Friday, November 30, 2012

Rohatsu Sesshin

Here are two wonderful quotes I found about Rohatsu Sesshin that at Clouds starts tonight and ends in a week.  We do this every year to acknowledge Buddha's Enlightenment Day on Dec 8th and someone just emailed me - "What a wonderful antidote to the commercial-overloaded holidays."

from the e-bulletin from Sanshin Zen Community:
Hakuin Zenji, (1686 - 1768) the great revivor of Japanese Rinzai Zen, gave talks to his monks every evening during Rohatsu to help them fight off the urge to sleep or slack off.

Below is Hakuin's Rohatsu Jishu, or Rohatsu Exhortation, Fifth Night:

Master Hakuin said, 'Usually there are three lengths of training periods in the monastery. The longest is one hundred twenty days, the next one is one hundred days, the shortest is ninety days. During these periods, participants strive to clarify THIS MATTER. No one is allowed to leave the monastery and no one speaks unnecessarily.

In the practice of zazen a daring, courageous attitude is essential. Let me tell you a story. There lived a man named Heshiro. He carved a stone Buddha and placed it near a waterfall in the deep mountains. Then he happened to sit down by the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. He noticed a lot of bubbles in the stream. Some of the bubbles disappeared quickly after falling, and some disappeared after floating ten feet or more.

While looking at them, due to his karma, he strongly felt the transiency of life, he realized that all phenomena, good or bad, are just like the bubbles on the surface of the water. The impact of this realization made him feel the worthlessness of just living, just spending his days without understanding the mystery of life.
By chance, he heard someone reading out loud from the sayings of Master Takusui, "The man of sympathy and bravery will find enlightenment in one nen, but for the man of indolence, realization of his True Nature will never come.

Inspired by this saying, Heshiro went into a small room and locked the door. He sat down, erected his spine, clasped his hands in a fist and opened his eyes widely. With a pure straightforward mind, he did zazen. Innumerable thoughts, delusions and hallucinations appeared, but his zazen defeated them all, and he reached a deep and calm state free from thoughts.
He continued to sit through the night. At dawn, when he heard the birds singing outside, he could not find his body. He felt as if his eyes had fallen to the ground. A moment: later, he felt the pain of his fingernails digging into his hands and then realized that his eyes had come back to their usual place. He was able to stand up and walk.

He repeated this kind of zazen for three days and nights. On the morning of the fourth day, after washing his face, be looked at the trees in the garden. They appeared very different. He felt strange.

Heshiro did not understand this, so he visited a neighborhood priest, but the priest himself was helpless to explain. At someone's suggestion, Heshiro came to see me (Hakuin).

On the way to my monastery, he had to climb to the top of a mountain. Suddenly, he looked at the panoramic view of the seashore. It was at that moment that he thoroughly understood that all beings, grasses, trees, land and birds are primarily Buddha. Excitedly, he came to my dokusan room and immediately passed several important koans.

"Now let us remember that Heshiro was an ordinary man. He did not know anything about Zen nor had he practiced zazen. Nevertheless, through only three days and nights of intensive sitting, he was able to unite his being with all others and to clarify the meaning of his being. It was his motivation and his daring, courageous attitude that had overcome all obstacles. WHERE IS YOUR BRAVE DETERMINATION? BRAVELY WORK HARD!

from the e-bullitin of One Drop Zendo-Urban center. 
2011 Excerpt from Harada Roshi Opening Sogenji’s Rohatsu osesshin
“This type of activity, this coming together and supporting each other in the great work of delving into the deepest stratum of our mind to experience the inherent stability and joyfulness of our true base; this is what is most needed, most necessary in the world today.
Everyone gathered here, please understand, you have inherent in your very Mind a huge potential, an incalculable brilliance, an ability to see the reality of this moment clearly.  But without taking the time and putting forth the effort to penetrate to this deepest clarity of mind, without that deepest realization of this true Master, we will never be able to actually perceive who we really are, who it is that is actually alive, what are the characteristics of our true self, this boundless brilliance, this constant freedom and joy.
To bring our intensity of focused effort to this most important work.  To use this opportunity to not lack in the slightest way for anything, but to bring our hugeness of Vow and deep wish to revitalize all beings, and to continue this effort in every moment without looking away.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Losing our balance in a background of perfect harmony

Quotes from Suzuki roshi, Zen mind, Beginners Mind, page 27

“To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment”

This quote seems to support what we have been studying in Dogen’s Being-time.  Our small being attaches to the appearance of life, to linear progressive time, to our stories and the naming of our identities. Through the eyes of our small self, life is filled with dissatisfaction and fear of our personal annihilation – our death.  A true understanding of time is to see impermanence; Time as impermanence.  Everything is appearing and disappearing and changing from moment to moment.  To see “being” in reality is to see that a moment is born and dies in 1/62nd of a finger snap.  Our small self’s perceptions are born and die 6,400,099,090 times in a day. “Superspeed”, Katagiri-roshi called it.  To understand this is to live in the realm of Buddha-nature.

From Suzuki Roshi, page 28:

“When we lose our balance we die, but at the same time we also develop ourselves, we grow.  Whatever we see is changing, losing its balance.  The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony.”

Oh, how we struggle to keep our balance and to stay centered.  I said for years that spirituality meant being grounded.  What a shock when I first heard Pema Chodron say, that Buddhist practice was about being comfortable with groundlessness.  Suzuki Roshi calls this losing our balance in constant change. How do we live with that?  Through the practice of letting go in all our various circumstances and trusting the total dynamic working of life, we come to find a new practice of surfing the groundlessness and change of our stories.  Not attaching to anything and flowing with Time.  Learning to BE in the flow of change.  Being-time. 

What is the background of perfect harmony?  As Katagiri-Roshi repeatedly said, if we see our lives from the universal perspective, we see that everything is working in peace and harmony.  Everything is pumping away using cause and effect, pumping in total dynamic working, Zenki.  There is no solid “I” that is the center of the universe.  There is just functioning.

“This is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha-nature, losing its balance against a background of perfect harmony.  So if you see things without realizing the background of Buddha-nature, everything appears to be in the form of suffering.  But if you understand the background of existence, you realize that suffering itself is how we live, and how we extend our life.  So in Zen sometimes we emphasize the imbalance or disorder of life.” Pg. 28

This is very strange.  On the surface, if you enter a zendo, you feel that Zen emphasizes order and perfection.  The room is completely orderly and neat. The behavior is choreographed and perfect.  What could Suzuki Roshi possibly mean that Zen emphasizes the imbalance or disorder of life?  This is why it takes so long to actually understand Zen.  Our first understanding of Zen is often completely upside down. 

As I’m getting ready to go into Rohatsu sesshin, the question arises, “Why do we do this crazy, sometimes uncomfortable, long ceremony of sitting and highly choreographed living?”  Because of this quiet, settling-the-mind ritual, we can often taste the universe perspective of peace and harmony regardless of our own personal circumstances.  We can digest the suffering of the ups and downs of our individualized life.  We can let go of our strongly held beliefs and attachments through quiet, settled being.  We can begin to see Suzuki Roshi’s statement “to die as a small being, moment to moment”.

“So if you see things without realizing the background of Buddha-nature, everything appears to be in the form of suffering.  But if you understand the background of existence, you realize that suffering itself is how we live, and how we extend our life.”
Somehow, through the experience of a settled being, Zen practice can help us reorient ourselves to our life and its stories and the concomitant suffering.  We become more able to handle the suffering of existence as practice itself.  We learn to surf the waves in joy, hard work, letting go and freedom.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Does Time fly by?

The dichotomy we have been working with in Dogen’s Uji is time and timelessness.  Another way of naming this duality is linear, sequential time and ‘being-time’.  “Being-time” drops the moment down and touches timelessness or eternity or no-birth-no-death as Thich Nhat Hanh would call it.  Each moment in Buddhist understanding, is the entire world and all times. 

Each moment is the eternal spring.  The source energy of life arises and produces each moment as an independent time. Even though, through the principle of cause and effect in the form world, we experience Time as developmental and in a sequence, strictly speaking, a moment arises and dies in 1/62nd of a finger snap.  The conditions of the last moment predetermine the arising of the next moment but essentially they do not connect.  The moments are coming and going at “superspeed” as Katagiri Roshi used to say.  Dogen says that moments are swallowed up and spitted out.  The eternal spring gushes forth on each discrete, discontinuous moment.

Most of us only see time in its developmental, sequential way of being.  We have no doubt about sequence.  The sun rises and sets.  We are born, have a childhood, an adulthood, get sick and die.  A seed produces a sprout, produces a tree, produces a fruit.

“The going and coming of life is obvious, you do not come to doubt them.  But even though you do not have doubts about them, that is not to say you know them.”
                                                            Dogen, Uji” or “Being-time”
                                                            Wadell/Abe translation

We do not doubt what is obvious to our eye.  For example, that my children are now grown and leaving the house.  How their childhood flew by.  But if we only experience life as flying by, we don’t really come to have intimacy with what is actually happening in the present moment.  In order to have this “knowing” of the moment, we have to penetrate it and know it as an independent time and that I am experiencing the moment right now as “being-time”.

Do not think that time merely flies away.  Do not see flying away as the only function of time.  If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time.  The reason you do not clearly understand the time being is that you think of time only as passing.”
                                                            Dogen, “Uji” or “being-time”
                                                            Tanahashi translation

When we are full of our schedules, our to-do lists and our busyness, as our life is flying by, we do not have the “time” to drop down and feel the moment as a fresh, mysterious being.  Each moment is a being and it is deeply penetrated with our being.  In fact, they are absolutely inseparable.  This inability to feel the whole world in our moments is why our life feels so dissatisfying.  Flying by is not the only function of time.  We are running around but not experiencing.  So Buddha called this, the constant dissatisfaction of life or the Second Noble Truth.  If we can learn about being-time, we can enter into a place of satiation with the mystery of life.  We can touch the eternal source, daily, in our ordinary tasks by being-time.

How do we live with, or practice with this pivot of time and timelessness?  The two are distinct but they mutually, and simultaneously arise together.  Dogen admonishes us to “Penetrate exhaustively each dharma position or independent time, each moment.” Tanahashi’s translation of the same sentence is “vigorously abiding in each moment.”  Katagiri-roshi unpacks this by saying, “Practicing with full commitment to the moment leads you to that which you seek.”  Our seeking gets resolved in our “being”.

Katagiri Roshi writes, “If you take care of this “right now” with wholeheartedness, you create good conditions for the next” right now”.  Please take good care of this moment.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Doing Zazen for all beings

This was written for the 6th week of fall practice period at Clouds in Water Zen Center.

We do zazen for all beings.

Lately with my son, I’ve been watching what I call “doomsday movies” or movies in which the future looks pretty grim.  This past Monday, I wrote out the lineage papers for Gentle Dragon’s ordination.  They are done in a very prescribed way that I learned from my teacher.  They have been done in this certain way for hundreds of years.  As I stamped the three treasures stamp over Buddha’s name and Gentle Dragon’s name, I had this poignant feeling that we are doing our practice for ourselves, but also for the future generations.  May the future generations have silence, boundlessness, and deep meaning in their life so that the future people will have a basis for their activities directed in a wholesome way.

When we actually stop our world and our busyness to sit down in zazen, we enter into a boundless, timeless space that affects all times and all places.  We do zazen with all beings and our effort is a contribution of this human activity of stillness which will strengthen the transmission of the teaching and help it continue into the future.

Many of us in practice period are going into sesshin this weekend.  I look forward to letting go of my achievement drive and just sitting with all beings, past, present and future. 

Please sit for all beings; past, present, and future. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Encouragement to follow through with practice commitments

I wrote this note to people who are doing the 10-week practice period at Clouds in Water Zen Center. I thought others might be interested in Katagiri-Roshi's quote and encouragement for daily committed practice.

We are at the halfway point in our commitments lasting until the Rohatsu Celebration on Dec 9th?

Many of us committed to meditating every day.  How's it going?  Last week, I wrote about the doldrums and connecting with others to encourage our ability to be steadfast and follow through.  Find a way to encourage yourself this week.  Re-energize in some way.

If you feel that it's impossible to follow what you originally set out to do,  then, sit down with yourself (and another person if you want) and refine your commitments to something doable.  Even a smaller commitment steadfastly done will reap some fruit.

I was inspired this week by studying Katagiri Roshi's book for the Wednesday Time class.  He writes:

"Busyness has the great power to emanicipate itself.  That’s why you want to find a way to be free from busyness and just be present quietly.  This is quietness, tranquility.  When you are calm, tranquil, and still, twelve hours of time returns to no-time or timelessness.  Can you stay with quietness?  No, quietness has the great power to act.  You cannot stay with timelessness or you would die, so timelessness must become twelve hours again."

What I take away from this quote is

Time emancipates timelessness, and timelessness emancipates time.

Which means to me that I need everyday to go into quiet, calm, stillness to liberate the burden of my schedule and my "To do" list and free myself of the fatigue of samsaric life. We can't or don't even want to stay in timelessness because we don't want to dismiss our one precious human life but rather to seize the day!  This quiet place inspires us to come back into our life; refreshed, concentrated and mentally clear.