Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gone Beyond Individualized Consciousness #6

What is the difference between gone beyond personal identity and gone beyond individualized consciousness?  Personal identity has to do with our psychological responses to life based on our desire system of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.  It is also holding on to our karmic stories as if they were solid and permanent sense of our identities.

Gone beyond Individualized consciousness is a level of practice and Buddhism that few have the aspiration to want to realize.  It is very difficult process to actualize and demands a strong attention to meditation and mindfulness.  It is the existential level of Buddhist wisdom. It asks that we see through our “solid bodies” and “I” minds, and discovering what is the source of each moment.

The Gate, Gate mantra is the last line of the small sized Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra.   The Prajnaparamita Sutras come in various sizes.  From the Mahaprajnaparamita sutra at 100,000 lines, down through 6 different sized versions until the smaller Diamond Sutra at 300 lines.  We chant an even smaller sutra – The Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra, daily at Soto Zen temples.  The “heart” is actually the “essence” of the larger sutras.  And the mantra Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha, is really a small chant at the end of the sutra that encompasses the whole of the essence.

In order to practice with non-self, we have to understand what a being is.  It is not a solid thing as we usually think of our “being”.  We think it gets born, lives through a life and then dies.  But in Buddhism a “being” or a “self” is actually a functioning dynamic of many elements energizing together.

In the Five Skandhas or the Five aggregates, these are the elements that come together in a being.
1.     Form – a body
2.     Feeling- pleasant, unpleasant, neutral
3.     Perceptions – the sense gates, sense objects, sense minds
4.     Formation – the putting together of all the perceptions, Katagiri Roshi called it the together-maker
5.     Consciousness

One image from Science has helped me understand this idea about solid and non-solid-ness.  When I was in elementary school, we learned that an atom was made of a nucleus and electrons and the scientist used to call the nucleus and electrons as  solid bodies.  As their instruments advanced, the scientists can see more subtly now.  Now they say, there is nothing solid there.  As they go in more and more subtly, they only find space and energy but no form.  This is very much like our idea of a “self” and our understanding of the non-self.  As we look for a solid self, we can’t find one, only the dynamic functioning of the energy of the five Skandhas.

In reading the Diamond Sutra the other day, I was struck with its unpacking of the idea of individualized consciousness, far beyond just our personal psychology.  In that sutra it emphasizes this teaching of gone beyond Individual consciousness.

The Diamond expounds:

“And yet although immeasurable, innumerable, and unlimited beings have been liberated, truly no being has been liberated.  Why? Because no bodhisattva who is a true bodhisattva entertains such concepts as a self, a person, a being, or a living soul.  Thus there are no sentient beings to be liberated and no self to attain perfect wisdom.”

Skipping a paragraph or two:

“The Buddha said to Subhuti, “All that has a form is an illusory existence.  When the illusory nature of form is perceived, the Tathagata is recognized.”

Another section:

“So, Subhuti, all bodhisattvas should develop a pure, lucid mind that doesn’t depend upon sight, sound, touch, flavor, smell, or any thought that arises in it.  A bodhisattva should develop a mind that functions freely, without depending on anything whatsoever.”

That seems like a good description of Awakened Awareness or Direct mind without attachment as Huineng has pronounced.

Or in the Heart Sutra that we are most familiar with:

“Therefore given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness;
No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight … no realm of mind consciousness.”


These are words and images that are pointing verbally at what it means to go beyond individual consciousness.  And in doing that, our minds can start to function in a pure and lucid state, directly meeting the moment without attachment.

excepts from "The Diamond Sutra, Transforming the way we perceive the world" by Mu Soeng

Monday, December 15, 2014

Awakened Awareness gone beyond individualized consciousness #5

What does it mean to be awake?  To truly be in the present moment where the truth happening place resides?

Awareness is to be present in each moment and to accept each moment exactly as it is.  In order to do this, your mind has to be tamed.  You place your mind and mindfulness to right here, right now.

Awakened means to have a view that is coming from the universal truth of life and from the Universal perspective as Katagiri Roshi would say.  Out of emptiness or the source of life, out of the dharma position, each moment is born.  In order to come from this place, our personal desire systems and our attachment to our personal stories have to be lessened.  “To the minimum” as Katagiri Roshi would say.

Katagiri Roshi –
“To learn the Way you have to be learning about something that is larger than your little life.  It is no small matter, it is boundless.”

Right View comes from our understanding of Prajna or Wisdom.
Here are some of the important points of “coming from Wisdom”:



In the Three Dharma Seals, we learn to say “No” to our mental constructions of
·      Permanence or solidity
·      Living as an isolated unit
·      Feeling that we are independent
We have to learn to come from a different point of view entirely.  We have to say “yes” to systems theory.  That everything is working in Total Dynamic Functioning or Zenki.  Underneath our evaluations of good and bad, right and wrong, underneath our personal desire system, the universe is working in peace and harmony.  It is an expression of the simultaneity of the principles of emptiness or interbeing, and karma or cause and effect.  We hold the view that we can entrust ourselves to universe life.  With that sense of trust, we can let go into presence or awakened awareness.

In the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, this view is brought forth in the Wisdom Tetrad.



So again,  Impermanence is the first contemplation.  Then moving into the fading away of all dharmas which relates to No Self and No Form of the Three Doors of Liberation.  Releasing our very constricted view of life into more openness and interdependence.  Boundary-less-ness. 

Cessation is a word that has been hard to grasp.  I think it begins with learning to “go beyond thought”.  It is stopping our over-working minds.  Sometimes I just say, “Stop” to myself.  Stop and come back to now.  In this regard, I have been working with the duality of production and non-production.  We human beings, love to produce.  Look around us.  Civilizations, skyscrapers, arts and culture, wars.  All an expression of our desires and their manifestations.  But few of us know how to truly stop, rest and be silent.  For a harmonious life, this activity and resting needs to be balancing each other, dynamically working together.  Our activity pushes us to the point where we need to rest.  When we rest, we cannot stay there forever or we die.  Our resting in non-producing, rejuvenates back into activity.  Part of the emphasis on meditation practice is to truly learn how to non-produce.  Not to produce with the activity of our bodies, and not to produce with our conceptualization, our minds.  Just to be quiet and to merge and let go, trust, the universal inter-being.



Putting this all together, we can rest in Presence.  If there can be a goal in a no-goal situation it is to Rest in Presence.   To bring Awakened Awareness to all our moments.  The more we practice as in practice/realization, we can hold the larger view more and more as we go through our day.  Our concentration and mindfulness is strong enough that it is not even distracted by activity.  We can do our human activity and our daily life, gone beyond individualized consciousness.  That is what makes the great spiritual heroes of our time.

From Katagiri Roshi:

Our practice is to manifest perfect tranquility within each form our everyday life takes – getting up in the morning, having breakfast, going to work, walking down the street, and so on.
Take care of each moment and return to the source.
Take care of each moment from a universal perspective.
It’s completely beyond good or bad, right or wrong.
So put aside all kinds of imaginations, fabricated by your consciousness.
Don’t attach to thoughts and emotions; just return to emptiness.

Just be present there and swim in Buddha Nature.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beyond Constructions of Time #4

This blog is about the section in the Gate, Gate, mantra which says:  going beyond constructions of time.  In the past few years, I have practiced a lot on breaking open my "idea" of linear time.  This practice has been one of the most powerful for me in terms of letting go of the obsession with my historic story and "selfing".   In letting the solidity of linear time go, even a little bit, I have begun to be more present and aware in this moment.  It feels, indeed, like a path to liberation.

First off, Katagiri Roshi taught that the present moment is at the intersection of time and space.  In that intersection is where the "real life" lies.  Here's one of his charts:


In that moment of the intersection of time and space, which is constantly changing, we are where we want to be.  He calls it the Pivot of Nothingness.  The pivot is the constantly swirling world of the opposites and the functioning of activity of life.  The nothingness is the eternal now that is silent and still right at the center.  Both of these dynamics,  activity and stillness are occurring in each moment and represent the totality of life in all dimensions and all times.  Katagiri Roshi's book title:  Each Moment is the Universe.

In studying with Okumura Roshi, he has another beautiful chart explaining how linear time and eternal time work together.


This chart shows the karmic working of cause and effect.  That one moment produces the next moment through cause, development and result.  It also shows on the bottom how each moment is the eternal moment itself.  Complete and independent.  A Whole arising and disappearing in 1/62 of a fingersnap.  Dogen-zenji calls it a "dharma position".  Each dharma position is completely the whole and completely the now!  In understanding this non-dualism, this oneness, the way we approach our life can really change.

Dogen says that there are 6 and a half billion moments in a day.  Katagiri-Roshi says, that each moment is a creative opportunity to produce your future life.

Our practice is to completely receive the moment.  Both its timelessness and the karmic aspect of human life together.  Which moves us right along to Awakened Awareness which is the next section.

Here is another chart from Rohatsu, that is one of the Tibetan instructions about time and I received from Ken Mcloed's book, "Wake up to your life".

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Beyond Personal Identity #3

Continuing my series on gate, gate, paragate mantra.  If you are new to this series, look at the two previous blogs for the overall translation into english of this mantra.

Beyond personal identity means that we stop living our life and our motivations through the screen of our personal desire system.  This is corresponding to the Second Noble Truth, which teaches that are suffering is caused by our desires, our cravings and our attachments.  If we live our lives initiating our actions from the three poisons; greed, anger and ignorance, we are constantly turning the wheel of life and death and the wheel of our suffering.
                             Greed -  Like - attachment
                             Anger or hate - dislike - aversion
                             Ignorance - ignoring the truths of life
                                        also can be thought of as
                                        being on automatic
                                        or being in denial



In Zen, we often talk about non-preference.  This is the ability to accept both things we like and things we dislike.  In a phrase - May I be at peace with the ups and downs of life.  Equanimity.  If we always attach and want more of what we like and push away what we don't like, we are always stuck in the suffering of the view of our own desires.

In order to have this type of equanimity, we have to increase our capacity to hold our negative emotions.  That means we can hold our emotions without acting out or repressing.  We can digest our emotions and act, not from reactivity but from awareness.

From the Trust in Mind Sutra attributed to Seng-ts'an, third ancestor, died in 606
The way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.

This brings to mind Radical Acceptance.  Our practice is to receive each moment as it arises and exactly the way it is.  It also brings to mind Katagiri Roshi often used phrase - You have to see things from a huge perspective, not from your personal telescope.

Katagiri Writes:
The most important meaning of emptiness is that we are not obsessed with the results of our actions whether good, evil or neutral.  Don't create attachment - which doesn't mean to ignore attachment.  There is always attachment.  The important point is how to use attachment without creating too much trouble.  Confine attachment to the minimum.  Understand Attachment. Using your knowledge and capacity, consider what to do.  Then just do it.  Immediately see the results and accept it.


We can't ignore our historic/karmic storyline.  We need to take care of it by considering carefully and acting in accordance with our principles.  And yet, the more we study and practice, the more our decisions are informed by our practice and understanding, by using a very large universal telescope. To me, this is living and acting beyond our personal identity.  In our ordinary life, we take care of our karmic life but see it in the perspective of a huge universe with set principles exemplified by the precepts and the teachings.

By our understanding of our personal karma and seeing it from our universal mind, we can make decisions that, as Katagiri Roshi says, will create a new life in the future.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beyond thought.#2

During rohatsu sesshin, I worked with the gate gate mantra.  I got this explanation from Dan Brown who is a Tibetan teacher and i have really enjoyed contemplating it:


Let's work with "beyond thought".  this is part of the three bases under samadhi.  Learning to concentrate is one of the essential tasks.  Can we learn to place our mind where we want it to be rather than be a slave to the director/mind.  Meditation practice of returning to your object of concentration is the practice that starts to cultivate one-pointedness.

In the sutra of the full awareness of breathing, there are wonderful phrases that help you calm the mind into stabiity.  They have a formula of: breathing in I ......., breathing out I.......
Here are some of the phrases that are used to stabilized and ultimately liberate the activities of our minds.  The calming of the monkey mind.


Now when I sit down to meditate, the first thing i say is "stabilize your mind".  How to do that?
Observe and notice the mental processes and thru breathing try to calm the mind.  I particular like "gladden the mind" which is part of en-LIGHT-enment.  Making the mind lighter.  To gladden and open the mind actually is fairly easy.  One turns the mind to connect with the mystery and awesomeness of life itself.  Add to that, contemplating your gratitude, and usually the mind will gladden.

To stabilize the mind moves us into non-thought.  Where are minds are basically quiet with an occasional thought floating through which is not grabbed on to.  This is a very restful place.  It is a place of non-production and is a place where we can "just be" or "return to silence" as Katagiri Roshi would call it.  Very still.

Samadhi or concentration is very important and yet, it is only one aspect of actualizing our life that is already there.  There is also the understanding of wisdom (prajna) and the incorporating that into our actual expression and behaviour.(Sila)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate" #1

I received this translation of the "gate" mantra from Dan Brown who is a Tibetan Teacher:

From the end of the Heart Sutra:
Gate, gate – beyond thought
Paragate – beyond personal identity
Parasamgate- beyond constructions of Time
Bodhi – awakened awareness gone beyond individual consciousness
Svaha – ohh, ah, wow!

I went to a Dan Brown Retreat about three years.  Dan Brown is a Tibetan teacher.  That retreat produced a great change in me and was very clarifying of the teaching and of what I’m trying to do.

The above is an explanation of the classic mantra, “gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.”  This meaningful, short unpacking of the famous mantra incorporates many of the teachings and development of enlightenment in Buddhism.

Going beyond thought.
This is the essence of concentration or Samadhi.  We are training the mind to still itself and be at ease.  We want to interrupt clinging  or believing in a solid sense of story.  We learn that our stories are the mind’s constructions.  Even though there is a historic, karmic through line in our lives, strickly speaking, that through line is a mental construction.  The true reality only arises in this very moment.  In order to realize this, our mind’s have to be quiet and quite clear, like the sky.  How do we get a clear mind? We learn to let go of the unnecessary chatter, and to be at ease with the moment that is actually happening. In order to succeed at quieting the mind, at first, there needs to be a great effort to concentrate.  Once our minds have learned how to place itself or the mind has stabilized, then we can begin easing up.  We can sit quite relaxed with a quiet mind.  This is what our teachers mean by training the mind and staying with the present moment.  Within the present moment the “whole works” is expressed, both historic and universal perspectives simultaneously.  But we can’t stay with the present moment if our mental constructions are out of control.  We are constantly going up into our heads to evaluate things and figure life out.  If we move to a place of an open, restful mind, then we can, with direct contact, experience our life.

“Think of not thinking. How do we think of not-thinking.  Non-thinking – what kind of thinking is that?  Non-thinking.
                                                                                    Dogen, Fukanzazengi

Going beyond personal identity
One very deep and existential koan is “Who am I?”  Or what is the self?  Consensus reality fosters the belief that there is a centralized self or even a “soul”.  Much of Buddhism is deconstructing this belief and opening up to the nature of inter-being.  We are not an independent unit; solid and isolated.  We are, in fact, as Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully puts it, made of non-self elements.  The more we investigate the self, we cannot find one solid self.  The more we investigate the stories of “our” life, we realize that the past is gone and the future has not been produced, so only the influences of our stories remain in the now.  It’s ironic that when I think about “my” past, what I notice is my selective memory.  I construct the past or who I am, caused by my history, through the use of this very limited memory. We see our life through the lens of what we consider to be our personal identity.  Katagiri Roshi used to say, through a very narrow telescope.  We see things always circulating around or self-centered ideas.  What’s good for me? We see things through a system of our self-centered desires.  At a certain point in practice, that self-identity can drop away and be replaced by a sense of participating in the whole.  The boundaries of self start to include others like a parent when a child is born.  All of a sudden, the world swirls around the baby not you.  We begin to go beyond ourselves.  We can begin to act from the big picture and not just through the screen of our personal desires.

Going beyond constructions of time.

This has been a wonderful contemplation for me.  For the past several years, I have been studying Uji, Dogen’s fascicle in the Shobogenzo on Time.  I have studied the commentaries by Katagiri Roshi and Okamura Roshi and then really started to practice it in my day-to-day life.  Time is a construction of the mind.  The present moment is the true reality.  All though we have heard this since the moment we walk through a door of a Buddhist Center, the actualizing of this understanding has taken me a long time.  It continues to help me release my delusions about life and return to this very moment.  It is a way to interrupt my habit patterns of worry, anxiety, fear, anger etc, by realizing that the constructions of the stories can be let go of and a determination on what to do in this moment is the real practice.  How should I react to the karma of this moment. 

Awakened awareness

Awakened awareness is a clear mind that can access the present moment.  It is the true merging of subject and object; to become the activity itself without evaluation.  Katagiri Roshi used to say – without poking your head into the experience.  Awakened awareness is what Katagiri Roshi would call “just do” or “be completely the experience.  The present moment is experienced just as it is without the consciousness of a time line.  It is the ability to welcome each moment exactly as it is, as life itself.

Beyond individual consciousness

How can we enter the teaching that there is no centralized self?  This is slightly more then letting go of our individual desire system like the phrase, beyond personal identity.  That is a psychological realization that we now can see through our desires as just what they are and not be reactive.  Going beyond individual consciousness is an even deeper level of knowing the universal perspective.  In this level of wisdom, what I would call the existential level of wisdom, we can discover this unbounded openness of the universe.  Katagiri roshi had two ways of looking at this.
1.     The first level or degree as he called it, is knowing the emptiness of an abiding self through studying impermanence and realizing that our lives are based in transiency.
2.     The second degree of emptiness is the actual absence of our own being.  We need to taste that emptiness is not produced nor is it stopped.  It does not appear nor does it disappear.  It is not understood by the mind and consciousness.  In order for me to touch this, I have to completely relax my anxiety about being and producing. Perhaps this is why Dogen says “Don’t have designs on becoming a Buddha”  Implicit in the word “design” is an object, the “I”.  To get to this level of understanding, you have to relinquish any designs and any sense of “I” and its accomplishments, both spatially and temporally.  It is a complete letting go of mind and a sense of independent being. 

Ooh, ah, wow!


Which leaves us, over and over, with the question, “How can we live our life, moment-to-moment, with the basis of operation being this teaching of the true reality?  This is called the great activity of practice that continues endlessly.







Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The healing heart of at-home rituals

I went to the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) conference this past October and the keynote speaker was Paula Arai.  She is the author of several books - Women Living Zen and her latest book, Bringing Zen Home – the Healing Heart of Japanese Buddhist Women’s Rituals.  Her message of the importance of rituals in home and lay life and the use of creativity in making them, really impressed me.  It was support for the creative, personal rituals which Clouds has already been encouraging.

She was a very feminine speaker.  Mostly the SZBA has had male Buddhist scholars give the keynote speech.  It was a breath of fresh air to hear a speaker at this type of conference talk about: women practicing at home, healing rituals in zen, nurturing the self and so forth.  These topics are often passed over in the more austere aspects of Zen Practice.  Paula Arai has all the credentials of a scholar and yet her approach was very warm, funny and coming from the heart.

Both of her books have shared with the West, the deep practice of women lay practitioners in Japan.  Partially this aspect of Buddhist practice has been overlooked because these practices do not come from monastic practice or scholarship which has been a main focus for so many years.  But these predecessors and examples for rituals in lay life can be very helpful for the Western Buddhist world where many, if not most, are lay practitioners with families, mortgages, full-time jobs etc.

You can have a strong Buddhist life that is not based solely on zazen. This might surprise some of us.  That’s not what we have previously learned.  I have always seen this in Tomoe Katagiri’s life and practice.  Although she does not do a lot of meditation practice or sesshins, when I’m with her, her life practices, her daily life, her sewing, her treatment of objects in her house, always teach me Zen.

 I also saw these devotional practices when I went to Japan.  There were many practices that people did every day in their homes and on the street that were quite different than Western practice.  Some examples that I saw were:  keeping the altars on street corners cleaned and fresh with flowers.  These altars carefully prepared, were ready for people who stop in their hurry to work, for a moment of connection with the universal energies.  Sometimes they light a candle or pour water over a Buddha statue's head.  There were also many Temples where people went to pray or light a candle or whirl a wheel on their lunch breaks. 

I came home and made a pagoda in my back yard where my family, friends and I could simply walk out into the woods and light a candle sending energy to people and situations that we were worried about.

Paula Arai’s emphasized the power of establishing a sacred space in your home.  One of the ways to do this was to have an active home altar.  A lot can happen around a home altar with your family and with your children if we are creative and attentive to what is needed.  These are homespun rites woven into our daily life. 

For example, I have a small ritual I do everyday at home.  It began when my last child went off to college.  I worry about my two boys in the world and away from me.  So I began to light candles for my two sons, my husband, myself, Clouds in Water and the last candle, for people I know in distress, sick or past on.  It’s a small thing.  Putting new candles in six holders, lighting them, and doing a little metta for each one but it has held my attention, helped to relieve my anxiety for nearly two years.  Now it seems so natural to do, that I don’t even notice it as “something extra.”

Paula Arai emphasized the aspect of warmth and healing that is sometimes absent in the way we perceive Zen.  She named quite a few aspects of a Healing ritual that were a heart opening and confirmation for me:  A ritual shows us
·      The importance of connecting with interdependence
·      Expressing that our body and minds are one
·      Connects us with the larger meaning of life and a larger sense of ourselves.
·      Self-nurturing
·      Increases or emphasizes the enjoyment of life
·      Our ability to create beauty in all our activity, not just art, but in the way we arrange the objects in our life.
·      Cultivating our gratitude
·      Accepting reality as it is
·      Expanding our perspective
·      And embodying compassion

What I really felt affirmed by was her saying that the more personal a ritual was the deeper it affected us.  In that sense she supported us in being creative with ritual and using our knowledge of Buddhist principles as a supporting structure for making them.  We shouldn’t be afraid to create rituals that fit our family, our person, our particular sangha or our society.  Otherwise, we will miss out on the deep practice of home-based prayer and ceremony.


We are coming up to Jukai or Buddhist initiation at Clouds, which is an ancient ritual and done formally in front of the community.  I see how much this deep ritual affects and encourages practitioners.  This same sense of ceremony can be taken into our daily life and our homes with a little bit of ingenuity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Authentic Tea Bowl Before Birth

There is a new Women in Buddhism book out now called, “Seeds of Virtue, Seeds of Change, a collection of Zen Teachings” edited by Jikyo Cheryl Wolfer.  I think there are 27 Women Zen Teachers contributing.  Some of them have big names like Jan Chozen Bays, Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts,  Joan Halifax, Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Pat Enkyo O’hara, all women who have been published and many lead a large Zen center.  There are also many teachers who share their beautiful dharma that we may not have heard of.  My lineage has quite a few represented.  My transmission teacher Joen Snyder-O’Neal with a story that sounds just like her, intimate and heart-felt.  From Minnesota, there is Myo-O Habermas-Scher,  Hoko Karnegis, and my contribution.  In Katagiri-Roshi lineage, we can add Teijo Munnich and Meiren Val Szymanski.  And more!

Just having started reading through the book,  even the first piece, “The Authentic Tea Bowl before Birth” by Wendy Egyoku Nakao, stuck with me.  It is an exposition of the koan by the same name.

What really struck me was how we work with dukkha or our suffering.  Often I have heard that the role of the Zen Teacher is not actually “to teach” or to “try and fix people’s problems” or to “help”.  But rather to encourage and allow the practitioners who come to see them to receive their karma, to befriend their particular suffering, and to use the principles of buddhism to work within those conditions.  To, by our practice, turn samsara into nirvana in each moment of our lives.  As soon as you “fix” one problem, the next arises.  And, of course, in the end, as Buddha said, There is old age, illness and death.  Our practice becomes a journey of seeing from a different point of view, moment by moment, for the rest of our life.  It is not a destination or a particular manifested form.  It is acknowledging the mystery in “things as they are.”

In Egyoku’s piece and in the koan, the precious, ancient tea bowl is shattered by the “wild women.” 

                        Moon-Heart, a Zen student, was serving tea to her special guest, Abbess Eko of a nearby temple and Mushin, a dharma heir of the Abbess, stopped by. Mushin was a “wild women” and carried a bone instead of the usual ceremonial stick.

                        In the midst of appreciating the exquisite bowl, Mushin smashed the bowl with her bone and shattered it into pieces.  “Now, said the wild women, “Look at the Authentic Tea Bowl that exists before birth?”

                        Moon-Heart blanched, gasped and nearly fainted.  The Abbess of the temple said calmly, “I gave you this tea bowl, but now, I would like you to give it back to me.  Before you do, gather the pieces, glue them, and fill the cracks with gold.  Then have a box made for it.  On the cover of the box, write the name of the bowl, which I now give as “The Authentic Tea Bowl Before Birth.”  I will reverently pass this bowl on to my Dharma descendants.

                        Now I ask you:  What is the Authentic Tea Bowl Before Birth?

Egyoku writes about the koan:  page 9
                        In Shattering – whether it is an individual or a community – there is a great possibility for truth telling in all of its myriad dimensions.  Don’t squander it!  To see this opportunity is to see into the beating heart of this koan.

                        It is a Japanese custom that cracked or broken pottery is glued back together and the cracks filled with gold leaf.  What is this gold of one’s life?  Do we hide our cracks and scars and try to render them invisible?  This koan challenges us:  these are the very attributes that express our uniqueness as a Dharma vessel.  When our self-centered agenda is forgotten and grasping stops, Buddha’s light shine through.  This is poignantly expressed in the words of Leonard Cohen’s song: “ Ring the bell that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”  When the bowl is shattered, when things fall apart, Look!”

                        We are called forth to live in full accord with what has been revealed, with life as it is.  The liberating openness of not-knowing is precisely the wholeness of life all together.  This wholeness calls us to bear witness:  What is this piece?  What is that piece?  Meeting this piece, meeting that piece, we practice the great wisdom of inclusion.  Each of us, individually and communally, continually gathers the pieces and affirms the wholeness of life.  Each of us, individually and communally, continually grows new hands and eyes, grows in wisdom, grows in love.  Each of us, individually and communally, is the gold in the cracks.  All of our thoughts, words and actions, may they be loving actions serving the wholeness of life.


Monday, September 29, 2014

How to turn a cheese sandwich on the grill.

My family has really enjoyed the movie “Chef.”  Yesterday in my car, I was listening to one of Linda Ruth Cutt’s lectures from SFZC and she used examples from that movie to demonstrate what Zen work is like. 

Since it seems that Clouds is embarking on the voyage of moving to a new building, there will be a lot of work.  How do we do this work from a Right View standpoint?  As I heard Fish say the other day, how can we bring the heart of Zen with us as we move and work together?

What is work in Zen?  Why is “work” emphasized by “work practice” and sound bytes like: Chop wood, carry water?  I think the emphasis on expressing your wisdom through work started long ago when there was a shift in monastic life that included agriculture.  All of a sudden, the monks were doing labor.  In the earliest Buddhist days, the monks were wandering mendicants and that was their work.  A wandering monk offers people the opportunity to give to the dharma, “the monks”, through begging and to allow the monks to practice deeply with no root.  When monasteries started to happen, work practice and how to work in daily life became more important.

Linda Ruth Cutt’s said that watching the chef’s in “Chef” use their knives, turn the cheese sandwich, watching their cooking, was a wonderful example of the attitude in Zen Work.  Lovingly taking care of each object, paying attention to the moment and taking care of details.  Perhaps what is not so evident in a professional chef’s life is - letting go of the results of your actions.  But in terms of carefully caring for each aspect of the job, like how to place the side dish just so, they are a prime example of attention in work.  Mindfulness in work.

She also mentioned another scene which she thought had a Zen perspective.  The chef’s son is learning to cook.  In this scene, some workers had helped them for free, move a large stove, I think it was, and in return, the chef was cooking them sandwiches for free as a return gift.  The son had burnt a little bit one of the sandwiches and said,  “Well, they aren’t paying for this, so it doesn’t matter.”  The Chef stopped what he was doing, took his son outside, and explained to him that nothing from his kitchen went out burnt, free or not.  This was his expression and love for what he did.  This is his generosity and gift to all, to make beautiful food, delicious food, as his life’s work and not about the money.

I found these examples inspiring.  How do we think about our daily work as love and practice.  Even in the smallest things. 

This is not to say we get stuck on perfectionism or Epicureanism.  It does not mean we have to have the most gorgeous temple in town.  Tomoe Katagiri has taught me that a Zen view is also to take old things, refurbish them, and find another life for them.  Like taking the old cloth and making it into okesas.  Like taking a building that was meant for another job in life and turning it into a Zen Temple. 


Zen work means that we work out of our hearts and with care, with presence, and let go of the results of our actions. Zen work is an extension of our understanding and a gift we offer to life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

With which mind do you eat these dumplings?

I gave a talk at Clouds on sunday about Work practice, Sangha and practice period.    Something I said has been lingering in my mind.  I said,  “Zen is not a philosophy, it’s something that you do.”  After all the books, scholarly study and the hundreds of Zen books in the libraries, how can that be true?  It has also been discussed a lot- is Zen a religion, a philosophy, or a practice?  Of course, it has to be a mixed answer of all three.  But what I meant on sunday, was that Zen is not something that is done in your head although we can use our heads, for example through studying sutras, koans and words about zen.  But Zen is something that you do.  I really heard that a lot from Katagiri Roshi.  Zen is not a machination of our minds and it is not our idea or concept of what it is.  Zen is a manifestation in each moment and in our daily life of all that we think and do.  It manifests in this one day – strictly speaking, in this one moment.

In the course of my spiritual life, I have practiced Zen in combination with 12 step recovery work.  What they definitely have in common is that our spiritual life has to be expressed and practiced on a daily basis.  One day at a time.  It is not practiced in our heads, our ideas, our dreams for the future but in what you actually do today.  And it cannot rest on the laurels of past spiritual work.  What we did yesterday, or 5 years ago, does not specifically impact what we do today.  It is included as a basis for today’s activity, but today’s activity is today’s activity.

I love one of the Zen stories about Deshan Xuanjian (819-914) in the Golden Age of Zen in China.  He was a great northern scholar of the Diamond Sutra and when he heard what the Southern school was teaching he said, “how dare those southern devils say that just by pointing at the human mind, one can see self-nature and attain buddhahood?”  So he packed up all his Diamond Sutra Commentaries, put them in his backpack, and journeyed south to correct their view.

On his journey he met an old women selling tea on the side of the road.  He asked for some dumplings.  The women said,  “What’s that on your back?”  “Commentaries on the diamond sutra,” Deshan replied. The old women laughed and said, “If you can answer my question, I’ll donate the dumplings.” 

Then she said,
The past mind can’t be attained.
The present mind can’t be attained.
The future mind can’t be attained.
With which mind do you eat these dumplings?

Deshan was speechless.
The old women points him in a direction to the Zen master and Deshan goes to explore and have a dialogue with him.
Eventually, Deshan sets fire to his books and commentaries
And continues to explore the Buddha way.

This is part of a much longer story, but the element I wanted to contemplate is in this particular part of the story.  How do we practice in our life, that which is actually in this moment and not a story or philosophy in our heads?

This leads me over and over (in case I have forgotten) that a daily meditation practice and a structure for the day that emphasizes the spiritual view of life is the expression of Zen and our religious life.  It is not in the talking- it is in the doing.  Our practice period at Clouds is focused on setting up a rhythm or a ritual in each day to remind us of our intentions and our practice.  As a whole community, we are committing to do certain gathas or verses as we wake up and go to bed, to a daily sitting practice and to some type of daily study.  We are trying to practice as a community during the active part of our days, the incentive to “pause, relax, and open”. 

This is what brings me consciousness and peace.  Practice Period reinforces the fact that each day I surrender to a ceremony of religious life and bring my spiritual intentions for the day to the fore. Reminding me not to rely on past practice.  The past is gone. 

When I say ceremony of religious life, I am not talking about a ceremony imposed from outside yourself.  At this point and for lay life, the conscious intention to express your understanding in this one day and the forms that help you do that, are very important to notice.  It is very important to explore what forms work for you.  What practices or ceremonies work in your life and are you doing them on a daily basis? 

Sometimes I fall short and rely on my past laurels.  But participating in practice period always reminds me of the importance of a spiritual structure to the day and the importance of surrendering to the loving disciplines of spiritual life.  What happens when I do this?  I am much happier.

You can register for practice period at www.cloudsinwater.org




Monday, September 15, 2014

Ireland, Sept 2014

I am in Ireland on vacation with my family.  I have been taking what I call a well-deserved vacation.  I have been busy with other aspects of my life since around the beginning of August.  What has surprised me the most is that after about 6 weeks of “other things” besides my work as a Priest, I miss the Sangha.  I miss Zen.  I miss the quiet root and anchor my Sangha life gives me.

Before this break, I had been feeling very rebellious and anti-Zen.  What good is it? After all these years of trying to change my life through zen practice, I end up with nothing!  Not only nothing but a deep exhaustion from doing service and trying to live up to the rituals and forms which are the expression of a formal Zen Practice.  Like all human minds, my mind swung from one extreme to the opposite.  Now, perhaps, I thought, free from form and ritual, I can just live my life!  But if I "just live my life" too far away from sangha, I go back into a state of mind that has meaninglessness at its core.

How do we deal with "nothing" and "nothing that is something!" How do we bring nothing and something together? How do we bring effort and no-effort together.  The unending koan that arises in my life.  How do I reconcile the effort of trying to change my life with non-doing or the instruction to relax!.

So what has been surprising to me, is, after “escaping back into my life away from sangha”, I end up knowing why I need the processes or forms of Zen again.  Underneath all these stories of daily life, and the endless talking, and karmic habits of life, in order to find peace which i deeply want, I must reconnect over and over with the silent inexpressable “suchness” for a lack of a better word.  This suchness or as-is-ness, (what I called "nothing"), when I am aware of it, helps me live more thoroughly the human life and perhaps even to live the human life with acceptance, compassion and peace.  My koan- how can I stay in contact with suchness with form and without form.  How is this done with ease which will help me become less strained and tired with "serving others"? 

Right now, in Ireland, I am in a Downton-Abbey-type estate at a destination wedding of my husband’s nephew.  There is complete beauty, indulgence and abundance here.  It is gorgeous!  Grounds groomed by gardeners, Irish linen sheets, gorgeous furniture,  delicious expensive meals and chocolate fudge on your pillow at night.  Even still, amidst all this beauty, I can feel the suffering of human life in people’s stories and faces, and this same suffering in myself. 

As I sat in meditation outside in the formal garden, I missed my sangha and the zen ritual which is a expression of life’s forms and suchness merging together.  With Zen, I can breathe in the life that is larger then me and penetrate into what is really happening beneath our talking and analytical mind. This allows me to get closer to the suffering inherent in human life without judgement.  I can change my mental attitude through meditation.  On this vacation, I have been sitting with the 4 tetrads of the foundation of mindfulness. I hold the instruction in my hand and reading them over and over to help me concentrate, while I sit in different spaces and different gardens throughout my trip. When I get to the portion on stabilizing and cessating the mind, no matter what is happening, I come back to a different attitude towards all my stories and i feel surprising relief.

I missed going to sesshin at Hokyoji this season, where I deeply experience life in its most naked form. 
So again I see, if I allow myself to just go along forever in my stories for too long, my life starts to appear as it did before I began practice - as meaningless and superficial. The hungry ghosts within me with their unending cravings for pleasure starts to roar up again.  The antidote is a simple matter of turning the light within, and entering the quiet truths of life.  Entering the dharma gate of this moment, I can find peace and touch in on the joy of our true nature. However, i have to take the time, the gentle discipline to do this- to stop the movement of the world and sit.  This refreshment is deeply necessary, and so, I begin again.  In Ireland, In Minneapolis, in Tokyo.