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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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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn his chapter titled “Earth Tones” Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano talks about mindfulness and detachment and how they are like two sides of the same coin.

Observing the world and its changes mindfully, with detachment leads to disenchantment and peace and eventually liberation from suffering—Nibbana.  In order to restrain the reflex of greed it is important to try to stop looking at things crudely as potential enjoyments, and to see them more as means for understanding.  As long as we unthinkingly surrender to objects the power to infatuate or distract us or to force us into rash action, we live in peril, because of their inherent instability; but if we view with detachment both the repulsive and the love, if we see things exactly as they are and not as we would like them to be, then we can live safely and independently (page 64-65). [1]

When we become attached in this way what happens is the person, thing, object, or the words control us, have power over us, and thus can make our lives cold, bitter, sad, and lost. And yes, they can make us happy and feel loved, and worthwhile.  Regardless of whether we perceive these as good or bad just the naming of them tethers us to them through our thinking and our emotions. We are ultimately controlled by them.  To be free we want to be detached from them.  It is okay to observe them, recognize them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.  Detach them—see them floating away like a helium balloon.

Just this! Just this moment in time.  If the words are true of you it might be a good thing to say maybe I could have been nicer, or kinder, or more empathetic and then make a plan to do better the next time.  Then drop it!  Don’t be attached to the negative thoughts, the previous actions, or deeds.  Don’t ruminate over the past since you can’t go back and you can’t change the past!  The best thing to do is remove your attachment and move forward toward the good.

Avoid allowing others to control you by what they think, say, and feel about you.  Detach yourself from the objects you precede with the words “must have” in your life. Those are things that you have convinced yourself make you part of the team/crowd or worthy of someone’s attention or love. You were born divine and perfect regardless of how you feel today and regardless of what “they” think or say about you.  Detach yourself from their words and the names that they call you good, bad, or indifferent.

Simply observe the world without attachment. Make any changes you think are necessary.  Be the person your dog or cat things you are! Nyanasobhano says, “To be free of the tyranny of the senses—including the mind-sense—is to walk with mindfulness in the present moment, to think, act, and feel without distortion, to be unruffled and capable (page 65).” [2]  This is the person that you really are! Now act like it!

 

[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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gold-face-buddha-with-three-pure-precepts-2

Photo by Mitch Doshin Cantor founder of the Southern Palm Zen Group

The power of peace is a deadly assault weapon it kills hatred, it kills fear, it kills amorous, it kills the feelings of not being good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough …the power of peace, love and compassion is more powerful than any hatred in the world it can break down any walls that anyone wants to build.

So if we really want to make a difference in this world let us join together in peace, love, and compassion.  Let us take our intelligence and drive and put it behind food, shelter, and electricity for those in Puerto Rico and around the world who are dying and suffering from natural disasters, wars, and starvation caused by global warming.

Let us put it behind creating a country where all people have the right to vote. Let us get rid of mass incarceration in America, mass discrimination in America, mass drug addiction in America and most of all mass hatred in America!

We can do it through the only way possible…through peace, love, and compassion. Inside each and every person is a little child crying and screaming for the love of their parents the feel of a hug and a kiss on the cheek. That’s all we really want in life.  We simply want someone to love us!

Can you be that love for someone today?

Metta (Loving-Kindness) Sutra
By Shakyamuni Buddha

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, in high or middle, or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible,
near or far, born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
Let none deceive another nor despise any being in any state; let none
by anger or hatred wish harm to another. Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should
one cherish all living things, suffusing love over the entire
world, above, below, and all around without limit;
so let each cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole
world.

‘The Southern Palm Zen Group (Boca Raton)

www.floridazen.com

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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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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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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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