Posts Tagged ‘Peter Levitt Eihei Dogen’

Eihei Dogen wrote, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[1]  Every person born has come here in search of something.  Some begin the search early in life and others may begin only when near death.  But aspire to things and search for things we will and we do. Some will be led to religious or spiritual searches, some are led to search for information about his or her ancestry, others search for knowledge in books, still others search for loving relationships, some search for riches in money and things, but most of us search for a combination of them all in some way.

Buddhism helps with all of these searches and aspirations by providing us with some guidelines for living.  These guidelines are especially helpful in this very frantic and fast passed world in which we live.  They can help us give meaning to our lives.  Sitting and being involved in a Sangha is a simple and practical way to help us on our search.  As Dogen says many are searching for what we call enlightenment.  Many experience it (whatever it is) while sitting, however there is no special place or task or thought that can bring it.  Just be light and open for all experiences to enter your life and reject none.

It is much like the GPS you would not leave home without when going on a long trip.  Mine did not seem to want to work the other day when I was driving way down into Miami-Dade County from Palm Beach County to teach at Florida International University.  I thought I remembered how to get there but I could not remember what the exit on the turnpike was.  I kept trying and trying and nothing worked and so I finally gave up and just decided to enjoy the journey.  Then when I was about 10 miles from the school I thought let’s check it out one more time and sure enough it popped right up and showed me the exit. I was enlightened!

It is like that in life, the harder we search, the more frantic we get, and the less able we are to find our way in the dark.  We have lost the light   But once we sit, meditate, take a few deep breaths, or pray we find our peaceful center and the light appears—the answer comes.  I learned a wonderful three breath exercise from a great book by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays titled How to Train a Wild Elephant.  I share it with all of my classes and we do the exercise prior to beginning the class.  I have them begin by shaking out their hands to release the tension, they can leave their eyes open or closed, then they take three deep breaths (not so deep that it makes them cough) counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.  It is as simple as that.

What those three simple breaths do is help clear the students’ minds, slow down their breathing and heart rate and voila their minds are open to learn and they can see the light of wisdom or knowledge! How beautiful is that!   If you begin with the simple breath exercise in the morning before you get out of bed and at night when you get back into bed you’ll be ready for your day and a good night’s sleep.  Imagine what would happen if you did it with your eyes open in the middle of a conversation with an angry customer, co-worker, relative, stranger, or boss.  You’d be able to keep your cool with ease, and your search for peace and contentment in life would be arrived at even though it may be for only a few short seconds or minutes.

Sitting (zazen) helps us with our aspirations and searches as well. You do have to set aside time for it that is true. However, the time spent is well worth it and will help you greatly with your search. Additionally, it will help you attain those things that you aspire to– some of which may be hidden deep within you and are only felt with an unexplainable longing.

Remember what Dogen said, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[2]  I may be limited by the earthly conditions, but my aspirations and enlightenment are not! So be on the lookout for them wherever you go!

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day with sitting, meditating, or praying.  If that is not possible I will begin my day with three breaths and end my day with three breaths and use them as needed throughout the day and evening.

2.  I will keep an open mind, heart, and eye for that aspiration manifesting in my life regardless of how large or small it may be or where it is coming from.

3.  I will not be limited by my earthly conditions.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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Eihei Dogen lived from 1200-1253 and although he died very young he left a vast amount of words to help us on our journey in life.  Whether you are a Buddhist or not his teachings can provide you with a map to living a life of peace, joy, love, and compassion.  They are time tested principles that may be outright impossible to understand, or simple maxims for life, or a star too far to reach. Whatever they appear to you at first glance I believe that when you practice them regularly soon you’ll see a positive difference in your life.

The editors of  The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master, Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, have divided their book into six sections: Practical Instruction, History, Gates of Dharma, Philosophical View, Students and Teachers, and Expression.  My plan is to take some of Dogen’s quotes and share them with you to show you that practicing Dogen’s teachings can be a practical and effective way to live your life based on the principles of peace, joy, love, and compassion.  It might help to quote the book:

Dogen initiated a lifetime of teaching and writing in one of the most unique and provocative styles the world has seen, so that others might also clarify the great matter of birth-and-death; self might have a bridge to self; wholeness in human form might be expressed as wholeness; and sentient beings might be saved from the unforgiving rigors of delusion, anguish, and needless suffering—the burden of dissatisfaction—in all of its forms (page xx).[1]

If you are one of those people who would like to release your burden of dissatisfaction in any part of your life this journey is for you.  If you do not already have a practice of “zazen” or “sitting” or “meditation” then today is the day to begin. “One of Dogen’s ‘Rules of Zazen’ admonishes students of the way to be mindful of time’s swift passage and ‘engage yourself in zazen as though saving your head from fire’ (page xvii-xviii).”  There have been times in my life when I felt as though my head was on fire even though it actually was not!  When I encountered one of those events or days it sure was a wake up call that something needed to change in my life.

If you have felt that way recently I hope you will join me on this journey.  I begin each day with sitting (zazen) anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes depending upon the day. In doing so I create a time of peace, quiet, and joy in my life.  It fills me with the energy to move forward with my busy day. It enables me to bring that peaceful, calm, and loving feeling with me throughout the day.  It helps me show compassion to myself and all others.  It clears my mind and creates space for new and creative energy to emerge. It fills me with the joys of living rather than the pains of living—regardless  of how large or small each one may be.

The authors encourage us with these words:

While for Dogen all beings are ‘fundamentally enlightened,’ it is reasonable to ask, as he did during his travels in China: If this is the case and we are whole from the beginningless beginning, why do we practice? To answer, I’d like to offer a response based on Dogen’s teaching: We practice because we do not yet know who or what we are.  But as a result of many causes, including the suffering we experience and the longing engendered by that suffering, we aspire to know.  That aspiration leads many people to begin the practice of zazen (page xxvi).[2]

It is my desire that these short lessons in the essential teachings of Dogen will help you minimize your suffering and your longing to “know” will be answered.  Let us begin the journey today and continue every day!

“Simply say, ‘Just this!’ (page 177).”[3]

Travel lightly, Shokai

[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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