Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

it isn’t over until you quit

January 28th, 2010    -    1 Comment

This entire post is up today at Shambhala SunSpace. I won’t make you go over there to read it. I want you to stay right here and keep going. It isn’t over until you quit.

A few years ago my daughter piped up from the backseat, which is where children of her age are prone to do their piping.

“Mommy, if you ever write another book please make it not about Zen.”

I asked why.

“Because the whole idea of Zen is bogus.”

I don’t put this little story in the category of Kids Say the Darnedest Things, although they do. I put it in the category of Ear-Splitting Truth.

It’s true: the whole idea of Zen is bogus. The whole idea of anything is bogus. Ideas are bogus. Occasionally useful, but not real. I promised her I wouldn’t ever write a book about Zen. There’s plenty of that without me piping up from the front seat. And when I get carried away I miss my exit. read more

You can call me

January 5th, 2010    -    13 Comments

It is revealing to me now that back then I didn’t want to make a fuss about this marriage. I didn’t want to have a wedding. I didn’t want to spend the money. I didn’t want to buy a dress or take the time. I didn’t want to bear his name or wear a ring and of course I didn’t want to have his children. In my own defense, I concluded that I was being modern. I meant no harm. Nothing about it had much meaning at all, certainly not the archaic vows I spoke in a half-price hotel suite before immediate family only.Hand Wash Cold

Those of you who read my ravishingly narcissistic Facebook updates may recall that an editor recently asked for permission to delete my Dharma name – Maezen – from my byline, suggesting that it was too Asian and too religious for the sensibilities of modern Western “mindfulness” adherents. (Air quotes are my own.)

You can imagine how I responded. It was not pretty, but it was swift.

For the benefit of all, I’d like to poke into this topic, because it is a jugular.

When you give a color a name, it is the beginning of blindness. – Zen saying

A Dharma name is the name given to a student by a teacher, usually as part of a ceremony in which the student commits him or herself to the practice, or the Way. In my case, I practice in a Japanese lineage, so the name sounds Japanese. In Tibetan traditions, the name will sound Tibetan. Even outside the formal practice, your first name may sound Irish and your last name Serbian. Or English, Spanish, Dutch or Swahili. I say “sounds” because that is what all names are. They are sounds. Names are made-up utterances. I asked for a Dharma name that paid tribute to Maezumi Roshi. My current teacher, Nyogen Roshi, gave it.

Of course, just because a name is made up doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

Some people do a ceremony, get a name, and never take it. I can understand that way of thinking: it’s more modern. Some names are cumbersome. Some are easy to forget. Some sound funny. And let’s face it, a new name doesn’t ever sound like the “me” that each of us so dearly knows and loves. It’s hard to commit to anything or anyone else if your most important commitment is still to yourself. That attachment to ego blinds you.

In my sangha, we all use our Dharma names. Sure, at first, it’s awkward. We think we’ll never remember, and we forget a lot of the time. Then, we adapt. Old habits change. The mind rewires. It happens, and it happens by itself. That’s what Dharma means.

Dharma is translated as “truth” and “teaching.” And the truth teaches itself, once little old me gets out of the way.

I vow to take what I am given. – Zen priest ordination precepts

Maezen (“May-zen”) isn’t really Japanese. It isn’t Asian, and it isn’t Buddhist. It is a vow. And unlike other halfhearted vows I’ve made but never kept, I’ve vowed to take it. I wear it on my sleeve, where I can see it, and where I can be it.

It is the heart of the Dharma.

You can call me Maezen. You can call me Karen. You can call me Mrs. You can call me Buddhist. You can call me Irish. You can call me Serbian. You can call me Mom. You can call me Honey. You can call me @#%!# You can call me No One. You can call me and I will respond. The response makes all the difference.

In matters of the heart, we too often forget what we have promised to remember, and remember what is best to forget.Hand Wash Cold

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Labors lost

December 22nd, 2009    -    11 Comments

“If you don’t see the Way you don’t see it even as you walk on it.” – The Identity of Relative and Absolute

In this week of returns and revelations, I’m leaving sand on your doorstep with a few repeat posts. Enjoy your time!

At the risk of shattering all illusions you might have about how a Buddhist priest is supposed to live, I will tell you that I am vacationing with my extended family on a remote, but not too remote, Pacific island. It is not too remote, considering it is the number one holiday air travel destination for Southern Californians, such Californians including D-list celebrities like the one we think we spied doing calisthenics on the stretch of lawn beside our own.

I find myself here because life, or dharma, provides in all ways visible and invisible. My family is hospitable, you see. We get along. We share. We like one another’s company. For at least a week, that is, when one particularly generous sister has sprung for a seven-day rental of a beachfront home with separate bedrooms, baths and high-speed Internet for all.

I am lucky. I am so terribly lucky, and I’ve done nothing at all to earn it. One night’s stay in a place like this and right away I realize how lucky I am. It takes several more days to realize that I don’t have to do anything to earn it. Don’t have to do anything for merit or reward. Don’t have to use the time wisely. Don’t have to busy myself producing something. Don’t have to crack open the computer and write something. Don’t have to double-back and finish up the project I left undone. Don’t have to hurry; don’t have to crack down. Don’t have to deny; don’t have to forbear. Don’t have to ponder, wish or strategize. Don’t have to be someone else, doing something other than nothing at all.

Every time I take a vacation, I confront the obvious truth in the plain sight of our language. To vacation is to vacate. Vacate my own timeline, my own agenda, my own expectations, my own grind, my own restlessness and deep-rooted exasperation. Renouncing my point of view is true renunciation. I can enjoy the hot tub without a second thought.

When I finally empty my head and open my hands I find my tongue with a native’s ease.


The hula could take longer.

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Least grain

December 20th, 2009    -    9 Comments

“If you don’t see the Way you don’t see it even as you walk on it.” – The Identity of Relative and Absolute

In this week of returns and revelations, I’m leaving sand on your doorstep with a few repeat posts. Enjoy your time!

We are weekending at a shimmery stretch of coastline known as Crystal Cove. It is one of my husband’s most sentimentally favorite places. We spent his 40th birthday here ___ years ago. It was the site of our first family vacation, when Georgia was nine months old, the disbelieving dawn of my awareness that I could leave the house for more than an hour at a time.

Back then, it was a week of firsts. Georgia crawled for the first time, putt-putting in a forward sway across the putrid shag carpet in our beach rental. We shopped nearby in Laguna Beach, where I stepped inside a clothing shop for the first time since giving birth and let a wise saleswoman cajole me out of my baggy sweat pants and back into a facsimile of me. I carried my cranky girl twice daily down the lonely curve of sand and saw for the first time how she dropped straightaway to sleep to nothing but the sound of the ocean.



That discovery alone saved our lives every day and night for the next four years.


And now it is a weekend of returns and repeats. The cove of beach cottages has been lately reclaimed and restored, and although it lightly approaches the Disneyfication that passes as some kind of global standard of entertainment, it as raw and real as only the ocean can be. My younger sister, a recent transplant from Texas, now lives nearby and, more than that, genuinely occupies our lives. Enough proof for me that in this ceaseless cycle of comings and goings, there is a perfect order and rhythm that can never be foretold.



On the beach nearby us was a young couple with a tantruming two-year-old wrangling out of their clutches as they tried to slather him with sunscreen. He roared and wailed above the pounding surf. I can see now how in the life of a two-year-old nearly everything is an outrage and an imposition; nearly everything is foisted at them with the rudest of good intentions. Now I understand the screams, although for most of that year Georgia and I went nose to nose in mutual mortification.


Today I heard the waves, the same old waves, anew. The ocean tells us over and over to accord ourselves with the rhythm of life, with the movement of life, like grains of sand on the beach, lifted up and carried back, sunken deep and then roiled forward again, staying nowhere, flung through air and water to what is but the next temporary abode, the impermanent address, and that it is only in this change itself, this perpetual unrest, holding nothing, that we can ever find true rest.

All that and hot dogs too.

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You are kind

December 16th, 2009    -    10 Comments

Christine Mason Miller (Swirly Girl) sent me a surprise package with this deck of inspiration cards. They are exactly what I needed, and I put them in a bowl on the kitchen table where I will choose one each day to forgive myself for the day before.

Last night at my library talk, a woman came in smiling and sat down in the front row. “I am a fan,” she said, and my heart unfurled like a welcome mat. Everything went okay after that.

My friend Jim in Mongolia (really, how many people can say that) asked me to record a dharma teaching for his English students, and then he posted the mp3 on this site. Have a listen if you haven’t heard the last of me. (You haven’t heard the last of me.)

Kindness is my home. It’s a really big home, and so nicely decorated.

Just sayin

July 9th, 2009    -    9 Comments

“I often see those who are trying to study Buddhism just use their worldly intelligence to sift among the verbal teachings of the buddhas and ancestral teachers, trying to pick out especially wondrous sayings to use as conversation pieces to display their ability and understanding. This is not the correct view of the matter. You must abandon your worldly mentality and sit quietly with mind silent. Forget entangling causes and investigate with your whole being. When you are thoroughly clear then whatever you bring forth from your own inexhaustible treasure of priceless jewels is sure to be genuine and real.”

Zen Letters: Teaching of Yuanwu (1063-1135)

A practice without a practice is not a practice.

To settle the matter, settle the matter.

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No teacher here

June 23rd, 2009    -    No Comments

Obaku said, “I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher.”

This is a living teaching by one of the most influential Zen teachers you’ll ever encounter, even though he lived 1,100 years ago. Obaku (d. 850) was the teacher of Rinzai, founder of the school of Zen that bears his name and still flourishes, particularly in the West. His words are useful and relevant because they point out the obvious. The Dharma, or the teaching, is self-realized and self-actualized, and you have to see it for yourself. No one can do it for you.

That being said, you really need to have a teacher, the kind that keeps telling you to open your eyes and see it for yourself.

I am not a teacher, and I don’t say that with humility, because I’m not yet that humble. I practice in a lineage center, a practice place that some people might find old-school and irrelevant, where the teaching is transmitted, so to speak, from teacher to student, one at a time. My training is in the Rinzai style, through koan practice, and until I finish the 750 koans in our collection, I am nowhere near done. Even then, I will be a teacher only when my teacher tells me I am a teacher. I could find more wiggle room away from the tradition – it’s easy to find – but why would I want to do that? And whom would it serve? I’d be uncomfortable in my own skin in a hurry.

Read the rest and comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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One more thing I can live without

June 4th, 2009    -    18 Comments

My daughter comes to me after watching TV.

“Mom, I know what I want to save my money for. A laptop or a cell phone.”

She’s nine years old, and the money she’s talking about is her weekly allowance. As long as I’m her mother, she won’t be fulfilling either desire any time soon, but that doesn’t resolve the problem for me. I perceive it as something far bigger, more menacing and upsetting. Something not right.

Those insidious commercials! Our consumer-driven culture! Our insatiable kids! Those inexhaustible desires! How I want to put an end to them! Specifically, how I want to put an end to hers!

Or so we chant in the Four Bodhisattva Vows:

Desires are inexhaustible
I vow to put an end to them

What exactly do we mean by that? Have no desires? Want nothing? Is that what we really want? After all, it is desire that brings us to the Dharma, desire for truth, and desire that brings us back to practice again and again.

Maezumi Roshi once responded to a student who professed to having no desires.

“Your practice is wrong!” Maezumi replied.

Continue reading on “The Laundry Line”
my new blog on Shambhala SunSpace

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Quietly study this

January 15th, 2009    -    21 Comments

The deadlines are past, the chance has run out, but you should quietly study this. The dinner is cold, the time has gone, but you should quietly study this. The bills are due, the check is late, but you should quietly study this. The clothes have shrunk, the socks have holes, but you should quietly study this. The market has tanked, the airplane has sunk, the world’s come undone, but you should quietly study this. The day is done, the year barely here and yet gone, everything yes everything disappears, but you should quietly study this.

Quietly study this and let go.

What a brilliant sky.

The teaching of the grandmother sycamores in my backyard.

Lame ducks and tailfeathers

December 4th, 2008    -    3 Comments

Every day seems like one more past due the time for lame ducks to fly south. And north and east and west. To all the lucky ducks who know what I’m flapping about, your webbed feats are now finally in flight.

And speaking of bills coming due, it’s time for me to give great thanks to the hosts of my most recent layovers.

To the gracious parents and staff at Palos Verdes Hills Nursery School: You gave me such a warm howdy-do to the feathered nest where I was hatched! Thank you for an evening encircled in love and attention.

To the good people of Kansas City’s Rime Buddhist Center: You must be the very kindest and open-hearted flock of Buddhists I’ve ever come across. This makes two times I’ve touched down in your lotus pond. And as sure as we warm-blooded breeds migrate, I’ll be back.

To the sweet circle of women gathered by this newfound soul sister: We shared ourselves and our stories over candlelight and tea (while the kids mattress surfed upstairs, no less!) We are indeed birds of a feather.

Thank you all for reassuring me, once again, that when we put ourselves in motion, we can’t help but fly.

Feather originally uploaded by erynnchelsey.

The way out is out of my way

November 12th, 2008    -    13 Comments

Since I’ve come home from sitting so much has appeared. Thousands of words flew out by themselves. I wrote a piece this week that amazed me so and reminded me that writing – and everything – is not a thought process, but its own process. We do not write words but the words write us, and then we can read them along with everyone else and learn something.

The piece I’m referring to won’t be visible for a few months, and when it is on paper it will be brand new to you and me both.

What I want to say is how inextricable stillness is from motion and motion is from stillness. Either one, when unlatched from the hindrance of our repetitive critical thinking, makes things happen! When I am stuck, I go for a walk and get unstuck. When I am going nowhere, I sit still in meditation, open my mind and get somewhere.

I hope that you try it for yourself. Getting out of your own way is the way out!

Soon I’ll be in motion again near and far. I’m always inspired by the chance to meet and speak with practicing parents and/or practicing Buddhists, and if you are anywhere in the neighborhood, please go out of your way and come along:

Thurs., Nov. 20, 7 p.m.
Palos Verdes Hills Nursery School

Sun., Nov. 30, 10:30 a.m.
Rime Buddhist Center
Kansas City

Goodbye to everything else

October 6th, 2008    -    19 Comments

This year,
My sister broke her fall
My dog broke her knee
And through it all, there was one good thing
My deal disappeared
My words dried up
And through it all, there was one good thing
My other sister lost her job
My hopes took a hit
And through it all, there was one good thing
My bank failed
My future all but vanished in a day
And through it all, there was one good thing
My country collapsed
My happy ending kaput
And through it all, there was one good thing
A good so good it cannot be called good.
A thing so vast it cannot be called a thing.
A one so many it can only be called one.

Life keeps proving it cannot be grasped.
May you be safe
May we all be safe here forever
as One.

Photo by Kevin Carden

Life is suffering

September 29th, 2008    -    12 Comments

There’s nothing new about the news.
It’s always time to practice, she reminds herself.
Things change, she knows for sure.
Let go, she intones.

And still, there’s nothing new about the news.
Must we always fail our children?
I’m afraid I know the answer.

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