Posts Tagged ‘Zen Miracles: Finding peace in an insane world’

“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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Each of us on a daily basis encounters pain.  It can be a physical pain such as a backache, toothache, or headache.  Or it can be psychological or emotional pain like situational depression, a broken heart, or anxiety.  How we deal with the pain will determine how long it lasts, the after effect it has, and the influence it has on our life today and in the future.

Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity Church, used to say that “pain was inevitable, but suffering was optional.”  Wow, that sounds simplistic doesn’t it!  But if we do not learn some techniques to work with the painful experiences we have as they appear we will end up suffering and often suffering for an extended period of time. 

Brenda Soshanna in her wonderful book Zen Miracles: Finding peace in an insane world (2002), writes, “In Zen we learn how to feel and accept painful moments, to become larger than our pain.  When we are willing to accept our experience, just as it is, a strange thing happens: it changes into something else.  When we avoid pain, struggle not to feel it, pain turns into suffering (page 15).”

For example if you stub your toe on the leg of the bed in the morning when you are making the bed—man that hurts!  You probably jump up and down on the other foot, hold your toes, and holler out: OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!  If someone is near they may even run in to see if you are okay.  But unless you broke one of the toes within a few minutes the pain seems to dissipate, you begin getting ready for work, and within a short time forget about the incident.

Brenda goes on to say, “There is an enormous difference between pain and suffering.  Pain often cannot be avoided.  Suffering can.  As we learn the difference between them, many fears subside (page 15).”  The pain of hitting your foot on the leg of the bed can be easily avoided.  Tomorrow morning you can put on your shoes or slippers before making the bed, you could be more careful about how you walk around the bed, or where you place your feet when making the bed.  Easy enough! Skip the pain—but make the bed! 

Emotional or psychological pain is not quite as easy to fix and to keep from turning into “suffering.”  Learning how to use meditation and contemplation in your life is one way to keep the pain from moving into suffering.   And even if you get to the suffering meditating or sitting, as we call it in Zen Buddhism, can help shorten the suffering period.  The longer we meditate and the more often we do it our ability to avoid the suffering is increased. And after sometime of practicing this technique what once took you several hours or days to minimize or eliminate the pain/suffering may take only minutes. 

You may be thinking “that’s crazy” when I try to meditate and I have a problem it just runs round and round in my head taking over all the space, thoughts, energy, and time and no matter how hard I try it does not go away so I just end up getting up and I quit trying to meditate or  sit.

Brenda suggests this: “In Zen, we learn how to feel and accept painful moments, to become larger than our pain.  When we are willing to accept our experience, just as it is, a strange thing happens: it changes into something else.  When we avoid pain, struggle not to feel it, pain turns into suffering (page 15).”  So go for it, feel the pain, have what I call a “pity party.”  When I am in emotional pain I allow myself to have no more than a 24 hour “pity party” and then I’m done.

I can have the “pity party” while I’m sitting, doing the dishes, standing in the shower, or making the bed.  “Pity parties” can be done anywhere, anytime.  Then get over it.

Then take the time to do what Brenda says, “We are not using others, ourselves, or the goods the world provides to ‘make’ our lives right.  As we sit, we see how our lives are already right. And we say thank you (page 34).”

Mumon’s Verse may help you as well:

The spring flowers, the autumn moon;

Summer breezes, winter snow.

If useless things do not clutter your mind,

You have the best days of your life.


So the next time you feel the pain you can avoid the suffering altogether, remember Charles said it was optional, or you can do like I do have your “pity party” and then sit with the pain/suffering for a while and let it have its own “pity party.”  Then be done with it.  Remember that your life is already right, and so are you, say thank you and get on with your life!  Let me know how it works out! The best days of your life are coming…

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