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Oxherding_pictures,_No._9Too many steps have been taken
returning to the root and the source.
Better to have been blind and deaf
from the beginning!
Dwelling in one’s true abode,
unconcerned with and without –
The river flows tranquilly on
and the flowers are red.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes

As the ninth picture shows, when self and reality (as constructs) are left behind, then things are revealed to be just what they are in themselves; streams meander on of themselves and red flowers naturally bloom red. In the ordinary events of life are found the most profound truths. Only by seeking the ox as a separate ultimate reality could the oxherd discover that there is no separate reality; that the ultimate is to be found in the ordinary.[1]

And so…why is it we are always looking for our good somewhere else, somewhere outside of ourselves, in our job, our family, our hobbies, our meditation, or our possessions?

“As Bodhidharma, the founder of Chinese Zen, said in the sixth century A.D., your true nature is always right ‘in front of you’—you yourself just do not see it (page110).”[2] Do we see that our true nature, our self, our ideas, thoughts, feelings, and love are not a separate reality they are the only reality available to us.  That the truth of life and its ultimate answer is simply in the words of Wu Li’s everyday way of living—Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

What more is there to life than to simply live it the best we can.  When you can take the time to help make life better for another, to make yourself more approachable to others, to make yourself more loving to all creatures large and small, and to make you kinder—these things ARE your true nature.  These are the things that life is made of.  Here you are able to “dwell in one’s true abode, unconcerned with and without.” Simply being—simply chopping wood and carrying water.

Simply doing the thing that appears to you in the moment: holding the door for someone with their arms full of packages, letting someone in front of you in a traffic jam, sharing your lunch with a stranger, or mowing the lawn for a sick or aged neighbor.  Living in the moment mindfully fully aware of the things that surround you with peace, love, and compassion is simply “chopping wood and carrying water.”  Expecting no reward simply Dwelling in one’s true abode, unconcerned with and without. Embrace the life as the picture displays—a simple tree beside a stream and a few rocks on which to sit as you bask in the simplicity of life.

Close your eyes—take a deep breath! Can’t you just feel the breeze and the spray of the water on your face?! Simply divine! “The ultimate has been found in the ordinary.”

[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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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 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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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

This week we finished the Jewish tradition of observing Passover and for the Christians Easter and for the Muslims they support them both in some respects.  Within those religions there are traditions and prayers and ceremonies that are used this time each year.  The Jewish tradition of not eating leavened bread is one most people have heard of and everyone has seen the shelves filled with matzo in your grocery stores.

Thus the Buddha admonishes us not to celebrate our traditions because our parents did or our grandparents did but because there is value in doing so.  The traditions allow us to take time out of our daily chores and focus our thoughts and energy on something that will help us grow and be a better person.  They give us an opportunity to look at our behaviors and examine their purpose and outcomes and how they affect our lives, our families, and our communities.

They give us the opportunity to look at our spiritual lives and how we practice our beliefs on a daily basis.  They help us examine our ethics and morals, and our behaviors. As the Buddha said, they give us the opportunity for “observation and analysis.”  At the Southern Palm Zen Group we celebrate one thing each year Rohatsu “the day on which according to tradition Shakyamuni Buddha sitting in meditation under the Bodhi-tree at the first glimpse of the morning star attained enlightenment.”[1] Our celebration is sitting (meditating) through the night, if you can do it, if not, sitting as long as you are able.

Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”Socrates

Dr. Simon Longstaff, executive director of the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney, Australia, wrote in the New Philosopher (June 2, 2013),

“I would suggest that one can make sense of Socrates’ claim if it is understood to mean something like – those who do not examine their lives (make conscious ethical decisions) fail to live a life that allows them to experience being fully human. Thus the allure of those who offer to provide clear answers, simple directions, precise instructions (whatever) so that you may set aside examination and merely comply, or unthinkingly follow custom and practice – perhaps living a conventionally moral life rather than an examined ethical life. One can easily imagine how pleasant an unexamined life might be. ”[2]

What does “being fully human” mean to you?  When was the last time you sat down and really examined your life?  What did you find? Finally, what did you actually do with what you discovered?

Keep me posted!

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston

[2] http://www.newphilosopher.com/articles/being-fully-human/

 

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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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It is important to know the connection that exists between our minds and our bodies.  In America we have a tendency to separate these two things as if they were total strangers.  In reality they are all one.  There is no separation between them.  When we are happy and laughing and enjoying life we rarely have physical pain.  Unless, of course, if we are laughing so hard that the muscles in our stomach area start to hurt!  When this happens you can see the children grab onto to their stomach and yet they continue to laugh. When was the last time this happened to you!

So let’s take the time to add some fun exercises into our classes that help the children in several ways. Susan Kaiser Greenland in her wonderful book, Mindful Games Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families, invites us to have the children “send their bodies friendly wishes by silently saying phrases like “May my foot be warm and cozy in this slipper, may my legs be strong when I ride my bike, and may my tummy be full (page 107).[1] This helps the children see how what they think affects how they feel and how connected the mind and body really are.

She goes on to share another wonderful game that children can play to help them see the connections between the mind and the body.  She calls it Mind, Body, Go! mindful-games-book-cover

Children roll a ball back and forth as they quickly name a sensation and an emotion that they’re feeling right now.  It can be played with or without a ball in partners sitting across from one another, or with a group sitting in a circle (page 107).

The teacher might say something like, “My body feels stiff, and my mind feels a little nervous.”  Now you name something and roll the ball back. (For example, “My foot itches, and I feel silly”) (page 108).

As you can see this can be done with any age kids or adults.  You can think of many different and positive ways to play this game and how it can help the participants make that mind body connection.  Once we get more in tune with our bodies we will have less stress in our lives, less fears, anxieties, and shorter bouts of headaches, stomach aches, and the like. Once we learn how to talk to our bodies with positivity, acceptance, and love we will have an elixir that will help improve our health in mind, body, and spirit. And this elixir is free for the taking, you don’t have to drive down the street to get it or across town.  It is right where you are 24 hours a day 7 days a week!

So try it I think you’ll like it! I know your mind and body will that’s for sure! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho

Shokai

 

[1] Greenland K. S. (2016) Mindful Games Shambhala Publications: Boulder, Colorado

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