Zen 101

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,