Archive for April, 2015

I was wondering what I should blog on next and so I sent a note to my teacher Mitch Doshin Cantor and he suggested that I begin writing on Faith in Mind a sutra (poem) written in the 6th Century because it is a great way to learn about the beliefs and tenants of Buddhism. It is vast and in the version that I will be using it contains over 1,000 words!

This is the longest sutra I have tried to create a workbook from. Needless to say, it will take me a lot of time and energy and many blog posts to do it justice. This will give my readers the opportunity to take as long as they like to quietly focus on one section at a time.

Its opening verse is among the most quoted verses of Buddhism, even so most people do not know its real origin.

The first section reads:

The great way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against. . .
The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.

This line “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences” has been taught and shared by spiritual leaders, seekers, philosophers, psychologists, therapists, and clergy for centuries. I first came across it as a Unity minister when reading a wonderful book by Ken Keyes, Jr., The Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It has influenced my life ever since. Little did I know at the time that he was a student of Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa, and Alan Watts. I guess I was a Buddhist before I was a Buddhist!

In it he talked about giving up our preferences! That having preferences about everything is the path to pain and suffering. And as the sutra says it does not matter whether those preferences are heaven over hell, love over hate, or mint chocolate chip ice cream over vanilla. Well, the ice creams not really in the sutra!

I recall going to Ken Keyes’ College in Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1980’s for a month long work study program. The very first thing I did was organize a group of people to get the macrobiotic cook to make at least one of the pizzas with “real” mozzarella cheese and not tofu cheese for the non-vegan students! Talk about needing to learn what Ken had to teach! I was the star pupil…

After all these years it is still a lifelong process of learning to live without preferences. I still sometimes “set heaven and earth infinitely apart” and although I still like that mint chocolate chip ice cream I will eat the vanilla if you serve it–no preferences.

It may not be a quick and easy path, but it is an important one. I do “wish to see the truth” and so if you catch me showing off my preferences I hope you’ll remind me because Sosan says, “The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.” That is one disease I hope to avoid as often as I can! With your help I’m sure I’ll find my way.

Thanks Ken, wherever you are!

In gassho,



[1] Faith in Mind: Attributed to: (Sosan, Zen) Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese Patriarch

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John Daido Loori has written the most wonderful book on Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment.  I am sharing with you two paragraphs from it on this Earth Day 2015.  I hope that his words will encourage you to be a proactive practitioner supporting the environment and this little blue dot in the universe on which we live, play, and love.  In gassho, Shokai

The Buddhist precepts are a teaching on how to live our lives in harmony with the totality of the universe.  When we look at the precepts, we normally think of them in terms of people.  Indeed, most of the moral and ethical teachings of the great religions address relationships among people.  But these precepts do not exclusively pertain to the human realm.  They are talking about the whole universe, and we need to see them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.

The Three Pure Precepts, Not creating evil, Practicing good, and Actualizing good for others, are a definition of harmony in an inherently perfect universe, a universe that is totally interpenetrated, codependent, and mutually arising.  But the question is: How do we accomplish that perfection? The Ten Grave Precepts point that out.  Looking at the Ten Grave Precepts in terms of how we relate to our environment is a step in the direction of appreciating the continuous, subtle, and vital role we play in the well-being of this planet–a beginning of taking responsibility for the whole catastrophe (pages 89-90).

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The other day I was invited to teach a class on Sexual Harassment and Diversity in the Workplace and as I was designing the curriculum I thought about the wonderful “Eightfold path of Buddhism” that we are encouraged to live by as Buddhists.  I thought what a great world this would be if everyone could live by these simple principles of life and how it might bring our country together in peace, love, and compassion.  So I wrote this exercise for them to complete in small groups and then I asked them to come back and share their creations with the full class.

I hope you find this exercise interesting and will try using it at your place of work, place of worship, or organization.  It stimulated lots of conversations and several AH HAs.  Let me know how it worked out!


In gassho, Shokai

“The Wise Eightfold Path to Working with Others”

All of these actions can help us work in a diverse workplace with compassion and as a good team player and/or team leader.

Step One: Come up with a team definition for the word Wisdom.  Especially think about the difference between the word “knowledge” and the word “wisdom.”

Step Two: In your small groups make a plan to cultivate these eight items for yourself and your team. What would “Wise Understanding” look like from the perspective of your group. Come to consensus as your team writes each definition so that all team members have input.  Ensure that the definition is action oriented.  What words and actions might you use that would demonstrate “wise understanding” or “wise intention”? Do this for all 8 items. Be prepared to share a synopsis of your group’s discussion and your definitions with the full class.  How might this change your organization, your work environment, your team, and you?

Wise understanding
Wise intention
Wise speech
Wise action
Wise livelihood
Wise effort
Wise mindfulness
Wise concentration.

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