January 31, 2010

Patience and Practice

So, we were talking about patience last Wednesday night after Zazen, that very virtue we don't like to hear about and don't want to think about having to practice. We all want to have things go a certain way - our way - and being patient means we might not get what we want. Thus, we interfere and hustle things along aiming for the prize.

The topic came about because of the state of the nation speech. It had seemed to me that our president had been in office only a short while when we were demanding that he turn this massive engine around and make change that he alone was not responsible for making. Change requires that the whole machine respond in new ways. It doesn't happen quickly. Not only that, he was having to make change under the most severe circumstances. The surplus we had only eight years ago was turned into a 1.3 trillion deficit. Slowly his popularity began to decrease as the changes were not happening as quickly as people thought they should and in face of a congress drowning in its own rigidity. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man, our president, on whom we had heaped such unreasonable and immediate expectation. How could one human, with all the entrenched and complex problems we face, turn this condition around....in such a short time! Our national impatience, our immaturity as a nation, our childish demands seem to tear at our ability to take the time to look at our condition and to allow wisdom, rather than impetuousness and impatience, inform our choices.

Then, in Haiti there was another face related to patience. This was the face of hunger and desperation and yet calmness in waiting on line for food. There was the face of sharing food even when there was so little. It was only a handful of ruffians that fought over food. The media loves to follow this kind of behavior. Most of the people were deeply patient and respectful of others. There were the faces of those pulled out of the rubble even after 15 days without any light, or human hope that they would be found. Imagine lying in the rubble and barely moving for all that time, still breathing and wondering if anyone at all would find you. Buried alive. Stomach shriveled. There is profound patience under such constraint. Or, the amputees lying in the field hospitals in extreme heat just waiting. Most will have no place to return to. This is a nation of patience that in many ways can't afford too much of it because of the desperate need to prevent more catastrophe through disease and floods. They must act decisively while being profoundly patient at the same time.

Patience is one of the important virtues developed in training in Zen practice. Impatience, we learn, is related to the poisons of hate, arrogance, flattery and foolishness. If we are skillful in our lives, we can see this in action. We can observe when hate/anger, arrogance/pride, flattery/greed, foolishness/ignorance creep into our actions and interactions. They may appear in subtle ways, small things that muddy the clear field, "the virtuous garden far beyond form and emptiness." They make for muddy waters.

We can remain Present in order to see through this mud that appears, because in life we are given so much opportunity for practice in mud. It seems as if we dwell in mud and yet the choice to practice in clarity is the lotus itself popping its pure blossom above the bog. Presence, remaining present in all we do is the very practice of patience. When we are Present, we are not rushing our lives, not pushing and driving ourselves forward. We are well paced and easy. We are at leisure in each moment, fully aware of our relatedness, our connectedness.

And, it seems to me urgent that we practice patience most deeply these days as our nation is in desperate need of developing a maturity of action and purpose so that we can truly act with wisdom, compassion and integrity in this suffering world. Being Present and aware is our practice.

January 24, 2010

Winter Writing, Painting Winter

The pictures and stories in the news about Haiti continue to bring me to tears. All of the people remain in my prayer and thought and I offer my practice for their merit. All too soon such events go out of the news and we return to our little concerns while the rebuilding, the suffering goes on. Few among us have not wanted to drop everything and rush down there and hold one of those bereft orphans. The thought in the mind is also the holding so we can continue to care for them through good thought, and we can contribute money to their cause.

Saturday I went to a writers gathering. A small group of Olympia poets and writers come together monthly for critique of their work. I was part of the first group that organized this in 1995-96 at Jeanne Lohmann's home that was in the South Capitol area. Jeanne moved over to the west side and the group went with her. Gradually changes occurred and it is now referred to as Fusion. At the equinox or the solstice, the group meets on a Saturday afternoon and shares poetry exercises as a small writing workshop.

This is the first Saturday workshop I've been to because more often than not, we have a one-day retreat and I haven't a choice about it. This time I had the chance to attend. Poetry writing exercises abound in the world and it's always fascinating to see what kinds of things people come up with to stimulate the writing impulse. Myself, I don't think about it as exercise but rather a creative continuum. Sometimes some things work and sometimes they don't. Not all the soups I make in the kitchen are outstanding. Sometimes the soup is just good. Sometimes, something to eat. Sometimes unforgettably delicious.

Lately I've been painting more than writing so I'm a bit dry where words are concerned. This is not writer's block it's just the way that I've kept the gears oiled. As I've mentioned, I've been experimenting with keeping writing and painting going at the same time to see how the creative mush plays out, to see how they feed one another. It's extremely difficult but at the same time, I've found images that I wouldn't have suspected are there. We can only do one thing at a time so when I pick up a brush words fall to the background. By the same token, when I pick up a pen, images are extremely clear. I think in images moreso than words. The poem comes forth like a painting in my mind, a clear image, but then I use words to make the poem which feels like a painting.

I don't think any painter ever succeeds in painting the painting exactly as it appears in the mind. And perhaps it's the same for the poet. The poem we write is not what we suspected. Perhaps it's why we have to begin again the moment a work is finished. We have to try again to say what cannot be said. We have to put ourselves in that terrifying moment of creativity when we know absolutely nothing, don't know if we can survive ourselves in the act of creating. That moment of artistic terror (perhaps that's too dramatic a word) does not last but a split second, and then one goes on and makes a mark on the canvas or puts a word on paper. I think we can't know where we are going.

Motherwell says that his aim is to paint the canvas as beautiful as it was when it was in its blank, white existence. Perhaps that's what we do in meditation too. We clear ourselves of baggage and allow the bright, shining Self to appear as naturally as it is, untainted, pure. Then, when we get off the cushion, we recreate ourselves with the palette of our experience and make our life in all its color, shape, action, activity, and form as beautiful as the bright, clear, shining Self.

January 19, 2010

Healing Ceremony for Haiti

We had a one-day sesshin retreat on Saturday which was offered for the merit of those suffering in the disaster in Haiti. During our kinhin, walking meditation, we chanted brief affirmations from the Eko, the Dedication, of our Midday Ceremony. These affirmations were meant to remind us that our efforts in practice are not idle or unheard, but rather, have a resounding confidence that practice pervades everywhere.

I copy the Eko here for you to recite along with the healing chanting you might do on behalf of those in Haiti, or anywhere suffering from this disaster. We continue to offer our sincere concern that they may be relieved from suffering and distress. This brief healing ceremony can be offered at any time along with your Zazen practice.

Enmei Jikku Kannon Gyo (Chanted 21 times)

Kanzeon namu Butsu, Yo Butsu u in, Yo Butsu u en, Buppo so en, Jo raku ga jo, Cho nen Kanzeon, Bo nen Kanzeon, Nen nen ju shin ki, Nen nen fu ri shin.

Eko (Dedication):

May all Awakened Beings extend with true compassion their Luminous Mirror Wisdom. With full awareness we have chanted the Enmei Jikku Kannon Gyo for protecting life. Humbly we invoke the Sound Observer Who Hears the Cries of the World, that she may extend her compassionate aid to:

All the myriad forms of sentient life which make Haiti their home

All who are suffering in the wake of the earthquake

What we pray is that the Three Treasures may watch over the people of Haiti and the myriad people who are staying there, along with those who have traveled to Haiti to bring healing, to take care of it, and to protect it from further calamity,

May we continue to have calm practice in the face of adversity. 
May the merit of this practice pervade everywhere, 
 And may we together with all sentient beings realize the Buddha Way.

January 13, 2010

Chanting for People of Haiti

We send our deepest concern for the People of Haiti as we chant for them in the midst of their suffering.

We Call on Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the One Who Observes The Sounds Of The World

Kanzeon in Japan, the name means “watchful listening.” She is the Goddess of Mercy who embodies compassion and who witnesses and listens to the prayers of those in difficulty on the earthly realm in order to deliver them from suffering and distress.

Anytime the people of Haiti come to mind, chant this short mantra

On arorikya sowaka (Japanese)

Om Unstained One svâhâ 


Please chant this longer Sutra at least three times each day during this difficult crisis.

Myohorengekyo Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonbonge

World-Honored One, fully endowed with subtle signs!

Now again I ask about that

Son of the Buddha for what reason

He is named the One Who Observes the Sounds of the World.

The Buddha replied:

Listen you to the conduct of the Sound-Observer,

The one who responds well to all places in all directions!

His broad vows as deep as the ocean,

Throughout kalpas beyond reckoning or discussion

He has served many thousands of millions of Buddhas,

• Uttering great and pure vows.

I will tell it to you in brief.

The hearing of his name, the sight of his body,

And the recollection of him in thought do no pass away in vain,

For he can extinguish the woes of existence.

Even if someone whose thoughts are malicious

Should push one into a great pit of fire,

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The pit of fire would turn into a pool.

Or, one might be afloat in a great sea,

In which are dragons, fish, and sundry ghosts.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The waves could not drown one.

Or, being on the peak of Sumeru,

One might by another be pushed off.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

Like the sun itself one would dwell in space.

Or, one might by an evil man be chased

Down from a diamond mountain.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

He could not harm a single hair on one's head.

Or, one might be surrounded by enemies,

Each carrying a knife and intending to inflict harm.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

All would straightway produce thoughts of good will.

Or, one might encounter royally ordained woes,

Facing execution and the imminent end of one’s life.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

The knives would thereupon break in pieces.

Or, one might be confined in a pillory,

One’s hands and one’s feet in stocks.

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

One would freely gain release.

When either by spells, or by curses, or by poisonous herbs,

Someone wishes to harm his body, the victim,

By virtue of his constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

Shall send them all back to plague their authors.

Or one might encounter evil raksasas,

Poisonous dragons, ghosts, and the like.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

They would no dare to do one harm.

Or, one may be surrounded by malicious beasts,

Sharp of tooth and with claws to be dreaded.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

They shall quickly run off to immeasurable distance

There may be poisonous snakes and noxious insects,

Their breath deadly, smoking and flaming with fire.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

At the sound of one’s voice they will go away of themselves.

The clouds, rolling the thunder drums and dispatching the lightning.

Send down the hail and pour forth the great rains.

By virtue of one’s constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer,

At that very moment one can dry up and dissipate them.

The beings suffer embarrassment and discomfort;

Incalculable woes press in upon them.

The Sound-Observer, by his unblemished knowledge

Can rescue the world from its woes.

He is fully endowed with supernatural penetration

And broadly cultivates wisdom and expedient devices;

In the lands of all ten quarters

There is no ksetra where he does not display his body.

The various evil destinies,

Those of hell, ghosts, and beasts,

As well as the pains of birth, old age, sickness, and death,

All little by little are extinguished.

O you of the true gaze, of the pure gaze,

Of the gaze of broad and great wisdom,

Of the compassionate gaze and the gaze of good will!

We constantly desire, constantly look up to,

The spotlessly pure ray of light,

The sun of wisdom that banishes all darkness,

That can subdue the winds and flames of misfortune

And everywhere give bright light to the world.

The thunder of the monastic prohibitions, whose

essence is good will,

And the great and subtle cloud, which is the sense of


Pour forth the Dharma-rain of sweet dew,

Extinguishing and removing the flames of agony.

When disputes go through civil offices,

When they terrify military campus,

By virtue of constant mindfulness of Sound-Observer

• The multitude of enemies shall all withdraw and scatter.

The delicate-voiced one who observes

the sounds of the world

And the Brahma-voiced sound of the tide

Are superior to the sounds of the world.

Therefore one must ever be mindful of them.

From moment to moment conceive no doubts,

For the pure saint who observes the sounds of the world

In the discomforts of pain, agony, and death

Can be a point of reliance.

Fully endowed with all the merits,

His benevolent eye beholding the beings.

He is happiness accumulated, a sea-incalculable.

For this reason one must bow one’s head to him.

• At that time the bodhisattva Earth-Holder

(Dharanimdhara) straightway rose from his seat

and, coming forward, addressed the Buddha, saying,

“O World-Honored One! If there is a living being

who shall hear this Chapter of the Bodhisattva He

Who Observes the Sounds of the World, the deeds

of self-mastery, the manifestation of the gateway

to everywhere, the powers of supernatural penetration,

be it known that that person’s merit shall not be slight.”

When the Buddha preached this Chapter of the

Gateway to Everywhere • within the multitude were

eighty-four thousand living beings all of whom opened

up their thoughts to unequaled • anuttarasamyaksambodhi.

January 10, 2010


For many years now at Olympia Zen Center, we've celebrated the New Year with a reading of our own poems on the first meeting when we come together after New Year's Day. This evolved because of several influences. Ryokan is our virtuous model, and he speaks to us through poetry. Ryokan's Death Day is January 6th and the proximity to this date is a way to honor and celebrate his life. Dogen Zenji was also a poet. Zen practitioners typically take up an art as part of their practice. It is customary in some Zen temples for the practitioners to offer a poem once a year to give expression to their practice and to the Dharma. But, it isn't necessary to justify writing poems or to give reasons for writing them, we simply do it because it is what we do.

I'm including a few poems here for some of you who cannot get to Olympia Zen Center and participate and for those who have asked to see some of the poems. It was a wonderful evening together, rich in spirit and insight, and this year it happened to fall on the anniversary of Ryokan's Death Day. With deepest gratitude to all who came and participated.

Open Window

In Wyeth's painting, the grey-framed window pushes
open to the settled field. Nothing moves.
Only fragrance of grass.

There is no sense that even the painter is here.
Only a rustle of water making its crawl through the mill.
Wyeth calls this, "Love in the Afternoon."

I could stare out the window all day
different from sitting out of doors.
Cave-like it seems to have darkness
within, slant of light over the sill
the only speech.

A shafted flicker crashes into the window and lands
on stone, its head limp. Later, miraculously, the bird
is gone. Left behind: a dot of bright blood
like the perfect red circle at the center of its eye.

From the window I saw you come this way,
stop on the path before you reached the gate,
silent in the shadow of cedar. You drifted on the ten
thousand trails that led through snow, the lamp
unseen, no footprint or trace.

And what are windows in the night when
all the world looks back at us, huddled
in the common roots of grief, when all
we are is nowhere to be found. If we turn
on light we see ourselves reflected back
in glass, the storehouse of goods
surrounding us as if marching forward
to envelop us. Too lonely,
we draw the shades.

Everything must be opened like
Wyeth's window that invites
the soul beyond the threshold
of some imagined safety. As if
the in or out held a protective
measure to guard against change.
Why do we put in windows if not
to let the world come in as well
as all go out?

My window faces east where I watch
my bones wither in the grace and color
of moonrise and morning light.
At night, ghosts pass through
these panes and dance in space
above my bed while I curl
in the ancient cocoon of sleep
the transparent universe that
cradles the ten thousand things.

Soon I will look up and see
my own body turned to light
passing through the transomed
frame into the mixture of daylight
of moonlight of passing years.

Perhaps that's all we are, a single
body of illumination, a wavelength
equal to something visible
a reflection of a bright dawning
a look of recognition
on the Buddha's face.

Eido Frances Carney


at the end of the line—that's you and me
just before gunshot or car crash or
just lying in bed, we step over the line
now revealed as radical fiction.

Moments before the light of the blast
crushing impact or breathlessness
we are laughing or worried, angry
preoccupied by what we will never remember

and now

there is less than a second to notice
through shock's leaden embrace
how quiet the world has become
and relieved of our burdens


all that lies underneath.

You and I, we thought we were safe; we did
everything we could to be safe.

Look at us now.

Allyson Essen

Sewing the Robe of Buddha

Sewing the robe of Buddha,
stitch by stitch, an upright life,
with each refuge a new commitment
to live the Eightfold Path.

Sewing the Eightfold Path,
step by step a noble life,
with each life a fresh intention
to become the Buddha Way.

Sewing the Buddha Way,
gate by gate, a compassionate life,
with each gate a deeper urge
to share the Buddha's Truth.

Sewing the Noble Truths,
vow by vow, a virtuous life,
with each vow unwavering will
to wear the robe of Buddha.

Sewing the robe of Buddha,
thread by thread
engaging the past
creating the future...
Namu kie Butsu...
Namu kie Butsu...
Namu kie Butsu...

C.J. Jikyo Wolfer

January 04, 2010

Resolution and Resolve

This talk was given at Olympia Zen Center on December 30, 2009. With thanks to Josepha Vermote for transcribing it.

Resolution and Resolve

We come back to practice after a short holiday and we have New Year the day after tomorrow. It is much colder this year in Olympia, I don't remember it so cold, very invigorating actually. We are at the time of the year when is is traditional to think about the matter of resolutions, a chance to start again, a chance to resolve.

For tonight’s talk on the question of resolve and resolution I’m taking a lesson from Dogen Zenji’s, “One Bright Pearl” a chapter in SHOBOGENZO. In this chapter, Shibi is a simple fisherman, and for thirty years there is nothing extraordinary about his life. As Dogen says, without any warning and expectation, a Golden Fish jumps into his boat. Now, we can guess what that means, can't we! Immediately, something moves Shibi to change his life. He puts away his fishing career and he goes up into the mountain. Going up into the mountain and the boat in this story are both metaphors. Certainly the going up into the mountain refers to his entering deep Zen practice, entering the monastic way and putting behind him, worldly ways. The matter of the fishing boat could represent floating around in the world without any purpose. So he gives up his floating way and goes up to the mountain to root himself. He has heard of Zen Master Seppo, high up the mountain.

After quite a number of years, he decides that he's going to go to a another place, he's going to find another teacher. Now, it was customary in China to go and visit different teachers. So Shibi packs up his things, and as he is going down the mountain he stubs his toe quite badly. He shrieks in pain, and immediately has a deep realization. Dogen Zenji writes:

“Thereupon,” Shibi said, “ This body has no independent existence, so where is the pain coming from?” So he goes back up the mountain to Seppo and he tells Seppo what happened. Seppo asks him: “Is this Shibi the Austere Monk?”

Shibi responded: “I have never dared to deceive anyone about that!”

So delighted by this response Seppo says: “Who could fail to cherish this response. Who could have expressed the Great Matter, more fully!”

On another occasion Seppo called out to him : “O Shibi my Austere Monk, why haven't you gone out on pilgrimage to seek a master to train with?”

And Shibi answered :” Bodhidharma did not come east to China for that, nor did the Second Ancestor go west to India for that!” Seppo highly praised what he had said.

Shibi had been devoted to fishing for so much of his life, that he had never set eyes on the voluminous body of Buddhist Scriptures and spiritual writings, even in his dreams. Nevertheless when he put the depth of his resolve to realize the truth above all else, a true determination emerged which surpassed that of the other monks around him. Seppo realized that Shibi excelled all others and praised him above Seppo's other disciples.

Dogen goes on to explain that Shibi had very few garments, very few clothes. That's why they called him the Austere Monk. He wore paper underwear and a course hemp cloth. He made clothes out of mugwort leaves. It seems he wore a hemp cloth of a hundred patches because his clothes were always falling apart and he had to sew them together.

Apart for working under Seppo, he did not seek out any other Master to train with. Even though he kept to just one Master he certainly found within himself the spiritual strength to become the heir to his Master's Dharma.

So Dogen Zenji is pointing out that the deep matter of practice lies within ourselves, not in going around to find what other teachers might think. Dogen himself did not necessarily promote going around and studying with other teachers. Dogen Zenji says that students should find the question of resolve within themselves. And through that resolve they will understand the Dharma of the teacher they are with, and resolve to be a great student to succeed their own teacher.

We talk about the question of resolve and resolution tonight, because this comes every year as a special time to consider our lives. New Year's Eve I spend quietly and I think about my life and resolution and I consider things that I think would be important to my life, a way of taking up some aspect of practice to focus on, because New Year is an opportunity to exercise a resolution. And the matter of resolution and resolve, I think, is about exercise.

I don't know about you, but I so dislike to hear the word exercise. I myself do not like to go out and exercise. That is not to say that I don't think I should be fit, or that I shouldn't take care of my body, but the matter of “exercise” seems so distasteful. In times past, we weren't so sedentary and many people had jobs that required them to be physically active. We have generally become sedentary, our children have become sedentary, they do not play out of doors any longer. So our bodies are showing the result of no exercise and even with that I'm not keen on the word exercise. When you go to the doctor, that's one of the first questions asked these days: “Do you exercise?” And of course I fib, a little bit, I mean I do exercise, I'm very active, there are stairs in the house, and I'm up and down the stairs maybe thirty times a day, not to mention other physical work.

Nevertheless, on a spiritual level, spiritual life is exercise -- exercising for strength within ourselves to change, to take up aspects in our character that need to be polished. To polish the character requires exercise. Clearly, I know that when I talk about physical exercise, I can disappoint myself if I don't get exercise, and I disappoint myself if I resolve to do something and I don't exercise the resolve. Our character becomes quite weak when we don't exercise ourselves very truly. So resolution and resolve which bring about determination, require us to do something. The meaning of the word “resolution,” is to loosen and to release. Most interesting! Because the word to resolve means that we have to loosen some hold or thinking in some way or some manner of identity that we have about ourselves, or some kind of constriction that is keeping us from doing something. That has to be loosened, it has to let go for us to be able to resolve to do something. To loosen the grip of identity or thought, whatever it is, that has to be loosened for us to go forward. Most interesting and very subtle. It's a very subtle matter. So to resolve means to release ourselves to find an answer, to release ourselves to begin to do something. And that little piece is extremely subtle in us, the piece that prevents us from the resolve to do something, and to continue it, and to allow determination to take us over the long haul. So many people, most people make a resolution and without ten days it's gone. Ten days, it's forgotten! And of course sometimes we have really fancy notions about ourselves and we're going to go for the moon, we're going to do something extraordinary that we're not prepared for.

But spiritual practice is subtle work. We make great spiritual strides in subtle work in subtle understanding. Understanding the matter of that gripping machine and to loosen and to release. At some point it's necessary if we wish to advance, to go forward. All the little pieces in spiritual work are things that turn out to be big things, pieces that are the underpinnings that are the platform of spiritual growth. Nobody sees them, they are just subtle pieces within ourselves that allow our character to be polished.

So, with Shibi, this depth of resolve to realize the truth above all else, a true determination emerged. I'm not suggesting by the way, in reading this story about Shibi that we throw everything down, and go to the mountain for monastic practice. Monastic practice life is in us, it is not in external things even though we have temples that make it look that way. Monastic practice is clearly a way that we pick up within ourselves. And I know very often, I say I'm not a monastic, and yet I live within myself as a monastic, yet I may not look like a monastic in my daily life. Of course I sit Zazen and of course I'm practicing here, but it is more than that. It is truly about our resolving to live a particular way in which throughout our whole life, we determine that we will progress and we will live fully in search and resolution of a spiritual foundation, which requires continual exercise. Practice must be exercised. There's nothing that makes us happier than to be that...to grow that eternal monastic light, into caring for ourselves continuously and once again forming the teacher within ourselves.

Dogen Zenji says that Shibi's determination and his resolve was so deep, and this is the aspect that has to do with receiving the Transmission of the Buddha. Even if we do not wear Okesa, the robe of the monk, we still receive the Transmission of Buddha. We receive it by life practice, this practice which is the Transmission. There is no separation whatsoever. Just to sit in the posture of the Buddha, is to receive the Transmission, is to be in the posture of Awakening. If we continue to sit Zazen, there is resolve behind it, there is resolve in the underpinning, the determination to continue, the determination to experience that Awakening and a real understanding of ourselves, a real confidence in the root of the true Self.

So this is the New Year, this is the wonderful opportunity to look at something. Something that we can really make happen, that we can really change, a very small thing, it has not to be huge at all. You know, the important aspect to sitting Zazen, is to sit at the moment that we have the intuition to sit, it doesn't matter how long we sit. The important thing is to respond to the intuition to sit, the call to sit, to respond and to actually sit at that moment. This is the same as The Golden Fish jumping into the boat. If we have the urge to sit and we don't respond to it, we turn away, we're not exercising our resolve.

I hope you can sit quietly with yourself and consider the question of resolve and the question of loosening something that needs to be loosened to allow ourselves to open to resolution. I love New Year’s Eve, the quiet of it. And do you know, we have a Blue Moon tomorrow night.