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Archive for the ‘vows’ Category

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

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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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  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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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 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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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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I had the great pleasure of being in Pueblo, Colorado, visiting my mother’s family for a celebration of my Uncle Virgil’s 102nd birthday.  Before I left home I looked to see if there was a sangha in Pueblo that I could attend while I was there, and of course there was, the beautiful Wet Mountain Sangha with Sensei Andrew Palmer.  What a delightful evening I had chatting with the members, sitting, and hearing a beautiful dharma talk by Andrew.

Life is so fabulous when you open yourself to any and all opportunities to find the good and the new.  At the end of the evening they closed the session with something that I had not chanted before in any of the Florida Soto Zen groups that I have sat with and spent many days in retreats with.  I was so moved by it that I wanted to share it with you. I hope you will like it and will add it into your practice.

The chant was actually sung like a song, unfortunately, I can’t share the tune with you, but I can share the words.  I hope you enjoy it and that you will try sitting with these words. When you do I hope you find yourself in this boundless place of Buddhism and beyond.  I hope it inspires you, enlivens you, and uplifts you.

Many thanks to my new friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha! You are a spark of light and love and I was blessed beyond words to be there with you.  I look forward to attending again so long as I am in Pueblo in person and if not–in spirit.

The Four Boundless Vowsingassho
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

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