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Archive for July, 2013

“Samadhi is a Sanskrit word indicating the one-pointed state of body and mind in meditation (zazen).  It is translated as ding in Chinese, which means ‘stability’ (page 13).”[1] Anyone who has been around Buddhism or Yoga or any Eastern (as we call it) teachings will know this word well.  Many seek to experience Samadhi through their practices in meditation (zazen), yoga, Tai Chi, breath work and more.  And it seems the harder they try the more the experience eludes them.  Then the more they get frustrated.  And finally they just give up.

What a shame.  For in reality the best way to experience it is by letting go of the experience.  Because the experience of it is simply a “one pointed state of body and mind” and that you have already experienced a thousand times in your life.  It is that perfect orgasm that you had in the most intimate and loving relationship, it is that perfect bite of food that you had one evening where you experienced it with every sense in your body—taste, touch, smell, and sight.  It is when you were so engrossed in a task that it took someone hollering out your name or having to touch you to gain your attention.

There was not it and you—there was just it. Until of course you came back to you and when you did that you separated yourself from the experience, went out of the now moment and into the past, reliving it, talking about it, sharing it with the other person who may have been there at the time. Duality crept up on you and then there was you and then there was the experience.

Dogen said, “The activity of zazen is just like the fish swimming. Who can measure how many thousands and myriads of miles there are in zazen? Its journey is the entire body going on the path where no bird flies (page 13).”[2]  As were the above examples I have given.  You were not doing something hoping to reach Samadhi it was just “thusness.”  Just this.  Just that. Just being fully and totally in the moment experiencing, melding with it not even being conscious of your “self.” That’s true Samadhi.

So instead of searching and seeking for Samadhi Dogen simply says, “Practice thusness continuously and you will be thus. The treasury will open of itself for you to use as you wish (page 14).”[3] “Thusness: Reality itself, which is limitless and undivided (page 182)”[4] will become a natural part of your life, without any effort or trying.

Be like the fish swimming in the water and just experience the water and the rest will come of its own accord. Remember some birds can’t fly and some fish can walk.

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to swim through it with ease and joy.

2.  I will remind myself that life is “just this” no more and no less.  Whatever “this” is!

3.  I will remember that some birds can’t fly and some fish can walk.

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.

They may not be able to fly,

but they sure know how to love!

King PenguinsEmperor Penguin and Baby


[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Eihei Dogen wrote, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[1]  Every person born has come here in search of something.  Some begin the search early in life and others may begin only when near death.  But aspire to things and search for things we will and we do. Some will be led to religious or spiritual searches, some are led to search for information about his or her ancestry, others search for knowledge in books, still others search for loving relationships, some search for riches in money and things, but most of us search for a combination of them all in some way.

Buddhism helps with all of these searches and aspirations by providing us with some guidelines for living.  These guidelines are especially helpful in this very frantic and fast passed world in which we live.  They can help us give meaning to our lives.  Sitting and being involved in a Sangha is a simple and practical way to help us on our search.  As Dogen says many are searching for what we call enlightenment.  Many experience it (whatever it is) while sitting, however there is no special place or task or thought that can bring it.  Just be light and open for all experiences to enter your life and reject none.

It is much like the GPS you would not leave home without when going on a long trip.  Mine did not seem to want to work the other day when I was driving way down into Miami-Dade County from Palm Beach County to teach at Florida International University.  I thought I remembered how to get there but I could not remember what the exit on the turnpike was.  I kept trying and trying and nothing worked and so I finally gave up and just decided to enjoy the journey.  Then when I was about 10 miles from the school I thought let’s check it out one more time and sure enough it popped right up and showed me the exit. I was enlightened!

It is like that in life, the harder we search, the more frantic we get, and the less able we are to find our way in the dark.  We have lost the light   But once we sit, meditate, take a few deep breaths, or pray we find our peaceful center and the light appears—the answer comes.  I learned a wonderful three breath exercise from a great book by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays titled How to Train a Wild Elephant.  I share it with all of my classes and we do the exercise prior to beginning the class.  I have them begin by shaking out their hands to release the tension, they can leave their eyes open or closed, then they take three deep breaths (not so deep that it makes them cough) counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.  It is as simple as that.

What those three simple breaths do is help clear the students’ minds, slow down their breathing and heart rate and voila their minds are open to learn and they can see the light of wisdom or knowledge! How beautiful is that!   If you begin with the simple breath exercise in the morning before you get out of bed and at night when you get back into bed you’ll be ready for your day and a good night’s sleep.  Imagine what would happen if you did it with your eyes open in the middle of a conversation with an angry customer, co-worker, relative, stranger, or boss.  You’d be able to keep your cool with ease, and your search for peace and contentment in life would be arrived at even though it may be for only a few short seconds or minutes.

Sitting (zazen) helps us with our aspirations and searches as well. You do have to set aside time for it that is true. However, the time spent is well worth it and will help you greatly with your search. Additionally, it will help you attain those things that you aspire to– some of which may be hidden deep within you and are only felt with an unexplainable longing.

Remember what Dogen said, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[2]  I may be limited by the earthly conditions, but my aspirations and enlightenment are not! So be on the lookout for them wherever you go!

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day with sitting, meditating, or praying.  If that is not possible I will begin my day with three breaths and end my day with three breaths and use them as needed throughout the day and evening.

2.  I will keep an open mind, heart, and eye for that aspiration manifesting in my life regardless of how large or small it may be or where it is coming from.

3.  I will not be limited by my earthly conditions.

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.


[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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Eihei Dogen lived from 1200-1253 and although he died very young he left a vast amount of words to help us on our journey in life.  Whether you are a Buddhist or not his teachings can provide you with a map to living a life of peace, joy, love, and compassion.  They are time tested principles that may be outright impossible to understand, or simple maxims for life, or a star too far to reach. Whatever they appear to you at first glance I believe that when you practice them regularly soon you’ll see a positive difference in your life.

The editors of  The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master, Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, have divided their book into six sections: Practical Instruction, History, Gates of Dharma, Philosophical View, Students and Teachers, and Expression.  My plan is to take some of Dogen’s quotes and share them with you to show you that practicing Dogen’s teachings can be a practical and effective way to live your life based on the principles of peace, joy, love, and compassion.  It might help to quote the book:

Dogen initiated a lifetime of teaching and writing in one of the most unique and provocative styles the world has seen, so that others might also clarify the great matter of birth-and-death; self might have a bridge to self; wholeness in human form might be expressed as wholeness; and sentient beings might be saved from the unforgiving rigors of delusion, anguish, and needless suffering—the burden of dissatisfaction—in all of its forms (page xx).[1]

If you are one of those people who would like to release your burden of dissatisfaction in any part of your life this journey is for you.  If you do not already have a practice of “zazen” or “sitting” or “meditation” then today is the day to begin. “One of Dogen’s ‘Rules of Zazen’ admonishes students of the way to be mindful of time’s swift passage and ‘engage yourself in zazen as though saving your head from fire’ (page xvii-xviii).”  There have been times in my life when I felt as though my head was on fire even though it actually was not!  When I encountered one of those events or days it sure was a wake up call that something needed to change in my life.

If you have felt that way recently I hope you will join me on this journey.  I begin each day with sitting (zazen) anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes depending upon the day. In doing so I create a time of peace, quiet, and joy in my life.  It fills me with the energy to move forward with my busy day. It enables me to bring that peaceful, calm, and loving feeling with me throughout the day.  It helps me show compassion to myself and all others.  It clears my mind and creates space for new and creative energy to emerge. It fills me with the joys of living rather than the pains of living—regardless  of how large or small each one may be.

The authors encourage us with these words:

While for Dogen all beings are ‘fundamentally enlightened,’ it is reasonable to ask, as he did during his travels in China: If this is the case and we are whole from the beginningless beginning, why do we practice? To answer, I’d like to offer a response based on Dogen’s teaching: We practice because we do not yet know who or what we are.  But as a result of many causes, including the suffering we experience and the longing engendered by that suffering, we aspire to know.  That aspiration leads many people to begin the practice of zazen (page xxvi).[2]

It is my desire that these short lessons in the essential teachings of Dogen will help you minimize your suffering and your longing to “know” will be answered.  Let us begin the journey today and continue every day!

“Simply say, ‘Just this!’ (page 177).”[3]

Travel lightly, Shokai



[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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So let us refresh our memories of the three treasures: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  So when we look at the way we view the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, let us hold them as “one.”  As it says in Master Hakuin’s The Song of Zazen, “Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open.  Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.”

Our picture of the Buddha the man and the Buddha concept that we are all one and the same seems like an untruth.  How easy it is to stray into the negative or doubting place when we hear ourselves say harsh words, or gossip, or treat people unkindly.  We begin to think: HA I’m not the Buddha, look what I just said or did.  I am a mean, awful, untrustworthy person!  I am not like the Buddha at all!

But fortunately for us “straight ahead runs the Way.”  So if we fall the first thing we do is simply get up, and then we move forward putting one foot in front of the other.  We are now moving ahead in time and space, are we not?  So simply acknowledge your behavior and remember your vow to not disparage the three treasures and move on—quickly and quietly.  Remember the Buddha tried many things throughout his lifetime to find the way.  And in the end we need to return home to the oneness that we all are.

Peter Levitt in his wonderful book The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master (2013) quotes an excerpt from an Allen Ginsberg poem entitled “Song (page xv-xvi).”  And where Ginsberg uses the word “love” Peter says it could be replaced with other words such as wholeness, oneness, unity, and Self.

The opening lines:

Under the burden

Of solitude,

Under the burden

Of dissatisfaction

The weight,

The weight we carry is love.

The final lines:

Yes, yes,

That’s what

I wanted,

I always wanted,

I always wanted to return

To the body

Where I was born[1]

We too want to return to the oneness of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha where we have the opportunity to experience the oneness of all there is.  We do this through following the life example of the Buddha, the teachings, and the community where we sit together as one breath, one body, and one mind.  For me this is what I hear Allen Ginsberg saying in that last phrase this is to “return to the body where I was born.”

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by remembering the three treasures throughout the day.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before each possible encounter and after each slip and fall.
  • Step three: Remember this is a life journey not a destination..
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] K. Tanahashi, P. Levitt. (2013) The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala:  Boston, MA

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It’s a game—yes life is a game and anger is used as a tool in the game to help people get what they think they want, need, or desire.  In life there are rules and so many rules that it is hard to keep track of them.  When you are young the rules are less and they are easier to remember.  Rule #1 cry or have a temper tantrum when you are hungry or wet or want something that you cannot reach and someone will pay attention to you and give you what you are asking for.  Rule #2 laughing and smiling does not get as quick a response. Rule #3 go back to rule #1.

So this game continues into our youth and adulthood.  We play this game with family members, friends, co-workers, and total strangers.  You’ve seen and heard the game, you’ve played the game.  Sometimes it works in the immediate moment, but afterwards you end up with regrets, broken friendships and relationships, and even lost jobs.

That is not to say that anger or aggressive words or actions are not appropriate in certain situations in life.  When I teach assertiveness training in my classes and workshops I let people know that there are three types of ways you can behave in any situation: passive, aggressive, and assertive.  Depending upon the situation any one of the three may be the effective one and the perfect one at that moment.

Liberation is one of our main goals when sitting and so we need to be liberated to choose, to say “just this,” or to respond in the most aggressive way or the most passive way.  Wonderful examples of inappropriate and appropriate anger are given in Reb Anderson’s book Being Upright (2001). Reb describes a day when his 2-year-old daughter was walking ahead of him and she suddenly turned and started trotting quickly into the street.

 “I immediately shouted with my full voice, “No!” My tone was fierce and aggressive, like a fast moving truck.  She stopped in her tracks and turned back toward the sidewalk. I felt no anger toward my daughter, but there was harshness in my voice.  The strength of my shout surprised me, and I watched her response.  Afterward she seemed calm and happy, so I felt that perhaps it was all right that I had yelled so fiercely (page 180).”[1]

You could call this appropriate anger and from there he moved back into the “gentle way” with his daughter and they both found a “peaceful balance” as they continued their walk through town.  Reb goes on to say, “Peace is realized in entering the flow—meeting and dancing with aggressive energy (page 181).”

To be liberated in this game of life is not to be stuck with rules that are “always” and “only” one way or the other, but that there is latitude to determine when and how to use the rules.  Being angry all the time is not one of them.  Being passive all the time is not one either.  But developing the “middle way” is.  Developing and practicing patience is a great way to find the middle way.  Reb writes:

  “Patience is an antidote to anger and primary condition for enlightenment.  Through practice your vision clears and you see the dependent co-arising pain, frustration, and anger.  Practicing patience does not mean gritting your teeth and ignoring the pain, but developing and expanding your capacity for experiencing pain, opening wide enough to feel the pain without either running away or wallowing in it.  When you practice patience, the path to harmful anger is blocked.  You can face the pain, and relax and breathe with it (page 182)”[2]

This leads to liberation and the use of “appropriate anger” when it is called for and choosing the “middle way” the rest of the time.  It frees you from using “harmful anger” to control and manipulate the people around you.  It will help clear the way for compassion, love, and kindness in the game of life that you are playing.  Today you may be the pawn, the queen, the knight, or the king—one never knows—but when you are liberated you can choose them all or simply choose not to play.

So let’s not act like our baby self above and get caught in the cycle of Rules 1, 2, and 3!

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin simply by giving up inappropriate anger and replacing it with compassion, love, and patience.
  • Step two: Set your intention to think before you speak when you hear one of your anger triggers coming and choose the middle way.
  • Step three: Find a way to be kind even when confronted with the most extreme aggressiveness.
  • 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] Ibid.

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