Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

Zen isn’t

March 28th, 2011    -    23 Comments


Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures with no reliance on words or letters.

I’d like to topple the tower of babel about Zen.

Zen isn’t a habit. It is the absence of all habits and conditioning. There are no habits in Zen, because everything, everywhere, everytime is altogether new.

Zen isn’t simplifying your life. Zen is simply life. When we don’t fuss with it, life simplifies itself.

Zen isn’t cleaning up your house so you have a calm and orderly mind. Zen is cleaning up your mind so you have a calm and orderly house.

Zen isn’t waking up so you can get out of bed. Zen is getting out of bed so you can wake up.

Zen isn’t eating less, spending less, talking less or working less. It’s wanting less, fearing less, worrying less and striving less. The latter takes care of the former.

Zen isn’t extra time, extra effort or extra attention. Zen is nothing extra.

Zen isn’t running, golfing, archery, flower arranging, gardening, golfing, lying down, sitting up or motorcycle maintenance, although it doesn’t exclude any of that.

Zen is not a second. Zen is not even ten seconds. It is eternal. It is now. Zen never ends.

Zen isn’t about making a change in your life. It is about living the change you already are.

Zen cannot be found, because Zen is never missing.

Now, how do you come to see and believe this for yourself? Certainly not by reading about it, although one or two good books every now and then won’t hurt. (And I’d even sign them for you.)

This post has been republished because a sharp-eyed reader reminded me about it, and another one pointed out that my next one-day meditation retreat was shortsightedly scheduled for Father’s Day. I stand reminded, and I thank everyone for their close attention.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat Sun., June 12 in LA

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the living brush

January 28th, 2011    -    3 Comments

It was in February, a week before Maezumi Roshi’s birthday, only his 64th.  I’d thought that I would leave him a little something behind before I raced back home, a poem or a line inscribed when inspiration arrived.  Nothing arrived, and I hurriedly copied a story from a book I carried with me, a book of stories by William Maxwell called All the Days and Nights. The book was a treasure trove, and I’d read and recommended it frequently in the weeks since I’d beelined for the bookstore, upon hearing the delicate, eighty something voice of the author on the car radio one night.  I was at a stoplight on the way home from work and I heard him say, “I’m astonished that there always is a story, but first it has to come out of the absolutely emptied mind, the mysterious.”

The story I copied was called “The Man Who Lost His Father.”

People ask me how I write. I can’t really say, and I really can’t teach it. I’m not sure that anyone can teach you how to write. But this, I can teach.

Please read about The Living Brush, my first creativity retreat for writers and artists, by scrolling down to the depths of my Retreats page. Then let me hear from you.

Illustration (c) 2010 Andrew Buckle

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the way to the way

January 18th, 2011    -    5 Comments

Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative
like two arrows meeting in mid-air.
Reading words you should grasp the great reality.
Do not judge by any standards.
If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it.
When you walk the Way, it is not near, it is not far.
If you are deluded you are mountains and rivers away from it.
I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened:
Do not waste your time by night or day.

– from The Identity of Relative and Absolute, 8th century Zen poem

A limited number of scholarships are now available to the Plunge at Asilomar, my next retreat on Saturday, Feb. 12. If you or a friend needs assistance, you’ll find the way here. Please leave me a private message via my Contact page.

Photo: The way to Asilomar.

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zen guide to the holidays

December 3rd, 2010    -    8 Comments

No, Virginia, there really isn’t a Zen guide to the holidays, but I’m going to give you one anyway.

First, a story about the magic of giving. When I was in Seattle this year for a Plunge retreat, a woman in the group approached me afterwards and handed me a package. I said thanks, then I packed it away and didn’t open it until I returned home. When I did, I was astonished. She had made, with her own hands, and placed into my own hands, a felted silk and woolen scarf of the most exquisite artistry that it became the most beautiful thing I own. It seems to be sculpted out of thin air.

Now for the magic. On a chilly Friday night in Portland two months ago, I was sitting on the unheated floor of a church parish hall giving a talk and a woman entered the room and sat right in front of me. She smiled at everything I said. Afterwards, she introduced herself to me once more as Anna Katherine Curfman from Seattle, the scarf maker. She had traveled to Portland for a craft show, heard that very day that I was in town, and made her way across town in the dark to give me the gift of a smiling face in the front row.

We are all traveling a vast distance in the dark. We all have gifts for one another. We come together out of thin air, our hearts full, our arms open, and it’s magic. I resolved that night to give her handmade scarves as gifts this season to those most dear. I highly recommend that you take a look at her magic for yourself. They are not cheap or disposable, but I’ve never seen anything more generously made and freely offered. You may know someone special who will be astonished at how far you go this year to see them smile.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Zen guide to the holidays, and it’s wrapped into this 30-minute conversation recorded by Donna Wolff Freeman of Yoga in My School. Open it and sit back to receive a soothing balm of quiet comfort straight out of thin air. Imagine it’s my arms, around your shoulders, to soften the chill of dark distance. Generously made and freely offered.

***

More zen for the holidays, if you act fast: New World Library, the publisher of Hand Wash Cold, is offering their Facebook fans 40% off and free shipping on all products until Monday 12/6. Simply join their Facebook page and enter code SNDIS at checkout when you shop their online catalog. Happy holidays!

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black friday zen

November 26th, 2010    -    3 Comments

Being and doing
may seem to be different
but they really are the same.
There is no such state as just being.
even for inanimate things.
See, here is a saucer,
but there is activity in it.
You know how matter exists.
Particles are in motion –
protons, electrons, neutrons –
and they hold things together.
They are active.
They are doing something.
It is energy.
We are living in that samadhi to begin with.

–Maezumi Roshi, Teaching of the Great Mountain

I am sometimes asked the difference between being and doing, or at least a question that implies a difference between being and doing, such as “How do you ever get anything done?” Here Maezumi Roshi answers that question so simply and clearly. Most of us imagine that being is to exist in a state of paralysis, disengaged and inert. Oh the trouble we create by trying to understand something to mean something else!

I create a good bit of trouble for myself trying to understand Maezumi, to listen and transcribe and convey his teaching, and he does it himself so well. I was unaware of this little book, Teaching of the Great Mountain. It is a series of talks, some of which I’m delighted to recall I was present for! What is different is that his words are arranged in verse form, and seeing them that way they are suddenly so simple.

I bring it to your bargain-hunting attention today because like most treasures, it is found in the junk bin. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for as little as $1.49. I suggest you buy all your wisdom that way: well-worn and low-priced. Then you have the rest of your money to be foolish with.

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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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