Monday, May 26, 2014

The Mystery of Zen

The people I meet in America who have some idea of zen seem to think it is some deep difficult, mystical thing. Either that or they think is is some aesthetic idea or principle that includes things plain and natural as in Zen decorating. Zen is deep. It is anything but mystical. Most of all it is not complicated at all. What makes it difficult is that we are trying to understand the teachings that are hundreds if not thousands of years old and from a culture that could not be more different from our own. We lack the context in order understand what is being said. I will attempt to open up the mystery of zen and zazen buy pulling aside the curtain and showing how the trick is done in simple English that those who have grown up in the west can understand. Nearly everyone's mother or father has taught them zen but they did not know it." If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging." If that had be quoted by Dogen Zenji we would all be oohing and awwing over the deep and clear understanding of the Master. The problem. of course, is that we do not know how to stop digging even if we figure out we are in a hole. The hole is metaphorical. It would be true if the hole were in fact a hole in the ground, but the aphorism is as true if the hole is one cannot stop running around with more to do than could ever be possible, or cannot stop feeling depressed, or gambling or drugs or debt are the problem. In the old days they spoke about the great suffering of old age, disease and death. The Buddha spoke of suffering, unending suffering was the hole he used as an example. So now we have understood that we are in a hole, what then do we do about it? The old bald guys figured out a solution. It is just to stop. Stop digging. Sit down. Stop. When I tell people this they immediately say "What then?". Do I count my breaths? Label each thought? Recite Mantras?. What the hell does think about not thinking mean?" We seek to understand but there is nothing to understand and no understanding. My teachers gave no instruction other than to sit down. Just sit there. Stop digging. Nothing else is necessary. If you are in a hole when you sit down you will be surrounded by hole, but you have stopped creating more hole. You mind will play games, you might pretend you are not really in a hole, but the hole remains. You might start thinking about pretty much anything but sooner or later the fact that you are in a hole will be inescapable and you will begin to get hungry or need to go to the bathroom so you begin to look for a way out. When the way becomes clear, move on the way. There is nothing more to it than that. Just sit. Just stop digging. This is such a universal prescription that I doubt anyone in the world has not heard it. It is not the exclusive property of zen, Zen does not own the copyright. It is simply the essential nature of zazen. The next great zen teacher of today is the person who made the Nike shoe ad slogan "just do it." Now that you can see a way forward, just do it. Just go forward. Ooops lost the way? Another hole? Just stop digging, just sit. The path is that way? Just do it. Soon as this moment is taken care of the magic of Zen begins to work on your life. The holes get shallower, the path easier and more clear. Soon there is little digging, little stopping and just less effort in getting through the day. It might take a while but as the days get easier, There might be a little energy left for dancing on the way. This is not some magic that removes all obstacles or pitfalls from your path. My path has led me through a disabling disease that ravaged my body, a diagnosis and intervention that arrived just steps before the grim reaper. I have a legacies from this devastating disease that will limit my physical ability for the rest of my life. I passed through all this with barely a bump in the road because I just did what was clearly the path forward. Without the gnashing of teeth, the wailing of "why me?", the where will I get the energy? and what about the money for all this? I just did it. I had the amazing support of others. I am foolish enough to think that making a valiant effort to take care of each moment up until I needed taking care of helped assure that there were people and resources there when I needed them. The ancients talk about the inexhaustible energy of the Bodhisattva. A fancy way of saying if one does not waste energy on digging a bunch of holes, there is energy enough for all that rises on the path. Even if the mountain seems impossible to climb, take a few steps, sit and rest and then take a few more and sooner or later the mountain has been climbed. Be Well, Reverend Fudo Michael Koppang

Thursday, December 08, 2011

variations on a theme


catching a moment
in flowery language
poets are liars

Sunday, March 20, 2011



A cherry petal floats down
on a warm spring breeze
morning breaks the brand new day


Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Bowing at strange altars

Whether we know it or not,
All altars are created out of the same need.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars express the same desire.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars ask the same question.

Whether we know it or not,
All altars honor the same mystery.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Bullying

Sometimes I wonder how those who depend on the school system to protect them and their children are going to survive in the world when the kids get out of school. There is no shortage of those who will pick on the weak and vulnerable anywhere.

Either you teach your children how to deal with bullies or leave them vulnerable, there are always bullies and will always be bullies. If I remember my misspent youth correctly, it was not that difficult to outsmart most bullies and a little self defense skill went a long way when all else failed.

The system cannot and will not protect you. Wake up and learn to protect yourself.

It is your mind, do not let it be influenced by inferior minds. Cyber bullying is pretend bullying. Just click close and they are gone. see rule one below. A threat on email or in a text is a like a threatening phone call: report it to those who can deal with it appropriately.

The way I was taught was:

1: avoid a bully if you can. Outsmart, out last, out run. Find a safe place when possible. If someone does something illegal, use legal remedies.

2: fight if you have to, but only if you have to.

3: fight to win if you have to fight, because you do not have to win, but you have to make them respect you or you will be a victim the rest of your life.

4: Protect your brothers and sisters (everyone) from those who are bigger than they are. Stand up for those who are picked on when you can. This includes helping them avoid difficulty when it can be avoided.(see rule one).Be a safe place for others when you can.

corollary 1: learn to defend yourself to the best of your ability before you need to because you are going to need to. Besides people who seem confident of their ability to defend themselves do not find themselves victimized nearly so often as people who appear more vulnerable. Most bullies pick the easiest targets. Just do not be the easiest target.

corollary 2: If you are going to die anyway it is better to go down fighting and make the aggressor pay what you can than to slink off and kill yourself or your teacher because you feel helpless and picked on and powerless.

There are times to be the peace you desire, and times to fight like hell for a life worth living. If you are left feeling like the only option is to kill yourself, the time to fight has long passed.

It is not a kindness to leave our children feeling helpless,picked on and powerless. We are the adults, it is our job to see our children are not left with no option but to be victimized.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Variations on a theme (poems in praise of fat bottomed girls)

"the dancer"

when she takes one step
long the sweet half seconds be
while her ass takes three

"an ass man's lament"

life is so unfair
she can win the argument
by stomping away

"an ass man's lament #2"

poor sad old Japan
after three months of searching
not one decent ass

"there is no chivalry"

we open the door
so we can look at her ass
as it jiggles by

"tough choices"

I may choose to stay
so I can watch her her bottom
as she walks away

"life lesson"

it's best to bunk with
a woman who has stuff to
fill up her trunk with

kinhin (a blissful distraction)

Walk the zendo round
following her bouncing butt
a perfect moment


Friday, May 07, 2010

Re: Brad Warner's post: MAD Non-Conformists and More Bitching About Internet Zen

I would have liked to have seen how your teacher would have reacted to being clicked off when you did not like his response. Not to mention it is hard to pretend to be something you are not while sitting in a room together all day. Pretending you are something you are not is easy on the internet. If you are fooling yourself as to how great you are it is nearly impossible to do that for a whole day in a room together, yet it can go on for years on the internet where relief is just a click away. Which is why many internet zen people never set foot in a real zendo as their being a legend in their own mind would be over in a few minutes. .

In real life your ears have to burn long enough to get your shoes on and boogy your ass out the door.This is an experience one tends to remember. On the internet one can click off and be out of there in a split second, and never look back.

Recently I got invited by an internet group to submit a lecture on a precept for them to study as they were returning to the basic teachings of Zen. They told of all the wonderful teachers that would be taking their turn with me as if this showed how honored I should be that they asked me. This is a group that had previously moderated my posts because they did not like what I had to say, or more specifically my using words like shit and bull crap which went against their understanding of right speech. Evidently I was not nice enough for them back then but they still wanted a lecture now, go figure .

I responded to their request by saying that I had not thought about the precepts in years and yet another reading of someone else's wisdom about the precepts had nothing to do with the basic teachings of zen as I had been taught. I mean come on.. If one googled the precepts one probably could spend the rest of one's life reading about what people thought about them, and would never have to survive a single moment of actually living them. Another lecture on the precepts is probably as needed as another oil spill in the gulf. If one has to take the time to think about how they should respond according to the precepts they are lost before they start.

My teacher does not lecture on the precepts, once in a great while he will read one of his teacher's lectures to an intro group. For those of us who practice with him he demonstrates how to live in the precepts by how he gets up in the morning, how he eats, how he sleeps, how he chops wood and how he rolls up his sleeves and carries the shit bucket from the latrines down the mountain to spread on the temple garden before heading up to the Buddha Hall to lead noon service. Not one of these essential teachings could be gotten from the internet. There is something about holding up one end of a pole bearing a shit bucket that requires one to really completely step in harmony with the Buddha on the other end. Either you learn to do it or you get shit on your shoes and probably the Buddha's as well. This was for me the essential teaching of Zen. To bad some miss this kind of experience. I know I would not trade a minute of it for years of typing questions and reading answers on the internet.

Sure an Internet practice is an easy way to practice, but I was taught not to seek an easy practice. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

All your points were great in this post. Here is my bitch about the same topic.