Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's the Rush?

For this scene, the setting was the streets of San Francisco. The light was red, so I was stopped waiting for my turn to go. In front of me walked a little old lady with a cane. She was very slowly making her way from my right to my left. As she took her time to cross the street, I was struck by how absolutely beautiful the weather was. In fact, many of us were driving with our windows down.

She made it past us and was about five-eighths of the way across when someone come from my right to make a left turn. Of course, the lady was directly in her way. The driver, who was trying to make the left turn, started yelling. Something to the effect of "getting the *&$#*@# out of the way!"

I don't know if she was yelling at the lady or if she was the type who generally yells while driving. In any case, her face was clearly the face of unhappiness. I didn't see the old lady react in any way, she just kept going. Who knows, maybe this wasn't the first time she has been the target of unhappy drivers.

This brings to mind one of my favorite Zen sayings:
What's the rush? We are all going to the same place anyway.
I am not going to paint any legs on this snake and try to explain it. I will say a couple of things about it, though.
  • Please sit with this. Keep this as mantra or a Koan until you fully get it. Until it permeates every bit of your being - not just some superfluous intellectual understanding
  • Do not judge this driver as good or bad. This is our culture, our society. I can promise you, if you continue to practice Zen, if you bring awareness into your driving, if you attain this teaching: When a little old lady is trying to cross the street in front of you, you will view her with compassion. That is something to strive for.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Morning Intention

Each morning we have an opportunity to set our intention for the day. This can be helpful in bringing awareness into our daily activities. It can also help to focus on how we can live each day in the tradition of Bodhidharma instead of living the life of suffering that results from simply focusing on satisfying our own wants and desires. How do we do this?

We could start by looking at our lives. What are we? Is it possible we are an expression of everything? All that has come and gone - we are an incarnation of this moment. We could add some sort of gratitude for our existence.

Are we weighed down by the events and situations in our lives? After all, life is filled with suffering. As Zen students, we work to end the suffering in our lives. Maybe we can help others, too. But, first things first. We could add something about relaxing and not taking things too seriously. We might also want to add something about seeing the humor in all situations.

If we are very self focused, we may want to add something about thinking of others and how we can help.

What about delusion? Supposedly the Buddha came to help us to cut through the delusion that keeps us from seeing our true nature. To this end, we could add something about about seeing things as they are - not as they seem or as we wish they were.

As Zen students we may need to add something regarding practice. Is our practice meditation or some type of yoga? Perhaps it is keeping our mantra or trying to keep clear mind whenever possible.

As we pay attention to our lives, our actions, our feelings, we may discover things that we find objectionable. They may cause us or others suffering. Are we selfish, mean, rude, thoughtless. Are we oblivious to the way others interpret our actions? Do we lie or gossip? Do we steal, or worse? This could be addressed as an intention to think of others and to be respectful of them. It could also result in something like a vow to bring [rigorous] honesty into my speech and our actions.

As we become aware of things that make us and others feel badly, we can isolate them and come up with specific actions to address them. If we can't isolate the behaviors, we can generalize with the intent of paying attention to see the specific actions that cause us problems.

We can add specifics to the list, too. Suppose we have a difficult time being nice to someone. Add a specific line to see him or her as a Buddha and treat him or her accordingly. Parts of this list will probably be quite dynamic as it will continue to change along with us as we work to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha.

Ultimately, we have this amazing moment of life. We celebrate the moment, we vow to continue to practice, we are thankful for what we have, and we look for what we can improve upon.

Based on this discussion, here is a possible meditation we might wish to come up with. It is somewhat detailed and might need some customization. Please come up with what works for you.
Morning Intention

I am humbled by another day of life
 I vow to see
   the joy in everything
   the truth in everything
Delusion is everywhere
  I vow to see things as they are
I am grateful for the people I meet
  I vow to see Buddha-nature in everyone
  I vow to bring awareness into all of my relationships
Suffering is everywhere
  I vow to live an attitude of helpfulness

Life is impermanent
  I vow to live accordingly
   to see the suffering brought about by attachments and clinging
  I vow to find the freedom
   present in the here and now

The way out of suffering is clear
  yet requires diligence
   I vow
    To cut through delusion
    To stop judging
     To not make good and bad
      life and death
      self and other
    To keep my practice
     be it
      Mantra practice
      Koan practice
      Mala practice
      Meditation practice
      Bhakti Yoga practice
      Mindfulness of Breathing practice
      Hatha Yoga practice
      Chanting practice
      Sutra practice
      Any other practice
      Not attaching to practice
      As possible at all times through out the day

I am grateful for this moment
   For this day
  I vow to live the enlightened life
   [according to the eight-fold path*]

What am I?

[* As necessary, add things that you are striving for. E.g. complaining less, not lying, not gossiping, any part of the Eight-fold path, such as right intention, right view, right livelihood, etc. that you wish to be mindful of.]
What is on your list? Even if you can only spend 1 minute reading or reciting your list each morning, it is time well spent.

As an afterword, this brings to mind a Koan.
Ruìyán Calls Master

Master Ruìyán Shīyan used to call to himself every day, “Master.” and would answer, “Yes?” “You must keep clear.” “Yes!” “Never be deceived by others, any day, any time.” “Yes!” “Yes!”

The question is: Ruìyán Shīyan used to call himself, and answer himself, two minds. Which one is the correct Master?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blissing Out

Events come and go with amazing speed. Life is kind of like a train that just keeps rolling. Sometimes it seems to go fast, sometimes slow, sometimes it slows down to the point where we seem stuck. Regardless of how it feels, time/life/the train just keeps going. Often, the scenery is beautiful, breathtaking even. Other times it is just blah or even ugly. And, of course, the same awesome scenery can fade into the background after we are used to it.

Using this metaphor, events are like passing through states, or cities, or even by signposts. Looking forward to a movie, then seeing it, then looking forward to the next movie would probably be like passing signposts. A city or a state could be like high school or college. The metaphor keeps on a rollin'.

As Zen students, we keep returning to the here and now. Events come and go, we watch them come and go without attachment. If we find ourselves getting attached, we can even use a mental exercise like trying to live the idea of "don't make where you want to be more important than where you are."

With Zen and the idea of events, what is likely to come up? The e-word. Is enlightenment really an event? Is it something that changes everything? A favorite quote is "If enlightenment isn't in this moment, where is it?" Can you find it?

Coming back to the context of this post. Here is a situation to consider. Suppose you have a moment where things become clear. Maybe everything in the Heart Sutra makes complete sense. Please do not think I am describing enlightenment - enlightenment is beyond words. Yet people before us tried to come up with teachings to help us and that is why I am referencing the Heart Sutra. Or maybe sunyata makes complete sense (as discussed in a previous post). Now lets look at a situation. Suppose a moment like this occurs and life makes complete sense, yet the person you are having dinner with is very upset about something.

Do you laugh and tell your friend to relax, that they have a perception problem? Do you tell them how great it is that you have seen the truth? Or do you put down this experience, return to the present moment and try to help your suffering friend the best you can?

Bodhidharma was a great monk who brought Buddhism to the east. A great teacher who probably could have lived his life as a blissed-out hermit, instead decided to share what he had found. Hence we say that Bodhidharma's family motto was "How can I help?"

No attainment, with nothing to attain. We return to this present moment.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Be One With the Blog Post

In the movie Caddyshack, there is a scene between Chevy Chase and one of the caddies. Chevy is hitting all these amazing golf shots. He tries to help the caddy to hit a shot while blindfolded. At one point he says "Just be the ball..." Where does this idea come from?

One of the most well known teachings of Buddhism is called The Heart Sutra. If you search the web you are sure to find a copy of it. Many authors of books on Zen give their take on this sutra. I spend some time on it as well in Mind Makes Everything. The Sutra starts with the line:
"Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the prajna paramita perceived that all five skandas are empty and was saved from all suffering and distress."
Wow! That is quite an opening line. For this post we are going to put it all down except for the word "empty".

Emptiness is the word translators have used to bring the Sanskrit word Sunyata into English. What is this emptiness? It can be read as empty of an independent self. In fact, our delusion is that we see ourselves as separate from everything else.

Just look at the sense organs. When we see something, it is the photons interacting with our optics that we see. When we hear something, it is the sound waves actually interacting with our inner ear that we hear. So are you and the source of the sound waves the same or different? Separate or distinct? This goes for everything. I am always touching something, breathing something, seeing something, etc. The same is true for the thoughts. They are always about something.

We can look at if from another direction. This morning I had breakfast with friends at a restaurant. I drove a car that was designed and manufactured by a huge team of people. I ate ingredients prepared by a chef long after they were planted by a farmer who ultimately harvested them. They were then shipped to a warehouse and off to their final destination. There is simply no way that I am separate from all of this. I can't even have breakfast without the help of a great many people.

Let's investigate what we eat, too. The food is grown from the planet. Or if we are having some meat with the meal, we are eating creatures that ate the vegetation as well. Again, how are we separate? If we make the distinction between ourselves and the food, we are back to the delusion!

This is then how we practice. There is this idea of mindfulness. It is basically paying attention. As an example, when we are walking we simply walk. We pay attention as we walk. However, if we are thinking "I am walking", we have just turned the act of walking into a concept. We return to simply walking.

So we practice not making self and other. Or to return to the situation at the start of this post: When golfing, just golf.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Practice in Action

In some of these posts and in the book, I try to give examples of meditation practice in action. How do we practice in real life?

We start by paying attention to this present moment. We practice not attaching to our thoughts. Suppose the mind is very active. Maybe the thoughts are about past grievances, things that didn't go our way. Maybe we are unhappy with our loved ones, or our money situation, or politics. Could be things we wish we said or did, or didn't say or do. Maybe there are some thoughts about enlightenment and how great it will be when we finally get it. The list really is endless.

At first, we may try to think our way out of the thoughts. Maybe we try whatever coping mechanisms we have developed over the years. E.g. This too shall pass. In an hour or two I will have forgotten all about this. Time goes so fast, will these thoughts even matter? I made my own choices. Etc. Some of these thoughts may be even be helpful, after all, we have all developed our own ways of cheering ourselves up.

As Zen students, we might want to take different route. We put down those helpful thoughts as well. Enlightenment is not what you think. After all, even seemingly helpful thoughts are still from the conditioned mind. So what do we do?

We return to the breath, we return to the present moment. What are you doing in this moment? We put down all judgments, like, dislike, good, bad. Put down all opposites, hot, cold, life, death, old, young. We simply pay attention to what is. If we have a hard time doing that, we can continue to return to the breath. If we have a mantra, we can return to that. Maybe we use a string of beads to help keep our focus on the here and now. Whatever it is, we return to this moment.

After all, it is the only moment there is.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Living the Precepts Isn't Always Easy

An earlier post was about the creation of a precept, sort of a rule to live by, to give guidelines on how to behave on the bike path. Here is an example of that precept in action.

Today, I decided to head over to the bike path at White Rock Lake to see if I could blade a few miles before the predicted rain came. To set the scene, it was kind of a rough morning. I woke up feeling grouchy, not sure why. The drive over to White Rock was not the smoothest. It seemed like I had to wait at every light. It was almost like The Truman Show, every car that could be in my way, was. Nobody was in a hurry. Then, once I finally got there, the parking lot was full. It was that kind of morning.

Finally, I made it to the bike path and started passing people. I did not feel like saying "On your left" or waiting for people to move so I could pass without making them or others uncomfortable. Today it just felt like everyone was in MY way. Ugh.

Fortunately, I have the bike path precept. This precept, and the behaviors it encompasses, helps to guide my actions on days like today when I'm not feeling exactly spiritual. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how I feel. Just because I am grouchy doesn't mean I get a free pass to annoy others.

Whether I felt like it or not, I worked to follow the precept. Trying to have fun without imposing my grouchiness on others. It wasn't long before I was back in the flow, focusing on the breath and simply rollerblading.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Clear Button

How long does it take to clear the mind? As talked about in previous posts, meditation really is a practice. We have these minds that are constantly active. Getting our minds to settle down doesn't just happen, it requires work. Meditation is a very effective way to see how the mind functions and to become free of the attachment to our thoughts as well as the web of Karma.

Here is something to try. Pay attention to your mind. How long does it take from the time you physically leave work to mentally leave work? Ask this question for other areas in your life as well. What keeps you from being where you are?

Meditation is a great place to find answers to these questions. Much of the day we can't practice fully. At work, we need to focus on our jobs. When with the family, we need to focus on our loved ones. When we get some time to meditate, it becomes evident what is on the mind, what needs to be processed.

Throughout the years, I have noticed the amount of time it takes to process the events of the day has really decreased. Or course, there are still times when it takes the whole meditation session, or more, before the mind clears up. In any case, don't judge any of this as good or bad. It is practice. The mind never stops throwing thoughts at us. Fortunately, as the Buddha found: With practice we find relief.

Living life in the moment requires this sort of practice. Letting go of the past and future to live in the present moment doesn't seem to come naturally. One of the tools that may be helpful is the idea of "So, this is how it is." No matter what the situation, we see how it is. It is like hitting the clear button to drop whatever was going on in the mind so that we can be present right now.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Application of Truth

In our lineage of Zen, we practice with Koans. A great piece on Koan study from Zen Master Wanji is here. Koan practice is designed to help us practice what the Buddha learned. Here is an example.

People come to Zen for many reasons. One of the reasons I remember had to do with a story that had a line something like: "When a Zen master drinks tea, he just drinks tea." I thought that was great because I was not living in the moment at all. My thinking was always going, always in control. This is why meditation is practice. People do not simply become aware, or live in the present moment just because they decide they want to! They must practice. Back to the story, and it does relate.

When a great Zen Master of the past (Mazu) was asked "What is Buddha?" He replied, "The cypress tree in the garden."

A little back story might help. "What is Buddha?" is a question that is pointing to the truth of the moment. At the moment Mazu was asked "what is truth?" He answered with some truth in that situation. If you were to ask me "What is Buddha?" and I replied "The cypress tree in the garden." Would you accept my answer?

Please excuse the crudeness of the following examples. People throughout the years have written various things like "Buddha is a stinky fart" or "Buddha is a dirty toilet." What does that mean? I hope you can see the problem. We are trying to practice being present in this very moment. Without context, are these sayings helpful?

So I ask you right now: What is Buddha? Here is a Koan that helps to drive the point home:
Dòngshān’s & Yúnmén’s ― What is Buddha?
Zen Master Dòngshān was asked by a monk, "What is Buddha?" He answered, "Three pounds of flax."
Sometime earlier Zen Master Yúnmén had been asked by another monk, "What is Buddha?" He had replied, "Dry shit on a stick."

The questions are:
  1. What is Buddha?
  2. What does three pounds of flax mean?
  3. What does dry shit on a stick mean?
  4. Three pounds of flax, Dry shit on a stick, Which one is the best answer?

Feel free to send your answers to mindmakeseverything@gmail.com and I will be delighted to read them and comment if you so desire. There is more commentary on the koan in the book, and on the internet if you feel you want to read more. If you want to try Koan study with a teacher, please contact me at the above email address or contact the school at www.beforethought.com/FMO and Zen Master Wonji will help you to find a teacher.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's So Great About Silence?

It often seems there is this idea that meditation is something special. Setting up some candles, lighting some incense, putting on a robe and sitting in a dimly lit room sounds pretty warm and inviting. Maybe the room is at the perfect temperature and there is no sound to disturb us. How very peaceful.

Of course, once we are there, sitting in that nice place, the reality is different than the thought, or concept. When new to meditation, sitting thirty or forty minutes at a time can be tough. There is physical discomfort, like aching knees, backs, and necks. Sometimes the legs get numb - be careful when you stand up!

There is also a flurry of mental activity. Some thoughts that come are troubling. Some are enthralling. Sometimes we are anxious, and the thoughts are telling us what a waste of time this meditation is. There is a lot of discussion on meditation in the book.

To the point of the post - what is so great about silence? Zen is about waking up to this present moment and cutting through delusion. How do we do that? We practice. Mediation is the practice of being aware in this very moment. In our daily lives there is always a lot going on. People, relationships, television, radio, advertisements, traffic, so many distractions. When we take time to create a time and place where we can practice awareness with the least number of distractions, we are paying attention to this very moment. We are practicing for when we return to the turmoil that is life.

Here is a simple exercise. Pick something that is annoying to you. Maybe it is traffic. Suppose you find yourself reacting to traffic conditions as though you have no choice. It could be calling people names, in your mind or out loud. Maybe you even honk the horn or make gestures. Try turning the radio off and not using the phone to talk or text while you drive. Simply pay attention. Watch the thoughts as they come and go. What the thoughts of annoyance or even anger come and go. Awareness of them is often enough to stop buying into them. When distracted, the thoughts are almost unnoticed as we simply act on them. It is though we have no choice. Until we realize that we have a choice.

Does this mean I can't listen to the radio when I drive? No. It simply means pay attention. Practice. If you practice with silence, you will get better at practice. Then you bring the practice into the world of distraction. Then driving is driving. Driving while listening to music is just driving while listening to music.

Here is a little poem on meditation and settling down the mind.
Very active
 The mind
  Thoughts are
   Fast and Furious


Some thoughts go further
 Getting into details of
   other choices
   other possibilities

Breathe in
 Return to this moment
Breathe out
 Clear mind

Breathe in
 What am I?
Breathe out
 Don't know

Incense fills the room
Candles flicker
A car drives by
Fingers move the mala
  one bead at a time
 On the out breath

Meditating on a Saturday Morning