Wednesday, February 14, 2007

something little you could do

For those of us who are frustrated and angry with our government for some of the things that have been
going...or for Washington as a whole........a congress that debates instead of acts....a president who does
not feel the need to lead....those of us who feel disenfranchised and unheard I propose a way to be heard.

Let us do a little thing. Let us go to the funeral of those who live in our town, or near our town who are killed
in the undeclared war in Iraq, let us go to the funeral of anyone killed in the war on terror that we are able to
attend....the government and the media are not interested in us seeing the flag draped caskets. Perhaps...if say a
hundred or so too many to get into the church show up at a funeral..there will at least be local coverage of the event.
If more manage to show much the better......but what would be the effect on our senators and representatives
if they had to hold soldier's funerals in sports stadiums and hire off duty police to direct traffic?...if downtown got
shutdown due to traffic? Could your school flunk you for missing class to attend a funeral?....what would happen to an employer
who was not patriotic enough to let his or her employees attend funerals of fallen soldiers? Who could accuse you of not
supporting the troops, or not being patriotic....come ...wave a flag if you wish.....could your senator or representative afford to be less patriotic
than a few lefties?.....could anyone fault you for wanting to honor those who died in your name?..could others be shamed into taking care
of the injured....if we lined up at the hospitals to watch the ambulances roll in?

We could, of course, all put a dollar in an offering basked for the family of the deceased. We could volunteer at the hospitals until they could not
help to change something do deal with the lines of volunteers that snaked for blocks around rehab hospitals. There are many more things we could
do...but we could start here....just go to a

So now not tell me you are not tell me you have no idea what you can do. Now that the idea has been shared........the rest is up to you.

I am a child of the 60s and 70s...I remember when a rag tag small group of students demonstrated on my campus...the ruckus in the press was weeks in the debate.......
what more effect could mothers and grandmothers, vets and bank tellers, grandfathers and fathers have?......what issue can all of us come together on if it is not that those who have died or
sacrificed loved ones or body parts in our name deserve our respect?

Be Well


Sunday, February 11, 2007

on western Zen, and Buddhism as a whole

One of the difficulties of transmitting a way across cultures, is that there are things that do not transfer. We westerners are terribly myopic...what happens here and what we think about it is all that is important....we wandered into a recent war because we could not see beyond our own borders to what would happen if we set off alone to persue something most of the rest of the world found abhorent.

There are Buddhists in the world today who do still think the medical professions are indeed not right livelihood. There are more Buddhists in the world who feel the highest ranking woman should bow to the lowest ranking man than there are who think there should be equality between the sexes...My fellow monks in Japan could not comprehend the fact that there were women in the west who wanted to be nuns....Japanese nuns tend to be orphans who are raised by a temple...few women in Japan would seek to be a priest or a monk...and they certainly would not be encouraged by the Zen community to seek such an ill fitting path...In Japan the group is more important than an individual to this day..the group just looks funny if female forms are underneath the robes...there is a small minority that feels differently ..but this is still the prevailing attitude..... There are probably as many Buddhists in the world today who still think it is impossible to be enlightened while in a female body as there are who think the sex of one's body does not matter......these are the facts........pretending they are not true because we do not see them does not make them go away...

This being said, not every so called "good" solution we in the west have attempted is in fact an improvement. Some of the quaint things we have discarded have in fact been part of the baby that has been discarded with the bathwater.

Saying the sex of the body does not matter does nothing about adapting methods and teachings that have primarily been for one sex to the new way.......there is not a lot about how to handle sexuality in the sangha (an issue the Buddha tried hard to avoid)in what has been brought to this shore.... and not addressing this in the new way will lead to a whole new set problems as we move forward.......witness all the problems of a sexual nature that have occured here in the west...that just do not seem to be that much of an issue in Japan........should men and women practice together an how is not a question that can really be anwered by "of course" without developing some kind of definintions of what is appropriate and how to actually bring this "of course" into a real functioning sangha.

One of the teachings I was exposed to in Japan was about begging and offerings......there is a basic teaching in Buddhism from the first about begging....which was dismissed as "difficult" in America for example.....since the practice is fairly unpleasant for the one really tries to hard to find a way to incorporate this practice in the west.....and many excuses as to why it cannot be done are offered.....there are things you learn while begging..especially if you are taught to beg in the traditional Buddist way...that you stop at every house..not just the rich or likely to respond ones...that you accept every offering.....nothing is spurned....if you are given a shot of knock it back...sometimes this is a source of entertainment for some less than respectful people in force the monk to compromise the vow not to drink intoxicants and to throw them into conflict with the precepts and the practice about drink....but when the shot is just swallowed a lesson is presented to all who are there. It also breeds a less....well rigid and less easy to understand and interpret view of the precepts...In begging we are taught to sacrifice our honor, our face, our pride, our expectations and our beliefs for what is considered a greater good...there is no such training in most of the Sanghas I have visited in the west. No one wants to go is intersting to me that when I found a way to actually go begging in experience of begging was virtually the same...about as many of the people gave..about the same average amount..about as many drove me away, about as many taunted me...about as many appreciated what I was doing ...and about as many were led to approach me and ask about what was going spite of all the logic offered as to why we could not do this practice in America....I found it not all that hard to accomplish...when I wanted to.

In the west we practice according to our preference...and style triumphs over substance. I do not know how you become egoless doing exactly as your ego wishes you to Japan we did things we did not want to do at all....all the time....and it was good for us...and we learned we did not need to indulge our egos in every moment....I am waiting to see this idea transfer to the far the effort seems feeble, and the way more about feeding our ego rather than slowly starving it.

It seems to me this is the very baby of Zen.....and it has been tossed with the bathwater. Perhaps it is time to look again beyond the front door of our countries borders, and see if the baby on the ground there is still alive enough to bring back into our lives.

Maybe it would be better to examine some of the conflicts and resolve them to pretend they do not exist. One of the practical problems presented in the modern world presents itself in choices I am offered right now...I have two teachers who have offered to transmit teacher's robes to me...One is respected in Japan, but has problems with many here in America. One is a man and one is a woman. One is fairly well respected in a tiny community in the West, but will never be respected by the establishment in Japan. One is condsidered a respectible member of a long and well established is considered a less than desireable member of an old lineage. One would be an international bridge to help bring the old ways to the west..and in the short term an advantage to the idea of planting the dharma in a wide way in the I think really has it...and is going to plant deep the roots...that will take generations to earn respect, and likely be leader of a very small group for a very long time...and if they ever gain will be long after they are dead..

Interestingly ...both have begged with a bowl....for hours in hot robes and straw the hot tropical humidity.

I have recieved the precepts in two I can choose which shade my teacher's robes will be......"once basic approaches are determined...then there are guiding rules"....I am a metaphor for Zen in the west....we too have yet to determine our basic approach....I am grieved that many seem to be choosing an approach that indulges ego in order to raise the funds necessary to earn a living in the west. An approach that feeds the ego, rather than working to bring it under our control, one where style triumphs over substance, and one where only offerings of sufficent quality and quantity are acceptible.

Be Well


Friday, February 09, 2007

keeping promises and the precepts

Recently I was exposed to someone preparing to take the precepts for the first their excitement
and enthusiasm of the impending event...and after a long preparation the person in an excess of
that enthusiasm chose to share their insight into the majesty of the precepts.

Now I do not know how it works in other places with other people, but when I say I have transmitted
the precepts to another person......I do not mean that I have given them a list of several instructions on
how to live their life.....I mean that the person in question has at least demonstrated a basic understanding
of the nature of the vows that they are taking.

I can understand the precepts being offered in the hope that the person in question will come to some sort of
understanding at some possible future date.......but I feel that is like asking a person in the court of law to swear
they will tell the truth and nothing but the truth someday.

In case you have not figured it out...the precepts are a koan. They are impossible to keep. Much effort is
spent in trying to rationalize all this out...but like all koans.....the effort is the time you pull the first precept
out of memory and dust it off...the moment to act according to its guidelines is already passed. "do not kill" have to
kill....if you do not kill something will kill yourself.

Chase your tail on that one for as long as you wish.....but it ends up throwing you back into life as it is...completely.
In order to keep this simple precept, you have to leap beyond it ....and just kill killing. Before I can transmit the precepts
to you, you have to kill the precepts. This has been said many ways one famous one....."if you see the Buddha walking down the
road, kill him" can you reconcile that one with do not kill?

I do not know about other teachers, but I will not transmit the precepts to anyone who thinks ....that eating vegetables is living according to
the precepts. Or that not going to war is living according to the precepts...or that it is impossible to be a butcher, or a farmer , or even a gardener
while still being living according to the precepts....or that kind speech has to be quiet or pleasing to the ears.

Every time someone tries to pull the precepts on me....I wonder who transmitted the precepts to for me?....Shoken Winecoff Roshi...and Narasaki
Tsugen Roshi. Someday I would like to find someone to transmit what I was offered is sort of an I poke about ....waving a stick....
looking for someone whom I can seal as having glimpsed the koan....or at the very least...understands that the vows are impossible to keep, and that they have just been handed
a koan that will never be completely solved.

Be Well


Sunday, February 04, 2007

on the practice of building temples

Perhaps I have a different perspective on the practice of Zen because I came to it differently
than many modern western practitioners. I was following a tradition that was exotic and different
so had already worked out my need for something "special" that made me stand out from the crowd....
my teacher died and the ways to connect with that tradition died with him.

So I was casting about for a new way....during the turbulence surrounding my leaving of my old way....I
sat down to figure out how to go took a I sat for quite a while...then eventually
wandered off to a nearby Zen temple to see if what there was to this "just sitting".....what I saw there was
a fairly off putting funereal atmosphere with a bunch of apparently really self righteous explorers off on
some exotic trip that just did not seem to be very ....well........appealing to me. I felt like there was something
to the teachings of the Buddha, but had a real hard time connecting the uptight even anal atmosphere where you
had to practice for a year before they let you light a candle to what I had been reading.

Then I met this guy who was building a temple. I asked If I could go help him........he said of the first
projects we worked on was a set of stone steps at retreat center. We went and hauled the stone from the quarry, pulled
the huge slabs into place and fit them together...then we refit them...and refit them again..and again...and a project I thought
would take an afternoon took a week....all the while me complaining to my wife (who labored on the steps with me along with
me) that this crazy old bald guy never seemed to be satisfied until everything was perfect. I even wrote my first Zen poem about
the project....

At Hokyoji
the stone steps
are never finished.

I took a while to understand ...I did not understand at the time....or even for a few years later.....we worked on projects together because I thought
there was something important happening, and I wanted to be part of was something that I could relate to that in my innocence I thought was
wholly good. I could sense there was something big and good here...I just wanted to be a part of it.

Eventually like all innocents, I became a bit disillusioned about some of the things I had worked on...politics and egos seemed ever present..and what to an innocent
seemed wholly good, was in fact just as riddled with corruption and greed as any other human institution.

I kept showing it seemed eventually that I should join I asked my teacher to ordain me.. He refused. I asked again.....he refused again....we did lay ordination ...then he
made some vague remarks about maybe someday...we continued to work together on another temple....He said he wanted me to go to Japan....I did not really want to go......but
I made a deal with the devil...I would go...but only as an ordained monk. I could not afford to pay the fees for lay practice, and did not want to be on the outside looking in...If I went ..It
was going to be all or nothing. He agreed. ...and paid for the trip because I worked for three months full time with him to finish his new Zen Center.

One of the most memorable experiences I had while practicing in the 750 year old temple was raking leaves off of the graves of some of the first monks at the temple. ...they were probably the ones who built it. There was a shift in perspective...and I realized that as a part of this tradition, some new monk might be raking leaves off of my grave 750 years from now. As I walked up the stone path to the temple gate ...I realized that even though no one remembered their name, nor what they thought about...nor what ever we think is important about us today, we still walked on the paths they built...we sheltered under the roof they built.....we sat on the floor they assembled...our practice stood on their bones.

I remember my teacher's smile when I put it together for him some years later when we were in a group debating about where to build the Buddha hall on our newly donated monastery land.
All the builders, the donors, the business men said to build on the hill above the old farm house...because the well was nearby and it would be cheaper and more practical. My teacher wanted to build it upon another hill ...a way across the lane on a beautiful site where the view would be timeless, but the cost more expensive and the logistics a bunch more difficult. Thinking back to the stone steps, and the beautiful temples on the Japanese hills, when he asked for my opinion....I said,"Well if we were building for the next 20 years...I would build it above the farmhouse...but if we are building it for the next 300 years ...I would put it on the hill across the lane." The beautiful Buddha Hall (and the shell of the kitchen and residence building) now stand on the hill across the lane....because I understood that we were not building the stone steps for the next 20 years.....we were building the stone steps to last forever.

Often in these days where everything we think is important...and the next fad is more important than the last....where short term profit is all there is and we all want enlightenment now...or better yet yesterday, and we all want everyone else to be enlightened right now as is easy to lose some perspective. All I have to do when I get to caught up in the right now, and the desire to get the damn job finished so I can get on with the to look at the temple on the hill.........where the new steps were just as carefully placed as the first set I worked on. .....and think about who might be walking on them 750 years from now.....and what I think loses its importance. No one will remember my name (even though it is inscribed on the temple rolls) no one will care what I thought. No one will have any idea why I took the time to build the steps........but maybe someday...some monk will be sweeping my grave.....and wake up just a little bit.

So now......when the tempest of the moment upsets others, It does not seem to bother me so much. What I think dims in proportion. What others (and even me) think or feel is only a flash of lightening. Which will followed by a peal of thunder, which will drop a little rain that will flow off the solid roof I helped build that shelters generations of monks striving for perfection I will probably never reach, and flows through the gardens I helped plant to lift the spirits of the troubled, and nourishes the trees that shelter the bell tower that we built that will call the devout to practice for centuries to come, then down the well built stone steps, and into the graveyard to soak my dry bones.

I am an American, I felt I did not need to go to Japan and go through all that militant training. I did not want to go...I pretty much hated most of what went on there...I am not fond of getting up early ..or even sitting for hours on end. I hate formality in all its forms. What most people love about Zen, I do not much care for. Fortunately we do not all have to be alike. The tradition of Zen has so much more than sitting meditation involved in it...and there are many ways to practice. I did not need to go to Japan, I pretty much did not like being there........but I am ever so glad I went.

People often say I am a poor excuse for a monk. I do not really understand the teachings of the Buddha......and certainly I am not the least bit enlightened. I would have to agree... I am not neat and tidy, I do not always pick up after myself or sit longer and straighter than anyone else. I avoid much more than a period or so of Zazen a day with an effort that would put an Olympic athlete to shame. I sneak satisfying food at every opportunity because rice and veggies just do not float my boat. I laugh when I should be serious, and am serious when I should laugh...all in all...a pretty much disreputable monk. There is no hope here for the enlightenment so many striving on the hill might someday have. I spent some time in Samadhi...I find it boring....... a couple of months and even a mental orgasm fades in its attraction. I have nothing against those who strive for is a noble chase. It is just not for me.....and since I can no longer tolerate the diet nor the endless sitting physically....I will never really practice in the temple on the hill.

I am not really all that concerned. I just look at those stone steps.......and figure it is enough.

Be Well