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If we are to live a meaningful life, we each need to understand and acknowledge what craggy-gardenswe have “strewn along our path” good, bad, or indifferent–actions, words, and deeds.

Ikkyu wrote yet another profound poem when he said:

 

 

Bliss and sorrow; love and hate; light and shadow;
heat and cold; happiness and anger; self and other.
The enjoyment of poetic beauty may well lead to hell.
But look what we find strewn along our path:
Plum blossoms and peach flowers (page49)!

I resonate with his idea of poetic hell sometimes, for sure!  Although I was an English Lit major in college, I was never good at writing poetry. I always felt like I was working on an assignment that was undoable, unmanageable, and frankly really bad writing!  So, I avoided it at all costs…  until I became a Buddhist and starting writing poems for each of my friends as a gift for their Jukai ceremony.

Each person gets a Zen name during the Jukai ceremony that embodies them as a student and practitioner of Buddhism.  That’s why you see Shokai on my writings.  Shokai means “inviting the world.”  You can all guess why I was given that name!  I’m always inviting my friends and family to meditate or read a great Buddhist book, or read my blog, or come sit with us at the Zendo.

Some students want to go even further on their path with additional studies to move into even higher positions like a monk or a teacher.

In your life you’ve created many paths from careers to families and more.  Some of the paths have been easy and smooth as the ice on a lake in January or some may have been as unexpected as a summer storm. Sometimes others have strewn things on your path that may make you stumble or pause or even force you to rise to the occasion.

What have you “strewn” along your path today?  What has been strewn along your path by others? How did you handle it?  Like “Plum blossoms and peach flowers?” Or not…

 

Footnote: J. Stevens (1999) Zen Masters A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan Kodansha International: New York

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Kermit_the_FrogHaiku for you all to enjoy from one of our Zen students studying “behind the fence.”

Happy is the frog
that has been quenched by the rain.
it’s been a long drought.

Hard rain fell last night
A hot sun rose this morning
bringing rain lillies.
–Wes

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In Edward Espe Brown’s wonderful book, No Recipe–Cooking as Spiritual Practice, he writes:

 “We could do well to study how we do what we are doing—what is the most important point?—because as Suzuki Roshi mentioned, “If I tell you something, you will stick to it, but it is not always so. When you stick to something that I say, you will abandon your capacity to study and investigate for yourself (page 63).”

So, if you really want a more fulfilling life you need to discover what that means for you.  Try things out, practice, evaluate, and learn, and then decide if you want to stick to it or not.  I’ll bet it hasn’t been long since someone told you what to do and how to do it and maybe even when and why to do it.  I can see you shaking your head right now, I can hear you saying, “Yes, just 5 minutes ago!”  Like he or she knows how to do it better than you do!?

Edward does not want us to get caught in what he calls, “the realm of thinking” rather than observing for yourself how things happen in your experience and using that information to possibly make better choices for yourself.  I hear the little cogs in your brain turning around and around right now thinking of that last conversation you had with your boss, significant other, or coworker telling you how to do something.  You listen and begin to think it could be faster, quicker, more accurate and much more effective, or fun—if you didn’t do it that way!

I love what Edward says next, “When you observe closely how things happen in your experience, change comes from you, out of your experience, rather than being implemented top down from your thinking. ‘Don’t put another head over your head,’ is a Zen saying (page 64).”

500 Hats Dr. SeussOr are you like Bartholomew in Dr. Seuss’ book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins creating the same old hat over and over!  Are you sitting in the same old chair with the same old ideas one on top of the other over and over?

I can see myself right now in the mirror with a giant pile of hats from large to small, from fancy to plain filled with my own creations, thoughts, ideas, and plans. I don’t want to be like Bartholomew with the same old hat over and over 499 times!  Once I “observe myself closely” I see myself doing the same old worn out thing over and over again. Only then can I throw away that plain old hat and create something new, innovative, exciting, and adventurous!

Maybe at onetime in the past “it was always so” but now—not so much! Now I might need to make a better or different choice for myself.  What hat are you wearing today?  What hat do you wish you were wearing today?

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A Flower Does not TalkThe preface of this book is incredible as it reads like he wrote it just yesterday. Although this book was published in 1970 it holds so many wonderful truths about Zen and life I know you will be blessed by your time spent with it.

If we look at the current world in which we live we can see the ever-growing importance of living a life set forth by Buddhist principles that are laid out in this book and the many others that I have shared with you over the years.

He writes in his preface:

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality. We must attain a higher level of personality so that we can cope with the brilliant scientific achievements of modern times.

Zen presents a unique spiritual culture in the East, highly refined in its long history and traditions, and I believe it has universal and fundamental values that can contribute toward creating a new spiritual culture in our time.  The important point about Zen is, however, that we should understand it, experience it, and live it in the varying circumstances of our everyday life.  Small and insignificant as my existence and work as a Zen Roshi may be, I believe that they contribute to the infinite (page 5-6).[1]

Although I too am small and insignificant I also believe that sharing his writings and my musings about them will contribute to the infinite in a positive, uplifting, and helpful way.

Thus, I begin with the poem for which the book was named in the hopes that you will be uplifted in some way by his words.

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
   the whole of the flower, the whole of
   the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flowers, the truth
   of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here.

And fully shining in you…In gassho, Shokai

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

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What a simple word awaken is.  We wake up in the morning, hopefully from a good sleep, we might awaken to a new idea about a project or problem that we are dealing with or even find ourselves in the wake of a big wave at the Jersey Shore.  That’ll wake you up for sure!

So, does that mean being awake is not that difficult of an idea or difficult to do?! We sometimes get into a tither over it when we are sitting or meditating.  We might ponder on the idea of being “awakened” to the truth of Buddhism, as is often said.

Yuanwu writes “In visiting enlightened teachers and questioning them, you must see real nature and awaken to truth (page 65).”  Truthfully, what we really want is to end up in this situation, as Yuanwu says a, “stage where there are no contrived activities and no concerns.”  Sound easy? Nope!

Yuanwu goes on to say, “As soon as you have the slightest wish to be unconcerned, a concern has already arisen (page 66).”  There is a great enlightenment story told by Shodo Harada in his beautiful book Moon by the Window (page 25). The story below describes Master Reiun’s enlightenment experience.

Master Reiun was enlightened at the sight of a peach blossom and wrote:
peach blossom For thirty years no guests came by;
The leaves fell and the branches became bare. Seeing one peach bloom,
The time has come,
There is no doubt left whatsoever.

 

For thirty years Reiun worked on obliterating every deluded thought and view. While tending to this internal housecleaning, day in, day out, he welcomed the autumn and spring so many times he lost count.  With the sight of the peach flower, in bloom at that very moment, thirty years were swept away. Reiun’s huge Mind, freed of judgements and opinions, provided no quarter for doubts to arise.

As Bodhidharma said, “One bud opens its petals and naturally grows into fruit.” Our zazen gives blossom to the flower of Mind.  This is the true source of joy.

So, with all those years of work and worry it simply took the sight of a peach blossom to experience the flowering of his big Mind.  So, without fretting or worrying simply continue sitting in the quiet of the morning or evening and maybe it will arrive and maybe not—experience the joy in either or neither.

Let me know how that goes!

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My little rescue dog Annie has been added as a new character in a cartoon series entitled Dharma Pets by Jozan one of our talented men sitting with our Southern Palm Zen Group “behind the fence.” Annie is the little large eyed doggie in the middle.  Jozan is looking for a sponsor if you know of anyone who would like to help him get his cartoons out into the world and even make them into a greeting card series please let me know.  In gassho, Shokai

Dharma Pets New Friends Annie

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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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