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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn his chapter titled “Earth Tones” Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano talks about mindfulness and detachment and how they are like two sides of the same coin.

Observing the world and its changes mindfully, with detachment leads to disenchantment and peace and eventually liberation from suffering—Nibbana.  In order to restrain the reflex of greed it is important to try to stop looking at things crudely as potential enjoyments, and to see them more as means for understanding.  As long as we unthinkingly surrender to objects the power to infatuate or distract us or to force us into rash action, we live in peril, because of their inherent instability; but if we view with detachment both the repulsive and the love, if we see things exactly as they are and not as we would like them to be, then we can live safely and independently (page 64-65). [1]

When we become attached in this way what happens is the person, thing, object, or the words control us, have power over us, and thus can make our lives cold, bitter, sad, and lost. And yes, they can make us happy and feel loved, and worthwhile.  Regardless of whether we perceive these as good or bad just the naming of them tethers us to them through our thinking and our emotions. We are ultimately controlled by them.  To be free we want to be detached from them.  It is okay to observe them, recognize them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.  Detach them—see them floating away like a helium balloon.

Just this! Just this moment in time.  If the words are true of you it might be a good thing to say maybe I could have been nicer, or kinder, or more empathetic and then make a plan to do better the next time.  Then drop it!  Don’t be attached to the negative thoughts, the previous actions, or deeds.  Don’t ruminate over the past since you can’t go back and you can’t change the past!  The best thing to do is remove your attachment and move forward toward the good.

Avoid allowing others to control you by what they think, say, and feel about you.  Detach yourself from the objects you precede with the words “must have” in your life. Those are things that you have convinced yourself make you part of the team/crowd or worthy of someone’s attention or love. You were born divine and perfect regardless of how you feel today and regardless of what “they” think or say about you.  Detach yourself from their words and the names that they call you good, bad, or indifferent.

Simply observe the world without attachment. Make any changes you think are necessary.  Be the person your dog or cat things you are! Nyanasobhano says, “To be free of the tyranny of the senses—including the mind-sense—is to walk with mindfulness in the present moment, to think, act, and feel without distortion, to be unruffled and capable (page 65).” [2]  This is the person that you really are! Now act like it!

 

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid.

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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn this chapter Bhikkhu talks about meditation as not just something to do when you are at the zendo, on your cushion at home, or in your yoga class. It is to live a life filled with opportunities to “mediate” in each and every moment to be mindful and to be present!

He writes:

To be effective in revealing truth, meditation or bhavana must include mindfulness (satti). Mindfulness means pure attentiveness, an alert, impartial function of mind that simply notes whatever appears by way of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind itself.  Mindfulness does not cogitate, judge, or interpret; it only observes, naturally and without commentary, the actual character of an object or phenomenon (page 16-17). [1]

Wow!  Imagine how different your life would be if you walked around in a mindful way, without judgment, criticism, or expectation.  Without judgment!  I am not saying this effort won’t be difficult since we have been living a life filled with judgments and opinions and rules.  Yes, we need some so we won’t try to cross the street on the red instead of the green and won’t eat food that looks or smells spoiled and get food poisoning that’s for sure! But those are extremes.

I’d like for you to give this technique a try for just 5 minutes!  I’d like for you to simply go about your business focusing your thoughts on looking at things as they actually are.  This is a curb I need to step down.  Not—look at this curb it’s all busted up and the yellow paint is all chipped!  Where are my tax dollars going!?

You may be thinking I don’t have time to practice mindfulness or mediation I’m too busy!  Bhikkhu writes, “…insight meditation is not an extra duty to be piled on top of our already overburdened minds, but rather a way of looking more clearly at what is actually happening (page 18).”

He encourages us to “rouse and employ mindfulness in all situations, to perceive simply what is there, to note calmly and objectively the rising and the passing away of phenomena, specifically with regard to (1) the physical body; (2) pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings; (3) mind or consciousness and (4) mental objects (page 18).”

In doing so you will see your life and the external world more clearly and yet less judgmentally.  You will see it just as it is.  He goes on to recommend that there is, “No need to comment on these; mindfulness merely notices, holding on to nothing. Likewise, the mind entertains countless ideas and perceptions.  They all come and go, come and go—and the consistent, moment by moment observations of these is meditation (page 19).

So, if you think in order to be meditating you have to be sitting on your cushion, or at the beach, or in the mountains you are wrong! When you find yourself focused on this “moment” without judgment you are meditating!  How easy is that…simply live in the now moment not in the past not in the future.  What a novel idea! Let me know how it goes!

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

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book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Diane Ackerman in her book An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain writes, “The brain is not the mind, the mind inhabits the brain (page 4).”[1]

Shibayama writes, “The Mind here does not refer to thought or emotion, nor does it refer to human psychology which is an object of scientific research. It is not the consciousness, nor the psyche which is dealt with by psychiatrists, either. When we go beyond all these, wash them off, and transcend their limitations, for the first time we can reach the Mind which is also called the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind, the Spirituality, or the truth (page 26).”[2]

And so, when we mediate we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend our human thoughts that we created through study, reading, our culture, and experiences and move into touching the greater Mind.

He shares a story about Zen Master Sekito who was training a monk and while walking through the forest they came across a dense thicket that they could not walk through. The student asked Sekito for the knife. “Sekito unsheathed his big mountain knife, and without a word thrust out the knife with the sharp edge toward him.  The companion was frightened, and withdrew his hand crying, “Stop the nonsense! Let me have the hilt.” Sekito’s reply was sharper than the edge of the knife.  He said, “What is the use of the hilt? The monk could not utter a word in reply (page 26-27).”[3]

Shibayama finishes by writing, “We are apt to stick to the hilt which is of secondary importance, and miss the Truth altogether.  Sekito is urging us to get hold of the fundamental Truth direct.  Here we see the truth of direct pointing (page 27).”  It is the blade that does the work that cuts through our wrong thinking and fears and anxieties.  Remember the axiom, “The truth will set you free.” Where is your freedom?  Hidden in a job, an education, a scripture, a political party, or religion?

Then there is the power of meditation.  Each day as you take the opportunity to sit and calm the “monkey mind” you’ll find that soon you’ll be able to transcend the brain/mind and tap in to the greater mind, the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind. And when you do you’ll discover who you really are and you will experience the power and peace that has always been within reach when you make that direct connection.

Which mind are you pointing to?

brain-perception

[1] Ackerman, D. (2004) An Alchemy of Mind The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner: NY

[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[3] Ibid.

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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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In Chapter 2 Abbot Zenkei Shibayama writes about the characteristics of one aspect of Zen called satori and how it shows up in other religions.  It is such a joy to read about the inclusivity of the teachings and practices of Zen Buddhism regardless of whether you consider yourself a Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Christian, or of no faith at all.

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen defines the word satori as a Zen term for the experience of awakening (enlightenment or kensho).

Shibayama goes on to write: When Zen is seen in such a broad sense, Zen means the Truth, or the Absolute; it is not limited to Buddhism alone, but is the basis of all religions and all philosophies. In this sense, Zen does not remain simply the core of Buddhism, but it works to deepen and revive any religion or philosophy.  For instance, there can be Christian Zen, or Taoistic Zen; there can be Zen interpretations of Christianity or of Taoism (page 16).

And if you take a look at all the worlds major religions today they all include some form of meditation and sitting in the quiet for contemplation. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. is a practicing psychotherapist, a Zen teacher, and a Roman Catholic priest who has written two wonderful books joining the Christian and Zen principles Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit and Zen Gifts to Christians. They are perfect examples of what Shibayama wrote in the 1970’s!

Shibayama also talks about its flexibility.

Due to its transcendental and fundamental nature, Zen is not restricted by any fixed ideas or customs, but expresses itself freely, making creative use of words and ideas. In this way their own culture may be deepened and given new significance and life, based on Truth fundamental for all mankind (page 17).

 

He concludes this section by saying:

Up to this point in this essay I have sought to explain the position of Zen in Buddhism and to indicate the role it can play in religion, philosophy, and culture. They maintain that Zen as the Truth itself, in the broadest sense, should be understood and used by all mankind because it can help build and refine the character of the individual and can deepen thought (page 19).

I too believe this is true.  As we sit and meditate on a daily basis we discover things about ourselves that we might not have without the knowledge of the Buddha’s satori (awakening).  Through my meditation practice I have begun to live a life of peace, love, and compassion, with flashes of creativity and spontaneity that have made my life so much easier, fulfilling, creative, and fun.  Annie Nov. 27.15 (2)I am becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be, the person my dog Annie always knew I was.  Thanks Annie…

 

 

Footnote: Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

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A Flower Does not TalkThe preface of this book is incredible as it reads like he wrote it just yesterday. Although this book was published in 1970 it holds so many wonderful truths about Zen and life I know you will be blessed by your time spent with it.

If we look at the current world in which we live we can see the ever-growing importance of living a life set forth by Buddhist principles that are laid out in this book and the many others that I have shared with you over the years.

He writes in his preface:

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality. We must attain a higher level of personality so that we can cope with the brilliant scientific achievements of modern times.

Zen presents a unique spiritual culture in the East, highly refined in its long history and traditions, and I believe it has universal and fundamental values that can contribute toward creating a new spiritual culture in our time.  The important point about Zen is, however, that we should understand it, experience it, and live it in the varying circumstances of our everyday life.  Small and insignificant as my existence and work as a Zen Roshi may be, I believe that they contribute to the infinite (page 5-6).[1]

Although I too am small and insignificant I also believe that sharing his writings and my musings about them will contribute to the infinite in a positive, uplifting, and helpful way.

Thus, I begin with the poem for which the book was named in the hopes that you will be uplifted in some way by his words.

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
   the whole of the flower, the whole of
   the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flowers, the truth
   of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here.

And fully shining in you…In gassho, Shokai

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

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