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SomThich Nhat Hanhe years ago, I came across a wonderful little book entitled Zen Masters, a Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet by John Stevens.  Immediately I began to think about myself and my work and my studies as a Buddhist priest, teacher, and blogger.  Would my friends and students place me in any of these areas?  Do I place myself in any of them?  If so, how has my self-image affected my life? How has it given meaning to my life?

Everyone has had questions about their life while growing up.  They may not have been thought of as questions because the ideas may have started with an experience or a book or a teacher where a seed was planted.  For me I found myself at the age of 4 setting up some chairs in the garage and inviting my little girl friends to play school.  I, of course, had to be the teacher and they were the students!  I have no idea what I was teaching them but I do know I enjoyed the job!

The author chose to write about three famous teachers of Buddhism Ikkyu (1394-1481), Hakuin (1686-1768), and Ryokan (1758-1831).  Each one was unique and impactful in their own way just as you are—even when you don’t know it.  Your words, deeds, ideas, emotions, and thoughts affect not only you but everyone around you from your family and friends, to your co-workers, and everyone you meet in your daily life.

Do you open the door for the mom or dad with a baby carriage, do you carry a bundle for the elderly person who lives next door, and do you support your coworker when they need a lift on a very stressful day? Or are you the one who would not even notice the goings on in the three scenarios above?

What is your idea of a meaningful life and how do you express it? Are you the maverick, the master of masters, or a wandering poet?  No judgment here, no grading one against the other as all three of the great men written about were all unique and special in their own way, and thus are remembered and written about hundreds of years later.

What will people remember about you?  I hope this blog series will help you dig deep into yourself to find the maverick, the master, and the wandering poet as Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan did all those many years ago!

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round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I really believe that first I eat with my nose!  Yes, with my nose.  Whether I am doing the cooking or someone else is doing the cooking when I get near the kitchen or the dinning room or the restaurant the first sense that inspires me is the things that I smell.  When I walked into my house as a kid if my dad was making a big pot of stuffed cabbage I could smell that great aroma all the way from the front door.  If mom was cooking a batch of cookies, we’d run down stairs to get the first hot cookie that came out of the oven.  These are wonderful memories triggered by smell. I’m sure you have hundreds of them in your life that you respond to without even thinking about it.

Jan Chozen Bays in her book How to Train A Wild Elephant writes a whole section #31 titled “Notice Smells.”  She says that “…smell can evoke emotion, desire, and aversion (page 130).[1] Chozen reminds us that not all smells bring happy feelings and thus some remind us of painful life experiences like a fire in your home, or the burnt smell of your first and last batch of cookies that you ever made.  For some it could be the smell of a perfume or aftershave of a person that was either a light in your life or darkness.  So when you encounter a particular smell the visual begins to appear right along with the smell.

Chozen goes on to write: “One reason incense is used in meditation halls is that over time a strong link is forged between the fragrance of incense and a quiet concentrated state of mind.  As you enter the scented hall, your mind automatically settles (page 132).”[2]

Foods are famous for having wonderful smells and bringing wonderful memories.  Let’s stop for a moment and take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and think of some wonderful smell that has made you happy, or giddy, or glad.  What comes to mind for me is our family dinners when growing up.

On Sunday we would have a special family outing—going to the Chinese restaurant for dinner.  Dad would choose one item from column A and two from column B and we all waited with great expectations for the food to begin to arrive. I just loved the smell of the wonton soup and the fried rice. But most of all I loved those almond fortune cookies that I used as an edible spoon to scoop up the delicious chocolate ice cream!  What a great ending to a great food adventure—I experienced a beautiful harmony of fantastic smells indeed! How about you….

 

[1] Bays MD, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild and Other Adventures in Mindfulness Elephant. Shambhala, Boston & London, 2011

[2] Ibid.

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Yin-an (d.1163) is to have said, “This mind cannot be transmitted but can only be experienced in oneself and understood in oneself. When you get to the point where there is neither delusion nor enlightenment, you simply dress and eat as normal, without a bunch of arcane interpretations and lines of doctrine jamming your chest, so you’re clear and uncluttered (page 89)”[1] No picking and choosing as we often say in Zen.

Sometimes I think that people misunderstand Buddhism and think that it is the way and the answer to all of their troubles and woes.  They believe that if they can just meditate enough, chant enough, pray enough, eat the right foods enough their life will be transformed by some “Magic of Zen.”  Then when it doesn’t happen, they stop sitting, meditating, practicing, and begin to disparage the teachings as if “they” were the problem.

When they got to the point where they felt their practice did not bring them perfect health, wealth, happiness, and peace of mind they threw away their cushion and their Buddhist books and went their merry way looking for the next quick fix.  But Buddhism is not a quick fix it is a way of life.  It gives us the tools to deal with all of our challenges and joys. It offers us some time in stillness and quiet. Both of which are lacking in our society for sure. So no matter how we feel before we sit down or how we feel after we get up, we are changed by simply taking the time to go within and quiet our minds if only for a nanosecond!

Mark twain picThis mind is a dangerous thing!  Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up!” I wonder what would happen in our lives if we let our hearts be in charge instead of the silly old mind?! That can happen with the Magic of Zen…one breath at a time.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

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Cleary writes a section in this wonderful book entitled “Evaluating Teachers.”  Being a teacher for most of my life I was excited to read what he had to say about us.  I was not surprised at the wisdom that he shared from Ta-sui who lived between 834-919.  He is quoted as saying:

baby monk walkingWhen I was journeying, I didn’t choose communities on the basis of whether or not they had material provisions; I was only concerned with seeing whether their perception indicated some capacity.  If so, then I might stay for a summer or a winter; but if they were low-minded, I’d leave in two or three days. Although I called on more than sixty prominent teachers, barely one or two had great perception.  The rest hardly had real true knowledge—they just want your donations (page 28).[1]

Thus to find the right teacher for you is not easy.  There are so many people sharing their spiritual adventures, knowledge, thoughts, ideas, and feelings today on line everywhere.  There are people who offer classes and write books and profess spiritual awakening or knowledge and charge huge amounts of money to attend their classes or webinars or lectures.  I am not suggesting that they are all charlatan’s, but my mom always reminded me “buyer beware.”

I remember when my nieces were teenagers and the Moonie’s were everywhere trying to recruit members to their cult a neighbor tried to warn my sister about them.  She simply laughed and responded, “Are you kidding there is no way my two daughters would stand on the street corner for free and handout flyers!”

As a Buddhist we don’t proselytize and stand on corners or in airports handing out flyers. We spread our wonderful teaching by living it.  By providing an environment of peace, love, and compassion in our words and deeds.  Then someone might say, “Wow you have such a peaceful energy about you. How are you able to do that when there is so much negative energy in the world today?

Then and only then do I bring up my studies in Buddhism and meditation.  Their question can open a conversation at which time I offer my card for the person to check out my blog, or join us at the Zendo for a meeting, or share one of my workbooks with them.  No pressure, no proselytizing, nothing but information, compassion, and love which is the greatest teacher of all. And it’s Free!  Yes, I do donate money to my zendo to keep the lights on and the doors open but it is a gift, not a requirement and thus I give freely.

Live your truth and you’ll shine like the morning star for all to see.  You’ll be the light of peace wherever you go and unknowingly make a positive difference in someone’s life.  It’s a quietly simple yet powerful way to make a difference in the world in which we live.  Be the peace you want in your life…simply be it—that is the greatest teacher of all.

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

[2]Picture Gateless Gate-Page 6- Seon Buddhism http://www.buddhism.org

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Kermit_the_Frog Cleary titles a section in the book “The Great Task.”  “We are swept away by memorizing sayings and living inside conceptual consciousness. Has it not been said, ‘Concepts act as robbers, consciousness becomes waves’?   If you have not mastered the great task, nothing compares to stopping, in the sense of quiet cessation, the purifying and quieting of the body and mind.  At all times avoid dwelling obsessively on things, and it will be easy to unveil this (page 42).” [1]

Boy is this a “great task.”  There is not a moment in the day that goes by that we are not swept away by some belief we hold, some information that we’ve read, some concept that we were taught in our schools, churches, synagogues, or mosques!  When we do we often end up stressed out, tired, confused, and fearful.  Not everything that we read or learned is “true.”  Some states have taken events in history out of their history books because they did not like something that happened.  Yes, as hard as that might be to fathom it is true!

So this is just another reason to practice the principles of Buddhism and not obsess over things.  It is so important when we are meditating/sitting that we clear our minds of everything.  Yes, that includes the wonderful sutras and teaching of Buddhism.  That we simply clear our minds of things and focus on the breath.  We need to give our “minds” a rest!  We exhaust ourselves day in and day out with those thoughts.  Thinking propels us toward good and bad things but either are not bringing us peace, quiet, and rest.  The Empty Mind will be our only salvation as the Christians might say!

We need to give our body and mind a rest on a regular basis each and every day.  We need to tamper down the obsessive thinking and actions.  When we do we’ll see that this peace heals our body and mind without medicine.  Brings joy into our lives.  Finds the good in others. Helps us ignore the silly things the people around us do and say. Drops our blood pressure, removes our nervous stomach, and allows us to sleep like a “baby” as my mom used to say!

Avoid obsessing about things starting today and watch what happens in your life!  Try it—I  think you’ll like it!  The Magic will reappear in your everyday life!

[1]

Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc

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book cover Teachings of Zen Thomas ClearyIn the introduction chapter of the book Cleary talks about the influence that conventional religions had on Buddhism.  “On a deeper level, Zen masters sought to restore and express the living meaning of religion and philosophy; the Zen teaching was to ‘study the living word, not the dead word.’ Not only did Zen reawaken Buddhism in this way, but it also revitalized Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Shamanism bringing out their higher spiritual dimensions (page xiv).”[1]

And thus our charge today is to use these revitalized teachings in our lives so that we can live a more centered life through the philosophy of Buddhism in all its forms.   He goes on to write, “People are born with nothing but the unconceived buddha mind, but because of self-importance they want to get their own way, arguing and losing their temper yet claiming it is the stubbornness of others that makes them mad.  Getting fixated on what others say, they turn the all-important buddha mind into a monster, mulling over useless things, repeating the same thoughts over and over again (page xv).”[2]

What a sad state of affairs we have created for ourselves.  Just remember what it was like when you brought that new born baby home from the hospital.  They had no likes, dislikes, or preferences except to have their diapers changed and to be fed.  What ever you fed them they ate even if it was some nasty tasting concoction like Enfamil or Similac! Yikes!    And thus they lived in the “unconceived buddha mind” not filled with delusions.

As adults we have been deluding ourselves over and over every day, week, and year.  Where have your delusions taken you today?  Where will they take you tomorrow?  Want to turn your life around? Cleary suggests: “The most important thing is not to be self-centered; then you cannot fail to remain in the buddha mind spontaneously (page xvii)?”[3]

When was the last time you did something that was not self-centered? When was the last time you did something spontaneously—jumped in a puddle of water, or ate a fried pickle at the country fair, or ran outside without an umbrella to enjoy the summer rain?  How about stopping in the middle of a heated discussion to take three breaths and dive into your “unconceived buddha mind.”  When was the last time you did that? Remember that is where all the answers exist when you stop looking for them they will appear!

I know that everyone has been searching for a name or a number or a thing and no matter how hard you tried it would not come!  But sometime later in the middle of washing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or eating lunch the answer popped up in your mind.  Yes, Fred that was my sister’s third husbands name!

Cleary goes on to say, “The following pages contain essential Zen teachings on realizing this original buddha mind in all of us (page xviii)”[4] I hope you take this adventure with Professor Cleary and me and discover your “original buddha mind.” Let’s bring out your “higher spiritual dimensions!” You’ll be glad you did! And so will all the people around you! And that’s the MAGIC of ZEN…

[1] Cleary, T. (1998)   Teachings of Zen. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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Dogen How to Cook Your LifeIn Buddhism one of the major positions in the monastery is the person called the Tenzo.  The Tenzo is in charge of the food. Dogen in his book, How to Cook Your life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment, gave specific directions for those who would become the Tenzo.

He wrote this about the Tenzo: Use your way-seeking mind carefully to vary the menus from time to time and offer the great assembly ease and comfort (page 53).”[1] He goes on to say that the Tenzo is not the same as an ordinary cook or waiter.” Thus they are asked to “respect the food as though it were for the emperor (page 54).”[2]

When you are cooking for yourself or your family do you really focus on the task of cooking, on the food itself, how it is prepared, how it is handled?  Or do you simply throw something together as fast as you can, so it can be eaten quickly? Then you rush to clean up the dishes and pots and pans, so you can get to those “more important” things on your To-do List?

Dogen encourages us this way, “When you wash rice and prepare vegetables, you must do it with your own hands, and with your own eyes, making sincere effort. Do not be careful about one thing and careless about another (page 54).”[3]

To me this is such a beautiful way to see everything in life, not just the big things like the birth of a child, or graduation from college, or a great promotion at work.  It is the little everyday things that grow into a life filled with good memories.  My ideal life is filled with good friends, a happy family, a fulfilling job, two adorable little doggies, and a life lived with few regrets.  How about you?

Are you living one moment at a time mindful of your thoughts, actions, and deeds. Really being there, really being present in mind, body, and spirit.  Or is your mind wandering into the past or the future with thoughts of fear, anger, and pain?

Either way when your focus is off the task at hand your rice will be over cooked or underdone or tasteless because your focus and passion and love have gone elsewhere.  Or your anger and fear will have gone into the food.  Yes, it does go into the food and it gets burned through neglect or tossed with anger.  Which food would you prefer to eat? The one prepared with love and focused attention or the one prepared with anger and animus?  The choice, of course, is up to you…

[1]Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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