Zen 101

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life As It Is

With palms together,
Good Morning and L'Shana Tova,

Last night was the beginning of the Jewish Days of Awe, the High Holy Days. Judy and I were blessed to be invited to sit at the bimah during the service as we each read parts of the liturgy. I must say, it was a wonderful experience!

I wasn't so sure I was going to be able to get through it. My body and mind do not do so well as evening approaches. We had been graciously invited to join friends at a New Year's Eve dinner celebration which began at 5:00 PM. I had taken part of my evening meds so that my leg would not go spastic during the evening service and they kicked in, masking it even more difficult for me to be both alert and physically stable. I ended up resting in my friend's study before and after the meal.

It is interesting to witness these changes in my body and mind. I used to be such a night person, often staying awake until near dawn only to go through the next day with a high degree of energy. At this point I feel good if I am able to be alert until 8:00 PM. My leg is giving out on me. I find it more and more challenging to get it to move, let alone move correctly. And so on.

Its not me I feel so much about, and I do not fear the future, what does nag at me is the sense I have that others are so worried about me. The Rabbi last night made spoke to me after the service saying he would try to have me be more involved in the mornings. My friends are understanding, but I see concern in their eyes and hear it in their voices. I have always been such an independent cuss. And this independence and desire to take care of myself has been good for me, but not always so good for those around me. I do not easily ask for help, and am not as gracious as I would like to be in receiving help.

Life is as it is: I do not prefer it to be otherwise. I would like to be free to chose to accept or decline a task or an invitation rather than have it taken from me by the concern of others. Yet, I know this will not always be possible: we cannot control other's feelings or need to be of help.

In the end, I have great faith in my practice and my ability to be flexible, although these are not always so readily apparent to those closest to me. These challenges are offering me many practice opportunities. I am sure each of you have such opportunities, as well.

May we each be waves at one with the water we are, and in this way, be peace even in the midst of a storm.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moon in a Dew Drop

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Koans are an interesting form of Zen practice. In the Soto school, we do not use them very much, but there are many Soto teachers who are also trained in the Rinzai sects' methods and use them more extensively. Master Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York state comes to mind. Soto's reluctance to train with koans is not to be taken as dogma. Master Dogen himself was thoroughly conversant with the various koan collections and, indeed, created a collection himself. Master Dogen founded the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism.

What we should not do is replace koan practice with shikantaza. Shikantaza, the practice of just sitting, is foundational to our way. Sitting with a koan in mind is not shikantaza. On the other hand, we have ample opportunity throughout our day to examine life itself: the most profound of koans. And everywhere it presents itself to the mind that sees.

Master Dogen had a phrase, 'moon in a dew drop'. This phrase penetrates deeply the true state of things. Consider it. Is the moon in the dew drop or not?

Be well.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Zazen, the Pause that Refreshes

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Ancient traditions have us practice zazen several times daily. I suppose the old ones, beggars that they were, had little else to do! Today we sit often zazen begrudgingly. We feel as though we steal time from activities or loved ones in order to gather ourselves together in a Zendo just to be still. So precious do we feel our actual presence in everything actually is! Oy.

So, sit zazen we must. Learning to take the time to bring ourselves to a stillpoint, allowing the universe to continue without our hustle and bustle, is incredibly important. Such a stillpoint is the seat of the Infinite. In this stillpoint we open like flowers and receive. It is very nurturing.

Not only do we receive, but we offer, as well: we offer our peace, love, and compassion, all rolled up into one practice, the practice of zazen.

In the quiet of the morning, it is good to sit zazen. In the quiet of the late evening is a good time to practice zazen. At odd times during the day, perhaps at your desk, in your sofa, at your kitchen counter: take just a few breaths with eyes half closed. This sort of thing is a real pause that refreshes. As the pause brings us back to ourselves and our true nature.

May you each be a blessing in the universe!

A Good Week!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What to Do!

With palms together,


Strong Zen: we are now wireless and untethered from a hard-line to the laptops, but one of our phone jacks is inoperable. Thank goodness for wireless, walkaround, phones. So, our bedroom is a maze of wires and blinking lights, but I am able to sit at the desk in the living room and write to you.

This was a several day, many continuous hour process. I am pleased that it is over, but also pleased that we managed to get through it with a minimum of serious stress.

I look forward to getting back to short dialog and daily posts.

I was studying koan case Number 36 in the Gateless Gate collection translated and commented upon by Senzaki roshi outside on the patio this morning in the pre-dawn hours. The case is entitled, Meeting a Master on the Road.

Gaso said, "When you meet a Zen master on the road, you cannot say speak, you cannot remain silent. What will you do?

Dear Zen students, what is your answer?

Be well.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To Be a Better Person

With palms together,Good Morning everyone,

Today brings a new day. Fresh with possibility to make ourselves better people in each moment. What is a "better" person? One who is good? What's that? One who cares about others? What's that? Terms like these beg the question of right living. We say better but only understand it dualistically: better than I was, perhaps, or better than others perhaps, or better as opposed to worse, meaning what? More good than bad? What does that mean? These are all references to relative standards. Usually relative to some Absolute we imagine or read about or are taught.

Some say we just need look at the Torah or Bible to find the good, the rules of conduct that will bring us closer to God. These are the "deontologists" of the world who see right in following a set standards of rules. Yet, opponents of this ethical point of view will quickly point out the difficulties of rule based ethics: they are typically relative to a particular culture, they are often difficult if not impossible to apply fairly in given situations, but worst of all, they reify good. That is to say, they make good a rigidly defined thing in an extremely fluid world.

So, when we look deeply into the nature of things we see no absolute standard, save change. Everything changes. In this context, what would it mean to make oneself a "better" person? Oh those pesky koans!

Be well.
PS, Going around the cycle of good and bad with Qwest. Maybe we'll have a telephone and Internet sometime in my lifetime :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still Not Online

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

We still have no Internet or telephone at the new house. It seems that the house line is not connected to the rest of the world. I assume this is a temporary setback. It took a lot of Zen to get through that setback. :)

Anyway, I have a few changes to make to Clear Mind Zen's weekly schedule.

First, the Zendo is open to my formal students only on a daily (M-F) basis at 5:30 AM to sit with me as we practice morning zazen.

Second, I am changing the public Thursday evening zazen practice period to Wednesday evening at 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

Third, I will host a monthly half day Zazenkai on Saturday morning from 9:00 AM t 12:00 PM. This will occur on the first Saturday of each month except those months involving sesshin.

Please call the night before to let me know if you are coming to any of these opportunities to practice with me.
I hope to be online at the beginning of the week sometime. Until then, /\

Be well.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Well Worn Paths

With palms together,Good Morning Everyone,
This morning I am back at Daihoji Refuge. I drove through a raging rain storm coming up the mountain, but arrived safely and this morning it appears less cloudy. I woke at 5:30, started a fire in the cook stove, lit my candle and incense, and sat zazen. One of the pleasures of a day, to brings things to a stop and just listen.
Just before I woke, I had a thought, "If you don't like ritual, try driving without a road." I rolled over and wrote it down in my journal. In truth, I've done both and a road is much better. I wonder were the thought came from in the first place? I have been resisting ritual off and on for some time, favoring a much wider application of mindfulness practice, but including short periods of zazen, morning prayers, reciting the Sh'ma, etc.
I remember being a kid and walking through meadows where others had made a path before me. We used to call them "deer paths." There was something wonderful about these paths: pressed dirt, just narrow enough for your body to go between the flowers. We knew we were going somewhere, but were not entirely sure where. Ritual offers us such well-beaten paths. The wheels roll easier. We do what is familiar. The familiarity resonates. And though we travel these paths daily, we are never quite sure where they will take us.
May we each begin a trek down such a path today.
Be well.