Zen 101

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.