Zen 101

Friday, December 01, 2017

Announcing our weekly radio show

Las Cruces Community Radio's station KTAL-LP

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Hello All,  

A few changes coming down the pike. Most importantly is I’ve decided to once again take on formally  teaching Zen. If anyone wishes to engage this practice and you are not a student of another Zen teacher, please feel free to contact me at harveyhilbert@yahoo.com.  I will initiate a group study as well using “Living by Vow” by Rev Okumora Roshi.  Classes will begin on Monday evening at 6:00 PM at my residence.

Friday, November 03, 2017


With respect, 

I haven't talked much about Zen of late. Too bad, talking about Zen is lots of fun. Its the practice that's the hard part. I believe the difference between talking and doing is like the distance between this galaxy and the next. They are incredibly far apart. Yet, we often convince ourselves that they really are the same. No, they are not.

To practice Zen is to not "practice," but to be "Zen." Which is to say, being selfless. How hard is that? How many times a day do we say "I"? Much like when Master Dogen Zenji says "Don't think" and we cut the thought, so too, we cut the "I" and just be...very ontological.

What is it to "just be"?

This is the place where there is no hot or cold, the place where there is no one hand to clap or tree to fall; this is the place of precise existence. Yellow is yellow, red is red. I am and I am not. The place where we take that step off the hundred foot pole with ease.

What does all this mean?

When we spill a cup of coffee we just clean it up and when the dog barks at the door, we let him out. What thought is required in this place? No thought, that's the thing.

Someone might say, "Well, then, how do we plan? How do we get through a day?" Again, Master Dogen would say, "When planning, plan." Its really that simple and that difficult. Its the "just" in "just this." We want to equivocate. We want a back door. In Zen there is neither, hence the difficulty.

None of us can "just be" all the time. In fact it is rare to "just be" at all. Our brain will not allow it. But we can get there more and more often as we practice letting go of thoughts and feelings. What's required are two things: mindfulness and a willingness to accept what mindful awareness brings to us.

And that brings us back to our practice, our being Zen.

As you read this, do not question. Just read. When you question, just question. How hard is that?

We'll see.



Sunday, July 16, 2017


Lets talk about Zen. Zen is one of the practices of the Buddha Way. It is not a belief system or a dogma. It is not a philosophy, nor a religion in its own right. Zen is a practice, the practice of meditation, a practice done in many forms: sitting, eating, working, walking. So, in a sense Zen is about where your mind is during an activity.

Is your mind attending to the activity? Or is your mind somewhere else? Are you mindful in your behavior, which is to say, are you aware of the activity as yourself?

Zen can be practiced "religously." Or not. Zen can be part of a faith tradition, hence the existence of Jewish Buddhists, Catholic and Protestant Buddhists, and so on. or not.

Zen properly understood is, at its root, iconoclastic. We say, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Which is to kill our idea or concept of something. We realize an idea or concept of something is not the thing itself and in fact, such an idea or concept often blinds us to the actual truth of what is directly in front of us. Therefore our practice is to recognize our ideas and concepts as just that: ideas and concepts.

To get to the truth of something we need to set aside what we think we know. We need to take on a "beginner's mind" and "leave home. True Zen is not about bells, robes, incense, and the like. True Zen is naked. This is why it is so difficult. Its about seeing clearly. For me, as well as everyone else I believe, this is a daunting if not impossible task. Self awareness, self concept, attachments to who or what we believe we are --- or are not --- are a serious challenge.

Our world today is filled with deceit, danger, greed, and hatred. As reflective human beings, beings with a mind and heart, beings with frailties and strengths, we have many opportunities to practice our Zen. We practice as we are confronted with demons outside and inside of us. Each of us has the capacity to hate and love, be honest or dishonest, manifest charity or greed, and exhibit defensiveness and vulnerability.

Our Zen is not a flavor of the month; it is an everyday discipline and art whose primary function is awareness. Not just any awareness, though, but the awareness that comes with steady and unswerving attention regardless of the cost to our sense of self esteem and self concept. Such a practice takes courage. For those willing to look deeply the "rewards" are nothing but everyday life lived in the light of wisdom.

May we each develop and possess this sort of courage.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


With palms together,
Good Morning All,

“I am of the nature to grow old”…so says one of the five remembrances, and more often than not, my own body as I wake in the morning. Stiff, tense, unyielding to free movement, I hobble. Sometimes needing a cane, sometimes tripping over my own toes, I waddle from point A to point B and thankfully sit down.

Aging, something I once rarely thought about, is now right in front of my nose. If my body fails to remind me, my lovely wife will chime in, “You’re old!” every time I think of doing something I once did easily.

Mindful practice, true Zen practice, has us train to be continuously aware of pretty much everything and to not keep thoughts and feelings, images, smells, etc., close, but instead, to allow them their freedom. When we do this, many of the issues around our aging fall away. Why?

To be truly mindful, one does not judge one’s experience, but rather, simply experiences it. When stiff, experience stiff. When hobbling, just hobble. True mindfulness is deeply challenging, but exquisite in experienced application.

Our thoughts about the pain we might feel is our suffering. When we notice thoughts and let go of the them, we are truly free from suffering. Note that our pain will remain. But in a most fundamental way, it ceases to have meaning.

Completing the line from the sutra, the Buddha pointed out the obvious:

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.”

While true, the Buddha’s teaching on mindful practice (or what I sometimes refer to as Zen in Motion) is a way to escape the suffering resulting from aging. Hobbling, stumbling, being stiff as a board, all of these are my personal practice points. Each of us has them. Be grateful for them. They are our teachers.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


With respect for all, Good Morning Everyone,

What do we think of when we think, “Zen Buddhist Priest?” Many new acquaintances have reacted with great surprise as they discover I am an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, and more than that, the founder of an Order of priests and lay persons. Perhaps it’s my “get-up,” as my wife refers to it, to wit: black leather biker vest with various biker patches, black jeans, do- rag on my head ( a head now covered with silver gray hair), and black boots? Ya wonder?

I am delighted by such responses as they offer an opportunity to help people check their assumptions. And assumptions are a great hindrance in authentic communication, are they not? So often we assume we know something about a person by their dress, car, house, gender, and (let’s face it) the color of their skin. Its this last item that truly bothers me. I detest racial prejudice and its resultant racism. I do so for a variety of reasons not the least of which are the stereotypic assumptions we make when using skin color as a filter through which we understand who is standing before us. While many of us today have taken on “White
privilege” as a cause, I believe it is a contemporary example of the above noted filter in action. I see it as racism, pure and simple. Perhaps understandable racism, but racism nonetheless. Anytime we make a judgement about someone by virtue of the color of their skin it is racism in my opinion.

Now this all said and, while I believe White privilege exists, (as does a certain gender based privilege, class privilege, and so forth, we cannot assume each White person, male or female person, or a person of a certain socio-economic class manifests or abuses that privilege, yet they each may possess it.

Does the possession of “privilege” equate to being an oppressor? I ask this as it seems to me today they are being caste into the same bag. If one possesses a drug are they a user? Or an archery set, a killer? No. Possessing something means very little until it is used.
The argument is, however, that certain folk, White folk, in particular male White folk are perceived to be granted somethings simply because they are White males. This may be true some of the time or even most of the
time, but it is not true all of the time. The assumption that it is true all of the time is the issue itself.

I have a PhD from a rather prestigious university. I once was the CEO of a large system of private mental health centers. I was granted Inka (Dharma Transmission) by my teacher after only five years as abbot of his Temple and Zen Center. Privilege? Right? If you have assumed I accomplished these due to privilege granted by the color of my skin, what are you? I say, you are a racist.

Without being defensive let me paint a picture for you that shreds your stereotypic racist assumptions. First, I was born into a dirt poor and quite violent family. I dropped out of high school. I was from the lowest of economic classes in the United States. My mother, a high school drop out, earned a living waiting tables or getting close to men with money. I applied for jobs out of the newspaper as I had zero “connections” (the true source of privilege in my opinion) and was told quite often to get my “ass” out of the place as “they” didn’t want “my kind.”

As many poor Black folk, I enlisted in the US Army as soon as I could. So I was an Infantry soldier with no skills but to kill and in killing was shot in the head. Privilege, right?

After combat I was “retired” at 19. I was treated as a vagrant. I was homeless for a bit. I had no future. Privilege, right?

At some point someone told me I should go to college. I had taken the GED and passed it despite dropping out in the 9th grade. After college I applied to the CWRU doctoral program and was admitted. To get admitted one had to score in the top two percent on the Millar Analogy Test. Privilege, right? Along side me were people of color and folks from around the world. I was nothing special.

So after graduation with $100.00 I rented an office and opened a counseling practice with zero clients. Ten years later I had seven offices in two states, owned four companies, and was a very popular speaker on PTSD. Privilege, right?

After a few years of driving 90 miles each way each weekend to practice with my teacher I was ordained. Privilege, right?

Of course none of this is on my sleeve. What you see is an old White guy in biker gear and you assume you know me and if I was successful in life it was a result of White privilege. And you dare not to think of yourself as a racist? Privilege, right?


Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Pure Precepts

Good Morning All,

There are three pure precepts in Zen Buddhism: 1. Cease doing evil, 2. Do good, and 3. Bring about abundant good for all beings. These three hinge on our understanding of good and evil. Not so easy. What is "good"? What is "evil"? Some might say, "If you don't know, you're lost!" But that is no answer, its a distraction. Some might say, "Let's use the Hindu, "Ahimsa" as a guide, 'do no harm.'" This might get us close.

Using ahimsa as a guiding principle we might ask under what conditions might we be able to do harm or be unable to do harm. If we practice and realize the non-dual nature of our existence, we might say "if we are all one, then I cannot harm another as I would be harming myself." In fact, in oneness, harm itself becomes meaningless. For to do harm requires one being committing an action against another, thus creating a duality.

From here we might say "good" is non-duality and "evil" is duality. Within each possibilities either exist or fail to manifest. In duality I can do harm. In non-duality, I am not able to do harm. Thus, to vow to cease doing evil is to reject duality, to do good is to reside in non-duality, and to bring about abundant good for all beings is to assist others in realizing non-duality.

This last pure precept requires further attention, however. Abraham Maslow noted there is a "hierarchy of common human needs." Like a pyramid, the bottom level is broad and includes all of our physiological needs such as food and shelter. He argued that to move up the pyramid to the highest level, that of self-actualization" (or what we may consider "enlightenment," one must first meets the other needs.

In such an understanding, then, we who take that third pure precept must understand that we are vowing to assist others in doing just that. We in the Order of Clear Mind Zen understand this precept as a vow to social action, or what is called "Engaged Zen."

What will each of us do today to assist others?

Be well,


Saturday, June 10, 2017

No Hindrance, No Fear

With palms together,

"...with no hindrance in the mind, no hindrance therefore no fear..."

from The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra

The sutra teaches that when we are in a state of samadhi (complete one pointed awareness) there is no hindrance in the mind, that is, no duality: we realize you, me, and the entire universe are not separate, but are one. In such a place there can be no fear. The wave and the sea are one. In this place there is no birth or death; all that is, always was and always will be.

How so?

The dropping away of an identification with self and acceptance that this "self" is a creation of the mind and has no substantive reality; this practice allow us to see clearly our original nature, a nature that does not change, that has neither been born nor has died; it is the Buddha Nature itself.

Some may consider this our "soul" but that would be incorrect. The Buddha Nature is not individuated. It is, rather, universal everything all at once. We might say that as we are born in the relative world, the Buddha Nature may have the opportunity to see itself. When it does I view that as enlightenment.

Its not that anything has changed. Only the veil has lifted from our eyes, a veil our brain produces by its natural function. That everything is one has not changed; it was simply always there. We just don't see it. Our practice is not only to open our eyes to this original nature, but to keep them open.

While Dogen Zenji says zazen (seated meditation) is practice realization, sitting zazen on a cushion is not enough. Our practice continues throughout the day and that realization ought arise within our each and every breath because each breath is practice itself.

We practice being our Buddha Nature as we walk, talk, sit, and behave in each moment. It is this practice that makes us close followers of the Buddha Way. It is how we enact ourselves as fearless bodhisattvas.

We, followers of the Buddha Way, keep this practice close. It is the "rod and the staff" that comforts us not just through the darkness, but also in the light.

"...Far beyond delusive thinking they finally awaken to complete Nirvana..."

The sutra closes with this chant, "Gone, gone, gone to the other shore, attained the other shore, to beyond the other shore, having never left."

Indeed, heaven, earth, hell, and all other imaginings, are here right now. We make our lives feel what we feel they are. As someone once said, "Life is not a rehearsal..."

Live as if you mean it.

Be well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stillness and Revolution

With respect for all,
Good Morning,

The time is 9:07 and I am sitting outside at our patio table. The sky is a brilliant blue, cloudless, spreading from horizon to horizon. Public radio is offering “Performance Today” giving me a selection of beautiful classical music and for a moment here and there I am floating along the rivers of violin. Beautiful.  

The birds are at the feeder and I’ve filled the birdbath. Suki is at my side, Kathryn is in her “chambers” doing her morning rituals involving coffee, chess, and radio. What I am describing is our fairly typical morning time, although we usually begin in the studio with conversation and coffee. Today we both woke early.

Coffee, paper, pen and the world around me; this is my life, or a god part of it, for if not pen and paper, then brush and canvas. It is a world of discovery through stillness and application through action. We sit in stillness and the world as it is rising up around us knocking on our consciousness.  We walk in stillness and the world around us becomes a soft stream joining us in each step.  Letting our self created ideas of is and ought come and go, there is only this sound, that sight; this thought, that feeling.  What a wonder it is!

So, reflecting in the stream of the morning’s stillness, our lives take on a character.  We will manifest that character through our actions during the day and night.  Who are we?  What are we capable of?  What is in front of us this morning to do and how will we be in the doing of it?

Will we be gentle in tongue and step?  Will we be compassionate for those who are angry and hurtful toward us or others?  Will we be the buddhas we already are if only we were to allow ourselves that level of vulnerability and freedom? 

I don’t believe we will be as we wish.  I believe to be the person we would wish to be takes practice and deliberation.  It takes discipline and a willingness to reside in doubt.  Few of us have these attributes of character, although we each have the capacity. My prayer for the day is that I will, myself, bring into the world the love and compassion I feel and do so without fear.  Now that makes my morning a first step toward liberation and revolution.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Keep it Real

With palms together,

There are days when aspects of our lives seem overwhelming and there are days when everything seems like a dream come true, delightful and to be cherished. We tend to seek one and avoid the other. I have learned this is a mistake because we are always too close to actually know which is which, and indeed, they may not be different at all, depending on our point of view.
There was a Buddhist sage who taught us that to choose one or another takes us away from the Dharma. Why? Because the Dharma is simply the direct experience of reality. This is where we practice to abide. So, the "good" days and the "bad" days are neither good nor bad, they are simply and completely, our days.
To have a preference and to abide in that preference takes us away from what is actually there before us. Our life as it is in that moment, and the fact is, there can be no other moment. So, when happy, be happy; when sad, be sad. There is nothing more.
If this sounds a bit pessimistic it is not. What can possibly be greater than being awake in each and every breath? Regardless of our experience, each experience is but one facet of a greater diamond called our life. When dark here; light there. We might consider the flowers that bloom or the birds that sing or the clouds passing overhead. We might remember those who came before and those who will be to come in this vast eternal golden braid. Our pain on one day may be our joy in the next. But even if its not, it is still ours to experience and ours to learn from. 
May we each remain in the present, period.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Zen of Holy

The Zen of Holy

And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I the LORD am holy, (Lev.20:23)

In the beginning they say the holy spirit swept across nothing and in a word the world was born.  That same spirit breathed life into mud and told the mud to name everything.  In the final chapters, so they say, the holy spirit told humankind to be holy, and to do so all they had to do was follow a few rules, and so they tried…but the rules were too difficult, don’t you know, and so?  We humans once again fell from grace.  Yet, in doing so we fully realized ourselves and THAT who always was and always will be suddenly goes silent: when all is One, there is no one.

Zen practice is like that, isn’t it?

We come to Zen seeking something, often salvation, a new life, a better life, or a life worth living. Such lives are hard.  They are hard because we need to let everything we know and care about fall away in order to be truly present. Being present, awake in the moment opens our hearts and minds. We can become afraid. We don’t know what will become of us through such an act; it is a serious leap of faith. So serious it is that few of us are either capable of, or are willing, to go there.  So, what do we do? Well, I think its  like we side step our way through the gates of bliss not knowing fully what to expect and yet expect our rewards will be greater than our efforts.  

A rule with a different view:  We often believe if we sit on a cushion long enough keeping an “open” beginner’s mind, our thoughts, fears, and concerns will fall away.  We chant:  “how wondrous and glorious are the clothes of enlightenment, formless yet enfolding all treasures. Wrapping ourselves in the Buddha’s teaching we free all living beings.”  We put on the robe. But not in any sort of serious mind, we just put it on. Like the saying, “the clothes make the man”  perhaps we think if we wear the robe some level of holiness will rub off on us and a buddha we will be. Within a second or two we forget all about the Buddha’s teaching, the robe, and frankly, anything else because we are now facing a wall, thus facing ourselves.

Master Dogen essentially argued that when we take our seat in the manner prescribed and practice in this way, we are in a state of what he called “practice realization.”  I call it “holiness.”  In the holy there is no two, no other, nothing impure, nothing profane.  In fact, even holiness evaporates. There is just this breath, then the next.  There is just this thought falling away and that thought falling away.  And in this know nothing place holiness arises.

Holiness is nothing special, it is with us in each and every breath. The sutra says there is nothing sacred and nothing profane, in fact, as we practice, holiness itself is rendered meaningless and in that moment, it too, falls away.

The Zen of Holiness then is a holiness gained, therefore lost. We don’t walk on water, but we do love each other.  We don’t perform miracles, but we do treat each other with a profound compassion. We don’t go to heaven, but remain here in this most needy world, offering a way, just a way, for each of us to live fully and completely.  May we each realize such holiness.