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Posts Tagged ‘dokuson’

When I first arrived at my Zen group Doshin Sensei gave me some tips on sitting.  He suggested that I set my intention first and then go into watching and counting my breath.  That resonated with me because I am a person who has written down my goals and worked to attain them my entire life.

Not long after that we had a wonderful teacher, Dr. Brenda Shoshanna author of Zen and the Art of Falling in Love, come to visit us for a weekend retreat at the Southern Palm Zen Group.  I went and had dokuson (private meeting with a teacher) with her and during the visit we talked about my relationship with my mother.  She gave me some sage advice and told me that when I set my intention I could include my parents in it.

I have three lines that I say when I begin.

I sit in order to save the planet and all sentient beings.  I sit in honor of my mother and father who gave me life and taught me to do good.  I ask the Buddhas of all directions to light the lamp of dharma for all those on my prayer list named and unnamed and for all those who are groping in the darkness of suffering.

I then go into the silence counting and/or watching my breath and letting the universe take care of the rest.

There is a Zen Koan that goes like this:

One day, Layman Pang and his daughter, Lingzhao, were out selling bamboo baskets.  Coming down off a bridge, the Layman stumbled and fell.  When Lingzhao saw this, she ran to her father’s side and threw herself to the ground.
“What are you doing?” cried the Layman.
“I saw you fall so I’m helping,” replied Lingzhao
“Luckily no one was looking,” remarked the Layman.

Joan Sutherland reflects on this koan in the beautiful book The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women.

Lingzhao’s action obliterates the idea that there is a helper and a helped.  Compassion isn’t a commodity we deliver but a commitment, according to Chan, to help liberate the intimacy already inherent in any situation.  ‘What is most intimate?’ the koan suggests that we ask.  Usually the most intimate response to another’s difficulty begins with the willingness not to flee.  Fleeing can take the form of abandoning the situation, and it can also mean escaping into ‘helping,’ into a whole constellation of ideas about what ought to happen.  Intimacy is being willing to stay and accompany and listen, to be vulnerable and surprised and flexible.  It’s a willingness to fall with someone else, and see what becomes possible when we do (page 294).[1]

So what does this story have to do with thanksgiving?  For me it reminds me of what happened with my mother when I began setting my intention—we became the best of friends and I was given the opportunity to be her caretaker, as she had done for me in my early years.  I give thanks to the universe for bringing me the opportunity to be like Lingzhao and throw myself down beside her and say, “I saw you fall so I’m helping.” And thus it was with my father in his last years as well.  And so I give thanks for my Buddhist teachings which have given me the strength and “willingness not to flee” when others could have and did.

Namaste mom and dad wherever you are…

So I take this opportunity now to give thanks for my teachers, mentors, and friends at the Southern Palm Zen Group, for my dear departed parents, for my friends and family, for the men that I sit with at our prison ministry, and for all of my clients who keep me employed doing what I love to do the very most—teaching.

In gassho, Shokai

ingassho


[1] Caplow, F. and Moon, S. Editors (2013) The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women. Wisdom Publications. Somerville: MA

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“At the very moment of attaining enlightenment upon seeing the morning star, this is where the Tathagata eats his morning gruel (page 143).”[1]  So this morning as I sat my mind kept wandering onto my to-do list for the day and the week and the month and each time I would go back to counting and following my breath I soon was back on the to-do list.  That wandering mind led to self-recrimination and questioning myself, my practice, and my ability to sit.  Then I remembered this quote from The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt and took a deep breath and remembered “nothing special.”

Zen is nothing special, sitting is nothing special.  As the wisdom of the followers of Buddha have proclaimed over and over again when asked about zazen, or the Buddha, or Buddhism it was just: chopping wood, carrying water, or just this, or thus.  Yangshan simply brought a basin of water and a towel and Xiangyan made a bowl of tea and both of these students were told by Guishan, “You two students surpass even Shariputra and Maudgalyayana with your miraculous activity (page 134)!”

And yet every moment of the day is special as Dogen wrote, “Layman Pangyun was an outstanding person in the ancestral seat.  One day he said, “Miracles are nothing other than fetching water and carrying firewood (page 135)”[2]  So today the miracle for me was just taking the time to sit, taking the time to remember that just making the effort each day is a miracle!  Taking the time to forgive myself for being human when I have a wandering mind, or when I get upset or angry with someone during the day and the like–now that’s a miracle.

Recently, I had dokuson at our all day Zazenkai with Mitsunen Nordstrom and shared this with him, he jumped for joy and said people misunderstand Buddhism if they think that they should never lose their temper or be angry at another.  That’s nonsense.  What is good is to forgive yourself when it happens, be compassionate with yourself, and then move on with your day. Don’t walk around stoically with a stiff look on your face afraid to have emotions and feelings!  Nothing special: either the good thoughts and actions or the upsetting thoughts and actions…just this.

Dogen went on to say, “Things are just as they are even when unnoticed.  Even when people do not know that fetching water is a miracle, fetching water is undeniably a miracle (page 135).”[3] Remembering and forgetting: miracles. Eating your morning gruel immediately after enlightenment: a miracle. And yet nothing special!

Being born: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Realizing your oneness with all things: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Miracles are happening to you and around you every moment of everyday…so guess what? Nothing special! Just eat your morning gruel…

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “nothing special” miracles in my life.

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate and forgiving toward myself and others.

3.  I will remember that emotions are part of living and sitting.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] ibid

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