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On the second page of this chapter Bhikkhu writes this question, “How did we ever fall to this bondage (page 2)?”[1] It made me stop to think about my life and the bondages I have created for myself.  The bondage of perfection, hope, fear, lack, hopelessness, and suffering. As I read I wondered if I could ever break these chains.

He answered my question when he wrote, “The Pali word ‘Dhamma’ (Dharma in Sanskrit) means true nature, the fundamental, liberating facts of reality and the course of practice that leads to deliverance from all suffering. But the path of Dhamma is a way without extremes.”  And so, I thought about my day and wondered how often I have gone to extremes and how those extremes affected my day.

cartoon-b-c-words-slip-outExtreme #1:  Woke up as usual at 5:15 to get ready to go to Zen and the coffee was not made and ready for me to enjoy in my morning ritual—reaction anger and not so nice words.

Extreme #2:  I love apple pie so I bought a nice one and baked it in my oven. Wow did that smell delicious! I proceeded to eat a piece after supper, then for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an evening snack the next day.  Hmmmm

Now I know these are not “cardinal sins” as they say in Catholicism but they sure did not make my life devoid of suffering or bondage.  And they were definitely not the way “without extremes.”

He goes on to write: The Dhamma beautifully encompasses the twin problems of thoughtful people: how to get along serenely day to day in the toils of the world, and how to overcome the world and all its suffering forever (page 5).”[2]  He points often in this chapter to our “ignorance” as a catalyst to our suffering.  He writes “When ignorance is destroyed and craving withers away, greed, hatred, and delusion cannot come to be, and suffering, cut off at the roots, must expire and disappear.  Then there can no longer be any mental affliction, or spiritual uncertainty, or confusion.  The perfected one sees the universe just as it is, and experiences what the Buddha called ‘that unshakable deliverance of the heart (page 7-8).’”[3]

“We can achieve deliverance by consciously cutting through the bonds we have tied around ourselves, by resisting and ultimately destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, by making a final end of ignorant craving. However sharp the hunger, however keen the pain, nobody gets out of the jungle of troubles without making a sustained, personal effort (page 9).”[4]

And finally, he writes, “The Buddhist goes by way of Dhamma—the middle—way and does the walking alone, stumbles and gets up again, picks off the thorns, gets in the open and stays there with determined effort—no slave to false hope, no listless idler, and yet no superman: just a thinking being who has become convinced that the fearful storms of the universe are born in and burst out of his own heart and that nobody can quell them but him. (page 9-10).[5]

I wish for you a beautiful middle way, a forest with less and less thorns, and fewer and fewer storms all overcome by your budding unshakable heart.

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

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

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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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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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