Archive for December, 2013


I was thinking about what to write for my next blog and seeing that New Year’s Eve was soon to be upon me I thought about what I would like to do to make 2014 a memorable year in my life.  We had a very interesting discussion at our Zen book study this morning and several of us shared stories from the past about how we had hurt or been hurt by others in our lives and how we dealt with those hurts in the past and what we could do in the future with those memories, thoughts, or actions.

It reminded me of a book that I am reading now with a most intriguing title: If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break, Field Notes from a Zen Life by James Ishmael Ford. Part III of his book is entitled “Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk.”  It made me think about 2013 and if I just talked the talk, spouted the platitudes and Zen teachings in a rote manner without really living them, and what that may have done to my life, and to those who had the misfortune or fortune to pass through it with me.

In the book he writes, “What we don’t notice about ourselves is the most dangerous part of who we are (page 93).”[1] He goes on, “. . .we see that the good and ill of an individual lives on, but not in a new single body—rather, among those who that person touched in life, in the fruit of their actions as they touched the world, and in the world itself (page 96).”[2]

And so, rather than go about making a list and checking it twice trying to find if I’d been naughty or nice I read on.  And low and behold more words of wisdom jumped out of the page at me when he began to talk about the idea of karma.  “From the perspective of human experience, the universe and each of our circumstances within it just is. Karma is the observation that everything has causes and everything has consequences; rebirth is the observation that I am constantly being created and recreated by each succeeding moment (page 97).”[3]  And thus everything ends up being “just this.”

So it does not matter whether I make the list or not—what does matter is that I practice the art of being mindful of my thoughts and words and the actions that follow. What matters is that in 2014 I live a life that exemplifies the Buddhist moral discipline part of the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

For me that means continuing to be an active part of our Zendo (Southern Palm Zen Group), my prison ministry, my work with Enroll America to help everyone get signed up for healthcare, and being cognoscente of the thoughts that I think, the words that I speak, and the actions that I take.  I can only do that when I focus on being mindful in body, mind, and spirit each and every moment of each and every day.

I know it is a large goal, but it is one that will help me achieve my 2014 life goal: making it memorable. I want it to be something I will be proud of when 2015 rolls around. So if you see me and I am not particularly expressing right speech, right action or right livelihood please let me know and bring me back to my 2014 goal: making the year memorable.  And I mean memorable in a good way, NOT a bad way for you and/or for me.  I’ll need your help with that, that’s for sure! I learned long ago that I cannot do it alone, but I can do it with everyone’s help—especially yours.

I hope you’ll catch me talking the talk AND walking the walk!

In gassho, Shokai


[1] Ford, J. I. (2012) If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break, Field Notes from a Zen Life  Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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I have been invited once again by Rev. Barbara Lunde to be a part of the interfaith Christmas Eve Service at the Center for Spiritual Living in Boca Raton, Florida.  Each year I am privileged to read the Metta Sutra The Loving Kindness of  Shakyamuni Buddha.  I use our beautiful bells and make it a time of meditation for the people in attendance.  They leave the service feeling as though they have experienced a great calmness and peace as Jesus had asked his followers to do when he walked this earthly plain.

As a retired Unity minister I can see these words being written or even recited by Jesus himself.  Some say that his lost years were spent studying in the Far East and thus he would have been exposed to Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama the historical Buddha was born in 566 or 563 B.C.E.[1]  Jesus of Nazareth was born  2,013 years ago. So it is clear by his age that he could well have been exposed to these teachings as he too preached love and compassion, and opened his heart to all people, rich or poor, sick or well, gay or straight, and sinners of all kinds just as the historical Buddha had taught.

You can see this clearly written in many of the verses in the Bible, start with Luke Chapter 7:

  • But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies!
  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who hurt you.
  • Give to anyone who asks
  • Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
  • If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even Sinners love those who love them.
  • You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

And I could go on and on, but I won’t.  To illustrate the Christmas Spirit in the words of the Buddha pay attention to the words below with an open heart and an open mind and see that all Wisdom is from the same source which had no beginning and has no end.

Blessings from my house to yours for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

In gassho, Shokai

 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.

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

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The next lines of the Heart Sutra that I will be writing about in Part V are below:

            No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;

            No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena;

            No realm of sight

            No realm of consciousness;

            No ignorance  And no end to ignorance.

These lines begin the section where we think about reality and life and what we hold onto and how that idea of clinging to things and beliefs is filled with contradictions, falsehoods, challenges, and fears.  It can destroy relationships, jobs, and our health when we are unable to see life from different points of view.  I know because it happens to me daily and when I sit zazen it relieves me from this world of illusion as Shohaku Okumura writes about so beautifully in his book, Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts writes:

Our picture of the world is our reality, but we should understand that it is distorted.  This is the meaning of emptiness.  Our mind is emptiness. Our sense organs are emptiness.  Things outside us are also emptiness. Everything is just illusion. The fact that we live with illusion is our reality.  When we really understand this and see how illusion is caused, we can see reality through the illusion. Whatever we see, whatever we grasp with our sense organs and consciousness is illusion.  When we see this we are released from attachment to our limited view, to what we have, to what we think we own.  We may not become completely free, but we become less restricted by our limitations.

. . .This letting go is prajna or wisdom. It means to become free of our picture of the world caused by our karma. In this way our view becomes a bit broader and deeper (page 175).[1]

If you are like me and want to have a deeper broader life of peace, joy, and love let us take the time each day to practice zazen (sitting or walking meditation).  Okumura goes on to write:

We keep practicing this zazen, sitting and letting go of thought, trying to see things in the most flexible way.  This doesn’t mean we negate our delusions.  We can never negate them; they are our life.  But so long as we fail to see that they are illusory and grasp them as reality, we cannot be free.  When we really see the emptiness of subject and object, we can be free from grasping, clinging, and greed (page 174-75).

So let us take Okumura’s sage advice this week and see if we can free ourselves from our illusions about people, places, and things and live a more productive, happy, healthy, and free existence.  In the big picture life is short, even if you live to 104.  So make the most of what you’ve got.  Make a difference in your life and that will make a difference in others’ lives as well.

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day by sitting in quiet meditation.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help free me from grasping, clinging, and greed.

3.  I release my attachment today and every day from my limited view of life.

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 Text. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

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Yesterday was December 7, 2013 Pearl Harbor Day a fortuitous day in American History and a day of silent meditation for those who lost loved ones on both sides of the sea.  I remembered them all as I was moving through my ordination as a Zen Buddhist priest/monk with the Southern Palm Zen Group in Boca Raton, FL.

December 8th is traditionally the day Buddhists focus on as the day of “awakening” when Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) saw all existence as it really was. After meditating for 45 days while sitting under the Bodhi tree he  is to have said, “I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time.” And thus we are all the Buddha.  This Buddhist teaching was beautifully woven into the ceremony by my teacher and guide Doshin Sensei.  As I looked around I saw the room filled with beautiful Buddha’s of all ages, sizes, shapes, and minds.  How wonderful is that!

As the ceremony moved slowly forward  I was able to take the time to focus on the principles of Buddhism that I was now officially taking into my life.

I pledged to live by the Three Treasures:

  1. Being one with the Buddhas in the Ten Directions
  2. Being one with the Dharma in the Ten Directions
  3. Being one with the Sangha in the Ten Directions

I pledged to live by the Three Pure Precepts:

  1. Not creating evil
  2. practicing good
  3. actualizing good for others.

I pledged to live by  the Ten Grave Precepts:

  1. Do not kill-Affirm life
  2. Do not steal-Be giving
  3. Do not misuse sexuality-Honor the body
  4. Do not lie-Manifest truth
  5. Do not cloud the mind-Proceed clearly
  6. Do not speak of others errors and faults-See the perfection
  7. Do not elevate the self and blame others–Realize self and others as one
  8. Do not be withholding-Give generously
  9. Do not be angry-Actualize harmony
  10. Do not defile the Three treasures-Experiencing the intimacy of things

I am ever grateful for my teachers, friends, and family members who were there in body and/or spirit who give me multiple opportunities in this life to test my ability to live these precepts and practice outwardly their meaning and ultimately their effects in my life and the lives of all those with whom I come in contact.  I pray each day that when I encounter you, old friend or new, that I see you as you truly are the Buddha incarnate in mind, body, and spirit, and that I treat you as such.

In gassho, Shokai

In the end of the ceremony Doshin and Mushin dedicated this beautiful song by Tchaikovsky, ” My genius, my angel, my friend” to me.  I though you might like to know the words.

My angel, my genius, my friend!

Isn’t it here,
My angel, my genius, my friend,
That you are talking to me softly,
And flying quietly around like a light shadow?

You are giving me a timid inspiration,
And healing my sweet ailments,
And giving me a quiet dream,
My angel, my genius, my friend!


The picture below is a shot of all those who attended the Tokudo Ceremony minus the photographer my dear friend, Chip, who gives me multiple opportunities to walk my talk.


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The next lines of the Heart Sutra that I will be writing about in Part IV are below:

O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
Not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure,
Without loss, without gain:
So in emptiness there is no form,
No sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness;

Shohaku Okumura in his wonderful book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, writes this about emptiness:

When we say form is emptiness, we negate this body and mind.  When we understand that emptiness is form, we negate emptiness.  Negate means to let go.  To let go of thought means to become free from both sides.  Then we can see reality from both perspectives without being attached to either.  The wisdom of Avalokitesvara is the Middle Way that includes both sides.  It is not something in between this side and that.  From the middle path we see reality from both views, relative and absolute.  We simultaneously negate and affirm both sides.  To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality) (page 154).”[1]

Wow, for me this is a very difficult thing to do.  I have opinions about everything and live my life usually from one side, the left, and the philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau’s Walden Pond. One of my favorite pieces by Emerson was his graduation talk at Harvard that got him kicked out and was not to be invited back to the campus for many, many years.

So it is a challenge for me to be able to do as Okumura says, “become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality).”  But when we use mindfulness and meditation as a center for our lives it can become easier and easier each day.

My friend Dan Huston, has written a wonderful book that is being used in colleges to teach a different kind of communication skills, Communicating Mindfully, Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. He writes about a young student of his who found an opportunity to use what he taught her—merging mindfulness and communication skills—during a speech that one of her classmates was giving on a subject that she held the opposite view point.  The techniques worked and after the class she was able to have a very serious but mindful conversation with her classmate.

Dan wrote:

“That is an important distinction because mindfulness meditation is not about picking and choosing what we want; it is about accepting the reality of each and every moment and making a distinction between what is really happening in those circumstances and what we layer on top of it with our reactions—in this case, the circumstances of her reality were growing potentially hostile because of the addition of Jill’s [the speaker] anger and frustration.  Fortunately, she [the listener and mindfulness communication student] was able to recognize those feelings as they emerged.  She accepted them but did not encourage them with self-talk that could have fueled the fire within her; consequently, those emotions were not allowed to grow in intensity.  She noticed them, and let them go (page 239).[2]

Remember what Okamura said: To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality). So the next time you get the opportunity to listen remind yourself of what Stahl and Goldstein recommend in their mindfulness training manual A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, “We all want to be heard. It’s essential to feeling understood, accepted, and loved.  When we sense that others are truly listening, our fears and defenses tend to fade away, paving the way for greater connection, empathy, and peace in the relationship (page 164).”[3]  And it helps us live the middle (reality) way—without loss, without gain!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin listening in the “middle way” to everyone I meet.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help me create greater connections, empathy and peace in all of my relationships.

3.  When I get stuck I will remember that I can “negate” those thoughts, I can let them go, and free myself from “both sides.”

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 Text. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Huston, D. (2010) Communicating Mindfully Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. Cengage Learning: Mason, Ohio

[3] Stahl, B. and Goldstein, E. (2010) A Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oakland, CA

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