April 2010 Archives

My son, Leon, asked if he could sit-a-long today. I am always glad to have him plop down in my lap during Zazen. Since it is "Children's Day" in Japan next week, I thought to let Leon pick the theme. We had been watching news reports of that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, so he suggested I talk a little about that. What does Buddhism have to say about preserving the environment and this planet for our kids?

[Click through to read more and "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

Well, of course, we should cherish this amazing world. Moreover, this planet could use lots of us living a bit more like monks with few possessions. The value that "Zen culture" places on simplicity, natural beauty and non-materialism may guide us to turn away from our current rampant consumerism and buy-and-throw-away culture. We should, instead, cherish the small things, that which money cannot buy... like the joy of having a child sitting in one's lap during Zazen.

Leon usually lasts just a few minutes sitting Zazen with me. I do not insist he sit, and try to make it pleasant for him. So, after two or three minutes, he usually is ready to go. However, today he made it the whole 25 minutes! (Well, he was sleeping for the last 20!)

(Oh, and I apologize for the sound today... computer issues... )

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

Sit-a-Long with Jundo: Buddha-Basics (Part VIII) -- Acting Right

The fourth branch of the Eightfold Path is Right Action -- acting in accord with the Buddhist Precepts. Neither commandments nor laws, the Precepts serve as arrows pointing toward a peaceful, balanced, healthful life and world.
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We are guided to seek, as we can, to abstain from harming others and ourselves, to abstain from taking life, from taking what is not given through stealing or dishonesty, to abstain from destructive sexual conduct. Positively stated, right action is to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect others, and to keep relationships healthful. [Click through to read more and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]
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As we can, we act seeking to avoid harm to oneself or others, and in ways that are healthful and helpful to ourselves and others -- knowing that there is, ultimately, no difference between oneself and others.
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Each summer, at our Treeleaf Sanghawe begin a course of preparation for Jukai, a ceremony of 'Undertaking the Precepts' and committing to this Path. That includes personal study and reflection on each of the Precepts. I hope that some people so inclined might join us in that, and would contact me if so.
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Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.
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To view all of Jundo and Taigu's SunSpace posts click here.

Rev. Taigu reflects a bit more on these words from Eihei Dogen'sGenjokoan...

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. (Kazuaki Tanahashi's translation)

(Click through for more, and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")

Taigu writes:

To forget the self... is to stop to cling to the various identities we display in our relationship with others and the world. To see through the illusion and the emptiness of these masks, we may still use them but without loosing track of their real nature. This fiction made of multiple fictions is called the self. To forget the self is also to stop the constant attempt of maintaining a separate identity that we could oppose to others, or to things. To forget the self is to drop the barrier, the veil that parts self and world. To forget the self is not a product of intention or will, it is an undoing, a path that takes us to simplicity. To forget the self is also to remember this Buddha nature we are made of, and the way we remember IT is to sit as IT.
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In Genjokoan, Dogen writes too: "To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening."
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To forget the self is to to learn to see the whole world, sentient and insentient beings as a wonderful manifestation of the true self, Buddha nature. As we drop the body and mind, the myriad things come forth and shine. Dogen talks often about this brightness, which is the natural and spontaneous function of the world.

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

"Life and Death," says Master Dogen's Zenki, is just the total function, all the Earth and all space. The whole Earth and the whole of space are both present in life and are both present in death.

Life is perfectly life, so live it. Death is perfectly life, so just live that too. Life and death do not obstruct each other.

In fact, everything in life (and death too), and every single instant of time, is total function, all the Earth and all space. So, let each be lived. (Click through for more and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")

Whether you realize these truths or not, all is total function, all the Earth and all space and time.

Shobogenzo Zenki ends this way, about endings ... :

Master Kokugon, [called also] Zen Master Engo. said:

Life is the manifestation of all functions,

Death is the manifestation of all functions.

We should clarify these words and master them. To master them means as follows: The truth that life is the manifestation of all fuctions - regardless of beginning and end, and although it is the whole Earth and the whole of space -- not only does not stop life being the manifestation of all functions, but also does not stop death being the manifestation of all functions. The moment that death is the manifestation of all functions -- although it too is the whole Earth and the whole of space -- not only does not stop death being the manifestation of all functions, but also does not stop life being the manifestation of all functions. Thus, life does not get in the way of death and death does not get in the way of life. The whole Earth and the whole of space are both present in life and are both present in death. But it is not that, through the whole earth as one entity and the whole of space as another entity, all functions operate in life on the one hand and all functions operate in death on the other hand. It is not a matter of unity, but neither is it a matter of variance; it is not variance, but neither is it identity; it is not identity, but neither is it multiplicity. Therefore, in life there are miscellaneous real dharmas which are "the manifestation of all functions, and in death there are miscellaneous real dharmas that are the manifestation of all functions. And in the state beyond "'Life" and beyond "death" there is "the manifestation of all functions. In the manifestation of all functions there is life and there is death. For this reason, all functions as life-and-death may be present in a situation like a strong man flexing and extending an arm. Or they may be present in a situation like a person in the night reaching back with a hand to grope for a pillow. They are realized where there is limitlessly abundant mystical power and brightness. In the very moment of realization, because we are being totalIy activated by realization itself, we feel that before [this] realization there was no realization. Nevertheless, the state before this realization was the previous manifestation of all functions. Although there has been previous manifestation of all functions, it does not get in the way of the present manifestation of all functions. Thus, views such as these vie to be realized. (Spoken in 1242; from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Zenki -- translation by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross))

The boat of Master Dogen's Zenki is neither big nor small, but thoroughly right here and everywhere, comfortably holding all. You have a rudder in hand, the rudder has you in hand, and here and now is the pivot point which sets the direction amid circumstances. It is sailing across life and death, what's in between, before and after... nothing left out.

(Click through for more and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")

Dogen says to cast none of life or death away and to embrace it all thoroughly, even as we may cast "life & death" away from mind thoroughly... embracing completely and casting away completely, all at once. (Thus, we can be free of "life" and "death" both by abandoning and salvaging, boarding and departing the vessel of life ... all at once ... as if a boat we energetically get on, yet were on all along ... regally and contentedly step off, though there's no place off this vessel.) Both life and death are just the realities of life's changing voyage; both life and death are just a sailor's dream.

All carries us, is just us, sometimes going with the current, sometimes swept along in rough seas a bit queasy... on this "Nothing Left Out, Flowing Right Here, Everything and Then Some Trip" of life ...

WHAT A RIDE!

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Dogen writes:

The buddhas' great truth, when perfectly mastered, is liberation and is realization. This "liberation" describes that - for some - life liberates life and death liberates death. Therefore, there is getting out of life-and-death and there is entering into life-and-death, both of which are the perfectly mastered great truth. And there is abandoning of life-and-death and there is salvaging of life-and-death, both of which are the perfectly mastered great truth. Realization is life, and life is realization. At the moment of this realization, there is nothing that is not the "'total"  realization of life, and there is nothing that is not the "total" realization of death. This momentary pivot-state can cause life to be and can cause death be. The very moment of the present in which this pivot-state is realized is not necessrily great and not necessarily small, is neither the whole world nor a limited area, and is neither long-lasting nor short and pressed. Life in the present exists in this pivot-state, and this pivot-state exists in life in the present. Life is not [a process of] appearance; life is not [a process of] disappearance; life is not a manifestation in the present; and life is not a realization- Rather, life is "the manifestation of all functions,"and death is "the manifestation of all functions." Remember, among the countless dharmas that are present in the self, there is life and there is death. Let us quietly consider whether our own present life. and the miscellaneous real dharmas that are coexisting with this life, are part of life or not part of life...  There is nothing, not a single moment nor a single dharma, that is not part of life, There is nothing, not a single matter nor a single state of mind, that is not part of life.

(from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Zenki - translation by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross)

Sit-a-Long with Taigu: Self Study

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Taigu continues our reflections on the teachings of Eihei Dogen with a bit ofGenjokoan...

To learn the Buddha's truth is to learn ourselves. To learn ourselves is to forget ourselves. To forget ourselves is to be experienced by the myriad dharmas. To be experienced by the myriad dharmas is to let our own body and mind, and the body and mind of the external world, fall away. There is a state in which the traces of realization are forgotten; and it manifests the traces of forgotten realization for a long, long time. (From Dogen's Genjokoan, Cross and Nishijima' s translation)

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. (Kazuaki Tanahashi's translation)

Taigu writes:

To study the self is a key sentence in our tradition. Sitting, standing, lying down... the self can have here two meanings, the ego, the illusion of identity as well as the true self, the selfless  and ultimate reality. Shikantaza is the deed  of Buddhas, the flower they toy with, the wheel they turn. Shikantaza is the action of studying the self and forgetting it.

(Click through for more, and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")  

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

We continue our stroll along the Eightfold Path with Right Speech, the first of three branches devoted to 'Ethical Conduct' (Sīla)...
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The words passing our lips have power to be weapons or constructive tools, to help or hurt others, express care or disdain, make enemies or friends, start wars or bring peace.
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(Click through to watch today's talk, and to "sit-a-long.") .
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The Buddha advised that we should:
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...abstain from false speech, especially deliberate lies...
...abstain from slanderous speech and words used maliciously against others...

...abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others...

...abstain from idle gossip.

This means that we should, as best we can amid the complexities of life, seek to tell the truth, to speak lovingly, warmly and gently, and to be careful in our words.

Thich Nhat Hanh has sometimes worded it this way:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

To view all of Jundo and Taigu's SunSpace posts click here.

By request of some folks  in our Treeleaf Sangha, I'll be riffing for a few days on images from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo (Taigu said he may too).

I'll be sailing for awhile with Zenki -- which means "The Whole Works", this "Total Functioning," the "Fully Enlivening All-Encompassing Complete Pivot Point Right Here" of our life.

I am going to start with a passage from the middle of Zenki that is vivid and clear, and helps to understand the passages that come before and after. (The whole of Zenki is only a few pages, which we will talk about over the next couple of "Sit-a-Longs with Jundo.")  Master Dogen describes our life with the image of a sailor's sailing a boat on the sea. Usually, we see all the parts of our life as separate, or only vaguely connected... ship, sails, sailor, rope, the work of sailing, the sea, sand and shore, stars and sun.

But Master Dogen asks us to experience all of this life-self-time-world-everything-and-then-some as a great whole, moving and flowing and interpenetrating together, mutually creating and defining. And he's not talking merely poetically or lyrically  ... but means all of it, when seen with enlightened eyes.
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(Click through to watch today's talk, and to "sit-a-long.") 

Dogen writes:

Life can be likened to a time when a person is sailing in a boat.
On this boat, I am operating the sail, I have taken the rudder, I am pushing the pole; at the same time, the boat is carrying me, and there is no "I" beyond the boat. Through my sailing of the boat, this boat is being caused to be a boat -- let us consider, and learn in practice, just this moment of the present. At this very moment, there is nothing other than the world of the boat: the sky, the water, the shore have a11 became the moment of the boat, which is utterly different from moments not on the boat. So life is what I am making it, and I am what life is making me, While I am sailing in the boat, my body and mind and circumstances and self are all essential parts of the boat; and the whole earth and the whole of space are all essential parts of the boat. What has been described like this is that life is the self, and the self is life.

(from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Zenki - translation by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross)

Rev. Taigu closes his series on the Ten Oxherding Pictures...

"In the world, entering the marketplace... as we get up  and leave our hermitage, we just don't leave Shikantaza behind. If we do so, what would be the real meaning of our practice? Merging with people, being nobody, we disappear into the crowd. But we let the life ofShikantaza shine through and reveal the real face of this, every single sentient being is truly met and perceived. We don't teach or instruct, but open our hands, our eyes and ears to the living teachings of the Buddhas which are found in every single form of this universe, from garbage to star. A very humbling experience, serving and being invisible. Our consciousness like clouds, rivers, wind, always passing, never fixed."

(Click through for more, and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

I am going to turn for a moment from our look at the Eightfold Path (although all these teachings are interconnected), for the cherry blossoms are abloom here in Japan today. Spring has come. So, I would like to turn our attention to another fundamental of the Buddha's teachings:

Impermanence... No composite thing will last, and all are ever changing. [Click through for more and for today's "Sit-A-Long" video.]

Traditionally in Japan, the Sakura, the soft leaves of the cherry blossom tree which last but a few days, have symbolized the coming of new life in Spring, the ephemerality of that life and beauty, and the sad impermanence of all things as they flutter to the ground. We may be tempted to say that, because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But no less, because there is change and death, there is birth and life in nature. Ōtagaki Rengetsu (太田垣蓮月), the great 19th century poet and Pure Land Buddhist nun, wrote:

Cherry blossoms
Fall at the peak of their beauty
In this world
To teach our hearts
To be free of attachment

Impermanence is both the root of suffering, and the doorway to freedom when seen with a Buddha's eyes.

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

To view all of Jundo and Taigu's SunSpace posts click here.

My wife and son have joined me on these "sit-a-longs" from time to time, and this has caused a few folks to write me expressing some surprise."Hey, how can a 'monk' have a wife? I thought Buddhist priests were all supposed to be celibate?"

(Click through for more, and to "Sit-A-Long" with today's video.)

Most Buddhist priests in Japan marry, in Zen and other denominations.  Buddhist clerics marrying is nearly unheard of in the rest of Asia. There is a long history behind how that happened in Japan, which I shall briefly explain. Having married Buddhist clergy is a major break from Buddhist tradition, there is no doubt. It has, unfortunately, sometimes been a point of misunderstandings between Japanese and other Asian Buddhist priests.

In the West, more and more, Zen clergy have come to resemble Protestant Christian Ministers, married with family and, very often, with outside jobs to pay the bills, yet leading a congregation.

That's why calling many of us "Zen Monks" is kinda funny, excepting those periods of months or years when Zen clergy live and train in a monastery, usually in a celibate situation. (Then, the name "Zen monk" is appropriate). After that, most live in temples, with their families -- wife and kids. So, maybe "Zen Priest" is a better term, or "Zen Minister"... or perhaps just "Zen Teacher"or "Zen Clergy"...

So, we are not really, most of the time, "Zen Monks" in a "monastery." Some of us have come out into the world. And I think that is a very good thing!

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.



Rev. Taigu brings to life the 9th of the Ten Oxherding Pictures...

"Fabulous weather and great cherry blossoms. Loud and busy street, towers of steel and glass. We are reaching the source, or should we say that we are fully back to where we were originally? Anyway, the bull and the self have disappeared to fully merge with every single thing and being we meet. The ten thousand dharmas, the countless exixtences come forward. Seated in Buddha's place, we are instantly actualizing Buddha."

(Click through for more, and to watch today's talk and "sit-a-long.")

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.

Sit-a-Long with Jundo: KATZ!

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To mark the start of April, I thought I would answer some questions from the mail bag. One that I am asked about a lot is whether our family pets might benefit from practicing Buddhism and Zazen.

ABSOLUTELY! They're sentient beings, too. Only, with paws.

(Click through for more, including today's Sit-A-Long video.)  Kitties are nothing but cuddly fur balls of delusions and attachments. We must help our dogs find out for themselves whether they have Buddha-Nature or not. Even our hamsters and birdies can be freed from mental cages.

So, get a little Dogen into your doggie, and tell him to "SIT!"

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows.

(Please note that no animals were injured in the filming of today's Zazen.)