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Archive for June, 2013

Wow!  This is a really big subject and I have to write something brilliant in 900 words or less…Yikes.  I am possessive of everything from my purse to my relationships, to my clothes, and my car.  How about the furniture I spent so much time picking out and waiting for that sale to buy it?  What about my friend if I see him or her enjoying the company of someone else without being included?  Goodness, don’t forget the place that you sit in the Zendo each time?  Feels like I could go on and on for at least 500 words on this list alone–but I won’t!

The thing about my possessions is that they end up possessing me—it is not the other way around.  I had to move in with my mother a few months back due to her Alzheimer’s disease and then I had to give up some of my “stuff” because it would not fit in her two bedroom apartment, which was already filled with her stuff, I was in a quandary.  So I left a lot of the things in the apartment that I had been sharing with a friend.  Then my friend had to move!  Now what?! So I really had to decide what possessions I was willing to give up, which ones I “could” give up, and which ones I just “had” to hold on to…not sure for what reason but the urge was there.

Believe me when I tell you that I have been a corporate trainer, teacher, and college professor for over 25 years and I filled up two giant recycle bins with files, papers, tests, handouts, and more!  It took me 2 days to go through them all and to dwindle the “to keep” pile down to one small box from the moving section at Home Depot.  Did I possess them or did they possess me? So now I think I’ve got it…I’ve mastered this possession “thing” and I am able to throw things out, release them, and let them go.

Oh yeah! Then I opened Reb Anderson’s book and Robert Aitkin’s book and I read from Reb, “Even if you do not hold onto ordinary things of the world, the merit of that is insignificant compared with the merit of not avariciously holding onto dharma treasure (page 168).”[1]  So, when I finally make a breakthrough in my sitting, or in my demonstration of compassion, or showing unconditional love and patience and am feeling great about my successes in my practice I have to give that up too!  So what can I keep?

Robert writes about Hui-hai. He says, “When Hui-hai was asked about entering the Tao, he said we enter by the danaparamita, the perfection of relinquishment, the perfection of giving over (page 83).”[2]  He goes on to say, “When the Buddha held forth a flower before his assembly, that was a full and complete presentation of the entire universe and of all the teachings of all the Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers (page 85).”  And what did the Buddha do with that flower, he immediately gave it away!

There is great wisdom in the eternal idea of giving things away—any and all things.  Meister Eckhart said, “To give a thousand marks of gold to build a church or a cloister would be a great thing, but to give a thousand marks for nothing at all would be a far greater gift (page 83)”[3]

Looks like I’m stuck with giving it all up, giving up the good of giving, giving up the pride of giving, giving up the self-righteousness of giving, and giving up the giving up.  Now does that mean that I can’t collect things, ideas, or good deeds?  Not at all simply get them and at the same time release them and let them go.  In Unity we had an affirmation that said, “I release it and let it go to find its highest good elsewhere.”  Or you could say him or her in place of the pronoun it.  So yes you can give and receive!  So give away—just don’t give with the idea of attachment—of getting something in return.  And if you can’t figure all of this out—you may want to give up  trying! That may be the best “give away” of all…

To this “flower” I bow, three full bows…for no reason at all.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin simply by giving up whatever needs to be released each and every moment of the day: ideas, thoughts, things, people, emotions etc.
  • Step two: Set your intention to release and let go of your attachment to either “having it” or “releasing it.”
  • Step three: Accept the Buddha’s help throughout this process.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Anderson, R. 2001, Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press: Berkeley, CA.

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

[3] Ibid.

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Hui-neng says: Even with a steadfast body you may be deluded and speak of the bad qualities of others as soon as you open your mouth, and thus behave in opposition to the Tao (page74).[1]

For me this one goes hand-in-hand with #6 “not discussing the faults of others” because invariably when you are elevating yourself it is usually in comparison with someone else.  Thus you end up putting the other person down, discussing his or her faults, or blaming him or her for something.

Robert Aitken writes:

If you cover your weaknesses and single out the weaknesses of others, then you are not practicing.  It is only when you can generously acknowledge your own dark side and the shining side of the other that you can be said to be truly on the path (page 76).”[2]

Each of us has special skills and talents.  Thank goodness we were not all created the same otherwise what a lopsided world we would have:

  •  Only vanilla ice cream (Ben&Jerry’s has 107 flavors, as of today!)
  • Only black cars (Henry Ford said, “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black.”)
  • Only Newtonian Physics (Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”)
  • Only men Nobel Prize winners (Madam Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 because a male mathematician insisted her name be included along with the two men she had worked with on the project.)

When we elevate ourselves and blame others we may be injuring another who might be a ground breaking inventor, scientist, business leader, artist, or musician.  He or she may have submerged his or her talents because of your words, deeds, or actions. Your words can be like a boomerang and then what happens is you lose your ability to grow and develop and become the person who manifests his or her dreams in life.

For a beautiful guide to living The Grave Precept #7 live a life as described by Torei Zenji in his Bodhisattva’s Vow:

 I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas, I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata’s never-failing essence.  Each particle of matter, each moment, is no other than the Tathagata’s inexpressible radiance.

With this realization, our virtuous ancestors, with compassionate minds and hearts, gave tender care to beasts and birds. Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life: food, drink, and clothing!  Though they are inanimate things, they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.

All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people, particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language.  That very abuse conveys the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness.  It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginning-less past.

With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves and the most profound and pure faith arises.  At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens; and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha.  Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty.  We see fully the Tathagata’s radiant light right where we are.

May we train this mind and extend it throughout the world so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha’s wisdom.

A vow to practice, remember, and share…In Gassho, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will completely relinquish yourself to the life of the Bodhisattva in thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Step two: Set your intention to be mindful of words of harm to self or others.
  • Step three: Accept the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness in each situation.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


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

[2] Ibid.

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Bodhidharma said, “Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.  In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others (page 65).”[1]  This for me is one of the hardest things to overcome.  It seems like I have been working on this one forever, but I know it has not actually been forever.  In Robert Aitken’s book The Mind of Clover he talks about the difference between fault finding and simply recognizing basic information that is “free of any moral judgment.” He gives an example of the “silent mind” identifying and saying “She has an awful temper.”  As if you might be saying, “Her hair is brown.”  He goes on to write, “On the other hand, fault-finding, discussing the faults of others—these are acts of rejection.  The difference is one of attitude (page 66).”[2]

He also relates it to Dogen Zenji saying “Don’t permit haphazard talk.”  I have found recently that I am much better at catching myself as the words come into my mind and then stopping them from coming out the other end.  I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I just feel like gossiping and knowingly say them anyway.  Thankfully that is becoming rarer each and every day and I am now down to about once every other day actually letting them escape from my lips.

It could be that I have a giant note in all caps taped to my desk lamp that says “DO NOT SPEAK OF THE FAULTS OF OTHERS!  It’s like my mother scolding me day in and day out to “be nice.”  But it seems to be working so that even when I am not at my desk I can see that sign in my mind’s eye and hear the voice of mother!  What a combination—enough to scare anyone into a new habit or way of thinking or behaving.

If we add this to our Buddhist way of living with all things in a compassionate, kind, and loving way we will not be able to speak about the faults of others.  If we are working toward self-liberation we will take the time to go within and discover what is holding us back from being that loving compassionate being in this very moment.  Is it my fear of rejection, my memories of being raised by a critical parent, or being taught by a critical teacher?  Are these memories and habits blocking me from living and expressing myself as a bodhisattva would?

Take a look at your life at home, at work, and at play.  Is the environment a pleasant place to be—one that you are excited to go to? Or is it an unpleasant situation that brings criticism, fear, judgments and the like out in you? Do you then end up directing that negativity toward others?  Whose responsibility is it anyway to make your life full and rewarding?  Whose responsibility is it to make the Sangha, the work place, and the home a compassionate, supportive, safe, and fun place to be?

Aitkin goes on to say, “In fact, realization of Buddha-nature is not possible alone, and not possible unless one is open to nurturing (page 68).”[3]  Even Thoreau found his reclusive life at Walden Pond an opportunity to be kind to the animals, the trees, and the far away neighbors or towns people for he enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him.  But for most of us we do not live in the middle of the woods without electricity, flush toilets, cell phones, or the internet! We live in a community filled with people and things. For this community to be a better one—it must begin with me.

Today I will remind myself to not speak of the faults of others.  To observe my words as I think them and then ask myself what kind of “attitude” would be indicated if I spoke them. If they were not generated from within as compassionate words focused on the “other” with selflessness—then I need to be silent.  I need to let them slip away out into the ethers of nothingness and begin again–this time with kindness, love, and compassion.   This allows the person to see something that they may need to address and be willing to fix it. Now they go away feeling good about their relationship with me and thinking about how I shared with them in a loving, caring way.  This is the way to live the life of a bodhisattva.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will reign in those gossip filled hurtful thoughts and words.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the thoughts even get a change to slip out of your mouth.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of your thoughts that will help you in identifying the ones that should not be shared and the ones that should.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

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There are times every day when I feel that my mind is filled with cotton balls and the simplest name will not come to mind.  But then I take a few deep breaths and sit (meditate) for 5 or 10 minutes and the name will find its way up from the recesses of my brain and there it is!  I am compelled then to call the person who got me searching for this name and share my prize with him or her.

One day I was so happy to remember the name that I immediately picked up the phone, dialed my friend’s number, and shouted in the phone Al Pacino!  He said, “What?” And I repeated Al Pacino, the actor that came into my dream the other night, it was Al Pacino.  He just laughed and said, “Do you know it’s midnight?”  I apologized; we both laughed and commiserated about getting old before hanging up our phones.

Some people use external things that cloud the mind like alcohol or drugs.  Some came to a Sangha out of a desire to get help with unclouding their minds from these external things. Others came to get them unclouded from negative thoughts and feelings that were not allowing them to make good, compassionate, logical decisions about their lives. No matter what the reason sitting (meditation) and following the teachings of the Buddha will help.  But just like any bad habit–changing it does not happen overnight.

Norman Fischer in his new book Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong  (2013),  talks about cultivating a serious attitude when we desire to change something in our lives. He asks us to practice the “five strengths.”  “The Five strengths are:

1.       Strong determination
2.       Familiarization
3.       Seed of virtue
4.       Reproach
5.    Aspiration (page 68”)[1]

Strength #1 is strong determination.  To make a change in your life, regardless of what it is—Ya Gottawanna!  Once you really “want to” then and only then should you begin.  I remember being on a no carb diet sometime back and found it almost impossible not to eat one of those delicious bagels that are shared each Saturday in our morning study group after Zazen.  They sure tasted a lot better than that old rice cake I was eating!  Challenges come in all ways, places, things, and degrees.

Fischer goes on to say:

Strong determination is exactly what it sounds like. It is a practice to teach us how to take ourselves seriously as dignified spiritual practitioners. To feel as if, whatever our shortcomings (and it is absolutely necessary that we are honest, even brutally honest, about our shortcomings at every point), we also have within us a powerful energy to accomplish the spiritual path (page 69).[2]

Having strong determination helps us clear our minds, keeps us from clouding up our minds, and helps us create a happier, healthier, more loving life.

The second great tip he gives us is what he calls a technique of Familiarization and it builds on the first one.

“With familiarization, with repetition and repeated drill, comes the establishment of a new habit that is not, like the old ones, unconscious but instead is a habit you have thought about and chosen to cultivate for reasons that come out of your best motivations.  Familiarization is brain washing, washing out an otherwise musty brain, freshening it up (page 70).[3]

I just love that idea; it is like using a mouth wash on your brain!

Lastly he says “Familiarization is repetition of teachings and intentional practices for the purpose of establishing new pathways, new habits.  As we’ve said, the brain is plastic, fluid it changes with our inner and outer activity (page 69).”[4]  There is an old theory of 21 that says you must do something 21 times in order to make it a habit.  I’ve never been able to do it only 21 times, for me it usually takes 121 times, but I am persistent so I keep going and going washing that brain out whenever and wherever I need to.

I work daily to make my inner work with Buddhism express in my outer world.  Each time I am successful at that I am one step closer to living the life of a Bodhisattva. And maybe, just maybe I only have 119 more days (or lives) to familiarize myself with the practice of The Grave Precept #5 till it becomes an unconscious way of life and there is one less cloud in my mind!

Things to focus on this week:

  • Step one: Begin by deciding how you will use strong determination and familiarization to help you uncloud your mind.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the clouds appear each day.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being determined in all you do and do not rain on others with your cloudy mind.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Fischer, N. (2013) Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong . Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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