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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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Kathleen Shokai Bishop, MS PhD
Southern Palm Zen Groupgassho
www.FloridaZen.com

Compilation of my ideas and Jan Chozen Bays ideas from her wonderful book Mindfulness on the Go Simple Meditation Practices You Can Do Anywhere.  Feel free to share this information with anyone you know that has a desire to learn how to calm their mind, release their anxiety, decrease their stress, and learn to meditate. Thanks!

Three Breath Exercise

The entire exercise takes one or two minutes only but the lasting effect is immeasurable. I hope you’ll try it. The directions are below.

  • Shake out your hands to release the tension in them.
  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that or in a place where it would not be safe to close your eyes keeping them open is okay. Simply focus your eyes on one small object, if possible.
  • Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
  • If you need to you can continue these slow breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath as long as you need to.

Simple Sitting Meditation Tips

  • Sit down on a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Sit in a way that feels relaxed but upright, allowing plenty of room in your chest and abdomen for breathing. (If you are unable to sit up, you can meditate lying down.)
  • Focus your attention on your breath. Don’t try to alter your breath—your body knows very well how to breathe—just turn your attention to the breath. Each time your mind wanders away from your awareness of the breath (which it is likely to do often), gently bring it back.
  • To help focus your mind you can count one on the in breath and two on the out breath. If your mind wanders just simply go back to counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
  • Meditation helps us experience the feeling of being relaxed and fully present, as if we had nothing special to do except count our in breath and out breath and to take simple pleasure in just sitting and breathing, and counting.
  • It is best to meditate every day for 20 minutes. Making this part of your personal health care, like taking a shower for your mind. However, when you are new at it or it is a very busy day you may have to cut the time from 20 minutes to 5 or 10 minutes. Each minute of meditation is returned twofold or more in clarity, equanimity, and efficiency during a busy day.
  • You’ll notice the difference in your thinking and creativity very quickly when you are consistent in your time spent meditating.

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For anything new to emerge there must first be a dream, an imaginative view of what might be. For something great to happen, there must be a great dream.  Then venturesome persons with faith in that dream will persevere to bring it to reality.

Some ideas whose time has come will spread as in a forest fire. But most need the help of a teacher.  I had the good fortune to have an extraordinary one.  He dreamed a great dream of how servanthood could be nurtured in the young, and he spent his best years in bringing it to pass (page 9-10).[1]

Where I work at Kaplan University they encourage not only the students to volunteer and make a difference in their communities but they encourage all faculty to do so as well through The Virtual Difference Makers. Here is a list of some of the things they did in 2016: ran a Spring Virtual Serve-A-Thon, hosted a Stress Management Series, a Virtual Celebration of Rio, sponsored their first annual Health and Wellness Fair, held a Fall Serve-A-Thon and more!.

I have been invited to Lynn University to participate in an interfaith dialog and will be back there again in April for another interfaith dialog.  The hall was jammed with students!  Standing room only!  They asked wonderful questions of the panel.

These were the words on the Flyer for the event: Healing the Divide: Interfaith Dialogue.

In a world where religion so often is the cause of hate and intolerance, we stand infaith-headtogether at Lynn to create a world where our religious differences are not simply tolerated but celebrated. This event is precisely that; where religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist traditions will come together in celebration of our diverse faith traditions.  Come and be amazed!

Imagine the great education the students are receiving at both Kaplan and Lynn and many other colleges around our country when their faculty and administration support such events.

If you are able to create similar events on your campuses I encourage you to do so.  Create a Virtual Difference Makers club for students and faculty, run interfaith dialogues, offer training for faculty on meditation and mindfulness.  Be the change you want to see in our world! Be the catalyst for peace, love, and kindness spreading around your campus and beyond!  The time has come to spread the message of servant leadership at all levels.  Change has always come from the bottom up not from the top down! Be the change you want to see in the world!

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

Shokai

 

[1] Greenleaf, R.K. (1987) Teacher as Servant: A Parable. The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership: Indianapolis, IN

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