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Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

================

I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

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one-world-family-logo-jpgAfter watching the news this morning and seeing all the “un-peace” going on in the world I decided to add another chapter to my blog on peace.  As I looked around my office, I could see my two little doggies sound asleep in their beds with visions of supper soon to appear.  Suddenly Bubbles the barker heard the sound of the cat in the other room using the kitty liter and up she jumped barking and trying to run to where she heard the noise.  My peace and hers had been interrupted with the simple sound of a cat in the other room.  Has some simple thing, or words, or newscast interrupted your peace today? Mine has and I’m writing a series on peace! Yikes…

I began to wonder how some of my favorite authors have dealt with the subject and so I looked on my bookshelf and found this wonderful book by a Zen Buddhist teacher and writer, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, entitled The Vow-Powered Life A Simple Method for Living with Purpose.  I quickly found the word peace in the index on page 140.  Here is part of what she wrote:

I asked myself, how can I work for world peace when I see it to be unattainable? Then I realized that the power of anger, greed, ignorance, and their resulting violence is so strong it is like entropy.  If we do not work against it, if we do not work actively for peace, everything will inevitably run downhill, and then peace, even a piece of peace, will be impossible.

Thus, in full realization that it was impossible, I renewed my vow to work for peace.  I began at home. The only world I can bring to peace is my own inner world.  My motto became, “If I am a little more at peace, the entire world is more at peace.’”[1] (emphasis mine)

If we all take Dr. Bays’ advice and take up her motto and use it every day whenever and wherever we can imagine how much more peaceful our individual lives would be.  And just like a common cold that spreads with a sneeze around the house or the office we could spread peace with a simple affirmation in our homes, at work, in the grocery store, or at the gas pump!

Work to change your life and when someone tries to “un-peace” you don’t let them.  Keep your peace because it is always with you.  Sometimes it’s hidden behind a wall of fear, anger, or despair but it is there if we open our hearts and minds to it and let it back in.  Let’s recite our affirmation and hold to the truth that life with peace is worth living and without it–it’s an unnecessary struggle and burden.

 

[1] Bays, J. C. (2015) The Vow-Powered Life A Simple Method for Living with Purpose. Shambhala: Boston

Entropy: A doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration. (Dictionary.com)

 

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PlanetHood book cover Ferencz and KeyesI am one of the luckiest people on the earth.  My neighbor is Benjamin B. Ferencz the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg war crimes trials and I have a copy of a book that he co-authored with Ken Keys, Jr. the author of The Hundredth Monkey entitled PlanetHood The Key to Your Survival and Prosperity written in 1988.

They begin the 7th Step with these thoughts:

“We have seen that after the horrors of each world war, nations recognized—at least for a brief time—that change was necessary to create a peaceful world order. The truth is that our political leaders simply did not dare enough—or care enough.  We, the public, did not do enough. We all let each other down (page 127).”[1]

It has been 31 years and not a single thing has been done about wars on planet Earth.  Ben and Ken quote Robert Muller former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and author of A Planet of Hope with these words.

“We need first and foremost a world democracy, a government of this planet for the people and by the people.  But the problem is so colossal and unprecedented that few political thinkers even dare to consider it.  They feel more at ease discussing the number and strength of missiles needed to protect specific national corrals. Since government and institutions are so slow and reluctant to do it, we must build the world community through individual commitment and action (page 127).” (Emphasis is mine.)

Zen and Peace!  If only more people could be involved in the principles and practices of sitting meditation, chanting, and living a life of peace, love, and compassion our wars would soon end, our jails would be empty, and our earth would be safe from global warming and its eventual demise.

They write, “Remember if the people lead the leaders will follow. Better active today than radioactive tomorrow (page 128).[2] You would think that this book was written yesterday!  So, here is their suggestions today for us.

“We suggest that you pledge to yourself and the world to do a daily deed: a daily action that will make world peace one step closer when the law of force is replaced by the force of law. Such a Peace Patriot pledge need not be burdensome. Depending upon your time and money available, you can live out your pledge with integrity each day on either a maximum or a minimum basis—something in between.  For example, as a daily deed you could write a letter to a friend about U.N. reform. Or donate money to an organization working for planethood. (page 128).”

Now think of other ways you can help before our children and grandchildren don’t have a planet to live on.  Why do you thing Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are leading the commercial race to space?

Ron Epstein, lecturer for the Global Peace Studies Program in San Francisco State University wrote:

Buddhism teaches that whether we have global peace or global war is up to us at every moment.  The situation is not hopeless and out of our hands.  If we don’t do anything, who will? Peace or war is our decision.  The fundamental goal of Buddhism is peace, not only peace in this world but peace in all worlds. The Buddha taught that peaceful minds lead to peaceful speech and peaceful actions.” [3]

I hope you’ll join me and Ron and Ken and Ben before it’s too late…

 

[1] Ferencz, B. Keyes, K. (1988) PlanetHood The Key to Your Survival and Prosperity. Vision Books: Coos Bay, OR

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/BUDDHIST%20IDEAS%20FOR%20ATTAINING%20WORLD%20PEACE.htm

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  1. Sit early in the morning before you begin your day. It will set your mood and tone bhante-gunaratanaand can open your mind to great ideas and solutions for a situation that you are dealing with.
  2. Find a quiet place even if the only place is the bathroom with the door locked.
  3. Sit in a way where you are comfortable be it in a chair, or on the floor with a cushion in half or full lotus, on a meditation bench, sitting up in bed with your pillows behind your back, outside in your garden, on the veranda, on the back porch, or in the tub in a bubble bath. Regardless of where you sit make it a priority and sit on a regular basis in the same place, if at all possible.
  4. Set a specific amount of time, start slow and work your up to longer and longer times. I suggest 5 minutes at first and when 5 minutes feels like it flew by like a jet airplane, move to 10 and then 20 minutes. Simply focus your attention on your breath, in and out, when your mind wanders bring it back to your in breath and out breath.
  5. Some days are better then others when sitting. Thus, if you have a day that you can’t seem to quiet your mind don’t get mad and put yourself down.  Just know that everything takes time to learn, including meditation.  Remember growing up when you tried to learn how to ride a bike, or ice skate, or roller skate, or play baseball, or dance. You did not lace up those skates and fly around the ice like an Olympic skater! You started and stopped and fell down, and got up with help, and started again.  Before long you were skating with your friends with ease and grace or dancing with your favorite partner at the school dance.  Such is life and sitting in meditation.
  6. Finally, start by setting a goal such as I will do this for one month and if nothing happens and I don’t feel any difference in my life then I will stop. But to be sure that you really did or did not feel any changes you might want to keep a little notebook by your sitting place and jot down a note after your time sitting.  Write down both good and bad experiences.  During the day you might even notice something that you’ll want to add to your notebook such as “I really was calm at work today as I worked on a very difficult project.  In the past I would have gotten upset and angry at myself or taken my anger or frustration out on my co-workers or my family.”
  7. Finally, after all that I hope you’ll continue sitting and meditating and living a life of peace, love, and compassion for self and others. Try it I think you’ll like it and so will the people around you in your daily life!  They will love the new you!

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Father Leo Booth in his book Meditations for Compulsive People writes these words about love: “So many of us love our pets not because they speak of unconditional love, but becauAnnie and Bubbles at doorse they live it (page 135)!”[1]  And yet you’ll see so many times on the news about the police shutting down a puppy mill or rescuing animals left out in the yard during a blizzard.  I have a wonderful book, Dogs Don’t Bite When a Growl Will Do, in it I read a story about a German shepherd who ran in front of a taxi cab driver and refused to move.  He got the driver to follow him to a poodle lying nearly frozen in the snow.  Oddly enough the cab driver had just recently given up looking for the dog for one of his customers.

The author continues by writing: “Those feelings—concerns, empathy, and distress—led the dog to perform an act of kindness and compassion (page 271).”  Yes, the dog!  He goes on to write, “The world is full of opportunities for all of us to demonstrate our compassion.  I believe that when we learn to match the compassion shown by our canine companions—or for that matter, unknown German shepherds and anonymous drivers who encounter stray dogs on the road—then the world will be a far better place to live (page272).”[2]

You cannot separate the word peace from unconditional love.  Peace and love are like vanilla ice cream and apple pie, or peanut butter and jelly they are inseparable and delicious and necessary for a world to be a peaceful and safe place to live. Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving Kindness writes, “It isn’t a sin that we are in the dark room.  It’s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably (page 25).”[3]  Even if that someone is a most unusual team: a German shepherd and a cab driver.

You cannot have peace without love and you can’t have love without peace. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this is true.  You don’t have to be anything but a human being who cares about others and puts them first and NOT twenty first.  As Father Booth so aptly describes in these words about Winston:

“There was a time when I abused him.
Gave him a dog’s Life!
In my drinking days when I was lost in self-pity;
Lonely,
Afraid,
Miserable,
Confused,
Angry,
I was hurting. So, I hurt others.
 
I abused my family.
Disappointed the congregation.
Angered the bishop.
And kicked the dog.
Yes, I kicked my dog—
When I really wanted to kick the bishop?
I can still see those large eyes staring at me.
Winston. Please forgive me.
And I know he did.
Winston watches,
Waits,
Comforts,
And loves in perpetual silence.
A companion and friend.
My dog.
It may seem odd, but I see God in Winston.
Something in that selfless love is divine.
In his silence I am healed
In his play, I am revitalized.
In his expression, I am accepted.
My dog.
His example taught me how to let go of resentments;
Enjoy serenity,
Live humility.
My dog became my mentor (page 136-7).”[4]

And peace arrived…when Annie and Bubbles entered my home.

[1] L. Booth (1995) Meditations for Compulsive People. SPC Limited: Long Beach, CA
[2] M Weinstein, L Barber. (2003) Dog’s Don’t Bite When a Growl Will Do. Perigee: NY, NY
[3] P. Chodron. (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness. Shambhala: Boston & London
[4] L. Booth (1995) Meditations for Compulsive People. SPC Limited: Long Beach, CA

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adult asian bald buddhism

Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving-Kindness wrote, “The point is not to try to change ourselves.  Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better.  It’s about befriending who we are already (page 3).[1] Often times I find myself not being very kind to myself, questioning my abilities, my finances, my friends or lack thereof, and I could go on and on.  But of what value is that and what peace derives from it?

There is a situation going on in our neighborhood where many are trying to harm others because of their loneliness and personal pain for which they have no answer or insight. They are sad and mad and lonely and have lost all connection with peace, love, and compassion.  They feel if they put you down and make you feel as lonely and helpless as they do it will make them feel better, or more in control, or righteous.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work and thus they end up on the merry-go-round whirling through a lonely and desperate life with no way out.

I am a Zen Buddhist priest and thus I find solace in the teachings of the Buddha as Pema Chodron writes, “Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves (page 5).”[2]  When we practice this principle, we enter into an awareness of peace that is in us and has always been in us even when we thought otherwise.  Our world is enmeshed in fear and hate and pain but the solution is not out there in others.  The solution lies within me in my heart, my words, and my deeds.  Until I recognize and become aware of who I really am I too will be led by my fears and anxieties and not my joys, and passions, and love.

She goes on to write, “Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself there’s no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well (page 6).[3]

Peace in the world begins with me right here right now with who I am not with who I wish I was. I hope you’ll join me in this awareness of being who you really are…loving-kindness itself.

[1] P. Chodron (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness Shambhala Publications: Boston & London
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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buddha-quote-thinkingToday as I was looking on my bookshelf for another great book on peace I came across The Kwan Um School of Zen’s Chanting and Temple Rules workbook.  Near the back of the book on page 52 there is a section entitled “On Conduct.”  After reading it I realized that if I just followed these rules each and every day I would definitely end up with a peaceful life and positive relationships with everyone I meet and especially with my family and friends. Below is what they have written.

  1. On conduct
  • Always act with others. Do not put yourself above others by acting differently. Arrogance is not permitted in the temple.
  • Money and sex are like a spiteful snake. Put your concern with them far away.
  • In the dharma room always walk behind those seated in meditation. At talks and ceremonies, keep the proper posture and dress.  Do not talk or laugh loudly in the dharma room.
  • If you have business outside the temple which causes you to miss ceremonies or meals, notify one of the temple officials before you leave.
  • Respect those older than you. Love those younger than you.  Keep your mind large and open.
  • If you meet sick people love and help them.
  • Be hospitable to guests. Make them welcome and attend to their needs.
  • When respected people visit the temple, bow to them and speak considerately to them.
  • Be courteous. Always let others go before you.
  • Help other people.
  • Do not play games with other people.
  • Do not gossip.
  • Do not use other people’s shoes and coats.
  • Do not cling to the scriptures.
  • Do not oversleep.
  • Do not be frivolous.
  • Let older and more respected people be seated before you.
  • Do not discuss petty temple matters with guests.
  • When visiting outside the temple, speak well of the temple to others.
  • Drinking to produce heedlessness or acting out of lust will only make bad karma and destroy your practice. You must be strong and think correctly. Then these desires cannot tempt you.
  • Do not delude yourself into thinking you are a great and free person. This is not true Buddhism.
  • Attend only to yourself. Do not judge the actions of others.
  • Do not make the bad karma of killing, stealing, or lust.

And finally, they end it with these powerful words:

Originally there is nothing.

But Buddha practiced unmoving under the
Bodhi tree for six years,
And for nine years Bodhidharma sat
Silently in Sorim.

If you can break the wall of your self,
You will become infinite in time and space.

 

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