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Posts Tagged ‘Dogen Zenji’

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.

These verses from the “Heart Sutra” remind us of The Four Sufferings in Buddhism:
1. Birth
2. Old age
3. Sickness
4. Death
When we think on these things we suffer. We all want to live a long life and be happy, healthy, and rich! But ruminating over it will not change the situation one bit. We are all born, hopefully we will reach old age, hopefully it will not be filled with sickness, and ultimately it will end in death. So why worry, be happy. Happiness may just be the antidote to that sickness and suffering.

But no matter how we try there will be times when suffering will enter our lives. Some of our family members and friends will die before we do and that will be sad and we will feel pain and suffering. But for some death may be the only escape from the physical and/or mental suffering that a person experiences. For those dying of a very painful disease they might even feel relieved that the pain and suffering will end upon their death. Thus we can live a life empty of futility knowing that there is each and both: “No old age and death, no cessation of old age and death; no suffering, no cause or end to suffering.”
The Four Noble Truths were expounded by the Buddha in his first teaching immediately after his enlightenment. He is to have said this about the “extinction of suffering:”

But what, O monks, is the noble truth of the path leading to the extinction of suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the extinction of suffering, namely: perfect view, perfect thought, perfect speech, perfect action, perfect livelihood, perfect effort, perfect concentration (page 72).

The origin of suffering has been and will always be desire. If we desire things material, physical, relationships, or to undo the death of a loved one—we will suffer. If we cling to our desires that clinging adds to our pain and suffering. Remember the line is “No suffering, no cause or end to suffering.” In life we will have times of complete joy and accomplishment and times when we do not. Remember these words were spoken by someone who had already attained liberation. I don’t know about you but I have not yet done so. Maybe you have not either. So don’t beat yourself up simply do the best you can, in the moment, with what you have, where you are, and then move forward toward peace, love, and compassion for yourself and all others.

So dealing with our suffering can be a challenge, but not a mountain too high to climb if we follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s live our life each day the best we can, by helping others and working for the good of all concerned. Let’s take one thing at a time. Using mindfulness and love—without clinging to anything—will help us deal with our suffering.

The next line says, “No path, no wisdom and no gain.”

Sekkei Harada writes about this idea in his book Unfathomable Depths, Drawing Wisdom for Today from a Classical Zen Poem (2014).

We also mustn’t be stuck between understanding and not understanding forever. That happens when we cannot transcend and get hung up on something because of it. . . .You have to transcend both what you understand and what you do not understand, and beyond that even transcend what you have transcended (page 175).

No path, no wisdom and no gain!

Things to focus on this week:
1. I will begin each day by sitting in quiet meditation to transcend the four sufferings if even for only a few minutes.
2. I will remind myself that doing this can help free me from suffering.
3. I release my attachment today and every day from my limited thoughts and fears.
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.

In gassho, Shokai

ingassho

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

[2] Harada, S. (2014) Unfathomable Depths, Drawing Wisdom for Today from a Classical Zen Poem. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

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Eihei Dogen [Unbroken Practice] wrote, “This life of one day is a life to rejoice in. Because of this, even though you live for just one day, if you can be awakened to the truth, that one day is vastly superior to an eternal life. . . If this one day in the lifetime of a hundred years is lost, will you ever get your hands on it again? (page 60)”[1]

So today is the only day you have to begin the practice of the seventh teaching in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism: Work for the good of others. I wonder what this world would be like if each and every day I woke up with that desire in mind. I wonder what this world would be like if each and every person woke up with that desire in mind. To change the world I must first change myself. For without that there is no path at all—no less one with only eight steps.

It does no good to chastise or wonder why others do not volunteer their time to people and organizations in need, or to wonder why they do not tithe their time, talent, and treasure to organizations and individuals who are making a positive difference in the world. It does no good for me to think critical thoughts about others actions or reactions to life—that is simply a waste of time, energy, and brain power.

So, today and every day I set out to begin the day by asking myself: What can I do or say to make this a more loving, caring, and fruitful life for another? To ask not because it will make me feel better about myself (but it will) not because it will make my community and household a more loving and caring place to reside (but it will) not because it’s simply the right thing to do (but it is) but simply because I am alive.

As Dogen said, “The life of one day is a life to rejoice in.” So to begin each day with a goal of rejoicing in life is a great way to start. I will start by rejoicing that I have been given a life and with that life comes responsibility to make something of it. To do something with it—simple or grand—does not matter. What matters is to do something that works for the good of others, and gets me out of my own way. If this were the only day I had left to live, what image would I have left in the eyes and hearts and minds of those whose path I crossed.

Why was I born anyway if not for good and love and compassion? I have been given many opportunities to love and fell short, to help and walked past, that I am sure of. But as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Because you are alive everything is possible.” So I may not be able to undo that hurtful word or action, but I can do better today and tomorrow and the next day. How about you?

Great! Now let’s begin 2015 a new and each morning awake with the question: What work can I do today for the good of others? Let me know what you discover!

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

  1. Matthiessen P. (1998) Nine-Headed Dragon River, Zen Journals. Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

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One year ago today I was ordained a Buddhist Priest through the White Plum Order at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You can image how uncontrolled my thoughts must have been on that day. Thoughts of I’m not good enough, why did they choose me, what am I getting myself into, I don’t know enough about Buddhism, and I even thought about how big my butt looked every time I made a full bow on the floor during the ceremony! I surly did NOT have control of my thoughts. You may feel the same frequently in your life as well. Challenges may arise that you may feel you are unable to handle for various and sundry reasons, but the thoughts do arise. The problem is not that the thoughts arise, but what we do about them once we hear them in our heads!

Do we dismiss them, act on them, allow them to hinder our ability to think clearly, ruminate over them, or even get physically, mentally, and emotionally sick from them? Zig Ziegler called them “Stinkin Thinkin.” They may arrive at the door of your mind at any time and in any place.

What “Stinkin Thinkin” arrived at your door today? What did you do about it when it did?

Below are some simple tips from the great Buddhist teachers of the distant past, the recent past, and the present:

Dogen Zenji: When you wash rice know that the water is your own life (page 132). (I like to visualize my brain being washed with some gentle soap and water by loving hands removing any negative thoughts that may arise quickly with ease and compassion. I do not let them live there, I just act as though they are passing guests who have dropped by for a short visit and quickly leave and leave nothing behind when they go.)

Robert Aitken: We must cut off the mind road, so that we are collected, and not chasing out through the five senses. Not dwelling upon colors, not dwelling on phenomena of sound, smell, taste, and touch, but dwelling in nothing at all we bring forth that mind (page 134). (Sounds difficult to “dwell on nothing,” this will take practice, patience and self-love and you will not lose yourself in this process—but finally find yourself.)

Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom: What changes one’s life and what enables one to turn it around, is precisely the being one with such negative emotions [thoughts]. Or in the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, “To be deluded is to be sitting in shit, but thinking that it’s chocolate mousse. (page 21-22)” (For me it is working on taking myself and my thoughts lightly, maintaining my sense of humor, and being able to laugh at and with myself whether I’m sitting in “shit” or “chocolate Mousse.”)

Life is a merry-go round and enjoying the ups and the downs as you spin around and learning from all three is what makes life so interesting. When the merry-go round starts moving just remember the words from another of my favorite philosophers: Blood, Sweat and Tears

Spinning Wheel
What goes up, must come down
Spinnin’ wheel, got ta go round
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel spin

Ya got no money, and ya
Ya got no home
Spinnin’ wheel all alone
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles and
Ya never learn
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel turn

Did ya find a directing sign
On the straight and narrow highway?
Would you mind a reflecting sign
Just let it shine, within your mind
And show you the colors that are real.

Someone is waitin’ just for you
Spinnin’ wheel spinnin’ to
Drop all your troubles by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinnin’ wheel ride…

Try it—I think you’ll like it and the lyrics may just help you “control your mind” whether you’re in chocolate mousse or something else!
In gassho,
Shokai

ingassho

 

[1]Aitken, Robert. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mitsunen Roku (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism. Produced by Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

 

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Bodhidharma said, “Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.  In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others (page 65).”[1]  This for me is one of the hardest things to overcome.  It seems like I have been working on this one forever, but I know it has not actually been forever.  In Robert Aitken’s book The Mind of Clover he talks about the difference between fault finding and simply recognizing basic information that is “free of any moral judgment.” He gives an example of the “silent mind” identifying and saying “She has an awful temper.”  As if you might be saying, “Her hair is brown.”  He goes on to write, “On the other hand, fault-finding, discussing the faults of others—these are acts of rejection.  The difference is one of attitude (page 66).”[2]

He also relates it to Dogen Zenji saying “Don’t permit haphazard talk.”  I have found recently that I am much better at catching myself as the words come into my mind and then stopping them from coming out the other end.  I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I just feel like gossiping and knowingly say them anyway.  Thankfully that is becoming rarer each and every day and I am now down to about once every other day actually letting them escape from my lips.

It could be that I have a giant note in all caps taped to my desk lamp that says “DO NOT SPEAK OF THE FAULTS OF OTHERS!  It’s like my mother scolding me day in and day out to “be nice.”  But it seems to be working so that even when I am not at my desk I can see that sign in my mind’s eye and hear the voice of mother!  What a combination—enough to scare anyone into a new habit or way of thinking or behaving.

If we add this to our Buddhist way of living with all things in a compassionate, kind, and loving way we will not be able to speak about the faults of others.  If we are working toward self-liberation we will take the time to go within and discover what is holding us back from being that loving compassionate being in this very moment.  Is it my fear of rejection, my memories of being raised by a critical parent, or being taught by a critical teacher?  Are these memories and habits blocking me from living and expressing myself as a bodhisattva would?

Take a look at your life at home, at work, and at play.  Is the environment a pleasant place to be—one that you are excited to go to? Or is it an unpleasant situation that brings criticism, fear, judgments and the like out in you? Do you then end up directing that negativity toward others?  Whose responsibility is it anyway to make your life full and rewarding?  Whose responsibility is it to make the Sangha, the work place, and the home a compassionate, supportive, safe, and fun place to be?

Aitkin goes on to say, “In fact, realization of Buddha-nature is not possible alone, and not possible unless one is open to nurturing (page 68).”[3]  Even Thoreau found his reclusive life at Walden Pond an opportunity to be kind to the animals, the trees, and the far away neighbors or towns people for he enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him.  But for most of us we do not live in the middle of the woods without electricity, flush toilets, cell phones, or the internet! We live in a community filled with people and things. For this community to be a better one—it must begin with me.

Today I will remind myself to not speak of the faults of others.  To observe my words as I think them and then ask myself what kind of “attitude” would be indicated if I spoke them. If they were not generated from within as compassionate words focused on the “other” with selflessness—then I need to be silent.  I need to let them slip away out into the ethers of nothingness and begin again–this time with kindness, love, and compassion.   This allows the person to see something that they may need to address and be willing to fix it. Now they go away feeling good about their relationship with me and thinking about how I shared with them in a loving, caring way.  This is the way to live the life of a bodhisattva.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will reign in those gossip filled hurtful thoughts and words.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the thoughts even get a change to slip out of your mouth.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of your thoughts that will help you in identifying the ones that should not be shared and the ones that should.
  • 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] Aitken, R. 1984.  The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press:NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

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So far we have talked about the first two refuges (Buddha and Dharma/teachings) and today we will be working on the third: the Sangha.  Robert Aitken in his book The Mind of Clover (1984) says this, “Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha can be understood here to mean realization, truth, and harmony (page 4).” This is achieved through the harmony of the Buddha and the Dharma which is accomplished through the fellowship that comes with being a part of a group practicing, sitting, and working on the teachings (Dharma) of Shakyamuni Buddha.

I love what it says in the book Soto Zen an Introduction to Zazen (2002):

Each of us needs to make personal vows based on our talents and abilities.  We don’t need to be a Buddhist priest. We don’t even need to be zazen practitioners.  Whether we are schoolteachers, lawyers, farmers, or mechanics—through our work and through our family life, we can find a wholesome way to benefit all living beings.  Through our activities we can make this world a healthier place.  I believe that this is our practice as bodhisattvas in the modern age.  There is no secret method to resolve all the problems we face, but each of us can take vows, practice repentance, and continue to make our own small but steady efforts.  And I believe that in order to live this way, zazen practice, as taught by Dogen Zenji, is a great help (page 15).

So where do we learn Dogen Zenji zazen (meditation) practice?  First, check the internet to see if there is a Buddhist group in your area.  If not, you can sit with people online at various websites.  You can read, listen to lectures, and find Buddhist chants on line as well.  So you can sit and learn all by yourself. Then one day you may even invite a friend to sit with you if there is no community near where you live.  Start your own small group where you can encourage and support each other.   It will help to be mindful of the time spent in sitting and reading and making notes of your progress.

If you are able to go away for a day or a week you can find many opportunities to study and learn at some of the most beautiful and wonderful Zen centers right here in the United States.  One of my very favorites, beyond my home group, is the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY.  They have ongoing programs all year long and you can find information about them at their website www.mro.org.  Your local groups may have opportunities to sit for a half day (zazenkai) or a, full day and sometimes even 3 to 10 days.

We even have groups that sit in the prisons around the country.  I am a small part of our prison ministry team where we go twice a month to sit with our men and women who are incarcerated.  There are several hundred sitting in the Florida prisons all around the state.  I know that if you want to become a part of a community of people using zazen meditation you can find the tools and groups in so many places, if you just look.

Open your mind to the possibilities!  They will appear before you know it.  Having support from people of like mind is very helpful.  It is especially helpful when you think you’re sitting is not going right, or it is too hard, or too time consuming, or too frustrating.  Having that family/community of people to talk with is so helpful.  Why, because they have had or currently have all the questions, challenges, and problems that you are experiencing and will be glad to walk through them with you.  Help is on the way when you join a Sangha, you’ll be glad you did.

Things to focus on this week:

  1.  I will begin each day with the intention of finding an opportunity to sit in meditation either with a Sangha or on my own.
  2. I will look for information on the teachings locally, on the internet, and through friends when I need help. Finding a Zen teacher/Sangha is a great step toward learning and growing.
  3. Next, I will keep the self-recriminations to a minimum and know that even the Buddha took a long time to find his truth and enlightenment.

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