Zen 101

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Listen

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

A headline on the news services this morning spoke to me. It reported that a storm was gathering in the US senate. I immediately saw a senator addressing an empty chamber with other senators huddled in their offices, surrounded by staffers, looking for ways and means to sink or float whatever. The thought occurred to me that this is an exemplar of our most serious contemporary problem: no one listens.

We seem to run through our lives with an agenda in mind. First, get what I want. Second, be as distracted as is possible in the process.

Listening requires stopping first and releasing our grip on what it is we are carrying, second.

Zazen is a powerful tool in learning not only that this is possible, but that it is of great benefit to do so. When we practice zazen, we stop. We gather ourselves together. We take our seat with deliberation. We address the universe as it is, not as we wish it to be.

I have lived a great deal of my life wishing to have each moment be different than it was and I can attest to the fact that such a way is crazy-making. Not only do we not experience anything directly as it is, but we tarnish what is with our attitudes about it. We are like the walking dead. To be alive, we must be present.

Take the backward step to life.

Be well.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Point

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Playing online chess with really good chess players around the world is an exercise in humility. I decided not too long ago to only seek games with players ranked at exactly my rank and upward to three hundred points. This forces me to play with very good players each game. It also allows me to immediately (or nearly so) see my smaller errors. One thing I've noticed is it is much easier to yield defeat after a blunder when playing someone ranked above me. I wonder about this.

Now, that is not the point, the point is to notice such things.

We spend much of our lives (or at least I have) not noticing. We have our eye on future possibilities, as an Argentine opponent once phrased it. Aging, like playing vastly superior players, informs us: future possibilities are less interesting than present delights. Noticing becomes increasingly important, I suspect. And as we practice, we notice more easily.

Again, not the point. Practice for itself is the point, not for insight, not for small awakenings, not for anything we can name.

Just practice.

Be well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Crazy is as Crazy is Decided

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Overnight I dreamt about thanksgiving and gratitude. How are they the same? How are they different? But this led me to another question, an age old question, the question of measurement.

The measure reveals more about the measurer than the measured. The measure is a set point created by the measurer. Of course, there is no set point except in the mind of the measurer. Absolute zero? No. In relation to what?

With human beings, we measure in ranges. Normal is between this and that range of something. Not going outside of these limits can be very important, say for our health, if we are talking about body temperature, for example.

Measures of value, quality, and behavior, these on the other hand, are a challenge. We measure in relation to our set point. In physics and chemistry, this point may be established through empirical testing. Absolute zero is as low as we can go: no motion of molecules in relation to one another. But in life sciences, the matter changes drastically as the observer is now measuring himself. I say life sciences and include earth science, biology, and psychology in this because even earth science chooses as its set point the ability of human beings and other life forms to survive. Measurement can only occur in relationship and all measure is a mental construct.

From a Zen point of view, a point of view that requires a dissolution of (or complete integration of) set points, measurement is a product of delusion. This is to say, it is a product of dualism. In Zen, the Absolute and the Relative are one.

I am reminded of Alan Bates in the film, "King of Hearts" or Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or one of the core messages of Hellerman's "Catch-22". What is crazy? What is aberrant? We assume we know as we place behaviors in a context of values relative to ourselves. Axe murderer? Definitely aberrant. Why? Because she/he behaves in ways decidedly not like me. Extremes, however, do not make a case.

My point is that as part of our spiritual practice we must be willing to realize that how we see, how we evaluate, and how we then behave are not based on anything but social norms established by the group. As groups change, so too, the basis for evaluation.

This is important to us because we tend to forget the essentially relative nature of our judgements and live with them as if they are the manifest truth. As we do this, we become more and more blind to diversity and its value, change and its value, growth and its value.

We become prisoners of our own minds.

Zen practice is about releasing us from such constraints.

As we practice we are free and easy in the marketplace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

IP

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The world is still here. I did yet another sleep study last night. This time with a CPAP for sleep apnea which I have, they say, a very mild case. Always seeking a solution seems to suggest always seeking a problem. It is an interesting position being the Identified Patient. Life becomes a laboratory and I become the experiment. Observers understand everything then in terms of this or that. Yes. And then the solutions. Pills, machines, and, of course, more tests.

These are just a bother, to use Willie the Pooh's word, the real issue is the interior landscape.

What is it to live as if there is a problem, an illness, a condition, underneath everything? Behavior and thought suspect? Framed in some pathological picture?

Life lived this way seems to dismiss or diminish the health of a person. No matter what else is, illness is in the scope.

Zen makes it possible not to do this. Zen takes what is, just as it is. Removes the frame and opens the cage.

Fly bird, fly.

Alas, in the end, no where to go.

Be well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When the Cat Becomes a Lion

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Joy is a wonderful thing. Eyes light-up, smiles happen, heart-rates jump, all sorts of healthful chemicals flow through our bodies. So, why shouldn't we desire it?

Desire is one of those kleshas, those toxins we are taught in the Buddha Way to avoid. It is equated with greed, a poison that overcomes us and disallows our awakening.

Sunday at our discussion after Zazen, we talked about how wanting something has been co-opted and transformed into needing something by the marketing forces of corporations. But they are not necessarily to blame. We, ourselves, do this simple conversion. It is rather like the simple slip from "is" to "ought" and not actually recognizing that the two are not connected. We human beings desire.

Desire in itself is not the problem. It is what we do with it. Recognizing desire is just like recognizing a thought or a feeling. No problem. Return to your breath and be still. Increase the space between the desire and the action to obtain the object of the desire. Desire is with us always. So?

When desire becomes need it becomes a "problem". If I desire to feel good and at some point begin to "need" to feel good, I am vulnerable. If I desire to have peace and at some point need to have peace, I also am vulnerable. To what? Behavior that is hurtful and harmful to self and others. The "I" takes on such a central and obsessive role that other cannot be seen.

So the practice is to notice and take the subtle but very important backward step into stillness. What is the Buddha Way? The Middle Way.

Be well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Suffering

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Sitting with someone who is suffering is very challenging. We wish the person was not experiencing pain, we would like to relieve that pain so the person will not suffer. Our hearts feel. We suffer in our desire to relieve suffering.

What to do. Nothing. Zen practice is to be. Yet, to be in a particular way. This way of being is the way of the Buddha.

Increasing the space between the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we experience, we allow for stillness. Moving deeper in that stillness, patience. In that patience, concentration, generosity, morality, and diligence arise.

Through these perfections, we see the one thing that remains: just do.

Be well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Morning Note

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

A busy night last night. We had a party for Daughter-in-Law Maggie in honor of her completing a course to become a physical trainer. She did her testing for her certificate, but will not know the results for a couple of weeks. It was delightful to see the joy in her face as a cake and special dinner was presented!

This morning Robert Yee of Robert Yee Productions, will visit us in the Zendo. He has been following our sitting for the last week videotaping in order to produce a short video on streetZen. The film will be a part of the Mesilla Valley Film Festival here on December 5th. I am uncertain how he will pull this off: a movie of people just sitting?

That is his. This is mine. A mantra to live by.

We also have an extra dog with us. Zeesa, friend Deana's Labrador. Together with our other three (we are watching son Jason's dog, as well) we are up to our hips in fur. I am learning much about myself with these pets. They are what they are and need what they need. Dogs bark, chase our cat Pete, and otherwise do things that are not always appropriate. If my mind is open, to problem, if closed, big problem. The practice is to keep my mind open. Thoughts in, thoughts out. That's the way.

Be well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Morning Note

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Things happen. This morning I woke a bit late, spent an hour getting a very messy kitchen cleaned (having a French Chef for a son has two sides) and took care of the animals. From there, into the Zendo for meditation and writing practice. Bella, other son's dog, would not stop barking. I feared Judy would wake. Calmed Bella, began to video, then I heard the washing machine start. Judy was up. Bella barked again. Tripper followed. I followed Tripper.

So, I abandoned the seat, visited with Judy, sipped coffee, and played online chess as she scanned her email. Shortly it will be time to walk. Everything is as it is.

Zen in the morning.

Be well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Moment

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning I woke feeling rested. This is a wonderful feeling, yet it will pass. I just received an email from my walking partners. They will not be going out this morning. He has a sciatica problem affecting his foot. A few days rest are in order.

As we age we really begin to notice changes. Not as sharp, not as strong, not as flexible, not as resiliant, we say, because we recall a time when we were otherwise. Its easy to say, everything changes, live in the moment, and let the rest go. Or to notice that, in the end there is no end and our True Nature is Infinite.

Yet, faced with an inability to walk, or a heart that needs repair, or a brain that is declining, requires a recognition of what was to what is in order to deal with what will be. Just as the monastery's cook must have a time and a place to plan tomorrow's meal, he must also consider the contents of his pantry, the number of monastics to fed and the conditions of the economy and agriculture in his area. So, to, we as individuals must examine and plan. This is also "living in the moment".

Be well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Study

With Palms Together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Yesterday afternnon I was reviewing the fukanzazengi, a text by Master Dogen. I was doing this in concert with a review of Uchiyama's "Opening the Hand of Thought". Its funny how one text often inspires the examination of another. In Zen we have such awesome texts to look to for inspiration. Each time I look into one, I feel compelled tpo look into another. There is a great danger in this, however.

The danger, of course, is that such absorbtion points in absolutely the wrong direction. The steps we take in study should compell us to set the texts aside and seek refuge in the our Self through zazen. Zazen is the practice, the rest are ideas about the practice. About is not the same as is.

So, we use our study to inspire us to move toward practice. Practice to get our head away from ideas. Eat our celery without it being "celery". Then study with a clear mind.

Be well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Refuge

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,



Often in the morning I ask , "What am I doing?" My answer, "I don't know."



Disciple KoMyo and I talked yesterday. During the Rohatsu sesshin, our seniors will confer. The Order will develop itself. For my part, I want to remain without a Zen Center. My practice is on the street and in the heart. My practice is about being peace. Buildings do not make for much of anything but a place to separate yourself from the everyday and in Zen, as in most spiritual practices, it is the everyday is everything.



Practice in the open, under the sky, on grass or sidewalks, and in parks is precisely how Buddha himself practiced. Today, with pace being so important and distraction being our singular human activity, we fail to learn about ourselves. We do not stop long enough to listen.



It is easy to fall prey to this. I just did. Its a kind of sickness, I think. The trouble is, it seems to define the contemporary human condition worldwide.



Clear Mind Zen is a refuge. To enter it is easy: simply turn off everything and just sit down and shut up.



Be well.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blankets and Buddhas

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,



A cold front is moving across the desert and the morning air is sitting at 43 degrees. Shortly I will bundle-up and go outside to walk. We often say in Zen there is no hot or cold. Yet, there it is, The relative scale of the thermometer, the need for our bodies to remain within a certain range on that scale, demand action.



Four of us sat zazen Friday in the rotunda. The wind was blowing very hard, fallen leaves didn't just shuffle along, they absolutely ran! Each of us were forced to put on protective clothing. Again, the relative truth of things came into play.



For those of us convinced awakening frees us from such things, I say that sort of awakening is just another delusion. Air remains is both cold and not cold at the same time. Awakened beings get cold. They then cover up. No problem.



The moment we argue with the cold or with the heat or that we should somehow be little statues, immune to it all, we lose our buddhahood,. Master Dogen says practice is realization. What is practice? Doing what is there to do completely and without an alternative universe of appeal settling on our brow.



Time to bundle. Be well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moment in Time

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

The dishes are put away, the dishwasher is re-loaded, my laundry is being washed, the coffee is brewed, and I am sitting just now in my Zendo. The window is open. Cool air flows onto my robed knee. It is refreshing.

I spent a lot of time last night just sitting. Its a wonderful way to experience no-time. Notice the language. I do not "spend" time. I do not experience "time". When I am "spending time" I am really not present as I am aware of the memory of one moment to the next, measuring one against another. When I do that there an be no now.

But when I experience "no-time" that is to say, I remain with the present moment, with no last moment, no next moment, no comparing, there can be no time.

What is it like to live without time? Boundless.

Be well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Practice

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

Those of you receiving this are what remains of my daily recipients list.

I have decided to step away from synagogue life, as I indicated earlier. My focus will be on my own practice as a Zen priest and theology student. Practice is a large matter residing in the intimate details. Practice is where our "shin" is, our heart/mind.

My practice, the deepest practice of all, is zazen.

I will post a bit more infrequently than in the past.

Practice periods are 10:30 Monday and Friday at Veteran's Park and at 9:00 AM at my home Zendo.

I encourage each of you to take up this practice daily in your home.

May you each be a blessing,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How is it?

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,


"When birth and death come, how do we avoid them?", Yunman was asked. And he replied, "Where are they?"

This is from Case 166 of Master Dogen's Koan collection. The capping verse goes,

"In arriving, there is no abode;
in departing, there is no destination.
Ultimately, how is it?
Here I have been all the time!"

This morning I entered the Zendo early and sat facing the wall. I decided not to bring a timer. I just sat. It is Veteran's Day today. We are asked to remember. I don't think so. I cast aside memories.

Zen is the practice of just being. We do not practice for today, tomorrow or due to something that happened yesterday. We practice for nothing. Zen practice is a constant letting go of things we think are true, or that we believe in, or that we experience. Sometimes it is a struggle to do so. This morning, for example, I could not find a cat carrier we had borrowed from friends. They asked to have it returned. Embarrassed for not already having done so, I frantically searched for the carrier, but it is no where to be found. I knew I needed to let go of it. Stepping out of the car to walk later, I was tight as a drum. A few words, a few steps: let go. Zen in motion.

It is said that the past informs the future. I say the future is a figment of our imagination. As is the past. When we to live in accordance with the dharma, there is no problem. And missing cat carriers are mysteries, not avalanches.

Be well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Zen & Tautology

With palms together,
Good Morning Everyone,

This morning is cold and fresh. I woke with no agenda. It is both a light feeling and a frightening one. Sometimes our burdens, plans, hopes, and dreams give us a sense of place, direction, and stability, while at the same time, rob us of being awake.

As a Zen practitioner I practice to wake free and stand without bags. This requires a willingness to live without place, direction, and stability. Why? All places, all directions, all ground is delusion. We create our universe in each breath, in each moment, and with each step. We die, the universe dies. And as the universe dies, we are truly born. There is a reason the Ancients taught that we should die to ourselves. One cannot be awake and at the same time live in a fiction as if it were real.

Very challenging.

The world of duality is immensely seductive. I am this; you are that. This is better or worse than that. I win, you lose. Scores are kept. And so on.

One reason I so enjoy cold air (or hot air, for that matter) is that it has a way of bringing me to attention. Like sudden noises. Awake, alert, there, in the moment. In my recent studies I find circumlocution and tautology rule. Its a problem with theology. One puts a finger on something and it slips away, like mercury. Or one uses something to prove itself. Literal nonsense.

Yet, we still seek. We still strive. So, the practice is to remember to stop, let go, and be one.

Bless the chill in the air. It's a bell of mindfulness.