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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

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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In his chapter on “Training in Zen” Shibayama writes:

…they first start with an extremely intense religious quest; then comes hard, strong-willed search and discipline, which will be followed by spiritual crises, or a sense of the abyss; and finally, they experience the moment of awakening.  These are the inner processes they generally go through (page 39).images

I know if you are reading this that you too have gone through some or all of these steps. I too have done so and when I’ve had that moment of awakening I think that my life will have changed dramatically and only the good can come and I will be able to “walk on water.”  Alas, when I tried I was soon over my head in it and had to swim to shore.  This is not failure but the reality of being in a human experience.

To fail and then to get up again and go back to the reading and meditation and mindfulness strengthens my determination and quickens my compassion for others who are struggling and swimming against the tide in this physical world of challenges and joys.

Life is like a roller coaster and sometimes we are on the up-hill ride slowly moving and creeping to the top of the tracks and then all of sudden we feel the elation and before we know it we’re on the down hill portion of the roller coaster speeding faster and faster as the wind blows our hair and we can hear ourselves screaming.

Not to worry what you learned through these two experiences will help you grow in to the Buddha that you are.  Shakyamuni Buddha lived a life of luxury that many could never experience and he left it to find the truth about life.  During those times he had great ups and downs in the physical, psychological, and emotional challenges of being alive.  But in his final awakening he discovered the middle way.  Not grasping upon awakening or experiencing Samadhi but simply allowing yourself to relax and focus on your breath and the peace that you can hold in body, mind, and spirit. He realized that everything is one.

To be in the moment, to realize that we are and can experience being one with all the good that is in the universe is available to everyone.  It gives us the clarity, drive, and ability to go out into the world and make a difference, to fulfil our Buddhist promise to live a life of peace, love, and compassion toward self and others.

The beginning of the universe is now, for all things are at this moment being created, and the end of the universe is now, for all things are at this moment passing away. (Watts, 1958, p. 52) ~ Alan Watts, Zen teacher

Just a thought to ponder on while you wile away the minutes and hours of your day on your spiritual quest.

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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

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

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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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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Yuanwu starts out as most good Zen teachers do by saying, “Here at my place there is no Zen to explain and no Path to transmit.”  Then they go about quickly explaining the “nothing.”  In this section of his book he, of course, does exactly that!  How great that the ancestors worked so hard to keep us on our toes about “nothing.”bhante-gunaratana

Within each of us is the “fundamental matter that is inherent in everyone (page 67).”[1]  What we might call in Unity that divine spark or goodness within us, that oneness with all things big and small, animal, mineral, and vegetable!  And when we forget that we are a divine spark of all there is we can easily fall into those traps of greed, anger, jealousy, attachments, contrived actions, confusion, and false sentiments, so Yuanwu says!

Who wants to fall into all of those traps? Not me that’s for sure!  So, what can we do?  What does Yuanwu suggest?  “You do not exert any mental effort: you go along freely with the natural flow, without any grasping or rejecting.  This is the real esoteric seal (page 68).[2]

Finally, he writes, “Bearing this esoteric seal is like carrying a lamp hidden in the darkness as you roam through the world without longing or fear—it is all the realm of your own great liberation, continuing forever without interruption (page 68).”[3]  Just this!  We simply deal with whatever comes our way each and every moment in the most appropriate and helpful way we can. Shine your “light” onto the situation and all darkness must disappear. That’s the law.

You can turn up that light at any time by simply sitting and taking time each day to encounter that quiet place in body, mind, and spirit.  H. Emilie Cady in her Unity book, Lessons in Truth wrote: Every man must take time daily for quiet and meditation. In daily meditation lies the secret of power.  No one can grow in either spiritual knowledge or power without it…  No one would ever dream of becoming a master in music except by spending some time daily alone with music (page 7).[4]

Give yourself the present of being alone in the present moment as long and as often as you can.  The more you do that the brighter the hidden lamp in you will shine for all to see.  Be the light that lights up the room, the road, the town, and the world! Stop trying and simply be it! Simply Shine!

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cady, H. E. (1902 1st Printing) Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House

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Yuanwu in the next section of his book entitled “Completing the Task” talks about learning the teachings, learning to concentrate, and enabling thepic Zen letters Teaching of Yuanwu book “embryo of sagehood” to grow and mature. I really like the term: embryo of sagehood.  I find myself thinking about the word sage and wonder if there is anyone alive today that I could say was speaking and acting like a sage.  Someone that we all can look up to, someone we desire to emulate, someone we might consider a living, breathing, sage.

It could even be you!

He goes on to write: Then even if you encounter bad conditions, you will be able to melt them away with true insight and power of concentration, and fuse everything into one whole, so the great changes of birth and death will not be enough to disturb your heart (page 64).[1]

Having a practice of contemplation, mediation, and sitting is a way to live that kind of life where even the thoughts of “birth and death” do not undo our calm. Sooner then we might expect our practice will provide us with the ability to have “true insight” into our lives, and our actions, and will help us live in peace regardless of the chaos that seems to be happening around us.

Yunwu says “Nurturing your enlightenment over many years, you become a greatly liberated person who is free from contrived actions and obsessive concerns.”  This may come in only fleeting moments or thoughts or situations but the longer we practice the more often we will find ourselves in this space where the sage within us lives.   It is up to us to “nurture enlightenment.”  It is up to us to wait in silent repose free from the drive of getting it, expecting it, or yearning for it.  It will come if we simply quietly wait in the silence with no expectations.

Then one day “true insight” will appear and you’ll go in and wash the dishes…

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

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And thus, we move forward with this great teaching from Yuanwu!  He says, “Among the enlightened adepts, being able to speak the truth has nothing to do with the tongue, and being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words (page 62).[1]

I spent the Sunday afternoon at my prison ministry where 14 men sitting “behind the fence” studied and sat and did kinhin for over three hours.  Their sitting was done wherever they could do it—on the floor with a small yoga mat beneath them, in a wheelchair to which they were confined, or in a chair attached to a desk like you used to use in high school.  But sit they did!

They were not in a beautiful zendo in a forest or in a church where I sit with the Southern Palm Zen Group, or a person’s home filled with love, patience, and compassion—yet their dedication to the principles and practices of Zen were deep and knowing and learning and forgetting.  As Yuanwu said “not a matter of words.”

Yuanwu goes on to write:

Anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality.  Thus, the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon, and the sayings of the Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door (page 62).

We were studying the story of Huineng and his opportunity to receive dharma Huineng drawing cutting bambootransmission in secret from the fifth ancestor Yuquan Shenxiu. As the story is told the fifth ancestor was getting old and looking for a successor and so a challenge was given to all the students to write a poem to show their understanding of the dharma.  One student wrote a poem which indicated that in order to reach enlightenment or awakening we had to continuously be polishing the mirror because it was always collecting dust.

Huineng on the other hand could neither read nor write so he had a fellow monk help him out and when he heard this idea he said, “. . .that is not deep enough.”  He asked his friend to write his version which ended in “Fundamentally there is not a single thing. Where could dust arise?” In Buddhism we believe that everything is completely empty thus there is no place for the “dust” to be. Shohaku Okumura says, “there is nothing to have to polish and nothing we have to eliminate. That was Huineng’s understanding (page 211).”[2]

Quantum physics agrees with this ancient teaching: “nothing really exists without the apparatus defining it.”[3] Although there is nothing to define (no dust to wipe away) our human curiosity and questioning moves us to do it anyway.  It moves us to find the answers, to investigate, to study, to learn, and to finally practice what we have learned and bring those ideas and principals into our lives. We do this by simply sitting, clearing our minds of all thoughts of “things,” and discovering that secret sacred place within us devoid of words. Truth is simply conveyed through our actions toward others and self. What “no words” have you spoken today?! What “no actions” have you taken?

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

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts Wisdom Publications: Boston

[3] http://www.neurohackers.com/index.php/fr/menu-top-neurotheque/68-cat-nh-spirituality/95-emptiness-relativity-a-quantum-physics-dalai-lama

[4] Picture Hui-neng Cutting Bamboo, by Liang K’ai

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