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Posts Tagged ‘Lou Nordstrom (Mitsunen Roku)’

Yuanwu praises the Zen master Linji for “employing expedient means” or skillful means with each of his students. (page 9).[1]  There are no standard movements, words, or tests to give every student.  Why? Because each is unique and individual in their knowledge, desires, and talents.  It is your job as a student to find a teacher that will work with you as an individual, to find the right and perfect practices to help you on your way to enlightenment or truth or peace.

As a teacher or a student, we want to use a variety of expedient means to help ease the suffering of self and others. It is important that these things be guided by wisdom and compassion. Yuanwu goes on to describe Linji’s school by saying:

It is absolutely transcendent and does not value any particular strategy.  The correctness of one’s eye for the Truth is the only thing it considers important.  …you must be completely liberated from head to foot, with a liberation that penetrates the bone and penetrates the marrow and is not entangled with anything whatsoever (page 11).[2]

Yuanwu goes on to speak of the teacher Yantou who said, “An enlightened teacher is like a gourd on the water, floating free and at ease, who cannot be reined in or tied down (page 14)” Be a teacher or a student who floats on the current of truth and wisdom that comes through you not “from” you.  Find a teacher who speaks the words that are meaningful to you for your particular situation at that moment without hesitation or pause.  Someone who looks in your eyes with love and compassion and with an open heart.  Someone who provides a safe space where you can grow and flourish, and blossom.  A place where secrets are kept and tears and laughter are shared and no words are spared or need to be spoken.

For me this describes my teacher, Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom, who writes in his book, Essays in Zen Daoism, these words:

One simple way of putting what I’ve been saying is that the use of skillful means is applied, not pure Zen. As long as this is made clear, I have no problem with skillful means or applied Zen. And it is clear that compassion requires that we not one-sidedly insist on no meaning as liberation when human beings—lay people, that is, not monks—so desperately crave meaning and purpose in their lives (pages 63-64).[3]

Let’s keep it simple! Please get a GREAT teacher and use the GREAT teacher you have within yourself—and when you do you’ll experience real teaching and real learning and your life will be changed for the better!

Let me know how it goes…

Shokai

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nordstrom, M.R. (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism.  Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

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One year ago today I was ordained a Buddhist Priest through the White Plum Order at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You can image how uncontrolled my thoughts must have been on that day. Thoughts of I’m not good enough, why did they choose me, what am I getting myself into, I don’t know enough about Buddhism, and I even thought about how big my butt looked every time I made a full bow on the floor during the ceremony! I surly did NOT have control of my thoughts. You may feel the same frequently in your life as well. Challenges may arise that you may feel you are unable to handle for various and sundry reasons, but the thoughts do arise. The problem is not that the thoughts arise, but what we do about them once we hear them in our heads!

Do we dismiss them, act on them, allow them to hinder our ability to think clearly, ruminate over them, or even get physically, mentally, and emotionally sick from them? Zig Ziegler called them “Stinkin Thinkin.” They may arrive at the door of your mind at any time and in any place.

What “Stinkin Thinkin” arrived at your door today? What did you do about it when it did?

Below are some simple tips from the great Buddhist teachers of the distant past, the recent past, and the present:

Dogen Zenji: When you wash rice know that the water is your own life (page 132). (I like to visualize my brain being washed with some gentle soap and water by loving hands removing any negative thoughts that may arise quickly with ease and compassion. I do not let them live there, I just act as though they are passing guests who have dropped by for a short visit and quickly leave and leave nothing behind when they go.)

Robert Aitken: We must cut off the mind road, so that we are collected, and not chasing out through the five senses. Not dwelling upon colors, not dwelling on phenomena of sound, smell, taste, and touch, but dwelling in nothing at all we bring forth that mind (page 134). (Sounds difficult to “dwell on nothing,” this will take practice, patience and self-love and you will not lose yourself in this process—but finally find yourself.)

Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom: What changes one’s life and what enables one to turn it around, is precisely the being one with such negative emotions [thoughts]. Or in the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, “To be deluded is to be sitting in shit, but thinking that it’s chocolate mousse. (page 21-22)” (For me it is working on taking myself and my thoughts lightly, maintaining my sense of humor, and being able to laugh at and with myself whether I’m sitting in “shit” or “chocolate Mousse.”)

Life is a merry-go round and enjoying the ups and the downs as you spin around and learning from all three is what makes life so interesting. When the merry-go round starts moving just remember the words from another of my favorite philosophers: Blood, Sweat and Tears

Spinning Wheel
What goes up, must come down
Spinnin’ wheel, got ta go round
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel spin

Ya got no money, and ya
Ya got no home
Spinnin’ wheel all alone
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles and
Ya never learn
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel turn

Did ya find a directing sign
On the straight and narrow highway?
Would you mind a reflecting sign
Just let it shine, within your mind
And show you the colors that are real.

Someone is waitin’ just for you
Spinnin’ wheel spinnin’ to
Drop all your troubles by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinnin’ wheel ride…

Try it—I think you’ll like it and the lyrics may just help you “control your mind” whether you’re in chocolate mousse or something else!
In gassho,
Shokai

ingassho

 

[1]Aitken, Robert. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mitsunen Roku (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism. Produced by Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

 

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Mitsunen Roku (Lou Nordstrom) one of the most loveable and outstanding teachers in our linage of Zen Buddhism wrote a wonderful little book entitled Essays in Zen Daoism (2010).  In it he has a chapter entitled “On Being Honest,” and boy is he honest about being honest!  He writes, “Freud was right: human beings have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception, and nowhere is this more prominent than in the pervasive, perennial need to believe in a ‘higher, spiritual nature. (page 71)’”

For me this is a reason to continue learning, searching, and seeking that “higher spiritual nature” for it just may be there and my lower personality or human frailties may just be a temporary state of consciousness.  Whether or not we believe there is a “higher spiritual nature” is up to each of us.  We may not have the conviction of Mitsunen Roku when he writes, “We would like to think of ourselves as bodhisattvas committed to the salvation or liberation of all beings.  Honestly, how much do you really care about the suffering of others?  What sort of negative emotions do you actually feel about other human beings?  What do you honestly feel about the one you love?  Catullus said, ‘I love, and I hate; and I am torn in two.’ That’s honesty! (page 72).”

Being truthful with self is probably more difficult than being truthful with others.  At least it is for me!  My mother is one of those inherently honest people.  She would not take even a penny if it did not belong to her.  She has a vivid sense of right and wrong, truth and lies.  So I guess I got some of it from her.  But I often find myself being untruthful with myself.  I tell myself things like, “Don’t worry eating this piece of cake won’t add a single pound to your waistline if you just eat it mindfully.”  Or how about this one:  Driving over the speed limit is okay because it is more important to be on time to Zen to help set up.

He writes, “Be honest about the nature of the motivation behind your practice (page 72).” Who cares what you practice for or which practice you decide to take up?  You can be a great Catholic, Buddhist, Atheist, or Theosophists as long as you are truthful to yourself about why you practice the principles, truthful to yourself about why you believe what you believe, truthful to yourself about why you act the way you act because of those principles.

He quotes Bodhidharma who said, “Vast emptiness, no holiness!” The fantasy of a higher nature is about holiness, sacred as opposed to profane reality.  Bodhidharma didn’t speak of Buddha-nature, true nature, essential nature; he said, in a spirit of radical honesty, ‘I KNOW NOT!’ Do you honestly know who or what you are (page 71)?”  Yeah, if you do!  Yeah, if you don’t!

This week our practice is on truthfulness. Regardless, of whether we do or don’t honestly know who or what we are today is a great day to begin looking at our lives and seeing how truthful we are to others and to ourselves.  We all need to examine our lives with open eyes.  However, we need not be critical of what we find, but we do need to be open to an occasional “AH HA.”  Then decide what you want to do about it, if anything.  Sometimes it is cruel to be truthful to someone who may think they look great in that chartreuse shirt or blouse, sometimes the person may be better served if we let him or her know in a kind and loving way that this may not be his or her best color choice.  Let the person know what looks great on them and tell them why.

Life is a challenge, living a life of truthfulness is an even greater challenge.  So when the times get tough just know you are in good company with Bodhidharma and just admit “I know not!”  Then do what your heart tells you is right and honest and truthful with compassion and love and you can’t go wrong with that!

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