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Today I scoured my bookshelves for something to use as a catalyst for my next Zen workbook to share with our members “behind the fence.”  Yuanwu jumped out at me and said, how about my teachings?  Some of my favorite translators of Zen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary, created a wonderful book entitled Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu.

Yuanwu Chinese MasterYuanwu’s teachings are filled with words of wisdom and actions for the everyday person to incorporate into his or her life. Although he may have lived from 1063-1135 his words are still pertinent to how we can live our lives each day with optimism. He is also known by Buddhists as the author of the Blue Cliff Record a compilation of 100 koans and his commentaries.

The authors write in their introduction: The Zen tradition, like all of Mahayana Buddhism, is invincibly optimistic about human possibilities—our true identity, our inherent buddha nature, can never be destroyed.  It is our basic essence, and it is with us always, waiting to be activated and brought to life (page vi-vii).[1]

The authors go on to write: These teachers meant to enable us to become aware of our buddha nature and to gain the use of it in everyday life.  Zen Buddhism, like all other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, maintains that it is the true destiny of every person to become enlightened (page v-vi).[2]

For people in other religious beliefs you may interchange the Buddha nature with Christ nature or for indigenous people your ideas and teachings.  But all spiritual and/or religious beliefs have this basic essence described throughout their doctrines, writings, music, and art. As we follow in the footsteps of the masters we begin to realize that we too can be enlightened. Even though we sit with “no” conscious intention of it—if we practice the principles and sit and live the tenants all things are possible to those who believe.  Believe it not—and it will not be!  That is the truth of all of life.

Thus, I hope this blog and eventual workbook will be of interest to all people of all faiths and beliefs, and to those who hold no particular faith belief whatsoever.  Everyone is welcome on this adventure with Yuanwu the Chinese Master. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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

[2] Ibid.

 

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Whip, rope, person, and bull—   all merge in NO Thing. Oxherding_pictures,_No._8

This heaven is so vast,   no message can stain it.

How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire.
Here are the footprints of  the ancestors
I have abandoned the whip and ropes.

The eighth picture tells us that when the duality of self and reality has been overcome not only is reality (the ox) forgotten, but so is the self (the oxherd); the circle symbolizes the all-encompassing emptiness that constitutes the ground of all things. Now in the awareness of unceasing transformation and total interconnectedness in every experience one is freed from all craving and hatred for the other.  In this freedom there is a sense of the wholeness and perfection of ordinary things (page 6).[1]

Roshi Kennedy writes about this idea by saying, “An anonymous Zen poet sums up patriarch’s teachings saying that it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self. Actually it is forbidden to search for the absolute apart from the self because it is impossible. There is no path to the Buddha, to the truth of our lives but through the dust of every day existence (page 95).[2]

Thus, the poem says, “all merge in NO Thing.”  NO Thing is probably something that is impossible to understand and even frightening to think about.  And yet we search, we go from “god to no god,” “religion to no religion,” “theory to no theory” and still we find NO answer to the emptiness. Unless of course we enter it as Koeller describes through interconnectedness in every experience, thought, feeling, movement, and desire. He says, do not “try” to do anything, just be one with the moment, the things, the experience till there is no separation between you and it.”

Many years ago, I had a friend that could do it.  Sometimes he scared me especially when he was driving and all of sudden he was “one with the car” sometimes he was outside of the car watching himself driving.  And he was not high or drunk. His focus on a long drive on a lonely highway was so powerful he became one with the elements of the universe.

I don’t suggest you try it, but for me it was a graphic example of the “all-encompassing” interconnectedness of all things.  I’ve described my personal experience with it in other blogs when I was participating in a Cherokee Indian fire walk with Rev. Edwine Gaines. There was no separation between me and the blade of grass, the stars in the sky, and the trees in the forest. Just an interconnectedness with all things or in actuality NO thing…

That is why you see the picture as an empty circle.  Everything is interconnected so much so there is no way to see  it, touch it, or feel it. Everything is “all encompassing-emptiness.” “True freedom, or true creativity, shines out only when we break through this barrier (page 257).”[3]

Remember that the next time you hit your shin on the coffee table or stub your toe when stepping up onto the sidewalk in your bare feet!

Let me know how that goes!

In Gassho, Shokai

[1]  http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

[3] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co

 

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Oxherding_pictures,_No._6Mounting the bull, slowly
I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody
will join me.

The sixth picture suggests the tranquility and joy that reunion with the source of existence brings; now the oxherd rides on the back of the ox, joyously playing his flute. The verse suggests that he has been freed from old fears and anxieties and that so freed, he can now express his creative energies in celebration of life.[1]

Oneness, what does that mean to you?  The oxherder finds oneness with the Ox as he rides joyfully home harmonizing his flute, his body, and his mind with the ox.  In doing so he does not even need to hold on to the reigns as his fear of falling off the ox has disappeared.  He knows that there is no separation between the two of them and thus happily rides along playing his flute.

When we separate ourselves from people, and things, and ways we limit our abilities, we hinder our creativity, and we make life harder and more uncomfortable.  Being one with everything opens us up to insights and Ah Ha’s that otherwise would have eluded us.  To be one with the dying man as a hospice chaplain is an incredible experience.  To allow yourself to laugh with bottomless joy along with a young child is being awakened to the oneness that permeates the universe.

Laughter is catchy if one person starts laughing others seem to join in even if they do not know what the person is laughing about.  The same thing happens when someone cries, we all cry with them or try desperately to hold back the tears.  And when someone yawns everyone else must yawn no matter how hard they try not to. Just reading this sentence about yawing I know you are having trouble holding back the yawn that is trying desperately to come out!

Roshi Kennedy says that the “unity between the absolute and the relative is fundamental to Zen Buddhism (page 68).”[1]  Although we may not feel it most of the time that does not mean that it is not true.  So, when you feel disconnected to life or to a situation or a person remember that oneness exists even if the eyes can’t see it, the ears can’t hear it, and the mind can’t fathom it—it is still true! Just ask the tooth fairy! I can see that money underneath my pillow right now!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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Oxherding_pictures,_No._5

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[1]
 

The fifth picture shows that disciplined practice can overcome the bad habits of previous conditioning and bring one into accord with the true nature of reality. Although discipline is still needed because the old habits of mind still have power, living in greater awareness of the true reality gives one the energy and direction to live a wholesome life. Now the ox willingly follows the oxherd home, meaning that the separation between oneself and true reality is being overcome.[2]

Who is the master in your life?  Is it your thoughts, actions, fears, joys, money, your job, your relationships, your spiritual practices?  In picture #5 the ox is now following the oxherder home.  He is not tightly tethered to the oxherder, but they are casually walking one in front of the other following the path of enlightenment. As Roshi Kennedy says in his book, Zen Gifts to Christians, “Self-mastery then is living a full life in the present, attached to nothing (page 61).”[3]

The habits of our minds can pull us down a dark and dangerous path if we are not aware of them.  It is discovering the art of sitting in meditation as a “disciplined practice” where we are learning how to let the ruminations of the mind be a visitor and not a resident.  Where all thoughts can be like feathers in the wind and we can watch them as they float through our minds easily without clinging or fear or anxiety. Where we can be in front of them or behind them and they hold no power over us.

Neither do we cling to the beautiful, happy, loving, thoughts because we can grasp and cling to them just as easily and begin to chase after them with ferocity. We can cling to their images and the feelings they bring up until they hold power over us as well. And thus, we are led on a wild goose chase running after those thoughts and running away from the dark thoughts and we find ourselves in an endless circle of confusion and fear, happiness and joy. It is as if we are on the merry-go-round at Palisades Park.  Round and round we go where it stops nobody knows!

Living a life of true separation from our thoughts is allowing them to come and go as they please.  It is seeing them floating like a feather in the wind. It takes time and “disciplined practice.” Each day it becomes easier and easier as we sit in meditation and allow those feathers to fly at their own speed and height. What a great way to live a “wholesome life” without clinging to happiness or fear.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] Koller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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I seizeOxherding_pictures,_No._4 him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power
are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau
far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes
 

The fourth picture shows that the oxherd has now caught hold of the ox, using the bridle of discipline to control it. This symbolizes the rigorous discipline required of the Zen practitioner. Although he now realizes that the power to transform his life lies within himself, in his Buddha-nature, all his previous conditionings are pulling and pushing him in different directions. Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.[1]

Abbot Zenkei Shibayama shares a Zen story in his book, A Flower Does Not Talk, that relates to Koeller’s thoughts on “working hard to overcome bad habits.”

Bodhisattva Manjusri once asked Zenzai Doji, “Bring me something that does not do any good.” Zenzai searched around, but wherever he went, everything he saw and touched was something that would do good.  He was unable to find anything that would not do any good.  Finally, he had to come back to Manjusri and report: “There is nothing that will not do good (page 190).”[2]

The conversation continued from there and Manjusri said:

“Bring me something, then, that will do good.”  Zenzai, without hesitation, plucked a blade of grass at his foot and presented it to Manjusri.  Manjusri took it up, and showing it to the congregation, said, “This single herb is both able to kill people and to give people life (page 190-191).”[3]

So, what does this have to do with you today, your life, your plans, your wishes and dreams? Everything!  For me when I look back upon my life I see that the challenges forced me to learn, to pray, to think, to discover, to step out of my fears and anxieties to move forward regardless of them. I was able to recognize that these challenges did NOT kill me but made me stronger, more resilient, more pliable and yes, more loving, caring, and compassionate.

Some might say I need to take off the “blinders” about the reality of life. Yes, war is hell and people living in war zones, in poverty, lack, limitation, and ill health need help from those of us who can help and are willing to help and have the resources to help. That does not remove our obligation to try to help minimize or eliminate the suffering of others. As Koeller said, “Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.”

So, let us as, students of Zen, work daily to take the discipline that we have learned in our Zen practice of sitting into the “real” world and help those who cannot, for whatever reason, help themselves.

Let me know how that goes!  Shokai

[1] Koeller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
[3] Ibid.

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-Looking_for_the_Ox-,_by_Tenshō_Shūbun

In truth, the person you see in this picture is all of us searching for something in life.  We know that life is a great adventure and that for some of us it has been a very difficult and uphill battle.  For others, we’ve had some good years and some bad years, and yet most of them have been simply rather normal. Regardless of which case we were living under we still found ourselves searching for something.  There is the continuing question that appears on a regular basis, “What’s it all about Alfie?  I wrote a blog on that song sometime back, check it out I think you’ll like it.

For Alfie, it was all about seeking and searching for love.  What have you been searching for? When you wake up each morning are you searching for the ox?  A better marriage, health, job, prosperity, enlightenment, peace, or better grades in school?    The Oxherd was searching for the eternal answer in life, that ungraspable something within him—roaming the world looking down in the valley, up in the mountains, and deep in the ocean.  To no avail.  When all the time his answer was right within him. He was and is the Buddha.

However, rushing and hurrying and searching and seeking outside of yourself in a teacher, a scripture, or a text or a job or money and fame is looking in the wrong place.

Simply focus your attention on the power of your breath when sitting or standing or walking and watch what happens.  When you focus on that inbreath and outbreath you will soon find your blood pressing dropping, your monkey mind quieting down, and your shoulders dropping. You’ll soon see a dropping away of all your fears and anxieties.  You will have moved into the place we call “just this.”   No past, no future, just NOW, just this one breath, one mind, one body, one moment.  Your searching for the Ox can end because you and the ox are one. You and the Buddha are one in the same. You know this when you realize that you and your breath are one.

This may be a fleeting feeling in the beginning but each day that you sit and walk in a meditative and fully present and mindful way you drop off a small weight and soon several small weights, and sooner than later you’ll feel 10 pounds lighter, 100% healthier, happier, and more peaceful.

Live in this moment, the ox is everywhere present in you and through you and will carry you easily into a life of peace, love, and compassion.  If only you stop searching for the ox outside of you—the ox within you will appear.  The ox is powerful, strong, persistent, and always there when you need him. Let your search be over! Be one with the ox in you.

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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

This week we finished the Jewish tradition of observing Passover and for the Christians Easter and for the Muslims they support them both in some respects.  Within those religions there are traditions and prayers and ceremonies that are used this time each year.  The Jewish tradition of not eating leavened bread is one most people have heard of and everyone has seen the shelves filled with matzo in your grocery stores.

Thus the Buddha admonishes us not to celebrate our traditions because our parents did or our grandparents did but because there is value in doing so.  The traditions allow us to take time out of our daily chores and focus our thoughts and energy on something that will help us grow and be a better person.  They give us an opportunity to look at our behaviors and examine their purpose and outcomes and how they affect our lives, our families, and our communities.

They give us the opportunity to look at our spiritual lives and how we practice our beliefs on a daily basis.  They help us examine our ethics and morals, and our behaviors. As the Buddha said, they give us the opportunity for “observation and analysis.”  At the Southern Palm Zen Group we celebrate one thing each year Rohatsu “the day on which according to tradition Shakyamuni Buddha sitting in meditation under the Bodhi-tree at the first glimpse of the morning star attained enlightenment.”[1] Our celebration is sitting (meditating) through the night, if you can do it, if not, sitting as long as you are able.

Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”Socrates

Dr. Simon Longstaff, executive director of the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney, Australia, wrote in the New Philosopher (June 2, 2013),

“I would suggest that one can make sense of Socrates’ claim if it is understood to mean something like – those who do not examine their lives (make conscious ethical decisions) fail to live a life that allows them to experience being fully human. Thus the allure of those who offer to provide clear answers, simple directions, precise instructions (whatever) so that you may set aside examination and merely comply, or unthinkingly follow custom and practice – perhaps living a conventionally moral life rather than an examined ethical life. One can easily imagine how pleasant an unexamined life might be. ”[2]

What does “being fully human” mean to you?  When was the last time you sat down and really examined your life?  What did you find? Finally, what did you actually do with what you discovered?

Keep me posted!

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston

[2] http://www.newphilosopher.com/articles/being-fully-human/

 

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