Zen 101

Friday, June 30, 2006

Repairing the World

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Last evening at a meeting someone said they did not want politics in their house of worship. They argued that they come to Temple for refuge and that there were plenty of groups and activities "out there" who would gladly accept our help, why bring the these issues into the Temple? She was referring to the Jewish Temple.

I have heard this argument in Zen Centers as well. And I am sure they are voiced in Christian churches, and Mosques, and wherever people gather together to connect to the Universe. Yet, in every major religion, there will come a time in its practice where it must move from the inside out.

Christianity has a strong missionary thrust, sometimes to my dismay, Judaism has a very long history of holding that they have a partnership with God to "repair the world," that is, to act as co-creators, finishing the work of creation. Buddhism has a very strong social and ethical commitment and recognizes that we ourselves create evil, as well as good, and therefore must act to support the choice for good.

Most of the people who want to keep politics out of the sanctuary are really saying that they need a sanctuary, free from strife and division. They seek a place without acrimony and negative, derisive, emotion. And for his, I can agree. But if we leave it there, we are failing these individuals. Our practice community, our Sangha, is a microcosm of the world itself. We practice within it, bringing to it all of what we are, our hopes, fears and dreams, as well as our prejudices and delusions. Chief among these is the notion that there is somehow an inside and and outside, a us and a them.

One of the tests of authentic practice is how consistently syntonic it is. We say we vow to stop doing evil, to do good, and to bring about good in the world (and every faith tradition has vows or prayers similar to these concise vows), but the test is how much they are expressions of ourselves.

As a religious or philosophical person, we must take our belief, faith, our practices, if they are authentic, out into the world. We must stand for the good against evil. Good and evil are not amorphous concepts. They are practical and political realities.

It takes a certain faith to accomplish this. Sometimes we must pretend, so to speak, talking the talk until our walk is more firm and centered. This takes time and commitment to the faith and values of our tradition. It also takes great strength and courage, but most of all it takes a great and growing love for the world.

Be well.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Weebles

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

If we could see around corners, we would never get hit. But we cannot see around corners, so we must be cautious. I wonder.

When we are one with the universe, where is a corner?

Caution is like a weeble, tilting to and fro, but never actually getting anywhere.

A True Master understands there is no birth and death, just this. A True Master is the Buddha inside and out. The Infinite and Finite are one and without a blink of an eye. A True Master is both giver and receiver at once and at the same moment. A True Master is both love and hate, peace and war, all residing in serene reflection.

We call this authority, and being one with it, we call manifest Buddha.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One Born Every Minute

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

We have all heard the phrase,"there's one born every minute!" This "one" typically refers to a sucker, a hapless, gullible person, who is easily taken advantage of. None of us want to be seen by others as such a one. We are all too smart or too sophisticated, too sharp, or too quick and nimble to be "taken" by the con artists of the world.

When we divide our fellow man like this, into the gullible and the nimble & quick, where is charity? Where is compassion? Where is loving-kindness?

There is no room for these qualities, as they become marks of the hapless ones.

Interesting isn't it, how our intelligent, high tech, and efficient society has recast discrimination? A discriminating mind now is highly valued, protected, and to be therefore cultivated.

So, today, the "one" more appropriately should be thought of as a "critic."

Yes, there is one born every minute.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Does the Fan Disturb the Air?

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The windows are open and the ceiling fans are slowly turning. The morning air here is cool. The sound of the fan against the still morning air is soft. I wonder about the stillness of zazen.

Someone asked last night, "Can we go deeper?"

Such an interesting question. Zazen as a practice of plumbing the depths, or of mining the earth for its riches. I suppose, but what is deeper? What is behind the question?

We sit zazen for a variety of reasons, all of us. We sit with a variety of intentions, as many as there are sitting buddhas, I am sure. Yet, on this meditation cushion and in this stillness, we seem to settle, some may say 'sink', deeper and deeper into the stillness. So, it often seems as though we are, indeed, 'going deeper.'

I wonder though if it could not be understood slightly differently, that instead of going deeper we are just shedding the many layers we use to clothe our 'self' and in the shedding, come ever closer to seeing ourselves as the universe itself.

Can we go deeper? We are vast emptiness itself, we just need to stop isolating ourselves with wrappings of identity.

Be well.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Splash!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

In Zen we see heart, mind, and body as one, indeed, all of the universe is this body. Nice thought, a great truth, but thoughts about truth are not the experience of truth. To experience this truth we must stop behaving as if we are separate.

How does one behave as if one is not separate?

This is the point of so many Zen stories and koans. Each story, each koan, points us at something. It asks us to understand by getting into the story and in order to get into the story, we must become the story.

Yet, here we are again, how does one become the story? or the koan?

Just how does one "drop away"?

I once had an art teacher who was into empathy. She had use drawing old weird leaves. We were told to "feel the leaf," "become the leaf," and so on. I thought she was nuts. So I sat there, good student that I was, and drew the leaf. We were taught to draw by keeping our eye on the object and not on the paper and ink. Staying on the object, following its line this way and that, to the point that there was only the line: no eye, no hand, no pen, no...ahhh.

It is counter-intuitive. To let the self drop away means to practice joining non-self. To think non-thinking means to practice non-thinking. Following the lines until we attain there are no lines and no one to follow them.

Its like jumping into a pool.

Be well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Inside-Out Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

There can be a serious precision to our practice that gets in the way of awakening, as well as compassionate living. Some people become so caught in the net of this and that, the 2 centimeters of difference, that they fail to see the Buddha's face.

One of the truths of monastic practice is that life in a group can be a real challenge to serenity, but then we all know that don't we? It is easy to be a Buddha alone and undisturbed by the ticking of the clock or the needs of a baby. Some practitioners, especally those who revere monastic practice, view the exactitude of ritual as very important. Order on the outside rules.

Another finger pointing.

What is important is the inside out. I like inside-out Zen. Our precision is from the inside. That is to say, our internal to external correspondance to the Buddha and his attributes are the thing most important. But then, how do we get there?

On the one hand we can say that ritualized practice, the forms, so to speak, offer us a vessel within which we train ourselves. This is outside-in Zen. On the other hand, our zazen of mind and body, establishing from the inside the strength and discipline to sit upright, is inside-out Zen.

Of course, at some point along the way, we attain there is little difference. Inside and outside are the same.

Do not be so critical with yourself.

Be well.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Just Another Day

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning I slipped out of bed a little early to get a head start on the dishes. My Little Honey co-hosted the Oneg at the synagogue last night. She had spent the day in the kitchen making kugel and deviled eggs, cutting cheese into cubes and so on. There were a few things piled up in the sink. I made coffee, washed the pots and pans that would not fit into the dishwasher (those are amazing devices...we don't have one at the Refuge), and did my morning Zazen.

My Little Honey has just emerged from her sleep. I hear her yawning in the living room as she sips coffee and leaves me to this task.

I am remembering times in our earlier married life when I would resent her sleeping in, then sipping coffee as I "worked" to "clean up her mess."

These are the themes of wounded children. Children who never seemed to get the sort of love or acceptance they needed and then as adults seek it with a vengeance. Its that old hurt puppy syndrome of sorts.

There are moments when these feelings emerge today, but they are much less a roar than a whimper and I often see them for what they are, my emotional garbage, not hers.

What is this that has happened and what was its cause?

Who knows. A million things. Time has passed. Meditation has occur ed. Therapy. Hours of conversation and argument. Tenacity. A deep love for each other and commitment to stay in the boat together. Children now grown and having their own children. Lots of things. And none of them are discreet and separate from the other. Life is not like that. Life is a mess and you deal with it.

Today should be a day of peace, joy, and loving-kindness and so it will be. But then, the next step, make this day a model for all others.

Be well.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Desert Wind, A Concrete Wall

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Yesterday we had a wind come across the desert down off the mountains. Those who live 'back east' or in other parts of the world may not understand what a "wind" means. Let me say that its rather like being present in a wind tunnel. Desert winds are often sustained and go through the day and night.

To be present in such wind means there is no real escaping it. The sound is just there, along with the air pressure and its other manifestations. I once ran a full marathon into such a wind.

Like the heat, or noise, or hustle of all the rest of our environmental challenges to our serenity, we must learn to be in the challenge itself. Once we exist within the challenge, no challenge can exist, as challenge.

This is so difficult, yet so simple. Challenge, difficulty, trouble or bother: all are mental constructs. All are statements suggesting a value we bring to the situation. We do not like such and such! Go away! How can I be peaceful when the whole world is at war?!!!

Two things. Recognize that our attitude or orientation means everything. When we accept the wind as a fact of our life, appreciate it for what it is, join the noise so to speak, no problem. Second, we cannot change the world all at once or even a little at a time. All we can do is change within ourselves and allow that change to bloom in the world itself.

So, how does one step into a concrete wall?

Be well.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Where Do You Live?

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning I am sitting here at the computer feeling a little anxious. It seems our "router" is not working properly and I am connecting off of an unsecured wireless account. I cannot find my own account in my wireless network. Anyway, the Geek Squad will be here this afternoon and solve the problem.

This Internet is so important, yet its like a frail web, easily torn and disrupted. When it is torn and we are disconnected, it feels very isolating. We have come to rely on our communications for both a sense of community and security. Perhaps this is not so good.

When we lived at the Refuge in the mountains, I could not receive television, had little connectivity to the Net, and never read the newspaper. We were living in a natural world: trees, birds, bears. The cycle of life was determined by the sun rising and falling and where in the sky it arched. Our conveniences here in the city, take us far away from that cycle. Light is always available, the Internet is a click away, and the world's condition is present for us 24/7.

Neither is better or worse. They are just so very different and require very differernt sensibilities.

As we go through our day, it is important to be mindful of how our environment and ourselves interact and interdepend. We create and re-create ourselves through such interactions. So the self that is here this moment in front of the computer is a very different self that is in the car driving and is still different again from that self sitting in front of another at dinner. And they are the same.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Rainbow

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Enlightenment. Powerful word. Lots of people searching for it, most with only a vague feeling as to what it is. Which creates a question in my mind. If we do not have a clear idea as to what this is, why are we searching for it?

My sense is that enlightenment means many things to many people. So they search in myriad directions and along many paths. Some see enlightenment as a sort of higher plane of existence. We might understand it as holding hands with God or deeply abiding with the universe. Some see it as an escape from suffering. Others see it as bliss. And still others a sense of seeing clearly. Many things.

The thing is, the search is the problem. To search means that we are looking. This activity is steeped in dualism.

So, what do we do?

Nothing. We aspire to enlightenment, sit still with that aspiration, and let ourselves be present.There is really nothing to seek that we don't already possess. Perhaps it is this acceptance, on its deepest level that is truly 'enlightenment.'

Be well.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A lot of work to do

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

Parden the tardiness of my daily note. It seems a construction crew cut the Comcast cable to half our city yesterday afternoon and they have been scrambling to get it repaired. I decided to take my laptop out to lunch and find a wireless connection to read the news and connect wih you. In the former, bad idea, as to the latter, good idea.

Killing prisoners in the name of God. Its a torturous path to twist religion so. I fear for the world. We are stepping ever so close to the edge of fundamentalist craziness. Each step seems to justify another, and the whole world seems to be going blind.

My heart goes out to the people who are dying and the people doing the killing. In both cases, such pain and suffering. Killing is never a good thing.

What can I do?

I can love the world as it is. I can feel for the world as it is. I can hope for the world as it is. I can be a voice and a witness. Together, we can model another way, a way in the middle, between extremes. A way of acceptance, understanding, grace, and joy. A way of love.

Oh my. We have a lot of work to do.

Be well.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hate

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The Buddha said: Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by not hating; this is an eternal truth.

And how easy is that!

This is a core practice. We know that thoughts of ill will arise. We see this every day, indeed, we experience this every day. Zazen teaches us that these thoughts and their concommitant feelings come, but also go. Zazen teaches us that by residing in stillness, even while in motion, we do not enact ill will.

The Buddha is stating a behavioral truth here. We can change our heart by changing our behavior. If we choose not to enact hate, we will reduce and eventually elimiate hate from our minds and hearts. Just so, if we decide nor to swear, swearing will becomeless a habit of mind and heart.

The eternal truth here is that mind, heart, and body are one.

Replace hate with love and there's a possibility that its good medicine will heal the world, one being at a time.

Be well.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

An Edge

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

As we live out our lives, many of us have the propensity to live on the darker edges of things. As residents of the edge we see the contrasts between light and dark. We taste delight and revulsion. We are right there on that edge!

Some are energized in a morose sort of way while there. Others become lethargic and nihilistic: nothing matters.

This edge can be a real blessing or a source of true torture.

It is a place without a future. It flails the past. It makes the present a dark stew.

Those who see clearly the truth of life and death are tempted to accept this edge and make it home. Wrapping themselves in their robes of futility and acceptance they rot like the corpses they are.

The others with clouded minds dance like moths on the tip of the flame. Exquisite.

Followers of the Great Way, though, step off the edge. They have faith in the universe and know their way is not to sit on the edge, but to walk in the world doing what needs to be done. Hungry person? Feed him. Cold person? Give him a blanket. Glass breaks on the floor? Sweep it up. Dog wants out? Take him out.

When your moral conscience is in your body, there is no question.

Be well.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Making the Coffee

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The desert air is cool this morning, a mere 70 degrees. I am sitting here under the ceiling fan enjoying the air flow over my shoulders. The orchid on my desk is amazing, beautiful yellow backgrounds splashed with magenta. Both dogs are sleeping and Pete-kitty is rolled up in a small ball near My Little Honey's pillow.

The most wonderous things are present if we stop to appreciate them. This stopping requires of us a willingness to just be there. We are not to disturb. We are not to enter. We are present.

When we are present, we experience being in the cool, in the air, in the presence of the universe. Its the difference of being in the flow as opposed to being against the flow.

Yet, here's the thing. When your little honey gets up and asks where's the coffee is, you don't get defensive, you don't get wrinkled, instead, you walk into the kitchen and make the coffee.

Seamless.

Be well.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cafe Press Shop

With palms together, Here is a link to Clear Mind Zen's online store. More products to come. All proceeds will go to Zen Center in support of our work to toward the Three Pure Precepts.

http://www.cafepress.com/sodaiho

Be well.

Clear Mind Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Over the last few weeks I have been working out a basic sketch of Clear Mind Zen. This includes a simple mission statement, statement of definition, membership to the Order, requirements for various levels of commitment, e.g. Refuge Enterer, Precept Holder, Disciple, Dharma Teacher, or Priest. I also created a category for our Virtual Sangha for those of you who wish a formal teaching relationship with me.

Over the next few days I will place materials related to this on our Zen Living Yahoogroups homepage in the "files" section.

If you are interested in this material and can't wait for the files to be up loaded, email me and I will forward them to you as an attachment. They are written in Word. As is always the case, these are and will be 'works in progress.'

I envision this Zen Living list as a worldwide Socially Engaged Zen group. I will be posting materials over time to encourage and support your practice in this world to fulfill the Three Pure Precepts. We have called this effort, "Share the Bloom" in the past and I like this notion.

Lastly, I am building an online store with the help of cafe press. This store will sell t-shirts, buttons, caps, books, and other items related to Clear Mind Zen, its practice and mission. If you should have ideas for items, bumper stickers, etc., please forward them to me.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Six of One

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Wisdom requires meditative living, meditative living requires diligence, diligence requires patience, patience requires a moral sensibility, a moral sensibility reguires generosity.

The paramitas are one.

Let's suppose that you were to spend one day a week on each paramita, with one day off for good behavior. That's not so difficult. Get up in the morning, read something relatingto the paramita of the day, sit Zazen with that paramita in mind. Drive to work with that paramita, enacting it as you can, seeing where it fits or doesn't fit, how it can be applied or not, and so on.

If you spent that entire day examining it as it applies to your actual life, then at the end of a year you will have spent 52 days developing each of these excellences in your life. Fifty-two days of generosity, of morality, of patience, of diligence, of meditation, and of wisdom.

What a year, what a person.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

That Old Tree

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

O Shariputra, remember, Dharma is fundamentally emptiness, no birth, no death. Nothing is pure, nothing is defiled. Nothing can increase, nothing can decrease. Hence: in emptiness, no form, no feeling no thought, no impulse, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no seeing, no hearing, no smelling, no tasting, no touching, no thinking, no realm of sight, no realm of thought, no ignorance and no end of ignorance, no old age and death and no end to old age and death. No suffering, no craving, no extinction, no path, no wisdom, no attainment.

This scriptural teaching from the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra, suggests all of the things we believe are real are just concepts created in our minds. They have no meaning apart from that meaning we apply,. We must be careful, therefore in our application of, and wedding to, this meaning. We must see it for what it is, a convenience, a shorthand, a tool, but most of all, an invention.

When we can move freely from form to no form, realizing birth and death are artificial constructs, living with both purity and impurity as places upon a single plane of existence, then we are truly free.
Clinging to any one of these concepts becomes a knife that cleaves the universe in two.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Sound is audible, sound is a name for something audible. For audible to be, there must be ears to hear. For name to be, there must be a mind to both name and recognize name. No sense organs, no sense.

So, does a tree falling in the forest make a sound?

Be well.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Wrestling with Whatever

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

What are we here for? Why do we exist? Is there indeed a purpose to our existence?

Thinking like this leads us to the sky.

Such questions.

Who knows. Who cares!

We are here. That's what matters. Or does it?

Thinking like this leads us to the earth.

What matters even more?

What happens when earth and sky come together.

Philosophy and religion have always grappled with such things, as has mythology. Sky beings, lofty, wise, untouched and untouchable on one hand; earth beings, crude, dirty, and wet on the other hand.

For philosophy, these were points of departure. The original mind conceiving and then laying out conception: maybe Hegelian, maybe Epicurean. Yet, in literature and mythology, including the stories of the bible, Zen, we see these two wrestling.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, that five thousand year old Babylonian drama, casts Gilgamesh the light prince engaging Enkidu the earth demon. Jacob wrestles with God. Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, Buddha wrestles with Mara. In all of these, it is the wrestling that matters.

Nothing is clear cut. Nothing is one way or the other. The universe is a sloppy, wet, muddy affair. Yet there are rocks to climb on so that we may dry off and rest for a bit. One such rock might be your church or mosque, yet another, your cushion. In any event the real wrestling resides within.

Cherish it.
Be well.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

While the Sun Rises

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

In the morning news I read about a kitty that tree'd a bear, the beheading of three people in Iraq, that Lindsay Lohan doesn't want to be seen as a "party girl", and that three prisoners of America, held without charges or hope of a trial, just hung themselves in prison. The kitty wins.

I, on the other hand, will sit Zazen while the sun rises over the mountains.

Be well.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Passion

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Is there a fire in your life? A passion that draws you, demands that you wake and get out of bed? Is it raging? Is it smoldering? How do you recognize it? How do you feel about it? What do you do with it?
Is this fire a good thing or a bad thing?

These are life questions, imortant to both our happiness and our quality of life. As Viktor Frankl pointed out years ago, we cannot exist as human beings without meaning in our lives. Yet, is meaning and our search for it, the same as this fire?

Most of us live with something we feel passionate about, if only our spouse or children (not to suggest these are small things). Some of us are fortunatre to work in fields we feel passionate about. In such cases work is not work, but life itself. Others feel passionate about the world and its condition. We live to repair it, to bring it to life, to heal it, to make the world a better place.

In whatever context this passion arises, it must be balanced. Tempering our passions is like temporing steel. We fold the steel over and over, pounding it, folding it, pounding it, folding it, until the moment it becomes a fine blade. With each folding the steel must rest. There is a time for heat, a time for pounding, a time for folding, and a time for rest. So too with what we love.

It would be a good practice for each of us to address the questions at the top of this post then ask ourselves how we balance and integrate these into our lives.

Be well.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Pacify my mind!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

As a student, the second patriarch asks Bodhidharma to pacify his mind. An odd sort of question to ask of a teacher, don't you think? Well, maybe not. Today Zen Teachers and Therapists are both asked the same question, framed differently: how can I be happy? or I need something, I mean I really need something and it's out of my reach. help me reach it!

Old Bodhidharma asked this student to search for his mind and bring it to him, he would then pacify it.

So off the student goes, searching for this mind to be pacified.

The search is a turbulent one. Where is this mind that is sooo demanding? Today, students and clients do the same. Good teachers and good therapists ask their supplicants to search out that which is driving them crazy. And of course, they come back with the same line our second patriarch did, "I cannot find it."

There, says Bodhidharma, I have pacified it.

To understand this story we must see the source of distress. Distress is not "out there" somewhere to be found. Distress is a personal thing originating in the very mechanics of our bodies. We seek what we imagine and like the ends of rainbows, imaginings are ever illusive. The moment we see the fundamental truth of this is the moment we are free of it.

A good teacher, like a good therapist, gives the student what the student needs, but not necessarily as the student first perceives it.

Be well.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

10 Hints for Improving Yourself

Hints for improving yourself:

1. If you must watch television, watch something you don't fully understand or don't particular know anything about.

2. Read books.

3. Read books you don't undertand and try to understand them.

4. Refuse to watch the Fox Network in any of its manifestations.

5. The moment you believe you know something, learn it in a different way.

6. Do some form of exercise daily.

7. Avoid red meat in particular and other meats, if possible.

8. Eat more fruit and vegetables.

9. Sit still at least thirty minutes a day and witness yourself in the universe.

10. Open your heart up to others as often as possible, but with dignity and respect for privacy and appropriate decorum.


Practice these daily for a month and see what happens.

War, What is it Good For?


With palms together,

I listened to the news last night. Honestly, I wish we would stop this fighting. I do not understand the need to do such harm.

People have dehumanized and demonized each other there for so long I fear it will take centuries of work to repair the damage.

I am embarrassed for us in the United States. I believe and believed since before he Iraq War began, this was a very bad idea. We had bad information, were impatient, were quick to rattle the sabres and were itching for a fight. Cooler heads needed to prevail, wisdom went out the window, and savagery was sucked into the vacuum.

The Iraqi people have suffered. We have suffered. The entire world is suffering. And in this suffering, hate brews, distrust and suspicion have become the foundation of communication.

We can put our heads in the sand, pretend its just not hapening, keep ourselves 'above it all' but there it is, in the air, in the food we eat, the prices we pay for that food, and in our language, our children's eyes, and our own hearts. Better we face it squarely, though we as a people are loath to do so, and engage in a process of reconcilliation. We must stop fighting. We must provide aid. We must stand down the arms and regain our moral compass.

Not only we, but the entire world would feel better if we did. It is important that your voice be heard. Write to your representatives, to the local newspapers, stand with us at peace vigils, your silence is often mistaken for agreement or apathy.

Be well.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

As You Are

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The sun is just now peaking out over the building next door to my Zendo window. I feel its heat on my face. There is something so reassuring about the sun rising in the morning. I have written about this before. For me it signals that I can relax. I've made it through the night.

For many of us, going to sleep does not mean we will for certain wake up again. Coming to sleep with this attitude is only possible when we are at peace with this moment. We must be willing to say and believe completely, this is enough. I have such an understanding, but it was not always so. Striving and desiring, craving for another day to make my mark, to do something wonderful, or to avaid a mistake, fix a problem, these were feelings that got in the way of rest.

With life, however, our true sphere of influence is revealed. It begins and ends in our own skin. Our true task is to master that sphere. With this realization, the wonder of a simple breath takes on incredible significance. The beauty of sitting at a desk or walking down a corridor or listening to a talk or building something or unpacking something becomes the beginning and the end: it is, in itself, fully and completely sufficient.

I am learning to feel what is there. The plastic keys of this computer, its casing as I rest my fingers and palms between words and thoughts, are each complete moments in them selves worthy of both recognition and respect. To do this well means recognizing the slippery slope of mental travel and letting the slope be by itself.

Be well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Morning News

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

When the morning news contains stories about discovering severed heads in fruit baskets for a second time one must begin to wonder about the civilization which produces such things. War teaches us many things, one very important lesson is that we are none exempt from the world. Each of us has the capacity to do great harm to others when the conditions are right arise. Allegations of war crimes, torture, the severe blurring of the lines between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" should teach us that such lines are never real they are always subject to being shifted. Good and bad are but points of view and are conditioned by perspective.

My fear is that we will become more and more numb to the awfulness of these behaviors. It is easy to adapt, we do it all the time. Lowering our expectations, we don't work as hard for a better grade or a higher standard of living or a safer neighborhood, and by extension, a safer world.

One side justifies their behavior by pointing out what the other side has done or threatens to do. The end of course, as Gandhi pointed out, is the whole world will be blind. Fingers, meanwhile, point everywhere.

We must resist this murderous mentality, as well as a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness enveloping our world. Each of us has the capacity to be a buddha, to stop creating evil, to create good, and to create conditions for good to arise for all.

What's your next step? What would create conditions for good to emerge? Your answer is your future.

Be well.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Facing a Day, Facing Yourself

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Monday morning. Its a beautiful day. Many of us approach Monday as if we were climbing a mountain with sacks of rocks on our backs. Working at jobs that seem to work against us, our sense of accomplishment and personal worth challenged, we feel disheartened and even disconnected.

Others go to work with a sense of hope and joy, embracing their work, making it a part of them and their experience in the world. They have a sense of personal power and control, a sort of personal authority that enables real authenticity to develop.

What are the differences between these people?

Is it the work itself? Their peers? Their employers or supervisors? Is it something in the water?

So many variables. Yet, one major variable comes to mind: Right Understanding. Right Understanding is a sort of synchronicity, an orientation of compass, map, and traveler. Once oriented, it is possible to make sense of where we are, what direction to go, what degree of effort it will take, how much of what needs to be said, and so forth. People living without Right Understanding are like travelers at war with their compasses and maps.

As in each of the Eightfold Noble Paths, "Right" refers to "true, perfect, same." Understood as we are using the word here, then, we orient our selves with our compass and our map, making them "true." True here means many things, but mostly it means "the same." That is to say, when we become one with our activity, like an arrow flying true to its mark, where arrow and mark are, in truth one, then we are living within Right Understanding.

Who are you? What is your compass? What is your map? How are you not one?

Be well.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Where's Buddha?

With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Yesterday I was re-reading a tiny little book bu Senzaki. He was a Japanese monk who came to America before there was much in the way of Zen here. He was a wanderer, not affiliated with a home temple, and despised what he called "Cathedral Zen." Cathedral Zen is the Zen of large Temples, rich patrons, and lavish pomp and circumstance. There is a tendency to move in this direction among American Zen Centers.

Americans like their Churches, Synagogues and Mosques to be large and ostentatious. We have the idea that if it is large and rich it must be doing something right and everyone wants to hang on to a winner. Yet even when full these places are empty. Something essential is missing.

True Zen begins as a temple of one and works its way out. True Zen is free. It is the color of the grass, the feel of the sand, the taste of a cold cucumber on a hot summer day. It has nothing to do with robes and bells, priests and laymen. We put on a robe, shave our head, sit Zazen because we are buddhas, not to become like buddhas.

Today be the buddha you are in everything you do. How is that possible? Be yourself.

Be well.

Friday, June 02, 2006

What Do You See?


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Today I will drive up to the Refuge. I look forward to this drive, as well as to getting there. The drive across the desert from the city is really beautiful. The desert can be very subtle. The colors are so muted and because the sky is so large and unimpeded, a very different scale of relative size is present. People coming here for the first time often just see vast expanses of brown. I know I did. But then, as time goes by and our senses acclimate to the place, we begin to really "see" the desert for the first time.

Such is life. We often see in gross terms and only later see the details and nuances that enrich our lives. It is our practice to make the distance between the gross and the subtle non-existent.

Be well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bearing Witness


With palms together,
Good Morning Sangha,

Bearing witness is a challenging practice. Many do not wish to see witnesses, few wish to be reminded of things past. Witnesses become our consciences and how many of us truly appreciate that voice in our ear? We assign motives to the witnesses, we can even grow to despise them. We confuse the witness with the event itself and akin to the messinger, want to kill the witness.

To bear witness under these conditions becomes a strength building practice and an important practice in itself.

Yesterday at the weekly Peace Vigil, I sat quietly on my cushion on the sidewalk. The sun was very hot and my robes offered protection from the burning rays, but also allowed the air under them to heat. Zen priest sauna.

I listened as the birds chatter in the trees of the courthouse courtyard. I listened to someone tell the story that earlier in the war, counter-protesters were across the street. One person set up a sign a few blocks away that read, "Terrorists Ahead, Fire at Will!"

The witness, in the end, must simply be present. Rather like being with a very sick person or someone who is dying. We are just present and that presence is, in itself, healing.

In this presence, however, our inclination is to want to 'do something' as if our mere presence as a witness is not enough. Resist this temptation. Listen to your mind as you are sitting as witness. Watch the mental flow, the feelings arise and fall, give them nothing.

When we witness this way we are most effective. We are just peace. We are just compassion. Nothing else.

Be well.