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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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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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A Flower Does not TalkThe preface of this book is incredible as it reads like he wrote it just yesterday. Although this book was published in 1970 it holds so many wonderful truths about Zen and life I know you will be blessed by your time spent with it.

If we look at the current world in which we live we can see the ever-growing importance of living a life set forth by Buddhist principles that are laid out in this book and the many others that I have shared with you over the years.

He writes in his preface:

The whole world today, both East and West, seems to be going through a period of convulsion, a time of travail, as it seeks to give birth to a new culture. There cannot be one simple cause for the tensions in so many parts of the world, but one of the major factors may be that while remarkable progress has been made in the use of new scientific knowledge, we human beings have not developed sufficiently spiritually and ethically to meet the new conditions.

It is most urgently required, therefore, that we must work to create a new human culture by striving for a truer understanding of humanity and a higher level of spirituality. We must attain a higher level of personality so that we can cope with the brilliant scientific achievements of modern times.

Zen presents a unique spiritual culture in the East, highly refined in its long history and traditions, and I believe it has universal and fundamental values that can contribute toward creating a new spiritual culture in our time.  The important point about Zen is, however, that we should understand it, experience it, and live it in the varying circumstances of our everyday life.  Small and insignificant as my existence and work as a Zen Roshi may be, I believe that they contribute to the infinite (page 5-6).[1]

Although I too am small and insignificant I also believe that sharing his writings and my musings about them will contribute to the infinite in a positive, uplifting, and helpful way.

Thus, I begin with the poem for which the book was named in the hopes that you will be uplifted in some way by his words.

A Flower Does Not Talk

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
   the whole of the flower, the whole of
   the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flowers, the truth
   of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shinning here.

And fully shining in you…In gassho, Shokai

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

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What a simple word awaken is.  We wake up in the morning, hopefully from a good sleep, we might awaken to a new idea about a project or problem that we are dealing with or even find ourselves in the wake of a big wave at the Jersey Shore.  That’ll wake you up for sure!

So, does that mean being awake is not that difficult of an idea or difficult to do?! We sometimes get into a tither over it when we are sitting or meditating.  We might ponder on the idea of being “awakened” to the truth of Buddhism, as is often said.

Yuanwu writes “In visiting enlightened teachers and questioning them, you must see real nature and awaken to truth (page 65).”  Truthfully, what we really want is to end up in this situation, as Yuanwu says a, “stage where there are no contrived activities and no concerns.”  Sound easy? Nope!

Yuanwu goes on to say, “As soon as you have the slightest wish to be unconcerned, a concern has already arisen (page 66).”  There is a great enlightenment story told by Shodo Harada in his beautiful book Moon by the Window (page 25). The story below describes Master Reiun’s enlightenment experience.

Master Reiun was enlightened at the sight of a peach blossom and wrote:
peach blossom For thirty years no guests came by;
The leaves fell and the branches became bare. Seeing one peach bloom,
The time has come,
There is no doubt left whatsoever.

 

For thirty years Reiun worked on obliterating every deluded thought and view. While tending to this internal housecleaning, day in, day out, he welcomed the autumn and spring so many times he lost count.  With the sight of the peach flower, in bloom at that very moment, thirty years were swept away. Reiun’s huge Mind, freed of judgements and opinions, provided no quarter for doubts to arise.

As Bodhidharma said, “One bud opens its petals and naturally grows into fruit.” Our zazen gives blossom to the flower of Mind.  This is the true source of joy.

So, with all those years of work and worry it simply took the sight of a peach blossom to experience the flowering of his big Mind.  So, without fretting or worrying simply continue sitting in the quiet of the morning or evening and maybe it will arrive and maybe not—experience the joy in either or neither.

Let me know how that goes!

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I hear the song of the nightingale.Oxherding_pictures,_No._3
The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
willows are green along the shore –
Here no bull can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head,
those majestic horns?

Koller writes this about the third picture and the verse:

In the third picture, the oxherd actually catches sight of the ox. Now, having started to practice, he glimpses the hidden powers to heal his suffering. But he does not yet understand the source of these powers and how to apply them in his search for peace and contentment. The verse, in saying that “I hear the song of the nightingale.//The sun is warm, the wind is mild, the willows are green along the shore.” suggests that the reality the oxherd glimpses is not something separate from the ordinary things that he experiences, even though he does not yet know this.[1]

And thus we cannot be separate from ourselves, from who we are on an ordinary day, week, or year.  We are simply us.  Although the ox may look large and dangerous so do our fears, anxieties, and doubts. Yet when we examine them more closely they are simply the secretions of our brain, created in a mysterious way. They can turn us into who knows what when we give them the power to determine our emotions, exacerbate our fears, or harm our relationships.

Roshi Kennedy writes, “The gift the third picture epitomizes is self-reliance. It is at this stage of the journey that the ox herdsman realizes that his true nature is within himself. It depicts the real awakening of the herdsman (page 34).”[2] The Ox herder must be the one to eventually learn how to unite with the Ox and understand that he won’t find something outside of himself that has control over who and what he is.  Kennedy goes on to say, “Nothing exists but the self and this self contains the whole universe.” You are made of the same particles as the moon and the sun and the black hole. You are the Ox and the Ox is you!

So the next time you feel afraid or in doubt remember that your true nature of self-reliance, resilience, and knowledge exists in you at this very moment. Acknowledge the source of your power and move forward with confidence. Awaken to the idea that the Buddha/Ox and you are one and the same–thus all things are possible. So go for it!

Let me know how it goes! Shokai

[1] Koeller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2]  Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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Along the riverbank under the trees,Oxherding_pictures,_No._2
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

Koller writes this about the second picture and the verse:

The second picture shows that the oxherd has now caught sight of the tracks of the ox, bringing hope that his ox is not lost forever. This could be interpreted to mean that he has recognized his distress and has begun to seek for a solution in the teachings of Buddhism or in other teachings. But he is still at the stage of thinking and talking about his problems and various possible solutions. He has not yet found a path to follow and has not yet started to practice.[1]

For each of us as we move through the days of our lives we find ourselves searching, thinking, dreaming, seeing, and planning for that perfect oneness and perfection or solution to life’s mysteries. I can reflect on my own “footprints” reliving the conversation or encounter with an old friend or family member.  Or remembering a verse I read or a course I studied at school or in the Zendo.  Or seeing the traces of my life and thoughts and actions.  I begin to search for the answer that I thought I had discovered in that study group or class or relationship.

As I begin to study the principles of Zen my “nose” begins “looking heavenward” as the poem says.  I begin to see footprints leading me toward something of which I do not know just yet.  At the same time Roshi Robert Kennedy invites me to “…let go of everything we thought we were certain of (page 20).”[2]

Let us not move toward a “fixed truth that might hinder us” but let us move each moment where the experience takes us allowing life to flow at its own pace, form, and destination.

The most exciting and important adventures in life were the ones that we least expected.  Open your mind to see what is here in the moment and remember that “truth” changes with time and experience, cling to nothing, enjoy everything—without attachment—and be ready for the next adventure in living!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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-Looking_for_the_Ox-,_by_Tenshō_Shūbun

In truth, the person you see in this picture is all of us searching for something in life.  We know that life is a great adventure and that for some of us it has been a very difficult and uphill battle.  For others, we’ve had some good years and some bad years, and yet most of them have been simply rather normal. Regardless of which case we were living under we still found ourselves searching for something.  There is the continuing question that appears on a regular basis, “What’s it all about Alfie?  I wrote a blog on that song sometime back, check it out I think you’ll like it.

For Alfie, it was all about seeking and searching for love.  What have you been searching for? When you wake up each morning are you searching for the ox?  A better marriage, health, job, prosperity, enlightenment, peace, or better grades in school?    The Oxherd was searching for the eternal answer in life, that ungraspable something within him—roaming the world looking down in the valley, up in the mountains, and deep in the ocean.  To no avail.  When all the time his answer was right within him. He was and is the Buddha.

However, rushing and hurrying and searching and seeking outside of yourself in a teacher, a scripture, or a text or a job or money and fame is looking in the wrong place.

Simply focus your attention on the power of your breath when sitting or standing or walking and watch what happens.  When you focus on that inbreath and outbreath you will soon find your blood pressing dropping, your monkey mind quieting down, and your shoulders dropping. You’ll soon see a dropping away of all your fears and anxieties.  You will have moved into the place we call “just this.”   No past, no future, just NOW, just this one breath, one mind, one body, one moment.  Your searching for the Ox can end because you and the ox are one. You and the Buddha are one in the same. You know this when you realize that you and your breath are one.

This may be a fleeting feeling in the beginning but each day that you sit and walk in a meditative and fully present and mindful way you drop off a small weight and soon several small weights, and sooner than later you’ll feel 10 pounds lighter, 100% healthier, happier, and more peaceful.

Live in this moment, the ox is everywhere present in you and through you and will carry you easily into a life of peace, love, and compassion.  If only you stop searching for the ox outside of you—the ox within you will appear.  The ox is powerful, strong, persistent, and always there when you need him. Let your search be over! Be one with the ox in you.

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