Showing posts from 2015

Our Snow in southern New Mexico

Real Practice

From the Margins: Real Zen Practice by Harvey Daiho Hilbert

One day I was sitting on the street in front of the Federal Building in downtown Las Cruces.  It was fairly early in our war with Iraq.  I sat in robes on a zafu with a small block lettered sign.  The sign read, “PEACE.”   As I sat there a man approached.  He was quite angry and told me his son was fighting in Iraq.  I listened as he talked to me about his concerns for his son.  I barely said a word.  As he talked, he came closer and closer to questioning why his son was there. Even then, many of us did not believe there were WMDs in Iraq and that the invasion was some sort of Bush payback. At some point, he was silent and sat down beside me.  We sat there together quietly.  

On another occasion, I sat in front of the same building as a group gathered to protest the Supreme Court’s decision that ruled corporations were people.  The gathering grew and security, as well as police with K-9s, approached the large group.  I was s…

Christmas et al

With Palms Together, Good Morning Everyone,
Some of us in the United States dislike using the phrase “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” They believe we should use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead as they see that Jesus is the “reason for the season.” Some, then, see this as part of a so-called “War on Christmas.”
Let’s see, to put this politely, I might say, “If there is a war on Christmas its hard to tell when surrounded by Christmas carols, lights, displays, sales, parking problems, and traffic jams.” Yet, we might look at it a different way and suggest that all of these things are, in fact, the war on Christmas itself. Yes, these have little to nothing to do with “the reason for the season.” What does a Christmas sale, for example, have to do with the birth of the founder of a major religion, a person held up to be the son of God, if not God himself? To me, as an outsider (I am not a Christian), I view the commercialization of Christmas as a direct attack on the meaning …

Friends in the Dharma

With respect to all., I want to personally and publicly acknowledge my debt to two young monks who drove from Kansas City to Las Cruces in order to participate in our Rohatsu sesshin. Venerables Sunyananda Dharma and Thich Tam Bi were extremely helpful to me as I injured my back muscles just as sesshin began. Their kindness and generosity of spirit were immensely helpful. Our Zen world is in dire need of repair and these two young ones are part of the repair team. You know, there are those who would exclude certain lineages, includig my own, yet practitioners from such lineages seem to be the few who are actually manifesting the Dharma in everyday life. I am, frankly, humbled by their presence and sickened by those who claim authenticity thru their patriarchs but show little of the Dharma in their actions.  My friend Rev. Kobutsu Malone, for example, has done Zen a great service but has been kicked in the teeth for it. Here is a man, alone in the wildsa of Maine, who suffers daily bo…

Our Fear

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Sometimes my faith in the humanity of people is deeply shaken.  Deservedly so. Blind faith in whatever form is dangerous.  Every once in awhile we need a wake-up call.  In this case the call isn't what most of us might think it is.  No, it is not radical or extremist Islam, it is our fear.  To protect us from that which we are afraid of we create, indiscriminately, an enemy with a very broad brush. And in this brush we try to find ways to either get rid of him or keep him away from us.

Putting what we are afraid of in a closet and locking the door is no solution.  It takes energy and lots of it to keep that door closed and the loss of that energy prevents us from doing good things for our society.  When we respond to fear in this way that which we are afraid of becomes more powerful.  We choose to give away our freedoms, we betray the values our nation was founded upon, to wit, religious freedom, freedom of movement, freedom to bear arms, fr…


Leaving Thanksgiving/Arriving Rohatsu Sesshin: Are they the same or different?
Rohatsu, our celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment occurs on December 8th.  Most Zen centers and temples offer an extended retreat time in honor of this and participants are encouraged to let mind and body fall away.  In one sense sesshin might sound selfish as it seems to focus on replicating the personal enlightenment of the Buddha, but, as with the Buddha himself,  awakening does not get us food, nor does it wash our clothes, nor allow us to walk on water.  And so, in another sense sesshin may be seen as an invitation to offer one’s self to others in order to free them from their suffering, how so?  From the Buddha’s point of view, as his eye opened so did the universe. 
In the United States, we celebrate a wonderful holiday on the last Thursday of November.  On this day, we often consider what we may be grateful for and we share our gratitude with those around us.  So, within a few days we will mov…

A Prayer

With respect,
This afternoon I was honored to offer a prayer at the opening of our monthly Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association meeting here in Las Cruces. I would like to share a few thoughts about my offering. I said, to paraphrase, 'my faith tradition has a slogan: "May all beings be free from suffering." I noted that all of us suffer and as veterans of combat we have a pretty damned good idea as to what real suffering is. God knows we are a suffering world. We suffer and live, we suffer and are wounded. I asked each of us to pray for those who were killed in Paris in violence that was...and is...meaningless. I asked us to pray that the Lord keep warm the hearts and souls of the families involved. 
My thoughts are also with those beings who suffer so much that they feel the only way to free themselves from their hate is to harm others. All of us feel the need to retaliate injury, but not all of us do harm as a result of that feeling. Our desire to seek retribution …

Authentic Zen

With palms together, Good Afternoon All,
From Rev. Senzaki’s correspondence in “Eloquent Silence,” (p 386) a few noteworthy notes: 
“… present day Japanese Buddhists do not understand true Buddhism, but are clinging to sectarian ideas instead.”  
And of Priest emissaries here to teach Zen:
“With few exceptions they are not accomplishing anything here but propaganda and the advertisement of their titles and cathedrals, like sandwich men peddling their wares.”
…”They may think they can do things here in America just as they do in Japan, but they are badly mistaken.” _______________
Yet, today, years later, some of us cling to the Japanese as final arbiters of what is and is not Zen.  Authenticity from mind-to-mind transmission, practice, and up-right living are not as important, it would seem, as what lineage we are from and whether that lineage is officially recognized by Soto Shu in Japan.  
Senzaki-roshi, like Matsuoka-roshi, wished to build an authentic Zen practice here in the United…

My books for You

With respect,

I have two books on Zen, Living Zen and Zen in Your Pocket. "Living Zen" has been revised and now includes a foreword by Rev. Jundo Cohen.  "Zen in Your Pocket" is a small book addressing Zen practice from the everyday to the catastrophic. is selling both books as trade paperbacks and on Kindle.  Take a look here

Zen in Your Pocket

Dear Readers,

Two things: first, the revised edition of Living Zen with a foreword by Rev. Jundo Cohen is now

available through and a downloadable version on Kindle. I have reduced the price to

$7.95.  Second, my new book, Zen in Your Pocket, is available also through and will

soon be available through Kindle. It is priced at $6.95.

Please consider taking a peek.


Art Practice

With palms together,
In his book, “The Eight Gates of Zen”  Daido Loori-roshi devotes a chapter to Art as practice seeing it as one of the “Eight Gates.”  We might ask ourselves just what happens when someone picks up a brush or camera, a chisel or a handful of clay? Is there something magical or mystical about what happens next?  Maybe so, but then, the same could be said about any of the other seven gates, maybe so, maybe not.
Art is such a fickle friend and occasional foe.  Art can be creative or destructive, but no one wants to think of it in the latter sense.  We want art to be art, somehow for its name sake, above reason or intuition, and not necessarily subject to good taste. We want this so much so that nearly every sophomoric attempt at putting media together is considered “art.”  
I don’t think so.
Art, like the other gates, requires discipline.  It requires restraint in some cases and explosive, powerful thrusts in others, but in either case they are not without the discip…


With palms together,
Crying , the deep convulsive sort of crying, the crying born of years of unwanted and horrific memories, was comforted by my brothers yesterday.  At the Vietnam Memorial in Truth or Consequences I broke down in torrents of grief, anger, and hurt.  Within a few minutes a young veteran put his arm around me in silence.  We stood there together. Then another two veterans joined us.  It has been nearly fifty years since I left Vietnam and yet, in a nano second, I am there again.  
This time my tears were not just about me, however, this time they were also about my younger combat veteran brothers and sisters who each day struggle with their demons.  I feel great sorrow about this as I know they have years to come, years of the same sort of pain I experience 49 years after the fact.  This is just not right.
The night before a young lady, a female veteran, was considering suicide.  We talked with her, listened to her as she paced the sidewalk, and in the end, our love …

Responding with Compassion

With palms together,
The weather here in Las Cruces, New Mexico has been difficult.  The hail storm we had a couple of weeks ago did over $10,000.00 worth of damage to our roof. Who knew?  And we are forecasted to have more storms this week.  Our insurance has covered the loss and we will be getting a new roof in a couple of weeks plus two broken skylights will be replaced.  While the process of working with the insurance company, adjusters, and roofers, was relatively easy and straightforward, I’ve noticed I have felt stressed.  I suppose that might have something to do with my broken hand as well.  
This brings up something important: how we respond to our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.  Many people come to Zen practice in order to “get better” and that can mean a whole array of things from stress management, to anger management, to improving out general outlook on life, which is to say, to become happier.  All of these are just fine, thank you very much, but each is also som…

Right Speech: Religion and Politics

People say there are two areas of discussion friends ought not pursue:  religion and politics.  Yet, it seems to me these are two of the most important areas of our lives and they deserve civil dialogue.The key word here is “civil.”  To be civil is to be respectful which requires listening and close attention. Today it seems nearly impossible to bear witness to such discussions. Talking heads and pundits have created a style of “dialogue” which is less dialogue than haranguing. Nothing is accomplished by one person interrupting, brow-beating, putting down, or competing.  All these methods accomplish is to gain ratings on talk shows, polarize conversations and dumb-down our everyday ability to talk with one another.  Recourse to “talking points” or catch phrases limits depth and discourages actual conversation.

This loss of ability to discourse is a sorry state of affairs and a dangerous one.  When civilized people cannot talk with one another nothing is learned; “opposing” camps rema…

On a Clear Mind

From Outside the Margins On a Clear Mind
With respect to all,
It is 1:00 AM. I am awake and outside looking at the moon through my telescope again.  The sky here in New Mexico is large and clear as a bell.  I have just practiced Zazen before coming outside and feel the after effects of a mind made clear by just sitting.  Clarity is a delicious thing. It is free and open, flowing without obstruction.  Its very nature, however, can be addicting. 
I want to talk a little about that.  A clear mind, placid, without ripples reflects exactly what is there and does so without recourse to names.  A wall is no longer a wall;  a cup no longer a cup. There is nothing there and no observer observing.  Just this, as we so often say in the Zen world. 
Many of us strive to reach this place, but it eludes those who strive.  Cease looking and there it is.  Its why we call it serene reflection meditation.   Yet, when this is all we can see and all we wish to be, we are said to be stuck on top of a hund…

On Teachers

With palms together, Good Evening Everyone,
This evening I would like to address a topic that is quite challenging, to wit: What is a Zen Teacher and what does a Zen Teacher actually teach?  Who is a Zen Teacher anyway? The simple and most direct answer historically is a person who has gained Dharma transmission from his Teacher and/or has been authorized by that teacher to teach. I might add, this person must have a strong drive to teach.   Now this was good enough throughout the world since the Buddha’s time, but has recently been challenged here in the United States.  
Here we have people challenging Dharma transmission itself, and indeed, the whole notion of a clergy and teacher cadre. These folks believe in a horizontal organizational structure or, simply, no structure at all.  They argue shaved heads and robes put people off, separate clergy from the ordinary guy, etc. My response to that argument is equally simple: so?
Then there is the American Zen Teacher’s Association which…

On Birth and Death

With palms together,

From Shushogi: The most important issue of all for Buddhists is the thorough clarification of the meaning of birth and death. If the buddha is within birth and death, there is no birth and death. Simply understand that birth and death are in themselves nirvana; there is no birth and death to be hated nor nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, we will be freed from birth and death. To master this problem is of supreme importance. (As translated and published in Soto School Scriptures for Daily Services and Practice.)

These are the precious words of Dogen Zenji.  They can be comforting or terrifying or both.  They are about as spiritual a koan as is possible; they are also a derivative from the Great Heart of Wisdom sutra.

To apply a teaching from another of Master Dogen's works, the Genjokoan, birth has its own Dharma reality and death has its own Dharma reality.  In birth there is just birth; in death there is just death.  We typically don't …

Walking the Walk

With respect,

"There are lazy, self-important and -indulgent priests who do possess the "right" credentials, not because they have penetrated to the core of life-and-death, but because they are clever in a worldly sense." (Matsuoka-roshi, Moku-Rai, p.12.)  Here is the poison threatening Zen today. Reliance on credentials, robes, shaved heads, sutras, chants, deadly stares, or organizational imprimaturs will bring us nothing but the risk of inauthentic teaching. To find your way listen to that 'still, small voice" whispering in your ear as you sit zazen or witness your teacher. Listen, then let it go. 

For me, I often say I learned more about living Zen from noticing my own response to my teacher than anything he ever taught me directly. So, if we don't like to put our palms together and bow? We might ask ourselves, 'what is the resistance and where does it come from?  Don't like chanting, or reciting the Maka Hanya Haramita Shin Gyo?  We ask ours…


With respect to each of you,

This evening I sat out under the stars, or what stars I could see since it is a cloudy evening here in Southern New Mexico.  Seeing the stars is unnecessary, we know they are there and, if we had studied them, we know what they look like.  Still, the act of sitting quietly out of doors is an act of mindful attention and love.

We should love our home, this tiny speck of a planet in an infinite universe.  It allows us to live, provides for us, and offers us a place in the vastness of space itself.  Having a place is very important and is something we in the United States rarely consider, as we are Americans and don't necessarily see ourselves as needing (or having) a "place."

Yet a "place" is one of the things in life we each seem to seek.  We want to know who and what we are, as well as, where we fit in.  We resist because we don't want to be "defined" by our sociological standing.  We want to define ourselves and do…

Frustration's End

With palms together, Good Evening All,
It’s a little after 9:00 PM and outside I see clouds moving in over the mountains with an occasional lightening flash.  At rest now, my heart is taking in the day, a day with frustrations, joy, intimacy, and business.  It seemed as though at every turn there were issues with hanging the ink brush pictures.  In the morning I will once again make an effort to complete the task.  
I am a typical man: as things get in the way, frustration rises and swearing begins.  Shukke Shin doesn’t approve of this, but then, neither do I.  Still, there is frustration and there is swearing. It’s so, so automatic.  Today, though, something changed.  We had a session with our therapist and the frustrations came rolling out.  What a relief it is to just let things come out. As we talked, laughter arose, another good thing.  
When I discovered that the title cards to the paintings were not sticking and that I had gotten the wrong type of wire for the pictures, and th…

A talk on the Zen of Trauma in Kansas City

The Zen of Trauma: a talk with Roshi Daiho Hilbert, PhD
Thursday, June 25
at 6:30pm                                3405 Highland Ave, Kansas City, MO

On Thursday evening, at a nearby Buddhist Temple the Rev. Dr. Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, a Zen Master in the Soto lineage will offer a talk on “The Zen of Trauma.”  The Rev. Dr. Hilbert began studying Zen in 1966 after being shot in the head during combat in Vietnam.
Educated as a psychotherapist, Roshi spent many years in private practice, and in service to in-need communities in the southwest United States. Daiho was ordained as a Priest in 2000, and received transmission of the Dharma in 2005 as the sole successor of Rev. Ken Hogaku Shozen McGuire-roshi, a Chief Disciple of Zen Master Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka-roshi. 
Zen Master Daiho will facilitate a discussion around the practice of Zen, through the experience of trauma. Ven. Sunyananda of Dharmakaya Buddhist Association highly recommends this event as a rare opportunity to engage a c…


With respect to all,

The other day in a conversation with a biker veteran who, I might add, is just completing his Masters degree,  I was reminded of the difference between tolerance and acceptance.  When I worked in the T or C school system I recall receiving teaching materials related to tolerance.  At the time I didn't give it much thought, though I believe I thought it was a good idea.  I think now, I was wrong.  Teaching tolerance is about teaching us to use forbearance in order not to rock the boat.  We stifle ourselves when we come across something that really bothers us.  I ask a simple question, then, how does a stifling of meaningful difference help us get along?  It doesn't.  What it teaches us to do is "tolerate" each other, in spite of our differences.  While this approach allows each faith tradition to practice, it does nothing to bring us together since we are simply tolerating each other.  The problem then is this: how can we come to accept differenc…

49 years

With respect for all,  49 years
We each have stories to tell.  Some are funny, some heroic, others down right scary. Stories of great suffering; stories of great joy. My dissertation Chairman, Dr.Howard Goldstein, once said to me, “All of us live by story.”  Howard’s stories died with him. As will mine and yours.   
I am a retired Combat Infantry soldier, psychotherapist and Zen Buddhist priest. While I don’t know if my story is much different from yours, I’m pretty sure it differs from most.  My life was a mess as a child: alcoholic dad, flirty mother, and a jock brother.  I was the so-called “brain” as a kid.  What no one knew was I had to add and subtract using my fingers, but then, I always had a book in my hand so it didn’t matter.  People see what they want to see.  So do we ourselves.
Some of us live deeply in our stories.  Our stories define us and offer us a place among our fellows.  We immerse ourselves in our stories.  One might even say, we become our stories. This is not…