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Thread: Present Moment

  1. #1
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    Present Moment

    I haved been enjoying Uchiyama's Opening The Hand of Thought, but keep coming back to a concept that I am struggling to understand and was hoping to get your perspectives.

    In it he discusses the concept of past, present and future. Such that all three only exist in the present. I am on board so far.

    However, he also states that we must live fully in the present and uses a story of a man who, dwelling on an earlier argument with his wife, gets into a car accident. Alluding to the idea that the man wasn't "fully in the present". This is where I have a hard time. How can I be anywhere but here, now? If I am dwelling on an argument from earlier in the day, am I still not here? Does that argument not fully exist now?

    I had thought that maybe this was a(n) (over)simplification to bring the reader to focus their attention on things that they can change/address. But even so, it still seemed to throw me a curve.

    Thanks for any perspectives.

    Gassho,
    Shawn

  2. #2

    Re: Present Moment

    mmm... I like the post, both Uchiyama and your line of reasoning to follow. IMHO, which is to say expressly not that of a master, when we drive then we drive. When we argue then we argue. If we are thinking about arguing while driving, we're really not doing either. That is the accident..

    Often times, I am rarely here. I taint what I eat with comparisons of times I've eaten food before.. "its OK but not as good as.." when really its as good as it gets! ..or I construct things based on past experience, rational dualism, and in so doing miss the true presence of the present. Living in my head, the constructs of my imagination may exist to me and I may or do bias everything I see or experience with my own desires, attachments or fears.. just as my heart rate increases when i think of a past dog attack I suffered - yet there is no dog.. not here, not now.

    Sure... if you're thinking about a past argument while driving then you are sitting there, right now, thinking.. where else could you be? But you're not driving.. you don't feel the vibration of the road under you.. the small shakes of the steering wheel, the imagery around you... instead.. all a blur.. a backdrop of low ambient noise to the cacophony of your imagination and inner story telling.. but you're not driving.. so you will always be doing what you're doing where you are.. the question is will you be doing what you're doing where you are?

    _/_ Nate

  3. #3

    Re: Present Moment

    Hi Shards,

    I sometimes describe the many perspectives and states of mind that we can master through Zen Practice as "tools on the toolbelt". We may take them and be them at the appropriate moments, then replace them on the belt.

    So, sometimes we can be fully in the moment, no thought of past or future, no thought of other places to be or where we would better be. Such moments might include watching a sunrise, playing with our children, enjoying and experiencing just this one place and time of life.

    Other times, we might need to think of the project we have to do tomorrow, the place we have to go next, the many things we have to do on the "to do" list.

    Or, other times, we might think of something that happened this morning or many years ago, good or bad. It might be the sunrise we saw yesterday, or the fight with the wife 5 minutes ago, or what the boss said last year.

    Without the future or past, we could not live as human beings. I am reminded of the story of the man with the brain injury who had no past, no future ... and thus could not function in the simplest tasks.

    I believe, though, that even when we are in those "present moments" when we are thinking of the "must do's" and "what if's" of the future ... hold them lightly, be willing to let be what will be (even as you work you plans to turn the future your way). Even when in those "present moments" when we are thinking of the past ... hold memories lightly, be willing to let what was, just be what was (even as we learn from the past).

    So, yes, when driving the car ... probably a good idea not to be so caught up in the fight with the wife that morning that you fail to notice the semi-truck in front of you! :shock:

    I sometimes post this on mindfulness of the moment:


    As I was walking down Mt. Tsukuba with Hans yesterday, on a really steep incline of small muddy stones, I had to be mindful of what I was doing right there ... all to avoid falling on my butt in the mud

    That's when I started thinking, "ah, yes, this is a time of mindfulness, there is balance of bodymind and I am present in this moment ... and I must tell the Treeleafers about it!" At which point, so filled with such wonderful thoughts was I, that I became distracted ... and slipped in the mud. (Fortunately, not enough so that butt hit stone). ops: ops:

    I think that there are times to be mindful in our practice in that way, and great lessons are to be learned there ... drinking a cup of tea as the only and perfect act in the whole universe of that moment, the same for "Oryoki" meals during a Sesshin, "just being" in the moment, when washing the floor "just washing the floor".

    But the one point I really really really wish to emphasize to folks is not to be too idealistic about what "mindfulness" is, or set it up as some unrealistic goal. I described it recently when I said this ...

    [Folks encounter lots of Zen teachings like the one mentioned by Master Seung Sahn, "when you eat, just eat. When you sleep just sleep..."] But I think that Master Seung Sahn's phrasing, like many Zen books and expressions, can sound rather idealistic if it implies that we must be "mindful" or in "Zen Mind" 24/7. My view is more balanced I think, namely, "when mindful of one thing, just be mindful of one thing ... when distracted, overwrought and multi-tasking, just be distracted, overwrought and multi-task". There is a time for everything, and we cannot be "mindful" each minute. All of it is life.

    However, one of the great fruits of our Zen Practice is that, even when we are distracted, overwrought and multi-tasking, feeling completely miserable and off balance ... and even when "Zen Mind" feels very far away ... we can still know it is 'there' even if we do not feel it at that moment [the blue sky always behind the clouds]. So I say, when feeling completely "miserable and off balance", just be "miserable and off balance" in that moment ... it too is a temporary state of mind.


    So, in other words, have a balanced and realistic view of life ... even a balanced view of sometimes or frequently being unbalanced, overworked, distracted and such.

    When falling on your butt in the mud because you were thinking about "mindfulness" ... JUST DO THAT! IT TOO IS A PERFECT ACT IN THAT MOMENT!!
    Here is another post on the topic ...

    It seems to me that many people in Zen Practice have come to confuse "being present/mindful in the moment" (for example, "when drinking tea, just drink tea" ... a sometimes appropriate and lovely way to experience life) ... with "being at one with the moment" (allowing and merging with conditions of life "just as they are"). The two are not quite the same, and are often confused, and the latter is much more at the heart of this Shikantaza Path ...
    viewtopic.php?p=43964#p43964

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
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    Re: Present Moment

    Thank you Nate and Jundo.

    I suppose I am splitting hairs here. I do understand you logic and explanations from a practical sense.

    Maybe my questioning is on a more theoretical line. I suppose what I am driving at (no pun intended) is that it seems that the concepts of past and future are irrelevant, illusory and misleading. Yes of course I understand in practical terms that we must learn from our past and plan for our future. But all that can only be done now. While thinking of my argument with my wife, I am there. While driving, I am there. While crashing the car, there I am. It is all present moment. I think. :-)

    This ties back for me on a more personal note. For years I had been religious about sitting. It wasn't necessarily a goal. But somehow was at the same time. I sat virtually every morning, for approximately the same duration. But over the past two months or so I have become much less regimented with it. Much more relaxed. I have noted a substantial change in my practice. Much more natural, free and open. Sadly all these words are very poor representation of what I am trying to say. But it is like doing something without effort. Without a goal. Just doing it. I believe this is how it should be, but maybe still not.

    This concept of time ties directly to my practice. When I sit, I sit. When I get up, I get up. The time in between, is just a moment.

    Not sure if any of this makes sense. And I could be completely over analyzing/simplifying, but thank you again for your support of my practice, guidance and perspectives.

    Gassho,
    Shawn

  5. #5

    Re: Present Moment

    Quote Originally Posted by shards
    In it he discusses the concept of past, present and future. Such that all three only exist in the present. I am on board so far.
    My ideas on this is that the past, present and future can only exist in the present. If we think about it, we have never experienced the past, since it is impossible to experience something that 'has already happened" we can only experience things as they are happening. The past was just a present moment that has been already been let go. Same thing with the future, we can never experience the future, when it comes it will a new present moment, that will too be let go.

    When we think of past and future we can only think of them in relation to our experience in the here and now. We bring to the present, the past and the future. In each moment exist fully, the past, the present and the future. They cannot be separated but are part of the same reality.

    Just some ideas

    Gassho

    Seiryu

  6. #6

    Re: Present Moment

    I, too, have had problems understanding the Zen concepts of past, present, and future. Seiryu, you have almost perfectly described my conundrum. At first you say:
    The past was just a present moment that has been already been let go. Same thing with the future, we can never experience the future, when it comes it will a new present moment, that will too be let go.
    Then you say:
    In each moment exist fully, the past, the present and the future. They cannot be separated but are part of the same reality.
    I'm confused. :? Are the past and future different from the present, or are they the same?

    Gassho,

    Stephen

  7. #7
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    Re: Present Moment

    Quote Originally Posted by shards
    I haved been enjoying Uchiyama's Opening The Hand of Thought, but keep coming back to a concept that I am struggling to understand and was hoping to get your perspectives.

    However, he also states that we must live fully in the present and uses a story of a man who, dwelling on an earlier argument with his wife, gets into a car accident. Alluding to the idea that the man wasn't "fully in the present". This is where I have a hard time. How can I be anywhere but here, now? If I am dwelling on an argument from earlier in the day, am I still not here? Does that argument not fully exist now?
    Hey Shawn,

    I'm going to reveal myself as a major geek, but my perspective on your questions comes from the pilot episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called "Emissary". As with all Star Trek I fear that watching segments instead of the entire episode will be confusing at best, but I'll link the two relevant parts with the times in each to watch if you can't manage the entire thing (about 90 minutes!):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kld8L8UzenM[/video]] - Part 1 - Watch from beginning to 4:30.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhCje0vJjII[/video]] - Part 8 - Watch from beginning to 2:50 then 6:00 to 9:10

    In the clips you see Ben SIsko (played by Avery Brooks) being brought to different points in his life by aliens who take the form of people from his past. These aliens do not understand the concept of linear time, so for them everything is just this moment. As Sisko explains that we leave the past behind in our present, the aliens are confused why his thoughts dwell on the past, specifically the events surrounding the death of his wife. Sisko has never been able to get past her death and all of his actions since have been influenced by his feelings of loss and anger from that moment. Only after letting go of the past can he truly live in the present.

    It may be a bit corny, but I often use this example to explain zen to people who know nothing about it and is one of the events that led me to be a zen buddhist. Hopefully, it is of some help.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  8. #8

    Re: Present Moment

    My advise is not to get too caught up in mental categories and analysis of these things.

    We live as if there is a future, we remember the past ... all in this moment. Yet the future will not be this moment, nor is the past now here nor now fully gone.

    We can also sit dropping all thought of past, future AND present (for what is a "present" without a past or future to compare?? 8) )

    Master Dogen and Mahayana Buddhism present many other interesting perspective(s) on time, each true in its way ... each real and useful when tasted as such (tools on the enso-like round toolbelt). For example, this moment holds all moments, and every atom and world.

    Master Dogen had some other wonderful visions of time ... read about them here (when you have the time! :P )



    - All time is so interconnected and whole, that ... not only does the past flow into the future ... but (like the top of a mountain that flows into the bottom, and the bottom of the mountain which flows into the top) the future flows into the past.


    ...

    - All time is so interconnected to life, that it may be said that all things, each of us, lives in our own 'being-time' ... like our own picture which we are constantly painting, and which we make and remake with every step and choice, gesture, word and thought ("this moment is the start of the rest of your life" is just the tip of the iceberg!)

    - "Long" and "short" are really just human judgments (the Earth does not say to itself "Gee, it takes me a long time to get around the sun!" The firefly does not say, "shame I only shine for a fortnight"). Those measurements can be dropped from mind, whereby concepts such as "long life" and "short life" can be dropped from mind.

    etc. etc.

    READ MORE HERE:
    viewtopic.php?p=44049#p44049
    But the most important moment of what Shard's said is this, I feel ...

    I sat virtually every morning, for approximately the same duration. But over the past two months or so I have become much less regimented with it. Much more relaxed. I have noted a substantial change in my practice. Much more natural, free and open. Sadly all these words are very poor representation of what I am trying to say. But it is like doing something without effort. Without a goal. Just doing it. I believe this is how it should be, but maybe still not.

    Yes, lovely. Moving diligently forward and making progress, with no other place or time to get to, nothing to attain ... sitting without being careless about it, yet free from any and all cares ... free and open, even to a life and schedules not always feeling free and open ... making the effort without much effort. This is how it should be, without worries of "how it should be", thus reaching "how it should be". Sitting when one makes the time, for a certain quantity of time ... leaving all thought of long and short and "time" a thing of the past.

    Lovely. Shikantaza.

    Gassho, J

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Thank you Shawn for the thread.
    Thank you Nate, Stephen and Raphael for sharing your views.
    Thank you Jundo-oso for the clarification and guidance.
    And, thank you Scott for the Trekky version.

    I should a story tell you all in a car sometime, mindfulness a bit about learned a few years ago, oh shit, accident , I had;
    But, now for something completely different (In true Monty Python tradition 8) );


    Prepare for the termination of my linear existence ................. :roll:

  10. #10

    Re: Present Moment

    I'm so stressed out I'm going to take a hot shower and just sit or at most just do the essentials. I think even time is made by mind alone but I don't know. You can pay attention to thinking or doing but there seems to be a right time for each. Who's driving the car when you are thinking about something else. Aren't accidents (all kinds) the number one killer of more moments? And you know, we're supposed to save all beings.

  11. #11

    Re: Present Moment

    I have not read Opening the Hand of Thought, so I am taking a stab in the dark here based on what you’ve written. The way I understand this teaching, is that past, present, and future exist only in the present because the present is your watermark. That which happened before this moment is the past, that which might happen after this moment is the future, but we are only aware of before and after because of this moment. It is the concept of dependant co-arising. I know what dark is only because I know what light is, in that way they both exist here and now, when I am making the comparison. You can’t exist in the future because if you exist, then you exist here and now, so the future becomes the present. Same with the past. However, the Buddha taught us in the Dhammapada that “with our thoughts we make the world”, because action follows thought, and there after comes karma. So, you can remember the past or think of the future (or both at the same time) all the while being present here and now, causing all three to be alive in this moment.

    It is in this concept that shikantaza is shown to be the core of our practice. The deliberate sitting is our personification of being here, now, in this moment. No thought of future or past or even present, because it is all rolled into simply, boundlessly, ‘being’. No thought of “what will I do tomorrow?” or “I wish I had done that yesterday”, No Thought at all. In this way, when thoughts do arise and seek to pull us in one direction or another, we acknowledge them in the same fashion that we acknowledge a flock of birds flying across a patch of sky we happen to be gazing at. “Oh, look! There are a flock of birds, how lovely!” and then they pass on, and we return to the clear blue sky of ‘just sitting’.

    This is, however, just my humble opinion and my incomplete understanding of Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching.

  12. #12
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    Re: Present Moment

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    we are only aware of before and after because of this moment. It is the concept of dependant co-arising.
    and

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    (for what is a "present" without a past or future to compare?? )
    Really spoke to me. The codependency of this time/space continuum is where my brain starts to stumble. As always, it seems that the limitations of human thought is somehow reduced by the ability to put into words. I also wonder if our Western way of linear thinking maybe needs this...well..that's another discussion maybe.

    In the end, it seems to me that my sitting is the perfect example of action in the past/present/future moment (singular).

    Thank you all once again for your comments and guidance...it has really helped me work through this.

    Gassho,

    Shawn

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Hi Christopher;

    Without the intention of sounding smart assy;
    “Oh, look! There are a flock of birds, how lovely!”
    There we go passing judgement ! :shock: :lol: (you, for thinking the birds are good; me, for centering you out for doing so)

    Would it not better to let the bird fly by without adding to the thought?

    Also,your quote from the Twin Verses;
    “with our thoughts we make the world”
    I was reading recently how the concept of "being what you think" has a far deeper physiological basis than what one first imagines. Think of your reaction to the striking of a bell while you sit zazen. The closing two are met differently each time you sit. Depending on the situation, your legs may be cramped and it is gratefully received OR, you are having a great sit and suddenly it is over; and maybe this ticks you. Think of the physical response your body makes in some way; could be soothing, could be hair raising. All of those responses are a result of your mind. The sensation is received in the cortex ( or whatever lower-order ganglion it is relegated to), the neurons flash, the corresponding entity (e.g the supra-renal gland secreting adrenalin or the hypothalamus demanding serotonin) distributing the appropriate substance. Each and every sound, sight, odor, touch, taste and thought ( the other five conditions; sound familiar?) that you have ever been subjected to since the moment you were born, has created a similar reaction in your body. Positive or negative, they are all received and stored (equally without judgement) in memory; each having it's affect on your physical and emotional development; each forging the ruts that you run in.

    All of these micro happenings, moment to moment throughout your entire life combine under the umbrella of your cultural environment and constitute the sum total of your world-view. Awesome concept :shock: !

    I must say these revelations gave me pause to ponder and, seeing your post prompted me to pass it forward. :wink:

  14. #14

    Re: Present Moment

    Quote Originally Posted by shards
    The codependency of this time/space continuum is where my brain starts to stumble. As always, it seems that the limitations of human thought is somehow reduced by the ability to put into words.
    Maybe it's really the limitation of words and their inability to accurately describe the realization of human thought.....can't explain the flavor of vanilla, as Jundo says.
    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai
    Without the intention of sounding smart assy;“Oh, look! There are a flock of birds, how lovely!”
    There you go passing judgement !

    Would it not better to let the bird fly by without adding to the thought?
    I don't know if it would. That to me seems more of a denial that the thought exists, an attempt to ignore it instead of realizing it as a part of the current landscape. Can one really be completely "in this moment" if they do not acknowledge what is happening at that moment?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai
    I was reading recently how the concept of "being what you think" has a far deeper physiological basis than what one imagines at first glance. Think of your reaction to the striking of a bell while you sit zazen. The closing two are met differently each time you sit. Depending on the situation, your legs may be cramped and it is gratefully received OR, you are having a great sit and suddenly it is over; and maybe this ticks you. Think of the physical response your body makes in some way; could be soothing, could be hair raising. All of those responses are a result of your mind. The sensation is received in the cortex ( or whatever lower-order ganglion it is relegated to), the neurons flash, the corresponding entity (e.g the supra-renal gland secreting adrenalin or the hypothalamus demanding serotonin) distributing the appropriate substance. Each and every sound, sight, odor, touch, taste and thought ( the other five conditions; sound familiar?) that you have ever been subjected to since the moment you were born, has created a similar reaction in your body. Positive or negative, they are all received and stored (equally without judgement) in memory; each having it's affect on your physical and emotional development; each forging the ruts that you run in.
    This can be taken both ways. You can say that there is a deeper physiological basis and then enumerate the body/thought process as a way to express the effect on your psyche, just as well as saying that this is medical science finally catching up to what the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago. Schroedinger's Cat.

    The essence of our practice is that the "ruts" need not determine where you run. Once you realize it, you can step out of the rut, off the hundred foot pole, and make your own way from a place of clarity.

  15. #15
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Heitetsu;

    Exactly !!!
    We are what we think. It is never to late to change your mind. We make our world by our choices.
    Zazen allows us to experiment with the way we react to sensations.
    Interaction in the world does not allow time to analyze each situation but, by ingraining our psyche with something like the precepts we equip our tool belt.

  16. #16

    Re: Present Moment

    I forgot if I mentioned this already, but there is definitely a link between sci-fi nerds and Zen. I'm a huge TNG fan, by the way :mrgreen:

    I love Uchiyama Roshi's book. I have nothing more to add really, but I have a similar understanding of time. It's all how we see it. But I do get hung up on us creating the world.

    It makes sense in a way. I mean the way we perceive the world is limited by our senses of perception. If we cannot taste, then does something have a flavor? If it didn't then how could someone who can taste, taste its flavor? Similarly, to a blind person, color doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean things do not have what we call color. But I guess that's the keyword here... each of our perceptions of the world.

  17. #17
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    But do you perceive green the same way I do?

  18. #18
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Shokai wrote:
    There we go passing judgement ! (you, for thinking the birds are good; me, for centering you out for doing so)

    Would it not better to let the bird fly by without adding to the thought?
    Very well put Shokai!
    I must say guys that reading the back and forth between Shokai and Heitetsu on this one is akin to watching professional boxers go at it(but much more peaceful and noncompetitive)! I have deep respect for the insights of the two of you. You are both very wise and it is interesting to see the differences in thought play out on this one. A pleasure to read_/_

    Gassho,
    John

  19. #19
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    _()_

  20. #20

    Re: Present Moment

    Quote Originally Posted by JRBrisson
    Shokai wrote:
    There we go passing judgement ! (you, for thinking the birds are good; me, for centering you out for doing so)
    Some how I blanked on the second part of this. Sorry ops: . It's true that the birds aren't always good. Sometimes they're the birds of Alfred Hitchcock, but good or bad, we should acknowledge that they exist and then let them fly to where they will without getting attached to them. Oh, you violent birds! I see you there!

    Quote Originally Posted by JRBrisson
    Very well put Shokai!
    I must say guys that reading the back and forth between Shokai and Heitetsu on this one is akin to watching professional boxers go at it(but much more peaceful and noncompetitive)! I have deep respect for the insights of the two of you. You are both very wise and it is interesting to see the differences in thought play out on this one. A pleasure to read_/_
    I also must profess my profound respect for Shokai. I learn much from our interactions and I hope that others may find our talks to be helpful in some way. Thank you, Shokai, for your practice and your patience with me.

  21. #21

    Re: Present Moment

    Birds flying in a clear, open sky ... sky's flying is open clear birds ...

    Heading forward past to future, boundless timeless space ...

    The going just coming arriving, the path's a point a line a dance ...

    The course giving form to emptiness, no traces 'cept in a viewer's eye ...




    Lovely!



    .

  22. #22
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Indeed


    gassho


    T.

  23. #23
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Shit happens !!

    _()_

  24. #24
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Hi Shards,

    I think it boils down to paying attention on what you are doing. Once I had a car accident because I was distracted with my own thoughts.

    What I think Uchiyama refers to is to the fact that you are just not paying attention to what you are doing because we tend to embrace mental images of the past or fantasies about the future.

    If I have a terrible fight with the wife and then hop on the car and start driving, you are driving, yes. But you also keep fighting with the wife in your head. Thinking, judging and justifying yourself. Next thing you know is you get hit by a semi.

    From a few years to the present I've been practicing mindfulness doing small daily tasks. For instance, while shaving I put special attention on being in the present moment. Why? Because it makes sense. I am using a razor against my skin! So being mindful of the present moment keeps me from cuts and burns.

    As a matter of fact, you can tell when I wasn't paying attention and I was distracted thinking of whatever, because of the red dots on my face!

    That was a silly example, but living in the present is to be 100% aware of what you are doing right now.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    Choco wrote:
    That was a silly example
    Hi Chocobuda,
    I thought that was a great example! As our teachers often remind us, Zen encompasses all of life. Even shaving. Which makes me wonder what Dogen, in the Shobogenzo, has to say about how even that should be done?

    Gassho,
    John

  26. #26

    Re: Present Moment

    Chocobuda,

    When I read your post, I thought, "What if I had a terrible fight with my wife and then went to shave?" :shock: :shock:

    Sometimes I practice mindfulness because I really enjoy it (eating, drinking tea, etc.). Other times, I practice mindfulness as a survival technique! :lol:

    Gassho,

    Stephen

  27. #27
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Present Moment

    When I read your post, I thought, "What if I had a terrible fight with my wife and then went to shave?"
    :lol: Good one Stephen!

    Gassho,
    John

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