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oliver-px.1-195-175Many of us may remember the wonderful play and movie “Oliver! the Musical” with warmth and laughter.  There is a song in it that is so powerful and yet sad if you really listen to the words. Watched by his fellow orphans, Mark Lester, as Oliver Twist, dares to ask for more, in the film “Oliver!” (Columbia Pictures). [1]

There’s not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…
When we all close our eyes and imagine food, glorious food!

There are 12.9 million children in the US who are food insecure.[1] There are 15.6 million US households suffering from food insecurity. Around the world 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life and thus are undernourished. Every second a person dies of hunger.  This year 36 million people around the world will die of hunger[2]  while billions of tons of food are rotting in our gardens, farms, and city dumps. In 2010 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted.[3]

In fact, the highest or next highest person in any zendo and monastery is the Tenzo who is in charge of the kitchen! The monks were initially mendicants who went out with only the clothes on their backs and a bowl which they used to beg/ask for food to keep them alive. Thus, the power of prayer before every meal!

In Zen we have many different meal Gathas/chants.  I particularly like the one we use in our Zendo and before I eat, wherever it may be, I recite this gatha to set the tone for a mindful and thankful meal.  How many times a day do you eat so quickly and mindlessly that you haven’t really tasted the food, felt its texture in your mouth, the smell of it, or hot or coldness of it.  In fact, so much so that some time later you do not remember if you ate and if you did what it was. Yikes! Imagine what one of those 36 million people would have done with that meal? If nothing else remembered it as their last. How sad is that?!

Southern Palm Zen Group’s food blessing or chant goes like this:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I (we) may eat.
May I (we) be nourished so that I (we) may nourish life.

And finally, as a Unity minister we often had meals together and we always said a prayer, of course, before the meal.  At the children’s table our prayer was “Rub-a-dub-dub thank you God for the grub!” Sometimes the parents got a little bent out of shape and upset with me when I taught them this prayer.  However, I knew that it was something easy for them to learn and memorize and to say whenever they ate at school, church, or at home. It helped set up the age-old practice of giving thanks for the good/food that was in their lives.

The song goes on…

What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more that’s all we live for.  Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious food.

 What can you do today to make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to food insufficiency? Now go and do it…

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/oliver-re.html?scp=2&sq=night%2520train&st=Search
[2] https://whyhunger.org/just-the-facts/
[3] http://www.theworldcounts.com/…/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die_from_hu…
[4] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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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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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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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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A Flower Does not TalkThe preface of this book is incredible as it reads like he wrote it just yesterday. Although this book was published in 1970 it holds so many wonderful truths about Zen and life I know you will be blessed by your time spent with it.

If we look at the current world in which we live we can see the ever-growing importance of living a life set forth by Buddhist principles that are laid out in this book and the many others that I have shared with you over the years.

He writes in his preface:

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality. We must attain a higher level of personality so that we can cope with the brilliant scientific achievements of modern times.

Zen presents a unique spiritual culture in the East, highly refined in its long history and traditions, and I believe it has universal and fundamental values that can contribute toward creating a new spiritual culture in our time.  The important point about Zen is, however, that we should understand it, experience it, and live it in the varying circumstances of our everyday life.  Small and insignificant as my existence and work as a Zen Roshi may be, I believe that they contribute to the infinite (page 5-6).[1]

Although I too am small and insignificant I also believe that sharing his writings and my musings about them will contribute to the infinite in a positive, uplifting, and helpful way.

Thus, I begin with the poem for which the book was named in the hopes that you will be uplifted in some way by his words.

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
   the whole of the flower, the whole of
   the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flowers, the truth
   of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here.

And fully shining in you…In gassho, Shokai

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

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Whip, rope, person, and bull—   all merge in NO Thing. Oxherding_pictures,_No._8

This heaven is so vast,   no message can stain it.

How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of  the ancestors
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

The eighth picture tells us that when the duality of self and reality has been overcome not only is reality (the ox) forgotten, but so is the self (the oxherd); the circle symbolizes the all-encompassing emptiness that constitutes the ground of all things. Now in the awareness of unceasing transformation and total interconnectedness in every experience one is freed from all craving and hatred for the other.  In this freedom there is a sense of the wholeness and perfection of ordinary things (page 6).[1]

Roshi Kennedy writes about this idea by saying, “An anonymous Zen poet sums up patriarch’s teachings saying that it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self. Actually it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self because it is impossible. There is no path to the Buddha, to the truth of our lives but through the dust of every day existence (page 95).[2]

Thus, the poem says, “all merge in NO Thing.”  NO Thing is probably something that is impossible to understand and even frightening to think about.  And yet we search, we go from “god to no god,” “religion to no religion,” “theory to no theory” and still we find NO answer to the emptiness. Unless of course we enter it as Koeller describes through interconnectedness in every experience, thought, feeling, movement, and desire. He says, do not “try” to do anything, just be one with the moment, the things, the experience till there is no separation between you and it.”

Many years ago, I had a friend that could do it.  Sometimes he scared me especially when he was driving and all of sudden he was “one with the car” sometimes he was outside of the car watching himself driving.  And he was not high or drunk. His focus on a long drive on a lonely highway was so powerful he became one with the elements of the universe.

I don’t suggest you try it, but for me it was a graphic example of the “all-encompassing” interconnectedness of all things.  I’ve described my personal experience with it in other blogs when I was participating in a Cherokee Indian fire walk with Rev. Edwine Gaines. There was no separation between me and the blade of grass, the stars in the sky, and the trees in the forest. Just an interconnectedness with all things or in actuality NO thing…

That is why you see the picture as an empty circle.  Everything is interconnected so much so there is no way to see  it, touch it, or feel it. Everything is “all encompassing-emptiness.” “True freedom, or true creativity, shines out only when we break through this barrier (page 257).”[3]

Remember that the next time you hit your shin on the coffee table or stub your toe when stepping up onto the sidewalk in your bare feet!

Let me know how that goes!

In Gassho, Shokai

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

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

[3] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co

 

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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books.

The Rigveda is an ancient Indian text one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism written between the 5th and 2nd century BCE, the first four books of the Bible Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were written between the 6th and 2nd century BCE, the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century BCE, the Buddhist Sutras between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, the New Testament in the 1st century CE, the Qur’an is the newest written around 632 CE.  Wow!  If you can remember all of that you’re better than I am!

 What’s my point?  The people who wrote these books were wonderful people who wanted to memorialize their beliefs and experiences for those who would come after them.  They were trying to explain, nature, birth, death, life, good and evil and more.  Science was not at the level it is today, they only had their eyes, ears, nose, and sometimes mouth to discover and memorialize their lives and how they dealt with what happened to them and in them in their waking and sleeping hours.

This is neither good nor bad—it just is.  Thus if saying a bed time Buddha at Bedtimeprayer will help keep you alive through the night—great what can you lose! If not eating meat is how you desire to live your life wonderful, go for it.  If eating meat but not pork or crustaceans (lobster, crabs, shrimp, etc.) is your choice that’s great too.  In ancient times you might have been better off not eating pork because it caused an infection we know as trichinosis, but so did lots of other foods.  Just a few more reasons “not to believe” everything found in your ancient texts.

My mom believed it about the pork and thus when we had pork chops for dinner they were so well done they tasted and acted like shoe leather!  That was one of the nights I always found a reason to eat at my best friend’s house for dinner.  Another time I bought some “free range chicken” and served it to her for supper.  I was bragging about how great they were and that all the chickens should be freed.  Once again mom told me a “farm story.”  “I fed plenty of chickens on the farm growing up and let me tell you they ate anything and everything in sight, at least this way their waste ends up far enough away that they can’t get at it.” You’ve got to love my mom!

So in this day and age with our education, science, technology, the internet, and more you have the opportunity to be your own researcher and discover about life for yourself.  If following your religious and family traditions is important in your life…go for it.  Just remember that not everything written in them is true…then move full speed ahead and live the life that works for you and spreads peace, love, and compassion wherever you go!

In gassho,

Shokai

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