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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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Once again I opened up this wonderful book “Teachings of Zen” getting ready to write the next section of my newest blog.  It is the first week of our new year 2019 and I was thinking about what I accomplished in 2018 and what I might accomplish in 2019 and then I read these words:

book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas Cleary“You do not plunge into sentiments of the ordinary, nor do you fall into the understanding of the sage. Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere.

At this time you should know there is a final statement; only then are you a mature person. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all. Hai-yin (page 142).”[1]

The first paragraph resonated with me as I thought about the juxtaposition of these two ideas. The ideas that we hold in Zen Buddhism are just exactly as Hai-yin describes: empty and yet spiritual, serene and at the same time sublime.  It is exactly like all of our lives the opposites that seem to attract each other, the time on the cushion when we attempt to “empty” the mind and yet think of our spiritual character and that being the reason we are trying to “empty” the mind.  Yikes!  The juxtaposition of the conundrum of the teachings of Buddhism.

And yet Hai-yin ends these thoughts saying: Empty and spiritual, serene and sublime, you do not tarry anywhere but attain fulfillment everywhere…. Completing the task of the mature person is called transcending the world in the midst of the world, highest of all (page 142).”[2]

Your challenge of this year will be transcending the world while being in the midst of it.  Let’s not be bogged down in this process and adding to our troubles and woes.  Let us just be aware of the juxtaposition of life and stroll through it with ease, peace, and compassion for self.  Let’s look down on our selves as if we were out of our bodies simply watching and listening without judgment.  Let’s transcend our fears, likes, and dislikes and remember it’s “just this” and nothing more and nothing less.

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

[2] Ibid.

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ying and yangIn Part 8 we talked about True Speech and once we’ve mastered that we can move on to what Pei-chien (1185-1246) calls “Action and Stillness.”  Cleary quotes him as saying “Let your actions be like clouds going by; the clouds going by are mindless.  Let your stillness be as the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying.  When action accompanies stillness and stillness combines with action, then the duality of action and stillness no longer arises (page 116).”

I just love the visual of the clouds floating by with ease and grace not caring in which direction they go as things out of their “control” move them through the sky or cause them to disappear without worry or frustration.  They simply have no clinging and once in a while they may shed a “tear” or block the sun but before we know it things will change.  Another cloud may have taken its place, or the cloud will have moved so we can see the sun shining once again. Such is life as we realize, “and this too shall pass” like the movement of the clouds and the sun in our lives.

Thus to focus our attention on the stillness, as Pei-chien says, when the action and the stillness combine, they negate each other and neither arises and both arise simultaneously as one.  We can not have success without an action.  We may have finished our college classes and graduated and got hired by a great company.

We may have married the one we love and created a wonderful life partnership.  To be successful there will be times of actions together and actions alone. There will be stillness when all you do is sit quietly in each other’s arms or in each other’s memories if you are far apart. The duality no longer arises, and we are one.

Regardless of how long the new job lasts or the relationship lasts the stillness and the actions will continue in your life. It is how we see them that determines our life course. It is how we deal with them that makes us who we are. It is where we put our focus on the actions or the stillness or both that can make all the difference.

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

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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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Yin-an (d.1163) is to have said, “This mind cannot be transmitted but can only be experienced in oneself and understood in oneself. When you get to the point where there is neither delusion nor enlightenment, you simply dress and eat as normal, without a bunch of arcane interpretations and lines of doctrine jamming your chest, so you’re clear and uncluttered (page 89)”[1] No picking and choosing as we often say in Zen.

Sometimes I think that people misunderstand Buddhism and think that it is the way and the answer to all of their troubles and woes.  They believe that if they can just meditate enough, chant enough, pray enough, eat the right foods enough their life will be transformed by some “Magic of Zen.”  Then when it doesn’t happen, they stop sitting, meditating, practicing, and begin to disparage the teachings as if “they” were the problem.

When they got to the point where they felt their practice did not bring them perfect health, wealth, happiness, and peace of mind they threw away their cushion and their Buddhist books and went their merry way looking for the next quick fix.  But Buddhism is not a quick fix it is a way of life.  It gives us the tools to deal with all of our challenges and joys. It offers us some time in stillness and quiet. Both of which are lacking in our society for sure. So no matter how we feel before we sit down or how we feel after we get up, we are changed by simply taking the time to go within and quiet our minds if only for a nanosecond!

Mark twain picThis mind is a dangerous thing!  Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up!” I wonder what would happen in our lives if we let our hearts be in charge instead of the silly old mind?! That can happen with the Magic of Zen…one breath at a time.

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

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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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Cleary quotes Pai-chang in his book who admonishes us:

buddha-quote-thinkingDon’t seek a buddha, don’t seek a teaching, don’t seek a community. Don’t seek virtue, knowledge, intellectual understanding, and so on.  When feelings of defilement and purity are ended, still don’t hold to this non-seeking and consider it right.  Don’t dwell at the point of ending, and don’t long for heavens or fear hells.  When you are unhindered by bondage or freedom, then this is called liberation of mind and body in all places. (page 17). [1]

So it seems the ancient teachers of Zen were offering us a new way of looking at our lives and asking us to trust them that this method of thinking will liberate us from our worries, anxieties, and doubts about our lives.  We have become bound by our ancestries, our schooling, and religious teachings, our political persuasions, and our 24-hour news channels.  If you are CNN or MSNBC watchers, you’d never turn on Fox News or the PBS News Hour.  Afraid that you’d be swept away by their words and ideas and they might clash with your other teachings, thoughts and beliefs.

If we decide to be free thinkers or no thinkers or to free ourselves from our picking and choosing, we can become liberated in body and mind.  To not allow other’s words or actions make us happy or sad is a giant leap into peace.  Unhinder yourself from both bondage and freedom as Pai-chang says and peace will appear.

When we stop picking and choosing, we are “unhindered by bondage OR freedom.” Just this!  So many lessons in Buddhism end in the joy of knowing that life is simply “just this” whatever it is in this moment is simply what I am experiencing.

I like to simply shrug my shoulders, shake it off, and go get myself a bowl of Rocky Road ice cream and enjoy “just this.” While I’m doing this, I am liberating my body and mind!  Care to join me?  Rocky Road is definitely the Magic of Zen!

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

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