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img_zazen_postureThis last chapter will totally debunk the 9 chapters before it!  What a fabulous way to end my story…

Even though there are millions of pieces of writings about Buddhism it is more important for your life to keep it simple!  Since there are the schools of Theravada (Hinayana), Mahayana and Vajrayana. There are Zen/Chan Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, and how about Tantrism.

But Dogen simply relies on one thing and one thing only as he says, “From the first time you meet a master, without engaging in incense offering, bowing, chanting Buddha’s name, repentance, or reading scriptures, you should just wholeheartedly sit, and thus drop away body and mind (page 145).”[1]

Yes, we love to start our sitting with services by chanting or reading or singing a sutra to set the stage for sitting (zazen). However, it is not necessary to do so to be a Buddhist, or to reach enlightenment, or to find peace in your life. It does not matter if you were raised as a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, an atheist, or in an indigenous group such as Aboriginal or Manitoba with The Seven Grandfather’s Teachings.  You will benefit by simply sitting.

 

Sitting each day will help you meld with your traditions through the silence, to be one with the peace “that passes all understanding.”  Regardless of whether you sit for 5 minutes or 50 minutes make time to sit!  As Dogen says, “In this sense, the words ‘Mind itself is buddha’ are like the moon reflected on water; the teaching ‘Sitting itself is becoming buddha’ is like the reflection in the mirror (page 149).”[2]

Whose reflection do you see in the mirror each day?  The reflection of your buddha nature of peace, love, and compassion or the reflection of the bandit’s MO—lack, limitation, fear, and anger?  The bandit wants to steal your health, peace, compassion, and joy.  Will you let that happen?

Who shows up today is in your hands alone—the buddha or the bandit!

It is always up to you.

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

[2] Ibid.

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Now that’s a silly name for this chapter when I’ve just spent the last 5 chapters talking about “how to practice Zen!”  Kaz  Tanahashi has a great chapter entitled “Guidelines for Studying the Way.” In it there is a DO NOT DO LIST for students:

imagesStudents! Do not practice buddha-dharma [teachings] for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain blissful reward. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects.  Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma.  This is the way (page 13). [1]

I am sure you are asking yourself then why am I practicing?  I like to think it is to follow the dharma [teachings] so beautifully shared in the four vows of Buddhism.  I really love the translation that my friends at the Wet Mountain Sangha in Pueblo, Colorado use:

The Four Boundless Vows

I vow to wake the Beings of the world
I vow to set endless heartaches to rest
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate
I vow to live the great Buddha way. [2]

Practice is neither easy nor hard it depends on how you are feeling and what you are thinking in each moment. That’s why they call it practice.  They don’t call it “done” or “finished” or “fulfilled.” As a Buddhist everything we do, every thought we think, every word we speak is “practice.”  So what are you practicing: fear, anger, and animosity or peace, love, and compassion? How about some simplicity of thoughts and words and deeds?

Our practice isn’t just sitting on a cushion with our eyes lowered in the cross-legged position or on a chair, or at the top of a mountain or by a beautiful lake or stream.  It is when we are in the midst of the chaos and noise, traffic and confusion of the “real world” that our practice comes alive through our focus, our breath, and keeping our dharma-eye on the Buddha way. Begin by realizing that we are all one: the moon, the stars, the earth and the people around us are one. When we do this it is so much easier to live the life of the Buddha through peace, love, and compassion for all beings and for our planet.  There are too many preaching it and not enough living it!  Which one are you?

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

[2] http://wetmountainsangha.org/

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Part 1 Introduction

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about Dogen’s teaching: Dogemoon in the dew drop picn uses the image of a dewdrop reflecting moonlight to describe the state of meditation.  He suggests that just as the entire moon is reflected in a dewdrop, a complete awakening of truth can be experienced by the individual human being (page 12).”

How do we do this as human beings with no super powers or time to mediate or desire to join a monastery?  What is the purpose of even looking toward “awakening?”  What does it even mean and why would I want to desire or seek it? This series of blogs will delve into this question.

For me I believe that most of us, including myself, “live a life of quiet desperation” as Thoreau described it.  Thoreau went on to write, “What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”[1] We seem to be desperate about relationships, money, lack of time, finding that right and perfect job, and I could go on and on…but lucky for you I won’t.

So how can we use the principles of Zen Buddhism and the teachings of Dogen to help us move out of this life as described above and move into one of peace, love, and compassion for self and others?

In Dogen’s poem below he expands the concept of the “moon in a dew drop” even further.

The moon
Abiding in the midst of
Serene mind;
Billows break
Into light (page 13).[2]

When we decide to change the way we are living, and to discover the power of meditation we can be like the moon simply reflecting the good and the great that is everywhere present. That goodness and greatness is in us and around like the moon which is not the light itself but the reflection of light.  You and the moon are one. You have the ability to be the great reflection of all that is kind, and generous, and serene. As quietly and simply as the moon.

Be the light in someone’s life today. Be the lit side of the moon not the dark side. Find the serene mind in you that at this very moment is waiting for you to discover. The moon in a dew drop is always there. It is the “billows” that are breaking into light awakening in you as you in every moment. Do you see it…

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter 1, p. 8 (1966). Originally published in 1854.

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

[3] picture AZ Quotes

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Sitting Zazen facing wallThere are so many kinds of meditation from the simple Zen method of clearing your mind and counting your breath 1 on the in breath and 2 on the out breath.  Then there is the wonderful description by Frances W. Foulks in her iconic book Effectual Prayer where she writes: “To meditate on a subject is to give it attentive, earnest thought with the idea of having all its meaning revealed; that is, all the meaning that one is capable of receiving at the time (page 65).”[1]

These are different types of meditations, yet both are equally valuable in our lives.  Sometimes we simply want to go where “no” thoughts live.  Where the infinite universe and I are one.  Where no sound, or thought, or fear, or feeling exits.  Then we sit with the Buddha and become one with the breath and emptiness.

And sometimes we would like to sit as Frances describes in her chapter on meditation.

…each moment we give to meditation on the higher truths reveals to us fresh glories.  At any moment, in the night watches or in the midst of the duties of the day, in any place, on a busy street corner, at home or in the office, alone in the open field or deep in the woods, one can drop all outer things, relaxing from crowded thoughts and activities, and sink down, if for only a moment, into a holy meditation that will bring him forth filled with peace and strength, refreshed in mind and body (page 65).”[2]

She describes a “holy meditation” as something outside the ordinary and the mundane.  A place where perfect silence and love exists. Where no thoughts and all thoughts exist simultaneously.  The place outside of fear, anger, judgment, and anonymous.

Where Jianzhi Sengcan in his writing, Engraving Trust in the Heart, reveals

            One is inseparable from all.
All is inseparable from one.
If you realize this,
You go beyond thinking (page 72).[3]

This is the gift of meditation given freely to all who enter its silence, who chant the words of the teachers, and the words of our heart.  It is the giver of life and love, peace and tranquility at any time and in any place.  Regardless of the faith from which it comes we can blend our truths and our prayers and our chants and create what is right and perfect for us in the moment.  The importance is to begin a practice of prayer and meditation that works for you in that moment.  And in the next moment a different chant or prayer or breath will appear in the right and perfect time, at the right and perfect place, with the right and perfect tenor.

The thing is we have to be open and receptive to receive it and embody it and be one with it! Or expect nothing and be one with that. Are you?

[1] Foulkes F.W. (1945) Effectual Prayer. Unity School of Christianity: Lee’s Summit MO

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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Thich Nhat HanhBhikkhu Nyanasobhano begins this section with a question, “What is the special meaning or value of renunciation (page 77)?”[1]  We are living in a society where more is better, more possessions will make me happy, and where life is a time and a place to see how many “things” I can collect.  My time in the prison ministry has been an eye opener for me.  Frequently, I have offered a book or something to one of our Zen members “behind the fence” and they’ve thanked me and refused the gift saying they only have a very small locker and it is filled to the brim already with no place for anything more.

Is your life filled to the brim already with things, ideas, emotions, problems, objects, likes, and dislikes so that there is no more room for anything more?  Or are you still trying to stuff more “stuff” into it?  And then one day you notice that you’re tired of dusting, cleaning, and taking care of all of your stuff!  Your relationships have fallen by the way side with significant others, family, and friends because of your “stuff.”  This stuff can be suffocating you and keeping you from the real important “stuff” like peace, love, and happiness.

Renunciation is a fancy word for giving something up.  How about making a list of the things you are willing to give up!  You might put some people and thoughts that are hindering you from living a life of peace, tranquility, and love on that list? Are you willing to give those people or thoughts up? I’m not saying it’s easy but it is imperative if you want to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit. What can we replace them with? How about some inner peace, tranquility, and self-love?

He goes on to say, “Buddhism certainly does not require anyone to renounce the world entirely; rather, those who follow Buddhism with the aim of reducing present suffering may find that they are led naturally and gradually to more and more simplicity and renunciation in their everyday affairs (page 81).”[2]

Renouncing them means taking away their power. They get their power from your thoughts and those thoughts are often verbalized.  Just because I “think” something does not mean that I have to “say” something!  My mom used to tell me to “bite my tongue” when I wanted to say something mean or hurtful.  She knew it would only ruin my relationship with the person to whom they were directed. Mom was a very wise woman!

So, for today I am going to “renounce” negativity, fear, anger, and judgment. I am going to act and speak words of peace, tranquility, and love for myself and for everyone who crosses my path today. How about you?  What will you renounce today?

[1]

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

[2] Ibid.

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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn his chapter titled “Earth Tones” Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano talks about mindfulness and detachment and how they are like two sides of the same coin.

Observing the world and its changes mindfully, with detachment leads to disenchantment and peace and eventually liberation from suffering—Nibbana.  In order to restrain the reflex of greed it is important to try to stop looking at things crudely as potential enjoyments, and to see them more as means for understanding.  As long as we unthinkingly surrender to objects the power to infatuate or distract us or to force us into rash action, we live in peril, because of their inherent instability; but if we view with detachment both the repulsive and the love, if we see things exactly as they are and not as we would like them to be, then we can live safely and independently (page 64-65). [1]

When we become attached in this way what happens is the person, thing, object, or the words control us, have power over us, and thus can make our lives cold, bitter, sad, and lost. And yes, they can make us happy and feel loved, and worthwhile.  Regardless of whether we perceive these as good or bad just the naming of them tethers us to them through our thinking and our emotions. We are ultimately controlled by them.  To be free we want to be detached from them.  It is okay to observe them, recognize them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.  Detach them—see them floating away like a helium balloon.

Just this! Just this moment in time.  If the words are true of you it might be a good thing to say maybe I could have been nicer, or kinder, or more empathetic and then make a plan to do better the next time.  Then drop it!  Don’t be attached to the negative thoughts, the previous actions, or deeds.  Don’t ruminate over the past since you can’t go back and you can’t change the past!  The best thing to do is remove your attachment and move forward toward the good.

Avoid allowing others to control you by what they think, say, and feel about you.  Detach yourself from the objects you precede with the words “must have” in your life. Those are things that you have convinced yourself make you part of the team/crowd or worthy of someone’s attention or love. You were born divine and perfect regardless of how you feel today and regardless of what “they” think or say about you.  Detach yourself from their words and the names that they call you good, bad, or indifferent.

Simply observe the world without attachment. Make any changes you think are necessary.  Be the person your dog or cat things you are! Nyanasobhano says, “To be free of the tyranny of the senses—including the mind-sense—is to walk with mindfulness in the present moment, to think, act, and feel without distortion, to be unruffled and capable (page 65).” [2]  This is the person that you really are! Now act like it!

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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