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