Posts Tagged ‘Laundry Line’

with and without you

July 15th, 2010    -    8 Comments

Since my last post on Shambhala SunSpace about practicing with a teacher stirred up so much dust, I’ve not done much writing or thinking about it except when people ask me directly. Usually people ask whether a teacher is necessary, or whether a teacher can be harmful, and how to protect themselves from exploitation.

This is an important question, because it points to the heart of all our relationships, whether those relationships are with a person, place or thing. Frankly speaking, we always expect to get something out of our relationships – something like happiness or wholeness, even something as benign as respect or validation. When we expect to be enriched by a relationship we invest ourselves in an external source of fulfillment. We place the responsibility for our own well being in something or someone else: a better job, a newer city, the right mate, a benevolent teacher or wise leader. If we look closely, we might see how deeply we want to relinquish responsibility for ourselves.

That never works, and if it appears to, it doesn’t work for long.

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three little instructions

May 7th, 2010    -    No Comments

Luckily for me, my teacher Nyogen Roshi keeps repeating the same thing over and over again. (I’m beginning to realize that’s what teachers do.) In nearly every one of his weekly dharma talks he ends up reciting a set of instructions given to him by his teacher Maezumi Roshi in the early days of his training.

Wisdom teachings are fascinating things. They may not appear to be special. They are never complicated. They can sound so ordinary that we don’t even hear them or grant them consideration. But like seeds, they burrow into us and one day surface in full bloom. Only then are we ready to appreciate them. Here are Maezumi’s Three Teachings, which you’re not likely to find elsewhere.

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Faith settles it

January 12th, 2010    -    1 Comment

As with all things, too much has been said already about the Brit Hume/Tiger Woods Christianity versus Buddhism thing, including what’s been said by me. In the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat opened up another front, suggesting that Buddhists man up to the debate, instead of playing what he calls “the victim card.”

“If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously,” he writes. Talk about faith, he admonishes, so you can “compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.”

I’m going to take up his challenge and talk about faith. But I’m not going to talk about my faith, because that wouldn’t serve anyone but me.

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Bless this best: a New Year’s message

December 31st, 2009    -    7 Comments

My friends at the Shambhala SunSpace blog asked me to write a New Year’s blessing for their readers. It runs today somewhere over there, and I invite you to have a look. Then I thought, why don’t I just record it and share it with everyone who’s listening? I hope that includes you and that you share it with all you love.

Here’s to your best new year!

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A late entry in the truth category

December 9th, 2009    -    2 Comments


When you’re as easily teased by Buddhist discourse as I am, you can see the same arguments over and over. Among the refrains I keep hearing are the ones I call The Biggest Lies in Buddhism.

I’m not a Buddha. You most certainly are; you may not yet realize it. “Buddha” does not equate to an imaginary celestial being but to an awakened one. When human beings live in their natural awakened state, undisturbed by delusive thoughts and emotions, they live as buddhas. Buddhahood is your birthright. You claim it every time you wake up to the present moment.

My ideas are as good as yours. That’s true, however, neither are any good at all. The practice of Buddhism is not intended to democratize personal views; it does not aim to equalize the worth of everyone’s self-reinforcing preferences; it simply transcends them. We practice Buddhism so we will no longer be blinded by what we think, and wake up instead to how things are.

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The big Q, the big A

September 29th, 2009    -    1 Comment

How is your daughter? How is your husband? How are your in-laws? How is your job? How is your boss? How is your dog, your fish, your garden, your laundry, your dishes, your life?

How do you answer?

It’s easy to think that Buddhist practice is about the big questions. Birth and death, cause and effect, form and emptiness, delusion and enlightenment, attachment and non-attachment, and whether a dog has Buddha nature or not. I just hope you’re not actually thinking about any of that stuff.

My Zen practice is koan practice, and every time I meet with my teacher in dokusan, or face-to-face interview, I present my understanding, so to speak, of the inscrutable koan I’m working on at the time. I recite the koan and its verse, which by this time I’m pretty well convinced that I’ve nailed.

After we talk a bit about how far along I am, the state of my spiritual genius, he’ll wrap up the interview with what sounds like a simple social courtesy:

How’s your family?

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The Big Answer: The winner of the giveaway of the Feeleez Empathy Game is C who blogs at Once. Thanks to all who answered.

Still blowing smoke

September 1st, 2009    -    1 Comment

Thank you to all who have asked about us here in Los Angeles. Everyone who has said a prayer, offered a place, a shrug, a sigh. Some of you know our little town, our mother mountain, which is downslope of the beast. Conditions seem to be turning today, no better day than this. I posted this piece on Shambhala SunSpace because of the marvelous teaching that comes ready made in the smell of smoke. The fire is massive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you can smell it too.

“Diligently practice the Way as though putting a fire out on top of your head.”

There is engaging language in my spiritual tradition, in the old writing and the poetic phrases. It’s easy to take the language as inspiration or as metaphor, inclined as we are to analyze everything for deep meaning and exalted purpose. This is what religious scholars do, what intellectuals do, and it’s obvious why. We can almost never believe that things are simple or straightforward, that they are what they are. What do we use our brains for if not figuring things out? Everything has to mean something else.

I’ve heard a phrase more or less like the one above many times and thought it conveyed urgency and desperation. It does. But then I saw with my own eyes this week the startling science of extinguishing fires. How you put out a fire is exactly how you should practice. How you put out a fire on the ground is exactly how you put out the fire on your head – your insane, compulsively anxious, fearful ego mind.

Like you, I wish practice was merely a matter of writing this post, or reading a book, or making a list, or thinking positive thoughts, or losing five pounds. But I’ve seen the firefighters, and how they practice. They do not waste a moment to theory, philosophy, inspiration or appearances. This is what I learned with my own eyes:

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The world needs a homemaker

August 4th, 2009    -    28 Comments

Forgive the double posting from The Laundry Line, but this is so very important to see everywhere we look:

Last week I attended a retreat and came home infused with quiet calm and well-being. Then I glanced at the headlines in the newspaper and was shocked anew at the unimaginable depth of pain in this world. The scope of suffering is inconceivable. How can we respond in the face of this? Where do we begin to do good? I will tell you the only way I know to begin.

Empty the full hampers, sort and wash the laundry without resentment or commentary.

Sweep the floor of dust, mud and crumbs at your feet.

Don’t ask who made the mess.

At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.

Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.

On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.

Buy a cup of lemonade from the kids on the sidewalk stand. Tell them to keep the change.

Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.

Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.

Write a thank you letter. Yes, a letter. If you do not have a reason to write one, do it without a reason.

Do not fight with your partner, your roommate, your spouse, or your children. If that seems impossible, just do not engage in the next fight, and don’t worry about the one that comes after. It might not come.

Do not try to convince anyone else of your point of view. That’s why they call it “point” of view. The point is just you.

If you feel yourself tensing in frustration, no matter what the circumstance, say, “I’m sorry.”

Do not indulge in despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.

Make yourself at home and take care of it as your own. It’s the only one there is.

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Note to self: nevermind

July 16th, 2009    -    2 Comments

There must be something in the connotation of the word “being” that makes it seem like the opposite of “doing.” I say that because I’m sometimes asked how, as an avowed meditator, I ever get things done. Perhaps they picture me curled up in a corner.

A regular meditation practice is the last thing that prevents me from totally engaging in activity. It helps me do more even as I think about it less. Hidden in the question is how preoccupied we are with to-doing rather than doing. To-doing or should-be-doing takes up quite a bit of time. It could well be the principal occupation of our lives: imagining scenarios, planning strategies, fretting outcomes, second-guessing choices and then sticking the whole rigamarole back into the familiar rut that’s so hard to get out of.

Emptying the mind of that kind of doing opens it up to a spontaneous and creative undoing that is quite marvelous and, I dare say, breathtaking.

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Eight is enough

July 1st, 2009    -    3 Comments

The momentary fascination with the reality TV train wreck “Jon & Kate Plus 8” has me wondering if the sad saga of family striving and dissolution is beneficial as a morality tale. Does the failed couple’s melodrama teach a real-life lesson about balancing careers, money, self-image, household responsibilities, individuality and passion post-parenthood?

Yes, there’s a lesson, in the same sense that wildfires teach us not to throw matches and car accidents teach us not to text behind the wheel. The damage, however, is so dear that it’s hardly redemptive unless we can change the course of our own catastrophe.

“Jon & Kate Plus 8” is the story of what happens when what we have is not enough. A young and aspiring couple finds that the babies don’t come easy enough, the family isn’t full enough, the money doesn’t go far enough, the house isn’t big enough, the help doesn’t help enough, the good times aren’t good enough and the ever after isn’t happy enough.

Sound familiar? This isn’t just their dirty laundry; it’s mine and likely yours too. More than that, it’s the basis of Buddhism.

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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.

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Quit happiness and be happy

June 15th, 2009    -    5 Comments


Happiness is my new pet peeve. Just the idea of it makes me cranky.

We’re suddenly steeped in happy talk. Research and theories, projects and workshops, books and blogs on nothing but happiness and how to find it. Happiness is a new industry. I guess every industry is a happiness industry, and all pursuits are pursuits of happiness.

The other day I googled “ways to be happy” and the articles on just the first page of results enumerated 129 ways to be happy. If someone had the free time to look up and do those things you’d think they’d be plenty happy already. Yet even with all the advice, a lot of us say we are less happy. That really ticks me off.

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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.

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