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book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Diane Ackerman in her book An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain writes, “The brain is not the mind, the mind inhabits the brain (page 4).”[1]

Shibayama writes, “The Mind here does not refer to thought or emotion, nor does it refer to human psychology which is an object of scientific research. It is not the consciousness, nor the psyche which is dealt with by psychiatrists, either. When we go beyond all these, wash them off, and transcend their limitations, for the first time we can reach the Mind which is also called the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind, the Spirituality, or the truth (page 26).”[2]

And so, when we mediate we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend our human thoughts that we created through study, reading, our culture, and experiences and move into touching the greater Mind.

He shares a story about Zen Master Sekito who was training a monk and while walking through the forest they came across a dense thicket that they could not walk through. The student asked Sekito for the knife. “Sekito unsheathed his big mountain knife, and without a word thrust out the knife with the sharp edge toward him.  The companion was frightened, and withdrew his hand crying, “Stop the nonsense! Let me have the hilt.” Sekito’s reply was sharper than the edge of the knife.  He said, “What is the use of the hilt? The monk could not utter a word in reply (page 26-27).”[3]

Shibayama finishes by writing, “We are apt to stick to the hilt which is of secondary importance, and miss the Truth altogether.  Sekito is urging us to get hold of the fundamental Truth direct.  Here we see the truth of direct pointing (page 27).”  It is the blade that does the work that cuts through our wrong thinking and fears and anxieties.  Remember the axiom, “The truth will set you free.” Where is your freedom?  Hidden in a job, an education, a scripture, a political party, or religion?

Then there is the power of meditation.  Each day as you take the opportunity to sit and calm the “monkey mind” you’ll find that soon you’ll be able to transcend the brain/mind and tap in to the greater mind, the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind. And when you do you’ll discover who you really are and you will experience the power and peace that has always been within reach when you make that direct connection.

Which mind are you pointing to?

brain-perception

[1] Ackerman, D. (2004) An Alchemy of Mind The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner: NY

[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[3] Ibid.

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In Chapter 2 Abbot Zenkei Shibayama writes about the characteristics of one aspect of Zen called satori and how it shows up in other religions.  It is such a joy to read about the inclusivity of the teachings and practices of Zen Buddhism regardless of whether you consider yourself a Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Christian, or of no faith at all.

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen defines the word satori as a Zen term for the experience of awakening (enlightenment or kensho).

Shibayama goes on to write: When Zen is seen in such a broad sense, Zen means the Truth, or the Absolute; it is not limited to Buddhism alone, but is the basis of all religions and all philosophies. In this sense, Zen does not remain simply the core of Buddhism, but it works to deepen and revive any religion or philosophy.  For instance, there can be Christian Zen, or Taoistic Zen; there can be Zen interpretations of Christianity or of Taoism (page 16).

And if you take a look at all the worlds major religions today they all include some form of meditation and sitting in the quiet for contemplation. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. is a practicing psychotherapist, a Zen teacher, and a Roman Catholic priest who has written two wonderful books joining the Christian and Zen principles Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit and Zen Gifts to Christians. They are perfect examples of what Shibayama wrote in the 1970’s!

Shibayama also talks about its flexibility.

Due to its transcendental and fundamental nature, Zen is not restricted by any fixed ideas or customs, but expresses itself freely, making creative use of words and ideas. In this way their own culture may be deepened and given new significance and life, based on Truth fundamental for all mankind (page 17).

 

He concludes this section by saying:

Up to this point in this essay I have sought to explain the position of Zen in Buddhism and to indicate the role it can play in religion, philosophy, and culture. They maintain that Zen as the Truth itself, in the broadest sense, should be understood and used by all mankind because it can help build and refine the character of the individual and can deepen thought (page 19).

I too believe this is true.  As we sit and meditate on a daily basis we discover things about ourselves that we might not have without the knowledge of the Buddha’s satori (awakening).  Through my meditation practice I have begun to live a life of peace, love, and compassion, with flashes of creativity and spontaneity that have made my life so much easier, fulfilling, creative, and fun.  Annie Nov. 27.15 (2)I am becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be, the person my dog Annie always knew I was.  Thanks Annie…

 

 

Footnote: Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

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A Flower Does not TalkThe preface of this book is incredible as it reads like he wrote it just yesterday. Although this book was published in 1970 it holds so many wonderful truths about Zen and life I know you will be blessed by your time spent with it.

If we look at the current world in which we live we can see the ever-growing importance of living a life set forth by Buddhist principles that are laid out in this book and the many others that I have shared with you over the years.

He writes in his preface:

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality. We must attain a higher level of personality so that we can cope with the brilliant scientific achievements of modern times.

Zen presents a unique spiritual culture in the East, highly refined in its long history and traditions, and I believe it has universal and fundamental values that can contribute toward creating a new spiritual culture in our time.  The important point about Zen is, however, that we should understand it, experience it, and live it in the varying circumstances of our everyday life.  Small and insignificant as my existence and work as a Zen Roshi may be, I believe that they contribute to the infinite (page 5-6).[1]

Although I too am small and insignificant I also believe that sharing his writings and my musings about them will contribute to the infinite in a positive, uplifting, and helpful way.

Thus, I begin with the poem for which the book was named in the hopes that you will be uplifted in some way by his words.

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
   the whole of the flower, the whole of
   the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flowers, the truth
   of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here.

And fully shining in you…In gassho, Shokai

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

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ingassho

Yuanwu writes:

. . .you must not abandon the carrying out of your bodhisattva vows.  You must be mindful of saving all beings, and steadfastly endure the attendant hardship and toil, in order to serve as a boat on the ocean of all-knowledge.  Only then will you have some accord with the Path (page 28).[1]

It is written in the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen “Earthly bodhisattvas are persons who are distinguished from others by their compassion and altruism as well as their striving toward the attainment of enlightenment (page 24).[2]  For me there are bodhisattvas in all places, in all times, and in all beliefs from religious to ethical, social workers, teachers, nurses and more everywhere in the world.  They are in your family as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like.  These people are there for you regardless of your challenges and achievements.

The bodhisattva looks for every opportunity to make this life easier for others, to bring peace, love, and compassion to everyone and everything.  Most do it without fanfare, they do not desire fame and fortune, nor recognition nor reward.  They quietly and consistently provide what they can, when they can, wherever they can.

They may not have great names like: Martin Luther King, Jr, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, or Abraham Lincoln.  But they are all around you. They live in your neighborhood, work next to you at your job, volunteer at the church or synagogue or mosque, or for the local food bank, Habitat for Humanity, or the animal rescue shelter. They are mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, shoveling the snow for a disabled veteran, they come in all colors, races, and places on earth.  And yes, they are race and color blind.

The bodhisattvas are everywhere you look, if only you see with your heart instead of your eyes, if only you listen with your soul instead of your ego you will discover them. You will remember them as your favorite teacher who challenged you and supported you and encouraged you in good times and bad.  They were your band leaders, coaches, Sunday school teachers, the police officers walking the beat in your neighborhood, the cooks in your school cafeterias, and the nurses in your doctor’s office.

Or you could be like my friend Chip. As he watched Irma, a category 5 hurricane, racing toward us he decided he needed to put hurricane shutters on nine elderly neighbor’s homes. He knew he could not do it alone so he called his best friend Jimmy Esbach who owns several halfway houses and asked him if he could hire some of his residents to help with the job.  Chip willingly did the job without charging the owners and paid the workers out of his pocket. Some never even offered him a thank you after the hurricane had passed. But he did not do it for a thank you. He did it because he saw a need and filled it as any bodhisattva would have.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be a bodhisattva all you must do is spend your life thinking of others before self, doing good and speaking good, and living like you are already a bodhisattva. Regardless of how hard it may seem in the moment, the bodhisattva does it anyway! Don’t worry about “attaining enlightenment” it will come of its own accord when the time is right.

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

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) Shambhala: Boston. MA

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Today I scoured my bookshelves for something to use as a catalyst for my next Zen workbook to share with our members “behind the fence.”  Yuanwu jumped out at me and said, how about my teachings?  Some of my favorite translators of Zen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary, created a wonderful book entitled Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu.

Yuanwu Chinese MasterYuanwu’s teachings are filled with words of wisdom and actions for the everyday person to incorporate into his or her life. Although he may have lived from 1063-1135 his words are still pertinent to how we can live our lives each day with optimism. He is also known by Buddhists as the author of the Blue Cliff Record a compilation of 100 koans and his commentaries.

The authors write in their introduction: The Zen tradition, like all of Mahayana Buddhism, is invincibly optimistic about human possibilities—our true identity, our inherent buddha nature, can never be destroyed.  It is our basic essence, and it is with us always, waiting to be activated and brought to life (page vi-vii).[1]

The authors go on to write: These teachers meant to enable us to become aware of our buddha nature and to gain the use of it in everyday life.  Zen Buddhism, like all other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, maintains that it is the true destiny of every person to become enlightened (page v-vi).[2]

For people in other religious beliefs you may interchange the Buddha nature with Christ nature or for indigenous people your ideas and teachings.  But all spiritual and/or religious beliefs have this basic essence described throughout their doctrines, writings, music, and art. As we follow in the footsteps of the masters we begin to realize that we too can be enlightened. Even though we sit with “no” conscious intention of it—if we practice the principles and sit and live the tenants all things are possible to those who believe.  Believe it not—and it will not be!  That is the truth of all of life.

Thus, I hope this blog and eventual workbook will be of interest to all people of all faiths and beliefs, and to those who hold no particular faith belief whatsoever.  Everyone is welcome on this adventure with Yuanwu the Chinese Master. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

 

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Whip, rope, person, and bull—   all merge in NO Thing. Oxherding_pictures,_No._8

This heaven is so vast,   no message can stain it.

How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of  the ancestors
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

The eighth picture tells us that when the duality of self and reality has been overcome not only is reality (the ox) forgotten, but so is the self (the oxherd); the circle symbolizes the all-encompassing emptiness that constitutes the ground of all things. Now in the awareness of unceasing transformation and total interconnectedness in every experience one is freed from all craving and hatred for the other.  In this freedom there is a sense of the wholeness and perfection of ordinary things (page 6).[1]

Roshi Kennedy writes about this idea by saying, “An anonymous Zen poet sums up patriarch’s teachings saying that it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self. Actually it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self because it is impossible. There is no path to the Buddha, to the truth of our lives but through the dust of every day existence (page 95).[2]

Thus, the poem says, “all merge in NO Thing.”  NO Thing is probably something that is impossible to understand and even frightening to think about.  And yet we search, we go from “god to no god,” “religion to no religion,” “theory to no theory” and still we find NO answer to the emptiness. Unless of course we enter it as Koeller describes through interconnectedness in every experience, thought, feeling, movement, and desire. He says, do not “try” to do anything, just be one with the moment, the things, the experience till there is no separation between you and it.”

Many years ago, I had a friend that could do it.  Sometimes he scared me especially when he was driving and all of sudden he was “one with the car” sometimes he was outside of the car watching himself driving.  And he was not high or drunk. His focus on a long drive on a lonely highway was so powerful he became one with the elements of the universe.

I don’t suggest you try it, but for me it was a graphic example of the “all-encompassing” interconnectedness of all things.  I’ve described my personal experience with it in other blogs when I was participating in a Cherokee Indian fire walk with Rev. Edwine Gaines. There was no separation between me and the blade of grass, the stars in the sky, and the trees in the forest. Just an interconnectedness with all things or in actuality NO thing…

That is why you see the picture as an empty circle.  Everything is interconnected so much so there is no way to see  it, touch it, or feel it. Everything is “all encompassing-emptiness.” “True freedom, or true creativity, shines out only when we break through this barrier (page 257).”[3]

Remember that the next time you hit your shin on the coffee table or stub your toe when stepping up onto the sidewalk in your bare feet!

Let me know how that goes!

In Gassho, Shokai

[1]  http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

[3] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co

 

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