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Awakening Together
All awakened ones
throughout space and time,
honored ones, great beings,
who help all to awaken,
together may we realize
wisdom beyond wisdom (page 29)! [1]
~ translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Today is the right and perfect day to “awaken.” The perfect day to discover the power within you to live a life of peace, love, and compassion. Wisdom is beyond knowledge and only in the quiet of the inner heart can we find it and allow it to work in our lives for good. It is important to understand that knowledge is simply information that we have gained during our life time at school, at work, at home, and at play—it is not wisdom.

The author of Thoughts without a Thinker, Mark Epstein, M.D., says there are “two essential currents of the life energy: wisdom and compassion. These are the two qualities of the enlightened mind, the two forces that are cultivated with the realization of enlightenment (page 83).”[2] The perfection of wisdom is in you already and by sitting in the silence you can awaken that which is already in you—as you.

We are all sleeping giants waiting to discover our true selves. Through zazen (sitting), prayer, meditation, and mindfulness this awakening can occur. It may only last for a second or it may last for a life time, but it is there ready to be discovered, acknowledged, and used.

Wisdom can help us cope with life, looking within our minds won’t help because wisdom is not “in” the mind. To discover it, regardless of where it is, simply take the time each day to sit in the silence and open yourself to it. When you do you’ll discover that there is enough room within you for the wisdom to appear. Zen Master Dogen writes: Now, the realm of all buddhas is inconceivable. It cannot be reached by consciousness. Much less can those who have no trust, who lack wisdom know it. Only those who have right trust and great capacity can enter this realm (page 148).” [3]

This short sutra recited daily can help you open your self to the wisdom of the universe that is everywhere present, helpful, compassionate, and powerful. Let us awaken together today and “May the force [of wisdom] be with you.” Yoda
In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Tanahashi, K. Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala Publications: Boston MA
[2] Epstein, M. MD (1995) Thoughts Without a Thinker Basic Books HarperCollins Publishers, Inc: NY, NY
[3] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen. North Point Press: NY, NY

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Ten-line Life –Affirming Sutra of Avalokiteshvara
Avalokiteshvara, perceiver of the cries of the world,
Takes refuge in Buddha,
Will be a buddha,
Helps all to be buddhas,
Is not separate from Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—
Being eternal, intimate, pure, and joyful.
In the morning, be one with Avalokiteshvara.
In the evening, be one with Avalokitesvara,
whose heart, moment by moment, arises,
whose heart, moment by moment, remains! [1]

In the news each day we hear of the estimated 6.5 million men, women, and children who have been displaced within Syria while more than 3 million have fled to countries like Germany, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. As we see the heart wrenching pictures of these families walking hundreds of miles in search of shelter, peace, and compassion we may feel overwhelmed and helpless. Besides being able to give our money to the many organizations trying to help them such as the The UN Refugee Agency, Catholic Charities, Muslim Charities, and the like we can use the power of prayer right now right where we are.

The above prayer is a simple example of how we as Buddhists over thousands of years have created chants, poems, and prayers to help those in need. In Sanskrit we hear the name and story of Avalokiteshvara, in Chinese Kuan-yin and in Japanese Kannon, Kanzeon or Kwannon. Avalokiteshvara whether in a male or female body represents great compassion and wisdom. As the story goes the wish to help all beings caused Avalokiteshvara to grow a thousand arms, in the palm of each of which is an eye.[2] This gives him the ability to work for the welfare of many beings at the same time.

The chant above encourages us to respond to the cries of the world with both our words and our deeds. They encourage us to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (our community). They encourage us not to turn away from or see with a blind eye the suffering of individuals or groups. And finally they encourage us to offer solace where possible, to offer help where needed, and to offer prayers when neither are in reach of our grasp.

I say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Earth.” But without us that may never happen. Your help is needed today and every day to call upon Avalokiteshvara or Kuan-yin or Kanzeon for there is someone in need of your prayers, of food, or shelter, or love, or compassion, and especially for a cessation of war. Why not start each day with this chant to surround the world with peace rather than war, with love rather than hate.

If it’s to be it’s up to me to make a positive difference in the world! Be Avalokiteshvara today!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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

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

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For me prayer is when we talk to God or a higher power and meditation is when we shut up and listen!

There are all kinds of prayers and ways to meditate that are available to us. Below is a simple list of some of the most common ones:

Affirmation/affirmative: A good example of this is to recite “I am open and receptive to receive my good in health, wealth, and happiness today and every day to do the work I have come here to do.” This type of “prayer/affirmation” can help your conscious mind direct to you all the good that the universe has in store for you.
Centering: Silent prayer that helps us open ourselves to receive by quieting our minds, body, and spirits.
Contemplative: Focusing on an idea, scripture, quotation, sutra, poem or words of wisdom.
Intercession: Praying for help for others i.e. healing or prosperity for a friend in need.
Lectio Divina: reading, reflecting, responding, and resting on a sutra, scripture, or spiritual reading.
Meditation/sitting: Sitting quietly while focusing on your breath, a word, or counting 1 on the in breath and 2 on the out breath to quiet and center your rambling/monkey mind and become one with all that is.
Thanksgiving: A simple prayer of giving thanks often done before a meal or after a challenge has been overcome such as an illness, accident, or having passed your final exam in school.

Today I want to focus on the affirmation since I have had several requests from friends and students for prayers of prosperity, jobs, healing, and more. Affirmative prayers keep us in a positive mood with a wonderful outlook for the future. They help to keep us from ruminating on the negative, fearful, or harmful thoughts that seem to invade our minds in times of need.

Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, said that prayers have weight and measure and ultimately energy. All words are prayers in some way. In Genesis 1:3 we read: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” The first demonstration of the power of the word! What words are you saying from the time you awake to the time you go to sleep? Are they words of illness, lack, limitation, frustration, and fear? Or are they words of affirmation, health, healing, prosperity, opportunity, love, and compassion. The universe does not care which you choose it will bring you whatever you think and pray for!

When times are tough, and they will be in life, center your prayers on positive affirmations and your mediation times on sitting in the silence to help quiet down that monkey mind and allow your body, mind, and spirit to rest. Give yourself a “meditation break” instead of a “coffee break” which just fills you with caffeine and sugar and calories!

Each day it would be helpful to end it with this Buddhist prayer/chant:

Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost
Each of us should strive to awaken
Awaken, take heed do not squander your life.

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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As I was thinking about which sutra, poem, or prayer to write about in my blog today I was led to a notebook on my bookshelf filled with wonderful things on Buddhism. As I opened it up the very first page right there in front of me was the “Metta Sutra” (Loving-Kindness) by Shakyamuni Buddha.

How appropriate it is considering what we are seeing on the nightly news: Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria ever day in hopes of finding safety, happiness, and love instead of hunger, anger, hatred, and fear. Many, unfortunately, are not finding loving kindness as they seek refuge in the neighboring countries. Others are lucky and have been given, food, shelter, clothing, and some loving-kindness.

Thus, this is the perfect place to go for our second sutra to chant and meditate upon in our new adventure of going “beyond prayer.” Let us do this knowing that our prayers can reverberate around the world and peace and loving kindness can prevail.

Below are the words.

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or
Strong, in high or middle, or low
Realms of existence, small or great,
Visible or invisible, near or far, born or to be born.
May all beings be happy.
Let none deceive another nor despise
Any being in any state; let none
By anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things,
Suffusing love over the entire
World, above, below, and all around
Without limit;
So let each cultivate an
Infinite goodwill toward the whole world.

Let each of us take the time this week to not only use the Metta Sutra for ourselves but to share it with others as well. Put it up on your Facebook page, Instagram, link it on Twitter, upload it to your blog, and e-mail it to your family and friends. There is power in numbers and prayer has healed and turned hearts from hatred to love and beyond in the past and I know it can do it in this present moment—if we just believe it can–since this present moment is all there really is.

As Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say, “Make it so!”

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

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There are hundreds of ways a person can begin to open to the spirit within them. In every religion there are prayers, and songs, and dances, and poems, and liturgies that have been created to help their followers find the divinity within them. We have been practicing out loud by chanting and singing, and creating music with percussion, string, and wind instruments or silently, through contemplation, meditation, zazen, introspection, lectio divina, dance, and more. Others have used sweat lodges, art, mind altering drugs, and ancient rituals. But all have been designed to help the individual find that mystical, untouchable, elusive thing within them called life.

Two extraordinary women have recently gifted me two things—one was a book, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary by Kazuaki Tanahashi, and the other a journal article from Innovation Educativa which she is a co-author of entitled “The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education (Hall, O’Hare, Santavicca & Jones, 2015).” I have been moving between these pieces of writing with joy each presenting me with some fantastic ways to bring my practice into alignment with my life.

Thus I have decided to use these as a jumping off place for creating another workbook for the prison ministry in Florida of which I am one of their volunteers. The prison outreach ministry is sponsored by the Southern Palm Zen Group (Southern Palm Zen Group).

My first thought was what good I could get from the use of these techniques in my life, what I could discover about myself, and how I might even find my “true-self.” And then I read the paragraph below from Kaz’s book and discovered that what I really wanted to do was “understand” what he describes below and thus the workbook was born.

The “Four All-Embracing Vows” expresses the bodhisattva’s attitude. The first of the four vows—‘Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken them’—appears to be an overly idealistic and unrealistic promise. But if we look at it closely, we will notice that it doesn’t simply say, ‘I vow to awaken all sentient beings.’ It begins by acknowledging just how many living beings there are who need to be awakened. Thus, being kind to a neighbor, a stranger, or an animal can create rippling effects of kindness. A simple action may cause infinite results. If the ‘I’ who vows is separate from other people, what ‘I’ can achieve is quite limited. But if ‘I’ is not separate from all others throughout space and time, it may be possible to awaken all beings. This understanding is an essential ground for socially engaged Buddhism (Page 9).

My desire is to be a “socially engaged Buddhist.” My writing this workbook will help me discover new things about myself as I practice the techniques I am sharing, and hopefully, helping others do the same as they use the techniques in their own lives.

So let’s begin this adventure as Kaz did by reciting the four vows for a week as often as possible and wherever we can. Whether we’re sitting in meditation, contemplating the words, or writing them in our journal, whether we’re riding the train, or driving our cars, or making our beds–let’s chant. Chant aloud or silently as the environment allows. Let us not be separate from the words, the thoughts that follow, the sounds of the words, or the feelings and emotions that we feel as we chant. Let’s be one with everything. Let’s be accepting of what comes or does not come, no judgements or criticisms of ourselves, we’re simply chanting! The words are below as we chant them at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You are welcome to use them or use ones that you are familiar with.

The Four Vows
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

[1]Hall, M.P., O’Hare, A., Jones L.F., Santavicca, N. (2015) The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education. Innovacion Educative, ISSN: 1665-2673 vol. 15, numero 67

[2]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala Publications Inc.: Boston, MA

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If you wish to move in the one way
do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully is identical with true enlightenment.
The wise man strives to no goals
but the foolish man fetters himself.
There is one dharma, truth, law, not many;
distinctions arise
from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
To seek mind with the discriminating mind
is the greatest of all mistakes.[1]

Well, if one thing is true about the Buddhist sutras it is that they are a mystery and a puzzle and an enigma all rolled into one. They challenge our logical rational mind to the nth degree and make us wonder sometimes if this path is worth the work?!

First we are being told that if we “wish to move in the one way do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.” Next we’re told that “to seek mind with the discriminating mind” is a great mistake. In order to move in “one way” rather than another—to choose whether we are to “dislike” something—is required to determine whether we even “dislike” something. Yikes!

These verses are much like the koans which we study in our branch of Buddhism. I am working on one right now and have been for the past 6 months to no avail…” Two men walking in the rain, one gets wet the other does not.” The only thing I am sure of is that life is a koan and an enigma and that is why this sutra also says, “To seek mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes.”

There have been hundreds of times in my life, both personal and professional when I thought through a problem with care, research, help from a therapist or a friend, decided upon the solution and the action and then BAM it all blew up in my face. And there have been other times that I quickly went with my gut, no research, no contemplation, no therapist, and it worked out GREAT! No discriminating mind.

I have lived a life where there were goals written down, organized, prioritized, and achieved and then there were times I set goals that fettered me to something that was not good for me and caused pain and suffering in my life and in the lives of those around me. I have been on all sides and the 10 directions that are described in the verses of this sutra.

And so…what do I do. Simply sit! Yes, I sit each day and calm the body, mind, and spirit. It is to look for nothing and when something appears in the mind and body I simply breathe into it and let it go. The universe is a wonderful thing and the right and perfect outcome will appear on its own. It may come from a friend, co-worker, or family member. It can come from an email or something you saw on the internet or TV or read in a book, but come it will on its own terms and in its own time—not yours. Accept what is—as it is and as it comes—that is what Buddhism is all about for me.

I simply let go of the clinging and wait and watch to see what the universe brings me! How awesome is that!

In gassho,

ingassho
Shokai

[1]Osho (2014) Hsin Hsin Ming, The Zen Understanding of Mind and Consciousness. Osho International Foundation

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To live in the great way
is neither easy nor difficult,
but those with limited views
are fearful and irresolute:
the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
and clinging cannot be limited;
even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment
is to go astray.
Just let things be in their own way
And there will be neither coming nor going.[1]

Several years ago I was watching a video recording of a Ken Blanchard book The One Minute Manager preparing to teach the principles for a training that I was doing for one of my corporate clients and I heard him say “the faster you go—the slower you go.” Having not been a Zen Buddhist student at the time I thought that was a brilliant management philosophy to take to heart. I recalled the many times that I’d hurried through an assignment in college or a project at work and in my rush I ended up making lots of mistakes and writing things that made little or no sense. Thus the negative feedback was not good—but it was well deserved.

When I began studying Buddhism I often read and heard this phrase and discovered that Ken had gotten the idea from some wonderful Buddhist or Eastern philosophy.

When was the last time you rushed through something and it ended up being not your best work, or incorrect, or even harmful? Hopefully you learned something from the experience that has helped you in your life.

So what does the first line mean—To live in the great way is neither easy nor difficult, but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute. I know when I was a Unity minister we tried to help our students and congregants to see the world in these terms: Maybe good, maybe bad. You may be wondering how the world could be this way. You may be thinking that you know what good and bad are and how they arrive in your life and what they look and feel like. But I know in my life sometimes what I thought was “definitely bad” turned out to be “good” and what I thought was “definitely good” turned out to be “bad.”

A failed job turned into a brand new adventure in a new and exciting job and a beautiful brand new car turned out to be a lemon! How about you?

The sutra even goes so far as to say we should not be attached to “the idea of enlightenment.” We should just “let things be in their own way and there will be neither coming nor going.” There will be neither striving nor staying put, neither happiness nor sadness, neither expecting the bad nor the good. Our job is to simply take life in each moment as it comes. Dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly with equal aplomb, not grasping, clinging, rejecting, or ruminating over it. Just this in this moment: maybe good, maybe bad. Who is to tell since none of us have a crystal ball taking the world at face value, living in the moment, and making lemonade out of lemons is a great recipe for a fulfilling life.

How refreshing is that?! Try it, I think you’ll like it and if not, so what! Try making iced latte next time instead!  This is to live in the Great Way!

In Gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Osho, Hsin Hsin Ming, The Zen Understanding of Mind and Consciousness Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

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