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 In Zen Buddhism we have a practice that is called “zazen” which literally means “sitting.”  But unlike when we sit on a park bench and watch the people go by or sit in the car waiting for our food at the fast food pick-up window, “our sitting” is a form of meditation.

For the beginner I would not fret over the moment by moment challenges that may arrive as a new person “sitting.”  Nor would I want you to get upset when your thoughts interrupt your “sitting.”  With patience and dedication your sitting will produce exactly what you need for that exact moment in time.

Kaz Tanahashi writes this about meditation (zazen or sitting): “This meditation is a source of creative engagement in life.  While life is viewed as a continuation of birth, moment after moment, meditation is a total experience of this ‘birth’ at each moment. Thus a person no longer lives a moment as a segment of life or takes life passively but is fully engaged in an active and creative way.  Dogen explains this experience by using the metaphor of a boat: Birth is like riding in a boat.  You raise the sails and row with the oar… You ride in the boat and your riding makes the boat what it is (page 13).”[1] Where has your riding taken you?

There have been times in your life when you were so engrossed in a task, a book, or a movie that no one or nothing could get your attention.  In that moment you were in a “meditative” state.  You were so fully one with it that there was no separation between it and you.  It may only happen for a nano second at first, but the more you practice and the longer you sit the more often those “oneness” experiences will appear.

The goal is simple—so don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill as they say.  Simply allow yourself to take some time for yourself.  To find a quiet place to sit where you will not be disturbed (even if the only place is the bathroom) and start slowly.  Begin with 5 minutes and work your way up to 20 minutes.

Baby Steps Baby Steps. . .without pressure and condemnation! When you were a toddler just learning how to walk your parents didn’t scold you every time you got up and tried to walk and fell down!  NO…they praised you and clapped their hands and smiled at you. And if you have children that is exactly how you helped them learn to walk as well!

Be kind to yourself and let the process expand and grow at its own pace. Allow yourself to have a “total experience” of each moment of your life whether you are “sitting,” reading, walking, or doing the dishes–you’ll be glad you did!

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

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buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

[1]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano writes in his introduction:Landscapes of Wonder book cover

The faith of the Buddhist grows out of experience fortified by instruction.  The Buddha shows how to make the journey out of suffering to emancipation, and if we feel quickening of interest we can take steps ourselves to investigate and to test what we have learned. This collection of essays is about finding the right direction and then moving forward with mindfulness and deliberation (page xi).

I hope that sharing these ideas and my musings about them will help you discover the power of your practice, to allow it to enlighten and brighten your life, to help bring you to a place of peace, love, and compassion for self and others each and every day.

This journey is never an easy one because we are required to look within, to set aside time to mediate, contemplate, and to push through our fears, anxieties, old beliefs, and doubts.  However, with determination, concentration, and support from the author and others on the path all things are possible!

Bhikkhu goes on to write:

Fortunately the teaching of the Buddha is universal, giving us the chance not just to admire what others have admired but to make our own search—to observe, meditate, and discover through our own efforts (page xii).

Thus, it does not matter if you were raised in a non-religious household or a religious one of any denomination or teaching truth is truth no matter where it comes from.  In your life I know that you have discovered what you believe through actions propelled from book learning, intuition, help from another, or seemingly by accident.  It does not matter how it came the important thing is that it did.  It gave you that cosmic AH HA! Or Yikes—Or Oh my god!  It could have felt like you were hit with a hammer, a banana, or a cream pie, but hit you were!

I hope our wandering through this wonderful book will give you many cosmic experiences! Good luck with that…

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And thus, we move forward with this great teaching from Yuanwu!  He says, “Among the enlightened adepts, being able to speak the truth has nothing to do with the tongue, and being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words (page 62).[1]

I spent the Sunday afternoon at my prison ministry where 14 men sitting “behind the fence” studied and sat and did kinhin for over three hours.  Their sitting was done wherever they could do it—on the floor with a small yoga mat beneath them, in a wheelchair to which they were confined, or in a chair attached to a desk like you used to use in high school.  But sit they did!

They were not in a beautiful zendo in a forest or in a church where I sit with the Southern Palm Zen Group, or a person’s home filled with love, patience, and compassion—yet their dedication to the principles and practices of Zen were deep and knowing and learning and forgetting.  As Yuanwu said “not a matter of words.”

Yuanwu goes on to write:

Anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality.  Thus, the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon, and the sayings of the Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door (page 62).

We were studying the story of Huineng and his opportunity to receive dharma Huineng drawing cutting bambootransmission in secret from the fifth ancestor Yuquan Shenxiu. As the story is told the fifth ancestor was getting old and looking for a successor and so a challenge was given to all the students to write a poem to show their understanding of the dharma.  One student wrote a poem which indicated that in order to reach enlightenment or awakening we had to continuously be polishing the mirror because it was always collecting dust.

Huineng on the other hand could neither read nor write so he had a fellow monk help him out and when he heard this idea he said, “. . .that is not deep enough.”  He asked his friend to write his version which ended in “Fundamentally there is not a single thing. Where could dust arise?” In Buddhism we believe that everything is completely empty thus there is no place for the “dust” to be. Shohaku Okumura says, “there is nothing to have to polish and nothing we have to eliminate. That was Huineng’s understanding (page 211).”[2]

Quantum physics agrees with this ancient teaching: “nothing really exists without the apparatus defining it.”[3] Although there is nothing to define (no dust to wipe away) our human curiosity and questioning moves us to do it anyway.  It moves us to find the answers, to investigate, to study, to learn, and to finally practice what we have learned and bring those ideas and principals into our lives. We do this by simply sitting, clearing our minds of all thoughts of “things,” and discovering that secret sacred place within us devoid of words. Truth is simply conveyed through our actions toward others and self. What “no words” have you spoken today?! What “no actions” have you taken?

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts Wisdom Publications: Boston

[3] http://www.neurohackers.com/index.php/fr/menu-top-neurotheque/68-cat-nh-spirituality/95-emptiness-relativity-a-quantum-physics-dalai-lama

[4] Picture Hui-neng Cutting Bamboo, by Liang K’ai

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Yuanwu wrote, “If where you stand is reality, then your actions have power (page 1).[1]

Yuanwu Chinese Master2. BWjpg

Chinese Master Yuanwu

The Chinese poet Chiao Jan (730-799) wrote this poem.

If you want to be a mountain-dweller. . .
No need to trek to India to find one.
I have a thousand peaks
To pick from right here on the lake.
Fragrant grasses and white clouds
Hold me here.
What holds you there,
World-dweller (page 57)?[2]

 

When you find yourself searching for peace, love, and compassion in your life and you don’t seem to be attaining it ask yourself Chiao Jan’s question, “What is holding me here?” And my questions: What got me here? What would happen if I took a different path or thought different thoughts or acted in a different way? What if I took a different action in this situation next time? How would that look and feel? Would it help or hinder?  What if I simply let go of those thoughts and feelings and stopped the actions that are hindering me right now?

These two men were students of Buddhism and of life who understood that our reality is powerful and holds us in or allows us to expand and grow in a positive way.  Chiao Jan was held in by his beautiful mountains and the lake and the fragrant grasses and white clouds.  What holds you?  What has a grip on you?  What does “reality” mean to you anyway?  Are your day dreams real, are your night dreams causing sleeplessness?  Where did your “reality” take you today?

As you can see we create our own reality with our thoughts, behaviors, feelings, desires and more—right where we are. If our actions have power imagine what we could do with the power of “sitting.”  Simply taking time out of each day to quiet our minds and bodies. To release ourselves from the plans, goals, and pressures of life.  To be that “mountain-dweller” amongst the fragrant grasses and white clouds and allow life to “simply be.” Then watch our “reality” move into the power of peace, love, and compassion for all people, places, and things.

Imagine what your life would be like if all your actions and words made a positive difference in everyone you encountered.  What a wonderful world this would be. And you didn’t even have to be a “mountain dweller” to attain it! Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] S. Hamill and J.P. Seaton (2007) The Poetry of Zen.  Boston & London:Shambhala

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the 10 oxherding pictures Sakura Sakuragi

The way of Zen is a process—one that can take a life time.  It is not a quick fix for your relationships, jobs, or health.  It is a way of life.  It is providing the opportunity for you to have a meditation practice that moves through you throughout the day not just when you are sitting on the cushion.  It gives you the opportunity to live a life of peace, love, and compassion even in the most trying of situations knowing that this to shall pass. The ox herder learned this very well on his journey.

Francis Dojun Cook in his book How to Raise An Ox writes:

In Buddhism there is a vast difference between believing that all things are impermanent and realizing that they are; but before that belief becomes true knowledge, one must practice in the faith that it is so, and will eventually be proven to be so by one’s own experience (page 17).

Thus, sitting and reading and practicing the principles of Buddhism will give you the opportunity and the “true knowledge” you need to bolster your faith in all things being impermanent.  That impermanence makes life easier to deal with, that impermanence is why we have a saying “and this to shall pass.”  Every life is filled with things that come and go: a headache, a bad grade on a project at school, a failed job or relationship, a burnt dinner, or a cold.  They came and they went, they were impermanent.  They were not here to stay!

As students of Buddhism we work to realize that everyone and everything is the Buddha. We take the bodhisattva vow which consists “of selfless service on behalf of others [which] gradually diminishes self-serving, self-interested action (page 23).” [1]

Thus, the ox herder practiced and studied and believed and eventually realized his oneness with all things and no longer needed the ox. There was no quick fix, no magic pill or potion. Dojun continues with these words, “And this begins to happen when we completely abandon our own efforts and trust completely in our true nature, which is the Buddha.  Again, this is Buddhist faith (page 24).”

“To have faith in the Buddha is the same as forgetting the self (page 26)” –And remembering impermanence! To forget the self is to find the true self. Good luck with that!

[1] Cook, F. D. (2002) How to Raise an Ox Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Boston: Wisdom Publications

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Emerson: Live, let live and help live.

Zen: Evening Gatha [Prayer]

Let me respectfully remind you.
Birth and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes and opportunity is lost.
We should all strive to awaken.
Awaken! Take Heed!
Do not squander your life!

Both of these quotes are profound in so many ways.  Each tests us to live our lives fully every day and make a difference in the world in which we live.  Notice that each asks us to go beyond our “self” and to help others.  To live life fully, to let others lead their lives fully, and to help those who need help so they too can live life fully.

How have you done that today?  How about this week, month, or year?  Every time you open the door for someone with their arms full of packages, or let someone in front of you in a traffic jam, or bring a meal to a sick neighbor you are “awake.”  Awake to the needs of another.  You have taken the opportunity to think of someone other than yourself, to identify a need, no matter how small it may seem—you have helped meet that need for another.

When you are walking through life looking down at your cellphone checking your Facebook page or texting someone—you are missing life at its fullest.  You may have missed an opportunity to help a stranger or a friend.  When you are focused on self only you miss many opportunities to live.

Just the other day I was teaching at the college on the 11th floor when we had a fire scare and everyone was told to immediately exit the building.  So all 16 of my students and I walked those 11 floors down to the street. One of them needed extra attention as she was pregnant.  I rushed ahead so that I could make sure all of my students were out of the building and safe.  As one of them walked through the door I was holding for them he said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. Why are you holding the door for all of us and the others?”  The question had never come into my mind.  “Live, let live and help live” I guess.

Think of the fireman who runs into the fire, not away from it.  To the policeman or security guard who runs toward the shooter in a mall.  Or a teacher who stands in front of the children to protect them from the bullets being sprayed in his or her classroom.

Awaken, Take Heed! Do not squander your life! Find your purpose each and every day because time swiftly passes by and you do not want to lose the opportunity to be of service to others to go beyond yourself wherever and whenever you can.  Even if it’s simply to hold the door for another. Let me know how that goes!

ingassho

In gassho, Shokai

(1) Floris, O. Inspiration & Wisdom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson. www.odeliafloris.com (page 9)

(2) Southern Palm Zen Group Service Handbook, Mitch Doshin Cantor.

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healing-anger-the-dalai-lama-book-cover

Emerson: Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.[1]

The Dalai Lama: Patience cannot be cultivated in isolation from other people.[2]

As students of Buddhism we are given the opportunity in the West to practice as lay people and live at home, go to work, run our errands, raise our families, take care of our elderly parents, and more.  Each of which can cause us to—as they say “lose our patience” very easily.

When things don’t go my way, or I encounter people who don’t think like me, or talk fast enough, or clean up after themselves I lose my patience.  Thus I am given hundreds of opportunities each and every day to cultivate the principle of patience.

I suppose if I were like the Buddhist monks of old who found a cave at the top of a mountain and simply spent all day meditating and looking at a wall with the only interruption being a small curious animal that might arrive and stare in wonderment at the person sitting facing the wall—what would I have gained in the way of patience? Other then maybe cultivating the patience to reach my goal of “enlightenment” and being inpatient about its arrival.

So let’s try Emerson’s way to cultivate the art of patience by looking at nature.  Spring has the patience to wait until winter has decided to be done.  Summer has the patience to wait until fall arrives to begin its nap and get some rest.  The tulips have the patience to wait till the ground thaws just enough so they can begin pushing their way up through the earth and reach the sunlight. The beauty that comes from the tulips in your garden makes the process and the time so worthwhile for those of us who have the patience to wait for their arrival and don’t run off to the flower shop to buy some there instead.

And so when we sit and meditate we are given the opportunity to practice patience.  Patience with our body as it aches, or with our Monkey Mind as it keeps interrupting, and our breath as it moves slower and deeper the longer we sit.  It is a great place to practice and cultivate patience. With no judgment of right or wrong, good or bad, simply as they say: Waiting for Godot.

What situations in your life are arriving to help you develop and sustain patience in your life?  If we let them they can bring us great pain, suffering, anger, and annoyance.  Or we can enjoy the journey, allow the journey to reveal its “secrets” in its own time and be open to receive its gifts with joy and at nature’s perfect timing.

Good luck with that.  Let me know how it works out as soon as you can!

ingassho

Shokai

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

[2] The Dalai Lama, Translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa. (1997) Healing Anger the Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications

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Emerson: “There is no planet, sun or star could hold you if you but knew what you are.”

Shodo Hashodo-harada-roshi-sanzenrada Roshi in his beautiful book, Moon By The Window, wrote:

“In a dualistic world we will fumble and fall. When we see with the eyes of the Buddha, we know the joy of the Dharma [teachings] in daily life. We become one with the heavens and earth, and there is no longer any division between inside and outside (page 169).”[1]

We are made up of stars and light and when we use the talent, energy, compassion, and love of which we were born all things are possible.  We have sent spaceships to Mars, found cures for diseases that in the past had destroyed civilizations, we have created music, and dance, and poetry, and literature that has moved millions.  It is possible to be one with each of these things as we travel through life on planet Earth. I know because I have done it at a Cherokee Indian Fire Walk with Unity Minister Edwene Gaines on a dark night in an Alabama forest during one of her workshops

That is who we are. That is what we are. Shodo Harada Roshi goes on to write, “We have to throw away our small way of thinking and live in a place where we hold on to nothing whatsoever. It’s here that we discover the Buddha, and there is nothing sturdier than the strength that comes from this discovery.  The Buddha discovered that he was a part of the “all” as he awoke under the Bodai tree and taught us that through our direct experience we could realize that as well (page 169).”

As Louise Howard and Chris Riddell illustrate in their book Buddhism for Sheep: “Train your mind iBuddhism for Sheept is the source of everything.”[2] As we sit in zazen (meditation) we are training our minds to “throw away our small way of thinking and to hold on to nothing.” Then and only then can we know what we are—a piece of the heavens and the earth.

As Emerson said, “know what you are.” Sheep or not sheep…that is the question.

Shokai

[1] Floris, O. Inspiration & Wisdom from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson. www.odeliafloris.com (page 25)

[2] Harada, S. (2011) Moon by the Window, The Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada. Boston, MA: Wisdom Press.

[3] Riddell C.,  Howard, L. (1996) Buddhism for Sheep. London, England: Ebury Press

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Ralph Waldo Emerson “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.”[1]

What does that quote mean to you?

In Zen we have a practice of sitting zazen or meditating and Katageri Roshi, one of the most recognized Zen Buddhist priests in America, wrote this about the junction of these two ideas: living and buddha-nature. He says, “Don’t attach to thoughts and emotions, just let them return to emptiness. Just be present there and swim in buddha-nature (page xiii).” [1]

Just be “present” be ready to live each and every moment.  As I found my mind wandering in meditation this morning I realized that I had just squandered away several minutes of my life!  I just gave up the “present moment.” I missed the experience of the feel of the cushion beneath me, of hearing the breath of those near me, of the sounds of the cars driving by on the road, and of the birds chirping in the trees.

I forgot to live!  What I was doing was getting ready to live later on by creating a conversation with someone in my head that may or may not even happen in the future. I was “getting ready to live” but not really living.

The Teachings of Ptahhotep tells us to “Follow your heart as long as you live (page 21).”[2] But if you are living in the future with thoughts and fears, or living in the past with memories and regrets you are not actually “living.” What is your heart telling you to do right now?  What are you doing right now? What are you thinking right now?  Are you getting ready to live or are you actually living?

“Swim in buddha-nature” means to be fully present in the now moment. I love the picture that comes into my mind when he uses the word “swim.” I can see myself in the swimming pool at my grandmother’s house and since I could not swim on top of the water I had to always swim under the water there I was surrounded by buddha-nature above, below, and around me: swimming in buddha-nature.

I was really living!  I had to be perfectly present in that moment in order to hold my breath, keep my eyes out for others swimming in the pool who might not see me below, and still keep swimming.  I had to keep my mind on how long I could hold my breath, and when I was close to running out of air, and when it was time to start swimming to the top!  One time I did not realize how deep I had gone and I panicked and thought I was going to drown! But alas, I was swimming in buddha-nature” and made it safely to the top before I ran out of breath.

Don’t be following what Emerson said, “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” Don’t be that person! Be the one that is swimming through life with happiness and glee! Following your heart with each breath—in each moment.

Let me know how that “living” is going!

Shokai

[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow Wisdom Publications: Boston, MA

[2] Hillard A.G. Williams, L. & N. Damali Editors. (1987) The Teachings of Ptahhotep The Oldest Book in the World. Blackwood Press: Atlanta, GA.

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

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