Zen 101

Friday, November 03, 2017


With respect, 

I haven't talked much about Zen of late. Too bad, talking about Zen is lots of fun. Its the practice that's the hard part. I believe the difference between talking and doing is like the distance between this galaxy and the next. They are incredibly far apart. Yet, we often convince ourselves that they really are the same. No, they are not.

To practice Zen is to not "practice," but to be "Zen." Which is to say, being selfless. How hard is that? How many times a day do we say "I"? Much like when Master Dogen Zenji says "Don't think" and we cut the thought, so too, we cut the "I" and just be...very ontological.

What is it to "just be"?

This is the place where there is no hot or cold, the place where there is no one hand to clap or tree to fall; this is the place of precise existence. Yellow is yellow, red is red. I am and I am not. The place where we take that step off the hundred foot pole with ease.

What does all this mean?

When we spill a cup of coffee we just clean it up and when the dog barks at the door, we let him out. What thought is required in this place? No thought, that's the thing.

Someone might say, "Well, then, how do we plan? How do we get through a day?" Again, Master Dogen would say, "When planning, plan." Its really that simple and that difficult. Its the "just" in "just this." We want to equivocate. We want a back door. In Zen there is neither, hence the difficulty.

None of us can "just be" all the time. In fact it is rare to "just be" at all. Our brain will not allow it. But we can get there more and more often as we practice letting go of thoughts and feelings. What's required are two things: mindfulness and a willingness to accept what mindful awareness brings to us.

And that brings us back to our practice, our being Zen.

As you read this, do not question. Just read. When you question, just question. How hard is that?

We'll see.



Sunday, July 16, 2017


Lets talk about Zen. Zen is one of the practices of the Buddha Way. It is not a belief system or a dogma. It is not a philosophy, nor a religion in its own right. Zen is a practice, the practice of meditation, a practice done in many forms: sitting, eating, working, walking. So, in a sense Zen is about where your mind is during an activity.

Is your mind attending to the activity? Or is your mind somewhere else? Are you mindful in your behavior, which is to say, are you aware of the activity as yourself?

Zen can be practiced "religously." Or not. Zen can be part of a faith tradition, hence the existence of Jewish Buddhists, Catholic and Protestant Buddhists, and so on. or not.

Zen properly understood is, at its root, iconoclastic. We say, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Which is to kill our idea or concept of something. We realize an idea or concept of something is not the thing itself and in fact, such an idea or concept often blinds us to the actual truth of what is directly in front of us. Therefore our practice is to recognize our ideas and concepts as just that: ideas and concepts.

To get to the truth of something we need to set aside what we think we know. We need to take on a "beginner's mind" and "leave home. True Zen is not about bells, robes, incense, and the like. True Zen is naked. This is why it is so difficult. Its about seeing clearly. For me, as well as everyone else I believe, this is a daunting if not impossible task. Self awareness, self concept, attachments to who or what we believe we are --- or are not --- are a serious challenge.

Our world today is filled with deceit, danger, greed, and hatred. As reflective human beings, beings with a mind and heart, beings with frailties and strengths, we have many opportunities to practice our Zen. We practice as we are confronted with demons outside and inside of us. Each of us has the capacity to hate and love, be honest or dishonest, manifest charity or greed, and exhibit defensiveness and vulnerability.

Our Zen is not a flavor of the month; it is an everyday discipline and art whose primary function is awareness. Not just any awareness, though, but the awareness that comes with steady and unswerving attention regardless of the cost to our sense of self esteem and self concept. Such a practice takes courage. For those willing to look deeply the "rewards" are nothing but everyday life lived in the light of wisdom.

May we each develop and possess this sort of courage.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


With palms together,
Good Morning All,

“I am of the nature to grow old”…so says one of the five remembrances, and more often than not, my own body as I wake in the morning. Stiff, tense, unyielding to free movement, I hobble. Sometimes needing a cane, sometimes tripping over my own toes, I waddle from point A to point B and thankfully sit down.

Aging, something I once rarely thought about, is now right in front of my nose. If my body fails to remind me, my lovely wife will chime in, “You’re old!” every time I think of doing something I once did easily.

Mindful practice, true Zen practice, has us train to be continuously aware of pretty much everything and to not keep thoughts and feelings, images, smells, etc., close, but instead, to allow them their freedom. When we do this, many of the issues around our aging fall away. Why?

To be truly mindful, one does not judge one’s experience, but rather, simply experiences it. When stiff, experience stiff. When hobbling, just hobble. True mindfulness is deeply challenging, but exquisite in experienced application.

Our thoughts about the pain we might feel is our suffering. When we notice thoughts and let go of the them, we are truly free from suffering. Note that our pain will remain. But in a most fundamental way, it ceases to have meaning.

Completing the line from the sutra, the Buddha pointed out the obvious:

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.”

While true, the Buddha’s teaching on mindful practice (or what I sometimes refer to as Zen in Motion) is a way to escape the suffering resulting from aging. Hobbling, stumbling, being stiff as a board, all of these are my personal practice points. Each of us has them. Be grateful for them. They are our teachers.