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The next section in the book is entitled “Step Back and Turn to Reality.”  One of Yuanwu’s most successful students Gao (Dahui Zonggao) became a great associate and friend because he was “not content to follow small understanding.” When he decided to leave and go out on his own he asked Yuanwu for some advice.  Here is what he said,

You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding, and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeathed by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. Don’t covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality, until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized (page 26).[1]

Remember your greatest successes became reality because of your perseverance!  Not because you went out seeking fame and/or money.  Because you reached out for practical understanding of your talent, for knowledge through the courses you were studying, or with a mentor or coach you discovered those things deep within yourself!

On YouTube AsapScience has a short video on productivity that I share with my students every term. They talk about “deliberate practice” and ask you to focus on the hardest tasks first. Then they have you divide the time up on the “work” and then on a “break.” They don’t rely on “will power” but on good habits of study—90 minutes of study and then a 15 to 20-minute break.[2]  Remember to give yourself a deadline! All of this requires perseverance and consistency!

Great, if I do all of this how will I know that I have had real attainment?

Yuanwu says,

Wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge where it has been smelted and refined ten thousand times. So that it will not change in ten thousand generations, so that it is ten thousand years in a single moment (page 26).[3]

You will hear the “bell” and see the “bell” when you’ve taken the time every day to practice your craft, to hold on to your passion, and consistently raise the bar for yourself.  Whether it is setting aside a certain time each day for meditating, or being involved in a Buddhist or mindfulness group that meets on a regular basis to learn and grow your practice—consistency is imperative.  All great athletes, musicians, artists, singers, teachers, inventors, and scientists attained success through persistence and consistency.

Then one day, without trying, they heard the valley returning the sound of the bell. There practical understanding and virtue was fully actualized.

Good luck with that! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

[1] Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g

[3]Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

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Oxherding_pictures,_No._9Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one’s true abode,
unconcerned with and without –
The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes

As the ninth picture shows, when self and reality (as constructs) are left behind, then things are revealed to be just what they are in themselves; streams meander on of themselves and red flowers naturally bloom red. In the ordinary events of life are found the most profound truths. Only by seeking the ox as a separate ultimate reality could the oxherd discover that there is no separate reality; that the ultimate is to be found in the ordinary.[1]

And so…why is it we are always looking for our good somewhere else, somewhere outside of ourselves, in our job, our family, our hobbies, our meditation, or our possessions?

“As Bodhidharma, the founder of Chinese Zen, said in the sixth century A.D., your true nature is always right ‘in front of you’—you yourself just do not see it (page110).”[2] Do we see that our true nature, our self, our ideas, thoughts, feelings, and love are not a separate reality they are the only reality available to us.  That the truth of life and its ultimate answer is simply in the words of Wu Li’s everyday way of living—Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

What more is there to life than to simply live it the best we can.  When you can take the time to help make life better for another, to make yourself more approachable to others, to make yourself more loving to all creatures large and small, and to make you kinder—these things ARE your true nature.  These are the things that life is made of.  Here you are able to “dwell in one’s true abode, unconcerned with and without.” Simply being—simply chopping wood and carrying water.

Simply doing the thing that appears to you in the moment: holding the door for someone with their arms full of packages, letting someone in front of you in a traffic jam, sharing your lunch with a stranger, or mowing the lawn for a sick or aged neighbor.  Living in the moment mindfully fully aware of the things that surround you with peace, love, and compassion is simply “chopping wood and carrying water.”  Expecting no reward simply Dwelling in one’s true abode, unconcerned with and without. Embrace the life as the picture displays—a simple tree beside a stream and a few rocks on which to sit as you bask in the simplicity of life.

Close your eyes—take a deep breath! Can’t you just feel the breeze and the spray of the water on your face?! Simply divine! “The ultimate has been found in the ordinary.”

[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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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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It is important to know the connection that exists between our minds and our bodies.  In America we have a tendency to separate these two things as if they were total strangers.  In reality they are all one.  There is no separation between them.  When we are happy and laughing and enjoying life we rarely have physical pain.  Unless, of course, if we are laughing so hard that the muscles in our stomach area start to hurt!  When this happens you can see the children grab onto to their stomach and yet they continue to laugh. When was the last time this happened to you!

So let’s take the time to add some fun exercises into our classes that help the children in several ways. Susan Kaiser Greenland in her wonderful book, Mindful Games Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families, invites us to have the children “send their bodies friendly wishes by silently saying phrases like “May my foot be warm and cozy in this slipper, may my legs be strong when I ride my bike, and may my tummy be full (page 107).[1] This helps the children see how what they think affects how they feel and how connected the mind and body really are.

She goes on to share another wonderful game that children can play to help them see the connections between the mind and the body.  She calls it Mind, Body, Go! mindful-games-book-cover

Children roll a ball back and forth as they quickly name a sensation and an emotion that they’re feeling right now.  It can be played with or without a ball in partners sitting across from one another, or with a group sitting in a circle (page 107).

The teacher might say something like, “My body feels stiff, and my mind feels a little nervous.”  Now you name something and roll the ball back. (For example, “My foot itches, and I feel silly”) (page 108).

As you can see this can be done with any age kids or adults.  You can think of many different and positive ways to play this game and how it can help the participants make that mind body connection.  Once we get more in tune with our bodies we will have less stress in our lives, less fears, anxieties, and shorter bouts of headaches, stomach aches, and the like. Once we learn how to talk to our bodies with positivity, acceptance, and love we will have an elixir that will help improve our health in mind, body, and spirit. And this elixir is free for the taking, you don’t have to drive down the street to get it or across town.  It is right where you are 24 hours a day 7 days a week!

So try it I think you’ll like it! I know your mind and body will that’s for sure! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho

Shokai

 

[1] Greenland K. S. (2016) Mindful Games Shambhala Publications: Boulder, Colorado

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All great teachers have the ability to make learning fun.  It not only helps the student learn more easily and retain the information better but it makes our jobs more exciting and fun!  Who wants to be bored at work, who wants work to be drudgery?  No one I know.  I want to be excited every morning as I wake up thinking about the great things I can do at work.  To hear the students laugh, see them smile, and to see them waiting with bated breath at what I’ll do next!

Even in my adult corporate training classes I play games, I surprise them with treats, compliments, and more.  They soon begin to expect the unexpected when they are in a class with me.  This encourages them to want to come to training, to realize that making life at work less tedious for themselves and their team will help them live longer and increase the team’s productivity and decrease its sick days!  Yes, live longer and healthier!

I don’t believe the adage that “The good die young and the obnoxious live forever.”  I believe that laughter is the best medicine and it opens my mind to creativity!

In my developmental English classes I have them write a “chain story” and in one class the last student actually killed the teacher off at the end.  Yes, the class killed me off!  I just loved the story it was such fun and they all expressed themselves so well.  They were able to see how creative they could be in just a sentence or two and how teams can work together easily and without their egos or fears taking over. Even the shy and quiet ones got to participate fully.

mindfulness-on-the-go-book-coverIn Jan Chozen Bay’s book Mindfulness on the Go, she has a great little exercise you can use with your classes she calls it “Say Yes.”  Find every opportunity to say “yes” to people. She invites us to put stickers up with the word “YES” in spots where you’ll notice them in your home and workplace.  She even encourages us to write “YES” on the back of our hand so we can see it frequently.  She writes, “This task helps us see how often we take a stance that is negative or oppositional.  If we are able to watch our mind when someone is talking to us, particularly if they are asking us to do something, we can see our thoughts forming defenses and counterarguments (page 127).”

She shares some examples of how people have used her technique.  “One person noted that an external ‘yes’ might not match the real attitude of ‘no’ inside, and that the task helped him detect a hidden constricted state of mind (page 128-29).”

So say YES to life, say YES to FUN and begin to bring it into your classrooms, work rooms, and living rooms and watch what happens.  Try it I think you’ll like having FUN for a change!

Let me know how it goes!

Shokai

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