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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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Our thoughts today will be on the verses from the “Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra” below.  Although they sound a little crazy once we get the idea that is trying to be expressed in the sutra our lives will be filled with much less stress, strain, and worry.

No old age and death, no cessation of old age and death;

No suffering, no cause or end to suffering;

No path, no wisdom and no gain.

No gain thus Bodhisattvas live this Prajna Pramita.

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts writes about these verses beautifully.

If our life is based on dichotomies like good and bad, we chase after good things and run from bad things.  We are concerned about whether we are good or not.  If we think we are good, then life is worth living. If we think we are bad, then life is just a mistake. This dualistic thinking makes our life rigid and narrow.

No matter what mistakes we make, we can start over because everything is impermanent.  We can change. We can change the direction of our life.  This is the way we transform our life, our thinking, and our views.  According to Dogen Zenji, sitting in zazen and letting go of everything is the key to shifting the basis of our life (p. 163).[1]

Yet, we allow the above thoughts of old age and death and suffering to chase after us each day and we allow those thoughts to upset us and ruin our day.  Or, if we choose, we can begin our day with sitting (meditation) and let go of everything good and bad, fear and happiness and more.  We can be free of the mind made chains of emotions and thoughts. We can focus on the now and the only thing important in the now when sitting is “your breath.” Allow your mind to be free of the to-do lists, the past conversations and actions, the fears and the joys. Simply wait and watch quietly for the body to become still and the mind to become quiet and the breath to become deeper and slower.

I am not tied down forever to the behaviors that have been hindering me in my life and can see them for what they really are impermanent.  The programming may be old and deep but with time and effort all things are possible.  Remember the old saying, “All things are possible for those who believe.” So begin today to let go of your fears of old age and death, suffering, and limitation or whatever else may be holding you back from being the person you desire to be, a person living a life of compassion, love, and peace.

This is a new year the perfect time to begin your life a new!  You are a Bodhisattva, whether you know it or not, so live this Prajna Paramita today and watch the results manifest in your life.

Things to focus on this week:

  1. I will begin each day by sitting in quiet meditation letting go of everything but my focus on my breath.
  2. I will remind myself that doing this can help free me from my fears and my rigid and narrow thinking.
  3. I am changing the direction of my life for good today!
  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] Okumura, S. (2012) Living By Vow A practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, Wisdom Publications, Boston: MA

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Once again I will attempt to unwind the mystery of the Heart Sutra this time lines three and four, “Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.”  I am again 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 Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics by the Dali Lama.  So let’s begin this wonderful adventure!

Okumura writes, “In every moment we must awaken again to the impermanent reality of our lives.  Everything is always changing, and there is no substance.  In Mahayana Buddhism, this is called emptiness (page 136).” [1]

The Buddha said that “nothing is fixed, and there is nothing that doesn’t change.”[2]

The Dali Lama in his book Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics wrote:

Thus, there are no subjects without the objects by which they are defined, there are no objects without subjects to apprehend them, there are no doers without things done.  There is no chair without legs, a seat, a back, wood, nails, the floor on which it rests, the walls that define the room it’s in, the people who constructed it, and the individuals who agree to call it a chair and recognize it as something to sit on.  Not only is the existence of things and events utterly contingent but, according to this principle, their very identities are thoroughly dependent upon others.[3]

And so, I could cut down the legs and cut off the back of the chair, if I so choose, and turn it into a coffee table, and when I no longer needed it for that purpose I could break it up and use it for fire wood, that would turn it into smoke and ash. Then it could be mixed into the garden compost pile and turned into fertilizer to help grow my beautiful tomatoes for the summer salad.

This clearly demonstrates the impermanence of all “things” and thus their intrinsic emptiness. So letting go of my desire to control things, people, and places I relieve myself of misfortune and pain—for their emptiness will appear to me soon enough and I will see the change in them with an open heart and mind.

Okumura goes on to say the following:

We can make a peaceful, stable foundation for our lives.  It’s called nirvana.  It is not a particular state or condition of our minds but rather a way of life based on impermanence and egolessness.  The Buddha taught that there are two different ways of living.  If we are blind to the reality of egolessness and impermanence, our life becomes suffering.  If we waken to this reality and live accordingly, our life becomes nirvana.  This awakening is called Bodhi or enlightenment (page 136).”[4]

Thus nirvana or enlightenment is not a place that you go like sitting on a cloud in heaven in a children’s story book.  It is a place to live today where our ego recognizes that all things change in body: physically; in mind: emotionally; in brain: through learning and creating new synapses; and finally, in my heart: through the wonder of wisdom.

Thus each day I am born anew. And so, I release the old ideas, ways, and limitations and am open and receptive to embrace the miracle and joy of seeing the emptiness of all five conditions and the impermanence in my life so I can be relieved of my misfortune and pain—if not forever, at least for today!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin seeing the impermanence in all things today.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help make a peaceful stable foundation for my life—or nirvana.

3.  I will remember to release the old ideas, ways, and limitations in my life and be open to allow new exciting things to appear.

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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