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book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas ClearyIn the introduction chapter of the book Cleary talks about the influence that conventional religions had on Buddhism.  “On a deeper level, Zen masters sought to restore and express the living meaning of religion and philosophy; the Zen teaching was to ‘study the living word, not the dead word.’ Not only did Zen reawaken Buddhism in this way, but it also revitalized Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Shamanism bringing out their higher spiritual dimensions (page xiv).”[1]

And thus our charge today is to use these revitalized teachings in our lives so that we can live a more centered life through the philosophy of Buddhism in all its forms.   He goes on to write, “People are born with nothing but the unconceived buddha mind, but because of self-importance they want to get their own way, arguing and losing their temper yet claiming it is the stubbornness of others that makes them mad.  Getting fixated on what others say, they turn the all-important buddha mind into a monster, mulling over useless things, repeating the same thoughts over and over again (page xv).”[2]

What a sad state of affairs we have created for ourselves.  Just remember what it was like when you brought that new born baby home from the hospital.  They had no likes, dislikes, or preferences except to have their diapers changed and to be fed.  What ever you fed them they ate even if it was some nasty tasting concoction like Enfamil or Similac! Yikes!    And thus they lived in the “unconceived buddha mind” not filled with delusions.

As adults we have been deluding ourselves over and over every day, week, and year.  Where have your delusions taken you today?  Where will they take you tomorrow?  Want to turn your life around? Cleary suggests: “The most important thing is not to be self-centered; then you cannot fail to remain in the buddha mind spontaneously (page xvii)?”[3]

When was the last time you did something that was not self-centered? When was the last time you did something spontaneously—jumped in a puddle of water, or ate a fried pickle at the country fair, or ran outside without an umbrella to enjoy the summer rain?  How about stopping in the middle of a heated discussion to take three breaths and dive into your “unconceived buddha mind.”  When was the last time you did that? Remember that is where all the answers exist when you stop looking for them they will appear!

I know that everyone has been searching for a name or a number or a thing and no matter how hard you tried it would not come!  But sometime later in the middle of washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or eating lunch the answer popped up in your mind.  Yes, Fred that was my sister’s third husbands name!

Cleary goes on to say, “The following pages contain essential Zen teachings on realizing this original buddha mind in all of us (page xviii)”[4] I hope you take this adventure with Professor Cleary and me and discover your “original buddha mind.” Let’s bring out your “higher spiritual dimensions!” You’ll be glad you did! And so will all the people around you! And that’s the MAGIC of ZEN…

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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Moon in a dewdrop cover“If you judge others from your own limited point of view, how can you avoid being mistaken? Furthermore, those who had shortcomings yesterday can act correctly today (page 62).”[1]

Yesterday I went to the Pueblo Cooperative Care Center to sign up as a volunteer.  Around me were so many people, young, old, black, white, some in tattered clothes and one young man with a huge blanket draped around him to protect him from the chill of the morning.  As I viewed them I began to visibly see their “shortcomings” in real life.  They were short of housing, clothing, food, medication, compassion, love, help and mostly hope.

Our society will never be empathetic enough or caring enough to get out of their Mercedes Benz or from behind their seat in an elected political office to see what they are doing when they place their priorities in the new “me to movement” above all else. Yes, more for me, less for you—movement.  But at whose and what expense?

Move the poor out of my city, hide them away behind the fences, mass incarceration of children at the borders, build the wall. Give myself more bonuses and less taxes so there is no money for universal healthcare, living wages, free education in all areas from trade schools to medical schools. Little or no help to decrease the opioid epidemic which is simply a symptom of the above…

Kaz  Tanahashi continues to share Dogen’s ideas: You should understand that there are foolish people who do not take care of themselves because they do not take care of others, and there are wise people who care for others just as they care for themselves (page 63).”[2]

And he finished with this quote:

A teacher of old said:
Two-thirds of your life has passed,
Not polishing even a spot of your source of sacredness.
You devour your life, your days are busy with this and that.
If you don’t turn around at my shout, what can I do (page 63)”[3]

The world is shouting… Who am I today—the wise or the fool? And you—who are you?

Yet who am I to judge—with me and my shortcomings so loudly seen and heard by the world.

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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adult ancient art asia

In our last section we’ll look at Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano’s thoughts on how we can grow into the person that we desire to be—someone who can live the beautiful principles of Buddhism on a minute by minute basis.  He gives us a template to follow with the 5 Hindrances.  He writes:

These categories and formulations are worth studying in the texts, as they not only describe from various standpoints the journey to liberation but impress on the student’s mind the dynamic and cumulative nature of the Dhamma [Dharma] so that there can be no mistaking both the existence of higher and higher levels of attainment and the advantages of reaching them.  A sound theoretical knowledge will also help steer one away from dead ends in meditation and unjustified self-criticism or self-congratulation (page 137).[1]

Thus the 5 Hindrances:

  1. Desire, clinging, craving
  2. Aversion, anger, hatred
  3. Sleepiness, laziness
  4. Restlessness
  5. Doubt

Investigating a Hindrance: The RAIN Formula

R: Recognize it
A: Accept it
I: Investigate it, what’s it like?
N: Non-identification

(This is just a passing problem that comes and goes, not who we are.) [2]

I still encounter these 5 Hindrances on a regular basis.  Some days I encounter a whole bunch of them and other times I’m only challenged by one or two. Today may be my lucky day and I might not encounter any. WoooHooo!

Because I practice the teachings of Buddhism on a daily basis I am able to recognize these 5 Hindrances more quickly. This allows me to do something right away to fix the problem that I have created.  Plus, I am less apt to demean myself or others in the process.

Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano goes on to write: To build a good house we must have proper tools.  To make a safe journey we need a map (page 138).[3]  I encourage you to take these 5 Hindrances and work on them each day to use them as your map. Before you know it, you’ll have the most wonderful home filled with peace, love, and compassion for self and others regardless of the circumstance or situation!

Let it RAIN on you each day and watch what beautiful things begin to grow in your life!

Good luck with that!  Let me know how it grows!

[1] Ibid.

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Buddhism/comments/6ft69t/the_5_hindrances_to_meditation/

[3] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[4]  Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

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Thich Nhat HanhBhikkhu Nyanasobhano begins this section with a question, “What is the special meaning or value of renunciation (page 77)?”[1]  We are living in a society where more is better, more possessions will make me happy, and where life is a time and a place to see how many “things” I can collect.  My time in the prison ministry has been an eye opener for me.  Frequently, I have offered a book or something to one of our Zen members “behind the fence” and they’ve thanked me and refused the gift saying they only have a very small locker and it is filled to the brim already with no place for anything more.

Is your life filled to the brim already with things, ideas, emotions, problems, objects, likes, and dislikes so that there is no more room for anything more?  Or are you still trying to stuff more “stuff” into it?  And then one day you notice that you’re tired of dusting, cleaning, and taking care of all of your stuff!  Your relationships have fallen by the way side with significant others, family, and friends because of your “stuff.”  This stuff can be suffocating you and keeping you from the real important “stuff” like peace, love, and happiness.

Renunciation is a fancy word for giving something up.  How about making a list of the things you are willing to give up!  You might put some people and thoughts that are hindering you from living a life of peace, tranquility, and love on that list? Are you willing to give those people or thoughts up? I’m not saying it’s easy but it is imperative if you want to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit. What can we replace them with? How about some inner peace, tranquility, and self-love?

He goes on to say, “Buddhism certainly does not require anyone to renounce the world entirely; rather, those who follow Buddhism with the aim of reducing present suffering may find that they are led naturally and gradually to more and more simplicity and renunciation in their everyday affairs (page 81).”[2]

Renouncing them means taking away their power. They get their power from your thoughts and those thoughts are often verbalized.  Just because I “think” something does not mean that I have to “say” something!  My mom used to tell me to “bite my tongue” when I wanted to say something mean or hurtful.  She knew it would only ruin my relationship with the person to whom they were directed. Mom was a very wise woman!

So, for today I am going to “renounce” negativity, fear, anger, and judgment. I am going to act and speak words of peace, tranquility, and love for myself and for everyone who crosses my path today. How about you?  What will you renounce today?

[1]

Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid.

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The next section in the book is entitled “Step Back and Turn to Reality.”  One of Yuanwu’s most successful students Gao (Dahui Zonggao) became a great associate and friend because he was “not content to follow small understanding.” When he decided to leave and go out on his own he asked Yuanwu for some advice.  Here is what he said,

You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding, and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeathed by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. Don’t covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality, until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized (page 26).[1]

Remember your greatest successes became reality because of your perseverance!  Not because you went out seeking fame and/or money.  Because you reached out for practical understanding of your talent, for knowledge through the courses you were studying, or with a mentor or coach you discovered those things deep within yourself!

On YouTube AsapScience has a short video on productivity that I share with my students every term. They talk about “deliberate practice” and ask you to focus on the hardest tasks first. Then they have you divide the time up on the “work” and then on a “break.” They don’t rely on “will power” but on good habits of study—90 minutes of study and then a 15 to 20-minute break.[2]  Remember to give yourself a deadline! All of this requires perseverance and consistency!

Great, if I do all of this how will I know that I have had real attainment?

Yuanwu says,

Wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge where it has been smelted and refined ten thousand times. So that it will not change in ten thousand generations, so that it is ten thousand years in a single moment (page 26).[3]

You will hear the “bell” and see the “bell” when you’ve taken the time every day to practice your craft, to hold on to your passion, and consistently raise the bar for yourself.  Whether it is setting aside a certain time each day for meditating, or being involved in a Buddhist or mindfulness group that meets on a regular basis to learn and grow your practice—consistency is imperative.  All great athletes, musicians, artists, singers, teachers, inventors, and scientists attained success through persistence and consistency.

Then one day, without trying, they heard the valley returning the sound of the bell. There practical understanding and virtue was fully actualized.

Good luck with that! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

[1] Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g

[3]Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

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All great teachers have the ability to make learning fun.  It not only helps the student learn more easily and retain the information better but it makes our jobs more exciting and fun!  Who wants to be bored at work, who wants work to be drudgery?  No one I know.  I want to be excited every morning as I wake up thinking about the great things I can do at work.  To hear the students laugh, see them smile, and to see them waiting with bated breath at what I’ll do next!

Even in my adult corporate training classes I play games, I surprise them with treats, compliments, and more.  They soon begin to expect the unexpected when they are in a class with me.  This encourages them to want to come to training, to realize that making life at work less tedious for themselves and their team will help them live longer and increase the team’s productivity and decrease its sick days!  Yes, live longer and healthier!

I don’t believe the adage that “The good die young and the obnoxious live forever.”  I believe that laughter is the best medicine and it opens my mind to creativity!

In my developmental English classes I have them write a “chain story” and in one class the last student actually killed the teacher off at the end.  Yes, the class killed me off!  I just loved the story it was such fun and they all expressed themselves so well.  They were able to see how creative they could be in just a sentence or two and how teams can work together easily and without their egos or fears taking over. Even the shy and quiet ones got to participate fully.

mindfulness-on-the-go-book-coverIn Jan Chozen Bay’s book Mindfulness on the Go, she has a great little exercise you can use with your classes she calls it “Say Yes.”  Find every opportunity to say “yes” to people. She invites us to put stickers up with the word “YES” in spots where you’ll notice them in your home and workplace.  She even encourages us to write “YES” on the back of our hand so we can see it frequently.  She writes, “This task helps us see how often we take a stance that is negative or oppositional.  If we are able to watch our mind when someone is talking to us, particularly if they are asking us to do something, we can see our thoughts forming defenses and counterarguments (page 127).”

She shares some examples of how people have used her technique.  “One person noted that an external ‘yes’ might not match the real attitude of ‘no’ inside, and that the task helped him detect a hidden constricted state of mind (page 128-29).”

So say YES to life, say YES to FUN and begin to bring it into your classrooms, work rooms, and living rooms and watch what happens.  Try it I think you’ll like having FUN for a change!

Let me know how it goes!

Shokai

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For anything new to emerge there must first be a dream, an imaginative view of what might be. For something great to happen, there must be a great dream.  Then venturesome persons with faith in that dream will persevere to bring it to reality.

Some ideas whose time has come will spread as in a forest fire. But most need the help of a teacher.  I had the good fortune to have an extraordinary one.  He dreamed a great dream of how servanthood could be nurtured in the young, and he spent his best years in bringing it to pass (page 9-10).[1]

Where I work at Kaplan University they encourage not only the students to volunteer and make a difference in their communities but they encourage all faculty to do so as well through The Virtual Difference Makers. Here is a list of some of the things they did in 2016: ran a Spring Virtual Serve-A-Thon, hosted a Stress Management Series, a Virtual Celebration of Rio, sponsored their first annual Health and Wellness Fair, held a Fall Serve-A-Thon and more!.

I have been invited to Lynn University to participate in an interfaith dialog and will be back there again in April for another interfaith dialog.  The hall was jammed with students!  Standing room only!  They asked wonderful questions of the panel.

These were the words on the Flyer for the event: Healing the Divide: Interfaith Dialogue.

In a world where religion so often is the cause of hate and intolerance, we stand infaith-headtogether at Lynn to create a world where our religious differences are not simply tolerated but celebrated. This event is precisely that; where religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist traditions will come together in celebration of our diverse faith traditions.  Come and be amazed!

Imagine the great education the students are receiving at both Kaplan and Lynn and many other colleges around our country when their faculty and administration support such events.

If you are able to create similar events on your campuses I encourage you to do so.  Create a Virtual Difference Makers club for students and faculty, run interfaith dialogues, offer training for faculty on meditation and mindfulness.  Be the change you want to see in our world! Be the catalyst for peace, love, and kindness spreading around your campus and beyond!  The time has come to spread the message of servant leadership at all levels.  Change has always come from the bottom up not from the top down! Be the change you want to see in the world!

Good luck with that!  Let me know how it goes!

Shokai

 

[1] Greenleaf, R.K. (1987) Teacher as Servant: A Parable. The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership: Indianapolis, IN

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