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Posts Tagged ‘The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master’

How can sitting upright bring peace into my life?  In our little book published by the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, Soto Zen Introduction to Zazen (2002), they write

This kind of zazen practice teaches us to sit upright wherever we are.  Sometimes our mind is calm and sometimes our mind is busy.  Sometimes we feel peaceful, and sometimes we are in the midst of a storm.  We neither cling to nor avoid any condition, but keep sitting in an upright posture.  We try to live in this upright manner, not only in zazen but in our daily lives.  When we deviate from uprightness, we are aware of it and return to it (page65).[1]

And so, do not be deceived by the idea that you can only be peaceful when you are actually sitting, meditating, or praying and that once you’ve completed that task you go back to the chaos of your daily life.  In Zen your life is always based on the energy of sitting, the consciousness of sitting.  When walking we walk straight and tall conscious of our every step, our eyes are tuned to “seeing” all things around us from the things that are close up to the things that are far away.  We try to stay in tune with our immediate environment and in doing so it helps keep our mind from wandering into the past  where fear, anxiety, regret, sadness, and disappointment may live, or living with expectations for the future of joy, happiness, love, and peace.

As the text says, “we neither cling to nor avoid any condition.”  So when a fearful or negative thought enters our minds and disturbs our peace we do not chastise ourselves, get mad at ourselves, or criticize ourselves, we simply recognize the thought, thank it for coming, give it no power over us and move on. We do the same with the “happy” thoughts.  Do not cling to either—simply observe and then let go.

Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, driving the car, working, doing dishes, taking care of the children, or watching TV live every moment as though you are sitting zazen: focused, fully aware, patiently observant, and in the “now” moment.  And when you do you will be surprised at how creative, productive, successful, and in tune with all that is you have become.

I encourage you to walk with me on this path of Zen, try it, I think you’ll like!

 

[1] Sotoshu Shumucho, (2002) Soto Zen an Introduction to Zazen. Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, Japan

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When was the last time you went on a hike and were able to actually enter into a physical stream?  When was the last time you felt the water rushing over your feet or shoes and toes and ankles?  When was the last time you heard the noise of the rush of the water over the rocks and pebbles and the cacophony of sounds that it produced?  That may just be the last time you and “prajna” were one.

So what is prajna anyway? “Prajna, consciousness or wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism refers to an immediately experienced intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms. The definitive moment of prajna is insight into emptiness, which is the true nature of reality (page 171)”[1]

One of my “prajna” moments occurred many years ago in the Colorado Rockies hiking with a friend—the water was so pure we could drink from it and refresh our bodies, minds, and spirits and all it seemed to take was just one cold crisp handful. For hours no words needed to be spoken as we immersed ourselves in the beauty of the forest and its insentient capacity to answer all our questions and fulfill all our needs.

Dogen says, “To dedicate yourself and take refuge in the manifestation of prajna is to see and uphold the Buddha, the World-Honored One.  It is to be the Buddha, the World-Honored One, seeing and accepting (page 65).”[2] For students of other paths it may be seeing and accepting the Christ, or Mohammad, or Krishna, or Kwan Yin all honored ones amongst their followers.  How you get there is not the point, the point is simply getting there.  As if “there” was someplace to get, which there is not. But on the physical plane we always think of it that way.

Since prajna cannot be conveyed in concepts or intellectual terms it is important for us to take time each day to simply experience the moment in which we are living.  Regardless of what we are doing in that moment: eating, shopping, bathing, singing, sitting, walking, or cleaning—be there fully, wholly, and unabashedly!

Enlightenment is not some “place” that you go to or get to—it is right here, right now. So if you are still waiting for just the right meditation, sitting, sesshin, prayer, teacher, time, or location you’re going to miss it.  You’ve taken your eyes off the ball—life—and the multitude of opportunities you will be given today to enter into the stream.

Intimate with everything I see,

Walking, sitting, and lying down are truth itself.

If someone asks the inner meaning:

“The treasury of the dharma eye in a speck of dust.”

–Dogen (page 172)[3]

Be here now.

upaya-gold-buddha-Doshin

Upaya Gold Buddha

Photo by my teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor

http://www.listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day being “intimate with everything I see” and everything I do.

2.  I will remind myself that prajna is not a place to go, but is an experience.

3.  I will remember that I am in charge of my experiences and not the circumstances that I find myself in.

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] Kohn, M. H, Editor, The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala Dragon Editions (1991) , Boston, MA

[2] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[3] ibid

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“At the very moment of attaining enlightenment upon seeing the morning star, this is where the Tathagata eats his morning gruel (page 143).”[1]  So this morning as I sat my mind kept wandering onto my to-do list for the day and the week and the month and each time I would go back to counting and following my breath I soon was back on the to-do list.  That wandering mind led to self-recrimination and questioning myself, my practice, and my ability to sit.  Then I remembered this quote from The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt and took a deep breath and remembered “nothing special.”

Zen is nothing special, sitting is nothing special.  As the wisdom of the followers of Buddha have proclaimed over and over again when asked about zazen, or the Buddha, or Buddhism it was just: chopping wood, carrying water, or just this, or thus.  Yangshan simply brought a basin of water and a towel and Xiangyan made a bowl of tea and both of these students were told by Guishan, “You two students surpass even Shariputra and Maudgalyayana with your miraculous activity (page 134)!”

And yet every moment of the day is special as Dogen wrote, “Layman Pangyun was an outstanding person in the ancestral seat.  One day he said, “Miracles are nothing other than fetching water and carrying firewood (page 135)”[2]  So today the miracle for me was just taking the time to sit, taking the time to remember that just making the effort each day is a miracle!  Taking the time to forgive myself for being human when I have a wandering mind, or when I get upset or angry with someone during the day and the like–now that’s a miracle.

Recently, I had dokuson at our all day Zazenkai with Mitsunen Nordstrom and shared this with him, he jumped for joy and said people misunderstand Buddhism if they think that they should never lose their temper or be angry at another.  That’s nonsense.  What is good is to forgive yourself when it happens, be compassionate with yourself, and then move on with your day. Don’t walk around stoically with a stiff look on your face afraid to have emotions and feelings!  Nothing special: either the good thoughts and actions or the upsetting thoughts and actions…just this.

Dogen went on to say, “Things are just as they are even when unnoticed.  Even when people do not know that fetching water is a miracle, fetching water is undeniably a miracle (page 135).”[3] Remembering and forgetting: miracles. Eating your morning gruel immediately after enlightenment: a miracle. And yet nothing special!

Being born: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Realizing your oneness with all things: a miracle and yet—nothing special…

Miracles are happening to you and around you every moment of everyday…so guess what? Nothing special! Just eat your morning gruel…

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “nothing special” miracles in my life.

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate and forgiving toward myself and others.

3.  I will remember that emotions are part of living and sitting.

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] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] ibid

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The law of cause and effect is beautifully described by Dogen when he writes about the arrival of flowers.

When the time comes, flowers open. This is the moment of flowers, the arrival of flowers.  At this very moment of flowers arriving, there is no other way.  Plum and willow flowers unfailingly bloom on plum and willow trees. You can see the flowers and know plum and willow trees.  You understand flowers by looking at plum and willow trees.  Peach and apricot flowers have never bloomed on plum and willow trees.  Plum and willow flowers bloom on plum and willow trees.   Peach and apricot flowers bloom on peach and apricot trees.  Flowers in the sky bloom in the sky in just this way.  They do not bloom on other grasses or trees (page 130).”[1]

For me this passage represents the idea of what we call in Unity “the law of mind action.”  Thoughts held in mind manifest after their kind.  You cannot think thoughts of fear, anger, jealousy, limitation, or lack and have happiness, success, prosperity, peace, and love appear in your life on the physical, spiritual, or mental plane.  As Dogen said plum flowers come from plum trees NOT apricot trees or grass.

Like creates like, love creates love, hate creates hate.  You cannot plant an apple seed and get a pear tree any more than you can plant a hate filled thought and get a loving response in return.  Thoughts create our reality and Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, said they have weight and measure.

What did he mean by that?  He illustrated this idea by an experiment that was done at a college during his life time.  They took some of the best athletes in the school and placed them on a perfectly balanced board.  While lying there they first asked them to try to figure out a very difficult mathematical problem and as they worked on the problem the board began to move slowly in the direction of their heads.  Remember when you were on a teeter totter with a friend who was a little heavier than you were it would move in his or her direction.

Next, they asked the student to picture himself running in a race and to keep running as fast as he could to reach the finish line first.  You can all imagine what happened then—the board began to tilt in the direction of the student’s feet.  Thus Charles said, thoughts “have weight and measure.”

What are you producing with your thoughts: illness in mind, body, or spirit, measurably higher blood pressure, blood sugar, anxiety attacks, or migraines?

Dogen goes on to say:

When the old plum tree suddenly blooms, the world of blossoming flowers arises.  At the moment when the world of blossoming flowers arises, spring arrives. There is a single blossom that opens five petals.  At this moment of a single blossom, there are three, four, and five blossoms, hundreds, thousands, myriads, billions of blossoms—countless blossoms (page 130)”[2]

What is blossoming in your life today, be mindful of the forest that you grow.

Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day thinking peach blossoms and growing peach blossoms.

2.  I will remind myself that the content of my thoughts are the content of my actions.

3.  I will remember that I am in charge of the law of cause and effect.

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] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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In some ways the end of time came for me on Wednesday, September 4, 2013, when my mother passed away.  My dad had passed away six years ago and I just knew time had stopped for me then, but oddly enough mother needed more time from me since she had Alzheimer’s and, unlike dad, needed someone’s full attention to survive.  Survive and thrive she did.  Although mother had her ups and downs she was resilient and was always able to bounce back.  Not so last Wednesday the bouncing stopped and she fell into a deep sleep that sent her into eternity with dad.

Although time stopped for her on planet earth as Dogen wrote, “This is the timeless moment to attain buddha ancestors’ infinite life.  All of you aspire and practice within this timelessness.  Endeavoring to follow the way, you must actualize one phrase.  When timelessness is realized, you are powerful.  When timelessness is realized, you are alive (page 94).”[1]

Mother has reached her aspiration of timelessness and come into her real power. My mother was a Methodist who loved Psalm 23 and counted on it in times of difficulty—this is for mom.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“[After a pause Dogen said:] The buddha ancestors’ body and mind are timelessness.  Your true face is a great jewel forming in heaven.  How long have you awaited timelessness? This auspicious day knows the increasing light of opportunity (page 94).”[2]  She waited 92 years to enter into her timelessness. I can only wonder with awe at the opportunities my mother is taking in timelessness now. She has ended the great adventure here to find her true face as the wondrous jewel formed in heaven, the perfect reflection of her heavenly work done on earth.

You too are the perfect reflection of timelessness—show it and share it every day.

Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day trusting that “my cup runneth over” with good.

2.  I will remind myself that time is fleeting and only love prevails.

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open for any and all opportunities to use my time wisely to be a gift and not a burden.

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.

 

mom WAC hat 2009Iona Louise Bishop, Women’s Army Air Corp WWII, 1920-2013


[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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The Essential Dogen…Trust

“Trust, also translated as faith, is one of the four pillars of Buddhism: teaching, practice, trust, and realization (page 73).”[1]  This is the order in which we move as we are invited to take on the mantle of Buddhism in our lives.  Dogen said, “The realm of all buddhas is inconceivable.  It cannot be reached by intellect—much less can those who have no trust or lack of wisdom know it.  Only those who have the great capacity of genuine trust can enter this realm (page 73)”[2]

Trust is a very difficult thing to do.  We all have put our faith and trust in someone or something and we were let down, or the bottom fell out of the investment, or the job offer fell through, but that did not stop us from “trusting” something or someone else in the future.  For the novice it is important to remember that people have been following the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha for thousands of years and have tested and tried, and failed and succeeded in their lives by following his advice and teachings.

This is the way of true learning.  It is like when you first learn anything you try and fail and try again until you master the thing.  If you give up to soon you may lose faith in yourself or the teacher.  If the teacher is a good one he or she will continue to help you and support you and show you a better way, a simpler way, a more loving way, or a faster way.  Then the teacher lets you try it again and watches to see how you do this time. A true teacher will show he or she has “trust” in you and your abilities, talents, and skills.  They often see things in you that you do not see in yourself.  That is the eye of the true teacher.

Trust in these wonderful principles of Buddhism, practice them daily, and watch what happens.  It is not by accident that these principles have lasted for thousands of years it is by practice and trust that those who have come before you have made them work in their lives making them better, sustaining them, and broadening their outlook on life.

[According to Ejo] Dogen said, “When Eisai, the late Bishop, was abbot of the Kennin Monastery, a man came and said, ‘My family is very poor.  We haven’t eaten for several days. The three of us—my wife, my son, and I—are starving to death.  Please show your compassion and help us.’ At that time there was no clothing, food, or money in the monastery.  Eisai could find no way to help.  But he remembered the copper sheet intended for the halo of the Medicine Buddha figure.  He got this out, broke off a portion of it, crushed it together, and gave it to the poor man, saying, ‘Please exchange this for food and satisfy your hunger.’ The man departed overjoyed.

The students were upset and said, ‘That copper was for the radiance of the Medicine Buddha’s image.  Is it not a crime to give such sacred material to a layperson?’

“Eisai said, ‘yes, it is a crime.  But think of the Buddha’s intention.  He gave up his own flesh and bones and offered them to sentient beings.  We would honor the Buddha’s intention even if we were to give the entire body of the Medicine Buddha to those who are starving now.  We may fall into hell for this act.  Still we should continue to save people from starvation.’

“Students nowadays should reflect on the great heart of our guiding master.  Don’t forget this (pages 71-71).”[3]

Eisai had trust in the principles lived and taught by the Buddha regardless of what others thought may be the outcome of the action.  He trusted that doing the “right” thing would surpass all rules made by man.  The Buddha said we were to live a life filled with actions, thoughts, and deeds that would help alleviate the suffering on this planet.  So when your heart knows what to do trust it and follow it to the loving actions, words, and deeds that will help end suffering, if not for all forever, at least for that person in that moment.

Trust yourself, your compassion, and the teachings of the Buddha to know when and how to do the right thing. Follow in the footsteps of Eisai.

Trust in yourself, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day trusting in the principles taught by Shakyamuni Buddha.

2.  I will remind myself that trust when shared with another will brighten his or her day and improve our relationship.

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open for any and all opportunities to show trust in the principles of Buddhism.

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] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

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Enlightenment is an elusive idea spread by many religious and spiritual teachings around the world. Questions abound:  What is it?  How do I attain it?  What will happen if I do get it?  Does that mean I have to leave my family and friends and go live on the top of a mountain somewhere?

Dogen said, “Great enlightenment right at this moment is not self, not other. Great enlightenment is the tea and rice of daily activity.  Enlightenment is ungraspable (page 55).”[1]

Tanahashi and Levitt say, “Awakening to the ultimate reality of human existence is called ‘realization’ or ‘enlightenment.’ It is the actualization of our innate capacity to experience wisdom beyond wisdom (page 50).”[2]  Wisdom abounds everywhere, are you looking?

Enlightenment is knowing that you are in the present moment, doing all that you can to demonstrate your oneness with the world and the people around you.  It is living in the moment and not being drawn into future events or challenges or pushed back to the worries and woes of the past minutes, hours, days, or years.  It is being one with all in this very moment.

As Dogen said it is the “tea and the rice of daily activity.”  So if you are sitting or meditating so you can be sent to another plane of existence, or to light up like the pictures we see of Jesus, or to be relieved of your daily chores and sorrows you may or may not grasp it.  You just may be looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing.

Enlightenment to me is when you are living your life fully with peace, love, joy, and compassion.  When without thinking you act as the Good Samaritan, or Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or the Buddha just doing and being the embodiment of those things. It is washing the dishes with care, driving the car with mindfulness for the safety of others on the road and the passengers in your car.  It is saying a prayer before you eat to bless the food and those who have made it possible for you to eat: the farmer, the truck driver, the clerk in the grocery store and hundreds more.

We have a beautiful prayer that we say before each meal at our Zendo if you are not already using it I hope you’ll try it out.   It seems to have extra added benefits like no indigestion after the meal for some reason or other!

Earth, water, fire, air, and space combine to make this food. Numberless beings gave their lives and labors so that I may eat. May I be nourished so that I may nourish life.

This prayer can be used throughout the day for everything.  Bless the clothes you wear and the people who made them for you.  Bless the car you drive and the home where you live, and the furniture that you sit and sleep on. See the “light” in everyone and everything.  That is why we call it “enlightenment.”  It is not a place to go but a place to be!

Be light about everything, look for the humor and laughter around you and bring humor and laughter wherever you go.  Life is short—too short to be living “enheavyment” every day all day long!  Be good to yourself and lighten up. When you do you see enlightenment everywhere in everyone and in everything.  Think what a miracle that would be! If this day was your last day on earth what a wonderful day it would have been.

Dogen said, “You should remember that how much you study and how fast you progress are secondary matters.  The joyfully seeking mind is primary (page 51)”[3]  So trade in your heaviness for joyfulness today!  When you do you will be face-to-face with the master’s I have named above and many more—you will be walking with them in the light.

So travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day with joyfulness and lightness.

2.  I will remind myself that life is short—and not to spend time in “heaviness” but in “lightness”!

3.  I will remember to keep my eyes and ears open because wisdom and enlightenment are everywhere present.

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] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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