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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Aitken’

Emerson: “Man’s life is a progress, and not a station (page 51).”[1]world-peace-2

Zen: Robert Aitken “It is the peace of the self forgotten, doing the work of the world (page 24).”[2]

Life is progress, life is doing, and life is simply putting one foot in front of the other to discover the greatness of who you are.  When you move through the day focused on just this moment in time you will find great joy!  If, however, you get stuck in the past ruminating over something that did not go your way it will be like being on a merry-go-round.  You may be moving but it is not progressing!  You are simply going round and round and where it stops no one knows.

Or maybe you find yourself looking down a train track thinking of the thoughts of the past and living those thoughts and fears over and over again? Have you been stuck at a station where only the # 5 comes all day every day! Or maybe you are looking in the other direction in expectation of the future when you can see yourself riding on that train moving quickly to the next station where your good is waiting.  Maybe that perfect mate or job or health is there? Seeing what needs to be done to help move your family, community, or country into a better more peace filled and loving place is moving toward progress.  That progress only arrives when we live fully and mindfully in the present moment.

Are you progressing in life toward opportunities that arrive for good to enter your life? When we forget the “self” (ego) we find the “real” self and are automatically led to do the work of the world.  And boy it needs a lot of work! The work of spreading loving kindness is in dire need of help.

There is an old saying, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”  I hope you’ll progress in life and not stand still doing the work that the world is in desperate need of in this moment and every moment to come.

To be happy in life we must have progress in all aspects of our lives…so let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

Shokai

 

[1] Dillaway, N. (1949) The Gospel of Emerson Wakefield MA: The Montrose Press

[2] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics New York: North Point Press

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Emerson: “A man is what he thinks about all day long (page 24).”[1]robert-aitken-roshi

Robert Aitken, The Mind of Clover: “The self that is autonomous and also one with all things is the self that is forgotten… How do you forget the self?  In an act—in a task. You don’t forget yourself by trying to forget yourself.  When you are absorbed in your reading, the words appear in your mind as your own thoughts (page117).”[2]

Wow, how often have you thought about the self, what makes us who we are, what will happen to our “self” after we die and more.  In both Emerson’s writings and the writings and teachings of the Zen masters they remind us that the “self” is represented by our thoughts and how absorbed we become in them.

We are all able to remember a time when we were so absorbed in our thoughts that we actually felt that we were there in that moment encompassed by them, moved by them, one with them.  The self and the thought were merged together and ultimately represented “who” we were.  So if our thoughts were fear thoughts or anger thoughts our behavior represented them and manifested them in our life.  We found ourselves afraid, or mad, or sad, or jealous or even revengeful.

If our thoughts were joyous or selfless or curious or inventive we found ourselves in a totally different place.  Thoughts create your reality and the way you see your life, live your life, and experience your life.  I am a happy and sometimes funny person just like my dad.  There are times when people will say to me, “What are you so happy about don’t you know “X” is happening!”  Well, of course I do!  But I’m not going to make that leak into my emotions and end up having a bad day!  There are a lot of awful things going on in the world so I could be mad, sad, and upset 24-7!  I “choose” to live otherwise!

In Unity and New Thought teachings we use affirmations to help us focus on the great “self” and keep ourselves motivated.  You might subscribe to a website or blog or newsletter that helps you stay positive.  I get some great tips and affirmations from those I follow on Twitter, a blog, or get emails from.  My dear friend Harold Wardrop a Divine Science minister sends me an affirmation and prayer every day.  Harold’s affirmation for today was “There is nothing that can challenge me that cannot be handled and turned into a blessing that I will hardly be able to contain. So it is.”

Image what your day would be like if your “self” focused on those words from Emerson from Aiken, and from Harold! Remember your thoughts create your reality and thus your “self.”  Which “self” do you want to appear—the sad, mad, angry self?  Or the happy, prosperous, loving self.  It all depends on what you think about all day long!

Let me know how it goes with your “self”!

ingassho

Shokai

[1]Floris, O. Inspiration & Wisdom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson. www.odeliafloris.com

[2] Aitken, R. (1984)  The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics New York: North Point Press

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Everyone has thoughts about life and death. Ethical, religious, and spiritual people all have rules, precepts, principles and laws covering their beliefs about the individuals and the society’s role in life and death, peace and war. The first of the 10 Grave Precepts in Buddhism is “Not Killing,” the last of the Eightfold Path is Respect Life. Robert Aitken writes about this in his wonderful book, The Mind of Clover.

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page 16).[1]

I would not suggest that to be an ethical, religious, or spiritual person you would need to go to this extreme. Aitken explains why such extreme beliefs can be troubling.

They must assume that a sharp distinction exists between the animal and vegetable worlds; otherwise they could not feed themselves. Strict vegetarians, too, tend to fall into this trap, it seems to me. It is not possible to evade the natural order of things: everything in the universe is in symbiosis with every other thing.
Doctrines, including Buddhism, are meant to be used. Beware of them taking life of their own, for then they use us (page 17).[2]

So what do we do about this problem—to be in this life but not of it. To use the Buddhist principles to create a life of peace, love, and compassion in us and through us each day is a challenge. Aitken suggests that first we must start with being compassionate with ourselves. Whether it is while we are sitting on the cushion, washing the dishes, dealing with others, or giving ourselves time to “chill out” first respect your own life and be kind to yourself then it will be much easier to do it with others.

Finally, spread that good will to all life, plants, animals, and ultimately planet Earth. Recycle your garbage, support legislation that protects the water, air, and ground that we need to survive. Work for fairness and equality for all people in all places around the world. Your actions in these areas will show that you are following the Eightfold Path and especially that of respecting life.

I got a bumper sticker for my car and one for my refrigerator a few months ago that says “DO NO HARM.” I just love it! Every time I go into my refrigerator I see the bumper sticker and it reminds me to respect life—mine and others! Here is the link for you to use to get one of your own. They are free so no excuses can be made! On their website they even say: Please do not send money! We do not accept monetary donations! Please support the movement by doing no harm and if you can, please spread the “Do No Harm” message. (http://www.donoharm.us/id3.html)

I hope you will take the time to go there and get yourself a bumper sticker. Then each time you get into your car or open your refrigerator door you will be reminded of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism and its teachings on “Respect Life.” Let me know how that works out for you! The results can be life changing and can potentially help save the planet and maybe even the human race.

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover, Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY, NY

[1] Ibid.

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One year ago today I was ordained a Buddhist Priest through the White Plum Order at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You can image how uncontrolled my thoughts must have been on that day. Thoughts of I’m not good enough, why did they choose me, what am I getting myself into, I don’t know enough about Buddhism, and I even thought about how big my butt looked every time I made a full bow on the floor during the ceremony! I surly did NOT have control of my thoughts. You may feel the same frequently in your life as well. Challenges may arise that you may feel you are unable to handle for various and sundry reasons, but the thoughts do arise. The problem is not that the thoughts arise, but what we do about them once we hear them in our heads!

Do we dismiss them, act on them, allow them to hinder our ability to think clearly, ruminate over them, or even get physically, mentally, and emotionally sick from them? Zig Ziegler called them “Stinkin Thinkin.” They may arrive at the door of your mind at any time and in any place.

What “Stinkin Thinkin” arrived at your door today? What did you do about it when it did?

Below are some simple tips from the great Buddhist teachers of the distant past, the recent past, and the present:

Dogen Zenji: When you wash rice know that the water is your own life (page 132). (I like to visualize my brain being washed with some gentle soap and water by loving hands removing any negative thoughts that may arise quickly with ease and compassion. I do not let them live there, I just act as though they are passing guests who have dropped by for a short visit and quickly leave and leave nothing behind when they go.)

Robert Aitken: We must cut off the mind road, so that we are collected, and not chasing out through the five senses. Not dwelling upon colors, not dwelling on phenomena of sound, smell, taste, and touch, but dwelling in nothing at all we bring forth that mind (page 134). (Sounds difficult to “dwell on nothing,” this will take practice, patience and self-love and you will not lose yourself in this process—but finally find yourself.)

Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom: What changes one’s life and what enables one to turn it around, is precisely the being one with such negative emotions [thoughts]. Or in the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, “To be deluded is to be sitting in shit, but thinking that it’s chocolate mousse. (page 21-22)” (For me it is working on taking myself and my thoughts lightly, maintaining my sense of humor, and being able to laugh at and with myself whether I’m sitting in “shit” or “chocolate Mousse.”)

Life is a merry-go round and enjoying the ups and the downs as you spin around and learning from all three is what makes life so interesting. When the merry-go round starts moving just remember the words from another of my favorite philosophers: Blood, Sweat and Tears

Spinning Wheel
What goes up, must come down
Spinnin’ wheel, got ta go round
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel spin

Ya got no money, and ya
Ya got no home
Spinnin’ wheel all alone
Talkin’ ‘bout your troubles and
Ya never learn
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel turn

Did ya find a directing sign
On the straight and narrow highway?
Would you mind a reflecting sign
Just let it shine, within your mind
And show you the colors that are real.

Someone is waitin’ just for you
Spinnin’ wheel spinnin’ to
Drop all your troubles by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinnin’ wheel ride…

Try it—I think you’ll like it and the lyrics may just help you “control your mind” whether you’re in chocolate mousse or something else!
In gassho,
Shokai

ingassho

 

[1]Aitken, Robert. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press: NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mitsunen Roku (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism. Produced by Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

 

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Bodhidharma said, “Self-nature is subtle and mysterious.  In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others (page 65).”[1]  This for me is one of the hardest things to overcome.  It seems like I have been working on this one forever, but I know it has not actually been forever.  In Robert Aitken’s book The Mind of Clover he talks about the difference between fault finding and simply recognizing basic information that is “free of any moral judgment.” He gives an example of the “silent mind” identifying and saying “She has an awful temper.”  As if you might be saying, “Her hair is brown.”  He goes on to write, “On the other hand, fault-finding, discussing the faults of others—these are acts of rejection.  The difference is one of attitude (page 66).”[2]

He also relates it to Dogen Zenji saying “Don’t permit haphazard talk.”  I have found recently that I am much better at catching myself as the words come into my mind and then stopping them from coming out the other end.  I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I just feel like gossiping and knowingly say them anyway.  Thankfully that is becoming rarer each and every day and I am now down to about once every other day actually letting them escape from my lips.

It could be that I have a giant note in all caps taped to my desk lamp that says “DO NOT SPEAK OF THE FAULTS OF OTHERS!  It’s like my mother scolding me day in and day out to “be nice.”  But it seems to be working so that even when I am not at my desk I can see that sign in my mind’s eye and hear the voice of mother!  What a combination—enough to scare anyone into a new habit or way of thinking or behaving.

If we add this to our Buddhist way of living with all things in a compassionate, kind, and loving way we will not be able to speak about the faults of others.  If we are working toward self-liberation we will take the time to go within and discover what is holding us back from being that loving compassionate being in this very moment.  Is it my fear of rejection, my memories of being raised by a critical parent, or being taught by a critical teacher?  Are these memories and habits blocking me from living and expressing myself as a bodhisattva would?

Take a look at your life at home, at work, and at play.  Is the environment a pleasant place to be—one that you are excited to go to? Or is it an unpleasant situation that brings criticism, fear, judgments and the like out in you? Do you then end up directing that negativity toward others?  Whose responsibility is it anyway to make your life full and rewarding?  Whose responsibility is it to make the Sangha, the work place, and the home a compassionate, supportive, safe, and fun place to be?

Aitkin goes on to say, “In fact, realization of Buddha-nature is not possible alone, and not possible unless one is open to nurturing (page 68).”[3]  Even Thoreau found his reclusive life at Walden Pond an opportunity to be kind to the animals, the trees, and the far away neighbors or towns people for he enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed him.  But for most of us we do not live in the middle of the woods without electricity, flush toilets, cell phones, or the internet! We live in a community filled with people and things. For this community to be a better one—it must begin with me.

Today I will remind myself to not speak of the faults of others.  To observe my words as I think them and then ask myself what kind of “attitude” would be indicated if I spoke them. If they were not generated from within as compassionate words focused on the “other” with selflessness—then I need to be silent.  I need to let them slip away out into the ethers of nothingness and begin again–this time with kindness, love, and compassion.   This allows the person to see something that they may need to address and be willing to fix it. Now they go away feeling good about their relationship with me and thinking about how I shared with them in a loving, caring way.  This is the way to live the life of a bodhisattva.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will reign in those gossip filled hurtful thoughts and words.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before the thoughts even get a change to slip out of your mouth.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of your thoughts that will help you in identifying the ones that should not be shared and the ones that should.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[1] Aitken, R. 1984.  The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press:NY

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

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These two simple words “not killing” provide us with ample opportunity to think about their meaning and their purpose as we work on Grave Precept #1.  There is no measure long enough to take us to the end of the ideas that have been written on this subject.  Throughout antiquity all religions and philosophies have grappled with it.  But that will not stop us from embarking on this challenge for a week and seeing where it leads us.

Of course, we do not want to kill anyone or anything—that is a given.  But how does “not killing” work when we kill bugs in the house or the garden.  How does it work when we take the weeds from that same garden?  Does the precept cover killing people with our angry and hateful words and leaving them feeling as though they have been “sliced into bits” by our tongue?  Have your thoughts about yourself killed your ambition, your love for another, your attitude about life?  Does that violate the precept of “not killing”?

Some take on a life of vegetarianism because of this precept.  However, there are many sides to this precept of which we may not be aware. “The Buddha did not prescribe vegetarianism.   Buddhist monks are permitted to eat meat, for example, if it is put in their alms bowl by a lay supporter.  They are not permitted, however, to eat an animal that has been killed on their behalf.[1]  For some this may sound like splitting hairs, that’s for sure, but it is true.

So, to help us out let’s go to our wonderful teacher Robert Aitken’s book, The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (1984), and let’s see the light that he sheds on this subject.

There are three elements that the Zen teacher uses in conveying the precepts: the literal, the compassionate, and the essential, or, as they are more technically termed: the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Buddha-nature views. 

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page16).[2]

So it seems that the Jain faith’s influence on Buddhism took them to a very extreme “literal” interpretation of this precept.  So how about the “compassionate” view of this subject?  What would that look like?  Is it compassionate to kill, let’s say, ants when they are taking over your kitchen?

Some years ago I went to see a monk from the Self-realization Fellowship speak in Miami.  He was a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and during his talk he took questions from the audience and so, of course, someone asked about the idea of “not killing.”  He shared a story with us about going down early one morning to prepare breakfast for the monks and all over the counter were ants.  So he chanted and he prayed and nothing worked.  He did not want to prepare the food and get ants into it so he said his last resort was the ant spray.  He illustrated what he did by making believe he had a large can of ant spray in his hand spraying it across the counter as he chanted: Ohm, ohm—You  are now going to your next level of higher consciousness—ohm …ohm.  Everyone laughed and we all got the point.  He went beyond the literal interpretation and somewhere between the compassionate (for the monks) and an essential teaching of Buddha and eating meat if offered as an Alm.

Where will you take your thoughts and practice this week on the idea of “not killing”? For some you may want to focus some time on not killing your own motivation and self-esteem, others may want to be careful of their words and actions that may be directed toward others that kills their love and affection, some may want to focus on food, and yet others may want to concentrate on working with groups that focus on getting rid of the death penalty or stopping wars and the like.  But whatever you choose be aware of what you say, do, and think on all three levels: literal, compassionate, and essential.  Keep asking yourself, “What would the Buddha say or do in this situation?”

And may the “force” be with you on your path of “not killing”!

Things to focus on this week:

Step one: Begin by deciding which area of “not killing” you will focus on first.

Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.

Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.

Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle of “not killing.”

Step five: Finally, keep a journal on the precept of “not killing” and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[2] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press, NY

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