Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Impact of Truth

"The Impact of Truth" number 33 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

One of the confusing aspects of studying Zen is that all the characters have multiple names. The names are not their given names but the names are made up of geographical places. Here is a case in point Aitken refers to a certain tenth century teacher as Chanyue Guanxiu then points to a translation of some of his writings and there in the translation the translator refers to the author as Zengetsu with no reference at all to Chanyue Guanxiu. Go figure?

Yet none of this is of any importance.

Zengetsu , is famous for his powerful "Suggestions for Zen Students" and I'll quote it here in its entirety.

Suggestions for Zen Students
by Zengetsu
Translated by Nyogen Senzaki

   Living in the world, yet not clinging to or forming attachments for the dust of the world, this is the way of a true Zen student.
   In witnessing the good actions of another person, encourage yourself to follow their example. In hearing of the mistaken action of another person, advise yourself not to emulate it.
   Even though you are alone in a dark room, conduct yourself as though you are facing a noble guest.
   Express your feelings, but never become more expressive than your true nature.
   Poverty is your treasure. Do not exchange it for the easy life.
   A person may look like a fool and yet not be stupid. They may be conserving their wisdom and guarding it carefully.
   The virtues are the fruits of self-discipline, and do not drop from heaven of themselves like rain or hail.
   Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors find you before you make yourself known to them.
   A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems seldom displayed.
   Every day is a fortunate day for a true student. Time passes but they never lag behind.
   Neither glory nor shame can move their heart.
   Do not discuss right or wrong. Always censure yourself, never another.
   Some things, although right, were considered wrong for many generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave immediate appreciation.
   Why do you not leave everything to the great law of the universe and pass each day with a peaceful smile?

Aitken Roshi was moved to write about the line "Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors find you before you make yourself known to them." Nice one! Modesty and quietude are foundational. When expressed, life flows. Trouble ensues when immodest.

I'm moved by the line "Even though you are alone in a dark room, conduct yourself as though you are facing a noble guest." How do I conduct myself when alone, when I know nobody is watching? Sometimes not so upright. Plenty to explore here.

Which 'suggestion' moves you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Shorter Kannon Sutra

"The Shorter Kannon Sutra" number 32 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

This short sutra is chanted a couple of times a day at sesshin. Our tradition chants it in Sino-Japanese. Below are both this Sino-Japanese version and an English translation. At my last sesshin I noticed myself chanting the Sino-Japanese like everyone else, not want to be a rebel or standout, while I was reading to myself the English translation. I use the sutra book and don't yet chant from memory. This is a fun one to chant as the Ino (chant leader) sets the pace and it accelerates through the chanting. This one is chanted a bunch of times in a row.


Ten Verse Kannon Sutra for Prolonging Life

Veneration to the Buddha.
With Buddha I have origin;
With Buddha I have affinity;
Affinity with Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha;
Eternity, joy, self, and purity.
Mornings my thoughts are Kanzeon;
Evenings my thoughts are Kanzeon;
Thought after thought arise in the mind;
Thought after thought are not separate from mind.
These last two lines are worth further exploration. Thought after thought arise in the mind; Thought after thought are not separate from mind. Only chanting the Sino-Japanese version we miss this exploration.

Watch out! Don't be deceived!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seeing and Hearing

"Seeing and Hearing" number 31 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

"Who is it now that hears sounds?" Bassui's big question. Will's big question. Your big question.

Sounds are funny things. We carry them around with us were ever we go. We create them on the spot. We manufacture them out of thin air. How little attention we pay to them. Just like our visions, our seeings. We see all the time, even when sleeping. Maybe you've never considered it but you are also hearing in your sleep. Hear never stops. Seeing never stops.

Cheri Huber is like to say, paraphrasing, the tenor of your life is a reflection of the focus of your attention. In other words we can not steer our hearing or our seeing or our thoughts for that matter, except by challenging and developing the focus of our attention.

Pay attention! Wake up! Be here now! These are the battle cries of those challenging their status quo.

How hears? Yes. Settle into the question. The mind wants to figure it out. It seeks an opening, a conclusion, a resolution. It sees spaciousness where it wants ideas. It screams 'What is the answer?' To attention, the question is enough.

The question for us could just as easily be "Who is it now that sees sights?" Why is this not the emphasis? I notice when sitting on the cushion, the sounds change more than the sights. Sights don't seem to have a succinct rising and ending. Of course they do but they don't appear to suddenly appear and disappear like sounds do. Sights flow together too easily. Not sounds.

Look what I've done, again - talk, talk, talk.

The printer hums,
rain washes the tin roof.
My ears ring
and together we settle.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Meaning of Jukai

"The Meaning of Jukai" number 30 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Some synergy around jukai is happening. We were asked to explain the meaning of the precepts in our book discussion group yesterday, I turned six rakusu rings in the shop yesterday and today Aitken explores jukai.

To be human, to be humane, to observe the precepts, this is what it means to practice Zen. Our rakusu are meant to remind us of our grounding in the humane, our connection with all that is human, our commitment to live the precepts. To remind us of those who have practiced in the past and will practice in the future, that the practice of Zen extends through out all of space and time.

Fun stuff. Really, sounds serious but I hold all this lightly and it helps.

Taken after jukai at the 2007 Golden Wind Sesshin.
Jack Kenzan Duffy Roshi, Pat Hine, me, Sicco Rood

The two top ones are Walnut.
The two on the lower left are Lacewood
and the last one is Madrone Burl .

This set of rakusu ring I turned yesterday. The Walnut came from a urban tree harvest and has been air drying for about 10 years. The Lacewood comes from Australia and I can not attest to the harvest practices used. The Madrone Burl is from a off cut shared to me from Dale Larson, a Portland Oregon woodturner.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Get Serious

"Get Serious" number 29 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Time to get serious. Morning has arrived and a big day is ahead.

This morning me and my homies meet to listen to a dharma talk and discuss what ever comes up. This reading slash discussion group is made up of practitioners with different levels of seriousness and even some who are not practitioners. An eclectic group. Nice that there is a couple of husband and wife pairs who come. Wish I could confidence my Mary to go. Suggest and encourage is all we can do.

"Am I being serious enough?" is a constant question for me. This is the sister question to "Am I doing it right?". Oh well, move through the day and be what happens.

Current reading list
Keep Me In Your Heart A While - Dasho Port
Mind of Clover - Robert Aitken
Essential Zen - Tanahashi & Schneider
Zen Computer - Philip Toshio Sudo
Everyday Zen - Charlotte Joko Beck

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Lesser Vehicle

"The Lesser Vehicle" number 28 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Aitken Roshi looks at the heart of the greater vs. lesser vehicle dichotomy in Buddhism. He states it in a interesting way.
"Why do you seek to arouse the aspiration of your students by encouraging self-improvement when fundamentally there isn't any enduring self to begin with?"

Aitken is questioning why some teachers encourage self-improvement and by extension, why some students develop self-improvement.
This seems a bit odd for a teacher with so many psychoanalysts as

This all seems a bit rhetorical though maybe not. Our practice is a bit of a balancing act. Sure, just as Old Man Linchi would say, there is nothing to do, nowhere to go. In this very body, with this very mind, in this very moment, you are Buddha.

Yet, just to say that is evidence of delusion.

We have our practice, our sangha, all the teachings, the precepts... all for encouragement, companionship and just a bit of good old fashioned self-improvement. This is all skillfully designed to help examine our life, reality as it is. In essence to wake up from a dream. To be ignorant of our personal foibles is to wallow in our delusion. To notice this short comings is to wake up a little bit. If self-improvement fosters this, upaya!

Riding the knife edge between 'always am Buddha' and practice and precepts. Not holding to one or the other. This weblog full of talk, talk, talk. My personal foible plain and clear.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How'm I Doing?

"How'm I Doing?" number 27 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

This has been my question too, or more accurately 'Am I doing it right?'. Looking closely, the question is not a sign of insecurity or a desire to see our rank in the sangha. Instead it is a genuine wish not to be wasting our time. The whole point in having a teacher is for a relationship to develop where the teacher can guide the student.

Let me try a Western analogy. Here in the West of the West, cows roam vast fields foraging to fill their bellies. Their minders, the cowboys, relax and let the cows peacefully wander here and there all summer long. Then when the time comes, they round them up into corrals, load them into trucks, sent them off to ... here the analogy get a bit weird.

In this analogy the cowboy knows what will happen and has done this many times before and the cow is oblivious. During the summer the cow faces many choices and some of them could lead to danger. The cows still has to walk through the corral on her own.

As you can see I'm not good at these analogies. In modern life we look for the quick remedies, the expedient means, we look for shortcuts. This is the way the West has tried to assimilate Zen.

Is it working?

Here I sit, chewing my cud of Mu.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Heart Sutra

"The Heart Sutra" number 26 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Is there a litmus test for Zen teachers? Aitken Roshi spells one out for us. He says to ask your teacher the meaning of "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" and if she starts explaining, RUN! I'll have to give this one a try.

I wonder what Dogen would do? "WWDD" Funny!

Life balance. What do that mean? I have been neglecting my wood working life in favor of my Zen life. This is going to change.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Make It Clear

"Make It Clear" number 25 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Koans are not metaphors. They to be made clear through zazen.

Venus headed towards eclipse

Rare treat this morning. I watched Venus slip behind the crescent moon. I got this photo then while processing it for you, Venus got closer and closer till they touched and then both slipped behind the cloud. The cloud you see here in front of the moon got progressively thicker till it completely obscured the pair of celestial bodies. Rare indeed.

This life is a precious opportunity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Essential Emptiness

"Essential Emptiness" number 24 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Contemplate the essential nature of emptiness. I am noticing that there are several new-fangled ways to study Zen. Here I'm thinking of the approaches taken by Adyashanti, Cheri Huber and Gempo Merzel's Big Mind. I have participated in each of these to one degree or another and found lots of movement and connection in my own life. Each claim to be a derivative of Zen and each has a unique approach. Helpful in a modern age in a Western culture.

And yet.

Aitken Roshi points out that the old texts are a vast resources for tuning life. Specifically he lists a collection of sutras worth study. The collection is called Prajñā Pāramitā "Prefection of Wisdom". In this collection is the Heart Sutra and the Vimalakirti Sutra. This collection points to the essential emptiness of everything or Shunyatā. Aitken Roshi admonishes us that if you don't yet embody shunyatā, "you are not yet squared away." Nice!

Don't mind me, I have some squaring up to do!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Be Yourself

"Be Yourself" number 23 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I got inspired by a post by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame, to create the above presentation slide. I did this yesterday without knowing what today's miniature was about.

In today's miniature, Aitken Roshi reminds us that the Buddha gave up aesthetic practices which were very hard on his body and mind, then took up sitted meditation or as we Zennists say Zazen. We too can give up being hard on ourselves and apply our energies to Zazen. This is what Aitken Roshi means by following the example of the Buddha. Advice express also by Shunryu Suzuki.

Garr's slide below. Very fun stuff. I'll have to do more of this as it is great practice for the presentations I make at work. Now that I see the slides side by side, I can see now that I could improve my slide by increasing the font size a far bit. Also by decreasing the size of 'Shunryu Suzuki', Garr has emphasized what was said (the important stuff) and yet still gave attribution.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Faults and Weaknesses

"Faults and Weaknesses" number 22 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Faults, weaknesses are just the stuff of character. Anger, confusion, laziness, greed, craving, these are the just the terms we use to describe the faults of our character. Character like the Earths character. Like the Earths nature to expand and contract, Like the polar ice caps, like natures seasons, like the Earth's crust. Our character is our crust and it too expands and contracts along the fault lines of our character.

The Noble Eightfold Path
is sometimes divided into
three basic divisions (graphic via Wikipedia)

Division Eightfold Path factors
1. Right view
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

In this miniature, Aitken Roshi suggests a ninth path factor, that of "Right Perspective". Right Perspective of our character, of the Earth's character. Yes indeed.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yourself as an Instrument

"Yourself as an Instrument" number 21 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I never tire of the 'Old Man's' encouragement. Here he points out that you are "always establishing your practice." Viewed this way, we can come to hold our practice lightly like a musician holds her instrument. We can see that there is no end to development of practice as practice. We can see how in the beginning we have a beginning practice and after much practice we have a practiced practice which both includes and transcends beginning practice.

I have just returned from Branching Moon Sesshin with the Three Treasures Sangha of Seattle. Each day we chanted the "Five Remembrances", part of which goes, " actions are my only true belongings, they are the ground on which I stand...". One of the lessons learned during this retreat is that I am comforted by Zen's admonitions to be responsible, do the work, and guard against greed, hatred and delusion. My practice, lacking or complete, is up to me and nothing else. Don't you think this is both empowering and a bit scary?

I made many projects and plans during sesshin when I could have been mediating. This is my usual way. (Work to be done here and there!) The one I'll share here is my plan to do more woodworking and slant my woodworking practice towards my Zen practice. To that end, I'll start posting photos of available wooden rakusu rings I've made and figure out a way to get them in the hands of jukai students. Here is the one in my rakusu. It is Pacific Yew wood. I have lots of this wood and can make one for you. (Post comment here or click on my blogger profile for email address.) Other woods on request.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Long-Lost Home

"Long-Lost Home" number 20 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

"The live your human nature anticipates." This is what your Zazen can lead to.
We'll see!

This feed will go quiet for a while. In the morning I'm off to sesshin. Intend to pickup where I'm leaving off.
We'll see!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As You Are

"As You Are" number 19 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

Boy, do I have a lot to learn and unlearn! Yesterday, Aitken told us that there is nothing 'out there' that we can get that will enlighten us. I immediately jumped to 'well it is not adding something so it must be a sort of subtracting sort of process'. Well, today the Roshi jerks that carpet out from underneath my feet. Thank you Roshi.

Here I think a small quote from today's miniature will nail it.
"Over and over the master assures you, "You are all right to the very bottom." This is not an assurance that beneath all your differences and peculiarities you will finally reach something called "Buddhahood.""
Robert Aitken is so encouraging, this is what I've aways loved about him. Encouraging and smart. His love of the dharma, and the sangha is always right out front. He is such an inspiration.

Enough gushing over the retired Roshi! Onward to the day!

I'd like to point you to Robert Aitken's blog. Yesterdays post fortifies todays miniature for me in a surprising way. Check it out and see if you are surprised too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Perfection of Character

"The Perfection of Character" number 18 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I was in a meeting yesterday and for a couple of moments I had this odd experience. Everyone seemed to be like orbiting planets. Each with his (they were all men) own climate and trajectory. Each had their own agenda and were more or less listing to each other. As I listened to each speak, I noticed that the person speaking took on a quality of wonder, or maybe a better way of saying it was wonder happened. It is not that they became beautiful, no we are a homely looking group. Each person's human qualities shined just a bit. I had not noticed this before. After the meeting I realized I had been much less pessimistic and contrarian than usual.

Robert Aitken points towards the "perfection of character" as being a subtractive process as apposed to an additive process. There is nothing we can get from the outside that will perfect our character. As we let go of our attachments, like my attachment to my pessimism and contrarian nature, more of our already perfect character shines through. This is what is meant by "Gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment."

As promised yesterday, here is a scan of "To Forget the Self - An Illustrated Guide to Zen Meditation" by John Daishin Buksbazen. If anyone can tell me more about the cover photo, I'd be grateful.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Domain of Integrity

"The Domain of Integrity" number 17 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

In this miniature, Robert Aitken contrasts what he calls the domain of integrity with the complications of justification. Or more accurately, a deepening experience of practice and it's opposite.

I notice this polarity in me. When practice deepens there is a spaciousness of intimacy, a connection with wind chimes greeting the morning breeze. When this quality is interrupted by the business and busyness of life, enter the "complicated place of justification". I can see this in me. Over and over I pick at this mess. Over and over I enter the domain of integrity.

Last night I finished reading "To Forget the Self - An Illustrated Guide to Zen Meditation" by John Daishin Buksbazen. This is one of the superior beginner books. A friendly no nonsense introduction to sitting, sangha practice and the workings of a zendo. Where this book really excels is with the photographs by John Daido Loori. I find the cover photograph to be quite haunting. In a good way. This book was published in 1978. I looked for a picture of the book on the web but could not find one. Maybe tomorrow I'll post one.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It Is to Laugh

"It Is to Laugh" number 16 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

This miniature is about laughter. One small quote. "Students who can't laugh can't dream with the sangha."

Zen humor is not an oxymoron. Or is it. Aitken Roshi says no. My experience on retreat has not been gut busting at all. "Zen humor" only garners a mere 14200 Google hits. (For a sense of scale, Google hits for "Christian humor" = 56700, for "Muslim humor" = 2670 , a whopping 522000 for "Gardening humor".)

The number 1 link for "Zen Humor" is not so funny at all. Other than the old drawings of laughing monks, I couldn't muster even a chuckle. Here is one of the drawings.

Do you have any Zen humor?

I found these audio recording of Thich Nhat Hanh's current retreat. I haven't listened to them all but what I have listened to have been moving but not humorous. These seem to be being posted during the current retreat and more may become available. I've linked here to the current ones as of today that are in English. If you speak French or Vietnamese or can tolerate French to English translation then there are more audio recordings available here.

Dharma talks during Mindfulness Days in 2009 by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

(Each of these is about 30mins long and less than 15meg is size.)

Spring 2009 - Thursday, March 12th, 2009
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 1 of 2
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 2 of 2

Spring 2009 - Thursday, March 19th, 2009
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 1 of 2
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 2 of 2

Spring 2009 - Thursday, March 26th, 2009
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 1 of 2

TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 2 of 2

Spring 2009 - Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 1 of 2
TNH Dharma Talk in English - part 2 of 2

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Teaching yourself

"Teaching yourself" number 15 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I am not your teacher. You must do the work yourself. This is kind advice and Aitken Roshi delivers it with his usual panache. Zen is a 'go with what works' method. If something works then we say it is a skillful upaya or skillful means.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Do no kill

"Do not kill" number 14 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I take up the way of not killing. I take up the way of being compassionate, nurturing myself, other beings and other forms of life.

This is the first precept I took during jukai. Working through to get to this iteration of the first precept, I saw just how much killing I participate in. As Aitken Roshi points out in this miniature we do go to great lengths to reinforce our delusion that we are innocent of all the killing around us.

Taking up the way of not killing means each death is a little bit of life extinguished, my life, your life, just life. It brings on sadness and should encourage us to do better.

I live in a society that tends towards violence, I work in an industry that resists universal health care, I invest in such a way as to be ignorant of what killing I support. Even closer to home, I carry in me confusion, fear and anger.

How do we breath and keep the precepts? Plenty to work with here.

~C4Chaos pointed out this little video on his twitter feed. In it, our friend Adyashanti shows us how we can be confused by our ego-centric karmic conditioning. Really, the ego is an altered state of consciousness and "enlightenment is the *unaltered* state of consciousness." Good stuff.

"What Is Enlightenment?" Adyashanti

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ground your practice

"Ground your practice" number 12 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

I'm getting prepared to go on retreat (Branching Moon Sesshin) next week and I noticed this morning that my practice is a little too casual. By that I mean that my stories are leading me around. Planning, planning, planning. I really think there are three kinds of people in the world, those that tend to be forward lookers (planners, worriers) and those that tend to be backwards lookers (archivers, regretters).

The third kind are those that transcend and include both with a steady presence. An attention to the present moment that is so complete it literally hums. Practice with worry and regret, let them come and go with the breath. Watch them come and go. They have no permanence.

If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. ~Don Herold

For me planning is so seductive. Plenty of work to do here!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


"Light" number 11 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

This miniature points to being confirmed by the ten thousand things. There is a field of energy where the sound of the wind chime, the hum of the stove, the rustling of the sleepy dog all confirm us as alive. Alive together as this field. This is all so wonderful, cozy and Zen like.

Aitken Roshi doesn't leave it there. NO! We get pushed on, don't settle, look more.

A couple of days ago, we looked at the miniature "The Timeless" where we were admonished to "dismiss all concepts" and "dismiss all thoughts". Yet in this miniature we are asked to investigate "What are "things" that give light?" and at the end of a long list of classical, warm, cozy, Zen like "things", Aitken Roshi throws in "your thought"!

Let's see if together we can flush this out a little. In the lingo of Zen, the ten thousand things means everything. Your thought and my thought are obviously included in everything. Everything is this field of energy that we point to when we say the word life or light. Ergo, thought is this field of energy or light that Aitken Roshi asks about.

Is this investigation of thought a skillful means or 'upaya' for "dismiss all concepts" and "dismiss all thoughts" or is it just another concept/thought? Seeing what concept and thought are diminishes there ability to grab us and keep us tied down.

This is all too much talk about reality and not enough plain, vanilla, reality experienced. Time to start moving with the ten thousand things.