. I would like to believe I am a good Zen teacher, but I know I talk WAY TOO MUCH, even as I ask for student input, am diligent about seeking their understanding, I am listening far too often to myself in the process. This is not good practice for anyone, let alone a Zen teacher. I was reminded of this during my Dharma talks this past week in sesshin. I can get pretty long-winded it would seem. Awareness, though, is only half the battle in this effort. Becoming aware, sitting on your hands (as my old Chess teacher used to demand of me) is an excellent beginning, but then, we must shut up and listen. There is a great teaching in this.

What is this teaching? Well, if Master Dogen was correct, and I believe he was, when we let our body/mind fall away, myriad teachers appear. If we do not allow ourselves to get over ourselves we never really learn and this is a true shame as it is a waste of our lives and a disservice to those around us who have wonderful things to teach us.

Be well

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sesshin Concludes

With palms together,

Good Afternoon All,

This morning we concluded O-higan sesshin (intensive meditation retreat) with the traditional ceremony for feeding the Hungry Ghosts, segaki. This was one of my late teacher’s favorite ceremonies. When he performed it he used sweet cakes wrapped in white paper as offerings. This year I decided to use the more traditional rice and water. I think it was one of his favorites for two reasons, which may actually be one: the literal feeding of the hungry ghosts. He loved the cakes!

We each have a hungry ghost within us, just as we have the buddha-nature within us. Hungry Ghosts are those aspects of ourselves with insatiable desires but narrow throats: we can never get enough of that which we desire and so we suffer.

In our ceremony each participant wrote down the names of those who died this year or of those we knew were suffering. We also wrote down the things we’ve down which created suffering for others and/or ourselves. Each of us then approached the altar and placed the folded paper in a bowl. We then had an opportunity to offer rice and water to our hungry ghosts thus nourishing them. We finished by offering incense. All of this went on while we chanted the Kannon Sutra. After each of us approached the altar and the chanting was concluded, we went outside and burned our papers while chanting the Great Heart of Wisdom Dharani. It is quite a moving ceremony.

Our newest Ino trainee, Dianna, performed her tasks with a great deal of grace and concentration. She was the only sangha member who completed the entire sesshin with me. We had long hours of sitting alone together in the Zendo. It was a delight to have her presence there. I also want to thank Dharma Teacher Reba Zen Shin Montero for her participation and service as our tea master, and in one case, our Doshi.

Our next sesshin will occur at Rohatsu, the celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment, which will begin on December 4th. In the meantime we have Zazenkai ( a day of meditation) scheduled October 5 and November 2. You might want to put these in your calendar. Lastly, don’t forget we have Study Group in the Zendo each Tuesday evening at 6:30 PM and an online Study Group on Fridays using Google “Hangout.”

Be well.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Day's Ramble

With palms together,

Good Afternoon Everyone,

Zendo Note: This evening at 7:00 PM we will continue sesshin, practicing until about 9:00 PM. We will continue Saturday from 7:30 AM until 8:30 PM, and again Sunday morning from 7:30 to 11:30 AM. Please join us.

Today is another wet one. I woke late, about 5:30 AM. It was raining. The pups refused to go out. I guess they were afraid to get their feet wet. I can’t blame them/ Yet, I took a ride this morning in what was a light rain. First I went to Veteran’s Park where I practiced Zazen in the rain. I remembered the monsoon season in Vietnam and left the park for B & N where I found a copy of Disciple Bobby Kankin Byrd’s poem, “Back Roads to Far Towns” on page 120 in the Fall issue of Tricycle magazine. From there, an unsuccessful trip to Wal-Mart, then the ride home in a harder rain. I arrived home soaking wet and grateful that I have a home to return to as so many others do not.

As I write I am looking at my painting-in-progress and am not satisfied. It is far too soulless: a lot of bright color making a landscape of a canyon floor. It feels lifeless to me. Maybe before I pick up a brush or palette knife a glass of wine or shot of whiskey might help, but I doubt it. The painting needs life --- not intoxication. This afternoon I will breathe some life into it, then again, maybe not. I don’t know. From a Zen point of view, this is not only the best place to start, but the best place to remain.

I look forward to having tea this evening, and especially to practice.

PS. Adam Ko Shin Tebbe, founder of Sweeping Zen, will be visiting us sometime in October. Ko Shin is working on a documentary tentatively titled, “Zen in America.” We hope to assist him in raising funds for this very worthwhile documentary project. Let me know if you can help!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Live in Peace

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

With the stroke of a key uploading an old picture of three monks, my teacher, his wife, myself and another priest in our lineage, walking into Trinity Site, New Mexico carrying a flame originally lit by the atomic bomb blast in Nagasaki, I began to weep. I feel so alone without his presence. While we struggled often together, he was with me as I founded the Order of Clear Mind Zen. He was my support and conscience so often, checking me with his cold, sometimes angry stare. So often I feel as though I do not know what I am doing. So often I feel I am not doing enough. It appears that even in his death he still is teaching me.

I think, aside from weddings and ordinations, walking to Trinity Site with these Japanese Soto priests, who treated us with the greatest respect and gratitude for walking with them, this event was the most meaningful event in my life as a monk. It appears that we of Matsuoka-roshi’s lineage were accepted where it counts most, action. This warmed my heart so much and humbled me greatly.

The atomic flame had been burning since it was ignited by our atomic attack on Japan. The monks of the temple where it was tended to believed it was time to extinguish the flame and “close the circle.” Three of them carried the flame by foot from Japan to Trinity Site here in New Mexico. We gathered together, bearing witness to this effort at forgiveness and closure. For me, it counts as much as my return trip to Vietnam where I was hosted by my former enemies toasted and welcomed. Hard stuff, this.

To live in peace we must be willing to get out of our own way, check our hatred and suspicion at the door of perception and raise compassion and love to embrace our countenance. I recognize for me this has taken years of practice and great effort, but I can tell you from my experience, it is so well worth the effort. We are a nation with a proven capacity to kill in the name of our defense, may we also be a nation equally willing to live in peace. Maybe we need to love ourselves a little less and love our neighbors a little more. Let us practice this together.

Be well

Monday, September 09, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

Today is a good day. We are both very grateful for all the wonderful birthday wishes Kathryn received yesterday for her 60th birthday. We will spend the day recovering from all the excitement birthday celebrations bring. I will be scheduling an appointment to visit a dentist in Palomas, Mexico to replace my aged and now broken dentures. It is an insightful experience to have broken two of my denture’s teeth and having, thereby, face my own ego regarding my appearance.

When the second tooth broke I spent a lot of time and effort supergluing it back in. At some point, it just became impossible and I decided to let it go. It seems our appearance is important to us, yet in the world of Zen we practice to let go of our attachments to such things and this, as well as shaving my head, became a central practice.

It is a good thing to practice in this way. I stared into my bathroom mirror, sometimes for a quarter hour at a time, just looking at myself. At 66 I see the effects of age and the weathering effect of outdoor life. I see the differences between my partially paralyzed left side and my more developed right side. I see impermanence clearly. All things arise and fall away.

Yes, life is good and sometimes, I believe, it takes seeing the bloom of youth in the natural cycle of life fall away, to truly appreciate each and every breath we have. Life is short; do not waste it on frivolous things and merciless vanity. We are perfect just the way we are. My soon to be, new dentures, are not for me, cosmetic, as much as they are a healthy choice.

Be well.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Good Morning All

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning I woke late as I had a late night last night. Yesterday I taught two high school classes about Zen Buddhism, the last one concluding at 9:30 PM and offered zazen at Golden Mesa retirement community in the early afternoon. As is typical of me, I returned home pumped. It is such a pleasure to offer the Buddha’s Dharma to others. I am grateful to Ms. Victoria Glover-Fisk of the New American High School for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to be of service.

I have found people of all ages have a genuine interest in the Buddha Way. A small introductory instruction and practice session always seems to demonstrate the serene power of zazen. Yet, as we know, to take up this practice in earnest is a serious challenge to everyone. My hope is that students and attendees of such classes will remember these moments and eventually come to make the practice a part of their lives.

Two reminders: Thursday evening Zazen in the Zendo is now by appointment. If you wish to practice tonight, please email, text, or call me to arrange this. Second, it is that time of month for me to ask for your dues and donations toward our temple’s rent. Please consider supporting us by going to the Order’s website and clicking on the donation button.

As always, yours in the Dharma. We hope to see you this Sunday for our formal service at 10:00 AM. Be well,

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Day

With palms together,

Good morning all,

This morning I woke later than usual: 4:45 AM! Goodness, the day seemed half over! I decided to be lazy, sitting outside for awhile, tried to clean up my little PC, and sipped coffee. Soon I will go to my annual physical…two years late…and see what’s what. After this I have an opportunity to teach a high school class about Buddhism at 2:00 and an evening class at 8:30. I always look forward to these opportunities as I have found there is nearly always a curiosity about this faith tradition.

What to say to these students? My talks usually begin with my war experience as that pretty much frames the reasons behind my spiritual journey and discovery of Zen. I often follow that with a brief story about the Buddha and how the Buddha Way migrated from India to the rest of the world. I follow this with comments about the Buddha Way being more a practice than belief system and conclude with the practices themselves. It’s a neat little package and can easily be expanded or contracted depending on the time allotted.

So this is my day and I look forward to seeing how it presents itself. Be well!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Hot Bath Zazen

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning I woke to take a long hot bath in Epsom salts. Over the last week or so these baths have been incredibly helpful for relieving my arthritis. To say nothing of my back muscle pain. But I found another benefit, one I am sure women have known for centuries: they are an excellent contemplative practice. Yes, a cup full of salts in very hot water, a body slipping gingerly down into the tub and a mindful bliss arises from the steam.

Zen is not a singular practice. It is not only zazen. Zen, to be true Zen, is in every moment. Zen is being awake and wholeheartedly present with each and every breath in each and every action. Too often, it seems to me, books on the practice of Zen focus their entire attention on zazen. I think this is a big mistake as it suggests zazen is IT. But zazen, in my opinion, is not IT, whereas an awakened life is.

Yesterday I suffered from sleepwalking through my day. I was sleepwalking due to a drug I was prescribed for anxiety (yes, anxiety), the result of financial difficulties and their pending resolution. My guess is that all of the stressors I have experienced over the last three years caught up with me. My voice was tight, my breath was shallow and sometimes labored. So I went to a clinic and was prescribed some anti-depressants and anti-anxiety agents. The result? Sleepiness, foggy thinking, and, of course, less anxiety. Last night I decided not to take the stronger of the two and this morning I woke with a clear head.

Awareness is key to our practice. Admittedly, yesterday I was in a degree of denial. In retrospect, this is understandable. It’s what drugs do. So, this morning I went to my bath and felt the heat. I will go to my cushion and see myself. Not a bad thing at all.

Time is short, don’t waste it.

Be well,

Monday, August 26, 2013

Patience, yet again

With palms together,

Good Afternoon All,

This morning I am feeling the repercussions of thoughtlessness regarding my body and its age. Somehow, the other day, I tweaked a muscle in my lower back. I say “somehow” because I do not recall doing it, but by deduction know I did as this morning (though clearly healing) I am still quite sore. Yesterday it was a challenge to walk without my lower back seizing up and telling me to sit down! This morning, however, things are healing and my back is not seizing as it did yesterday.

So, the good news is I am healing, but the bad news is, I have a little ways to go so I will not be riding today nor doing much of anything at all. I really do not like not doing things around the residence as this puts a lot of strain on the love of my life, Kathryn. On the other hand, I know that stopping what I’m doing and giving myself time to recover will allow me to recover more quickly, thus relieving Kathryn.

We call this patience. Patience is one of the six paramitas and I have spoken about them and it often, especially this one. Yet, I rarely, if ever, feel I have done them justice. Robert Aitken-roshi said, “Patience is not endurance. It is loving acceptance, loving acceptance, breath by breath. And when you follow the way of patience you find your own best realization, not someone else’s.” (p. 14 Enduring Words)

There is no moment other than this moment to be realized.

Be happy.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning is exceptionally beautiful. The air has a coolness to it, the sky has few clouds, the moon is full, and I sit here looking forward to the sun’s rise over the Organ mountains. It is good to be alive and present in the moment. Yesterday I rode my motorcycle up to Socorro, about 150 miles each way, with my Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. We had 15 bikes and met-up with members from the northern part of the state. We had our monthly Chapter meeting there and I thoroughly enjoyed both the ride and the company. Today we will practice Zazen in the Zendo at 10:00 AM and will renew our vows as Zen Buddhist practitioners. Each of these are wonderful moments and each have their own Dharma reality.

We take refuge in the Three Treasure: buddha, dharma, and sangha. These are, unfortunately, often thought of in the most shallow terms. Buddha is not the person of Shakyamuni, but rather, from the root of the word, awake. We take refuge in being awake, open and clear of mental hindrances in each moment. While riding a motorcycle or just sitting on the patio in the early morning, our state of mind should be alert and receptive, without judgment or assignment of value. Each moment awake is each moment buddha. That is all.

Taking refuge in dharma is to take refuge, that is, live completely, in our reality. Teachings about reality, while often referred to as “Dharma” are not dharma. They are simply fingers pointing to the moon. True dharma is being completely awake in our moment, completely experiencing it as directly as possible.

Taking refuge in sangha is to find love, peace, and support in our community. We often neglect this treasure, believing we are individuals, alone and disconnected from each other. When we take refuge in sangha, however, we recognize that we are not alone: we are all one, connected and dependent upon each other for both our survival and our happiness.

We practice to offer our respect and gratitude for these three treasures. We practice to manifest them in our everyday experience and interaction with others. We practice to live in this world of our making with as little waste as possible. Time is short: do not waste a single moment!

Our schedule: Study Group Tuesday at 6:30 PM; Zazen Thursday evening at 6:30; Zazen Sunday at 10:00 AM.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

A few notes

With palms together,

Good Afternoon All,

Thank you for taking the time to read my notes from time to time. This afternoon a few housekeeping notes are in order. First, we will be practicing sesshin from the evening of Wednesday the 11th through Sunday morning at noon on the 15th of September. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are evening practice only from 7:00 PM through 9:00 PM. Saturday will be all day from 7:30 AM to 8:00 PM, and Sunday from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Please let me know if you intend to sit with us.

Second, our Study Group is moving along very well. I hope to see some of you who haven’t attended join us. We meet in the Zendo from 6:30 to 7:30 each Tuesday evening and are involved just now in Chapter Three addressing the Three Treasures of Okumura-roshi’s “Living by Vow.”

We continue to practice Zazen in the Veteran’s Park on Roadrunner at 9:00 AM Friday mornings and again on Thursday’s at 7:00 PM in our Zendo. Our Sunday morning service begins at 10:00 AM.

Practicing together as a Sangha is vitally important. Sangha is one of the pillars of Zen Buddhist practice and offers an opportunity to learn from each other. The energy developed in a group is nothing like that of individual practice.

Anyway, I hope to see you at one of our practice opportunities soon.

In gassho,


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Bodhisattva Vows

With palms together,

Good Morning All,

At our Temple we are studying the Bodhisattva Vows. At last night’s meeting I asked our group what their Bodhisattva Vow might be. Our text, “Living by Vow” presented several examples of people who had personal vows in addition to the Four Great Vows. This would be a challenging question, I suspected, and it was. For in our answer we reveal much about ourselves. Our discussion was lively and, in the end, students left with a thing or two to practice with…as did I.

Bodhisattva Vows are a foundation of Zen practice. We recite these vows daily in order to put them in the center of our mind’s eye. They are a solemn promise/commitment to action:

Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.

Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.

The buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.

Each vow is rather like a koan. How to free a being? If beings are numberless, how can I vow to free them all? The vows themselves are a Dharma Gate and we must enter each one wholeheartedly. It is this wholeheartedness, I believe, that gives us a clue to the creation of our own personal vow. Whatever we vow, we must enter the vow wholeheartedly making it the foundation of our life.

So, I ask myself, what is my life and my personal vow? This question has arisen of late. Perhaps its age; perhaps its being recently married. What I know is I have been somewhat reflective of late. At odd moments memories of my past just pop into my eyes and I am spending more time in reflection on the past, less time on the present and hardly anything on the future. My personal vow has never been articulated perhaps because, as an old existentialist, I hold that behavior is far more revealing than words. What I do is my vow.

Still, perhaps that is hedging. After all, a vow unspoken cannot be held up to us as a measure or an inspiration. So, here goes, my personal vow:

Daiho’s Vow: I wholeheartedly vow to care for and nurture all beings, without exception, and to do so in such a way as to allow them to bring peace to themselves and others.

Thank you for your time,

Be well.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Brad Warner Tour

Clear Mind Zen Temple will host controversial author, Brad Warner, at the Center for Spiritual Living! Brad authored "Hard Core Zen" which started him down the rocky road of Zen politics and controversy. Several books later he has come out with "There is No God...and He is Always With You." Come meet this breath of fresh air in the Zen world. Join us!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

As most of you are aware, we have been thoroughly busy with packing, moving, changing around the Zendo, a roadtrip to South Dakota, and just yesterday, a trip to Albuquerque. In the works is a visit from Zen teacher, author, and rebel Zenster, Brad Warner. Brad has agreed to come to El Paso and Las Cruces in July. I believe he will be in El Paso on the 12th and here in Cruces on the 14th. He has published a new book, "There is No God and He is Always With You" which I am reviewing. I can tell you it is a very good read; thought provoking and insightful.

Since we have been so busy, I have given some thought to our Engaged practice. I think it is best to continue to do park and street practice on Wednesdays at the Federal Building at 5:00 PM and at Veteran's Park on Roadrunner at 9:00 AM Fridays. I will no longer sit at the City Hall park on Mondays. Zazen will continue on Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM and on Sundays at 10:00 AM. I would very much like to contain dokusan to Thursdays and Fridays if at all possible. And I would like to accomplish these at my residence.

If you would care to meet with me, please call me at 575-680-6680 or email me at harveyhilbert@yahoo.com

Yours in the Dharma,


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Zendo News

With respect to all,

Good Morning Everyone,

We have excellent news regarding our Zendo. Jane Grider has agreed to rent the entryway room. This will reduce our portion of the rent to $370.00 per month. I believe this is quite managable and will allow us toi keep our Zendo open. The landlord has agreed to a month to month lease. I am very happy that this has happened, as I am sure you are as well. I look forward to practicing with you in the future.

We will need a little help moving the tan and butsudan out of the room. We also need to clean out/sort out the closet. Perhaps this coming Sunday?

I am sorry I have not been writing to you very much of late. Worse, I have missed several dokusan appointments through my lack of attention. So many things are happening that have taken so much of my time, energy, and attention. A very long and incredibly painful year of spinal issues topped the list for awhile and going through a rather long and costly divorce has been a terror. Kathryn and I were married, and we are now cleaning and painting our home in Sonoma Ranch so that we can move there toward the end of the month, beginning of June, and of course, worry over the Zendo. This has been both a stressful and joyous experience.

The one thing I can say about my practice over this past year is that it has proven itself. There was a time in my life where the stressors mentioned above would have sent me into combat mode and I would have been quite literally destructive. As it stands now, the worst of it has been cigars, a bad thing which I am working very hard to no longer indulge. Anger and hurt come and go, replaced easily by love, joy, and a sense of contentment: feelings are like that, aren't they? Mindfulness of my body in motion, my mind in motion, and my environment in motion with the "me" that is "not me" bearing witness to it all has been quite a change from the horrid feelings that used to attach to my heart turning it black, or at least shades of steel gray.

As we conclude this transition from one home to another, maintaing the Zendo and our street practice, I hope to offer more teaching on my blog and through this list, as well as in person at the Zendo.

This afternoon we practice at the City of Hope at 1:30 in the library. This evening we practice at 7:00 PM in the Zendo and tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM at Veteran's Park on Roadrunner Blvd. Please consider joining us. And if not, consider coming to the Zendo for Sunday morning Zazen at 10:00 AM

Be well.

Thursday, May 09, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning I woke at 4:30 AM and sat outside under the stars. It is a lovely morning with a slight chill in the air and a clear sky. It occurs to me that I have not written to you for awhile. So, this morning as I sat I remembered that last night Shukke Shin and I were talking and the topic of God came up. So many of us struggle with our understanding of God, some reject the existence of a deity, others assume He or She or It exists, but quickly forget about it in everyday life, dismissing God as meaningless in daily life. In Zen, while we might argue that each of us must come to our own understanding or not, it is our practice that is most important. .

To quote John Lennon from his song “God” he says, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” He goes on to list all the things he doesn’t believe in and concludes: “The dream is over.” We each must encounter our ideas, dreams, and our lives. Some of us frame our lives around our ideas, others allow our ideas to arise from our lives. In Buddhism, it is our direct encounter with our daily life that informs our ideas and through our practice we see the deep truth that everything changes so, naturally, our ideas about the universe, God, and everything else, must change as well. It is the realization that the dream is over that is actually the starting point to genuine spiritual growth.

God is a concept when we begin with an idea of God. When we begin with direct experience of the everyday world, God can become a label for our experience of that world. A label for an experience is not a concept, but rather, a linguistic expression of our experience. We say; if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! I say, if we have an idea of God and we wish to meet God, we must first kill our idea of God.

Over the years I have come into intimate contact with many understandings of God. I’ve come to dislike the word itself as I believe it carries with it so much conceptual garbage, so many conceptual filters, that it hinders our true appreciation for what “God” might actually be. It is here that genuine “don’t know” mind becomes essential. To quote Zen Master Seung Sahn, “Only Don’t Know.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote an excellent little book entitled, “God was in this place & I, i did not know.” In this text he takes us through several understandings of Jacob waking from his dream. He says early on, “The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep.” One of his points, then, is that we are always in the midst of the Absolute, but are asleep.

The teachings in the Torah about God have to do with the words we use. The Torah reveals a constantly changing understanding of God as revealed in the names the Torah uses for God. This is often missed in English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. When Moses faces the burning bush, for example, God says “Tell them “I Am” sent you. Jewish theologians and mystics have pondered this name, essentially an unpronounceable verb, for millennia. The Torah offers us a koan: God is not God, the noun, the being, but God is “I am that I Am, I will be that which I will be,” an eternally changing, ever-present reality. The kabbalists offer a tree of sorts with each “sefirot” or facet interconnected to the other where the Absolute or “Ein Sof” is understood to be unknowable “emptiness.” So, those on a path to meet God, like those of us on the path to enlightenment, must grapple with the koan, “If God is ever-changing and everywhere, is both relative and absolute, and unknowable, how do I realize it?” Here, as with Zen, we must recognize the essential difference between “understand” and “realize.” Understanding God or Enlightenment places us in the world of ideas and concepts; realization places us in the experience itself: that place without words. The moment we put a word to it, we kill it.

Realization is not insight. It is not a flash with associated thoughts and feelings. It is a direct pre-verbal experience like the moment lightening strikes nearby and before we “realize” that it did. Yet, we are human beings with brains, are we not? Thus, we cannot remain pre-verbal. Like Jacob waking from his dream with the direct insight that wherever he is, there is God, indeed, that he and God are not two, but one, so too we may experience the early morning sky realizing the Absolute and Relative are one and “I” am” is all there is. Be it.

It’s that time of month when I ask for your support of our Zendo. Please, if you have not already, offer your dues and dana so that we might pay our rent. Your assistance is deeply appreciated. Go to our website at http://clearmindzen.org and use the PayPal button or better, drop by the Zendo in person. We would love to see you!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sequester Values

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Our government does not care about the people it serves or the people who serve it. A story on the Huffington Post helped me see this more clearly. Apparently, Congress decided rather quickly to lift sequester restrictions on programs assisting our nation’s airline traffic, but did nothing to ease the constraints being imposed on programs that actually save lives such as Meals on Wheels, Medicare, and support services for our military, among a host of others.

This, it seems to me, is a class issue, and because it is so, should involve the conscience of those in all faith traditions, including Zen Buddhism Programs that help our poor, our retired, and those least able to mobilize and advocate, have been set aside, and the one program that assists those who are in a position to afford to fly from one place to another is granted a lessoning of restrictions. This is outrageous. Since when is it a priority over life itself to fly?

I grant that air travel is a necessity from an economic standpoint. People traveling from one point to another are often contributing to our economic well-being as a nation, but the sequester does not prevent air travel, it simply slowed it down. No one likes to wait in lines, but perhaps waiting in line offers an opportunity to think about our spending priorities. Apparently, we dislike such considerations. I also grant that I no longer am willing to fly, refusing to offer myself up to draconian TSA measures that invade my privacy without warrant. But, even if all of a sudden the TSA were to disappear, I still would not fly, preferring instead to ride my Harley Davidson from point to point enjoying the resultant intimacy with our country. It seems to me that our health and quality of life issues are far more important than whether we wait in line for flights to other places. From a Zen Buddhist point of view, we have an obligation to not kill and through its positive, care for, protect, and nurture life. I do not see saving time in a line at an airport as in any way connected to this precept. Apparently our Congress thinks otherwise. I think this is a disgrace.

Zen practice is nothing if it does not engage us in the world around us. Our precepts are a guide to living a morally up-right life and the foundation of this is ahimsa, do no harm. Valuing airline wait times over people’s lives does harm. Perhaps this sequester has a value in that it forces us, as it has me, to look deeply at what really matters. May all beings be free from suffering.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kesa in the Morning

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Let's see, the sun came up this morning in a glorious burst over the Organ Mountains. I witnessed the gradual lightening of the night sky, then, with a sudden burst, there it was, the sun. I never seem to tire of this display of natural power. It evokes a sense of humility in my nature and hope in my heart.

Today in the Zendo I will speak about the verse of the kesa. This is a wonderful symbol, like the sun, it evokes a sense of humility and hope. I am deeply humbled by the fact that since Master Dogen's time in the 13th century to the present; we have raised the kesa to our heads and opening it, wrapped ourselves in its 'field of benefaction.'

The verse Okumura-roshi uses differs slightly to the one commonly accepted among sanghas in the Soto school. It says, "Wearing the Tathagatha's teaching we vow to save all beings," whereas we use the word, "free" rather than "save." We might think this a minor detail, but I don't think so in the context of a Judeo-Christian society where "save" has fundamentally different meanings than "free." In either case, we cannot free or save anyone but ourselves. Yet, from an Absolute Mind, there is no self or other and freedom, salvation, and servitude and suffering are all part of the whole.

In the end, I prefer "free" to "save" as I believe this is closer to the original meaning and certainly closer to what is possible for each of us. We can work toward freeing ourselves from the jailor that is our ego. This is what the Buddha himself did, and since he was human and we are human, through our practice this becomes a reality according to Master Dogen.

To free ourselves we simply sit down and shut up. In the silence of our upright posture thoughts, feelings and assumptions fall away as we settle into our breath. It is all quite natural. Our world does this in every second: it simply unfolds itself just as the sun rises and brings light into the world.

Please consider this practice. Unfold your kesa (symbolic, metaphoric, or tangible) and wrap yourself in the Buddha's teaching, a teaching of deep love and compassion, a teaching of awakening.

Be well.

Local Note: We will practice Zazen in the Zendo at 10:00 AM. Please consider joining us.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bodhisattva Reminders

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Awake at 3:45 AM I painted, read the news, and found myself crying. What evoked such a reaction in me was the story of soldiers with fatigues and 40 pound packs marching the Boston marathon only to race to assist victims in the aftermath of the bombings. I have done a marathon and a score of half marathons, and I can tell you at the end of 26.2 miles even under the best conditions, a body is thoroughly exhausted, yet these soldiers leapt into action without knowing if another explosion was imminent and assisted victims. This is selfless service. To me, this is the best of the bodhisattva ideal made manifest before our eyes.

So, this morning at 9:00 AM when I take my seat to practice zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial on Roadrunner Parkway, I will keep these soldiers and others in my mind’s eye. It’s not that soldiers are the ideal: millions of others from all walks of life typify selfless service on a daily basis, it’s that these soldiers and scores of others did not hesitate and were caught in the act by our media. And there they were, residing in my heart. They are a blessing in the universe and I bow to them.

We all need reminders that our world is filled with caring and compassionate beings. We too easily forget this, I think, in the flood of awful events that seem to happen moment to moment on our planet. Yet for every destructive, violent act, there are countless acts of loving kindness. We should keep these in mind as a context when we read the news through the day. I am thankful for the reminders these soldiers provide. May they evoke the bodhisattva ideal in each of us.

Be well,

Monday, April 15, 2013

Reality, Part Two: Boston

With palms together,

I bow to each reader,

This evening let us each offer incense and a recitation of the Heart Sutra on behalf of those injured in Boston this afternoon. Such events are unimaginable and unconscionable. Yet, we live in a time when events like this occur around the globe.

We are all asking questions, seeking answers, and needing someone or some group to blame. For me, I know blame is a tricky thing as it keeps me away from the event itself. Surviving trauma is like that : we want to make sense of the irrational. Don’t try.

We already know what we need to know. We just need to look deeply into our own hearts. We are human beings who love and hate, seek justice often with revenge, and want punishment for those responsible for hurting us.

Turn to your faith tradition and its practices. Notice the love and compassion we feel for those hurt and for those who so quickly aided the injured. So, while the world is a place with danger and outrageous acts, it is also a place of great love and self sacrifice.

May we each be a blessing in this universe of ours,




With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

I am wondering about what some might call "Ultimate Reality" as opposed, I presume, to an "ordinary reality" or simply, reality itself. I suggest anyone that posits an "ultimate reality" is, in my opinion, deluded as such a person has, perforce, mentally and spiritually divided reality.

While it is true that in Zen we have an Absolute and Relative, it is equally true that when penetrated these are realized as one. When understood as two, this understanding is also deluded. We don't move toward "the Ultimate" we realize that "the Ultimate" and the ordinary are one and both are simply a fiction created by a brain that quite naturally perceives itself as separate from the world around it. So, we might ask, what is “reality” before our brain senses the world around us? Yes, what was your face, the face you had before your father and mother were born?

We might say, “nothing.” Literally, “no thing” as thingness is an attribution of cognition. Our original face, that which is neither born nor unborn is the essential all, the “ultimate reality” of that which is before perception, but this is intellectual. We cannot say what ultimate reality is without killing it and revealing our relative mind at work. We must, as the old koan suggests, show it.

When I paint, draw, ride my Harley, bow, pour coffee, and otherwise mindfully live out my life, I am living out ultimate reality. If I think about these activities as I do them, I am lost from that reality, I am in the relative reality of dualism. Moreover, if I practice mindfulness, per se, I am equally lost. I must simply do, completely and wholeheartedly without separating myself from that which is. Very tricky and on an on-going basis, impossible as my brain won’t allow it.

I am extremely wary of those claiming “Big Mind,” “Enlightenment,” or any other such esoteric hype. As any such claim creates the dualism, “I am “X.” We seem attracted to such guru types, however, and I believe this is in part due to two motives: our need for evidence of the success of our practice and, more often, our steadfast refusal to realize the everyday is what it is and realizing this, penetrating this, is this elusive “ultimate reality.”

Seeking after enlightenment takes us away from awakening. Attaching to enlightenment kills enlightenment. Our practice is to be free and easy, open and non-grasping, fluid and vulnerable, in touch, but not holding. Don’t let those enlightened masters dupe you: live out your life awake by simply and deeply appreciating your life.

Be well.

Local Note

This week at the Clear Mind Zen: Monday at 4:30 PM Zazen in the park in front of City Hall, Wednesday morning at 6:45 AM zazen in the zendo and at 5:00 PM zazen in front of the Federal Building, Thursday at 1:00 PM zazen at the City of Hope and at 7:00 PM zazen in the Zendo, Friday at 9:00 AM zazen at Veteran’s Park on Roadrunner and Sunday zazen at 10:00 at the Zendo.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

War, not!

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I will ride with my combat veterans brothers and sisters to a funeral for a fallen combat brother who died in Afghanistan. I am sick of the killing resulting from war. Do we even know what this man died for? I doubt it. If we ask any random American citizen what we are fighting for in that part of the world they either wouldn’t know, wouldn’t care, or would offer some lame reason such as “to fight terrorism.” I am unconvinced that this is an adequate answer for the cost in lives and dollars at a time when we in the United States are in desperate need of financial recovery and when we have so many facing homelessness, poverty, and lack of health care.

What I really don’t understand is why we, the people, haven’t coalesced to demand of our president and our congress to end this nightmare. Yet, frankly, when I look more deeply at the issue, I see that this war doesn’t really touch those in a position to put real pressure on the government to call a halt to it. The soldiers fighting are volunteers. They, like me, often come from poverty stricken families where young men and women see military service as a means of getting out from under a life on the streets. They come from families that cannot afford to educate their children and see service as a means to fund college. These are not people with a political leg to stand on. These are invisible people from invisible classes. We are fortunate enough to have a choice and are relieved that other’s sons and daughters join the service so we don’t have to.

The conservative side of our nation is often the first to rattle sabers and send us off to war to defend our nation and they are also the first to want to withdraw funding from support services once the soldiers return. War is a costly endeavor. We want a strong defense; support our war chest, but not a hope chest. We fail our service men and women. One result is a flood of homeless veterans and families.

On the street and on college campuses, I see little desire to challenge our government demanding an end to this nonsense. It is sad that in our city a lonely group of three or four souls stand in protest of these wars at the federal building once a week. I believe that if we had a draft the story would be very different. When the middle and upper classes are asked to give up their children to fight a war I think they just might resist. I see no real effort to re-institute the draft however, so we are left with trying our best to inspire people to say no for other reasons, perhaps better reasons. These wars were started on false information, benefited only the military-industrial complex, are now economically unhealthy, are morally wrong, and a waste of lives.

Please consider practicing Engaged Zen by bearing witness for peace in your city or neighborhood. It takes little time and effort and calls attention to our moral conscience. Here in Las Cruces we practice on Monday afternoons at 4:30 PM at the park in front of City Hall on Main Street, at 5:00 PM at the Federal Building on Wednesdays, and at 9:00 AM at Veteran’s Park on Roadrunner of Fridays. We welcome you to join us.

Be well

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shukke: another perspective

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Zen found its birth with the posture of the Buddha 2600 years ago. He taught us to sit upright and, as a result, we might live upright. For me, living upright means living steadfast and living in peacefully in the moment as it is. I am not always successful, but then, unlike the Buddha, I am living as a householder and not surrounded by those practicing the Buddha Way.

In Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, he makes the case in two fascicles (Shukke and Shukke-kudoku) that to leave home is the best and only way, to attain the Way. Perhaps. I have always been suspect of this point of view. It seems to me, home-leaving and surrounding oneself with practitioners is the easiest way, but not the only way.

In Shukke Kodoku he takes issue with Nagarjuna who stated that lay persons who take the precepts are able to attain not only the bodhisattva way, but also nirvana itself, Nagarjuna asks, why it is necessary to leave family life. Dogen replies, “Clearly, from ancient times until today, living beings who lack the merit of leaving family life have been forever unable to attain the buddha-sate of bodhi.” In both fascicles Dogen argues for leaving home in this way. He clearly believes leaving family life has merit. I say, not so fast.

I contend home-leaving may be understood in many ways. While it is true that when we are householders we easily develop habits associated with the culture in which we live and while we are exposed to the trials and tribulations of friends and family, media, noise, and in some cases, chaos, it is equally true that these may become, in themselves, fertile ground for our practice. Zen is nothing if it is not an everyday practice. Leaving home may then understood as a leaving behind or dropping away of our assumptions and thoughts about what we believe we know: a choice to step out and away from our assumptions and everyday habits so that in doing so our practice becomes an opportunity to see the everyday with fresh eyes, eyes that are open.

Secluding oneself as I did for three years does this as well. In seclusion we are forced by a lack of civilized distraction, to rely on ourselves in the moment. When I lived off the grid and had no electrical power, I had to chop wood every day in order to start a fire in my wood cook stove each morning in order to cook breakfast and make coffee or tea. The feel of the wood, its smell and texture, became something very important. The feel of the maul in my hands as I cast it above my head in order to thrust it down on a fresh round of cedar was all there was. It was a necessity to pay attention.

There was a qualitative difference between chopping wood and starting a fire in the firebox on the one hand, and pressing a button on a microwave in order to re-heat a cup of left over coffee in the morning here in my house on the other hand. Yet, for pressing a button and feeling the microwave do what it does, watching the table inside turn to become practice, requires a deliberate concentration on the task itself. It is this choice to pay attention in a civilized world that becomes a practice point.

In one case we must pay attention or risk injury, in the other case, we pay attention by choice. We leave home in both cases one requiring little choice because we must pay attention, the other requiring deliberation for the sake of itself. It is this paying attention for the sake of itself that I suggest is why remaining a householder while practicing Zen is both more difficult and more authentic than retreating from the world by entering a monastery. In seclusion it is necessary to pay attention while at home it is hard work requiring deliberate effort and choice to leave home while at home. The world itself becomes our cushion.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sesshin and Takuhatsu

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

The ride home from Austin was tough. I rode the 650.4 miles in one day. It was cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. My butt was quite sore, but I think I am, at this point, what biker’s call, an “Iron Butt.” Anyway, I am happy to be at home and ready to begin sesshin tomorrow evening.

Hannamatsuri is a very special time. We celebrate the birth of the Buddha by recounting the story, offering flowers and sweet tea, and practicing zazen diligently. We will open sesshin Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM. I look forward to seeing you in the Zendo.

Lastly, it is time to ask for donations and dana. Please honor your pledges to maintain the Zendo. You may donate through our paypal button on our website at http://clearmindzen.org or send a check to: The Order of Clear Mind Zen, 642 South Alameda Blvd., Suite E, Las Cruces, NM 88005.

Thank you very much and Gassho.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Morning Musings

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Morning comes in silence. As the occasional car passes, it’s like a streamer of sound, a wisp through the morning light. Even the pups remain asleep. So, why am I awake at 4:30 in the morning? Why ask why, I answer myself.

A painting is calling me to it. The courtyard seems to await my presence. The bed feels as though it is throwing me out. With all of that, I have little choice but to get up and do.

Outside, I sit quietly just being there in the cold air. My robe barely fends off the chill. Yet, the sky and ground are my home and the air, whatever its temperature, is me.

Inside, I pick up a brush, squeeze out some paint, and throw it on my canvas. It’s a painting of a fearless bodhisattva, it feels fierce to me and I’m almost afraid of it. Yet, there I am, Dharma combat, perhaps? I don’t know. And I try to remain as ignorant as possible. Knowing is a dis-ease of the mind and becomes an obstacle to seeing clearly.

Today I vow to live without violence. It’s the least I can do.

Be well

Monday, March 25, 2013

On Wind and Other Matters

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning it is a little on the chilly side and I hear a breeze already kicking up. It is the “windy season” here in New Mexico which means we can expect winds of between 20 and 50 mph most days. The wind picks up sand and dust and our air becomes a challenge for breathing. I sat in the courtyard this morning, early, before the breezes came. It was quite peaceful.

Today we will bear witness for peace in the park in front of the Branigan Library next to City Hall at 4:30. Please join us if you can. Practicing meditation in the open air can be a powerfully serene experience… if the wind doesn’t get in the way! Still, the Buddha sat regardless, as did all of the ancestors, accepting what came without resistance. This is the heart of the Buddha’s teaching: remain calm even in the midst of a storm. His practice of serene reflection meditation offers us the opportunity to develop the discipline to do just that.

I’m planning a road trip to Austin on my motorcycle to visit my son and his family. I will leave Friday morning and return in time for sesshin on Wednesday. The plan is to go there and paint paintings for his new restaurant. He and his wife, Lynda, like my work and think they will be an asset to the restaurant’s environment. We’ll see. Right now I am ‘all painted out’ having done a number of paintings one after another. So, I’m taking a few days off from the easel until I get to Austin.

If you are planning to attend sesshin, please let me know ASAP as our Tenzo, Emily, will need a number in order to prepare. We will begin sitting on Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM, sit again on Thursday and Friday evenings, and then begin at 7:30 am on Saturday morning. I will post the schedule in a day or two.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Be well,


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Allowing Your Mind to Rest

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Looking at the world I do not see. To see I must quit looking. This is the Zen way. When I look for something I become attached to that thing, a thing that only resides in my mind’s eye: a thought. Becoming attached to a thought is rather like becoming attached to an ice cream on a hot summer’s day. It will soon be gone if I eat it or not.

When I see, I allow my mind a rest, so to speak. I do not give my mind a rest; I allow my mind to rest. Seeing requires not looking, not seeking, not imagining. It requires simply opening our eyes and allowing what is there come to us.

When I paint or write I am simply reflecting what is already there. It is that something that exists before during and after: it is timeless. It is something not manipulated by me. We might call it our original nature, but I can’t be certain. What I know is that when I allow my mind to rest and just express what comes up, that something which emerges is so often completely new to me. I do not try, for when I try; the work is almost always not pure. It is color or words manipulated by me to express a thought, not a reality.

Try this: just put a blank piece of paper in front of you and stare at it. Do not write or draw. Just stare at the empty page. Let your mind go; allow it to flow. Forget thinking about what you might write or draw. Allow the page to teach you. When the page begins to speak, just follow its teaching. Do not be afraid that what you put down will be “good,” “bad,” or anything else. Just let the page complete itself.

In writing we might call this “stream of consciousness.” In art, who knows? No matter what we think, it’s unimportant. What is important is that we practice allowing our mind to rest so that we can practice seeing clearly. In this practice we are able to witness our thoughts and feelings point to our fears and concerns regarding what we do. We might think, “This isn’t good.” Or we might think, “This isn’t what I wanted to express.” In such a case, look under your thoughts and examine your feelings. Begin to see how your thoughts and feelings put you in a sort of prison. Know that you are your own jailor and that you have the ability to set yourself free.

Be well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Moon & I

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning early, say around 3:00 AM or so, I sat outside in the cold staring at the moon. During the full-moon part of the lunar cycle I enjoy establishing this union with our celestial neighbor as we reflect together on one another. The early morning is the best time for such intimacy because there are very few noises, one-to-none cars passing by, and the air is often as crisp as the sky is clear.

As the moon and I consider ourselves, our union becomes more and more intimate. We move quickly past the superficial and enter the world of “don’t know.” The moon: she is wise, she is old, and she is nearly always there. Her wisdom is reflected in her reflection of the sun’s light. Like a pool of water, she receives the light, but does not grasp it. She returns the light to the universe and I, a resident member of that universe, receive it. In my mind’s eye, I return it, not wishing to hold onto such a lovely gift. It is a free and easy play we do and I am happy to be a part of it.

Yesterday I was less than free and easy, however. I was on edge and had trouble settling my mind. We decided to go to Hobby Lobby to purchase more paints and canvases. After shopping, we went back to the car. All of a sudden someone came up behind me and said something. The man’s voice and his positioning himself behind me gave me quite a start. I turned, put up my hand in a “stop” gesture and in a very uncharacteristically aggressive voice, said, “Back off!” The man stepped backward and muttering something, walked away.

I felt terrible about this incident. It reminded me of an earlier time when, trained as a soldier and fighter, I met aggression with aggression, thoughtless and automatic. The poor man was just asking for a dollar. I spent a good deal of time considering my response. The stress of this divorce process, recovering from pain, and the death of my brother all seemed to challenge my ability to be ‘free and easy in the marketplace.’

When sitting with the moon this morning my stressed out world seemed to fall away. I was left with that union I spoke of earlier. A union not only with the moon occurred, bless her, but with the entirety of my world. Peace floated to the surface and all was right in the universe. What I’ve learned, and seem to have to re-learn each and every day, was that to find peace one must only sit down and shut up. Stillness and an open, supple mind willing to surrender becomes, like the moon, a mirror holding nothing.

Be well.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Engaged Practice and Retreat

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Zen is much larger than a Zendo. It is life itself. We move from the wall to the open air, as the Buddha did in his lifetime. When I began this Order I envisioned it to practice in a Zendo without walls. It is certain that wall sitting is important and can be done in our own homes either alone or in small groups. Yet, the mission of Engaged Practice is to actually engage.

I will resume park and street practice shortly and offer to each of you the invitation to join me. I encourage each of you to establish an Engaged Practice in your area serving vulnerable populations, your community, or the nation at large. It’s not that difficult: the need is everywhere; in every city and town and even in rural areas. Homelessness, poverty, death and dying, and violence know no geographic limits. Please consider this.

Be well.

PS. In the meantime, as I indicated in an earlier note, I will hold a Personal Retreat beginning Thursday evening this week. Zazenkai will be on Saturday. If you would like to participate, please join me. This will be my schedule:

Roshi’s Personal Retreat Schedule: First Week of Each Month

Zazenkai Schedule, revised

Thursday Evening

07:00-8:00 PM Zazen and Closing Ceremonies

Friday and Saturday (Zazenkai)

04:30 Wake and Wash

05:00-06:30 Exercise

06:30-07:30 Breakfast

(Zazenkai begins here on Saturday)

07:30-09:00 Recite Three Refuges, Wisdom Heart Sutra, Opening Tea Service, Teisho, Zazen: Three Periods

09:00-10:00 Walk/Jog

10:00-11:00 Zazen: Two Periods

11:00-11:30 Break

12:00-01:00 Lunch (Oryoki on Saturday Zazenkai)

01:00-01:30 Zazen: One Period

01:30-02:30 Samu

02:30-03:30 Zazen: Two Periods

03:30-04:30 Writing/Study Practice

04:30-05:00 Zazen: One Period

05:00-06:00 Dinner

06:00-06:30 Samu

06:30-08:00 Zazen: Three Periods

08:00 Close, Recite the Hanya Shin Gyo, the Four Great Vows.


04:30-05:00 Wake and Wash

05:00-5:30 Zazen: One Period

05:30-06:30 Writing Practice

06:30-07:30 Breakfast

07:30-10:00 Clean-up, Pack, Prepare Zendo

10:00-11:30 Sunday Services

Zendo Closing

With Palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It is with regret and deep sorrow that I announce the closing of the Clear Mind Zen Temple effective the third week of April after Hannamatsuri Sesshin. I will ask our landlord to release us from the lease (it ends anyway in August). In accordance with our by-laws, I will retain all ceremonial objects and altars. I will also retain one tan. The rest of the tans will be discarded unless anyone locally would like to have a tan. In addition, I have a number of altars and other objects made by my teacher, Rev. Hogaku McGuire. These are available to any who wish to come and retrieve them. None of his Dharma heirs have chosen to do so, so I am making them available to the public. Whatever is left after 30 days will be discarded. Please let me know if any of you want a tan or to look at what may be available to you to support your practice.

I will be in Personal Retreat at the Zendo from Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon. Remember, Zazenkai is this coming Saturday. I will post the schedule shortly.

The Order itself will continue, but not as a non-profit corporation. We will simply be a religious Order of priests and priests-in-training practicing Engaged Zen. Both Rev. Shukke Shin and I will continue to teach the students we have and will continue to accept students. Dana to teachers will be expected. Rev. Shukke Shin and I will practice out of our residence. We welcome any who wish to practice with us.

Personal note: This decision has many roots and we have been considering it for months. Over the years I have had to make up the rent and other expenses myself most months. I felt good doing that for the most part, because I had faith that eventually the Sangha would be self-supporting. This has simply not been the case. Attendance is down and remains low. In the end, however, I will say that the primary cause of my decision is the evident lack of Sangha cohesion and mutual support of each other as Sangha. We have talked about Sangha often. We take refuge in Sangha. Yet this vow must be more than words, it is action and as a Sangha, we do not act like a Sangha. This was made painfully clear to me when yesterday only Rev. Dai Shugyo, Rev. Shukke Shin and one friend were able to make themselves available to support me as we went through a memorial service for my deceased brother. Many emailed me their reasons for not attending and I understand them. Still, I am deeply hurt. I do not ask for much from members and offer myself to all those in need. It has been rare that I have not been willing and able to set aside my own needs to meet the needs of others at a moment’s notice. This is what Sangha is all about. So, quite frankly, illnesses aside, it was hurtful that Sangha members could not for one morning set their own needs aside to be in support of me during this very emotionally painful period in my life. This is all I will say on the subject.

Be well.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


With resprct,

Good Morning Everyone,

This morning at the Zendo we will renew our vows and hold a short memorial service for my brother, Douglas William Hilbert. Doug was a good man and an exceptional father. Doug married early, but due to the presses of building a business, divorced after their second child was born. Even though he was divorced, he cared for his wife when she developed cancer and died. Douglas never remarried.

He cared for our mother throughout his life. He was a Vietnam Veteran who contracted diabetes after returning from his service. As a young man he was an exceptional athlete, developed lifelong friends, built a air conditioning and refrigeration business, and still managed to have time for his children.

While I left home after the war, he remained in Miami. Doug was not an adventurer. He was a family man and lived out his obligations to his family with great care and dedication. I honor him and was pleased that we saw each other one last time last year. While the raveges of uncontrolled diabetes were clear, he still had his wonderful smile and delightful sense of humor. Doug listened, asked questions, and rarely judged others. He was a compassionate man and I loved him very much.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

Someone wrote to me recently and suggested that I might pause to find the joy in my life. It seems to readers, I suppose, that I have been dwelling on the pain and suffering of my life to the exclusion of my pleasure and joy. This is an important point. The truth is, however, I have a tremendous amount of joy in my life, but like many of us, I do not speak of it very often or very plainly. And that, my friends, is a serious omission. Let me recount just three of my joys.

My joy begins and ends (as each day does) with my fiancée, Kathryn, who has brought such light into my life that it is difficult to give it justice in words. I often watch her sleep and in this witness I am reminded of all things beautiful. She sleeps with such innocence and such peace. In the morning I sometimes cradle her until she wakes. As she snuggles closer I feel my heartbeat increase. This is life itself.

Sitting outside in the early morning feeling the chilled, moist air on my skin, I feel awake and alive: such pleasure in such a simple thing. Suki often joins me by slipping onto my lap with a stealth only dogs seem to possess. We sit together and scan the space before us. My mind is in the stars; hers rests upon the ground in front of us. I feel her warmth on my lap and am reminded that it is cold outside. We go in through the doors and the pleasure of the warmth of the house wraps around me and takes the chill away from my body.

Of course there is the pleasure of my motorcycle. What can I say? Each and every time I turn on the ignition and hear that engine fire up, I feel a sense of excitement. There are very few pleasures matching the feel of acceleration in the open air on two wheels. I love the feel of the gas tank, smooth, yet firm, between my knees as together, the bike and I roll out the drive and onto the street.

To quote once more, Rev, Okumura,”…nirvana is not something special, just an ordinary way of life.” We should take every moment and embrace it as if there is no other, because in truth, it is, indeed, the only life we have and this moment is where we reside.

I have learnt nothing from my practice of zazen if I fail to take my place in each moment both on and off the cushion, accepting life as it is.

Be well

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

"This was the turning point of my practice. I became free of my own practice. I became free of my teacher's teaching and the Buddha's teaching. I just settled down in the reality where I was and practiced as much as possible. This is really peaceful practice. You don't need to compete. Just settle down. If I hadn't had physical problems, I don't think my practice would have changed. I thought I was a great Zen master, but fortunately or unfortunately that didn't happen. Adverse experience gave me a broader view of the Dharma. I am really grateful for that. This is bodhisattva practice." (Okumura-roshi, Living by Vow, p.192)

Okumura makes a wonderful confession in this text. His pain, a result of years of sitting, hard physical labor, and the need to practice begging for food and money in Japan, forced him to assess his practice. He found that his determined practice was itself a desire, a goal, and that when he could no longer do it he saw it more clearly and was able to be gentler --- and more authentic --- with his practice.

We often come to the cushion with an aspiration of sorts. We will sit zazen for 25 minutes, we will practice kinhin 5 minutes, and we will sit zazen again, and so on. We do this because we are trained to do it. We are taught this is the way. I suggest It is a way, but not the only way. Moreover, such practice when come to with a sense of righteousness is no longer practice, but rather, advertisement.

My own experience with severe back pain, the result of lumbar spinal Stenosis, caused me to feel a great deal of embarrassment in the Zendo as I was unable to sit, unable to walk, unable to perform the forms required in our services. I had to sit outside where I could move freely. I had to use a cane and sometimes a walker and I simply could not stand at the altar for more than a few brief seconds. I had to examine for own feelings as a priest crippled in full view of the sangha. I thought I was a bad example. I thought, “What will people think?” as I would leave the Zendo for the back porch. All of my thoughts and feelings were a result of believing I was “supposed” to be a certain way and that if my practice were to be an example I could not actually offer, what was I?

It turns out I am a human being. I have pain. I have joy. I have flaws. I also have the ability to adjust my practice, to become more “peaceful” in my practice. As with Okumura, I am grateful for the teaching of disability.

Be well.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Art Practice

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

My easel is empty. I finished the painting I was working on and hung it in our living room, which has become a gallery of sorts. Over the last three days I sold three paintings, a very good thing as I was nearly broke. The three were small paintings and sold for $75.00 each. I find it hard to ask more and my most expensive piece is “only” $250.00. For many today, that is not a lot of money for a painting, for many others (including myself) this is a lot of money. No matter: I continue to paint and occasionally sell something and this process pleases me greatly because I see art as practice and it is so wonderful to see people enjoy my work and be able to afford to buy it for their homes.

I had a short discussion with a retired art professor friend yesterday on Facebook messenger. I wondered in what sort of style he thought my paintings were. I told him I saw my art as “Impressionistic” and wondered what he thought. He told me such labels were essentially meaningless in today’s art world, but that such labels in earlier decades were often applied by critics who used such words to deride an artist’s work. He suggested I not think of my work in some category or style. I told him the only reason I was asking was that others ask me and that I wasn’t at all sure how to respond. I usually say, “I just put paint on a canvas.” He thought that was as good as any answer.

The couple who came over last night to look at my paintings had, of course, questions about the paintings, “What is this?” the man asked. “What did you have in mind here?” he continued. He liked the paintings very much and, I suppose, wanted to understand where I was coming from when I painted them. I am always caught off-guard with such questions because I really don’t know the answers. As I said, I just put paint on a canvas and look to see what happens. I am learning this is not a very satisfactory answer for those who ask, yet it’s the truth of the matter.

I see art practice as rather like Zazen. We initially come to the canvas, like the cushion, with an idea in mind. In art we want to express something, we might have an idea for a piece, or something like that. Approaching the Zendo we might want to become a better person, perhaps less stressed or maybe less angry. Or we come seeking a spiritual path that might lead to some sort of awakening. As I explained to a student yesterday, it’s rather like going through a door. Approaching the door we have a “gaining” idea, once through the door, we sit with no idea. So while motivated to come to the Zendo by some goal we might have in mind, once in the Zendo we practice with no goal. This means we have to leave what we know at the door itself and enter with a “don’t know” mind. This is excellent advice for approaching our work, families, and friends. It’s also good advice for play, study, and, yes, art.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

It’s a Saturday morning and we will practice Zazen together tomorrow morning in our Zendo. I am concerned that our numbers are dwindling. Zen practice as a Sangha is very important to our development as followers of the Great Way laid out by the Buddha himself. Just as we take refuge in the Buddha and the Dharma, so too, we take refuge in the Sangha.

Over the years I have noticed how practicing Sanghas increase and decrease in terms of Zendo participation. I have noticed how Study Groups come and go and in this I am often caught by the question, “What’s this?” I look at myself. Is there something I am doing or not doing that would account for the dwindling numbers? In truth, I doubt it. I think it is the practice itself and the relative centrality of the practice that is the root cause. Zazen is very difficult and we come to the Zendo often hoping that the practice will make ourselves or our lives better and when it does not or we fail to see any real change, we easily abandon it.

As abbot of our Order I feel Zazen with the Sangha should be at the center, or near center, of our lives as Refuge Holders or Precept Holders. Through our practice together we have the benefit of the group’s energy. We have the benefit of the teaching by a teacher. More importantly, however, we derive the benefit of commitment and a resolve to surrender to that commitment. I am therefore encouraging each of my readers to find the resolve to attend a formal Zen Service in your community. If none exists, create a Sitting Group. There are guidelines for this on our website at http://clearmindzen.org.

For those of you in Las Cruces, please consider joining us tomorrow as we sit down, shut up, and practice together. I won’t promise cookies and coffee afterwards, but I will promise that honoring a commitment to take refuge in the Sangha will strengthen you.

Be well