Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Zen Christmas Carol

Oh, the ego inside is frightful,
It can makes us mean and spiteful,
If True Nature you wish to know,
Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter retreat

I'll be on retreat from Wednesday to Tuesday. Being alone is always a test for one self-confidence, especially on these days, when one gets the message that one should be in company of others, having fun and being compassionate. Even my 7 year old daughter is beginning to challenge my decision of going in solitude. She too feels the pressure.

Maybe you think I'm being selfish, but I'm only acting without further hesitation in order to face affliction. Maybe my "selfishness" today is a way of showing that it is possible to live in such a way as not to be confused by others, so the teacher teaches without being bound to better answers and transmission is realized, the one that was not invented.

My stuff and bowl are ready. So is my cushion.

For those of you who will be celebrating, it is also there.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Confused by Others

I was contacted by a student of Zen who was greatly confused by a conversation with another Zen teacher. This other teacher told him that because he lacked sufficient training, that he could not be enlightened. The student asked me if I thought this was correct. To which I replied, “Yes, he was correct.”
“How can he make this judgment, he doesn’t even know me?”
“Apparently he does, or you wouldn’t be telling me this.” I affirmed.
“Why do you agree with him?
“Because you did.”
“I didn’t agree! I was insulted!” he argued.
“And, that’s what made him correct.”

“What I point out to you is only that you shouldn't allow yourselves to be confused by others. Act when you need to, without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this—what is their affliction? Their affliction is in their lack of self-confidence.”
–Lin Chi

So, what’s your excuse?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've just come across a photo which I thought I'd share. It's helping me not to attach excessive importance to things - a sort of visual "Mu!" Here it is:

Build at hut

Sometimes we build a house, a zendo, a hut to practice meditation. We adopt some rules and etiquette and keep the place going. It may be not necessary, but it is a good help in the practice.
Sometimes we build a house, a zendo, a hut when we practice meditation. The only rules and etiquette is keeping the practice constant and steady. It may be not necessary, but it is a good help in the practice.
Every inhalation and every exhalation are stone blocks. They come in and out of your nose.
The house is built and destroyed in a moment. We build it up again and again until eventually it founds its foundation and it cannot be shaken anymore. From the outside it is small, almost invisible.
From the inside, it is boundless.
Weeds growing in the ceiling.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No study

I have no time to study this days. Working in finding a work, working in developing my skills as a programmer, working in painting the bathroom, working in samsara.

I say I have no time to study and no time to practice. So when I sit, I'm worried. When I paint, I'm thinking I'd like to be "practising".

Then it happens again. Almost like a patient and compasive friend patting you softly in the back, as to wake you up: I can see the brush in my hand, my hand is white and moving up and down by the wall. There is this quality in the light, I AM PRACTICING. The wall is a book, the chair I'm standing on is my cushion, the bottom of the bucket is my teacher and he asks: "what is your practice?" And my hand answers, up and down, left and right, up and down.

Later, going for a walk, hard walk on the new snow, my nose says thanks to the cold, my chins cry in joy. The bent old tree asks again: "what is your practice?" I turn my head, three swans flying by, and I know I'm practicing, the swans can testify it.

I come home, wonderfully warm, I pick up the Dhammapada because I'm thirsty, as if had been to long away from my lover and I needed a kiss. I open the little book and read:

Those who awaken
Never rest in one place
Like swans they rise,
and leave the lake

Maybe there is no study, but there is practice

All the time

Friday, November 19, 2010

Words in Dokusan

“What books on Buddhism should I read?”
“All of them.”
“No really, which ones specifically?”
“None of them.”

Zen is the path of direct experience and to me this includes the direct experience of the copious writings beginning with the sutras. Those many times when I was practicing in solitude; books brought me the words of the Buddha as well as the countless teachings that have come since.

It is said that Zen is "not founded on words and letters” but this does not mean avoiding words and letters. If this were true, Zen would be a totally silent practice without dharma talks, gathas, koans, dokusan or sanzen. All of which are dependent on words. Who among us today would have come to Zen if we had never read anything about it?

I think I like Chuang-Tzu’s perspective on this-

The purpose of a fishtrap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten.
The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten.
The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words?
I would like to have a talk with him!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Friends of the Way

During my ordination ceremony so many things happened that I could barely follow what was going on. Five days later, I dare to have a look at the presents I received that day. Among them I found this poem.

I’ve always loved friends of the Way
Friends of the Way I’ve always held dear
Meeting a traveler with a silent spring
Or greeting a guest talking Zen
Talking of the unseen on a moonlit night
Searching for the Truth until dawn
When ten thousand reasons disappear
And we finally see who we are
Cold Mountain

Well, it actually says it all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Words to live by

Ain't no rhyme or reason,
No complicated meaning,
Ain't no need to over think it -
Let go laughing

Life don't go quite like you planned it,
We try so hard to understand it,
Irrefutable, indisputable
The fact is - It happens

With thanks to Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles, and Bobby Pinson

Sunday, October 3, 2010


It seems it is easier to contemplate impermanence these days.
I rest in the breath. Believing I lack concentration I turn my attention to the breathing-body process.
Something is lacking and soon I'm diving in and out the teachings of the Daodejing.
Take a backward step. The last factors of anapanasati are the gate to Silent Illumination.
Fading away: the need to provide an answer to an uncertain future, or to post a blog comment.
Cessation: attachments, words, needs, explanations, the wanting to be this and not wanting to be that.
Relinquishment: every instant is new, starting afresh, not concluded, not conditioned.
Then, back in the world, acting, speaking, moving.

Wind, old leaves in the trees become inocent children chasing each other, indifferent to external conditions.
And that light...

Friday, September 24, 2010


The Buddha taught a method for keeping stress out of our lives. Until the summer my job and home life was laden with such stress, so I practised a lot, and hey, it worked - potential stress was often nipped in the bud and present stress was generally dissolved. I was less stressed when I remembered to practise than when I did not. Result!

But here's my dilemma. My home life has become easier, owing to a change in my wife's professional situation, and my own job has recently improved, owing to a little down-shifting I arranged - so in my life as a whole, much less stress arises. Feeling thus healthier, I am taking my Zen "medicine" less regularly. Yet I still think of myself as a Buddhist, and Buddhists practise regularly,  right?

Ok, everything changes, so these good times cannot last. I know that. But in the meantime, what should a Buddhist do when his life is going well?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Walk On!

I remember a scene from an old Popeye cartoon, back when they made feature length cartoon for the theaters (15-30 minutes). In this scene, Popeye was chasing a mysterious creature that started up some stairs that were simply floating in the sky.

Going up the stairs Popeye noticed that as he went to the next stair the stair he just stepped from had vanished. He was now high in the air and there was no turning back, even the stair he was on was dissolving, his only choice was to move forward.

This is the nature of time, there is only the step you are standing on (which is dissolving) and the next one you will take, everything else is an illusion.

We cannot go back, nor can we stand still, our only choice is to take the next step.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Is Zen supposed to be fun?

Friday, July 23, 2010


How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?--Marcus Aurelius

So much of our suffering is generated by our own anger. Not just the anger of rage, but the slow simmering anger generated by jealousy, resentment, aggravation and judgment. Anger is purely a product of the mind, no one makes you angry, it is all your own. What purpose does it serve to be angry?

Letting go of anger, how simple it is to free ourselves of so much suffering.

To master our anger is to master our lives.

Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
--Siddhartha Gautama

Friday, July 2, 2010


My wife asked me an interesting question the other day - "How does your Zen practice affect your real life?"

Putting aside any Zennish navel-gazing about the meaning of "real" - I think we all know what she meant by the word - it is a fundamental question. No point doing it unless it has some positive affect.

To be honest, she asked because my job has been difficult for a while and so I've very much not been floating around smiling serenely like the Dalai Lama. Thus the only honest answer I could give was, "It makes me less of an arse than I would be without it."

What about you? How does your Zen practice affect your real life?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Who is Your Master?

Who is your master?
Who makes you suffer the torment of the world?
Who has imprisoned you with their thoughts or words?
Who is Mara and why does he sit under the Bodhi Tree?

Monday, June 14, 2010

What is a Buddha?

A question has arisen in a koan exchange in which I've been participating. It's a question I've asked without necessarily knowing the answer! I'd be interested in what you people think - and so, doubtless, would be my koan combat partner! Here it is:-

If I let go of perfection, am I a Buddha?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Practice as an Attachment

My spiritual journey has been a very diverse endeavor. I remember when I decided to return to practicing Zen beyond just zazen, I searched for a sangha in my local community and found a Zen center. I was thrilled and contacted them right away. I was informed I would need to attend a mandatory class before I would be able to attend and sit with the group. Thinking that was for people unfamiliar with zazen, I let them know I had been practicing meditation for a minimum of 20 years. “It doesn’t matter. You have to come to the class, and we aren’t doing another class for a couple of months.” I wondered what could be so incredibly critical about sitting as to require such deep instruction. Had I crossed into the Twilight Zone of Buddhism? I wondered. Through the years I have heard similar stories from many frustrated zenners. “I was so panicked about making sure I was doing everything just right that I couldn’t meditate!”

I also remember the time when I was doing my chaplain training in a hospital in central Texas and was called for a “Buddhist consult.” It turned out to be a pregnant woman who was about to have a C-section. She was concerned because of the precept that “forbids clouding one’s mind,” and she was concerned that she would be “violating the precept” if she allowed herself to receive spinal anesthesia.

An attachment is more than an addiction, more than an unhealthy connection. It is anything that inhibits our growth and progression. When one is more concerned about bowing correctly, if they’ve faced the correct direction, if they’re in the correct order of entry than they are about being fully immersed in the moment, in zazen or kinhin, than I would call that an attachment. Something the Bible summed up nicely as choking on gnats.

There can be too much of an attachment to the cultural trappings of the practice of Buddhism. The Buddha, before his enlightenment, shaved his head as a symbol of releasing himself from worldliness and attachments. Today some question why a monk doesn’t shave their head. Some quibble that we are “watering Zen down” when someone dares wear a robe of a color other than black. Others are so firmly attached to the concepts of lineage and dharma heirdom that they lose sight of the key components of Buddhist practice: Compassion and wisdom.

When Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the bodhi tree, I highly doubt he worried about if he bowed to the earth appropriately. He extricated himself from all that he possibly could and opened himself to this breath, this second, until he discovered how to unshackle all sentient beings from suffering. If we look at the Eightfold Noble Path, we do not find instructions on the incense ceremony, on prostrations, on the correct pattern for walking into the dojo. Practices, ceremonies, etc., are tools. They can help us focus, help us settle into a special space, but when we place them above or equal to all other things, we tighten that which binds us to samsara. This moment, this breath. This is truly all that matters.

Ishu Kinshu

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Harry has asked if someone with Dojin Roku posting rights can post a question on his behalf. As he's just agreed to give the dharma talk in our winter sesshin - if you're in England on December 19th, feel free to join us! - I do owe him one, so here's his question:

What is the place of DOUBT in Buddhist practice?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

If it was good enough for Him...


The Buddha left his wife and son in order to search for enlightenment.
I have a wife and son. Should I do likewise?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What does Zen teach about God?

I get asked this question a LOT, along with "Do you believe in God?"

Zen is the art of being totally immersed in the moment. This second, this breath is all we have. Everything else is illusion. In Zen we attempt to strip away all the fluff, all the unnecessary wrappings that hold us back from full awakening. So what many will call my overly simplistic response is: "We don't worry about things like that." If you knew for a matter of fact, with every cell of your body that God did not exist, would you change the way you live? So far everyone I have asked have said no. Then? The Buddha taught that all sentient beings have everything they need within them. When we seek externally, we hold ourselves back.

Developing compassion to the point where all our thoughts, deeds, actions, our very essence are ruled by compassion and wisdom is the utmost expression of our buddha nature. So I would say if someone's answer to the question above was "Yes," they have more work for the cushion, and that it is more important than the other existential questions we can become bogged down with.

Ishu Kinshu

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Finding a standpoint

I was talking to a dharma friend today. She guessed we were almost in the same standpoint regarding buddhism.

I immediately asked myself where my standplace was. When I first contacted the Boundless Way school I was making a slow attempt of transition from theravada to chan/zen. I didn't know if I would succeed and through this time I've been strongly based on the teachings of the Pali Canon. With time I've learnt to discuss, question and defend certain viewpoints, creating in this way a kind of identity, which as with all sense of identity is subject to decay and death.

Some place in the process I feel like I lost contact with something essential. Something I can only get in contact through abandoning what I've learnt, what I have, what I am... standing alone, naked and in silence, shading light into it until it reveals itself, wandering along, finding no standpoint, just as leaves do not say "my true nature is green" or "my true nature is yellow" in this boundless empty field.

It has nothing to do with buddhism or any other -ism. Becoming proficient in defending a certain view has nothing to do with it either. If it had, it would be like setting boundaries to the boundless. It cannot be done, no matter how hard one tries.

Seeking a home, seeking a refuge I was worried about where my standpoint was and thus my mouth was dry like a desert. My feet treading the boundless way, the sky as the limits of my head, where could worry find a standpoint?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do not squander your life!

To end our evening practice at Open Gate,
we recite the following gatha:

Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance,
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken,
Awaken, take heed! Do not squander your life.

What exactly does it mean to awaken?
How do we know when we are awakened?
How do we know when someone else is awakened?
Despite all our years of practice;
If we never see ourselves as being awakened,
have we simply "squandered" our lives?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Karmic Ripples

Someone who came to zazen last night said something that has bearing on the last post about service - and also on the debate we had some months ago about missionary activity.

To recap  that debate, some thought you should meditate lots yourself so you become deeply fine and that this would both set an example to others and make one better company for the rest of the planet; others (a minority on this blog) felt part of the Bodhisattva path lay in sharing those techniques with anyone who showed even the slightest willingness to listen. Spiritual hermits v Buddha's Witnesses.

Last night a lady came to meditate who hadn't sat with the group for three years. Three years ago I put on my Buddha's Witnesses hat and did a leaflet drop of the neighbourhood. She took a zazen lesson, sat a couple of times with the group, then disappeared. A-ha! Kaishin clearly a rubbish meditation teacher! He should not be teaching but still should be sitting on his own, perfecting himself!

Yeah, true about me not being up there with the Dalai Lama. BUT...
What happened is she met at zazen a vipassaana practitioner, who gave her a leaflet. Now, despite my limitations as a teacher, the taste she got of the fruits of meditation was enough to make her want more, so she took up the leaflet's offer of a free 10 day retreat. Three years on and she's been there more than once and meditation is the rock upon which her life is founded.

So you don't have to be able to levitate before you teach people to meditate. Clearly I have flaws as a teacher and/or zendo leader, or she'd have stayed with "my" group. However, the karmic fruit of introducing her to the meditation scene was very great. Just think - if I'd been terribly modest and NOT posted those "come and learn" leaflets, if I'd worried whether I was yet perfect enough - that positive change in her life wouldn't have happened.

So if you're not dipping your toe in the lake for fear you're not pure enough, think about the wonderful karmic ripples you could be setting in motion...but are not.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

At your service . . .

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world"


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

Many Buddhists are under the impression that they are making the world a better place through their Buddhist practice. If these people were formerly spending their time looting, raping, and pillaging, and their practice has helped them to stop doing these things, then they are right. Otherwise, their practice is, in all likelihood, only helping to maintain the status quo. But keeping the world from becoming a worse place is not the same thing as making it a better place.

While using Buddhist practice to calm and center yourself is a good place to start, truly improving the world requires moving beyond the meditation cushion, beyond the zendo or temple, and actively engaging in a life of service. The Buddha himself recognized this when, after his enlightenment, he passed up the chance to live a peaceful, reclusive life and decided instead to spread peace by helping others to wake up as well. He spent the bulk of his life in service as a teacher, counselor, and advisor, and the fruits of this service are still evident 2600 years later.

So, I challenge you to serve. Move beyond the mere intellectual understanding that we are all connected into an active realization of this fact. Pick up trash in the streets and parks. Buy a homeless person a meal. Teach meditation to prisoners. The possibilities are endless - but you have to start somewhere. In time, you may even find that an hour of service can be a more effective practice than 10 hours spent in meditation.

Be the change.

What will you do?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gutei's Finger

There's a koan I've been struggling with - and I'm struggling with it not for the first time, either! I do some koan exchange, so I know I'm not the only person who finds this one rather challenging. I'd thus be grateful if as many of you as possible could suggest what you think we're supposed to learn from the koan of Gutei's finger. Here's the koan:

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. `I attained my finger-Zen,' he said, `from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.' Then he passed away.

So please tell me - what's that all about?

Monday, April 12, 2010

First there is a Mountain, then there is No Mountain, then there is…

A couple posts back, I quoted the Dharmapada and asked if anyone actually believed that we create the world with our thoughts. I was surprised when the only response was a cleaver “set up” from Kaishin, whereby he introduced a scenario where he would be struck in the head by a meteorite. Was this meteorite his doing? Or was being struck in the head just his Karma for being such a smart-aleck?

But since that time this whole issue has arisen under a completely different posting and under another topic, Karma. Harry and I have had some wonderful commentary bouncing back and forth and I realized that this is just too heady of a subject to not be resurrected.

According to the Dharmapada the Buddha stated:

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

Did the Buddha actually mean that we create the world with our thoughts? Or was he just speaking metaphorically? Do our thoughts actually manifest physically in the world? Even those we do not act upon? What about volition? Can we plead not guilty, just because we meant no harm? And what does this have to do with Karma?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Hard Question

This dilapidated man sits with his cardboard sign on the edge of a busy corner. Dirt and rain and car exhaust all in a dark marbled pattern on his face, his beard a matted mess. I find I can never avoid making eye contact with these folks, year in and year out, this country and in others - Spain and Ecuador, India and China, Bolivia, Peru.... And in eye contact there is connection, always. And then my unknowing and hesitation, questions about my being in relation to theirs, my action in relation to their being.

This being human is complicated sometimes.

What is right speech?

What is right action?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Simple Question

It's a small question, but it'll be interesting to see the range of replies. References to flax and plum trees are forbidden. So, to you,

What is Zen?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The temple bell echoes across the valley

I received the task of listening to the echoes of the temple bell. Difficult when there is no valley here, and no bell either. But I sit down and listen.
Listening, sounds appear, perception is refined. Listening changes as so do echoes: there is the humming of the heating system; or my daughter breathing deeply as she falls asleep; or a passing car out there in the far distance; or the church bell...
What is the source of these sounds?

The listened is seen.
Not with the eyes.

Without warning, not predicting it, another temple bell echoes across the valley: the breathing process. This is not heard, but rather felt. Breathing in and out is the bell echoing; the body is the valley. The echoing is seen moving up and down the valley, in and out, deeper and deeper.

The body is the bell
struck by the breathing
its sound is totally empty

But, what is the source of this sound?
There is only one bell in the temple. It fills the whole universe. It sounds, vibrates and echoes in itself: heating system, breathing in and out, daughter sleeping, body feeling, passing car... all this just echoing across the valley, which is a bell, echoing across the valley, which...

what is the source of this sound?

The emperor stays in palace. 
The general goes beyond the frontiers.

The picture is borrowed from The Boundless Mind Zen website

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who do you think you are?

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
The Dharmapada

As advanced as our science becomes and as far as we have come spiritually, we still do not believe that we create our own existence. Many of us will admit that we create our current circumstances, while others will admit that our perception of reality is the only reality we really know. But who among us has come to totally believe that our thoughts actually create the world?

Duality is what keeps us from seeing this clearly, there is me and there is what is not me. I am a product of circumstances beyond my control. These thoughts are all generations of the dualistic mind, the mind that does not recognize the perceived and perceiver as one. Our eyes and my eyes are one and the same, yet to nearly all, the world something we see outside of us.

Who do you think you are?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who’s your teacher?

Where’s your certificate?

What’s your lineage?

Are you qualified to transmit the dharma?

These questions are all too prevalent in Buddhism, and are usually asked by people who doubt or disagree with what you have to say. Unable or unwilling to trust their own judgment of whatever bits of information, wisdom, or foolishness you may have just offered, they want to know if someone else (your teacher or other certifying agency) agrees with what you say. If they have heard of this other person, or if you can sufficiently convince them of that person’s qualifications, then they may believe you and be willing to listen further. Why is this? Why are we so willing to disregard one teacher, then blindly trust another (to the point of exalting and deifying them), entirely on the basis of who did or didn’t sign their certificate? Why can’t we simply evaluate what they’ve said and trust our own insight and judgment as to its veracity?

This need for external verification of authority is most definitely not unique to Buddhism, though it is certainly antithetical to Buddhist teachings. And yet, many Buddhists formalize it, revere it and give it a special name: lineage. Rather than using our own personal experience and innate wisdom to decide if a person speaks true, we instead look to his teacher. And his teacher’s teacher. And his teacher’s teacher. And so on and on, until we come to the name of a teacher that we trust and recognize as an authority on the matter. How far back do we go - to Dogen? Rinzai? Bodhidharma? Buddha? Do we ask who the Buddha’s teacher was? Do we wonder who gave him the right and authority to teach? When the Buddha said “Be a light unto yourself”, I’m quite certain he didn’t add “so long as you can trace that light through an unbroken line of qualified teachers back to me.”

The mistake we make is in equating teachings (or wisdom) with authority, in the process also failing to recognize the very source of authority. The Buddha addresses this himself in the Kalama Sutra. He advises us not to blindly accept teachings, but to critically examine and experiment with them, accepting them finally only if they ring true for us based on our own experience and understanding. That is to say, authority comes from within, and we should grant this authority to the teachings of others only if they accord with our own innate wisdom. Thus does a teacher gain his authority – not from his teacher, but from his student; he is a teacher if and only if he has one or more students who think that there is truth in what he has to say.

When we realize this, we see that teachers are not the sources of our authority, but simply those who have gone before us, and that the purpose of lineage is not to grant them authority, but to preserve and transmit their teachings. In this sense, it doesn’t even matter if the lineage is unbroken, or if such-and-such a teacher was in that direct line. Recalling our geometry lessons from school, a line is defined by two points – no more, no less. Additional points may fall on the same line, but only two of them are needed for the line to exist. This means that as one point of the line, you are in direct lineage with any teacher from whom you learn. You are a direct descendant of Buddha, Jesus, Bodhidharma, Meister Eckhart, Rumi, the raven in the sky, the salmon in the stream, the mountain underfoot, and the neighbor across the street. You belong to as many lineages as there are teachers, and as the center point for all these lines connecting you to the teachers of the ages, you are a veritable sunburst – truly a light unto yourself.

Friday, February 5, 2010


In buddhist circles it is usually said that we are trapped by our notions about ourselves.
Sometimes I think not-self is as dangerous as the self, we end up trapped by that notion too, almost making a thing of the ego, a devil to be fight and conquered, the subject of struggle, confussion and worry (because we deny to admit that we don't understand).
Whatever we make of the ego, it is not by creating more concepts that we awake or get liberated, but by abandoning completely concept creations. Can we do that? Or is it too much for our egos?

Let the ancient master speak:
Cast off completely your head and skin. Thoroughly withdraw from distinctions of light and shadow. Where the ten thousand changes do not reach is the foundation that even a thousand sages cannot transmit. Simply by yourself illuminate and deeply experience it with intimate accord. The original light flashes through confusion. True illumination reflects into the distance. Deliberations about being and nonbeing are entirely abandoned. The wonder appears before you, its benefit transferred out for kalpas. Immediately you follow conditions and accord with awakening without obstruction from any defilements. The mind does not attach to things, and your footsteps are not visible on the road. The you are called to continue the family business. Even if you thoroughly understand, still practice until it is familiar. (Hongzhi Zhengjue, 1091-1157)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Buddhist Missionaries

We rarely hear of "Buddhist missionaries".

Do you think we should?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We Choose Our Suffering

When we choose to enjoy excessive eating and fattening foods, we choose the suffering of being overweight and unhealthy.

When we choose to intoxicate ourselves with drugs and alcohol, we choose the suffering of hangovers, overdoses and organ damage.

When we choose to be strongly opinionated and judgmental of others, we choose the suffering of reciprocal judgment and loneliness.

When we choose actions that destroy our environment, we choose the suffering of pollution, species extinction and climate change.

When we choose to accept war and social injustice, we choose the suffering of sorrow and guilt.

When we choose to express ourselves through hateful speech, we choose the suffering of regret.

When we choose to love others, we inevitably choose the suffering of loss.

When we choose to dwell on the self, we choose the suffering of emptiness.

When we choose to ignore reality, we choose the suffering of our ignorance.

The old adage says- “Name Your Poison” and with every action that is exactly what we do. It seems that we must we decide between the “lesser of two evils” every time we make any choice. So, what is this to say about the nature of our suffering? Do we actually have a choice?

If this were poised to me as a multiple choice question, I would have to choose “All the above”

Is it too late to drop this class?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Abide in the Unborn

I don't know why I came to remember Bankei's words.

Denmark is white all over. Snow takes in all sounds and we are forced to walk slowly and look around.

A Spanish translator reminded me of Laozi, retreating, losing, giving up, staying last and deepest, resting in the dao.

Abide in the Unborn
Just like water.
Liquid water.

Some people find a comfortable place; then they freeze, turn into ice and resist change. They know ice will melt down. The more one resists, the more painfull it will be.
And yet, rigth now, as water or ice, one rests on it, opening hands, giving one more step from the top of the 100 meter pole.
Every moment.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Craving & Parenthood

"Life is filled with craving. Craving causes to stress. To eliminate stress, just eliminate craving. To eliminate craving..." the stuff we do. Sit on a cushion. Wear black. If you like Confucius, get up-tight about oryoki, if you like Lao Tse, get non-dualistic about ritual - whatever does it for you. But eliminate craving.

It works for me as an individual - but not as a parent! To aid his life-long happiness I had to go through ten days of misery with my son recently - worth doing, but I needed a strong motivation to launch into such a painful process.

Craving is a great motivator! So, because I craved his long-term welfare, we went through the process, it was horrid, but life's better now and I suspect lots of lumps of suffering have been erased from his future. I only did it because craving made me. Clearly craving eliminates suffering!

Seems a bit of a paradox here. For the Zen practitioner, eliminating craving really does make life better: but as a parent, can one do without it?

Is this the big difference between Zen and Theravada?
Theravada: "Eliminate craving."
Zen: "Seek Right Action. And sometimes craving is Right Action."

What do you guys think? Extra cred points awarded to the opinions of anyone who confesses to being a parent!

Ask Bodhidharma

Dear Bodhidharma,

I am a dedicated zen practitioner who enjoys attending meditation retreats at my local zen center. While I enjoy these retreats, I don't feel that we spend enough time in silent, seated meditation. So during a work period at the last retreat, I asked the teacher "Why do we spend so much time working? Shouldn't we spend more time practicing zen?" He laughed so hard that he dropped his rake!

I don't get it - what was so funny?


A Confused Practitioner

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sewing the Buddha's Robe

My lengthy solo attempt to make a kesa has ended.

"Solo" as in sewing unsupported, without oxygen.
"Attempt" as in Scott's "attempt" to reach the South Pole.

So, it was difficult and ended in failure. Let me talk you through it so that you may find it easier if you decide to have a go.

I don't really mind having failed as this was largely a philosophical exercise - when would I wear a kesa? The philosophical aspect was my attempt to sew within the spirit of the original kesas, garments made from discarded cloth. My kesa would be patchwork not because Dogen said the "official" pattern looked like rice fields: my kesa would be patchwork simply because if you make a large garment from discarded material, patchwork is the only way to do it.

Thus I found discarded materials - a worn out hockey shirt and a couple of pairs of trousers which seemed both to have shrunk about the waistband at the same time in my life. (Washing machine operating too hot?) With the help of a basic pattern - it's on the right-hand side of the blog - I got cracking.

There are two mistakes from which I feel you could learn.

Firstly, if you don't yet know how to sew seams, don't learn as you go along. My last seams looked excellent, very pro: sadly the rest were awful and thus have a grotty, frayed appearance. I discovered the important thing was to fold the seam over a couple of times until the edges of both bits of fabric are safely tucked away. Ok, ok, I know that's obvious to those of you who already know how to sew!

Secondly, home dying is really hard. The only way to get a consistent colour is to make your whole kesa from the same material. Now, this gets philosophically tricky as the whole point is to use discarded material, so going out and buying a roll of fabric is not quite in the vibe. Next time I do it, I'll go to the "thrift store" (I think that's what you call charity shops in America) and buy a discarded curtain, preferably a brown one to save the necessity of any dying at all. You'll then have to decide what you think was the real point behind the patchwork effect, and leave the cloth intact or cut up and reassemble according to your philosophy of kesa manufacure.

My rectangle of fraying, multicoloured cloth won't go to waste - there's thick snow over here and our zendo has neither heating nor insulation, so I'll be wrapped up in it for tonight's group meditation session, when the "mood" lighting (candles) will not reveal quite what a hobo I look. However, if you wish to make an item which you can wear in public, in daylight, then please bear in mind what I have learnt about material and seams.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

what is this we do?

When we do any one thing, be aware of that one thing, placing your full attention within it. When we do any one thing, we ask why we do it, evaluating in full consciousness our actions and our words.

So then I have to wonder, what is this that we do in meditation?

Can 'sitting,' in a seated meditation, be just that simple? One just sits, breathing and following the breath, totally silent? And that's it? Did the Buddha really reach enlightenment doing something so utterly simple? So simple and yet, why is something so simple also, at times, so hard?

Sometimes I sit and beautiful things unfold in a singular consciousness, a timeless space awash in ephemeral mystery that rises and falls with each breath. Most times I sit and grapple with circular thoughts of past and future -- What did I do the day before last and how would I do it differently, and what do I have to do this afternoon? What did they mean when they said that to me? Or were they intending something else? And then remembering, returning back to my breath, wondering again how this simple practice of 'sitting' could be so difficult?

The mind is a three ring circus event - three shows all at once, with trapeze artists flying high above, and clowns below throwing candy to the crowd.

So there is more to 'sitting' than just simply sitting - this much is obvious. If it were to be called a 'skill,' then it is something that must be practiced and honed over time. This practice continually evolves and changes, as subtle as that would be, for I still just sit! And for this reason I keep returning to the cushion, breathing softly, tethering the attention to the in and out of my breath, the rise and fall of my abdomen....

Saturday, January 2, 2010

After retreat

There was a ghost in the house but only when I thought of him. So I hid his name and picture and he didn't annoy me anymore.
Usually ghosts are only there when we think of them, when we give them power to scare us or worry us.
Apart from ghosts, there was snow, wind, rain and sun. Quietness, silence and work being done, work being done.
A lot of questions to make, another way to get out, to wanting to get out. But when staying with the question, no one there to answer it, no place to hide... what do you do?
The silent retreat ended. Another one started: the retreat of daily life. What's more important?