Friday, December 24, 2004


Nothing fills the sky

Like the call

of Cranes

Will virtue lead to enlightenment?

Virtue is not enlightening. Concentration is not enlightening. Wisdom is not even enlightening. Again with the enlightening. You are still on the Hinayana track here (what is in it for me to be virtuous?), but even so there is an answer.

There is nothing you can do that is enlightening. There are only things you can do that are enlightenment.

Once you drop the idea that there is a you that is separate and not dependent on all things, that there is a you that is unchanged by the conditions under which it exists, then to be selfish and take care of you is to take care of all the things around the bag of bones your intellect resides in. This is virtuous behavior. There is nothing you can gain by stealing, stealing hurts you as much or more than it hurts the person stolen from. Disharmony at home is disharmony where you and all the things you depend on exist. It is your disharmony even if it is your wife or child that is screaming. The way to make things better for yourself is to make things better for the screaming child. You are not something that exists without the screaming child, you exist only in relation to the screaming child in that moment. Virtue then becomes not a rule that you follow, it becomes a way to take care of yourself. Compassion is not something you cultivate it becomes a description of the way you are in the world. Virtue is not something that causes you to be awake to your life, it is the result of being awake.

The precepts are not rules you follow in order to get enlightenment, they are descriptions of enlightened behavior. The 10 powers of a bodhisattva are not something you practice in order to become a bodhisattva they are a description of the results of acting like a bodhisattva.

You can meditate forever and not awaken to the realization that there is no you that exists without the support of your environment and all things in it, there is no you that does not change as all the things around you change, you are only a whirlpool that results from a rock in a steam, dependent on both rock and moving water for your existence. It would be a good idea for you to take care of both rock and the moving water as much as you can.

You can meditate forever and get up and steal as well. There is no particular virtue in meditation. There is really nothing for you to gain from meditation. It is not something you do to gain something.

A person who understands would not steal. He would offer the thief the moon if he could, because the more the thief understands, the better off the person who had something stolen will be. The more satisfied the thief is, the less that is stolen and the the more satisfied the person stolen from will be and he will have helped all the other victims as well. Sitting down to meditate when something is stolen to gain some calmness does not really help the situation, unless and until you get up and go and take away the thief's motivation for stealing. This virtuous behavior makes your existence better. If you need to sit for a few moments in order to become clear enough to act, by all means do so, but do not pretend that sitting down to meditate all by itself makes one bit of difference to the thief, and if it is all you do, it really will not solve anything even for you the next time the thief returns either. (how many times have I heard "I have sat for years and nothing is any better. I think I have some stability then wham something knocks me off it again and I am back to square one...where is the improvement?...why has it not worked to make me calm, more stable?, after fifteen years I still am just as unsettled as I was when I started" ?) All the understanding in the world will not make it better the next time the thief returns. It is only acting on that understanding in a virtuous way that makes the thief stop stealing. This will make it better for you and all beings the next time he or she returns. This thief or another will return. It is not a matter of "if" it is only a matter of "when". When the thief returns what will you do?...better yet, before the thief returns what will you have done?

Be Well


just being in the moment

One of the things about being in the moment is that it is also often misinterpreted to mean only thinking about the shower you are about to enter, but what if this moment is a moment of planning for your day, your week, or your child's wedding? ..then just plan. Once you can be in the moment, then it becomes a practice to stand up in the moment, (not be blown away by the moment) and finally to take care of this moment (act in a way that is beneficial to you and to all beings...since last time I checked you are also a being).

We all want to be done. We want to get there. but in this case there is the end of this life. When we put it that way there is no particular motivation to finish. Buddha entered Nirvana at the end of his life, just be sure when you seek nirvana you are aware of the prerequisites. "This" becomes the journey, and "this moment" becomes your life. If this moment is one in the bathroom, then just piss, if this moment is on the cushion, then just sit. If this moment is one of confusion and distress, just be confused and distressed. It is perfectly all right to be where you are as you are..this is the freedom you are offered. This whole life journey is a process, and we are all like my kindergarten daughter who thought we all should be able to write our name without going through the process of learning how to do it. Right now you are in the process of learning how to do it, it is a fine place to be. We should not be killing this moment of being in the process for desire for a moment of being at the end of the process. Just do it. Just inquire about the schedule and follow it.

Dogen says the first time you sit, right there the right dharma is manifest. Our practice is a practice of manifesting the right dharma. If in your present moment the right dharma is being in process, then be in process. Relax. Just be here now, wherever here is, including in the bathroom, in the school, on the job, or in your relationship. Take care all of all beings there with you as best you can. Do not fret over a mistake made a moment ago, do not break your arm patting yourself on the back for what you did well a moment ago.
I hope you have met some people who are a step ahead in the process, then you can at least have some faith that the process is one you in fact desire. If this is true then just begin manifesting the right dharma here and now, and in the next moment and the next, and as you practice manifesting the right dharma, eventually your whole life becomes such a manifestation. Just begin the process, and have a little faith in the process. If you bought the idea of process from a book, or from deep dissatisfaction with things as they are, it is my recommendation that you find someone who has some traits you admire. Ask them how they do what they do, then just follow the schedule. This is the function of a teacher, if you choose a teacher where you do not wish to gain what they have...then you have no trust in the process. If there is no trust in the process then there is no ability to relax and undergo the process. (remember the Dalai Lama did not spring forth from a lotus..there was a lot of mud there, including having your country taken away before you even had a chance to rule it as you thought should be done, being a colossal failure as a ruler of a country, and as a result of that failure having your friends murdered and your citizens tortured.)....perhaps before we covet a Dalai Lama-like demeanor we should take a little look at the process and see if we really want to undergo it.

We all see ourselves as capable and smart. We all think we should be able to write our name without going through the process. It would be nice if just because we are capable and smart we could just skip the process of learning. Unfortunately this is not the way it works. Just be in the process of learning..that is where you really are. We should not consider ourselves the bodhisattva, we are the suffering beings the boshisattvas come to aid.

Once a student came upon Katagiri Roshi eating breakfast and reading the newspaper. The student said "Hojo-san, you are always telling us to 'just sit', or 'just write', Yet here you are reading and eating." Katagiri responded, "Yes, but I am just eating and reading the newspaper."

Being a teacher is just another step in the process, do not covet the next step till the time for the next step arrives, the last step (or apparent last step) of the journey is a doozy..I am in no hurry to get there. I, for one, am content with just being in the process. I see no need to pretend I am done, or I am perfect..I am in process, just like everyone else alive today is.

I am not sure what happens when we die, if the process continues, or if it ends, I sure am in no hurry to find out.

Be Well


On the Great Poet Basho

Basho? Basho is a liar.

All poets are liars.

I looked under the paper and in the ink.

There was no frog there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On Enlightenment

We often have a mistaken idea about enlightenment. To enlighten is to light up. To shine a light on. Many People seem to have the idea that to enlighten or shine a light on is an active sort of thing. Like shining a flashlight where you hear a noise in the dark. This makes the assumption of course, that the light you have to shine has to be turned on, and directed. Many people are engaged in an attempt to turn on the light.

Zen has a different idea. When you just sit, what you begin to see is that deep inside there already is a light. There is something there that perceives. There is an unblemished Buddha nature inside. Some liken it to a seed, I liken it to a star. In our life we go about actively trying to bury this light in junk that we accumulate. We pile on opinions, experience, knowledge, material goods, responsibilities, fears, impressions plans and perceptions. We try and control the light, and frame it and shape it till it can shine only one direction, we build a box around the light, so it can shine in only one way, and then we try and build another box so it can shine in only another direction and we do this again and again until no trace of that original light can be perceived.

We end up calling this nest of boxes "me", but this is not true. This nest of boxes is something we accumulate and create. If we create it, it cannot be who or what we truly are. Even the inside voice that humms the tune that shapes the boxes is only an accumulation of of debris. This light existed before the baby had language to give voice to the words that it whispers inside our head. It existed before the small voice inside uttered its first word. It existed before the small voice inside our head began to whisper of fear, and inadequacy, and the horrible things that might happen if we just let go of the boxes that contain us.

Shikan-taza is about opening the boxes. Well, more accurately, it is about getting rid of the boxes. It is about putting down the boxes until there are no more and the light that was inside the boxes just shines in every direction. It illuminates all things, like the sun having finally come out from behind the clouds.

Perhaps the idea that we should become enlightened, is just a bad translation. Maybe what the translators should have said is that we must become enlightening. We must become awake to the piling of trash on our original Buddha nature.

Dogen said practice is enlightenment. The whole of the practice that Dogen describes includes a lot more than just zazen. It includes the whole of your day, the whole of your week, the whole of your life. In each moment we must sweep clear the accumulation of debris from our life that covers up and obscures the light. Enlightenment is not some turning on of a light that did not already exist. It is the ceaseless sweeping clear of the debris of life so that the original light can shine on all things, even this bag of bones we call a body. This is why practice is enlightenment.

We must eventually even sweep clean this accumulated idea, and just shine on each and everything that comes to us. We will then illuminate the dark corners, and bring a fresh and healthy nourishing light to each thing and every place we go. We just need to let our original nature, our face before our parents were born, shine unobscured.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Zen, morality and fear of cloning

Dogen said," To carry yourself forward and experience
myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come
forth and experience themselves is awakening."

So what is this carrying yourself forward? this the same thing
as moving forward with no desire?..or is trying to control desire
still carrying yourself forward?...trying to stop desire, or stop
thoughts is not possible....letting even your thoughts and desires
manifest....without following them or needing to "make them happen" or
"understand them", meeting the world without like or dislike, agree or
disagree is this all things coming forth and experiencing themselves.

Dogen again says ,"If the least like or dislike arises, the Mind is
lost in confusion."...So experiencing everything as it comes forth
without this judging or analyzing mind, to experience what arises from
a point before the little voice in our head says it piece on what it
"thinks" about what comes forth...this is what Dogen is pointing to I
think. I see this not as shutting down the train of thought..but
rather more a decoupling from the train...where the train rolls down
the track without the engine pulling or anything trying to push or
stop it...there is just not much attention paid to the train of
thought..what is important is what is happening, not what you think
about it. This is letting the little voice chatter on without being
overly concerned with what it is saying..this requires first, an
experience that allows one to understand that they are not just the
little get at least one experience of the universe
manifesting itself and experiencing itself without "carrying yourself
forward" get to attending to the myriad things coming forth and
experiencing themselves before the little voice editorializes for just
an begin to understand the little voice is a liar, and it
is not "you" are coming forth and manifesting and experiencing

This experience can be from "being in the groove"....where basketball
is just played and you are doing things before you think about them...
I got it first from cross country skiing...where skiing was happening
without the voice...I had gotten so into the skiing that I was not
longer even hearing the little voice..there was no separation between
me and skiing..there was just skiing can come from
zazen, or a fist, a staff or a does not really
matter...what matters is once you have the experience, you understand
more about the nature of "you". This is often mistaken for
enlightenment...but Dogen says here that the experience itself is only
enlightenment when it is happening, and carrying even this experience
forward is delusion. One needs the experience of existing beyond the
voice to understand the voice is not them..that they go on existing
even when the voice is silent, and they can "think" or "perceive" on
a nonverbal or pre-verbal level, and even act on this level. They can
"be" on a level that is not limited by the little voice, or even
required to attend to what it is saying...The little voice (verbal
thought). cannot be silenced forever, but it need not be attended
to..unless it is useful, and no matter what it is not you.
It is this ability to attend to the little voice, or choose not
to..that frees one from the tyranny of the "self" and allows one to
act selflessly.

At the temple the schedule happens (or does not happen) in spite of
whether any sane person would agree or disagree with what is
happening, and no one really cares what you or anyone else thinks
about is one way of forcing one to get beyond like or
dislike...because you either get beyond it or go nuts...usually one
goes nuts first, then gets beyond it.

Right now human cloning is happening. We have no idea of the effects
of this occurrence. It has great potential for good, and could have
some devastating consequences..and like all things, it will probably
not be as bad as we fear or as good as we hope...but once it happens
our only choice is to deal with its reality....whether we like it or
not..or agree with it or not. The idea that we can somehow control it,
or stop it from happening is only delusion.

Be Well


Friday, June 04, 2004

The list of bad names

In my many years writing on internet lists, I have found many folks who claim
some attainment. I have found many people who make great claims to have
reached a state where they are "one with everything", yet they seem to be
seperate from anything negative, or with a negative connotation. They are one
with sobriety, but seperate from a alchoholic, one with wisdom, but seperate
from the mentally ill. They are one with the pure, but seperate from the
defiled. I ask you how you can be one with everything, but seperate from any
of these adjectives on this list? If you cannot claim all these adjectives,
your claim to oneness is just another lie, both to yourself, and to anyone
else you make the claim to. Zen is not about pretending, if you are one with
everything, you are one with all these too. If you see yourself as seperate
from that conservative Christian who turned you off, your claims to
attainment are a lie. If you see yourself as seperate from the child abusing
priest, your claims are a lie. If you see yourself as seperate from the
facist, the dirty, the smelly , the liar or the cheat, you claims are also
just another lie.

There is a old Zen story, about a women who husband is ill, and she sees a
priest walking by, she runs up and asks the priest if he can recite a sutra
for her husband, the preist says he will, then the women asks "well, how can
I know if it will benefit my husband?" The priest assures the woman that a
proclamation of the dharma benefits all beings. The woman thinks for a
moment...."all beings? Would that include my neighbor?" The priest nods in
affirmation. The lady replies "can you say the sutra for all beings, execept
my neighbor?" We all want to include in our oneness only all the things we
like but exclude the asshole who lives next door. It is easy to love all
beings in general, but hard to love the person who cuts us off in traffic. We
all want to believe everthing includes gourmet food, and does not include
shit. That zen is something we have on a cushion, but do not need in the
bathroom.We all want to think that picking tea leaves on a sunny afternoon is
zen, but slopping shit from the septic tank on your pants as you carry it
down the hill in a bucket is not zen. But hey...everything includes
everything, not just the good stuff. This is what happens when things you
think meet the real world. If you cannot react the same to the shit on your
pants, as you do to the tea leaves in your basket, you have no real
enlightenment. The enlightenment you think you have is only in your mind. It
is not real.

If you have a problem applying any adjective to yourself, any claims to be one
with everything are a lie. This is why poking someone who makes the claim
they are one with everything (attained enlightenment) is such a good
exercise, their actions tell you whether they lie or not. It is not just that
they get angry, being one with anger is also necessary. It is when they deny
they are one with something, or someone, that the lie is exposed. It is when
they try and say the are one with everything, but seperate from that bitter,
arrogant, asshole who doesn't know shit from shoe polish, that the lie is
exposed. It is when they stand up and yell that they are not mentally ill,
that the lie is exposed, or when they whine like a wounded dog when they are
poked, that the lie is exposed, but even then, I am not seperate from them,
neither are you.

I have worked for years in the mental health field, and worked with the most
difficult and violent of clients. I have been called every name in the book.
(all these on the list and many more I cannot even remember)..of course you
can call a person any name in the book, and If he agrees he is not seperate
from the name, it will not affect him at all .....he already agrees with you.
If you call a person who makes a claim a name, and they react as if they were
knifed in the gut, the claim to some attainment is false, because in the real
world where things really count, they fail to demonstrate oneness. So go
ahead, call me any adjective you want, just do not think that your label
changes anything anywhere but in your mind., and I would suggest, that for
your own mental health, and your own enlightenment, you be very careful what
and how you change things in your mind.

To those of you who might be concerned for the my state of being, yes indeed I
do think these adjectives apply to me, of course, I think they apply to you
as well. I also think all the other "good" adjectives that you are willing to
accept apply as well, I do not think either you nor I is seperate from any
one of them, although I must admit, there are times I like to pretend the bad
ones do not apply to me as well.

I do see myself as not seperate from the deluded, the confused, the beginner,
or the lost. This is why I am on this list.

I am perfectly happy to own any adjective anyone can come up with.

And now I am off the the monastery. See you again in a few days.

Be Well

Fudo the Closed minded, defensive, smug, ego-ridden
down right angry,Fakir,faker,fool,asshole,idiot, con man,
liar,thief, apostate, heretic, mother fucker, father
raper, murderer, masterbater, moron, drunk, ego
maniac,child molestor, priest, gay, nutless, pussy,
coward, criminal, fraud, lazy, immature, loser, nut,
whacko, loony, liberal, lusty, dominating, fruity,
lesbo, dyke, gonadless, chicken, emasculating, unkind
, rude, crude, stinking, stuck up, sinister, slimy,
insecure, low down, smelly, gutter crawling, lecher,
pig, glutton, whiny, whore, wino, wicked, glib,
weirdo, crazy, cruel, crack pot,insincere,
twit,obstinant , stubborn, son of a bitch,

And let's add arrogant, ignorant and bitter

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A Poem

A Caution to the Potter's Apprentice

The sweet nectar that cures all ills
rarely drips onto the sun parched soil
from perfect pots
shaped and stamped with the master's seal.

The thirsty seeds sing the praises
of the cracked pots
rejected from the potter's hand
snuck from the pile in the corner
and put into the rough and tumble of everyday use.

A transcript of a lecture never given, by a person unauthorized to teach

There is an old zen story, one of Dogen's favorites it
seems...he reffered to it often in his writings...that
goes something like this:

Once, there was a man who loved dragons. He collected
dragons carved in stone.dragons made of wax, pictures
of dragons,plates with dragons painted on them
,pictures of dragons, and anything else he could find
that related to dragons. This man spoke,thought and
dreamed of dragons,one could say he ate, drank, and
slept dragons. One day a real dragon heard of this
man's love of dragons. the dragon thought to
himself,"if this man loves dragons so much I should
stop by and visit him". So one day when the man was
polishing his dragon collection a shadow fell across
his house....the man went outside to see what had
caused this sudden darkness.....when he looked up into
the sky he saw this huge smelly fire breathing monster
descending on his house. The man ran away and never
looked back.

We all have fantasies about the way we would like
things to be...we all create dragon collections, we
imagine what our life will be like.. we think we know
what zen is, what the catholic church is, what
meditation is, what our wife, our child is like, we
create these imaginary dragon collections, and as long
as we are far enough away from our dragons we can make
our collection into anything we like. When confronted
with the real dragon of Christianity we run away...and
make a collection of Buddhist beliefs... when the
reality of our wife arises we can run away and create
an new dragon collection somewhere else .....we can
fall in love with the distant image of Miss
September. If our husband is not the dragon we thought
him to be..why there are paperback books galore we can
collect...full of images of that romantic bastard we
thought we married.

It does not matter what the dragon collection is that
we accumulate,whether we think Buddhism is this pure
and holy safe resting place, or whether we think
meditation is this holy grail of sitting forever in
oneness...sooner or later the real dragon will arrive.
We can run from the nasty infighting of the baptist's
trying to decide whether women can be ordained right
into that Shangra La of Tibetan Buddhism...and as long
as the dragon stays in Tibet...we can pretend the
nasty infighting over the recognition of Tulkus does
not exist....we can run from the corruption and decay
of the Catholic Church straight toward Zen , and as
long as Zen is in Japan ...well its corruption and
decay are also not seen in the shining dragons we
polish on our shelves.

My friends, life is a real dragon. Full of beauty and
ugliness, full of joy and of sorrow, and wherever
there is life there is shit galore. When we meet the
reality of sitting in meditation we find we are tired
sometimes , we are scattered sometimes, sometimes we
can see for a fleeting moment the oneness of all
things then in an instant it is gone again. When we
meet the dragon of Buddhist practice..sometimes the
pieces do not fall all together in the nice order we
thought we would see...sometimes like my personal
experience a beautiful little girl shatters the idea
of long years of practice in a monastery. Sometimes
there are children, sick parents,depressed partners,
sleepy eyes aching joints and just plain no time.
These are the real dragons of Buddhist practice.

The true test of a person of zen, is not how long they
can sit. nor how long they do sit. Or even how great a
collection of the dragons of nice Zen thoughts, or
nice Zen ideas, of moments of knowing they are
Buddhas,or even of good deeds you have. The true test
of a person of zen is just this ......When the true
dragon arrives....what do you do???

What then should one do when a true dragon appears on
their doorstep???

When I was in the monastery I heard that monks were
sometimes called dragons of zen. and some of the old
hoary dragons were greatly feared by the clouds and
water monks (novices). When one of these old dragons
appeared they were greeted like anyone else...hands
together in greeting, a bow, and room was made in the
monastery for them to sleep, they were offered
refreshing drink and food for sustenance and were made
welcome for the time they chose to stay......and when
they left they were given good wishes for their
health, money for travel, and were sent off with
another bow in thanks for the lessons learned while
they were here. Now this is not to say that caring for
these old dragons was easy or that there was not a
great disturbance in the routine of the monastery
while there were there..sometimes time honored rules
that we all had to follow were thrown out the window
to adjust to this new dragon in our midst. The simple
fact was matter the rules......the
expectations..the inconvenience...the dragon was here
and had to be dealt with and it was our job as monks
to see that it was dealt with in the appropriate
manner. We stumbled, we got angry, we were confused,
we made mistakes, but hopefully...with practice...we
eventually developed some finesse at dragon handling.

This I think is how the ancestors of old thought true
dragons should be treated.

So my friends, feel free to show us your dragon
collections....and we will watch to see what you do
when the true dragon arrives. That is after all the
only thing that really matters.

I will leave you with this ..hope... this wish
.....this recommendation from Dogen Zenji:

"Please honored followers of zen, long accustomed to
groping for the elephant, Do not be afraid of the real

Be Well

Friday, May 14, 2004

link for Soto-zen.

Here is a link for those interested in Soto-zen.

There is some information here on the practice of zazen,
some links to publications of the Soto-Shu, and list of
Soto temples both in Japan and around the world.

Be Well


Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor:

"One should not increase, beyond what is necessary,
the number of entities required to explain anything"

This medieval philosopher's logical principle is the
underpinning for all scientific models. It is a razor
used to cut away any explanation that concocts some
complicated structure or unnecessary conditions and in
the end leaves one with the simplest solution. Occam's
razor says the simplest explanation is the best.

Occam's Razor is particularly useful in developing
universal models because it forces the modeler to cast
off complicated schemes and leaves the modeler with
the simplest explanation that satisfies the

A thousand years before William of Occam postulated
his razor the son of a king in what would one day become
India, lost his way. He tried to find a way to end the
suffering he saw around him in his life, the suffering
he felt in his life. He postulated a simple way to end
it, proved it and to this day no one has failed to
replicate his experiment who tried honestly to apply

Around this simple formula more books have been
written then on almost any other idea(the Buddhist
canon is the most extensive of any religions). It has
spawned a thousand sects and schools and mutated its
canon many times as it passed through countries and
cultures. This tradition has grown and spawned
hierarchies of gods and demons and hells and heavens.
All of wich may be cut away as unnecessary by Occam's
razor..we can go back to that simple original formula
that no one in two thousand years has been able to
pare down...Buddha himself said this was his
teaching..everything else is just trying to explain

1.every living thing suffers.
2.suffering is caused by desire.
3.suffering can be ended.
4.the way to end suffering is the eightfold path.
a.right understanding
b.right aspiration
c.right speech
d.right action
e.right livelihood
f.right effort
g.right mindfulness
h.right concentration

It is a simple formula that has been discussed for two
thousand years and books and shelves of books have
been written on what exactly is the right way of doing
all these things.

We can end up with endless discussions and
dissertations on right speech..and on right livelihood
and if we can keep these discussions going on long
enough we may never have to actually do them.

I say cut the bull crap. You do not need anyone else
to tell you whether your occupation is a supporting an
uplifting know in your heart if it is true or
not. You do not need some priest to tell you if your
speech is helpful and sustaining to others.You know in
your heart whether this is true or not.There is
nothing stopping you from listening to that small
voice inside you that knows what is right....unless
the chatter of your ego overpowers it. ...just
sit down ..and listen.

I do not care if you face the wall or
not..unnecessary..cut it away with Occam's razor..Soto
or Rinzai?..cut it away...Tibetan or Vietnamese? cut
it away...clergy or lay person?..cut it away..pare it
down ..cut it away ..leave only the simplest
explanation left....God or no God?? *snip*...good or
evil?? *snip*..stick or no stick? *snip* Christian or
Buddhist? *snip* no money? *snip* sick? *snip*
teacher or no teacher? *snip*

If we only would stop burying our own inborn knowledge
of how to end our suffering we would all have the
tools to end it here and now.

When you know it is not not do it.When you
know it is good do excuse, no delay...or put
another classic way ..Do all that is good, do nothing
that is evil...I do not think it gets any simpler than

Apply the technique of modern science..use Occam's
Razor to figure out how to live your life without
suffering. you know what?..when you cut away all the
cultural trappings..I do not think there is one
religion, postulated by any saint or prophet that
would not agree that the formula left from Occam's
razor would be a good way, a healthful way,a healing
way, to live your life.

I cannot believe some people think science and
religion cannot work together. It works for me.

Be Well


On gradtitude

Dear A***,

If I have what it takes...boy what a

I have a poem about this that I wrote a while may not at first seem to apply ..but maybe I
can explain it.

The Doshi lead a magnificent ceremony,
but the Buddha on the alter remained

I do not know about you..but I have people expressing
their gratitude to me quite frequently, I usually find
it embarrassing. I look down and scuff my shoes in the
dirt and mumble something like "... it was nothing".
People who have benefited from some action I have
taken feel a need to express their gratitude. I am not
sure how this works..or what need it fulfills..but I
am pretty sure it does not greatly benefit the
receiver of this gratitude. The person we are grateful
to has already received the benefits and costs of the
action we are grateful for, and is probably not really
in need of our expressions of gratitude.

This being said, I often find myself struck by
something that makes me just stop and do a little bow.
This bow does benefit me. It is a physical action that
recognizes the wonders around me each moment...and is
a tiny ceremony that helps to put me back in harmony
with what is happening. ..It is a tiny acknowledgment
of my at least momentary awareness.

I remember when I had to learn the procedure for
offering water and rice to each alter in the
temple...well not each alter..but only certain
ones...and each one had a particular cup and bowl that
had to be set out and picked up at a particular time.
The water at one time..the rice at another. I remember
running around the temple with my tray of water cups
trying not to spill a drop and still get the rounds
made before the time allowed was up....and wondering
what in the hell I was doing. It seemed particularly
silly to me..and I had so many better things to do.
What good would it do the statue? What a joke. I would
have benefited much more from a little nap then I
would from this ..and the statue needed the water not
at all. When I got home...I did not offer water every seemed a little silly and unnecessary.

Then I read somewhere what someone wrote of the time
of Dogen's death. Dogen's Jisha was so lost and
grieving when the master passed that he did not know
what to do ..the whole temple was in shock..what to
do? how to do it...the poor lost Jisha just kept
bringing tea and cakes to the teachers
grave..delivering and serving just as he always
had...he did not know what else to do. Dogen no longer
drank the tea..he no longer ate the cake. The little
ceremony did not help the master on his way..nor aid
his rest in any way..the little service helped the
Jisha remember and feel close to the master that
helped him on the way. It recalled a time when the
master was there to answer the questions, and whack
the fools, and helped the Jisha remember what he had
been taught at those times. It gave the Jisha the
opportunity to start his day just as he always had,
and to feel a comfort and ease in his role in the
world. The Jisha served the tea and cakes till the day
he died. His fellow monks took up the task because
this demonstration of dedication had meaning and
comfort for them. I am sure this Jisha was not the
first to make such offerings..I am sure Ananda had the
same reaction when the Buddha passed. We do not do
this because the Buddha needs our offerings, we do it
because it eases our grief, it connects us with those
who got the opportunity to serve the Buddha some rice.

After hearing this story..I began to serve the water
and rice again. Not because I was grateful to the
Buddha for his teaching, but because I wanted to put
myself in harmony with those who had gone before, and
served in their turn. I am sure they also did not
always serve in gratitude, I am sure some days they
were tired and angry, and resentful as well. I do not
serve a bowl of rice to give something. I am not so
egotistical to think anything I could do would benefit
the Buddhas. I serve the rice to get something..the
something those who served had..that must be renewed
each moment.

Now I am a Priest. It is my job to make ceremonies and
offer incense. I do the ceremonies not because I will
move a statue..nor speed Buddha on the way to
somewhere he already got. I chant and bow and serve
the people so we can get in harmony with the place
we are, in the moment we are there. So we can create a
place and time where grief is comforted, pain is
eased, good times remembered, and good people are
imitated.The service is not for the Buddha it is for
us. When I bow it is not in gratitude, it is in
humility. I understand the innumerable labors that
have brought me to this moment, and that my virtue
does not deserve it. I bow because I cannot stand. I
cannot hold up the universe on my shoulders..I have
lost...I am beaten. There is nothing else I can do. My
bow does not benefit the statue on the alter..It
benefits brings me into harmony with what truly

Sometimes I feel grateful for the lesson, sometimes I
feel pissed that I lost again. Sometimes the I is no
longer there and there is no gratitude or anger,no
grief or no peace. It does not matter what I feel when
I bow, it does not benefit the Buddha that I bow. When
I really get a glimpse of the way thing really are I
have no choice..the only response I have to the
overwhelming truth is to bow. If I am not really in
the groove and my samadhi has fled in the face of some
storm or another, I can make a bow and remember the
times I bow as I should. I can get some of the same
feelings I get when I have to bow. I can use my
physical being to put myself in a posture that reminds
me of that samadhi, and maybe find my way back there
again. I doubt the Buddha cares if I bow..but I do.

When I bow I am not bowing to ..I am bowing from. I am
bowing from the realization of the overwhelming truth
that the whole world and everything that ever was has
supported the efforts that have brought me to this
moment. If there is a statue in front of me it
represents all these labors..all the births and deaths
and joys and sufferings that have brought us to this
moment. I bow because I cannot bear the grief, nor
dance a dance that expresses the joys, nor carry the
burdens, nor put them down.

So keep your gratitude. The Buddhas and Ancestors do
not need it ...what an ego to presume we had anything
to offer them anyway. We must wake up to the situation
we are really in ..and bow because we cannot
stand...bow before we fall and hurt ourselves. That is
our only real choice.

Be Well


On the practice or non practice of Takuhatsu

(written in Sept 2003)

I spent some time in that last couple of days doing
ritual begging at the Renaissance Festival here in Mn.
I made my morning rounds for about an hour and a half
before the festival opened. I felt this was an
important practice that somehow didn't make it across
the Pacific Ocean. I had heard all the "problems" with
bringing this practice to the west..westerners were
different, begging is viewed differently..we do not
want to seem like Hare Krishna's ...begging has a
different meaning here we do not want to seem to be
bag ladies.. ...and on and on a list of excuses for
taking a pass on this unimportant practice ...zen is
all about zazen after all. My histories tell me the
reason that we put work into the monastery (and hence
seshin schedule) was that the Chinese did not respond
as well to begging as the Indian people did so the
monks had to work to grow their own food. It is
interesting to me that these are the same excuses the
Japanese Priests used for not making some begging
rounds. Some of the monasteries still send out their
monks to beg in the streets on a monthly or weekly
schedule , and I had found it an important practice to
me when I was in Japan...more in harmony with my
spirit then sitting still endless hours ..and
wondered if it could not be done here in the west as
well. This has been a practice since the first days of
Buddhism, and I wondered what was different today that
made it impossible here. So I thought I would just
give it a chance and see what happened.

I picked the festival because it is a place where
artists and craftsmen gather. It is a place where
something a bit different would have a chance to be
encountered for what it was...I thought I might get
some chances to teach something to some folks and that
did indeed happen. What I did not expect was what I
would learn by putting out this encounter with the
wider world.

I got basically the same response we got in Japan
right down to the same average contributions per hour.
I got the same reactions from the cringing because
they seemed to expect a bolt of lightning from the
sky, to extreme gratitude for someone taking the time
to bless their business. I got one very negative
reaction which was less then the number we got in
Japan. I found the ratios of reactions to be virtually
identical..not at all what I expected to find...about
as many folks knew what was happening as those folks
in Japan did. I was walking along thinking the
divisions between east and west did not seem so big
and thinking about how down deep we are more alike
then we think when I noticed something else.

I noticed that though I made the same offering of a
blessing, the same chant at each booth..the reactions
fell along a bell shaped curve...some were really
happy..some were really unhappy to be caught in this
little unexpected drama, most fell in the middle. Some
were generous, some were timid ..some were
cheap...some came boldly forward and some hid behind a
curtain and peeked out. In each case my offering was
the same..what was different was what their reaction
to it was...I came to realize that those reactions
were just a moment of how they react to the world...I
was offering this experience ...if they were blessed
it was because they had already been blessed...If they
were was because they were that
already..what I was really offering was an interaction
that either confirmed their generous and open nature,
or strongly pointed out their grasping and cold
approach to the world...the blessing were already
theirs, or would not come from me..they needed to open
up to accept blessings or let the good things pass
them by. I was offering them the chance..and whether
it was received or not had nothing to do with me.

After the many remarks about how grateful the
merchants were for the blessings of their shops....I
began to realize something else..this performance of
service and connection to the larger community has
been cut out of most of the practices that have made
the crossings..the offering of services, begging
rituals, festival rites, social activities and
services in times of disaster.. all have been left out
of many centers in the west ( I would say most but
that is an opinion and not a fact I know) It did not
seem to matter much to these folks if they called
themselves Christian, Druid, Pagen, Buddhist or
Muslim. The most frequent response was that they could
use all the blessings they could get,and gratitude
that someone took the time to come to them and offer
them something that they did not even know they
lacked. I had to tell folks that no I could not come
back to them tomorrow because the practice was not to
discriminate, that each booth was to be visited in
turn...none passed and none doubly blessed..It did not
matter if I liked or disliked the shop owner..whether
I had heard the stories of their depravities or their
good works..I must visit each one in their turn, and
then go on to the next one..I had to promise that I
would not quit..and make another round when I could
get finished with visiting every shop...I still have
about a third of the booths to visit next weekend
before I can start around again.

I cannot not count the number of people who bowed to
me on my busy morning rounds, each bow I returned with
a warm feeling in my heart. My lower back is sore
tonight...I have not bowed so much to so many in a
long time.

There is a buzz in the community..something
happened..something different..that got everyone to
thinking about blessings, and faith, and what is
important to person asked me about practice
opportunities and I directed him to a center in his person discovered a connection to my
wife because they had a mutual friend who practiced
for a while at my teacher's temple. People had
questions..they now had someone they knew to ask. I
answered questions on such various topics as where to
buy a hat like how to make my
deep and penetrating questions about the differences
between Buddhism and Christianity.

I earned enough in an hour and a half each day to have
purchased my food for the day , and to secure a modest
place to sleep for the night...about the same amount
in relative terms as the monk's in Buddha's sangha did
2500 years ago in a land very far away (and maybe not
coincidently about the same amount we earned with the
practice in Japan). I will give this money to my
teacher in gratitude for teaching me about this
practice..he will use it to help build the temple that
will be our offering to the world.

I do not know exactly what will be the effects of what
happened ...but I do know something happened...and
something profound started to flow around, to, and
from one old fat monk stepping out in funny straw
sandals and a big round hat.

I did not ask anyone to become a Buddhist or if they
were a Buddhist..I did not ask any one to sit. I did
not ask anything from anyone..I just put out a wish
that the Compassion of Kannon Bodhisattva be upon this
place and those who come here..over and over
again...and held a bowl for people to put something in
if they wished. ...and before someone tells me this is
not a Soto practice...I will have to tell them that
this is indeed a practice still performed at Eiheiji
and Sojiji..the head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism..the
temples founded by Dogen Zenji and Keizan
Zenji..considered the two founders of Soto Zen in
Japan (I know not many westerners have heard of much
of Keizan Zenji..his writings are not as sale able as
Dogen's) This is a practice at the two head temples
that each Soto Shu Priest must visit to be "abbot for
the day" as part of the Dharma transmission
ceremonies. For one day each Dharma Transmitted Soto
Priest must preside over these temples that have this
practice as a part of the schedule. This is a practice
that has been part of Buddhism since its first days,
and was practiced by Dogen from his first days in a

We just don't do it here.
...because...because....well...I don't know why.

Maybe cowering in our Zendos pretending it is a good
thing not to take the practice of Buddhism out into
the world is really what Dogen and Keizan had in
mind....but then there is this little nagging
thing....why did they put on their sandals, pick up a
bell, hike up their robes and head out to bless the
homes and businesses of the people of the towns at the
bottoms of the mountain paths?

Be Well,


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Facing fears

Today my five year old daughter faced her greatest fear.....the dreaded waterslide. We have been swimming at a club for years, she has swum since she was two.....when she was about two, she began using the waterslides, she got scared one time, and would not even sit at the top any longer. My wife and I had tried numerous times to get her to go again, sure that once the fear was passed she would enjoy the slides again....but no go, offers of bribes of favorite toys, favorite meals out at her favoritie family restaurant, but no go....many talks about facing your fears, and the importance of not letting fear control your life, but no go. The top of the slide would induce such panic and fear, that we lost heart in trying to get her to become more accustomed to is, and thus less afraid of it. We gave up trying for a while to get her past her fear.

I do not really know what made today different for her, there was nothing special about the day, the old prompting to try the slide had rested since last fall with a few joking references over the winter...almost every day we swam in the pool with barely a look at the slides crouching there at the deeper end of the pool.

Today I just offered that if she wanted to go to Burger King to get a micropet toy, I could convince her Mom to take us there for lunch...if..she went down the water slide. We had a bit of negotiation, an attempt to do somethinkg a little less scary in order to get the desired reward, and when it became clear that only the waterslide would do, I made the offer,maybe Mom would go down with you if you wanted to go.....There was a new lifeguard on duty, who apparently did not know the rule which forbade going down the slides together, as other parents were sliding down with their children. A quick point at the little two year old girl going down the slide with her mother was apparently all that was needed for the bribe to take effect, enough courage was mustered to be able to make at least one attempt, with the safety of Mom of course, to ease her through the most scary part..the noisy waterfall at the top of the slide.

It was amazing, I do not know if it was more amazing to me then to her, but she loved the slide, up and down...over and over ..all by herself ...then finally upside down and backwards...she was invincible,elated, free at last from the one fear that limited her life for the past three years!.A simple little demonstration about what happens when we face our fears head on, with the support of those who love us, the elation the freedom on the face of the child has not faded yet, she is still dancing while she puts on her little ballet shoes and prepares for dance class.

Some fears, like this one perhaps, protect us when we are too small, or too weak , or too vulnerable to do what we fear. All I can say is when we can trust and let go of all but the supporting hand of our loved ones, and step into that which we are most afraid of, we find a freedom in our lives that is worth the risk.

Sometimes I think about how scary it must be to be five, to have kindergarten, and school buses, and growing and grown up life awaiting just around the corner, it is my hope that we all can find the courage we once mustered on our way to kindegarten for that first day of being on our own for the first time in our life. It is my hope that each of us can find the courage that we once must have had, and in reconnecting with that courage, we can manage to face that which frightens us here in our grown up world, and in doing so find the freedom to be who we are.

Be Well


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

on only don't know

Dear W**,

I think you are trying to make "only do not know" into non
can be in a state beyond thinking, the" thinking about non thinking, how do
we think of not thinking?, beyond thinking" that Dogen speaks about..this is
different then not knowing, although one would probably not know when they
were beyond thinking. I am speaking of a more simple "not knowing" that has
nothing to do with being beyond is quite simply being aware
that you really do not know what is going on in situation as it expands
beyond your awareness, and yet here you are, and you must act (or not act) in
the place you are without really being able to understand what is going
on.....when we lack the information we feel we need to be "correct" sometimes
we hold back, or act rashly, because we do not know what to do, but the truth
is ..."we" (our concious mind) never really knows all that we need to make a
complete and correct response. We simply do not know and cannot know all the
antecedent conditions or all the consequences of our acts, even our
compassionate ones...will the person who's wounds we bind go on to kill
millions? Who knows? Will the child we walk past be the next Buddha? We do
not know...and cannot know. We can only make a response on what information
we have, and it is always incomplete. ...So rather then try and know, or wait
till we can have enough information so we can feel we know, perhaps with
just a bow to the fact that we do not know...we can take our best shot

I do not know whether vegetarianism is in fact a more compassionate way of
eating then eating meat, I do not believe anyone else "knows' either. So not
knowing allows me the freedom to look at each choice that comes to me and act
in each situation which way I think seems best at the time, to eat the
veggies in my bowl, yet be free to eat the Doctor's gift of meat for monks
he felt were lacking in proper nutrition, for my
health and the health of my fellow monks. If I "knew" vegetarianism was
"correct" then I would be hindered in this situation, and taken out of the
moment by my hinderance, If I "knew" eating meat was correct, then I might
have another reaction to my daily meals of the same vegetables over and over,
and again I would be taken out of the moment. Not knowing frees us from
being bound to our concepts, it does not mean we do not have concepts, it
just means we know that even though not eating meat might be our best guess
as to a "correct" way to eat, we are not stuck in this concept when a
situation that might challenge our thoughts or our beliefs comes up.

My computer screensaver says "So desu ka?"...Japanese (in romanji) for is that
so? This question, posed by a long ago master is for me the essence of not
knowing......when I think.....only don't know is all we
screensaver might pop up and say "Oh is that so?"

No, I do not know if "only don't know" is the best way, or the only way, or
all that anyone really needs, but it is the most freeing way I have found so
far to allow myself the ablility to be flexible and respond in any way
required to the apparent requirements of the moment. It allows me the freedom
to make a response that I hope in the end will be compassonate for both
myself and all beings in any situation I find myself in, I have found that
when I give myself and others this freedom, what occurs is a compassionate
response. (at least an apparently compassionate response...I guess I am not
sure that I would even know a compassonate response if I saw one).

Be Well


Is the goal of practice to have a disciplined and open mind?

I could care less what adjectives you put in front of your description of your
mind while you practice, what matters to me is if you can be there.(ooh we
are really disciplined and open now....we really have accomplished
something...) If you can give a drink to the thirsty, hit the mark, make a
difference. I could care less how disciplined and open your mind is ..or how
loudly your monkey mind is chattering. A conductor does not care how
beautiful you think the music is..he just wants you to hit the cymbals at the
right are in the orchestra, the performance is not for you, but by much you appreciate the order of your mind does not matter a whit
to the audience. What matters to us is if you can hit the mark...not what
you think about while you hit it. If you need reason to hit the mark fine, if
you do not fine, just bang the damn cymbals when the time comes, and quit
trying to dazzle us with your footwork. It is just a distraction. We are
trying to listen to the music you are too busy thinking about to be making.
....just hit the damn cymbals....leave the why and wherefore and discipline
and openness to those who are just watching the show. Listen to me two three two three two three
clang....first you just do it....I mean hard is that? what great
understanding do you need to do that? do not need a music education,
or to be able to complete the unfinished symphony before you play the
music...all you need to understand is one two three clang....why can't you do

Too many yeah buts and the concert is over before you even bang the cymbals
once and you missed the whole thing again, and you did not contribute at all
to the music of the spheres.

Oh I think I have it want to be the conductor, (or have the
conductor's understanding) before you learn to bang the cymbals....I mean who
wants to be just another member of the percussion section?....well you got to
learn to play an instrument before you can lead the orchestra.......why not
start here? two three least you would be contributing
something to the music of the spheres......which is more then all the yeah
buts (and the people standing in line for the one conductor position) in the
world have ever done. We have a conductor (Buddha) we do not need another
one..we do need someone to bang the cymbals though...are you ready yet?

Maybe if you just count one two three clang throughout the whole symphony the
openness and discipline will arrive all by themselves.....without a thought
or effort in their might just gain the makings of a real
musician as well, instead of just being a musical prodigy in your own mind.

Yeah but:
" My original point was that disciplined reasoning does have an
important role in Buddhist practice and study. "

My point still is disciplined reasoning just gets in the way of learning to
play the cymbals in the orchestra. I could care less about your lofty notions
of practice and study.......I would rather you just banged the cymbals at the
right least you might actually gain some skill doing that.

In the temple in Japan they did not care if I undersood the sutra we were
chanting in some foreign language...I still had to learn to to bang the
mukugyo in time to lead the chant, and ring the bells a the right have to be right there to do that........hmm you mean the
banging might be more important then the understanding? ...who woulda
thunk? Maybe you have to be right there in the moment in order for the
openness and discipline to have a chance to form.....then you have a chance
to understand the sutra.

Maybe once you have played the music, it become easier to undertand what the
composer was creating. Maybe the understanding is just something extra. Maybe
just being the music is enough.

Be Well


Metaphors and Images

Dear J****,

Hey! ......You point to one of the major difficulties of just reading Zen
literature. Most of us lack the cultural background, the context if you will,
to get the metaphors that are written about in the old Koans and stories.(not
to mention the difficulty in getting words that have been translated not
once...but four or five times over the years. (I have seen the same koan in
two different sources translated as "If you come with a stick I will give you
a stick", and "if you come with no stick, I will give you a
stick"....opposite indications ....opposite metaphors, both most wisely
interpreted by masters who have read them .....which is correct? ....I am not
wise enough to know.

We also often tend misunderstand the nature of the stories, I remember when it
was pointed out to me that often these stories, were an interaction between
two people who's feet were firmly on the path, rather then between a person
who was enlightened, and one who was not. The dramas are events between two
people which often were engaged in an attempt to break though someone else's

Sometimes even on this list, two people who know, are interacting in a drama
to show something to the others on the list. (Al are you there?), and
sometimes they are two people refining their own abilities to walk the path.
(potatos in a sack, knocking the clods off each other)..... As I said in a
recent post, when you get it, it does not mean you never make a mistake just means you begin to see things in a different way....I think
it is fair to say that Buddha's opinion on the status of women was a mistake
on his part....even enlightened he was not a god, but still a man....this is
not a religion that makes gods of men, or women, it merely completes our
humanness. We are, like Shakyamuni, still limited by our time and place in
the world, this is why we seek a master to interpret the writings from his
understanding based on a time and place (a cultural context) that is closer
to ours, and therefore has some insights to share with us that we can have
the context to understand.

I remember the moment I caught out of the corner of my eye, a teacher running
back to his room to get his bessu (white socks used in memorial or special
services). a trainee, I was expected to have my bessu whenever they
were needed. It was a part of the training to know when they were needed.
This person was a teacher, lecturing us on Dogen, but that did not make him
perfect, unable to miss a just meant he knew something I did teacher was often still in the bath while others were waiting for
him to perform a ceremony...I remember laughing at my fellow trainees who
were at a loss what to do, it is not proper respect in Japan for a person
lower in rank to tell a person of higher rank what to do (he is right even
when he is wrong....I am wrong even if I am right)......if we waited for
him..then that was our job.....but he was not coming, and if this went on for
too long then the whole schedule would be messed up...I would chuckle when
feet began to suffle in discomfort as my fellow trainess struggled to find a
way out.........eventually I (not caught in this cultural dilemma) would bow
to my tan (seat in the meditation hall) and bow to my fellow trainess (each
caught in a dilemma they had no way to resolve) and go and get my teacher out
of his bath, help him dress and get to the sodo where every one was waiting
for him....He spoke limited Japanese, and often did not get the drift of what
was going on either..he needed me to help him just as I needed him to help
me. His enlightenment had not conveyed an all knowing, perfection on him the
transcended culture or time and space.....and neither would mine to that for
me, Buddha's did not either...if you have a doubt.....think about Buddha and
women. That is the beauty of this way, Buddha was a human being, not a god.
We can be that too.

Be Well