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Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category

buddha-pictureA young mother lived in a cabin in the woods.  When she journeyed to town she would take different paths so her views might be varied.  One day she walked down a path she hadn’t traveled on before and there in the middle of the road was a large boulder. This bothered her and seemed out of place.  So she tried hard to move it.  But it was too large.  So she walked around it and went on her way.  Some time later she came down that trail again where the boulder was.  This time she brought some colorful chalks with her and tried to disguise the rock with bright colors.  It looked better, but it was still there.  One summer many years later she happened down that road again, where the disturbing bolder lay. The years of rain and sun had washed away the chalk.  A fine layer of dust coated the surface now. As she looked down into its depth more closely, she noticed it had both smooth and rough places.  It was actually not an unattractive object. She brushed the dust from it with her hands and noticed some glints of quartz. She sat down on it and rested in silence and realized she really didn’t need to do anything about it.  It was and so was she. There was just being with it and that was, or it should be.

Joan Hunt

Lebanon, OR

 

Picture of Wilbur Mushin May my guide and teacher at the Southern Palm Zen Group at Morikami Zen Gardens in Delray Beach, FL https://morikami.org/

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adult ancient art asia

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

 In Zen Buddhism we have a practice that is called “zazen” which literally means “sitting.”  But unlike when we sit on a park bench and watch the people go by or sit in the car waiting for our food at the fast food pick-up window, “our sitting” is a form of meditation.

For the beginner I would not fret over the moment by moment challenges that may arrive as a new person “sitting.”  Nor would I want you to get upset when your thoughts interrupt your “sitting.”  With patience and dedication your sitting will produce exactly what you need for that exact moment in time.

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about meditation (zazen or sitting): “This meditation is a source of creative engagement in life.  While life is viewed as a continuation of birth, moment after moment, meditation is a total experience of this ‘birth’ at each moment. Thus a person no longer lives a moment as a segment of life or takes life passively but is fully engaged in an active and creative way.  Dogen explains this experience by using the metaphor of a boat: Birth is like riding in a boat.  You raise the sails and row with the oar… You ride in the boat and your riding makes the boat what it is (page 13).”[1] Where has your riding taken you?

There have been times in your life when you were so engrossed in a task, a book, or a movie that no one or nothing could get your attention.  In that moment you were in a “meditative” state.  You were so fully one with it that there was no separation between it and you.  It may only happen for a nano second at first, but the more you practice and the longer you sit the more often those “oneness” experiences will appear.

The goal is simple—so don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill as they say.  Simply allow yourself to take some time for yourself.  To find a quiet place to sit where you will not be disturbed (even if the only place is the bathroom) and start slowly.  Begin with 5 minutes and work your way up to 20 minutes.

Baby Steps Baby Steps. . .without pressure and condemnation! When you were a toddler just learning how to walk your parents didn’t scold you every time you got up and tried to walk and fell down!  NO…they praised you and clapped their hands and smiled at you. And if you have children that is exactly how you helped them learn to walk as well!

Be kind to yourself and let the process expand and grow at its own pace. Allow yourself to have a “total experience” of each moment of your life whether you are “sitting,” reading, walking, or doing the dishes–you’ll be glad you did!

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

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Part 1 Introduction

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about Dogen’s teaching: Dogemoon in the dew drop picn uses the image of a dewdrop reflecting moonlight to describe the state of meditation.  He suggests that just as the entire moon is reflected in a dewdrop, a complete awakening of truth can be experienced by the individual human being (page 12).”

How do we do this as human beings with no super powers or time to mediate or desire to join a monastery?  What is the purpose of even looking toward “awakening?”  What does it even mean and why would I want to desire or seek it? This series of blogs will delve into this question.

For me I believe that most of us, including myself, “live a life of quiet desperation” as Thoreau described it.  Thoreau went on to write, “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”[1] We seem to be desperate about relationships, money, lack of time, finding that right and perfect job, and I could go on and on…but lucky for you I won’t.

So how can we use the principles of Zen Buddhism and the teachings of Dogen to help us move out of this life as described above and move into one of peace, love, and compassion for self and others?

In Dogen’s poem below he expands the concept of the “moon in a dew drop” even further.

The moon
Abiding in the midst of
Serene mind;
Billows break
Into light (page 13).[2]

When we decide to change the way we are living, and to discover the power of meditation we can be like the moon simply reflecting the good and the great that is everywhere present. That goodness and greatness is in us and around like the moon which is not the light itself but the reflection of light.  You and the moon are one. You have the ability to be the great reflection of all that is kind, and generous, and serene. As quietly and simply as the moon.

Be the light in someone’s life today. Be the lit side of the moon not the dark side. Find the serene mind in you that at this very moment is waiting for you to discover. The moon in a dew drop is always there. It is the “billows” that are breaking into light awakening in you as you in every moment. Do you see it…

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 8 (1966). Originally published in 1854.

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

[3] picture AZ Quotes

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Sensei Kaz Tanahashi

Kazuaki Tanahashi

“The concentrated endeavor of the way I am speaking of allows all things to come forth in realization to practice going beyond in the path of letting go.   Passing through the barrier [of dualism] and dropping off limitations in this way, how could you be hindered by nodes in bamboo or knots in wood [concepts and theories] (page 105)?”[1]

I love this quote by Kazuaki Tanahashi from his beautiful book Zen Chants.  It brought to mind what often happens when I sit down to meditate.  Up come all the nodes and knots that I’ve experienced throughout the day or the week.  I focus on how hard they were to surmount or maneuver around.  When I catch these thoughts arising I think to myself, I need to let this go.  It is disrupting my meditation! And thus, the simple thought of letting go is now the catalyst for more thinking, self-recrimination, and more.

Round and round on the merry-go-round I go until my head is spinning and I’ve made myself dizzy.  So how do I “pass through the barrier of dualism?”  How about becoming one with the barrier? One with the thought, feeling, or idea.  To give it the freedom to be, to go, to sustain, or disappear without judgment, fear, or insistence.

To breath into it slowly, lovingly, and kindly.  We are so quick to provide loving kindness to a friend or family member in need.  To hold back recrimination or judgment.  To give them space to find themselves to live their life as they need to.  To respect their boundaries, dreams, and desires.  Yet, how often do we not give ourselves the space, advice, room, or love?

How often do we give ourselves permission to let go, to make mistakes, to get up in the middle of a sit when we have a cramp in our leg?  I recall some time ago when I was sitting in dokusan with one of my favorite teachers, Lou Mitsunen Nordstrom, and I told him I was going to start my own zendo and name it “If it itches, Scratch it.”  I may go to the fictious “Zen Hell” for that idea.  Luckily the only hell I have is between my own ears!  And for sure I need to “let go” of that idea!

Wow! Maybe I should start my new adventure by letting go of the idea that hell is between my own ears!  What a great ending for my workbook on The Secret to a More Fulfilling Life.

Definitely THE END!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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I had the great pleasure of being in Pueblo, Colorado, visiting my mother’s family for a celebration of my Uncle Virgil’s 102nd birthday.  Before I left home I looked to see if there was a sangha in Pueblo that I could attend while I was there, and of course there was, the beautiful Wet Mountain Sangha with Sensei Andrew Palmer.  What a delightful evening I had chatting with the members, sitting, and hearing a beautiful dharma talk by Andrew.

Life is so fabulous when you open yourself to any and all opportunities to find the good and the new.  At the end of the evening they closed the session with something that I had not chanted before in any of the Florida Soto Zen groups that I have sat with and spent many days in retreats with.  I was so moved by it that I wanted to share it with you. I hope you will like it and will add it into your practice.

The chant was actually sung like a song, unfortunately, I can’t share the tune with you, but I can share the words.  I hope you enjoy it and that you will try sitting with these words. When you do I hope you find yourself in this boundless place of Buddhism and beyond.  I hope it inspires you, enlivens you, and uplifts you.

Many thanks to my new friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha! You are a spark of light and love and I was blessed beyond words to be there with you.  I look forward to attending again so long as I am in Pueblo in person and if not–in spirit.

The Four Boundless Vowsingassho
I vow to wake the Beings of the World
I vow to set endless heartaches to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way

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Buddha quote anger, goodness truth generosityIt is one thing to read something and another thing to remember what you’ve read.  How often do we read something at work and quickly forget what it said?  When we are studying the texts and the writings of Buddhism we really want to absorb what we’re reading.  We want to understand the meaning behind the words.  We want to embody the teachings in such a way as they make a palpable difference in our lives. In such a way that we generate an aura of peace, love and compassion for all things and it is evident in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We do this through contemplation of the Buddhist teachings.

These two verses are often chanted before or after a talk or lecture

The Dharma is deep and lovely.
We now have a chance to see it,
Study it and practice it.
We vow to realize its true meaning (page 150).[1]

May the merits of this practice penetrate
Into each thing in all places.
So that we can realize the Buddha’s way,
The Ten Directions, the three worlds, all buddhas,
All honored ones, bodhisattvas, mahasattvas, and
The great prajna paramita.

You can, of course, change the pronoun from we to I if you are studying alone.  There is a veritable encyclopedia of great works of Buddhism to read and digest and contemplate.  The more we study and learn and embrace the words of the great teachers from Shakyamuni Buddha to our current writers and translators the more we will be able to embody the teachings until they become a part of who we are.

Then and only then can we begin to automatically, without thinking, act in a kind, loving, helpful, and nonjudgmental way.  No longer will the questions of “What would the Buddha do” enter our minds.  Our brain will automatically know and go to that action or find those kind and loving words so quickly you will wonder where they could have come from.

Being a Buddhist is not simply putting on a robe and expecting everyone will look up to you and think you are grand or special or knowledgeable.  It is with or without a robe acting like a person with merit gained from your studies having penetrated into your words, deeds, thoughts, and actions. That lets people know you are a student of the Buddha.  It is not easy to be a “real” Buddhist.  In fact, it is very challenging in the beginning. Why? Because goodness must swell up from within you in all situations and with all people regardless of the circumstances of the moment.

I am not always the best Buddhist and I know when I have slipped away from my vows and have to begin anew.  How do I know that? –through knowledge of the teachings, through my time spent on the cushion contemplating and studying the sutras and the teachings of Buddhism through the ancients to the modern authors–that’s how.

It’s quite like the world class chefs. They do not learn how to be a great chef by eating, they learn by studying with other great chefs, and cooking, and cooking some more. Creating recipes takes a lot more time, thought, and effort then eating! What recipe are you using? Jell-O Instant pudding or one made from scratch with great ingredients, time, effort, studying, concentration, and love of the teachings?

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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Impermanence is everywhere in our lives and yet no one likes impermanence.  We all hope for our newest relationship that is going so well will be permanent, or that great new job we have will be permanent, or that new car will stay divinely perfect with no scratches or dents forever!  Oh well, they won’t!

Bhante Gunaratana writes about this in his wonderful book The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English as he tells the story of a student of the Buddha.  As he was meditating he heard the voice of the Buddha saying:

Destroy attachment to self,
As you could an autumn lily in your fist.
Cultivate the path to peace,
The Nirvana taught by the Well-Gone-One.

When he opened his eyes, the young monk saw that the beautiful lily, once so bright, fresh, and lively, had withered away.  So, he meditated on the impermanence of the beauty, freshness, and life of the lily. Reflecting that his own handsome, young, healthy, and strong body would grow old and wither just as the flower had, he attained liberation from attachment to his body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness (page 58).[1]

And thus, we too get all caught up in this world of attachment and impermanence even though we don’t realize it.  One of the things I learned early on in Zen was about attachment and so I began to see how long I could go without being attached to anything.  I had a new car and one day I saw a scratch on my door where someone must have knocked into my door with theirs.  My first response was to start to get mad, then I remembered my goal of “non-attachment” and so I let it go and continued to run my errands.

I was very proud of myself and as I went through the day I praised myself off and on for not getting attached to the scratch on the car until I realized that all

I had done was switch my attachment from that to being attached to my ability to “not be attached.”  Yikes! I had just attached my attachment to something else, oh boy! It ain’tKermit_the_Frog easy being green as Kermit the frog would say.  And it ain’t easy being me trying to be a Buddhist.

Wow, that Buddha guy sure didn’t make anything easy! Now I do know that my beautiful Kermit green Ford Fiesta is impermanent and after many years it will be worn out and I will have to give it up and get a new one and maybe even take it to the junk yard and watch it be torn apart or squeezed into that big car crusher and god only knows where MY car is going!

But little-by-little after 12 years of studying and practicing Buddhism I am able to be less attached to things.  I can throw out old clothes that don’t fit me anymore, I got rid of my old silverware that had nothing matching and bought a new set, and I can give up eating ice cream before I go to bed.

Okay that last thing was a lie!  But I’m working on my attachment to the Heavenly Hash ice cream (How’s that for an oxymoron?). I only eat it once or twice a week now.  Soon all attachments will be gone for it and I just hope and pray I don’t switch it for chocolate peanut butter ice cream instead!  Oh well, I guess I’m still a work in progress.  How about you?

[1] Gunaratana, B.  (2012) The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Wisdom Publications: Boston

[2] picture of Kermit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/…

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