Friday, December 30, 2005

What about zen practice and relationships?

It is much easier to love all mankind then it is to love any particular man or woman.

It is much easier to be in love with our fantasy of what mankind is than to have to love a man or woman as he or she is. .....really loving mankind is in fact loving each man and woman as we love the Buddha (or what we imagine the Buddha to be).

It is possible to abuse a meditation practice to the detriment of relationships. It is possible to leave our significant others behind in our quest for an individual enlightenment. It is one aspect of any Mahayana practice (and Zen is a Mahayana school) to vow not to enter Nirvana until everyone else has entered first. It is my contention that a good place to start is where you are. One should be more concerned with loving care for one's significant other, child or parent then one is with themselves and their individual practice of meditation. One should not sacrifice one moment more to meditation than one needs to get by while failing to attend to our families needs and our responsibilities to those who depend on us, or take care of us.

I have seen many Zen students caught up in the zeal that results from seeing changes in themselves that they forget that it is not really about themselves. It is in fact impossible to forget yourself when all you think about is yourself. There is a big difference between knowing
yourself, and only thinking about yourself. Yes we need to study ourselves to forget ourselves, but only thinking of ourselves will never lead us to forgetting ourselves.

If the changes from your meditation practice do not result in you becoming a better father, mother, son or daughter, partner, employee or boss, or a better Zen teacher if that is your choice of path then your practice is a worthless dead end. It is after all, all about seeing others go ahead in the Zen schools, not about running ahead yourself. It is about where you are right now, not where you should be, or will be if only. It is not about seeing the man who became filled with road rage and wound up causing the death of others as separate from us, as different from us, (thank whoever that we are not in jail with such a bail like that for a reason like that...after all if we had been formed by the forces that shapedthat man We would have done so much better), but rather it is seeing this person as a fellow suffering being, and taking what steps we can right around us to relieve the suffering of those around us who might end up as strung out and frustrated as this man if we do not carefully attend what is going on with them.

Yes we might need to sit down and get calm where we are right now, but we should not spend one minute more in such a practice than we need to be able to stand up and take care of all that is around us, including family, friends, fellow workers, bosses and employees.

Happy New Year,


Saturday, December 10, 2005

I read Zen is not big on compassionate action..but you seem to be at least somewhat in favor....what is going on?

Dear K,

Reading again huh? That can be dangerous. It leads to expectations which leads to ........all kinds of distractions.

I guess I can see where one might think that Zen is not much for compassionate action. One might say that there is a koan in there somewhere....because perhaps to some the definition of what sort of action is truly compassionate might differ.

In many religions there are apparent conflicts when people try to act in real life on some vague philosophy or set of moral principles. There are also those who talk the talk but do not walk the walk. We have such people in Zen too. This is why we are less concerned with what kind of talk you can talk....and more concerned by the kind of walk you walk.

If one sees the ultimate goal of life is to become enlightened, the what might be considered compassionate is something that has in the past proved effective as a means to that end.

In Zen this is a set of activities that includes sitting meditation. If death is seen as a part of the process of living, just keeping people alive may not have the same emphasis as say sitting meditation. If keeping your focus on just this moment is effective towards what is seen as the desired end, then telling someone to just be hungry might be sometimes seen as compassionate. Of course some people miss the idea that in order to have a spiritual life you must first have a life..(thank you Thomas Merton). Some in Zen see just sitting your own meditation as the ultimate bodhisatva action. In order to assist others in their enlightenment you must first be enlightened yourself (other wise how do you know what is truly effective?). Sitting down to do zazen (and don't get me started and what zazen is....even Dai Kai and I who are students of the same teacher ..or were...seem to disagree and what zazen is.....) is to some the be all and end all of all that needs to be taught and all that needs to be done by a compassionate fact some say that is all that can really be done.

There are very few people who have had the opportunity to study in Japan. I am one of the fortunate few. Seeing what Zen is there, and what the perceptions of what Zen is here, is most startling. In a temple in Japan all zazen is dropped if something needs to be done for the Sangha. People find much fault with the "funeral" industry that many see as all that Zen is in Japan any longer, but they forget that helping the grieving was something that needed to be done and no one else was doing it. After WW2 there were many widows with children, and an acute shortage of child care facilities for single parents. Many Zen temples to this day have a day care facility on the grounds......where priests attend to the needs of young children and their parents.

When I was in Japan I asked Narasaki Tsugen Roshi (a fairly famous Zen Teacher and Painter) to paint something on my book cover. I must admit I was a bit disappointed when he painted a quick picture of an abbot's stick, and then wrote "what ever is in front of you is your practice". Time has brought me the eyes to appreciate the teaching.

One can talk about Zen practice as if how you sit, how often you sit, or when and where you sit meditation is the practice. This is not what Tsugen Roshi was pointing to. In Japan if the monks are sitting and a visitor arrives, one monk who's job it is to take care of guests..jumps up from his zazen and goes to make tea and welcome the guest.....(temples are tourist attractions in Japan..there are frequent guests.)....after all the guests questions are answered, and all that they can see that the wish to see has been shown....and all their needs attended to, the monk returns to the schedule of activities with his or her fellow monks....such a receptions would be rare if you happened into an American Zen Center during a meditation period. If you are sitting meditation, and a guest arrives in front of you...your practice is to take care of the guest. If you are engaged in the schedule in the monastery, and a typhoon hits your community, you go and help rescue the survivors, and bury the dead.

Now we come to the hard do not need to go looking for typhoons and guests. Perhaps they are someone else's practice right now. What is here now arising in front of you is your practice. In my case trying to teach a six year old some values for her life is my practice. Children without food in the world might be someone else's practice but in my case my five year old (last year) asked what she could do for other children who did not have food after seeing something on TV about hungry children....She made some crafts and donated over $300 to the heifer project last year...she gave a little more to Oprah's angel network where the children in question were shown. I did not go looking for do gooder projects to ease my mind while I lived what in most countries would be a life of luxury (even though I am well below the poverty line in this country). It arose in front of me as something that needed to be became my practice for that moment. I should completely attend to this task that arises before me in this moment to the best of my ability. This is Tsugen's message. This is the real Zen practice that he was speaking might not even involve sitting

If you are married, then your marriage is arising before is your practice. If you are a parent, then that is arising in front of you and that is your practice. One should not sit in the the temple in New Orleans calmly meditating as the storm blows, and the sewage rises all around you ..not just in front of you. If it is your job to build levees against some future threat...that is your practice too...if as a husband wife or parent, this moment requires planning for the next moments then that planning too is your practice.

Tsugen's message was that there is enough right in front of need not hurry down to the bookstore to seek a practice. Nor travel off to far away places (unless you are told you will need to by your teacher so you can get some old bald guy to write on your book cover a mesaage you will need to share years later.......oh I guess that is part of my job....and what arose before me then and now.)

Sometimes even typing long messages in a manner that is antithetical to Zen is my Zen practice........there is another koan...they just keep popping up. Sometimes heading off to a nice Christian group to package food for starving children (the most effective program in the area) is my Zen practice. Sometimes wrapping presents to help a Sheriff help my child to put smiles on other kids faces is my Zen practice...even if it has nothing to do with Zen, it has everything to do with Zen.......Zen is famously full of such paradox. If you are going to fool around with Zen you better get used to it.

Be Well


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Not knowing?..What if you feel you know in a social or political situation?

It is my contention that if you "feel you know"...this is the same as acting like you know when you really don't.
In this day and age many confuse feelings with knowledge and opinion with fact....all one need to do is watch cable news correspondents interview each other when there is nothing to say to see how opinion and impression are confused with knowledge in this day and age.

In politics....all is opinion....and opinion formed without direct knowledge or experience...none of us know.....what happened in New Orleans....unless we were there....and then the most we could have was an impression of a small portion of what happened. Yet in this country we must act (vote) or not act based only on our limited understanding. It is only when we mistake our limited understanding or feelings for fact, and act as those things were fact, that we screw up royally. The best we can have in any political or social situation is partial knowledge. We cannot matter how much we "feel' we know. It is when we tighten down and no longer think about something we "know" that we tighten down our thinking and "we" know better than "they"...and it is in such ideas that war (or any conflict) begins. "We" cannot fight with ourselves...."we" can only fight with "them".

I know many people who feel that abortion is wrong. They voted for President Bush because he was "Pro Life" they are very frustrated with him because even though he has a majority in both houses he has not passed any "pro life" legislation. They felt he was good for their cause.....he said he was for their cause...just as rabidly has they seemed to be.....yet nothing has been done. What could have been done?...there opinions differ of course...and what would effectivly reduce the number of abortions assuming that such a thing could be done? one really knows. I know literally no one who is pro abortion...all agree it is at best a terrible solution to a difficult problem...but it is as old as sex and reproduction. I find nothing more amusing then men with opinions about do not even have to know there is anything to abort unless women choose to tell them...there is nothing a man can do to control abortion...short of restraint....and then only on an individual basis....(I suppose we could tie all women down permanently so they cannot have access to a coat hanger or a crochet hook..but even the most pro life voter would not go for that one). Perhaps this idea of "gaining control" is behind men's obsession with abortion..but the truth is never has been nor never will be something men can control. Yet it drives political choices in this country....President Bush is president largely because of people's (men's most particularly) feelings about abortion. Interesting isn't it? The one thing we do know about abortion is that it has always been around.....we can guess it always will be we "feel" about that .....well that is what becomes politics......politics is about feelings...not about knowledge. When we mistake feelings for knowledge....then we tighten and become smaller...when we can seperate what we know..from what we feel...we can begin to open up and become more tolerant of others.

In any social situation we can at best know only half of what is going on. If there are more than two ...we know even less.

Yet we must act in social and political situations. If we act in a closed foregone conclusion manner out of "knowledge we feel we have"...we act differently than if we act because we must act even out of our profound ignorance.

The truth of our lives is that we are all profoundly ignorant in most situations...when we know this and act accordingly we act in a kinder more open and more tolerant manner. When we can be compassionate to ourselves about the profoundly true state of our own ignorance, we become more compassionate to others who act out of their own profound state of ignorance. When we are aware of our own ignorance, it ceases to poison our every activity....(ignorance is one of the three poisons Buddha spoke about.) Often there is little we can do about our ignorance...all we really can do is apply the antidote to the poison so it does not infect our every breath. We can only not know.(that which we cannot know)

The antidote to ignorance is not to ignore even more...... the antidote to ignorance is to know it is the the essential truth of our lives, and to act out of the knowledge of this essential essence perhaps the only one thing we can truly know. If you act out of the compassion that arises from knowing this essential truth....then the world will indeed become a better place....not matter how you vote, or how you choose to act in this particular social situation.

So do not strive for a knowledge that you cannot have. Do not spend your time seeking that which cannot be. There is no knowing enough...there is no final knowledge. There is not really any permanent best we can remember at this time how little we really can know...and act out of that intimate knowledge (when we can remember it )....and liberally apply the antidote to the poison of ignorance in our every breath.

This is why I say do not read books......this is why a Zen blog like this is really the antithesis of Zen. No knowledge you might gain from a book, or from a list or a blog will do you or the world one whiff of good until you begin to apply the antidote to your own ignorance in the world about you. No amount of seeking, nor amount of reading will give you anything but the ultimate ignorance you already own. not not not not philosophize.......only don't know...and solutions appear.

"Between the sharp and dull witted there is no distinction".....Eihei Dogen.

Be Well,

Fudo the ignorant.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Those who were left Behind

I have been watching the news coverage of the disasters that were started by Hurricane Katrina.

I must admit that as I watched the confused responses that the government made I was very angry with certain political officials who had diverted funds, or moved departments around,or played golf or a guitar while New Orleans drowned. I was angry at those officials who left so many people behind.

There was talk of those who did not go, to those who could not go....and how no one seemed to care. At first I was angry at those who left these people behind....then after a few days of cursing the administration I realized that these people that were still in New Orleans had not just been left behind in the last few days by a callous government administration. These people had been left behind a long time ago....they had been left behind as children when they entered school, they had been left behind when there was training for good jobs, they were left behind when they were too old or too ill to be of use to us..they were indeed left behind by a callous administration but they had been left behind by all of us long before there was a storm in the gulf.

Many of us speak about the rising tide that lifts all boats, but we forget not all of us have boats. If we are going to mouth such cliches it is incumbent on us to make sure each and every person has if not a boat of their own,at least a berth on a boat somewhere.

While it is nothing but a crying shame that it took so long for the government to respond to this crisis, (I know it makes me comfortable that the government could respond so well to a crisis they did have five days notice of), it is even more of a crying shame that in the richest country in the world there were people without the means to even get out of the way of an oncoming blow. We have people in the country who we have left without the ability to even duck. They were not left behind in the last years or months ...they were left behind decades ago. They were left behind by Buddhists as well as Evangelical Christians, they were left behind by liberals as well as conservatives, they were left behind by women as well as men...they were left behind without a backward glance by each and every one of us long long ago.

I know it is naive to believe we can end poverty....but poverty is a relative thing.....there need not be people in the richest country in the world who do not have a way to leave if disaster is coming with five days notice. The poor will always be with us a wise man once said, it is also true the foolish will always be with us. Some will be too foolish to leave property in order to protect their lives, but I must point out that too is the result of a culture that says you are what you own, what you can consume is all that matters, and a man is a person who wears the latest fashion, not a person who makes good sound decisions for himself and his family and friends. A woman is someone who looks good floating face down in the muck, not someone with sense enough to move her children to high ground when the water is rising. The poor should be given drugs to keep them quiet so we do not have to think about leaving them behind rather than helping them to have some minimum standard of living is ok for insurance companies to rip them off, credit card companies to loot them, rental agencies to overcharge for very little, and now even their ability to insure a car so they could drive out of New Orleans is based on how long it has been since they payed their Visa card who so generously offer credit at 30% plus interest and of course very reasonable late fees and other charges.....then if they could buy a car and insure it ...the police are 10 times more likely to stop them and ticket them in an old car that they can afford than those a new one.....and Us?... We are just glad that these things happen to "those people".... The poor in California payed for the energy rip offs of Enron to a much greater degree than those who were rich.....we hear often about the poor people who lost their pensions when Enron failed....but not a whit about the poor who had to pay the power bills ...and that made them late on their credit cards, and that made them not be able to get a decent place to live...or even a way to get to work. Shame on us....shame on all of us...all of us who were just glad that it was not happening to us ......yet. In our rush to take care of us and those we consider ours, we have left innocent children and babies behind to drown. We have left the old and ill behind to rot in their wheelchairs. Shame on us.... Shame on all of us.

The problem for us should not be that in these days of disaster we cannot ignore the cries of children who have lost their mothers, or mothers who have lost sight of children the rest of us lost sight of long ago. We should not have to seek who to be blaming for those that were left behind. There should not have been one person left behind...not this week, not last, not in the decades and years before this disaster hit.

As Buddhists we vow to save all beings....the vow is not to move forward faster than the slowest be the last to enter, not the first. We should not be righteous in our anger......the failure is in each and every one of our hearts.

Be Well


Friday, August 26, 2005

Our mind and our perceptions

The mind can effect how we percieve this moment. Here is a personal story from my pre-zen days.

My eldest daughter was about eight at the time...we had a cat that had had kittens..we told here she could keep ONE...she selected the was cute....she had a kind heart and always was for the underdog...shortly after all the others had found a home the little
kitten sickened and died....she cried like only an eight year old girlcan when she is devastated. Circumstance required we go to off to an activity that was work for me and play for her. As soon as she was down to the sniffling phase we left home and headed off.....I could see
trouble coming as I saw a dead cat ahead on the road. My daughter said "look Dad there is a poor dead squirrel!"....on the return trip the dead animal was still a cat for me and a squirrel for her. It remained on the road for several was always a squirrel for her and a cat for
me...It was a life shaping experience for me....a direct point to the power of the mind to shape perception....for her it was just another poor dead among thousands she has seen.

From this moment forward I knew that what we perceive does often does not bear much relation to what is...especially if we come to it with unfinished business from the moments before. I worked with mentally ill people who had all kinds of what I thought of as misperceptions....they
just did not tally with consensus reality. From this moment forward I had a glimpse into the lying nature of perception....the power of the mind to shape the reality in which we live. I had some greater understanding of the effects of hallucinations and their effects on the
mental stability of an individual. I found a key that allowed me to talk to the mentally ill as if the voices (which for them were real) were in fact real for me too....and much progress was made....for both the patient and myself.

When I came to Zen, perhaps "only don't know" was easier for me....because I already understood that perceptions and the mind could lie so strongly we ourselves (the little voice in our head) would not even know about the lie. There is little faith in the words of a known
liar. I still did not know how to come to the moment without all the stuff I was dragging with me, and I still did not know how to live when we really don't know....but the first was already present when I came to sitting.

This is I suppose one of the reasons that "take care of this moment" is so important...even if it sounds so simple and responsible...finish your not try and short circuit those things that will not let your mind settle...let them come up and go...if
they do not go...take care of what ails you...get rid of all that baggage so you can come to the moment free of all that crap as soon possible.....until you can really are just stuck with the mind that is polluted by all that history of misperception. Trying to drive a
polluted mind into the moment by forcing it to focus on breathing or forcing it to gaze at your navel can only be momentarily successful. It is giving aspirin to a cancer patient. Sit..see what comes up and what goes away if you do not attend to it...if something keeps coming up....and you can't let go of it....then here is something that needs your attention....fix it..or fix your understanding of it....or let go of your knowing about it.....if it is doubted it will not have the power to force its way into your consciousness uninvited.

At the time of that drive I was sure that I was right.... it was a cat.....and that my daughter was wrong due to the fact that she could just not stand to see another dead cat at the time...these days I wonder which of us, if either, got the correct take on that drive to town.

Be Well


Monday, August 08, 2005

What about studying books for understanding?

If the goal is to be as open as possible to each moment, then understanding of any sort is a is of course a necessary evil...we have to have some little understanding of what is going on in order to function in our life.. I just to not believe catering to it or creating more understanding is the answer...I would prefer to see people deconstructing understanding. Dropping understanding as a goal, leaving the fine intellectual constructions (which by the way are all by their very nature false or at best only partially true)to cease building them and then to actively tear them down and leave all this as rubble not have understanding as a goal, but to understand that to live each moment is the goal, and understanding is in the way, we need some...but let us keep as little as might be necessary rather than fill our headsso our whole life is lived in some book or fantasy world we create.

The problem is in the givens.....given smaller government is better...why have social service?....I understand smaller government is usually better..but wait...the understanding blinds me to the needs of my fellow citizens and our responsibilities to them. Given we should not kill.....well we should be vegetarian...but what if someone has prepared a meal with meat?....should we let the already dead cow go to waste?....what amount of understanding is going to bring us to each varied moment in our lives with all our resource present? (in what ever condition they are in) ..I am sorry ....each thing we grasp limits us...let us just put down the givens and the shoulds and be where we are.

This being said...some understanding is necessary. If someone gets this idea then how does one go about getting the little understanding they need to get through this life?....the best way they can. Having a teacher is the best way. One should try and do that if they can. Second best is sitting with a group without a teacher and last of all if they have no way (and I mean really no way...not just an excuse for not doing it) then reading a book would be a distant third. I remember when someone wrote to me of the impossibility of finding a group or a teacher...first this had to become possible before they could do it..the understanding that no one was about
was keeping them from seeing the resources that they could bring to hand. The first two ways of gaining understanding will bring you into the reality of your life ..the third takes you out of it ....if one must study, study with your whole being what is there in front of you where as Tsugen Roshi told me .......your practice is. Everyone's practice is what is in front of them. This kind of study is more zen then any book review or book reading.

The Soto shu does not give endless lectures on how to do zazen..a quick pointer and then you are stuck right there with a wall and a lot of time....eventually one does wake up to notice the time slowly passing..inside and outside.....the Soto Shu does not believe in giving you an understanding of what zazen is that you must later forget leaves you to build what ever understanding you need to get through the period of zazen......and hopefully there will less to tear later when one learns to be here now.

I am inclined to read...reading is a great pleasure that takes me is a great escape...I love it....but my goal is not to is to enter fully and go through since once I enter fully there is no real need to escape. Too many are looking for a cure for this moment....a fix for what ails them...but right here and right now life is being lived..the only life I have...I do not wish to miss a moment of it...good or bad, happy or sad.

I know people will read and people have a need to understand....perhaps when they sit long enough they will get that understanding is highly overrated. It is impossible for a finite conscious mind to grasp this infinite moment..we are blind and crippled..this is the reality of our lives....but even blind and crippled with no real understanding we can still grow and be life. We can even do it joyously and fully once we get that no real understanding is possible....when we give up trying to do the impossible...we are much less frustrated, angry and upset. When a terrorist bomb blows up and we get frightened and angry it is because
the bomb shattered our delusion that we understood the way London works..we lived in London....we got on the tube every morning and we came home on the tube at night..there were some frustrating things about it..but we knew how they worked and we knew what to expect...then BOOOM..our partial understanding is shattered and we are left with anger that this was not the way it was supposed to be today...but the reality is..this was the way it was going to be today....and it was only the comfort of our misunderstanding that was shattered for those of us not present for the attacks. We thought it could not happen here to day....When our partner leaves us because our understanding of our relationship did not include their understanding of our relationship our illusions are shattered our understanding f our relationship is shattered. There is no way for one person in a relationship to "understand" the whole relationship because they only have access to a part of the information...This is true for every where we are....Fear, anger, frustration....These things fade from our lives once the answer to why? becomes because this is what is.

Rather than study a book with your mind, study what is with all that you are.

Be Well


Friday, August 05, 2005

on anger and terrorism

S. wrote

>Fudo, I would also like to hear how you have been taught to deal
>with anger. It's something that has particularly hit me since the
>London bombs (even though I'm 200 miles from London). Lots of angry
>thoughts that I am ashamed of came to the surface -I never even >knew
>I harboured anger like that. The only way I could avoid them has >been
>not to listen to the news. I know, though, that avoiding these
>thoughts is not the answer - How does one actually get rid of them >so
>that they're not there to rise up again? I have tried to live a
>loving life, thinking the best of others, but sometimes it all >seems
>to break down and I find a dark and ugly underside to my character
>that I would like to be rid of. Any ideas?

Do not seek to be a not judge yourself against a standard of perfection......

Be what you are where you are is all you really can do. Sit with your angry perhaps racist not try and suppress with them.....look at them .....see what they are for what they are...... fear......are you afraid for yourself? for your loved ones? for your very culture?....good should be.....only from that fear that makes you angry can you really act to change the causal factors of the fear....Do you see a terrorist in every seat on the tube?....good ...there might be one....this is the reality of your is the reality of my life how do live when we are not assured of another moment of our life or the lives of our loved ones? We make sure we live each moment of the life we do have...the reality of all our lives is that we do not know whether there will be another breath or not. Being awake to that idea is not such a bad thing. Live each moment as if it is your last, speak to each person as if it is the last time you will see them, kiss your wife as if this is the last time you will have to do this and in a short time you will be thanking the terrorists for enriching your life. You are not a guaranteed number of days.....perhaps it is time you stopped acting like it....pretending there is no rush ..that it can be done tomorrow. If it is important to you you had better get about is the reality of your life. The terrorists remind us of our fear...they play upon our fear.......fix the fear...and there is nothing they can do to you. What are we afraid of?...we are afraid we will die with things left undone.....words left
unspoken......that our life will have counterd for nothing.....turn the terrorists act into a benefit for yourself and all those you touch...and you will horrify them beyond belief ......this is what will ultimately defeat the terrorists.......when we feed their children in genuine gratitude for their making our life and the lives of all those around better.

There is an old saying that your enemies are your best friends........ perhaps there might be some truth there.

Be Well


Monday, May 30, 2005

growing corn *to those caring for an ill loved one*

My old Native American friend used to say a religion that did not grow
corn was useless. By this he meant a way that did not feed you when you
were hungry was not worth practicing.

There are many ways which will nourish the spirit when times are good,
but if the way does not help when times are difficult then it is not
worth playing with when times are good.

It is my contention that the "there is no you" philosophical woo woo
zen ...really does no good when your husband or wife is ill, perhaps not
to get better. I do not believe handing you a sutra book is enough.

I do think that focusing on this moment with your loved one does "grow
corn". Understanding the nature of impermanence does grow corn. Having a
real life understanding of the nature of pain, and of suffering does
grown corn.

I know that when my father-in-law was suffering, eventually fatally,
from congestive heart failure, my wife found the way did grow corn. She
was able to look at what was happening with an eye of patience with
suffering. She was able to be aware that this was the moment that she
had to fix all the problems with her relationship with her father. She
even tried to get her sister to finish all the business that was left
before he was gone. Her sister chose to believe that there was plenty of
time. I remember the day Anjin backed her father into a corner and told
him she wanted him to tell her he loved her. He gave the typical
father's response "You have to know I love you". She said "I know but I
still need to hear you say it." He paused for a moment then said the
short sentence that put so many doubts to rest and comforts her to this was something she needed to hear.

Death and illness are a part of life. There are things that need to be
taken care of, and responsibilities that need to be discharged. What
sounded so easy in the beginning...the in sickness and in health
part.... is not so easy when its reality rears its ugly head. If you can
stay in the moment even though this moment appears to be heart breaking,
I can say with confidence that what it will be is heart healing. If you
take care of this moment, with compassion and dignity both for yourself
and for your loved one, it will be a source of great comfort in the
years to come.

No one wants to see a loved one suffer. No one wants to be handed a
great challenge. We all want an easy practice with nothing but warm
walks on the beach. The reality of a real relationship is that it is not
all walks on the beach. I, for one, would not wish to sacrifice a real
relationship for the dream of what could not possibly be.

Please, do not sacrifice one minute of this, Even though this is not
what you would have wished for. When it is over, you will be glad you
were there through as much of it as you could take.

Remember not to beat yourself up for not being the perfect caregiver,
you are what you what you are in this place and moment...even
if what you are is clumsy and bungling. Remember your spouse loves you
for what you are. Rest when you need to rest. Take a break when you need
a break. (eat when you are hungry sleep when you are tired is the old
zen axiom).

There are no real lessons learned when nothing difficult is happening.
This is a time of great challenge and growth, both for you and your
loved ones. No real compassion is developed until you are challenged to
be compassionate. No real strength is developed until our strength is
challenged. No real courage is required until there is something to

When my mother passed after decades of senile dementia, some of us were
glad her suffering was over. One of my brothers wanted his mother alive
even though she could not feed herself or would not want to live with no
ability to string two thoughts together. 5 of the six of us came back
for the funeral did not. He was one of us who was glad her
suffering was finally over yet he could not face the idea of a funeral
for his mother. ....funny ... he was always like this...he did not come
home for our father's funeral either. He did not come to see her in the
home, he could not see her like that. He is not good with death, or
illness....even though as a former Marine Captain who served in a couple
of wars he is probably more familiar with them than most of the rest of
us. I am sure he has attended more funerals and dealt with more death
than any of us. When it was this personal and was too
much. We understood. It is who he is. He should have been nothing else
on that day. We love him for who he is, not for what we would like him
to be.

Be who you are in this and all moments and the regrets and the suffering
will be as small as they can be, both for yourself and for your loved
one. If you can do this, the way will grow corn.

Be Well


A little peace and quiet

One of the things that drives people to the practice of Zen is a desire
for a little peace and quiet. Just add a little here somewhere to my
life. We all would like a little peace, a little break ...some moments
of calm in this storm tossed life. Please..just a little peace and quiet
is all I am asking for. Just let me sit down here for a little break,
and then I can go back to my life a little refreshed.

The problem is peace is just a relative thing. In order for there to be
this peace, there has to be a conflict for it to be relative to. We
cannot create peace all by itself. The moment we begin seeking peace, we
define where we are as conflict.

I remember when I was taking some training in crisis management. The
instructor asked "when does something become an emergency?"...the answer
was when we define it as an emergency. When we begin to seek peace we
have declared where we are to be a conflict. A conflict takes two sides
or positions to happen. The way out of a conflict is for one of us to
refuse to see it as conflict. We must be peace. We cannot get peace
granted to us by another.

The idea of peace arises in the same instant the idea of conflict
arises, because they are only relative states, they only exist in
relation to each other. The opposite of war is peace. If we wish to have
an end to conflict we also end peace.

The way to find what we truly seek, which is an end to conflict is not
to seek peace. It is to find what truly is....and what truly is is
neither peace nor conflict until we bring these ideas to it. We need to
stop thinking in terms of peace and war and conflict and detante. We
need to understand that there is no peace without war.

Also we need to understand the nature of our life. Everything that lives
grows, everything that grows conflicts. The grass is at war with the
weeds the weeds contend with each other for the space to grow. The food
we eat is finessed from some starving child in India. (either by our
government or theirs). Capitalism is conflict by its very nature. The
argument is that it is better for children to die in Iraq then it is for
children to die here.....conflict. One of the results of peace is
stagnation. Death. We must kill at least a plant to survive.

So rather than seeking the elusive dream of peace, better to seek a way
to be at ease in the midst of conflict.

So instead of seeking peace, perhaps what we need to seek is an end to
our suffering from what is an essential part of our life. (death too is
an essential part of our life). So how do we end our suffering? ..Did
the Buddha suggest we ask everyone else to stop conflict to end our
suffering from war?...No. Did he suggest we march on Washington asking
our government to give us peace?.....No...Did he suggest we ask others
to please leave us alone?...No.....He suggested we look inside for the
end to our suffering. He suggested the way to end our suffering from all
this conflict around us was the eightfold path. I have already spoken
about one simple way to bring the eightfold path into the reality of our
lives, that is to sit. It is my suggestion that if one is suffering
from the actions of another, or the condition of another, one finds
their way to the eightfold path. One place easy to find the beginning of
this path is the nearest chair. Once your feet have found the path that
is right there where you are, then one can step out on the path as it
appears before you. When you are on the path, suffering ceases. This is
not to say that the world around changes to peace and light. This does
not mean no one is sick or no one dies. It simply means when you do the
right thing as defined in the eightfold path you do not suffer.
Suffering arises from wrong thinking, wrong action, wrong livelihood
etc. I would suggest blaming others for our suffering is wrong thinking.
I would suggest that railing at life for our misery is wrong thinking
and wrong action.

I think those who think Buddhism or zazen is an escape from our
responsibility for the way we are are wrong. I think Buddhism is the
most responsible way there is. The first step to ending our suffering is
to acknowledge that our suffering is in fact our fault. It arises from
our wrong action our distraction, our ignorance. There is no one else
to blame here, and no one else to save us. There is nothing I can do to
end another's suffering other then show them a way to find the path.
Then they must either walk the eightfold path themselves, or suffer. I
cannot drive them to the path, I cannot force them to the path, nor can
I suffer over long for their failure to even look for the way to end
their suffering. In the end it is our suffering and our pain that
defines us. When we give up our suffering we have to give up our
definition of ourselves as suffering beings. Some of us are not ready to
make that step yet. This is a sad truth. Yet even here when our
compassionate heart is breaking, it is not right thinking to wish for
different way. This is the way, the reality of our lives is where we
have to live our lives. There is no other choice. It is not right
thinking to keep looking for a way out, when the only way out is

Be Well


Thursday, May 26, 2005

A lovely question

> Hi, so what is the difference between mowing the lawn by a zen
> practitioner that wants to do it the best possible way and a non zen
> practitioner that wants to mow the lawn in the best possible way?

What a lovely question!....let me take a shot at an answer.

If in watching the two people mow, you could tell a difference then the
Zen practitioner still has a ways to go in his or her practice.

If the Zen practitioner saw himself or herself as one iota different
than the non Zen practitioner then the Zen practitioner still has a ways
to go in his or her practice.

If the Zen practitioner thought there should be something ....better or
different about how he or she mowed the lawn then that Zen practitioner
still has a ways to go in his practice.

If the Zen practitioner thought years of practice should make them
better at mowing the lawn or tending the garden than a gardener who took
pride in his or her work, the Zen practitioner's practice has utterly

Zen is nothing special, nothing extra, it gives you nothing, adds
nothing, takes away nothing. It should leave no trace. If the way the
lawn is mowed stinks of Zen, then a trace is left, and the practitioner
needs to mow another lawn.

If I was looking for a difference. I would look for the smile. If the
smile of the Zen practitioner was exactly the same as the gardener who
loved his or her work I would smile. The real difference would not
easily seen. It was in the fact that the Zen practitioner was only a
gardener for a few moments, and the gardener might be a gardener all his
or her life. I would expect that the Zen practitioner would go on to do
dishes just like person who loves doing dishes....and then go on to
eating just like a gourmet, cooking like a person who loves to cook,
and being a father or mother like a person who loves being a parent, and
always the smile would be the exactly the same. Exactly like someone who
loves exactly whatever they are doing.

Now I can hear people saying...but a person who loves to garden,doesn't
always smile, sometimes they get angry when a deer eats a plant,
sometimes they are sad because a well loved plant is dying. Sometimes
love is not enough and things go wrong or fail sometimes gardening can
be frustrating, sometimes a gardener might even use foul
language........ Exactly. The Zen practitioner would be exactly like a
person who loved gardening when they garden, exactly like someone who
loves being a parent while parenting, and exactly like a person who
loves to cook when they cook.(maybe even exactly like a person who loves
to argue on a list when they are arguing on a list).... Not different,
not separate, no mark, no trace..exactly the same. You would observe no
difference, unless you look long and deep and over time, and cannot
detect a difference no matter what the activity is. If the Zen
practitioner is a master, you might not even notice why or even if the
person seems special. All you will know is that you like to be near
them, and that things just seem to work out better when they are around,
maybe somethings make more sense. If you are lucky you will catch a
little of the disease, and then Each moment becomes loved like it is the
thing we love most. Each activity is treasured because right there is
where everything that is is.

right view?

c wrote:
> So is imperative to obtain right view otherwise is impossible to see
> the advantage of zen.
> The question is,does perfect understanding of this come with zazen
> and the practice of the paramitas and where does it fit
> enlightenment in all this?

This is a beginning, Right view?....where have I heard that
before??....ah yes..the eight fold path..right view, right speech, right
resolve, right action, right livelihood,right mindfulness, and right

It would seem that there are wheels within wheels here..that each
one...take right view for example..... involves the application of all
the other folds of the path. The same can be said of right speech and
all the other folds.

The activity of Zazen is one activity that includes all the folds of
the path. If you just sit still, all the path is unfolding right as you
sit. All we need do is to let it unfold. Zazen is one easy way to
include the fourth noble truth in our lives. One easy way to bring the
eightfold path into the reality of our lives.

If one just sits down to see what is there right now, right view
unfolds. If one keeps silence right speech unfolds. If one keeps his or
her contract with themselves to sit for a certain time, right there
right resolve unfolds. Sitting with the intent to manifest the path in
our lives is right action. Adding a practice of Buddhism to our lives is
right there a right livelihood, opening ourselves to everything that is
is right mindfulness, and of course right concentration is made manifest
when we actually do this.

Zazen is the enlightenment of the Buddha made manifest right here right

Zazen is not to develop perfect understanding. Perfect understanding is
an activity like zazen. From the first moment you sit down, perfect
understanding is beginning to be added to the reality of your life.

The differences in the schools are only the entry gate they have chosen
to offer. One can enter the path through concentration, or by engaging
all your time in right livelihood, or by constantly watching your
speech...since each of these folds has the wheel of all the others
folded into it.

Zazen is the gate that the Zen school offers. We like to think of it as
the perfect gate, because as soon as you sit...all the folds are
actually made manifest right there in your life. Dogen calls it the
universal prescription..the one that works for everyone. We all like to
think our way is the best way, but no one way is the only way. When I
meet someone else with a different way I am reminded of the shopkeeper
who when asked what was the best thing in his shop responded "each thing
is best." I guess whatever works best for you is the best way for you.
This is the best way I have found for me.

I once had an encounter with a monk from another tradition. He was
telling me that Zen was not the best way, the way he practiced was the
best way and there was a long list of reasons why his way was best. I
chuckled and agreed his way was best, but I thought always taking only
the best way for yourself was selfish, so I was going to be happy
practicing the second best way. I remain happy practicing the second
best way.

Be Well


Saturday, May 21, 2005

teachings from no teacher *lessons from life (poems)

"what me defensive?"

The best defense,
Is a good offense,
but no invulnerable fortress,
Needs defending.

"When the arrow hits the mark"

One way to tell
when the weakness is found
is to listen for
The scream of denial.

"on the deceit of deceit"

The most deceived
By the deceitful
Is the deceitful.

"the beauty of the eightfold path"

Every criminal thinks
their crime is perfect
Every criminal forever fears
It was not.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Some little poetry

Here are some little poems, some of which were written while practising in Japan.


Three ways a meal,
Three meals a day,
Seven days a week.


Putting on black robes
In the dark
Every day


It is difficult
To see there is no mountain
While you are climbing it


One sees the mountain
One sees there is no mountain
Which is the greater fool?


This soap bubble world
Is driven by the wind
onto the spear sharp grass


The fire in the belly
The embers in the grass
live only so long as conditions permit


Dry and brittle
like raspberries in the winter
I too await the coming of spring.

"to one who is intoxicated"

Smell the rain
my Drunken friend
tomorrow's pain
will never end.

"untitled "

Speak to me not
in the icy blue words
of old ashes
tenderly laid so long ago
beneath the cold black stone
Sing to me instead
the symphony you have heard
in a flash of lightening
or tell me what you know
of the smell
of the coming rain

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Ringing True

When I hear the phrase that describes something as "ringing true" I always think of the Bonsho (large temple bell) at Shogoji Temple in Japan. It hung in a bell tower and was rung with a log suspended from ropes attached to a crossbeam on the bell tower. It took both hands to pull the log back, and one had to time the strike so the bell was returning towards the log as it swayed from each strike. If you did not time the strike correctly, or use enough force the bell would give off a discordant clunk. If you made the perfect strike, the bell would send a beautiful peal rolling down the mountain. At certain times of day the bell was sounded either 9 or 18 times.

The whole time I was there only one Monk sounded the bell perfectly 18 strikes in a row. It was not for lack of trying. Each day there were 2 times a day the bell was sounded 18 times in a for over 60 days and two attempts a day only one time did the bell sound well struck all 18 times. That is less than one in 120 attempts. It sure points out the difficulty of the task. One had to be present and pay attention only to the swinging of the bell and carefully yet firmly pull back on the log and swing it forward in the correct time 18 times in a row. There was also a pattern in that the 9th and 17th ring were supposed to be softer, and the 18th ring was supposed to sound right after the 17th. These softer rings were signals to other monks to begin to perform other tasks. If the bell ringers strikes rang true, or at least in the proper pattern the correct signals would be sent to the other monks working around the temple, and every thing would flow smoothly. If the bell was struck in a discordant manner those monks sitting Zazen might be distracted. (everything in the monastery was supposed to support a smooth and harmonious atmosphere for Zazen). There were also the full bows between each ring to complicate the task.

Each day one of the monks would be assigned to ring the temple bell. We would try our best to send only peals that rang true rolling down the mountain and day after day we would fail. We got so into creating this harmonious atmosphere that people tried to walk silently, and tried not to bump each other in the narrow passage ways.

All our efforts toward making this quiet and harmonious atmosphere would be shattered each day as the loudspeaker system for the village below the Temple would crank up with loud announcements each evening during the second period of Zazen. A nice scratchy voice would chat for a while in Japanese.... I never was clued into what was said. Then came the day the shotgun shells for the scarecrows in the rice paddies started going off at frequent random times throughout the day.

All this happened without a twitch in the effort to create a harmonious atmosphere. Somehow it all worked together...perhaps because it all was authentic. It all rang true.....even those discordant crashes of the bell.....even though the Monk missed the mark, he or she was what they authentically were...just a student monk doing his or her best at a nearly impossible task. ...I will always remember that one day, when every peal rang true and one student mastered that cantankerous bell.

a bell

well struck

rings true.

Be Well


Karma goes to sleep

Last night as my wife Barbara was putting our three-year-old daughter
Karma to bed I was reading a stack of emails that had piled up in my
inbox. My computer is just on the other side of the wall from my
daughter's room. I could hear the frustration in my wife's voice
building and the anguish in my daughter's voice increasing as the one,
knowing her daughter was exhausted, and the other, knowing sleep was
not coming, battled in one of the oldest conflicts known to humankind.

I rolled my eyes as I left the computer and go help out. I entered the
fray as a neutral observer and soon found myself comforting an upset
Karma as Barbara set about the tasks that were demanding her time at
the same time as our child was also demanding her attention.

After Karma's breathless explanation that she was just not tired and
could not go to sleep we began to exchange various ideas about such
wonderful things as princesses and handsome princes, monsters and evil
stepmothers and such things as three-year-old girls build obsessions
around. .She began to calm down. Soon our exchanges became quieter
until they faded
into a silent reverie. Hers, I am sure, was of fairy godmothers and
fancy balls . . . mine was of the wonders of a-three-year old mind.

Then I felt it . . . the death grip on the lapel of my samue jacket.
The desperate grip of a three-year-old on a storm-tossed bed. Denied
the usual comfort of her mother, here was the other familiar thing,
the other rock, she could hold onto and hold on she did. I sat there -
who knows how long? - until her breathing smoothed and her fingers
could be gently peeled off. I moved off the pile of sharp-edged toys
I'd not noticed were under me.

As I slowly backed out of my daughter's now quiet room I finally
understood. This was what it was all about. Just to be there in
everyday life, even with something that was not what I thought I
wanted to be doing. There is where true treasures are found.. I
remembered the roll of my eyes as I left my computer. Silly me. .
.resistance to receiving the greatest treasure of all. One I could
have missed for a discussion of copyright issues or someone's
expressions of their opinions on oneness.

I cannot even imagine the number of moments like these I missed with
our first daughter for things I was convinced were more important.
Tonight, if I had given in to my own desires, the opportunity would
have gone in an instant. Vanished in a flash. And I would have gone on
secure in my rightness, focused on my issues, never having the least
idea of what I had missed.

Friday, May 06, 2005

a birthday celebration

53 years standing in the cold north wind

even the marrow is chilled to ice

no shaded grave could be more frigid

what is this warm breath that clouds the mirror?

everything old

plum blossoms leap on to spring branches

the greenest of grass strains toward the cloudless blue sky

the voices of playing children float on the gentle breeze

everything old is new again.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hoka Hey

In my youth the times were heady. There was a war to protest, and pictures of dead boys being shown each night on the television living color. We (my generation) had just invented sex and were about to teach the world how to live in peace with one another. All things were possible and we were immortal. What was was going to be forever. I was young, and strong and bright with the whole world at my feet.

We struggled to end the war, the killing, so young men just like us would not have to die in the flower of their youth in an unholy war on a distant shore. A war that was not yet lost, just not yet sanctified. We spit on the soldiers when they came home in our arrogance because they did not understand that we were trying to save them as well as ourselves. We could not see any possible good in young men dying.

In these times I was growing, expanding, and learning every day. I thought the growing would go on forever. Each day I would learn new things, get a bigger picture, know more....understand more.

Then for a while the growing slowed. There was less time for the sex we had invented, less time to read great thoughts, and less time to think them. I found myself learning little things, like how to fix a faucet, or how to lay carpet, or fix a water heater. My life was no longer filled with great issues, instead the issues became smaller. Where was the money going to come from to pay the insurance bill so I could drive my car? The beautiful young girl I married turned out to be less beautiful every day, and well .....the sex was not all that new anymore either. The love that was supposed to last forever ended, and promises were broken, and lovers who had become spouses became ex-spouses.

Great loves were replaced by small loves, great ideas replaced by small ideas, and great strength and endurance was replaced by an ever diminishing physical ability.

All this I could convince myself was just a break....a rest between growth spurts...until the rest became years, and the progress turned into loss. I can still remember the first day I realized I could no longer even pretend to be able to do those things that were so easy in my youth...and that I would never run so easily again, or lift so heavy a burden with so little thought again.

This to was not so hard to deal now I had realized that I was getting older. I could only hope that wisdom would replace the quick off the hip mental shots I used to be able to put on the mark in an instant.

Even watching my mother sink slowly (or not so slowly) into senile dementia was not enough to shake that inborn optimism of youth. I could even deal with the day she could no longer could remember me any longer.....not well..but I could deal with it.

Then, it became clear that that wonderful mind that I thought was me and mine forever was slipping. At first it just took a little longer to retrieve the information that used to to be instantly available. (there was so much more filed than there used to wonder it took longer to find something)....Then there were those moments when I knew I had come here for something, but I could not for the life of me remember what. Then I knew I knew that person's name, but it would not come to me for days after I last saw them. Now if I do not do something the moment I think of it, there is a good chance I won't remember to do it all. All this from the mind that never forgot anything....ever.

These days it has become evident that the end I most feared may well be mine as well. The slow erosion of mental abilities till you can no longer feed yourself or even remember those things that had been most important to you.

I remember when loved the tales of the old west, of the noble savage warriors who rode the plains shouting "Hoka Hey"....(today is a good day to die.) When I was young I could not understand how any day would be a good day to die. Now I understand that there are worse things than dying young.

I remember in the youth of my Buddhist practice the earnest drive to end desire. To stop wanting things. This was always balanced with the ever demanding desire, a counter balance to what seemed at the time endless progression of desires for food, and sex and just plain more. I looked forward to the day when such desires would end. I am not there yet, but I am close enough to see what the end of desire looks like. I will say while I still can be careful what you wish for. There is no more barren a life than a life without desire. Now I wish I could reclaim some of that burning desire of my youth, and only shake my head at those fools that want to prematurely drive themselves into old age and death.

One need not kill desire, desire will end slowly by itself of its own nature.

Now as I look forward to years(hopefully) of dwindling desire, diminishing physical skills, and quickly fading mental abilities I understand that there is no going back, there will be no recovery....and only a long slow decline to look forward to.

It is not real fun waking up each day a little less than you were the day before. Of the possible end of these declines there is not one good possibility to look forward to. As a little of what was you in your prime slips away each day sometimes you carefully look to see what there is left of you, and you wonder when what is left will no longer add up to anybody, much less you. This makes all those young ones who want to kill their ego all the more do not need to kill your ego, time will slay it for you as surely as death or taxes.

Either that or war or tragedy of one sort of another will kill it for you in an instant, and you will be gone in the flower of your youth. Each ego dies. In its own time and place. There is no need to try and kill it..the world will take of it in its own time.

Now as I look forward to each day of physical pain of one sort of another..(I have long since ceased to wonder if I will hurt today, and only can wonder where it is that I will hurt today>)..I think back on those stories of the wild west I used to like to read so much. In my mind I shake my head in agreement with those imaginary warriors of the plains. I nod my head in agreement. Today is a good day to die.

Today the sun was shining as I watched my daughter play on the playground. The promise of her youth is still bright in her eyes as the buds begin to leaf out on the spring trees. The sky was never bluer, the grass never greener. *Sigh* It would have been a good day to die.

There is some comfort though, in these old creaking bones. Another lesson taught by those legendary warriors of the plains. Even though today has almost passed, and tomorrow is only a few hours away, no matter what tomorrow brings, it too will be a good day to die.

Hoka Hey!

Friday, April 29, 2005

on being inspirational

Every so often someone tells me that they find some of my writing
inspirational. They seem to think I should be flattered that they were
so "moved" by my writing. Most often these comments come from people who
seem to want to read something that makes them feel good. I want to ask
"What did that piece inspire you to do?"...I can tell the answer usually
would be "well it enabled me to get through another day of my
problematic life."

If you wish to flatter me, tell me that something I wrote moved you to
do something to fix the problems in your life. There have been several
people who have written me and said something like "I am going to Japan
because of what you wrote" might be misguided, but that is truly
flattering. A comment like, "I now sit with a group and have met a
teacher because of what you wrote"....or "I saw what you meant and then
I fixed the problem I had in my life." or "You not only made me think,
but now I do things differently" that is what inspirational means
to me.

I am not really interested in writing things and posting them to lists
in order to enable people to continue to live in delusion. This is why I
stopped posting to places where people cannot or will not read what I
post or are not really looking for answers, but rather are looking for
confirmation that they are not really as screwed up as they fear they
might be.

Some cannot understand how I can be so inspiring (read enabling) on one
post and so harsh on the next. They see it as some sort of paradox.
Evidently in their dream of what a spiritual life would be like, they
understand it to mean that all your faults will be eliminated, and only
soft and gentle ideas, and only soft cushy woo woo sentiments will be
felt. Only good and gentle things will happen to you.

I am sure the Buddha felt no pain from food poisoning. Dysentery is
definitely not my idea of a graceful exit. Especially while camping in a
park.I imagine that Christ only had generous thoughts about the Romans
as they nailed his hands and feet to the cross, certainly nothing
unpleasant arose in that situation either. I am sure all those who who
heard "let he who is perfect cast the first stone" were immediately
impressed with the wisdom of the Christ, and none felt embarrassed or
humiliated at the words. The money changers in the temple probably were
singing his praises as Jesus overturned their tables. I am sure Buddha's
child certainly never had one moment of feeling abandoned by his father,
and all those who were kicked out of Buddha's sangha went away singing
his praises as well.

I do not understand this idea that everything has to be said in a way
that no one (usually read "me") finds offensive. I wonder what could be
said if that was indeed the standard. I find it interesting that when I
am talking about how I live or how I have lived people find it
"inspiring" and when I talk about how others live a deluded life, I am
being harsh.

Those who know me know I am harsher on myself than I am on anyone else.
I am less forgiving of my mistakes than I am of anyone else's. The
reason my life is so apparently "inspiring" is because I am relentless
in tracking down delusion and eliminating it, more with myself than I am
with any one else.

I find from experience that it is usually the harsh writing ,the rap on
the knuckles, and the stuff that says "wake up!" that people find truly
inspiring. It is the stuff that brings them out of their head and into
the real world that moves them to actually do something in their lives.
It is when I am straight forward and sometimes harsh that people make
changes, open their minds, and move forward with some true progress in
their lives.

I wish I could just say "hey, you know, maybe you might want to try
something different here next time." and people would say "Oh wow! Why
didn't I think of that?... You are right...we perhaps should not be
changing money for profit in the temple. Maybe we shouldn't be ripping
off the people who come to worship...after all family really does
not NEED all the money I bring home from my daily activity."..I sort of
figure if that would not have worked for the "Son of Man" will not
have much of a chance of working for me either. I would imagine if Jesus
had just dropped a subtle word to the wise, it would have been neither
effective nor long remembered.

I do not write posts to make people feel good, so when I get as a sort
of a short hand for "that made me feel good" the words "I found that
piece of writing sooo inspiring!" I find myself less than flattered.
Making people feel good on the road to hell is not really what I plan to
do with my life, sometimes what is needed in order for a positive change
to occur is that the person must become uncomfortable enough with where
they are to wish to make a change. People really feel good when their
lives are working for them instead of against them. If any of my
writing ...sweet, tough or in between causes someone to make a change in
their lives that will indeed make them really feel good for a good long
time, then perhaps I have accomplished my purpose in writing.

I do not write so we can come to the conclusion that based on all the
technical data, and specs the Titanic is in fact unsinkable while the
ship slowly sinks in the North Atlantic...such a discussion might in
fact help us feel better for a few minutes, but we are headed for a cold
dunk in the water unless we look at what is really happening and head
for the few life boats there are. Why were there so few
lifeboats?...because the experts had known the ship was
was designed to be unsinkable. All reason and logic said it was
unsinkable. When the ship is going down, it is time to stop thinking and
talking about being unsinkable, and time to start learning to survive in
the cold northern sea.

Be Well


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Just a monk

Recently I have taken some flack for just being some monk, not a Zen
master, not one who wishes to teach Zen on an Internet list and therefor
worthless to that list. I do not think I have ever been more highly

One of my fondest memories of practice in Japan was a hot summer day
when we were practicing Takuhatsu (ritual begging) in a rundown part of
a city, I looked up at the reflection of the line of beggars reflected
in a large window of a closed shop. I remember thinking to myself how
rare it was to have the opportunity to see monks walking their begging
rounds and I was having that opportunity right then, and there was
another monk, and another monk, and another monk...Hey that is me!. The
moment between where there was just another monk, and when I recognized
myself in the window was one of the best moments of my life. The thought
of it still brings a smile to my face today.

There is nothing I would rather be than just another monk in the long
line of beggars. Each monk stands in the shoes of the Buddha, and
accepts offerings on Buddha's behalf. I cannot think of a finer
occupation. There is no need there to be a Zen master, no quick witted
fools to challenge your standing. There is only standing and offering an
opportunity to each person who walks past to put a small offering in the
bowl of the Buddha. There is only offering the Buddha's blessing on each
who stop to make an offering. The big hat hides your eyes, they cannot
see enough to distinguish you from any other in the line, you cannot
even distinguish yourself from the others in the line. You hold the bowl
high enough so you cannot see what is offered, the hat keeps you from
seeing who it is that is making the offering. You just hold the bowl and
chant the blessing for each offering no matter what it might be..there
is no judgment there, no discrimination between offerings. You cannot
tell the Zen Master from the Novice, nor the rich man's offering from
that of the poorest street fisherman.

In that moment is a perfection that transcends everything. All things
are just as they should be.

If I ever have a student, I would rather they travel halfway around the
world and stand for a few minutes of their life in the straw sandals of
a monk, than that they read a million books, or that they catch a dozen
Zen Masters with a quick witted saying. I am ever so grateful that my
kind teacher insisted I do it. If I had a wish for anyone, it would be
for them to have an experience like that.

I have no wish to be a trained Zen Master monkey responding to each
challenge with a witty saying, or with what ever response was either
expected or unexpected. I have nothing to teach anyone that can be said.
All I could offer anyone was the experience of being just a
monk...another a long line of monks.

The funny thing is, every Zen master I met in Japan leaped to the
opportunity to put on straw sandals and be just another monk in the long
line of monks. Being a Zen Master with students bowing at your feet is
nothing compared to being just another monk in a long line of monks.
That is why a monk must be forced into becoming a teacher. No one in his
right mind would exchange those places willingly.

Sad it is that some of the quickest wits will never even understand this
simple fact. Call me nothing but a clouds and water monk...I will just
smile and shake my head at your foolishness.

Be Well


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Link to Sotozen-net

Here is a link that might be of interest to the readers of this Blogg


Ask a Scurrilous Monk yahoo group

Here is a link to the Yahoo Group that I founded. It is a companion to the Blogg so that others may contact me and ask questions and get answers that may be posted to the Blogg


Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Mark?

On Sat, 2005-04-16 at 07:39 -0700, RS wrote:
> 1) Fudos quote: In the Bendowa Dogen states "if perceptions and
> understanding are mixed in, then it is not the mark of
> verification."
> -- what is this saying? That ones 'attainnment' is fake /
> unverifiable
> if it is comprised of perceptions and understanding? If so, I don't
> get
> it... But maybe I'm reading the thing wrong. Little help?

No it is saying it may well be fake...because the mark of verification
is not such things. If the mark of verification for being a poodle is
having four legs and a curly coat, having brown eyes is not the mark of
verification. It does not mean the poodle does not have brown
just means having brown eyes does not make the dog a poodle. Having
understanding and perceptions does not make one a Buddha. Ananda
memorized every word the Buddha said. He is the source of most all those
Sutras that were eventually written down..The ones that start "thus I
have heard" were all remembered by Ananda. Ananda was the Buddha's
personal attendant. When it came time to pass the Buddha's robes on to a
successor Ananda thought it would be him that received the robe...but it
was Mahakashapa who smiled when the Buddha raised the flower that got
the robe....Ananda eventually received the robe from
Mahakashapa....after he transcended words and knowledge. The mark was
not how much you perceive or had to have more than had to actually smile when it was time to smile...not
just know that one should smile at the appropriate time.

Perceptions and understanding are not the mark of verification. You
might have them, but a master will look at other things for the mark of
verification. A master looks at how you do things, how you attend to and
take care of your life and the life of others in this moment for the
mark of verification. It does not mean you do not perceive or
understand, but your perceptions and understanding are not what the
master looks for when he or she looks for the mark..the Buddha seal.

RS writes:

>-- I am seeing how this works. In part it greatly reduces the 'burden'
>of maintaining a self-importance. Things that don't go my way, don't
>bother me as much, because I don't associate my 'self' with the
>wish/desire/misconception. I can say, "those poorly laid plans weren't
>mine, just some past fool named Rod -- now that I have to deal with the
>pieces, what will this Rod do/plan for?" Lets me get to work rather
>than lament ideas of loss... All that said, there is another
>that has been arising and I think you might have actually recommended I
>pursue it if I recall, but I suspect because of its decadence its not a
>rewarding way to see things.I'd like your and others input on its
>before I give further into it, or swear it off:

> My habit of repackaging things into self and other, makes me want to
>still point and say THAT is me. Naturally the stuff I point at is
>flattering, like I AM Life/ existence/ arising/ thinking/ observing/
>love/ curiosity/ hope etc. This is attractive because I don't see
>much in those things, and thus it sounds like a nice place to hang my
>hat (and also stroke my ego since I leave out the
>death/non-existence/stillness/fear/apathy/defeat). I know I shouldn't
>deliberately 'choose' where to hang my hat, and just let it work itself
>out, but I feel trapped between resisting the egotistic but decadent
>lure of being a personification of etneral
>Arising/Bodhisattva/Buddha/God/etc. and the alternative of trying to
>keep 'knowledge' of the impermanent nature of things in my wretching

>Where is the alternative place? Hang my hat on death with equal fervor
>as life? Defeat with equal surety of hope?

You are still picking and choosing. You want all the good things to be
"you" and all the bad things to be "temporary". The vow to realize all
things without exception that is the gatha recited upon arising in the
morning that brings the freedom. It is when we do not want to look at
death or at illness that we can be blindsided by disaster. When we look
at all the things that arise, then all that arise is "me" or "I" arise
with all things. All things cause all things. Your life is dependent on
the blade of grass your neighbor just cut. The reason you practice
immediately if your hair is on fire, is because this moment may
indeed be your last. It does no good to become desperate, frantic and
run around screaming with your hair on fire..but if you immediately
address the problem in a calm and effective manner..the fire will be
quickly dealt with, and the damage minimized. The same is true of death.
As I pass through middle age I find I do not fear the end as much
because I feel I have already lived a full life. I treasure each moment
of my life because I know it is fleeting, like a flash of lightening or
the dew on the grass. When I fully live and attend to this moment, the
next flows freely from the last. When you attend to all the things in
this moment fully, you fill your life with the life you live which
includes the end of your life. Katagiri Roshi said "Do not think for one
moment you will not die." cannot fully appreciate the cherry
blossoms if one is not aware of their fleeting nature. When you sit down
quietly and be in your life right as it is....and attend to all that
arises, you end up peaceful...aware of the bitter sweet fact that my six
year old daughter will only be six for a year, and then seven. The
innocence that is manifest in her at this moment is going to turn to a
worldly knowledge before my eyes. Each moment including the moment of
death becomes bitter sweet. If my daughters life ends tragically in a
few years I will be devastated,but I will not have to say I missed the
beauty of it. The days of her life like mine and yours are finite and
numbered. It is part of the nature of life that as soon as we are born
we begin to die. Part of the sweetness of a stick of gum is that the
flavor will soon fade. If we always have a stick of gum in our
mouth..the sweetness is no longer noticed. If cherry blossoms were
always there, there would not be viewing parties in Japan. It is the
contrasts and the fleeting nature of life that makes it beautiful. If we
do not look at the tenuous nature of our life we cannot fully appreciate
the beauty of our life. If you do not understand that in the scheme of
things "you" are a flash of can you "know" who you
are? If you do not understand that eating, farting, taking a dump, death
and being a dink are all part of are you going to know who you
are? If you ignore your ignorance how are you going to learn to be
wise?....each part of you...the good and the bad, the smells and the
mess as well as the understanding and pretty hair must see
all to truly understand who you are. To understand that who you are
changes when you are "dad" or "employee" or "husband" ..none of these is
you...and none of them are not you. How can you relax and be in the
moment when you are spending so much time ignoring a part of what is
arising in this moment?....each thing....everything....must be
noticed....or the bad things will keep ambushing you when you are not
looking at them.

Right now you are not perfect...join the club. Right now you are
learning, you are striving, you are seeking your way. It is a fine place
to is the only place you can be because it is, in fact, where you
are. So just be there. Just seek. Just learn. Just strive. From these
activities arise understanding, and a finding of your way. Soto Zen is
about "negotiating the way"....there is no way to negotiate the way if
you do not start with where you are. You can only step forward from
where you are. You cannot step forward either, if you refuse to leave
the place you are. The reality of your life is you cannot stay. Life
moves forward whether you want it to or not. The only question is are
you going to step into the next moment from a solid place, and clearly
and completely enter the next? Or are you going to be drug into the next
moment from the stumbles of the last? Are you going to blindsided by the
nature of your life because you refuse to look at it? Or are you going
to be clear on what this moment is, and what the next is bringing?

It is my experience that being drug around kicking and screaming and
bouncing off rocks you continue to ignore until they crack your ribs is
does not make for a smooth negotiation of the way, or a very pleasant
life...if you see the rocks and cannot avoid them, at least you can
minimize the damage and slightly smooth the way. If you step forward in
calm knowledge of what have a better chance of making it a
smoother journey.

You are going to take the you do it is up to you...I have
made my choice, and will not turn to another way because...this way
works as promised in my life. I do not crack my ribs very severely, or
very often, and the way is much smoother and much much more pleasant.

Be Well


Friday, April 15, 2005

beyond knowing

I came across
an interesting article written by Rev. Issho Fujita of the Pioneer
Valley Zendo in the February issue of the Dharma Eye published by the
Soto Zen International Center.

Rev. Fujita says:

"In in most other meditation practice,the issues involved take place
within the sphere of knowing and from beginning to end, these methods
focus on this sphere. In short, the core of the practice is concerned
with the regulation and control of conditions in the sphere of knowing.
In that sense they are build on "what-is-known-is-everything-ism" and we
can see that there is no interest in a dimension of beyond knowing. With
regard to this, zazen doesn't ignore the value of knowing, but the main
emphasis is put on beyond-knowing which transcends knowing and makes
knowing possible. It is precisely for this reason that no matter what
happens within the sphere of knowing, it is all right not to deal with
such things with your own thoughts and simply entrust yourself to their
appearance and disappearance by simply noticing them. In zazen,it is
enough to know that such things appear naturally moment to moment within
the sphere of knowing. It is not to have the intention of trying to
produce some special condition."

This beyond-knowing is what the "only don't know" advocates are pointing
to. It is this quest to "know" that is the be all and end all or what
Rev. Fujita calls "what-is-known-is-everything-ism" that is ultimately
futile. It is enough to recognize there is this beyond-knowing, and then
to stop the pursuit of every idea that occurs to its ultimate end, and
just let these things arise and pass withing your sphere of knowing
without an intent to pursue, to know, to have, to hold,to control,to
own,to create or to understand.

Dogen tells us in the Genjo Koan "there is clearly a limit to our
knowing. It isn't possible to grasp the limitless enlightenment of the
Buddha by means of our limited knowing. In the Bendowa Dogen states "if
perceptions and understanding are mixed in, then it is not the mark of

It is this practice of entrusting yourself to the appearance and
disappearance of phenomenon in your sphere of knowing, and just noticing
them that is the zazen of which Soto Zen speaks. It is this resting of
the mind comfortably for a few minutes, without trying to control,
create, or know, or hold or understand any particular thing or state,but
just noticing what arises in your sphere of knowing that is "just
sitting". One might say "well isn't this just sitting and noticing
then?"....if one sits down for a few moments one quickly realizes that
one cannot help noticing. Noticing is a part of everything we do, one
need not intend to notice. It happens naturally, if we only let it and
do not try and control what we notice. It is when we no longer try to
drive our mind down one particular track that we can begin to see what
it naturally is. We can begin to sense what we truly are.

There is a drive within all of us to "know" have to hold to control.
The reality is that none of us can know, hold or control. There are
things that will always be beyond our knowing, beyond our ability to
gain or hold, or control. One of the things that contributes to our
suffering is our desire to have what we cannot have. It makes our
current state of being seem small, confused, treacherous. Welcome to the
club. It is only when when we think there is another state (one where
our life is stable and in control and we know) that this true state of
our being seems diminished. We think if we could only be something
else...then everything would be better...we chase better jobs, better
homes, better thoughts, until we realize that wherever we go ...there we
are. Our life keeps arising in the same state. Rather than chase after
noble causes, pure thoughts, and intellectual heights of deception, we
just might try living our lives as they are..... Small, confused,
ignorant, and treacherous. It is after all the only thing that we can
really do. The great Zen Master Hakuin painted life as three blind men
on a log bridge...holding hands and tapping their way with their staffs
across a treacherous bridge. One mistake and splash! This is what he
indicated is the true state of our lives. If one focuses on being what
one is here and now, and notices everything that arises in our sphere of
thought, no matter how petty or small, one begins to live a life free of
restriction and suffering, and can be comfortable in whatever arises in
this place. We can begin to see the life we live, rather then looking
elsewhere for a dream of what could be. The life you are really living
is much more satisfying than any dream, even a dream of something

Here and now is the only place where you can act to change the reality
of your life, and the lives of those around you. If you are not paying
attention to here and now, it is pretty difficult to make a positive
change in anything that matters. Do not sacrifice your chance for
comfort and effectiveness for any dream of something better or any
imaginary state of being, even an imagined Nirvana. Nirvana is beyond
knowing, it cannot be contained in any knowing. If you know about it,
what you know is just not accurate. Better not to chase the lie at all.

Nirvana is like Cleveland... even if you ever get there you probably
will not care that you have arrived.

Be Well