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!