Friday, July 22, 2016

HELP WRITE A ZEN BOOK !


I have written a book. It’s deadly serious. It’s great fun. But it’s not perfect.


With your help, the Second Edition will be.

The title is...


How to Become a Zen Priest
without shaving your head



Maybe you’ll love it. Maybe you’ll hate it. Either way, you’re sure to have opinions!

What should be required of a priest?
What should be banned?
What have I written that is just plain wrong?


For your suggestions there is a dedicated blog: http://improve-the-book.blogspot.cz/
Those who make the Second Edition stronger will be credited by name. 
(Or can stay anon if shy.)

You can get the book here:-

amazon.com: Kindle Paperback
amazon.co.uk: Kindle Paperback
amazon.fr: Kindle Paperback
amazon.nl: Kindle
amazon.de: Kindle Paperback
amazon.es: Kindle Paperback
amazon.it: Kindle Paperback
amazon.com.au: Kindle
amazon.ca: Kindle Paperback

Read. Think. Participate. Make the world a better place.


Gassho,


Michael

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Welcome to Bohemia!



I am delighted to announce the opening of Prague Rinzai Zendo. Please allow me to extend an open invitation to you and anyone you know who for whatever reason ends up here in the Czech capital. The zendo bears the appearance of a joint project between Hakuin and Brad Warner, with black cushions, austere furnishings and a plentiful supply of beer and wine. You may park your vehicle outside.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Zendo of the Mind




As a student of Buddhism, I have found myself drawn to the traditions and styles usually associated with Zen. As I look deeper into these traditions, I also find myself drawn to Zen’s origins, rather than modern Japanese Zen, where practicing the Four Dignities of Man (Sitting Zen, Standing Zen, Walking Zen, and Lying Zen) are almost conducted with more focus than the object of Zen itself, which is to simply be. As a practice, Zen is most often found in groups, and Zazen (Sitting Zen) is perhaps the most popular form in the United States today. I find this to be, largely because it feels a lot like church, and many seekers of Zen today come from other religious traditions, and joining a group, going to a special place, and working through the motions of Zen meditation has a certain comfort in it, a familiarity that makes being there easier than the true roots of Zen, which are entirely experiential, and most often celebrated in solitary demonstrations.

This line of thought brought me to consider the Zendo, the place in which modern Zen is practiced. It has a certain sacred atmosphere about it, in that it is removed from the every-day world, is designed around a certain romantic idea of Japanese architecture, using simplicity as a powerful motif. It is kept clean, and is used only for the purpose of meditation, and is otherwise left alone. Many of the Zendo’s I’ve researched come with baggage, though. One must belong to the group who built it, or is responsible for its maintenance. There is usually an expectation of an offering, to keep up with the mortgage and furnishings of the place. There are etiquettes and permissions involved in the use of the Zendo, all with healthy origins no doubt, but the net effect of these restrictions is an increased difficulty in “letting go” while there.

When I found my Zen teacher, it was through the discovery of a blog titled “The One-Mat Zendo” in which he celebrated the revival of the tradition of solitary meditation. While performing Zazen in a group can be useful to many people exploring Zen as a path to walk, I suppose I had a different set of needs born by my natural introverted character, my busy schedule, and my long-honed love of solitude in nature, something my teacher’s blog endorsed. This got me to thinking recently about the place of the Zendo in Buddhist practice, in both its benefits, and its limits to aiding the one who walks the path.

I was listening to a lecture recorded before I was born, which suggested that during meditation, people tend to get anxious, and are afraid to shift their weight or cough, or make any noise that might distract others. The speaker declared that real meditation, the only useful kind, was the sort that could withstand even the most disruptive riot of sound and noise. It was this lecture that helped me realize that some of my calmest moments are in the middle of sensory overload, the likes of which would completely unnerve other people. Feeling absolutely calm during a heavy metal concert, in the middle of Washington DC traffic that enrages most people, or even during time spent in overseas war zones where nerves are usually on edge, I have found a certain peace and calm in the storms of noise and stress, and onslaught of the senses.

Conversely, it is during quiet times of my life that I tend to lose my balance more easily. A misunderstanding with one of my children will set me low for days. A rash word, an excess of time to dwell on the little things, these sorts of moments are what challenge me, and fall between my raging music or my quiet solitude by the river, or in my workshop. This all has prompted me to consider how my mind works in various settings, hence the title, the Zendo of my mind.

To be able to be at peace, to sit unattached, comes naturally under the ideal circumstances, but with great difficulty in what I used to consider “the normal day.” It seems as if all the things I spent 40 years setting up as “normal” in my life are the very distractions from my yoga I seek to enjoy now. This creates a natural tension, of course, and has led me to work on my state of mindfulness in the ordinary every-day moments. I cannot retreat to a Zendo, I cannot always have my gong and my incense, I cannot always ponder my Mandala for peace. So I have to create a mental space for these things, evoke the memory of them under the most irritating and pedestrian settings, in order to preserve my balance.

My Zen teacher recommended a book to me, “Meditation without Guru’s” by Clark Strand. In it, he spends quite a bit of time describing his own attempts to realize the purpose of meditation. By the end of his description, he’s left with the simple truth that I have also discovered: that meditation is meant to simply help us get through the day without hang-ups. Alan Watts described it as “Medicine, not diet,” as a reminder that the modern Japanese fetish with constant and painful and un-ending sitting is not the way, either. To this end, I’ve tried to manage my frustrations by seeking refuge in my mental Zendo – a place of balance, evoked in memory, to help me maintain my peace when the usual props aren’t around. What I’ve learned is, the greatest Zen masters have figured out how to do this, and their mastery comes by being able to live every moment as if they were in their Zendo, without having to think about it.

So many of the phrases used in Zen come to bear here, the Gateless Gate, the Middle Way, all synonyms for the same experience – to exist without the need for things to help us live in the truth that Buddhism offers us. The real Nirvana is not confined to a Zendo, or a special place in the woods, or dependent on the props of Zen meditation or the traditions and exercises of a Sangha. And so, the only refuge for the Zen practitioner is the Zendo within, the state of mind one prepares for one’s self through external disciplines when possible, as a means of achieving peace when under duress.

Christopher Price
Alexandria, VA
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to Meditate on the Train



I live in the village of Babice, about 6km through the forest from Říčany, which itself is only a one-horse market town a half-hour train ride form Prague. Out here, there is no great demand for meditation tuition. One sees more wild boar than Buddhists.

Thus having some time spare, I have produced a very short, pocket-sized book. It is called How to Meditate on the Train. Two days a week I work in Prague. I join the commuters on the train. To many of them, this seems like dead time – or even an unpleasant time. I meditate on the train and it makes such a fine start to my working day! So I wrote a book to share what I know in a manner appropriate to the commuting environment. Having field-tested the book, I can tell you that the techniques taught are also appropriate for use in planes.

If you know anyone obliged to travel by train or plane who could find the experience more fruitful and pleasant, please let them know of this book's existence.

Europe: For the pocket-sized paperback, click here and for the eBook, here.
America: For the pocket-sized paperback, click here and for the eBook, here.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Dojo of Nature


 
 

"My Dojo is nature; it is the universe. This is truly a dwelling, a practice hall and a temple built by the spirit. If you look with the eyes of your heart, you will see that nature is the teacher that possesses all the scientific and spiritual truth that will lead you to enlightenment. It is imperative that those on the path practice with this knowledge held deeply within their hearts."

Ueshiba Morihei Sensei


To only practice Zen in the confines of the Zendo is to be deceived by forms. The Zendo walls are not the walls spoken of by Bodhidharma, nor are the walls of any cave. The walls you must see and stare down are the obscurations that you have created in your own mind.

Facing the wall means to face your own barriers, your fears, your stories. Facing the wall means to focus your mind on that which keeps you from seeing clearly. To awaken means to penetrate the wall of your self-imposed ignorance and see the entire world exactly as it is!

Read More...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Products of our Environment

Recently I had an opportunity to teach zazen at a Waldorf school in Prague. For those of you unfamiliar with the Waldorf movement, the schools are based on spiritual principles which encourage a holistic approach to education. This means they are the kind of schools where middle class hippies send their children.

Despite being teenagers from very liberal families, very few of these students had any previous meditation experience. However, you wouldn't have known. Breathing the "right" way came to them naturally. One-pointed mind came to them naturally. Having been raised in non-materialistic environments, they lacked the angst and hunger of the modern world.

Many of us, by our lifestyles, create for ourselves problems which we then seek to solve through meditation. Better to seek a lifestyle in which the problems do not arise.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What is the source of this sound?


 


Walking along the mountain path
A temple bell echoes across the valley
Amidst whispering pines and birdsong
What is the source of this sound?



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When jumping, just jump?

As Miles reaffirmed in our last post, "When walking, just walk; when eating, just eat" - or as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, "Drink your tea!" The Zen mind is entirely absorbed in the present moment.

The star of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWfph3iNC-k is entirely absorbed in the moment - he has to be, for if his mind wanders, he dies, right now!

But is it Zen?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Science of Zen








It appears that at least some scientists are catching on.  Maybe people will pay more attention to the data than they have to the actual experience.  The less engaged we are in what we are doing, the unhappier we are.  

Living in the moment is the fundamental teaching of Zen.
When walking just walk, when eating just eat.
What could be simpler?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zen mushrooming


Greetings from Babice, a village about 20 km south-east of Prague which constitutes my new home.  Here the national sport is, allegedly, ice hockey, although participation is far greater in a much less violent sport: mushrooming.

Bohemia is a heavily forested land, much like the landscape around the Open Gate zendo, only hillier and with slightly smaller trees. It is an ideal envionment for the growth of mushrooms.

Back home in England by "mushroom" we mean a field mushroom, a white-topped thing with dark or russet gills - but here they mean forest mushrooms, some red-topped with spots which are good seating for gnomes but toxic for humans and others more edible but which look equally unhealthy.

As you can see from the recent picture of my kitchen, I enjoy mushrooming.


At present, this is my Zen practice.

The difficulty inherent in mushrooming is that where one mushroom is found is the place most likely to find others, so in finding one it is easy to forget to celebrate one's good fortune, instead immediately looking for the next.

In this environment, Zen practice is to focus fully on the mushroom in one's hand. Take the knife, clean the mushroom with one-pointed mind, gently place it in the basket...and only then look for the next.

Does your environment offer similar forms of Zen practice?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going Home




Flying high above Washington State.
Sea-Tac, Snow on Mount Rainier.
Drinking the last drops of Miles tea.
Early morning sunlight, trees.
Looking for Hánshān over there.
Nature, just a word.
A word: Mu.
Going home after leaving it.
Mu, that's what the cows say in Argentina.

Doshin Fugetsu Hoja
Dojin
Buenos Aires, Argentina
www.anatta.com.ar

Friday, June 22, 2012

Owning Nothing






  

Without a hermitage in the mountains,
or a monastery to be welcomed,
I want nothing to carry on
except this bag of skin and bones.

In the middle of city I'm alone,
isolated as the unborn.
Living in the world
I learn to let go and not have.

As I watch the cars passing by
I understand that there is nothing to take away.
This skin and bones will remain here,
and my flutes and guitars too.

When I see I can not own anything,
I understand that no one has ever owned anything.
When I breath, all such constructs cease,
And when everything stops, I'm still breathing.

 
Hernán Massau,  
Yunshui
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Steve's question

Steve came over this evening for dokusan. Here he is.


When I was walking him back through the compound to the main gate he asked me a question. He said that he had taken up Zen when going through a difficult time - and had found it most supportive. However, how should he view it now that life was going well?

How would you have replied?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Beginner's Mind

I had a new student come round last night.

It was really helpful - I always find I learn more from my students than they do from me. What I (re)learnt from him was the value of "beginner's mind" - that sharp-witted, open-hearted, entirely committed state which brings the best spiritual practice.

It shone a mercilessly bright searchlight straight at my own practice, which had become so stale it was just an occasional token nod in the vague direction of Zen. What's the point of pretending to practise?

Thus learning from his example, I turned myself back into an absolute beginner by adopting a form of Zen practice entirely new to me. (For those that are interested, I have replaced my fake shikantaza with naikan. If you're not familiar with naikan, there's an excellent summary at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naikan and an explanation with some helpful real-life examples at http://www.todoinstitute.com/naikan.html.)

Of course, it's not entirely new to me, in that all Zen practices are just different fingers pointing towards the same Great Mind. However, it is new enough to have given me back that "beginner's mind" - and suddenly Zen seems once more like a blessing, not a chore.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Zen and Tea


I recently had a guest who came to the Zendo to discuss the matter of Zen. He was a well read practitioner who had some questions regarding Zen teachings and practices. I invited him into the dokusan room where we sat on cushions at a low table while I prepared tea. I offered that we would drink tea in silence, but he was welcome to speak while I was preparing the tea.

After the usual pleasantries, he seemed to get more comfortable and his questions began to be more pointed. As I poured the water from the kettle to the tea pot he said “I understand that you have trained in multiple traditions including Japanese Zen and Chinese Ch’an”

“This is true.” I confirmed.

“With Zen and Ch’an being so different, which do you practice?”

While thinking to answer his question, I selected four small tea cups from the shelf and placed them on the table, two in front of him and two in front of me. The tea was ready, so I poured a bit of tea into each of the four cups. “Please have some tea.”

We each picked up a cup and began drinking our tea. After drinking from the first cup, I picked up my second cup and began drinking from it; in turn, he did the same.

When we had both returned our cups to the table, I said “This is a very special grade of Oolong tea, how do you like it?”

“Very nice.” he replied with a nod.

“These cups are also special; one is made of Yi Shing clay and comes from China, the other is raku and comes from Japan. Did you notice the difference between the tea from the first cup and the tea from the second?”

“No I’m sorry, I didn’t notice any difference at all.” he replied.

“Nor did I….would you like some more?”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Am I?

Always present,
But hidden from view;
Sought by many,
But found by few.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Zen Outreach in Kenya

I would like to reignite a discussion I started a long time ago. It concerns the degree to which Zen should or should not be an evangelising religion. (Let's just call it a religion for now - one variable at a time, please!)

I have just completed a weekend near Lake Victoria, Kenya, haivng been invited by Spencer (pictured below)



to assist in a Zen teaching session, right in the middle of nowhere.  It was a somewhat "samurai" experience as, this being something of a blind date, I was invited as much to bring along my machete as my satori. Fortunately the natives were friendly and so the steel stayed sheathed.

We appear to have been invited on account of a perceived inability of Christianity to keep its promises. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, merely reporting that our host who has formed the Zen group pictured, having until recently been a Christian preacher, said, "The Pentecostalists said there would be miracles, so people came and prayed for miracles - but I never saw a single one!"

Thus he investigated an alternative and asked Spencer, who facilitates "Zen Kenya," to provide instruction. He only discovered that such tuition was available because Zen Kenya had gone to the trouble of making its existence and teaching role known.

My point is that if Zen Kenya had been terribly Zen, terribly self-effacing, then the excellent practice of anapanasati, as very clearly taught by Spencer, would be a gift ungiven - and the Africans pictured would be bereft of something beautiful.

I'm not saying we should copy Jehova's team (put on a suit, grab a child, go ringing doorbells.)
However, I feel we are breaking our Bodhisattva vows if we do not quietly and respectfully use all skillful means available to make the practice and fruits of meditation available to as many people as possible.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One year in the OBW

One year ordained and I've already killed the teacher

It's been a year now since I was ordained in the OBW. The first months I tried to figure out what it meant and what I was going to do about it. People asked me if I was going to start a group or begin teaching in some way or other.

For some (most "zen" people) it was very difficult to understand that I wasn't a teacher until a student would recognize me as such. There was even one zenmonk that asked me how I should be "treated", throwing away with one question all her years of practice.

I didn't start any group, nor am I going to do it in the future. The fact is that I'm no teacher at all, I don't feel like one. What I do have been doing is writing with friends, sometimes meeting and talking. And this is something I consider very important, to have the oportunity of sharing a path and a practice that for me is the most important in this life.

It is in this sharing that the teacher can appear, only when we both are the students. As long as we can listen and give us to that listening, the teacher has a chance. Otherwise is just a name, a title, an empty word.

The breath, my other teacher

During this year I've also turned back to the practice on the breath. Doing an active work on it, one can easily find ease, comfort, joy and pleasure in sitting meditation, allowing so for longer meditation periods and a mind that is more receptive to explore body, feelings and ideas as they present themselves.

I know, many of you won't be happy to hear this, being so fond of non-doing. But I firmly believe in the process of construction that meditation is (one day I may explore how much construction is there in "emptiness", "non-doing" and "egolessness"). Maybe a quote of mister Gotama can help me here: "The path to freedom is a path of development and letting go"

Ending the year on retreat

Soon I'll be on my anual solitary retreat; think of me when you're celebrating Christmas, because I'll be doing jhana. This is the third year I'm allowed to do it in the same house, so it's turning a tradition now.

Finally, just let you know that my blog do jhana is back on track.

Whishing you all a peacefull end of the year.

Gassho

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ordination Poem



Ordination Poem
by
Jikai Seido
7/23/2011


The drum beats slowly,
My heart beats quickly.
Three of us in procession.
The red cedars sway above.
Sunbeams light the way.

We rest in each step.
The hushed, small zendo
Sits tucked tightly in its
Shaded bower.

The windows have been removed:
Who knows where the inside
And the outside begins and ends?

We take our seats.
Warm honey light
Fills this tiny space.

Friends and family peer
Inside through the spaces
Where the windows had been.
Zen fishbowl.

The hot, sweet breath of
Northwest summer forest
Wafts inside,
Carrying softly the words
Of our teacher,
Into our hearts.

We are given our
Bowl, staff, and dharma name.
The forest trills with birdsong.

This moment will stand forever.
And someday, when we
Three dojin, teacher, and sangha
Are long gone.
Ferns and nurse logs will cover
the path we once took.

The vows taken here today,
Now, in this moment,
Will live here in zazen,
Buried in the seeds and carried
By the wind.




Monday, December 5, 2011

No Path

Yesterday a student suggested that Zen might be a path towards a "coma-like state". This was an interesting observation - and considering the way Zen can be used, perhaps in some cases his description was right!

This got me thinking about the Heart Sutra and why, for me, it is more liberation than lobotomy. I came upon the term, "No path." Zen is about living in the present moment. If you are walking "No path" then every step of the way you are expressing a preference. Forwards? Backwards? Sideways? Stop? With no path to follow, you choose.

The rest of Zen is just a support mechanism for ensuring that every step of the way we really do express a preference, and not just get jerked around by cravings.