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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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Dogen How to Cook Your LifeIn Buddhism one of the major positions in the monastery is the person called the Tenzo.  The Tenzo is in charge of the food. Dogen in his book, How to Cook Your life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment, gave specific directions for those who would become the Tenzo.

He wrote this about the Tenzo: Use your way-seeking mind carefully to vary the menus from time to time and offer the great assembly ease and comfort (page 53).”[1] He goes on to say that the Tenzo is not the same as an ordinary cook or waiter.” Thus they are asked to “respect the food as though it were for the emperor (page 54).”[2]

When you are cooking for yourself or your family do you really focus on the task of cooking, on the food itself, how it is prepared, how it is handled?  Or do you simply throw something together as fast as you can, so it can be eaten quickly? Then you rush to clean up the dishes and pots and pans, so you can get to those “more important” things on your To-do List?

Dogen encourages us this way, “When you wash rice and prepare vegetables, you must do it with your own hands, and with your own eyes, making sincere effort. Do not be careful about one thing and careless about another (page 54).”[3]

To me this is such a beautiful way to see everything in life, not just the big things like the birth of a child, or graduation from college, or a great promotion at work.  It is the little everyday things that grow into a life filled with good memories.  My ideal life is filled with good friends, a happy family, a fulfilling job, two adorable little doggies, and a life lived with few regrets.  How about you?

Are you living one moment at a time mindful of your thoughts, actions, and deeds. Really being there, really being present in mind, body, and spirit.  Or is your mind wandering into the past or the future with thoughts of fear, anger, and pain?

Either way when your focus is off the task at hand your rice will be over cooked or underdone or tasteless because your focus and passion and love have gone elsewhere.  Or your anger and fear will have gone into the food.  Yes, it does go into the food and it gets burned through neglect or tossed with anger.  Which food would you prefer to eat? The one prepared with love and focused attention or the one prepared with anger and animus?  The choice, of course, is up to you…

[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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buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

[1]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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adult ancient art asia

In our last section we’ll look at Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano’s thoughts on how we can grow into the person that we desire to be—someone who can live the beautiful principles of Buddhism on a minute by minute basis.  He gives us a template to follow with the 5 Hindrances.  He writes:

These categories and formulations are worth studying in the texts, as they not only describe from various standpoints the journey to liberation but impress on the student’s mind the dynamic and cumulative nature of the Dhamma [Dharma] so that there can be no mistaking both the existence of higher and higher levels of attainment and the advantages of reaching them.  A sound theoretical knowledge will also help steer one away from dead ends in meditation and unjustified self-criticism or self-congratulation (page 137).[1]

Thus the 5 Hindrances:

  1. Desire, clinging, craving
  2. Aversion, anger, hatred
  3. Sleepiness, laziness
  4. Restlessness
  5. Doubt

Investigating a Hindrance: The RAIN Formula

R: Recognize it
A: Accept it
I: Investigate it, what’s it like?
N: Non-identification

(This is just a passing problem that comes and goes, not who we are.) [2]

I still encounter these 5 Hindrances on a regular basis.  Some days I encounter a whole bunch of them and other times I’m only challenged by one or two. Today may be my lucky day and I might not encounter any. WoooHooo!

Because I practice the teachings of Buddhism on a daily basis I am able to recognize these 5 Hindrances more quickly. This allows me to do something right away to fix the problem that I have created.  Plus, I am less apt to demean myself or others in the process.

Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano goes on to write: To build a good house we must have proper tools.  To make a safe journey we need a map (page 138).[3]  I encourage you to take these 5 Hindrances and work on them each day to use them as your map. Before you know it, you’ll have the most wonderful home filled with peace, love, and compassion for self and others regardless of the circumstance or situation!

Let it RAIN on you each day and watch what beautiful things begin to grow in your life!

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

[1] Ibid.

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Buddhism/comments/6ft69t/the_5_hindrances_to_meditation/

[3] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[4]  Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

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Yuanwu starts out as most good Zen teachers do by saying, “Here at my place there is no Zen to explain and no Path to transmit.”  Then they go about quickly explaining the “nothing.”  In this section of his book he, of course, does exactly that!  How great that the ancestors worked so hard to keep us on our toes about “nothing.”bhante-gunaratana

Within each of us is the “fundamental matter that is inherent in everyone (page 67).”[1]  What we might call in Unity that divine spark or goodness within us, that oneness with all things big and small, animal, mineral, and vegetable!  And when we forget that we are a divine spark of all there is we can easily fall into those traps of greed, anger, jealousy, attachments, contrived actions, confusion, and false sentiments, so Yuanwu says!

Who wants to fall into all of those traps? Not me that’s for sure!  So, what can we do?  What does Yuanwu suggest?  “You do not exert any mental effort: you go along freely with the natural flow, without any grasping or rejecting.  This is the real esoteric seal (page 68).[2]

Finally, he writes, “Bearing this esoteric seal is like carrying a lamp hidden in the darkness as you roam through the world without longing or fear—it is all the realm of your own great liberation, continuing forever without interruption (page 68).”[3]  Just this!  We simply deal with whatever comes our way each and every moment in the most appropriate and helpful way we can. Shine your “light” onto the situation and all darkness must disappear. That’s the law.

You can turn up that light at any time by simply sitting and taking time each day to encounter that quiet place in body, mind, and spirit.  H. Emilie Cady in her Unity book, Lessons in Truth wrote: Every man must take time daily for quiet and meditation. In daily meditation lies the secret of power.  No one can grow in either spiritual knowledge or power without it…  No one would ever dream of becoming a master in music except by spending some time daily alone with music (page 7).[4]

Give yourself the present of being alone in the present moment as long and as often as you can.  The more you do that the brighter the hidden lamp in you will shine for all to see.  Be the light that lights up the room, the road, the town, and the world! Stop trying and simply be it! Simply Shine!

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cady, H. E. (1902 1st Printing) Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House

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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books.

The Rigveda is an ancient Indian text one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism written between the 5th and 2nd century BCE, the first four books of the Bible Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were written between the 6th and 2nd century BCE, the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century BCE, the Buddhist Sutras between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, the New Testament in the 1st century CE, the Qur’an is the newest written around 632 CE.  Wow!  If you can remember all of that you’re better than I am!

 What’s my point?  The people who wrote these books were wonderful people who wanted to memorialize their beliefs and experiences for those who would come after them.  They were trying to explain, nature, birth, death, life, good and evil and more.  Science was not at the level it is today, they only had their eyes, ears, nose, and sometimes mouth to discover and memorialize their lives and how they dealt with what happened to them and in them in their waking and sleeping hours.

This is neither good nor bad—it just is.  Thus if saying a bed time Buddha at Bedtimeprayer will help keep you alive through the night—great what can you lose! If not eating meat is how you desire to live your life wonderful, go for it.  If eating meat but not pork or crustaceans (lobster, crabs, shrimp, etc.) is your choice that’s great too.  In ancient times you might have been better off not eating pork because it caused an infection we know as trichinosis, but so did lots of other foods.  Just a few more reasons “not to believe” everything found in your ancient texts.

My mom believed it about the pork and thus when we had pork chops for dinner they were so well done they tasted and acted like shoe leather!  That was one of the nights I always found a reason to eat at my best friend’s house for dinner.  Another time I bought some “free range chicken” and served it to her for supper.  I was bragging about how great they were and that all the chickens should be freed.  Once again mom told me a “farm story.”  “I fed plenty of chickens on the farm growing up and let me tell you they ate anything and everything in sight, at least this way their waste ends up far enough away that they can’t get at it.” You’ve got to love my mom!

So in this day and age with our education, science, technology, the internet, and more you have the opportunity to be your own researcher and discover about life for yourself.  If following your religious and family traditions is important in your life…go for it.  Just remember that not everything written in them is true…then move full speed ahead and live the life that works for you and spreads peace, love, and compassion wherever you go!

In gassho,

Shokai

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Emerson: Live, let live and help live.

Zen: Evening Gatha [Prayer]

Let me respectfully remind you.
Birth and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes and opportunity is lost.
We should all strive to awaken.
Awaken! Take Heed!
Do not squander your life!

Both of these quotes are profound in so many ways.  Each tests us to live our lives fully every day and make a difference in the world in which we live.  Notice that each asks us to go beyond our “self” and to help others.  To live life fully, to let others lead their lives fully, and to help those who need help so they too can live life fully.

How have you done that today?  How about this week, month, or year?  Every time you open the door for someone with their arms full of packages, or let someone in front of you in a traffic jam, or bring a meal to a sick neighbor you are “awake.”  Awake to the needs of another.  You have taken the opportunity to think of someone other than yourself, to identify a need, no matter how small it may seem—you have helped meet that need for another.

When you are walking through life looking down at your cellphone checking your Facebook page or texting someone—you are missing life at its fullest.  You may have missed an opportunity to help a stranger or a friend.  When you are focused on self only you miss many opportunities to live.

Just the other day I was teaching at the college on the 11th floor when we had a fire scare and everyone was told to immediately exit the building.  So all 16 of my students and I walked those 11 floors down to the street. One of them needed extra attention as she was pregnant.  I rushed ahead so that I could make sure all of my students were out of the building and safe.  As one of them walked through the door I was holding for them he said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. Why are you holding the door for all of us and the others?”  The question had never come into my mind.  “Live, let live and help live” I guess.

Think of the fireman who runs into the fire, not away from it.  To the policeman or security guard who runs toward the shooter in a mall.  Or a teacher who stands in front of the children to protect them from the bullets being sprayed in his or her classroom.

Awaken, Take Heed! Do not squander your life! Find your purpose each and every day because time swiftly passes by and you do not want to lose the opportunity to be of service to others to go beyond yourself wherever and whenever you can.  Even if it’s simply to hold the door for another. Let me know how that goes!

ingassho

In gassho, Shokai

(1) Floris, O. Inspiration & Wisdom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson. www.odeliafloris.com (page 9)

(2) Southern Palm Zen Group Service Handbook, Mitch Doshin Cantor.

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