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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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Kermit_the_Frog Cleary titles a section in the book “The Great Task.”  “We are swept away by memorizing sayings and living inside conceptual consciousness. Has it not been said, ‘Concepts act as robbers, consciousness becomes waves’?   If you have not mastered the great task, nothing compares to stopping, in the sense of quiet cessation, the purifying and quieting of the body and mind.  At all times avoid dwelling obsessively on things, and it will be easy to unveil this (page 42).” [1]

Boy is this a “great task.”  There is not a moment in the day that goes by that we are not swept away by some belief we hold, some information that we’ve read, some concept that we were taught in our schools, churches, synagogues, or mosques!  When we do we often end up stressed out, tired, confused, and fearful.  Not everything that we read or learned is “true.”  Some states have taken events in history out of their history books because they did not like something that happened.  Yes, as hard as that might be to fathom it is true!

So this is just another reason to practice the principles of Buddhism and not obsess over things.  It is so important when we are meditating/sitting that we clear our minds of everything.  Yes, that includes the wonderful sutras and teaching of Buddhism.  That we simply clear our minds of things and focus on the breath.  We need to give our “minds” a rest!  We exhaust ourselves day in and day out with those thoughts.  Thinking propels us toward good and bad things but either are not bringing us peace, quiet, and rest.  The Empty Mind will be our only salvation as the Christians might say!

We need to give our body and mind a rest on a regular basis each and every day.  We need to tamper down the obsessive thinking and actions.  When we do we’ll see that this peace heals our body and mind without medicine.  Brings joy into our lives.  Finds the good in others. Helps us ignore the silly things the people around us do and say. Drops our blood pressure, removes our nervous stomach, and allows us to sleep like a “baby” as my mom used to say!

Avoid obsessing about things starting today and watch what happens in your life!  Try it—I  think you’ll like it!  The Magic will reappear in your everyday life!

[1]

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

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book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas ClearyIn the introduction chapter of the book Cleary talks about the influence that conventional religions had on Buddhism.  “On a deeper level, Zen masters sought to restore and express the living meaning of religion and philosophy; the Zen teaching was to ‘study the living word, not the dead word.’ Not only did Zen reawaken Buddhism in this way, but it also revitalized Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Shamanism bringing out their higher spiritual dimensions (page xiv).”[1]

And thus our charge today is to use these revitalized teachings in our lives so that we can live a more centered life through the philosophy of Buddhism in all its forms.   He goes on to write, “People are born with nothing but the unconceived buddha mind, but because of self-importance they want to get their own way, arguing and losing their temper yet claiming it is the stubbornness of others that makes them mad.  Getting fixated on what others say, they turn the all-important buddha mind into a monster, mulling over useless things, repeating the same thoughts over and over again (page xv).”[2]

What a sad state of affairs we have created for ourselves.  Just remember what it was like when you brought that new born baby home from the hospital.  They had no likes, dislikes, or preferences except to have their diapers changed and to be fed.  What ever you fed them they ate even if it was some nasty tasting concoction like Enfamil or Similac! Yikes!    And thus they lived in the “unconceived buddha mind” not filled with delusions.

As adults we have been deluding ourselves over and over every day, week, and year.  Where have your delusions taken you today?  Where will they take you tomorrow?  Want to turn your life around? Cleary suggests: “The most important thing is not to be self-centered; then you cannot fail to remain in the buddha mind spontaneously (page xvii)?”[3]

When was the last time you did something that was not self-centered? When was the last time you did something spontaneously—jumped in a puddle of water, or ate a fried pickle at the country fair, or ran outside without an umbrella to enjoy the summer rain?  How about stopping in the middle of a heated discussion to take three breaths and dive into your “unconceived buddha mind.”  When was the last time you did that? Remember that is where all the answers exist when you stop looking for them they will appear!

I know that everyone has been searching for a name or a number or a thing and no matter how hard you tried it would not come!  But sometime later in the middle of washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or eating lunch the answer popped up in your mind.  Yes, Fred that was my sister’s third husbands name!

Cleary goes on to say, “The following pages contain essential Zen teachings on realizing this original buddha mind in all of us (page xviii)”[4] I hope you take this adventure with Professor Cleary and me and discover your “original buddha mind.” Let’s bring out your “higher spiritual dimensions!” You’ll be glad you did! And so will all the people around you! And that’s the MAGIC of ZEN…

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

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img_zazen_postureThis last chapter will totally debunk the 9 chapters before it!  What a fabulous way to end my story…

Even though there are millions of pieces of writings about Buddhism it is more important for your life to keep it simple!  Since there are the schools of Theravada (Hinayana), Mahayana and Vajrayana. There are Zen/Chan Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, and how about Tantrism.

But Dogen simply relies on one thing and one thing only as he says, “From the first time you meet a master, without engaging in incense offering, bowing, chanting Buddha’s name, repentance, or reading scriptures, you should just wholeheartedly sit, and thus drop away body and mind (page 145).”[1]

Yes, we love to start our sitting with services by chanting or reading or singing a sutra to set the stage for sitting (zazen). However, it is not necessary to do so to be a Buddhist, or to reach enlightenment, or to find peace in your life. It does not matter if you were raised as a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, an atheist, or in an indigenous group such as Aboriginal or Manitoba with The Seven Grandfather’s Teachings.  You will benefit by simply sitting.

 

Sitting each day will help you meld with your traditions through the silence, to be one with the peace “that passes all understanding.”  Regardless of whether you sit for 5 minutes or 50 minutes make time to sit!  As Dogen says, “In this sense, the words ‘Mind itself is buddha’ are like the moon reflected on water; the teaching ‘Sitting itself is becoming buddha’ is like the reflection in the mirror (page 149).”[2]

Whose reflection do you see in the mirror each day?  The reflection of your buddha nature of peace, love, and compassion or the reflection of the bandit’s MO—lack, limitation, fear, and anger?  The bandit wants to steal your health, peace, compassion, and joy.  Will you let that happen?

Who shows up today is in your hands alone—the buddha or the bandit!

It is always up to you.

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

[2] Ibid.

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Now that’s a silly name for this chapter when I’ve just spent the last 5 chapters talking about “how to practice Zen!”  Kaz  Tanahashi has a great chapter entitled “Guidelines for Studying the Way.” In it there is a DO NOT DO LIST for students:

imagesStudents! Do not practice buddha-dharma [teachings] for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain blissful reward. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects.  Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma.  This is the way (page 13). [1]

I am sure you are asking yourself then why am I practicing?  I like to think it is to follow the dharma [teachings] so beautifully shared in the four vows of Buddhism.  I really love the translation that my friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha in Pueblo, Colorado use:

The Four Boundless Vows

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. [2]

Practice is neither easy nor hard it depends on how you are feeling and what you are thinking in each moment. That’s why they call it practice.  They don’t call it “done” or “finished” or “fulfilled.” As a Buddhist everything we do, every thought we think, every word we speak is “practice.”  So what are you practicing: fear, anger, and animosity or peace, love, and compassion? How about some simplicity of thoughts and words and deeds?

Our practice isn’t just sitting on a cushion with our eyes lowered in the cross-legged position or on a chair, or at the top of a mountain or by a beautiful lake or stream.  It is when we are in the midst of the chaos and noise, traffic and confusion of the “real world” that our practice comes alive through our focus, our breath, and keeping our dharma-eye on the Buddha way. Begin by realizing that we are all one: the moon, the stars, the earth and the people around us are one. When we do this it is so much easier to live the life of the Buddha through peace, love, and compassion for all beings and for our planet.  There are too many preaching it and not enough living it!  Which one are you?

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

[2] http://wetmountainsangha.org/

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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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