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Posts Tagged ‘Zen Gifts to Christians’

Oxherding_pictures,_No._6Mounting the bull, slowly
I return homeward.
The voice of my flute intones
through the evening.
Measuring with hand-beats
the pulsating harmony,
I direct the endless rhythm.
Whoever hears this melody
will join me.

The sixth picture suggests the tranquility and joy that reunion with the source of existence brings; now the oxherd rides on the back of the ox, joyously playing his flute. The verse suggests that he has been freed from old fears and anxieties and that so freed, he can now express his creative energies in celebration of life.[1]

Oneness, what does that mean to you?  The oxherder finds oneness with the Ox as he rides joyfully home harmonizing his flute, his body, and his mind with the ox.  In doing so he does not even need to hold on to the reigns as his fear of falling off the ox has disappeared.  He knows that there is no separation between the two of them and thus happily rides along playing his flute.

When we separate ourselves from people, and things, and ways we limit our abilities, we hinder our creativity, and we make life harder and more uncomfortable.  Being one with everything opens us up to insights and Ah Ha’s that otherwise would have eluded us.  To be one with the dying man as a hospice chaplain is an incredible experience.  To allow yourself to laugh with bottomless joy along with a young child is being awakened to the oneness that permeates the universe.

Laughter is catchy if one person starts laughing others seem to join in even if they do not know what the person is laughing about.  The same thing happens when someone cries, we all cry with them or try desperately to hold back the tears.  And when someone yawns everyone else must yawn no matter how hard they try not to. Just reading this sentence about yawing I know you are having trouble holding back the yawn that is trying desperately to come out!

Roshi Kennedy says that the “unity between the absolute and the relative is fundamental to Zen Buddhism (page 68).”[1]  Although we may not feel it most of the time that does not mean that it is not true.  So, when you feel disconnected to life or to a situation or a person remember that oneness exists even if the eyes can’t see it, the ears can’t hear it, and the mind can’t fathom it—it is still true! Just ask the tooth fairy! I can see that money underneath my pillow right now!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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Oxherding_pictures,_No._5

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down
some dusty road.
Being well-trained, he becomes
naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.[1]
 

The fifth picture shows that disciplined practice can overcome the bad habits of previous conditioning and bring one into accord with the true nature of reality. Although discipline is still needed because the old habits of mind still have power, living in greater awareness of the true reality gives one the energy and direction to live a wholesome life. Now the ox willingly follows the oxherd home, meaning that the separation between oneself and true reality is being overcome.[2]

Who is the master in your life?  Is it your thoughts, actions, fears, joys, money, your job, your relationships, your spiritual practices?  In picture #5 the ox is now following the oxherder home.  He is not tightly tethered to the oxherder, but they are casually walking one in front of the other following the path of enlightenment. As Roshi Kennedy says in his book, Zen Gifts to Christians, “Self-mastery then is living a full life in the present, attached to nothing (page 61).”[3]

The habits of our minds can pull us down a dark and dangerous path if we are not aware of them.  It is discovering the art of sitting in meditation as a “disciplined practice” where we are learning how to let the ruminations of the mind be a visitor and not a resident.  Where all thoughts can be like feathers in the wind and we can watch them as they float through our minds easily without clinging or fear or anxiety. Where we can be in front of them or behind them and they hold no power over us.

Neither do we cling to the beautiful, happy, loving, thoughts because we can grasp and cling to them just as easily and begin to chase after them with ferocity. We can cling to their images and the feelings they bring up until they hold power over us as well. And thus, we are led on a wild goose chase running after those thoughts and running away from the dark thoughts and we find ourselves in an endless circle of confusion and fear, happiness and joy. It is as if we are on the merry-go-round at Palisades Park.  Round and round we go where it stops nobody knows!

Living a life of true separation from our thoughts is allowing them to come and go as they please.  It is seeing them floating like a feather in the wind. It takes time and “disciplined practice.” Each day it becomes easier and easier as we sit in meditation and allow those feathers to fly at their own speed and height. What a great way to live a “wholesome life” without clinging to happiness or fear.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] Koller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
[2] Ibid.
[3] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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I hear the song of the nightingale.Oxherding_pictures,_No._3
The sun is warm, the wind is mild,
willows are green along the shore –
Here no bull can hide!
What artist can draw that massive head,
those majestic horns?

Koller writes this about the third picture and the verse:

In the third picture, the oxherd actually catches sight of the ox. Now, having started to practice, he glimpses the hidden powers to heal his suffering. But he does not yet understand the source of these powers and how to apply them in his search for peace and contentment. The verse, in saying that “I hear the song of the nightingale.//The sun is warm, the wind is mild, the willows are green along the shore.” suggests that the reality the oxherd glimpses is not something separate from the ordinary things that he experiences, even though he does not yet know this.[1]

And thus we cannot be separate from ourselves, from who we are on an ordinary day, week, or year.  We are simply us.  Although the ox may look large and dangerous so do our fears, anxieties, and doubts. Yet when we examine them more closely they are simply the secretions of our brain, created in a mysterious way. They can turn us into who knows what when we give them the power to determine our emotions, exacerbate our fears, or harm our relationships.

Roshi Kennedy writes, “The gift the third picture epitomizes is self-reliance. It is at this stage of the journey that the ox herdsman realizes that his true nature is within himself. It depicts the real awakening of the herdsman (page 34).”[2] The Ox herder must be the one to eventually learn how to unite with the Ox and understand that he won’t find something outside of himself that has control over who and what he is.  Kennedy goes on to say, “Nothing exists but the self and this self contains the whole universe.” You are made of the same particles as the moon and the sun and the black hole. You are the Ox and the Ox is you!

So the next time you feel afraid or in doubt remember that your true nature of self-reliance, resilience, and knowledge exists in you at this very moment. Acknowledge the source of your power and move forward with confidence. Awaken to the idea that the Buddha/Ox and you are one and the same–thus all things are possible. So go for it!

Let me know how it goes! Shokai

[1] Koeller, J.M. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2]  Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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Along the riverbank under the trees,Oxherding_pictures,_No._2
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

Koller writes this about the second picture and the verse:

The second picture shows that the oxherd has now caught sight of the tracks of the ox, bringing hope that his ox is not lost forever. This could be interpreted to mean that he has recognized his distress and has begun to seek for a solution in the teachings of Buddhism or in other teachings. But he is still at the stage of thinking and talking about his problems and various possible solutions. He has not yet found a path to follow and has not yet started to practice.[1]

For each of us as we move through the days of our lives we find ourselves searching, thinking, dreaming, seeing, and planning for that perfect oneness and perfection or solution to life’s mysteries. I can reflect on my own “footprints” reliving the conversation or encounter with an old friend or family member.  Or remembering a verse I read or a course I studied at school or in the Zendo.  Or seeing the traces of my life and thoughts and actions.  I begin to search for the answer that I thought I had discovered in that study group or class or relationship.

As I begin to study the principles of Zen my “nose” begins “looking heavenward” as the poem says.  I begin to see footprints leading me toward something of which I do not know just yet.  At the same time Roshi Robert Kennedy invites me to “…let go of everything we thought we were certain of (page 20).”[2]

Let us not move toward a “fixed truth that might hinder us” but let us move each moment where the experience takes us allowing life to flow at its own pace, form, and destination.

The most exciting and important adventures in life were the ones that we least expected.  Open your mind to see what is here in the moment and remember that “truth” changes with time and experience, cling to nothing, enjoy everything—without attachment—and be ready for the next adventure in living!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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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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I thought about what to write for my next blog on “The Mystery of the Moment”  as Merle Haggard sang: “I’ve got heartaches by the number, troubles by the score, every day you loved me less each day I loved you more.”

You can listen all day on the radio or on your iPhone or computer about the loss of love, the finding of love, the happiness of love, and the pain of love.  Endless poems, movies, songs, and books have been written about it.

Eventually the word loses its passion and meaning when we begin to say “I love my new car, new house, this food I just cooked, or the way my hair looks in the mirror.” With the presidential race going on in America I can hear more words of animosity, hatred, and vitreal than about love.  I hear hate words projected on all races, people, religions, political opponents, and more.

It’s amazing how the universe works!  I turned around to my very large bookcase behind my desk looking for something on “love” to add to my blog post and I was drawn to pull down a book by one of my favorite Zen teachers Robert Kennedy, Zen Gifts to Christians (2004).  I open the book up at the back looking for an index to see if he had anything about love in it and sure enough the page was not an index but a page with a quote on it about love!  What are the chances that in this moment I would find the perfect quote on love?!

Kennedy shares a quote by …Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman, who was swept up by the Germans in Holland in 1941 and sent to her death in Auschwitz in 1943. Though she knew nothing of Zen, her Interrupted Life parallels the final poem of our ox herder poet and puts a modern face on Zen teaching. In it she writes (page 121):

And a camp needs a poet, one who experiences life there, even there, as a bard and is able to sing about it.

At night, as I lay in the camp on my plank bed, surrounded by women and girls gently snoring, dreaming aloud, quietly sobbing and tossing, and turning, women and girls who often told me during the day, ‘We don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, otherwise we are sure to go out of our minds,’ I was sometimes filled with an infinite tenderness, and lay awake for hours. . . and I prayed, ‘Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks.’  And that is what I want to be again. The thinking heart of a whole concentration camp.

I know that those who hate have good reasons to do so.  But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place (pages 121-22).[1]

How many atoms of hatred have you added to the world today, how many of love, peace, and compassion?

What will you do in each and every moment today to make your life and surroundings “a more hospitable place?”  Keep me posted on that!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians, Continuum: NY, NY

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December 8th according to tradition in Zen Buddhism is the day celebrated when Shakyamuni Buddha was sitting in mediation under the Bodhi-tree and at the first glimpse of the morning star, attained enlightenment.  History says that when he looked up he cried out, “I and the great earth and beings simultaneously achieve the way.”  It’s probably true also that the day of Jesus’ birth, when he was slapped on his little butt, he too cried out. To the joy of his parent’s ears, I am sure!  He let them know he was alive and well and ready to live the mission for which he was born.

Whether we believe Jesus was actually born on December 25th or not December seems to be the month chosen to commemorate the birth/rebirth of these two great men or what we call in Zen Buddhism “Bodhisattvas of the world.”

One of the great teachers of Buddhism in America is Father Robert Kennedy, in his book Zen Gifts to Christians (2004), he writes these words about the Buddha’s enlightenment experience, “He exults in his realization that he and the great earth and the whole cosmos and everything in it simultaneously achieve enlightenment; he realizes that they all share the same reality.  It was this experience that launched Zen Buddhism as an international religion of wisdom and compassion (page 68).”

And for Christians we see Christ telling his followers, “I and the Father are one.”  (John 10:30) He says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) He nor the Buddha championed war, killing, prejudice, hatred, ignoring suffering, and the like since if we are all one we are only hurting ourselves as we hurt others.  I cannot separate myself from you.  This has been proven by those who are coming back from our wars with the increased incidence of PTSD and suicide.

Christ’s life was about teaching compassion for those who were suffering, in pain, in need, and in want.   The Buddha and the Christ both said that there will always be suffering in the world.  Why should our behavior contribute to that suffering?  Let our behavior help minimize the suffering and recognize the divinity in everyone and everything.  Father Kennedy goes on to write, “. . . when we touch our neighbor, we do not only touch a friend of Christ’s, we touch Christ himself. When we touch Christ, we touch the one who sent him (page 71).

It is so in Buddhism.  When we touch the lonely, the poor, the suffering, and those in need we touch the Buddha.  What difference is there between the two: culture, geography, and calendar years.  The rest was added on by man and the writers of history books.  But what really matters is their lives and the way they lived them.  Their deeds and the way they performed them.  Their wisdom and the way they shared it with anyone who would listen.

At this time when Zen Buddhists celebrate Rohatsu and Christians celebrate Christmas we should put aside our man made differences and begin to understand what Jesus and Shakyamuni Buddha understood that we are all “one” with God, with mind, with others, with everything.  Let us break the bonds of separation and “other than ness.” Father Kennedy reports the story of the Asian Catholic bishops visit to Thailand in January of 2000 to evangelize Asia.  “…because they felt they should be sensitive to the enduring Buddhist spirituality of Asia and since they were aware that the Buddhists saw Christ and the Bodhisattva as one, the bishops offered an alternative way to evangelize Asia.  They claimed that although they did not deny the uniqueness of Christ, they believed they should not present Christ as simply unique.  They proposed to portray both Christ and the church in a way that resembled the Bodhisattva: That is humble companions and partners of Asians in their common quest for the truth (page 77).”

Both the Buddha and Jesus awoke to the knowledge that all is one.  So on these two very special days of the year let us continue the quest for peace, love, and compassion every day of every week of every year.

Namaste: I behold the Christ/Buddha in you.

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