Posts Tagged ‘Maezumi’

Your heart is in your hand

December 11th, 2007    -    15 Comments


“I need instruction. How, HOW do I realize that I am enough?” -– Lisa

I am honoring Lisa’s plea from yesterday in this post. Here, I’m going to speak as directly as I can about what true practice is. Then tomorrow I will tell you how to find a practice center. Because, for all of us, time is wasting.

There’s a lot of bullshit talk about practice. There’s a lot of talk about spirituality, wholeness, wellness, self-improvement, happiness and all that rot. I say rot because talking and reading about it is crap. It misses the point entirely. The point of everything I write is the same point of everything I do: to bring my practice to life, not just to tell you about it. Zen makes it clear that doing makes all the difference.

I saw a friend and reader over Thanksgiving who had some advice for the next book. She said, “Include more about meditation, because I can’t really do it.” I said: Exactly! Even though I encourage you to meditate at home, even though I encourage myself to meditate at home, I can’t really sustain my effort by myself, and I’ve been practicing for 15 years! My teacher recalls something said by Maezumi Roshi after he’d been practicing most of his life – more than 40 years at least – while recognized as one of the foremost Zen masters in the world. He said, “I think I’m finally starting to do it.”

The “it” I’m referring to is zazen, or Zen meditation. I’m not going to recite how to do it in this post. You can follow the instructions here, and do your best. Or you can read this book, a classic, featuring the instructions of my dharma great-grandfather. Or better yet, you can find a place that will welcome and support you and a teacher who will guide you.

There are many answers to spiritual questions and many traditions that ensue, but I will only tell you what I know from personal experience: Zazen will do what Lisa asks. It will show you that you are enough. It will show you that, in fact, you are the only thing. You are the whole world, the earth, heaven and stars. Even when you aren’t yet able to see the truth completely, zazen will totally transform your life. It worked for Buddha. It’s what the Buddha taught, and how the Buddha lived.

Now here are some responses to the questions that I imagine you might have.

What makes Zen meditation different than other kinds of meditation? It is not visualizing. It is not ruminating. It is not contemplation. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a relaxation technique. Those are all OK; they just won’t transform your life. Zazen is not done with your eyes closed. It is the discipline of stilling your body and watching with precise attentiveness – and your eyes open – to how your habitual worries, fears and anxieties rampage and ruin your life. And when you finally notice that, it helps you to kick those gangsters out of the house.

What is it supposed to be like? Here are two warning signs to watch for with meditation. (1) Beware if you like meditation, because you’re probably not really doing it. Sorry. At least for the first 39 years (joke), meditation is difficult. Your mind and your body will revolt against it. It is a discipline. It is a crisis intervention. You are withdrawing from your lifetime addiction to your self-involved, ego-driven thoughts. Hear this: you are not destroying your ego; you are not going brain dead; you are putting your overblown head on a diet. (2) Beware if you don’t like meditation, because no one does at first, and if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t enjoy it you will stop right there. This practice works when you keep doing it in spite of your preferences. This practice IS going beyond preferences, your picking-and-choosing mind. When you keep it up, practice deepens. It grows. It takes time to recognize and relax into peace of mind instead of darting madly for the exit. Misery, you see, is an addiction too.

How do I prepare myself? There is no way and no need to prepare yourself. You simply begin. Telling yourself you have to prepare before you begin a meditation practice is just setting up false expectations of how it is supposed to be. The best preparation is the state of mind expressed in Lisa’s question: heartfelt insistence, urgency and the raw vulnerability of having nothing left to lose. That’s where I started too.

Tomorrow I will tell you where and when to find people who can help you. And because that’s not soon enough, you have in your hands the means to find it yourself. Start right now. Do it all wrong, because there is no wrong. Do not waste another minute waiting for the right way or the right day or the right place or the right anything.

I wish I could say more, but I cannot say enough. Please see it for yourself.

And if you’re not interested in meditation practice, forget all this, but be sure to visit Lisa anyway and practice kindness. It’s the same thing and in equally short supply.

Tea and terribles

October 23rd, 2007    -    15 Comments

“Invite him to tea.”

This was my teacher Maezumi Roshi talking, after he learned that I had a certain relationship of a certain kind with a certain guy.

And so this guy motored down to the Zen Center in Los Angeles for tea with me and Roshi on New Year’s Eve 1993. When he arrived, my guy took off his shoes, according to the custom, stepped into the tiny kitchen and we made awkward half-bows all around.

“I hear you’ve been living in Sierra Madre,” Roshi says to the guy.

“Yes, I’ve lived there for 15 years,” the guy responds, relieved perhaps at an opening question he can answer.

“What are you doing living in that dinky little town?” Roshi’s face crinkled up in a tease.

I stepped in-between to buffer the unexpected turn in this august encounter. “Roshi, do you know Sierra Madre?”

“I was a gardener there when I first came to America.”

My friend never found his shoes again that night. It was terrible. He drove home in his socks stewing about some terrible Buddhist that stole his Reeboks. But after the terrible shock of Roshi’s death the next year and after the guy and I said I-do some time after that, after a terrible year married and living terribly apart – me home in Texas and he staying put – after another terrible year married and living terribly together – he moving in and me staying put – after a terrible time deciding what to do about it, after a terrible day looking at pretty terrible places to rent for a not-too-terrible price and for not too-terribly long, because we weren’t so terribly sure we would stay, we found ourselves in a certain garden, in fact the very garden, in Sierra Madre, breathless and still with the stunning arrival in a story that was suddenly ours.

Can you believe it? Can you believe it about your own life?

Trust your life as it unfolds.

On that note

October 14th, 2007    -    13 Comments

We’ve been having so much fun around here talking about happiness that I wanted to strike a different note to the tune of full disclosure.

Sad.

What about when you’re sad? What about when bad things happen or good things don’t? What about tears and disappointments?

It’s easy, as long as you’re in the mode of self-improvement and life betterment, to think of sadness as the enemy of happiness. To think of bad times as the opposite of good. But they are only opposites in the realm of antonyms and synonyms. They are only opposites in your thinking mind, the mind that compares and judges things to be one way or the other. In the real world, happiness and sadness, highs and lows, spring and fall, occur in one place – the same place – your life.

So is being sad somehow less than good? Is it wrong?

Sadness can be a springboard to a spiritual practice. Because most of us suffer when we are sad, and cause others to suffer too, it can lead us to seek solace and resolution. Sadness is always a good guide and even a good sign. You might notice, for instance, that when you begin a meditation or yoga practice, or when you find a church home, that you begin to cry for no good reason at all. This can indicate that you are releasing long-held emotions and fears. It feels good to cry. And it feels good to stop too. By itself, crying always ends, eventually. Sadness changes to something else. Because all things, even emotions and thoughts, change when we let them.

One time I went to see Maezumi Roshi after a meditation session in which the tears streamed in rivulets down my cheeks.

“I’m sitting in a field of sadness,” I said to him. I was a tiny bit pleased by my poetic expression. I thought we might talk about it, rooting out the cause, and apply a kind of treatment.

“When you’re sad, be sad,” he said. And that was all he said. I confess I found it abrupt, considering my experience with other kinds of counselors. He didn’t criticize me, he didn’t correct me, he just didn’t dwell. He didn’t dwell.

In life, nothing dwells. The wind blows and then stops. The blossoms burst forth and then fall. Things come and go. The melody drifts back onto an aching E-flat and then back to E again. The song of your life is played on white and black keys.

I won’t linger but I am likely to post again about sadness as a cornerstone of Buddhism, as an essential truth of human life. I won’t dwell. I won’t build a hut. Promise me you won’t build one either. Not while the song is still playing.

The Zen bookshelf

October 12th, 2007    -    14 Comments

“I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher.” – Zen koan

Awhile ago I tumbled onto a blogger’s review of Momma Zen. I say “tumbled” because the writer didn’t share my elevated view of my work, and I fell down hard. She found the book a wee bit lacking and lamented that she didn’t learn anything new, finally confessing that she viewed mothers like me with half-pity, half-scorn.

The thing is, she was right about everything, even the pity part, because I bet even you pity me now.

Most people approach Buddhism the way they approach everything else: venturing only so far. They want to investigate, read, discuss and cogitate. They want to “wrap their minds around it.” This is precisely why I don’t play tennis. This is precisely why we don’t do most things.

But Zen isn’t like that, and reading a Zen book, a real Zen book, isn’t going to teach you anything new. It is going to reveal what you already know, the wisdom that you instantly recognize but have long since forgotten. When you read it, you won’t feel like you acquired anything at all, but rather like you dropped a lot of unnecessary stuff. Your breathing will relax and your tensions, ease. A good Zen book does all this by being about nothing at all.

So this weekend I want to leave you with a nice, empty bookshelf: a selection of contemporary and classic readings that I recommend. I do this as a gift to you and as recompense for the blind faith repeatedly misplaced in me by my publisher.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. This book is like a song; it’s like a whisper. The edited transcriptions of Suzuki Roshi’s talks are effortless and spare. Zen hors d’oeuvres they are, and yet somehow a complete meal.

Writing Down the Bones. Show me a writer without this on the shelf. Now show me the writer who truly appreciates how Natalie Goldberg applies the inscrutable words of her Zen teacher to her life and art. You be the one.

Letters to a Young Poet. This slim classic bears re-reading, especially if you find yourself still chasing the idea of a perfect life. Rilke is haunting as he speaks of true love as the mutual gift of solitude. It is startling to hear this from a die-hard romantic, and this makes him a must-read in the pantheon of inadvertent Zen masters.

Appreciate Your Life. My first teacher Maezumi Roshi never wrote a book. He never felt ready to add anything to the titanic body of Zen commentary. He was that wise. Before he died he cautioned me that his teachings were being editorially intellectualized, but this book offers the only way to hear the depth and nuance of his voice.

Tao te Ching. There are nearly 50 translations of the Tao te Ching out there to choose from. You can look or you can find. This ancient Chinese verse will help you locate your hara, the center of your being, because when you read it, the words will fall all the way down to your gut and echo back up again. Taoism is Zen’s cousin, inextricably akin, hence the striking family resemblance.

Finally, I am happy to reveal the winner of this week’s random drawing of commenters, as chosen by my able, honest and blind-folded assistant, Georgia. Marta will be receiving one of the first copies of The Best Buddhist Writing of 2007 as soon as I get one and I can inscribe it inscrutably. That will easily make her one of the best-read non-Buddhists on the block, which is naturally worth nothing at all.

Thank you all for a week of eloquence and honesty. Your attention is love, and I return it in full.


Picking and choosing

October 2nd, 2007    -    6 Comments

If you wish to know the truth, then hold to no opinions for or against anything.
– Seng-tsan

A reader wisely pointed out in yesterday’s comments that the things I identify as my sources of unhappiness are probably also my sources of happiness. Exactly! I alone choose how to view them: as a plus or a minus, a keeper or a weeper. That choice changes all the time. I’m forever judging every aspect of my life. As I make those determinations, I’m using what we in Zen call “the picking and choosing” mind. The deliberative, evaluative, ruminating mind. I’m particularly fond of this mind. This is the mind that each of us calls “myself” because it is the mind that we use to talk to ourselves.

This is the voice that pipes up and says, “This is good. I like this. I’m happy.” Or that might say, even about the very same circumstance that once gave me pleasure, “This is not good. I’m tired of it. I’m not happy.” Very often, nothing has changed about the circumstance but my determination of it. One time my mom let me eat a whole bowl of whipped cream to my heart’s content. (I think she knew what she was doing.) I ate myself sick and I never liked it again. The whipped cream didn’t change. My view of it did.

In Buddhism, we call this endless cycle of like, dislike, good, bad, up, down, happy, sad, hot cold, in, out samsara. There’s nothing new about it, even though it might seem like we’ve become particularly aggrieved with our lives lately. There has never been a human being who lived anywhere else but samsara. But we can escape it, and we do, whenever we don’t pick or choose. Now I don’t mean that we go brain-dead. That we can’t tell right from left or our arms from our legs. I just mean that we stop blaming the whipped cream.

There’s a survey published every year by the very smart people at the Harris Poll that tells us The Most Popular Places People Would Choose to Live. Reading the poll, you might surmise that – no surprise – the most popular places to live are California, Florida and Hawaii. But then I noticed the question that they ask people. They don’t ask, “Where would you choose to live?” No, they ask “Where, except where you live now, would you choose to live?” At first I wondered why they asked it that way. Then I realized that if they asked the first question they might not have a poll at all. Perhaps people would say, “You know, I’m just fine right where I am.” I’ve lived a lot of places, and the thing is, my home is always my home. The poll question is nothing but a grass-is-greener question. It’s a pick-and-choose question. It’s a “Gee, come to think of it, I’m sick of whipped cream” question.

My first teacher Maezumi Roshi was famous for saying simply, “Appreciate your life.” He didn’t mean conjure up some contrived sentiment of gratitude, or humility, or abundance about your life. He didn’t mean count your blessings. He meant don’t count anything. He meant don’t pick and choose. Make your life your life and swallow it whole. When you do that, things have a way of getting happier right quick.

Close, but

July 10th, 2007    -    3 Comments

No cigar.

The rocket launch was postponed even before we landed, postponed again, then scrubbed altogether within 24 hours of our arrival. There are no guarantees in this business, the saying was too-easily said, over and over, escalating the injury as we shuffled about in the suffocating heat, the unstinting sun, the sweltering steam of an angry thunderburst that soaked through our clothes and drenched the flimsy shreds of our status as VIPs at a nonevent.

This was no place we’d ever choose to end up, my husband and I agreed, as we drove back and forth over endless, featureless highways across a low landscape, past screaming pink bodacious surf shops and greasy diners plating heaping helpings of fried unimaginables.

And then I found my way over the waters and off the main strip. I nosed down a quiet road to a country church on a Sunday morn and found the marvel that is my lineage. I found a group of strangers who keep alive – in the cool stillness of a near-empty room – the simple truth that was my teacher’s. I see the stray exotic bloom that is the fruit of his life; the harvest of his days. I feel faith renewed and upheld, the faith that is so rarely seen and only subtly discerned. I gave a talk about detaching from outcome. As if I could.

Then today came, easy and slow. This isn’t quite the place I thought. It’s a place of gentle swells and rippling breeze. Where the land sinks, the sky falls, the fronds sway and the manatees loll. This is the peace that is found anywhere when you finally go on vacation, when you leave the confines of mind behind. This is the calm that prevails, my friends, when you are lucky enough to have no ignition.

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