Zen 101

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Living

With palms together,
Good Morning All,
 
Mindful living is tiresome. It takes work and exposes us to pain. Most of us cannot live this way and take something.  We take a drink, or a hit on a funny looking cigarette, or a cigarette itself.  Others, wonder with our bodies, lusting after this delight or that. Some of us hide in our thoughts. Still others fall deeply in love with ourselves and spend hours preening. It all comes to the same thing, increased suffering.
 
While mindful living takes constant effort and attention, it is the only way to truly appreciate our lives. Exposed to pain? So what else is new, we suffer pain, just as we suffer joy. Wanting one to stay and the other to flee is pointless: they both come and go like waves on the surface of a pond. Change your relationship to the waves, regardless of what we call them, and they disappear as waves.  
 
Takes effort?  Of course. Takes attention?  Yeppers. So what else do you have to do with your life but live it?
 
Be well.
 
 


Rev. Harvey So Daiho Hilbert, Ph.D. 
May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
On the web at:
 


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Monday, October 30, 2006

Appearances

With palms together,
Good Evening All,

Please accept my apologies for such a late message. Today was a very nice day. The sun was bright and the sky, clear. The air was crisp in the morning; warmed in the afternoon, and chilled again this evening. I now sit in my zendo with my pups sleeping nearby. The incense is burning and my small candle is lit. Shortly I will sit down on my zafu and begin my practice.

A reader, Jeff, posted a note on one of my blogs. He cited two postings that seemed to contradict each other:

"If you need to believe in something go somewhere else. Zen is not about belief, if fact it is anti-belief." - posted by So Daiho Hilbert on Oct 29 2006

"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.- posted by So Daiho Hilbert on Jun 30 2006

I am deeply flattered by this posting as it clearly suggests Jeff is a serious student who is paying attention to my blatherings. As in all things, Zen or otherwise, two sides of any coin never touch but are deeply connected. I say on one hand, belief is an obstacle, and on the other hand suggest people of principle are believers. I believe wholeheartedly that both are true.

A believer has no need of a light, believing he already possesses the truth. Yet, in truth, only when we turn the light of day toward something does the thing itself become clear.


We must have faith in our practice, in what he Buddha has taught us, and our experience confirms, and at the same time, remain skeptical not only other people's views, but of our senses and our perceptions, as well. When we look deeply into our own nature and see what is there, there is nothing to fear and nothing to stand against. As Uchiyama-roshi says, we must "open the hand of thought," to which I add, all of life unfolds.

Be well.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Freedom

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

If you need to believe in something go somewhere else. Zen is not about belief, if fact it is anti-belief. Zen is an experiential thing, call it a practice or a philosophy, or a religion if you will, it is fundamentally an orientation in action.

Beliefs are a hindrance to our experience because, like pillows on our bed, they create a soft comfort zone for our minds to rest. Resting gets us only resting. Moreover, we all too often mistake our "belief" for the thing itself, that thing being an awakened life.

What does it mean then, to live an awakened life?

The cat purrs. The dog runs. I pour coffee. My heart-mind hurts. I love my wife. We make breakfast. Get it?

An awakened life is right in front of your nose.

When we live in the promise or thought of tomorrow, whether it be alive or dead in heaven or Nirvana, we are already in hell. Hell is the striving for something we already possess not being aware that we possess it. So, like the fingers in the Chinese puzzle, relax your grasp and you are free.

Be well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

With cooler air comes warmer clothes. And often a quicker pace. As a result of my paralysis, I stumble alot, especially if I try to go faster, and even worse if holding anything at all, even something like the mail. Over the years I have developed a sort of love/hate relationship with my disability. On the one hand it is a serious pain in the you know what. On the other hand, it is a valuable and ever present teacher.

Life is like that.

So when I stumble, I mutter something to myself, and depending, it might be addressing that first hand, or that second hand. In either case, I slow done a bit and place my attention on placing my foot, picking up my foot, and the swing of my arms. I also quickly readjust my thinking.

In many ways I am blessed for living the life I have. I think we all are. Each of us lives. It is our special blessing to appreciate our lives as they are.

Be well.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Blog of Interest, Hmmm

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

My Yahoo360 Blog is being featured this month by Yahoo as one of their interesting blogs. Goodness, my mailbox was very full with comments, requests for connection, and congratulations. I am practicing several of those pesky paramitas just now.

The air has definitely taken a turn for the colder side of things. It feels good. I laundered my sweatshirts and have located my sweaters. In the desert southwest we need little more than than. My robes are warm and I enjoy them in the Zendo.

A shaved head does require a hat. I prefer those knitted sock thingies, sort of like a mitten for the brain. My Little Honey often thinks I look ridiculous. I think I'm cool...well, warm, actually.

Be well.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Life Is Like That

With palms together,
Good Morning All,


The challenge of serene reflection meditation is rather steep. On the surface it appears very easy, just sit still for awhile. Yet, when we make the choice to stop our movement, things seem to happen: an old pain surfaces, an itch develops, an awful thought arises...or a very pleasant one. So just sitting there itself becomes a serious obstacle to what we want, namely, to move.

I recommend not moving.

Serene reflection meditation is not relaxation, nor is it a means of finding bliss. It is not therapeutic and it is not easy. It is hard work requiring your constant attention.

Life is like that.

When we practice living we tend to think of it as easy. Oh, if I were twenty one, no problem! If only I had a better job! Or a college degree! Or a beautiful spouse! Or that nice new car being advertised! Life would be perfect. Then we get these things.

Yes, life is like that.

It requires our constant attention.

Be well.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Of Our Own Making

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Of Our Own Making

When the sky is so beautiful
I fail to see the gentle grass.

Big Mind is so seductive.
I want to smack it.

That grass is home to snakes,
Yet it frames the sky.

Little Mind is so ordinary.
I want to puff it up.


Every picture needs a frame,
Every frame, a picture.

I am a metronome:
both artist and audience.

___

Be well.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Meaning

With palms together,
Good Morning All,


Meaning

Waking this morning
to a gentle rain against the window
The sound was nourishing.

Inside, under the cover of the patchwork quilt my wife made,
safe and cozy,
able to perceive the sound of the rain.

Outside, a different matter altogether.
No safety, no warmth.
Just cold wet water.

The rain is the same.

Be well.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Oh, Emotion!

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

When we are afraid and are willing to remain in the fear we can learn. It is the same with anger, joy and sadness. Our feelings can be understood as gates which open to our heart-mind. Care must be taken, but it is best if the gates remain open.

When I am afraid, I tend to seek defenses. Of course, it's also a good idea to turn on the light! And often, once the light is on, there is no longer anything there to fear. So, fear is often about not-knowing. If I am afraid and do not turn on a light to look at what is there, I am likely to built a fortress around me with attitude, feelings, and words, that are enough to scare the bejezzus out of an elephant. Much simpler to turn on a light. Simpler, but all too often, more challenging.

What is it we are so afraid of? Our unwillingness to be vulnerable speaks volumes about us, doesn't it? In the end, what will happen will happen...or already has...not-knowing and staying in a fortress in the dark will not help for long.

Turning in the light means being willing to be still with yourself in the midst of whatever is happening around you or within you. When we loose his stillness and succumb to the waves, we only need turn our attention to our breath and the experience of the moment, be it anger, fear, sadness, or joy. These feelings are not lethal, they are feelings, they will always fade away.

Yet, as a group we are woefully inadequate at dealing with them when they are there. Even our emotional vocabulary is poverty stricken. And without a word, we cannot create a sense of mastery. Its as if the parts are just 'out there' buffeting us about the head and shoulders. We say we 'hate' this when we mean we don't like it. We feel 'enraged' when we actually feel annoyed. We are emotional hyper boles.

This tendency is very dangerous as feeling are the drivers of behavior.Too few of us learn how to push in the clutch. And we are off!

Zazen is an excellent practice for learning about the clutch. I recommend it.

Be well.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

On Being a Duck and Other Matters of Consequence

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

There are always moments when we are not ourselves. Lately, I have been experiencing many such moments. My practice is good and it is steady. Still, the ordinary breeze that provides movement for my life has sometimes become a tornado.

Recently we have decided to sell our mountain Refuge. We have talked about moving to Memphis. Lots of serious and radical changes seem to be setting off cascades of feelings. Uncertainty, loss, all those yucky sorts of things burble around.

During such times I sense it is important to be many things at once: open, calm, flexible, and yet centered. Of course this isn't always possible and sometimes I feel somewhat hypocritical when I flame up and get angry, sullen or withdrawn.

I think, "I should be able to handle this!" All the while festering inside, my duck rocking around on choppy seas.

In this stage of my life it is so important that I have family: my wife, my children and grandchildren. I need a home. Yet life isn't really like that, is it? Life is fluid. Evolving, undulating, washing up here, fading out there. What's a good duck to do?

We could say, "float". And I suppose this is the best answer, yet it clearly is lacking, since direction always seems important. Even old Zen Masters like Dogen suggest this. In his Tenzo Kyokun, he says we should prepare tomorrow's meal this evening, but while doing so, we should be completely present.

So, here it is. I have no idea. My present is, my tomorrow may be something else again. Uncertainty seems to be my foundation.

All we can do is the best we can in each moment we are awake.

Be well.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Relative Certainty

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Zen always has a person by the hair, short or otherwise, and yanks them about. Everything is relative to everything else, form has no substance, everything is in flux, we teach; yet 'no substance' takes form, in the flux there is some 'thing' and there is an absolute. In Zen, context and method are everything.

To say something, anything, is always incorrect because words are pale pictures of actual experience. We say behavior reveals our understanding. Much like a flower reveals the soil.

People can catch themselves on hooks of their own making. Waving in the wind as a fish flopping about out of water, we create much ado with our words. And so our great ancestors often cite: silence is thunder.

On the other hand, words are one of the major conveyances of our thoughts and feelings. Silence may speak volumes but is always open to complete misunderstanding. Of course a true Master could care less and would only see this misadventure as a teaching opportunity.

Care should always be taken with our speech and we should never be so certain about the truth we think we possess. Sometimes silence is thunder, sometimes its just an invitation. When we understand form is emptiness we should immediately understand emptiness is form. The relative only makes sense in the backdrop of an absolute.

Be well.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Picky, picky, picky

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning at Zen Center I was accompanied by one other: faithful Zen To. We sat together and were witness to wonderful birdsong. The Zen Center was chilly. It is cool. And after our incense offering I made pancakes and eggs with hot coffee.

My griddle was a tad too hot and I forgot to put some oil under the eggs, but other than that, the food was perfect.

In Zen we have a saying that we should accept what is offered. Of course, we are not to take what is not offered either. Both of these suggest we set ourselves, desires, tastes, and other discrimination's aside.

So when the pancakes are a bit dark and hard and the eggs aren't exactly over medium, well, we eat and enjoy and thank the many lives and hands that brought us the food.

I struggle with this on occasion, picky eater that I am. I don't want a lot of fat and sugar in my diet. With so many people starving to death in our world, how can I be so picky? On the other hand, I prefer vegetables and fruits, love nuts and cheese, and eat cherry tomatoes like candy. Still, I rarely make demands on wait staff, complain about my food (except to My Little Honey), and otherwise allow my feelings to rule my life.

Please consider making a generous offering to your local food pantry today. And in the process, remind yourself there are millions of others who cannot afford to pick and choose.

Be well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Humanity in the Balance

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Last evening instead of zazen, I attended a screening of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." Please do yourself a favor and click on the link below to this film's website. Clearly we are facing some serious problems environmentally. No amount of partisan bickering or special interest crap will save us from what the earth itself will do to us if we do not become wiser.

This was my second time through this film. I was struck with Mr. Gore's humanity. I was taken once again with his ability to set out the facts, undeniable facts, regarding our climate change. I was reminded, childishly I suppose, of the beginning scenes of Superman when Superman's father is trying to convince his government that there is an impending crisis.

Then the thought struck me like a thunderclap: its futile. Mr. Gore named his first book, "Earth in the Balance." I have a copy of it. But I think it is misstated. More accurate would be, "Humanity in the Balance." The earth isn't going anywhere and as the film powerfully points out, has its own natural ways of correcting things.We keep thinking in human terms. The earth will have its way and regardless of how special we think we are, it will recover its balance and that it that. The earth measures its time in millenia. A few hundred thousand years, waves and waves of change, and everything is back on track, sans humanity.

So, maybe that Christian text, Revelations, is on target, perhaps we will end in flames, the flames of a global warming of our own making.

http://www.climatecrisis.net/

Be well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cease Doing Evil

With palms together,
Good Morning All,


The first of the Three Pure Precepts is "Cease doing evil." Not so simple in today's world. What, after all, is evil? Evil conjures up all sorts of things, the least of which is Halloween masks or Tales From the Crypt. Evil is something we too often see as very specific. War. Violence. Cruelty. Evil has a face we believe and more, a face we are all apt to both see and agree upon.

I'm not so sure. I suspect the true face of evil is much more subtle and difficult to see.

Evil causes harm, it erodes life, kills, causes us to suffer. But, then, so does good. Choosing even in the affirmative always negates something. Perhaps it isn't the actual choice so much as choice itself? To choose one person over another for a transplant. One country over another for our aid. One battle instead of another. Or not to fight at all. So what is evil? That which causes harm? Everyday we cause harm. Is it a matter of scale? Or intent? Or consequence?

Is it enough to be aware? Enough to translate that awareness into some sort of action?

I don't know.

I think my questions are important, terribly important. I think we do not think about them nearly enough and should talk about them often. We certainly don't pay much attention to them as we live out our daily lives. But, on the other hand, that's why we practice zazen, isn't it? To raise our level of awareness? To get mind, body, and environment in sync and on the same page?

I hope so.

I really do.

Be well.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning All,
 
When we truly understand everything is relative to everything, then we see nothing is anything more or less than anything else.  And when we stand on a single point, everything is relative to it. Where do we stand?
 
I prefer not to. But, unlike that fictional schrivener, Bartleby, I will be what is there to do.
 
Its taken a long time to get to this place. I highly recommend it. The mountains are what they are; the rivers and, in my case, the desert, is what it is.  And then it is not. Being comfortable with the flow of process is key to our survival and ability to see clearly. Those looking for solid ground, even for an instant are consumed by the rivers that run through them.
 
Be well.


Rev. Harvey So Daiho Hilbert, Ph.D. 
May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
On the web at:
 


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Monday, October 16, 2006

Sangha

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Sangha, the last of the Three Treasures, is most likely the most challenging for us in the United States. Not only are we an ego-centric and ethnocentric lot, but we have so little sense of real community. If we sit zazen and the self does, indeed, fall away, what do we have to support us? Our Lexus? Our salary? Our favorite television show?

We are not a people that puts ourselves out for the sake of the group. In fact, I suspect, we compete with and against the group in order to gain advantage in our hierarchical position within the group. Oh my.

And so, what is Sangha?

Typically we think of Sangha as a "community" of like minded individuals who have gathered together for mutual support in their practice. In olden times it was a gathering of monks. Today, its about anyone even to the vastness of all sentient beings. Way too large for me, that is. I like to know my group. I like to see them, smell them, touch them. I like to know they are human beings. That they eat, fart, and make mistakes. I like to know that they are willing to grow, to suck it up, to change. Its important that they be present when I am in need, and I am present when they are in need. Yet this cannot happen when we do not share.

Is it so challenging to unzip and step out of the jackets of our everyday existence? Is it so difficult to be known? To be vulnerable?

I suppose today it is and thus the challenge of Sangha. To take refuge in this treasure is one of the most difficult as it requires a level of trust that we don't ordinarily allow ourselves to have. Sometimes it will be abused. Sometimes there will be no one there to catch us as we fall and we will strike the floor. This should not matter. We are what we choose to be, regardless of the behavior of others.

To make Sangha work we must be Sangha from the inside out.

Consider this when you engage with someone or not engage with someone. In the end it is only your heart that matters, knowing that your heart is the heart of being.

Be well.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The So What Practice of Zen

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

We have all heard the phrase, "no time like the present." In Zen this is considered a daily mantra. Past and future are creations of mind. Yet we must be careful not to make the present moment a creation as well.

We live in the present by living directly, mindfully, and without the craziness that comes with discrimination. Here in this moment, there are plastic keys. Fingers. Electricity. Light. Yet, as soon as I name these, they are not it at all. Now they are my language applied to the phenomenon. What is light before we call it light? What is plastic, finger? before the two meet?

Who cares.

When the light is on, appreciate it. When it is time to write, write; time to clean, clean. This is the "so what" practice of Zen.

Living in the past, we are dead. Living in the future, not yet born. The present is not a theory. It is what it is: appreciate it.

Be well.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Religious Life

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning I woke to a gentle rain. How nice to hear the tender sound of raindrops. My Little Honey is already out the door. She and friend Deana are attending some yarn or knitting event. They hope to sell buttons they have made. So, I am home alone on a Saturday morning. A day of rest. No Zen Center. Just myself and the universe. Well, there is Tripper, who tries to eat Pete-kitty, who will have none of it, and of course, Pepper who just watches all the fuss.

I must say I do enjoy this stage of my life, enjoying such moments as this. Zazen has taught my body/mind to accept the moment without very much conflict. Conflicts that do arise, are settled quickly because they are there to be resolved. Arguments are less hostile, more pliable, and end quickly.

This is being upright. A duck on water, choppy or still, is a duck on water.

The rain is increasing its tempo. We have gone from waltz to four-step. Perhaps we will be witness to a tango. Its just rain. I sit under the canopy of my apartment, participant-witness to it all.

This is religious life.

Be well.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Being Good

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

We live to be good people. Yet sometimes, I think we slip into just living, not even just living, but a sort of existing that includes going through the motions of eating, talking, working, sleeping, with no attention on what each moment of being is for us.

How do we live to be good people? What is required of us? Do we need to be superheroes? Heroes? Do we need to be Great Buddhas? Jesus? Moses? The Prophet?

When we walk along the sidewalk, we notice an ant and step over the ant. When we notice there is no toilet paper on the roll, we replace the toilet paper. If someone is angry with us, we listen. If someone needs us, we are there. These are nothing really special, nothing extraordinary, yet so often we are so asleep that we step on the ant, leave the bathroom, blow off someones feelings, and turn on the TV. Modern life has many exits.

Being present has only one: zazen. Zazen is the practice of being present. Attention to the world within us and without us: we are neither engaged nor disengaged. Whatever is there is there and we are with it 100%. Our body is upright; our mind is upright; our heart is open. Practice.

Be well.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Saving All Beings

With palms together,
Good Morning All,
 
This morning was interesting. Most mornings are, you know.  We are awakened by whatever, in my case a small dog with a wet tongue, and see that it is morning.  We are grateful for awakening and opening our eyes to see clearly.  We set out to save all sentient beings.  OMG!  What a task!
 
Sentient being Numero Uno is myself.  I drive down to the Zendo, light the alter candles, light incense.  Make coffee for breakfast.  I climb onto the Ino's cushion and wait.
 
In comes Zen To, slapping feet on the saltio tile. He is respectful, bows and enters, stands by his seat. No other sentient beings arrive as my watch indicates its time: bell is invited to ring.  Chanting happens. Wood blocks are rhythmically struck. Then abruptly, silence.
 
At the appointed time, the bell is invited to sound again.  More chanting and drumming. Light an incense offering, bow, leave the zendo.
 
Breakfast was simple.  Zen To learned to make pancakes on the griddle.  I poured the coffee.  We ate and talked about Suzuki-roshi's first book.  Just after breakfast two other sentient beings arrive, Revs. Hogaku and Shin Getsu roshi.  They come with a new wooden shoji screen for our Zendo entrance. They bring cinnamon rolls.  I eat one and think about getting fat.
 
Zen To leaves, I make arrangements to meet Rev. Gozen for lunch with the roshis. Three three of us who are left chat a bit about the Zen Center and saving all sentient beings, then I go home to My Little Honey.  It is 9:00 AM.
 
Time for a nap.
 
Be well.
 
 
Team Zen:


Rev. Harvey So Daiho Hilbert, Ph.D. 
May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
On the web at:
 


Want to be your own boss? Learn how on Yahoo! Small Business.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Change

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Human beings are builders. Its what we do. We build houses, social structures, spiritual structures, and connections so that these structures come together and live. In this sense we are alive and enable life. When we break down the connections, the energy flow is broken and the parts begin to fail. We call this entropy.
So what happens when as individuals we retire from building?


Another way of understanding this is in terms of meaning building. We create meaning in our lives and meaning is so important that its absence can threaten our very existence. So when we stop creating meaning?

Retirement is death.

We human beings must evolve. We must throw away such notions as retirement. Instead, it would be more useful, and healthy, to think of it as exploring. At various stages of our lives we explore and build in various sets of areas: education, work, relationships, family, community, church, temple, or mosque.As we age, we move from one set of interests and areas to others, each time exploring, filling out, adding, deleting, and so on. My sense is that this process is eternal.

Some of us, though, seem to stop. We get tired. We no longer are interested in the world. And then we dry up and die and are scattered about the ground.And even in this are building.

It must be noted, that it is in fact only a seeming pause. This pause is another transition allowing us to become material for the next generation. It is only our hubris or fear that refuses to allow us to see this clearly.

Be well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's In Your Moment?

With palms together,
Good Morning All,
 
On a mountain, in a desert, on a plain, in a meadow, in the rain, in the sun, in the dark, in the wind: just be there. We do ourselves such a disservice always being somewhere else. We seem to think there and here are different.  I suppose they are, in a manner of speaking. Yet, fundamentally, they are the same, earth, sea, sky and the face of human construct. When we appreciate somewhere else more than somewhere here, we are never really here and here itself seems the fiction.
 
Reality is never tasted this way. We live in a dream. Until the snap of lightening or the dropping of a glass to bring us to the present. Ah, the cocoons we are able to create!  So pleasant.
 
We say, "I take refuge...together with all beings..." reminding us that living in the truth of the here and now is living in a world without duality. It is nowhere special and hardly distinguished. It is just here. This little finger touching this little key touching your eye and thus, your mind, and noticing this fact without much ado.
 
We practice zazen to appreciate this moment as fully and completely as possible, and then the next. We practice zazen to help us stay awake, that is, present, and nothing more.Knowing that living in this small thing is everything.
 
Be well.
 


Rev. Harvey So Daiho Hilbert, Ph.D. 
May All Beings Be Free From Suffering
On the web at:
 


Want to be your own boss? Learn how on Yahoo! Small Business.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Almost Odd

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Waking to rolling thunder and a wet breeze I am reminded of jungles and the scent of fear. Its odd how one thing recalls another, but I believe this is how our mind works; a sort of memory karmic action.

Yesterday I had occasion to meet an elder writer. At 98 she has come out with a memoir. She is a delightful woman and sat gracefully in a chair signing her book. I sat next to her for awhile. On my other shoulder was a man I had met elsewhere. A Vietnam combat vet, like myself, who still cannot sleep and still is haunted by decades old demons.

We talked.

Both people had memories, both said they wished some of their memories would disappear, yet one uses her memories to contextualize her life; the other finds memory a felonious intrusion.

As I sat between them, I remembered a return trip to Vietnam I took with my wife and some other Vietnam Vets some years ago. I recalled sitting at a long table in a dining room in some humid northern province. One side, an array of American Vietnam veterans; the other side, an array of North Vietnamese Army veterans. We traded shots, this time however, the shots were not metal, but rather cheap Russian vodka.

We shared stories and photographs, we laughed and cried. Just a mess of sloppy human beings discovering our ability to forgive and embrace. I noticed as I told this story, my veteran friend withdrew and responded with a slight degree of fear. I think it is this that so deeply separates us.

Today I sat in a beautiful living room with a group of talented writers, eating petifiores and sipping punch. Almost odd, but so distinctly human.

Fear is a clear hindrance in our mind. If allowed, it drives us into caves of darkness wherein every shadow is a killer. Yet I know it is possible to be like a small candle. Still, and serene illuminating without blazing, teaching ourselves that the monsters we fear are only ourselves in darkness.

Be well.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Hard Work

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Everything is as it is and should be. Oh my. What a statement. I hate this! I love that! I vow to cease doing evil. I vow to do good. Yet all are dharma, all are empty of substance, permanence and independence.

When we say good karma or bad karma, we are adding something to cause and effect, a moral judgment, Karma is not about good or bad. Karma is just the process of action.

The hard work is not becoming attached to either. I say hard because we usually understand attachment to mean something like sticking to something of value. To not stick is not to say we don't value. Nor does it mean that we cannot attempt to stop bad from happening. Its like that other sticky wicket word in our vocabulary, acceptance. Accepting and, its emotional action equivalent, 'letting go,' do not imply behavior, but rather refer to in attitudinal position we take relative to what is there before us.

Attachment really points to our contemporary understanding of emotional investment. The more we are emotionally invested in an outcome or object of our desire, the more we suffer as that object eludes or escapes us. Lower the emotional investment, lower the suffering. The object of our desire and our action to achieve it remains, but our suffering in relation to it ends. This is a very important point.

We can love, hate, and value without investing our being in the objects of these.

Accomplishing this is the true work of our practice.

Be well.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bodhidharma Day

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Today we celebrate Bodhidharma Day in Las Cruces by being in mindful practice at Zen Center. Bodhidharma was a simple monk who came from India to China in the late fifth century. He taught simply, but consistently, that zazen was the core of the Buddha's teaching. He was a pragmatic and experiential sort who lived in a cave and gazed at its wall. No fancy temples, no fancy clothes, just his body and a wall with a strong determinationed practice. We consider this man to be the First Zen Patriarch. All current Zen lineages call him parent.

If you are nearby Zen Center today and would like to sit in stillness for awhile, please feel free to join us.

Last night some friends gathered at a local ice cream stand:

Eating ice cream in the wind,
Chocolate drops on a field of blue;
The moon is bright in the sky.


Be well.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Holding On

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

We only see things as coming or going when we live as if we are the reference point. Zen practice enables us to realize this is not always so and, in fact, there is no reference point. With no self as a point of reference we are free. At that moment, coming and going cease, as do up and down, and most importantly, birth and death.

Our brain produces the ability to link things and events together. Yet in truth, things and events are not linked. They are discreet moments unto themselves. It is only our mind that puts them together as a pattern. While patterns can be delightful and meaningful in the everyday world of relative existence, they are illusions of our mind and should only be understood as mental tools. If we understand them to be truth, we are lost.

To be lost means to not be able to live directly as each thing presents itself. When we live in a pattern we are living in mental connection and so cannot appreciate things as it is; thusness.

So challenging for us as ordinary people. But when we practice zazen, we are not ordinary and we begin to see clearly perhaps for the first time. This is the frightening aspect of zazen. It demands that we let go of the post that holds us tethered. As we practice we begin to see the post, the tether, and that which is tethered as illusion, and not entirely there yet, we become frightened.

What will happen to me if I let go?


Be well.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Your Own Authority

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

Yesterday during an interview with a student, I tried to teach something about walking in ones own authority. This is such a challenging notion. It does not mean being full of oneself. Nor does it mean being a dictator. People who walk in their own authority are confident in themselves and as a result of that confidence have little real need for the signs and symbols of their authority.

When we make ourselves in the world, we should do so simply and directly. The plan and the activity of building should be seamless, as if they were what they are: one.

There is a spin on one of the Dharma seals, "shoho jisso", which means all things are themselves ultimate reality. This is another way of saying "it is what it is" and adding everything is truth.

When I open my eyes and take my breath, I express my true nature. As I pour my coffee, put on my clothes, walk my dogs, I express my true nature. No need to be anything, I am what I am. When we live this way we are living within our own authority. And this is important because it is authentic.

So many of us live in fear of the thoughts and judgments of both others and our inner self. Our choices are the result of an internal dialogue rather than a direct expression of our being. So, what is it, after all, that we fear? Why the chatter? Why the wobble?

If you are going to light that match, light it. If you are going to strike that bell, strike it. If you are disabled, be what you are. No need to hide or get permission to come out.

Our practice is simple, yet so challenging. To be upright on a cushion and live there directly in the moment. Once our mind thoroughly understands there is no threat, no problem. It releases its grip, lets go of the rudder and allows us to be what we are.

Be well.


Team Zen: two mile run/walk ; a chest and back weight workout.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When Dark Encounters Light

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

The recent horror of the killing of school children in Amish country has offered us a teaching on the darker side of dependant co-arising. We see immediately as it happens, the activities of people across the globe: bombings in the Middle East, shootings in Europe and America, starvation in Africa. We feel in response. We fantasize in response. We establish a point of view in response. So, when we go outside each day, this response is our understanding.We behave accordingly.

Communication can be a valuable tool. Interactivity can be a golden opportunity to depen our understanding. Yet each can also drive us into dispair and create chains of toxicity that enslave us to our more base emotions.

We must counterbalance these offerings from the communication network with other practices. We must practice deep listening. We must practice stillness. We must open ourselves to this pain so that none of us suffer. An open wound contains nothing in itself. An open wound can flow freely and clean itself. Close the wound prematurely and we capture toxicity, allowing it to hide and fester. The pain from a hidden wound can be surprisingly challenging.

So, this happens because that happens. When a bad thing happens, notice. Then open yourself to your feelings about it and let yourself flow some. Then offer yourself an opportunity to understand, contextualize, and grow from the experience. And in all of this, if you know that your purpose is to be inservice to others, your experience of the suffering of others offers you a starting point.

Be well.


Team Zen: run three miles

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Something Simple

With palms together,
Good Afternoon All,

Today something simple. We have returned home and are settling in. The flights were easy and as always, I enjoyed people watching and reading, peppered with a little conversation with My Little Honey.

I had an opportunity on both the outward bound and inward bound flights to slowly read through some of one of my favorite books, Opening the Hand of Thought by Uchiyama-roshi. I will share some thoughts about the text with you in a bit.

For now, please enjoy this moment. Practice zazen earnestly and with the right attitude. Consider the infinite. Consider the finite. If, as Zen suggests, nothing is born and nothing dies, how do we distinguish these?

Be well.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Atonement

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

From the new Soto Shu translation of the San Ge Mon, the Verse of Repentance,

All my past and harmful karma,
born from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.

For Zen Buddhists, these words have particular meaning. They speak to our understanding of the deep an intricate interconnection of everything, past, present, future, cause, effect, and release.

Each morning we recite this verse, knowing that our behavior is most important. Our behavior creates good. Our behavior creates bad. These behaviors are remembered by ourselves and others. Good and bad are conditions within which other things grow, both good and bad. When we do harm, harm is added; when we do something healthful, health is added. We see in each the possibility of evil and the possibility of good.

So, we acknowledge these do not exist apart from us; they are us. No devil, no god, just us. Confronting this truth is very difficult as it requires us to understand thoroughly that everything is ultimately our responsibility. Everything.

We could say that our current bad attitude is a result of our parents, thus we live in their bad karma. This would be true. Yet, when we look deeply into our own nature and see our True Self, the self that existed before our parents were born and will be in our great, great grandchildren, as well, we see this is also false. There is no parent, no child, no past, no future. Just the minute to minute manifestation of Buddhanature.

OK, so we inherit, and we plant. What we do with what we inherit is ours and what we plant is ours. Some of us are unaware of this fact. Some of us live in delusion, believing there is a god and a devil who are apart from us and that the world is thus divided. As Bodhisattvas it is our commitment to assist them, to help them, guide them, to see the light of non-duality.

This simple verse allows us to keep in mind precisely where we fit, that is, dead center, in the universe. Each of us, small universes reflecting each other, yet deeply interactive.

The last line of the verse is crucial: I now fully avow. We do not use such words today in everyday discourse. Perhaps we should. According to American Heritage Dictionary, to avow means
  1. To acknowledge openly, boldly, and unashamedly; confess: avow guilt. or 2. To state positively.
I would rather understand "guilt" as "responsible" but guilt is also true. We moderns don't like to think of ourselves as guilty of much of anything, we'd rather feel responsible, as if there were a difference. Either way, to avow is to acknowledge our part in what we have created, good bad or indifferent, and to do so boldly, directly, and without flinching.

In contemporary times, we promote the notion that we are OK. We like to think that our behavior is not all that important, certainly not as bad as someone else's. When we are caught we immediately shift responsibility to others. In this way we seem like Teflon. Nothing sticks to us, we think. Yet this is an illusion as well as a serious flaw in our character and a shortcoming of perception.

Moreover, it also takes us away from our humanity, for to be human means to be self-aware and self-awareness carries acknowledgment of responsibility. In the end, this short verse brings us home to ourselves, it wraps us in our humanity like a warm blanket and offers us a way to become better human beings.

What will we do with our awareness? What will we do with our responsibility? This choice is ours and ours alone. Chose wisely.

Be well.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Moment in Time

With palms together,
Good Morning All,

This morning I woke late. Our visits to Memphis to see Grandson Tate are real vacations. I have set up a small alter in my daughter's walk-in closet. I brought cedar incense my zafu, and small bell. I sit there for a period in the evening before bed.

Morning zazen is out. At least a formal period. Too many people with differing agendas. So, I sit is small moments. As we talk, play with the baby, wait for dinner, or some other activity. I bring my back up, plant my feet like small trees, and sit still. The moment and me join hands.

In this way we can be mindful throughout the day. Taking every sound and scent, taste, and action, as a temple bell. Such moments are delicious. Yet we should never become attached to them. The most important thing is what we do with our mind in each moment. If we use our mind to cling, to add value, diminish value, or in other ways distort the moment, big problem.

Better is to just be.

And so it goes.

Be well.