Zen 101

Sunday, December 27, 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 sitting between the group and the building on the public sidewalk.  The group, also on the sidewalk, was asked to remove themselves.  The authorities argued that the group was impeding pedestrians.  After a lot of discussion and threats of detainment, the large group moved off the sidewalk.  I did not. at some point in my zazen I heard officers standing near me considering what to do with me as I continued to sit.  a K-9 dog approached and sniffed around me.  I just sat there. In the end, the authorities retreated to the Federal Building and I remained on my cushion.  I had not spoken a word nor shared a glance.

These events stick out in my mind.  At the time a number of thoughts came and went.  In the first case I wondered what the man was going to do, whether he would escalate and if the need arose to defend myself, what I might do.  In the second case, I was prepared to not respond, but to continue my practice on the public sidewalk. I imagined being dragged away.  Thankfully that did not happen.

We in the West compartmentalize everything.  Zen is done either at home or in Zendos. We meditate to open our eyes and, theoretically, free all beings.  The classical understanding of this is that by opening our eye, so too, all eyes, since you and I are one. However, eyes open or not, there is great suffering in this world.  The Buddha did not awaken to sit in temples or under trees.  He stood up and taught, wandered and healed, pacified criminals, and Kings.  He was selfless and lived for the sake of others. Unfortunately, we in the West, with our proclivity for self absorption, have either forgotten, never learned, or purposefully ignored the Buddha’s teaching in this regard.  

Zen practice is not only about Zen practice in the relative safety of a Zendo, it is also about manifesting our practice through the precepts in the real world.  True practitioners of the Buddha Way have an obligation to engage the world around them just as the Buddha did.  This obligation arises from the Three Pure Precepts: cease doing evil, do good, and bring about abundant good for all beings. Notice the attention is on “doing” not on “being.” 

So, the next time you ask yourself or your teacher if you have freed yourself while on the cushion, know that in the question is your answer. Like that old Zen story, we don’t make a mirror by polishing tiles and we don’t gain enlightenment by practicing Zazen.  Why? Unless we take our open mind up from the cushion and into the world we have not become practice-realization.  What we are instead is smug Teachers and Students sitting safely and invisibly in a Zendo.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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 of the day itself.
Christmas does not stand alone during this time of year, the time of the waning sun. Hanukkah (Festival of Lights), Rohatsu (Enlightenment of the Buddha), the High Holy Days (Days of Repentance), and in Islam, Mawlid (birth of the prophet Mohammed). We might note that each of these seasonal “holy”days involve birth and death and the hope that abides in between. These holy days did not just pop up, they evolved over time and matched our emotional and psychological needs as they symbolize a basic and common human need and, as such, have become a deeply held part of us.
As winter approaches, we witness a transformation of our environment, leaves falling from trees, plants withering, things move more slowly as temperatures drop and water freezes. Our sun is with us less and less and for those who pay attention to such things, appears to fall further and further down the horizon. In ancient times these events were closely watched and greatly feared. We were reminded of our mortality, our pain and suffering. The ancients crafted belief systems and ceremonies around such seasonal changes in the hope of staving off death and bringing forth birth. These holidays, then, were crucial to our sense of well-being and safety.
Today however, we have lost touch with our enchanted and natural world. We have light and heat at the touch of a button. Our food is not scarce and comes neatly packaged and often our children have no sense as to where these packages come from or how they were produced. Its as if we left nature behind as we pursued (almost as a stampede) the near magical possibilities at the dawn of the age of enlightenment.
Losing touch with the natural world enables us to view it as just matter, life without spirit. Our children’s eyes are drawn to video games, devices, websites, movies, videos,and so forth. As adults and parents we, too, have lost touch with the natural cycles of the earth. We prize our technological progress which, in itself is not a bad thing, but when paired with a marginalizing of the natural world, becomes very dangerous.

These days, these cold winter days, ought remind us of this spiritual rendering. They were designed to bring us back in touch with the world as it is. Let’s say, a re- enchantment of our lives and our relationship to the universe. When we light incense and offer it, as we buy or make a gift for others during these holidays, and as we sit facing a wall in Zazen, let us consider the real meaning of the seasonal cycles, let us bear witness to our species destruction of the environment. And on a personal, individual level, let us be aware of our lack of care and compassion for our own space and its conditioned relationship to the “larger” world.
If there is a “War on Christmas” that war is fed by our greed and enabled by our lack of understanding of our core reality. The Buddha woke up. He touched the ground with his finger tips and gave witness to the Earth itself. In this he saw the essential truth of each moment as gateways to liberation from life and death. May we each learn ways to re- enchant our world, bringing forth spirit and hope thru our practice.
Yours, Daiho 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

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 both in terms of his physical body, but also in terms of his heart and spirit. Admittedly, he is a challenge, but consider where is anger and disenchantment comes from: a heart, pure of spirit, and dedicated to victims of predatory monks. It seems to me we really dso want to kill the messenger. What Kobutsu Malone has is an excellent crap detector. when approaching be aware he will tolerate no bullshit and robes, shaved heads and credentials will not save you...which is as it should be. Zen is, and always will be, a personal journey from the inside out and if we are not willing to begin from the inside, relying instead on credentials and brocade robes as indicators of anything at all, we are doomed to be failures in our practice and our authenticity as a Zen practitioner and not the least a human being.

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, freedom from intrusions upon our privacy.  All in the name of national security and self defense.

You know, Old Timothy from Oklahoma felt himself to be a Christian and a patriot as he blew up the federal building killing scores of innocents.  I did not see Donald Trump call for the barring of Christians trying to enter our country as a result.  Did you?  And the KKK is a Christian organization, burning crosses and tar and feathering human beings...was there a call to  disrobe these domestic terrorists, burn bibles, or otherwise cope with our fear and outrage?

I don't know what the answer is to terrorism, but what I believe is this:  we ought not give up our nation's principles in order to remain safe because when we do, we are our own enemy, killing ourselves in the process.  Plainly speaking it is simply wrong to hold Muslims accountable for what terrorists do. Just as it would be wrong to blame all Christians for what the KKK has done.

What Mr. Trump and his cohorts are doing is destructive to our values and will lead us into the arms of a police state.  Is this really what our flag, constitution, and bill of rights stand for? I don't think so.