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Posts Tagged ‘Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts’

Our dear teacher Reb Anderson writes about “evil” in his book, Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. In it he writes:

The root of all evil is misunderstanding the nature of self and other by actively ignoring the interdependence of self and other. Evil comes from turning away from the vivid world of creation, where the self can never remain separate from other beings.
To ‘practice all that is good’ means ‘to wholeheartedly live life based on freedom from the illusion of an independent self.’ It is to awaken fully to the interdependent self, and to express such a self (page 49).[1]

Begin today to free your mind of evil. If you believe that some of the thoughts and behaviors a person can have in business and in life can be evil, then learning how to free your mind of evil will help maintain an ethical stance in every situation in your life.

What do you think would happen if each time a hurtful or negative thought or action came through us and we were personally and immediately affected by it? Might we try to think before we spoke or committed the “evil” action? But unfortunately the pain we feel from these actions is usually minutes and sometimes years before we are personally affected by them.

Two of my friends Armond and Angela have a great song called “Love is a Boomerang.” The words go like this: “Love is a Boomerang-give it away and it comes right back-hear the words that set you free. So is anger so is judgment. Give it away and it comes right back”[2]. What you send out comes right back at yah! What are you sending out?

Remember we are not separate from anyone or anything on the planet. Since we live in individual bodies and think with individual brains we “feel” as though we are separate. That allows our minds to be full of evil and it is difficult to understand that we are actually all one. One mind, one body, one world in creation.

When I am cruel to you it affects me in many ways. So I might go out and spend the rest of the day thinking negative thoughts about myself, condemning myself, and demeaning myself. Or you might be the type of person who does not internalize it but takes your anger out on others, such as fostering harmful words and actions on those around you like your family, co-workers, or friends.

If people only knew at a visceral and conscious level that when one is hurt–we are all hurt. If they did then they may not say the words or act in harmful and even deadly ways. We are all capable of feeling the pain and the suffering of the victims and their families, friends, and communities.

When we can all live a life that understands “interdependence” and learns to express that interdependent self this world can be a healthier, happier, more loving place in which to live. But so long as we think that we are only hurting “the other” the world will give us plenty of opportunities to reflect on our negative thoughts and actions. Let’s begin today to live life as though love is all there is.

Let’s begin to awaken fully to the idea that we are all interdependent selves and express that in all ways and to all people, in all places, and through all things. Imagine what a wonderful world we could create!
Remember the boomerang is right around the corner!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Anderson, R. (2001) Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press: Berkeley, CA

[2] Follow Your Dreams, Armand & Angelina. http://www.armandandangelina.com

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I was thinking about what to write for my next blog and seeing that New Year’s Eve was soon to be upon me I thought about what I would like to do to make 2014 a memorable year in my life.  We had a very interesting discussion at our Zen book study this morning and several of us shared stories from the past about how we had hurt or been hurt by others in our lives and how we dealt with those hurts in the past and what we could do in the future with those memories, thoughts, or actions.

It reminded me of a book that I am reading now with a most intriguing title: If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break, Field Notes from a Zen Life by James Ishmael Ford. Part III of his book is entitled “Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk.”  It made me think about 2013 and if I just talked the talk, spouted the platitudes and Zen teachings in a rote manner without really living them, and what that may have done to my life, and to those who had the misfortune or fortune to pass through it with me.

In the book he writes, “What we don’t notice about ourselves is the most dangerous part of who we are (page 93).”[1] He goes on, “. . .we see that the good and ill of an individual lives on, but not in a new single body—rather, among those who that person touched in life, in the fruit of their actions as they touched the world, and in the world itself (page 96).”[2]

And so, rather than go about making a list and checking it twice trying to find if I’d been naughty or nice I read on.  And low and behold more words of wisdom jumped out of the page at me when he began to talk about the idea of karma.  “From the perspective of human experience, the universe and each of our circumstances within it just is. Karma is the observation that everything has causes and everything has consequences; rebirth is the observation that I am constantly being created and recreated by each succeeding moment (page 97).”[3]  And thus everything ends up being “just this.”

So it does not matter whether I make the list or not—what does matter is that I practice the art of being mindful of my thoughts and words and the actions that follow. What matters is that in 2014 I live a life that exemplifies the Buddhist moral discipline part of the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

For me that means continuing to be an active part of our Zendo (Southern Palm Zen Group), my prison ministry, my work with Enroll America to help everyone get signed up for healthcare, and being cognoscente of the thoughts that I think, the words that I speak, and the actions that I take.  I can only do that when I focus on being mindful in body, mind, and spirit each and every moment of each and every day.

I know it is a large goal, but it is one that will help me achieve my 2014 life goal: making it memorable. I want it to be something I will be proud of when 2015 rolls around. So if you see me and I am not particularly expressing right speech, right action or right livelihood please let me know and bring me back to my 2014 goal: making the year memorable.  And I mean memorable in a good way, NOT a bad way for you and/or for me.  I’ll need your help with that, that’s for sure! I learned long ago that I cannot do it alone, but I can do it with everyone’s help—especially yours.

I hope you’ll catch me talking the talk AND walking the walk!

In gassho, Shokai

 ingassho


[1] Ford, J. I. (2012) If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break, Field Notes from a Zen Life  Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Yesterday was December 7, 2013 Pearl Harbor Day a fortuitous day in American History and a day of silent meditation for those who lost loved ones on both sides of the sea.  I remembered them all as I was moving through my ordination as a Zen Buddhist priest/monk with the Southern Palm Zen Group in Boca Raton, FL.

December 8th is traditionally the day Buddhists focus on as the day of “awakening” when Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) saw all existence as it really was. After meditating for 45 days while sitting under the Bodhi tree he  is to have said, “I and all beings on earth together attain enlightenment at the same time.” And thus we are all the Buddha.  This Buddhist teaching was beautifully woven into the ceremony by my teacher and guide Doshin Sensei.  As I looked around I saw the room filled with beautiful Buddha’s of all ages, sizes, shapes, and minds.  How wonderful is that!

As the ceremony moved slowly forward  I was able to take the time to focus on the principles of Buddhism that I was now officially taking into my life.

I pledged to live by the Three Treasures:

  1. Being one with the Buddhas in the Ten Directions
  2. Being one with the Dharma in the Ten Directions
  3. Being one with the Sangha in the Ten Directions

I pledged to live by the Three Pure Precepts:

  1. Not creating evil
  2. practicing good
  3. actualizing good for others.

I pledged to live by  the Ten Grave Precepts:

  1. Do not kill-Affirm life
  2. Do not steal-Be giving
  3. Do not misuse sexuality-Honor the body
  4. Do not lie-Manifest truth
  5. Do not cloud the mind-Proceed clearly
  6. Do not speak of others errors and faults-See the perfection
  7. Do not elevate the self and blame others–Realize self and others as one
  8. Do not be withholding-Give generously
  9. Do not be angry-Actualize harmony
  10. Do not defile the Three treasures-Experiencing the intimacy of things

I am ever grateful for my teachers, friends, and family members who were there in body and/or spirit who give me multiple opportunities in this life to test my ability to live these precepts and practice outwardly their meaning and ultimately their effects in my life and the lives of all those with whom I come in contact.  I pray each day that when I encounter you, old friend or new, that I see you as you truly are the Buddha incarnate in mind, body, and spirit, and that I treat you as such.

In gassho, Shokai

In the end of the ceremony Doshin and Mushin dedicated this beautiful song by Tchaikovsky, ” My genius, my angel, my friend” to me.  I though you might like to know the words.

My angel, my genius, my friend!

Isn’t it here,
My angel, my genius, my friend,
That you are talking to me softly,
And flying quietly around like a light shadow?

You are giving me a timid inspiration,
And healing my sweet ailments,
And giving me a quiet dream,
My angel, my genius, my friend!

++++++++++++++++++++++

The picture below is a shot of all those who attended the Tokudo Ceremony minus the photographer my dear friend, Chip, who gives me multiple opportunities to walk my talk.

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This sutra or scripture is one of the most important sutras in our tradition.  We chant this sutra every Saturday morning in our service.  It is a great chant that focuses on the teachings of Buddhism.  As a beginner it can be very confusing and sometimes mind boggling so in this new series of mine I will attempt to unwind the mystery of the Heart Sutra.   I am helped by the authors of two wonderful books Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts written by Shohaku Okumura and The Heart Sutra Translation and Commentary by Red Pine.  So let’s begin this wonderful adventure!

The first four verses are as follows:

 Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
Doing deep Prajna Paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Wow, that sounds like a big promise to all of us who take many opportunities to spend a significant portion of our lives focusing on “misfortune and pain.” So these lines are significant they are letting us know that what will be shared in this sutra could help keep us from focusing our attention, time, and energy in that direction.  The majority of the world would like to do this and those who enjoy wallowing in their “misfortune and pain” might just as well stop reading now and move on with their day.

Who is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Red Pine says in some Sanskrit texts bodhisattva’s name “was translated into Chinese as Kuan-yin, meaning “He/She Who Looks Down Upon Sound (Cries).  . . .For the sound of this bodhisattva’s name has the power to echo through the universe and to make visible all who hear it, recite it, or recollect it.  And as Avalokitesvara becomes aware of them, they are graced by this bodhisattva’s infinite compassion (pages 44- 45).”[1]

Thus, Avalokitesvara has become known for the one who gives compassion to the world, which is a beautiful reason to name this the “Heart Sutra.”  For me all compassion comes from the heart, often times our compassion makes no sense to others.  It is beyond logic, reason, or knowledge, but streams forth from the wisdom of the heart.  As Shohaku Okumura writes, “Prajna means “wisdom.” Wisdom and compassion are the two main aspects of Buddhism and must always go together.  Without wisdom, compassion doesn’t work, and without compassion wisdom has no meaning; it’s not alive (page 134).”[2]

I am sure that everyone reading this has experienced from another or given to someone compassion under the most unique situation, one where others were saying—are you nuts!  Maybe the person did something unthinkable, or incomprehensible, or unkind, or even criminal, but yet you saw in his or her heart goodness beyond the act or the moment and you were overwhelmed with compassion.  That is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva alive in you as you. Although this may not have “completely” relieved the misfortune or pain it may have helped in minimizing its affects, future actions, or negative thoughts and allowed you to maintain compassion for the person or for yourself.

I had a student many years ago that had a most unspeakable crime committed against herself and her person and after much prayer and meditation on forgiveness was able to completely forgive her assailant and move on with her life in a loving and compassionate way to him and all others. That is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva alive and well on planet earth.

As we move through this sutra we will slowly take each section and examine how we can benefit by chanting it and incorporating the teachings into our lives.  Our ultimate goal in Buddhism is “to save all sentient beings.”  To do this we must think and act with compassion and wisdom like Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva today and every day.

I have given you plenty to do and plenty to think about so we will focus on “the emptiness of all five conditions” next time.  See you then!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day like Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva offering compassion to all sentient beings.

2.  I will remind myself that wisdom and compassion must go together.

3.  I will remember that wisdom is not knowledge, wisdom comes from above—it does not reside in the brain.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Red Pine (2004) The Heart Sutra Translation and Commentary. Counterpoint: Berkeley, CA

[2] Okumura, S (2012) Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Text. Wisdom Publications.: Somerville, MA

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I was listening to a beautiful Andy Williams album this quiet Sunday morning after returning from my walk by the ocean with a friend and the famous song, “Some Enchanted Evening,” by Rogers and Hammerstein came on.  Andy sang, “Fools give you reasons wise men never try.”

Shodo Harada in his wonderful book, Moon by the Window:The Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada, wrote:

Those who have realized deep awakening know how to live each day.   But how do we go about it?  What’s the best way to live so that our life has value for all beings?

Our Original Mind is like that of a newborn baby.  When we live in that naturally clear Mind, just as it is, that’s everyday mind; that’s the Path. But when our mind is filled with ideas and prejudices, perceptions about economics, politics, and social issues, how can we see clearly?  If we could all live from a place of ordinary, everyday mind, we would have no need for religion and education and laws.  When we are not concerned with anything at all, this moment is always the best time and season. If we encounter a crisis or catastrophe, that’s fine; when we die, that’s okay too.  Instead of seeing this as good or bad, we know that that’s how it is.  When we reach the end of our life, we can’t keep on living just because we aren’t ready to die. We must realize this deepest source, not to prevent physical death, but that we might live a life in which dying is only one of many things that come along (page 201).”[1]

What a beautiful way to live—recognizing it is just “how it is.”  When I live this way many of my fears and anxieties will diminish or disappear.  I can react to the situation at hand with speed and agility instead of jumping into my memories from the past—I remember when this happened to me before and I felt hurt for months.  Or jumping into the future—what will happen tomorrow if I say or do this today?  Unless I have a crystal ball that question is truly unanswerable.

So Shodo Harada is inviting me to live in the Original Mind like a “newborn baby.”  I need to live in the moment as if this moment is the only one that means anything…and he’s right–it is.

Where have you been going as you’ve read this blog?  Have you been jumping from the past to the future with thoughts and emotions or intellect and knowledge?  Now try reading it again while staying in your Original Mind in THIS moment. Good luck with that!

Let’s begin to live our lives from a “place of ordinary, everyday mind. Like that of a newborn baby.” Remember that “fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will use my ordinary, everyday mind as often as I can today.

2.  I will remind myself that “fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

3.  I will remember to bring myself back to THIS moment when I catch my mind wandering into the past or the future.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Harada, S (2011) Moon By the Window: Zen Insights of Shodo Harada. Wisdom Pub: Sommerville, MA

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So let us refresh our memories of the three treasures: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  So when we look at the way we view the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, let us hold them as “one.”  As it says in Master Hakuin’s The Song of Zazen, “Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open.  Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.”

Our picture of the Buddha the man and the Buddha concept that we are all one and the same seems like an untruth.  How easy it is to stray into the negative or doubting place when we hear ourselves say harsh words, or gossip, or treat people unkindly.  We begin to think: HA I’m not the Buddha, look what I just said or did.  I am a mean, awful, untrustworthy person!  I am not like the Buddha at all!

But fortunately for us “straight ahead runs the Way.”  So if we fall the first thing we do is simply get up, and then we move forward putting one foot in front of the other.  We are now moving ahead in time and space, are we not?  So simply acknowledge your behavior and remember your vow to not disparage the three treasures and move on—quickly and quietly.  Remember the Buddha tried many things throughout his lifetime to find the way.  And in the end we need to return home to the oneness that we all are.

Peter Levitt in his wonderful book The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master (2013) quotes an excerpt from an Allen Ginsberg poem entitled “Song (page xv-xvi).”  And where Ginsberg uses the word “love” Peter says it could be replaced with other words such as wholeness, oneness, unity, and Self.

The opening lines:

Under the burden

Of solitude,

Under the burden

Of dissatisfaction

The weight,

The weight we carry is love.

The final lines:

Yes, yes,

That’s what

I wanted,

I always wanted,

I always wanted to return

To the body

Where I was born[1]

We too want to return to the oneness of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha where we have the opportunity to experience the oneness of all there is.  We do this through following the life example of the Buddha, the teachings, and the community where we sit together as one breath, one body, and one mind.  For me this is what I hear Allen Ginsberg saying in that last phrase this is to “return to the body where I was born.”

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by remembering the three treasures throughout the day.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before each possible encounter and after each slip and fall.
  • Step three: Remember this is a life journey not a destination..
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] K. Tanahashi, P. Levitt. (2013) The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala:  Boston, MA

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It’s a game—yes life is a game and anger is used as a tool in the game to help people get what they think they want, need, or desire.  In life there are rules and so many rules that it is hard to keep track of them.  When you are young the rules are less and they are easier to remember.  Rule #1 cry or have a temper tantrum when you are hungry or wet or want something that you cannot reach and someone will pay attention to you and give you what you are asking for.  Rule #2 laughing and smiling does not get as quick a response. Rule #3 go back to rule #1.

So this game continues into our youth and adulthood.  We play this game with family members, friends, co-workers, and total strangers.  You’ve seen and heard the game, you’ve played the game.  Sometimes it works in the immediate moment, but afterwards you end up with regrets, broken friendships and relationships, and even lost jobs.

That is not to say that anger or aggressive words or actions are not appropriate in certain situations in life.  When I teach assertiveness training in my classes and workshops I let people know that there are three types of ways you can behave in any situation: passive, aggressive, and assertive.  Depending upon the situation any one of the three may be the effective one and the perfect one at that moment.

Liberation is one of our main goals when sitting and so we need to be liberated to choose, to say “just this,” or to respond in the most aggressive way or the most passive way.  Wonderful examples of inappropriate and appropriate anger are given in Reb Anderson’s book Being Upright (2001). Reb describes a day when his 2-year-old daughter was walking ahead of him and she suddenly turned and started trotting quickly into the street.

 “I immediately shouted with my full voice, “No!” My tone was fierce and aggressive, like a fast moving truck.  She stopped in her tracks and turned back toward the sidewalk. I felt no anger toward my daughter, but there was harshness in my voice.  The strength of my shout surprised me, and I watched her response.  Afterward she seemed calm and happy, so I felt that perhaps it was all right that I had yelled so fiercely (page 180).”[1]

You could call this appropriate anger and from there he moved back into the “gentle way” with his daughter and they both found a “peaceful balance” as they continued their walk through town.  Reb goes on to say, “Peace is realized in entering the flow—meeting and dancing with aggressive energy (page 181).”

To be liberated in this game of life is not to be stuck with rules that are “always” and “only” one way or the other, but that there is latitude to determine when and how to use the rules.  Being angry all the time is not one of them.  Being passive all the time is not one either.  But developing the “middle way” is.  Developing and practicing patience is a great way to find the middle way.  Reb writes:

  “Patience is an antidote to anger and primary condition for enlightenment.  Through practice your vision clears and you see the dependent co-arising pain, frustration, and anger.  Practicing patience does not mean gritting your teeth and ignoring the pain, but developing and expanding your capacity for experiencing pain, opening wide enough to feel the pain without either running away or wallowing in it.  When you practice patience, the path to harmful anger is blocked.  You can face the pain, and relax and breathe with it (page 182)”[2]

This leads to liberation and the use of “appropriate anger” when it is called for and choosing the “middle way” the rest of the time.  It frees you from using “harmful anger” to control and manipulate the people around you.  It will help clear the way for compassion, love, and kindness in the game of life that you are playing.  Today you may be the pawn, the queen, the knight, or the king—one never knows—but when you are liberated you can choose them all or simply choose not to play.

So let’s not act like our baby self above and get caught in the cycle of Rules 1, 2, and 3!

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin simply by giving up inappropriate anger and replacing it with compassion, love, and patience.
  • Step two: Set your intention to think before you speak when you hear one of your anger triggers coming and choose the middle way.
  • Step three: Find a way to be kind even when confronted with the most extreme aggressiveness.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Anderson, R. (2001) Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press: Berkeley, CA

[2] Ibid.

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