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 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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In Chapter 2 Abbot Zenkei Shibayama writes about the characteristics of one aspect of Zen called satori and how it shows up in other religions.  It is such a joy to read about the inclusivity of the teachings and practices of Zen Buddhism regardless of whether you consider yourself a Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Christian, or of no faith at all.

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen defines the word satori as a Zen term for the experience of awakening (enlightenment or kensho).

Shibayama goes on to write: When Zen is seen in such a broad sense, Zen means the Truth, or the Absolute; it is not limited to Buddhism alone, but is the basis of all religions and all philosophies. In this sense, Zen does not remain simply the core of Buddhism, but it works to deepen and revive any religion or philosophy.  For instance, there can be Christian Zen, or Taoistic Zen; there can be Zen interpretations of Christianity or of Taoism (page 16).

And if you take a look at all the worlds major religions today they all include some form of meditation and sitting in the quiet for contemplation. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. is a practicing psychotherapist, a Zen teacher, and a Roman Catholic priest who has written two wonderful books joining the Christian and Zen principles Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit and Zen Gifts to Christians. They are perfect examples of what Shibayama wrote in the 1970’s!

Shibayama also talks about its flexibility.

Due to its transcendental and fundamental nature, Zen is not restricted by any fixed ideas or customs, but expresses itself freely, making creative use of words and ideas. In this way their own culture may be deepened and given new significance and life, based on Truth fundamental for all mankind (page 17).

 

He concludes this section by saying:

Up to this point in this essay I have sought to explain the position of Zen in Buddhism and to indicate the role it can play in religion, philosophy, and culture. They maintain that Zen as the Truth itself, in the broadest sense, should be understood and used by all mankind because it can help build and refine the character of the individual and can deepen thought (page 19).

I too believe this is true.  As we sit and meditate on a daily basis we discover things about ourselves that we might not have without the knowledge of the Buddha’s satori (awakening).  Through my meditation practice I have begun to live a life of peace, love, and compassion, with flashes of creativity and spontaneity that have made my life so much easier, fulfilling, creative, and fun.  Annie Nov. 27.15 (2)I am becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be, the person my dog Annie always knew I was.  Thanks Annie…

 

 

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

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The next section in the book is entitled “Step Back and Turn to Reality.”  One of Yuanwu’s most successful students Gao (Dahui Zonggao) became a great associate and friend because he was “not content to follow small understanding.” When he decided to leave and go out on his own he asked Yuanwu for some advice.  Here is what he said,

You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding, and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeathed by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. Don’t covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality, until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized (page 26).[1]

Remember your greatest successes became reality because of your perseverance!  Not because you went out seeking fame and/or money.  Because you reached out for practical understanding of your talent, for knowledge through the courses you were studying, or with a mentor or coach you discovered those things deep within yourself!

On YouTube AsapScience has a short video on productivity that I share with my students every term. They talk about “deliberate practice” and ask you to focus on the hardest tasks first. Then they have you divide the time up on the “work” and then on a “break.” They don’t rely on “will power” but on good habits of study—90 minutes of study and then a 15 to 20-minute break.[2]  Remember to give yourself a deadline! All of this requires perseverance and consistency!

Great, if I do all of this how will I know that I have had real attainment?

Yuanwu says,

Wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge where it has been smelted and refined ten thousand times. So that it will not change in ten thousand generations, so that it is ten thousand years in a single moment (page 26).[3]

You will hear the “bell” and see the “bell” when you’ve taken the time every day to practice your craft, to hold on to your passion, and consistently raise the bar for yourself.  Whether it is setting aside a certain time each day for meditating, or being involved in a Buddhist or mindfulness group that meets on a regular basis to learn and grow your practice—consistency is imperative.  All great athletes, musicians, artists, singers, teachers, inventors, and scientists attained success through persistence and consistency.

Then one day, without trying, they heard the valley returning the sound of the bell. There practical understanding and virtue was fully actualized.

Good luck with that! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

[1] Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g

[3]Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

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pic Zen letters Teaching of Yuanwu book

In Zen we go with the flow. Yuanwu writes, “You do not establish any views or keep to any mental states; you move with a mighty flow, so that ‘when the wind moves, the grasses bend down (page 20-21).’”[1]  But for most of us in this culture we resist the flow, we over think the flow, we question the flow, and sometimes we even fear the flow. Then sometime down the road we get that great AH HA!  Maybe I should have listened to myself last week?  Maybe I should have trusted my intuition?  Why am I always second guessing myself?

 

Yuanwu goes on to say, “When you enter into enlightenment right where you are, you penetrate to the profoundest source.  You cultivate this realization till you attain freedom of mind, harboring nothing in your heart. Here there is no “understanding” to be found, much less “not understanding (page 21).”[2]

This he says allows you to “go on like this twenty-four hours a day, unfettered, free from all bonds…This is the realm of no mind, no contrived activity, and no concerns.”  It is up to us to look for our “true nature” the one that we all “inherently possess.”  Our true nature when touched helps us to allow ourselves to release ourselves from our “orbit of delusion” and not feel “stained or defiled” from its “erroneous knowledge and consciousness and false thoughts and judgments (page 21).”[3]

As a college professor, I often run into students that have “erroneous” thoughts about themselves, their intelligence, their creativity and even their own worthiness.  If I could just share with them the directions from Yuanwu when he said, “Once you merge your tracks into the stream of Zen, you spend your days silencing your mind and studying with your whole being.  You realize that this Great Cause is not obtained from anyone else but is just a matter of taking up the task boldly and strongly, and making constant progress. Day by day you shed your delusion, and day by day you enhance your clarity of mind (page 22).”[4]

And so…let’s experiment “silencing our minds” each day this week as often as possible to quiet that “monkey mind” as we say in Buddhism.  Begin by being “unfettered” for 24 seconds then 24 minutes and someday maybe even 24 hours! When you do let me know what happened!

In gassho

Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Yuanwu praises the Zen master Linji for “employing expedient means” or skillful means with each of his students. (page 9).[1]  There are no standard movements, words, or tests to give every student.  Why? Because each is unique and individual in their knowledge, desires, and talents.  It is your job as a student to find a teacher that will work with you as an individual, to find the right and perfect practices to help you on your way to enlightenment or truth or peace.

As a teacher or a student, we want to use a variety of expedient means to help ease the suffering of self and others. It is important that these things be guided by wisdom and compassion. Yuanwu goes on to describe Linji’s school by saying:

It is absolutely transcendent and does not value any particular strategy.  The correctness of one’s eye for the Truth is the only thing it considers important.  …you must be completely liberated from head to foot, with a liberation that penetrates the bone and penetrates the marrow and is not entangled with anything whatsoever (page 11).[2]

Yuanwu goes on to speak of the teacher Yantou who said, “An enlightened teacher is like a gourd on the water, floating free and at ease, who cannot be reined in or tied down (page 14)” Be a teacher or a student who floats on the current of truth and wisdom that comes through you not “from” you.  Find a teacher who speaks the words that are meaningful to you for your particular situation at that moment without hesitation or pause.  Someone who looks in your eyes with love and compassion and with an open heart.  Someone who provides a safe space where you can grow and flourish, and blossom.  A place where secrets are kept and tears and laughter are shared and no words are spared or need to be spoken.

For me this describes my teacher, Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom, who writes in his book, Essays in Zen Daoism, these words:

One simple way of putting what I’ve been saying is that the use of skillful means is applied, not pure Zen. As long as this is made clear, I have no problem with skillful means or applied Zen. And it is clear that compassion requires that we not one-sidedly insist on no meaning as liberation when human beings—lay people, that is, not monks—so desperately crave meaning and purpose in their lives (pages 63-64).[3]

Let’s keep it simple! Please get a GREAT teacher and use the GREAT teacher you have within yourself—and when you do you’ll experience real teaching and real learning and your life will be changed for the better!

Let me know how it goes…

Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nordstrom, M.R. (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism.  Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

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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 Thich Nhat Hanhmerely on the authority of your elders and teachers.”

Wow!  Now that is coming from a great elder, teacher, and thinker—the Buddha!  As a teacher, trainer, and college professor for most of my adult life I am in complete oneness with this axiom.  Just because the teacher says so does not MAKE it so.  Everyone is born into a family, culture, country, and religion that has the desire to propagate themselves and their culture and beliefs.  Every culture has leaders and teachers who help share those ideas to ensure that they live on.

Whether you are an indigenous group such as the Aborigines in Australia, the Iroquois in North America, or the Mashco-Piro tribe in Peru they have believes that have been handed down by generations of elders and teachers.  Each is unique in its teachings and beliefs as we all are.  So if we move from one culture or religion to another we take on those beliefs and live by them.

As we discover new things through science and research we may look at our teachers and elders and what they taught us and say that some of their ideas might be called “superstitions” today. Thus the Buddha says we need to be curious and if need be do our own research and studies and discover what is “true” and “right” for us in our lives or in a particular situation.

I had a friend many years ago who went into the Catholic priest to ask some questions that were concerning her about her faith and she was told to just belief whatever they told her and when she refused to do so they excommunicated her.  The Buddha was way before his time in this axiom.  He understood that knowledge is fleeting and changing and that thinking too much can get us into trouble.

And thus he said, “Do not go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by rumors, by scriptures, by surmise, conjecture and axioms, by inference and analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by specious reasoning or bias toward a notion because it has been pondered over, by another’s seeming ability, or by the thought, ‘This monk is our teacher.”  But when you yourself knows: ‘Such and such things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by the wise, and if adopted and carried out lead to harm and ill and sufferings,’ you need to abandon them.”

This is the difficult way!  It is so much easier to let others do the research, the writing, and the teaching and follow them like lemmings then it is to think for yourself, read, research, and then practice the teachings and discover the power for yourself.   Yet, I recommend it highly. I hope you’ll try it out and let me know how it worked!

In gassho, Shokai

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