July 2010 Archives

In connection with Shambhala Sun's new "How to Meditate" issue, I'm often asked to describe Shikantaza Zazen in a nutshell. Well, perhaps the simplest and most basic instructions for Zazen are neatly summarized in the verse "Faith in Mind," traditionally attributed to the Third Patriarch in China, Sengcan:

The Way of the supreme is not difficult,
If only people will give up preferences.
Like not, dislike not.
Be illuminated....
If you want to see Truth,
Call no life experience favorable or unfavorable....
There is nothing lacking, and nothing in excess.
Only the discriminating mind
Renders the All-Roundedness not whole....

Sit without likes and dislikes, aversions and attractions... even amid likes and dislikes. [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.] 

Sit serenely in an action that is whole and complete, unhindered by the conditions of life, allowing all to be. One is spacious and content, unattached and ungrasping.

A simple, elegant, vibrant and complete practice.

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.

Master Dogen writes the following lines in the Genjokoan:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing. For example, when you sail out in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as far as you can see at that time. All things are like this.

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

Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.

What things appear to be is a source of deception. We have a tendency to give a very personal interpretation, a somehow twisted rendition of reality. In good faith we could swear that this is it. The diversity and richness of what surrounds us is only concealed by what we add to the naked show, dressing things up over and over again. Believing in our stories, we also believe in the importance of identities: I am a Buddhist, I am a man, a woman, a European, an American, I am gay, I am straight, I am old, young, knowledgeable, etc. The banners we hold are countless, they represent the groups we belong to, the ideas we cherish, the behaviors we choose. This desperate urge to belong and be loved is one of the reasons we miss the point. We end up being far more preoccupied by our little world than the big one, just under our feet. A good sense of humor could help us to kick these castles made of sand, get rid of the addiction to our stories and give us a good opportunity to see beyond this self-centered world we have created. To drop the solemn rigidity that spoils everything. Playing, exploring are also parts and parcels of our practice. Going on holiday is a great thing to do and in Buddhist practice, we don't need a plane ticket and a destination: just have a break from identification. Anywhere, anytime, you can do it.

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 have a special rule in our Treeleaf Sangha: Although any topic is always free for civil discussion, and we pull no punches in what we need to say, we are to speak kindly and respectfully to each other[Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.] 

Taigu and I do not tolerate fighting among members, and we frown upon even the use of harsh speech and four-letter words. It's not because we're prudes (we know the words, believe me) but because (as in any school) frequent use can often create a hostile, intimidating, aggressive environment, one that's not conducive to steady practice and learning. I have had to bar a couple of people from participating in our Sangha over these past years, in both cases for repeatedly fighting or taking aggressive stances with other members and the teachers.

For these reasons, a fellow (who, although not a member of our Sangha or even very familiar with it) wrote something to the effect that we are a bunch of "faux happy namby-pamby's," that I am a fake "pretending I never get angry"  and the like. The man obviously does not know our sangha, or me and Taigu.

Update: Jundo's thinking, thanks to your comments and some further reflection, has changed somewhat. See his latest comments below.

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 Taigu: Enlightened Activity

At Treeleaf Zendo, we don't deny the reality of kensho (experiences of enlightenment) in our Soto Zen tradition. At the same time, we let go of past experiences to allow the light of shikantaza ("just sitting") into our life. True awakening is found in the activity of truly meeting the world and manifesting wisdom without any self awareness. Enlightened activity is the daily practice in which the Dharma Wheel is turned. Sodo Yokoyama (seen at left), one of Kodo Sawaki's students and Dharma heirs, wrote:

"In Zazen there is no delusion, no satori, no deluded people, and no Buddhas. And it is for that reason, because from the beginning there is no delusion, no satori, no saint, and no sinner in Zazen that we haveshikantaza -- just sitting. Since there are no delusions in the past and no satori now, there is no need to seek Buddha and no hell to fall into (...)"

Once you are home, once Buddha is Buddha and you are yourself, how can there be any traces left? The eyes cannot see themselves, they are open on the open itself which is all form and space. The dynamic activity of being is the real thing, the awareness unaware of itself, flowing naturally, spontaneously. [Click through to 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.

Almost any group we belong to -- the workplace, family, even a Buddhist sangha -- will have some folks we consider "difficult people," individuals who rub us the wrong way or seem to make things hard. But, it is important for us to remember that difficult people are Buddha, that they are all teaching us. What's more, each one of us is probably a "difficult person" to somebody too (just ask Mrs. Jundo how she feels about Jundo some days!).

There are a lot of books and advice out there on living or working with someone who we might find a bit of a pain in the kiester. But does Zen practice, and monastery life, offer any lesson on "difficult people"? [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.

Soto Zen teachers like to say "Practice is Enlightenment Itself." In other words, we sit Zazen and practice Buddhism, not to realize Enlightenment, but because Zazen and practice are already Enlightenment fully realized! What's more, totally piercing and bringing to life the meaning of that is.... finally realizing Enlightenment!

Sounds complicated, but to explain the meaning, I sometimes say that our Practice is like piloting a plane that's already arrived with every inch of sky... [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

Most people think that the reason to fly the plane is to get to the airport over the horizon. Most people are flying flying flying to get to that airfield of realization, where the runway is lit up with enlightenment. Once they get there, the trip will be complete... and they will have finally arrived!

But in Zen Master Dogen's view, the point of flying the plane is to fly the plane. Each moment by moment of flying is a constant arriving at the destination -- right here and right here and, now, right here. Every inch of the trip is complete in itself, nothing to add to it or take away. Nonetheless, the constant moment-to-moment flying must be done skillfully and with care, diligently.

The plane has no place to get to, yet the skillful pilot keeps the plane in the air in fair weather or foul, while the deluded pilot runs into unnecessary turbulence and, perhaps, hits the mountain in a fireball of twisted wreckage. We must keep flying diligently, not taking our eyes off the instruments for a second... yet each instant is Total Arrival, fulfilled and complete... no terminal from which we first departed, no goal over the horizon that is not right here.

If you think that "the destination is distant," well, it always is. On the other hand, if you just rest complacent and take your hands off the controls now "because we are already arrived," the plane will crash! Quite the high-flying koan!

What's more, from time to time we see clearly that the plane is Buddha, as is the pilot, as is the air and the clouds, as is the flying: going going going, yet ever arriving and arrived at the port of perfect realization.

Turn the plane left, Buddha goes left. Turn the plane right, Buddha goes right. Up down up down; Buddha. Keep it level and balanced; Buddha. Lose balance, fly while drunk, go into a spin, run out of fuel, hit the mountain; Buddha.

Thus we fly with Captain Buddha, and seek to avoid the mountains. That is practice-enlightenment.

Have a good flight.

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.

Well, today's my 50th birthday! By the calendar, anyway. Because today is also my first birthday -- as is every instant -- as it always is for you too! Or maybe it's both of our no-birth-days (as "birth" is just a state of mind to Buddhists).

What does a Zen fellow get for his "first birthday"/"no-birthday"? Why, nothing... and the whole universe too! After all, what do you get the man who has everything!? [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.] This practice is just an endless birthday party, and gifts an old Zen codger with weird yet wonderful views on having another birthday!

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 turn again to Master Dogen's Genjo Koan:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

This is what Dogen writes over and over again. True awakening cannot be intoxication, it is a way to humbleness, seeing through and through patterns of delusion and understanding that the ultimate cannot be fully reached. Awareness of awakening is extra. True awakening doesn't care about being displayed, true awakening shows how clear, truly pure and inspiring, this sphere-cube-line-dot universe can be. So when it is met and fully realized, it shows itself in others: you will meet Buddha in countless faces, forms and shapes. [Click through to 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.

At Treeleaf Sangha, we have a 90-minute weekly"Zazenkai" (Zazen Meeting) each Saturday, and a 4 hour meeting the first Saturday of the month. Although we sit at home by ourselves each day, I think it important also to join in longer, group sittings on a very regular basis. It is encouraging to sit with others instead of only alone by ourselves, and also to sit a bit longer than we usually do.

Information on the weekly Zazenkai at Treeleaf is HERE. Our Zazenkai are broadcast in live video over the internet, and available to sit anytime in recorded form after that. People join into our sittings from all over the world, some live and some days later. Still, we are all together, whenever and wherever. [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.] 

As well as a weekly Zazenkai in which we sit Zazen for a few hours, interspersed with Kkinhin(walking meditation), I encourage people to join in longer retreats too, including weekend retreats and sesshin lasting several days. I am often asked why it is good to do so, especially as I am always repeating that "there is nothing to attain" in Zazen.

Well, my response is that, even though there is nothing to attain, it is sometimes necessary to sitvery diligently to attain this non-attaining! What is more, it is good to sit with our self longer and more intently, for we then experience some things about "me myself and I" more clearly and intensely.

At today's Zazenkai, seen below, we welcomed Brian, one of our sangha members, visiting Treeleaf in Japan from the United States. It was very good to have his company. Our sitting schedule today was as follows, and I encourage you to sit along with Brian, me, and the other folks in our sangha who joined in.

00:00 - 00:15 CEREMONY (HEART SUTRA in English) and Dedication
00:15 - 00:45 ZAZEN
00:45 - 00:55 KINHIN
00:55 - 01:25 ZAZEN

It is perhaps the largest Buddhist charitable and relief organization in the world -- and yet, it is not so well known in the West, even among many Buddhists.

The Tzu Chi Foundation was founded in 1966 in Taiwan by Master Cheng Yen (left), a nun, together with a group of thirty housewives who saved a small amount of money each day, and has now grown to approximately 10 million members worldwide. It runs international emergency relief operations all over the world, longer term aid programs, has built and operates many hospitals and universities, organ and bone marrow registries, recycling centers, nursing homes and hospices, and has offices in countries world-wide. It does this with few paid staff but with the help of around 100,000 full and part-time volunteers. [Click through for more, and to "sit-a-long" with today's video.]

Tzu Chi volunteers work all over the world -- from providing free medical care to the poor in the US, distributing emergency supplies in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and New York after 9-11, to work in Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, mainland China and many other locations. You can read more here.

Is it time for a greater emphasis on charity, relief efforts and social reform among Buddhists in all Western countries?

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.

Today's talk explores the various ways available to sweep the mind and not to get caught in our own stories. From the awareness of impermanence to humor, we may use many brooms to stop the activity of clinging to thoughts and return to the freedom of being.

[Click through to 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.

It is going to be Independence Day in the United States on July 4th. But, from a Buddhist perspective, it is, also, Interdependence Day all the time.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a lovely image for this idea, which he likes to call "Interbeing."

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

Imagine something as real and tangible as a piece of paper ...

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter-" with the verb "to be," we ha vea new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And wesee the wheat. We now the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. "To be" is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

From: The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra

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.

One of the most basic of "Buddha Basics" is the Twelve-fold Chain of Dependent Origination, sometimes called the Twelve-fold Chain of Cause & Effect. It describes how our experience of being a separate "self" arises -- and with this, as its mirror reflection, the experience of a separate world that is "not our self" -- coupled with desires, judgments, discontentedness, worries about loss, fears, feelings of passing time and all the rest that the "self" feels about the "not the self."

My interpretation may be a bit modern, but I am struck by how the Buddha's idea parallels modern theories of the development of a consciousness and a sense of separate identity in the human infant (such as by Piaget and others)... as the child begins to respond and react to pleasant and unpleasant input through the senses, slowly building a hard sense of "self" vs. "other," driven on by its thirst and hunger and other desires.

In fact, might our Buddhist practice be seen as an effort, in some way, to reverse or return to aspects of living that arose or were lost in those first days of our lives? A return to the "Buddha Womb," perhaps? [Click through for more and "sit-a-long" with today's video.] 
Are we attempting to recover our original undivided state prior to "self/other" but -this time- free of the greed, anger, fear, need and lack of understanding of the crying newborn? (That's Jundo's theory, which I propose.)

In a nutshell, what are those stages?

[Note: The following is a bit complex -- so you can also skip down to the video, where I act the whole thing out... as the baby!]

1) The first of the "Twelve Causes" is a state we can barely understand with the ordinary mind, for it is the state of reality before the mind comes into play, before the mind divides, and categorizes and judges. Before the mind identifies separate objects, assigning names, distinguishing by characteristics and imposing judgments, there is no figure or ground, no subject or object, no defined relationships of any kind, the whole merging into the whole. Often termed ignorance or chaos (sk: avida) -- much as the newborn infant is born into the world confused and ignorant of what is transpiring to her -- this nondual source can also be seen as our "Original Face" when properly perceived.

2) Following birth, this process of division by mind into "self" and "not self" begins with the next of the Twelve Causes, which is action (karma). We might say that it is human action of the most ordinary kind, like the moving hands and feet of a newborn baby. It is much as the blind flailing about of the tiny baby in its crib who, still lacking clear sense of separate self, un-directedly kicks and thrashes amid the chaos of the new environment in which it finds itself. Thus, in the midst of the ignorance and chaos of the newborns world, this movement or "action" naturally arises.

3) The next of the Twelve Causes is consciousness (vijnana), or simple self-awareness. It is a basic sense of "self" that arises out of the bodily "action" which precedes it, much as the newborn infant develops when it forms a simple sense of separation from its environment as its arms and legs flail about amid the chaos, thereby coming to define space and dimension and separate objects in its surrounding environment. As the sense of self arises, the sense of 'not self,' of the external world, mentally arises as its reflection in the following steps.

4) As each link of the chain leads to the next, we come to the name and form of the external world (nama-rupa). Here, "external world" refers to each and every one of the individual things upon which we have mentally bestowed names and identity. It is the "not self" which manifests reflective of the "self" which arose in the previous stage of consciousness, now beginning to be categorized as separate objects.  In other words, as the infant develops a very slight idea of "me,"it also develops a sense of "not me" which is the objective world, whereupon separate names, identities and characteristics are soon allocated by the mind to each in the steps which follow.

5) The "six sense organs" (shadayatana) are the next of the Twelve Causes. In traditional Buddhist thought, the "six sense organs" means the six types of sense organ which receive external stimulation, and refers specifically to eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. In this list,"body" refers to the sense of touch, and "mind" refers to the center point of the other senses which integrates all components of the sensory system into a whole. It is through these senses that information on the external world flows into the brain to be further interpreted, whereby details are quickly added to the infant's early image of the world.

6) That brings us to contact (spasha), which means the "coming into contact" of the baby's six senses, with the immediately prior of the 'Twelve Causes, the "external world" which provides external stimulation to the senses. For example, the visual sense of the eye comes in physical "contact" with light from objects seen in the surrounding environment.

7) Which then brings us to sensation (vedana) as in "feeling sensations." We might also call it "perception." Just as "contact" is the passive form of one's coming into contact with the external stimulations, "sensation" is the active reception and taking in of external stimulations, the perception, the experiencing and actual tasting thereof in the contact. For example, what the eye sense contacts in the surrounding world is now perceived and experienced by the seeing person.

8) Leading to desire (trishna)... as we begin to desire, and become attached to, the objects we encounter through contact and sensation in the outside world. We perceive separate things, and such discrimination leads to likes and dislikes, and the situation of wanting what we desire (and desiring to be away from what we do not like). This leads then to the next step...

9) Grasping (upadana), our efforts to reach out for and 'get' what we want. The child wishes to acquire and make her own the things which are the objects of her "desire."

10) This brings us to possession (bhava), the next link in the chain, which is the state of a sense of possessing which arises from grasping. From reaching out, we get something, and we develop a mental consciousness of possession and ownership of the thing. But more than a simple sense of ownership of things as property, this leads also to a fundamental sense of "having" something, for example, of having our own body, our own thoughts and ideas, our having our very own life. Because such feelings of possession are fundamental to our sense of being, of having a life, it is sometimes called the "process of becoming." It, of course, leads to the following link...

11) Birth (jeti) ... This "birth" is life, our sense of being alive. It is our sense of our very lives, of our living born from the foundation of that possession. Thus, we feel that we were "born" into a life which we feel we possess.

12) And so we come to sickness, old age, and death (jana-marana). Now that we have a sense of having a "life of our own," we become afraid of losing "our life", getting old or sick and dying.

Actually, the Twelve-fold Chain does not draw to an end with sickness, old age and death, but rather all goes 'round and connects to the first link, to ignorance and delusion. For, when we can reverse much of this process of cutting the world into bits and pieces -- and recover some of the original unbroken wholeness, much as we do in Zazen -- that ignorance and delusion can be tasted as enlightenment and awareness, with a mature sense free of much of the greed, anger, fear, need and lack of understanding of the crying newborn.

This may all seem a bit complicated, so let me see if I can act it out in a simpler way, with today's Sit-A-Long video, which follows here. 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.