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timelessness

“Each moment carries all of time (page 13),”[1] writes Kaz Tanahashi in the section of Moon in a Dew Drop entitled “Timelessness of a Moment.”

Wow!  Now that’s a powerful thought for sure.

Yet throughout the  day we depend on time to be the arbiters of our life. We consider each minute, hour, day, week, and month and think and plan as to how it will go.  We have our daily, weekly, and monthly planners on line for instant access.  The new Google calendar now lets you have today’s view on the right side of your google email also! Some of us even have a paper one as well.  Okay, I confess that is me!

We are always looking toward something in the future: the next promotion at work, the birth of a child, the next vacation or holiday, our next meal, or the results of that final exam.  When we are doing this we have missed this very NOW moment.

Why is it when we are having fun time flies and when we are bored it drags on forever?  Remember that endless date or college class where the teacher just droned on and on.  I had a teacher once in college who read her lectures from a yellow legal pad and interjected 125 “ums” in there as well. How do I know?  I got so bored one day I simply made a hash tag in my notebook every time she said one and then I counted them up at the end of the class!

That teacher was my first real life experience of Taz’s quote…there was an eternity in every second of her lecture! He goes on to write, “But to one who is awakened, spring is just spring; it is not expected to turn into anything else (page 14).” [2]

Dogen illustrates it beautifully with one of his poems (page 14).[3]

 As usual
Cherry blossoms bloom
In my native place,
Their color unchanged—
Spring

So let us not fret over time or lack thereof.  Let’s bask in the joy of the timelessness of this moment, right here, right now—for now is all that really exists. I bet I just caught you looking at your watch or calendar!?

[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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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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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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buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

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

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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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