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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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Kermit_the_Frog Cleary titles a section in the book “The Great Task.”  “We are swept away by memorizing sayings and living inside conceptual consciousness. Has it not been said, ‘Concepts act as robbers, consciousness becomes waves’?   If you have not mastered the great task, nothing compares to stopping, in the sense of quiet cessation, the purifying and quieting of the body and mind.  At all times avoid dwelling obsessively on things, and it will be easy to unveil this (page 42).” [1]

Boy is this a “great task.”  There is not a moment in the day that goes by that we are not swept away by some belief we hold, some information that we’ve read, some concept that we were taught in our schools, churches, synagogues, or mosques!  When we do we often end up stressed out, tired, confused, and fearful.  Not everything that we read or learned is “true.”  Some states have taken events in history out of their history books because they did not like something that happened.  Yes, as hard as that might be to fathom it is true!

So this is just another reason to practice the principles of Buddhism and not obsess over things.  It is so important when we are meditating/sitting that we clear our minds of everything.  Yes, that includes the wonderful sutras and teaching of Buddhism.  That we simply clear our minds of things and focus on the breath.  We need to give our “minds” a rest!  We exhaust ourselves day in and day out with those thoughts.  Thinking propels us toward good and bad things but either are not bringing us peace, quiet, and rest.  The Empty Mind will be our only salvation as the Christians might say!

We need to give our body and mind a rest on a regular basis each and every day.  We need to tamper down the obsessive thinking and actions.  When we do we’ll see that this peace heals our body and mind without medicine.  Brings joy into our lives.  Finds the good in others. Helps us ignore the silly things the people around us do and say. Drops our blood pressure, removes our nervous stomach, and allows us to sleep like a “baby” as my mom used to say!

Avoid obsessing about things starting today and watch what happens in your life!  Try it—I  think you’ll like it!  The Magic will reappear in your everyday life!

[1]

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

Picture Printrest

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book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas ClearyIn the introduction chapter of the book Cleary talks about the influence that conventional religions had on Buddhism.  “On a deeper level, Zen masters sought to restore and express the living meaning of religion and philosophy; the Zen teaching was to ‘study the living word, not the dead word.’ Not only did Zen reawaken Buddhism in this way, but it also revitalized Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Shamanism bringing out their higher spiritual dimensions (page xiv).”[1]

And thus our charge today is to use these revitalized teachings in our lives so that we can live a more centered life through the philosophy of Buddhism in all its forms.   He goes on to write, “People are born with nothing but the unconceived buddha mind, but because of self-importance they want to get their own way, arguing and losing their temper yet claiming it is the stubbornness of others that makes them mad.  Getting fixated on what others say, they turn the all-important buddha mind into a monster, mulling over useless things, repeating the same thoughts over and over again (page xv).”[2]

What a sad state of affairs we have created for ourselves.  Just remember what it was like when you brought that new born baby home from the hospital.  They had no likes, dislikes, or preferences except to have their diapers changed and to be fed.  What ever you fed them they ate even if it was some nasty tasting concoction like Enfamil or Similac! Yikes!    And thus they lived in the “unconceived buddha mind” not filled with delusions.

As adults we have been deluding ourselves over and over every day, week, and year.  Where have your delusions taken you today?  Where will they take you tomorrow?  Want to turn your life around? Cleary suggests: “The most important thing is not to be self-centered; then you cannot fail to remain in the buddha mind spontaneously (page xvii)?”[3]

When was the last time you did something that was not self-centered? When was the last time you did something spontaneously—jumped in a puddle of water, or ate a fried pickle at the country fair, or ran outside without an umbrella to enjoy the summer rain?  How about stopping in the middle of a heated discussion to take three breaths and dive into your “unconceived buddha mind.”  When was the last time you did that? Remember that is where all the answers exist when you stop looking for them they will appear!

I know that everyone has been searching for a name or a number or a thing and no matter how hard you tried it would not come!  But sometime later in the middle of washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or eating lunch the answer popped up in your mind.  Yes, Fred that was my sister’s third husbands name!

Cleary goes on to say, “The following pages contain essential Zen teachings on realizing this original buddha mind in all of us (page xviii)”[4] I hope you take this adventure with Professor Cleary and me and discover your “original buddha mind.” Let’s bring out your “higher spiritual dimensions!” You’ll be glad you did! And so will all the people around you! And that’s the MAGIC of ZEN…

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

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Moon in a dewdrop cover“If you judge others from your own limited point of view, how can you avoid being mistaken? Furthermore, those who had shortcomings yesterday can act correctly today (page 62).”[1]

Yesterday I went to the Pueblo Cooperative Care Center to sign up as a volunteer.  Around me were so many people, young, old, black, white, some in tattered clothes and one young man with a huge blanket draped around him to protect him from the chill of the morning.  As I viewed them I began to visibly see their “shortcomings” in real life.  They were short of housing, clothing, food, medication, compassion, love, help and mostly hope.

Our society will never be empathetic enough or caring enough to get out of their Mercedes Benz or from behind their seat in an elected political office to see what they are doing when they place their priorities in the new “me to movement” above all else. Yes, more for me, less for you—movement.  But at whose and what expense?

Move the poor out of my city, hide them away behind the fences, mass incarceration of children at the borders, build the wall. Give myself more bonuses and less taxes so there is no money for universal healthcare, living wages, free education in all areas from trade schools to medical schools. Little or no help to decrease the opioid epidemic which is simply a symptom of the above…

Kaz  Tanahashi continues to share Dogen’s ideas: You should understand that there are foolish people who do not take care of themselves because they do not take care of others, and there are wise people who care for others just as they care for themselves (page 63).”[2]

And he finished with this quote:

A teacher of old said:
Two-thirds of your life has passed,
Not polishing even a spot of your source of sacredness.
You devour your life, your days are busy with this and that.
If you don’t turn around at my shout, what can I do (page 63)”[3]

The world is shouting… Who am I today—the wise or the fool? And you—who are you?

Yet who am I to judge—with me and my shortcomings so loudly seen and heard by the world.

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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