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In Edward Espe Brown’s wonderful book, No Recipe–Cooking as Spiritual Practice, he writes:

 “We could do well to study how we do what we are doing—what is the most important point?—because as Suzuki Roshi mentioned, “If I tell you something, you will stick to it, but it is not always so. When you stick to something that I say, you will abandon your capacity to study and investigate for yourself (page 63).”

So, if you really want a more fulfilling life you need to discover what that means for you.  Try things out, practice, evaluate, and learn, and then decide if you want to stick to it or not.  I’ll bet it hasn’t been long since someone told you what to do and how to do it and maybe even when and why to do it.  I can see you shaking your head right now, I can hear you saying, “Yes, just 5 minutes ago!”  Like he or she knows how to do it better than you do!?

Edward does not want us to get caught in what he calls, “the realm of thinking” rather than observing for yourself how things happen in your experience and using that information to possibly make better choices for yourself.  I hear the little cogs in your brain turning around and around right now thinking of that last conversation you had with your boss, significant other, or coworker telling you how to do something.  You listen and begin to think it could be faster, quicker, more accurate and much more effective, or fun—if you didn’t do it that way!

I love what Edward says next, “When you observe closely how things happen in your experience, change comes from you, out of your experience, rather than being implemented top down from your thinking. ‘Don’t put another head over your head,’ is a Zen saying (page 64).”

500 Hats Dr. SeussOr are you like Bartholomew in Dr. Seuss’ book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins creating the same old hat over and over!  Are you sitting in the same old chair with the same old ideas one on top of the other over and over?

I can see myself right now in the mirror with a giant pile of hats from large to small, from fancy to plain filled with my own creations, thoughts, ideas, and plans. I don’t want to be like Bartholomew with the same old hat over and over 499 times!  Once I “observe myself closely” I see myself doing the same old worn out thing over and over again. Only then can I throw away that plain old hat and create something new, innovative, exciting, and adventurous!

Maybe at onetime in the past “it was always so” but now—not so much! Now I might need to make a better or different choice for myself.  What hat are you wearing today?  What hat do you wish you were wearing today?

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I post this as a counterpoint to all the celebrations of July 4th’s so called “Independence Day.” 

Flose Boursiquot and Chip at Rally June 30th 2018The poem is written by Flose Boursiquot and taken from her incredible book Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe.”  The picture was taken on July 30th in Delray Beach, FL at the “Families Belong Together” rally sponsored by http://www.moveon.org where she was one of the incredible speakers.  She is with Chip Frank my friend and former production manager when I was a Unity Minister. How lucky we were to meet her! She gifted me her book for which I am ever grateful.

 

Voice

I have a voice!
you cannot silence me
my feet burn through the pavement and leave enough dust
for my grandchildren to make clay pots
the thoughts that travel through my mind leave textbook pages
ashamed

you cannot silence me
my boot straps awaken the Black Panthers and take notes from
Malxom X
I know what it means to starve
a physical pain that engulfs your intellect and spirit

you cannot silence me
I am a young Nikki Giovanni with words so freeing notebook pages
fling their legs open when i peek at them with a side eye
master’s grandchildren stand miles away when air escapes my
lungs and thoughts juxtapose that of W.E.B. DuBois

you cannot silence me
I am not a mindless crab in a bucket
i refuse
yes, i refuse to step over the hands and feet of my people
we are intertwined like the molecules in our bodies

you cannot silence me
my children will not wake up caved in by debt, miseducation and
fear
they will know that beauty doesn’t solely lie in blue eyes
and that wealth isn’t manufactured green on trees

you cannot silence me
my ancestors taught me how to read a map
they left blueprints imprinted in my DNA
if I ever lose my way, i look in the mirror
touch my wide nose
feel my naps
embrace my brown skin
and i find my way

you cannot silence me
death does not scare me
i welcome heavy words sung by kings and queens on the block
they are reminders of journeys taken so i can stand here today

you cannot silence me
my back may weaken
but my boots will carry
my brothers and sisters will lift me

you cannot silence me
because with every step i will roar
we will roar
arm-in-arm, a destiny will be set
and we will achieve

*********************

This poem was written by an incredible woman a “24-year-old Haitian-rooted palm tree dancing in the Florida sun” woman. “She is a product of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.”

I hope you’ll buy her book!

In gassho, Shokai

Buddha quote anger, goodness truth generosityIt is one thing to read something and another thing to remember what you’ve read.  How often do we read something at work and quickly forget what it said?  When we are studying the texts and the writings of Buddhism we really want to absorb what we’re reading.  We want to understand the meaning behind the words.  We want to embody the teachings in such a way as they make a palpable difference in our lives. In such a way that we generate an aura of peace, love and compassion for all things and it is evident in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We do this through contemplation of the Buddhist teachings.

These two verses are often chanted before or after a talk or lecture

The Dharma is deep and lovely.
We now have a chance to see it,
Study it and practice it.
We vow to realize its true meaning (page 150).[1]

May the merits of this practice penetrate
Into each thing in all places.
So that we can realize the Buddha’s way,
The Ten Directions, the three worlds, all buddhas,
All honored ones, bodhisattvas, mahasattvas, and
The great prajna paramita.

You can, of course, change the pronoun from we to I if you are studying alone.  There is a veritable encyclopedia of great works of Buddhism to read and digest and contemplate.  The more we study and learn and embrace the words of the great teachers from Shakyamuni Buddha to our current writers and translators the more we will be able to embody the teachings until they become a part of who we are.

Then and only then can we begin to automatically, without thinking, act in a kind, loving, helpful, and nonjudgmental way.  No longer will the questions of “What would the Buddha do” enter our minds.  Our brain will automatically know and go to that action or find those kind and loving words so quickly you will wonder where they could have come from.

Being a Buddhist is not simply putting on a robe and expecting everyone will look up to you and think you are grand or special or knowledgeable.  It is with or without a robe acting like a person with merit gained from your studies having penetrated into your words, deeds, thoughts, and actions. That lets people know you are a student of the Buddha.  It is not easy to be a “real” Buddhist.  In fact, it is very challenging in the beginning. Why? Because goodness must swell up from within you in all situations and with all people regardless of the circumstances of the moment.

I am not always the best Buddhist and I know when I have slipped away from my vows and have to begin anew.  How do I know that? –through knowledge of the teachings, through my time spent on the cushion contemplating and studying the sutras and the teachings of Buddhism through the ancients to the modern authors–that’s how.

It’s quite like the world class chefs. They do not learn how to be a great chef by eating, they learn by studying with other great chefs, and cooking, and cooking some more. Creating recipes takes a lot more time, thought, and effort then eating! What recipe are you using? Jell-O Instant pudding or one made from scratch with great ingredients, time, effort, studying, concentration, and love of the teachings?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

Impermanence is everywhere in our lives and yet no one likes impermanence.  We all hope for our newest relationship that is going so well will be permanent, or that great new job we have will be permanent, or that new car will stay divinely perfect with no scratches or dents forever!  Oh well, they won’t!

Bhante Gunaratana writes about this in his wonderful book The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English as he tells the story of a student of the Buddha.  As he was meditating he heard the voice of the Buddha saying:

Destroy attachment to self,
As you could an autumn lily in your fist.
Cultivate the path to peace,
The Nirvana taught by the Well-Gone-One.

When he opened his eyes, the young monk saw that the beautiful lily, once so bright, fresh, and lively, had withered away.  So, he meditated on the impermanence of the beauty, freshness, and life of the lily. Reflecting that his own handsome, young, healthy, and strong body would grow old and wither just as the flower had, he attained liberation from attachment to his body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness (page 58).[1]

And thus, we too get all caught up in this world of attachment and impermanence even though we don’t realize it.  One of the things I learned early on in Zen was about attachment and so I began to see how long I could go without being attached to anything.  I had a new car and one day I saw a scratch on my door where someone must have knocked into my door with theirs.  My first response was to start to get mad, then I remembered my goal of “non-attachment” and so I let it go and continued to run my errands.

I was very proud of myself and as I went through the day I praised myself off and on for not getting attached to the scratch on the car until I realized that all

I had done was switch my attachment from that to being attached to my ability to “not be attached.”  Yikes! I had just attached my attachment to something else, oh boy! It ain’tKermit_the_Frog easy being green as Kermit the frog would say.  And it ain’t easy being me trying to be a Buddhist.

Wow, that Buddha guy sure didn’t make anything easy! Now I do know that my beautiful Kermit green Ford Fiesta is impermanent and after many years it will be worn out and I will have to give it up and get a new one and maybe even take it to the junk yard and watch it be torn apart or squeezed into that big car crusher and god only knows where MY car is going!

But little-by-little after 12 years of studying and practicing Buddhism I am able to be less attached to things.  I can throw out old clothes that don’t fit me anymore, I got rid of my old silverware that had nothing matching and bought a new set, and I can give up eating ice cream before I go to bed.

Okay that last thing was a lie!  But I’m working on my attachment to the Heavenly Hash ice cream (How’s that for an oxymoron?). I only eat it once or twice a week now.  Soon all attachments will be gone for it and I just hope and pray I don’t switch it for chocolate peanut butter ice cream instead!  Oh well, I guess I’m still a work in progress.  How about you?

[1] Gunaratana, B.  (2012) The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Wisdom Publications: Boston

[2] picture of Kermit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/…

buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

[1]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

oliver-px.1-195-175Many of us may remember the wonderful play and movie “Oliver! the Musical” with warmth and laughter.  There is a song in it that is so powerful and yet sad if you really listen to the words. Watched by his fellow orphans, Mark Lester, as Oliver Twist, dares to ask for more, in the film “Oliver!” (Columbia Pictures). [1]

There’s not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…
When we all close our eyes and imagine food, glorious food!

There are 12.9 million children in the US who are food insecure.[1] There are 15.6 million US households suffering from food insecurity. Around the world 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life and thus are undernourished. Every second a person dies of hunger.  This year 36 million people around the world will die of hunger[2]  while billions of tons of food are rotting in our gardens, farms, and city dumps. In 2010 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted.[3]

In fact, the highest or next highest person in any zendo and monastery is the Tenzo who is in charge of the kitchen! The monks were initially mendicants who went out with only the clothes on their backs and a bowl which they used to beg/ask for food to keep them alive. Thus, the power of prayer before every meal!

In Zen we have many different meal Gathas/chants.  I particularly like the one we use in our Zendo and before I eat, wherever it may be, I recite this gatha to set the tone for a mindful and thankful meal.  How many times a day do you eat so quickly and mindlessly that you haven’t really tasted the food, felt its texture in your mouth, the smell of it, or hot or coldness of it.  In fact, so much so that some time later you do not remember if you ate and if you did what it was. Yikes! Imagine what one of those 36 million people would have done with that meal? If nothing else remembered it as their last. How sad is that?!

Southern Palm Zen Group’s food blessing or chant goes like this:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I (we) may eat.
May I (we) be nourished so that I (we) may nourish life.

And finally, as a Unity minister we often had meals together and we always said a prayer, of course, before the meal.  At the children’s table our prayer was “Rub-a-dub-dub thank you God for the grub!” Sometimes the parents got a little bent out of shape and upset with me when I taught them this prayer.  However, I knew that it was something easy for them to learn and memorize and to say whenever they ate at school, church, or at home. It helped set up the age-old practice of giving thanks for the good/food that was in their lives.

The song goes on…

What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more that’s all we live for.  Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious food.

 What can you do today to make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to food insufficiency? Now go and do it…

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/oliver-re.html?scp=2&sq=night%2520train&st=Search
[2] https://whyhunger.org/just-the-facts/
[3] http://www.theworldcounts.com/…/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die_from_hu…
[4] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

Avalokiteshvara is known as the person “Who hears the outcries of the World.” There are so many on this earth today who are crying out for help in war zones, from hurricane devastation, earth quakes, in draughts, and famines, through poverty, and more.

avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of BuddhismShe represents the feminine energy of the world as the “holy spirit” represents the feminine energy in the Christian triad of the “father, son, and the holy spirit.”  She represents the fundamental aspect of Buddhahood: Great compassion.  In China she is named Kuan-yin, in Japan Kannon (or Kanzeon or Kwannon), and in Tibet Chenresi. In some cultures, Avalokiteshvara is a man not a woman so which ever pronoun you prefer to use for Avalokiteshvara is perfectly divine!

As you see in the picture she is depicted with many arms. In other pictures she also has many heads. I know that some of you can relate to her very well. You see her reflection in you. Every time you encourage a child or an elderly person to go beyond their struggles and challenges you are Avalokiteshvara in action.  Every time you drop off food at the foodbank, or volunteer with a non-profit organization, or mow the lawn of a disabled vet Avalokiteshvara is moving through you as you.  I know sometimes you feel like you could use those extra arms and at least one extra head if you had access to them.  But I always say, “Fake it till you make it.”

Joan Halifax and Kazuaki Tanahashi translated the Sutra “Great Compassionate Heart Dharani” in the most beautiful way (pages 138-39).[1]  Below is a list of things for you to think about or meditate on. Are these actions appearing in your life on a regular basis?  If not, why not? How can you make these actions more alive and present in your life each and every day? If yes, think about a few examples of who, how, and when they appeared.

  • Embodies great compassion
  • Protects all those who are fearful
  • Grants all wishes
  • Overcomes obstacles
  • Purifies delusion
  • Represents shining wisdom
  • Transcends the world
  • Removes the harm of greed, hatred, and delusion
  • Removes all defilements.
  • Brings joy to others
  • Succeeds greatly in life and love

Make this your project for the year and let me know how it goes!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

Picture: Avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of Buddhism