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”.