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Posts Tagged ‘Eihei Dogen’

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 In Zen Buddhism we have a practice that is called “zazen” which literally means “sitting.”  But unlike when we sit on a park bench and watch the people go by or sit in the car waiting for our food at the fast food pick-up window, “our sitting” is a form of meditation.

For the beginner I would not fret over the moment by moment challenges that may arrive as a new person “sitting.”  Nor would I want you to get upset when your thoughts interrupt your “sitting.”  With patience and dedication your sitting will produce exactly what you need for that exact moment in time.

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about meditation (zazen or sitting): “This meditation is a source of creative engagement in life.  While life is viewed as a continuation of birth, moment after moment, meditation is a total experience of this ‘birth’ at each moment. Thus a person no longer lives a moment as a segment of life or takes life passively but is fully engaged in an active and creative way.  Dogen explains this experience by using the metaphor of a boat: Birth is like riding in a boat.  You raise the sails and row with the oar… You ride in the boat and your riding makes the boat what it is (page 13).”[1] Where has your riding taken you?

There have been times in your life when you were so engrossed in a task, a book, or a movie that no one or nothing could get your attention.  In that moment you were in a “meditative” state.  You were so fully one with it that there was no separation between it and you.  It may only happen for a nano second at first, but the more you practice and the longer you sit the more often those “oneness” experiences will appear.

The goal is simple—so don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill as they say.  Simply allow yourself to take some time for yourself.  To find a quiet place to sit where you will not be disturbed (even if the only place is the bathroom) and start slowly.  Begin with 5 minutes and work your way up to 20 minutes.

Baby Steps Baby Steps. . .without pressure and condemnation! When you were a toddler just learning how to walk your parents didn’t scold you every time you got up and tried to walk and fell down!  NO…they praised you and clapped their hands and smiled at you. And if you have children that is exactly how you helped them learn to walk as well!

Be kind to yourself and let the process expand and grow at its own pace. Allow yourself to have a “total experience” of each moment of your life whether you are “sitting,” reading, walking, or doing the dishes–you’ll be glad you did!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

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Part 1 Introduction

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about Dogen’s teaching: Dogemoon in the dew drop picn uses the image of a dewdrop reflecting moonlight to describe the state of meditation.  He suggests that just as the entire moon is reflected in a dewdrop, a complete awakening of truth can be experienced by the individual human being (page 12).”

How do we do this as human beings with no super powers or time to mediate or desire to join a monastery?  What is the purpose of even looking toward “awakening?”  What does it even mean and why would I want to desire or seek it? This series of blogs will delve into this question.

For me I believe that most of us, including myself, “live a life of quiet desperation” as Thoreau described it.  Thoreau went on to write, “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”[1] We seem to be desperate about relationships, money, lack of time, finding that right and perfect job, and I could go on and on…but lucky for you I won’t.

So how can we use the principles of Zen Buddhism and the teachings of Dogen to help us move out of this life as described above and move into one of peace, love, and compassion for self and others?

In Dogen’s poem below he expands the concept of the “moon in a dew drop” even further.

The moon
Abiding in the midst of
Serene mind;
Billows break
Into light (page 13).[2]

When we decide to change the way we are living, and to discover the power of meditation we can be like the moon simply reflecting the good and the great that is everywhere present. That goodness and greatness is in us and around like the moon which is not the light itself but the reflection of light.  You and the moon are one. You have the ability to be the great reflection of all that is kind, and generous, and serene. As quietly and simply as the moon.

Be the light in someone’s life today. Be the lit side of the moon not the dark side. Find the serene mind in you that at this very moment is waiting for you to discover. The moon in a dew drop is always there. It is the “billows” that are breaking into light awakening in you as you in every moment. Do you see it…

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 8 (1966). Originally published in 1854.

[2] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[3] picture AZ Quotes

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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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How can sitting upright bring peace into my life?  In our little book published by the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, Soto Zen Introduction to Zazen (2002), they write

This kind of zazen practice teaches us to sit upright wherever we are.  Sometimes our mind is calm and sometimes our mind is busy.  Sometimes we feel peaceful, and sometimes we are in the midst of a storm.  We neither cling to nor avoid any condition, but keep sitting in an upright posture.  We try to live in this upright manner, not only in zazen but in our daily lives.  When we deviate from uprightness, we are aware of it and return to it (page65).[1]

And so, do not be deceived by the idea that you can only be peaceful when you are actually sitting, meditating, or praying and that once you’ve completed that task you go back to the chaos of your daily life.  In Zen your life is always based on the energy of sitting, the consciousness of sitting.  When walking we walk straight and tall conscious of our every step, our eyes are tuned to “seeing” all things around us from the things that are close up to the things that are far away.  We try to stay in tune with our immediate environment and in doing so it helps keep our mind from wandering into the past  where fear, anxiety, regret, sadness, and disappointment may live, or living with expectations for the future of joy, happiness, love, and peace.

As the text says, “we neither cling to nor avoid any condition.”  So when a fearful or negative thought enters our minds and disturbs our peace we do not chastise ourselves, get mad at ourselves, or criticize ourselves, we simply recognize the thought, thank it for coming, give it no power over us and move on. We do the same with the “happy” thoughts.  Do not cling to either—simply observe and then let go.

Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, driving the car, working, doing dishes, taking care of the children, or watching TV live every moment as though you are sitting zazen: focused, fully aware, patiently observant, and in the “now” moment.  And when you do you will be surprised at how creative, productive, successful, and in tune with all that is you have become.

I encourage you to walk with me on this path of Zen, try it, I think you’ll like!

 

[1] Sotoshu Shumucho, (2002) Soto Zen an Introduction to Zazen. Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, Japan

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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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Dogen’s commentary on a koan about insentient beings went like this:

Only the insentient know the dharma they speak of,

Just as walls, grass, and trees know spring,

Ordinary and sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries,

Nor are mountains and rivers; sun, moon, or stars (page 171).[1]

It is time we stop trying to categorize things and surround them with boundaries.  It is time we stop naming some things sacred, blessed, beautiful, and bountiful and the like and other things, non-sacred, limited, dead, or preceded by these types of adjectives.  Doing this allows us to pollute the world we live in and make it okay to destroy forests, and lakes, and rivers, because they are so called “insentient” things. They can’t think, they don’t have emotions, and can’t feel pain.

But Dogen saw the life and dharma in all things and gave us the wisdom in his teachings to find our inner compassion and beauty and direct it with our eyes and ears to all things on this earth.

Imagine what this world would be like if we took this viewpoint.  Every time we walked down the street and saw a stone shimmer, or a flower blow with the breeze, or admired the sounds of the birds, and we viewed this as seeing and hearing the dharma, the world would be a better place in which to live.  There would be less opportunity for anger, violence, wars, pollution, deforestation, and hatred to manifest through humankind.  We would begin to understand that “the ordinary and sacred” have no boundaries. He responded as well with this poem:

How splendid! How wondrous!

Inconceivable! Insentient beings speak dharma.

The ears never hear it—

Only the eyes (page170).[2]

So what is the dharma anyway? Buddhism recognizes these “laws” or universal truths such as the 10 Paramitas and the 16 Buddhist Precepts.  Dogen was addressing this teaching for us trying to guide us into a place where we, like Shakyamuni Buddha, could experience them.  They are not something that can be transmitted by words or actions, but must be experientially manifested while sitting and while living life with a wonderment and respect for all things sentient and insentient.

You may not hear the sound of the stone, or the sound of the orchid growing in the pot, but the eyes can see their beauty and it can permeate your consciousness and lead you to a place of serenity, compassion, and love for all—sentient and insentient.  That is the goal of Buddhism and the dharma.

How splendid!  How wondrous!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “insentient beings speaking the dharma.”

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate to them.

3.  I will remember that the ordinary and the sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries.

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

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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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