how do you find a Zen teacher?


A question that comes up nowadays: How do I find a teacher?

Your question is an important one. I would even say it is the most important one. Unless we limit our interest in Buddhism to philosophy or history, a teacher is essential. Buddha was a teacher. He did not formulate a doctrine or creed. He simply sat down and meditated, and for forty years taught others to sit down and meditate. Out of that we have your question.

So let me tell you that just asking the question is answering the question. You have raised a thought, and that thought will manifest direction and motivation for you. There is no need to figure anything out, such as distance or location or likelihood. You raised the question and then you sent it to me, someone who answers from the most fundamental view of a teacher. You need one. You do not need to know how you will find one.

In short, you are being led. Yes, you go and look. You listen. You’ll know your teacher when you hear him or her speak (as if they were speaking to you alone). You will work, however, to actively limit and prohibit your chances of meeting your teacher, in the ways you already have, such as “I live in the middle of nowhere, everyone is too far away, I don’t know the kind of Buddhism I want, I have no time, yada, yada, yada.” All of those excuses will make you stop before you start.

If you have been drawn to my work then it is over for you, I dare say. You will not be fooled by lukewarm teachers with watered-down dharma. So in a way you are spoiled. In another way you are terribly lucky. Just continue to meditate on that thought: who is my teacher? — and let yourself be guided. Don’t settle for just anyone anywhere. That would be a waste of time.

When I met Maezumi Roshi I lived three states away. I attended a retreat not to meet a teacher (Lord, no!) but just to get instruction in how to sit. So imagine my surprise, fear, and deep recognition when I saw him standing in front of me.

Nothing is impossible.

Don’t give it a second thought.

Have faith in yourself as the Way.

In gassho,

moving toward love


I was two days home from three weeks in silence when the calls and emails came. The fall, the break, the orphaned kids, she was only sick twelve days, the surgery, the setback, the job loss, nothing on the horizon, the unexpected and unimaginable, he’s on morphine now, with no warning, no hope, and no answers, the mountainous pain made immediate and real, and my doubt disappears, the shroud of my self-concern, the scrim of my small personal failure, and I know what there is to do.

Do for others, do for others, do for others.

When? When they appear. How? Without self.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

The world, you see, does not end in a fire or flood. Not with war or pestilence. The world ends with the self. May we mind our devotions, and enter the vast and empty eternity of love.

Photo by Pierre Carreau

a healing summer


During a three-month summer ango, or training period, a novice monk is selected to serve as the head trainee at the monastery. He or she will monitor the practice inside the meditation hall, acting as a model and mentor for those who join in. The monk maintains order, harmony, motivation, and discipline through the depth of his or her own samadhi, the non-distracted awareness that is the healing nature of meditation. Ango means “peaceful dwelling.”

A simple ceremony marks the beginning of the training period, when the student formally enters the temple to begin the term of service. The trainee and the teacher will commence a long stretch of silence sitting side by side in zazen, doing their work alone and together. The student will swim through a flood of fear and crawl over a mountain of doubt. The work will consume light and dark, days and nights on end. At first he will cherish nothing more than the thought of escape, but in time he will plant himself deep in the ground and give up the search. On the last day of training, the student will enter a place he has never been. It will be in the exact same place he’s never left, but the walls will be gone, a cramped and airless room transformed into a universe of living things. He will know perfectly well how to take good care of it.

But this is still the first day, and he has no idea where the path is leading.

Ceremonies in the zendo are orchestrated, the script ordained in the manner of a thousand students and a hundred teachers before. The student stands before the teacher and expresses humility and gratitude. He moves to make his bows, but the teacher waves him off. There is no need for formality between them, no show of rank. The two are fellow travelers, and they will make this trip as one.

With palms together, the student speaks the last public words that will pass between them until they reach the other side. The room is quiet. Nothing stirs. Paradise comes into view.

“California weather is peaceful and calm. May your days go well.”

May you enjoy peace and healing this summer.

In gassho,

Adapted from Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

your child is a boat on the ocean


Your child is a boat on the ocean. There are clear skies and calm nights. There are storms and rain and fog. You cannot control the course. Every time you exhale, the boat is carried safely toward the horizon, its distant harbor and home.

You are the breeze.

Paying attention to the natural movement of the breath teaches you everything. The breath is totally present. It can’t happen anytime but now. There is no past breath or future breath. There is no secret to the breath, and nothing to figure out. Breath is the utterly perfect function of pure being. We are soothed, strengthened, amazed and made grateful by the breath, which is life. There’s nothing more to want or wish for.

Read more on Annapurna Living.

blaming Steve Jobs

PA020450This afternoon I went into the backyard and noticed a patch where everything has shriveled and the ground is cracked and bare, and although this wretched drought is in its fourth year, it seems like it happened overnight. The garden is dying.

I blame Steve Jobs.

I’ve been blaming Steve Jobs for a whole mess of stuff for a long time now, for the conversations that stopped, the music that ended, the books that disappeared, the kids that went absent, the friends that drifted off and the way the world seems to have shriveled into a hot, lifeless, angry place of crazy strangers. Oh, I know it wasn’t him. It’s a cynical joke. But it was him, and the legion led by him. I saw it happen. I saw it happen with me and I saw it happen with nearly everyone else. And now there is hell to pay.

He was a god to many. But he was never my guru. I never entered that temple, not all the way. The theatrics looked cool, but they disturbed me. There was awesome power and beauty in his works, but I never trusted myself to handle that kind of artillery. It went too fast and too far. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I am too cheap. I bought a laptop. It works fine. It sits on this desk. Every time I use it I have to stop, be still, and do only one thing. I do not carry it in my hands or put it in my purse, pocket or car. It is not a companion. It is not the world. It is a very small and distorted picture of the world.

I have to wake myself up every minute of every day to realize the difference.

I am probably the only person you know without a smartphone. Please don’t text me.

It seems to me that we have completely confused the world with a picture of the world. We are so adept at manipulating the false picture — with just one thumb — that we have forgotten how to occupy the real world. How to live responsibly and with accountability. How to use our hands and feet and heart. We are so fascinated with artificial intelligence that we have negated our own. We do stupid things. We say stupid things. We shout at each other in tiny digital boxes. We overuse exclamation points.

When we do things directly in the world, instead of through technology, when we speak aloud to one another, meet face-to-face and side-by-side, it is altogether a different experience. It is intimate and alive. Magic, really. You can’t program it. Totally original, one-of-a-kind, without a trademark.

Innovation produces some really neat things, but it can’t be your religion. It won’t soothe or satisfy. It destroys what is to make room for what’s next. To be sure, it’s a naturally occurring cycle, January to December, but it can be sped up to the point of wanton waste and disposability. Suppose every time you were hungry you took only one bite and then tossed the apple. (It got a little brown around the teeth marks.) The earth would be nothing but a landfill of fallen fruit, and we’d all be hungry ghosts, waiting in line all night to grab the next nibble that will once again fail to satisfy.

I know Steve Jobs isn’t to blame. But I blame Steve Jobs.

This is a lousy load to lay at the tomb of a giant and a genius. Although he was arrogant and egotistical, by all accounts Mr. Jobs made amends to estranged friends, family and rivals and was at peace before the end. It’s a given. Everyone reaches the end of ideas when they arrive at the ultimate disruption. I’m going to have to give him a break for everything that troubles me and take responsibility for what’s right here now.

I’m going to have to keep this place alive.

So I’m heading out to walk this world of mine and see what needs doing. To notice the dry spots. Fix what’s broken. Lend a hand. Spare a little more time, a little more water, and a lot more love. I know this in my bones because I preach it, and I preach it because I need it: What you pay attention to thrives, and what you do not pay attention to withers and dies.

What will you pay attention to today?

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat

what to tell the children

She taught me everything by the time she was three. But I keep forgetting.

The tsunami hits the day before we fly to Hawaii for a holiday in paradise. The long trip and the time change are numbing enough without the odd narcotic of the disaster: a sky-falling, earth-swallowing event of incomparable horror. We traverse a few thousand miles across a now deeper and more ominous ocean. Our extended family from two states reunites, in one piece, in time to light candles beside a whispering night sea. We are all grateful.

There is no talk about what has happened elsewhere. My daughter is a preschooler and, at home, we have entered what will be a long stretch without a working television. We have disabled it: unplugging the non-stop signals that are still collected by the satellite dish on the roof and pulsed to that place in the living room where no one waits or watches. Like most solutions, this one is temporary, but it has provided all the relief we need right now. It has freed us from the need to police and intervene; it has released our child from a junkie’s craving and stupor; and it has liberated us from what the mass media seems to suggest is the most prevalent issue in modern parenting: What to Tell the Children.

This is what the media serves up to us over and over again, within hours of natural and unnatural disasters: 9/11, floods, fires, hurricanes, wars, beheadings, shootings, earthquakes, rampages, murders. Even contested presidential elections. “What to Tell the Children,” they intone, delivering their expertly articulated opinions. They are, indeed, quite expert at giving this advice. It’s the same advice dispatched after every catastrophic story — stories we believe, by virtue of the ever-widening screens in our homes, to have happened to us. We say that these events have entered our collective consciousness. But if we stopped long enough to consider how they got there, we might realize that “What to Tell the Children” is incidental to “What to Tell the Parents,” which is to turn off the TV.

The aim of all my years of Zen practice has been to get to this point: the point of seeing what really happens in my life. All that sitting still and staring out during meditation is for the sole purpose of glimpsing the difference between what occurs in front of me and what occurs in the inaccessible, inexhaustible reaches of my imagination. In this way, Zen practice is frequently misunderstood as disengaging from the life around us. Fully realized, Zen practice disengages only from the life of the ruminative mind; it is not for one moment disengaged from real life.

Attuned then, finally, to what is, a person might actually pick up a rather shocking bit of news. Despite all the talk about talk, contrary to the rarefied status of the spoken word, regardless of all the good press about interpersonal communication, there’s hardly ever very much that needs to be said.

We can learn this by spending years on a meditation cushion. Or we can learn this in three easy lessons from the children in our midst.
“What did you do at school today?” This is how Georgia and I always begin our drive home from preschool. I do the asking, studying my daughter’s face in the rear-view mirror to intercept the visual clues that I decode into conversation. There is a smear of paint on the curve of her jaw; she sucks a grimy thumb while she gazes out the window. She never answers this question to my satisfaction. No kid ever answers this question to a parent’s satisfaction.

“I don’t know,” she says.

She sounds like a troublesome teenager already. I dunno.

I hear it like a challenge. I take it as an affront. Is that sullenness? Is that concealment? What really went on today? Is she unhappy at school? Bored? Bullied? Ignored? Or worse? Silenced by unspeakable trauma? How can it be that nothing remarkable happened at school today to this most remarkable child?

I sound like a troublesome mother already. You never call. You never write.

The topic is communal around the school. It comes up at Parents’ Night when a father suggests that the teachers in our class of 22 four-year-olds might busy themselves composing a little narrative report about what each one of our kids do every day. Our children’s accounts are so insufficient, he reasons, so lacking. The teachers’ eyes widen and roll. I find myself responding on their behalf and answering my own question in the process.

“What we have here is a gap between what we need to hear and what our children need to tell us.” I say the words to the other parents, but I am soothing myself. As addicted as we might be to information and assessments, to texts and tweets, to executive summaries and PowerPoints, to journals and blogs, to news and gossip, our children are altogether blessedly free of all that. They don’t process their day as a set of events; they don’t bullet-point it for easy recitation. There are no highs or lows. They just live it: playing, singing, climbing, painting, kicking, digging, shoving, crying, and who knows what all, completely immersed in the flow. When it’s over, it’s over, with nothing left to talk about.

“I don’t know,” my daughter says again the next day, and I catch the drift, the wisdom of the ancients. Not knowing is most intimate.
Sometimes I engage Georgia in talk just for entertainment. Everyone does this. We ask the little ones what they want to be when they grow up. It’s funny to watch them wobble forward into this strange place, this neverland of the future, and concoct something out of the wisps of the unreal, something charmingly unimaginable and sometimes biologically impossible. “I want to be a giraffe!”

We don’t see the risk in this; we don’t see the lesson. We ask a child what she wants for her birthday next month and — whoops — dislodge an avalanche of desires. We murmur about the doctor visit next week and — gee whiz — ignite a fireball of anxiety. We think out loud about our vacation plans for next year and — never mind — stir up restlessness. We don’t realize how many times we aim to curry favor, tame tempers, or just distract ourselves by talking about what is going to happen tomorrow. It doesn’t seem strange to us to spend so much time talking about what isn’t. It’s where we adults live most of the time.

“What day is tomorrow?” my daughter asks. I’m pleased that she has learned the days of the week.

“Wednesday,” I say.

“No, what day is tomorrow?” she asks again.

“Today is Tuesday, so tomorrow is Wednesday.”

“But when is it tomorrow?”

I’m no longer sure what she is asking.

“It goes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she ticks them off. “But when is it Tomorrow?”

When is that day called “Tomorrow,” that factors so eternally in our plans and schemes? I gape at her clear-eyed misperception, at her supremely intelligent confusion. How many times have I lost her in the mists of my ramblings about that never-to-come day? Her question reverberates and I hear anew the last word of the immortals. Just this.
Surely there’s more than just this to take care of, we might argue. Surely there’s more than just our own spilt milk to cry over. In the face of so much pain and suffering, calamity, bloodshed, hunger, and homelessness, surely there’s something more we can do somewhere else.

Driving home from a week’s meditation retreat, stopped at a traffic light in the steamy summer heat, I see a man, his face crumpled, holding an old McDonald’s cup. He’s weaving through the idling cars with a sign. I don’t think; after a week’s retreat, I don’t have to. I reach into my wallet, where I know I have no smaller than two untouched twenties, and I drop one into the cup. His eyes and mouth break open as he looks inside and blesses me.

I’ve talked about this kind of thing with my daughter. Explained, touted, preached. “When we come across people who need something, we give it to them,” I say as I hold up traffic, tossing a dollar bill to the guy who stands on the corner at Lake Avenue.

The first day back at home the phone keeps ringing.

The university calls. “We’re asking all alumni . . . ” the woman starts. I cut her off.

“I’m happy with what I’ve given so far.”

The next time I pick up a call, it’s from someplace called the Cancer Recovery Center. I end it quickly with a curt refusal.

“Who was that?” my daughter wonders at my swiftness.

“Someone who wanted money.” I bear down on the last scurrilous word to close the case.

“Maybe if they need it, we should give it to them,” she says, and I’m face-to-face with the profound. The great Way knows no difficulty.
Hawaii is now a memory. We holidayed by a crystal bay where sea turtles bobbed on a seamless gleam and baby waves broke at our feet.

One night, months later, I open up a favorite picture book for a bedtime story.

“‘Hello, ocean, my old best friend,'” I begin the rhyme. “‘Amber seaweed, speckled sand, bubbly waves that kiss the land.'”

Georgia interrupts. “And sometimes the ocean comes way up and covers everything,” she says, as sure as an eyewitness.

I freeze. She has seen it. She was there when we turned on the TV, in vain search of a forecast so we could sightsee on a sunny day. She was there when we clicked back and forth and back again to that mesmerizing footage of the ocean retreating, then towering, then tumbling forward into a bottomless, screaming blackness.

Now. What to Tell the Children?

“Sometimes it does.”

Originally published in 2006 at Literary Mama

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

a world where anything is possible

Violet_from_the_Incredibles_by_mark33776“My new hair makes me feel like Violet from The Incredibles.”

Yesterday was the day before the last day of ninth grade, and I had done the incredible. I’d said yes when my daughter asked if she could color her hair darker, a color she said she’d been envisioning since sixth grade but never asked because I would say no. She’s right: I would have said no.

But by the end of a school year gravity lightens, a no can levitate to a yes, and the whys become why nots. Her new hair was dark, and I was wordless at the reveal, gnawing on my tongue, counting future shampoos before the fade, but she was empowered.

You might remember a little something about Violet Parr from The Incredibles, a teenager stuck at the crossroads between a girl and a woman. She wants to be normal. She wants to belong and blend in, so she hides behind a curtain of raven locks.

“There’s a lot of blue hair,” my daughter said at the beginning of her freshman year at the arts school, when I asked what it was like. And then to revive me, “You don’t have to worry.” Another day with a sigh, “I can say this much: there definitely isn’t a dress code.” She was wearing the awkward weight of her normalcy. She wondered aloud whether arts school was the right place for her and started looking for new schools, fretting over applications and admission deadlines, aiming for an old-fashioned, ivy-covered place with a dress code and uniforms where she could look and be like everyone else. Invisible.

“You don’t like it?” she asked to my frozen face on the ride home from the hairdresser’s.

“I have a picture to show you,” I said when the words came out.


It was the fall of 1998, and we were on vacation in New England: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. We were too late for the turning leaves, but something drew us there in those still-childless but trying-to-get-pregnant days, the urgency of an impending change, the sense that time was running out, the want of magic.

When you’re 42 and trying to get pregnant, it doesn’t seem impossible, not at first. But then it doesn’t work, and nothing works, and you don’t want to do that thing where you end up with eight babies, and so you go to Boston looking for a sign. And there it was on page 34 of the October 1998 issue of Boston Magazine, a picture of a girl who looked like it might be her one day. You tear it out of the magazine and keep it for 17 years.


The incredible really did happen this year: she got into a dreamy new school, a century-old institution with plaid skirts and ivy walls. We straightaway bought the uniforms, she eased herself into a comfortable identity, and we waited out the last two months of this semester. The transition would be complete when the new school started in September.

In April the first-year theatre students staged their debut. At the arts school, they make the freshmen wait nearly a year to perform, learning classical technique to discipline their fear and self-centeredness. Trained actors take themselves behind a dark curtain and come alive in a brilliant new world where absolutely anything is possible. She disappeared into the stage that night, remembering who she is, what she does, why she came, and two days later told us she would have to stay where she already was, foregoing the school transfer. “I cannot leave a place where there is this much love.”

Violet’s superpowers allow her to turn instantly invisible, creating anti-gravitational force fields within which she levitates heavy objects including herself.


I looked in every dusty, old, half-filled, falling-apart journal I still have. The picture wasn’t where I thought, but it was exactly where I remembered.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 9.01.21 AM

“Is that you?” she asked when I showed her.

“No, it’s you.”

the secret of a good mother

broken We say, “A good father is not a good father.” Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. — Suzuki Roshi

The quote above is often misunderstood. How do you understand it? I’ll answer for you from my own experience. One who thinks she is a good mother is not a good mother.

Zen can sound like doublespeak, but it’s always as plain as plain can be. When you think “good,” that is not good. The moment you step back from total involvement in living life as it is and go up into your judging mind to evaluate it, you are completely mistaken. Do you know that place? Have you ever judged yourself to be comfortably ahead of the game? Or woefully behind? With an edge, an advantage, a method, or for that matter, a reason, excuse or handicap? Maybe you think all those things in a single day! When you indulge in either self-congratulation or self-criticism you are no longer present. You might even say you are no longer alive. Dead fathers are not good fathers.

One who thinks he is one of the worst may be a good one if he is always trying with a single-minded effort.

I have a teenager now, as if it isn’t obvious. And in the course of writing, however vaguely, about what I am experiencing, I hear from kind-hearted people of a venerable cast, folks who have a longer view of the road we tread. They tell me about inexplicable disappointments and deep sorrows, happy turnabouts, miraculous resolutions, and ultimate acceptance of what they didn’t know then and couldn’t have guessed would happen in a million years. Life is a tricky business, and no one knows how it will go. We all know this, and yet we don’t.  Not until the illusion shatters.

From where I stand now it seems a parent’s learning curve goes like this: it starts out hard then it gets easier, and then hard, then harder, then quite a bit harder, then much harder. Humility is the face of love.

The people I take comfort from are the humble ones. They are quiet but outnumber the prideful ones a billion to one.

So how do we conduct ourselves without attaching to good or bad? I like this story about the 20th century Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah who was giving a talk on impermanence. He could be talking about anything.

Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Read a transcript of the original talk by Suzuki Roshi.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

commencement address


Two mornings ago, dropping my daughter off at the curb, her mind a muddle of wind and worry with the end of the school year, I turned on the radio for the ride home.

A set of triplets has been admitted to MIT, where the admission rate is less than eight percent.

It’s the time of year the waves seem flooded with this kind of triple-rainbow success story, however rare it occurs in real life. The lower the odds, the more is made of it. I remember this one because of what came after it.

Twenty-four dead in floods and 13 in a tornado, including an infant sucked by the storm out of its mother’s arms.

And I am overcome by the cruel arrangement of high and low, the valedictorians and the victims, among them four vacationing children flung from a floating house into the tidal surge of a timid river, now but a whisper on the lips of a radio news reader.

My daughter tells me she is anxious these days, and I can see why. She has been wrestling with questions that have no answers. Where is the right place, the right way, the right time, the right choice, where should I go, who should I be, what can I do, what do I want. Some would say her thinking is precocious; some would call it a curse. I cannot save her from these waters. She has to swim across, and I have to watch and wave. The wind drowns out any instructions I shout from the shore.

They made incredible sacrifices growing up by taking the most difficult courses, their father said.

And I wonder when it all became so difficult. The river so high, the odds so low, the rain, the wind, the storm that twists a mother’s entire life right out of the baby carrier on her chest.

There is no higher ground, people. No safety, no shield, no fix for the fix we’re in. I can’t say more without getting carried away. Watch the news for yourself, if you can bear it. Love everything and let go.

One will be speaking at commencement and her message for other students is simple: Just relax, have fun and do what you love.


coming home grateful



Not long ago, the artist and writer Susa Talan contacted me with what has become an unusual courtesy: asking permission. She was assembling a small book of her drawings to illustrate things she was grateful for, especially as they arose in her daily life. She had come upon some stray words of mine she wished to include. Was that possible?

I said yes. Saying yes is itself the practice of being grateful for what appears.

Now the book is all done, a collection of simple, daily reminders to be kind, to feel something directly and not just think about it. It is called Wear Gratitude (Like a Sweater). This is how Susa explains the title:

“If I wear gratitude, it means that I carry it with me, and I’m surrounded by an outlook that says, There are so many reasons to be grateful and notice the good.”

Her intention reminds me of something we say every morning in formal Zen practice. After the sun rises during dawn meditation, we repeat an old chant called the Verse of the Kesa, which means verse of the robe. At this point, some people put on their rakusu, which is a bib worn by lay practitioners, or an okesa, which is the sari that priests wear over their robes. Even if you don’t wear either of those things you’ll say the verse just the same. Long or short, on a priest or a plumber, what you wear — head, toe, earth, sky — adorns the Buddha, the awakened mind. The whole universe is your sweater.

Vast is the robe of liberation.
A formless field of benefaction.
I wear the Tathagata’s teaching.
Saving all sentient beings. 

It is a song of love, a vow to transform our habits of greed, anger, and ignorance into a selfless field of compassion. Not by just saying it, but by wearing it. Not by just thinking it, but by doing it. Not by just wanting it, but by being it.

These days, what used to be called “common courtesies” are few and far between. Person-to-person, face-to-face connections are rare. More and more it seems like a sterile and distant world, where blessings are hard to find. But home is always closer than you think, and gratitude is the warmth you find just by looking inside.

Copies of the book, along with Susa’s charming cards, prints and calendars, are available in her Etsy Shop. Right now she’s offering everyone 10% off anything and everything using the promo code: GRATITUDE2015

Illustration © Susa Talan

how to be satisfied

il_fullxfull-152079237One day in a Lutheran church in Texas, a miracle happened.

I had taken my baby daughter on a trip to see my mother, a trip carefully timed for one of the rare “good weeks” during a punishing course of chemotherapy. At seven months old, my daughter would be baptized. The faith was not my own; it was not my husband’s. All things considered, that mattered not one whit. The baptism was a gift. But it was not the miracle.

During the middle of the service, I took my restless girl into the church nursery. There, bobbling in the middle of the room was a contraption known to cognoscenti as a baby saucer. This was not the kind of thing that would ever land on my wish list. I thought they were hideous and huge, and I could not imagine giving up half of my living room to yet another baby thing, especially one combining all the crude amusements of a video arcade: garish colors, spinning balls, whizzers and bells. Then the miracle happened: Georgia liked it. I thought to myself: Hallelujah! I want to make her happy.

Home again, I went straight away to Sears and charged the $60 model. I impressed upon my husband the urgency of assembling it that night. He did; we rearranged the furniture.

She never willingly sat in it again. Oh, I’m sure there was a time or two. In a pinch, I would plop her there for the half-second before her screaming began. I thought: Maybe I should get the $99 one.

This was my first experience with the rule called Other People’s Toys. The emphasis is on the “other.” You like them precisely because they are not yours. The corollary to this rule is Other People’s Kids, precocious and polite, who make you think: Why can’t my kid be more like that?

We held onto the baby saucer for a while and then priced it to sell at a garage sale. I hope it delivered hours and hours of saucer happiness and satisfaction to generations of families thereafter. For me, it was the beginning of an up-close analysis of human desire as expressed by Georgia. What I saw was that her desires were spontaneous, impermanent and never-ending. Just because she wanted something now only meant that she wanted something now. Desires change. Satisfaction eludes. That’s what it means to be human, with infinite, insatiable desires. It’s not about the saucer! It did start me thinking: I want to have a separate playroom.

I tried to keep the big picture in mind when we went to Other People’s Houses and played with Other People’s Kids and Other People’s Toys. I’d see Georgia clutch something, somebody else’s something, with the fervor of new car fever. I didn’t have to buy it. She didn’t have to own it. It would probably never come up again. Desire comes up again and again, you see, not the momentary object of desire. Still, I thought: I wish she could learn to share. read more

getting along fine without me

381069_10150447692416247_262842176246_8779182_1129924044_nBuddhists don’t try to cause trouble, but one thing that troubles people about Buddhism is the concept of non-attachment. That’s because we think attachment means love, and we think love means I can’t live without you. We are always hung up on our own self-serving notions—what I need, what I want, what I like, what I think, what is best, what is right—and that’s the cause of suffering. We attach to those ideas as though they were life itself. The truth is never the phony thing we attach to in our heads. The truth is as it is.

Buddha taught what he called the Four Noble Truths. He taught truth as it is, complete and universal. He called it noble because there’s nothing more true than what is. You don’t have to believe this is true because you experience every time things don’t go your way.

1. Life is suffering. Things change.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment. It hurts when things change.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. Accept that things change.
4. There is a way out of suffering. By changing yourself.

When we try to imagine what it means to overcome our attachments, we picture cruel and unfeeling indifference. But that is never the outcome of overcoming attachments. That is never the outcome of accepting what happens. That is never the outcome of allowing people and things to be as they are. The outcome of non-attachment is love.

I don’t have to preach this. You know it yourself by waking up to life as it is. Your children grow up and grow distant. They might upset, alarm and even despise you, but your eyes still flicker at the sight of them. Your parents grow old, enfeebled and afraid, dependent and encumbering, but you care for them. Sickness comes, disaster strikes, and seasons change. Everything falls apart no matter how hard you’ve tried: all that forethought, planning and prevention! This life of ours is strewn with faded blooms. You didn’t sign up for the hard part, but this is the way it is. How will you love what you don’t even like? There’s only one way: selflessly.

When you act with compassion, all your doing is undoing—undoing ignorance, suffering, fear, anger, exploitation, alienation, injury, blame, you name it—simply by undoing the stingy hold you keep on yourself. Thinking poor me impoverishes your entire world.

When she was about six years old, someone asked my daughter what it was like to have a mom who was a Zen priest.

“She screams a lot,” she said. It wasn’t the answer they were expecting. There were polite chuckles all around.

I can comfort myself with the fact that children only remember when their parents scream, not when their parents don’t scream. Silence, after all, is a non-event. No matter what I was hollering about, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to let it go. I wish I’d dropped my rage, fear, frustration, resentment, or despair: whatever illusory part of me I was cherishing at the time. I wish love could be my legacy instead, the way a camellia launches its blossoms into the oblivion of time without causing a quiver of pain. No one ever notices when a flower has fulfilled its purpose in life, just as no one ever regrets a moment lost to love.


Excerpted from  Paradise in Plain Sight ©2014 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

Buddha’s last 8 instructions

nutshellI hesitated before I wrote that title because there is no such thing as “last” or even “first,” but there is a short list commonly known as Buddha’s final teaching before he died, and so I am sharing it here and now.

Words attributed to Buddha are the basis of much industry, interpretation, and enterprise. Buddha’s teachings were entirely spoken and conveyed for hundreds of years by word of mouth until the first written records were made. This is just the way it is and in one sense it works just fine. Sure, words are subject to erroneous understanding by deluded people, but with a bit of practice and a flicker of clarity, you can look at a modern quotation, especially a popular one, and know instantly that Buddha never said any such thing.

And this is precisely what his instructions foretold. There’s a good chance you guys are going to get this all wrong.

“Last words” are interesting in another way. When you’re present at someone’s death, you don’t know when the final moment will come, or what the critical utterance will be. Sometime later you reflect on what happened last and then decide for yourself what it means. Before her death, my mother told me, “Be yourself and take good care of your family.” She lived for several days after I heard that, and she may have said more that I didn’t hear or recall. But the words I retained were useful for me — simple and straightforward — carrying with them a mother’s hope that I wouldn’t complicate things quite so much.

That’s the spirit with which I see Buddha’s last instructions. A human being, surrounded by devotees and dependents, with a final chance to bring peace and ease to a population crazed with fear and grief. I have simplified these from a scholarly translation, but in a nutshell, this is what Buddha tells you to do here and now:

1. Want little — Suffer less.
2. Be satisfied — Enough is enough.
3. Avoid crowds — Be alone and quiet.
4. Keep going — Don’t turn back.
5. Pay attention — Guard your mind.
6. Meditate — Or you are lost.
7. See for yourself — Cultivate wisdom.
8. Don’t talk about it — Do it.

“Now, all of you be quiet and do not speak. Time is passing and I am going to cross over. This is my last admonition to you.”


Based on “Eight Awakenings of Great Beings” by Dogen Zenji. From Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.


Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ... 69 70 71 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

twitter bits

stay in touch