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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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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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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

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

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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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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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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