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Thread: Practice question(s)

  1. #1

    Practice question(s)

    Counting exhales up to 10. OK? Anything better at the beginning?

  2. #2
    Hi Don,

    Counting is wonderful at the beginning in allowing quiet and focus. It is especially good for new students who have never spent 20 minutes without pondering this and that. However, I would never continue the practice for more than a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Also, I would transition out to open, objectless "just sitting" ... trying to do that more and more, but returning to counting the breaths when things just won't find their balanced center.

    After awhile, however, we take off the training wheels and come to know that there are no "bad" rides ... both the balanced and centered ones and those that seem ( I say "seem" ... cause, gosh darn it, what does the universe know of "balance" and "center" ... which is really a "balance" and "center" all its own) to be not.

    I do not favor true "mantras" because of their hocuc-pocus feeling, although some people might do well repeating a phrase such as "who am i?" That kind of thing. I just don't tell students to do that, because it seems it can lead to thinking more than the truly abstract counting to 10.

    Anyone have other suggestions that they have used?

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    For beginners, our practice consists of clenching the teeth and fists and focusing all of our attention on the images of the fierce Niõ (仁王) and the delusion-subduing “Immovable One” - Fudõ Myõ-õ (不動明王).

    “Rouse your vital energy, fix your gaze, and acquire the energy
    of the delusion-conquering forms of the Niõ and Fudõ Myõ-õ.
    Guarding this Niõshin (Niõ-mind) and Fudõshin (immovable mind),
    you will overcome delusions.” - Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi

    This style of Fudõ zazen (不動坐禅) and Niõ zazen (仁王坐禅) is practised at the beginning for those new to zazen. It is unique to the tradition I follow as started by Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi.

  4. #4
    Hi Jun,

    Very interesting! So, the practice of that group must have a great Shingon/Esoteric Buddhist influence (one more hybrid to mention). Please correct any of this if it is wrong, Jun. For those who do not know about Myo-o:

    The Myo-o are ... emanations who represent the luminescent wisdom of the Buddha, and guard the four cardinal directions and the center. Introduced to Japan in the 9th century by the Shingon and Tendai sects, the Myo-o were originally Hindu deities adopted into the pantheon of Esoteric Buddhism to vanquish blind craving.
    http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/myo-o.shtml

    I would love to visit that Sangha sometime and sit with them. Where are they based in Japan? What is the main practice of meditation? I remember you writing once awhile ago that they are an off-shoot (aren't we all an offshoot of something?) of the Rinzai sect? So, I suppose that we have 3 Suzuki's to keep in mind now: Shunryu, Taisetsu and Shõsan.

    I have not researched this subject directly, and I do not agree with everything in the following paragraphs, but the discussion sounds about right in explaining the different approaches [contrasting Dogen with the founder of Shingon, Master Kukai]. Please correct me if I misunderstand, Jun:

    Whereas Dogen lived in the thirteenth century, Kukai belongs to the ninth century. Both of these men studied in China, which had a great civilization at that time, Kukai introducing the teachings of esoteric Buddhism to Japan, and Dogen bringing back the teachings of Soto Zen. They were both figures of genius in the history of Japanese Buddhism...

    In contrast to Dogen, who recommended zazen, a method of “no-thought, no-form” meditation where all images are extinguished, Kukai advocated the extensive use of iconographic imagery in meditation, for example a-ji-kan : meditation on the Sanskrit letter “a”, or gatsurin-kan: meditation on the moon-wheel. Their teachings and practices with regard to meditation, the use of imagery and visualization, were poles apart.

    They advocate two quite different sitting techniques; in one, all mental images are to be extinguished, while the other makes abundant use of imagery. ... Kukai, on the other hand, has much in common with yogic and Hindu meditation techniques. Tibetan Buddhism is basically esoteric too, and its sitting and meditative disciplines are of a similar type to those taught by Kukai.

    Kukai’s strategy was to transform the self through the use of imagery. Dogen, on the other hand, sought to re-set the self by erasing all imagery. Or else to re-format it, so as to reach back towards one’s original face. By using visualizations to the full, Kukai sought to identify this very body with that of, for example Fudo Myo-o, (the fierce spirit Acalanatha), or his true form, Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana). Central to the body and meditative disciplines taught by Kukai was the esoteric meditation technique whereby the “three kinds of acts” (sango) - bodily, verbal and mental - of all living beings are assimilated into the “three mystic practices” (sanmitsu) - bodily, verbal and mental - of the tathagata, the Buddha. In his major work Sokushin-jobutsuron Kukai wrote that “if you chant the three mystic practices (the Buddha?) will speedily appear”.

    Kukai, as his name (written with the characters for sky and sea) suggests, sought to expand the self until it filled the sky, the sea, the whole universe. Dogen, meanwhile, was also true to his name (written with the characters for “way” and “source”) in returning to the source of the Buddhist teachings, devoting himself to discarding all illusions of self, and following the path that returned the self to nothingness. The body techniques and theories of the body of these two Buddhist monks serve as an important reference point in considering “the body of the monk”.

    Thank you for introducing us to this. Very fascinating. Please correct me if I read too much into your comment.

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5
    Hello Jundõ,

    So, the practice of that group must have a great Shingon/Esoteric Buddhist influence (one more hybrid to mention).
    As did most schools of Zen during the Tokugawa jidai.

    That info on the Myõ-õ was correct.

    I would love to visit that Sangha sometime and sit with them. Where are they based in Japan?
    At this point in time there is no fixed address, only the home of my teacher and several others in and around Ebina and also in Okayama and Fukuoka.

    What is the main practice of meditation?
    Shikantaza.

    I remember you writing once awhile ago that they are an off-shoot (aren't we all an offshoot of something?) of the Rinzai sect?
    Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi had stronger connections with Sõtõ-shu.
    Shõsan Rõshi taught a personal blend of practices derived from Pure Land Buddhism (Jõdo-shu 浄土宗), esoteric Buddhism (Shingon-shu 真言宗) and both Rinzai-shu (臨済宗) and Sõtõ-shu (曹洞宗). As did a great many Zen teachers in the Edo period.

    The use of iconographic imagery and the esoteric elements usually found within Mikkyõ are to be found in all main lines of Zen, yes even Sõtõ-shu. Takuan Sõhõ Rõshi was a big fan of Fudõ Myõ-õ. Gesshu Sõko Rõshi was big on koans and mantras in his Sõtõ-shu temple. Tõsui Rõshi was fond of the aji-kan. Zen in the Tokugawa period especially had very many esoteric influences and many interpretations of practice existed.

    The following is from a Sõtõ-shu text:
    "Within a red circle is a black manji. This is called the right-sided manji diagram. It is the state existing even before the empty kalpa. The black manji represents the state of non-discrimination, the state before East and West were distinguished. Focus upon it and draw from it's energies."
    At one time this teaching together with it's accompanying diagram was to be found in both Rinzai-shu and Sõtõ-shu temples.


  6. #6
    Hi Jun,

    If you haven't guessed by now (I think it is pretty obvious), my lineage through Nishijima represents a "back to basics / back to Dogen" reform movement in the Soto sect (and there are many in Soto who empathize with such things). We are purely "just sitting' purists, and don't teach many bells and whistles beyond that purely-just-what-it-is practice.

    You are exactly right, starting from Master Gikai and Keizan in the second and third generations after Dogen, syncretism began in the Soto school. Folks (looking to spice up their practice with some flashier stuff then staring, facing a wall) began to intentionally introduce elements of esoteric Buddhism into Soto doctrines (in fact, Master Dogen's teachings were almost forgotten until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when they underwent a revival). Here is a short but good Wiki description (showing too, that intra-Sangha tensions are, unfortunately, nothing new to Zen history! :-) ):

    After Dōgen's death, his chief disciple Koun Ejō (1198-1280) succeeded him as abbot of the Eihei Temple. Ejō himself picked a younger monk named Tettsū Gikai (1219-1309), a man who had already been marked for leadership by Dōgen himself, to nurture as his own successor. However, Ejō's tenure as abbot was marked by a routine and unbending adherence to Dōgen's teachings and practices, but without Dōgen's vision and leadership, and the temple fell into decline. Differences between Ejō and Gikai appeared from the beginning, but Ejō, out of deference to Dōgen's wishes, did his best to train his younger colleague to take responsibility for the community.

    Gikai travelled in China from 1259 to 1262, and when he returned with sophisticated architectural drawings and plans, Ejō put him in charge of temple construction. Five years later, Ejō stepped down as abbot and handed the leadership over to Gikai. Almost immediately the monks broke into pro- and anti-Gikai factions. Those who opposed him thought he was abandoning the simplicity and focus of Dōgen's ideal monastic life, squandering time and resources on new buildings and external decor. Gikai even went so far as to introduce Shingon liturgies into the life of Eiheiji, contaminating the ‘pure’ Zen of Dōgen. Finally, in 1272, the monks petitioned Ejō to resume the abbacy, which he did, and during his final years he successfully held dissension to a minimum. This set the stage for the division of Sōtō into two competing factions. After Ejō died in 1280, Gikai felt he should resume the abbacy, based on his previous experience and upon Dōgen's Dharma-transmission to him. Others within the community, uncomfortable with his progressiveness and (to their mind) over-accommodation with worldly concerns, wanted another of Ejō's prominent disciples, Gien (d. 1314) to succeed as abbot. The faction supporting Gikai prevailed, and he took up a second term as abbot of the Eihei Temple. However, the second wave of Mongol invasions (see Mongolia) in 1281 increased public demand for esoteric rituals for the protection of the nation, and Gikai was willing to make room in Eiheiji's regimen to meet this demand. His actions brought the simmering conflict to a head: open fighting broke out within the compound, and Gikai was forced to flee, leaving the office of abbot open to Gien. The Sōtō school was split. The Eihei temple, factionalized and concerned with maintaining the purity of its tradition, languished for a time, while the faction that went with Gikai out of the temple flourished. Gikai's careful cultivation of contacts with wealthy patrons and of good relations with other Buddhist groups, and his concern that his religious practice meet the needs of the times, paid off in terms of support, and he was able to found several monastic communities. Thus, for a time, the branch of Sōtō that dominated was precisely the one that did not follow Dōgen's single-minded Zen practice, but a mixture of meditation, esoteric ritual (see Esoteric Buddhism), and public service.
    [EMPHASIS ADDED]


    Pure Land elements were mixed in to Soto practices too (as happened in China and Vietnam), and the trend just continued into later centuries, especially during the Tokugawa period.

    In fact, the whole history of Buddhism is a constant mixing. As I have pointed out on the blog, the main "Soto" lineage in North America (Maezumi Roshi's lineage) is actually a mix of Rinzai and Soto traditions, and other elements (from all over the Buddhist world) are all getting mixed together.

    Now, don't get me wrong: Some of these developments are great. In fact, Zen/Ch'an would not exist except for the fact that Indian philosophy got all mixed together with Taoist ideas and, ultimately, the Japanese personality (in making "Ch'an" into "Zen"). Even now, I think it is fine that Zen Buddhists can sit the "Burmese" way, label thoughts (just, please, not -during- Zazen) in a Vipassana mode, and we can all learn from each other.

    However, for Master Dogen, "just sitting" meant just that: "just sitting". Simply crossing the legs, stetching the back and you are done! Nothing more to seek or attain, no special states (that way of being with "nothing to seek and attain", however, is a VERY special way to be. How often in life do we live just to live, moving through our day without thought of achieving?). We do not focus on any deity, we do not need any magic power or hocus-pocus spell or helpful spirit ... we drop thoughts and resistance to the world ... and that's it! That's it it it!

    Please don't get me wrong: I do not criticize anybody else's practice if they find it right for themselves (there are some purests in my own lineage who would scold me even for saying that, but I do believe that there are different strokes for different folks). But, I need to explain why I teach the philosophy of Practice that I teach.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    Jundo,
    Thank you (again) for your teaching.
    In the Christian denomination in which I serve there is much divisiveness (even though it is named "The United Church of Christ") which I see as unfortunately unnecessary. fwiw, http://www.uccunity.org.

    I am glad for the simplicity I find in your teaching and the emphasis here. I've spent(wasted) much time idolizing my (and others) intellect.

  8. #8
    Hi Jundo,

    I was indeed aware of all that you posted.

    Please don't get me wrong: I do not criticize anybody else's practice if they find it right for themselves (there are some purests in my own lineage who would scold me even for saying that, but I do believe that there are different strokes for different folks). But, I need to explain why I teach the philosophy of Practice that I teach.
    That is heartening to hear and I think it is all good.

    Just the mention of the practice of Fudõ zazen to "zen" groups usually brings derision, yes even from some Japanese.

    Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi was highly respected in his day and age and his teachings were in his time considered a revival of what the Buddha had originally taught. Being from the Samurai caste, his highly unique and eclectic teaching style was imbued with the warrior spirit. He often emphasised dynamic physical activity over quiet contemplation.

  9. #9
    Hi Jundo,

    I wonder if the mixing of schools is only half the story? I'm no historian, but I wonder if it may also be true that Japanese Buddhism created divisions that never existed before. There are a number of historians who question whether Pureland (Ch'ing-t'u) or esoteric (Chen Yen) Buddhism ever really existed as separate schools in China. Obviously, the Mahavairocana and Pureland Sutras had a great effect on the evolution of Chinese Buddhism, but I don't think that the monks who popularised these sutras abandoned the practice of dhyana. Despite the uneven diffusion of scriptures from India to China, and regional variations, I doubt that the Amitabha Sutra was ever adopted by monks unfamiliar with the paramita teachings.

    Even considering records like case 28 of the Mumonkan (the one where a monk who expounded the Diamond Sutra got a bug up his butt over this "special transmission outside the sutras" business), I can't see how a school heavily emphasising the Diamond Sutra wouldn't include the practice of contemplation.

    In China (and, I think Korea?) teasing apart Ch'an and Pureland is rather an exercise in futility. But in Japanese Buddhism, Dogen and Hakuin both spent a lot of ink detailing how Shin Buddhism was destroying the Mahayana. And Shinran's Tannisho warned against combining the nembutsu with any other practice, that this would only lead people astray. So combining nembutsu with any other school is nearly unthinkable.

    Funny how these things go...

  10. #10

    Another question

    OK, left hand resting on right or right on left? And does it matter that 1) I'm left-handed or 2) that left on right feels more comfortable?

  11. #11

    Re: Another question

    Hi Don,

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Niederfrank
    OK, left hand resting on right or right on left? And does it matter that 1) I'm left-handed or 2) that left on right feels more comfortable?
    In Fukanzazengi, Master Dogen wrote:

    Then place the right hand over the left foot, and place the left hand on the right palm.

    That being said, I do not think it really matters if you do it the other way (I regularly switch the order of my legs, but always keep my hands with the right hand on the bottom, left hand on top of the right). Dogen often abbreviated descriptions, and did not mean it must only be done in one direction (Of course, for monks lined up in the monks hall, you might have wanted everyone the same way for aesthetic reasons. But, I don't think it really matters for daily practice purposes) In fact, I am not sure what they did with left handed people back in 13th century Japan.

    Perhaps they burned them at the stake!?

    Speaking of history ... I do want to return to Paige's interesting historical perspective. I need some time, and do not have much today (with moving house and all). But I will pick up the thread again. Although our way is beyond time, there is much to learn from historical study, of course.

    Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12
    Some sources teach that your stronger dominating hand should support the other. That would seam natural to me, especially if you don't sit full lotus and thus cannot rest your hands anywhere.

    I am right handed and I place my hands the proper way. I tried to google up a photo of any of the great masters sitting "left handed" but I failed.

  13. #13
    Hi,

    My internet search on Zazen for Lefties turned up ... not very much. I found some teachers (like this from Zen Mountain Monastery) saying this:

    The dominant hand is held palm up holding the other hand, also palm up, so that the knuckles of both hands overlap. If you're right-handed, your right hand is holding the left hand; if you're left-handed, your left hand is holding the right hand. The thumbs are lightly touching, thus the hands form an oval, which can rest on the upturned soles of your feet if you're sitting full lotus. If you're sitting Burmese, the mudra can rest on your thighs.

    But then, another American teacher (I do not know)< Jinmyo Renge Oshso, wrote this:

    [Osho]: Yes. Sometimes people will say, “Well, I am left-handed, so I should be able to sit with the left hand on the bottom and the right hand on top.”



    Well no, because when you are sitting you don't need one hand to lead. Being left handed or right handed is about which hand leads when you are doing things. But when you are sitting you are not actually doing anything. You are just sitting with one hand on top of the other. So we all sit with the right hand on the bottom and the left on top. If someone is left handed and we are doing oryoki then they do all of the forms of oryoki in reverse. It's all backwards (from the perspective of someone who is right handed) and that's fine. It all works out.


    I did find this fact from someone who seems quite conversant with Calligraphy, an art somewhat related to Zen Practice:

    Kids in Japan and China, even the left-handed ones, are made to use their right hand when doing calligraphy (which is shodou, shuji is pensmanship). Most calligraphy teachers wouldn't even know how to teach calligraphy to a left-handed person, strokes must be written in a certain way in a certain direction, doing it differently such as with the left hand, even if done eloquently is probably going to make the characters look unnatural and it's easy for people to tell when a character is not written how it's usually written, especially if that person is a shodou teacher. I'd say the teacher is just doing what he thinks is best and teaching the only way he knows how to. You can view it as stubborn and as compliance, but that's just how things are done and deviations are looked down upon.

    But anyways yes you can do calligraphy left handed, though it's not going to be accepted as 'proper'..but if it's just something meant for fun and an extra curricular activity I don't think it really matters, but the teacher might think differently


    Yes, the Japanese (the Chinese to a lesser extent) are fixated on doing things the "right" way [pun intended]. I also found this discouraging fact:

    The use of the left hand was also frowned upon in Asia. Allegedly, a Japanese man could divorce his wife if he discovered that she was left-handed, though there were few examples of this happening[citation needed] Although this custom may have existed in the past, as with most other cultures, modern Japanese customs have become much more lenient.

    Until very recently, in Chinese societies, left-handed people were strongly encouraged to switch to being right-handed. However, this may be in part because, while Latin characters are equally easy to write with either hand, it is more difficult to write legible Chinese characters with the left hand. The prescribed direction of writing each line of a Chinese character is designed for the movements of the right hand, and some shapes tend to feel awkward to follow with the left hand's fingers. It results in less-soft writing than with the right hand.


    On the other hand (ha ha), there was this encouraging article:

    A recent survey has revealed, however, that a growing number of Japanese, especially young people, are coming to see left-handedness as a desirable trait. Approximately half of the respondents in their teens and twenties said that, at some point in their lives, they have wished they could become southpaws.

    http://web-japan.org/trends00/honbun/tj000202.html

    How's that for some useless information!?

    JUNDO'S CONCLUSION: DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT AFTER EXPERIMENTING WITH BOTH. OR MAKE YOURSELF DO IT THE WAY THAT DOES NOT FEEL "RIGHT". BOTH MAY HAVE THEIR POINTS TO THEM.

    Gassho (an act with two hands in balance), Jundo

  14. #14
    Hello,

    I was a practitioner of Shingon-shu and put considerable study into the various mudra found within Buddhism.

    In the earliest literature we find talk of attaining a balance of calm and wisdom between the mind, body and speech. The body aspect concerned itself with mudra. These are the symbolic, ritualised hand gestures, reflecting the degrees, powers, and aspects of spiritual attainment.

    These mudra are in fact static forms of the various hand gestures found within Vajramushti. Vajramushti (Japanese: Kempõ, Chinese: Chuan Fa) is the unarmed combat system of the Indians that was practised in sequences called nata (Japanese: kata) and practised by Buddhist monks as methods of both self-defence and physical exercise.

    (As a side note - the position of gasshõ (Sanskrit anjali) was the primary defensive posture shown as greeting between two Vajramushti warriors on the battlefield in ancient India. It was intended to show that knowledge of defensive methods was known, so that a potential aggressor was made aware).

    The various mudra represented the eternal quality of the Buddha's enlightenment. In Sanskrit the various terms for hands (pani, sandhai, hasta etc.) used in a Buddhist title indicated that the hands they referred to were intended to be symbols for some particular aspect of enlightened wisdom.

    The mudra used by Zen practitioners is called jõ-in 定印 (in = mudra). In the Shõshinjitsukyõ it states: "The five fingers of the left hand are extended in front of the navel, then the five extended fingers of the right hand are placed on those of the left. The thumbs are touching."

    "This is the posture of Shakyamuni Buddha. It represents the suppression of all spiritual disquiet."

    "The triangle formed by the two thumbs meeting symbolises the tri-ratna (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha)."

    As for the symbolism of the right hand especially in Japan -

    Until the Meiji jidai children born into the Samurai caste (especially male) were forced to be right handed from the age of three. The right hand has always been considered the pure hand, the hand associated with cleanliness and the Buddha dharma. The right hand represents the Four transcendental Knowledge's, the power of observation, wisdom, reason, compassion, and the ultimate reality. It is with the right hand that swords are to be wielded and justice is to be dealt.

    *Those who have ever worn hakama will know that one steps into hakama with the right foot first.
    *When putting on kimono/yukata etc you put the right hand through the sleeve first.
    *When holding a sensu you use the right hand.
    *When stepping down into the genkan one steps with the right foot first and puts on the right tabi/geta/zori first.

    At a funeral, the left hand is used to hold the hashi to remove the bones - because the left hand is unclean and represents man.

  15. #15

    Wow.

    :shock:


    I am reminded of the seekers that come to my cyberneighborhood inquiring about Christianity. And of a story. My daughter has a 'autistic spectrum disorder' and sometimes answers very direct questions questions with long answers so that we sometimes would say, "Greta, Greta. It's a 'yes' or 'no' question." And then she would give us a yes or no answer. One day riding in the car in the backseat with my son he asked if the field we were passing was corn. It was sorghum so I went into this long thing on sorghum, molasses, grass crops, etc. At which point my son quietly said, "Dad, it was a 'yes or no' question." and we all laughed.

    When my children were small they never asked me, the father the clergyperson, religious questions. I would go on too long. They would ask their wiser mother who would say, "God loves you; so do I. Go to sleep."

    I am tempted to ask what to do since in terms of gross motor skills I am right-handed but in fine motor skills I am left-handed.

    Thanks for the info. It is interesting, honestly.
    I suspect the answer to all practice questions is "just sit". 8)

  16. #16
    Hi,

    I'm fortunate enough to be able to sit in the full lotus position, since my aunt (who used to practice Yoga) showed me how to do it long ago when I was a kid. (I used to make her laugh by getting into the lotus position and then doing a 'crab walk' by sort of crawling and dragging my legs behind me in that position.) Luckily for me it stuck with me over the years until I needed it for Zazen. I try to alternate left/right hands and feet occasionally, so that I don't get too dependent upon one particular position. Hmm, which sort of reminds me, it's been a while since I've switched, I'll have to do that today -- thanks for the reminder.

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  17. #17
    I'd heard advice that, if someone's sitting half-lotus or Burmese and trying to work their way up to full-lotus, it's helpful to switch the position of the legs periodically. To make sure they stretch muscles and tendons both hips, I think?

    In either Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind or Not Always So, Shunryu Suzuki said that, in full-lotus posture, the left leg is usually placed on top because the left-hand side is associated with contemplation and the bodhisattva Fugen, whereas the right-hand side is associated with wisdom and Monju.

    The Ch'an temple that I currently attend recommends that the right leg be placed over the left in "vajra posture" (full-lotus), because the right-hand side is Yin and the left Yang. But if this is uncomfortable, or if the practitioner "has too much Yin" (?) then they should sit in Yang position (left leg above). The recommended mudra is the classic meditation mudra, but with the right hand on top of the left.

    I briefly attended a temple where the teacher suggested that the correct posture and mudra varied by sex - women should sit in Yang position, men in Yin. Everyone else I've mentioned that idea to has thought it unusual. This teacher's monastic training was in Taiwan but I don't know if that's got anything to do with it.

    For anyone actually read this far, do you know why seated representations of Amitabha show him using a different meditation mudra? Is it just to differentiate his images from Shakyamuni Buddha?


  18. #18
    For anyone actually read this far, do you know why seated representations of Amitabha show him using a different meditation mudra? Is it just to differentiate his images from Shakyamuni Buddha?
    This mudra, as shown in the pic of the Daibutsu, is still a version of jõ-in 定印. It is absent in India and China and is a characteristic of Japanese Jōdo Shinshū (it is classified as Amida jõ-in).

  19. #19
    Fascinating stuff.

    Here is my question.

    I've seen a salutation posture that is in essence a half-gassho. Anyone know the meaning of it?

    R

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    Fascinating stuff.

    Here is my question.

    I've seen a salutation posture that is in essence a half-gassho. Anyone know the meaning of it?

    R
    The only time I half-gassho is when it is time to gassho and I have something in my hand. Like exiting the zendo with the broom I used to sweep the floor. Otherwise it would seem to me to be a sign of laziness to half-gassho. Having just said that, I'll have to investigate my motives when exiting the zendo with the broom. I could easily set the broom down and full-gassho then pick the broom back up. Is the my own signs of laziness??

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    Fascinating stuff.

    Here is my question.

    I've seen a salutation posture that is in essence a half-gassho. Anyone know the meaning of it?

    R
    No idea.

  22. #22

    practice questions

    I agree with Will: the one-hand gassho usually occurs when there is something in the other hand. When both hands are full, the bow is just from the upper torso and head.
    I don't think laziness figures in here at all--gassho is more a matter of acknowledgement of another person's presence. To put down what you had in your hand, gassho with both hands and pick up what you put down is making too much over it already.

  23. #23
    Hi,

    I agree that a one handed Gassho should be used only when one hand is occupied (Please note that I resist the chance to make a joke about "The One Hand Clapping"). No need to put down the broom (although, of course, junior monks will do that when a senior monk is passing by ... a Zen monastery is much like the army in that way).

    That being said, please also know that we should constantly be in Gassho to all things in the Universe in the Ten Directions ... and that can be a No-Handed Gassho.

    A 1000 Armed Kannon can be in 500 Gasshos at once.

    Gassho, Jundo

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    No need to put down the broom (although, of course, junior monks will do that when a senior monk is passing by ... a Zen monastery is much like the army in that way).
    Senior monk passes by and I don't even look up. :wink: Exiting the zendo I bow to Buddha... one hand or two??

  25. #25
    There is also a "one fingered" Gassho, but we reserve that for special moments ... and are mindful of the Karmic consequences.

    Here is one backwards:

    Ohssag, Odnuj

  26. #26
    You guys are weird. :lol:

    Anyway, another couple of questions. I prepare for sitting by lighting insense and then bowing toward my cushion, bowing toward the world, sitting down, rotating toward the wall and sitting.

    Is there any 'right' way and reason? Somehow just walking in and sitting down doesn't seem right. Sitting seems important enough to have some sort of preparatory ritual.

    Also, is there any other purpose to the flute music following the timer other than its a nice accompaniment to getting up again?

    Oh, and is there any ritual and reason for how one arises from sitting?
    (Some how shouting 'Holy shit! I forgot to turn off the stove!' and jumping up doesn't seem proper.)

  27. #27
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    I stopped burning incense when I learned how unhealthy it is. It gives off, among other things, benzene, which is carcinogenic.

    Kirk

  28. #28
    OK.
    I was thinking about replacing it with a rock anyway.

  29. #29
    The whole burning of incense thing comes from the fact that in ancient India it was common practice to have the farm animals under the same roof as the family - living together with the cows and chickens can get a bit smelly!

    Before visitors would come over, incense would be burned to cover over bad smells. Large palaces would burn incense regularly to cover bad odours from messengers returning from long days of travel and to "refresh" visitors.

    It soon became a ritual adopted by the Brahmins as offerings to the gods - and passed on into Buddhism, and on into China, and on...........................

    I have WAY TOO MUCH useless info in this little head of mine. :!:

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Don
    Is there any 'right' way and reason? Somehow just walking in and sitting down doesn't seem right. Sitting seems important enough to have some sort of preparatory ritual.
    I bow to the cushion then bow to the sangha turning clock-wise or to my right. I continue turning to the right when I take my seat. My understanding of these things is that there is no special reason for this other than from the roshi's perspective it looks neat if everyone does the same thing. The zendo is full of choreography.

    For me it takes away one more thing that I have to invest my ego in. When bowing just bow. When turning just turn. When taking my seat just take my seat. These practices also have a way of separating my busy lay life from a more formal zazen period. Of course, my whole life is zazen but one moment one flavor.

    If I practice with some other sangha and they choreograph it differently then I have nothing invested in these processes and can easily participate fully. My practice has no special meaning outside of what it is.

  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    There is also a "one fingered" Gassho, but we reserve that for special moments ... and are mindful of the Karmic consequences.

    Here is one backwards:

    Ohssag, Odnuj
    Ah yes, I use that one occasionally when driving.

    You are a nut Jundo.

    Rodney

  32. #32

    Regarding a stone instead of incense

    My wife sent me this today. And offered a stone that her father had.

    From Charles Simic, U.S. poet laureate--
    STONE


    Go inside a stone
    That would be my way.
    Let somebody else become a dove
    Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
    I am happy to be a stone.

    From the outside the stone is a riddle:
    No one knows how to answer it.
    Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
    Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
    Even though a child throws it in a river;
    The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
    To the river bottom
    Where the fishes come to knock on it
    And listen.

    I have seen sparks fly out
    When two stones are rubbed,
    So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
    Perhaps there is a moon shining
    From somewhere, as though behind a hill--
    Just enough light to make out
    The strange writings, the star-charts
    On the inner walls.

  33. #33
    Hi Don,

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Niederfrank

    Anyway, another couple of questions. I prepare for sitting by lighting insense and then bowing toward my cushion, bowing toward the world, sitting down, rotating toward the wall and sitting.

    Is there any 'right' way and reason? Somehow just walking in and sitting down doesn't seem right. Sitting seems important enough to have some sort of preparatory ritual.
    Yes, Zen practice is filled with rituals. There are many reasons for that. As Wills said it, "it takes away one more thing that I have to invest my ego in. When bowing just bow. When turning just turn. When taking my seat just take my seat. These practices also have a way of separating my busy lay life from a more formal zazen period." It is a practice of mindfulness.

    For that reason, I always tell my students that one of the most important things to do when entering the Zendo is to place one's shoes with balance and care. All of us sometimes just toss our shoes without attention. However, I often take a moment to place them as if making a small ceremony (just for a second). I line up the toes with balance, pause to take a breath while observing them, and even give them a Gassho. It is a practice of mindfulness in an ordinary action, and gratitude for having been carried this far in those shoes.

    By the way, here are a couple of insider tips about Zen rituals: As was said, the Zendo is filled with choreography, and temple X will never do things exactly the same as temple Y of the same lineage, even though they both say that they are doing it "the way it has been done for thousands of years." Second, many of the reasons things are done are "lost to history," or have gradually evolved beyond recognition, such that nobody remembers the reason things are done that way.

    But the nicest thing about Zen rituals (I think ... there are many nice things) is that they demand great attention and care, and one must strive to do them "right" and "perfectly." However, one can NEVER do them right and perfectly, and even the most experienced Roshi will always flub it once in awhile. In fact, no two times are really ever quite the same. The only way to even have a chance to do them "right" and "perfectly", as a matter of fact," is to RELAX and give up all the stress of striving to do them "right" and "perfectly".

    Now, isn't that a good lesson for life?

    (When I have a chance I will make a video of traditional ritual in a Japanese Zendo, e.g., the proper leg to use for entering, proper directions to turn for bowing [yes, clockwise], proper elbow angle for Gassho [elbows not drooping, tips of middle fingers at nose level], how to fluff the Zafu [with 3 fingers ... thumb and next two ... in a tripod position] etc.)

    Also, is there any other purpose to the flute music following the timer other than its a nice accompaniment to getting up again?

    No other purpose.

    Gassho, Jundo (the Zendo Klutz*)

    - Klutz (Definition) - To be clumsy and accident prone

  34. #34

  35. #35
    This is more of a practice answer than question, but fwiw, putting a stone were I see it is calming. Not inspiring exactly but re-minding sort of? Anyway, fwiw.

  36. #36
    Altar questions.

    What is the role and proper set-up and maintenance of an altar for home practice in the Soto tradition?

    I understand that there is no requirement or real need to maintain an altar for Zen practice, I enjoy doing so. Its a pretty simple set up, small statue, water bowl, candle, flower, and incense --- nothing expensive most of it make shift.

    I don't do this as a form of worship -- more of a mindfulness practice and I try to be fully present when maintaining the space - filling the water, cleaning the incense residue, arranging the items, ect.

  37. #37
    Hi Greg,

    As far as I know, there is no 'official' altar layout. And even if there was, that would be one of the first rules I'd encourage you to break.

    Since everything in the universe is sacred (and as much 'Buddha' as anything else), you just do it as your little heart guides you.

    If it is sacred, it is sacred. There is nothing that is not. I think.

    A stone, a mickey mouse doll or a picture of Farrah Fawcett (I show my age) ... anything can serve as your Buddha.

    HOWEVER, I found this for you, rules from the head office (really intended for Japanese ancestor worship, even if they say not) ...

    http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/how ... uddha.html

    Follow them at your own risk.


    Gassho, Jundo

  38. #38
    Suzuki Shõsan Rõshi advocated placing a sign in a prominent place that can be read at most times that says - 死 - "death."

    Zen butsudan here - http://www.galleryzen-zushi.com/main.html

  39. #39
    I really thought I needed the whole altar thing until I started looking for something sacred. I looked around the house, outside the house, out in the little storage buildings on the farm like a maniac for something "sacred." Everything just looks so ordinary. So grey. It's harder than I thought to find something. I grabbed a big rock out in the yard. Hauled it in and scratched up the table. Lit some incense and looked at the rock, then opened the door and threw it back into the yard.

    It's like one day everything is sacred and then the next it's all the same hum drum crap. I'll look again tomorrow, for tonight it's just the incense, the scratched table and me.

  40. #40
    Quote Originally Posted by Blind Ox
    I grabbed a big rock out in the yard. Hauled it in and scratched up the table. Lit some incense and looked at the rock, then opened the door and threw it back into the yard.
    This has me rolling on the floor with laughter. What a comical picture I have of the events you describe.

    With the whole universe sacred, how can that fit on our table? Of course, with a discriminating mind, this or that is more or less to our liking. Who was it who said, the way is perfectly easy, only give up making distinctions? Grandfatherly advice.

  41. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by Blind Ox
    I grabbed a big rock out in the yard. Hauled it in and scratched up the table. Lit some incense and looked at the rock, then opened the door and threw it back into the yard.
    This has me rolling on the floor with laughter. What a comical picture I have of the events you describe.
    :lol: Me too! Maybe "Throw the rock"="Kill the Buddha"!

  42. #42
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hi,


    But then, another American teacher (I do not know)< Jinmyo Renge Oshso, wrote this:

    [Osho]: Yes. Sometimes people will say, “Well, I am left-handed, so I should be able to sit with the left hand on the bottom and the right hand on top.”



    Well no, because when you are sitting you don't need one hand to lead. Being left handed or right handed is about which hand leads when you are doing things. But when you are sitting you are not actually doing anything. You are just sitting with one hand on top of the other. So we all sit with the right hand on the bottom and the left on top. If someone is left handed and we are doing oryoki then they do all of the forms of oryoki in reverse. It's all backwards (from the perspective of someone who is right handed) and that's fine. It all works out.

    Hi jundo. Jinmyo Renge Osho is part of the White Wind Zen Community in Ottawa, Canada. Just thought I'd point that out. :-)

  43. #43
    My sitting has become ragged to non-existant.

    So too many questions, but...

    Is there a way to kindle a desire to sit?
    I'm recovering; am I addicted to active-mind?
    Are there tricks, rewards that you use?
    Do I need to create a rigid routine?
    Is there something more than 'just sit'?
    Does your sitting discipline wax and wane? (Is this a phase?)

    Thank you, in advance, for your teaching.

  44. #44
    One finger Gassho. :lol: LOL .

  45. #45
    Hi Don

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Niederfrank
    My sitting has become ragged to non-existant.

    So too many questions, but...
    Is there a way to kindle a desire to sit? Are there tricks, rewards that you use? Do I need to create a rigid routine?

    It is a pleasant experience, a restful part of the day, but it is one of those pleasures felt sometimes only when you actually do it (hard to drag yourself away from the TV or whatever many days). So, yes, a rigid routine helps. Just commit to sit daily (e.g., before bed and at the start of the day), twice a day if possible. Even for 5 minutes (although I bet you will go longer than 5 minutes once you start. But, 5 minutes is a good 'minimum'). One sitting can be substituted by 'mini-sittings' during the day ... in a crowded elevator or train, waiting in the grocery checkout line, in a traffic jam, during lunch at work, etc.

    One good way to make sure you sit each day is put a camera on yourself and broadcast it to the world for 9 years. ;-)


    I'm recovering; am I addicted to active-mind?

    I don't understand this one.


    Is there something more than 'just sit'?


    NO!

    Does your sitting discipline wax and wane? (Is this a phase?)

    Yes. Not now so much, but over the years. Nishijima Roshi might disagree, but I think it good to sometimes stop ... even for weeks or months. One reason is that you will miss sitting, you will miss the balance and notice the difference in your life. Also, it is as important to incorporate 'Zen Mind' and balance into the rest of your life, as it is not only when you are sitting in the lotus position. I mean, I really need Zen Mind in long bank lines and traffic jams! You will notice how you approach bank lines and traffic jams differently if you get away from the Zen thing for awhile ...

    ... but only awhile. The idea is not to quit long term.

    Hope that helps, and I will be interested in what others offer you for advise.

    Gassho, Jundo

  46. #46
    This is a really great thread. Didn't think I really had anything to add, but I think maybe I've "felt" Don's resistance to sitting at times, and think maybe now I know why I felt that way.

    Thinking back on earlier times, I made way too big a deal out of zazen. At times it was more work than just sitting, but it was just my attitude toward it. I thought I had to be perfect at sitting (which I now realize as a big part of my unhappiness in life - it had to be perfect or I wasn't happy, and we all know it never will be).

    The environment will never be perfect, unless you're in a monastery. My posture may never be traditionally perfect (feet perfectly placed high on the thigh(s) in full lotus), but so long as my spine is erect that's fine too. My mind will wander when it wanders, and if I cough all the way through zazen because I have a killer cold, like now, then that's what I do. I just don't have to sit there and think I'm screwing up my zazen because I'm coughing. I'm just coughing!

    It's a lot easier to want to sit when you stop thinking about it and just sit. It ceases to be work and becomes, well, nice

    Just up from zazen round 2 this afternoon and thought of something else I would like to add. My zazen used to be full of tension, both physical and mental. It was if I was sat there in anticipation of something. That tension or anticipation is duality - this vs that - I'm in this state but want or anticipate some other state. That's just the opposite of what we're supposed to be doing!

    When I dropped all expectation (anticipation) the tension left. When the tension left my breathing slowed dramatically. It was if my breathing was mechanical before. The entire experience is so much more pleasant now. It's just sitting. I realize that before I was working at sitting. That creates resistance! Sometimes little insights come in serene reflection. With tension, there's just no room for them to enter.
    Cheers,
    Bruce

  47. #47
    Hi Bruce,

    Thank you for a beautiful description of settling into "just sitting":

    My zazen used to be full of tension, both physical and mental. It was if I was sat there in anticipation of something. That tension or anticipation is duality - this vs that - I'm in this state but want or anticipate some other state. That's just the opposite of what we're supposed to be doing!

    When I dropped all expectation (anticipation) the tension left.
    So much is found when you drop expectations, goals and demands on your Zazen.

    Just one comment on this:

    The environment will never be perfect, unless you're in a monastery.
    The setting of a Zen monastery is not meant to be perfect for Zazen ... In fact, it is supposed to be quite a trial, and much more like boot camp than a comfortable setting. Too hot, too cold, up at 4am, tedious routines, impossible tasks (in many cases, such as in learning ceremonies and other temple routines, the novice is set up to fail) and, yes, living in tight quarters with other people, with all the annoyances and personal tensions that can bring (just the snoring alone!!) ...

    As your words so nicely describe, much of our practice is learning to embrace the imperfections, annoyances and little failures. We learn to embrace difficulty and inevitable failures while, yet, being mindful, diligent and careful (e.g., every routine in the monastery should be done with care, even if we know for a fact that it can never be done "right", e.g., we wash the floors even as we know that they will never really be clean). Only as the mind relaxes and settles in, finding a balance, can many of the demanding tasks be done.

    Twice today I came across this story about the Buddha. It seems appropriate:

    [The Buddha instructed Sona, a lute player, thus:]

    "O Sona, what do you think? When the strings of your lute are too tight, will
    it produce pleasant, agreeable sounds?"

    "O Venerable Sir, it will not."

    "What do you think? When the strings of your lute are too loose, will it
    produce pleasant, agreeable sounds?"

    "No, it will not."

    "What do you think? When the strings of your lute are not too tight nor
    too loose, will it produce pleasant, agreeable sounds?"

    "Yes, Venerable Sir, it will."

    "Thus it is that if you are too tight and exert yourself to excess, your mind
    too will be excited (uddhacca), and if you slacken for lack of effort, you will
    be indolent (kasajjd). Therefore, make every endeavour that is balanced. At-
    tain the balanced state in your various sense organs."
    Gassho, Jundo

  48. #48
    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you for your kind words. Funny, I thought of that story about the Buddha today too! It was told in a couple of books I used to have.

    Life in a Zen monastery must really be something! I would like to experience it someday, even if just for sesshin.

    Gassho,
    Bruce

  49. #49
    You guys pretty much covered everything, but I thought I'd throw in my experience for fun.

    I decided to sit for 2 days straight (well not straight, more like a home retreat). So I'm sitting and sitting, doing kinhin and so on and during the whole, I was trying way too hard. I kept trying to feel that breath, feel the feet and so on. Well, the only thing I got from that was head tension from trying too hard. So (after i had a break from zazen haha I just said screw it and remembered to just sit and pay attention to how I'm trying too hard. I noticed that my eyes were focused and not relaxed and this actually caused a lot of tension in my skull. What a realization. So the next day(I only did a retreat for one full day) I just sat in the morning letting seeing see, opened to the sounds around me, and kept noticing the urge to try.Noticing how fantasies get created. It's been very interesting and great.

    Haha. There were moments where I was trying so hard. Ways that I focus attention, and contract muscles. wow.

  50. #50

    practice questions

    Hello Will!
    I really like your description.
    It amazes me: this body/mind.
    All these years, my living as if it were two.
    Sometimes it is one. Sometimes it feels like at least two! And sometimes it feels like a split level!
    gassho
    keishin

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