Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

your life is a garden

October 31st, 2010    -    10 Comments

And you are the only gardener. Meditate on this.

babies and bathwater in Portland

October 6th, 2010    -    7 Comments

Washing dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha – Thich Nhat Hanh

People often quote this to me as their understanding of mindfulness. I only hope it is not their understanding of dishwashing or baby bathing.

First off, let me be clear. In an absolute sense, dishes are indeed the baby Buddha. The Buddha is indeed the dishes. As is the water, the dishwashing liquid, the scrubber and the baked-on lasagna. Everything is nothing but Mind, which is nothing but Buddha. So this instruction is absolutely true. It’s in the application that the baked-on lasagna gets sticky.

In a relative sense, our understanding of mindfulness poses difficulty. (Any understanding poses difficulty and the relative sense is where all our difficulty lies.) We might infer that we are to bring a certain something extra to the sink, like an attitude of holiness or reverence. Maybe we should slow down and contemplate the sacredness of the task, its deeper meaning and value. We might even extract a self-satisfied fulfillment from how we see ourselves. I’ve finally got it! I’m really washing dishes like bathing a baby Buddha!

Even though the dish is the baby Buddha, it is still a dish. And a baby? A baby is not a dish. To wash the dishes is to wash them as they are: dishes. To bathe a baby is to bathe the baby as it is: squirming, splashing, crying, laughing, slippery. To be mindful is to bring nothing more to your life than what is there already. Seeing things as they are, you already know exactly what to do and how to do it. Wash the dish. Bathe the baby. As they are.

We just forget, and look for something more to add to it than our own straightforward attention. Attention is more than enough. It is pure love for everything in life as it is.

Attention! Someone dropped the baby in Portland! Whether you’re a mother or father, spiritual or not, into Zen or far out of it, come to this event and help me stack the dishes. Please share with anyone who has an interest in peaceful parenting, and especially those who have no interest at all.

Saturday, Oct. 16, 9-3:30 p.m.
Portals of Love: The Spiritual Practice of Parenting
Hosted by Zen Community of Oregon at St. David of Wales Church
Portland, Oregon

If you ever prayed for an easier way to parent, this one day workshop is for you. We’ll examine how to find a spiritual practice amid the demands of home life. If you’re not a parent, you’ll still benefit fully because there is no prerequisite for finding personal peace. The day includes morning coffee and vegetarian lunch, beginning meditation and other mindfulness practices, ample time for personal questions and book signing.

More information and registration here.

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!

fill-in-the-blank sex

September 6th, 2010    -    60 Comments

I read Brad Warner’s new book and panted over it. It’s called Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. If you’d like to have more ___ in your life, enter my giveaway of the book by leaving a message on this post.

Brad is very clever, but what matters more is that Brad is very clear. Clarity about ___, let alone clarity about the practice of Buddhism, is rare.

Nothing new can be said about sex, nor does it need to be said. The obsession with sex is just a placeholder for all ego-driven delusions about life and death. Everything we think and say about sex applies to any other delusion.  If only I had more ___ I’d be satisfied. I need ___ right now or I’ll go crazy! If you really loved me, you’d give me  ___.  Everyone seems like they have better ___ than I do. I can’t live without ___!

I don’t know nearly as much about sex as Brad Warner does (like, what is polyamory?) but Brad knows his followers and reads their minds.  What’s on their minds is “Sex sex sex!” From time to time, my readers think about sex as well, but what troubles them more often is something like this, “We’re out of Palmolive Antibacterial.” read more

head over wisconsin

August 16th, 2010    -    5 Comments

Whenever Roso saw a monk coming, he immediately sat facing the wall. Hearing of this, Nansen said, “I usually tell my people to realize what has existed before the kalpa of emptiness, or to understand what has been before Buddhas appeared in the world. Still, I haven’t acknowledged one disciple or even a half. If he continues that way, he will go on endlessly.”Case 23, Shoyoroku

I hate it when people talk about koans. I’m going to Wisconsin next weekend. This gives me a chance to talk about koans.

First, Wisconsin:
Extraordinary Ordinary: How to Fall in Love with the Life You Already Have
Sat., August 21, 2-4 p.m.
YogAsylum, Brookfield WI
Register by clicking here or arrive at the door
A wisdom teaching and book signing

Just this morning at the yoga class I teach in my dinky little hometown 2,042 miles from Wisconsin, someone told me his sister was coming to see me next Saturday in Brookfield. Then I heard from the venue manager, and the kitchen table tour host, one after the other, with last-minute details and well-wishes. All of that and I immediately sat up straighter and faced the trip before me with enthusiasm: “I love Wisconsin!”

Come see me so I can tell you in person.

Now, koans.

What is a koan? Nothing like what you’ve probably heard tell. Take this for instance, a perfectly reasonable and popular definition of koan as “a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution.” It’s perfectly reasonable to define koan that way and it is completely wrong. Every koan has a solution; otherwise we wouldn’t train with koans as we do in my Zen lineage. We train with a collection of 750 koans including the one above. By train, I mean that when a teacher directs you to a koan, you meditate with it and then present the depth of your realization of the koan to your teacher in a private meeting. Most of the time, the depth of your realization isn’t deep at all: you just grasp at the meaning off the top of your head. You try to tease out some kind of explanation. At those times, the teacher tells you kindly and straightforwardly to keep working on it, and you are relieved of at least one of your erroneous concepts. read more

never farther

August 9th, 2010    -    2 Comments

I am inspired by questions I get about practice. That tells me that you’ve heard the most important thing I can tell you. That tells me that you’re trying.

I am inspired by posts like this.

I am inspired by the talks I’ve been listening to and transcribing every day. Old dharma talks on dusty cassette tapes, in which Maezumi Roshi tells me loud and clear, “This life you are encountering is nothing but the life of the Buddha.” And his question, “How are you living your life as the practice of Buddha Dharma?”

So here I show you what my practice looks like most days, and I snare you into seeing through my eyes. Where is your practice? Only you know; only you can answer. I hope you will.

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trouble with buddhism

July 30th, 2010    -    10 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. Believing them is serious self-deception and keeps you in a world of trouble.

I’m not a Buddha. You most certainly are; you may not yet realize it. “Buddha” does not equate to a celestial being or deity 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. And even when we can’t quite convince ourselves, we practice the way Maezumi Roshi admonished: “as if” enlightened. “I’m only human,” we like to assess and degrade ourselves. And yet we have an entirely lopsided idea of what a human being really is. That leads me to:

My ideas are as good as yours. That’s true, however, no one’s ideas are any good at all. The practice of Buddhism is not intended to democratize personal views, as in Oh, you think that way? That’s OK. I think this way? That’s OK too. Buddhism is not a feel-good club that aims 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, confused by what others think, or stuck in the understanding we feel compelled to express on a Buddhist discussion board someplace. We practice Buddhism to wake up to how things are. How things are is not how you think they are. As Dogen said, “Your understanding of reality is not reality.”

No one is perfect. Everyone and everything is perfect as they are, we just don’t view them – or ourselves – to be so. Imperfection lies solely in our judging mind, the mind that picks what we like and calls it best or right, and labels what we don’t like as worse or wrong. This mind between your ears is the source of all conflict, and even then, it is functioning perfectly. Seeing it clearly, we must unleash ourselves from its mastery over our lives. Only then can we hope to repair the mess we have made of the world we inhabit.

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a short history of Zen practice

July 25th, 2010    -    4 Comments

People used to think they couldn’t practice because they were only human.
They couldn’t practice because they had families.
Children and jobs.
Too many things to do.
And not enough time to do them.
They couldn’t practice because they were poor.
Because they lived in a certain town and not another.
They couldn’t practice because they didn’t know how.
Hadn’t read the right book.
Met the right teacher.
Found the right place.
Weren’t lucky, fated or called.
Were hobbled by time, space and circumstance.
And that practice didn’t matter. (At least not that much.)
People used to think a lot of crazy things.
And then they practiced.

Be back soon.

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forget what you call it

July 21st, 2010    -    43 Comments

OK friends. I am officially now part of the problem. In Zen we call this kind of talk “going into the weeds” and I caution you not to get entangled in the vines. Here are my worthless opinions on the meanings of some commonly misunderstood Buddhist terms and why I think they are so easily misjudged.

DISCLAIMER: Notice that I just used the words problem, opinion, meaning, misunderstood, why, think and misjudge at the same time. Watch your step, and don’t take my word for any of this.

Glossary of Misconceptions

Attachment – Oooh la la. We think attachment means loving devotion, as in “attached at the hip.” But sometimes that isn’t love, is it? When we’re intoxicated by romance (or just intoxicated) we might want to stay attached forever. Don’t leave me! I can’t live without you! But attachment becomes uncomfortable and confining, suffocating and debilitating. And it doesn’t only mean clinging to what we like, it also means rejecting what we don’t like. Attachments are desires and aversions that we can’t let go of; the places we get emotionally, physically and mentally stuck. Life itself never sticks. So when an attachment gets ripped from our grasp by the ebb and sway of life as it is, we hurt. Attachments are the source of our suffering and unfulfillment. Can we ever let ourselves stop hurting? Can we ever be satisfied and happy with life as it is? The dark truth is that we are often attached to our suffering. We relive it over and over in our minds and reignite familiar, painful feelings. Sometimes we’re not quite sure who we would be if we didn’t have our unfulfillment to fill us up. The funny thing is, when we drop an attachment we find out that we’ve lost nothing at all.

Non-attachment – Boo hiss! Who wants non-attachment? That sounds downright sinister and at the very least indifferent. But non-attachment isn’t inhumane, unconcerned or indifferent. It simply means that when the ebb and sway of life carries us along, we can let go because we see all of it in a different way. It doesn’t create the absence of feeling or smug disregard. It allows instead the complete acceptance of all feelings and circumstances as they are, empty and impermanent. We hurt, and then we stop hurting. We grieve, and then we stop grieving. We are free. When we truly love someone or something, we grant them freedom from our own preferences. We neither clutch nor reject. Non-attachment is the nature of life itself: it keeps going. Non-attachment allows us to love one another and life as it is regardless of whether we like it right now or not. It gives rise to trust and cultivates faith in something far greater than what we wish: life as it is. Non-attachment is selfless compassion.

Ego – Uh-oh. Now the party’s over. Who invited the deadly sins? Envy, anger, greed, pride and all the rest are sure signs of ego. Thankfully I don’t have any of those symptoms if I do say so myself! There: that’s ego too. Ego is you when you are talking to yourself. “I like this; I don’t like that. I think so; I don’t think so. I agree; I disagree.” Ego is the voice of the thinking mind, the mind that conceives, perceives, measures, judges, evaluates, picks and chooses, likes and dislikes, clutches and rejects from the standpoint of a separate “I.” There is nothing wrong with ego, or thinking. Only most of your thoughts are not pleasant, and egoism is by nature self-serving and fearful. The attachment to ego is our most pernicious attachment. Still, we do not aim to destroy ego, just suspend its driving privileges! read more

imprisoned with an i

June 23rd, 2010    -    9 Comments

We are enslaved by our understanding of “I”Maezumi Roshi

We are each imprisoned with an I. The I that you think you are, and the I that you think you’re not. The I that you like on good days, and more often the I that you don’t like. The I you interpret, analyze and diagnose. The I you want and wish for; the I that you want to become. The I in obsession, and the I in addiction. And so on and so on, a life sentence of solitary confinement without release. Four dank walls and a hard cot: call it your “comfort zone.”

Imprisonment begins with an I.

We are enslaved by our understanding of who and what we are. By our opinions and preferences. By our ruminations, fantasies, ideas and values. By our knowledge and understanding. Understanding is limited. But our true nature is boundless. How can we understand something without limits? We can’t even come close, but we keep banging our head away at it, like battering a tin cup against jail bars.

What has shot me off in this wretchedly abstract direction is something simple and concrete: our appetite for information, and the habitual way we confuse information with action. Many of us want to change the way we live, and we start by informing ourselves. I can see the point. It’s why, for instance, you might read this blog. Sorry to disappoint you, but other Buddhist bloggers shell out far more information and explanation than I do! Armed with a self-righteous view, they might even yell and fight! Prison riots are exhilarating in their way, but they always end up lengthening your sentence. read more

ripples from a drop in the bucket

June 13th, 2010    -    7 Comments

I’ve just returned from a marvelous time at the Mother’s Plunge -Seattle where the sun emerged from weeks of rain and radiated into our bones. There were 34 of us cloistered amid a wide circle of pines and clear air. I won’t even describe it: nothing I say comes close.

Although it’s nifty the way our fancy social media works, we haven’t met until we meet face-to-face. There is one more Mother’s Plunge on my calendar for this year: Saturday, June 26 here in my hometown. I hope that in the light of the approaching days you will find a way to come.

In my Zen lineage, a wisdom tradition transmitted from one teacher to one student one at a time through 81 generations since Buddha, a single meeting matters more than the volumes you read on a page. A true meeting only occurs face-to-face. In the shared field where we meet, eyes lock, minds unite, light streams and hands close the distance with which we divide ourselves.

One meeting, one day, seems like a drop in the bucket, but the ripples go on forever. It’s in the ripples that the shoreline shifts. The landscape of our lives changes forever.

Just take a look at this iridescent scarf handed to me when I met Anna Katherine Curfman at the Plunge in Seattle. She felts these flutters from the lightest fibers of merino wool and silk. I can’t imagine the time and attention she places into each one. Now I don’t have to imagine it. I see it, I believe it, I love it, and I especially love that it requires the intimate care of an oh so gentle Hand Wash Cold.

***

More ripples:

A Weekend with Karen – if I were to crash your pad, commandeer your car and keep you up too late three nights in a row, there would be repercussions.

Attention! – “Baby steps will get you anywhere if you don’t stop stepping.” A valedictory address from a graduate of the Mother’s Plunge.

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the 5th grade of impermanence

June 3rd, 2010    -    12 Comments

She’s going to be in 5th grade.

We’re sitting in the school auditorium waiting for a troupe of tweens to begin the spring dance revue. The kids shuffling onto the stage are already beyond their parents’ belief – sprouted up and out, gangly, tangly – and long since beyond their parents’ grasp. My husband whispers to no one in particular: She’s going to be in 5th grade.

These are the kinds of things he says at these occasions. I can hear the echoes: She’s going to be one, two, four, five, eight, ten! As before, I do not respond to what does not need to be said.

He’s having an enlightenment experience. Enlightenment, Dogen Zenji taught, begins with the recognition of impermanence, the moment we perceive the utter and astonishing transience of life, the moment we see through the constructed illusion that anything stays put.

Alas, all conditioned things are impermanent;
It is their nature to come into being and then cease to be.

Truth thus springs from what we see. Spiritual practice starts with a sigh. Enough sighs and you might one day get serious about it.

Do not pass over from the light to the darkness by ignoring practice and pursuing other things. Take care of this essential instrument of the Buddha Way. Your body is like a dewdrop on the morning grass, your life as brief as a flash of lightning.

It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself. We practice to change the way we live, to face the facts of the matter. Because, have you heard? Did you notice? Do you know? Have you seen?

She’s going to be in 5th grade.

***

Offered in deep gratitude to the full house of beginners who will join me this Sunday at the Hazy Moon Zen Center for their first meditation retreat. You might want to read more about the beginning of my own practice, and the transformative power of impermanence, in this interview.

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baggage carousel

May 10th, 2010    -    3 Comments

Home from the awe and astonishment of my visit to the Rothko Chapel and a wave of new friends in Houston, heading on to Kitchen Tables in Pasadena and Reno this week, here is a short spin in lieu of a stop. Setting down these few things for you to open as your own:

“I was asked to write a book.” – a dharma sister from the Hazy Moon Zen Center interviews me on writing as practice. Here’s where you’ll find the story behind the story, and how Zen infuses it all.

“All she got was a lemon.” – Author Katrina Kenison writes about our fast friendship, sharing  the magic of companionship on the literary and spiritual path.

“Soul, a center” – A destination I’ve added to my Kansas City itinerary. Join my friend Jill Tupper and me on Sat., May 29 for a morning retreat at Unity on the Plaza. Because nothing brings you back home faster than a friend.

“How do I begin?” – A question I’m asked over and over. Here is your personal invitation to start with me as I lead a beginner’s one-day retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sun., June 6 from 9-5. Informal, sincere, intimate, meaningful instruction on how to begin a meditation practice. You’ll be on your way in no time. Contact me with your questions. Overnight accommodations can be arranged for long-distance travelers.

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