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Posts Tagged ‘focus’

oliver-px.1-195-175Many of us may remember the wonderful play and movie “Oliver! the Musical” with warmth and laughter.  There is a song in it that is so powerful and yet sad if you really listen to the words. Watched by his fellow orphans, Mark Lester, as Oliver Twist, dares to ask for more, in the film “Oliver!” (Columbia Pictures). [1]

There’s not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…
When we all close our eyes and imagine food, glorious food!

There are 12.9 million children in the US who are food insecure.[1] There are 15.6 million US households suffering from food insecurity. Around the world 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life and thus are undernourished. Every second a person dies of hunger.  This year 36 million people around the world will die of hunger[2]  while billions of tons of food are rotting in our gardens, farms, and city dumps. In 2010 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted.[3]

In fact, the highest or next highest person in any zendo and monastery is the Tenzo who is in charge of the kitchen! The monks were initially mendicants who went out with only the clothes on their backs and a bowl which they used to beg/ask for food to keep them alive. Thus, the power of prayer before every meal!

In Zen we have many different meal Gathas/chants.  I particularly like the one we use in our Zendo and before I eat, wherever it may be, I recite this gatha to set the tone for a mindful and thankful meal.  How many times a day do you eat so quickly and mindlessly that you haven’t really tasted the food, felt its texture in your mouth, the smell of it, or hot or coldness of it.  In fact, so much so that some time later you do not remember if you ate and if you did what it was. Yikes! Imagine what one of those 36 million people would have done with that meal? If nothing else remembered it as their last. How sad is that?!

Southern Palm Zen Group’s food blessing or chant goes like this:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I (we) may eat.
May I (we) be nourished so that I (we) may nourish life.

And finally, as a Unity minister we often had meals together and we always said a prayer, of course, before the meal.  At the children’s table our prayer was “Rub-a-dub-dub thank you God for the grub!” Sometimes the parents got a little bent out of shape and upset with me when I taught them this prayer.  However, I knew that it was something easy for them to learn and memorize and to say whenever they ate at school, church, or at home. It helped set up the age-old practice of giving thanks for the good/food that was in their lives.

The song goes on…

What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more that’s all we live for.  Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious food.

 What can you do today to make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to food insufficiency? Now go and do it…

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/oliver-re.html?scp=2&sq=night%2520train&st=Search
[2] https://whyhunger.org/just-the-facts/
[3] http://www.theworldcounts.com/…/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die_from_hu…
[4] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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Avalokiteshvara is known as the person “Who hears the outcries of the World.” There are so many on this earth today who are crying out for help in war zones, from hurricane devastation, earth quakes, in draughts, and famines, through poverty, and more.

avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of BuddhismShe represents the feminine energy of the world as the “holy spirit” represents the feminine energy in the Christian triad of the “father, son, and the holy spirit.”  She represents the fundamental aspect of Buddhahood: Great compassion.  In China she is named Kuan-yin, in Japan Kannon (or Kanzeon or Kwannon), and in Tibet Chenresi. In some cultures, Avalokiteshvara is a man not a woman so which ever pronoun you prefer to use for Avalokiteshvara is perfectly divine!

As you see in the picture she is depicted with many arms. In other pictures she also has many heads. I know that some of you can relate to her very well. You see her reflection in you. Every time you encourage a child or an elderly person to go beyond their struggles and challenges you are Avalokiteshvara in action.  Every time you drop off food at the foodbank, or volunteer with a non-profit organization, or mow the lawn of a disabled vet Avalokiteshvara is moving through you as you.  I know sometimes you feel like you could use those extra arms and at least one extra head if you had access to them.  But I always say, “Fake it till you make it.”

Joan Halifax and Kazuaki Tanahashi translated the Sutra “Great Compassionate Heart Dharani” in the most beautiful way (pages 138-39).[1]  Below is a list of things for you to think about or meditate on. Are these actions appearing in your life on a regular basis?  If not, why not? How can you make these actions more alive and present in your life each and every day? If yes, think about a few examples of who, how, and when they appeared.

  • Embodies great compassion
  • Protects all those who are fearful
  • Grants all wishes
  • Overcomes obstacles
  • Purifies delusion
  • Represents shining wisdom
  • Transcends the world
  • Removes the harm of greed, hatred, and delusion
  • Removes all defilements.
  • Brings joy to others
  • Succeeds greatly in life and love

Make this your project for the year and let me know how it goes!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

Picture: Avalokitesvara B&W Foundations of Buddhism

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I saw a wonderful book on my bookshelf by Kazuaki Tanahashi eSensei Kaz Tanahashintitled Zen Chants, Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary.  It made me think of all the affirmations, vows, and chants that I use on a regular basis and how powerful and fulfilling my life has become by using them.  Thus, the theme of the new blog series and workbook!

Each chapter will provide you with all you need to know about affirmations, vows, and chants and how– when used consistently and persistently– they can change your life for the better.  We will work with some created by others and learn how to create our own.

Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich wrote: Truly, “thoughts are things,” and powerful things at that…(page 19).[1] Thoughts and things have weight and measure.  That’s crazy you say!  Yet true it is.  Much research has been done on the mind and the affect that our thoughts have on our body.

One of the initial simple studies done was to place some college students (all men at the time) on a seesaw.  The participant balanced himself on it, so his body was flat and stable.  Then they asked him to think of a very difficult math problem and try to work it out in his mind.  Oddly enough the seesaw began to move lower and lower on the end where his head was. Next, they asked him to see himself running in a race with a friend and guess what?  The seesaw began to move lower and lower at the end by his feet!

Thus, thoughts have weight and measure! So, when you affirm that you can not do something for sure you can’t! But with time, effort, and persistence and these techniques you will be able to do most anything! I’m not saying you can jump over a mountain or a hill in one leap like Superman and Superwoman, but you can hike to the top that’s for sure.

And so, people have written chants, poems, prayers, affirmations, and songs to help lift us up, to help us think positive, and to help us create a more fulfilling life.

Here are some words of wisdom to start off on our adventure from Yongjia Xuanjiao’s Song of Realizing the Way (page 78).

The mind mirror is clear without hindrance

Broadly reflecting the infinite world. [2]

Thus, with your mind you can encounter the infinite world and create a reality filled with all the good you desire for yourself and others!  As Captain Jean-Luc Picard said in Star Trek: Make it so!

[1] Hill, N. (1960) Think and Grow Rich. Fawcett World Library: Greenwich, Conn

[2] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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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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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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