Zen 101

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013

No Cold, No Heat

With respect to all,

Waking early is an excellent practice. The early morning allows me to be without the distractions of traffic, phones, and light. Outside, the air is cool and there are few sounds, save a rooster or two in the distance. I open myself to what is: no eye, no ear, no nose, no heat, no cold...in a sense, this is what it is like to have mind and body fall away. Alone in the courtyard, a sliver, of moon with a million stars over my head, thoughts come and go easily. Yet, as I sit on the courtyard tiles, I notice their cold feel. Mind and body return. Life is like that.

The coming and going, ebb and flow of feeling and thought, are my existence just then. Looking at the stars I am with all others who have, throughout time and space, gazed upon them. There is a brief recognition of the infinite reality of the universe: Infinite, finite, and so on.

Cold air seeps in through my robe. I notice my left hand, partially paralyzed by a bullet in my brain so long ago, is getting colder. Soon it is time to rise up and go back inside the house where it will slowly warm, but more slowly and less completely than the rest of my body.

Now, sitting at my desk in the studio, I feel once again home and the musings of the infinite fade away. Coming and going, the cycle is ceaseless and seamless.

Be well.

Clear Mind Zen Temple Notes:

Thursday evening Zazen will now include chanting the Heart Sutra, Tea Service, Dharma Talk and two periods of Zazen followed by our closing ceremonies.

We will begin at 7:00 PM and conclude by 8:30 PM.

Please consider joining us for this weekly practice opportunity.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning All,

This morning I reviewed the headlines on CNN, Huff Post, and Yahoo News, and I must say, the world is still there as it has always been, but why on earth did Monopoly get rid of the “Iron” token? I just don’t get it. Here was a piece that always reminded me of my grandmother’s ironing with one of those cast iron Irons heated on a cook stove. Pleasant memories of a time when people made do, worked hard, and lived in accordance with the natural rhythm of things. How very Zen of them!

For three years I lived like that at my Mountain Refuge, making a fire in the wood stove early in the morning, preparing breakfast from scratch, chopping wood, feeding my horses, and going to bed just after sundown as I had no electricity. Life at the Refuge was slow and in accordance with the natural cycles of the seasons. It was hard, but there was a sweet flow to it as I often spent time on the deck in the mornings watching the sun peak through the pines and having conversations with the stellar jays or hummingbirds. I think that time helped me a great deal to strengthen my practice, sitting Zazen alone as I did at my altar or on the slats of the wooden deck. I miss it very much.

Yet, here I am today with devices surrounding me, connecting me to a larger and larger world, but to what end? I know the connections possible with smart phones, PCs, and tablets can reveal our interconnected and interdependent nature, but I often reflect, as I scan through Facebook posts, texts, and email, just how much we seem to squander our time on the superficial and mundane. Yet, maybe this is necessary as it reveals our very human need to connect and share with others the details of our lives.

I know when I lived in the mountains far away from others, others seemed, as they were, far away. My connections there were to the maul I used to chop cedar, the alfalfa I fed the horses, and whether it was to rain that day demanding then a furious effort to collect the rain water so precious for survival.

It seems the common denominator, then, is connection. We human beings do not live as solitary individuals, we live in connection. It is my willingness to value those connections that seems most important to me. And maybe they are to you, as well.

Be well

Monday, February 04, 2013

Support for our Temple

With palms together and begging bowl in hand,

It is that time of month that I pick up my begging bowl and ask for your generosity in support of our Temple. Will you please offer something? Donate in person or through PayPal on our Order's website at www.clearmindzen.org.

Our mailing address is:

Order of Clear Mind Zen

642 South Alameda Blvd., Suite E

Las Cruces, NM 88005

We appreciate the time and money you offer. Thank you very much.