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Wow, what a wonderful opportunity it has been to be working through this great book by Yuanwu!  The tips and suggestions are practical ones that help us live a life with limited “entanglements.”

He writes, “Cut off the myriad entanglements, and make yourself free and untrammeled, and reach the stage of great peace (page 64).”[1]  What a fantastic idea!  Regardless of where you reside be it in the city, the country, or as we say in our prison ministry “behind the fence” there are just way too many entanglements in our lives.  Most of them are created by ourselves.  Some of them are put upon us by our bosses, rules, laws, and relationships for sure. But wherever they come from we have the ability to decide to focus on them or not.

Out and back he says!  When you feel yourself being drawn out and away from your peace, right thinking, and joy you have the ability to bring yourself back.  Just like the YouTube videos that I show in my classes.  Sometimes I look at them and like them so much I go “back” to them again and again.  I invite my students to keep going back to them until the principles are made part of how they think and behave.

What videos are you playing in your head each day?  When you are sitting do you go back and forth between calmness and fidgeting and mind wandering.  Yuanwu says, “If you are suddenly dragged off by it, you have leaked and tarried.  You must continue to concentrate so that your mind does not wander off.  After a long time, it will fuse into one whole. This at last is where you find rest (page 65).”[2]

So, do not chastise yourself when your mind wanders and draws you away from your peace, contemplation, or mindfulness.  Hold on to his words that you must continue to concentrate, bring yourself “back” from wherever you have gone and simply start again. No judging, name calling, or condemnation. Just out and back, out and back ad infinitum if need be.

ed65327f41c183ef9f685e38097f454dThis brings to mind the last time I was on a swing—out and back I went over and over. Sometimes my feet had to touch the ground so I could give myself a little push which propelled me into the air toward the open sky and clouds.  How free I felt, how filled with glee I felt as I flew through the air, out and back, out and back into the “stage of great peace.”  Free at last from my entanglements! So just keep swinging out and back and watch what happens!

[1]Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

Picture from Printrest Etsy Tina Tarnoff

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My little rescue dog Annie has been added as a new character in a cartoon series entitled Dharma Pets by Jozan one of our talented men sitting with our Southern Palm Zen Group “behind the fence.” Annie is the little large eyed doggie in the middle.  Jozan is looking for a sponsor if you know of anyone who would like to help him get his cartoons out into the world and even make them into a greeting card series please let me know.  In gassho, Shokai

Dharma Pets New Friends Annie

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What a wonderful way to live our lives–Always Mindful!

How often each day do we forget to be mindful of things and people around us.  We find ourselves listening to the rambling thoughts in our heads about past conversations (he said/she said), missed opportunities, and events. We might be thinking about what we are going to say in that future to a person or in a meeting at work or at home.  When we do this, we have missed “this” current moment.

In that moment we may have missed the smile of one of our children or grandchildren. Or missed their laugh or the twinkle in their eye. We may have nearly fallen down the stairs or off the curb into oncoming traffic, or missed the turn we should have made in our car to reach our destination.  Being mindless can be dangerous to our relationships, our jobs, and even our health!

Yuanwu writes: Thus, with their fundamental basis firm and strong, they were not blown around following the wind of objects (page 60). They lived a mindful life.

What is blowing you around today? What is taking you from that place that current moment of peace, rest, and congeniality?  What words, deeds, people, and circumstances are you letting blow you around like the leaves in the midst of a windy fall day?  What or who is drawing you away from your mindfulness and this current moment? If we respond to this moment with the fear and judgment of the past we will never make new friends, repair relationships with former friends, or find our inner peace.

Peace lives only in this current moment not in the past or the future.  Love lives only in this current moment as we look into the eyes of our loved ones, friends, and coworkers.  Joy is experienced only in this moment as we laugh at a funny story being told by someone, or share a wonderful memory with them as we reminisce about a trip or dinner or meeting that we shared.

Why? Because in reality there is only the NOW moment!cartoon-b-c-words-slip-out

 

When we are remembering the past or looking into the future what time is it?  NOW! So, let us be mindful of that and let’s watch what we can do with our lives, in this moment! Because this moment is all we have so be mindful of it!

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Yuanwu wrote, “If where you stand is reality, then your actions have power (page 1).[1]

Yuanwu Chinese Master2. BWjpg

Chinese Master Yuanwu

The Chinese poet Chiao Jan (730-799) wrote this poem.

If you want to be a mountain-dweller. . .
No need to trek to India to find one.
I have a thousand peaks
To pick from right here on the lake.
Fragrant grasses and white clouds
Hold me here.
What holds you there,
World-dweller (page 57)?[2]

 

When you find yourself searching for peace, love, and compassion in your life and you don’t seem to be attaining it ask yourself Chiao Jan’s question, “What is holding me here?” And my questions: What got me here? What would happen if I took a different path or thought different thoughts or acted in a different way? What if I took a different action in this situation next time? How would that look and feel? Would it help or hinder?  What if I simply let go of those thoughts and feelings and stopped the actions that are hindering me right now?

These two men were students of Buddhism and of life who understood that our reality is powerful and holds us in or allows us to expand and grow in a positive way.  Chiao Jan was held in by his beautiful mountains and the lake and the fragrant grasses and white clouds.  What holds you?  What has a grip on you?  What does “reality” mean to you anyway?  Are your day dreams real, are your night dreams causing sleeplessness?  Where did your “reality” take you today?

As you can see we create our own reality with our thoughts, behaviors, feelings, desires and more—right where we are. If our actions have power imagine what we could do with the power of “sitting.”  Simply taking time out of each day to quiet our minds and bodies. To release ourselves from the plans, goals, and pressures of life.  To be that “mountain-dweller” amongst the fragrant grasses and white clouds and allow life to “simply be.” Then watch our “reality” move into the power of peace, love, and compassion for all people, places, and things.

Imagine what your life would be like if all your actions and words made a positive difference in everyone you encountered.  What a wonderful world this would be. And you didn’t even have to be a “mountain dweller” to attain it! Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] S. Hamill and J.P. Seaton (2007) The Poetry of Zen.  Boston & London:Shambhala

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the 10 oxherding pictures Sakura Sakuragi

The way of Zen is a process—one that can take a life time.  It is not a quick fix for your relationships, jobs, or health.  It is a way of life.  It is providing the opportunity for you to have a meditation practice that moves through you throughout the day not just when you are sitting on the cushion.  It gives you the opportunity to live a life of peace, love, and compassion even in the most trying of situations knowing that this to shall pass. The ox herder learned this very well on his journey.

Francis Dojun Cook in his book How to Raise An Ox writes:

In Buddhism there is a vast difference between believing that all things are impermanent and realizing that they are; but before that belief becomes true knowledge, one must practice in the faith that it is so, and will eventually be proven to be so by one’s own experience (page 17).

Thus, sitting and reading and practicing the principles of Buddhism will give you the opportunity and the “true knowledge” you need to bolster your faith in all things being impermanent.  That impermanence makes life easier to deal with, that impermanence is why we have a saying “and this to shall pass.”  Every life is filled with things that come and go: a headache, a bad grade on a project at school, a failed job or relationship, a burnt dinner, or a cold.  They came and they went, they were impermanent.  They were not here to stay!

As students of Buddhism we work to realize that everyone and everything is the Buddha. We take the bodhisattva vow which consists “of selfless service on behalf of others [which] gradually diminishes self-serving, self-interested action (page 23).” [1]

Thus, the ox herder practiced and studied and believed and eventually realized his oneness with all things and no longer needed the ox. There was no quick fix, no magic pill or potion. Dojun continues with these words, “And this begins to happen when we completely abandon our own efforts and trust completely in our true nature, which is the Buddha.  Again, this is Buddhist faith (page 24).”

“To have faith in the Buddha is the same as forgetting the self (page 26)” –And remembering impermanence! To forget the self is to find the true self. Good luck with that!

[1] Cook, F. D. (2002) How to Raise an Ox Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Boston: Wisdom Publications

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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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Oxherding_pictures,_No._5

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[1]
 

The fifth picture shows that disciplined practice can overcome the bad habits of previous conditioning and bring one into accord with the true nature of reality. Although discipline is still needed because the old habits of mind still have power, living in greater awareness of the true reality gives one the energy and direction to live a wholesome life. Now the ox willingly follows the oxherd home, meaning that the separation between oneself and true reality is being overcome.[2]

Who is the master in your life?  Is it your thoughts, actions, fears, joys, money, your job, your relationships, your spiritual practices?  In picture #5 the ox is now following the oxherder home.  He is not tightly tethered to the oxherder, but they are casually walking one in front of the other following the path of enlightenment. As Roshi Kennedy says in his book, Zen Gifts to Christians, “Self-mastery then is living a full life in the present, attached to nothing (page 61).”[3]

The habits of our minds can pull us down a dark and dangerous path if we are not aware of them.  It is discovering the art of sitting in meditation as a “disciplined practice” where we are learning how to let the ruminations of the mind be a visitor and not a resident.  Where all thoughts can be like feathers in the wind and we can watch them as they float through our minds easily without clinging or fear or anxiety. Where we can be in front of them or behind them and they hold no power over us.

Neither do we cling to the beautiful, happy, loving, thoughts because we can grasp and cling to them just as easily and begin to chase after them with ferocity. We can cling to their images and the feelings they bring up until they hold power over us as well. And thus, we are led on a wild goose chase running after those thoughts and running away from the dark thoughts and we find ourselves in an endless circle of confusion and fear, happiness and joy. It is as if we are on the merry-go-round at Palisades Park.  Round and round we go where it stops nobody knows!

Living a life of true separation from our thoughts is allowing them to come and go as they please.  It is seeing them floating like a feather in the wind. It takes time and “disciplined practice.” Each day it becomes easier and easier as we sit in meditation and allow those feathers to fly at their own speed and height. What a great way to live a “wholesome life” without clinging to happiness or fear.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] Koller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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