Zen 101

Saturday, January 16, 2016

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, rather its a mindfulness in motion sort of thing. Contrary to conventional thought we have not separated ourselves from our bodies as we are aware and mindful of both our internal world and our external world: we float like a duck and don’t hold on to anything. It is this that is what I call Zen in motion.  Once we begin, the flow will take us there whether we like it or not because its the inevitable ‘practice realization’ that Master Dogen referred to in his work.

In ‘Zen in motion,’ we simply put one foot in front of another and let our thoughts and feelings do what they do.  What we do not do is allow them the power to take us away from what’s in front of us to do: finish the race. This is, of course, easier said than done. Yet, we have each other, don’t we?  None of us are alone on the trail: I’ve had my teacher, my coach, my family, my sangha, and my friends each run every race I have run be with me as I put each foot down on the ground.  So, in the end, its not me who runs the race, its all of us together.  In truth this is true of all of life: we are not alone.

Be well,


Friday, January 08, 2016

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 that when we sit in this way, when mind and body fall away, we are in a state of realization. Why? What on earth? Is enlightenment that easy? Right, were it so. But he knew that there was something more to it than that. The rascal.
Here’s the thing, allowing mind and body to fall away essentially means that we let go, yes, let go. Let go of our thoughts. Let go of our feelings, our bodily sensations, in fact, we are to “let go” of everything we think we know and if we are successful? Well, then the keyboard I am typing on has an opportunity not to be a keyboard per se, but can present itself, as my teacher used to say, “As it will.” Right. when is a keyboard not a keyboard? when we stop thinking of it as a keyboard. Its ontological reality is then free.
Practice deep enough and “keyboard” ceases to exist as keyboard. We learn thru our practice that “keyboard” is not a keyboard, it is simply and completely only what we call it. But calling something something does it a serious disservice. Because calling it something disallows it to be itself. Poor keyboard, but even more poor is ourselves because we never get to know it for its original nature. We only believe we know it.
So, then, how do we know? An epistemological question, yes? Some, the empiricists among us, say we “know” through our senses. Yes, and the Buddha counted the mind as one of the senses and, from a Kantian perspective this might be so, then, as Kant believed we establish categories, like little boxes, in our mind within which we put our sensory data encoded as data with names and properties: this is round and thus if goes to “roundness,” this is square, and so forth. It discriminates in order to do the sorting.Once in a box with a name we think we “know it.” Yet, do we really? Or is what we know simply what our brain is doing,sorting and naming, etc.? Our epistemological “knowledge” in the end, is only what our brain says it is. It is not the ontological reality of the thing itself: its actual being. But we think it is!
It that thinking that robs the thing of its truth. I know you. I know you are So and so, you are this old, are this sort of person doing thst sort of job, wearing certain clothes with so much money in the back and so on. So, when I sctually meet you, this “knowledge” acts as a filter and it is through this filter that I interpret you in your presence before me. But is this interpretation that actual you?
The “so what” of Zen, then, is the fact that our practice exposes our filters. What’s left is pure perception. It’s in the “clear mind” that you may be seen for who and what you actually are.I believe it is this that is “practice realization.”

Monday, January 04, 2016

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 takes us to a branch of philosophy called epistemology. It is a necessary question in the area of theory building.  How do we know anything?  

Another, sometimes counter philosophical area, is ontology which is about "being."  We might say somethings are known through our direct experience of them. Existentialists and phenomenologists may fall into this category.

Theological issues often include epistemological questions related to a person's ontological or phenomenological knowledge.  How do we know God?  Is it even possible to know a proposed being who is believed to exist on an entirely different plane of existence as our own? I believe the Buddha argued it was both impossible to answer that question and that the question itself had no value because it did nothing to awaken us.

Contemporary Zen Masters have suggested that one of the ways we may discover the truth is to abide in a "don't know" mind. Masters like Seung Sahn and Bernie Glassman are proponents of this, as is the Order of Clear Mind Zen. To abide in a "Don't Know Mind" is to deliberately set aside what we think we know so that what is in front of us has an opportunity to be seen as it is, directly, and without the filter of presumption.  We develop such a mind through the practice of seated meditation and in the Rinzai school, koan work. 

At this point, we might be asking ourselves, “So what?”  In Part Two we will address that most important question of application. Be well Y’all