Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

twitter zen

October 12th, 2011    -    18 Comments

An actual email exchange.

Hello, I am interested in Zen practice and live nearby. I’d like to schedule a visit sometime soon.

>Thank you for contacting us. We recommend that you first take the introductory Zen meditation class offered every Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m. It covers the basics of Zen Buddhism, meditation techniques and our lineage.

>>I am not looking for a class on meditation right now. The idea of sitting through a two-hour class is off-putting to say the least. I merely want to visit for 10-15 minutes.

magical powers

October 8th, 2011    -    8 Comments

Sometimes I offer to do these things for you and others; sometimes I’m asked. So I do them, although all the power in your life resides with you.

These are the verses I chant. You can chant them too.

This is the incense I light. You can light it too.

These are the books I keep in my Zen library. I share them with you.

This is the practice. It is the practice of all the buddhas. To sit even one moment like this is to sit as a buddha.

This is my place of practice. When you sit, we sit in the same place.

These are the magical powers — no more magical and no less magical than you are.

And yet none of these things is as powerful as the heart that seeks a true teacher.

This is where the real magic occurs.

***

Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

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what how when

October 3rd, 2011    -    4 Comments

What? How? When? These are the questions on everyone’s mind, especially those who have come to their first retreat or dharma talk and had their heads turned by the truth.

These are small steps, because all steps are small, and taking small steps is the only way to go places.

1. Buy a zafu – proof that you are committed to the practice of sanity.
2. Put the zafu in plain sight – on the floor in your bedroom, where you see it first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to bed. Your first public profession of faith occurs in the privacy of your home.
3. Sit on it – From time to time, just a few minutes at a time, the way you’ve been shown.
4. Look for a place to practice – Google “zen” and the name of your town or state and see what turns up. Something will always turn up when and where you least expect it.
5. Visit practice centers and teachers – You don’t know what is out there until you take a step, any step, in any direction. You are your own pilot, navigator and passenger.
6. Start a sitting group – It could be in a spare room, at a school, in a yoga studio, church, community center, anywhere. Just decide that on a certain day of the week or month you will show up with your new zafu. Let other people know. Keep showing up and keep letting people know.
7. See how it goes. – It always goes. You may not know the what or the when, but you already know the only thing that matters: how to take a step.

In the meantime, there’s this:

Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Sunday, Oct. 9

hand me the flute

September 23rd, 2011    -    11 Comments

The farther I roam from home, the more I realize the disservice I do from this distance, from this page, with these clumsy, wooden words.

The other day I heard from someone I met at a retreat nearly 20 years ago. She asked me if I was the one with the story about the flute. I was astonished that after all this time she’d found me. I heard an echo that’s been running through my mind lately, the echo of a flute.

The dharma is never what we think it is. Nothing is what we think it is. Nothing has the meaning that we manufacture.

It was only my second retreat when I begged a ride up into the San Jacinto Mountains to sit 10 days with Maezumi Roshi. I admit I was beginning to feel rather privileged, the way newcomers can feel favored just because strangers are nice. When I got my daily work assignment, I knew what it meant.

My job was to dust the altar in the teacher’s room.

The teacher’s altar. You know what that means.

Other people were cleaning latrines and clearing brush.

And so I reported daily to the big altar in his small quarters. He was never there. I took great care with the strange and wondrous objects, the flowers and offerings arrayed on the polished platform. A statue of something-or-other; a figurine of who-knows-what; incense; a candle; a funny-looking stick; a whatchamacallit; a thingamajig. I’d never seen an altar up close. I didn’t know what anything was called or what it was supposed to do. I picked each item up and held my breath as I dusted beneath it, praying that I’d remember where to set it down again: a high and holy rite.

One day Maezumi came in while I was there. He smiled and said something to me. What he said was:

Hand me the flute.

The flute? Everything looked foreign to me, but nothing looked like a flute.

I handed him the stick. He laughed.

No, the flute!

I handed him the thingamajig.

The flute! The flute!

Suddenly I knew that I didn’t know what anything meant. You know what that means.

He came closer and stood over me, pointing directly to the meaning I had misunderstood. I looked down the bow of his finger and saw:

A plum. I handed it to him and he took a bite.

What’s the matter, he laughed. Don’t you speak Engrish?

That day I learned the difference between a flute and a fruit. It’s something you can only taste for yourself, in person. After you taste it you can tell a story about it. A story that has meaning, even if it’s only to you.
***

On this, the eighteenth anniversary of the day I met Maezumi Roshi and started to see, to hear, to taste, and to live.


The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh Oct. 1
Beginner’s Mind one-day meditation retreat in LA Oct. 9
Love Beyond Limits parenting workshop in Athens, GA Oct. 22

read this sign

July 31st, 2011    -    20 Comments

From time to time someone writes to me with a question that silences me. They put their heart on the page, and I know there is nothing I can say or do for them. Although I’m not ever able to provide the answers someone is looking for, these missives always help me to articulate something that speaks to people where they are instead of where I am. I sent this reply to someone today, and looking it over I realized it could help me and others take a hard look at where we are.

Where are you?

Readers are almost never where I am, sitting side-by-side with me in a Zen retreat, using the medicine for human ills prescribed by Buddha 2500 years ago. But the distance between us still compels me to try.

I am not a bestselling author, and I don’t have the first idea how people become a success. I don’t know how to fix a relationship, manufacture happiness, or realize one’s passion. I don’t know the alchemy that turns fiction into fact or pain into pleasure.  If I did know how to do that, I would be doing things the easy way. But I’m not. I am doing things the hard way. We are all doing things the hard way, as best as we can.

In short, I am not in the manifesting-your-dream business. I am in the waking-up-from-your dream business. The former is more popular and lucrative than the latter. I’m sure it is more temporarily uplifting, inspiring and entertaining. What it entertains is fantasy. I don’t put my faith in fantasy. I put my faith in the path you least desire, the path you most avoid, and the option of having no other option. read more

something amazing in the space

June 2nd, 2011    -    13 Comments

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 issue of Buddhadharma magazine.

I’m sitting in what I call the “mommy pit” at the gymnastics studio, the fenced sideline from which I’ve watched my daughter explore the potential of her human form over the last five years. She does a triple back handspring, vaulting backward in three blind spirals until she plants her feet in the unmistakable thwack of a solid landing, raising her arms in a completion salute.

Her teacher stands with arms crossed, her response inscrutable. Is that a slight smile? A frown? A nod? Is that encouragement? Criticism? Recognition? Who can tell?

“Again,” she instructs, and my daughter flips across the floor.

I’m thinking about teachers and what they empower in us, and how different that is from a teaching itself. I’m thinking about this because of the choice it presents to us in our own lives, and because of the crossroads we face in the propagation of American Buddhism.

What do teachers do? And given how difficult Buddhist teachers can be to locate, trust, understand, accept, admire, and follow, are they even necessary? It’s my guess that most Buddhists don’t think so, since by their own admission, so many are “unaffiliated,” unable, unwilling, or unconvinced they need to seek a teacher.

The justifications to dismiss the role of teachers and sanghas are compelling. Justifications always are. It’s inconvenient, for one. You might have to travel. Teachers are few and far between. It takes time. You have to meet other people. You might not like them. It’s frightening. Looks cultlike. And what if you get the wrong one? Besides, we live in the virtual age, when Buddhist information, discussion, and so-called communities proliferate on the web. Shouldn’t we advance the dharma into modernity? Who needs to meet face-to-face when you have Skype?

Once again I glance at the gym teacher standing among her charges. A handspring isn’t something I do, or can teach my daughter to do. What was it that turned her timidity into trust, her fear into freeform flight? A firm touch to her knees? A hand on her back? The sheer persistence of practice? A grin? A shout? The company of her teammates, who amplify her effort with the energy of their own? Perhaps all of that, plus the teacher’s steadfast reassurance that my daughter could do what she didn’t believe she could: go beyond her limits. read more

to the teachers

May 18th, 2011    -    79 Comments

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about motherhood any more. Our children do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, exactly who they are, and once we acknowledge that, our only job as mothers is to keep acknowledging it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I don’t write much about marriage any more. Our partners do an excellent job of being consistently, rather stubbornly, who we aren’t, and once we accept that, our job is to keep accepting it over and over. Or not. The not is what causes the difficulty.

At one time in my life, motherhood brought to me my most urgent and incomprehensible lessons. At other times, my marriage did. But by itself, over time, sure as day to night to day, in a continuous and miraculous transformation, a daughter becomes a mother and a woman becomes a wife. When that transition is complete, there’s not much to say about it, not much I can tell you, since you will have to make that passage on your own. Or not.

What is most interesting to me now is another transition, perhaps the last for me, and the greatest of all. It is the transition from the student to the teacher. In whatever form it takes, whatever time it travels, this is the longest lesson we undertake, because it is the lesson in how we live, how we give, how we grow, and how we know. read more

gift exchange

December 26th, 2010    -    53 Comments

In the true spirit of the week after Christmas, I’m exchanging gifts. Here are two lovely books I’ve had the chance to read and enjoy, and now I’m putting them up for grabs. Leave a comment and tell me if you have a preference for one or both, and give yourself a shot at getting something you can really use.

The Wisdom of a Broken Heart – Every charming and insightful word of Susan Piver’s latest book reminded me of what I wish I had known years ago when a breakup sent me lurching into my own darkness. Trust me, I wouldn’t trade the outcome of the experience, because it led to the saving grace of a spiritual practice – but I would have had a fabulous friend along for the ride. Piver is funny, smart, sensitive and spot-on. She’s a wonderful writer. I love that she keeps bringing you back to the healing power of a meditation practice, among other practical tips. While this book traces the fallout from a failed love, please realize there are many ways to break your heart. If you find yourself in a gulf of suffering and sadness, there is sweet company here. Everything comes from a broken heart, including the good fortune to read this book. The title has just come out in paperback, but I have a hardcover to share.

Living this Life Fully: Stories and Teaching of Munindra – When author Mirka Knaster invited me to read this first biography of the 20th century Bengali Buddhist master Munindra (1915-2003), she and I had a chuckle over what some are hyping as “the modern mindfulness movement.” Nothing could be less modern than the essential teachings of Buddha, and no one is less hyped than a real teacher in an authentic lineage. This book weaves Munindra’s teachings on mindfulness with recollections from an exhaustive number of former students, some of whom later established insight meditation, or Vipassana practice, in North America. You’ll find in these stories the utter simplicity and uncompromised clarity of a teacher devoting his life to the Dharma. Quite illuminating if you haven’t found your own teacher, or better yet, if you’re going to try to get by without one. I have a brand new paperback to pass along.

Take a giant leap toward a happy new year. Comment as often as you like for more chances to win these worthy spiritual companions before I draw names next Sat., Jan. 1.

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look at why I practice

September 13th, 2010    -    9 Comments

An acknowledgment of all those who joined me yesterday at the Beginner’s Mind Meditation Retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. You know who you are. More importantly, you are beginning to really know who you are.

When wisdom is a concept, look how ignorant I am in the name of wisdom.
When love is a concept, look how hateful I am in the name of love.
When charity is a concept, look how greedy I am in the name of charity.
When kindness is a concept, look how mean I am in the name of kindness.
When beauty is a concept, look at what I defile in the name of beauty.
When freedom is a concept, look who I imprison in the name of freedom.
When truth is a concept, look who I deceive in the name of truth.
When faith is a concept, look how fearful I am in the name of faith.
When peace is a concept, look how much chaos I create in the name of peace.
When life and death are concepts, look what I destroy in the name of life.

To overcome my own ignorance, hate, greed, meanness, defilement, imprisonment, deception, fear, chaos and death. This is why I practice.

If you’re on the other coast, there’s still time to join me this Sat., Sept. 18 at the Mother’s Plunge in Boston. I’ll be looking for you!

invite yourself over

April 25th, 2010    -    5 Comments

Here are a few places I hope you take the time to hop over to:

An interview on the Gregoire Today show: I had this live conversation with Bob Gregoire on his blog talk radio show the other day, and it made me as happy as red polka dot shoes! He is a rare thing: a man of faith with an open mind, and you can hear it opening wider as he asks me about Buddhism and the practice life inside our homes. I’m insufferable for the way I keep pointing you to nothing more than my own voice, but I don’t care whose voice it is. What I experienced in this hour-long conversation was the illuminating warmth of the teachings, and the comfort that comes when we turn on the porch light.

An invitation to my front door: Here again is an invitation to my open house and book reading this next Sunday, May 2. I’m sincere when I say that everyone and their brother is welcome. You can tramp around the garden, have a cookie and sip a glass of my mother’s style of Texas iced tea. You’ll go home rested and well-read, with your hands full! No need to RSVP through the invitation; you might not even be able to do so via the links. Just jot down the info and plug it into the GPS.

3 ways to find love in a kitchen timer: Read my latest installment of kitchen wisdom on the Huffington Post. Time, unhurried, is never wasted.

5 days to sign up for the Mother’s Plunge San Francisco Bay Area: It’s a wonderful group to be part of, and no one will be turned away for coming out of their way. Sat., May 22 at Mercy Center Burlingame: sign up here. I have one more scholarship to go to someone who would otherwise have a hard time with the $75 admission. Contact me to put your name on it.

My home or yours: Have you given a thought to coming here for the Mother’s Plunge – Los Angeles (which is really in my hometown of Sierra Madre) on June 26 or Colorado Springs on July 17? The latter will be my only Midwest retreat all summer, so why not kick off your shoes, dig your toes in and make a family mini-vacay out of it?

All on the table: And for those of you who have Kitchen Table Tour stops on my calendar between now and June – here’s a taste of the pure magic of friendship and story that awaits, from a golden evening at Christine Mason Miller’s home, courtesy of Anne Carmack, who possesses all the time in the world and invests it most wisely.

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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.

Aloha!

The hula could take longer.

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