Friday, February 24, 2012

A serviceable mind is clear seeing.

We concentrate our mind and settle our mind in zazen.  We do this not to get somewhere, a certain state, but to avail ourselves of the most useful and serviceable mind possible in order to live our lives and help others.  I’ve had a deeper understanding of this recently. 

It was very hard for me to let go of the idea that I was going somewhere in zazen.  I was very attached to special states:
1.    Rapture and energetic bliss states
2.    Luminousity
3.    Profound silence
These are but by-products of concentration.  They are very inspiring, but also, simply, part of the landscape that flows past us as we sit.  But they are not “it”.  What does the Sandokai say, “Merging with emptiness is still not enlightenment”.  Just as we don’t cling to anything, we let go too of these special states. What emerges, then, is a pliant and fluid mind that receives everything, beyond our speculations of good or bad, right or wrong, special or ordinary.  We receive and manifest our life in simplicity.  Some of the Tibetan teachers say,  “It's so easy and simple, you just can’t believe it.”   In this simplicity, the special states can come back to us as a continuous sense of awe.  But this awe is grounded in our actual karmic lives as human beings.

What are we doing when we concentrate, then?  It is clearing up our minds so that our non-reactive awareness is strong, still, and open.  So much so, that we can actually experience the present moment “as it is” in its full vitality without commentary.  “As it is”, means, to be completely one with the particulars of the passing landscape as they arise.  And because our minds are concentrated, we can fully, clearly see the present arising.  Ironically, as we see it, it is also gone.

Katagiri Roshi writes of zazen: “To live our lives fully from moment to moment, we must learn to settle into the vast openness of the sky.  This is zazen.  We see both sides of every experience – enlightenment and delusion.  Real zazen is when our bodies and minds are completely balanced.  Just try to be right in the middle of the world.”

Here is a poem by Ryokan, the 18th century Zen priest/poet that illustrates how the sacred becomes ordinary, the life of our 24 hours, with my commentary in parentheses.

Carrying firewood on my shoulder
(This is exactly our daily life, the task in front of us to do, the mundane details and chores of life itself)
I walk in the green mountains along bumpy roads
(Our journey in life has many vicissitudes, up and down, success and failure, bumpy, indeed!)
I stop to rest under a tall pine;
(ah, the sacred pause.  The surrender of our false sense of control that brings relaxation)
Sitting quietly, I listen to the spring song of the birds.
(This is clear seeing and hearing.  Permeating seeing and hearing and manifesting as nirvana.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Work as prayer

In Buddhism, we might say “daily work is an expression of the suchness of each moment”.  This daily work is our expression that “each moment is complete”, or as Katagiri-roshi wrote, “Each moment is the universe.”  How do we demonstrate that, amongst the tedium of our daily chores or the boredom of repetitive work or our frustration when we do not see the results of our actions fast enough.  Many of us compartmentalize the sacred and the ordinary, which makes our daily life somewhat of a nuisance. 

Zen practice/realization is quite an antidote to this daily despair.  We practice in each moment, (we could say “pray”) by bringing the particular moment and the universal view together in our mindful attention.  Coming back and back to Now.  Just this is it! 

It is possible even in the worst doldrums or in deep grief, to notice the beauty in life.  I put this in the Abode practice of sympathetic joy.  We return to noticing life’s beauty and mystery and allow that to nurture us.  For example, noticing that I have running water in the sink (the miracle of that!), that my sink has a window to see the sky and the trees, noticing the sensuousness of warm water on my hands and all the human work that went into producing my dishes, which I wash and dry and return back to order.  Noticing the “universal joke” that as soon as the dishes are done, someone puts the next dish into the sink.

Someone gave me as a gift, a Christian-based book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris, which I found very much, reflect the Zen attitude towards daily life. 
Quotidian:  occurring every day; belonging to every day; commonplace, ordinary.  (Merrian-Webster Third New International Dictionary)
In order to be able to see the ordinary as mysterious, we cannot be caught up in the busyness nor tossed away by the accomplishments or lack of, in daily life.  Our daily life needs to be upheld by the recurring daily rituals of our spiritual life and these rituals enforce our ability to hold our mindfulness and universal perspective as we go through the activities of daily life.

She writes:
"Workaholism is the opposite of humility, and to an unhumble literary workaholic such as myself, morning devotions can feel useless, not nearly as important as getting about my business early in the day.  I know from bitter experience that when I allow busy little doings to fill the precious time of early morning, when contemplation might flourish, I open the doors to the demon of acedia. (spiritual torpor or apathy, lack of care). Noon becomes a blur –no time, no time – the wolfing down of a sandwich as I listen to the morning’s phone messages and plan the afternoon’s errands.  When evening comes, I am so exhausted that vespers has become impossible.  It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, and too foolish, to surrender it to God.  Having discarded contemplation, I render it, and the worship that is its fruit, meaningless, futile, without issue.”

This is an admonition to us to keep alive our daily spiritual rituals, which provide the ground for our Right View in daily life.  We need to use the support and connection with sangha to help us do this. Let us allow the supports in religious life so that we can enjoy the true meaning of mindfulness.  Encouraging us to remember the most important thing, Just this is it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

what does it mean to be "radical"?

We use the word “radical” in many Buddhist phrases like radical acceptance.  Radical indicates the change in our view from the upside-down perspective of ordinary consciousness.  The ordinary mind sees the world as solid, independent units and existing in linear time.  We see the story of our lives and the fact of our birth and death as solid, incontrovertible fact. The Buddhist perspective uses the word “radical” to indicate a view that see the world as impermanent, always changing, and where all things inter-be which especially changes the idea of a self and other.   Radical means to be empty- which is, not a nihilistic nothing, but empty of inherent independent existence.

Our minds constructs an upside-down world through our mental representations in 3 areas:
1.    We construct a self and a personal identity and have a very reactive grab around what we get and don’t get in this life of ours based on our individual desire system.
2.    We represent external phenomenon and construct an out-there world.  We construct an inside and an outside and project a world around us based on our psychological states.
3.    We construct time and clocks in consensus reality and then believe them as solid which makes us very anxious about our schedules, our achievements, and the idea of a life span.

As our constructions are very, very strong, no wonder we use the word “radical”!    Maturing a Buddhist view in our consciousness is very radical indeed.  We start to live from the perspective of  “Right view” as the 8-fold path calls it.  To choose this new view as your base of operation is quite a change and requires a great deal of letting go and courage but begins to reveal liberation.

But how do we mature a view of life that is neither nihilistic nor attached?  This new way of seeing produces activities that are completely vibrant in the present moment.  These activities are not subject to our screen of evaluation, good and bad, right and wrong.  Their vibrancy stands as is.

Somehow, through our very subtle practice, the particular phenomena that is arising in this moment meets the view of interconnected existence.  So we neither have to eradicate our self or the phenomena of the moment; nor do we have to grab onto it through the screen of our personal desire system.  It is just what it is:  a particular arising in an enormous field of existence.

 A practice I’ve been doing to bring about this integration of the particular and the universe is the “sealing” practice.  “Sealing” is taken from the ancient practice of using a chop or a stamp to make an imprint on paper.   A famous phrase is to imprint the Buddha seal in the three activities: thought, word and action.  When a phenomena arises (an emotion, a sense object, a thought, an action) how fast can I remember to seal it with the Buddha seal of non-substantiality.  Can you hit each phenomena that arises with Buddha’s seal?  Can that begin to become spontaneous and automatic?  Katagiri-Roshi would add, “Then you can take care of each moment as Buddha.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spiritual Life is daily and repetitive

February Monthly mindfulness

Spiritual life is daily and repetitive.

One of my friends, years ago, moved her family to Minneapolis and came to MZMC where Katagiri Roshi was teaching.  She asked, “After a lot of effort to move my home and family here, I have come to study with you, what should I do?”  Katagiri-Roshi replied, ‘”Zazen is at 5 am.”

We do spiritual practices in our daily life repetitively.  Sometimes they feel fervent and fresh and sometimes we just do them with a half-engagement.  But there is an intangible quality in repetitive prayer and systematized attention to the “mystery” that can’t be explained.  Paul Bosch writes, “Whatever you do repeatedly, has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person – even if you’re not totally ‘engaged’ in every minute!”  Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance our connection to a bigger perspective and that relationship to the ‘beyond ourselves’ begins to nourish and sustain us.

Many of us come to Zen and Buddhism with a wish for an enormous transformative experience that liberates us.  It is rather romantic and idealistic even though it is possible.  Even if we have a rather grand experience, our task is to transform it into daily commitment to our practices and the way we view and behave in our life.  All our grand religious experiences cannot be kept even overnight.  Each morning, we wake up with the day of work ahead of us.  This continuity of practice/realization is really emphasized in Zen.  The present moment tasks and the rhythm of the day that we experience are the fundamental expressions of our ever-present enlightenment and our realization of “nowness”.

Do you have a repetitive daily ritual in your life that points your attention to the big, unbounded, open, view?  In formal Zen, we have Service with its bows, recitation of sutras, vows and chanting.  We have the ceremony of zazen that we do daily.

If you do not have this formal ritual, can you make one, however short, however long, that brings forth your intention to practice and to follow your North Star during this day.

Here are some ideas:

1.    Make an altar and offer water, tea, incense or prayer at it every morning.
2.    Use a waking up gatha, put your hand palm-to-palm and recite:
Classical version;
Waking up this morning
I vow with all beings
To realize everything without exception
Embracing the ten directions

Thich Nhat Hanh’s version:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me
I vow to live fully in each moment
And look at beings with eyes of compassion
3.    Do Zazen
4.    Read to yourself a list or prayer of your own creation that reminds you what your spiritual practices are and how you want to lead your life in this day.
5.    Read something inspirational.

Do these things over and over.  Even something small, is planting a seed of wholesomeness.