Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

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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Ready for something amazing and true*

June 25th, 2009    -    8 Comments


*A hope note given to me by Jen Lemen.


The other night at the bookstore I handed out a list of my recommended summer spiritual reads, and even though I’ve shared some of these before, and even though one of them has been around for two thousand summers, I thought I’d share them again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for something amazing and true.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and Stephen Mitchell – my favorite translation of the ancient Chinese text that informed the ancestry of Zen. Easy, accessible, beautiful and intuitively meaningful.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – a hauntingly honest and powerful response to the question of life’s meaning, particularly to those still chasing idealized notions of love and work.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi – a lovely book “not about Zen,” but rather the spirit of Zen conveyed in talks given by this 20th century teacher. Effortless and spare, this slim work satisfies as a full meal.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Pulitzer Prize winning novel and modern spiritual classic. An aging country preacher testifies to the plain and lucid miracle of existence in a memoir left to a young son.

Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike – A collection of poems written by the late novelist in the last seven years of his life and assembled shortly before his death. Clear-eyed, stunning and resonant.

My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Noemi Remen, MD – The kitchen table storyteller uses recollections of her rabbi grandfather to spiritualize everyday life.

***
Off for a weekend in San Francisco with family and new friends. Bay Area denizens: Come and get your zenagains!

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No teacher here

June 23rd, 2009    -    No Comments


Obaku said, “I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher.”

This is a living teaching by one of the most influential Zen teachers you’ll ever encounter, even though he lived 1,100 years ago. Obaku (d. 850) was the teacher of Rinzai, founder of the school of Zen that bears his name and still flourishes, particularly in the West. His words are useful and relevant because they point out the obvious. The Dharma, or the teaching, is self-realized and self-actualized, and you have to see it for yourself. No one can do it for you.

That being said, you really need to have a teacher, the kind that keeps telling you to open your eyes and see it for yourself.

I am not a teacher, and I don’t say that with humility, because I’m not yet that humble. I practice in a lineage center, a practice place that some people might find old-school and irrelevant, where the teaching is transmitted, so to speak, from teacher to student, one at a time. My training is in the Rinzai style, through koan practice, and until I finish the 750 koans in our collection, I am nowhere near done. Even then, I will be a teacher only when my teacher tells me I am a teacher. I could find more wiggle room away from the tradition – it’s easy to find – but why would I want to do that? And whom would it serve? I’d be uncomfortable in my own skin in a hurry.

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

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Hanging out by my lonesome

May 14th, 2009    -    1 Comment

A monk asked Gensha, “How do I enter the Way?” Gensha replied, “Do you hear the murmuring stream?” The monk answered, “Yes, I do.” Gensha said, “Enter there.” – Zen koan

“What is dharma?”

That was my one of my first questions in one of the first dokusans, or interviews, I had with a Zen teacher when I started practicing 15 years ago.

I’d been drawn to a remote mountain, to the scent of sandalwood, to the hush of the pine trees, to the rustle of the robes in the dim light of a zendo, and to an inscrutable Japanese teacher. I’d been driven by despair, by a broken heart, and by disgust with the same old same old me.

Continue reading and leave a comment on “The Laundry Line”
my new and occasional blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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Remove, retread, repeat

May 13th, 2009    -    11 Comments


The other day I had to have a ginormous bolt removed from a tire and the hole plugged. It reminded me that retreads can have a lot of miles left on them, and so I plugged in this repeat post today:

From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe? I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs, but that’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this.

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 beginning, no justification and no reason at all. 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.

I believe in truth. Not the truth that is investigated or exposed, interpreted or debated. But the truth that is revealed, inevitably and without a doubt, right in front of my eyes. All truth is self-revealed; it just doesn’t always appear as quickly or emphatically as I’d like it to. This truth does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in freedom. Not the freedom that is confined or decreed by ideology, but the freedom that is free of all confining impositions, definitions, expectations and doctrines. Not the freedom in whose name we tremble and fight, but the freedom that needs no defense. This freedom does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in justice. Not the justice that is deliberated or prosecuted; not that is weighed or measured or meted by my own corruptible self-interest. I believe in the unfailing precision of cause and effect, the universal and inviolable law of interdependence. It shows itself to me in my own suffering every single time I act with a savage hand, a greedy mind or a selfish thought. It shows itself in the state of the world, and the state of the mind, we each inhabit. This justice does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in peace. Not the peace that is a prize. Not the peace that can be won. There is no peace in victory; there is only lasting resentment, recrimination and pain. The peace I seek is the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the peace that is always at hand when I empty my hand. No matter what you believe, this peace does not require belief, it requires practice.

I believe in wisdom. Not the wisdom that is imparted or achieved; not the wisdom sought or the wisdom gained. But the wisdom that we each already own as our birthright. The wisdom that manifests in our own clear minds and selfless hearts, and that we embody as love, truth, freedom, justice and peace. The wisdom that is practice.

What do you believe?

Keep the change

April 27th, 2009    -    5 Comments


I just spent three days finding peace and presence. One afternoon while I was gone I called my husband to check in. He and Georgia were leaving Long Beach, where they had spent four hours touring the Aquarium and taken a long harbor cruise, a memorable first for both of them. Here’s Georgia’s on-the-spot report:

She: Mom, guess what?! I just found a dollar bill on the steps in front of me. And then I crossed the street and found a quarter!

Wherever you go, I hope you find $1.25 today, and keep the change. I hope I do too. Because it’s not ever where you’ve been. It’s where you are.

The eye that never sleeps

April 14th, 2009    -    15 Comments

The infinite universe stands always before your eyes. Infinitely large and infinitely small.Verses on the Faith Mind

I’ve just downloaded the trip pix from her little pink camera, and since these eyes of mine haven’t slept, thought better of adding a single qualifying word to what she saw in Amsterdam.







Getting back to one

April 5th, 2009    -    13 Comments


There is a beginning meditation practice – which is profoundly advanced – called “counting the breath.” Once you have positioned yourself to sit on a cushion, a bench or a chair, you settle the mind in the hara, which is the gut, and you start to count your inhalations and your exhalations. The way I do this is to count an inhalation “one” and an exhalation “two” then an inhalation “three” and an exhalation “four.” The instructions are to continue in this way until you reach ten. Sounds clear and simple enough. The truth is that when you try to do it, you find that you can’t get much beyond four or five before the mind darts across a meadow, over a fence, builds up speed and takes off into the beyond. When that happens, you start back at one, and keep going.

So in this beginning meditation, which becomes even more difficult with the frequency of your practice, you spend a considerable amount of time trying to get to ten. Get to ten, come on, you tell yourself, get to ten! Get somewhere, you dolt!

The thing is, should you ever get to ten, the instructions are to start back at one. The ten and the one have no merit or meaning, you see. But try believing that for yourself.

***
The other day I heard from my sister. She is fortunate enough to live along the beautiful coast near Newport Beach, California. She is doubly fortunate to rent there, because as well-off as she is, she could not afford to buy a home in those environs during the recent run-up in this world’s capital of fantasy-made millionaires.

Two months ago she had to vacate her rented condo when the owners suddenly showed up, out of work and with nowhere else to go but back where they started. She moved just across the road to another complex of lavish new patio homes, and she loves the place she’s leasing from a self-made titan now sleeping on his brother’s couch. Then she noticed that two of the six homes on her cul-de-sac were on the market, and last week another neighbor fled in the cover of night. It is and will yet be more of a ghost town, eerie for its glam appearance as a destination lifestyle with no visible lives. It recalled to me my own shock and shame when my first husband and I naively walked into and then out of a predatory mortgage 25 years ago during one of Houston’s colossal real estate boom-and-bust cycles. In the glow of your self-immolation you see that the castle you’ve built is only made of popsicle sticks.

We were trying to get somewhere. We thought that’s what a go-getting couple was supposed to do. Get somewhere. But the world is always getting back to one.

***
Then I was in a waiting room and I saw the new issue of People magazine, where someone or the other is always revealing the new version of themselves: made up, made over, reborn, relaunched, remarried, rehabbed, reformed and 50 pounds lighter!

And there was Kathy Ireland revealing the new her, just the latest go-getter to tell you her diet gets and her money gets and her happiness gets and success gets. She says she had grown overwhelmed, overstressed, overweight and over-everything before she found some new secret way to get a better body. But wait! Didn’t she already have a do-over? Wasn’t she the SI swimsuit model who remade herself into a billion-dollar design empress? Didn’t she already have a rebirth and a makeover? Hasn’t she been all the way to ten a time or two? And she’s still spinning on that disastrous wheel? Asking us to buy advice from her? I know where she’s headed; we all know where she’s headed.

Maybe she thinks she’s getting somewhere else this time, but the world is always getting back to one.

***
When we sit, we always come back to one. And the more we come back to it, the easier it is to see a way beyond it. There is something beyond one, and we call it one.

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Covering the ground

April 2nd, 2009    -    9 Comments


This Saturday I’ll be giving the dharma talk at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. Come and join our morning program of sitting. And if you don’t know how to sit, then take our beginner’s class. We will all be beginners on Saturday.

This weekend Georgia and I leave for Amsterdam where we’ll be seeing the sights and making some of our own at a Zen Mama workshop on April 8 co-sponsored by Lof magazine for working mothers. They are giving everyone who comes the Dutch copy of my book and a piece of cake. Come for the cake! I am already so deeply impressed by the hospitality and sincerity of my Dutch hosts. We have a saying in Zen, “covering the ground where you stand.” It is the signpost of self-mastery. I feel as though I can do this one lying down, and laugh my head off.

Laugh and the world laughs with you, I’m out to prove.

I’ll be popping in from time to time next week, especially to offer my up-to-now untold personal testimonial about Amy Tiemann’s fantastic new edition of Mojo Mom, debuting on April 7.

Kom voor de taart!

Photo by Denise Andrade

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Empty in the fullness of time

March 25th, 2009    -    13 Comments


So last week I catch a headline in Newsweek: Why Getting Rid of Clutter Doesn’t Make You Zen. Of course I read it and my molars start to grind before I’m halfway through. How I want to be free of this! Not free of reading, but free of judging what I read.

The author takes clever exception to the crock of wisdom that a clean house is a clean mind. And like nearly everyone who tosses around that familiar punchline, Zen, she thinks it is a joke. We have a dart we like to throw at comedians who ham it up for a laugh about Zen.

Words, words, words: Fluttering drizzle and snow.
Silence, silence, silence: A roaring thunderbolt.

– Zen Expression

The writer goes on to defend herself against the irrational notion that you can get rid of your emotional past. Not her. As proof, she quotes Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even the past.” Why you would want to take housekeeping advice from a guy who could write a 1,287-word sentence before he found a period, I do not know. Write a sentence, that is, when he was sober. Sure, he won prizes. But that’s not the prize you really want.

Most of us can’t tell our mind from a hole in the ground. In truth, our mind is a hole in the ground. Our mind is the cluttered house. Our mind is the cypress tree in the garden. Our mind is exactly what appears in front of us, without separation.

Though clear waters range to the vast blue autumn sky,
How can they compare with the hazy moon on a spring night!

Most people want to have pure clarity,

But sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.

– Keizan Zenji

Studies have shown that most of us think. (Zen joke.) Most of us think our mind is our thoughts. We think our thoughts are what we are. Thoughts about the past, the future, the snappy little article in Newsweek. But here Keizan Zenji tells us otherwise. The mind he speaks of is not the thinking mind beneath our skull. It is true mind. Buddha mind. And he tells us it cannot be emptied.

Now this Keizan guy is so deep and so precise that they sometimes call him the Mother of Zen! He describes our mind perfectly. Vast, clear, incomparable. If you have a concept of clarity, that’s not it. If you have an idea of purity, that’s not it. If you have a picture of emptiness, that’s not it. It is empty as it is. And it appears full. Doesn’t it?

This is not for you to take my word on. This is something for you to examine for yourself. Where is that past you think you can’t let go of? Where is the emptiness you envision as a vacuum?

We should thoroughly study ourselves from top to bottom. Our existence has nothing to do with the old or new, the past or the future. This time we are living right now exists as it is. There is no way to compare it to anything else. It is more than enough. It is the life of the sun and the moon, the life of the mountains and the rivers, the life of hundreds of grasses and myriad forms.
–Maezumi Roshi

There’s a good description of emptiness! Everything, anything, sun, moon, hundreds, myriad. When we say empty, you see, we mean it is not a fixed thing. It is constantly changing. It takes every form. It is empty and full. We misjudge empty when we think it is lacking. Or when we think it is the feeling of lacking.

In any of the phases of the moon before it is full, is anything truly lacking? Is the crescent moon lacking? A half moon? Of course not. You can see that assuming that the moon – or your life – at any time is not full doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps you are much more logical than I am, and you don’t wait for the day your life will be full!

Oh that Maezumi! He’s always telling a Zen joke. You have to clear away the clutter before you can laugh out loud. You, yes you, are Zen! Now put your shoes in the closet.

Zen retention bonus

March 19th, 2009    -    5 Comments


All this talk of undeserved bailouts and ill-gotten bonuses has me scratching my head. What, exactly, is a retention bonus? And then mine came.

Yesterday I walked out my front door under the lazy beat of the afternoon heat to wheel my four garbage cans out onto the curb. Yes, four. One for trash trash, the dirty stuff. One for recyclables, although I hear that in these dire times they aren’t recycling them anymore. And two for the green waste, the clippings, leaves and branches that we harvest from my yard by the ton. As I yanked the dusty bins from the driveway to the street for the umpteenth time I realized I was wearing the same Old Navy denim capri pants I always wear, my only denim capri pants, although they ride too high and are cut too short and in truth are half a size too big, the pants I bought so long ago I can’t count the years, the ones I rarely wash or tend, that have ferried me through the thick of post-pregnancy and post-menopause and completely across the broad span of my middle years, pants no one else would want or wear, but I senselessly, foolishly, stubbornly – as is the nature of retention – retain them still.

The bonus? They still fit!

That was my retention bonus. I’m not giving it back.

A companion post to the Zen stimulus plan.

Zen stimulus plan

February 24th, 2009    -    11 Comments


Get up when the alarm goes off. Make your bed without a second thought.

Walk your child to school. Notice the sky, the buds and the berries. Let the sunlight and fresh air dispel the mood of sullen reluctance.

Greet her teacher with a wide smile that imparts your trust and respect.

Walk the dog. The dog knows the way.

Say hello to your neighbor sweeping his sidewalk. He is nearly recovered from that terrible train collision. When he asks you for some good news, say, “Rain is in the forecast.”

Let him tell you about the groundcover seeds he’s about to plant. Laugh that between the two of you, you’ll keep the nursery in business this year.

Visit Jim’s blog and donate a couple of dollars to rebuild the far side of the world. Extend the domestic rescue and recovery to Mongolia, where English is still revered as the language of liberation, and learning it is an act of love.

Using what’s at hand, make dinner.

Drop by the grocery store for extra cheese from California, Wisconsin and Ohio.

When the checker asks if you found everything, say yes. Then ask her how her day is going, and mean it.

Clean up the kitchen without complaint, because one day soon you may need the rain gutters cleaned.

Day done, go to bed. Don’t waste a minute of this wondrous mind to self-criticism, worry or distraction.

Rest easy, knowing that tomorrow won’t bring any more than you can handle, or any less than you absolutely need.

Care instructions for an ordinary life

February 6th, 2009    -    9 Comments
Lather.
Rinse.


Repeating my call for company at a one-day Beginner’s Meditation Retreat on Sunday, Feb. 15 at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles to fill your lonely heart with light. Complete instructions, very short periods of sitting meditation, compassionate talks, a delicious meal, and the basket empties itself.

Register here.

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