Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

zen charity

May 31st, 2012    -    10 Comments

The email read, “I’m sure you are a busy woman and I will understand if you are unable to respond.” When we are too busy to respond, we are entirely too busy. Set something down.

First, be quiet.
Give away your ideas, your self-certainty
Your judgments and your opinions
Let go of defenses and offenses
Face your critics
They will always outnumber you
Lose all wars
All wars are lost to begin with

Abandon your authority and entitlements
Release your self-image
Status, power, whatever you think gives you clout
It doesn’t, not really
That was a lie you never believed
Give up your seat
See what you are
Unguarded
Unprepared, unequipped
Surrounded on all sides
Alone
A prisoner of no one and nothing
And now that you are free
See where you are. Observe what is needed.
Do good. Quietly.
If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.
Start over
Always start over.

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inviting you to sit down

May 29th, 2012    -    3 Comments

A student comes to a teacher and asks, “What is the way?” You might wonder this yourself from time to time. What do I do? Where do I go? Is it this way or that? What next? What if? Did I miss the turn? If you don’t see the way, you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

The teacher replies, “Go straight on.”

Crazed by doubts and hobbled by fear, we’re bound to end up nowhere until we stop and ask for directions. As every traveler knows, the best directions come from someone who has already made the trip.

A young Japanese fellow boarded a steamer ship and set his course for terra incognita. Like the rest of us, leaving home was his only option.

Taizan Maezumi Roshi was the product of an archaic system of patriarchy in Japan, where Zen temples operated as a kind of family enterprise. One of seven Kuroda brothers raised at a family temple in Otawara, Japan, he ordained as a priest at age eleven and studied literature and philosophy at university. This was expected. By birth order, he would not inherit the family business. This was decreed. Thereafter, he did two things uncommon for both his time and our own: he took his mother’s patronym, Maezumi, and he took the practice of Zen Buddhism seriously.

He’d lost respect for blind authority; he wanted to part with dead customs. After his institutional training, he sought teaching by radical masters, testing firsthand the truth of an ancient teaching.  Beyond the fabled stories, one question seized his mind: What is the way?

At twenty-five he sailed for America, intending to spread the practice of Zen Buddhism in a country hostile to both his nation and his faith. He was posted as a priest at a small temple in Los Angeles serving a diminished and demoralized population of Japanese-Americans.

I am the heir of his American dream. Now you are too.

His reputation grew. He attracted students from all over the world. He was revered by some, dismissed by others, and misunderstood by most. He was still there, in a dinky house in a dumpy part of town, when I arrived to ask for directions.

“I’ve left home,” I told him in so many words, “and I’m lost.”

As if anyone got there any other way.

He invited me to sit down.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Los Angeles, Sun., Nov. 10.

Photo credit: Blue Stairs by m0nni

a glimpse of mindfulness

May 24th, 2012    -    10 Comments

This is the best video I’ve ever seen on how to meditate, and it was produced at my practice home, the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. It depicts the precise instructions given in our beginner’s class and our one-day beginner’s retreats, and reiterates the teaching carried down through all 81 generations of our Zen ancestry. Now you have everything you need to begin, and to begin again. Our next Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat is Sunday, June 10.

first, you fall apart

May 7th, 2012    -    2 Comments

I was about 36, which I think of as my youth, but I had ended my first marriage and I had built a business that I’d invested a lot of time in.  I was a workaholic. I had no family and no interest in a spiritual pursuit. My religion was capitalism. I had a rising level of disillusionment and despair with everything in my life. I was in a relationship that began and ended very quickly and the fellow that I was involved with had a Zen practice, which I was really disturbed by. I thought it was absurd and grim and an inexplicable waste of time. I was really scared, to tell you the truth, at the thought that someone would turn their back to me and be more absorbed in a blank wall than in my own charming self.  That was a warning sign for me.

In any event, after that fell apart, I was in sad shape.  I couldn’t sleep; I was very depressed and had a hard time making it through the day.  One night I picked up a book that was on a shelf in my own home that, apparently, he had left behind. It was the Tao Te Ching, and I picked it up because it was red and it caught my attention. I was at that point in my life where I didn’t have time for anything. I didn’t have time for people (friends or family). I didn’t read books. I didn’t have any pleasure, but I read it that night and it was just the most beautiful thing I had ever read. I had never read anything so true. Then I was curious about all of those things that I had dismissed before. I folded up a cushion and tried to sit in meditation. I read the next book on the shelf and so forth and so on, and that’s how I started, just sitting in my own room.

This is an old story, a universal story, and one you may have read or even lived before. I share it here today because it might the right time for you. It comes from a longer interview with me posted on the Sweeping Zen website.  It may be the right time for you to read it, and it may be the right time for you to see what comes next, how you start your own Zen practice, sitting side-by-side with me in the same room.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat
Sunday, June 10, 2012
9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles
Information and registration here.

Affordable dormitory housing available.

then you start crying

February 19th, 2012    -    18 Comments

Last week I went to Indianapolis to meet people. I stood alone in an empty room, let it fill, looked into faces looking at mine, spoke and listened, each sound beginning from silence and returning to the same, let the room empty again, and then sat in a quivering aftershock, unable to understand what had just happened, even though it happens every time.

We might think that when we come together in a room and speak our names, extending a hand or a hug, that we are meeting each other. Two discrete beings at a meet and greet. But what we’re meeting is much more and different than that. It is not really two people meeting; it is minds meeting, and not as two minds, but as one. It is inexpressible, but unmistakable. Something happens, and then you might start crying. At that instant, you feel incredibly lucky. Rich, even. As if your own paltry life is suddenly revealed as a priceless treasure.

From time to time people ask me, usually from a distance, if I will be their teacher. I try not to answer that question, because it is irrelevant from a distance, and certainly meaningless over the Internet. I’m never sure what the questioner is asking for — a friend, a counselor, a correspondent, an advisor, a coach, an eye, an ear, a hand? Although I can supply a metaphoric approximation of that from a distance, that’s not what a teacher does.

The teacher and student enter a room that is not a metaphor. They stand on the same ground. What they communicate is words and not-words. You needn’t worry about how it works. To explain it is to confuse it. No one knows how it works, but it does. We always know who our teachers are: they are the ones in the room with us. It’s really not a matter of choosing or asking. What a relief.

To that end, I heard something as I was in the car yesterday driving home from the Zen Center. It was an episode of Radio Lab in which a teacher tells how she broke through the conceptual isolation of a 27-year-old deaf student who had never been given language. “Something happened,” she said, “and then he started crying.”

I did too. I hope you’ll listen past the point where you think you know what it means. That’s the place things happen.

 

sitting still and being quiet

February 6th, 2012    -    No Comments

My uncle was a star among us. As a 12-year-old, he had a calling from God, or at least a push from his parents. This was the only kind of call that counted in rural Central Texas at the time. It meant he would be educated, he would preach, and he would go places.

He went overseas as a missionary. Every three years he brought his American bride and his growing family back to the States for furlough. He toured churches where he towered in the pulpit, gave stirring guest sermons, and said grace over potlucks in his honor. Everyone looked up to him.

But he was not spared the fall we all take into human torment and doubt. At midlife, he broke up his family and left his post. During his time of exile, he visited my mother’s house. Grown, I came home to visit. I sat in the room while he told my mother everything. He needed to say everything, and she was a complete listener. There was nothing but love in the room.

During a lull, he looked over to me in the corner and asked, “Karen, how did you get to be so wise?” I was surprised, because I only knew what I saw. My elegant uncle, eyes glistening, heart breaking; a light undimmed, spilling onto earth.

“By sitting still and being quiet.”

Join me when you’re ready.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Feb. 26 9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center, Los Angeles
Register by email here.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to begin, watch this. Watch it anyway, and you’ve begun.

Ordinary Glories from katherine gill on Vimeo.

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a memoirist’s lament

January 30th, 2012    -    8 Comments

“Too many notes.” — Emperor Joseph II’s criticism to Mozart

Truth is, I don’t consider anything I’ve ever written to be a memoir. I don’t even think I tell stories. I un-tell stories. I unwind plots. I silence my narrator. I do this by listening.

I’m not the virtuoso on the stage. I’m the emperor in the audience. Dumb, dull, and frankly, unimpressed by the racket.

When I write I call myself a diamond cutter. That sounds fancy until you realize that it’s usually just a hairy guy with a chisel. Perhaps I should call myself a sausage stuffer. Some days I’m more like an orange juicer. The point is, I have something in my hands, something we all have — blood, bones and guts — and my job is to turn it into something else. A gem. Or a healthy part of a balanced breakfast.

I start writing when I am sick of my story, sick of its sound, smell and taste. And so I cut it open, air it out, let it go, and then it turns into a larger story, one I hadn’t ever heard before, spilling across the page. It becomes everyone’s story, which we call the truth. And then it’s done.

I’m not even interested in other people’s stories, especially if by page 153 it’s obvious that they aren’t going to turn it into something else. These are the books I don’t finish. Nonfiction that makes itself sacred becomes a lie. Yes, I understand you are still very sad/angry/confused. Write back when you get work.

So imagine my surprise when I saw who’s visiting Butler University in Indianapolis on Feb. 15.

Zen memoirist Karen Maezen Miller
“Memoirs of a Zen Priest”
Talk and book signing
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
The Efroymson Center for Creative Writing
Butler University, Indianapolis

Come anyway, come anyway! It’s free and open to the public. I’ll be talking about oranges, with sausages on the side.

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leave

December 2nd, 2011    -    2 Comments

Digging out from a hundred-year windstorm, neighbors without roofs and windows, trees shredded, landscapes buried, no heat, no light, no relief in sight, gives new meaning to the word, “leave.”

I’m leaving for Rohatsu retreat, sitting in silent witness to impermanence and the inconceivable power of mind.

Watch this place while I’m away for guests and gifts and remember this: When you’ve done all you can do, undo.

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

small packages

September 13th, 2011    -    3 Comments

These days I feel as though the world doesn’t need one more person to say one more thing. And so I leave you these small packages to unwrap if you like, to use if you need:

What mindfulness looks like – a sweet reflection through the eyes of one participant in last weekend’s Art of Mindfulness workshop in Houston.

What Buddhism sounds like – Melvin McLeod, editor of the Shambhala Sun magazine and its numerous anthologies of Buddhist writing, updates the simple story of our tradition in this excerpt, his introduction to a new volume of teachings.

What your family is worth – Offering a new couples discount to The Plunge one-day retreat in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 1. Use and share with those you love.

I’m off this weekend to Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado where a small circle of us will sit, walk, talk and wake up. I can’t imagine a heaven any greater than the one in your hands. Please take good care of it.

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