Posts Tagged ‘Practice’

word from a master

March 3rd, 2010    -    3 Comments

It was not only Rodin’s fame that brought Rilke to him. Rilke had a passionate desire to know a master, a figure who could fill his imagination with a kind of authority that his father no longer had for him. When Rilke prepared for his trip to Paris in the summer of 1902, his expectations were high. He arrived in August, waited a few days, and finally presented himself at 182 rue de l’Université. The two blue-eyed men sat opposite each other.

A week later Rilke wrote his new master a staggering letter in which he poured forth his desire to give himself up to the higher force he had found in Rodin. He knew Rodin might think it strange to get a letter from him . . . but when he was with Rodin, he felt the insufficiency of his French “like a sickness.” So he preferred to sit in the solitude of his room and “prepare the words.” He wrote some verses in French for Rodin.

“Why do I write these lines?” the letter said. “Not because I believe them to be good but out of my desire to draw near to you so that you can guide my hand. You are the only man in the world of such equilibrium and force that you can stand in harmony with your own work . . . This work, like you yourself, has become the example for my life and my art. It is not just to write a study that I have come to you, it is to ask you: how should I live? And you have responded: work.”

From Rodin: The Shape of Genius by Ruth Butler

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Shortly after I met Maezumi Roshi, I came for a visit and read him these words. He smiled, “Is that for me?” We were driving to a flower shop, where he picked out a plant for his mother-in-law. “It has to be big,” he laughed.

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2 minutes of grace

February 24th, 2010    -    28 Comments

I’m reading a biography of Grace Kelly right now. Why would I need to do that? I know perfectly well how the story ends: it’s how all stories end. One way or another, each of us drives off a cliff at the foreshortened end of a long and winding road. Still, grace stands in perennial service.

As we do with other earthbound deities, we invested so much in Ms. Kelly. We made her the paragon of the good girl, the icon of good looks and the fairytale princess of the good life. She bore it, needless to say, with grace.

I bring this up because of a message recently received in complete sincerity from a dear friend endeavoring in all ways to be good. She said she was scouring Momma Zen to re-read those parts that might help in her search for courage and patience. I told her to give that up.

Words you read won’t transform your life. Words I write won’t transform my life. Only one thing transforms my life: practice. I mean both my formal practice on a meditation cushion, and my everyday, standing-at-the-sink, emptying-the-hamper practice of giving up my chronic search for something else. The life we are most devoted to is the life we don’t have.

More to the point, I told this friend of mine that if I didn’t have a practice of silencing my inner screams, I would have hurt someone a long time ago. I would have hurt either myself or someone I profess to love. I cringe when people ascribe to me such heavenly virtues as calm, peace, patience and wisdom. They don’t yet realize that I do what I must to keep from destroying my life and everyone in it out of anger, fear, frustration and resentment. read more

Straight on faith

November 29th, 2009    -    2 Comments


My teacher gave a talk the other day and touched on a topic that has coincidental significance to me: whether or not Zen is a religion. He said that a group of scholars once deliberated this and concluded that Zen was a religion because of its use of faith. Of course, it’s not the faith you might be familiar with; not a faith in something or someone or somewhere else. It’s faith in yourself.

I’m sharing this post on Shambhala SunSpace today.

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From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe?

I don’t know what some Buddhists believe, but I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs. That’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this solely as my own testimony.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no reason, no justification and no words. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

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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?

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

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

Barefoot and pregnant with meaning

September 24th, 2009    -    5 Comments

Going to sit a three-day sesshin on this anniversary of September anniversaries.

Details to follow.


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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:

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

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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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