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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

SomThich Nhat Hanhe years ago, I came across a wonderful little book entitled Zen Masters, a Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet by John Stevens.  Immediately I began to think about myself and my work and my studies as a Buddhist priest, teacher, and blogger.  Would my friends and students place me in any of these areas?  Do I place myself in any of them?  If so, how has my self-image affected my life? How has it given meaning to my life?

Everyone has had questions about their life while growing up.  They may not have been thought of as questions because the ideas may have started with an experience or a book or a teacher where a seed was planted.  For me I found myself at the age of 4 setting up some chairs in the garage and inviting my little girl friends to play school.  I, of course, had to be the teacher and they were the students!  I have no idea what I was teaching them but I do know I enjoyed the job!

The author chose to write about three famous teachers of Buddhism Ikkyu (1394-1481), Hakuin (1686-1768), and Ryokan (1758-1831).  Each one was unique and impactful in their own way just as you are—even when you don’t know it.  Your words, deeds, ideas, emotions, and thoughts affect not only you but everyone around you from your family and friends, to your co-workers, and everyone you meet in your daily life.

Do you open the door for the mom or dad with a baby carriage, do you carry a bundle for the elderly person who lives next door, and do you support your coworker when they need a lift on a very stressful day? Or are you the one who would not even notice the goings on in the three scenarios above?

What is your idea of a meaningful life and how do you express it? Are you the maverick, the master of masters, or a wandering poet?  No judgment here, no grading one against the other as all three of the great men written about were all unique and special in their own way, and thus are remembered and written about hundreds of years later.

What will people remember about you?  I hope this blog series will help you dig deep into yourself to find the maverick, the master, and the wandering poet as Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan did all those many years ago!

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Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

================

I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

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buddha-quote-thinkingToday as I was looking on my bookshelf for another great book on peace I came across The Kwan Um School of Zen’s Chanting and Temple Rules workbook.  Near the back of the book on page 52 there is a section entitled “On Conduct.”  After reading it I realized that if I just followed these rules each and every day I would definitely end up with a peaceful life and positive relationships with everyone I meet and especially with my family and friends. Below is what they have written.

  1. On conduct
  • Always act with others. Do not put yourself above others by acting differently. Arrogance is not permitted in the temple.
  • Money and sex are like a spiteful snake. Put your concern with them far away.
  • In the dharma room always walk behind those seated in meditation. At talks and ceremonies, keep the proper posture and dress.  Do not talk or laugh loudly in the dharma room.
  • If you have business outside the temple which causes you to miss ceremonies or meals, notify one of the temple officials before you leave.
  • Respect those older than you. Love those younger than you.  Keep your mind large and open.
  • If you meet sick people love and help them.
  • Be hospitable to guests. Make them welcome and attend to their needs.
  • When respected people visit the temple, bow to them and speak considerately to them.
  • Be courteous. Always let others go before you.
  • Help other people.
  • Do not play games with other people.
  • Do not gossip.
  • Do not use other people’s shoes and coats.
  • Do not cling to the scriptures.
  • Do not oversleep.
  • Do not be frivolous.
  • Let older and more respected people be seated before you.
  • Do not discuss petty temple matters with guests.
  • When visiting outside the temple, speak well of the temple to others.
  • Drinking to produce heedlessness or acting out of lust will only make bad karma and destroy your practice. You must be strong and think correctly. Then these desires cannot tempt you.
  • Do not delude yourself into thinking you are a great and free person. This is not true Buddhism.
  • Attend only to yourself. Do not judge the actions of others.
  • Do not make the bad karma of killing, stealing, or lust.

And finally, they end it with these powerful words:

Originally there is nothing.

But Buddha practiced unmoving under the
Bodhi tree for six years,
And for nine years Bodhidharma sat
Silently in Sorim.

If you can break the wall of your self,
You will become infinite in time and space.

 

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basket of fresh fruitThere are many variations of the prayers that the Buddhist communities use before they eat to bless their food.  This is the one we use at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I like it a lot as it is simple and to the point.

“Earth, water, fire, air and space combine to make this food, numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that we may eat, may we be nourished so that we may nourish life.”

Thus we focus not on the “food” but the reason that we eat: to nourish our bodies and minds.  It’s really that simple.  As humans became more social beings we began to eat for pleasure and times of sharing, fun, and celebration with our families and friends. We created reasons to eat and to give thanks before the meal to show our gratitude for the food, our families, and our friends.

Brown encourages us to do a little less “picking and choosing” when it comes to food.  He says, “So instead of picking and choosing, as students of life we might at times choose to practice acceptance, gratitude, enjoyment, thanksgiving (page 145-6).” That is easy to do by always blessing your food before you eat.

I used to teach the kids in Sunday school when we had snack time to say, “Ruba dub dub thank you God for the grub.” Some of the parents did not like it but the kids loved it and it started them off on a great practice of giving thanks for the food they had been given–even if they disliked it.  It can also be a time when you can share with them that many children have no food to eat and to be grateful and happy that they have food on their table.  To value the food that they have will help them have compassion for those who have none.

Giving thanks is something we all do at Thanksgiving with our families and friends sitting around the table, but I hope you’re doing it every day not just one or two days out of the year.  You’ll be surprised how much better the food will taste, and how much less Pepto-Bismol you’ll have to take after the meal.  Regardless of who cooked it–the  worst or the best cook in your family–giving thanks will make it go down easily!

Just remember what Mary Poppins said: Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down or Uncle Joe’s chili…well maybe not Uncle Joe’s chili…but giving thanks may help!

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upaya-gold-buddha-DoshinYueh-lin (thirteenth century) is to have said, “What is true speech? Ninety percent accuracy is not as good as silence (page 104).”[1]

Wow!  I agree with Yueh-lin! There is way too much speech in our world today.  Even though I make my living by speaking and writing even I know that there is too much talking and not enough doing, or meditating, or wondering, or feeding the homeless.  All of which take little or no talking.

I’ve always known that my students learned more by doing then by listening to me flap my jaws for an hour in the seminar.  Thus, I give them time to play a game, watch a YouTube video, or figure out a “what if” scenario, or discover a new way to make something better.  I’ve got them doing a three-breath exercise before each class and before they begin writing, or before they begin that job interview. And most importantly before they say something they will regret.   To say LESS and do MORE…that’s the key to life.  Often the person who talks a big game is simply talking and not doing!  I’m sure we all know that person…I just hope it isn’t you!

The proof is in the pudding?  What the heck does that mean?  The person who is making the pudding or pie or soup is usually thinking quietly of what ingredients are needed to make this wonderful recipe.  It’s not cooked to long or to short, it’s cooked just right!

If we spend more of our time meditating and contemplating, then doing—our life will turn out just right!   Remember true speech should not only be accurate and truthful, but it should be restrained, kind, thoughtful, and sometimes not spoken at all.  And at that note I think I’ll end right here.

[1]

Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

Photo by Mitch Doshin Cantor, Southern Palm Zen Group.

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Ying-an (d. 1163) is quoted as saying, “The way the old adepts of ancient times asked about the path was not competitive or contentious; they would inquire of anyone with some strength, even a child.  Only thus may people be called students of the way (page 96).”[1]

It is a very difficult thing to be noncompetitive in life today with the push at work to do more and make more than the person sitting in the office or cubical next to us. How about the competition of who made the best dish at the potluck supper?! It sure makes it hard to be noncompetitive!  It is almost impossible to feel comfortable asking someone for help or advice today. But Ying-an was right—it is not the way of the Buddha to look outside of ourselves for validation or even inside us for validation.  The point is simply to be living the life of the Buddha way. To be open to learning new things and growing through that process.

As an ancient Zen story goes:

After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull’s eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot.  “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!” Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain.  Curious about the old fellows’ intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log.  Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. “Now it is your turn, “he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.  Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.  “You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger’s predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”[2]

The young champion did not use his “Buddha Mind” that’s for sure.  Thus life is not always about competition with our coworkers or friends trying to “one-up them.”  Life is best lived when we recognize our skills and talents and use them rightly.  It is best lived when we recognize that we need help and ask for it, when courage appears miraculously right when we need it, and when we take more time to meditate/sit.  It is best lived when we allow ourselves to go deep within where all the answers really exist.  I’ve often found that when I quit looking for the answer—it pops up while I’m doing the dishes or walking the dogs. It comes when I drop my competitiveness, my panic, and my egocentric ways.  It comes when I simply focus my attention fully on the task at hand and leave the rest to my Buddha mind!  How about you?

 

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2] http://jhvonline.com/the-perfect-story-its-about-where-you-draw-the-target-p10650-147.htm

picture: Archer Fantasy Bow Free image PX edited

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Cleary writes a section in this wonderful book entitled “Evaluating Teachers.”  Being a teacher for most of my life I was excited to read what he had to say about us.  I was not surprised at the wisdom that he shared from Ta-sui who lived between 834-919.  He is quoted as saying:

baby monk walkingWhen I was journeying, I didn’t choose communities on the basis of whether or not they had material provisions; I was only concerned with seeing whether their perception indicated some capacity.  If so, then I might stay for a summer or a winter; but if they were low-minded, I’d leave in two or three days. Although I called on more than sixty prominent teachers, barely one or two had great perception.  The rest hardly had real true knowledge—they just want your donations (page 28).[1]

Thus to find the right teacher for you is not easy.  There are so many people sharing their spiritual adventures, knowledge, thoughts, ideas, and feelings today on line everywhere.  There are people who offer classes and write books and profess spiritual awakening or knowledge and charge huge amounts of money to attend their classes or webinars or lectures.  I am not suggesting that they are all charlatan’s, but my mom always reminded me “buyer beware.”

I remember when my nieces were teenagers and the Moonie’s were everywhere trying to recruit members to their cult a neighbor tried to warn my sister about them.  She simply laughed and responded, “Are you kidding there is no way my two daughters would stand on the street corner for free and handout flyers!”

As a Buddhist we don’t proselytize and stand on corners or in airports handing out flyers. We spread our wonderful teaching by living it.  By providing an environment of peace, love, and compassion in our words and deeds.  Then someone might say, “Wow you have such a peaceful energy about you. How are you able to do that when there is so much negative energy in the world today?

Then and only then do I bring up my studies in Buddhism and meditation.  Their question can open a conversation at which time I offer my card for the person to check out my blog, or join us at the Zendo for a meeting, or share one of my workbooks with them.  No pressure, no proselytizing, nothing but information, compassion, and love which is the greatest teacher of all. And it’s Free!  Yes, I do donate money to my zendo to keep the lights on and the doors open but it is a gift, not a requirement and thus I give freely.

Live your truth and you’ll shine like the morning star for all to see.  You’ll be the light of peace wherever you go and unknowingly make a positive difference in someone’s life.  It’s a quietly simple yet powerful way to make a difference in the world in which we live.  Be the peace you want in your life…simply be it—that is the greatest teacher of all.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2]Picture Gateless Gate-Page 6- Seon Buddhism http://www.buddhism.org

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