Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What is this transmission?

donald wrote:
> In the transmission, other than the ceremonial, certification, sealing
> and robing, is there anything spiritual? What I am asking is that
> your description belongs to the "realm of visible forms". Is there
> anything "unvisible, real and true" being transmitted?

Dear Donald,

In Soto what is being transmitted is a way of being. Dogen constantly
refers to "negotiating the way". As far as I know the Soto sect does not
postulate on the unknowable.....the invisible....and as for truth...well
that seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

One of course, has to be able to see the way in order to negotiate it.
What is being stamped and approved is your "way of being" in the
world...now one can postulate whether there is something invisible or
some understanding that is being demonstrated here...but Soto pretty
much sticks to what you can see, hear,touch, taste, and smell. So we
watch...we see how you raise the curtain...there is a famous story where
one master turns to a senior monk and says about two monks raising the
Zendo curtain..."the one on the right has it." We put emphasis on acting
like a Buddha in the world, not about what you think about, or how
clearly you see.......what is important in Soto is whether or not you
act like a Buddha or Bodhisattva....not whether or not you know how one
should act. What we desire is to see the manifestation of the
Bodhisattva here and now, in each and everything you do.....so what is
certified is this demonstration.

Often in Soto circles you see reading, thinking, discussion in order to
understand spoken of as a waste of time.....if you take time to
understand, you have missed the moment..one cannot understand this
moment, one can only understand the last moment......so you are always a
step behind, a bit off if you wait for understanding. What matters is
not if you understand the story about Buddha holding up the flower and
Mahakashapa smiling...... Ananda understood the story ...it was not
enough....what is required is that in the instant the flower is held up
there is a smile.....this is why Mahakashapa got the robe and Ananda did
not. Ananda had memorized every word, understood every teaching, but was
still too late with the smile.


Be Well


Monday, May 15, 2006


S wrote:
> Hi,
> I'm new to the group and I'd like to jump right in and
> ask some questions to the Scurrilous Monk, but also to
> the group in general.
> What are your views on practicing alone? Practicing
> without personal access to a teacher, for
> transmission? Practicing without a zendo to attend and
> a community to practice zazen with?

Practicing alone is not having a Zen practice.

Practicing without a teacher is not having a Zen practice.

Practicing without a community to practice with is not having a Zen

I take refuge in the Buddha (the teacher)
I take refuge in the Dharma (the teachings)
I take refuge in the Sangha ( community of believers)

These are basic precepts of Zen Buddhism. If you do not have all
three...you do not have a Zen practice.

A Zen practice is a specific thing (or things as there are both Rinzai
and Soto zen practices).

Zen is a transmission outside words and letters....how are you going to
get the transmission without a teacher?.....how are you going to get
something outside words and letters by reading words and letters. Now it
is possible to download something from the ethers by yourself......you
could call it a transmission in the same way that tv is
transmitted....but it is not a Zen transmission...it is not even a
standard it is not an automatic transmission....it might not even been a
sane transmission.(I have seen some pretty out there claims in my time).
The transmission of the authentic Buddha seal is and can only be
accomplished by someone who has it authenticated.

There is no tradition that says "do whatever you like". ....period.....
There is no anarchy tradition.....what an oxymoron. ....there are even
standards for what Unitarianism is....and there are standards for
Ordination and membership. You are welcome to stop by a Unitarian Church
for a Service.......but It is not proper to call yourself a Unitarian
unless you subscribe to the standard they set....it is also not proper
to call your self a "Zen" person unless you subscribe to the standards
the Zen traditions set as standard.

Metaphysically speaking, is it better to do something rather than
nothing?.....yes, but it is better to do any one thing the correct way
then to do everything incorrectly.

It is better to have a real practice in your real life then it is to
have hours and hours of pretending you have a relationship with some one
on line. Sex with a real partner is different than cyber sex no matter
how good an imagination you have. (how many ways can you type Oooh ooooh

No Zen teachers in your community?....you are not able to travel to
visit one even for a day or a few hours?......then perhaps Zen is not
for you. Rather than having a fantasy relationship with Christy
Brinkley...you might be more rewarded by asking out a local
girl....rather then practicing your fantasy of Zen, you would be better
off connecting with whatever real tradition is available to you in your
local community.

Sitting around having cyber sex or imagining you are in love with
Christy Brinkley can indeed be life changing experiences. It is my
contention that mowing your lawn or breathing each breath are also life
changing experiences....what makes breathing and mowing lawns Zen
experiences is if they are done in the context of having a Zen teacher
and practicing with a Zen community. They are community Service if they
are assigned to you by a judge, or Christian activities if you are
baptized. They are a form of spiritual masturbation if you do it all for
and by yourself as you yourself envision good things to be.

Ok then, what if what is locally available is not your cup of
tea?....maybe it is not exotic enough for you?....maybe it is too
common?...maybe the people are a bunch of hypocrites?.....or you were
personally hurt by someone associated with them?...or they are too
authoritarian for you?.....hmm....maybe there is something wrong with
you? None of the girls or guys about town "good" enough for you?.....

I am sure Christy is just waiting to go out with someone who can't get
a date at home. I am sure Zen teachers , like Christy Brinkley, are
sitting around looking for yet another know-it- all with a cup already
full to show up at their door too. Might I be so bold as to suggest you
fix your problems before you get into a relationship?....maybe if you
had something to offer the local girls, you would not have to head off
to New York in search of the next available super model. It is possible
that the girl you are cybering with looks like Christy Brinkley...it is
not too likely though...girls who look like Christy have better things
to do with their time. It just might be a better use of your time to go
out and be nice to the local girls, be polite, make a little nice
conversation, listen to them, make them smile. Zen might look better to
you then whatever is around the corner......but if the Zen teacher on
line were indeed a super-model....he or she would not be sitting around
cybering with you either.

Ahh ha! ...now you have me!!! How come I am sitting around offering
advice on the internet?...(why do I say I am not teaching Zen
here?).....because I am a crappy monk (see the title of the blog). I am
a bad example....no one bothers to come to me for teaching because I do
not really sound like a monk (I don't really look like the stereotype
either)...I am not exotic...not even cool......I am certainly not a
Christy Brinkley like monk. (no matter what others might imagine me to
be). I am not worth much...but perhaps by sitting around this imaginary
sangha I can point someone to what is real....after all...I have nothing
better to do with my time.

There are no shortage of folks who will tell you how great they are as
they sell you something over the internet...(their latest book for
example)....or who will be your guru over the net.......but believe me
...they are not Christy Brinkley.....girls like Christy do not spend
their time cybering with guys like you....neither does any Zen teacher
worth their salt. It is possible to imagine a Christy Brinkley look a
like who waits for guys like us to type ooh ooh with her.....but it just
does not happen in real life. Guys like Narasaki Tsugen Roshi or Akiba
Roshi...or even plain old Shoken Winekoff Roshi.....just are not
available to any old Joe or Jane on the internet...sorry.....it does not

Please, what ever your practice, make it a real practice in your real life.

Be Well,


Thursday, April 13, 2006


Dear J,

I suppose one could approach learning to dance by attempting never to make a misstep. I find this approach usually leaves me standing on the edge of the dance floor watching the wall flowers on the other side of the floor.

I find that when I step out and try to put my feet in the correct place, dancing becomes a lot more fun...and when the first part of the dancing (asking a partner to dance) is performed correctly (or even sometimes rather poorly) it has a much greater chance of success then never stepping out to dance at all...so I just throw caution and my ego into the wind...and step out and do the best I can...sometimes it is enough, but it is always more then never stepping out at all. I have even been known to transform a wallflower into a dancer with a poorly mumbled cliche, or the oldest line the the book. I am always surprised at how well a wallflower can catch even a poorly tossed line.

It has been my experience that even a poorly tossed line, mumbled in an unclear voice, can turn a sick person into a poet, or a dying man into a philosopher. It can make a sick room into a ball room, and a hospice into a party for two.

The dance is always performed by dancers, those standing about with their hands in their pockets never get to dance..........there is a reason to be sad, and a reason to get out there and dance with the first person you see standing about with their hands in their pockets. What could be a more joyous thing than making dancers out of a couple of wallflowers?

I encourage to you to dance. ....thats it......... tap your feet...come on now......move your knees....hands up......there you go!!!.....you can't look any sillier then I do....now dance.

Be Well


Friday, January 13, 2006

On Thumpers

It matters not to me what holy writing a thumper thumps.

The problem with cutting a pasting little snippets of holy writings (the Koran, the Bible, the Sutras or the Torah) is that they can and have been used to justify any action the person chooses to be doing. They make every action righteous. Thumping clippings from the Bible made Apartheid and the Holocaust righteous, Thumping the Koran made flying airplanes into buildings righteous, Thumping the Sutras made the rape of China and the Aum terrorisms righteous.

Apartheid arose in the mind before the structures were built in society to reinforce it, just like a temple is built when it arises in the mind. Apartheid arose from the thought that others are beneath you and the Bible was used to justify it.......obviously such an idea can be ennobled from the Sutra's as well.

The problem with lifting little sections of the holy writings to justify your position is that pretty much anything can be justified in such a manner. If you read the whole Bible, you get a different idea than from "an eye for an eye"....or if you read the whole section that describes homosexuality as a sin...you would also not eat pork, or shrimp or lobster, your wife would be your property, and jerking off as much of a sin as ......well never mind..... and almost any male (and most females) are right there in sin with every gay or lesbian. The point being that the thumper is using the writings to justify their position. They do not care if that position is consistent with the rest of the writings, They are not looking for the way , they are only looking to justify their way. Thumpers are are dangerous. When they are alone they are even more scary, because there is no check at all on how crazy they can become...there is nowhere for them to get a sanity check....but then again..a thumper does not thump to have their ideas tested in crucible of a discussion, they thump to justify their position, their reality, created by their ideas. When challenged a thumper has nothing to say....all they can do it thump some more, and use some stolen wisdom to try and justify their own position, because by nature, a thumper has no wisdom of their own.

Before we get all holier then thou and pat ourselves on the back, we are all thumpers at times too, just like we all are pretentious sometimes too. A wise person recognizes this tendency in themselves, and works to minimize it in themselves rather then maximize the danger to themselves and others. A wise person gets a sanity check from those around them from time to time, just to make sure they have not wandered too far afield.

Before we get too down on ourselves for our tendency to wander off the path all too easily, let us remember that all do this sometimes as well. We also are sometimes wise, and sometimes noble as well. There is nothing that arises in any person, be that nobility or ignorance, that does not arise in us as well. To pretend otherwise is just lying to ourselves. Every decent Zen teacher I have ever met has someone they respect to check themselves with so they do not wander off too far afield in their life. Power corrupts, a wise man or woman gets a check on this corruption from time to time.

Wisdom is not ignoring anything...ignoring anything is ignorance. Ignoring it in others is not kind, ignoring it in ourselves is dangerous.

English is a tough language...there is no pronoun for the you that is me, and the me that is you, because it is really different then "us". Us is more our separate beings gathered together. The big "I" includes you and the big "you" includes me. When anyone calls anyone on anything, they are indeed calling themselves on it at the same time...there is nothing we dislike more in others, then what we dislike in ourselves. Ask anyone who has lived with a former smoker, a former drinker, a former addict, a former intellectual, a former anything.

The point here is ..no one is beneath us...they are exactly us. No matter how much we huff or stomp away, or use the sutras to justify our position, the basic point of the whole thing (any holy writing) has been missed the moment we think we can leave. The moment the thought arises that there is indeed a they that is not us, that can be left, we are lost. One of the basic points of Jesus' teaching was that he was exactly the beggar you treated poorly, he is exactly the "homo" or the "terrorist" you deny basic human rights to. (oh wait..we already did that to him didn't we??? wow...Deja Vu all over again.....) He is exactly the "least of my brothers "(what ever you do to the least.... you do him...exactly).....hmmm a most Buddhist of teachings........None of us is alone in missing these teachings, most of us miss them most of the time. Whatever we do to anyone, we do at the same time to Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed, Bahula, Moses, Shiva, Zeus, The goddess, the green man, to Hitler, Pol Pot, the republicans and the democrats.

Be Well


Monday, January 09, 2006

Dogen Zen and the time Zen was pure

I appreciate the motives that make people strive to recreate a Zen that is pure like it was in Dogen's time. I think it is a little naive to think that only now, only here has a similar effort been made. I know that in Japan I heard the same sort of talk from "noble" efforts being made to return the practice to what is was before it got polluted.....by having to pay for temples, and having been "institutionalized". I am sure one find the same movements in Tibetan Buddhism, even in the Catholic church......there is nothing new or unique about such efforts....it is only our ego that thinks that this time..when we do it ...will it be successful. Dogen was a revolutionary as well.....history shows us the problem with revolutions is that they inevitably become what they revolted against, or they die before they have the opportunity to. The structures exist for a reason...the Modern Soto Shu is there for a reason, it did not become what it is because everyone in it it is corrupt, it became what is because there was a Soto-shu shaped hole in the universes that needed filling. There are more reformers in Japan than there are in New Mexico, or Texas, or Minnesota.....all wanting to go back to the time when things were pure....the problem is ....there never was a time when things were pure.

The Zen we think of as "Dogen Zen" never existed...even in Dogen's time. There was no group of more noble than other monks huddled in a small group by a fire somewhere..or in a shack...aspiring to a "true" practice...well there was...but they had the same problems that we have today..and only stayed by the fire long enough to find a noble sponser....problems like who is going to pay for the shack?...and where are we going to get food?..How are we going to exist in this time and place? Who is going to cook lunch so we can eat? The lotus only bloomed in muddy water. If one stops by to visit Eihieji today one can still see the monuments to the ones who paid for the building of the temple. Those rich guys ...or rich family......in Old Japan..you know..the nobles?...the ones who paid for everything?...the ones you had to sell on the idea that building a temple was a good place to spend their money?...the ones who in their grief tried to assure a place in nirvana for themselves and their children, while they were busy lopping of the heads of peasants, and killing themselves with swords? No smart temple priest these days caters to a single donor....because that means the donor wants to be in charge...I am sure things were different in Dogen's day when single donors were all that was available. Not to mention, picking the right donor....because If your donor got his head lopped off.....well unless you were politic enough you were out of the temple when the new noble moved in, replaced by the priest who played the game better than you did, or at least was luckier than you at the track where priests picked out which horse to bet their life and practice on. If you were out...so was all that you carefully tended, and your noble flock of underlings either went with you into obscurity , found a new rich person who wanted to be assured of nirvana, or bowed to the new order.

Well what about Ancient China during the flowering of Buddhism in China?.....as bad or worse.

Well then let us go back to when it all was new.....the time of the living Buddha were a perfect group of Arhats with shining halos about their heads sat in gardens and ate rice begged from the people on the street......No muddy water there...not if we ignore the fact that even if Buddha was liberal enough to let low caste males into his sangha...even he could not bend enough to let women in....until and unless it was understood that the highest ranked woman must bow to the lowest rank man (as the lowest ranked man I can tell you that this idea is not dead in some parts of the world.) The we have the rules about not having sex with trees. Buddha only made the rules as they were needed....so we must have had a least one tree fucker mucking up the picture. Then of course, there was Ananda. He had memorized every word of the Buddha, before he played his robes and position into the bed of every woman he could....maybe all those women who were bowing at his feet in the morning, had a little trouble not bowing at night. I am sure there were volunteers(this too is as old as time), some more voluntary then others. Yet none of this was cause for Ananda to be removed from the sangha....that was reserved for those who planned the coup. Ooops....politics in the original Sangha? You are kidding right?

So where is this perfection that we are going to go back to?.where is the mud that is purer than this mud?....The Lotus has always bloomed in muddy water. Perhaps our efforts would be better spent blooming where we are planted, rather than chasing after the myth of a more noble time.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

How do we get rid of our anger?

Many people come to the practice of Zen or to any religion for that matter because of a profound feeling that something is wrong. There is something wrong with "them"....the is something wrong with "us"...therefore what "is" needs to be fixed.....more so for what is "wrong" with others over what is "misunderstood" about ourselves.
But the essential feeling of "wrongness" in ourselves is what motivates most practice...we practice to fix what is "wrong" with us so we can fix what is "wrong" with the world and everyone else. There is something wrong with us because we feel anger....there is something wrong with him because he is angry......anger, sadness and suffering are essential to our being, someone once said that "all life is suffering". This sense of wrongness is not "wrong" because it drives us to seek something better, or at least it can....it drives us to seek a solution, it forces us to begin to heal...like the swelling of a bruised ankle and the pain that keeps us off our feet for a while or lets us know when we are hurting ourselves more. Pain is not "bad"in its essential nature, anger is not "bad" by its nature. Anger is natural, it is neither good nor bad by its nature. So getting rid of anger is not the goal, anger has a purpose and a function.

I remember a developmentally disabled kid who was not under my direct care, but in the area where I worked. He used to pull down his pants all the time. His well meaning care takers decided to put a lock on his belt so he could not remove his pants. It kept him from removing his pants, even in the bathroom, which lead to some unfortunate problems that had not existed before......the problem was not that taking off your pants is bad, it is that there are appropriate places to do so and to not do so.....it was a matter of discrimination...rather than teaching the kid discrimination, they made the problem worse.

As the writer of "The Merging of Difference and Unity" tells us "all things have their function, it is a matter of use in the appropriate situation". Well what can be the purpose of anger?......as you have noted anger usually results from hurt or fear. Fear most often results from an experience of hurt...as all have noted, an animal with no experience with humans does not fear them. Hurt gives rise to fear which gives rise to anger. Anger functions properly to protect us (and those we care about) from hurt.

What then does anger tell us if we listen?...it tells us there is an unhealed hurt existing somewhere...there is a fear there that needs to be addressed. Now should we fear crossing a busy street?.....yes a certain amount of fear is healthy, and anger is a natural response to a driver speeding down the street where your children are playing. One should not try and eliminate anger, or leave anger somewhere.

Just dropping anger like a rock is no more of an answer than taking drugs so you can continue to walk on an injured ankle. What ever triggered your anger will continue to trigger your anger whenever it arises. One could address the anger by many dysfunctional methods ..the ones we often choose..we can suppress it, we can kill our children so we no longer fear so tremendously for them in an increasingly hostile world, we can shoot the driver and stop the car. Shooting the driver or the kids does not work either..there are always more children and more drivers, and no end here to our anger.

Or we can sit down with our anger, and use it as a tool to probe where we are hurt....I fear for my children, that is where this anger arises, what then can I do that is best for myself and all beings to protect my children?....well what about forbidding them to cross the street or go anywhere near the street? nah that will not work in the real world...What about sitting around working on my anger? darn that does not work either..it just keeps popping up........what about knowing they are not "my" children and when I think about them I get angry, so I should just forget about them? nah that really does not work either..........what about lowering the speed limit, having the city put up warning signs,increase enforcement, or put in speed bumps?...well one or all of these might be effective... maybe I should work towards a truly effective method to reduce my fear, and in doing so I will reduce my anger..and by the way my neighbor is angry about that too, and of course I might save a child in the process, not to mention the life of a driver which would be ruined by his carelessness should he ever hit a kid. Now I have used my anger to reduce anger in myself and my neighbor, protected both the driver and the children....who could possibly say the anger that motivated this action was bad?

Sometimes the fear that makes us angry is not even rational...my elder daughter is afraid of worms.....wave a worm at her and she becomes angry. Forbidding worms in her presence is not a practical solution...as long as she fears worms ...worms will make her angry. What needs to be healed here is not her anger, but the fear of worms...she is not willing to work on this right now.....but should her anger ever become her concern, the way to fix it is to fix the irrational fear of worms. If we fear men for example for some happening in our past, or fear intimacy, or fear anything, we have a hurt that needs healing. Our anger points to these injuries. Some fear is rational...if it is rational, then find realistic ways to protect yourself (or others) and reduce the fear when it results in anger, if the fear arises from a real hurt that needs healing, get the help we need to heal the hurt, if the fear is irrational there are ways to fix that as well.

Anger is a poison, but like a poison it can be used for both good and evil. Most medicines are poisonous in some dosage. It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation. It is only when we spread it around with no thought, no control, no discrimination that anger poisons everything.

All things have their function, even anger.

Now we shall move from the realm of psychology to Buddhism. Much of our fear comes from incorrect understandings...where Buddhism comes into play is where fear stems from the feeling that "we" are separate from them. We are alone, we are something more than a pile of skandhas..... When anger is directed at "them" then it is not being used appropriately. When Zen directs us to look at what is, then we reduce great amounts of fear, and thus great amounts of anger. When we look at what really is we become not angry at the driver for driving too fast, but ourselves for not calling the street department or whomever is responsible for taking care of speed bumps, perhaps we will even get up off our cushion and make a few calls. (or write a few posts).

When we sit down to let everything go, the last little thing that identifies ourselves to ourselves, the last thing we have to know so we can forget is our own hurts...they are what at the most basic level identify us to ourselves. since the last thing we let go of is "our" pain the last thing we really let go of is "our" anger. Often during the process our practice even makes us more angry, as we bring forth the last of our hurts to be let go, we bring forth more and more essential anger. It is a part of the process, neither to embraced nor shunned, just is....neither good nor bad. (remember the warning that not everything that comes up is pleasant?) Sometimes the fear at this point get so great that one avoids sitting, this is one more place where a teacher who knows what is going on can come and help one through this part of the process. It is also a part of the teacher's role to be the thing there for the student to be angry at, to give the student a place to put the anger, while the surprised student learns to deal with what is happening.

Buddhism offers us the eightfold path, not as a cudgel to beat others who are wrong with, but as a well marked path to end suffering (note: not "our" suffering). Every Buddhist is on the path, some in comfy places, some in not...no one has finished the path while they are alive, nor should anyone be expected to act like they have.

So anger is not something we need to get rid of, it is not wrong to be angry, being angry is just being angry. Now what will you do with your anger? Will you use it or will it use you? It is a matter of use in the appropriate situation.

Be Well