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Archive for October, 2013

So what is the vow anyway?  There are various translations of the bodhisattva vow, sometimes called the four vows, the way we say it at our Southern Palm Zen Group sangha is below:

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

As you can tell by the words above in many life times we would not be able to free every being on the planet, nor would we be able to transform all of our daily delusions about life.  Plus knowing that reality is relative to the person, country, culture, and more makes it “unknowable” as well, and finally becoming enlightened is rare indeed.  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has self-actualization at the top of the pyramid and it has probably only been attained by a few people ever on planet earth.  And I am not one of them!

Shohaku Okumura writes about the four vows in his book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts:

We are ordinary human beings and yet, if we take these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.  In reality, we are ordinary human beings with inexhaustible desires.  We have to study the teachings and practice endlessly, day by day, moment by moment, to attain the Buddha’s enlightenment.  This is our vow.  In making these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.

As we said, there is a contradiction inherent in these vows: we vow to do things that are impossible. . . .our practice and study are like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, one spoonful at a time. (page 19).[1]

And yet we do it.  We take the vows, we practice as best we can and sometimes we compare our practice to others and get discouraged or get an overblown ego.  Neither is correct.  To be a bodhisattva is a journey with no end, but one that can bring great peace, compassion, and help to us, our families, friends, neighbors, community and ultimately the world.

Even if you are the winner of the National Spelling Bee there will be words to still discover, spell, and define, the number is limitless. And yet, the contestants still try and they keep on studying.  Such is living life by the 4 vows.  The journey is never ending, the path is never straight, the way is often up a rocky road and sometimes strolling on soft green grass. It can be filled with joys and sorrows, fun and laughter, pain and pleasure.  Regardless of the path we may travel, when we take the vows we do our best in this moment ONLY to live those vows.

I start each day by freeing myself from my delusions about myself and the world that I live in, then I open myself to the idea of reality being boundless and not limited by my past experiences and knowledge, and that walking the path of the bodhisattva is a path that could lead me to enlightenment and that is simply fun to imagine!—Even if I don’t attain it today.  I hope you’ll join me on this great adventure!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day affirming the four vows.

2.  I will remind myself that living by them is done by being mindful and taking baby steps along the path throughout the day regardless of the current circumstances.

3.  I will remember that I am a bodhisattva even when I don’t feel like it or think I am acting like one.

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] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by vow: a practical introduction to eight essential Zen chants and texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

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I was listening to a beautiful Andy Williams album this quiet Sunday morning after returning from my walk by the ocean with a friend and the famous song, “Some Enchanted Evening,” by Rogers and Hammerstein came on.  Andy sang, “Fools give you reasons wise men never try.”

Shodo Harada in his wonderful book, Moon by the Window:The Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada, wrote:

Those who have realized deep awakening know how to live each day.   But how do we go about it?  What’s the best way to live so that our life has value for all beings?

Our Original Mind is like that of a newborn baby.  When we live in that naturally clear Mind, just as it is, that’s everyday mind; that’s the Path. But when our mind is filled with ideas and prejudices, perceptions about economics, politics, and social issues, how can we see clearly?  If we could all live from a place of ordinary, everyday mind, we would have no need for religion and education and laws.  When we are not concerned with anything at all, this moment is always the best time and season. If we encounter a crisis or catastrophe, that’s fine; when we die, that’s okay too.  Instead of seeing this as good or bad, we know that that’s how it is.  When we reach the end of our life, we can’t keep on living just because we aren’t ready to die. We must realize this deepest source, not to prevent physical death, but that we might live a life in which dying is only one of many things that come along (page 201).”[1]

What a beautiful way to live—recognizing it is just “how it is.”  When I live this way many of my fears and anxieties will diminish or disappear.  I can react to the situation at hand with speed and agility instead of jumping into my memories from the past—I remember when this happened to me before and I felt hurt for months.  Or jumping into the future—what will happen tomorrow if I say or do this today?  Unless I have a crystal ball that question is truly unanswerable.

So Shodo Harada is inviting me to live in the Original Mind like a “newborn baby.”  I need to live in the moment as if this moment is the only one that means anything…and he’s right–it is.

Where have you been going as you’ve read this blog?  Have you been jumping from the past to the future with thoughts and emotions or intellect and knowledge?  Now try reading it again while staying in your Original Mind in THIS moment. Good luck with that!

Let’s begin to live our lives from a “place of ordinary, everyday mind. Like that of a newborn baby.” Remember that “fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will use my ordinary, everyday mind as often as I can today.

2.  I will remind myself that “fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

3.  I will remember to bring myself back to THIS moment when I catch my mind wandering into the past or the future.

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] Harada, S (2011) Moon By the Window: Zen Insights of Shodo Harada. Wisdom Pub: Sommerville, MA

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When was the last time you went on a hike and were able to actually enter into a physical stream?  When was the last time you felt the water rushing over your feet or shoes and toes and ankles?  When was the last time you heard the noise of the rush of the water over the rocks and pebbles and the cacophony of sounds that it produced?  That may just be the last time you and “prajna” were one.

So what is prajna anyway? “Prajna, consciousness or wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism refers to an immediately experienced intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms. The definitive moment of prajna is insight into emptiness, which is the true nature of reality (page 171)”[1]

One of my “prajna” moments occurred many years ago in the Colorado Rockies hiking with a friend—the water was so pure we could drink from it and refresh our bodies, minds, and spirits and all it seemed to take was just one cold crisp handful. For hours no words needed to be spoken as we immersed ourselves in the beauty of the forest and its insentient capacity to answer all our questions and fulfill all our needs.

Dogen says, “To dedicate yourself and take refuge in the manifestation of prajna is to see and uphold the Buddha, the World-Honored One.  It is to be the Buddha, the World-Honored One, seeing and accepting (page 65).”[2] For students of other paths it may be seeing and accepting the Christ, or Mohammad, or Krishna, or Kwan Yin all honored ones amongst their followers.  How you get there is not the point, the point is simply getting there.  As if “there” was someplace to get, which there is not. But on the physical plane we always think of it that way.

Since prajna cannot be conveyed in concepts or intellectual terms it is important for us to take time each day to simply experience the moment in which we are living.  Regardless of what we are doing in that moment: eating, shopping, bathing, singing, sitting, walking, or cleaning—be there fully, wholly, and unabashedly!

Enlightenment is not some “place” that you go to or get to—it is right here, right now. So if you are still waiting for just the right meditation, sitting, sesshin, prayer, teacher, time, or location you’re going to miss it.  You’ve taken your eyes off the ball—life—and the multitude of opportunities you will be given today to enter into the stream.

Intimate with everything I see,

Walking, sitting, and lying down are truth itself.

If someone asks the inner meaning:

“The treasury of the dharma eye in a speck of dust.”

–Dogen (page 172)[3]

Be here now.

upaya-gold-buddha-Doshin

Upaya Gold Buddha

Photo by my teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor

http://www.listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day being “intimate with everything I see” and everything I do.

2.  I will remind myself that prajna is not a place to go, but is an experience.

3.  I will remember that I am in charge of my experiences and not the circumstances that I find myself in.

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] Kohn, M. H, Editor, The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala Dragon Editions (1991) , Boston, MA

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

[3] ibid

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oconaluftee-river copy

Dogen’s commentary on a koan about insentient beings went like this:

Only the insentient know the dharma they speak of,

Just as walls, grass, and trees know spring,

Ordinary and sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries,

Nor are mountains and rivers; sun, moon, or stars (page 171).[1]

It is time we stop trying to categorize things and surround them with boundaries.  It is time we stop naming some things sacred, blessed, beautiful, and bountiful and the like and other things, non-sacred, limited, dead, or preceded by these types of adjectives.  Doing this allows us to pollute the world we live in and make it okay to destroy forests, and lakes, and rivers, because they are so called “insentient” things. They can’t think, they don’t have emotions, and can’t feel pain.

But Dogen saw the life and dharma in all things and gave us the wisdom in his teachings to find our inner compassion and beauty and direct it with our eyes and ears to all things on this earth.

Imagine what this world would be like if we took this viewpoint.  Every time we walked down the street and saw a stone shimmer, or a flower blow with the breeze, or admired the sounds of the birds, and we viewed this as seeing and hearing the dharma, the world would be a better place in which to live.  There would be less opportunity for anger, violence, wars, pollution, deforestation, and hatred to manifest through humankind.  We would begin to understand that “the ordinary and sacred” have no boundaries. He responded as well with this poem:

How splendid! How wondrous!

Inconceivable! Insentient beings speak dharma.

The ears never hear it—

Only the eyes (page170).[2]

So what is the dharma anyway? Buddhism recognizes these “laws” or universal truths such as the 10 Paramitas and the 16 Buddhist Precepts.  Dogen was addressing this teaching for us trying to guide us into a place where we, like Shakyamuni Buddha, could experience them.  They are not something that can be transmitted by words or actions, but must be experientially manifested while sitting and while living life with a wonderment and respect for all things sentient and insentient.

You may not hear the sound of the stone, or the sound of the orchid growing in the pot, but the eyes can see their beauty and it can permeate your consciousness and lead you to a place of serenity, compassion, and love for all—sentient and insentient.  That is the goal of Buddhism and the dharma.

How splendid!  How wondrous!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “insentient beings speaking the dharma.”

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate to them.

3.  I will remember that the ordinary and the sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries.

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

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