Zen 101

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


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, and all the little dots and dashes of a faith tradition, but am I a “Master”? Master means something far deeper and reveals itself in life’s little details.

Does one ever truly become a Master?  I doubt it. And if one is so deeply dedicated to a practice, it would seem to me one would have developed a faith in that practice and would've moved ever more deeply along the way of that practice. In such a way true mastery occurs. But it is the sort of mastery that arises without degree nor recognition because it is an internal transformation.

I’ve heard the mythic story that the origin of the Martial Arts “Black Belt” was that students wore a belt and trained in it so long that the white belt became black. Today these are bought and awarded after years of training. Yet, it seems to me they are decidedly not the same thing. Today, if we want to see a true Master we might search elsewhere. Perhaps seek out a violin maker, for example, who creates violins with his/her own hands slowly and with the greatest of care and love.   We might seek out a poet who truly struggles over words and images, crafting a poem that speaks volumes in few words. We might seek out an artist whose work is the artist inside and out. And in every case there will be humility.  It will not be the Master who wishes to be appreciated, but the Master will wish the work itself to be appreciated. He or she might care less about the accolades and hoopla around being awarded something for his or her work. A true Master, then, it seems to me, has transcended himself.  There would be no desire to be a Master as that desire dropped away in the long transformative process becoming selfless.

Is our world, our heart, and our practice one? Do we touch our coffee cup in the same way we might touch God? Master the everyday and true mastery will manifest itself on its own.  

Be well

Monday, July 11, 2016


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 his homeland in order to develop a Zen practice us Westerners might be able to both understand and practice.: a sort of middle way. For him, Zen was practice. And while he retained much of the Japanese Soto school’s practices, he streamlined them here in the United States beginning in 1939.

So, we might say he offered a hybrid sort of practice.  Decidedly not the high church style some are accustomed to seeing.  He wore robes, shaved his head, and practiced Zazen.  He also did engaged practice through his many, many talks in schools, dojos, and, well, any place that would have him.  My teacher, likewise. 

When my teacher authorized me to create my own Order he told me I had permission to change what I thought was necessary, but not to embarrass him. So, too, I have given those instructions to the priests I have ordained.  What is important here, I think, is authenticity in practice. If you will not do san pai (three prostrations) with your whole body and mind, don’t do them.
If you do not have your heart in the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra as you chant it, don’t chant it. 

We have a saying in Zen, “When walking, walk; when sitting, sit.  Above all, don’t wobble.”  The choice regarding ceremony and ritual is intensely personal, but must be informed.  One ought not change a tradition just because one doesn’t like it. Once one is inside it, realizes it, then, maybe then, change may come.

Be a blessing today, listen to someone you do not agree with.