Posts Tagged ‘Dogen’

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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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

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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A rose colored carpet

January 21st, 2010    -    No Comments

Flowers fall with our longing, and weeds spring up with our aversion – Dogen

I read a book this week that was really a good book, a memoir about how much a daughter loves her father, warts and all, and about how that love transcends age, sickness and time. In the story, the author recalls meeting up with a Buddhist family in Nepal during a bit of youthful wandering, and although she can’t reconcile herself to faith, she dismisses Buddhism in a single gust over that one prickly word we hold so dear: attachment. read more

Silent light

December 23rd, 2009    -    4 Comments

In a mind clear as still water
even the waves, breaking,
are reflecting its light.

– Dogen Zenji

Merry California Christmas from my shore to your door.

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.

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I kid you not

December 21st, 2008    -    10 Comments

Stop dwelling on passing days, months and years.
Look with delight in the undergrowth
where chrysanthemums bloom.

– Dogen Zenji

When I tell you that this ancient practice comes alive in my home, you as yet may not believe me. You may not yet believe yourself, or trust your own home.

This is how it flowers. This is how it is. This is how it has always been.

Deep love and appreciation for you on these holidays and everyday. Be of good cheer. Your life is in bloom. Just look.

The Miller Family

Look in your top left-hand drawer

December 19th, 2008    -    9 Comments

Steps of Encouragement:
1. “I understand, I know it’s hard.”
2. “I think you can handle it.”
3. “Want to give it a try?”
4. “When you’re ready . . . “
5. “Look in your top left-hand drawer.”

***
Today, shopping done, leaves raked, laundry spinning and the computer waylaid one more day in repair, I cleaned out my desk. My desk may be no different than the one you have, drawers so full of detritus that I hardly open them anymore. Into the drawers I went, and I found:

1. A short stack of rejections I saved while hunting for an agent. There were eleven of them here, among more that weren’t, because these were the dozen that favored me with a written reply. What struck me was not the disinterest these strangers showed, but the civility of their response. So I keep them still. The most civil of all was the one who called.

2. Scrap papers of notes written on the plane home after my first retreat with Maezumi Roshi 15 years ago. What I jotted: “He says he doesn’t want to flatter me, but he has been waiting for someone like me, someone with a big capacity to learn and teach others.” You can see he still has an infinitely big capacity for flattery! And while I don’t doubt he told others the same thing, I was the one who found it today.

3. A photo of my mother giving baby Georgia a bath. My mom’s head is a post-chemo cap of newly grown, wiry black curls. She is not the radiant woman who still lives in my heart; the baby is not the precious girl who still lives in my home. Time has passed but I’ve lost nothing and no one.

4. A snapshot of El Santuario de Chimayo taken on a visit in 1992, a magical axis from which my life turned in a totally new direction.

5. A print out of the first and only of Maezumi’s teachings I edited for him before his death. It was from three hours of his talks on Dogen Zenji’s fascicle, “Tsuki,” or “The Moon.” It took 36 hours of listening to tapes, craning into the earphones of a Radio Shack portable cassette player, to transcribe one inscrutable word at a time. I had no idea what I was doing.

6. Stuck on the first page of the completed transcription was a Post-It note written by my current teacher when he read it five years ago. “Maezen, Thank you so much! Keep it going – N.” This was the first time I’d read the piece since. I was afraid to.

7. A sheet of paper with the first four of the above Steps of Encouragement given to me by a preschool teacher when my daughter was three. My daughter never needed them; I still do.

8. And thus I found all the encouragement I need right now in my top left-hand drawer. There’s more than enough here, so please take some to tide you over until you look deeper inside for yourself.

All in one load

August 17th, 2008    -    7 Comments


“Those who see worldly life as an obstacle to Dharma see no Dharma in everyday actions. They have not yet discovered that there are no everyday actions outside of Dharma.”

Dogen Zenji, 13th century

Sprinkles on top

January 15th, 2008    -    8 Comments


To study words you must know the origin of words. – Dogen Zenji

I love words. I love it when people love my words. If I could eat and breathe words I would be happy. If I could make my living with words I would be ecstatic. Unfortunately, the business I’m in isn’t about the words, but about what’s underneath.

What exactly am I trying to say?

I’m so fond of my own language that the hardest part of writing is not starting or finishing. The hardest part is changing a measly word, particularly if it’s not my idea to do so. I’m attached at the tongue to my own cleverness. I mistake the notes for the melody, the brushstrokes for the painting, the rainbow sprinkles for the cupcake underneath. Ever taste just the sprinkles? Do and you’ll see that it’s not about them.

So what’s the point here?

A long time ago I got a fortune in a cookie that said, “Cleverness is serviceable for some things, but sufficient for nothing.” Left to my own cleverness, I can string together pearls like, well, a string of pearls. A very long string of pearls. With no clasp on either end, and no way for anyone to get any use out of it. But such a pretty string of pearls! Doesn’t that count?

You’re losing me.

When I’d first assembled 50 or so pages of early writing, not knowing a thing about publishing, I judged the writing to be so good, so obviously special, that I sent it to an agent. Not an agent I knew, but an agent whose name I’d overheard from a neighbor at my three-year-old’s swimming lesson. This agent was so kind to reply at all, even with a gentle refusal, to this mound of – what, sprinkles? – and give me my first awakening. It’s not about the words.

Are we getting any closer?

Of course we use the words, because it’s all we have to work with. Words are the only way we can approach the unsayable essence. But we don’t exactly write our way there; it is more like unwriting. We dive back into the mush of our muddled language to extract the pure shine. Every time we’re sent by critics and editors and unguarded husbands back to the keyboard it’s to find the source under our skin, the precise truth beneath our words that anyone and everyone recognizes. That’s the one that looks good enough to eat.

And tastes great too.

Not by the book

January 14th, 2008    -    12 Comments


You should look after water and grain with compassionate care, as though tending your own children without expecting any result or gain. – Dogen Zenji

Perhaps you have children. Remember when you were trying to conceive, and you thought it was only about getting pregnant? Or how about when you were pregnant, and it was only about having a baby? Then the baby was born and all your expectations were obliterated in the first week of terror and chaos. But I only wanted a baby, you might have inwardly wailed, as if you could straighten out a terribly mixed-up order. What you got was a life, a whole new wonderful awful horrible miserable magnificent life – yours– that you could never have imagined before.

We never quite arrive at the outcome that we have in mind, because nothing is quite what we think it is. It is so much more, and it keeps going!

Before too long we forget about the outcome and focus instead on tending the baby before us with compassionate care, and without expecting any result or gain. (I’m raising a daughter. We’re both happy I don’t think I’m raising a pianist.)

The book you’re thinking about? It’s not about the book. There might well be a book that surfaces some day, a couple hundred pages pressed between two cardboard ends, but writing a book isn’t about a book. The book is a word for your life, the vast, unknowable dynamic process of turns and trips and thumps, that transforms you as you go along, as you go along becoming more of yourself. Somewhere along this road, somewhere well after you begin and before you end, you might finally be born as a storyteller and a writer; you might arrive at an authentic voice, an enlivened heart. You might finally see, in the very light of your day and in the words on your screen, that you have something to say. And that only you could say it.

But if you think you know that before you start out, I will say with unwavering emphasis: You are wrong. It’s true that mechanistic and unartful things get written that way: by the book. And there are probably 99,000 mechanistic and unartful books published every year. But that’s not what you aim to write, do you? Leave that to the experts!

You stand before a stove with a soup pot and a spoon. What will you put in? Everything you’ve got. How will it taste? You’ll find out as you go along. How will you know what’s next? You’ll know it when you see it. How long will it take? Long past the time you get hungry but before you’re dead. How do I start? You already have.

If you happen to have read this far and you aren’t writing a book, know for a fact that you are. Everyone is writing a book. And the book is called your life. You are the writer and you are the reader, and – no flipping to the last page first! – you don’t know how it will end.

***

This week we’re talking about writing. Send me your questions, and we’ll turn them into something you can swallow.

Cooking the books

January 13th, 2008    -    11 Comments


An ancient master said, “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” – Dogen Zenji

I like to cook. Not always, mind you. But I can honestly say I’m no longer afraid to cook; no longer preoccupied with how things will turn out. I don’t cook as sport or even as art. I cook just to cook, as a mysterious and fulfilling practicality. What most delights me about cooking is using what I already have on hand in ways I hadn’t planned. Kind of like a spontaneous symphony. Well, more like a whistle.

This wasn’t always true of me. I never learned to cook and I never had to cook. When I took up residency here, in this home as a whole woman and a wife, after accomplishing my life’s shallow ambition by the age of 35 and then falling splat on my ass, I began to cook. When my parents visited me here for the first time, my father came into the kitchen wide-eyed. “Artice,” he called to my mother. “You’ve got to see this. Karen made scrambled eggs.” He was just amazed, and so was I. Life is amazing! And breakfast is pretty miraculous too.

This week I’m going to write about writing. I just opened the cupboards and saw what I had on hand. Everywhere I turn, I see my friends talking about writing; they confess their aspirations and fears. Everywhere I turn, I see my own obstinate doubts and hindrances. I wasn’t always inclined to be so glib about writing. I stopped myself from blogging for a long time with the excuse that bloggers were “only writers” and therefore not my readers. Yes, I can be that way. I can be that mean and small and stingy and scared.

But now I feel a rush to get the word out so you have these encouragements and ingredients on hand. Please know that as I recite them I am nourishing myself. Here they all are, and I will take up each point separately in a longer post as circumstances allow.

Instructions to the Cook
1. Writing a book is not about the book.
2. It’s not even about the words.
3. The more you write the more you write.
4. Start writing but don’t stop reading.
5. Every no is a yes.

So this week, let’s read and let’s write. Send me your comments or questions, and we’ll scramble the eggs into something you can swallow.

Here’s the 25th hour of your day

September 19th, 2007    -    4 Comments

Not one thought deserves a second thought. – Dogen Zenji

What if you had one extra hour in the day to use to your heart’s content? To have fun, relax, exercise. To write, run or sleep. To start a book; to finish a book. To plant a garden; to cook. To play with the kids. To do something big. To do nothing at all.

These are the things we think we would do with extra time. But in truth, this is how we’d probably use it, because this is how we use most of our time:

It’ll never work. I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. I don’t know how. I don’t have what it takes. I’ll never finish. It’s a big mistake.

And the classic:

I don’t have time.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you replace these self-critical thoughts with something else. I don’t peddle positive thinking. I peddle positive non-thinking. Not all thinking is a waste of time, just the non-stop negative self-judgments that occupy nearly every waking hour. Cutting back on that will open vast new frontiers of (get this) empty space and time.

Of course, learning to disengage from habitual, self-limiting thoughts takes practice. And who has time for that?!

This concludes my three-day treatise. About time.

I’m teaching a one-day Beginner’s Mind Retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 4. Is it time? Find out more.

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