Zen 101

Monday, May 23, 2016

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 wake of brilliantly lit intrusive thoughts, I recall those people who assisted me on my trek back to "the world" from the jungles of Viet Nam. There were "Donut Dollies" on an airfield in Alabama on my way to Portsmouth Navel Hospital, there were the many medics and nurses who cared for me on that flight, and lets not forget the docs and nurses in Vietnam who saved my life on the operateng table in a combat zone. 

And then the there was Alan Watts who unknowingly introduced me to Zen in late 1966 as I read his "The Way of Zen" and began a practice that was destined also to save my life. My chess teacher, Bernie Schmidt, my Zen Teacher Hogaku Shozen McGuire, and the many, many others who sometimes, at great expense to themselves, supported me.  My life has been a world of hurt, but also of many, many blessings.  On Memorial Day it is good to recall both.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

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 mattered, you would be completely mistaken. 


The student adds milk and sugar to his coffee; the Master takes it black.

So, why ask why?  Is there any answer that would satisfy you?  Of course not. Just more milk and sugar… 

…and the coffee is no longer coffee.

Just so, Zen is not words. And life is not thinking about life; life is living life.