Archive for August, 2013

The Essential Dogen…Trust

“Trust, also translated as faith, is one of the four pillars of Buddhism: teaching, practice, trust, and realization (page 73).”[1]  This is the order in which we move as we are invited to take on the mantle of Buddhism in our lives.  Dogen said, “The realm of all buddhas is inconceivable.  It cannot be reached by intellect—much less can those who have no trust or lack of wisdom know it.  Only those who have the great capacity of genuine trust can enter this realm (page 73)”[2]

Trust is a very difficult thing to do.  We all have put our faith and trust in someone or something and we were let down, or the bottom fell out of the investment, or the job offer fell through, but that did not stop us from “trusting” something or someone else in the future.  For the novice it is important to remember that people have been following the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha for thousands of years and have tested and tried, and failed and succeeded in their lives by following his advice and teachings.

This is the way of true learning.  It is like when you first learn anything you try and fail and try again until you master the thing.  If you give up to soon you may lose faith in yourself or the teacher.  If the teacher is a good one he or she will continue to help you and support you and show you a better way, a simpler way, a more loving way, or a faster way.  Then the teacher lets you try it again and watches to see how you do this time. A true teacher will show he or she has “trust” in you and your abilities, talents, and skills.  They often see things in you that you do not see in yourself.  That is the eye of the true teacher.

Trust in these wonderful principles of Buddhism, practice them daily, and watch what happens.  It is not by accident that these principles have lasted for thousands of years it is by practice and trust that those who have come before you have made them work in their lives making them better, sustaining them, and broadening their outlook on life.

[According to Ejo] Dogen said, “When Eisai, the late Bishop, was abbot of the Kennin Monastery, a man came and said, ‘My family is very poor.  We haven’t eaten for several days. The three of us—my wife, my son, and I—are starving to death.  Please show your compassion and help us.’ At that time there was no clothing, food, or money in the monastery.  Eisai could find no way to help.  But he remembered the copper sheet intended for the halo of the Medicine Buddha figure.  He got this out, broke off a portion of it, crushed it together, and gave it to the poor man, saying, ‘Please exchange this for food and satisfy your hunger.’ The man departed overjoyed.

The students were upset and said, ‘That copper was for the radiance of the Medicine Buddha’s image.  Is it not a crime to give such sacred material to a layperson?’

“Eisai said, ‘yes, it is a crime.  But think of the Buddha’s intention.  He gave up his own flesh and bones and offered them to sentient beings.  We would honor the Buddha’s intention even if we were to give the entire body of the Medicine Buddha to those who are starving now.  We may fall into hell for this act.  Still we should continue to save people from starvation.’

“Students nowadays should reflect on the great heart of our guiding master.  Don’t forget this (pages 71-71).”[3]

Eisai had trust in the principles lived and taught by the Buddha regardless of what others thought may be the outcome of the action.  He trusted that doing the “right” thing would surpass all rules made by man.  The Buddha said we were to live a life filled with actions, thoughts, and deeds that would help alleviate the suffering on this planet.  So when your heart knows what to do trust it and follow it to the loving actions, words, and deeds that will help end suffering, if not for all forever, at least for that person in that moment.

Trust yourself, your compassion, and the teachings of the Buddha to know when and how to do the right thing. Follow in the footsteps of Eisai.

Trust in yourself, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day trusting in the principles taught by Shakyamuni Buddha.

2.  I will remind myself that trust when shared with another will brighten his or her day and improve our relationship.

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open for any and all opportunities to show trust in the principles of Buddhism.

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.

[3] Ibid.


Read Full Post »

Enlightenment is an elusive idea spread by many religious and spiritual teachings around the world. Questions abound:  What is it?  How do I attain it?  What will happen if I do get it?  Does that mean I have to leave my family and friends and go live on the top of a mountain somewhere?

Dogen said, “Great enlightenment right at this moment is not self, not other. Great enlightenment is the tea and rice of daily activity.  Enlightenment is ungraspable (page 55).”[1]

Tanahashi and Levitt say, “Awakening to the ultimate reality of human existence is called ‘realization’ or ‘enlightenment.’ It is the actualization of our innate capacity to experience wisdom beyond wisdom (page 50).”[2]  Wisdom abounds everywhere, are you looking?

Enlightenment is knowing that you are in the present moment, doing all that you can to demonstrate your oneness with the world and the people around you.  It is living in the moment and not being drawn into future events or challenges or pushed back to the worries and woes of the past minutes, hours, days, or years.  It is being one with all in this very moment.

As Dogen said it is the “tea and the rice of daily activity.”  So if you are sitting or meditating so you can be sent to another plane of existence, or to light up like the pictures we see of Jesus, or to be relieved of your daily chores and sorrows you may or may not grasp it.  You just may be looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing.

Enlightenment to me is when you are living your life fully with peace, love, joy, and compassion.  When without thinking you act as the Good Samaritan, or Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or the Buddha just doing and being the embodiment of those things. It is washing the dishes with care, driving the car with mindfulness for the safety of others on the road and the passengers in your car.  It is saying a prayer before you eat to bless the food and those who have made it possible for you to eat: the farmer, the truck driver, the clerk in the grocery store and hundreds more.

We have a beautiful prayer that we say before each meal at our Zendo if you are not already using it I hope you’ll try it out.   It seems to have extra added benefits like no indigestion after the meal for some reason or other!

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

This prayer can be used throughout the day for everything.  Bless the clothes you wear and the people who made them for you.  Bless the car you drive and the home where you live, and the furniture that you sit and sleep on. See the “light” in everyone and everything.  That is why we call it “enlightenment.”  It is not a place to go but a place to be!

Be light about everything, look for the humor and laughter around you and bring humor and laughter wherever you go.  Life is short—too short to be living “enheavyment” every day all day long!  Be good to yourself and lighten up. When you do you see enlightenment everywhere in everyone and in everything.  Think what a miracle that would be! If this day was your last day on earth what a wonderful day it would have been.

Dogen said, “You should remember that how much you study and how fast you progress are secondary matters.  The joyfully seeking mind is primary (page 51)”[3]  So trade in your heaviness for joyfulness today!  When you do you will be face-to-face with the master’s I have named above and many more—you will be walking with them in the light.

So travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day with joyfulness and lightness.

2.  I will remind myself that life is short—and not to spend time in “heaviness” but in “lightness”!

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open because wisdom and enlightenment are everywhere present.

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.

[3] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

Eihei Dogen wrote, “The body and mind of the Buddha way is grass, trees, tiles, and pebbles, as well as wind, rain, water, and fire.  To turn them around and make them the buddha way—this is the aspiration for enlightenment. (page 47)”[1] What an expansive idea this is for most people.  In Pali “Buddha” literally means “awakened one.”  To be awakened means that we see everything as a part of the whole, where no separation exists between the natural world and the human world: All is one.

This principle is taught in the metaphysical Christian churches as well where we learn that there is “no place where God is not.” That the creation or life force is the same in all things and Shakyamuni Buddha or Jesus Christ was an embodied being that recognized this and lived a life that demonstrated it.  The life force energy is within us to be co-creators of a world of peace, love, and compassion for all things.

Although we may not recognize this within ourselves Dogen goes on to write, “It is the buddha way altogether at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.  It is like journeying a long distance; one step is within one thousand mile, one thousand steps are within one thousand miles.  The first step and the one-thousandth step are different but are equally within the one thousand miles (page47-48).”[2]  There is no need for you to go on a long journey to “find” the Buddha or the Christ within. Whether you have gone within through prayer, meditation, or sitting one time or one thousand times they are equal but different places on the journey.

I asked my mother one day if she thought that “God was everywhere present.”  She said of course.  Then I pointed to the lamp and said, “So God is in the lamp then.”  She said, “Don’t be silly God is not in the lamp.”  And, of course, I replied, “How could that be if you just told me that God was everywhere present, and the lamp is somewhere then God must be in the lamp.”  That blew her mind and she went back to her knitting.

And yet, we all try to separate the idea of oneness by dividing it into categories of animate and inanimate things; between sentient and non-sentient things.  Since we live inside these tiny bodies which have skin and bones and create separation it is hard for us to see the oneness in all things–yet it is there.

Robert E. Kennedy in his wonderful book Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit (page 57) quotes John Wu The Golden Age of Zen (page 2)[3] “When all things return to the One, even gold loses its value.  But when the One returns to all things, even the pebbles sparkle.”  When we pray, meditate, or sit we return to the one and we sparkle as well.

So our task for this week is to really look for the oneness in each other, in those animate and inanimate-sentient and non-sentient things:  To look for the fragrance in the cactus and the thorns in the rose; to find something worthwhile in all creatures, large and small and in all beings friendly and unfriendly.  And then we will be “awakened” to the oneness of all things.

Awaken to the beauty of this day, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to see the beauty in all things.

2.  I will remind myself that I too can be awakened with one step or one thousand the choice is mine!

3.  I will work each day on sitting at least 10 minutes to recognize my oneness with all things.

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.

[3] Kennedy, R.E. (1995) Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit, The Place of Zen in Christian Life. Continuum: NY, NY

Read Full Post »

Eihei Dogen wrote, “Arousing the aspiration for enlightenment depends on sutras and teachers. Practice depends on sutras and teachers.  The fruit of enlightenment is one and intimate with sutras and teachers. (page 38)”[1] The world revolves around teachers of all kinds, from religious to secular to family members, friends, acquaintances, the written and spoken word, and life experiences.

We are born learners and seekers of teachers.   In Buddhism there are many teachers available to us from our sutras, and those who teach them or share their insights about them, to the sangha itself where we sit and find the answers within ourselves as we tap into the “big mind.”  Then there are the many wonderful books that help explain things about Buddhism. Since esoteric teachings are often confusing and have “hidden” meanings behind the words it is important to have those insights either in the books, online at websites and blogs, or in your sangha from a teacher or another practitioner.

There is not a better way or a right way or an “only” way to delve into the sutras.  All paths can lead to enlightenment or satori or kensho whichever term you prefer.  But the sutras are not just a path to enlightenment they are a pathway to life.

I remember reading a letter that was written by Paramahansa Yogananda and in it he wrote.  “Do not look at the beggar on the street and say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ because he may be in his last incarnation and you may have many more to go.”  So once you have memorized a sutra if you do not live the words within it what good is it?  The value is not in the memorization, but in the application!

It is also important to remember the words of Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) when he is quoted as saying,

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.  Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.  Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.  But after observation and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Enlightenment does not come “from” the sutras but from living a life as illustrated in them—to do that more easily and more often we need to put some of them to memory.  That way we have the principles anchored in our unconscious as well as our conscious mind and the words can be of great help to us especially in times of challenge.

One of my favorites is the Metta Sutra: The Loving-Kindness of 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 they all 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 boundless mind should one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire world, above, below, and all around without limit.

Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one’s waking hours, may one  remain mindful of this heart and this way of living that is the best in the world.

Unattached to speculations, views and sense desires, with clear vision, such a person will never be reborn in the cycles of suffering.

If you have not already done so, begin today to pick a sutra that resonates with you and memorize it.  When you do the “fruits of enlightenment” will be there for the picking. What a luscious thing that will be!

Be happy, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to read a sutra each morning and evening.

2.  I will remind myself that I too can be happy!

3.  I will work each day on memorizing a sutra and know memorization is easy for me.

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

Read Full Post »

In their book, The Essential Dogen Writing of the great Zen Master, Tanahashi and Levitt quote Dogen as saying: “In performing your duties along with the other officers and staff, you should maintain joyful mind, kind mind, and great mind (page 19).”[1]

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could practice that mindset from the time we woke up in the morning until we went to bed in the evening, regardless of where we were or what we were doing?  But sadly enough our lives have been filled with many events that have taught us to believe that the world is a dangerous, harmful, and unloving place.

I have been working as a corporate trainer for 30 years and in that time I am sad to say that probably 60% or more of the people in my classes either do not like their jobs or actually hate them but they need to work to cover their living expenses and other bills so they do not try to find other employment.  And it is especially frightening and difficult to move when the unemployment rate is as high as it is and companies are downsizing, right sizing, and closing at alarming rates.

David Xi-Ken Astor is his wonderful book Pragmatic Buddhism Reflecting Contemporary Vitality writes, “Siddhartha was not as concerned about understanding how the Universe worked as much as he was about learning how we humans worked within it (location 729).”[2]

Now that I’ve totally depressed everyone, let’s look at the bright side!

There is an axiom that illustrates how the Universe works, or at least people within our Universe on planet Earth! It goes like this: 70% of the people in the world are Reactors and so they react to the way you treat them (treat them nice and they treat you nice back, treat them poorly and they treat you poorly right back, they are reacting to the way you treat them), 20% of the world are simply Nice all the time (you know them—they make you laugh and feel good whenever you’re around them) and finally the last 10% are Nasty regardless of the time of day, day of the week, or the year.  Who knows why they are that way—maybe they had a bad childhood, or a life experience that jaded them and left them empty, cold, and unhappy.

Regardless of the circumstances what this axiom says is that 90% of the time I can have a great life, wonderful relationships with people, and even learn to enjoy my job!  Because the Nice people are always going to be nice and fun to be around regardless of what happens.  I can always decide to act in a loving, kind, and compassionate way and not get baited when the Reactor is in a bad mood or I bump into a Nasty.  And finally I can live in the “big mind” or the “small mind” the choice is mine.

David goes on to write:

 Dogen’s definition of what a Buddhist practice should be about is well known.  He said that to learn and practice Buddhism was the study of ourselves, and when we do that we come to know who we really are, and as a result of this realization we have the potential to experience how the Universe is.  We are engaged in finding useful and productive ways in making our true self free of distorted interpretations. In other words, when we meditate whatever we experience is the self experiencing the connection with the universe as it expresses true Dharma.  At that moment, we experience no disconnect between self and other (location 731).[3]

Make each activity sacred…and at that moment we become the 90%er and can more easily “maintain joyful mind, kind mind, and great mind.  Even when you are doing a job that you may not like or want to do—or are dealing with one of those 10%ers—miracles can occur if you simply change your mind and view the situation from a higher place—from the big mind.  Give it a try and let me know what happens.

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to view my life from the “big mind” vantage point.

2.  I will remind myself that I too can be a 90%er or a 10%er the choice is mine!

3.  I will remember to feel compassion for the 10% regardless of his or her behavior.

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] Astor, D. (2012) Pragmatic Buddhism Reflecting Contemporary Vitality. Engaged Dharma Insight Group: Sebring, FL

[3] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

In their book, The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master, Tanahashi and Levitt open the section on bowing like this:

Bowing with palms together expresses respect to the awakened nature of others.  It also sanctifies and expresses gratitude to the room where one practices, the meditation seat, and anything that is offered, including food.  Formal bowing follows an offering of incense and is done in multiple prostrations to the floor (page 16).[1]

I am reminded of the time that President Obama met with the Prime Minister of Japan and he bowed to him. Some in America were shocked that he was bowing—there was indignant outrage—to say the least.  I am sorry that some people are not aware of the value, use, and reason for bowing since it is used in many cultures and nations around the world.

When I first came to the Zendo (Southern Palm Zen Group) and was instructed on the basic steps to follow before, during, and after the service I was told about bowing. I followed along and as I bowed to the alter on entering it reminded me of the bows that are made by the Catholics as they walk around the sanctuary and bow to the alter as they pass it.  Protestants don’t do that.  Hummm.  Then as I bowed to the cushion I felt like I was paying respect to the person who made that cushion and the things that went into the fabric and the stuffing and the buttons and all.  I felt like it was a silent thank you to them for giving me a soft comfortable place to sit while I joined in the service and ultimately into a time of quiet meditation.

Bowing…since that time I have used it everywhere and as often as I can.  I bow to my students when they come into the classroom, I bow to my food whenever I eat, I bow to my students at the end of each class as a silent thank you and good-by. The other day I bowed to each of my students as they stood up to make a speech at their graduation luncheon from their six week leadership training program.

As the student looked at me from behind the lectern we made eye contact, I smiled, reminded him or her to take “3 breaths” and then I gave them a little bow.  It helped the person to release some nervousness and proudly and confidently began the speech.  What they had to say may have only taken a minute or two but I could see it was one of the proudest moments of their lives.  Upon completion I gave him or her two thumbs up–they smiled at me and walked back to their table. I felt exactly as Rujing describes in this verse.

 Rujing chanted a verse:

Both the bower and bowed-to

Are empty and serene by nature—

The way flows freely between them.

How wondrous (page 17)![2]

The way flowed freely between us that afternoon.  The way flows freely each time I take the opportunity to bow to someone or something.  Bowing helps me stay in the moment, mindfully, compassionately, and gratefully.  To become one with all and to be liberated from my small ideas and my small self, this is a wondrous practice to master.  I recommend it highly…

in gassho, Shokaiingassho

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to bow to everyone and everything.

2.  I will remind myself that life is wondrous—even when I don’t see the wonder!

3.  I will remember to be open to new ideas, new cultures, new ways, and new things.

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.

Read Full Post »