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.