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?