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Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

To return to the root is to find the meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for truth;
only cease to hold opinions.

 

I was sitting quietly at home after Zen on Saturday morning and was drawn, once again, to pick up this wonderful book, To Meet the Real Dragon, by Gudo Nishijima and conveniently enough he was talking about the ‘roots” of Buddhism and the many branches/schools that have come since Gautama Buddha walked on earth. He said, “We must always remember that true Buddhism is something real—something active and alive. If our teachings and institutions lose contact with that source of life and vitality, they will become a hindrance rather than a helpful vehicle on the way to the truth (page 122).”[1]

Buddhism is much more than the sutras and the tenants and the rules and the rituals that have been created over these 2500 years, much more!

So what does this phrase imply to “return to the root is to find the meaning.” For me it brings me back to a time when I knew only a little bit about Buddhism—to the reason I came to Buddhism, simply to sit quietly in time and space and to be free. To calm my body, mind, and spirit even in the midst of living a busy active life of teaching, training, writing, volunteering, and housework—to remain one with the source of life—especially in the midst of that long list.

It is an opportunity to allow myself the simple gift of “sitting in the silence” as we used to say at Unity. Unity minister, teacher, and writer Emily Cady in her empowering book Lessons in Truth wrote these words, “You need not worry. You need not be anxious. You need not strive—only let it. Learn how to let it (page 126).”[2]

As you can see Emily Cady agreed wholeheartedly with the Faith in Mind sutra even though she may have never heard of it or read it. “Truth” is eternal and everywhere present. Thus the sutra says, “Do not search for truth; only cease to hold opinions.” Just this. . .

Sitting alone or sitting with a group is a great time to NOT search, to NOT hold opinions of what a great period of sitting you had or what an awful period of sitting you had—to cease naming and labeling. To simply “let it.” We do enough naming and labeling with everything else in our lives why not take a few minutes each day to give yourself a break from it. Wow, that would be a relief wouldn’t it!

To go “beyond appearance and emptiness” to be free of them for just a moment as we sit “in the silence” and become one with it, whatever it is. I hope you’ll try it…I think you’ll like it!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Nishijima, G. (2009) To Meet the Real Dragon, Dogen Sangha Publications www.dogensangha.org

[2] Cady, H. E. (1903) Lessons In Truth, Unity House: Unity Village: MO

Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

To deny the reality of things

is to miss their reality;

to assert the emptiness of things

is to miss their reality.

The more you talk and think about it,

the further astray you wander from the truth.

Stop talking and thinking,

and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

Once again each line is a contradiction of the next line and thus it goes.  Can we deny the reality of something and yet be told that in doing so we end up missing the reality of it and yet to assert the emptiness of things is once again to miss the reality of emptiness!  This is what I love about Buddhism and its ability to make us think about life in such a way that the frustration finally brings us to a place of giving up, a place of stopping, a place of trying NOT to figure things out.

In another translation of this poem they write these words instead:

The more you think about it,

the further you are from the truth.

Cease all thinking,

and there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.[1]

So the trick is to sit and just be still and the truth will be revealed to us in a myriad of ways.  It may come from a simple Ah Ha as we are walking down the street or through the mall.  It may come to us as a hug from a long lost friend or relative or from the words of a teacher during a talk at Zen—but come it will.

Do the right thing and the right things will happen: sit quietly in the silence, quiet the monkey mind, and “there is nothing that will not be revealed to you.”

Just today I was participating in an online book study group and the subject came up about the  genius of people like YoYo Ma and Picasso and my comment to the group was “music and art comes through them not from them.”  While in the midst of the playing or the painting or the day dreaming they wandered into emptiness and all came to them in some unimaginable way. They grabbed on to it and let it come through them with patience, with vim, with vigor, and with determination, or even with not knowing or not trying it just happened.  They did not question it or fight it or hope for something different, they went with the flow.

When was the last time you went with the ‘flow.” When was the last time you gave up the idea of being “right” or “wrong” “better” or “best”  and you simply went with what was—went with the flow.  You stopped talking and thinking and all was revealed to you?

I am sure there have been many times at work or in a personal relationship when you have thought: “I just wish everyone would stop talking!”  Can’t we take a few minutes to just sit quietly and get centered, take a few breaths and open our hearts and minds to what can be?  To sit and just let something grow and blossom on its own.  Let it manifest out of nothingness.  Deepak Chopra would say it arises from “pure potentiality.”

Remember what the Third Patriarch of Zen Seng-ts’an said, “Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know.” When you do I hope you’ll let me know what wonders appeared!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

oldhousestan

This old farm house is where my mother, Iona Louise Bird, was born in 1920 and lived in until the 1940’s in Quinter, Kansas.  This picture was taken in 2013 shortly after my mother’s death by her sister Wyneta. She went there to scatter my mother’s ashes as she had requested—back to emptiness from which she came.

[1] Putkonen, E. Hsin-Hsin Ming Verses on the Perfect mind by Seng-ts’an, third Patriarch of Zen; Awaken to Life with Eric Putkonen, Minneapolis, MN http://www.awaken2life.org

“Faith in Mind” [1]
Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The way is perfect, like vast space
when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene without striving for activity in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know oneness.
Those who do not live in the single way
fail in both activity and passivity,
assertion and denial.

These verses may seem to be very confusing at first glance. It seems to be saying in one line that when we do not understand something our mind is “disturbed to no avail” and yet a few lines later we read we are being asked to try not to be bothered with knowing and not knowing, so which is it? Know, not know, understand, not understand? Seems to me that Buddhism is the best philosophy on the planet, knowing and not knowing are both okay. Right can be wrong, and wrong can be right on any given day. Black and white do not exist, life is filled with shades of every color on the spectrum of light.

And yet he writes, “As long as you remain in one extreme or the other you will never know oneness.” Thus many have called this path the “middle way.” That is something I can grasp. I can see that in my life when I have taken my thoughts and feelings too far in one direction or the other I have either been in “heaven” or “hell.” I may choose the heaven over the hell, but eventually even that means that I’ve decided on “preferences.” If you read my previous blog you’ll see how that can cause problems in our lives as well.

So what is the answer? Let’s go back to this line for a minute: The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Too much of anything can be a bad thing from too much love which can end up suffocating us or too little love which can end up creating feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt. But just the right amount like these lyrics illustrate “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in a most delightful way,” as Julie Andrews sang so beautifully in the Mary Poppins movie. Not too much sugar and not too little, just “one spoonful” was just right. The best medicine of life is to find balance and equilibrium though the middle way: Just enough, not too much and not too little in life of challenges, love, contentment, peace, joy, happiness, and sadness.

So when you find yourself moving too far in one direction or the other remember Mary Poppins and your life will be lived “in a most delightful way.” Remember also these words of Seng’tsan, “The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.” The middle way: Try it I think, like Mary Poppins, you’ll love it!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Osho (2014) Hsin Hsin Ming, The Zen Understanding of Mind and Consciousness. Osho International Foundation

I was wondering what I should blog on next and so I sent a note to my teacher Mitch Doshin Cantor and he suggested that I begin writing on Faith in Mind a sutra (poem) written in the 6th Century because it is a great way to learn about the beliefs and tenants of Buddhism. It is vast and in the version that I will be using it contains over 1,000 words!

This is the longest sutra I have tried to create a workbook from. Needless to say, it will take me a lot of time and energy and many blog posts to do it justice. This will give my readers the opportunity to take as long as they like to quietly focus on one section at a time.

Its opening verse is among the most quoted verses of Buddhism, even so most people do not know its real origin.

The first section reads:

The great way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against. . .
The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.

This line “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences” has been taught and shared by spiritual leaders, seekers, philosophers, psychologists, therapists, and clergy for centuries. I first came across it as a Unity minister when reading a wonderful book by Ken Keyes, Jr., The Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It has influenced my life ever since. Little did I know at the time that he was a student of Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa, and Alan Watts. I guess I was a Buddhist before I was a Buddhist!

In it he talked about giving up our preferences! That having preferences about everything is the path to pain and suffering. And as the sutra says it does not matter whether those preferences are heaven over hell, love over hate, or mint chocolate chip ice cream over vanilla. Well, the ice creams not really in the sutra!

I recall going to Ken Keyes’ College in Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1980’s for a month long work study program. The very first thing I did was organize a group of people to get the macrobiotic cook to make at least one of the pizzas with “real” mozzarella cheese and not tofu cheese for the non-vegan students! Talk about needing to learn what Ken had to teach! I was the star pupil…

After all these years it is still a lifelong process of learning to live without preferences. I still sometimes “set heaven and earth infinitely apart” and although I still like that mint chocolate chip ice cream I will eat the vanilla if you serve it–no preferences.

It may not be a quick and easy path, but it is an important one. I do “wish to see the truth” and so if you catch me showing off my preferences I hope you’ll remind me because Sosan says, “The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.” That is one disease I hope to avoid as often as I can! With your help I’m sure I’ll find my way.

Thanks Ken, wherever you are!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Faith in Mind: Attributed to: (Sosan, Zen) Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese Patriarch

John Daido Loori has written the most wonderful book on Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment.  I am sharing with you two paragraphs from it on this Earth Day 2015.  I hope that his words will encourage you to be a proactive practitioner supporting the environment and this little blue dot in the universe on which we live, play, and love.  In gassho, Shokai

The Buddhist precepts are a teaching on how to live our lives in harmony with the totality of the universe.  When we look at the precepts, we normally think of them in terms of people.  Indeed, most of the moral and ethical teachings of the great religions address relationships among people.  But these precepts do not exclusively pertain to the human realm.  They are talking about the whole universe, and we need to see them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.

The Three Pure Precepts, Not creating evil, Practicing good, and Actualizing good for others, are a definition of harmony in an inherently perfect universe, a universe that is totally interpenetrated, codependent, and mutually arising.  But the question is: How do we accomplish that perfection? The Ten Grave Precepts point that out.  Looking at the Ten Grave Precepts in terms of how we relate to our environment is a step in the direction of appreciating the continuous, subtle, and vital role we play in the well-being of this planet–a beginning of taking responsibility for the whole catastrophe (pages 89-90).

The other day I was invited to teach a class on Sexual Harassment and Diversity in the Workplace and as I was designing the curriculum I thought about the wonderful “Eightfold path of Buddhism” that we are encouraged to live by as Buddhists.  I thought what a great world this would be if everyone could live by these simple principles of life and how it might bring our country together in peace, love, and compassion.  So I wrote this exercise for them to complete in small groups and then I asked them to come back and share their creations with the full class.

I hope you find this exercise interesting and will try using it at your place of work, place of worship, or organization.  It stimulated lots of conversations and several AH HAs.  Let me know how it worked out!

ingassho

In gassho, Shokai

“The Wise Eightfold Path to Working with Others”

All of these actions can help us work in a diverse workplace with compassion and as a good team player and/or team leader.

Step One: Come up with a team definition for the word Wisdom.  Especially think about the difference between the word “knowledge” and the word “wisdom.”

Step Two: In your small groups make a plan to cultivate these eight items for yourself and your team. What would “Wise Understanding” look like from the perspective of your group. Come to consensus as your team writes each definition so that all team members have input.  Ensure that the definition is action oriented.  What words and actions might you use that would demonstrate “wise understanding” or “wise intention”? Do this for all 8 items. Be prepared to share a synopsis of your group’s discussion and your definitions with the full class.  How might this change your organization, your work environment, your team, and you?

Wise understanding
Wise intention
Wise speech
Wise action
Wise livelihood
Wise effort
Wise mindfulness
Wise concentration.

Hearing this simply perceive the source!
Make no criterion: if you do not see the way,
You do not see it even as you walk on it.
When you walk the way, you draw no nearer, progress no farther:
Who fails to see this is mountains and rivers away.
Listen, those who would pierce this subtle matter,
Do not waste your time by night or day!

These are the last seven verses of the Sandokai. We will be looking at the meaning for each of us in these very simple yet profound words. Shohaku Okumura goes on to write in his book, Living by Vow, about the importance of these last verses as we use them in our practice and in our daily lives.

All doctrines, theories, and descriptions using words and concepts are distorted images of reality from our own point of view. When we realize this, even a distorted copy can be useful. However, if we mistake the distorted map for the true reality, we stray, making up our own standards of judgment (page 247).[1]

“Making up our own standards of judgment” would often put us outside of what we know about Zen Buddhism and the way of life prescribed in its teachings and precepts. It will bring our focus into the material and physical worlds and out of the world beyond things and thoughts and the precepts by which we live our lives as Buddhists.

He goes on to write:

By just sitting and letting go of thought, we can be within reality. Just sitting allows us to put our entire being on the ground of reality. But usually we make up our own standards and create our distorted version of reality. Therefore, we need to constantly practice letting go. When we place ourselves on the ground of reality, we will find the path we need to walk. Otherwise, we will be lost in the map made by our minds (page 247-48).[2]

So instead of letting our idle minds, fears, and distortions of reality control our life let us focus on the words of the Sandokai and remember that even when we are on the path we may “fail to see this.” So how about ensuring that you sit daily to help “ground” yourself even if it is only 10 minutes. Then each day you will get closer and closer to piercing “this subtle matter.” Closer to finding your way into peace, love, and compassion. Closer to living the life of the Buddha and those teachers and followers who have been able to “perceive the source.” And through that perception make this life a grand experiment where we “walk the talk” and “talk the talk” and “live the talk.”

What a beautiful life that would be. What a wonderful world that would be. So let’s try it each day, moment by moment, why not? What have we got to lose—fear, anxiety, greed, ego, illness, and anger? “Do not waste your time by night or day” on those things.—Let’s make our life “moment by moment” one filled with love for the dharma and all its myriad things both visible and invisible “without making any criteria” and your life will be transformed. Without preferences you might say—simply perceive the source.” Then move toward it with each step. Good luck with that!

“Who fails to see this is mountains and rivers away.”

craggy-gardens

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

PHOTO: http://listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com/galleries/color/craggy-gardens.jpg

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