June 27, 2009

July Intensive Practice Period

On Wednesday we will have opening ceremonies for our Special Practice Period, July 1 to 29. This is a kind of Ango, but technically, we cannot call it Ango since Ango is practiced for 90 days. The word "Ango" means peaceful residing and in ancient times it was practiced during the summer rainy season. When it was too wet to travel around, the monks with Shakyamuni Buddha, stayed in place and practiced intensive Zazen, or peaceful residing in one place. The tradition was carried to China and then Dogen Zenji brought it back to Japan and introduced it to his monks and lay people alike. Thus, we have this special time during which we engage in a deep, focused training and we intensify our practice of Zazen.

At the opening of his chapter on "Ango" in SHOBOGENZO, Dogen Zenji refers to a poem by his teacher Zen Master Tendo Nyojo:

Set your bones upright upon level ground,
And to seclude yourself scoop out a cavern in space.
Pass forthwith beyond the gate of dualities,
Only taking with you a darkness as dark as a black lacquered pail.

(Trans. Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey)

Dogen Zenji is saying that we are already committed to practice, we've arrived at our place of practice and it's time to settle in to space, where we truly reside. In entering this cavern in space, we live without any interruptions to our lives, we become one-minded and focused purely on practice. We put away all distractions and throw ourselves completely into our training because this summer practice period is one of our important life tools.

Dogen Zenji says that we have already demonstrated our intention to train and we have already learned the methods of practice, nevertheless, we still have our old habits of heavy eating and lounging around when we feel like, so we should waste no time in getting ourselves together for this important retreat. He says that the summer retreat is the very crown of Buddha and that to enter this retreat is to meet the Ancestors. The summer retreat he says is what an Ancestor is. There is only the cavern of space and there is no other earth we can point to.

Another quote from Dogen Zenji on Ango, "Ordinary folk, as well as the saintly, treat the ninety days as a comfortable cave for them to reside in, but these ninety days go far, far beyond the realm of the ordinary and the saintly. These ninety days cannot be reached by thinking about them, nor can they be reached by not thinking about them, nor are they simply something that is unreachable by thinking about or not thinking about them."

So, we enter Ango and find our leisure in the cave of practice. No other outside worries. No worries about trying to think ourselves into the space of practice. Practice cannot be accomplished by thinking, cannot be reached by intellection. We actually have to do it just as the Buddha did and all other Ancestors.

I encourage everyone to make special effort during this time. It's actually a very joyful time and experience to come together with the Sangha to attend to our own spiritual health and confirm our Buddha Nature, realize ourselves as the Three Treasures. Pack up right now and get here. Dig out your space cave and dwell entirely in It.

June 24, 2009

June is Father's Day Month

A few days before Father's Day, my sister Margaret and I visited the cemetery in Olympia where my father and mother are buried side by side. We were remembering Father's Day, my mother's 100 year anniversary of life, her death day, and Margaret's husband Jack's birthday all in the month of June. Jack's ashes are also placed in the same cemetery in a memorial wall looking in the direction of the parents' graves.

We spread a blanket and sat for a chat about the parents and Jack. I read two poems I'd written, one about my mother and the other my father. I didn't get one for Jack that week so I had nothing to offer him. But, I often feel the hard road of the father, in family life with all he does to keep food on the table and often doing a job he doesn't like and cannot quit. Today, of course, there are plenty of single women acting as breadwinner and plenty of families where both parents work and are caught in work that doesn't enliven them. I'm thinking more about how it was and still may be in many families when there is just one breadwinner and of the sacrifices that are made to keep food on the table.

Who knows what it means to bury your life in a coal mine or a subway to keep life and limb together? But, this is what we do. This is what it takes to stay alive. I remember my father as he went out in the rain early on mornings without fail to walk through Brooklyn to read meters. His life, his breath given to reading meters, a bunch of meters that do nothing but track people's gas and electric. His life, his waking days reading meters so his children could eat. No car in our family, no big house, 2 1/2 bedrooms for 5 children and 2 adults. That's how we survived. Day after day out there, rain or shine, his ulcers cut into the flesh of his stomach as he walked the streets, bringing home the 100 bucks a week so we could have piano lessons and ballet, apples for dunking at Halloween, a telescope to survey the stars, white dresses for communion, stacked-heeled shoes when we reached 13, lipsticks, nylons, new coats, jeans, movies on Saturday afternoons, the small and the big things it took to get what makes kids think they are alive, make them believe they belong.

This he gave his breath for. It was something greater than all those pennies and dollars that went for nothing. It was about a heroism so quiet no one would have noticed. A heroism that only comes out of selfless love. Something that arrives when the whole soul lifts up out of itself and doesn't try to be something more than itself, just gives itself for what is, to the ones who are there waiting to shine.

I'm thinking too of all the parents today who have lost those unenviable jobs and feel so inadequate and forgotten and are desperate to know how they will survive. May we all be generous and kind to one another.

June 17, 2009

Practice and Personal Certainty

It's Wednesday and there's a Dharma talk tonight. So, I'm going to speak about Dogen Zenji's teaching on "personal certainty." The section of SHOBOGENZO is the chapter from "Bendowa" and the translation is by Rev. Hubert Nearman of Shasta Abbey. This translation is clear and accessible. As I do read other translations, I return again and again to the Nearman work because it has a particular openness to it. It resonates with tremendous love. I don't know how else to say it. This translation is available to everyone by going to the Shasta Abbey website: www.shastaabbey.org. You may download the pdf file to your desktop and have it available for reading every day. The great part about the pdf file is that you can do a word search to easily find references throughout this monumental work.

So, in this brief Dharma talk I'm using this teaching from Dogen Zenji:
"In the realm where one's own awakening awakens others, from the very moment that you are provided with personal certainty, there's no hanging on to it, AND, once your personal certainty begins to function, you must see to it that it never ceases."

We've spoken in the past about confidence in practice, but what does Dogen Zenji mean by "personal certainty"? This is something different from confidence. Some important things to understand is what it is not. Dogen Zenji does not mean the kind of egoistic sureness that results when we think we know something and we want to show the whole world. Intellectualizing practice, the Dharma, only displays our ignorance. This is another form of egoism. Psychological conjecturing would miss the mark and would be so closely related to the intellectual as to be nearly the same. Certainty that comes from taking a stand on religious doctrine could blind us to our own delusion. When we are sure of something because it appears to be logical, well this too is not what Dogen Zenji is pointing toward.

This "once you are provided with personal certainty" and "there's no hanging on to it" are both important clues. "...once you are provided" means that we are given the means of awakening. We are blessed with a moment that allows us to realize our true nature. That moment is a pure gift, a provision of the Dharma, a fruit of practice. It is not something that we can manufacture by our intellectual thinking or by our logical patterns. It is rather a window into our true nature, Buddha Nature, that opens and we realize it is practice itself.

"...there's no hanging on to it" tells us that we cannot grasp and arrest awakening. It is outside of intellection, and because we cannot hang on to it, we know that personal certainty is the confirmation of Buddha Nature. It is the selfless direct experience which cannot be hung on to. Try to hang on to it and it's over, gone, out of reach. "No hanging on to it" tells us that we have to walk in personal certainty every moment if we are to live the vow we chant, "to make every effort to live in enlightenment." It means to walk without hanging on to anything.

"AND, once your personal certainty begins to function," means the true functioning of practice is awakened in us so that we go straight ahead with the understanding of the one practice-awakening which is the same for all. We realize there is no difference between the one and the all. There is simply practice. The true functioning of practice is to recognize the no ownership of practice. Just, one practice, the same for all. "Begins to function" is the opening of the seed of Dharma. We recognize what is inherent, like the nature of our heartbeat. It functions totally and we haven't to force it to work (when the body is well). Perhaps to point to the sun and moon, we see that they simply perform their function. Buddha Nature functioning in us is like that. We realize it is there because it always was there.

Then, "you must see to it that it never ceases." This means that once we recognize the nature of practice-awakening, once we know the selfless direct experience, we become personal certainty itself, never stopping the heart of practice. This experience of Buddha Nature cannot be denied, wouldn't want to be denied. Then we make "every effort to live in enlightenment." The road ahead is open and clear. What else is there?

One very important point comes up from the very first clause of Dogen's writing: "In the realm where one's own awakening awakens others," means that we completely recognize our own reflection and we recognize the true morality of relationship in how we live. What we do must be a reflection of Buddha Nature. When we see the Buddha in another, we are astounded by that light. That other person sees a reflection of our seeing that light. When our own awakening gives light to another, we "must see to it that it never ceases."

So, every day, we simply do the best we can.

June 14, 2009

Silent Summer Night

An animal woke me in the middle of the night, and now I'm wide-eyed and listening to the snore of frogs. It's very dark, no moon, and otherwise silent. The deep frog sound reminds me of Entsuji and being awake in the night in summer. At the back of the temple there is a pond and sometimes the frogs sing so loudly you cannot sleep.

I'm a bit of a night owl so it's a wonder I ever came into Zen practice. I mean that I like to stay up late if creative juice starts flowing and just follow where it goes and not have to worry about getting up so early. But, at the time I'm up now, at some monasteries the bell would be ringing for wake up. That's really hard when you haven't slept and you have another 18 hours ahead. As things are this night, I can sleep until I wake, if I'm able to get back to sleep. It's just after four and the first birds are making a racket.

Ryokan san was a night person. He wrote many poems by the light of his candle. Aside from the fact that he liked moonlight, he did suffer from insomnia. But, there is a special feeling being awake in the middle of the night when everyone around is sleeping. There's the feeling of being in a secret world, listening to the subtle movement of life. It reminds of Rumi's poem, "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell us, don't go back to sleep." To be wakened in the night is to be called to listen, to honor the life of the moon, the dark earth and to listen to how the animals move about under the cover of night sky. It is knowing ourselves alive in the middle of a mysterious banquet that connects us to the roundness of the earth. It is having a moment to stand on the earth and look down, down into the stars.

One of Ryokan san's night poems grips me every time I think of it. He's staying at a temple in his travels and he has been up all night and unable to sleep because he's shivering cold, and he's hungry too. He can hardly wait for the sound of the bell to begin to move on and end the darkness. It's heart rending. The night then is very long and lonely.

This is not my own feeling tonight. But then, it's a warm night and I listen freely without the threat of an alarm clock or schedule. I can just be with whatever time of day or night it is. The first light has come, it's 4:30 a.m. and the birds are near hysterical so far north. For sure the night has finished. Rumi completes his poem, "Spirits are moving back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds meet. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep."

June 11, 2009

To own nothing

The topic at Wednesday night's gathering was about ownership and non-ownership.  So, I'm writing this morning on that same topic yet some of what I'm writing was not necessarily said in the same way last evening.  

It has been popular in our contemporary culture to speak of owning ones tendencies.  Someone might say, "Own your jealousy, own your pride, own your anger, own your fear."  It's true that we have to be honest about our behavior, our thoughts, our urges, but when we think of ownership of these tendencies, we can make the mistake of identifying with tendencies and giving them too much stock.  The weight of such claims can be damaging rather than allowing Original Self to be realized, to be functioning in an awakened way in daily life.  The same is true if we make such a heavy tendency claim about another person; we arrest them in the enclosure of tendency and we deny their true Nature.  In this mistake, we can easily create a war of like and don't like, good and bad, get ride of this and keep that. 

This is also true with illness, the body, or any phenomena that places false claims on our being.  For instance, if I refer to an illness as "my cancer" or "my headache" or "my diabetes" I apply incorrect ownership to something that is simply a condition, a phenomenon that appears in the human dimension.  None of these conditions can be owned any more than we can own the air that we breathe, or own the sky that we gaze at.  Thinking that those conditions are "mine" gives entry to a whole array of psychological tracking that isn't necessary and isn't even true. 

Where is the Self that could own anything?  Who is the Self that could own things, be it illness or goods?  If we accept the premise of no abiding Self, then it simply follows that there is no Self which can actually cling to anything, can own goods, can own partners, can own property, can own illness.  The property part you may not like as an American, but even though you have a deed to your land, you still can't own it in the deep sense of which I'm speaking.

Nonownership does not absolve us from responsibility to care for all that is before us.  As a matter of fact, the more we realize nonownership, the better we become at having a wide enough view to truly care for what needs to be cared for in the way that it needs to be cared for.

All this leads to Practice and the nonownership of Practice.  We hear people say such things as, "This is "my" practice" or "I don't do that in "my" practice" or "My practice isn't like that."  All of these ownership statements are misunderstandings.  Practice cannot be owned or corralled by anyone.  Practice is not mine, or yours, or his or hers.  Practice is simply awakened activity and is the natural expression and gateway to Buddhahood and has been conducted by all Buddhas and Ancestors.  Practice and realization are completely one and the same.  Perhaps to hyphenate the word would say it better:  practice-realization is the Way.  The Way is beyond differentiation of the one and the many.  Therefore, we cannot lay claim to "having my practice" or "doing my practice."  We can only Be Practice itself.  To continue in Practice-realization is to care for that which is innate in us.

June 09, 2009

Brief Hiatus

Yes, it's been quiet in the past couple of weeks.  Not that I haven't been busy, but it's been quiet around the temple grounds.  Sounds from the trail are frequent because the weather is fine so people are out hiking, but mostly it's quiet.  There are few visitors.  Gogo-an is friendly in the sun, and anytime anyone wants to come, they can call ahead if it's a long stay, or they can just arrive for a brief visit.

Daily morning practice is going well and we have more people sitting in the mornings in summer.  It's light at 4:30 a.m. and people wake early and come over for Zazen.  It's a wonderful feeling to have more people in the mornings and the spirit of ceremony is very strong.  i recommend it to everyone.

One of the practices we have at morning ceremony is to remember those who are sick.  Lately, we've had quite a few people who are ill and to whom we wish to send merit.  We recite their names and remember them in thought, we send forward merit and energy.  When you arrive for evening practice, do pause and read their names on the Avalokiteshvara altar just outside the Zendo doorway.  Keep each one in your thought, won't you.

I'll write again this week to summarize Wednesday's encouragement talk. 

June 04, 2009

Continuous Practice

In the photo you can see the dragon sculpture by Aryadaka with the Spanish lavender below it delighted to be having such glorious weather.  Every day the weather people tell us that it's going to cool off, but the summer heat continues.  I'm not complaining, but we easily dry out in the Pacific Northwest despite the amount of rain, and now the sneezing has begun with so much pollen in the air.  Yesterday, I checked out at the supermarket, and in answer to the clerk's question "So how's it going?" I said, "It's really hot out there today."  He immediately answered, "You people are never satisfied!"  He had probably heard someone speak of the heat 108 times.  I just burst out laughing and we went on with the transaction.      

The pleasure of this summer weather is in complete contrast to the difficulty many of us are feeling about the fate of Air France flight 447 off the northern coast of Brazil.  I only recently crossed the Atlantic on a more northerly route on a 330 Airbus.  I'm not particularly conscious of the equipment I ride in when I take a flight except to check out the closest exits during the safety demonstration.  But there is an interesting and subtle experience that happens when the plane leaves sight of land and starts out over the ocean.  It's a sense of being out of touch with the earth, of losing contact with terra firma and being beyond the possibility of rescue.  When flying to Japan from Seattle, the plane skirts the rim of the small islands or ice bridge across the Bering Strait.  If you look down, you see icy desolation and you realize you are sitting on an aluminum floor, encased in a hunk of aluminum, 35,000 feet above this frozen tundra traveling at 550 mph.  You look back into the plane and people are happily eating the last of the brownie from lunch and the flight crew are running around on this aluminum floor filling up cups of tea or coffee inside this capsule floating above the earth.  It's hard to carry in the mind that these two situations could be happening together.  And, in a moment it could all break apart.  The vulnerability of it is something we can't look at, or don't look at so that we can manage to take ourselves to faraway places.  The Air France loss is a difficult one because it took place in that no man's land where we are beyond rescue and we have no choice but to enter Nirvana. In the midst of that simple moment of travel it is suddenly over, suddenly blown away.   A particular life is finished and that's so difficult for the families waiting for their loved ones to step off that plane at the airport.  I've been chanting Daihi Shin Darani for each one.  We've offered ceremony for the merit of those lost and we will continue to mourn as we do each day for all those unnamed ones who die in the myriad ways that we can.

On Wednesday evening after reminding us of locating the self in the body rather than in the mind, I spoke of another teaching of the Buddha.  The Buddha consistently reminded us of our own responsibility for our lives, for what we practiced, for what we thought, for what we said and did.  He reminded us that in our practice there is no old man or woman in the sky to whom we appeal for supplication.  As much as we'd like that sometimes, it's not how we practice in Buddhism.  That makes Buddhism difficult because we are thrown back on ourselves again and again.  We must keep our own counsel and remember the beginning spirit of practice is within ourselves.  Naturally we are encouraged by others and we ourselves encourage others by our practice, but it is within ourselves that we have to keep the field clear in deepest honesty.  As we all remember, even at the last moment of his life, the Buddha counseled us to find out for ourselves, to bring about realization through our own effort.  And, as we see from the sudden happening of an air flight gone wrong, life can be taken away in a moment.  It's wise to not waste time.