Zen 101

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Zen

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

Old

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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Privilege?

With respect for all, Good Morning Everyone,

What do we think of when we think, “Zen Buddhist Priest?” Many new acquaintances have reacted with great surprise as they discover I am an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, and more than that, the founder of an Order of priests and lay persons. Perhaps it’s my “get-up,” as my wife refers to it, to wit: black leather biker vest with various biker patches, black jeans, do- rag on my head ( a head now covered with silver gray hair), and black boots? Ya wonder?

I am delighted by such responses as they offer an opportunity to help people check their assumptions. And assumptions are a great hindrance in authentic communication, are they not? So often we assume we know something about a person by their dress, car, house, gender, and (let’s face it) the color of their skin. Its this last item that truly bothers me. I detest racial prejudice and its resultant racism. I do so for a variety of reasons not the least of which are the stereotypic assumptions we make when using skin color as a filter through which we understand who is standing before us. While many of us today have taken on “White
privilege” as a cause, I believe it is a contemporary example of the above noted filter in action. I see it as racism, pure and simple. Perhaps understandable racism, but racism nonetheless. Anytime we make a judgement about someone by virtue of the color of their skin it is racism in my opinion.

Now this all said and, while I believe White privilege exists, (as does a certain gender based privilege, class privilege, and so forth, we cannot assume each White person, male or female person, or a person of a certain socio-economic class manifests or abuses that privilege, yet they each may possess it.

Does the possession of “privilege” equate to being an oppressor? I ask this as it seems to me today they are being caste into the same bag. If one possesses a drug are they a user? Or an archery set, a killer? No. Possessing something means very little until it is used.
The argument is, however, that certain folk, White folk, in particular male White folk are perceived to be granted somethings simply because they are White males. This may be true some of the time or even most of the
time, but it is not true all of the time. The assumption that it is true all of the time is the issue itself.

I have a PhD from a rather prestigious university. I once was the CEO of a large system of private mental health centers. I was granted Inka (Dharma Transmission) by my teacher after only five years as abbot of his Temple and Zen Center. Privilege? Right? If you have assumed I accomplished these due to privilege granted by the color of my skin, what are you? I say, you are a racist.

Without being defensive let me paint a picture for you that shreds your stereotypic racist assumptions. First, I was born into a dirt poor and quite violent family. I dropped out of high school. I was from the lowest of economic classes in the United States. My mother, a high school drop out, earned a living waiting tables or getting close to men with money. I applied for jobs out of the newspaper as I had zero “connections” (the true source of privilege in my opinion) and was told quite often to get my “ass” out of the place as “they” didn’t want “my kind.”

As many poor Black folk, I enlisted in the US Army as soon as I could. So I was an Infantry soldier with no skills but to kill and in killing was shot in the head. Privilege, right?

After combat I was “retired” at 19. I was treated as a vagrant. I was homeless for a bit. I had no future. Privilege, right?

At some point someone told me I should go to college. I had taken the GED and passed it despite dropping out in the 9th grade. After college I applied to the CWRU doctoral program and was admitted. To get admitted one had to score in the top two percent on the Millar Analogy Test. Privilege, right? Along side me were people of color and folks from around the world. I was nothing special.

So after graduation with $100.00 I rented an office and opened a counseling practice with zero clients. Ten years later I had seven offices in two states, owned four companies, and was a very popular speaker on PTSD. Privilege, right?

After a few years of driving 90 miles each way each weekend to practice with my teacher I was ordained. Privilege, right?


Of course none of this is on my sleeve. What you see is an old White guy in biker gear and you assume you know me and if I was successful in life it was a result of White privilege. And you dare not to think of yourself as a racist? Privilege, right?

Gassho