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Posts Tagged ‘Zazen’

Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

================

I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

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img_zazen_postureThis last chapter will totally debunk the 9 chapters before it!  What a fabulous way to end my story…

Even though there are millions of pieces of writings about Buddhism it is more important for your life to keep it simple!  Since there are the schools of Theravada (Hinayana), Mahayana and Vajrayana. There are Zen/Chan Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, and how about Tantrism.

But Dogen simply relies on one thing and one thing only as he says, “From the first time you meet a master, without engaging in incense offering, bowing, chanting Buddha’s name, repentance, or reading scriptures, you should just wholeheartedly sit, and thus drop away body and mind (page 145).”[1]

Yes, we love to start our sitting with services by chanting or reading or singing a sutra to set the stage for sitting (zazen). However, it is not necessary to do so to be a Buddhist, or to reach enlightenment, or to find peace in your life. It does not matter if you were raised as a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, an atheist, or in an indigenous group such as Aboriginal or Manitoba with The Seven Grandfather’s Teachings.  You will benefit by simply sitting.

 

Sitting each day will help you meld with your traditions through the silence, to be one with the peace “that passes all understanding.”  Regardless of whether you sit for 5 minutes or 50 minutes make time to sit!  As Dogen says, “In this sense, the words ‘Mind itself is buddha’ are like the moon reflected on water; the teaching ‘Sitting itself is becoming buddha’ is like the reflection in the mirror (page 149).”[2]

Whose reflection do you see in the mirror each day?  The reflection of your buddha nature of peace, love, and compassion or the reflection of the bandit’s MO—lack, limitation, fear, and anger?  The bandit wants to steal your health, peace, compassion, and joy.  Will you let that happen?

Who shows up today is in your hands alone—the buddha or the bandit!

It is always up to you.

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

[2] Ibid.

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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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I opened up one of my favorite books by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary, looking for some sage advice today and sure enough I got it!

Setting Out The Bowls

We now set out
utensils of the Tathagata.
May the three wheels in boundlessness[1]
be equally liberated![2]oryoki style eating

In Buddhist monasteries you may sit and eat in oryoki style which is sitting on the floor with your bowls of food in front of you.  The word oryoki roughly means “that which contains just enough.”[1]  When you are ordained you receive these three bowls nested together with chopsticks and wrapped in a napkin. Additionally, you carry these with you wherever you travel.  This allows you to dine sitting anywhere.

When was the last time you took a meal where you focused your time and energy on the eating.  Where you did not fill the plate to over flowing and eat way too much—but just enough to be satisfied.  If you focus your attention on the food and savor the textures and the flavors and the smells your food will taste better, it will satisfy you more, and the process will ultimately have you eating less.

You will be liberated from indigestion that is caused by the ruminations controlling your mind from the day or the week of that nasty boss, or the bills, or the fears and anxieties of everyday living.  You can focus on the boundlessness of that liberation and know that through silence comes liberation, whether the silence is during a meal, during your meditation, walking the dog, or at break during your workday.

Our lives are filled with noise from the TV, radio, cellphone, traffic, people talking, children crying, or the chatter inside our heads.  Silence is a “utensil” that you can use to clear your mind and body of irritations, “stinkin thinkin,” and more.  Silence can bring you liberation from the self-talk and exaggerations that we create about our life and its circumstances.  Liberate yourself from hyperbole, and critical thinking, and see how peaceful your life can be.  See how filled with gratitude, love, and compassion it can be. Then watch your physical ails slowly disappear into nothingness.

Remember you are boundless and limitless only if you think you are! Create your own “three wheels” of peace, love, and compassion in your body, mind, and spirit then watch what happens in your life—liberation!

Let me know how it goes!

ingassho

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen  (1991) Shambhala Press:Boston
[2] The three wheels of boundlessness:
The Four Noble Truths
Emptiness
Buddha Nature
[3] Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambala: Boston & London

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I just spent 5 days at a silent retreat (Sesshin) at the Brevard Zen Center in Coco Beach and I was surrounded by like-minded people.  People who decided to take time off to focus on their practice, on stillness, on quiet contemplation, and on quieting the mind and body.  I know that not everyone has the luxury of taking extended periods of time out of their family and work lives; however, if you can even take one day I recommend it highly.

Being around like-minded people can be an invigorating experience, or a hellish experience depending on which “mind” you are choosing to focus on.  If you feel sometimes like an angry, unhappy person with a mind that’s always focusing on the negative you surly do not want to be around “like-minded people.”  Today would be a good day to discover the happy, upbeat, positive, helpful people that you, at times, envy and sometimes dislike, and sometimes may even try to emulate.

I’ve had many people in my life ask, “What are you so happy about all the time, smiling, laughing, and joking?  Don’t you know there are terrible things going on in the world or at work or at home?” Of course, I do know that life is not always a panacea; however, I’d rather create a life like Pollyanna then a life like the Wicked Witch of the West any day!  Life is what you make it, unless of course you let outside circumstances or outside people like the Wicked Witch of the West make it for you?  The choice is up to you.

I often relate a story about one of my congregants who came home from work and found a man in her house who proceeded to rape her and stab her 62 times.  She lived and they caught the man and put him in prison.  Her life seemed to be falling apart from that day forward until, as she says, she decided to forgive him and move on with her life.  So she went to the prison, faced him, and forgave him.  From there she began to heal to be able to live a normal life.  She saved herself and spent the rest of her life living around “like-minded people” those who can forgive, and love, and reach out to others in times of need to help console and hold them up with love and compassion.

She is an inspiration to me and my role model for unconditional love.  Till that time my love came with conditions.  I have been lucky enough to have jobs like my work as a Unity minister, a hospice chaplain, a college professor, and a Zen Buddhist priest which has allowed me to be surrounded by like-minded people.

Buddha quote anger, goodness truth generosity

I hope you are surrounded by those people who will love you unconditionally and have a life filled with peace, joy, love, and happiness.  A life filled with people that lift you up and not tear you down.  This is my wish for you that you meet your good today and it is filled with like-minded people who will celebrate the uniqueness of you and see the good in your heart! Let me know how that goes.

In gassho, Shokai

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bodhi leaf from Michael's 106 bows ceremony of passingThe Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa) is known for its prominent place in Buddhism as the place where Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) meditated for 49 days after which he attained complete enlightenment. The leaf shown here was collected by me at the Brevard Zen Center on a silent retreat. This beautiful tree is located on the front of the property and stands as a symbol of the opportunity given to all the retreatants to experience the mystery of the moment for themselves. To discover the oneness that is everywhere present in this eternal now moment in which we live.

We stood beneath the tree in memory of our dear friend Michael who had passed quietly in his sleep the day before our scheduled retreat. It is tradition to do 106 bows in memory and to honor those who have studied with us and brought the dharma to life in the here and now.

What moment are you living in? Are your thoughts and feelings taking you into the past or projecting you into the future? How many minutes of now have you missed, forgotten, or never discovered.

As a Unity minister I found that often my congregants would come to me with their problems and say how they were unable to sleep for days because of the wandering of the mind into projections of the future. I would ask them this question: What could you do about the unpaid bill, or the job interview, or that argument with your teenager at three in the morning? Of course, there response was: absolutely nothing.

It is not easy, but it is also not impossible, to quiet the mind–it simply takes practice. Living in this moment is focusing on each breath with peace and quiet and joy knowing that you still have life within you, it is being one with all that exists with peace, love, and compassion.

In order to be there for others I have to be there for myself first. I have to keep my mind, body, and spirit healthy and loved. And then I will have the ability and the energy to be there for others.

It is amazing how much energy, love, and compassion I have when I stay in the eternal now moment! What can I do right NOW? Begin by taking three slow deep breaths to center yourself. Feel the life force energy flowing through you as the oxygen feeds your body and brain. Feel the peace that passes all understanding melt into every cell of your body as you continue to count your in-breaths and your out-breaths.

Be one with your breath in this eternal now moment and you just may awaken as Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) did underneath the Bodhi Tree! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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Metta Karuna Prayer

 Oneness of Life and Light,
Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself,
Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and weary,
Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;
May I become food and drink,

During time of famine,
May I protect the helpless and the poor,
May I be a lamp,

For those who need your Light,
May I be a bed for those who need rest,
and guide all seekers to the Other Shore.
May all find happiness through my actions,
and let no one suffer because of me.
Whether they love or hate me,
Whether they hurt or wrong me,
May they all realize true entrusting,
Through Other Power,
and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namo Amida Buddha [1]

 

Today I came across this beautiful prayer entitled “Metta Karuna Prayer.”  I had not read or seen it before. So I looked up what the two words meant. Metta means kindness and karuna means compassion. However, it is said that it must be combined with wisdom in order to be effective. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says “Compassion extends itself without distinction to all sentient beings. It is based on the enlightened experience of the oneness of all beings (page 113).” As you will discover when you read and use the prayer the combination of these three ideas kindness, compassion, and wisdom makes this a very powerful prayer.

The prayer ends with “Namo Amida Buddha” which translated means “Praise Amida Buddha.” Amitabha symbolizes mercy and wisdom in the Pure Land school of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Calling upon Amitabha Buddha is a perfect closing to the prayer since it is all about compassion, kindness, and wisdom.

It is not easy to have compassion for some people, it is not easy to be kind to some people as they try our patience and our ethics and sometimes even our laws. And yet with wisdom we can see beyond the physical, the mundane, the prejudice, the fear, and the pain. We can see them as someone who is in special need of kindness and compassion. That can only be done when we allow wisdom to be part of the equation. Visualize these three ideas as a three legged stool, without the three legs the stool would not stand. What do you stand for? Only one or two of the three legs of this stool?

Imagine what would happen within us and around us if we said the prayer every day. Imagine our heart being opened to every living being on the planet. Imagine our heart being open to the earth, the animals of the earth, the rivers, oceans, and streams, and the mountains and the valleys.

I am not asking anyone to be “perfect” what I am hoping for is that I and all others will be moving toward enlightenment which can only come when we sit on the stool with all three legs intact, strong, and stable.

I hope you’ll sit with me this week as we use this beautiful prayer to help us live a life of kindness, compassion, and wisdom for all.

Let me know how it goes!

ingassho

Shokai

[1] http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/buddhistprayer/id2.html

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

 

 

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