July 2011 Archives


Anyone is welcome to join our upcoming 'NO HERE NO THERE - ALL ONLINE and ALWAYS AT HOME' 

JUKAI (Undertaking the Precepts) Ceremony

http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic ... 008#p58008

... and ANGO (90 Day Special Practice Season) at Treeleaf Sangha.

http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic ... 009#p58009

... beginning in September. As always, all festivities will be fully conducted online ...

Treeleaf Sangha (http://www.treeleaf.org) was designed specifically as 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, work and family needs, and seeks to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Zen Buddhist Sangha, all fully online.

Preparations for Jukai include our class study/Sangha discussion group covering, one by one, the meaning of each of the Precepts, as well as the meaning of "Jukai" and of the ceremony itself. As well, Jukai recipients will sew a Rakusu relying on Rev. Taigu's online sewing lessons and our "support each other" Sangha sewing circle.

Through this, it is our hope that the real significance of "Jukai" will be found for each recipient in one's life. For that reason, some folks may wish to join in our preparatory studies and work (such as Precepts Study and Rakusu sewing), but only decide later if they wish the ceremony. 

What is more, our Preparations for Jukai will conclude with netcast of OUR "AT HOME" 2-DAY ROHATSU RETREAT (currently scheduled for the weekend of December 3rd & 4th, via live netcast) and the JUKAI CEREMONY in early January. Here is our last one:

http://www.treeleaf.org/sit-a-long/with ... kai-1.html

All are welcome. A little bit more below on the flavor of "Jukai" and "Ango" at Treeleaf Sangha.

Gassho, Jundo

About Jukai:

... the Jukai ceremony celebrates and commemorates two facets that must exist quite on their own, apart from the ceremony ... the ceremony itself works no magic, and merely marks their necessary arising: 

First, there is the vow and aspiration to live in accord with the Precepts. All the Precepts come down to our seeking, as we can, to live in a manner harmless to ourself and to others, and healthful and helpful to ourself and others, knowing that ultimately there is no separation between ourself and others. If we are living already in such manner ... seeking as we can do be a good father/mother/son/daughter/friend/human being ... then (in my view) we have already "undertaken the Precepts", and the ceremony merely commemorates that fact. However, the ceremony also signifies our vow to continue to do so in the future. 

Second, the Jukai ceremony stands for our commitment to continue Zen Practice, our commitment to the wider Buddhist Sangha ... , and our linking ourself symbolically to all the Buddhas and Ancestors, and all the other many people, who have walked the Way before us in the past. Again, if one already feels this in one's heart, then the ceremony merely celebrates that fact, I believe. 

Thus, the ceremony itself will not "make you into a Buddhist". If one does not feel that one "is a Buddhist" already, then the ceremony will do nothing but kill some time in your life. On the other hand, if one has developed a feeling within that one has trust in our Way, in the Buddhas and Ancestors and their Teachings, and will continue to seek to make those the foundation of one's own life ... then one is already a "Buddhist" whether one has the ceremony and receives a robe, fancy name or not.

So, if that is the case, why bother with the ceremony at all? ...

Jukai is a heartfelt promise that one makes to oneself (and the universe and to other members of the Sangha ... each not separate, by the way) that one aspires to study, practice and live in accord with a certain philosophy. One should be willing, always, to repent one's past harmful actions and to seek a path for the future which avoids harm. Thus, it is appropriate to undertake Jukai whether at the beginning of that aspiration or after many years of already having pursued the aspiration. Because Jukai does represent a vow to seek to remain within the Precepts although our human nature might push us to angry or greedy, harmful actions again and again, such aspirations and vows can and should be renewed at any time, and from time to time. There is no limit to the number of times or places at which one can undertake "Jukai". 

About Ango:

Ango, literally "peaceful dwelling", is a period of concentrated and committed Zen practice, usually lasting three-months in the Soto Zen tradition. The roots of Ango arise from the earliest days of the Buddhist monastic community in India, when monks and nuns would cease their wandering and settle together in one place for the rainy season. Even today in Zen monasteries of Japan, Ango is a time of intense and rigorous training, typically including long hours of Zazen, short hours for sleep, formal meals taken in the Zendo (meditation hall), and a structured schedule for the rest of the day comprising periods for work, liturgy, study, rest, and personal needs. In the West, most Zen groups have adapted the form of the three-month practice period to the needs and demands of life in their communities.

In keeping with the philosophy and path of practice here at Treeleaf ("life is our temple"), we will seek to obtain many of the same ... (and, I believe, quite a few additional and very special) ... fruits and lessons of a traditional Ango while sitting within the "monastery" of our day-to-day lives, jobs, problems, unending distractions and family responsibilities. 

In doing so, I believe, we will have the opportunity to taste the sweetness (and sometime bitterness ... no one without the other) of concentrated Zen practice ... and learn lessons ... in many ways more poignant, practical, immediate and powerful than what might be known to monks locked away in a sheltered mountain monastery. As always, we will be tasting the power of this practice in the world, in daily life ... and not hidden away from it all.

Image That's an image of the lay master Vimalakīrti in his sick bed where, amid his physical illness and infirmity (or the appearance thereof), he expounds the teachings of Emptiness to the Great Arhats and Bodhisattvas, giving each a run for their money in his powerful expression of Dharma. 

And money is something that Vimalakīrti has loads of, though he uses it for good and to aid those in need. He does not hide from the world, but rather is described as practicing and realizing enlightenment right at home with wife and kids, and through his business ownership. He'd go anywhere to teach, from the government offices of the great ministers to schools to shops to bar rooms and brothels. While in the world "although he had a wife and children, yet he was chaste in action ... although he ate and drank like others, what he truly savored was the joy of meditation."

For obviously reason, the story of Vimalakīrti has been popular with those espousing the power of lay practice through the centuries. 

Taigen Dan Leighton writes, in his wonderful book Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and their Modern Expression ...

Vimalakirti practiced as a layman amid the delusions of the world, without being ensnared by them. ... Vimalakirti in all his activities embodies the Mahayana view of being in the world but not of it [and in fact] a central point of the Vimalakirty Sutra is that the bodhisattva can onlyawaken in the context of intimate contact and involvement with the follies and passions of the world and its beings. ... Bodhisattvas can develop only through fully entering, before transcending, the turbulent seas of passions and delusions.

Vimalakirti even denies the necessity of "home leaving" or retreat to a monastery (a subject of some discussion these days) in order to truly "leave home" ...

Vimalakirti's critiques express his special commitment to lay practice as a bodhisattva model. Many of his comments and admonitions involve the tendency of the disciples to withdraw from engagement with the ordinary world. He criticizes priestly roles and religious trappings for masking inauthenticity of practice or interfering with the full development of spiritual potential of common people.

Home-office-factory-nursery-jail-or-city streets ... 

... each our "monastery" when perceived as such.

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows at this link. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended.



I'd like to offer
 the next installment of ... "POINTS FOR POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT" in the traditional monastic model.

Before I do, however, I wish to emphasize again that one man's "magico-supersticio hocus pocus, baseless invented myths, and incantation and mumbo-jumbo filled rituals" is another man's "wondrous miracles, sacred wisdom stories and beautiful timeless traditions". To each his/her own, and no one has a monopoly on how to interpret these facets of Buddhist practice. May all find their own road, and find the meaning thereof in their own heart and life. 

So, on to ... 

 Have traditional monasteries become egregiously loaded down with superstition, hocus-pocus and folk beliefs, worship of bizarre or hyper-exaggerated images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas added on as Buddhism evolved through the centuries, coupled with quasi-magical rituals and arcane Sino-Japanese cultural customs which are not necessary and which need a real cleaning out? 

NO! Because to some folks, these things mean something, are a place to find and manifest the Teachings. If some fellow finds all Time and Space in a mote of dust ... while enough fellow just sees a "mote of dust" which might best be swept into the dust bin ... more power to the first fellow! Good for him or her! 

But ... YES! 

Because for some of us in the Buddhist and Zen worlds, monasteries and traditional practices are like an old, dusty attic filled with some real treasures (eye of the beholder for some, others truly manifesting the Buddha Eye for all sentient beings), but also stuffed to the rafters with piles of rotting junk, old newspapers, musty moth-eaten clothes and seemingly ridiculous souvenirs picked up as Buddhism traveled through the many exotic lands it did. For some of us, the monastic attic could use a pretty thorough Spring cleaning.

Again, much of this is in the "eye of the beholder", and collectors will vary in their tastes and needs. To treasure hunters and pickers, one person's "ridiculous souvenir" may be a profound reminder of a visit to the Pure Land or Atlantic City!. To each his or her own, and his or her heart, and we celebrate and support each and all in keeping their own attic! Someone's silly or dusty magic-spell and mumbo-jumbo filled ceremony (like the ceremony asking for the kind benefaction of the Earth Protector Deity as I recently participated in during a brief stay at a Soto monastery in Japan) is a lovely dance filled with endless significance. (By the way, when at the monastery, I threw my "self" through and through into the ceremony with all my body and heart ... for when in Rome.)

But for some of us, "Grandpa Buddha" is now dead, and we need to make room for the real, living Buddha which is still here in each of us. We might do without the "Earth Protector Deity", and perhaps 1000 other boxes of "gathered by Grandpa over the years" stuff. 

The question then becomes, if so ... if some of us do clean out "Grandpa Buddha's attic" ... doing away with perhaps a large portion of the elements of Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else (while seeking our own vision of Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else ... maybe even a "Truer to us and our times Buddhism, Zen, Soto or Rinzai or something else.") ...

... what might remain that need look like an Old Chinese Monastery at all? If we burn the Chinese robes, the Chinese furniture, the funky legends and funny beliefs ... replacing them with equally wonderful and durable clothing and tables from Sears, Ways and Teachings more suitable to the place and time ... would it resemble "an Old Chinese Monastery" ... or even "a Monastery" at all?

I feel not. 

Oh, I am NOT AT ALL FOR TOSSING THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATH WATER! I often write this on that subject ...

In making such changes in the West, perhaps we need to be very honest and say that we are really making a "new Zen", very different from the ways it was practiced traditionally in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea, in Buddha's time, Dogen's time, Hakuin's time or later. What many westerners think of as "Zen" or "returning to the heart of Zen" is a modern western fantasy, and unlike anything before. 

In doing away with things that have been part of the tradition for hundreds of years, thousands of years, we must realize that ... in many ways ... we are making a completely NEW tradition that is nothing like "Zen" as traditionally practiced.

But ... remember that different folks have different needs. Also, do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Many completely "Japanese" or "Chinese" etc. practices which seem silly at first are worth keeping. ... 

... other things, like some of the arcane incense, bell & drum filled rituals to the "Earth Protecting Deity", take them or leave them. 

To each his own, and I also know the great value and Teachings found in some practices such as extended times of silence and retreat, bowing, chanting, even Oryoki eating ... and, of course, lots and lots of Zazen! Some can be kept, some recycled, some put out with the trash. But would the vessel for such practices resemble anything like the Sino-Japanese image of what that institution is/was? I think it might be very different (precisely the same, but very very different). Some may not even be located as and when or where "traditionalists" might locate theirs. 

To each his own, but some of us make very new vessels to hold timeless flowers ... boundless vessels that barely resemble the containers of old. 

Gassho, Jundo


Hello Everyone,

I would like to begin a series of posts I call "POINTS FOR POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT" in the traditional monastic model. Before doing so, though, I want to emphasize a few things again:

- I generally see monasteries as treasures, shining beacons of light, places of practice and learning which have helped preserve our traditions for thousands of years. As well, they are the right path for so many. My purpose IS NOT TO CRITICIZE ... AND ONLY TO CELEBRATE ... ANYONE WHO HAS A CALLING TOWARD MONASTIC TRAINING, EAST OR WEST. I just see a bit of bent brass in there too that could use a little polishing and fixing. 

- I will be talking about "monasteries" more as religious, political, social and economic institutions, and as the citadels maintaining a "church" or "sect", rather than as a place of retreat. However, sometimes I will be touching on the latter too. 

- I (and I think I speak for Taigu too) favor completely dropping the barriers between "lay Zen teachers" and "ordained Zen teachers", and just having Wise and Compassionate, Awakened and Awakening, Skilled and Ethical "Zen teachers" ... "Priests" who are neither layman nor monk. But I do not feel that "out in the world" priest training is in any way inferior or superior to the monastic model. Better said, each has its own strong points and weaknesses ... perhaps (in my view) some combination is best, or better suited to some individuals than others. 

- I, as much as any Zen Buddhist teacher, believe thoroughly in high standards and training for Zen clergy because (as a friend commented) being Zen clergy "is important work where lives are at stake". I also generally support monastic training for a period of time for those for whom life so permits, or who are the right flowers for that soil. I just disagree with those who insist on the exclusivity of the monastery door as the "one size fits all" road to priest training for everyone, while I support various paths depending on circumstances. I just happen to believe that "all of life is the uninterrupted monastery" when pierced as such. 

I believe that Enlightenment is not to be found in any one place, but can be found in all places when seen. We honor the right and ability of any priest to train in a monastery, we honor the right and ability of any priest to train in other ways too. Where possible, perhaps training both "within and without" is best ... even beyond all thought of "in vs. out". 

so, without further ado ... 

POINTS OF POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT IN THE MONASTIC INSTITUTION - No. I - Have monasteries, throughout their history, been (not just necessarily exclusive in order to maintain levels of training, but) -too exclusive- in their availability to those who may wish to enter and undertake the Dharma? Although monasteries also have a function of training the next generation of gifted Teachers ... have they, in fact, excluded many more individuals who would be gifted Teachers but could not enter the monasteries for social, political or economic reasons? Rather than admitting those who should be there, have they tended to admit those with the political and social connections, and (even today) economic means to be there? Have they tended to admit, not just the many great talents and serious "seekers", but also a disproportionate number of folks who are there for the wrong reasons or should not be there?

Throughout the history of Buddhist monasteries in North Asia, the institution functioned as a center of spiritual training. However, monasteries also served other functions. Sometimes, they served in places such as China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan as a method for the government to license and control the number of priests (so that not everyone ran from work in the rice fields to the relative comforts of the monasteries). 

Although there are many stories of true seekers "getting in", there were tremendous hurtles to doing so, and the monastery also frequently served as a place where those "already in" could keep what they had by keeping others out (like my old joke about how, when my family moved from New York to Florida many years ago, we wanted to close the doors on Florida so nobody else moved in!

Certainly, anyone familiar with the history of Buddhism sees a disproportionate number of teachers mentioned who came from elite backgrounds, the sons of aristocrats, samurai, wealthy farmers and other societal elites. The story of Hui-neng (the illiterate rice grinder) aside, most peasants and others were shooed away at the door ... assuming they made it to the door in the first place despite the many economic and social obstacles ... (and even Hui-neng was just put in the workhouse, grinding rice). 

Most of us are familiar with the countless complaints by Dogen, Hakuin and others about the generally low quality of the monks at many institutions that they were encountering in China, Japan and elsewhere. Does this possibly show that these institutions were better at admitting those, perhaps, not so well qualified to be there, or who were there for the wrong reasons, than folks there for the right reasons? Much of that could be due to the fact that, throughout their history, most monasteries have been places of refuge ... not for the spirit ... but also for bastard children of the elite, those who did not wish to work morning to night in the hot sun (compared to the peasant lifestyle), and the like ... as well as true spiritual seekers (I do not mean to say that ALL residents of monasteries were like that ... only lots and lots). Granted, ALL the great Teachers in Buddhist history have been the product of monasteries (Although, ya know, that is not true ... as the likes of Layman Pang and Vimalakirti and many others attest ... though even they had some bucks. Perhaps the old woman in the "rice cake" Koan besting Te-shan is a better example). How many excellent potential monks and Teachers never had a chance because they were peasants, working people, or decided to stay at home to nurse an aging relative or child without having the economic means (as the Buddha himself did) to leave one's family in the charge of the servants in the family palace? 

Oh, sure, ya could say that their "Karma" kept the poor as "the poor" and unwashed ... but has this not been an excuse at so many times in Buddhist history for Buddhists to do little about the poor?

On the other hand, even today, it takes a certain social freedom and economic means to head to a monastery for months or years. There are many folks who might truly sell their houses and quit there jobs to do so ... and that is to be commended. But a disproportionate number of folks who head to monasteries, even today, will do so only after figuring out how to have "themselves covered", sufficient savings, a job to return to after (can that truly be called "home leaving", or only "home leasing"?). They are not really giving up their wealth and property to "leave home", so much as calculating how they can "swing it" for a few months. 

However, there are also a lot of folks who might be attracted to the monastery because they just got dumped by their wife, fired from their job ... and have nothing to lose. That is perhaps an excellent course in times of life's troubles. These may be people who are just meeting the twists of Karma or bad luck. However, I propose that one will also find a disproportionate number of people who cannot "make it" in the world, have troubles with relationships, holding down a steady job, folks with personality issues (e.g. OCD and other psychological issues) attracted to the protection of the monastery. For them (like the bastard sons of Samurai in Medieval times), monasteries are as much a "refuge for spiritual practice" as a refuge from the complexities and demands of life. 

On the other hand, countless folks who would make wise and compassionate Teachers are excluded precisely because they are functioning in life, maintaining healthy marriages, holding down jobs, maintaining a business. These people who may actually have something to say about swimming through life with Awakening, Wisdom and Compassion, are excluded by those very responsibilities. (Could this be a reason that we seem to be getting a high number of social misfits, nervous and shy folks, OCD types, the psychologically vulnerable, ne'er do wells, the sexually abusive and questionable personalities among our many many fine priests and teachers? Should we be instead encouraging participation by those who can combine Wisdom and Compassion with actually living and making it "in the world"? Or, is it just the same number of such folks as in the general population or any group?)

This was summarized very nicely by a comment posted here awhile back in the thread by an advocate of the monastic path ...

There are many life situations which make someone not a proper candidate for ordination. Parents of small children, people in deep financial debt or legal difficulty, pregnant women, people in the armed forces... they have other obligations and are not proper candidates for ordination. They are also not proper candidates for the space program, a traveling circus, etc. This is not about "who is good enough." ... It's called home leaving.

But why need that be so? Why cannot a pregnant woman or mother be a Zen priest, teacher of Compassion? Why cannot a Soldier be a Zen Priest, Master of the Precepts? Might they not frequently be betters teachers than some fellow who, having graduated from the right institution, knows with which hand to hold the incense, how to tie his robes with the correct knot, and all the words to the Sandokai in phonetic Sino-Japanese? Why are the others excluded again?

Certainly, the fees to get into a monastery can be prohibitive ... with all the expensive robes, bowls, hats, studybooks, donations, sect taxes, gifts, room and board, and such that are required. (This is well described on Muho's blog over at Antaiji in the case of Japan and the Soto-shu. http://antaiji.dogen-zen.de/eng/201011.shtml ) Daddy usually swings the expense because he wants sonny boy to take over the family temple/funeral service. But is it not also true in the West? Although most monastic facilities may claim that "we don't turn anyone away because of economic need" (do most claim this?), the fact of the matter is that training needs to be paid for somehow, by both the institution and the student. Is this one reason that we are still seeing a disproportionate number of white, middle-class or wealthy "monks" ... but not the working class African-America and Latino or other economically struggling groups in our priesthoods?

Anyway, enough for now ... 

Gassho, J

PS - I forgot to mention that monasteries traditionally kept women out, with a few minor exceptions. I wanted to say that, at least, we have fixed that part. However, someone wrote me to say that my description is not accurate, and that the exclusion remains in perhaps the vast majority of the Buddhist world ... and de facto in large parts of the Chan/Son/Zen world too (only lessened in some places after years of challenge). 

http://buddhism.about.com/od/becomingab ... sexism.htm

http://www.shadowofbuddha.com/about/abo ... -synopsis/

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/ne ... -of-women/

"Sôtô Zen Nuns in Modern Japan: Keeping and Creating Tradition" by Paula K.R. Arai
http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/publications ... J-Arai.pdf

SIT-A-LONG with Taigu: Okesa 2

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In Kesa Kudoku Dogen writes the following:

This being so, we should make [the kaṣāya] properly, according to the method 
for making the kaṣāyathat has been authentically transmitted by the Buddhist 
patriarchs. This alone is the authentic tradition, and so it has long been expe- 
rienced and recognized by all common and sacred beings, human beings and 
gods, and dragons and spirits. Having been born to meet the spread of this 
Dharma, if we cover our body with the kaṣāyaonly once, receiving it and 
retaining it for just a kṣāṇaor a muhūrta,31that [experience] will surely serve 
as a talisman to protect us32in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi. 
When we dye the body and mind with a single phrase or a single verse, it 
becomes a seed of everlasting brightness which finally leads us to the supreme 
state of bodhi.When we dye the body and mind with one real dharma or one 
good deed, it may be also like this. Mental images arise and vanish instanta- 
neously; they are without an abode. The physical body also arises and van- 
ishes instantaneously; it too is without an abode. Nevertheless, the merit that 
we practice always has its time of ripening and shedding. The kaṣāya,simi- 
larly, is beyond elaboration and beyond non-elaboration, it is beyond having 
an abode and beyond having no abode: it is that which "buddhas alone, together 
with buddhas, perfectly realize."(Nishijima Cross)

Let's see what is the kesa made of. Rags. Just rags. 

Image One thing my mother always used to tell me is "don't discuss religion with people, cause people get too easily defensive and offended about their personal religion.". It's true. Of course, that's a little hard to avoid when one is posting on an internet forum devoted to religion, Zen Buddhism in this case. People tend to take any criticism of their religion ... no matter how couched in "it's just my opinion", and no matter how small and reasonable the criticism ... as an affront. That's especially true when the critic is not an outsider, but someone inside the religion ... and maybe most especially clergy of the religion like Taigu and me. 

This recently happened when I posted my recent Sit-A-Long talk supportive of "out in the world" practice, and critical of some aspects (emphasis on "some aspects among many good points") of monastic practice entitled Knocking Down Monastery Walls, at ZFI, a sometimes surprisingly conservative place. People began to really jump on me and Taigu (who also added some comments very critical of monasteries and some of the institutionalized religion-ness that often accompanies them), accusing us sometimes as if we really wanted to rent bulldozers and do a sneak attack on helpless monks! 

Taigu and I were taking our usual stand about how, for some or many folks (emphasis on "some or many" not "all"), training out in the world to be a priest might be a good path, and monastery life not possible or the wrong soil for that individual (emphasis on "for that individual"). The substance of the attitude of some folks can be symbolized by a typical post ...

There are many life situations which make someone not a proper candidate for ordination. Parents of small children, people in deep financial debt or legal difficulty, pregnant women, people in the armed forces... they have other obligations and are not proper candidates for ordination. They are also not proper candidates for the space program, a traveling circus, etc. This is not about "who is good enough." ... It's called home leaving.

To which I would typically respond with something like ...

Perchance, if one truly knows how to look ... some particularly wise folks can overturn the delusions of life right in the heart of life, shining in/as/right through life. Radical transformation can manifest where we stand. Buddhas can be seen in our small children, and freedom from the shackles of life are in the key of financial debt and legal difficulties. Pregnant women have Buddha Nature too (for one? for two?), and people in the armed forces serve in places where the "rubber meets the road" of the Precepts in action. Is not Enlightenment something even vaster than space, and is not life just a wondrous (sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly) circus?

And again, my point is that monasteries may be right for some people, but wrong for other people. "Out in the world" training may be right for some people, but wrong for other people. To each his own, and many good paths up the mountain suited to different people and needs. 

I also became a bit hot under the collar at one point in one post with one guy, but generally kept my cool. However, I did notice a tendency of folks in such religious discussions to completely ignore how a statement is couched and hear what they want to hear, a kind of Cognitive Dissonance. For example, I pull no punches in my criticisms of certain small aspects of Buddhism and Zen, calling them "superstitious" and the like, or "abusive". But I typically do it in the following way ... in effect, pulling my punches!

In my humble opinion, and that is all it is (for one man's "made up legends" is another man's "sacred stories" that he has full right to believe) ... Buddhism does, among the many many very good things, contain much "superstition, bull-crackers, hocus-pocus and made up legends, baseless claims, funny hats and dusty rituals, institutional church-iness" that we could often do without, in my limited view ... and some situations which, among the many good situations, are sometimes occaisionally abusive, disfunctional, even cult-like 

... but which, I fully recognize and respect, may be very beautiful and precious to others, interpreted quite differently by them. Lovely, and many paths up the mountain for different folks (anyway, ultimately, what mountain?) We cherish and honor the right of such folks to practice their religion as they wish in their Sanghas ... just as we cherish and honor the right of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Scientologists, Hari Khrisna's, Atheists, Agnostics of all stripes to practice their beliefs as they wish ... and we will practice as we wish in our little Sangha.

... which some people seem to hear in their minds as ...

You think Zen is bullshit, monasteries are all abusive and Buddhism is like Scientology!:shock: 

Oy vey. 

I'll have more on this topic in a future post ... including how people became very upset when I once turned into Bro. Brad and typed "bullshit" instead of "bull crackers". 8) That became a more important topic than the monasteries! 

Image MAITREYA is said to be the future Buddha, the successor to the historic Śākyamuni Buddha. It's said that his 'coming' which will happen in a few thousand (or perhaps millions) of years. In the meantime, he awaits his return, residing inTuṣita Heaven. Yes, there are some elements to Maitreya rather like the 'Second Coming' of Jesus. Maitreya is taken by some as something like a Buddhist Messiah. 

He is often seen seated in a pose somewhat reminiscent of Rodan's "THE THINKER", but with softer shape and expression, sometimes tranquil and sometimes crying, contemplating the suffering of sentient beings. In fact, Maitreya's name may be derived from the Sanskrit wordMaitri (Metta in Pali), 'loving-kindness'. 

Sometimes he is seen in this form ...


... perhaps from after he let himself go. :shock: However, the origins of this popular "Laughing Buddha" are actually found a figure called Hotei from China, a jolly fat monk who happened to be a devotee of Maitreya, and whose image became mixed into the Maitreya legend over time. In any event, even if not really "Maitreya", the image is very popular in Chinese Buddhist temples ... and Chinese restaurants. One popular belief is that if one rubs his fat belly on the 1st day of the Lunar Year, it will bring forth wealth, good luck and prosperity.

(In my case, I typically think of the Laughing Buddha when I break my diet ... often at a Chinese restaurant.

Maitreya was frequently taken as a cult symbol driving peasant rebellions and other mass movements for social change or revolution in China in centuries past. 

In so many ways, Maitreya is simply a symbol of future hope and change. 

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows at this link. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended.

SIT-A-LONG with Taigu: Okesa 1

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A very short introduction to the study of the kesa that we are starting this summer:

Image I often feel that monastic practice is so "yesterday" ... so "13th Century". It's true, and in some very important ways, it may be time to knock down the monasteries, throwing their cloistered inhabitants into the streets! **

For most of its history, lay practice has taken a back seat to the "real spiritual action" said to happen only among the ordained Sangha, usually behind monastery walls. However, this no longer need be the case.

I in no way intend to deny the beauty and power of the monastic path for those called that way. There are depths and lessons to be encountered and awakened to and lived in that simple life, in the silence, in the sincere effort and routine. So much of that may not be easily perceived in the noise and distraction of an "in the world" practice. (Although, in my view, stillness is stillness, and the very same stillness can be encountered "out in the world" with a bit of diligence and attention to day-to-day life). 
 I do not in any way intend to discount the importance of monastic practice for some folks ... and at appropriate times and doses for all of us.

, with lay practice having depths and opportunities for awakening all its own. There are aspects of an "in the world" practice that are denied to those following a the monastic way. There are depths and lessons of practice that can be encountered and awakened to only out in the city streets, in our work places, families, raising kids. Where is the Dharma not present?

Lay practice now is not the same as lay practice has been in centuries past.

One vital reason for monasteries and the like ... from the earliest days of Buddhism ... was an absence of other chances for communication with teachers and fellow practitioners, and a lack of other means to encounter "live teachings". In other words, wandering ascetics walking hither and thither in the Buddha's time needed to gather during the rainy seasons to "touch base" and reconnect with the group after being on their own for weeks and months. In the middle ages in China and Japan, one could not easily encounter a Buddhist teacher, teachings and opportunities to practice without going to live full time in a monastery. This is just no longer the case. Members of our Treeleaf Sangha, for example, can have 24 hour contact, using modern means of communication, with teachers, teachings, sittings, robe sewing, Sutra and Text study, sharing with fellow practitioners times of sickness and health and smiles and tears, Samu, spiritual friendships, "sharp stones crashing into each other" ... much of which, until the current times, was denied to people outside monastery walls.

In some important ways, sincere lay practitioners today may enjoy better surrounding circumstances for practice than did the average monk in, for example, Dogen's day. Things in the "Golden Age" were not so golden as we too easily romanticize. Most monks back then were half-educated (even in Buddhism), semi-literate (or what passed for literacy in those times), superstition driven, narrow folks who may have understood less about the traditions and teachings they were following ... their history and meaning and depth ... than we now know. The conditions for practice within old temples and monasteries might have been less than ideal, many teachers less than ideal, despite our idealization of the old timers. Studying Sutras by smoky oil lamp, living one's days out in Japan or Tibet while having no real information grasp on China and India and the customs of prior centuries, living in a world of rumor and magic and misunderstanding (in which all kinds of myths and stories and superstitions were taken as explanations for how the world works), unable to access a modern Buddhist library, or to "Google" a reliable (emphasis on making sure it is reliable however!) source to check some point, or to ask a real expert outside one's limited circle, being beholden to only one teacher at a time (no matter how poor a teacher), with no knowledge of the human brain and some very important discoveries of science ... and after all that effort ... getting sick and dying at the age of 40 from some ordinary fever. (Can you even imagine trying to listen to Dogen Zenji recite "live" a Shobogenzo teaching from way across the room ... without a modern microphone and PA system and "Youtube" to let one replay it all? I suppose many never heard a word!

The "Good Old Days" were not necessarily the "Good Old Days".

In contrast, in many ways, the average lay person practicing today has very many better circumstances for practice than those monks in 13th century Eihei-ji. For that reason, it is time to re-evaluate the place and power of lay practice. What was true in the cultures and times of ages past need not be true today!

Now, we need the monastic way ... and we need the "in the world way" ... supporting each other.

Yesterday, a fellow posted to our Sangha a comment that: 

the austere training at Eihei-ji ... [may be] required in 'dropping off' body and mind. The effort required to ensure that this is complete, 'dropping off dropping off', is something I think we find difficult in our lives since we live in more comfortable times. Can it be truly 'realised' outside a monastic setting? 

I responded:

I rather disagree. 

There are hard swimmers and runners, who push themselves to the limit ...

There are swimmers or runners who go at an easy and balanced pace forward ...

There are those who float along or stand perfectly still to admire the scenery ...

... and in all cases, it is the same ocean or road ... and no place to go. 

Some folks may benefit from a hard practice, getting the hell beat out of them ... pushed along by a tough coach like a marine in boot camp. They may need this for a bit of discipline or to tame the wild bull of the mind. And some may not, encountering the Dharma in silence and stillness.

However, the answer really is not dependent on how hard we work for it, like a dog chasing its own tail. 

Today's Sit-A-Long video follows at this link. It is a longer talk (about 30 minutes), part of our July Zazenkai. A short Zazen and Kinhin follow.

** (figuratively)