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If we are to live a meaningful life, we each need to understand and acknowledge what craggy-gardenswe have “strewn along our path” good, bad, or indifferent–actions, words, and deeds.

Ikkyu wrote yet another profound poem when he said:

 

 

Bliss and sorrow; love and hate; light and shadow;
heat and cold; happiness and anger; self and other.
The enjoyment of poetic beauty may well lead to hell.
But look what we find strewn along our path:
Plum blossoms and peach flowers (page49)!

I resonate with his idea of poetic hell sometimes, for sure!  Although I was an English Lit major in college, I was never good at writing poetry. I always felt like I was working on an assignment that was undoable, unmanageable, and frankly really bad writing!  So, I avoided it at all costs…  until I became a Buddhist and starting writing poems for each of my friends as a gift for their Jukai ceremony.

Each person gets a Zen name during the Jukai ceremony that embodies them as a student and practitioner of Buddhism.  That’s why you see Shokai on my writings.  Shokai means “inviting the world.”  You can all guess why I was given that name!  I’m always inviting my friends and family to meditate or read a great Buddhist book, or read my blog, or come sit with us at the Zendo.

Some students want to go even further on their path with additional studies to move into even higher positions like a monk or a teacher.

In your life you’ve created many paths from careers to families and more.  Some of the paths have been easy and smooth as the ice on a lake in January or some may have been as unexpected as a summer storm. Sometimes others have strewn things on your path that may make you stumble or pause or even force you to rise to the occasion.

What have you “strewn” along your path today?  What has been strewn along your path by others? How did you handle it?  Like “Plum blossoms and peach flowers?” Or not…

 

Footnote: J. Stevens (1999) Zen Masters A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan Kodansha International: New York

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craggy-gardensFu-jung is to have said, “A shortcut into the path is to be inwardly empty and outwardly quiet, like water that is clear and still, myriad images reflecting in it, neither sinking nor floating, all things spontaneously so (page 81).” [1]

For most Americans we are seeking and searching for the quick fix, the instant coffee, the two minutes in the microwave supper, and the long-lasting loving relationship that appears without work or dedication or commitment!  What?!

Life is not filled with shortcuts or Minute Rice or instant pudding.  All jobs, relationships, and projects grow through time with love, life, spontaneity, and talent.  The best homemade bread is kneaded lightly and slowly then left covered by a warm towel to slowly rise. Then it is lovingly placed in a hot oven where it slowly turns into the most wonderful smelling bread.  When we cut and cover the bread with butter it melts easily, and the smell of the hot yeast is unbelievable.  The smell draws us to the bread and its life-giving substance without even thinking about it.

If shortcuts are taken the bread will not rise correctly and it will be flat and hard and taste like cardboard.  Sort of like some of my personal relationships in the past that I rushed through. They were handled with harshness instead of kindness and love and ended up in disasters.  The person was unable to “rise” to the occasion because of my words, deeds, or actions.  Why? Because I wanted to take the shortcut, the easy path, the self-centered path. However, the I, Me, MY path ended at the edge of the cliff and the relationship or the job died.

Fu-jung wants us to see our path in an open-minded way inwardly empty leaves room for new things and ideas and relationships. Requires us to think spontaneously to go with the flow! To stop comparing everyone and everything to someone or something in the past, neither sinking nor floating.    What a great challenge and if worked at slowly and lovingly like our bread our lives will be filled with great adventures, loving relationships, and spontaneity! How great is that!

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

[2} Photo that I took of my friends house in Tellico, TN

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oliver-px.1-195-175Many of us may remember the wonderful play and movie “Oliver! the Musical” with warmth and laughter.  There is a song in it that is so powerful and yet sad if you really listen to the words. Watched by his fellow orphans, Mark Lester, as Oliver Twist, dares to ask for more, in the film “Oliver!” (Columbia Pictures). [1]

There’s not a crust, not a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow, or cadge…
When we all close our eyes and imagine food, glorious food!

There are 12.9 million children in the US who are food insecure.[1] There are 15.6 million US households suffering from food insecurity. Around the world 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life and thus are undernourished. Every second a person dies of hunger.  This year 36 million people around the world will die of hunger[2]  while billions of tons of food are rotting in our gardens, farms, and city dumps. In 2010 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food was wasted.[3]

In fact, the highest or next highest person in any zendo and monastery is the Tenzo who is in charge of the kitchen! The monks were initially mendicants who went out with only the clothes on their backs and a bowl which they used to beg/ask for food to keep them alive. Thus, the power of prayer before every meal!

In Zen we have many different meal Gathas/chants.  I particularly like the one we use in our Zendo and before I eat, wherever it may be, I recite this gatha to set the tone for a mindful and thankful meal.  How many times a day do you eat so quickly and mindlessly that you haven’t really tasted the food, felt its texture in your mouth, the smell of it, or hot or coldness of it.  In fact, so much so that some time later you do not remember if you ate and if you did what it was. Yikes! Imagine what one of those 36 million people would have done with that meal? If nothing else remembered it as their last. How sad is that?!

Southern Palm Zen Group’s food blessing or chant goes like this:

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I (we) may eat.
May I (we) be nourished so that I (we) may nourish life.

And finally, as a Unity minister we often had meals together and we always said a prayer, of course, before the meal.  At the children’s table our prayer was “Rub-a-dub-dub thank you God for the grub!” Sometimes the parents got a little bent out of shape and upset with me when I taught them this prayer.  However, I knew that it was something easy for them to learn and memorize and to say whenever they ate at school, church, or at home. It helped set up the age-old practice of giving thanks for the good/food that was in their lives.

The song goes on…

What wouldn’t we give for that extra bit more that’s all we live for.  Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, beautiful food, food, glorious food.

 What can you do today to make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to food insufficiency? Now go and do it…

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/oliver-re.html?scp=2&sq=night%2520train&st=Search
[2] https://whyhunger.org/just-the-facts/
[3] http://www.theworldcounts.com/…/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die_from_hu…
[4] https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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I saw a wonderful book on my bookshelf by Kazuaki Tanahashi eSensei Kaz Tanahashintitled Zen Chants, Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary.  It made me think of all the affirmations, vows, and chants that I use on a regular basis and how powerful and fulfilling my life has become by using them.  Thus, the theme of the new blog series and workbook!

Each chapter will provide you with all you need to know about affirmations, vows, and chants and how– when used consistently and persistently– they can change your life for the better.  We will work with some created by others and learn how to create our own.

Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich wrote: Truly, “thoughts are things,” and powerful things at that…(page 19).[1] Thoughts and things have weight and measure.  That’s crazy you say!  Yet true it is.  Much research has been done on the mind and the affect that our thoughts have on our body.

One of the initial simple studies done was to place some college students (all men at the time) on a seesaw.  The participant balanced himself on it, so his body was flat and stable.  Then they asked him to think of a very difficult math problem and try to work it out in his mind.  Oddly enough the seesaw began to move lower and lower on the end where his head was. Next, they asked him to see himself running in a race with a friend and guess what?  The seesaw began to move lower and lower at the end by his feet!

Thus, thoughts have weight and measure! So, when you affirm that you can not do something for sure you can’t! But with time, effort, and persistence and these techniques you will be able to do most anything! I’m not saying you can jump over a mountain or a hill in one leap like Superman and Superwoman, but you can hike to the top that’s for sure.

And so, people have written chants, poems, prayers, affirmations, and songs to help lift us up, to help us think positive, and to help us create a more fulfilling life.

Here are some words of wisdom to start off on our adventure from Yongjia Xuanjiao’s Song of Realizing the Way (page 78).

The mind mirror is clear without hindrance

Broadly reflecting the infinite world. [2]

Thus, with your mind you can encounter the infinite world and create a reality filled with all the good you desire for yourself and others!  As Captain Jean-Luc Picard said in Star Trek: Make it so!

[1] Hill, N. (1960) Think and Grow Rich. Fawcett World Library: Greenwich, Conn

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

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Yuanwu starts out as most good Zen teachers do by saying, “Here at my place there is no Zen to explain and no Path to transmit.”  Then they go about quickly explaining the “nothing.”  In this section of his book he, of course, does exactly that!  How great that the ancestors worked so hard to keep us on our toes about “nothing.”bhante-gunaratana

Within each of us is the “fundamental matter that is inherent in everyone (page 67).”[1]  What we might call in Unity that divine spark or goodness within us, that oneness with all things big and small, animal, mineral, and vegetable!  And when we forget that we are a divine spark of all there is we can easily fall into those traps of greed, anger, jealousy, attachments, contrived actions, confusion, and false sentiments, so Yuanwu says!

Who wants to fall into all of those traps? Not me that’s for sure!  So, what can we do?  What does Yuanwu suggest?  “You do not exert any mental effort: you go along freely with the natural flow, without any grasping or rejecting.  This is the real esoteric seal (page 68).[2]

Finally, he writes, “Bearing this esoteric seal is like carrying a lamp hidden in the darkness as you roam through the world without longing or fear—it is all the realm of your own great liberation, continuing forever without interruption (page 68).”[3]  Just this!  We simply deal with whatever comes our way each and every moment in the most appropriate and helpful way we can. Shine your “light” onto the situation and all darkness must disappear. That’s the law.

You can turn up that light at any time by simply sitting and taking time each day to encounter that quiet place in body, mind, and spirit.  H. Emilie Cady in her Unity book, Lessons in Truth wrote: Every man must take time daily for quiet and meditation. In daily meditation lies the secret of power.  No one can grow in either spiritual knowledge or power without it…  No one would ever dream of becoming a master in music except by spending some time daily alone with music (page 7).[4]

Give yourself the present of being alone in the present moment as long and as often as you can.  The more you do that the brighter the hidden lamp in you will shine for all to see.  Be the light that lights up the room, the road, the town, and the world! Stop trying and simply be it! Simply Shine!

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cady, H. E. (1902 1st Printing) Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House

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The next section in the book is entitled “Step Back and Turn to Reality.”  One of Yuanwu’s most successful students Gao (Dahui Zonggao) became a great associate and friend because he was “not content to follow small understanding.” When he decided to leave and go out on his own he asked Yuanwu for some advice.  Here is what he said,

You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding, and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeathed by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. Don’t covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality, until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized (page 26).[1]

Remember your greatest successes became reality because of your perseverance!  Not because you went out seeking fame and/or money.  Because you reached out for practical understanding of your talent, for knowledge through the courses you were studying, or with a mentor or coach you discovered those things deep within yourself!

On YouTube AsapScience has a short video on productivity that I share with my students every term. They talk about “deliberate practice” and ask you to focus on the hardest tasks first. Then they have you divide the time up on the “work” and then on a “break.” They don’t rely on “will power” but on good habits of study—90 minutes of study and then a 15 to 20-minute break.[2]  Remember to give yourself a deadline! All of this requires perseverance and consistency!

Great, if I do all of this how will I know that I have had real attainment?

Yuanwu says,

Wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge where it has been smelted and refined ten thousand times. So that it will not change in ten thousand generations, so that it is ten thousand years in a single moment (page 26).[3]

You will hear the “bell” and see the “bell” when you’ve taken the time every day to practice your craft, to hold on to your passion, and consistently raise the bar for yourself.  Whether it is setting aside a certain time each day for meditating, or being involved in a Buddhist or mindfulness group that meets on a regular basis to learn and grow your practice—consistency is imperative.  All great athletes, musicians, artists, singers, teachers, inventors, and scientists attained success through persistence and consistency.

Then one day, without trying, they heard the valley returning the sound of the bell. There practical understanding and virtue was fully actualized.

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

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

[1] Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g

[3]Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

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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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