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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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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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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books.

The Rigveda is an ancient Indian text one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism written between the 5th and 2nd century BCE, the first four books of the Bible Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were written between the 6th and 2nd century BCE, the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century BCE, the Buddhist Sutras between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, the New Testament in the 1st century CE, the Qur’an is the newest written around 632 CE.  Wow!  If you can remember all of that you’re better than I am!

 What’s my point?  The people who wrote these books were wonderful people who wanted to memorialize their beliefs and experiences for those who would come after them.  They were trying to explain, nature, birth, death, life, good and evil and more.  Science was not at the level it is today, they only had their eyes, ears, nose, and sometimes mouth to discover and memorialize their lives and how they dealt with what happened to them and in them in their waking and sleeping hours.

This is neither good nor bad—it just is.  Thus if saying a bed time Buddha at Bedtimeprayer will help keep you alive through the night—great what can you lose! If not eating meat is how you desire to live your life wonderful, go for it.  If eating meat but not pork or crustaceans (lobster, crabs, shrimp, etc.) is your choice that’s great too.  In ancient times you might have been better off not eating pork because it caused an infection we know as trichinosis, but so did lots of other foods.  Just a few more reasons “not to believe” everything found in your ancient texts.

My mom believed it about the pork and thus when we had pork chops for dinner they were so well done they tasted and acted like shoe leather!  That was one of the nights I always found a reason to eat at my best friend’s house for dinner.  Another time I bought some “free range chicken” and served it to her for supper.  I was bragging about how great they were and that all the chickens should be freed.  Once again mom told me a “farm story.”  “I fed plenty of chickens on the farm growing up and let me tell you they ate anything and everything in sight, at least this way their waste ends up far enough away that they can’t get at it.” You’ve got to love my mom!

So in this day and age with our education, science, technology, the internet, and more you have the opportunity to be your own researcher and discover about life for yourself.  If following your religious and family traditions is important in your life…go for it.  Just remember that not everything written in them is true…then move full speed ahead and live the life that works for you and spreads peace, love, and compassion wherever you go!

In gassho,

Shokai

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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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For anything new to emerge there must first be a dream, an imaginative view of what might be. For something great to happen, there must be a great dream.  Then venturesome persons with faith in that dream will persevere to bring it to reality.

Some ideas whose time has come will spread as in a forest fire. But most need the help of a teacher.  I had the good fortune to have an extraordinary one.  He dreamed a great dream of how servanthood could be nurtured in the young, and he spent his best years in bringing it to pass (page 9-10).[1]

Where I work at Kaplan University they encourage not only the students to volunteer and make a difference in their communities but they encourage all faculty to do so as well through The Virtual Difference Makers. Here is a list of some of the things they did in 2016: ran a Spring Virtual Serve-A-Thon, hosted a Stress Management Series, a Virtual Celebration of Rio, sponsored their first annual Health and Wellness Fair, held a Fall Serve-A-Thon and more!.

I have been invited to Lynn University to participate in an interfaith dialog and will be back there again in April for another interfaith dialog.  The hall was jammed with students!  Standing room only!  They asked wonderful questions of the panel.

These were the words on the Flyer for the event: Healing the Divide: Interfaith Dialogue.

In a world where religion so often is the cause of hate and intolerance, we stand infaith-headtogether at Lynn to create a world where our religious differences are not simply tolerated but celebrated. This event is precisely that; where religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist traditions will come together in celebration of our diverse faith traditions.  Come and be amazed!

Imagine the great education the students are receiving at both Kaplan and Lynn and many other colleges around our country when their faculty and administration support such events.

If you are able to create similar events on your campuses I encourage you to do so.  Create a Virtual Difference Makers club for students and faculty, run interfaith dialogues, offer training for faculty on meditation and mindfulness.  Be the change you want to see in our world! Be the catalyst for peace, love, and kindness spreading around your campus and beyond!  The time has come to spread the message of servant leadership at all levels.  Change has always come from the bottom up not from the top down! Be the change you want to see in the world!

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

Shokai

 

[1] Greenleaf, R.K. (1987) Teacher as Servant: A Parable. The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership: Indianapolis, IN

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Teaching students about simplicity is very difficult in a world where there is no example of it in their lives.  We live in a society that is complex, busy, noisy, and filled with to-do lists and projects and school, studying, and working toward promotions and more.  And this is all happening today!

But to live a life of peace, joy, and contentment we will need to slow down, increase our ability to focus on one thing at a time, and find time to meditate and be mindful about each word, thought, and step we take.  When we accomplish this we will be living in a world that is full and complete and filled with peace, love, and compassion.  Fears and frustrations will diminish and laughter will appear in their place.

dad, grandad, boy playingWhen was the last time you heard yourself or your children or students or co-workers actually laugh with a loud squeal, saw them roll on the floor, and hold their tummy because it hurt so much from laughing?  When was the last time you laughed so hard tears rolled down your face like the picture you see here?

Below is an exercise for you to share with them to help them think about simplicity and how it appears in their lives. You may not be able to use it with very young students so you may have to revise it a little bit to show them how to work on one thing at a time and finish it before they go on to the next thing. You might illustrate that idea with two pictures, one that is a very simple picture of something i.e. a glass of milk, and the other that is a very busy and complex picture such as a table full of dishes and food with a glass of milk among the items on the table.

Script for Exercise:

Pretend that you have a magic wand and that magic wand allows you to recreate your life and yourself– to invent a new you.  I am going to give you a few minutes to meditate on a word and think about what it means to you and how it appears in your life, or doesn’t appear in your life.  The word is simplicity.  (short pause)

When I ring the bell I am going to give you several minutes to create something with the art supplies that you have gathered that will illustrate what you discovered about yourself during the meditation.  Be as creative as possible in expressing what you discovered and even what the new you, both internally and externally, can look like. Feel free to draw, write, color, express yourself in your own unique way.

Keep track of the time. Give the students 3-5 minutes, longer if they have experience meditating, before ringing the bell. After ringing the bell remind them what they are to be doing for the next 10-15 minutes.  Keep track of the time because you will want to save time for debriefing the activity.

You might even try this exercise yourself.  Reflecting on simplicity might lighten up your day and brighten up your life!  Try it I think you’ll like it…

In gassho,

Shokai

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