Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

the world enters us

June 23rd, 2020    -    2 Comments

Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart
and at the same time the power and clarity of the Great Eastern Sun.
Then you can make a proper cup of tea. —
Chogyam Trungpa

As long as you think that all the trouble and turmoil in the world is outside of you, beyond you, separate from you, then you support the world of samsara, the world of greed, anger and ignorance. Now this is not to blame you, this is to encourage you. It is vital that, since you have been led to the Dharma, you truly commit yourself to your practice, because only through this practice can we see that this world — which appears to be beyond us and outside of us and against us — is not separate. It is the world of oneness.

Right now there is momentum to make a better the world a better place, a noble aim. But I’m here to tell you what my teacher once told me: you can’t do that. You, that separate you, that ego that you carry around, is not the agent of change. As long as you carry that separate self forward, driven by your own beliefs, ambitions, and expectations, you don’t change the world.

I remember years ago when I was first asked to give talks, I told my teacher (because this is the voice of someone who’s quite full of themselves) “I just want to help people.” I thought that was the thing we were supposed to say and supposed to do. And he said, “Maezen, you can’t help anyone.” This was a shock to me, because I had testimonials! I had perfect strangers writing to me and saying “You helped me so much.” But what he was telling me was this: “Maezen, you, with what you think you can do, with your idea of help, striving for purpose and to make a difference, which is all ego, you can’t help anyone.”

But this is not the end of the story. Is it impossible for the world to change? No. It is impossible that it won’t change. What matters is how we move forward and what we share.

An excerpt from the last in a series of talks given during this, the first wave of the pandemic.
The World Enters Us dharma talk
Photo by Quincy Alivio on Unsplash

finding heart

May 27th, 2020    -    5 Comments

Through the process of sitting still and following your breath, you are connecting with your heart.

Luckily, one day I read this line in a book. It changed my life forever.

It was from a passage in Chögyam Trungpa’s book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. At the time I found it, it was an odd and unlikely thing for me to read. I wasn’t religious; I possessed no spiritual inclinations and had no curiosity about deep things. I didn’t feel like a warrior and had no path. The book had simply fallen into my hands during a desperate time, the contours of which are not too different from today. My world had fallen apart, leaving my mind tormented and my spirit broken. Lonely, depressed, and despairing of fulfillment in either work or relationships, I was looking for something to keep me moving forward into the long shadows of uncertainty. I needed a reason to live.

Without knowing it, the thing I was looking for was my own heart. And here was a stranger telling me how to find it: be still and listen.

The sitting practice of meditation is the means to rediscover basic goodness, and beyond that, it is the means to awaken this genuine heart within yourself.

For all our self-involvement, most of us remain wholly unfamiliar with who and what we really are. Sure, we know well our stories of shame and inadequacy; self-pity, grievance and grudge; desire and attachment. We know our faults and failures. But we may remain blind to the pure marvel of our being, the mystery of breath, and the miracle of our bodies. We may not notice the constancy of the earth and sky that sustain this life, or the sun, water and food that nourish us. Indifferent to the basic goodness of what we already have, it’s not surprising that we feel the aching absence of what cannot be found or filled from outside. How can we see this for ourselves?

By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy toward yourself.

People quibble about the various methods and benefits of meditation, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is the power of the posture itself. Sitting upright, anchored on the ground and supported by the spine, we embody dignity, self-discipline and personal responsibility. At the same time, we are soft, open and vulnerable. With face forward and chest open, we present a self that is undiminished and undefended, completely engaged with reality. We no longer feel the need to hide what we are or pose as something we aren’t. We accept ourselves. Amid worry and sadness, loss and pain, we awaken our own heart of compassion. Now we have something to live for: doing good.

You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.

It is a difficult time to believe in the promise of this ancient practice. Many of us confront circumstances more dire than at any other time in our lives: an entirely unknowable world. Expectations are fruitless. Hope may be pointless. A future once so blithely envisioned will never be. And yet, there is nothing more vital to humankind at this hour than human connection. It is a time for genuine fearlessness and the compassion that rises from it. This is the path of a bodhisattva, opening our eyes to a world in need, and seeing the infinite, ordinary ways we can care for others. This alone will heal us. This alone will last. And we can begin to do it today.

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

serve literally everyone

May 4th, 2020    -    No Comments

This is the door to the hospital. The ER is what faces the community. I grew up seeing that there was a need, and I wanted to be in the part of the hospital that serves literally everyone. — Dr. Yvette Calderon, chair of emergency medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, in The New Yorker

Each day I am inspired by the kindness that comes my way, and awed by the selfless service in places I hope to never be. So here I am, keeping the door open and sharing what I can: two new dharma talks on responding to this world of suffering.

An Abundance of Compassion, April 26
Time to Give, May 3

the covid improvisations

April 20th, 2020    -    2 Comments

A month ago when the big one hit and the world shook loose, communities began to gather online. That’s when I started offering weekly zazen and dharma talks to the group of students around the country with whom I practice regularly. The talks are recorded and publicly available, but I am posting them here so you won’t have to go looking. Each talk is 20-30 minutes and informal, arising from the mood of the moment. They are arranged here chronologically, but you can play them in any order that strikes you. Just to pause for that long and listen could keep you afloat.

On my site, you’ll see embedded players below. If you receive my blog via email without the embedded players, the links to each talk are here:

Peace Is All That’s Left, March 29
We’re All Hermits Now, April 5
Beyond Stress & Anxiety, April 12
Breathing Makes Beautiful Sense, April 19

Above photo by Sam Wermut on Unsplash



sitting enough

February 20th, 2020    -    8 Comments

 

Nowadays I wake up even earlier than usual to check the news. It’s an obsession but it feels like a duty; I’m a sentry in a war zone, scanning the horizon for smoke and fire. Threats multiply every day. Environmentally, socially, politically, and technologically, the world seems locked in a death spiral. I feel overwhelmed and, to be honest, complicit. What have I done to alter the tides of human ignorance, greed, and hatred? Clearly not enough.

Then I go sit.

As Buddhist practitioners, indeed, as citizens of planet Earth, we might wonder if there’s a better use of our time than sitting still in silence. Shouldn’t we be raising our voices, righting wrongs and fighting the good fight? There are people to help and causes to champion, protests to organize and injustices to correct. Turning our backs and facing a wall sure looks like escaping reality and avoiding responsibility.

Formal practice—in a meditation hall, surrounded by a sangha—has long been criticized as socially disengaged, morally indifferent, and even selfish. Besides, as far as meditation goes, there are apps for that.

Whenever we’re confused about the point of our practice, it’s time to question our judgments and beliefs. We are taught to take refuge in buddha, dharma, and sangha, and many of us make vows to do so. But is there true refuge in our refuge, or are we just reciting words? Is practice our living reality or just an intellectual pastime? We must continually answer these questions for ourselves, or the buddhadharma dies.

Do I really believe in buddha, the awakened mind that frees sentient beings from the suffering of samsara?

Do I really believe in dharma, the path of practice that leads us out of egocentric delusion and into lives of clarity and compassion?

Do I really believe in sangha, the harmony of oneness that underlies all things?

As taught in the Eightfold Path, the right view changes everything, because when we know that our actions and beliefs have infinite consequences, we live differently. Practice is the place where we can begin to see the truth of this, and each glimpse subtly transforms our lives and the world.

Changing the world is not likely to be our first intention in coming to a practice center. We might want to change a niggling little aspect of ourselves—be more productive, less distracted, less angry, or less anxious, for example. But a funny thing happens while we sit silently struggling with our runaway thoughts and emotions. What keeps us in place is the person sitting next to us. We don’t move because they don’t move. If we weren’t sitting in a group, we would probably walk out. The same is true for everyone else. We sustain each other. We uphold each other. We are not separate, but rather sitting, breathing, and living as one.

And it doesn’t stop there. When we chant, we broadcast the benefits of our practice throughout the universe. We know it works, because our actions and beliefs have infinite consequences. Little by little, our view widens beyond our own desires. What starts as a self-help project thus becomes the work of a bodhisattva: taking on the suffering of the world. That means we respond to the needs that appear in front of us. It doesn’t matter if our actions seem big or small, enough or not enough. We shouldn’t be fooled by what we think.

Practice is a marvelous vehicle—it goes everywhere and includes everything. It donates clothing and food, signs petitions, and joins marches. It visits the lonely and sits with the dying; it listens, smiles, laughs, and cries. It gives money and time. It votes. Far from disengaged, a living practice is intimately engaged because it is you.

The never-ending greed and hate in our world make the need for practice clear. Without you there is no sangha, no dharma, and no buddha. As the late Zen teacher Kobun Chino Roshi said, our personal responsibility is so great that “naturally we sit down for a while.”

***
Compassionate Heart: A Zen Retreat near Toledo June 25-28

Essay originally printed as “True Practice is Never Disengaged,” in Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Spring 2020. Photo by Tom van Hoogstraten.

advice for those who seek

November 15th, 2019    -    8 Comments

 

Recently someone asked me about the student-teacher relationship in Zen.

It’s not so different from the way any teaching occurs—that is, the way true teaching takes place and not the rote learning of formulaic answers or information. It occurs in presence. It occurs in seeing and following. It occurs in the mutuality of time and space.

Even in finding a teacher, something has already occurred: an attraction, you might say, that is not the outcome of discriminating thought or evaluation. A true teacher-student relationship is something that neither party has a hand in choosing. We call it Dharma.

When I met my first teacher, I didn’t know who I was meeting. I was drawn to the way he walked and talked. It seemed so natural and genuine, even though it was utterly unfamiliar.

The relationship is thus borne of an inexplicable encounter. We can’t know the infinite causes that lead to the sequence of coincidences culminating in a first meeting.

The relationship always carries fear as well as trust. What we are afraid of is stepping forward beyond our self-consciousness and being seen as we are. But that’s what all teaching requires. Teachers stand in front of you and call you to step out of your fear and self-imposed limitations. Come this way, they say, step free. If we trust, we follow.

So a Zen teacher shows the way. We meet and practice zazen in person as often as possible, and when not, we communicate with mutual interest and intent. In the same way that a face-to-face encounter is intimate and honest (whether we realize it or not), what passes between us is the living truth as we experience it. In Zen, the student-teacher relationship is both silent, as in sitting zazen together, and spoken, as in a private conversation. A teacher is necessary because otherwise we get stuck in our egocentric thinking and fear, repeating the same old mental and emotional patterns that cause us a lifetime of suffering.

My teacher likes to say it this way: the student is in a dark room and can’t see the way out. The teacher understands because they were once in a dark room too. There are many windows and doors leading out of the room, but the student is blind. So the teacher says, “Walk three steps in front and then two steps to the right.” Then, boom! Into the daylight!

That’s how it has worked for me, and that’s what I have to share. But a student has to take all the steps. It’s entirely voluntary. There are no contracts. There is no formal curriculum. You simply have to show up and sit down. And whenever you show up, I’ll be right there with you.

Photo by Edrece Stansberry on Unsplash

a gift

October 31st, 2019    -    1 Comment

Sometimes after I give talks I hand whatever notes I used to someone there, because I don’t need them anymore. I treat that little piece of paper as a gift of Dharma. I don’t expect a thank you. It’s always interesting to see what others might do with it. They might think, “Oh, I’ll put it in the trash for her.” But it’s really a treasure. Not because I think it’s valuable, but because it’s given to you with nothing attached to it.

The physical act of giving creates a relationship that transcends all time. And in truth, everywhere we go and everything we do in life is actually relationship. Can we treat those relationships as having causal power that transcends all time? We don’t see how important any act of non-greed, or selfless service, really is!

During the brief time that I knew Maezumi Roshi, he gave me many things. I didn’t even understand what he was saying when he gave them to me. One of the reasons he had things to give is that people gave him lots of gifts. And what do you do when you have lots of gifts? You give them. He gave me a little silver egg somebody had given to him, and he laughed and said, “Let’s see what comes out of it!” Of course I gave away the egg, but now I think, “Well, Rosh, something came out of it.”

This is an excerpt from a recent talk on “The Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance” available in full here.

Photo by Tim Chow on Unsplash

under florida skies

March 11th, 2019    -    No Comments

A Day of Meditation
Sat., May 25, 2019, 8-4
Southern Palm Zen Group
meeting at
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton

I’ll be a guest teacher for a day of practice including meditation, a dharma talk, the opportunity to meet privately, and a delicious vegetarian lunch.  Suggested donation is $45.  Please RSVP by May 22 to southernpalmzengroup@gmail.com. Seating is limited; the sky is endless.

they didn’t see

January 23rd, 2019    -    5 Comments

If you don’t see the Way,
you don’t see it even as you walk on it.

—Identity of Relative and Absolute

Over the last 20-plus years, I’ve heard my teacher tell a lot of stories. Actually, I’ve heard him tell one or two stories a lot of times. One of them is about Maezumi Roshi visiting a psychiatric hospital.

A member of the sangha was having trouble, and she had ended up in psychiatric care. When Maezumi heard about the powerful drugs the doctors were giving her, he said, “We have to go get her.” So they went to the hospital. Maezumi was wearing his traveling robes. There were many times Maezumi wore Western clothes, so for this trip, he must have thought the robes were appropriate.

They were standing near the day room talking to the staff about a discharge. The room was full of patients. Some were visibly disturbed or aggressive. Maezumi just stood there, a funny little man in a weird get-up, and didn’t say anything. One of the patients walked up to him carrying a chair. He signaled for Maezumi to sit down in it. Maezumi sat. Then the guy pulled up a chair and sat right next to him. And so did others. Soon Maezumi was sitting in a circle of psychiatric patients. Everyone was still and quiet, like it was nothing special.

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.

My teacher says that none of the staff or doctors even noticed what had happened.

“They didn’t see,” he would say everytime he told the story.

I used to wonder what it was that they didn’t see, and why. For awhile I thought he was saying that the whole event was come sort of glitch in the matrix, a hidden world on the other side of the space-time continuum. Zen students can be deluded by woo-woo like that.

“Oh,” I’d repeat, “they didn’t see!” still not seeing.

Not so long ago I realized what the doctors didn’t see: what was right in front of them. Reality. What most of us don’t see even as we walk on it.

In taking a seat and wearing robes, observe it for yourself later on. — Case 32, Book of Serenity

It used to be that if I was giving a talk or leading a workshop, I would put on a sleek J. Jill outfit and use a PowerPoint. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, or alarm anyone else, by doing anything Buddhist. I was an entertainer of sorts, and I was good at it. But entertainment doesn’t last. So I gave up trying to be popular and started going out in my robes to do what we do in Zen: sit. Instantly, it made everything easier. I didn’t have to make up what to say, and even strangers were consoled by it. I realized that it wasn’t me that made the difference, it was the robe.

In Zen, the teaching is said to be conveyed from teacher to student by “the robe and the bowl.”

The robe is the Dharma, or the teaching. The Dharma is as it is with nothing extra, nothing fabricated. It’s a powerful thing—what is—and it heals—when nothing is added to it—so maybe that’s why Maezumi wore his robe into the room where people were sick and suffering, their minds spinning in psychotic storms. It must have seemed like heaven to step into the quiet calm of his non-distracted presence, or samadhi. A passerby might have thought he was one more crazy person in a room of crazy people. And that would have been true too. Wherever he went, Maezumi left no trace of himself.

The robe was a signal that he was there to share the Dharma, pure presence, which shares itself when we don’t add our judgments to it.

The Great Way is not difficult;
it only avoids picking and choosing.

—Verses on the Faith Mind

I ran across a survey the other day asking “What is the greatest challenge Zen faces in the West today?” That’s a pretty common question among those who compare good versus bad, right versus wrong, past versus future. People have opinions. The truth, however, could not be clearer. The Way is not difficult. Reality is not hidden. There are no challenges to being present except the walls we erect by our judgmental mind, liking one thing and disliking another, cherishing our views of this or that.

It reminds me of Maezumi Roshi in the psychiatric ward. The doctors and nurses whizzing past, lost in their expertise, seeing only diagnoses and prognoses, cases and labels, in a room full of human beings just like them.

The more you talk and think about it,
The further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
And there is nothing that you will not be able to know.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
March 31, 2019
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Register by email

scales fell

November 7th, 2018    -    5 Comments

At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. — Acts 9:18

A few mornings ago I looked out the window to the garden and saw something really weird scattered over the patio. At first, it looked a little like confetti. Up close, it seemed more like press-on fingernails. I picked up a piece and it was as hard as plastic. It took me a few minutes before I knew, with resignation and sadness, what I was looking at.

In my last blog post I told you that the practice of Buddhism started when Shakyamuni realized that he would get old, get sick and die. It went sort of like this: “Here’s the baseline. You’re not going to like this. It’s going to be hard. Life’s a bitch.” That’s what we call the First Noble Truth: life is suffering.

The practice of Buddhism is to look into that suffering and see what’s there. Are we just a collection of bones, or as my teacher likes to say, a bag of shit, pus and blood?  Because if that’s all that’s sitting here, go on home and spend the rest of your life streaming Netflix. But Shakyamuni has his doubts. He wants to see for himself.

When he looks into his own nature, he arrives at the Second Noble Truth, which is that the source of suffering can be known. You can see that you suffer because things don’t go the way you want them to. Out of nowhere we get sick, and try as we might, we can’t undo the causal factors. No one can even tell you for sure what the causal factors are. We have an accident, and we can’t unwind it. Trouble comes, and we can’t get around it. Happiness shows up, then disappears. As long as we go through life saying, “This doesn’t work for me, I can’t handle this, I don’t want it, I don’t like it, and I’m not ready,” we’re in continuous discomfort, or dukkha.

And where is all of that happening? In the mind that picks and chooses, trying to plan, prevent, organize and prepare, as if you could avoid all the bad stuff and hold onto the good.

So by now you know that you suffer, and you can also see why. The next step is to stop doing that. The Third Noble Truth tells you that you don’t have to be a prisoner to your thoughts. You don’t have to live inside your head, spun about by “me, my, I” and all your likes and dislikes, desires, fears, how-comes, why-fors and the really big question: the what-comes-after.

Buddha laid out a path for liberating yourself from delusion. It’s called the Eightfold Path and the fact that it exists is called the Fourth Noble Truth. The path looks a lot like this: be where you are, as you are, take care of what appears in front of you, and don’t judge it. After all, you can’t avoid or escape it, and it will change.

As for what comes after, we have to say we don’t know. Explore that space of not knowing. Live in that house, the house where there are no walls. No before and after; no beginning and no end. Where everything happens whether you’re ready or not, and face it with the courage of your ancestors who ascended the throne of enlightenment. That’s the truth of Buddhadharma, which is the truth of your life.

***

(It was what the owner of a particular koi pond, which is visited nightly by raccoons, might see as the end.)

Excerpted from a Dharma Talk, “The Truth of Your Life” which you can listen to via this link.

 

 

go straight on

April 18th, 2018    -    1 Comment

Here are audio excerpts from a dharma talk given on April 14, 2018 at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.

no beginning no end

January 17th, 2018    -    3 Comments

Midstream
by Vicki Patschke

“So God, we . . . “
Every Sunday
our pastor begins the prayer
this way
as if already deep
in the middle
of a conversation
with God —
and we just joined in

I recall the words
of my Japanese calligraphy
teacher
the thick wet tip
of his bamboo brush
poised high above
a blank sheet of
rice paper —
The brush stroke begins
before
the ink touches the paper.

From invisible to visible
From silence to hearing
A message flows
through us
and we receive it
midstream.

“Blind Men Crossing the Bridge” by Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), ink on paper.
The poet is my cousin.

Buddha’s last 8 instructions

October 30th, 2017    -    10 Comments

I hesitated before I wrote that title because there is no such thing as “last” or even “first,” but there is a short list commonly known as Buddha’s final teaching before he died, and so I am sharing it here and now.

Words attributed to Buddha are the basis of much industry, interpretation, and enterprise. Buddha’s teachings were entirely spoken and conveyed for hundreds of years by word of mouth until the first written records were made. This is just the way it is and in one sense it works just fine. Sure, words are subject to erroneous understanding by deluded people, but with a bit of practice and a flicker of clarity, you can look at a modern quotation, especially a popular one, and know instantly that Buddha never said any such thing.

And this is precisely what his instructions foretold. There’s a good chance you guys are going to get this all wrong.

“Last words” are interesting in another way. When you’re present at someone’s death, you don’t know when the final moment will come, or what the critical utterance will be. Sometime later you reflect on what happened last and then decide for yourself what it means. Before her death, my mother told me, “Be yourself and take good care of your family.” She lived for several days after I heard that, and she may have said more that I didn’t hear or recall. But the words I retained were useful for me — simple and straightforward — carrying with them a mother’s hope that I wouldn’t complicate things quite so much.

That’s the spirit with which I see Buddha’s last instructions. A human being, surrounded by devotees and dependents, with a final chance to bring peace and ease to a population crazed with fear and grief. I have simplified these from a scholarly translation, but in a nutshell, this is what Buddha tells you to do here and now:

1. Want little — Suffer less.
2. Be satisfied — Enough is enough.
3. Avoid crowds — Be alone and quiet.
4. Keep going — Don’t turn back.
5. Pay attention — Guard your mind.
6. Meditate — Or you are lost.
7. See for yourself — Cultivate wisdom.
8. Don’t talk about it — Do it.

“Now, all of you be quiet and do not speak. Time is passing and I am going to cross over. This is my last admonition to you.”

***

Based on “Eight Awakenings of Great Beings” by Dogen Zenji. From Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

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