August 2010 Archives

Every life and family is touched by tragedy. No house is free of times of sadness.

Our family is no exception, reminded as we are of an adopted little girl who was to come to us years ago, but never has. She is just a name to us, a shadow, an empty child's room that has gathered dust.

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.

Zen master Eihei Dogen said in the Genjo Koan:

Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find you way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others'. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past and it is not merely arising now.

There is no need to hurry and nowhere to go. As soon as one practices fully, this place is the whole, full-blown moon. The self changes, everything changes, so movement occurs. But although movement occurs, we never leave this place. The time of practice is not even taking place now. So mindfulness is extra. The time and space that Dogen is talking about are different from the ideas we have about time and space. [Click through to sit along with today's video.] 

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.

Taigu and I (Jundo) are very content to announce that, last Thursday, our Treeleaf Sangha ordained three new novice Soto Zen priests in the traditional manner.

What was not so traditional, however -- and rathergroundbreaking and somewhat controversial -- is that it was, we believe, the first time that a Buddhist Ordination has been performed simultaneously on three continents (with the preceptors, Taigu and Jundo, in Japan, and our three ordainees in Canada, Germany and Sweden) all linked by audio-visual media via the internet.

Well, welcome to the future... which is just the present all along! [Click through to read more and view video of the ceremony.]

Oh, some small changes to tradition had to be made, and customs adapted, such as that bestowal of the Buddhist robes and head shaving occurring at the hands of a friend or loved one who "served as our hands across the world, and the hands of the Buddha across time."

Some of the more conservative folks in the Buddhist world may have trouble with that fact, and we have heard some critical voices raised about the nature and effect of the ceremony. It is surprising to me that so many Buddhist folks, though all about dropping artificial categories like "distance and space," and who regularly invite all the ancient Buddhas and long dead Ancestors into their ceremonies, seem to reject that a ceremony of ordination can be done "long distance via the internet."

Our reason for choosing to conduct the ceremony this way is simply keeping with the entire spirit of our TREELEAF SANGHA as an an online practice place for Zen practitioners who cannot easily commute to a Zen Center due to health concerns, living in remote areas, or childcare and family needs, and our seeking to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, all fully online. As we approach our fifth year, we believe we have succeeded, and the ceremony is another symbol of that and the strength of our community. What is more, beyond any ceremony, the real test and responsibility will be the training and education as clergy, ministers and teachers that it is our responsibility to now provide these novice priests. In order to do so, we are about to embark on a road which will take years of hard and sincere effort, also combining traditional ways and some very new, innovative ways of education. If anyone wishes to download and read a very long and detailed statement of the 'goalless goals' of training that these three are expected to follow and come to embody ...HERE IT IS (33 pages, PDF) based, as closely as we can, upon guidelines for priest training established by the The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) of North America.

The video of the ceremony is in three parts (about 40 minutes). Here is the first part; Be sure to toggle to "FULL SCREEN" for the full effect. (That's the little button on the lower right of the YouTube screen.)

Here are links to PART 2 and PART 3:

This is an important moment for any Buddhist Sangha, and a time for celebration. Congratulations to the three Ordainees as they undertake training!


One pleasant aspect of being part of a Sangha is the wide family connections it allows. Today, we are visited in Japan by my Dharma Brother, Jean-Marc "Tenryu" Bazy, founder and teacher of  l'association zen Dogen Sangha de Lyon-Villeurbanne, France. He is joined by several members from Lyon, all visiting Japan for the first time. Taigu's here, too (he's also from France, of course)!

Please sit-a-long with our special 90-minute Zazenkai. It begins with a wonderful Heart Sutra recitation in Japanese by Taigu, followed by two periods of 30 minute Zazen, with 10 minutes of Kinhin walking in between. Le Zazen Formidable! Merci, Tenryu, Taigu et tout! [Click through to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]



Zen master Eihei Dogen wrote:

A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm. If the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once.

This is a small-big reminder: to sit is to fully enter the realm of awakening. Dropping the body-mind, this collection of habits, tensions, expectations, desires... you find the place where everything is complete, nothing is lacking. [Click through to read more and to sit along with today's video.] If you chase Buddhas, you will find nothing but Buddhas. The realization Dogen talks about is bigger than our idea of what Buddha is like, what enlightenment is like. The practice-realization is to give up any of our demands and secret wishes to just allow that freedom to arise, bird in sky, fish in water.[Click through to read more, hear today's talk, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

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.

Robert Aitken Roshi, pictured at left at an anti-war demonstration, was one of the driving forces behind the "Engaged Buddhism" movement in the west. We mourn and cry for his leaving this visible world this week, although hand in hand we know there is no life or death, no place to go. Zen offers both ways of seeing.

Likewise, there is no where to go, nothing to attain, nothing in need of fixing, to add or remove. Yet, how we fix this world, nurturing the good and removing the bad, is largely up to us. We had best make this world better.

Roshi famously said that the phrase "socially engaged" and "Buddhism" is redundant. We practice to awaken... yet we practice to"save all sentient beings." And those sentient beings, though never in need of saving from the start, cannot live on "merit" and "awakening."[Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

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.

Another common fallacy concerning awakening is that it we must run after it to attain it.

But in this attaining -- by which the core attainment is the profound experience of no need to run, nobody to do the running, no separate place to run to, nothing which can be lost or attained in the effort -- the best way of attainment may be to radically give up all running, and all need to attain. As with a dog chasing its own tail, what is here all along may be found by being very still and seeing just what is. [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

Oh, don't get me wrong: diligent practice is not stagnation, ambivalent complacency, or sitting on our hind-quarters like bumps on a log. This practice is vibrant, alive, realized in our energetic sitting, standing, walking, running and all activity in life. However, that which we are making real is this radical "non attaining" -- and the best way to do that is to attain stillness and stability within, no matter the apparent movement and commotion without.

And the way to do that is to sit very stable and still.

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.

common fallacy concerning Zen awakening is that what we call Kensho - "seeing our true, original nature" -- is somehow uniquely vital, special, indispensable to the path, sacred.

Kensho is, in fact, nothing special.

But another fallacy is that Kensho is not especially vital, indispensable to the path, sacred; that Kensho is merely something ordinary and nothing special.

For Kensho is, in fact, special as special ever has been or could be...  a sacred jewel, key to the path, life's vitality realized... nothing other than special!  [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

Kensho is "nothing special" in that each and all facets of this life-world-self, bar none, are vital, sacred, a unique treasure - and every step of the path is central to the path. The "ordinary and mundane" is never ordinary. Every moment and any encounter, each breeze and blade of grass is special, sacred, a jewel in Indra's Net. Thus, I do not mean to lower the import of Kensho in the least, but just to RAISE UP all of life, and every instant of practice, to one and the same par with Kensho, for such is the wholeness, intimacy, unity that is KENSHO'd in KENSHO.
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Realizing that fact - that the most "ordinary" is sacred and whole and unbroken - is at the heart of Kensho! Failing to see Kensho as extraordinary insight into the extra-ordinariness and sacredness of both the sacred and ordinary is not to see "Kensho."

To finally be free of the "self" which thinks in turns of "up and down," sacred vs. profound... That is indispensable. That is Kensho.

Imagine Zen Practice as a walk through mountains in search of one's "Original Nature." One searches and searches, striving to get to the place of seeing and knowing. Scenery changes, days pass. But upon finally seeing into this Original Nature, it is found that the entirety of the mountain, each step and passing landscape, blade of grass, the hiker and the very action of hiking itself, was, throughout, just this Original Nature all along... and each living instant of the trip just one's Nature Naturing Nature... vital and sacred and wholly holy whole. There was never any special place to "get to" - no special goal to achieve - because all was special and fully arrived at the "finish line" all along... whereby finally getting to this knowing of "never any place to getis arriving at the goal of a most special place to "get." (Ah, ENLIGHTENING PARADOX)!

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.

In the coming days, I will be discussing some common fallacies about enlightenment, awakening, satori, and such. Others might disagree with my interpretations, and that is fine; "Enlightenment" is interpreted in different ways in different traditions.

But I like to say that the interpretations I shall offer seem of such value, that I will cherish and keep them even if wrong (which, of course, I do not truly feel they are![Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

The first fallacy concerns something particular to the Soto Zen tradition to which I belong, namely, Master Dogen's description of his own awakening as "dropping body-mind."

What does that really mean? Most folks might understandably feel that it must be the attaining of some state of disembodied consciousness. (In fact, there are forms of meditation which attain such disembodied states, but Shikantaza is not one of them). Some might think "dropping body-mind" means somehow completely leaving this world behind rather than -- as I believe -- fully becoming one with this life and world.

To drop away body-mind is to simply and thoroughly drop the mind-body'sdemands/wishes/aversions-attractions/hard categorizing between the self and all that body-mind consider not the self. Thereby, the "self" is put out of a job... the hard walls between self and othersoften or fall... body and mind thus are dropped away as the resistance and separation to "other" is dropped away. Thus, "self" vs. "other" is dropped away... thus "self" and "otherare dropped away.

The way there is radical non-demanding, non-seeking, just sitting ... the Way of no Way.Shikantaza.

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 -- and family

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Well, it is summer vacation season, and this week my wife and I have eight relatives from the U.S. visiting us in Japan for the first time. It is quite a diverse group, including my older sister and her husband, a teenage boy and two six year olds. So, I have been taking them all around Tokyo and Kamakura, to places that might interest each of them -- from the Sumo matches, to spots from the manga and anime worlds, to playgrounds, to temples and shrines.

I don't think that there is much difference in traveling with family as a "Zen guy" from anyone's family vacations. Maybe it makes one more accepting of the little stresses of travel, like the missed trains and rainy days and inevitable little mishaps. Oh, and I guess it means that some of the relatives will be talked into sitting a little Zazen with their "Zen guy" uncle, like today (I think they really did well for the first time). [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.] 

There is no particular profound lesson in this, besides to just enjoy the company of loved ones, whether an easy group of people (like my lovely family this week) or some more difficult folks as found in about any family. Just go with the flow of life's trip... even when that includes taking a family trip.


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.