Posts Tagged ‘Taizan Maezumi Roshi’

Many years ago I went on a retreat with Father Robert Kennedy who is a Catholic priest and a Zen Buddhist teacher and the author of several books on Buddhism. He studied with both Bernie Glassman Roshi and Taizan Maezumi Roshi two wonderful Zen teachers and mentors.  I was so enthralled with his teaching during our weekend Sesshin that I bought all of his books.

His book Zen Gifts to Christians is based on the famous Ten Ox-herding pictures of Zen. It is a unique way to review and understand some of the basic principles of Zen in a fun and inspiring way.

John M. Koller in the Department of Cognitive Science at Renssaelaer Polytechnic Institute has written a wonderful paper on it as well entitled: Ox-Herding: Stages of Zen Practice.  He wrote this in his introduction:

The ten ox-herding pictures and commentaries presented here depict the stages of practice leading to the enlightenment at which Zen (Chan) Buddhism aims.  They dramatize the fact that enlightenment reveals the true self, showing it to be the ordinary self doing ordinary things in the most extraordinary way.

Wonderful! I just love that idea that Buddhism helps us discover our true self in its ordinariness and its extraordinariness![1]

I will use D.T. Suzuki’s titles for each picture:

  1. Searching for the Ox
  2. Seeing the Traces
  3. Seeing the Ox
  4. Catching the Ox
  5. Herding the Ox
  6. Coming Home on the Ox’s Back
  7. The Ox Forgotten, Leaving the Man Alone
  8. The Ox and the Man both Gone out of Sight
  9. Returning to the Origin, Back to the Source
  10. Entering the City with Bliss-bestowing Hands

I will use the version of the poem that Koller uses: “The twelfth century monk Guo-an Shi-yuan (also known as Ku-an or Kakuan Shien) revised and expanded upon the traditional Taoist story of the ox and the oxherd by creating a series of ten images and accompanying verses to simultaneously depict and narrate this well-known tale.”

I hope you enjoy this adventure as an ox-herder!  I know it seems like you’re teachers are shooting the “bull” sometimes in their desire to help you understand the Zen principles and you may think I am as well.  Regardless, I know you’ll enjoy this adventure from the past and see how relevant it is in your life in the 21st century.

Hold on to the reins as this may be a bumpy ride!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] By Tenshō Shūbun – Shokoku-ji Temple website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2350512

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My dear teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor, sent me another wonderful book about Dogen, How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Francis Dojun Cook.  In the introduction he writes, “To sit upright with straight back, with mind and body unified, empty and unattached to internal and external events—this is itself Buddha wisdom; this is Buddha mind. Dogen teaches that, rather than do zazen for some purpose, one sits quietly, without expectation, in jijuyu Samadhi, simply to enjoy one’s own inherent nature, without question of means and ends (page 5).’”[1]

What a relief to know that we can sit for no reason at all.  That our time spent in meditation need not be something which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It need not be to find enlightenment, peace, joy, or decreased blood pressure.  It can simply be “because.”  Just “this.” It can be done with no expectations or preconceived notions or rules of sitting or posture or pain or no pain.  Just sitting.

And if that day the “sitting” is difficult or easy–so what.  You can make it fun, simple, hard, or awkward—you can label it whatever you want or label it nothing at all.  Simply sit with no expectations, or criticisms, or worries, or judgments.  If we sit to replicate the outcome of enlightenment that Shakyamuni Buddha had we have not learned that we are already Buddhahood. This is what he discovered under the Bodhi tree. Dojun says in his book, “Then why did he [Shakyamuni Buddha] continue to sit in jijuyu samadhi? Because he was just manifesting and enjoying his Buddhahood (page 5).”[2]

So why sit?  He goes on to say, “Buddhism is an experiential religion in which this real-making process actualizes Buddha nature as a concrete, lived reality.  Therefore, because practice is absolutely necessary for making our inherent Buddha nature a lived reality, practice never ends (page 7).[3]

So whether you are sitting on the cushion, on the chair in the kitchen eating a meal, or on the couch, or at your desk take time to just “sit” as Shakyamuni Buddha did under the bodhi tree before and after his enlightenment experience.  Hold no expectations just bask in the moment of quiet, peace, and eternity that lives within you every moment of every day.  Be free.

Dojun goes on to write, “This practice is very simple, but also very difficult.  It is our human nature to pick and choose, to desire and loathe, to form myriad attitudes and judgments toward the events of our lives.  This practice is difficult because it demands of us that we simply cease that picking and choosing, desiring and loathing. A contemporary Zen master has said that ‘Zen is picking up your coat from the floor and hanging it up.” Nothing could be simpler (page 8).”[4]

Try it I think you’ll like it.


Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day simply sitting wherever I am without expectations.

2.  I will remind myself that even Shakyamuni Buddha continued to sit.

3.  I will remember that “nothing could be simpler.”

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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