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Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

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I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

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one-world-family-logo-jpgIn Zen Buddhism there are so many wonderful teachers and writers that you could spend the rest of your life reading their original books and their translations of the ancient writers. Plus, we have the current teachers and writers taking a particular point of view or sutra or teaching and creating a blog or a book or a lecture from the information.  I, of course, happen to be one of them.

Today I begin my new workbook on the world of “peace” as envisioned in my head.  The current world is creating peace, love, hatred and fear at an amazingly fast pace due to the internet and social media. Regardless of where others may stand, I stand for peace and love.

Dharmachari Abhaya writes in the preface of Sangharakshite: A Guide to the Buddhist Path, these words:

A fact that is often glossed over in books on Buddhism is that there are two basic modes of conditionality, not just one: two ways in which we can act, one unskillful, the other skillful.  The first is known as the circular or, in Sangharakshita’s term, ‘reactive’ mode.  This is the mode in which we operate for much of the time, and it is the cause of all our suffering. But there is also a spiral or ‘creative mode,’ in which we can make spiritual progress experience ever-expanding states of happiness and bliss.[1]

For me bliss is the kissing cousin of peace!  I’ve never heard anyone say after a meditation where they went in to samadhi…  I felt such anger or hatred or fear!  No, they haven’t, but they sure do say I felt peaceful, alive, happy, joyous, content, and as many positive descriptive adjectives as you can think of.

It is not easy in America today to live a peaceful life.  With what is going on in our politics, wars around the world, poverty and prejudice in America increasing daily and I could go on.  It could make you mad, sad, or revengeful and thus not at PEACE!  So how do we handle this?  By balancing our lives with Buddhist principles, meditation, and mindfulness.  By living the teaching, not just by teaching it or reading about it.

Dharmachari Abhaya goes on:

…one should approach Buddhism with one’s total being. One should not just try to feel and not understand, nor just try to understand and not feel.  One should not always look within and never look without, nor, on the other hand, always look without, never pausing to look within, there is a time and place for all these things. If possible, we should try to do all of these things all the time.  As we ascend higher and higher in our spiritual development, we shall tend more and more to think and feel, act and not act, simultaneously.  It sounds impossible, but that is only because of the limitations of our present way of thinking.[2]

What way are you thinking? Will it bring you to a peaceful life and world or bring you to a world of anxiety, hatred, and fear?  It’s all up to you.  You shape your world by your thoughts, words, and actions…what shape is your personal world in? Love filled or Hate filled…or somewhere in between?

[1] Sangharakshita, (1990). Windhorse Publications: Birmingham, England. page 11
[2] Ibid. page 22
[3] The picture is the logo from an interfaith organization in Fort Lauderdale, FL to which I belonged they have merged with another organization JAM & All where I am a board member. Check out their Facebook page at JAM and All Interfaith.

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ying and yangIn Part 8 we talked about True Speech and once we’ve mastered that we can move on to what Pei-chien (1185-1246) calls “Action and Stillness.”  Cleary quotes him as saying “Let your actions be like clouds going by; the clouds going by are mindless.  Let your stillness be as the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying.  When action accompanies stillness and stillness combines with action, then the duality of action and stillness no longer arises (page 116).”

I just love the visual of the clouds floating by with ease and grace not caring in which direction they go as things out of their “control” move them through the sky or cause them to disappear without worry or frustration.  They simply have no clinging and once in a while they may shed a “tear” or block the sun but before we know it things will change.  Another cloud may have taken its place, or the cloud will have moved so we can see the sun shining once again. Such is life as we realize, “and this too shall pass” like the movement of the clouds and the sun in our lives.

Thus to focus our attention on the stillness, as Pei-chien says, when the action and the stillness combine, they negate each other and neither arises and both arise simultaneously as one.  We can not have success without an action.  We may have finished our college classes and graduated and got hired by a great company.

We may have married the one we love and created a wonderful life partnership.  To be successful there will be times of actions together and actions alone. There will be stillness when all you do is sit quietly in each other’s arms or in each other’s memories if you are far apart. The duality no longer arises, and we are one.

Regardless of how long the new job lasts or the relationship lasts the stillness and the actions will continue in your life. It is how we see them that determines our life course. It is how we deal with them that makes us who we are. It is where we put our focus on the actions or the stillness or both that can make all the difference.

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

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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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