Zen 101

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Don't Tread on Me

With respect,

When I returned from Vietnam, recovering from a bullet to my head, my Aunt said to me that my injury brought the war home to her. Yesterday I learned that the morning after the election a swastika was scrawled on the kitchen door of my son's restaurant in Georgetown, Tx. This made the catastrophe of Donald Trump's presidential win very real.  It brought it home to me. In the news of late many stories of racism and hate crimes seem to have increased.  It's as though a group of people (who always existed, but in the dark) now felt emboldened to take themselves into the light of day. I believe our now president-elect's campaign and post-campaign rhetoric has given tacit approval to such people.  He has fanned the flames and now we burn as he distances himself from the hate groups who so rabidly supported him.

Funny thing about hate, it spreads and it hurts. The Buddha argued that the antidote to hate is love. As a Zen priest I ought to practice loving my enemies.  I try.  Yet, we also vow not to kill and to me that vow also includes saving lives and preventing injury. So, a dilemma: to defend or not to defend.  The sort of hate being more and more openly expressed and the fear driving it is so similar to that in pre-WWII Germany that its actually scary and helps us resolve the dilemma. This is a hate that, left unchecked, will grow to include registering those we are afraid of: Muslims, Gays, Liberals, Intellectuals.  If you are a student of history you will recognize this tactic.

In Germany the Final Solution was facilitated both by fear and the fact that registration of undesirables had already been in place.  It was no problem to locate and round them all up. They were put behind walls away from sight as they were systematically murdered.  And we want to build a wall.  We want to vilify the press.  We insert false news stories and people begin to distrust the news outlets.  A propagandic tactic also used in Germany. Are we there yet?

We are headed in that direction.

Confronting hate with love is a good thing, yet those loved must be willing to receive it.  Often instead, the loved hater builds a wall around himself, creates mythic stories to make his hate OK and, at the same time, accuse their opponents of weakness at best, and of being co-conspirators at worst.  For me, the danger here is that many of us, like the Jews in Germany, believe good people would surely not harm us.  Fear and carefully crafted messages of hate will make good people chose to do bad things and one day, then, those good people come knocking on our door and they aren't bringing cookies.

I refuse to answer the door and welcome those who might hate me, and do me harm, entry. No, I will not. What I will do is address the hate directly, as in messages like this, and at the same time prepare for the worst.  What does that mean? Meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, and over here meet Mr. Taurus, oh, and let's not forget Mr. Colt. All of these fellows are near the door and are willing and able to put you away if you come to through the door with a deadly threat. All the while, I will chant the Heart Sutra for you as they are doing it.

Some say that isn't very Buddhist.  I really wonder where they get that idea.  Monks have for millennia defended themselves with deadly force. Even Tibet had an Army under the command of the Dalai Lama. Monks train with bow, sword, knife, cane, and other Martial Arts weapons.  I train with  9 mm and .380 semi-automatic handguns, as well as a M-4 Tactical Carbine. The Zen of it is this: defending life is based in the precepts and more, an obligation of everyone wishing to live in an open society.

So, hate-mongers, I welcome you to try to take away my life and those of others around me. I will first offer you my love, but failing in that, I will prevent you from harming me or others. Don't tread on me.






Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In this Moment

With respect,


There is a famous line in Master Dogen's Genjo Koan that goes like this:"firewood does not become ash, firewood is firewood, ash is ash." Sounds so simple, but then some of the greatest teachings in the world are simple statement, but they are not simple, they are deeply profound observations. Years ago in my mountain refuge I would make a fire in the firebox of my wood cookstove. Every once in awhile I would need to put more wood in the box. It was obvious the wood was becoming ash. Master Dogen says that isn't so. Why would he challenge the obvious process of fire?

I believe the answer is in our everyday lives. With each breath we draw we draw it in a moment, hopefully of awareness. Drawing that breath is, itself, our life. It is a Dharma moment with its own existence. Likewise as we release our breath, that too, is its own Dharma moment. One is not becoming the other. Each exist in themselves and only in that moment. As Dogen says, ret each have "their own Dharma reality."

If we live our lives with the constant thought of what comes next, the moment we are actually existing in fails to arise and we do not appreciate it. You might say we are sleep-walking because we are not paying attention as we are moving about. Dogen asks us to pay attention. This breath is solely this breath. Forget the next or the last: in each we die and are born again.

Questions, Part Two

With respect,

Looking at your computer screen, what do you see? We might say, "a blog note."  Or we might say, "my screen." But whatever you say, it will only be a thought.  A concept socially developed and agreed upon, but what is it before we have named it?   A "blog note" is just what we call what we are seeing. I am asking us to look through the concept.

In our everyday life we rarely pay attention to the "true nature," the "original nature," of what we are looking. Earlier this evening I sat out under the stars with a sky map open on my iPhone. I saw stars and checked their names.  I would be a far cry from the truth of the matter if I thought the names were the stars. The stars are not their names.  Nor are they "stars."  Stars is what they are called, that is all.  But as I sat there and looked at them as they were, something else emerged.

In such silence truth emerges: we are infinitesimal creatures on a very tiny planet in a tiny galaxy amid a universe of others. We might come to the conclusion that what we think does not matter, nor does what we do in the greater scheme of things.  Is that so?

Everyday life is close, not distant.  We are living creatures amid other living creatures: the grand scale of the universe is not our realm, the everyday actions of each of us is our domain.

I asked in Part One, how to keep our original mind in everyday life.  The answer is simpleL pay attention. Mindfully paying attention to ourselves within interaction is key to living a "Zen" life. If you think this is easy, try it for an hour.