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Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha): “Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your religious books.

The Rigveda is an ancient Indian text one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism written between the 5th and 2nd century BCE, the first four books of the Bible Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were written between the 6th and 2nd century BCE, the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century BCE, the Buddhist Sutras between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, the New Testament in the 1st century CE, the Qur’an is the newest written around 632 CE.  Wow!  If you can remember all of that you’re better than I am!

 What’s my point?  The people who wrote these books were wonderful people who wanted to memorialize their beliefs and experiences for those who would come after them.  They were trying to explain, nature, birth, death, life, good and evil and more.  Science was not at the level it is today, they only had their eyes, ears, nose, and sometimes mouth to discover and memorialize their lives and how they dealt with what happened to them and in them in their waking and sleeping hours.

This is neither good nor bad—it just is.  Thus if saying a bed time Buddha at Bedtimeprayer will help keep you alive through the night—great what can you lose! If not eating meat is how you desire to live your life wonderful, go for it.  If eating meat but not pork or crustaceans (lobster, crabs, shrimp, etc.) is your choice that’s great too.  In ancient times you might have been better off not eating pork because it caused an infection we know as trichinosis, but so did lots of other foods.  Just a few more reasons “not to believe” everything found in your ancient texts.

My mom believed it about the pork and thus when we had pork chops for dinner they were so well done they tasted and acted like shoe leather!  That was one of the nights I always found a reason to eat at my best friend’s house for dinner.  Another time I bought some “free range chicken” and served it to her for supper.  I was bragging about how great they were and that all the chickens should be freed.  Once again mom told me a “farm story.”  “I fed plenty of chickens on the farm growing up and let me tell you they ate anything and everything in sight, at least this way their waste ends up far enough away that they can’t get at it.” You’ve got to love my mom!

So in this day and age with our education, science, technology, the internet, and more you have the opportunity to be your own researcher and discover about life for yourself.  If following your religious and family traditions is important in your life…go for it.  Just remember that not everything written in them is true…then move full speed ahead and live the life that works for you and spreads peace, love, and compassion wherever you go!

In gassho,

Shokai

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The “C” in the MASCC stands for compassion.  Every student wants a teacher who has compassion for them.  Many of our students live in homes that are filled with lack, limitation, anger, and fear.  So when they step into your classroom they want to feel safe, cared for, loved, listened to, and understood.subtle-sound-book-cover-picture

Maurine Stuart’s description of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in her book The Subtle Sound (1996) is a great description of every good teacher that I know.

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who appears in the Heart Sutra, is the bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom, and is often depicted as having one thousand hands and one thousand eyes; one thousand eyes to see the thousands of needs, and one thousand hands to help. Some depictions have eleven faces as well, to symbolize seeing in all directions simultaneously (p. 87).[1]

Every once in a while you’ll hear a student say, “Does she have eyes in the back of her head?” As a teacher I know that it is important for the students to think that you have “eyes” in the back of your head.  What the students really want to know is that the teacher has compassion for them and will give them the support, the kind words, the extension on their homework, and more when they need it. They want to know that we care about them and their success not only in the classroom but in life.  We know that the situation in some of their homes makes it difficult to study and learn.

In one of my developmental English classes I discovered that one of my best students was homeless.  How did I discover that?  She was always the first one in class and so one morning I complimented her on it. She shared with me that she had to take an early bus in order to get to class on time because she was coming from the homeless shelter for teens all the way across town.  When I heard that I gave her space to share her story and for the balance of the term I gave her what support I could.

Unless we have compassion for our students many are likely to drop out of high school or college.  Unless we perfect that compassion we may be adding to the pain and suffering that they live with on a daily basis.  And don’t think just because they live in a fancy house in a fancy neighborhood that life is a bowl of cherries!  Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes and incomes.

Be like the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara with your thousand eyes and hands ready to help!

Let me know how it goes!

Shokai

[1] Stuart, M. and Chayat, R.S. (1996). Subtle Sound the Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

 

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Teaching students about simplicity is very difficult in a world where there is no example of it in their lives.  We live in a society that is complex, busy, noisy, and filled with to-do lists and projects and school, studying, and working toward promotions and more.  And this is all happening today!

But to live a life of peace, joy, and contentment we will need to slow down, increase our ability to focus on one thing at a time, and find time to meditate and be mindful about each word, thought, and step we take.  When we accomplish this we will be living in a world that is full and complete and filled with peace, love, and compassion.  Fears and frustrations will diminish and laughter will appear in their place.

dad, grandad, boy playingWhen was the last time you heard yourself or your children or students or co-workers actually laugh with a loud squeal, saw them roll on the floor, and hold their tummy because it hurt so much from laughing?  When was the last time you laughed so hard tears rolled down your face like the picture you see here?

Below is an exercise for you to share with them to help them think about simplicity and how it appears in their lives. You may not be able to use it with very young students so you may have to revise it a little bit to show them how to work on one thing at a time and finish it before they go on to the next thing. You might illustrate that idea with two pictures, one that is a very simple picture of something i.e. a glass of milk, and the other that is a very busy and complex picture such as a table full of dishes and food with a glass of milk among the items on the table.

Script for Exercise:

Pretend that you have a magic wand and that magic wand allows you to recreate your life and yourself– to invent a new you.  I am going to give you a few minutes to meditate on a word and think about what it means to you and how it appears in your life, or doesn’t appear in your life.  The word is simplicity.  (short pause)

When I ring the bell I am going to give you several minutes to create something with the art supplies that you have gathered that will illustrate what you discovered about yourself during the meditation.  Be as creative as possible in expressing what you discovered and even what the new you, both internally and externally, can look like. Feel free to draw, write, color, express yourself in your own unique way.

Keep track of the time. Give the students 3-5 minutes, longer if they have experience meditating, before ringing the bell. After ringing the bell remind them what they are to be doing for the next 10-15 minutes.  Keep track of the time because you will want to save time for debriefing the activity.

You might even try this exercise yourself.  Reflecting on simplicity might lighten up your day and brighten up your life!  Try it I think you’ll like it…

In gassho,

Shokai

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Teaching with mindfulness and contemplative practices is like wearing a MASCC while at the same time creating a road map for your students and for yourself.  When we use Mindfulness, Artfulness, Simplicity, Compassion, and Connectedness (MASCC) to design our courses, prepare to teach them, and actually teach them we empower our students in many important and exciting ways.

As educators it is our responsibility to educate our students not only in the course content, but also in how to live mindfully, compassionately, and successfully in an ever changing and challenging world of war, hunger, prejudice, poverty, disease, and climate change.  The power within each of your students lies dormant until we help them discover it.  But for that to occur we must first discover it within ourselves.  We must create a MASCC for our lives and the circumstances within which we live and move and have our being.

So the first step in this process is to find a practice that resonates with your belief system and discover the power that it has to expand your life in these areas.  Chose one area at a time and focus your reading, research, attention, time, and talent in that direction. Make it fun, make it experiential, and make it an integral part of your life.  Then watch what happens with your teaching ability, your creativity, and your responses from your students, friends, and family members.

Change is not easy, but it is important. Stagnation often appears as a very slow death. So slow that we often don’t even recognize it until it is too late.  Stagnation can mean the death of a relationship, a job, your health, and more.  It hinders the growth and learning for yourself and your students.

Today’s students have sensory overload with the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more! They have trouble focusing and quieting their minds and thus it makes learning very difficult. Their attention span is short and getting shorter every day!  So if you think how and what you taught last year or two years ago or five years ago will work today think again!

mindful-games-book-coverSusan Kaiser Greenland in her book “Mindful Games” shares with her readers an exercise that I think you might like.  It is called “Drop the Monkeys (page80-81).”[1] In Buddhism we talk frequently about the Monkey Mind! Monkeys represent thoughts, sensations, distractions and emotions running around our heads throughout the day.

So what do we do with them? She has her student’s remove their power by adding them to a chain (like a necklace) filled with monkeys.  Once they’ve filled up the chain she has them dropping the chain into a barrel, letting go of them quickly and easily! Whatever you do don’t go back and take them out of that barrel!  Getting rid of the Monkeys will put you on the fast track to creating a powerful MASCC that can change your life forever!

Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

 

Shokai

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

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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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My special friend, Dr. Davele Bursor, and I went on Sunday to the beautiful Center for Spiritual Living (formerly Science of Mind Church) in Boca Raton and when I opened the bulletin they had a little prayer card in there with this affirmation on it: Today I use kindness plentifully in every thought, act, and circumstance.

Yet, when I got home and turned on the TV there was very little kindness being projected toward people of all political persuasions, religions, ethnic groups, and professions.  It seems that we’ve forgotten the basic ideas of what it takes to make a country livable, one that will grow and prosper and be a safe place in which to grow up, raise our children, and live a happy, healthy, peaceful, and successful life.

Civility has left the discourse and simple religious and spiritual principles have gone out the window. There are “Dragons in the Trees” as one of our Zen members, Lawrence Janssen, writes in his book of poetry Zen Paradox: No Knowing.

Mara the prince of darkness
Exuberantly dances from cloud to cloud
Dragons silently wait in withered trees
No howls of approval or broken rice bowlsbridgewood-white-tree-flower.b
Only swords readied for an execution
Nobel truth twisted and distorted
With cunning argumentation
We witness the ritual of self immolation
As vultures circle endlessly
Overwhelmed by shame and guilt
The teacher raises a flower in hope
The compassionate words and nurturing spirit
Of Bodhidharma echo in the land (page 23)![1]

Too few voices “echo in the land” for kindness for our brothers and sisters around the world—so let us be the voice of reason, of love, and of kindness during this troubling time.  Begin by being kind to yourself.  Then move that energy out into your family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.  Be the voice of reason; raise the flower of hope with your compassionate words as Larry encourages us to do!

Let’s do it! You’ll meet your good today when you help others meet theirs!

In gassho,

Shokai

[1] Janssen, L.I. (2013) Zen Paradox: No Knowing. Xlibris.com

2 http://listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com/galleries/bridgewood-white-tree-flower

 

 

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Napoleon Hill the author of Think and Grow Rich (1960) wrote this great poem about the law of autosuggestion: “The subconscious mind will translate into reality a thought driven by fear just as readily as it will translate into reality a thought driven by courage, or faith (pages 56-57).”[1] That is why when we sit in Buddhism we do not hold on to our thoughts be they positive or negative.  Thoughts have weight and measure and that is why in meditation we see them floating like a cloud in the sky weightless and changing in measure every second as it moves round the earth. We simply let them pass through like fast moving clouds on a summer day.

He also wrote this great poem.

If you think you are beaten, you are,napoleon-hill-quote
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win, but you think you can’t,
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will—
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN (pages 56-57)!

And in the Three Pure Precepts we are told that “A disciple of the Buddha vows to actualize good for others.” How do we do that?  By our thoughts of course—which turn into our behaviors of course!  So once you have finished sitting you can go about your life thinking and remember the power of “autosuggestion” because it hears those thoughts as good or bad, positive or negative, or neutral.

So focus your thoughts on actualizing good for others and that guarantees you’ll meet your good today and so will they! Let me know how that works out!

In gassho, Shokai

Footnote: Sorry I have not changed the poem to an inclusive gender it is difficult to do in poetry that was written so long ago.  So please read in the gender that works for you.   Thanks!

[1] Hill, N. (1960) Think and Grow Rich Greenwich, CT: A Fawcett Crest Book

  1. http://www.beardoilandcroissants.com/how-napoleon-hill-think-and-grow-rich-author-has-changed-my-life/

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