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The four elements return to their true nature as a child to its mother.

Fire is hot, water is wet, wind moves and the earth is dense.

Eye and form, ear and sound, Nose and smell, tongue and taste…the sweet and sour.

Each independent of the other like leaves that come from the same root;

And though leaves and root must go back to the source,

Both root and leaves have their own uses.

These passages can be translated as being not the physical elements of fire, wind, water, and earth as such. Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow elaborates on their true meaning for us.

For example, fire represents body heat; wind symbolizes breathing and moving; water denotes blood, tears, or other bodily liquids; and earth suggests bones, nails, hair, and other solids. In addition to these four, Mahayana Buddhism considers ku, which means “emptiness” or “space,” the fifth gross element. In Chinese, space and emptiness are represented by the same character, which means “sky.” Everything occupies space, so space is, in a sense, another element (pages 234-5).[1]

We live, as the name of the sutra says, in the world of the relative and the world of the absolute. And not only do we live in it but as Okumura says we “are” it. There is no separation of our physical bodies and the entire world even to the great big sky. He suggests that we should free ourselves from “words” and transcend them and look to the “middle waying and yangy.”

The symbol of yin and yang is a great example of this, he says. They oppose, they intermingle, and they merge. There is a black dot in the middle of the white, and a white dot in the middle of the black. Thus the symbol illustrates separation, and merging, and oneness, and difference, masculine and feminine, and yet all working together to create the whole.

He says, “This circle is called the “great ultimate.” It is the source in “Sandokai (page 238).”[2]

And yet we live our lives in a “dualistic” way, focused on separation, differences, likes and dislikes. We are encouraged when we come to Zen and learn to sit zazen to drop the duality and merge into the emptiness of the sky. Doing this can help us in many ways from relieving the body of tension and stress, calming the monkey mind and bringing it to quiet and stillness, and freeing the body from physical pain. Not that we focus on doing these things or try to make them happen, it is just a result of the body and mind becoming one with quiet, stillness and emptiness.

Even the heart knows the stillness within the body. After the lub/dub sounds of the heart values pushing the blood through the heart into the arteries in a healthy person the sounds disappear.

If a stethoscope is placed over the brachial artery in the antecubital fossa in a normal person (without arterial disease), no sound should be audible.[3] What a great illustration of the place to be when sitting in the silence. Our body instinctively knows what to do without us doing a thing.

As I was writing this blog I was led to sit for a short period and at the end of my sit the words to this chant began to sing in my head. We used to chant this simple little song each week at Unity Church before we began the meditation.

In the silence there is a sacred place, a secret meeting place, Love is there. In the silence where every color blends, and every rainbow ends, Good is there.   In the light now you find that you know peace of mind. In the silence your path is paved in gold, and all your dreams unfold; Love is there, Peace is there, Truth is there, God is there.”

What a beautiful illustration of the Sandokai, whether you believe in a god or not, the chant worked. It brought everyone into stillness and into a deeper meditation than some thought possible.

For most this process of stillness occurs after much time spent in zazen. It does not occur over night. It is not something to get stressed about. You need not spend time wondering why your monkey mind is still raging, comparing yourself to others in the group, or trying to make something happen. It is simply coming to sit—with no goals in mind except sitting.

I know that sounds crazy and it probably is. But the sky does not try to be the sky, it just is. The rainbow does not try to be a rainbow it just is. The moon and the sun do not try to be moon and sun. The sun does not wish to be the moon and vice versa. They all just “be” it.

You too can just be the four elements and the emptiness and the rainbow and the stillness whenever and wherever you are. In fact you are already it…there is nothing to search for. Just be it and watch what happens in your life without any work from you at all.

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.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korotkoff_sounds

Forms differ primally in shape and character,
And sounds in sharp or soothing tones.
The dark makes all words one,
The brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases

Shohaku Okumura writes in his beautiful book Living by Vow, “The statement that unity shines in difference and difference flows in the unity is a paradox (page 221).”

We all understand that we live in a physical world where cars can crash into each other, we hit our shin on the coffee table and know that it is definitely real and physical and independent of me, myself, and I. I am not the table and the table is not me. And yet, if we read the lines from the Sandokai we hear the words in our head that say “the darkness makes all words one.” What’s that all about?

Although I am a separate person from my mother–independent. I would not exist without being interdependent with her for nine months. And of course my father was an integral part of the interdependence as well. Of which I am sure, were he alive, he would attest to that fact.

I once saw a TED Talk about a young designer, Thomas Thwaites, who was assigned to choose a project to work on at school. The project he decided on was to build a toaster from scratch. I mean from scratch! He made his iron, plastic, cooper wire and more, which he turned into parts to build the toaster. He quickly discovered that nothing could be done without help from ages of people discovering, studying, testing, building, and creating. And thus we are all interdependent generations of the world in which we live. Without them none of us would have a toaster!

And if we go on Ancestry.com we can see yet another indication that we are interdependent through our genes.

Shohaku Okumura goes on to write, “Our practice is to manifest the merging of difference [independence] and unity [interdependence] completely in every activity, including zazen.” In our practice we have a goal of becoming “one” with these two concepts not only in our time sitting, but throughout the day. When I sit in the zendo with others I enjoy that immensely. I love the peace and compassion that I feel exuding from each member and it often makes my “sit” deeper and easier. And yet, we are all individuals sitting independently and at the same time merging silently as one.

If we could just spread this idea around the world we could end wars, hatred, and prejudice. If we could live like the raindrops that fall into the ocean and become one with it we could understand the idea of interdependence in the Sandokai. Within that ocean of oneness lives millions of creatures from microscopic ones to the giant gentle blue whale whose heart is the size of a car.

Stop for just a moment, if you can, and “Imagine” what the world would look like if we knew our interdependence and lived as though we did…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

~ In loving memory of John Lennon

A simply perfect illustration of “soothing tones” and “the brightness distinguishing good and bad phrases.”

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] http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch

[3] Read more at http://www.lyrics.com/imagine-lyrics-john-lennon.html#22oElMRbqhRgPdh3.99

All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1999) wrote:

“The Sandokai’s words are also double-edged. One side is interdependence (ego) and one side is absolute independence (fuego). This interdependency goes on and on everywhere, and yet things stay in their own places. That is the main point of the Sandokai (510).[1]

That is why we are calling it “relative and absolute” not one, not two, not either, but both as the above lines of the poem/sutra describe. And so in this world we use everything in the relative world (light/San) that we can see, hear, taste and touch on the physical plane and we live at the same time in the absolute (darkness/Do) the oneness where there is no differentiation.

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow uses the example of our five senses to illustrate this point.

Eye is eye, ear is ear, and nose is nose. They have different functions and shapes. They cannot replace each other. If we lose our eyes, we can’t see. If we lose our nose, we can’t smell. But in a universal sense they are not independent; none of them have self-nature. They are really interdependent. And yet in our commonsense way of seeing the world, eye is eye, nose is nose, tongue is tongue. Individuality and universality always coexist, and neither side should be negated or ignored. We should always try to see reality, all beings, and our lives from both perspectives. (page 227)[1]

So when looking at your life do not look through a monocular lens but through a binocular lens where you see both the relative and the absolute for one cannot exist without the other. If we see life through this mono vision we will be confused and upset as the world outside does not comport with the world inside us. This causes stress, fear, anxiety, and confusion in our minds and bodies and can lead us to frustration in our practice and in our relations at work, at home, and at play.

Parallax is a word in science that means “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.” Wikipedia gives the example of sitting in your car and looking at the old fashioned speedometer straight on and seeing the car going 60 miles per hour. While your mom sitting next to you in the passenger seat sees a different speed and will chastise you for going too fast and will warn you about the cost of getting a speeding ticket.

So the Sandokai is asking each of us to see life through the relative and the absolute, to move and adjust our vision, our life, our sitting, and everything from both points of view. It asks us to see our actions and thoughts as “interdependent” while at the same time being “independent.” My thoughts are not your thoughts, yet all thoughts ultimately align in the interdependency of all things.

How many times have your thoughts and someone else’s thoughts been exactly the same and spoken simultaneously? An example would be: You were thinking of calling your friend to invite him or her to lunch at your favorite restaurant. You reach for the phone, as you do it rings and it is him or her calling you to ask you to go to lunch at that same exact restaurant. What are the changes of that in an independent world? What are the chances of that in an interdependent world?

You might say “fuego” has occurred. Fuego “is a manner of ‘doing’ that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances,” such as hunger for lunch at your favorite restaurant with your favorite friend! And still your hunger is yours and hers is hers.

And thus this brings us back to our verse:

All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

We are both independent individuals as we shine in our own singularity and yet we are all one in the same as we merge in our interdependence. Be mindful of your thoughts and conversations this week. Let me know how it felt when you realized that you were treating someone as the “other” or “independent being” and how it felt when you were treating someone as the “same” or “interdependent being.”

When we treat them as an “interdependent being” we just may call each other simultaneously to enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant!

Chew on that for a week and let me know how it if feels and tastes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Fuego, literally “doing by not doing” Zen expression for intentionless action, which leaves no trace in the heart-mind of the one acting, as is the case with profound enlightenment. It is a manner of “doing” that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances. (The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) page 72.

[1] Suzuki, S. (1999) Branching streams flow in the darkness: Zen talks on the Sandokai. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA

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

The subtle source is clear and bright,
The branching streams flow in the dark.
To be attached to things is primordial illusion;
To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

For me the first verse is clear that no matter what or where our inner Buddha is it is clear and bright at all times regardless of whether we feel as though we are in the darkness or the light of the situation. How many times have we thought that we were in the pit of hell emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically and yet soon we pulled ourselves up and out and discovered that what we experienced gave us some power or insight that we would not otherwise have gained.

Life is a system of “branching streams” in which one branch may lead us to Zen, another to a good job or relationship, and yet another to a disastrous situation in our lives. Each has a lesson for us to absorb as we encounter the ups and downs of living on planet earth. Each is a teacher, a revealer, a mentor, a friend, or an enemy. All, in Zen, are there for our enlightenment. And yet “to be attached to any of them is “primordial illusion.” And when we have had that “kensho” or enlightenment experience we are still the same person.

Regardless of what we think or feel about the experience when it is over we still have to do the dishes!

Many years ago I had a “kensho” experience when doing a fire walk during a weekend retreat with Rev. Edwene Gaines and it was magnificent. For a second I was everything—the trees, the grass, the sky, the moon, the stars, the wind, everything. But when that nanosecond was over there I was—me and my physical body standing with all of my faults and foibles—in the forest beneath the trees. And I still had to walk back to the sleeping quarters and brush my teeth before I went to bed. Da gone it!

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen describes this experience thus:

Kensho “seeing nature;” Zen expression for the experience of awakening (enlightenment). Since the meaning is “seeing one’s own true nature,” “kensho” is usually translated “self-realization.” Like all words that try to reduce the conceptually ungraspable experience of enlightenment to a concept, this one is also not entirely accurate and is even misleading since the experience contains no duality of “seer” and “seen” because there is no “nature of self” as an object that is seen by a subject separate from it (page 115).[1]

For that nanosecond there was no “seer” or “seen.” And yet my life went on with its ups and downs, its many branches and streams leading me to Buddhism and my subsequent ordination as a Zen Priest. So each day I sit quietly calming my mind, body, and spirit. Not to seek another “kensho” but to find a place within me where peace, love, and compassion exists without me thinking about it, looking for it, or waiting upon it. Just This! Knowing that whatever “This” is will be right and perfect for the moment. And if not right and perfect so what! Because to be attached to things is primordial illusion and to encounter “the absolute is not yet enlightenment” as my experience in the forest all those many years ago demonstrated. I’ve been a fool many times since and may be again soon, maybe even right now.

Take some time, when you can, to think about these verses and make a plan for some actions that will help you to be a little less foolish today.  My plan begins right now…I hope you’ll join me.
MY PLAN OF ACTION:

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

The mind of the great sage of India

Is intimately conveyed west and east.

Among human beings are wise ones and fools;

In the way, there is no ancestor of north or south.

These are the first four verses of this 37 verse sutra known as the “Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute.” They let us know that the mind of this great “sage of India” has no physical boundaries regardless of whether you live east or west of India. Regardless of the fact that he lived over 2,500 years ago. His teachings transcend the physical and enter into the four directions and all worlds: physical, mental, emotional, and ethereal.

As is written we are at times wise and we know when those thoughts and actions appear. They are spontaneous and kind and magnanimous, and sometimes even surprise ourselves. And we also know when we are being a fool and those are even easier to see! Just look at the expression on the face of the person to whom you are acting foolishly! And yet when we act mindlessly we may not recognize either our wisdom or our foolishness.

So this week we will work on being mindful of our thoughts, actions, and words. Let’s look out for the impact they have on others. A passing remark can either cut like a knife or heal like an antibiotic. It can empower others or disempower them.

We forget that we have the mind of the Buddha right within us and that we need not go anywhere to find it, we need not search for it by moving to India, or Japan, or Tibet. It is with us wherever we go and manifests in every word, thought, and action. If this is true why don’t we listen for those words of wisdom, love, and compassion? Why don’t we awaken to this teaching that resides in all directions—north, south, east, and west and within us? What is holding us back?

Only you know the answer to these questions. Only you can sit and find the Buddha within you. Only you can make the decision to live a life of mindfulness, of being present in every moment. Only you can set aside time to read and contemplate the simple principles beneath all the world’s great religions and philosophies. In reality they are all the same and contain one simple message: Treat people the way you want to be treated.

The Golden Rule (from some but not all of the world’s religions/philosophies):
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga, 5:18
Christianity: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15:13
Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” The Mahabharata, 5:1517
Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi, 13
Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat, 31a
Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

And so around the world the words of the Sandokai live in all traditions in simple and easy to understand words, and yet from moment to moment they often seem not so easy to live! Let’s make a plan for ourselves this week to live the Golden Rule in mind, body, and spirit. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others—in words, thoughts, and deeds. Then sit back and watch your world transform until you realize the Buddha and you are one in the same!

MY PLAN OF ACTION:

Once you’ve written your plan let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

ingassho

No old age and death, no cessation of old age and death; No suffering, no cause or end to suffering: No path, no wisdom and no gain.

These verses from the “Heart Sutra” remind us of The Four Sufferings in Buddhism:
1. Birth
2. Old age
3. Sickness
4. Death
When we think on these things we suffer. We all want to live a long life and be happy, healthy, and rich! But ruminating over it will not change the situation one bit. We are all born, hopefully we will reach old age, hopefully it will not be filled with sickness, and ultimately it will end in death. So why worry, be happy. Happiness may just be the antidote to that sickness and suffering.

But no matter how we try there will be times when suffering will enter our lives. Some of our family members and friends will die before we do and that will be sad and we will feel pain and suffering. But for some death may be the only escape from the physical and/or mental suffering that a person experiences. For those dying of a very painful disease they might even feel relieved that the pain and suffering will end upon their death. Thus we can live a life empty of futility knowing that there is each and both: “No old age and death, no cessation of old age and death; no suffering, no cause or end to suffering.”
The Four Noble Truths were expounded by the Buddha in his first teaching immediately after his enlightenment. He is to have said this about the “extinction of suffering:”

But what, O monks, is the noble truth of the path leading to the extinction of suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the extinction of suffering, namely: perfect view, perfect thought, perfect speech, perfect action, perfect livelihood, perfect effort, perfect concentration (page 72).

The origin of suffering has been and will always be desire. If we desire things material, physical, relationships, or to undo the death of a loved one—we will suffer. If we cling to our desires that clinging adds to our pain and suffering. Remember the line is “No suffering, no cause or end to suffering.” In life we will have times of complete joy and accomplishment and times when we do not. Remember these words were spoken by someone who had already attained liberation. I don’t know about you but I have not yet done so. Maybe you have not either. So don’t beat yourself up simply do the best you can, in the moment, with what you have, where you are, and then move forward toward peace, love, and compassion for yourself and all others.

So dealing with our suffering can be a challenge, but not a mountain too high to climb if we follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s live our life each day the best we can, by helping others and working for the good of all concerned. Let’s take one thing at a time. Using mindfulness and love—without clinging to anything—will help us deal with our suffering.

The next line says, “No path, no wisdom and no gain.”

Sekkei Harada writes about this idea in his book Unfathomable Depths, Drawing Wisdom for Today from a Classical Zen Poem (2014).

We also mustn’t be stuck between understanding and not understanding forever. That happens when we cannot transcend and get hung up on something because of it. . . .You have to transcend both what you understand and what you do not understand, and beyond that even transcend what you have transcended (page 175).

No path, no wisdom and no gain!

Things to focus on this week:
1. I will begin each day by sitting in quiet meditation to transcend the four sufferings if even for only a few minutes.
2. I will remind myself that doing this can help free me from suffering.
3. I release my attachment today and every day from my limited thoughts and fears.
4. Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

In gassho, Shokai

ingassho

[ ] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

[2] Harada, S. (2014) Unfathomable Depths, Drawing Wisdom for Today from a Classical Zen Poem. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

Everyone has thoughts about life and death. Ethical, religious, and spiritual people all have rules, precepts, principles and laws covering their beliefs about the individuals and the society’s role in life and death, peace and war. The first of the 10 Grave Precepts in Buddhism is “Not Killing,” the last of the Eightfold Path is Respect Life. Robert Aitken writes about this in his wonderful book, The Mind of Clover.

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page 16).[1]

I would not suggest that to be an ethical, religious, or spiritual person you would need to go to this extreme. Aitken explains why such extreme beliefs can be troubling.

They must assume that a sharp distinction exists between the animal and vegetable worlds; otherwise they could not feed themselves. Strict vegetarians, too, tend to fall into this trap, it seems to me. It is not possible to evade the natural order of things: everything in the universe is in symbiosis with every other thing.
Doctrines, including Buddhism, are meant to be used. Beware of them taking life of their own, for then they use us (page 17).[2]

So what do we do about this problem—to be in this life but not of it. To use the Buddhist principles to create a life of peace, love, and compassion in us and through us each day is a challenge. Aitken suggests that first we must start with being compassionate with ourselves. Whether it is while we are sitting on the cushion, washing the dishes, dealing with others, or giving ourselves time to “chill out” first respect your own life and be kind to yourself then it will be much easier to do it with others.

Finally, spread that good will to all life, plants, animals, and ultimately planet Earth. Recycle your garbage, support legislation that protects the water, air, and ground that we need to survive. Work for fairness and equality for all people in all places around the world. Your actions in these areas will show that you are following the Eightfold Path and especially that of respecting life.

I got a bumper sticker for my car and one for my refrigerator a few months ago that says “DO NO HARM.” I just love it! Every time I go into my refrigerator I see the bumper sticker and it reminds me to respect life—mine and others! Here is the link for you to use to get one of your own. They are free so no excuses can be made! On their website they even say: Please do not send money! We do not accept monetary donations! Please support the movement by doing no harm and if you can, please spread the “Do No Harm” message. (http://www.donoharm.us/id3.html)

I hope you will take the time to go there and get yourself a bumper sticker. Then each time you get into your car or open your refrigerator door you will be reminded of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism and its teachings on “Respect Life.” Let me know how that works out for you! The results can be life changing and can potentially help save the planet and maybe even the human race.

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover, Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY, NY

[1] Ibid.

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