Saturday, December 28, 2013

Addendum to No-Birth, No-Death

I found this quote from Thich Nhat Hann after I wrote the last blog.  I thought it really described this practice of feeling the mutuality of form and emptiness.  We can actualize this mutuality in our everyday activity and this coming together is the actualization of enlightenment.

From Thich Nhat Hanh, “Touching the Earth, Intimate conversations with the Buddha”:

The Pure Land has the outer appearance of birth and death, but looking deeply I see that birth and death are interdependent.  One is not possible without the other.  If I look even more deeply, I will see that there is no birth and no death; there is only manifestation. I do not have to wait for this body to disintegrate in order to step into the Pure Land of the Buddha.  By the way I look, walk, and breathe I can produce the energies of mindfulness and concentration, allowing me to enter the Pure Land and to experience all the miracles of life found right in the here and now.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

No-Birth, No-death

From “Touching the Earth, Intimate Conversations with the Buddha” by Thich Nhat Hanh
Page 25 and 26

"Lord Buddha, I shall listen to your advice and look deeply into impermanence, interdependence, emptiness and interbeing, in order to arrive at the deep realization that all that exists has the nature of

no birth/ no death
no coming and no going,
no being and no nonbeing
no permanence and no annihilation

Lord Buddha, you have opened the door of no birth for us.  I only need to follow you and enter that door.  I know that the highest aim of a practitioner is to realize the nature of no birth and no death and thus to go beyond the cycle of samsara and attain the greatest freedom.  You have been so compassionate to teach us this.  Yet, I have wasted much precious time following a worldly career, looking for words of praise, profit and position.  I know I can do better."

This quote intrigues me.  This is a constant reminder and investigation to incorporate into my mind and life the actualization of this message.

No Birth, No Death. - I think the fear of death; the fear of the annihilation of our so-called separate self, drives a lot of people’s emotional desire system.  Part of my practice has been to allow myself to let go of the enormous defenses I have around my “separate self” and dissolve into seeing the world moving through me with interdependence or interbeing.  When I can keep that in my awareness, that the total dynamic working completely engulfs me, then I live more vitally in the activity of the present moment and let go of my fears and trust more.

It is not simple to follow Buddha in entering this door. I contemplate over and over, breaking down my former ideas of Time and Space in order to enter this door.  It is even more difficult to enter this door consistently.  Consistency demands a strong power of concentration.  Few people can guard consistently their mind to understand the right amount of importance to place on our “worldly careers, or looking for words of praise, profit and position”.  We need to become less distracted by them.  My mind so easily goes down the deep grooves of consensus reality that I have been culturally taught.  These patterns towards fame and gain, done over and over in my past, causes them to be quite tenacious and hard to let go of.

No coming, no going. - The way in this Buddha door for me has been the study of time.  If it is true what the Buddhist teaching say that a moment is one sixty second of a finger snap or that the appearance of form come as quantum physics say in a “jiffy”, one to the negative 42nd power of a second, I can begin to release my mind’s view that things are permanent and appear and disappear.  They come and go so fast, as Katagiri Roshi used to say, at superspeed. Because of this superspeed, they cannot really be seen, held on to, or have permanence.  With this understand, we can move into the gate of no coming or going.  It is the gate into the feeling that everything is “just arising” with no duration. Each event is totally fresh. When I can feel this, it changes how I move through my day and through my life.

For many decades in my Zen life, I have been stuck on the dichotomy of being and non-being.  There has been a misunderstanding in me that somehow emptiness is better than form or, in other words, non-being is better than being.  Perhaps this is so because earlier in my life, I really wanted to escape my karmic life.  To transcend into a higher being.  I directed my practice towards the search for emptiness.  Even when I found it, I would cling to it and not want to return to form.  So seeing the phrase, “No being and no nonbeing” has pushed me into a different type of contemplation of non-duality.  I begin to see that they are not separate realities, but One Whole Works.   They are working mutually together in every moment and that this is the mystery of life I have been so searching for, right in front of my nose, always.  To know and digest that being and non-being are mutually assisting each other in every moment, breaks down our mind’s ideas of difference and sameness and begins to show us a way to live vitally, annihilating nothing.  To live in peace, we can be supported by the largest knowledge of universal functioning and at the same time, take care of the smallest detail of this one day in front of us.  This simultaneity is the Buddha’s door to no birth, no death.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A warm feeling in Zazen

From Suzuki Roshi’s book, “Not Always So” page 77:

“If we do not have some warm, big satisfaction in our practice, that is not true practice.  Even though you sit, trying to count your breath with right posture, it still might be lifeless zazen, because you are just following instructions.  You are not kind enough to yourself.  The purpose of instructions is to encourage you to be kind with yourself.  Do not count your breaths just to avoid thinking mind but to take best care of your breathing.  If you are very kind with your breathing, one breath after another, you will have a refreshed, warm feeling in your zazen.  When you have a warm feeling in your body and your breath, then you can take care of your practice, and you will be fully satisfied.”

Sometimes, I feel that we get lost in our reason for doing zazen.  It becomes a goal-oriented achievement going towards some mystical ideal called “enlightenment.”  When I think of my zazen like that, I become more and more uptight!  It is a breeding ground for anxiety, striving, and an “I’m not good enough” attitude.  Instead, Suzuki Roshi suggests that we learn, through each breath, how to take care of our life with a warm and caring manner.  The way to our true satisfaction is through feeling practice in this way.   As I wrote in the last blog, life can be satisfying or “requited” if we find the wholeness and the underlying mystery in each moment or activity.  We can enter the “temple of requited blessing” through gratitude and kindness.

We often lose the point of our practice.  Zazen is not about getting away from, or transcending our life, but to the contrary, we learn to take real care and have true respect for this one karmic life of ours.  Katagiri-Roshi emphasized, at the end of his life, “Just live, just live”.  He had whittled down practice to the essence - this moment is the oneness itself.  Katagiri Roshi said: “To ‘go beyond’ means to stay in the human world, but to not be contaminated by the human world.”

In the midst of greed, anger and ignorance, in the midst of impermanence and loss, we are encouraged to maintain a kind and caring feeling in our zazen and in our life.  In the midst of pain and sorrow, can we still have a warm, loving and satisfied feeling in our life? 

Our practice helps us to be kinder and more compassionate people, if we are working with a large sense of the world, beyond our own self-centered narrowness, and if we are working with kindness.  Can we be kinder to ourselves? Instead of using uber-disciplined and an ascetic tightness to try and find “detachment” or be “good” Zen students, let us allow our practice to promote a warm and flexible mind.   Reb Anderson has called this – “detachment in the field of Great Love”.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Rhinoceros Fan is Broken

Buddha said, “This life is suffering or dissatisfying.”  Trungpa Rinpoche said:  “The center of our life is unrequited love.” I don’t know where I got: “Samsara is already broken.”  They all point to the same thing.  Life as we see it in its appearance is full of pain, loss, failure or blame.  It’s built in to Life.  The biggest built-in is that we, all of us without exception, will experience old age, illness and death.  But there are many other losses built in to human life.  As I’ve written before - Children leaving the nest, getting sick at just the wrong time, getting fired, having a failing business, getting a divorce, someone unexpectedly dying, these are all examples of”dukkha”.  “Samsara is already broken” means that each event has within it; its own destruction or impermanence.  In each moment, there is birth and destruction.  Nothing in the form world escapes destruction.  So what can we do with that?  Where do we take refuge?

In the BOS koan 25, “The rhinoceros fan”, this theme of brokenness is again explored.  The first part of the koan goes like this:

One day Yanguan called to his assistant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The assistant said,  “It is broken”
Yanguan said, “In that case, bring me the rhinoceros.

Oh, I love this!  On the surface of life there is duality -broken and fixed.  But so many things in this life cannot be fixed.  Many deep things in life, we cannot fix.  So what can we do?  Where does our spiritual life lead us with things that cannot be fixed – with broken hearts that cannot be mended?

With our broken, unfixable hearts, we must find the rhinoceros.  We must find the source that actually made the fan in the first place.  This is when I say, we have to dig deeper and deeper in our selves to find the source of eternal life that doesn’t come and go, that doesn’t get broken, that is always, irrefutably, present in every moment. We have to find the “original person” that we are. 

Sometimes our deepest suffering is what pushes us to dig even deeper into life and find that which is immutable.  Can a person who has a deep loss recover?  I think only if somehow they can let go of the surface stories of their life, and find the eternal source present in each moment, the beauty or mystery of life, and go on.  This would be a spiritual recovery of sorts.  That is not to say we won’t have scars.  We have to love our scars as our humanity, and live out this precious human birth with as much dignity and compassion that we can muster in life’s unrequitedness.  This is practice to me.

So how do we practice with this unrequitedness?
In the koan BOS #15 Yangshan plants his hoe, we are admonished to practice in the Temple of Requited Blessing.  The temple of Requited Blessings is like finding the source, bringing the rhinoceros.  It is the temple where the essence and the form of the moment meet.  It is not in conventional reality that we find this blessing.  You must see Buddha-nature in each and every moment of your life.  Somehow, you can stand up in the dynamic functioning of each moment with awareness of the mystery.
This mystery is that the sacred and the ordinary arise together.  Tiantong writes: We must remember the saying about South Mountain - engraved on the bones, inscribed on the skin, together requiting the blessing. Together, they can bring us relief.

Fadeng continues by saying:
“Ah, how many people past or present know the virtue of gratitude?” …. That is why since I’ve grown old, I have lived here in this “Temple of Requiting Blessings”.  There is much hard work to do each day.  Whom do you do it for?”

We lead our life and accept our sorrows for the whole world.  We don’t know exactly whom we do it for.  But life is our obligation and blessing to live and we have to find a way to connect with the source in order to live in its blessing.
Katagiri wrote:
Entering the mud, entering the water
A bodhisattva enters this moment of life
Going into delusions
Paying attention to the delusion
And figuring out what each delusion needs to be taking care of with respect.
Each moment, each thing, each person
Is an expression of eternity or the source of life
And we can see and treat them this way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Burning House

There are many analogies to the phrase: “Samsara (the wandering-in-circles world, the world of life and death) is broken” from my previous blog.  One that we are currently studying in the Lotus Sutra class at Clouds in Water Zen Center is the story of the Burning House from chapter 2 of that sutra.  These stories in the Lotus Sutra are literary and teaching methods that encourage us to respond skillfully to each specific, unique situation.  They are stories and yet they are also alive.  They are alive with resonance in our psyches.  The images stay alive as they vividly arise in our minds over and over within our practice and daily life.  It’s very easy to remember a burning house, for example.  These images are literary devices but, as the Lotus Sutra says, they are also the Buddha and the Dharma themselves.  This alive quality is Buddha/Dharma.

Samsara is a burning house and, uninitiated into the Way, we play in the house, amuse and distract ourselves, without even noticing that it is burning.  The Lotus Sutra describes this house in a lengthy 3-page verse with very vivid descriptions of decay.  Let me use a few verses to give you a suggestion of the House of Samsara:

A lofty hall in dangerous conditions,
Pillar bases broken and rotten,
Beams and rooftree toppling and leaning,
Foundation and steps in a state of collapse,
Walls and partitions ruined and cracked,
Their plaster crumbling away……

Then the Sutra goes on to describe all the wild animals living there and:

All sorts of evil creatures,
Run about in every direction;
There are places stinking with excrement and urine,
Overflowing with uncleanliness……

In every direction there are
Goblins and ogres,
Yakshas and malign demons,
Who devour the flesh of men….
Evil birds and brutes
Hungrily hurry in all directions.

All of a sudden the whole house catches fire,
Its flames are in full blaze;
Rooftree, beams, rafters, pillars
With cracking sound burst open,
Break, split, and topple down.

All the animals, demons and others
Hurry about in alarm
Powerless to escape….
They are driven by the fire,
Cruelly hurting each other,
Supping and devouring each other’s flesh and blood.

There are three pages of this kind of description of the Burning house!  Wow, it can’t be emphasized enough that the house of Samsara is, indeed, already broken and filled with suffering.

The master has left the house already, but his children are still inside.  Getting the children to leave their distractions and games to come outside for the dharma teaching is very difficult.  The children don’t want to leave, and the “father” has to try all sorts of skillful means to get the children to leave. He doesn’t want to carry them out or force them.  He wants them to come out on their own power.  In the end, he’ll use anything to get the children to come out, even bribery. He entices them out by three carts which are the three vehicles in the Dharma teaching.  But in the end the Great Vehicle, the carriage pulled by a huge white oxen is the biggest prize. When the children finally leave behind their games and distractions, they find outside, a life that is unimaginably more “fun” and expansive than the games they were playing inside the burning house.

 The Buddha, is much like the father in the parable, attempting to save his children from the fires of birth, old age, disease, death, grief, sorrow, suffering and so on. We don’t understand enough to escape without instruction.  We can’t even stop our obsession with our distractions, to realize that the house is actually burning. What the parable stresses is the urgency of the human condition, making it necessary for the Buddha to find some way to get people to leave their play and suffering behind in order to enter the Way.

This is not escaping the world but having a change of mind and heart in how you view the world.  “Right View” in the Buddha’s teaching.  We learn through the dharma teaching how to take care of our life even as we are not consumed by our life.  As Joshu so succinctly said,  “We use our 24 hours rather than being used by them.” By working and transmuting greed, anger and ignorance, we can play freely within the stories of our constructed lives.

Dogen emphasizes that practice is deporting oneself freely in this Buddha-world.  Disporting is a translation of two characters that both mean to play or transform.  To frolic, to be free.  In Daigo,  another fascicle of the Shobogenzo, he writes that we should play freely with the mudballs of life. This is to realize great emancipation even while tended to the precise details of our daily life.  This is when the dharma joy can really arise.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Samsara is already broken

Samsara is the wandering-in-circles world.  When people say, “the world is going crazy”, we are talking about samsara.  It is the human world, which is driven by the hub of the Wheel of Life and Death, the three poisons: greed, hatred, and ignorance. This wheel turns round and round endlessly.  As far back as we know, the historic world has been crazy.  This is what Buddha means in the first noble truth when he says the human world has suffering in it.  Another translation of suffering or dukkha that I like is dissatisfaction.  In our ordinary heads, we are always dissatisfied.

This is why I say samsara is already broken.  Samsara is a view that sources from the idea that things are solid and that appearance is everything.  Its nature is to be broken, corrupt or ultimately dissatisfying. Samsara is the world of form, self and story and that story always end in a tragedy – we die.  In our ordinary minds, we perceive this death as an annihilation of a self that was actually never solid in the first place.

Years ago, when I studied Pema Chodron for the first time and she was teaching Tonglen and the Lojong slogans, she said something that really broke me open and stayed with me.  Her sound byte was:  "Unrequited love is the heart of the world."  She called it our ‘soft spot.’  The Rolling Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want.”  This “soft spot” is very important to spiritual life.  To see the world through the eyes of our ‘soft spot’.

We can learn to stay with our “soft spot” instead of running away.  Katagiri Roshi's first words to me were, “You can’t escape pain.”  Our brokenness, through the many losses in life, can open us to our tenderness and vulnerability.  From that point, we can cultivate compassion for the human condition.  This brokenness becomes the source of our practice.  We go beneath the story and narrative of life and touch in on the “original mind”,  the mystery of life, present in everything and including everything, giving us a new 360 degree perspective.  If we can interrupt our linear, historic thinking, we can hold a different view altogether.

One mindfulness practice I have is to say “samsara, samsara” in the back of my mind in a soft and loving voice when things are hard and difficult in the surface of my life.  I can remind myself that this is samsara right now.  The story I’m upset about, the story I want to fix is already broken and cannot be fixed. 

One of our impermanence verses is:
Birth will end in death
Youth will end in old age
Wealth will end in loss
Meeting will end in separation
All things in cyclic existence
Are transient and impermanent.

In order to handle these difficult experiences of life, I have to dig deep down into a place in myself that can see each moment with equanimity.  I have to accept my soft spot and use it to cultivate wisdom and compassion and to respond to the broken world and myself as wisely and lovingly as I can.  We dig deep down and find what Katagiri Roshi called “universal perspective”.  It is a place that goes beyond self into the boundlessness of bodhi-mind.  With this huge perspective, I can find peace even in the midst of the unrequietedness of life.  With our spiritual awareness, we can see the complete within the incomplete.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Beyond Effort

With his archer’s skill, the archer hits the mark at a hundred paces,
But when arrow points meet head-on, how could it be a matter of skill.
                                                            Jewel Mirror Samadhi

Continuing to discuss effort and effortlessness, I like to use this example from the Jewel Mirror Samadhi.

Japanese archery is considered an Art, a way of life, and a spiritual practice.  The archers study for many years.  I suppose we could call that great effort.  Practicing over and over.  Through personal effort, through practicing, they can fairly easily learn to hit the target at a hundred paces.  Anyone can do that, if they practice very hard.

But for two archers to aim at the sky, and for the arrows to meet head-on, that is something that is way beyond skill.  It is beyond the mind of discrimination.  It is beyond the body of practice.  I think this might be congruent with the idea of forgetting the self.  In letting go of “trying”, in letting go of any intellectual idea of how archery should be done, these archers are simply totally, wholeheartedly merged with their activity.  The years of practice in a very easy way, in a relaxed way, comes through.  The archer, the arrow, the other archer are all one movement and one whole.  Subject and object merged.  This is what one might call effortless effort. 

From Reb Anderson’s book, Being Upright,  page 23-24
The famous Zen example for developing the practice of renunciation is pulling a bow, practicing archery.  One of the first books I read about Zen Buddhism was Zen in the Art of Archery, by the German writer Eugen Herrigel.  His archery teacher explained that you take the bow, pull the bowstring back, and just hold it.  This is like normal human life: you’re holding on to something and it’s a strain.  His teacher told him to hold the string until it was released, but not to release it.
Herrigel held the bow for many hours of practice, and he got really tired of holding it – just like we get tired of holding on to body and mind.  Then he got the idea that he could let go of the string without letting go of it by just holding it half as tightly.  So he held it half as tightly, and half as tightly again, and kept halving his grip until, finally, the string went without him letting it go.  He had figured out a way to let it go while he was still holding on.
The teacher saw his clever trick and kicked him out of the school.  Herrigel begged for years to come back, until finally the teacher agreed.  He went back to the practice of pulling the string and just holding it.  No more tricks.  He just patiently experienced the suffering of being a human who thinks he’s holding something.  One day the string released, and it was as if it passed right through his fingers, just as his teacher had described it.  He didn’t let go of the string: it went.
The string is already released, but we don’t generally understand that.  You have to pull the string as a metaphor for your delusion until you understand that the string is already released.  You have to sit with your life and feel how you hold it, and be willing for the release to happen.  It will happen spontaneously, because it’s already so. 

This is an aspiration for my practice- that I can be open and relaxed and the years of practice will just come through.  In the Fukanzazengi, it says that we should look for a teacher that is beyond effort.  What does that mean?  I think that means that the goal and the cause have merged, that our minds are calm enough to receive the moment as it is, and our reaction of generosity, patience, acceptance, integrity are so practiced that they have become our norm.

It is no longer a strain to receive the moment.  We no longer have to try to practice.  We can surrender to the life force of the moment and let it bloom.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Walking on the edge of effort and effortlessness

Where is the inter-being between effort and non-effort?  Too much effort and we are tight and constrained.  Too little effort and nothing happens.    Pema Chodron has a wonderful phrase:  “Not too tight, and not too loose.”  Practice is walking on the edge; adjusting our effort to meet the circumstances with a flexible mind.

Practice Effort is like a large soundboard, similar to the one’s used at concerts. Each lever is adjusted to exactly the right sound, the right loudness, the combination of bass and treble, for the whole to harmonize.   They are constantly adjusted as the concert moves from song to song, from experience to experience.    Just so, our attention is adjusted to fit the situation- our internal and external conditions.  Sometimes are attention needs to be stronger and sharper, sometimes it needs to be softer and more receiving.  We keep adjusting our effort so our clear attention can hold the unique situation as it arises and changes.

Sometimes, I experience this great effort for enlightenment as too achievement oriented.  “Spiritual Materialism”, Trungpa Rinpoche used to call it.  We are marking spiritual progress as notches on our belt.  This is quite different than being comfortable with surrender.  Or the ability to accept our life as it is with the deep understanding of what underlies all life.  That no matter what is showing on the surface of life, there is the underlying mystery of life constantly at play.

Dogen’s beautiful phrase:  swimming with our arms the surface of the waves of vicissitudes (up and down), and, simultaneously, having our feet walking on the bottom sand in the dark silence and emptiness of the deepest part of the ocean.

If we practice as if spiritual life is a series of accomplishments, this will not help us when the going gets rough and when life doesn’t call for a series of accomplishments.

From Pema Chodron page 231 in “No time to lose.”

“I saw a cartoon entitled “Reasons not to Meditate”.  First there’s a drawing of an infant, with the caption “too young.”  Then there are students, parents with children, and people at work, with the caption “too busy”.  The next drawing shows an elderly person, with the words “too old”.  Finally there’s a corpse, with the message “too late”.

When we’re about to die and we’re having our last thoughts, will they be about the dream house we didn’t build, the mortgage we didn’t pay off, the novel we didn’t finish?  Feeling that we’ve failed to accomplish our worldly goals is not the frame of mind we want to be in when we die.

It’s not uncommon to find ourselves thinking that we’ll practice when we have more time.  We’ll start meditating when the conditions are better.  Meanwhile our kleshas (negative reactivity) only get stronger, and our mind is even less able to relax.

I was recently with a dying practitioner who admitted that her dharma practice now seemed meaningless.  She didn’t understand what relevance it had for her as the ground was slipping away.  This could happen to any of us if we don’t use our bodhichitta practices and meditation as a way of surrendering and letting go.

With each meditation session, you could train in opening to whatever arises, and relaxing with the immediacy of your experience.  Just acknowledge your pleasant and unpleasant thoughts without bias and let them pass away.  Then at the time of death, you will be ready to let go of your attachment to this life and surrender to the process of dissolving.

This passage really impacting me when I read it years ago.  How do we practice that really helps us live and die in peace?  How can we see our practice in a non-dual way.  Spiritual life does not head just into success, pleasure and gain. (rather the opposite, old age, illness and death) Can we find a depth of understanding that can include everything?

Pema writes:
You can make a project out of precision.
You can make a project out of gentleness.
It’s hard to make a project out of letting go.

Dogen writes:
Loss is enlightenment

Gain is delusion.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Master of our Minds

Who is this person who can be master in any place and meet the source in everything?  Book of Serenity, pointer Case 4

Though I generally don’t like to use the word “master”, in contemplating this pointer I have liked the idea that I “own” or “master” my own mind through the practice of concentration.  Learning to place my mind is the clarity of mind that interrupts the running-in-circles “monkey mind” that we first see when we start meditation.  The untamed mind is a wild elephant, trampling around and running from here to there.

From Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva:

Wandering where it will, the elephant of mind,
Will bring us down to pains of deepest hell.
No worldly beast, however wild,
Could bring upon us such calamities.

If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The elephant of the mind is tethered all around,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue drop into our hands.

We can learn to tame the elephant of the mind, to relax, rest and be at peace like a pet curled up next to us.  This is the great gift of learning to meditate and focus our minds.  We can interrupt our stories, and tether the mind to the present reality, the present sensations and receive the moment as it is.  This can be hard to do at first and it needs quite a bit of practice; interrupting and returning to the moment at hand.  We do this over and over in meditation and then moment to moment, over and over, in our activity. Cultivating mind’s inherent capacity to stay put is called mindfulness training.

We can see the consequences of an untamed mind.  We take a story and run with it.  Sometimes creating a whole long negative adventure, that actual never happens.  We elaborate and create a storyline for the future that is a total fantasy.  What we project may happen, but most times, it doesn’t play out the way we fantasize.

If we have some mastery of placing our mind, we can continually interrupt our conceptual creation of the future and just plant a seed of virtue in the moment at hand.  We can plant a seed of generosity, patience, ethical conduct, honesty, or kindness.  We can let go of control and surrender to the reality of this moment.  We learn to handle what sensations are present, even if they are negative or agitated.  We can cultivate faith that if we do plant seeds of virtue in the now, we will create a more positive future.  Just this much is enough. 

With a clear mind, an open mind, we can receive the moment as it is.  This is a very deep understanding of equanimity.  We can meet the source in everything regardless of our evaluations or reaction to the outer conditions.
Can we be at peace with all the outer conditions which manifest as the 8 worldly Winds.
Can I be at peace with
Pleasure and pain
Gain and loss
Success and failure
Praise and blame
Our practice/realization is to meet the source in all circumstances, no matter if we like it or not.

Every moment is the expression of the mystery. Every moment is Buddha.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Transform ordinary life into the path of Bodhi

I studied the Tibetan Buddhist Lojong slogans quite strongly in the 1990’s when Pema Chodron was first introducing them to a broader public.  It seems they are coming back around in my practice life as Norman Fischer, a Zen teacher, has written a new book about them from the Zen perspective – “Training in Compassion:  Zen Teachings on the practice of Lojong”.  No wonder there is interest in these very practical great slogans because they are very succinct sound-bytes for practice.

Two of the slogans seemed like a turning word in my spiritual practice.

When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.
Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation.

These slogans helped me integrate and bring together my formal practice and my karmic everyday life.  It seems a lot of practitioners compartmentalize their practices.  One side being meditation practice and formal practices, which are split off from the in-between ordinary life.  Sometimes I ask a practitioner, “What is your practice?” and they answer me only in terms of their zazen or how much they are meditating.  Practicing with the Lojong slogans and in particularly these two general slogans, transform our idea of moment-to-moment practice and merge the absolute practices down to earth with our everyday life. 

Now, I see, every moment, every mishap, every unexpected predicament as an opportunity to practice right now.  I practice keeping my vision of wholeness, as I walk through the world filled with evil or misunderstandings or fantasies and delusions.  Mostly, we see our stories as solid, real and with the unending need to fix our karma.  Sometimes, we are completely lost in our individual storyline of our lives and from that point of view, we carry a lot of worry and stress.  My practice now is, without annihilating one speck of dust from my karmic story, I open the moment and include; everything that is whole about the moment, everything that is interdependently manifesting with the rest of life, everything that transcends the narrowness of “my life”.

Moment-to-moment we can transform this dull, painful, repeating day-after-day life into a moment of transforming practice-realization.  We can work that miraculous pivot and see how to practice in each moment, formally or informally.  I am still digesting Reb Anderson's practice of:

Welcome every moment, and use the practices of the paramitas in response:  generosity and patience.

Perhaps, another comment about these slogans is the reflection on “when the world is filled with evil.”  Lately, I only have to read the headlines on the front of the newspapers to feel that the world is filled with evil.  My most human response is to feel despair and nihilism for the world and a sense of hopelessness.  But I think that Buddhism has a different response.  As long as I breathe, as long as I still am awake to this very moment, I can practice living without greed, anger and ignorance and the fact of that practice, helps the world.  I am not adding on more suffering to an already suffering world.  I am not adding anger to anger and hatred to hatred.  'To give up' is not practice!  Jizo Bodhisattva goes into hell to help and has unflagging optimism that life can transform.  How could I possibly have unflagging optimism in the face of the difficulties of our 21st century life?  I can have it in my attitude to the moment-to-moment activity in my life and the willingness to do concrete things in ordinary life to help the whole.   This is to live in connection with wholeness and gratitude, and to have a generous attitude towards how I live my one precious human life. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Abandon any hope of fruition

Abandon any hope of fruition.

If there is a “time” which is more than just linear, than this Tibetan Lojong slogan makes sense.  If we believe solely in a linear history that develops through time or over a period of time, then this slogan doesn’t make any sense.  In development, there is hope for a result. In order to progress we have to have linear time. If we believe in cause and effect than the fruition is caused by our effort.  We can get better!

The idea of linear time is part of consensus reality and relative truth.  It dissolves in the face of absolute truth. Linear time allows humans to live a life from beginning to end, with work, job, family, accomplishments, love, old age, sickness and death as the very essence of life.  If you allow for the Buddhist deconstruction of time, then we begin to question the solidity of our stories and how we understand our life.  In some senses, this doubt or questioning is a fruition unto itself. 

In studying Dogen’s fascicle Uji or Beingtime, many of my strongly held fixed views about life and time have started to break up. So here’s our dilemma, what’s real?  Oh, how humans want a concrete answer to that!  We want to live in black and white.  Either there is no time or there is linear time?  But Zen understanding places us right in the foci of those opposites.  They mutually dance together.  Form and emptiness are mutually interdependent. 

Each moment is sourced from timelessness and yet it does not destroy a speck of dust or anything about the construction of our everyday life.  As we mature, we begin to see them working together.  This understanding of historic time and timelessness, dancing together, doesn’t change a thing in the construction of our life span and yet, in understanding this, it does seem to change everything.  Our whole perspective on what a human life is, starts to subtly change and karmas can be loosened and good (or negative) karmas can be made.  We don’t eradicate our karmic life but neither do we believe in it.

From the Heart Sutra:
Neither old age and death…..nor the extinction of old age and death.

To abandon any hope of fruition is to live in the present moment.  Even though this present moment have the effects from past moments and have the seeds for the future moments, this moment still stands alone. In the absolute sense, this moment is discontinuous.  It is only itself.  To understand this slogan we have to see through our stories and see the completeness of this very moment.  Our stories and linear time tell us that if we practice hard now and for, maybe, 10 years, in the future, things will be better and perhaps we will be enlightened even.  That’s a smile.  Even in historic time, the future won’t necessarily be better.  As Buddha so succinctly warns us, no one escapes old age, illness, and death.

This view of futuring, is the misunderstood belief that practice produces enlightenment in the future.  This is not Dogen’s understanding of time or enlightenment.  Dogen suggests that the Now contains everything; the past, present and future.  Where could enlightenment exist if other than right now?  Right now is filled with enlightenment, awareness, awakening, aliveness.  There is no future for it to exist in.  That future is a construction of our minds and a fantasy.  He asserts that the circle of the Way exists and can only exist in the moment.  Aspiration, practice, awakening and the Way are all continuously present in this moment and that faith or understanding this, brings practice alive.  He reduces this to his expression practice-enlightenment as one word.  To awaken in this moment is to be enlightened and to be in the Way.  There is no other Buddha Way then the Way of this moment.

“Abandon any hope for fruition” is very similar to Katagiri Roshi saying that cause and effect are one.  And this “one” lives in this moment.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Spiritual Structure of each day

In Clouds in Water’s new design for practice period, we are emphasizing the spiritual structure of the day.  What we do at the beginning of the day, during the day and at the end of the day.  We are learning how to practice in the Now.  Sometimes in a more gross level, the Now is “just for today”.  In a more subtle level the Now is this moment’s functioning.  Because we are humans, we have a day filled with human activity.  How do we practice with that?  Even in the extra-ordinary circumstances of a monastery, there is still the time in between sitting, there is still relationship with people, there is still our disturbing habit patterns to deal with.  This is life as a human being.

Zen practice emphasizes two aspects of our life.  One is penetrating into the eternal essence of life that runs underneath all appearances and the other is, with that vision, how do we lead our normal, everyday human life.  Dogen writes, “after all, practice is a matter of everydayness.”

How do we integrate the tasting of timelessness and eternal essence and the fact that we live our form life every day, day after day?

One of the ways to do this is to work with the structure of the day.  Most religions of the world agree on this point.  Most spiritual practices, pray or meditated several times a day.  In this way we keep our understanding of the vast mystery of life connected to our everyday actions.  In Zen, we particularly learn the structure of a human day through the structure of a sesshin day.  That sesshin example has taught me so much.

One of the Lojong slogans from the Tibetan traditions addresses this:
Two activities:
One at the beginning, one at the end.

This is to say we have an aspiration at the beginning of our activity or our day, and we have a self-reflection and offering the merit at the end of our day or our activity.
So, in our practice period schedule, we are asking our whole community to have a moment of meditation and reflection when you get up in the morning, and a moment of meditation and reflection before you go to sleep.  We will, as a community, use the verses for arising and going to bed, and encourage everyone to meditate daily.  (You can get the verses and the format at

As we go through the day, we can also use this slogan.  I have found the transitions in the day from one activity to another to be very potent for spiritual practice.  In the transitions, I can offer the merit of what I just previously have been doing and then offer the aspiration for what I’m going to be doing next.  This pause and reflection between activities can really change our mind set.  While I’m doing an activity, I try to meld my whole body and mind into the activity of the work without too much self-reflection, just doing.

I have edited a saying from the 12 step program with a Buddhist perspective about what to do as we go through the day.  Here it is:

As we go through the day
When agitated or upset,
Or have indecision,
We pause, relax, and open
With a relaxed clarity, we can investigate
Finding an intuitive thought or a decision.
We don’t struggle.

At the end of the day, we reflect on our day.  We can review our actions. We can forgive and let go.  We can see if there is some corrective action we should take in the morrow.  Clouds in Water is including the vows, our repentance verse and the going to bed verse in our practice.  We can begin anew and fresh in the next day.

This is a structure for life that can keep our aspiration, our vows, our mindfulness fresh and alive.  As each new circumstance arises in our life, we can have a fresh approach to practicing our vows with that unique circumstance.  Each day is a new beginning, each moment is a complete expression of the dynamic working of life.
We are, as Dogen says, practicing with the enlightenment at hand.  That enlightenment is the recognizing and the expression of the completeness of each moment and our full awareness placed on life, moment to moment.