On the second page of this chapter Bhikkhu writes this question, “How did we ever fall to this bondage (page 2)?”[1] It made me stop to think about my life and the bondages I have created for myself.  The bondage of perfection, hope, fear, lack, hopelessness, and suffering. As I read I wondered if I could ever break these chains.

He answered my question when he wrote, “The Pali word ‘Dhamma’ (Dharma in Sanskrit) means true nature, the fundamental, liberating facts of reality and the course of practice that leads to deliverance from all suffering. But the path of Dhamma is a way without extremes.”  And so, I thought about my day and wondered how often I have gone to extremes and how those extremes affected my day.

cartoon-b-c-words-slip-outExtreme #1:  Woke up as usual at 5:15 to get ready to go to Zen and the coffee was not made and ready for me to enjoy in my morning ritual—reaction anger and not so nice words.

Extreme #2:  I love apple pie so I bought a nice one and baked it in my oven. Wow did that smell delicious! I proceeded to eat a piece after supper, then for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an evening snack the next day.  Hmmmm

Now I know these are not “cardinal sins” as they say in Catholicism but they sure did not make my life devoid of suffering or bondage.  And they were definitely not the way “without extremes.”

He goes on to write: The Dhamma beautifully encompasses the twin problems of thoughtful people: how to get along serenely day to day in the toils of the world, and how to overcome the world and all its suffering forever (page 5).”[2]  He points often in this chapter to our “ignorance” as a catalyst to our suffering.  He writes “When ignorance is destroyed and craving withers away, greed, hatred, and delusion cannot come to be, and suffering, cut off at the roots, must expire and disappear.  Then there can no longer be any mental affliction, or spiritual uncertainty, or confusion.  The perfected one sees the universe just as it is, and experiences what the Buddha called ‘that unshakable deliverance of the heart (page 7-8).’”[3]

“We can achieve deliverance by consciously cutting through the bonds we have tied around ourselves, by resisting and ultimately destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, by making a final end of ignorant craving. However sharp the hunger, however keen the pain, nobody gets out of the jungle of troubles without making a sustained, personal effort (page 9).”[4]

And finally, he writes, “The Buddhist goes by way of Dhamma—the middle—way and does the walking alone, stumbles and gets up again, picks off the thorns, gets in the open and stays there with determined effort—no slave to false hope, no listless idler, and yet no superman: just a thinking being who has become convinced that the fearful storms of the universe are born in and burst out of his own heart and that nobody can quell them but him. (page 9-10).[5]

I wish for you a beautiful middle way, a forest with less and less thorns, and fewer and fewer storms all overcome by your budding unshakable heart.

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid


Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano writes in his introduction:Landscapes of Wonder book cover

The faith of the Buddhist grows out of experience fortified by instruction.  The Buddha shows how to make the journey out of suffering to emancipation, and if we feel quickening of interest we can take steps ourselves to investigate and to test what we have learned. This collection of essays is about finding the right direction and then moving forward with mindfulness and deliberation (page xi).

I hope that sharing these ideas and my musings about them will help you discover the power of your practice, to allow it to enlighten and brighten your life, to help bring you to a place of peace, love, and compassion for self and others each and every day.

This journey is never an easy one because we are required to look within, to set aside time to mediate, contemplate, and to push through our fears, anxieties, old beliefs, and doubts.  However, with determination, concentration, and support from the author and others on the path all things are possible!

Bhikkhu goes on to write:

Fortunately the teaching of the Buddha is universal, giving us the chance not just to admire what others have admired but to make our own search—to observe, meditate, and discover through our own efforts (page xii).

Thus, it does not matter if you were raised in a non-religious household or a religious one of any denomination or teaching truth is truth no matter where it comes from.  In your life I know that you have discovered what you believe through actions propelled from book learning, intuition, help from another, or seemingly by accident.  It does not matter how it came the important thing is that it did.  It gave you that cosmic AH HA! Or Yikes—Or Oh my god!  It could have felt like you were hit with a hammer, a banana, or a cream pie, but hit you were!

I hope our wandering through this wonderful book will give you many cosmic experiences! Good luck with that…


Photo by Mitch Doshin Cantor founder of the Southern Palm Zen Group

The power of peace is a deadly assault weapon it kills hatred, it kills fear, it kills amorous, it kills the feelings of not being good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough …the power of peace, love and compassion is more powerful than any hatred in the world it can break down any walls that anyone wants to build.

So if we really want to make a difference in this world let us join together in peace, love, and compassion.  Let us take our intelligence and drive and put it behind food, shelter, and electricity for those in Puerto Rico and around the world who are dying and suffering from natural disasters, wars, and starvation caused by global warming.

Let us put it behind creating a country where all people have the right to vote. Let us get rid of mass incarceration in America, mass discrimination in America, mass drug addiction in America and most of all mass hatred in America!

We can do it through the only way possible…through peace, love, and compassion. Inside each and every person is a little child crying and screaming for the love of their parents the feel of a hug and a kiss on the cheek. That’s all we really want in life.  We simply want someone to love us!

Can you be that love for someone today?

Metta (Loving-Kindness) Sutra
By Shakyamuni Buddha

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle, or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible,
near or far, born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
Let none deceive another nor despise any being in any state; let none
by anger or hatred wish harm to another. Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should
one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire
world, above, below, and all around without limit;
so let each cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole

‘The Southern Palm Zen Group (Boca Raton)


In his chapter on “Training in Zen” Shibayama writes:

…they first start with an extremely intense religious quest; then comes hard, strong-willed search and discipline, which will be followed by spiritual crises, or a sense of the abyss; and finally, they experience the moment of awakening.  These are the inner processes they generally go through (page 39).images

I know if you are reading this that you too have gone through some or all of these steps. I too have done so and when I’ve had that moment of awakening I think that my life will have changed dramatically and only the good can come and I will be able to “walk on water.”  Alas, when I tried I was soon over my head in it and had to swim to shore.  This is not failure but the reality of being in a human experience.

To fail and then to get up again and go back to the reading and meditation and mindfulness strengthens my determination and quickens my compassion for others who are struggling and swimming against the tide in this physical world of challenges and joys.

Life is like a roller coaster and sometimes we are on the up-hill ride slowly moving and creeping to the top of the tracks and then all of sudden we feel the elation and before we know it we’re on the down hill portion of the roller coaster speeding faster and faster as the wind blows our hair and we can hear ourselves screaming.

Not to worry what you learned through these two experiences will help you grow in to the Buddha that you are.  Shakyamuni Buddha lived a life of luxury that many could never experience and he left it to find the truth about life.  During those times he had great ups and downs in the physical, psychological, and emotional challenges of being alive.  But in his final awakening he discovered the middle way.  Not grasping upon awakening or experiencing Samadhi but simply allowing yourself to relax and focus on your breath and the peace that you can hold in body, mind, and spirit. He realized that everything is one.

To be in the moment, to realize that we are and can experience being one with all the good that is in the universe is available to everyone.  It gives us the clarity, drive, and ability to go out into the world and make a difference, to fulfil our Buddhist promise to live a life of peace, love, and compassion toward self and others.

The beginning of the universe is now, for all things are at this moment being created, and the end of the universe is now, for all things are at this moment passing away. (Watts, 1958, p. 52) ~ Alan Watts, Zen teacher

Just a thought to ponder on while you wile away the minutes and hours of your day on your spiritual quest.

book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Diane Ackerman in her book An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain writes, “The brain is not the mind, the mind inhabits the brain (page 4).”[1]

Shibayama writes, “The Mind here does not refer to thought or emotion, nor does it refer to human psychology which is an object of scientific research. It is not the consciousness, nor the psyche which is dealt with by psychiatrists, either. When we go beyond all these, wash them off, and transcend their limitations, for the first time we can reach the Mind which is also called the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind, the Spirituality, or the truth (page 26).”[2]

And so, when we mediate we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend our human thoughts that we created through study, reading, our culture, and experiences and move into touching the greater Mind.

He shares a story about Zen Master Sekito who was training a monk and while walking through the forest they came across a dense thicket that they could not walk through. The student asked Sekito for the knife. “Sekito unsheathed his big mountain knife, and without a word thrust out the knife with the sharp edge toward him.  The companion was frightened, and withdrew his hand crying, “Stop the nonsense! Let me have the hilt.” Sekito’s reply was sharper than the edge of the knife.  He said, “What is the use of the hilt? The monk could not utter a word in reply (page 26-27).”[3]

Shibayama finishes by writing, “We are apt to stick to the hilt which is of secondary importance, and miss the Truth altogether.  Sekito is urging us to get hold of the fundamental Truth direct.  Here we see the truth of direct pointing (page 27).”  It is the blade that does the work that cuts through our wrong thinking and fears and anxieties.  Remember the axiom, “The truth will set you free.” Where is your freedom?  Hidden in a job, an education, a scripture, a political party, or religion?

Then there is the power of meditation.  Each day as you take the opportunity to sit and calm the “monkey mind” you’ll find that soon you’ll be able to transcend the brain/mind and tap in to the greater mind, the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind. And when you do you’ll discover who you really are and you will experience the power and peace that has always been within reach when you make that direct connection.

Which mind are you pointing to?


[1] Ackerman, D. (2004) An Alchemy of Mind The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner: NY

[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[3] Ibid.

Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.


Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.



She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?


[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org