Showing posts from 2016

Don't Tread on Me

With respect,

When I returned from Vietnam, recovering from a bullet to my head, my Aunt said to me that my injury brought the war home to her. Yesterday I learned that the morning after the election a swastika was scrawled on the kitchen door of my son's restaurant in Georgetown, Tx. This made the catastrophe of Donald Trump's presidential win very real.  It brought it home to me. In the news of late many stories of racism and hate crimes seem to have increased.  It's as though a group of people (who always existed, but in the dark) now felt emboldened to take themselves into the light of day. I believe our now president-elect's campaign and post-campaign rhetoric has given tacit approval to such people.  He has fanned the flames and now we burn as he distances himself from the hate groups who so rabidly supported him.

Funny thing about hate, it spreads and it hurts. The Buddha argued that the antidote to hate is love. As a Zen priest I ought to practice loving my en…

In this Moment

With respect,

There is a famous line in Master Dogen's Genjo Koan that goes like this:"firewood does not become ash, firewood is firewood, ash is ash." Sounds so simple, but then some of the greatest teachings in the world are simple statement, but they are not simple, they are deeply profound observations. Years ago in my mountain refuge I would make a fire in the firebox of my wood cookstove. Every once in awhile I would need to put more wood in the box. It was obvious the wood was becoming ash. Master Dogen says that isn't so. Why would he challenge the obvious process of fire?
I believe the answer is in our everyday lives. With each breath we draw we draw it in a moment, hopefully of awareness. Drawing that breath is, itself, our life. It is a Dharma moment with its own existence. Likewise as we release our breath, that too, is its own Dharma moment. One is not becoming the other. Each exist in themselves and only in that moment. As Dogen says, ret each hav…

Questions, Part Two

With respect,

Looking at your computer screen, what do you see? We might say, "a blog note."  Or we might say, "my screen." But whatever you say, it will only be a thought.  A concept socially developed and agreed upon, but what is it before we have named it?   A "blog note" is just what we call what we are seeing. I am asking us to look through the concept.

In our everyday life we rarely pay attention to the "true nature," the "original nature," of what we are looking. Earlier this evening I sat out under the stars with a sky map open on my iPhone. I saw stars and checked their names.  I would be a far cry from the truth of the matter if I thought the names were the stars. The stars are not their names.  Nor are they "stars."  Stars is what they are called, that is all.  But as I sat there and looked at them as they were, something else emerged.

In such silence truth emerges: we are infinitesimal creatures on a very tiny pl…


Good Morning Everyone, Yes, it's true, another day dawns on us. My question to myself is this: In light of my vow "Beings are numberless, I vow to free them," what can I do today to fulfill this vow? First, its an impossible vow on the surface. If beings are numberless, how can I possibly free them. Second, how can I free anyone? Third, what does it mean to "free" a being? "Free" was in the past written as "Save," but I suspect that word had too close an association with Christianity's use of the term. To "free" has specific meanings in Zen. Zen Buddhism believes that we are prisoners of our mind, a mind that keeps us from viewing the Absolute and wants us, in a sense, to remain in the relative view of life. We practice to free ourselves so that we might abide in the Absolute, which is to say, a non-dualistic view of the universe where all is one. The Relative Truth is that we are all separate beings. We may be interconnected …

That Place


There's an old koan about a student practicing meditation. The student comes to the Master and asks how to escape the heat and cold. The Master simply says "Go to that place where there is neither hot nor cold."

What is that place, I ask? Notice I don't ask "where" is that place. Why?

Simple. That place is everywhere and nowhere. It is not a place. Hot and cold, like comments on social media, are perceived and interpreted by mind. This comment is good, this comment is bad. This one hurts me, that one makes me feel good. In themselves they are neither good nor bad. Just so hot and cold.

So what is that place? Ask the duck floating on the pond.

As it is

Good Afternoon All,
I was re-reading my friend Brad Warner's "Don't Be A Jerk" this morning. Its a fine book, I recommend it, especially the piece on the Genjo Koan. Many of us Zen teachers believe this to be one of, if not the most important fascicles of the Shobogenzo. I know I reference it often. In effect its about realizing life. Not particularly understanding life, but rather, realizing life in this very moment.
The life I realize is conditional: what's this? What's this? What's this?
Each moment having its own reality, to paraphrase Master Dogen, 'Ash has its own dharma reality; firewood its own dharma reality. Firewood does not become ash. Ash is ash, firewood is firewood.'
When I look back at my life I am no longer awake. When I look forward in my life, I am dreaming. When I look at my fingers dancing along this MacBook I am looking directly at all there is. Nothing complicated, just this.
These days our lives seem to be filling up…

Refresh Yourself

With respect,

I wrote this short note to a friend in need and thought you each might find it helpful.

"...I know you will. Your efforts are not unnoticed. My own journey has been fraught with anger and even hate coupled often with tremendous hurt. It is so difficult to see the suffering in those that wish to harm us in such moments, let alone feel compassion for them. Yet, it is that responsive set of feelings that tell us our individual work is not yet done. Sometimes I think our outward focus relieves us of the felt need to look inward. What we in the Zen world call "serene reflection meditation" has been helpful to me. Its much like the the practice the Hebrew ancients called hitbodedut done in silence out under the stars, a practice I often do, especially on those nights without a moon. Too often I think we get caught up in the day's events and fail to let things fall away in the night so that we are truly refreshed in the morning."


What is Wrong?

With palms together,

Last night I was invited to attend a vigil of sorts regarding the outcome of the presidential election. I am thanking that I was invited.  Unfortunately,  as I had another commitment I was only able to slip into the circle for a few minutes. The fallout of this election has been emotionally draining on many of us. I have had many contacts, especially on my Facebook page, expressing fear, sadness, and deep concern.  At the event last night I felt many of the participants were suffering.  Tears were not uncommon.  And though we face a challenging future, please let us remind ourselves in the greater scheme of things this is not so large.  Our feelings are just feelings and our thoughts just thoughts.  We have each, I am sure, experienced deep sadness and even fear in the past and survived.  What’s important, it seems to me, is that we do not allow this to sideline us in the work that we do, but rather, allow it to motivate us to address issues directly.  
One area I…
Dear Readers,

This month we mark the US bombing of two cities in Japan with Atomic bombs. From Wiki:

On August 6, the U.S. dropped a uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) on the city of Hiroshima. American President Harry S. Truman called for Japan's surrender 16 hours later, warning them to "expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth". Three days later, on August 9, the U.S. dropped a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military gar…

Questions, Part One

With respect to all,

Today I had two different discussions with two of my students.  In the first case, I asked the student what her expectations of having a formal teacher were.  In the second case, a discussion about why practice zazen if nothing is to be gained. Both intriging and thought provoking questions.

Just what are the expectations of a student of a teacher?I suppose, and my experience bears this out, they are as varied as are students to have.  Each of us comes to the teacher with some idea as to what that teacher can or will do forth.Some see a teacher as a guru.  I don't believe this is a good idea.  Zen is about self falling away in order to be completely present with whatever is.Its not about guru worship, in fact, to have a guru misses the point of practice entirely, in my opinion. Besides, it diminishes the student's willingness to rely on him or her self to deal with their own lives.Others see a teacher as a friend.  Equally a bad idea.  A teacher is not a …

Facebook Away

With respect, I just deactivated my Facebook account and invited my friends to follow me here on my blog site.  If you are one of them, simply follow the instructions on the site.  I look forward to hearing from you.  I will post here on pretty much a regular basis and my posts will be focused on engaged practice as well as everyday Zen.  Be well,


With respect to all,
We have a sort of fascination with Masters, those of us walking along a “spiritual path.”  I’ve noticed of late there are at least two categories of Masters. Those who master a Way and go more deeply within that Way and those who master and move on. It seems we seek Masters, become Masters, and start all over again… or we settle into our faith tradition, embracing it as fully as possible.  I, for one, feel when one achieves a level we might call Master, the Master ought go deeper while others, move on. Those who move on might move to a different teacher, a different lineage, or even a different faith tradition altogether. In both cases the Master is still seeking, never satisfied.
So, we read in Teacher bios, ”Master So and So was transmitted by Master X, then began study with Master Y, achieving the rank of Master, he then went on…”  and so on and so forth. Such Masters are, in my opinion, searching without receiving.  I can, for example, master a liturgy, ceremony…


With respect to all,
Yesterday I was talking with two of my students over pizza. The subject of my teacher,  Rev. Ken Hogaku Shozen McGuire Dai Osho came up.  I miss him dearly even though we sometimes fought like cats and dogs. He was a strong, centered, mountain of a man. We were alike in many ways, we were also different in as many ways.  I found myself talking much like him. I can be both a strong-willed teacher and a softy. Mostly the latter, yet people tell me I’m somehow intimidating. Go figure. We rarely see ourselves in the same way others do.  
There seems to be a perennial discussion in the American Zen world regarding ritual  and ceremony. Ought we wear robes, shave our heads, offer Dharma names in Japanese?  Or ought we simply sit and devout ourselves to our various practices off the cushion? Some of us are fully one way or another.  Fortunately, I am from a lineage whose founder, Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka Dai Osho, thought to leave Temple Zen as practiced in his homeland in h…

Another Memorial Day, Another Donut

With palms together,
I often say Zen saved my life, but that is only partly true and now Memorial Day is nearly upon us. A time to reflect on and honor those who gave their lives in armed conflict with enemies of the United States. This year that day will follow the 50th anniversary of my being shot in the head by a North Vietnamese Army soldier (May 29, 1966). My life was radically changed by that event. In some ways for the worse, but in many, many ways for the better. While it is true that I limp and stumble and can only use my left hand to pull the clutch back on my Harley, it is also true that warfare opened my eyes to the suffering of mankind and kindled a deep desire to make this world a better place. When my lovely wife and I celebrate (if that's an appropriate word)and will honor the dead this day, we will also celebrate the many lives who survived combat and honor those who have made a difference in our society as a result of their combat experiences.
Sometimes, in the wak…

Drink Your Coffee

A student and teacher were drinking coffee. The students asks, “Zazen, what good is it?”  The Teacher responds, “Not much.”  “Then why practice it?“  the student continues.  “I don’t know,”  the teacher replies, “drink your coffee.”  The student awakened.
Right.  We’ve read many of such little vignettes.  The gullible believe them.  The wise set them aside assigning no particular meaning to them.  Why?  Awakening is not the point of practice; it is the practice. Master Dogen suggests our practice, the practice of shikantaza, is itself practice realization. Are these the same or different?  
“(D)rink your coffee” is key.  The coffee was in front of you, just drink the coffee.  This is the essence of Zen.  
On the other hand, you take your seat, gather your robes, and address your mind by setting it free: the entire universe is its home.  You do what you do: breathe.  Its what’s in front of you to do. 
This also is the essence of Zen.
But neither matter much and if you come to it as if it mat…


With respect to all,

This morning I woke at 3:00 AM.  Not unusual, as I wake at this hour on nearly a daily basis. I find waking so early to be a blessing as it offers me time in the silence of the dawn.  I practice during this time, sitting quietly either in the Zendo or outside under the stars.  I often paint during this time and sometimes, like now, write.  
We human beings live in a world that seems to travel at breakneck speeds, communicating at the speed of light across the globe and while it is wonderful to have connections with others, sometimes those very connections keep us from ourselves and from the very important task of knowing ourselves as intimately as is possible.  Not knowing ourselves can lead to all sorts of issues: automatic thoughts and the feelings arising from them, choices being made from information skewed by our beliefs and assumptions, and a mind running amok without the ability to reign it in. 
Sometimes I get caught in this whirlwind and in such circumst…


With respect to all,
Yesterday I visited a Huey Medivac helicopter on display.  It will be mounted on a pole high above the ground at our Veteran’s park here in Las Cruces, NM.  I sat at the edge, as we often did in Vietnam with the door gunner next to us firing a rain of M-60 machine gun fire covering us as we would leap from the chopper to the ground.  The last time I flew in one on those birds was May 29, 1966 as I was “dusted off” at around 6:00 in the morning  to head to a field hospital after having been shot in the head and taking grenade shrapnel in my back.  I remember this quite well, as well as the events leading up to it.
There is a flier that came with a book on moral injury sitting on my coffee table.  The flier reads, “Don’t thank me for my service.”  This is a sentiment I so often feel that it may actually be the prevailing thought in my head when I am thanked, as I was repeatedly thanked at the display of the Huey. This thought mystifies many.  Why would I not want t…

A Review of "Zen in Your Pocket" by Ewan Magie

Permission to publish this review was granted by the Owner/editor of who owns the copyright.
This book is available through

Liberation at Hand:  Zen and Trauma — A Review of Daiho Harvey Hilbert’s Zen in your Pocket
Ewan Magie
Zen in Your Pocket (2016) is the new book from Harvey Daiho Hilbert-roshi.  Short, elegantly clear, and deeply moving, it is both a guidebook and a profound meditation on trauma, written by a Vietnam veteran, Zen priest, and PhD in psychotherapy.  This short book is subtitled “A Small Manual for a Large Challenge”; bluntly, that challenge is waking up to life as it is.  This includes waking up to all the little ways we deceive ourselves, deny what has or is really happening, or invent coping strategies to flee what we cannot face.  Like many teachers in North American Soto Zen, Roshi Hilbert fuses Zen teachings with Western psychotherapeutic insights in an effort to liberate all beings from suffering. This book is a guide to practic…

Moving Forward

With respect, Hello All,
This morning I went on a training hike for the Bataan Memorial Death March to be held on March 20th at the Army base at White Sands, NM. I’m doing the short version at 14.2 miles.  It is a trail run with sand, hills, and (did I say) sand?  Anyway, I am training on desert trails out behind my house.  This morning I did nearly 3 miles in 29 degree weather.  I stayed on pace at 20 minutes per mile. It was a good effort over rough terrain.  
What does this have to do with Zen?  Well, biking, running and walking have a cadence.  As we are out there on a course eventually our body settles into a “zone” where breath, footfall, and attention seem to integrate into a seamless pattern…almost oneness itself.  We are aware of the scenery, looking forward enough to check our path but, most of all, mindfully moving along.  I call this, “Stillness in motion” and have this phrase on the back of our “Team Zen” tee shirts.
The “zone” I am talking about is not a “zoned-out” thing, r…

The Zen of Knowledge,Part two

With respect, We left Part one with the question, “So what?” In that piece I talked about ways we “know.” I covered this in a superficial way: epistemology and ontology, like existentialism and phenomenology are complex and sit at the core of philosophy. Philosophers have debated them for centuries. Such debate, possibly useful, but likely not, is sort of like mental masturbation. It feels good in the moment, but leaves us wanting the real thing. So, what is the real thing? In the world of Zen practice our aim, should we actually have one, is to let mind and body fall away and in this process live in what Master Dogen thought of as “practice realization.” To get to a better understanding of what this means, we must break it down piece by piece. In Master Dogen’s Fukanzazengi He gives us a clear sense that we each ought practice zazen, that ancient contemplative form once referred to as “Serene Reflection Meditation” or “Silent Illumination.” He put forth the unheard of notion th…

The Zen of Knowledge, Part one

From Outside the Margins
The Zen of Knowledge, Part One by Daiho Hilbert
With respect,
We do not get to the truth of anything by believing it to be true. We get to the truth by questioning it to be true. Therein arises faith.
There is an observation common amongst Jews: Jews tend to answer questions with questions.  It is always interesting when a question is answered with a question. The person asking the question may feel threatened so answers the returning question with defensiveness or the questioner understands the nature of the discussion is one of seeking the truth in which case he/she considers the response and allows feelings of defensiveness to flow away thus allowing further exploration. 
When we are convinced of the truth of something the larger truth eludes us as our conviction becomes an untested declaration. 
Someone in the various threads of my Facebook page asked the question, "how do we know?" In philosophy, especially the philosophy of science, this query…