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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

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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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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Oxherding_pictures,_No._6Mounting the bull, slowly
I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody
will join me.

The sixth picture suggests the tranquility and joy that reunion with the source of existence brings; now the oxherd rides on the back of the ox, joyously playing his flute. The verse suggests that he has been freed from old fears and anxieties and that so freed, he can now express his creative energies in celebration of life.[1]

Oneness, what does that mean to you?  The oxherder finds oneness with the Ox as he rides joyfully home harmonizing his flute, his body, and his mind with the ox.  In doing so he does not even need to hold on to the reigns as his fear of falling off the ox has disappeared.  He knows that there is no separation between the two of them and thus happily rides along playing his flute.

When we separate ourselves from people, and things, and ways we limit our abilities, we hinder our creativity, and we make life harder and more uncomfortable.  Being one with everything opens us up to insights and Ah Ha’s that otherwise would have eluded us.  To be one with the dying man as a hospice chaplain is an incredible experience.  To allow yourself to laugh with bottomless joy along with a young child is being awakened to the oneness that permeates the universe.

Laughter is catchy if one person starts laughing others seem to join in even if they do not know what the person is laughing about.  The same thing happens when someone cries, we all cry with them or try desperately to hold back the tears.  And when someone yawns everyone else must yawn no matter how hard they try not to. Just reading this sentence about yawing I know you are having trouble holding back the yawn that is trying desperately to come out!

Roshi Kennedy says that the “unity between the absolute and the relative is fundamental to Zen Buddhism (page 68).”[1]  Although we may not feel it most of the time that does not mean that it is not true.  So, when you feel disconnected to life or to a situation or a person remember that oneness exists even if the eyes can’t see it, the ears can’t hear it, and the mind can’t fathom it—it is still true! Just ask the tooth fairy! I can see that money underneath my pillow right now!

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

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I seizeOxherding_pictures,_No._4 him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power
are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau
far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes
 

The fourth picture shows that the oxherd has now caught hold of the ox, using the bridle of discipline to control it. This symbolizes the rigorous discipline required of the Zen practitioner. Although he now realizes that the power to transform his life lies within himself, in his Buddha-nature, all his previous conditionings are pulling and pushing him in different directions. Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.[1]

Abbot Zenkei Shibayama shares a Zen story in his book, A Flower Does Not Talk, that relates to Koeller’s thoughts on “working hard to overcome bad habits.”

Bodhisattva Manjusri once asked Zenzai Doji, “Bring me something that does not do any good.” Zenzai searched around, but wherever he went, everything he saw and touched was something that would do good.  He was unable to find anything that would not do any good.  Finally, he had to come back to Manjusri and report: “There is nothing that will not do good (page 190).”[2]

The conversation continued from there and Manjusri said:

“Bring me something, then, that will do good.”  Zenzai, without hesitation, plucked a blade of grass at his foot and presented it to Manjusri.  Manjusri took it up, and showing it to the congregation, said, “This single herb is both able to kill people and to give people life (page 190-191).”[3]

So, what does this have to do with you today, your life, your plans, your wishes and dreams? Everything!  For me when I look back upon my life I see that the challenges forced me to learn, to pray, to think, to discover, to step out of my fears and anxieties to move forward regardless of them. I was able to recognize that these challenges did NOT kill me but made me stronger, more resilient, more pliable and yes, more loving, caring, and compassionate.

Some might say I need to take off the “blinders” about the reality of life. Yes, war is hell and people living in war zones, in poverty, lack, limitation, and ill health need help from those of us who can help and are willing to help and have the resources to help. That does not remove our obligation to try to help minimize or eliminate the suffering of others. As Koeller said, “Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.”

So, let us as, students of Zen, work daily to take the discipline that we have learned in our Zen practice of sitting into the “real” world and help those who cannot, for whatever reason, help themselves.

Let me know how that goes!  Shokai

[1] Koeller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
[3] Ibid.

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Along the riverbank under the trees,Oxherding_pictures,_No._2
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

Koller writes this about the second picture and the verse:

The second picture shows that the oxherd has now caught sight of the tracks of the ox, bringing hope that his ox is not lost forever. This could be interpreted to mean that he has recognized his distress and has begun to seek for a solution in the teachings of Buddhism or in other teachings. But he is still at the stage of thinking and talking about his problems and various possible solutions. He has not yet found a path to follow and has not yet started to practice.[1]

For each of us as we move through the days of our lives we find ourselves searching, thinking, dreaming, seeing, and planning for that perfect oneness and perfection or solution to life’s mysteries. I can reflect on my own “footprints” reliving the conversation or encounter with an old friend or family member.  Or remembering a verse I read or a course I studied at school or in the Zendo.  Or seeing the traces of my life and thoughts and actions.  I begin to search for the answer that I thought I had discovered in that study group or class or relationship.

As I begin to study the principles of Zen my “nose” begins “looking heavenward” as the poem says.  I begin to see footprints leading me toward something of which I do not know just yet.  At the same time Roshi Robert Kennedy invites me to “…let go of everything we thought we were certain of (page 20).”[2]

Let us not move toward a “fixed truth that might hinder us” but let us move each moment where the experience takes us allowing life to flow at its own pace, form, and destination.

The most exciting and important adventures in life were the ones that we least expected.  Open your mind to see what is here in the moment and remember that “truth” changes with time and experience, cling to nothing, enjoy everything—without attachment—and be ready for the next adventure in living!

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

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-Looking_for_the_Ox-,_by_Tenshō_Shūbun

In truth, the person you see in this picture is all of us searching for something in life.  We know that life is a great adventure and that for some of us it has been a very difficult and uphill battle.  For others, we’ve had some good years and some bad years, and yet most of them have been simply rather normal. Regardless of which case we were living under we still found ourselves searching for something.  There is the continuing question that appears on a regular basis, “What’s it all about Alfie?  I wrote a blog on that song sometime back, check it out I think you’ll like it.

For Alfie, it was all about seeking and searching for love.  What have you been searching for? When you wake up each morning are you searching for the ox?  A better marriage, health, job, prosperity, enlightenment, peace, or better grades in school?    The Oxherd was searching for the eternal answer in life, that ungraspable something within him—roaming the world looking down in the valley, up in the mountains, and deep in the ocean.  To no avail.  When all the time his answer was right within him. He was and is the Buddha.

However, rushing and hurrying and searching and seeking outside of yourself in a teacher, a scripture, or a text or a job or money and fame is looking in the wrong place.

Simply focus your attention on the power of your breath when sitting or standing or walking and watch what happens.  When you focus on that inbreath and outbreath you will soon find your blood pressing dropping, your monkey mind quieting down, and your shoulders dropping. You’ll soon see a dropping away of all your fears and anxieties.  You will have moved into the place we call “just this.”   No past, no future, just NOW, just this one breath, one mind, one body, one moment.  Your searching for the Ox can end because you and the ox are one. You and the Buddha are one in the same. You know this when you realize that you and your breath are one.

This may be a fleeting feeling in the beginning but each day that you sit and walk in a meditative and fully present and mindful way you drop off a small weight and soon several small weights, and sooner than later you’ll feel 10 pounds lighter, 100% healthier, happier, and more peaceful.

Live in this moment, the ox is everywhere present in you and through you and will carry you easily into a life of peace, love, and compassion.  If only you stop searching for the ox outside of you—the ox within you will appear.  The ox is powerful, strong, persistent, and always there when you need him. Let your search be over! Be one with the ox in you.

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