Zen 101

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Zen of Holy

The Zen of Holy

And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I the LORD am holy, (Lev.20:23)

In the beginning they say the holy spirit swept across nothing and in a word the world was born.  That same spirit breathed life into mud and told the mud to name everything.  In the final chapters, so they say, the holy spirit told humankind to be holy, and to do so all they had to do was follow a few rules, and so they tried…but the rules were too difficult, don’t you know, and so?  We humans once again fell from grace.  Yet, in doing so we fully realized ourselves and THAT who always was and always will be suddenly goes silent: when all is One, there is no one.

Zen practice is like that, isn’t it?

We come to Zen seeking something, often salvation, a new life, a better life, or a life worth living. Such lives are hard.  They are hard because we need to let everything we know and care about fall away in order to be truly present. Being present, awake in the moment opens our hearts and minds. We can become afraid. We don’t know what will become of us through such an act; it is a serious leap of faith. So serious it is that few of us are either capable of, or are willing, to go there.  So, what do we do? Well, I think its  like we side step our way through the gates of bliss not knowing fully what to expect and yet expect our rewards will be greater than our efforts.  

A rule with a different view:  We often believe if we sit on a cushion long enough keeping an “open” beginner’s mind, our thoughts, fears, and concerns will fall away.  We chant:  “how wondrous and glorious are the clothes of enlightenment, formless yet enfolding all treasures. Wrapping ourselves in the Buddha’s teaching we free all living beings.”  We put on the robe. But not in any sort of serious mind, we just put it on. Like the saying, “the clothes make the man”  perhaps we think if we wear the robe some level of holiness will rub off on us and a buddha we will be. Within a second or two we forget all about the Buddha’s teaching, the robe, and frankly, anything else because we are now facing a wall, thus facing ourselves.

Master Dogen essentially argued that when we take our seat in the manner prescribed and practice in this way, we are in a state of what he called “practice realization.”  I call it “holiness.”  In the holy there is no two, no other, nothing impure, nothing profane.  In fact, even holiness evaporates. There is just this breath, then the next.  There is just this thought falling away and that thought falling away.  And in this know nothing place holiness arises.

Holiness is nothing special, it is with us in each and every breath. The sutra says there is nothing sacred and nothing profane, in fact, as we practice, holiness itself is rendered meaningless and in that moment, it too, falls away.

The Zen of Holiness then is a holiness gained, therefore lost. We don’t walk on water, but we do love each other.  We don’t perform miracles, but we do treat each other with a profound compassion. We don’t go to heaven, but remain here in this most needy world, offering a way, just a way, for each of us to live fully and completely.  May we each realize such holiness.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Zen itself teaches us nothing. Zen is a method that can lead us to a way of being, but is itself just a method. That method is deceptively simple and it is there for us within each and every moment we are alive. May I suggest, then, that we each stop, sit down, focus on our breath, and feel ourselves alive in our bodies?

I am now 70 years old and I confess I've spent must of my adult life running around chasing what in the end didn't matter a whole lot. As majority share-holder and CEO of a growing corporation my life was segmented into 15 minute calendar portions. I worked 70 hour weeks, rarely took a vacation day, and never took a "vacation" until after I sold my shares in the company I built and moved in a different direction. It is hard to communicate just how exciting and disturbing that life was. Looking back I see how much I missed. Time with family, time with friends, but then, I had no actual "friends" since everyone I knew was a referral source. Even my friend Bernie did not get the attention he deserved Most importantly, i missed time with myself.

So, here I am at 70 looking back and realizing that while looking back can be insightful, it can also take away from the present. I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world, I am a priest, I am a teacher, and I have a rich and full life right here, right now. Here, then, is the most important life lesson for me: appreciate the moment I am in.

Breathe Deeply,

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Common Sense, Part One

Common Sense, Part One

The phrase “Common Sense” has always bothered me. While seemingly innocuous, the phrase is often used to put intellectuals and academics in their place, meaning, knocking them off their high horse. Since I am both an intellectual and former academic I take issue with that usage.  

The most commonly understood definition of common sense is as follows: “…a basic ability, to perceive, understand, and judge things that are shared by (common to) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without the need for debate.”  We might say common sense, then, is derived from what might be called common knowledge.  Therein lay the rub. Consider this:  common knowledge is clearly not common, nor necessarily shared by “all people.”  In any given society there will be subcultures, differing religious and political groups, seriously differing experiences, all of which color what each may considerer “common knowledge” and thus the phrase “common sense” may not indeed, be common or sensical.

Establishing the fallacy of common sense, then, leads to several questions.   What do people who use the phrase mean by it? Could it be simply a means of leveling the playing field in a discussion?  Or even establishing in the user a sense of superiority over another? Why use the phrase at all? 

From my experience, when the phrase is used it is usually met by laughter, suggesting it may be used to put someone down through dismissal.  So, when we might say, “So and so has no common sense!”  What do we mean? Partly, I believe we are saying the person doesn’t understand us or, more precisely, think like us. And we would be correct, but so? If we were a society that thought all alike (I don’t know about you) but I would be thoroughly bored, but more, would fail to learn anything.  It is through challenges to our belief systems that we grow and evolve as sentient beings.  

Secondly, I believe saying such things stops dialogue, if not conversation itself.  We may feels as though we have gained an advantage, but instead we have lost it.  Debate, conversation, discussion, and now in the forefront, “dialogue,” is always needed, especially if we are true believers.  Cracks in the paradigm are critical:  hammer on!