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gasshoThe next section of this wonderful book Zen Masters a Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet, goes into the life of the teacher and poet Hakuin.  He spent his life moving from one great teacher to another studying, working, and living the life of a Buddhist monk and eventually acclaimed teacher and poet and more.

Stevens’ writes: Hakuin-style Zen was based on his lengthy quest and his forceful character—”Our master moved like a bull and glared like a tiger.” One of his disciples wrote in awe. “Never be satisfied with small attainments (page 73).”[1]

Too often our self-image is lived through the eyes of another such as a parent or spouse or teacher and thus we believe what they say about us more then we believe in our own abilities, dreams, and desires.  We give our life over to others and that makes it so easy to give up our own dreams as we take on the dreams and desires of another.

Too often we follow in the footsteps of a family business or career.  Dad was a minister so I must be one as well.  Mom was a teacher so I must be one.  My “big dreams” are left dwindling in the night or set aside for the dreams of another.  This just doesn’t happen to the young—it can happen to the mature person as well.  I’m sure you’ve had a family member or friend who wanted to change careers later in life and everyone accused him or her of having a “mid-life crisis.”

A mid-life vision is more like it!  Hakuin was “never satisfied with small attainments.” He was never afraid to travel far and wide to find that next great mentor and teacher.  Stevens goes on to write:  “With Hakuin’s maturity, the latter half of his career as a Zen master was the “fruit”—self-less devotion to the care and nourishment of others (page 72).”[2]

Hakuin learned this idea from his teacher Shoju and shared this as well with his students: “If your eye is true and your mind unobstructed, there is nothing you cannot overcome, including a sword attack (page 67).”

I am not suggesting that we should take up arms, but we might want to release the fears that are holding us back from living the life we have dreamt of! I will leave you with a poem written by one of Hakuin’s teachers Shoju.

Die while alive,
Be completely dead!
Then do
What you will
And all will be well.

[1]

Stevens (1999) Zen Masters A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan Kodansha International: New York

[2] Ibid.

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If we are to live a meaningful life, we each need to understand and acknowledge what craggy-gardenswe have “strewn along our path” good, bad, or indifferent–actions, words, and deeds.

Ikkyu wrote yet another profound poem when he said:

 

 

Bliss and sorrow; love and hate; light and shadow;
heat and cold; happiness and anger; self and other.
The enjoyment of poetic beauty may well lead to hell.
But look what we find strewn along our path:
Plum blossoms and peach flowers (page49)!

I resonate with his idea of poetic hell sometimes, for sure!  Although I was an English Lit major in college, I was never good at writing poetry. I always felt like I was working on an assignment that was undoable, unmanageable, and frankly really bad writing!  So, I avoided it at all costs…  until I became a Buddhist and starting writing poems for each of my friends as a gift for their Jukai ceremony.

Each person gets a Zen name during the Jukai ceremony that embodies them as a student and practitioner of Buddhism.  That’s why you see Shokai on my writings.  Shokai means “inviting the world.”  You can all guess why I was given that name!  I’m always inviting my friends and family to meditate or read a great Buddhist book, or read my blog, or come sit with us at the Zendo.

Some students want to go even further on their path with additional studies to move into even higher positions like a monk or a teacher.

In your life you’ve created many paths from careers to families and more.  Some of the paths have been easy and smooth as the ice on a lake in January or some may have been as unexpected as a summer storm. Sometimes others have strewn things on your path that may make you stumble or pause or even force you to rise to the occasion.

What have you “strewn” along your path today?  What has been strewn along your path by others? How did you handle it?  Like “Plum blossoms and peach flowers?” Or not…

 

Footnote: J. Stevens (1999) Zen Masters A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan Kodansha International: New York

gold-face-buddha-with-three-pure-precepts-2I never tire of reading the beautiful poetry of the Buddhist monks and Ikkyu is no exception to the rule.  Living a meaningful life also requires us to enjoy the beauty of spring, the sound of music, the laughter of our teachers, friends, and families, the words of our favorite writers, and poets—past and present.

The Center for Spiritual Living in Boca Raton, Florida, gives out little cards with words of wisdom on them.  I found this one today when I opened up the book. “We reap whatever we plant…enough to share and to spare.”

Ikkyu planted so many wonderful thoughts and teachings through his writing and the way he lived his life.  You can as well.  Even if you don’t think you are able to write poetry or prose simply living life as if spring was in the air every day just may inspire someone around you to write a poem with you as their muse.  You never can tell…

The rest of Ikkyu’s verse goes like this:

“But everyone else is afraid to drain its cup.
Heaven is achieved, hell disappears.
I spend the day amid falling blossoms and wind-blown fluff (page 26).”[1]

When was the last time you spent the day amid flowers with your hair blowing in the wind?  Or having to chase down your hat as it blows off your head! When was the last time you “drained your cup” of something or someone who was not helping you move forward in your life with meaning, peace, love, and compassion?

There is another story told about some farmers who were being “bled dry by excessive taxation and corrupt officials (page 30). To stand by them in principal Ikkyu wrote:

Over and over,
Taking and taking
From this village;
Starve them
And how will you live (page 30)?

It sounds like the corrupt officials were NOT living a meaningful life as I see it!  It reminds me of some of the things we are seeing today in our modern world…taking from the poor to make the rich richer.  That is definitely not the way to “live a meaningful life” unless of course your only meaning in life is to get richer and greedier.

Definitely not Ikkyu’s way for sure, not my way, how about you? I never tire of springs great pleasure and it doesn’t cost me a dime!

[1] J. Stevens (1999) Zen Masters A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan  Kodansha International: New York

(2) picture by Mitch Doshin Cantor http://www.listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com

 

SomThich Nhat Hanhe years ago, I came across a wonderful little book entitled Zen Masters, a Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet by John Stevens.  Immediately I began to think about myself and my work and my studies as a Buddhist priest, teacher, and blogger.  Would my friends and students place me in any of these areas?  Do I place myself in any of them?  If so, how has my self-image affected my life? How has it given meaning to my life?

Everyone has had questions about their life while growing up.  They may not have been thought of as questions because the ideas may have started with an experience or a book or a teacher where a seed was planted.  For me I found myself at the age of 4 setting up some chairs in the garage and inviting my little girl friends to play school.  I, of course, had to be the teacher and they were the students!  I have no idea what I was teaching them but I do know I enjoyed the job!

The author chose to write about three famous teachers of Buddhism Ikkyu (1394-1481), Hakuin (1686-1768), and Ryokan (1758-1831).  Each one was unique and impactful in their own way just as you are—even when you don’t know it.  Your words, deeds, ideas, emotions, and thoughts affect not only you but everyone around you from your family and friends, to your co-workers, and everyone you meet in your daily life.

Do you open the door for the mom or dad with a baby carriage, do you carry a bundle for the elderly person who lives next door, and do you support your coworker when they need a lift on a very stressful day? Or are you the one who would not even notice the goings on in the three scenarios above?

What is your idea of a meaningful life and how do you express it? Are you the maverick, the master of masters, or a wandering poet?  No judgment here, no grading one against the other as all three of the great men written about were all unique and special in their own way, and thus are remembered and written about hundreds of years later.

What will people remember about you?  I hope this blog series will help you dig deep into yourself to find the maverick, the master, and the wandering poet as Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan did all those many years ago!

Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

================

I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

one-world-family-logo-jpgAfter watching the news this morning and seeing all the “un-peace” going on in the world I decided to add another chapter to my blog on peace.  As I looked around my office, I could see my two little doggies sound asleep in their beds with visions of supper soon to appear.  Suddenly Bubbles the barker heard the sound of the cat in the other room using the kitty liter and up she jumped barking and trying to run to where she heard the noise.  My peace and hers had been interrupted with the simple sound of a cat in the other room.  Has some simple thing, or words, or newscast interrupted your peace today? Mine has and I’m writing a series on peace! Yikes…

I began to wonder how some of my favorite authors have dealt with the subject and so I looked on my bookshelf and found this wonderful book by a Zen Buddhist teacher and writer, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, entitled The Vow-Powered Life A Simple Method for Living with Purpose.  I quickly found the word peace in the index on page 140.  Here is part of what she wrote:

I asked myself, how can I work for world peace when I see it to be unattainable? Then I realized that the power of anger, greed, ignorance, and their resulting violence is so strong it is like entropy.  If we do not work against it, if we do not work actively for peace, everything will inevitably run downhill, and then peace, even a piece of peace, will be impossible.

Thus, in full realization that it was impossible, I renewed my vow to work for peace.  I began at home. The only world I can bring to peace is my own inner world.  My motto became, “If I am a little more at peace, the entire world is more at peace.’”[1] (emphasis mine)

If we all take Dr. Bays’ advice and take up her motto and use it every day whenever and wherever we can imagine how much more peaceful our individual lives would be.  And just like a common cold that spreads with a sneeze around the house or the office we could spread peace with a simple affirmation in our homes, at work, in the grocery store, or at the gas pump!

Work to change your life and when someone tries to “un-peace” you don’t let them.  Keep your peace because it is always with you.  Sometimes it’s hidden behind a wall of fear, anger, or despair but it is there if we open our hearts and minds to it and let it back in.  Let’s recite our affirmation and hold to the truth that life with peace is worth living and without it–it’s an unnecessary struggle and burden.

 

[1] Bays, J. C. (2015) The Vow-Powered Life A Simple Method for Living with Purpose. Shambhala: Boston

Entropy: A doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration. (Dictionary.com)

 

PlanetHood book cover Ferencz and KeyesI am one of the luckiest people on the earth.  My neighbor is Benjamin B. Ferencz the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg war crimes trials and I have a copy of a book that he co-authored with Ken Keys, Jr. the author of The Hundredth Monkey entitled PlanetHood The Key to Your Survival and Prosperity written in 1988.

They begin the 7th Step with these thoughts:

“We have seen that after the horrors of each world war, nations recognized—at least for a brief time—that change was necessary to create a peaceful world order. The truth is that our political leaders simply did not dare enough—or care enough.  We, the public, did not do enough. We all let each other down (page 127).”[1]

It has been 31 years and not a single thing has been done about wars on planet Earth.  Ben and Ken quote Robert Muller former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and author of A Planet of Hope with these words.

“We need first and foremost a world democracy, a government of this planet for the people and by the people.  But the problem is so colossal and unprecedented that few political thinkers even dare to consider it.  They feel more at ease discussing the number and strength of missiles needed to protect specific national corrals. Since government and institutions are so slow and reluctant to do it, we must build the world community through individual commitment and action (page 127).” (Emphasis is mine.)

Zen and Peace!  If only more people could be involved in the principles and practices of sitting meditation, chanting, and living a life of peace, love, and compassion our wars would soon end, our jails would be empty, and our earth would be safe from global warming and its eventual demise.

They write, “Remember if the people lead the leaders will follow. Better active today than radioactive tomorrow (page 128).[2] You would think that this book was written yesterday!  So, here is their suggestions today for us.

“We suggest that you pledge to yourself and the world to do a daily deed: a daily action that will make world peace one step closer when the law of force is replaced by the force of law. Such a Peace Patriot pledge need not be burdensome. Depending upon your time and money available, you can live out your pledge with integrity each day on either a maximum or a minimum basis—something in between.  For example, as a daily deed you could write a letter to a friend about U.N. reform. Or donate money to an organization working for planethood. (page 128).”

Now think of other ways you can help before our children and grandchildren don’t have a planet to live on.  Why do you thing Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are leading the commercial race to space?

Ron Epstein, lecturer for the Global Peace Studies Program in San Francisco State University wrote:

Buddhism teaches that whether we have global peace or global war is up to us at every moment.  The situation is not hopeless and out of our hands.  If we don’t do anything, who will? Peace or war is our decision.  The fundamental goal of Buddhism is peace, not only peace in this world but peace in all worlds. The Buddha taught that peaceful minds lead to peaceful speech and peaceful actions.” [3]

I hope you’ll join me and Ron and Ken and Ben before it’s too late…

 

[1] Ferencz, B. Keyes, K. (1988) PlanetHood The Key to Your Survival and Prosperity. Vision Books: Coos Bay, OR

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/BUDDHIST%20IDEAS%20FOR%20ATTAINING%20WORLD%20PEACE.htm