Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

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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the hard truth

April 27th, 2010    -    26 Comments

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. – Verses on the Faith Mind

Yesterday I saw my new book called “self-centered for someone who is all about detachment.” That was hard to let go of.

This morning I called in for an interview on a live radio show and the host said “Pardon my personal view, but for our society to be raised right it takes more than tree hugging.” That was hard to embrace.

As I backed out of the driveway to take my daughter to school, I spotted a ticket on the spare car we keep parked on the curb. The overnight parking permit had expired four months ago, an oversight that was hard to keep from citing someone else for.

This practice is hard, particularly when I don’t practice it. The truth can be hard to admit, although the truth is never hard to see. What truth am I talking about? The truth of what is. Some of us spend our whole lives in a search for truth, and yet the truth is always staring us in the face. We don’t need to do anything to find it, and even less to cover it up.

One of the things that helps me deal with the thorny business of competitiveness, authorship and ownership is my view of the truth. My view of the truth is that it’s not mine, or at least, not mine alone. Wisdom is not mine to manufacture. It’s not in a clever turn of words, a brand, or a trademarked slogan. It’s not even in my unique story. My story isn’t unique. My practice isn’t unique, and if I truly practice, I don’t have anything left to call my own. I don’t deal in anything original. None of us do. read more

everything happens

April 14th, 2010    -    5 Comments

It doesn’t look like anything happens in those torturous few minutes of motionlessness. But everything happens when you meditate. Whole worlds are dismantled, innumerable scores are settled, grievous deeds are undone, and the entire universe settles at rest.

Please click here and read an exclusive excerpt from Hand Wash Cold featured by my good friends at Shambhala Sun magazine. Then, everything happens. I’ll award a signed book to one commenter on their post by this Saturday, April 17.

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

it isn’t over until you quit

January 28th, 2010    -    1 Comment

This entire post is up today at Shambhala SunSpace. I won’t make you go over there to read it. I want you to stay right here and keep going. It isn’t over until you quit.

A few years ago my daughter piped up from the backseat, which is where children of her age are prone to do their piping.

“Mommy, if you ever write another book please make it not about Zen.”

I asked why.

“Because the whole idea of Zen is bogus.”

I don’t put this little story in the category of Kids Say the Darnedest Things, although they do. I put it in the category of Ear-Splitting Truth.

It’s true: the whole idea of Zen is bogus. The whole idea of anything is bogus. Ideas are bogus. Occasionally useful, but not real. I promised her I wouldn’t ever write a book about Zen. There’s plenty of that without me piping up from the front seat. And when I get carried away I miss my exit. read more

Your mind on Tide

January 17th, 2010    -    5 Comments

My mother taught me many things, but she didn’t teach me much about homemaking. To learn how to keep house, I had to study under the tutelage of an eighth century Chinese enlightened master.

I’m so pleased to see my new article “Do Dishes, Rake Leaves” in the March issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, and I’m especially pleased to see it under my full name. If you haven’t yet read it, put it on your list of things to do this weekend. If heaven forbid you don’t subscribe to the magazine, put that on your list, too.

And if you don’t have a list, here’s a handy one to start with.

You can call me

January 5th, 2010    -    13 Comments

It is revealing to me now that back then I didn’t want to make a fuss about this marriage. I didn’t want to have a wedding. I didn’t want to spend the money. I didn’t want to buy a dress or take the time. I didn’t want to bear his name or wear a ring and of course I didn’t want to have his children. In my own defense, I concluded that I was being modern. I meant no harm. Nothing about it had much meaning at all, certainly not the archaic vows I spoke in a half-price hotel suite before immediate family only.Hand Wash Cold

Those of you who read my ravishingly narcissistic Facebook updates may recall that an editor recently asked for permission to delete my Dharma name – Maezen – from my byline, suggesting that it was too Asian and too religious for the sensibilities of modern Western “mindfulness” adherents. (Air quotes are my own.)

You can imagine how I responded. It was not pretty, but it was swift.

For the benefit of all, I’d like to poke into this topic, because it is a jugular.

When you give a color a name, it is the beginning of blindness. – Zen saying

A Dharma name is the name given to a student by a teacher, usually as part of a ceremony in which the student commits him or herself to the practice, or the Way. In my case, I practice in a Japanese lineage, so the name sounds Japanese. In Tibetan traditions, the name will sound Tibetan. Even outside the formal practice, your first name may sound Irish and your last name Serbian. Or English, Spanish, Dutch or Swahili. I say “sounds” because that is what all names are. They are sounds. Names are made-up utterances. I asked for a Dharma name that paid tribute to Maezumi Roshi. My current teacher, Nyogen Roshi, gave it.

Of course, just because a name is made up doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

Some people do a ceremony, get a name, and never take it. I can understand that way of thinking: it’s more modern. Some names are cumbersome. Some are easy to forget. Some sound funny. And let’s face it, a new name doesn’t ever sound like the “me” that each of us so dearly knows and loves. It’s hard to commit to anything or anyone else if your most important commitment is still to yourself. That attachment to ego blinds you.

In my sangha, we all use our Dharma names. Sure, at first, it’s awkward. We think we’ll never remember, and we forget a lot of the time. Then, we adapt. Old habits change. The mind rewires. It happens, and it happens by itself. That’s what Dharma means.

Dharma is translated as “truth” and “teaching.” And the truth teaches itself, once little old me gets out of the way.

I vow to take what I am given. – Zen priest ordination precepts

Maezen (“May-zen”) isn’t really Japanese. It isn’t Asian, and it isn’t Buddhist. It is a vow. And unlike other halfhearted vows I’ve made but never kept, I’ve vowed to take it. I wear it on my sleeve, where I can see it, and where I can be it.

It is the heart of the Dharma.

You can call me Maezen. You can call me Karen. You can call me Mrs. You can call me Buddhist. You can call me Irish. You can call me Serbian. You can call me Mom. You can call me Honey. You can call me @#%!# You can call me No One. You can call me and I will respond. The response makes all the difference.

In matters of the heart, we too often forget what we have promised to remember, and remember what is best to forget.Hand Wash Cold

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