Zen 101

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!