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Archive for September, 2013

“At the very moment of attaining enlightenment upon seeing the morning star, this is where the Tathagata eats his morning gruel (page 143).”[1]  So this morning as I sat my mind kept wandering onto my to-do list for the day and the week and the month and each time I would go back to counting and following my breath I soon was back on the to-do list.  That wandering mind led to self-recrimination and questioning myself, my practice, and my ability to sit.  Then I remembered this quote from The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt and took a deep breath and remembered “nothing special.”

Zen is nothing special, sitting is nothing special.  As the wisdom of the followers of Buddha have proclaimed over and over again when asked about zazen, or the Buddha, or Buddhism it was just: chopping wood, carrying water, or just this, or thus.  Yangshan simply brought a basin of water and a towel and Xiangyan made a bowl of tea and both of these students were told by Guishan, “You two students surpass even Shariputra and Maudgalyayana with your miraculous activity (page 134)!”

And yet every moment of the day is special as Dogen wrote, “Layman Pangyun was an outstanding person in the ancestral seat.  One day he said, “Miracles are nothing other than fetching water and carrying firewood (page 135)”[2]  So today the miracle for me was just taking the time to sit, taking the time to remember that just making the effort each day is a miracle!  Taking the time to forgive myself for being human when I have a wandering mind, or when I get upset or angry with someone during the day and the like–now that’s a miracle.

Recently, I had dokuson at our all day Zazenkai with Mitsunen Nordstrom and shared this with him, he jumped for joy and said people misunderstand Buddhism if they think that they should never lose their temper or be angry at another.  That’s nonsense.  What is good is to forgive yourself when it happens, be compassionate with yourself, and then move on with your day. Don’t walk around stoically with a stiff look on your face afraid to have emotions and feelings!  Nothing special: either the good thoughts and actions or the upsetting thoughts and actions…just this.

Dogen went on to say, “Things are just as they are even when unnoticed.  Even when people do not know that fetching water is a miracle, fetching water is undeniably a miracle (page 135).”[3] Remembering and forgetting: miracles. Eating your morning gruel immediately after enlightenment: a miracle. And yet nothing special!

Being born: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Realizing your oneness with all things: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Miracles are happening to you and around you every moment of everyday…so guess what? Nothing special! Just eat your morning gruel…

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “nothing special” miracles in my life.

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate and forgiving toward myself and others.

3.  I will remember that emotions are part of living and sitting.

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

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The law of cause and effect is beautifully described by Dogen when he writes about the arrival of flowers.

When the time comes, flowers open. This is the moment of flowers, the arrival of flowers.  At this very moment of flowers arriving, there is no other way.  Plum and willow flowers unfailingly bloom on plum and willow trees. You can see the flowers and know plum and willow trees.  You understand flowers by looking at plum and willow trees.  Peach and apricot flowers have never bloomed on plum and willow trees.  Plum and willow flowers bloom on plum and willow trees.   Peach and apricot flowers bloom on peach and apricot trees.  Flowers in the sky bloom in the sky in just this way.  They do not bloom on other grasses or trees (page 130).”[1]

For me this passage represents the idea of what we call in Unity “the law of mind action.”  Thoughts held in mind manifest after their kind.  You cannot think thoughts of fear, anger, jealousy, limitation, or lack and have happiness, success, prosperity, peace, and love appear in your life on the physical, spiritual, or mental plane.  As Dogen said plum flowers come from plum trees NOT apricot trees or grass.

Like creates like, love creates love, hate creates hate.  You cannot plant an apple seed and get a pear tree any more than you can plant a hate filled thought and get a loving response in return.  Thoughts create our reality and Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, said they have weight and measure.

What did he mean by that?  He illustrated this idea by an experiment that was done at a college during his life time.  They took some of the best athletes in the school and placed them on a perfectly balanced board.  While lying there they first asked them to try to figure out a very difficult mathematical problem and as they worked on the problem the board began to move slowly in the direction of their heads.  Remember when you were on a teeter totter with a friend who was a little heavier than you were it would move in his or her direction.

Next, they asked the student to picture himself running in a race and to keep running as fast as he could to reach the finish line first.  You can all imagine what happened then—the board began to tilt in the direction of the student’s feet.  Thus Charles said, thoughts “have weight and measure.”

What are you producing with your thoughts: illness in mind, body, or spirit, measurably higher blood pressure, blood sugar, anxiety attacks, or migraines?

Dogen goes on to say:

When the old plum tree suddenly blooms, the world of blossoming flowers arises.  At the moment when the world of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives. There is a single blossom that opens five petals.  At this moment of a single blossom, there are three, four, and five blossoms, hundreds, thousands, myriads, billions of blossoms—countless blossoms (page 130)”[2]

What is blossoming in your life today, be mindful of the forest that you grow.

Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day thinking peach blossoms and growing peach blossoms.

2.  I will remind myself that the content of my thoughts are the content of my actions.

3.  I will remember that I am in charge of the law of cause and effect.

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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My dear teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor, sent me another wonderful book about Dogen, How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Francis Dojun Cook.  In the introduction he writes, “To sit upright with straight back, with mind and body unified, empty and unattached to internal and external events—this is itself Buddha wisdom; this is Buddha mind. Dogen teaches that, rather than do zazen for some purpose, one sits quietly, without expectation, in jijuyu Samadhi, simply to enjoy one’s own inherent nature, without question of means and ends (page 5).’”[1]

What a relief to know that we can sit for no reason at all.  That our time spent in meditation need not be something which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It need not be to find enlightenment, peace, joy, or decreased blood pressure.  It can simply be “because.”  Just “this.” It can be done with no expectations or preconceived notions or rules of sitting or posture or pain or no pain.  Just sitting.

And if that day the “sitting” is difficult or easy–so what.  You can make it fun, simple, hard, or awkward—you can label it whatever you want or label it nothing at all.  Simply sit with no expectations, or criticisms, or worries, or judgments.  If we sit to replicate the outcome of enlightenment that Shakyamuni Buddha had we have not learned that we are already Buddhahood. This is what he discovered under the Bodhi tree. Dojun says in his book, “Then why did he [Shakyamuni Buddha] continue to sit in jijuyu samadhi? Because he was just manifesting and enjoying his Buddhahood (page 5).”[2]

So why sit?  He goes on to say, “Buddhism is an experiential religion in which this real-making process actualizes Buddha nature as a concrete, lived reality.  Therefore, because practice is absolutely necessary for making our inherent Buddha nature a lived reality, practice never ends (page 7).[3]

So whether you are sitting on the cushion, on the chair in the kitchen eating a meal, or on the couch, or at your desk take time to just “sit” as Shakyamuni Buddha did under the bodhi tree before and after his enlightenment experience.  Hold no expectations just bask in the moment of quiet, peace, and eternity that lives within you every moment of every day.  Be free.

Dojun goes on to write, “This practice is very simple, but also very difficult.  It is our human nature to pick and choose, to desire and loathe, to form myriad attitudes and judgments toward the events of our lives.  This practice is difficult because it demands of us that we simply cease that picking and choosing, desiring and loathing. A contemporary Zen master has said that ‘Zen is picking up your coat from the floor and hanging it up.” Nothing could be simpler (page 8).”[4]

Try it I think you’ll like it.

Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day simply sitting wherever I am without expectations.

2.  I will remind myself that even Shakyamuni Buddha continued to sit.

3.  I will remember that “nothing could be simpler.”

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] Cook, F.D., (2002) How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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In some ways the end of time came for me on Wednesday, September 4, 2013, when my mother passed away.  My dad had passed away six years ago and I just knew time had stopped for me then, but oddly enough mother needed more time from me since she had Alzheimer’s and, unlike dad, needed someone’s full attention to survive.  Survive and thrive she did.  Although mother had her ups and downs she was resilient and was always able to bounce back.  Not so last Wednesday the bouncing stopped and she fell into a deep sleep that sent her into eternity with dad.

Although time stopped for her on planet earth as Dogen wrote, “This is the timeless moment to attain buddha ancestors’ infinite life.  All of you aspire and practice within this timelessness.  Endeavoring to follow the way, you must actualize one phrase.  When timelessness is realized, you are powerful.  When timelessness is realized, you are alive (page 94).”[1]

Mother has reached her aspiration of timelessness and come into her real power. My mother was a Methodist who loved Psalm 23 and counted on it in times of difficulty—this is for mom.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“[After a pause Dogen said:] The buddha ancestors’ body and mind are timelessness.  Your true face is a great jewel forming in heaven.  How long have you awaited timelessness? This auspicious day knows the increasing light of opportunity (page 94).”[2]  She waited 92 years to enter into her timelessness. I can only wonder with awe at the opportunities my mother is taking in timelessness now. She has ended the great adventure here to find her true face as the wondrous jewel formed in heaven, the perfect reflection of her heavenly work done on earth.

You too are the perfect reflection of timelessness—show it and share it every day.

Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day trusting that “my cup runneth over” with good.

2.  I will remind myself that time is fleeting and only love prevails.

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open for any and all opportunities to use my time wisely to be a gift and not a burden.

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.

 

mom WAC hat 2009Iona Louise Bishop, Women’s Army Air Corp WWII, 1920-2013


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

[2] Ibid.

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