Zen 101

Monday, November 14, 2016


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 and interdependent, but we are separate from each other and all other things. The Absolute Truth in Buddhism is that we are not separate; we are completely one with everything else. In this realization, there is no "me" separate from "you." Or no "me" separate from, say, "God." Buddhists argue that our task is to free ourselves from the bonds of the relative and live in the truth of the Absolute. 
When we realize the "Absolute" those boundaries that divide us fall away and when they do and we are all "one," One itself dissolves and there is just "thusness." We are then "beyond the other shore, having never left." 
Like a koan, we must move away from the words as the words are traps that bind us to the relative. The power of this vow is in the resolution of the apparent contradiction. When we try to enter non-duality we must fail because we are attempting to enter through the relative which keeps us stuck. 
So? How, then to honor this vow today? 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

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 with comments on what happened or what's going to happen and our mind takes into a dream. Let's forget the dream and just feel our fingers on the keyboard or the feel of a brush in hand or the smell of bread baking in the oven or the touch of a loved one.

When all there is is that, when mind and body fall away, we cannot touch our true nature as there is no we and no nature to touch; just this.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

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 believe important is investigating the motivations behind so many Americans voting the way they did.  Its easy, I think, to blame it on racism or sexism, too easy.  There must be something else under the surface that we are missing.  What is it about a “liberal” or “progressive” viewpoint that is so toxic to this population?  How might we encourage those who voted for Mr. Trump to look more deeply?  

My sense is, just like many of us, they are motivated by fear.  How do we address fear within our nation, in our communities or even within our families? Does it help to protest?  Does protest assuage fear? I’m concerned that the protests that arise only serve to deepen the fear and make us more and more suspect in the hearts of those we want to reach. Would it be a good idea for us as concerned citizens and clergy to have a community discussion on such things?  My apologies for going on and on.  These are just some thoughts that arose after last night.  

May we each be a blessing in the universe.