Friday, December 31, 2010

Shobogenzo Ch14 (I) Sansuigyō - The Mountains are Teaching Us

Mountains and water —
Words of eternal buddhas
Sung loud into life.

Walking, we keep time
Flowing with mountains, through sky
And, always, the ground.

Mount Sumeru:

Sansuigyō means the Sutra of Mountains and Water.

The mountains and water of the present are the realization of the words of eternal buddhas.

The mountains and the water are sutras because they have something to teach us. The sutras can be regarded as living words that have something to teach — truth to realize and celebrate, and the mountains and water are living examples of those words.

Beginning with the mountains:

Master Kai of Taiyōzan preaches to the assembly, “The Blue Mountains are constantly walking. The Stone Woman bears children by night.” Mountains lack none of the virtues with which mountains should be equipped. For this reason, they are constantly abiding in stillness and constantly walking. We must painstakingly learn in practice the virtue of this walking. The walking of mountains must be like the walking of human beings; therefore, even though it does not look like human walking, do not doubt the walking of the mountains. is because [the mountains] are walking that they are “constant.” ...If we doubt the walking of the mountains, we also do not yet know our own walking. It is not that we do not have our own walking, but we do not yet know and have not yet clarified our own walking.

Forward walking never ceases, and backward walking never ceases. The moment of forward walking does not oppose backward walking, and the moment of backward walking does not oppose forward walking. We call this virtue “the mountains flowing,” and we call it “the flowing mountains.”

The mountains are walking because they are moving forward or expressing themselves through time. Because (I assume) the mountains are not tangled up in thought, living in past and future like we humans often are, the mountains are living their existence in the immediate moment of Now. Both because they are always in the immediate moment of Now and because another way to think about Now is the entirety of the mountains existence, the mountains are constant. (This all is understood on the basis of Chapter 11, Uji.) The mountains lack none of the virtues because, for example, in addition to their walking and constancy, they are experiencing and expressing their true self.

All this is magical and poetic. I can sense and appreciate the virtues of the mountains. But guess what? For all of these virtues, the magic and the poetry, the mountains are stuck being plain old mountains and they are stuck in the same place no matter how much walking they do. What this means, is that no matter how 'enlightened' we are or become, no matter how much and/or how hard we practice, there is no way we can escape being who we are. No way we can escape the conditions and circumstances we find ourselves in. This is at least part of what I think Dogen was trying to say in the next quote:

Though there may be eyes in which grass, trees, soil, stones, fences, and walls are realized, that moment is beyond doubt and beyond disturbance; it is not “total realization.” Though moments are realized in which [the mountains] are seen to be adorned with the seven treasures, [those moments] are not “the real refuge.” Though visions are realized [of the mountains] as the area in which buddhas practice the truth, [those visions] are not necessarily something to be loved. Though some have got the brains to realize a vision [of the mountains] as the unthinkable merit of the buddhas, reality is not merely this. Every “realization” is an instance of object and subject.

If the above sounds harsh, then it's probably because, like me, you had some remnant of a romanticized notion of what practicing 'Buddhism' was going to accomplish. But there's more, in emptiness we experience oneness with all things, and this is something we can bring with us into our daily lives— an existence filled with dualities:

“The Blue Mountains are constantly walking. The Stone Woman bears children by night.”

The act of walking exists, the act of flowing exists, and moments in which mountains give birth to mountain children exist.

Every “realization” is an instance of object and subject.

The mountains need us to be fully realized as mountains. And I can apply this to all of the ten thousand things, not only the mountains.

It works the other way around too, I need the mountains, the ten thousand things and you — to accept them and you for what or who you are to be fully realized, to fully realize myself, what I can give, and to experience the richest life I can...

Gratitude to you and all the ten thousand things for being here, for being there, for being whatever and wherever you are.

Now I have the incredible luxury of being able to sit while an arbitrarily defined invisible line of time passes over me moving me from the year 2010 into 2011... Just because what folks call it changes, doesn't mean it ends, but it does change— becoming more beautiful than any single one of us alone could realize or imagine.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections: Weird Plasma Field Dream, Gridlines & the Ten Thousand Things

I had this ‘dream’ yesterday morning I thought it would be fun to share. It’s a bit wacky though, kind of in the science fiction vein, and it wasn’t actually a dream because it occurred as I was waking up. 
It seemed like I was waking up to a colorful plasma field. It was a bit like the molecules of air had slowed down and condensed and I had expanded to match (in wavelengths or impedance or something) because I wasn’t solid either, I was part of the plasma. Anyhow, if I moved even a little I could see and feel ripples and swirls and even backwashes of energy and changing colors rolling through the plasma in several directions as far as I could see and sense it. I hung out there for awhile between sleep and wakefulness because it was a warm and cozy space to be in, pleasant -- as long as I didn’t move much. (I didn’t want to move much because it actually made me dizzy or sea-sick.)
The reason I wanted to share this is because, as I became more conscious, it reminded me of this drawing Okumura had on his white board much of the time he was lecturing on the Genjo-Koan. It was of a circle with gridlines, a bit like one of those little screens you would put in a faucet. Each node or crossing point was a person and the gridlines were cause and effect. It seemed like Okumura’s grid could be a simpler version of the plasma field I was experiencing. 
Another thing that Okumura said that left an impression and relates to the above imagery is that delusion is not like a sickness that can be fixed by working only on ourselves (like, for example, cutting out cancer), we also have to work on our relation with all beings -- the way we interact with the whole grid (or plasma field), which means practicing the noble eightfold path. Its one of the first Buddhisty things I learned about, but I seem to have a long way to go in practicing it well...
Both Dogen and Muho-san’s comments on practice-enlightenment seem to offer some good advice though. Paraphrasing Muho-san: ..its what we can discover in each moment -- Do we project ourselves (mainly our preconceived notions of how things should be) onto the ten thousand things, or do we let the ten thousand things approach and interact with us, discover what they can awaken in us? The first approach results in delusions about the permanence of things, boredom, and suffering as a function of loss, whereas the latter allows life to be richer, because the things we allow ourselves the freedom to perceive and the ‘self’ that we experience is constantly fresh and new. It's pretty amazing what we can discover about ourselves.

Well, whatever. The dream sure was cool. That's about all I can think of to share at the moment. So time to wrap this post up.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reflections: Happy Bodhi Day Everybody!

Bodhi Day or, in Japan, Rohatsu (meaning: the 8th day of the 12th month) is the day Buddhists celebrate Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, his great realization of truth.

Enlightenment isn’t such a big deal as I understand it. There are a lot of words out there that suggest this. For example, the quote most Buddhists have heard ‘Before enlightenment, the laundry; after enlightenment, the laundry.’ Or a better version I heard from Okumura, ‘Before enlightenment, the noble eight-fold path; after enlightenment, the noble eight-fold path.’

To honor the day, I did a little sitting until the sun came up… not the week long event celebrated at many places, although I did attend a short sesshin over the weekend.

I did have a bit of a realization I thought I should share, given that I vow to free all beings and all that…  And the realization is

Most suffering arises not because of impermanence, but because we view most things and circumstances as if they're permanent when, in actuality, they're not. 

Isn't this one of the things we realize from engaging in an outwardly simple seeming, actually infinitely complex, activity like zazen? Maybe due to zazen we learn to pay more attention.

Life would be pretty insufferable without change.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 12 (II) - Kesa-kudoku (Merits of the Kasaya)

(This is a longer post... You don't have to read the haiku if you don't have time.)

Five fundamental merits and ten excellent merits of the kesa are cited in Kesa-kudoku. Of the ten excellent merits Dogen says:

These ten excellent merits broadly include all the merits of the Buddha’s truth. We should explicitly learn in practice the merits present in [these] long lines and [short] verses of praise, not just glancing over them and quickly putting them aside, but studying them phrase by phrase over a long period. These excellent merits are just the merits of the kaṣāya itself: they are not the effect of a practitioner’s fierce [pursuit of] merit through perpetual training.

In Chapter 13 (Den-e), which seems to be a first draft of Kesa-kudoku, Dogen includes some justification for these merits (which admittedly seem pretty extraordinary) but then drops them out (or off) of his final draft. Although it's speculation on my part, I don't think he does this because we should take these claims on faith or for-granted, but rather, because we should continue to question them, study them, and keep them close to heart — every day.

Even not having taken vows yet, this practice has already caused me to experience a feeling akin to 'rebirth', and this is something very different than blind faith. To me, the kesa represents a promise we make to ourselves and renew daily. Otherwise why would Dogen have cried when witnessing the kesa ritual upon his arrival in China? It's through honoring and revering the kesa we are likely to realize its gifts — whether we actually need to do so or not. Moreover, recognizing that these are merits of the kesa, and not our own merits, reminds to be humble and grounded in our practice.

As an initial effort to study these merits phrase by phrase I've gone ahead and written haiku for each of them... (Quoted passages are italicized.)

Five Fundamental Merits:
(A vow made by the bodhisattva mahasattva Great Compassion to the Buddha Jewel Treasury):

A single moment
Honoring the Buddha robe
Grants affirmation.

‘World-honored One! If, after I became a buddha, there were living beings who had entered my Dharma and left home and who wore the kasaya—even if they were bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas who had accumulated heavy sins by violating the grave prohibitions, by enacting false views, or by contemptuously disbelieving the Three Treasures—and in a single moment of consciousness the reverence arose in their mind to honor the samghati robe and the reverence arose in their mind to honor the World-honored One (the Buddha) or the Dharma and the Sangha but, World-honored One, even one among those living beings could not, in [one of] the three vehicles, receive affirmation, and as a result regressed or went astray, it would mean that I had deceived the buddhas who are present now in the worlds of the ten directions and in countless, infinite asamkheya kalpas, and I surely should not realize anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

One look at the cloth
Prevents regression of one
Within the yanas.

‘World-honored One! After I have become a buddha, if gods, dragons, and demons, and human and nonhuman beings are able to wear this kasaya, to venerate, to serve offerings to, to honor, and to praise it, as long as those people are able to see a small part of this kasaya, they will be able not to regress while within the three vehicles.

Fragment of the cloth –
Freedom from all affliction
To those who claim it.

‘When living beings are afflicted by hunger or thirst—whether they are wretched demons, miserable people, or living beings in the state of hungry ghosts—if they are able to obtain a piece of the kasaya even as small as four inches, they will at once be able to eat and drink their fill and to accomplish quickly whatever they wish.

Virtue of the robe –
Soft flexible mind for those
Remembering it.

‘When living beings offend each other, causing ill will to arise and a fight to develop—or when gods, dragons, demons, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, kumbhandas, pisacas, and human and nonhuman beings are fighting each other—if they remember this kasaya, in due course, by virtue of the power of the kasaya, they will beget the mind of compassion, soft and flexible mind, mind free of enmity, serene mind, the regulated mind of virtue, and they will get back the state of purity.

Survive all conflict –
Retain and honor the robe
Emerge the victor.

‘When people are in an armed conflict, a civil lawsuit, or a criminal action, if they retain a small piece of this kasaya as they go among these combatants, and if in order to protect themselves they serve offerings to, venerate, and honor it, these [other] people will be unable to injure, to disturb, or to make fools of them; they will always be able to beat their opponents and to come through all such difficulties.

The Ten Excellent Merits:
(from Vol. 5 of Daijōhonshōshinchikankyō)

The World-honored One says to the bhikṣu Wisdom-Brightness:
“The Dharma robe has ten excellent merits:

1) It is able to cover the body, to keep away shame, to fill us with humility and to [make us] practice good ways.

Robe of the Dharma —
Abundant happiness blooms
From humility.

2) It keeps away cold and heat, as well as mosquitoes, harmful creatures, and poisonous insects, [so that we can] practice the truth in tranquility.

The robe guards against
Distracting bugs and weather
To move us towards truth.

3) It manifests the form of a śramaṇa who has left family life, giving delight to those who behold it and keeping away wrong states of mind.

Showing all respect,
Renouncing secular ways,
Staying untainted.

4) The kaṣāya is just the manifestation to human beings and gods of a precious flag; those who honor and venerate it are able to be born in a Brahmā heaven.

To honor the robe
And all it represents brings
Highest happiness.

5) When we wear the kaṣāya, we feel that it is a precious flag; it is able to extinguish sins and to produce all kinds of happiness and virtue.

When wearing the robe,
The Buddha's light shines brightly —
Shines like a tower.

6) A fundamental rule in making the kaṣāya is to dye it a secondary color, so that it keeps us free from thoughts of the five desires, and does not give rise to lust.

Yield of real practice —
Freedom from afflicting thoughts,
Sincere in our hearts.

7) The kaṣāya is the pure robe of the Buddha; for it eradicates afflictions forever and makes them into a fertile field.

The robe seeds bodhi —
Wearing it, our deeds are hands
Doing Buddha work.

8) When the kaṣāya covers the body, it extinguishes the karma of sins and promotes at every moment the practice of the ten kinds of good.

The robe takes the shape —
Naturally manifesting
A monk's right practice.

9) The kaṣāya is like a fertile field; for it is well able to nurture the bodhisattva way.

The robe seeds bodhi —
Our selves the field yielding up
Joy to all beings.

10) The kaṣāya is also like a suit of armor; for it makes the poisoned arrows of affliction unable to do harm.

Armor of the truth —
The arrows of affliction
Pass through without harm.

Wisdom-Brightness! Remember, through these causes, when the buddhas of the three times, and pratyekabuddhas and śrāvakas, and pure monks and nuns, cover the body in the kaṣāya, [these] three groups of sacred beings sit as one on the precious platform of liberation, take up the sword of wisdom to destroy the demons of affliction, and enter together into the many spheres of nirvana which have one taste.”

Joining together —
Our selves growing rich in truth's
Abundant harvest.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reflections: Gratitude Day Again Already?

In case you haven't noticed its Thanksgiving here in the US.. In fact, if you haven't noticed you probably won't be reading this little blog post either.

I'm gearing myself up for a big Turkey dinner with family. Yeah there's been a small change-over in persons attending, and changes in the lives of those attending, but for the most part it won't be that different from the way it was last year or the year before that. (Actually, I'm smiling because last year I wasn't even in town for this as I recall now, but still, you get the picture) Today I sat a bit longer than usual building that inner monastery...  I'm about to collect a knitting project to take along...

There's a lot of folks out there talking about gratitude, noting all the wonders of our lives we can be grateful for, and the importance of saying thanks to those folks who've helped us along the way. There's so much I'd like to say on days like this. But the weird thing is, I really feel like this most every day, though I often don't know what to do with that gratitude.

So, instead of emphasizing the gratitude and thank you part of Thanks-giving, I'm going to try to emphasize the giving part of Thanks-giving. And give in the small ways that present themselves to me today.

May your day be filled with peace and ease along the way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 12 (I) - Kesa-kudoku - Summary

At that time, there arose in me a feeling I had never before experienced. [My] body was overwhelmed with joy. The tears of gratitude secretly fell and soaked my lapels.”

Dogen had practiced for several years in Japan, but the ritual of placing the kasaya, the Sanskrit term for robe or kesa, on top of one’s head and reciting the robe verse was something he only witnessed once in China. The above quote is his description of how seeing this ritual practiced made him feelWhy did this ritual move Dogen so deeply? One way to answer that is to ask the question: What is the kesa (or in Sanskrit, kasaya)?

In short the kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission, a robe worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha, protection and transformation for the person wearing it, and finally, the Buddha-Dharma itself. Quotes from Kesa-kudoku that suggest this include:

1) The kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission:

When Sakyamuni Tathagata passed to Mahakasyapa the right Dharma-eye treasury and the supreme state of bodhi, he transmitted them together with a kasaya...

The ancestral masters who have authentically transmitted the right Dharma-eye treasury have, without exception, authentically transmitted the kasaya.

Such rags and [cloth] obtained from a pure livelihood are not silk, not cotton, and not gold, silver, pearls, patterned cloth, sheer silk, brocade, embroidery, and so on; they are just rags. These rags are neither for a humble robe nor for a beautiful garment; they are just for the Buddha-Dharma. To wear them is just to have received the authentic transmission of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the buddhas of the three times, and to have received the authentic transmission of the right Dharma-eye treasury. We should never ask human beings and gods about the merit of this [transmission]. We should learn it in practice from Buddhist patriarchs.

2) The kesa is a robe (or, more precisely, three robes) worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha. Instructions for the material for, making, wearing, care, and honoring of the robe also are discussed in this chapter. E.g.,

The kasaya is said to include three robes. They are the five-stripe robe, the seven-stripe robe, and the large robe of nine or more stripes. Excellent practitioners receive only these three robes, and do not keep other robes. To use just the three robes serves the body well enough.

The method of washing [the kasaya] and the method of receiving and retaining [the kasaya] cannot be known without learning in practice in the inner sanctum of the legitimate face-to-face transmission of those methods.

 3) The kesa is protection and transformation for the person wearing it. The merits of the kesa are numberless, but Dogen quotes the Karuna-pundarika-sutra, words spoken by the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the Buddha, presenting five and ten fundamental merits of the kesa, respectively (I’m planning on putting these merits in a separate post). In addition, there are sections in this chapter that indicate even a single instance of honoring the robe or wearing it as a joke are sufficient to receive and retain these merits.

The kasaya has been called, since ancient time, “the clothing of liberation.” It can liberate us from all hindrances such as karmic hindrances, hindrances of affliction, and hindrances of retribution.

Clearly, once we have shaved the head and put on the kasaya, we are protected by all the buddhas. Relying on this protection of the buddhas, [a person] can roundly realize the virtues of the supreme state of bodhi.

Even if [the people who receive and retain the kasaya] are ourselves, we should venerate them, and we should rejoice.

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it...that [experience] will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

We should throw away the view [that discriminates between] silk and cotton, and study rags in practice. …Some teachers of the Small Vehicle have a theory about transformed thread, which also may be without foundation. People of the Great Vehicle might laugh at it. What kind [of thread] is not transformed thread? When those teachers hear of “transformation” they believe their ears, but when they see the transformation itself they doubt their eyes. Remember, in picking up rags, there may be cotton that looks like silk and there may be silk that looks like cotton. There being myriad differences in local customs it is hard to fathom [nature’s] creation—eyes of flesh cannot know it. Having obtained such material, we should not discuss whether it is silk or cotton but should call it rags. Even if there are human beings or gods in heaven who have survived as rags, they are never sentient beings, they are just rags.

 4) The kesa is the Buddha-Dharma itself:

This [transmission] may be the Buddha-Dharma itself; the proof in due course will become evident. We should not liken [the transmission] to the dilution of milk with water. It is like a crown prince succeeding to the throne. …the authentic transmission from Buddha to buddha and from patriarch to patriarch is like the succession of a crown prince.

…the authentic transmission to the present of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the World-honored One, is the kasaya robe.

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 instantaneously; they are without an abode. The physical body also arises and vanishes instantaneously; it too is without an abode. Nevertheless, the merit that we practice always has its time of ripening and shedding. The kasaya, similarly, 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.

Receiving the robe
We become Buddha-Dharma --
Old rags patterned fresh.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reflections: Not A Kyosaku

Yep... I've been reading Kesa-Kodoku (Chapter 12 of the Shobogenzo). I know there are several folks out there eagerly await my next installment. It's a longer-ish Chapter though.

So here's an example of my whacky sense of humor. Who knows, maybe someone else will get a laugh out of it too:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections: Words for a friend

I have a friend out there who seems to be suffering. I think of that person as a friend even while I'm not sure they would consider me one, and recognizing I've used a lot of less pleasant terms in the past, and that I've made a lot of assumptions about who they are or might have been.

I'm never really sure what to say when seeing someone, anyone, suffer. Having been in that position myself in the past, I know that saying anything can be more hurtful than helpful. But it seems I haven't mastered being indifferent. (And thank goodness because I don't think of equanimity and indifference as the same things.)

I could say a lot about how their suffering came to be. For one thing I can say they have been craving a reflection without truly understanding the source of that image. But its easy for me to say, seeing things from a different perspective and is likely not what they need to hear. So what do I say?

I can say from my own experience the only way up is sometimes down and through. And while 'through' likely seems at the moment to be endless, that's not true. I can say that while the urge, for me, under those circumstances is to curl up into self in reflexive reaction, try to see the interconnectedness and beauty of all living things. If it doesn't work the first time, eventually it will.

Even as I write these words, I recognize that I may be giving them to my own self at sometime in the future, and am wondering about how I would see them. How insubstantial, inconsequential and unhelpful words are at times...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflections: Genzo-e!

Well, not that I think many folks noticed my absence, but if you were one of the few and you thought I died and gone to heaven you’d be close. I just returned from a 5 day retreat at Sanshin in Bloomington, not that I typically think of Indiana as heaven – although it can be pretty nice if you don’t mind flat.

The retreat was something I’ve been looking forward to for nearly a year since I first discovered Sanshin while browsing through the Antaiji website. Not only does Okumura Roshi ofter Antaiji-style 5 day sesshins there, but he also offers Genzo-es (studies of the Shobogenzo) at Sanshin and various other places around the country.

It was a good match. The topic of this Genzo-e was the Shobogenzo’s Genjo-koan. Rev. Okumura presented the material with more transparency than I thought possible. Before the retreat I had imagined writing a few posts about what I learned, but, in all fairness, since Okumura Roshi lives off of dana and much of the material is covered in Realizing Genjokoan, I’m going to suggest you buy the book (if you haven’t already) or attend a Genzo-e instead. (Don’t worry, I’ll cover the Genjo-koan with more than a haiku or two sometime, just not while this is so fresh in my mind.)

A few other notes:

Okumura Roshi managed to get through all his lectures without directly mentioning the framework of (1) idealism (2) materialism (3) action and (4) reality, which, to me anyway, was refreshing. The framework is useful, but its only one way of looking at things and in that sense is a bit of academic idealism.

I managed to pick my own copies of Realizing Genjokoan (yes, autographed), Shobogenzo zuimonki, Eihei Shingi, and Dogen’s Extensive Record. Maybe I didn’t need to do that (because who knows when I’ll have a chance to read them) but I couldn’t resist.

Okumura Roshi, at one point, admitted that he’s more of a fan of Ryokan than Dogen these days…

Even though Antaiji was a great experience, it was without doubt challenging, so it was reassuring to feel peaceful and comfortable at Sanshin.

Last but not least, How do we best reflect a beautiful and boundless reality within a limited life or self? (paraphrasing Okumura) The answer I've gotten so far is: Smile. As far as the rest, we've got the rest of our lives to figure it out... one moment at a time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (III) Uji – Existence-Time – Dogen’s different views of time

In Uji Dogen presents several different ways to look at time, including the ones we’re most familiar with. Most basically, in this world we live in time passes. We also have different roles we play through our life both on any given day, and also as we grow older.

The leaving and coming of the directions and traces [of time] are clear, and so people do not doubt it. They do not doubt it, but that does not mean they know it.

[Human] skin bags recognize [time] as leaving and coming; none has penetrated it as existence-time abiding in its place. the time of the common person who does not learn the Buddha-Dharma there are views and opinions: when he hears the words “existence-time” he thinks, “Sometimes I became [an angry demon with] three heads and eight arms, and sometimes I became the sixteen-foot or eight-foot [golden body of Buddha].


When we arrive in the field of the ineffable, there is just one [concrete] thing and one [concrete] phenomenon, here and now..

From a practical standpoint, the moment of Existence-Time that we that we think of as Now is primary. Because Now is the only moment in which we can act, in which we can practice, in which we move forward through life. 

On the other hand, although living in the immediate moment is a helpful, practical, and even necessary perspective, to limit our view this way denies the law of causation and limits our sense of direction. Dogen acknowledges this, recognizing that in the immediate moment our past and our future are part of us (even though the actual future we will experience is unknown). 

For example, it was like crossing a river or crossing a mountain. The mountain and the river may still exist, but now that I have crossed them and am living in a jeweled palace with crimson towers, the mountain and the river are [as distant] from me as heaven is from the earth.” But true reasoning is not limited to this one line [of thought]. That is to say, when I was climbing a mountain or crossing a river, I was there in that time. There must have been time in me. And I actually exist now, [so] time could not have departed. If time does not have the form of leaving and coming, the time of climbing a mountain is the present as existence-time.

The three heads and eight arms pass instantly as my existence-time; though they seem to be in the distance, they are [moments of] the present. The sixteen-foot or eight-foot [golden body] also passes instantly as my existence-time; though it seems to be yonder, it is [moments of] the present.

Then Dogen goes a step further to point out that we (and every other thing in the Universe) are Time itself. Because we are always in the moment of now, but moving forward carrying time with us, we are the way that time expresses itself.

The rat is time, and the tiger is time; living beings are time, and buddhas are time. This time experiences the whole universe using three heads and eight arms, and experiences the whole universe using the sixteen-foot golden body.

The mountains are time, and the seas are time. Without time, the mountains and the seas could not exist: we should not deny that time exists in the mountains and the seas here and now. If time decays, the mountains and the seas decay. If time is not subject to decay, the mountains and the seas are not subject to decay. In accordance with this truth the bright star appears, the Tathagata appears, the eye appears, and picking up a flower appears, and this is just time. Without time, it would not be like this.

So if we are time, how big can this moment of Now get? And if we are time, by extension doesn't this Now include not only our past, all our different roles in life, and all our futures -- whether realized or not?

To universally realize the whole universe by using the whole universe is called “to perfectly realize.” Enactment of the sixteen-foot golden body by using the sixteen-foot golden body is realized as the establishment of the mind, as training, as the state of bodhi, and as nirvana; that is, as existence itself, and as time itself. It is nothing other than the perfect realization of the whole of time as the whole of existence; there is nothing surplus at all.

All here and just now –
The field of ineffable
Past duality.

The nows coalesce
Into the always present
That now passes through.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reflections: Shoes!

I was checking out my old high school's website and found this picture. Its cool that they have a 'meditation class' now!

mmm... though possibly they haven't said much about mindfulness yet?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections: In control, out of control. Returning.

I love mornings because they are times I feel most at peace with the world. Then the day starts up and often the day just takes control of me according to specifics I seem to have no control over.

If I am staying 'on course' with my practice that sense of peace I have in the morning stays with me throughout the day. But sometimes there are stretches of days where that doesn't happen. Does that mean my practice is 'off course?"

Today the word that I keyed into while musing about this was 'control'. I think its important. When we get comfortable in our practice we can start feeling like we're in control or something.

Life is like sitting. To practice just means to keep coming back... It doesn't mean to be in control.

Just the same, I think I'm going to incorporate another stretch of sitting into my day if I can...

And yeah. I totally admit it. I wrote this post because I feel a day of 'monkey mind' coming on.

UPDATE: The zazen helped.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Antaiji Update - Abundance

Just got this email from Antaiji. Its nice to feel connected.

Hello everyone connected to Antaiji!

Thanks to a long and very hot summer this year, we had lots of tomatoes and eggplants. Now we are harvesting potatoes, and the carrots and daikon radish are slowly growing thicker.

There is a Japanese saying that "The more abundant the rice grain, the lower it would hang its head"

Antaiji's rice used to be famous for always keeping its head high even in the strongest taiphoon, but this year the rice harvest was so abundant, that for the first time in 20 years many of the plants fell over because their heads were so heavy.

This year we will release the Antaiji yearbook again at the end of November, and as every year, everyone who lived at Antaiji this year, or who contributed to last year's yearbook, is invited to write an article. The deadline is November 6th.

If this is the first time you contribute, you can have a look at last year's version at

You do not have to write in English though. Any language is OK, any topic is OK.

We are looking forward to your contribution,

Muho and the rest of Antaiji

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (II) Uji – Existence-Time – Living in the Absence of Doubt

The doubts which living beings, by our nature, have about every thing and every fact that we do not know, are not consistent; therefore our past history of doubt does not always exactly match our doubt now. We can say for the present, however, that doubt is nothing other than time. We put our self in order, and see [the resulting state] as the whole universe…Practice, and realization of the truth, are also like this. Putting the self in order, we see what it is.

About a year ago I began making some pretty drastic changes in my life and the birth of this blog was a celebration of that decision. In a lot of ways things haven’t changed that much, much less than I’d imagined at the time – for now anyway.

The reaction of family and friends has been a bit out of proportion to the actual changes, often making me feel buffeted by some pretty strong winds and weather. There have definitely been moments when I’ve felt disoriented by changing circumstances and the sometimes stubborn and seemingly deliberate misunderstanding of others. Which is funny because my mind has been perfectly clear for a long time now. Funny in a way that sometimes makes me laugh and sometimes makes me cry, probably more than ever in my life…

The reality of that sense of clarity and certainty has only grown though, even in the face of uncertainty about the specifics of ‘tomorrow.’ What I can say is that the‘true self’ or ‘universal self’ and the fullness of‘emptiness’ that is there when I drop off during sitting seems to be there more and more, not just when I sit, but as I meet and move through each day.

It is the deepest sense of trust I have known. When I sit I realize and know that trust. And it comes from being grounded in the moment and knowing that nothing has really changed as I keep getting in touch with Now on a moment-to-moment basis.

So I’ve stopped doubting. I recognize that in terms of conditions and circumstances there’s a lot I could have doubts about. External things might not turn out the way I would most like them too. In fact, in some ways I can say that’s already been the case over the past year or so, not to mention the rest of my life. But my trust has only grown and if I follow my past doubts and fears back in time, none of them has amounted to much. That sense of ground is going to be there for the rest of my life one way or another.

After reading the above quote and recognizing the immense trust in the Universe I feel during zazen, I asked myself, why not let go of doubt? Doubt is something that has to do with circumstances and not this sense of ground and trust I feel. When I do that in life, as opposed to just during zazen, I see what is… And its what IS. I don’t need a picture to see it. 

Just this moment, this
Now, these colors, this hush -- ground
That I know so well.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 11 (I) Uji – Existence-Time – The Whole Universe is in the Present Moment

Awhile back, while I was reading Uji, I told someone that Dogen’s writing ‘shimmers.’ Each time I read it, this chapter manages to enthrall me a bit because of the beauty of Dogen’s language, as well as the different ways he looks at time and what it means for our existence. Each time I read it, I see something new, something thing else that resonates with me. And each time, I get the sensation like I am standing at the edge of something...

To me the ‘reality’ of Now described in this chapter far transcends any words that attempt to describe it, although Dogen comes close. It transcends, to paraphrase Uchiyama-Roshi, in the same way that any definition of ‘fire’ cannot actually be fire.

Most basically, Existence-Time is just us meeting this moment right now, plain and simple. Most of us know this already, having Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now”, or more recently Tolle’s “Power of Now,” etched somewhere in our psyche if we’ve any Buddhist inclinations whatsoever.

But to limit what Dogen says in Uji to “[real existence] is only this exact moment,” seems to short-change this chapter. In fact, in looking for a quote that supports this basic idea, namely that “[real existence] is only this exact moment,” that stand-alone quote is hard to find. Here’s one that's close:

When we arrive in the field of the ineffable, there is just one [concrete] thing and one [concrete] phenomenon, here and now, [beyond] understanding of phenomena and non-understanding of phenomena, and [beyond] understanding of things and non understanding of things. Because [real existence] is only this exact moment, all moments of existence-time are the whole of time, and all existent things and all existent phenomena are time.

Note the underlined part. To me, the fundamental realization of this chapter is way more than Now is the only moment there is. I feel like Dogen’s trying to show us that the whole Universe and the whole of existence are manifested in the present moment. To emphasize this, Dogen follows up the previous quote with:

Let us pause to reflect whether or not any of the whole of existence or any of the whole universe has leaked away from the present moment of time.

Is this idealism? Maybe. But the realization that we can see the world this way doses my brain with a lot of serotonin. And that feels pretty real. Plus, I suspect that sitting helps us see the moment this way, fully appreciative of the moment just as it is, rather than from a flat, black & white perspective.

Borrowing a bit from Shunryu Suzuki:

Season's splendor held
                     In a single leaf falling,
Falling through falling.

Or more intellectually:

Face of Emptiness
                                All Existence-Time, our Now
Pivoting between.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Ch 10 (III) Shoaku-makusa – Good Doing vs Doing Good

‘Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas’:

The eternal buddha says,
Not to commit wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind;
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

In this section of  Shoaku-makusa Dogen states that, like ‘wrong’, what is ‘right’ has no set shape, but varies depending on conditions and circumstances. In other words what is ‘right’ is going to be different in different dharmas, worlds, and times. 

The myriad kinds of right have no set shape but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet. It is utterly impossible for the earth, mountains and rivers, the world, a nation, or even the force of accumulated karma, to hinder [this] coming together of right. 

In fact, we could probably debate what ‘right’ is endlessly, either internally (in our heads) or externally (with others) because our views of any specific situation are going to be different – how can they not be, given different lives and selves? On this basis we can recognize that an intellectual understanding of what ‘right’ is likely to be flawed. And we can also recognize that while we’re debating, ‘right’ isn’t getting done.

Even though the many kinds of right are included in “rightness,” there has never been any kind of right that is realized beforehand and that then waits for someone to do it.

Doing right is “good doing,” but it is not something that can be fathomed intellectually.

Dogen’s phrase “Doing right is 'good doing'” resonates with me. What it means, for me, is that we end up doing the most good by sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma. As long as we are sincerely practicing, our intuitive responses to the situations that come up are most likely to result in doing ‘right.’ 'Good doing' instantaneously coalesces into 'right' at the moment of doing. In contrast, notions we have about doing ‘good’ are likely to be flawed -- notions about what ‘good’ is are limited. Not to mention that in trying to ‘do good” we’re often attempting to gain brownie points (or merit) for our ‘self’ or how we think others view us, even or especially if we think of ‘doing good’ in terms of self-sacrifice. And in trying to gain ‘brownie points’ we create separation between ourselves and others.

This “good doing” inevitably includes the realization of the many kinds of right. 

If we do not learn how buddhas should be, even if we seem to be fruitlessly enduring hardship, we are only ordinary beings accepting suffering; we are not practicing the Buddha’s truth.

By sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma “not committing wrongs” and “doing right by good doing” are naturally realized, and practicing in this way “naturally purifies the mind.”

Haiku for Shoaku-makusa:

'Not committing wrongs' — 
The Universal teaching
Of all the buddhas.

In each world and time 
Doing right is good doing, 
Though right changes shape.

Buddhas know no right — 
Converging right through practice 
Buddhas know no wrong.