Zen 101

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.