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buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

[1]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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oliver-px.1-195-175Many of us may remember the wonderful play and movie “Oliver! the Musical” with warmth and laughter.  There is a song in it that is so powerful and yet sad if you really listen to the words. Watched by his fellow orphans, Mark Lester, as Oliver Twist, dares to ask for more, in the film “Oliver!” (Columbia Pictures). [1]

There’s not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…
When we all close our eyes and imagine food, glorious food!

There are 12.9 million children in the US who are food insecure.[1] There are 15.6 million US households suffering from food insecurity. Around the world 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life and thus are undernourished. Every second a person dies of hunger.  This year 36 million people around the world will die of hunger[2]  while billions of tons of food are rotting in our gardens, farms, and city dumps. In 2010 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted.[3]

In fact, the highest or next highest person in any zendo and monastery is the Tenzo who is in charge of the kitchen! The monks were initially mendicants who went out with only the clothes on their backs and a bowl which they used to beg/ask for food to keep them alive. Thus, the power of prayer before every meal!

In Zen we have many different meal Gathas/chants.  I particularly like the one we use in our Zendo and before I eat, wherever it may be, I recite this gatha to set the tone for a mindful and thankful meal.  How many times a day do you eat so quickly and mindlessly that you haven’t really tasted the food, felt its texture in your mouth, the smell of it, or hot or coldness of it.  In fact, so much so that some time later you do not remember if you ate and if you did what it was. Yikes! Imagine what one of those 36 million people would have done with that meal? If nothing else remembered it as their last. How sad is that?!

Southern Palm Zen Group’s food blessing or chant goes like this:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I (we) may eat.
May I (we) be nourished so that I (we) may nourish life.

And finally, as a Unity minister we often had meals together and we always said a prayer, of course, before the meal.  At the children’s table our prayer was “Rub-a-dub-dub thank you God for the grub!” Sometimes the parents got a little bent out of shape and upset with me when I taught them this prayer.  However, I knew that it was something easy for them to learn and memorize and to say whenever they ate at school, church, or at home. It helped set up the age-old practice of giving thanks for the good/food that was in their lives.

The song goes on…

What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more that’s all we live for.  Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious food.

 What can you do today to make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to food insufficiency? Now go and do it…

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/oliver-re.html?scp=2&sq=night%2520train&st=Search
[2] https://whyhunger.org/just-the-facts/
[3] http://www.theworldcounts.com/…/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die_from_hu…
[4] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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Avalokiteshvara is known as the person “Who hears the outcries of the World.” There are so many on this earth today who are crying out for help in war zones, from hurricane devastation, earth quakes, in draughts, and famines, through poverty, and more.

avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of BuddhismShe represents the feminine energy of the world as the “holy spirit” represents the feminine energy in the Christian triad of the “father, son, and the holy spirit.”  She represents the fundamental aspect of Buddhahood: Great compassion.  In China she is named Kuan-yin, in Japan Kannon (or Kanzeon or Kwannon), and in Tibet Chenresi. In some cultures, Avalokiteshvara is a man not a woman so which ever pronoun you prefer to use for Avalokiteshvara is perfectly divine!

As you see in the picture she is depicted with many arms. In other pictures she also has many heads. I know that some of you can relate to her very well. You see her reflection in you. Every time you encourage a child or an elderly person to go beyond their struggles and challenges you are Avalokiteshvara in action.  Every time you drop off food at the foodbank, or volunteer with a non-profit organization, or mow the lawn of a disabled vet Avalokiteshvara is moving through you as you.  I know sometimes you feel like you could use those extra arms and at least one extra head if you had access to them.  But I always say, “Fake it till you make it.”

Joan Halifax and Kazuaki Tanahashi translated the Sutra “Great Compassionate Heart Dharani” in the most beautiful way (pages 138-39).[1]  Below is a list of things for you to think about or meditate on. Are these actions appearing in your life on a regular basis?  If not, why not? How can you make these actions more alive and present in your life each and every day? If yes, think about a few examples of who, how, and when they appeared.

  • Embodies great compassion
  • Protects all those who are fearful
  • Grants all wishes
  • Overcomes obstacles
  • Purifies delusion
  • Represents shining wisdom
  • Transcends the world
  • Removes the harm of greed, hatred, and delusion
  • Removes all defilements.
  • Brings joy to others
  • Succeeds greatly in life and love

Make this your project for the year and let me know how it goes!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

Picture: Avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of Buddhism

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Sitting Zazen facing wallThere are so many kinds of meditation from the simple Zen method of clearing your mind and counting your breath 1 on the in breath and 2 on the out breath.  Then there is the wonderful description by Frances W. Foulks in her iconic book Effectual Prayer where she writes: “To meditate on a subject is to give it attentive, earnest thought with the idea of having all its meaning revealed; that is, all the meaning that one is capable of receiving at the time (page 65).”[1]

These are different types of meditations, yet both are equally valuable in our lives.  Sometimes we simply want to go where “no” thoughts live.  Where the infinite universe and I are one.  Where no sound, or thought, or fear, or feeling exits.  Then we sit with the Buddha and become one with the breath and emptiness.

And sometimes we would like to sit as Frances describes in her chapter on meditation.

…each moment we give to meditation on the higher truths reveals to us fresh glories.  At any moment, in the night watches or in the midst of the duties of the day, in any place, on a busy street corner, at home or in the office, alone in the open field or deep in the woods, one can drop all outer things, relaxing from crowded thoughts and activities, and sink down, if for only a moment, into a holy meditation that will bring him forth filled with peace and strength, refreshed in mind and body (page 65).”[2]

She describes a “holy meditation” as something outside the ordinary and the mundane.  A place where perfect silence and love exists. Where no thoughts and all thoughts exist simultaneously.  The place outside of fear, anger, judgment, and anonymous.

Where Jianzhi Sengcan in his writing, Engraving Trust in the Heart, reveals

            One is inseparable from all.
All is inseparable from one.
If you realize this,
You go beyond thinking (page 72).[3]

This is the gift of meditation given freely to all who enter its silence, who chant the words of the teachers, and the words of our heart.  It is the giver of life and love, peace and tranquility at any time and in any place.  Regardless of the faith from which it comes we can blend our truths and our prayers and our chants and create what is right and perfect for us in the moment.  The importance is to begin a practice of prayer and meditation that works for you in that moment.  And in the next moment a different chant or prayer or breath will appear in the right and perfect time, at the right and perfect place, with the right and perfect tenor.

The thing is we have to be open and receptive to receive it and embody it and be one with it! Or expect nothing and be one with that. Are you?

[1] Foulkes F.W. (1945) Effectual Prayer. Unity School of Christianity: Lee’s Summit MO

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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I saw a wonderful book on my bookshelf by Kazuaki Tanahashi eSensei Kaz Tanahashintitled Zen Chants, Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary.  It made me think of all the affirmations, vows, and chants that I use on a regular basis and how powerful and fulfilling my life has become by using them.  Thus, the theme of the new blog series and workbook!

Each chapter will provide you with all you need to know about affirmations, vows, and chants and how– when used consistently and persistently– they can change your life for the better.  We will work with some created by others and learn how to create our own.

Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich wrote: Truly, “thoughts are things,” and powerful things at that…(page 19).[1] Thoughts and things have weight and measure.  That’s crazy you say!  Yet true it is.  Much research has been done on the mind and the affect that our thoughts have on our body.

One of the initial simple studies done was to place some college students (all men at the time) on a seesaw.  The participant balanced himself on it, so his body was flat and stable.  Then they asked him to think of a very difficult math problem and try to work it out in his mind.  Oddly enough the seesaw began to move lower and lower on the end where his head was. Next, they asked him to see himself running in a race with a friend and guess what?  The seesaw began to move lower and lower at the end by his feet!

Thus, thoughts have weight and measure! So, when you affirm that you can not do something for sure you can’t! But with time, effort, and persistence and these techniques you will be able to do most anything! I’m not saying you can jump over a mountain or a hill in one leap like Superman and Superwoman, but you can hike to the top that’s for sure.

And so, people have written chants, poems, prayers, affirmations, and songs to help lift us up, to help us think positive, and to help us create a more fulfilling life.

Here are some words of wisdom to start off on our adventure from Yongjia Xuanjiao’s Song of Realizing the Way (page 78).

The mind mirror is clear without hindrance

Broadly reflecting the infinite world. [2]

Thus, with your mind you can encounter the infinite world and create a reality filled with all the good you desire for yourself and others!  As Captain Jean-Luc Picard said in Star Trek: Make it so!

[1] Hill, N. (1960) Think and Grow Rich. Fawcett World Library: Greenwich, Conn

[2] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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On the second page of this chapter Bhikkhu writes this question, “How did we ever fall to this bondage (page 2)?”[1] It made me stop to think about my life and the bondages I have created for myself.  The bondage of perfection, hope, fear, lack, hopelessness, and suffering. As I read I wondered if I could ever break these chains.

He answered my question when he wrote, “The Pali word ‘Dhamma’ (Dharma in Sanskrit) means true nature, the fundamental, liberating facts of reality and the course of practice that leads to deliverance from all suffering. But the path of Dhamma is a way without extremes.”  And so, I thought about my day and wondered how often I have gone to extremes and how those extremes affected my day.

cartoon-b-c-words-slip-outExtreme #1:  Woke up as usual at 5:15 to get ready to go to Zen and the coffee was not made and ready for me to enjoy in my morning ritual—reaction anger and not so nice words.

Extreme #2:  I love apple pie so I bought a nice one and baked it in my oven. Wow did that smell delicious! I proceeded to eat a piece after supper, then for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an evening snack the next day.  Hmmmm

Now I know these are not “cardinal sins” as they say in Catholicism but they sure did not make my life devoid of suffering or bondage.  And they were definitely not the way “without extremes.”

He goes on to write: The Dhamma beautifully encompasses the twin problems of thoughtful people: how to get along serenely day to day in the toils of the world, and how to overcome the world and all its suffering forever (page 5).”[2]  He points often in this chapter to our “ignorance” as a catalyst to our suffering.  He writes “When ignorance is destroyed and craving withers away, greed, hatred, and delusion cannot come to be, and suffering, cut off at the roots, must expire and disappear.  Then there can no longer be any mental affliction, or spiritual uncertainty, or confusion.  The perfected one sees the universe just as it is, and experiences what the Buddha called ‘that unshakable deliverance of the heart (page 7-8).’”[3]

“We can achieve deliverance by consciously cutting through the bonds we have tied around ourselves, by resisting and ultimately destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, by making a final end of ignorant craving. However sharp the hunger, however keen the pain, nobody gets out of the jungle of troubles without making a sustained, personal effort (page 9).”[4]

And finally, he writes, “The Buddhist goes by way of Dhamma—the middle—way and does the walking alone, stumbles and gets up again, picks off the thorns, gets in the open and stays there with determined effort—no slave to false hope, no listless idler, and yet no superman: just a thinking being who has become convinced that the fearful storms of the universe are born in and burst out of his own heart and that nobody can quell them but him. (page 9-10).[5]

I wish for you a beautiful middle way, a forest with less and less thorns, and fewer and fewer storms all overcome by your budding unshakable heart.

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

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

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Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano writes in his introduction:Landscapes of Wonder book cover

The faith of the Buddhist grows out of experience fortified by instruction.  The Buddha shows how to make the journey out of suffering to emancipation, and if we feel quickening of interest we can take steps ourselves to investigate and to test what we have learned. This collection of essays is about finding the right direction and then moving forward with mindfulness and deliberation (page xi).

I hope that sharing these ideas and my musings about them will help you discover the power of your practice, to allow it to enlighten and brighten your life, to help bring you to a place of peace, love, and compassion for self and others each and every day.

This journey is never an easy one because we are required to look within, to set aside time to mediate, contemplate, and to push through our fears, anxieties, old beliefs, and doubts.  However, with determination, concentration, and support from the author and others on the path all things are possible!

Bhikkhu goes on to write:

Fortunately the teaching of the Buddha is universal, giving us the chance not just to admire what others have admired but to make our own search—to observe, meditate, and discover through our own efforts (page xii).

Thus, it does not matter if you were raised in a non-religious household or a religious one of any denomination or teaching truth is truth no matter where it comes from.  In your life I know that you have discovered what you believe through actions propelled from book learning, intuition, help from another, or seemingly by accident.  It does not matter how it came the important thing is that it did.  It gave you that cosmic AH HA! Or Yikes—Or Oh my god!  It could have felt like you were hit with a hammer, a banana, or a cream pie, but hit you were!

I hope our wandering through this wonderful book will give you many cosmic experiences! Good luck with that…

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