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Oxherding_pictures,_No._5

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[1]
 

The fifth picture shows that disciplined practice can overcome the bad habits of previous conditioning and bring one into accord with the true nature of reality. Although discipline is still needed because the old habits of mind still have power, living in greater awareness of the true reality gives one the energy and direction to live a wholesome life. Now the ox willingly follows the oxherd home, meaning that the separation between oneself and true reality is being overcome.[2]

Who is the master in your life?  Is it your thoughts, actions, fears, joys, money, your job, your relationships, your spiritual practices?  In picture #5 the ox is now following the oxherder home.  He is not tightly tethered to the oxherder, but they are casually walking one in front of the other following the path of enlightenment. As Roshi Kennedy says in his book, Zen Gifts to Christians, “Self-mastery then is living a full life in the present, attached to nothing (page 61).”[3]

The habits of our minds can pull us down a dark and dangerous path if we are not aware of them.  It is discovering the art of sitting in meditation as a “disciplined practice” where we are learning how to let the ruminations of the mind be a visitor and not a resident.  Where all thoughts can be like feathers in the wind and we can watch them as they float through our minds easily without clinging or fear or anxiety. Where we can be in front of them or behind them and they hold no power over us.

Neither do we cling to the beautiful, happy, loving, thoughts because we can grasp and cling to them just as easily and begin to chase after them with ferocity. We can cling to their images and the feelings they bring up until they hold power over us as well. And thus, we are led on a wild goose chase running after those thoughts and running away from the dark thoughts and we find ourselves in an endless circle of confusion and fear, happiness and joy. It is as if we are on the merry-go-round at Palisades Park.  Round and round we go where it stops nobody knows!

Living a life of true separation from our thoughts is allowing them to come and go as they please.  It is seeing them floating like a feather in the wind. It takes time and “disciplined practice.” Each day it becomes easier and easier as we sit in meditation and allow those feathers to fly at their own speed and height. What a great way to live a “wholesome life” without clinging to happiness or fear.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] Koller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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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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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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-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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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything Thich Nhat Hanhmerely on the authority of your elders and teachers.”

Wow!  Now that is coming from a great elder, teacher, and thinker—the Buddha!  As a teacher, trainer, and college professor for most of my adult life I am in complete oneness with this axiom.  Just because the teacher says so does not MAKE it so.  Everyone is born into a family, culture, country, and religion that has the desire to propagate themselves and their culture and beliefs.  Every culture has leaders and teachers who help share those ideas to ensure that they live on.

Whether you are an indigenous group such as the Aborigines in Australia, the Iroquois in North America, or the Mashco-Piro tribe in Peru they have believes that have been handed down by generations of elders and teachers.  Each is unique in its teachings and beliefs as we all are.  So if we move from one culture or religion to another we take on those beliefs and live by them.

As we discover new things through science and research we may look at our teachers and elders and what they taught us and say that some of their ideas might be called “superstitions” today. Thus the Buddha says we need to be curious and if need be do our own research and studies and discover what is “true” and “right” for us in our lives or in a particular situation.

I had a friend many years ago who went into the Catholic priest to ask some questions that were concerning her about her faith and she was told to just belief whatever they told her and when she refused to do so they excommunicated her.  The Buddha was way before his time in this axiom.  He understood that knowledge is fleeting and changing and that thinking too much can get us into trouble.

And thus he said, “Do not go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by rumors, by scriptures, by surmise, conjecture and axioms, by inference and analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by specious reasoning or bias toward a notion because it has been pondered over, by another’s seeming ability, or by the thought, ‘This monk is our teacher.”  But when you yourself knows: ‘Such and such things are unskillful, blameworthy, criticized by the wise, and if adopted and carried out lead to harm and ill and sufferings,’ you need to abandon them.”

This is the difficult way!  It is so much easier to let others do the research, the writing, and the teaching and follow them like lemmings then it is to think for yourself, read, research, and then practice the teachings and discover the power for yourself.   Yet, I recommend it highly. I hope you’ll try it out and let me know how it worked!

In gassho, Shokai

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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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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything imagessimply because you have heard it.”

It is okay to begin your journey by reading the books and watching the videos and once you’ve done that throw it all away and discover it for yourself in your own way and in your own time.  That will enhance your knowledge, give you practical experience in the area that you are working on and make it “real” in mind, body, and spirit.

I can watch all the great ice skaters in the world on TV, and I can go see them perform live in the stadium. I can feel the beautiful music vibrating in my ears and moving down into my body and enjoy its bliss.  But until I put on a pair of skates I don’t know what skating is!

Do not believe what others tell you about skating—experience it for yourself!  When I began studying metaphysics in the 90’s I was book learned, I taught classes, and shared my knowledge from the pulpit.  But until I started to meditate daily, and create my own treasure maps, and write my own affirmations and use them daily and saw the things manifest in my life—I really didn’t know what metaphysics was.

Even though I heard and read about the power of prayer until I prayed with one of my congregants in a hospice setting and saw and heard her in prayer with me I did not really know the power of prayer.  Her belief in that prayer helped her walk out of the center a few days later healed. She moved back to the north east where she continued to live many years in good health.

Once she came back to Florida to visit her family and dropped in on one of my classes and shared this story with us. Her doctor had told her that her healing from prayer changed his belief in God. My purpose is not to try to make you believe in a God or a supreme power or the like, but simply to illustrate the teaching of the Kalama Sutra, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.”  The doctor had seen it with his own eyes in one of his own patients.

Thus we live a life of “free inquiry” not believing in anything simply because we have heard it or read it or seen it on the internet!  Regardless if the ideas are written in any ancient scriptures and in any ancient language. We must discover it for ourselves.  Live a life of free inquiry and watch what happens in your life when you do!

Let me know how that goes.

Shokai

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