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As I am reading this beautiful section of the Zen Letters I am amazed that my little dog
Annie Nov. 27.15 (2)Annie decides to ask to be picked up to lay in my lap and listen to me read aloud.   I guess that is why “dog” is “god” spelled backward!  She knows the hidden treasure when she hears it.  But me, sometimes I must hear it and read it and see it many times over before I catch the drift of its meaning and move with it as I walk through my daily life.  Oh, if I was just as cleaver as Annie!

Yuanwu writes: . . .in olden times the people of great enlightenment did not pay attention to trivial matters and did not aspire to the shallow and easily accessible.  They aroused their determination to transcend the buddhas and patriarchs.  They wanted to bear the heavy responsibility that no one can fully take, to rescue all living beings, to remove suffering and bring peace, to smash the ignorance and blindness that obstructs the Way (page 30).[1]

A job not for the faint-hearted!  And yet many took on the job. Why? They understood that they would have achieved their goal if just one person was relieved of a heavy responsibility through their actions or words. If just one person was rescued from danger or suffering in mind, body, or spirit—they would have achieved their goal. And they understood to remove suffering and bring peace and transcend the buddhas, although a heavy responsibility, when taken on one step, one action, one word at a time it’s not so hard after all.

Once the ignorance and blindness is penetrated and their eyes were opened to the truth of their being their determination to rescue all living beings grew. When was the last time you took on even a silly millimeter of that vow?  Or are your vows to grow your bank account, your leverage in your company, your job, school, or city at any cost even if it affects others in a negative way?

All too often people’s lives are ruined by someone who cannot see beyond their own needs wants and desires and he or she uses all the false reasoning in the world as to why they should live the way they want to even if those actions harm those around them.  That is not the Buddha’s way! That is not an enlightened path to life.

Yuanwu goes on to write: All those who are truly great must strive to overcome the obstacles of delusion and ignorance. They must strive to jolt the multitudes out of their complacency and to fulfill their own fundamental intent and vows.  Only if you do this are you a true person of the Path, without contrived activity and without concerns, a genuine Wayfarer of great mind and great vision and great liberation (page 31-32).

Thus, is the Hidden Treasure. Not just for you but for all who cross your path! That is the Buddha’s way.  I hope you are on the grassy walk through life!

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

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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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basket of fresh fruit

Yuanwu writes, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views. You must not mix poison into your food. You must be uniformly pure and true and clean and wondrously illuminated to step directly into the scenery of the fundamental ground and reach the peaceful and secure stage of great liberation (page 24).[1]

From the day we were born we began learning.  We learned good and bad things, right and wrong things, true and false things. We began adding poison into our lives, thoughts, and relationships when we followed the path of fear, anger, lack, and limitation. Food is angulose to our thoughts and actions here. This is true in your life and mine.

How are those thoughts and actions affecting your life? Is your life filled with wonder, peace, security, and liberation?  Or is it filled with old habits, fears, anger, and pain?  Are you poisoning your mind, body, and spirt or filling it with goodness?  Remember it is all up to you.

I would equate “wrong knowledge and wrong view” to anything that is hurting and/or hindering me.  Or negatively affecting the lives of those around me from family, friends, strangers on the street, and co-workers.  When the expression on a person’s face is wide eyed and filled with fear, or tears are welling up in them (and not from laughter), or their eyes are focused on the ground—that is because the words you were “feeding them” were poisonous.  Each time you feed them this poison you damage your relationship with them and you damage their level of self-worth and self-esteem. Thus, they end up believing those things and begin to poison themselves and others even after you are long gone.

That is why Yuanwu says, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views.” That may seem hard if you were brought up with the “wrong knowledge” and you should not punish yourself for the “sins of others.”  There is a recipe for curing this circle of pain and suffering.  Simply do not mix poison into your food [thoughts/words/deeds].  When you catch yourself doing it immediately adjust your thoughts and actions.  Remove the poison and replace it with love, compassion, and peace for yourself and others.

It may not be easy at first to undo the pains that you have been feeling for years, but all things are possible for those who wish to live a different life–who wish to live a life filled with loving friends, peace, and happiness.

If you saw someone picking up a can of lye you would run toward them screaming NO- NO-NO don’t drink that! How about for us NO-NO-NO don’t THINK that!  Changing your thoughts will change your actions which will change your life for the good and the food you will be eating will be filled with love, peace, and compassion and your life will be transformed.

Great liberation is yours for the asking! Let me know how that goes!

In gassho

Shokai

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

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Yuanwu praises the Zen master Linji for “employing expedient means” or skillful means with each of his students. (page 9).[1]  There are no standard movements, words, or tests to give every student.  Why? Because each is unique and individual in their knowledge, desires, and talents.  It is your job as a student to find a teacher that will work with you as an individual, to find the right and perfect practices to help you on your way to enlightenment or truth or peace.

As a teacher or a student, we want to use a variety of expedient means to help ease the suffering of self and others. It is important that these things be guided by wisdom and compassion. Yuanwu goes on to describe Linji’s school by saying:

It is absolutely transcendent and does not value any particular strategy.  The correctness of one’s eye for the Truth is the only thing it considers important.  …you must be completely liberated from head to foot, with a liberation that penetrates the bone and penetrates the marrow and is not entangled with anything whatsoever (page 11).[2]

Yuanwu goes on to speak of the teacher Yantou who said, “An enlightened teacher is like a gourd on the water, floating free and at ease, who cannot be reined in or tied down (page 14)” Be a teacher or a student who floats on the current of truth and wisdom that comes through you not “from” you.  Find a teacher who speaks the words that are meaningful to you for your particular situation at that moment without hesitation or pause.  Someone who looks in your eyes with love and compassion and with an open heart.  Someone who provides a safe space where you can grow and flourish, and blossom.  A place where secrets are kept and tears and laughter are shared and no words are spared or need to be spoken.

For me this describes my teacher, Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom, who writes in his book, Essays in Zen Daoism, these words:

One simple way of putting what I’ve been saying is that the use of skillful means is applied, not pure Zen. As long as this is made clear, I have no problem with skillful means or applied Zen. And it is clear that compassion requires that we not one-sidedly insist on no meaning as liberation when human beings—lay people, that is, not monks—so desperately crave meaning and purpose in their lives (pages 63-64).[3]

Let’s keep it simple! Please get a GREAT teacher and use the GREAT teacher you have within yourself—and when you do you’ll experience real teaching and real learning and your life will be changed for the better!

Let me know how it goes…

Shokai

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nordstrom, M.R. (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism.  Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

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Today I scoured my bookshelves for something to use as a catalyst for my next Zen workbook to share with our members “behind the fence.”  Yuanwu jumped out at me and said, how about my teachings?  Some of my favorite translators of Zen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary, created a wonderful book entitled Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu.

Yuanwu Chinese MasterYuanwu’s teachings are filled with words of wisdom and actions for the everyday person to incorporate into his or her life. Although he may have lived from 1063-1135 his words are still pertinent to how we can live our lives each day with optimism. He is also known by Buddhists as the author of the Blue Cliff Record a compilation of 100 koans and his commentaries.

The authors write in their introduction: The Zen tradition, like all of Mahayana Buddhism, is invincibly optimistic about human possibilities—our true identity, our inherent buddha nature, can never be destroyed.  It is our basic essence, and it is with us always, waiting to be activated and brought to life (page vi-vii).[1]

The authors go on to write: These teachers meant to enable us to become aware of our buddha nature and to gain the use of it in everyday life.  Zen Buddhism, like all other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, maintains that it is the true destiny of every person to become enlightened (page v-vi).[2]

For people in other religious beliefs you may interchange the Buddha nature with Christ nature or for indigenous people your ideas and teachings.  But all spiritual and/or religious beliefs have this basic essence described throughout their doctrines, writings, music, and art. As we follow in the footsteps of the masters we begin to realize that we too can be enlightened. Even though we sit with “no” conscious intention of it—if we practice the principles and sit and live the tenants all things are possible to those who believe.  Believe it not—and it will not be!  That is the truth of all of life.

Thus, I hope this blog and eventual workbook will be of interest to all people of all faiths and beliefs, and to those who hold no particular faith belief whatsoever.  Everyone is welcome on this adventure with Yuanwu the Chinese Master. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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

[2] Ibid.

 

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the 10 oxherding pictures Sakura Sakuragi

The way of Zen is a process—one that can take a life time.  It is not a quick fix for your relationships, jobs, or health.  It is a way of life.  It is providing the opportunity for you to have a meditation practice that moves through you throughout the day not just when you are sitting on the cushion.  It gives you the opportunity to live a life of peace, love, and compassion even in the most trying of situations knowing that this to shall pass. The ox herder learned this very well on his journey.

Francis Dojun Cook in his book How to Raise An Ox writes:

In Buddhism there is a vast difference between believing that all things are impermanent and realizing that they are; but before that belief becomes true knowledge, one must practice in the faith that it is so, and will eventually be proven to be so by one’s own experience (page 17).

Thus, sitting and reading and practicing the principles of Buddhism will give you the opportunity and the “true knowledge” you need to bolster your faith in all things being impermanent.  That impermanence makes life easier to deal with, that impermanence is why we have a saying “and this to shall pass.”  Every life is filled with things that come and go: a headache, a bad grade on a project at school, a failed job or relationship, a burnt dinner, or a cold.  They came and they went, they were impermanent.  They were not here to stay!

As students of Buddhism we work to realize that everyone and everything is the Buddha. We take the bodhisattva vow which consists “of selfless service on behalf of others [which] gradually diminishes self-serving, self-interested action (page 23).” [1]

Thus, the ox herder practiced and studied and believed and eventually realized his oneness with all things and no longer needed the ox. There was no quick fix, no magic pill or potion. Dojun continues with these words, “And this begins to happen when we completely abandon our own efforts and trust completely in our true nature, which is the Buddha.  Again, this is Buddhist faith (page 24).”

“To have faith in the Buddha is the same as forgetting the self (page 26)” –And remembering impermanence! To forget the self is to find the true self. Good luck with that!

[1] Cook, F. D. (2002) How to Raise an Ox Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Boston: Wisdom Publications

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BOxherding_pictures,_No._10arefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people
of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees
become alive.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes

 Finally, the tenth picture shows the enlightened oxherd entering the town marketplace, doing all of the ordinary things that everyone else does. But because of his deep awareness everything he does is quite extraordinary. He does not retreat from the world, but shares his enlightened existence with everyone around him. Not only does he lead fishmongers and innkeepers in the way of the Buddha but, because of his creative energy and the radiance of his life, even withered trees bloom. [1]

I love Suzuki’s title for this picture “entering the city with bliss-bestowing hands.” Every one of us can have hands that help or hinder. We can bless someone with a kind touch on the shoulder, or by the shake of a hand, or a pat on the back in their time of need. Or we can hinder them with a negative hand gesture (I’m sure you can think of some on your own), a shove, or a slap. Your hands can hold a crying newborn to sooth it’s trauma, comfort a patient in a hospice bed, or wash a baby duck covered in oil from an off-shore drilling site disaster.

Hands are powerful tools that we are given and sometimes they can seem as though they are making magic.  I like to watch the talent shows like America’s Got Talent and the most amazing people to me are the magicians.  What they can do with their hands is mind boggling!  Watching someone plant flowers in a garden, or paint a picture, or cut your hair is amazing to me.  The craft, the talent, and the finesse that your hands have to make something out of almost nothing is incredible.

Your creative energy can come out in many ways.  I hope that you are looking for those ways and perfecting them, and sharing them with others.  We don’t have to be a so called “enlightened being” like the oxherder to do great things with our hands.  We simply need to care enough, desire it enough, and be willing enough to put the time and energy in to it to find and develop that creativity, love, and perfection within us.

I love how Koeller talks about the “radiance of his life, even withered trees bloom.”  I don’t expect to make withered flowers bloom today with the touch of my hands that’s for sure. But I can pick the weeds from my garden or comfort a soul in need with them and for me that’s the “radiance of life” –doing the extraordinary in an ordinary way.  What is yours?

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

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