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Dharma Pets New Friends AnnieJohn Steven’s goes on to write this about Hakuin’s motto in his book Zen Masters: “Meditation in the midst of action is a billion times superior to meditation in stillness (page 76).”

Steven’s continues with these thoughts from Hakuin’s teacher Shoju: “If you can maintain your presence of mind in a city street teeming with violent activity, in a cremation ground amid death and destruction, and in a theater surrounded by noise and distraction, then, and only then, are you a true practitioner of Zen (page 76).”[1]

Alas, the world of 2019 exactly replicates Shoju’s description of the 17th century.  Have we not learned anything from our ancestors?   Currently our world is filled with violence, ethnic cleansing, poverty, and famine.  Image how your life would be if within this chaos you could hold your center and you could focus on the task at hand.

Imagine that you could actually see and experience the beauty of the flowers and trees, or the glistening of the snow after a storm.   Imagine that you could appreciate the uniqueness of the faces of the people around you through eyes of compassion and universal love. Imagine that you could be at peace even in the most difficult of situations.  Finally, imagine that you can see every situation with clarity and opened eyes, opened mind, and an opened heart.

In every tragedy there seems to be one person who has the focus of mind to jump into the river to save a person from drowning, to stop their car and pull a person out of a burning vehicle, or to begin CPR on someone in need.  You might be thinking that’s NOT meditation! If mediation is defined as having full focus on your breath… there can’t be a “fuller focus” then doing that which is needed in the moment!

Be here now! Meditation in the moment and in motion…and while you’re at it how about bringing along a friend!

 

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

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SomThich Nhat Hanhe years ago, I came across a wonderful little book entitled Zen Masters, a Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet by John Stevens.  Immediately I began to think about myself and my work and my studies as a Buddhist priest, teacher, and blogger.  Would my friends and students place me in any of these areas?  Do I place myself in any of them?  If so, how has my self-image affected my life? How has it given meaning to my life?

Everyone has had questions about their life while growing up.  They may not have been thought of as questions because the ideas may have started with an experience or a book or a teacher where a seed was planted.  For me I found myself at the age of 4 setting up some chairs in the garage and inviting my little girl friends to play school.  I, of course, had to be the teacher and they were the students!  I have no idea what I was teaching them but I do know I enjoyed the job!

The author chose to write about three famous teachers of Buddhism Ikkyu (1394-1481), Hakuin (1686-1768), and Ryokan (1758-1831).  Each one was unique and impactful in their own way just as you are—even when you don’t know it.  Your words, deeds, ideas, emotions, and thoughts affect not only you but everyone around you from your family and friends, to your co-workers, and everyone you meet in your daily life.

Do you open the door for the mom or dad with a baby carriage, do you carry a bundle for the elderly person who lives next door, and do you support your coworker when they need a lift on a very stressful day? Or are you the one who would not even notice the goings on in the three scenarios above?

What is your idea of a meaningful life and how do you express it? Are you the maverick, the master of masters, or a wandering poet?  No judgment here, no grading one against the other as all three of the great men written about were all unique and special in their own way, and thus are remembered and written about hundreds of years later.

What will people remember about you?  I hope this blog series will help you dig deep into yourself to find the maverick, the master, and the wandering poet as Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan did all those many years ago!

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This post is dedicated to those who lived and died. Especially, on this day, those who died in the name of politics, fear, and hatred of the other.

My dear friend and mentor Father John McNeill told me a story about being in the war and when he tried to give food to a starving so-called “enemy” he was chastised and punished heavily and tagged an enemy of the state.  But it never deterred him from being the kind and loving man he was. Thus, for me he was the epitome of peace, love, and compassion on planet Earth.  If only all people treated each other as Father John did there would be NO wars, hatred, or killing.

My fiancé Dennis Cama died in Viet Nam he too was a kind and loving man who was forced to kill and die for the politicians of the world.  May they both be in peace on this Memorial Day 2019. My mom and dad both served in the Army Air Corp during WWII and dad earned the Silver Star as a belly gunner on a B17 bomber.

More thoughts on the passing of my mentor and friend: Father John J. McNeill

Wednesday September 22, 2015 Father John J. McNeill went to meet his friend and guide, Jesus.  When I heard the news I thought it was just what Father John would have wanted—to make his transition the day that Pope Francis was in the country voicing his support for the LGBT community around the world.  Good going John!

Father John was silenced, sanctioned, and finally asked to leave the Jesuit Order by the former Pope Ratzinger because of his support for the LGBT community and for living a life of truth and compassion as a gay man with a wonderful supportive and loving partner Charles Chiarelli.

Father John has written many books and counseled many people in and out of the LGBT community.  He was my mentor and friend for many years as I worked as an associate pastor at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, FL and as a hospice chaplain.  As one of the founders of an interfaith clergy group for those serving congregations in the Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach Counties I had the pleasure of picking Father John up for our meetings and events when he needed a ride.

To be with him and hear him talk was an amazing thing.  It did not matter what topic he was speaking about or even if it was just a causal conversation about life–I was blessed simply by being in his presence.  If you have not had the opportunity to read any of his books I recommend them highly.  His knowledge of scripture and Christianity was amazing.  Two of my favorite books by Father John are Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey and Sex as God Intended.gassho

In memory of Father John, Dennis, my Dad and Mom and all those who have died in war I would like to leave you all with this poem by Kuan Hsiu, Zen Buddhist monk and master poet who lived from 832-912.

This is for you my dear friends…

So, say my way differs from yours,
We both have old men’s hair and beards.
They say words can kill faith.
I like to arrange spring blossoms in a rough old
  funeral jar.
In gassho, Shokai

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adult asian bald buddhism

Pema Chodron in her book Awakening Loving-Kindness wrote, “The point is not to try to change ourselves.  Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better.  It’s about befriending who we are already (page 3).[1] Often times I find myself not being very kind to myself, questioning my abilities, my finances, my friends or lack thereof, and I could go on and on.  But of what value is that and what peace derives from it?

There is a situation going on in our neighborhood where many are trying to harm others because of their loneliness and personal pain for which they have no answer or insight. They are sad and mad and lonely and have lost all connection with peace, love, and compassion.  They feel if they put you down and make you feel as lonely and helpless as they do it will make them feel better, or more in control, or righteous.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work and thus they end up on the merry-go-round whirling through a lonely and desperate life with no way out.

I am a Zen Buddhist priest and thus I find solace in the teachings of the Buddha as Pema Chodron writes, “Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves (page 5).”[2]  When we practice this principle, we enter into an awareness of peace that is in us and has always been in us even when we thought otherwise.  Our world is enmeshed in fear and hate and pain but the solution is not out there in others.  The solution lies within me in my heart, my words, and my deeds.  Until I recognize and become aware of who I really am I too will be led by my fears and anxieties and not my joys, and passions, and love.

She goes on to write, “Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself there’s no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well (page 6).[3]

Peace in the world begins with me right here right now with who I am not with who I wish I was. I hope you’ll join me in this awareness of being who you really are…loving-kindness itself.

[1] P. Chodron (1996) Awakening Loving-Kindness Shambhala Publications: Boston & London
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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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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buddha-quote-thinkingWe feed our mind with many things and what we feed it with can determine who we are, how we treat others, and what will manifest in our lives.  Words can be sweet like the taste of a ripe apple in Spring or sour like a pickle that has been soaked in brine for many weeks or months.  But it is always up to us which we will eat and which we will share with others.  And how we share it…

While I was going through my mail from the prison ministry the news of the bloody massacre of the Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand came on the news. As I listened I opened an eight-page letter from one of my pen pals “behind the fence.”

My pen pal had a lot of words rolling around in his head about the principles of Zen until he got confused.  I quickly came upon two poems that I thought he could use in his time of contemplation of Zen principles and how he uses them in his life.

Asukai  Masatsune (1170-1221)

I walked among stones
Through mountains of mountains,
Paying no mind
Until the flower-trail behind
Turned into drifting white clouds (page 117).[1]

Dogen Kigen (1200-1253)

Cast away all speech.
Our words may express it,
But cannot hold it.
The way of letters leaves no trace,
Yet the teaching is revealed (page 119)[2].

Had the killer paid no mind to his thoughts and the writings he was reading about hate for others of a different faith and had he cast away his hate filled words and left no trace of it and replaced it with peace and love for all human life those people would be alive today.

Be aware of your thoughts and words as being “food for the mind” they can give life or take it away. How many times has someone said to you “you’re going to eat those words someday?” Simply use your words of peace, love, and compassion for all and the complexity of life will winnow down to simply loving life and all humanity.  And you’ll never have to eat your words again because they will have turned into “drifting white clouds.”

[1] Hamill, S. and Seaton, J.P. The Poetry of Zen. Shambhala Boston & London 2007

[2] Ibid.

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I post this as a counterpoint to all the celebrations of July 4th’s so called “Independence Day.” 

Flose Boursiquot and Chip at Rally June 30th 2018The poem is written by Flose Boursiquot and taken from her incredible book Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe.”  The picture was taken on July 30th in Delray Beach, FL at the “Families Belong Together” rally sponsored by http://www.moveon.org where she was one of the incredible speakers.  She is with Chip Frank my friend and former production manager when I was a Unity Minister. How lucky we were to meet her! She gifted me her book for which I am ever grateful.

 

Voice

I have a voice!
you cannot silence me
my feet burn through the pavement and leave enough dust
for my grandchildren to make clay pots
the thoughts that travel through my mind leave textbook pages
ashamed

you cannot silence me
my boot straps awaken the Black Panthers and take notes from
Malxom X
I know what it means to starve
a physical pain that engulfs your intellect and spirit

you cannot silence me
I am a young Nikki Giovanni with words so freeing notebook pages
fling their legs open when i peek at them with a side eye
master’s grandchildren stand miles away when air escapes my
lungs and thoughts juxtapose that of W.E.B. DuBois

you cannot silence me
I am not a mindless crab in a bucket
i refuse
yes, i refuse to step over the hands and feet of my people
we are intertwined like the molecules in our bodies

you cannot silence me
my children will not wake up caved in by debt, miseducation and
fear
they will know that beauty doesn’t solely lie in blue eyes
and that wealth isn’t manufactured green on trees

you cannot silence me
my ancestors taught me how to read a map
they left blueprints imprinted in my DNA
if I ever lose my way, i look in the mirror
touch my wide nose
feel my naps
embrace my brown skin
and i find my way

you cannot silence me
death does not scare me
i welcome heavy words sung by kings and queens on the block
they are reminders of journeys taken so i can stand here today

you cannot silence me
my back may weaken
but my boots will carry
my brothers and sisters will lift me

you cannot silence me
because with every step i will roar
we will roar
arm-in-arm, a destiny will be set
and we will achieve

*********************

This poem was written by an incredible woman a “24-year-old Haitian-rooted palm tree dancing in the Florida sun” woman. “She is a product of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.”

I hope you’ll buy her book!

In gassho, Shokai

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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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Shibayama writes next about The Four Maxims:

  1. Transmission outside scriptures
  2. Not relying on letters
  3. Pointing directly to one’s Mind
  4. Attainment of Buddhahood by seeing into one’s Nature (page 19-20)[1]

First, we’ll write about number one: Transmission outside scriptures.  In our previous chapter we talked about the satori experience.  Notice that he uses the word “experience” here not knowledge, not understanding, not wisdom, but the palpable “experience” of the teachings of Zen.  If you’ve never had an actual “satori” experience in this life or if you may have had one or more than one in this life time that’s nice.

What is important as a student of Buddhism is to begin to bring the Zen principles or your “satori” experience into your daily life.  We do this by taking the opportunity to “be” peace, love, and compassion without thinking—simply be it!

He writes:

It is therefore the satori experience that can give life to these scriptures.  It is impossible to attain satori by reading the sutras on the scholastic level.  Once an experience is expressed in a conceptual form, it assumes its own objectivity which can be independently treated.  Thus there is the danger of misunderstanding the concept as the experiential fact itself, and the experience itself will be forgotten and finally be dead.  Zen is flatly against such a tendency and strongly warns us that we should not be attached to any of the scriptures which are likely to be lifeless records (page 21).[2]

Thus, we are put into a conundrum how do we live our principles if he’s telling us there is the “danger of misunderstanding the concept” and confusing it with the experience itself.  As we look back on this idea we see the Buddha simply holding up a lotus flower and his disciple Mahakasyapa was immediately enlightened.

Dew drops on a lotus leaf(1)Our friends from Buddha Groove write beautifully about this:

Historical records show that the flower the Buddha held up at the sermon was a lotus flower, which is associated with Buddhism to this day. The lotus is known for its great beauty, but it is also unique in that it requires thick mud and muck in which to extend its roots so that it can grow and eventually yield flowers. It is because of this thick mud and muck—not in spite of it—that the beautiful lotus blooms.[3]

Thus, it is our experiences in life living the principles of Buddhism in peace, love, and compassion toward all—not just humans—but to all living things on earth including the earth itself that Buddhism is all about! Live it, love it, be it…

Let me know how it goes!

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.buddhagroove.com/the-flower-sermon/

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I seizeOxherding_pictures,_No._4 him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power
are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau
far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes
 

The fourth picture shows that the oxherd has now caught hold of the ox, using the bridle of discipline to control it. This symbolizes the rigorous discipline required of the Zen practitioner. Although he now realizes that the power to transform his life lies within himself, in his Buddha-nature, all his previous conditionings are pulling and pushing him in different directions. Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.[1]

Abbot Zenkei Shibayama shares a Zen story in his book, A Flower Does Not Talk, that relates to Koeller’s thoughts on “working hard to overcome bad habits.”

Bodhisattva Manjusri once asked Zenzai Doji, “Bring me something that does not do any good.” Zenzai searched around, but wherever he went, everything he saw and touched was something that would do good.  He was unable to find anything that would not do any good.  Finally, he had to come back to Manjusri and report: “There is nothing that will not do good (page 190).”[2]

The conversation continued from there and Manjusri said:

“Bring me something, then, that will do good.”  Zenzai, without hesitation, plucked a blade of grass at his foot and presented it to Manjusri.  Manjusri took it up, and showing it to the congregation, said, “This single herb is both able to kill people and to give people life (page 190-191).”[3]

So, what does this have to do with you today, your life, your plans, your wishes and dreams? Everything!  For me when I look back upon my life I see that the challenges forced me to learn, to pray, to think, to discover, to step out of my fears and anxieties to move forward regardless of them. I was able to recognize that these challenges did NOT kill me but made me stronger, more resilient, more pliable and yes, more loving, caring, and compassionate.

Some might say I need to take off the “blinders” about the reality of life. Yes, war is hell and people living in war zones, in poverty, lack, limitation, and ill health need help from those of us who can help and are willing to help and have the resources to help. That does not remove our obligation to try to help minimize or eliminate the suffering of others. As Koeller said, “Holding the rope tightly means that he must work hard to overcome his bad habits of the past that developed through the ignorance, hatred and craving that gave rise to all his afflictions.”

So, let us as, students of Zen, work daily to take the discipline that we have learned in our Zen practice of sitting into the “real” world and help those who cannot, for whatever reason, help themselves.

Let me know how that goes!  Shokai

[1] Koeller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
[3] Ibid.

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