The need for urgency….

A great Zen Master once said that we must realize the urgency for practicing Zazen, to sit and meditate without attaching to the thoughts that seem to arise out of nowhere.. He was Dogen, and lived in Japan about a thousand years ago. He said the urgency should be as when we realize our hair is on fire… So, if you all of a sudden realized your hair was in fact on fire… there is no thought, only action, and it is urgent action.. hands smack your head to put the fire out… no time to think, no time to wait… just action… and just correct action…

Zen is like this.

But why the rush? In Zen, you are taught that if you rush towards Enlightenment, it flies away even quicker than you run towards it.. It is crafty like that! Why is it like this? And even if it is like this, how can a person rush and be urgent when this will ultimately fail? Ok… first question first…. Why is it like this?

In Zen, it is said that if you seek Enlightenment, regardless if you rush towards it or sidle up beside it, the seeking itself means you can never find it… It is because if you seek it, you create it as something already outside of yourself…A dualism is created.. Non-Enlightened person versus the Enlightened person you seek. Buddhism is about discovering that you already are a fully enlightened being! So seeking it is not the Way… what is? Buddhism’s way is about realizing what you already are, not a path to find something outside of yourself.  Metaphors and similes can be very good teaching tools in Zen, but they are also dangerous tools. They can help foster a feeling of separation, to fuel dualist thought, which is a trap. So, strong words are to be treated with respect, just like strong medicine. Strong medicine can heal, but if it becomes relied upon, it will ultimately cause harm. In all the different flavors of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism tends to be the most wary of words, of the Sutras, and to practice the Dharma accordingly.

Second question: How can we realize the urgency to become Enlightened when this rushing will ultimately fail us? Well, it is the realization of the urgency that is needed, to provide the correct motivation to practice, to sit Zazen. When proper determination is manifested, it forms the foundation of practice, of sitting Zazen practice and is built upon. When the foundation is complete, then practice can grow in a very nurtured and natural manner. The foundation is built by the urgency. The urgency can then fade away when the foundation of determination to become Enlightened is laid down.

How do we find this urgency? Each person has their own ways of finding this, but, in our world, this is not difficult… there are many many beings suffering horrifically right now. A bumper sticker I once saw said something like: ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention’.. How very true!

A Buddhism vows to help all beings from suffering. Right now, as these words are being read, there are numerous people who are suffering horrifically. My mind sometimes goes into the blackest of places, thinking not just of the horrible suffering many people and beings are going through right now due to famine, disease and similar horrible things, but into darker, more deliberate suffering that some people inflict on others…

Sometimes in the news you hear of a story of a person who has kept a person, or sometimes, people, in underground pits they dug under their homes, and they have kept them there for years and years, decades sometimes. My heart-mind screams out, oh the torture. The horror. I can not imagine. At these times, my determination to help all beings from suffering gets stronger.

Prayer can help, but actions are much more powerful. I recently saw His Holiness, the Dali Lama, and he said this. Prayers are ok, yes, but the effect is small. Action can have big effect. He went on to explain that the word Karma means ‘action’. So, our actions are very very important. So, if we have an ill loved-one, for example, we can pray they heal, which is good, yes, but any actions we take are much more powerful, like visiting them in hospital with a smile and simply being there for them.

But prayers are still important, and even though their effect may be small, there is still an effect. Sometimes, prayer is the only ‘action’ we can take. Maybe everyone who reads this post, can say a prayer, from their heart-minds, for the people who are suffering horrifically. … I may be wrong, but I focus these prayers towards the people who are causing the suffering, they control the power to stop what they do to others, they need to heal and this will only happen with deep love.

In future posts, I will talk more about what Enlightenment and Dharma actually ‘are’. I will also talk about more happy things, like butterflies dancing amongst the rainbows as life is beautiful and wondrous!

Advertisements

Why I started this blog on Zen

I am not the best Buddhist. Yet I try, try try! I have not officially taken precepts (I will talk about these in a future post) and I have not shaved my head. I do not sit Zazen as much as I would like too. As they say, I am too busy ‘living life’… forgetting the importance, the urgency, for realizing my inherent Buddha-nature.

All beings, have Buddha-nature, yet it remains hidden to most. It is hidden behind the concepts of our thoughts. Always there but rarely experienced. Let us all find our dance… only in this dancing can we see its face…

Why have I started this blog? It was mainly an unfolding of 2 key events. First was the encouragement of my wife, she always felt this is something I should do. Secondly, it was a dream I had. This was about a week ago. I was deep in sleep and a car alarm went off in the middle of the night outside my window. BAM! I woke up instantly. I felt my thoughts shift from somewhere else into the wakefulness of realizing it was a car alarm. I looked out the window and all seemed ok. As I went back into bed, I realized where my mind was before I woke up. I was sitting, in robes, among many other monks, in an outdoor monastery. Just sitting. Meditating. We were all just doing Zazen! Nothing more. The dream amazed me.. though I was struggling to do Zazen in my waking life, I was secretly do it in my dreams!

I feel back asleep, a smile on my face with new determination. I must deepen my practice.. this practice of Zazen is not for one’s own self, but to help all beings. As the saying goes… you can’t help others unless you help yourself.. Zen is sorta like this. The Universe has deep love for you… when you realize what the Universe knows about you, this love deepens and grows, spreads into others lives, other hearts and the world becomes a better place. It blossoms. We think with our brains, but we love and feel with our hearts. And that’s not just wishy-washy talk. The physical heart contains a significant amount of neurons, it actually ‘thinks’. It processes thought, but not like the brain does, which was evolved for a specific type of thinking, conceptual thought. The heart evolved not just to swirl blood around, but to also to think. But this heart-thinking is not in concepts, not conceptual… When you use your heart-mind, dancing becomes easier.

Let us try a little bit of heart-mind thinking… try to ‘tune in’ to what your heart is thinking… Is it hurting? Does it have a dance for you? It certainly has unconditional love for you…. It loves you. You can feel this. Feel the dance the heart beats for you… it lays down the rhythm so you are already half way there!

Emptiness is not nothingness

In Zen, and Buddhism in general, a central principal is that of ’emptiness’. This is sometimes confused with nothingness, and this is more than understandable. Original Buddhist texts, called Sutras, have been translated over millennia from and into various languages, from Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. Every language has a finite number of words, and sometimes certain words simply do not have an equivalent in another language.

Emptiness, in English, stands to reason would imply nothingness.. if my gas tank is empty, theres nothing left in it. However, in Zen, emptiness means something different. It is an attempt to explain that all things, everything on Earth and beyond, are ’empty’. What are they empty of? Simply, independent existence. In Zen, it is understood that nothing exists independent of everything else. No man is an island!

Philosophically, you have seen this before perhaps… darkness only can exist, or be defined, when light exists…. (as in that darkness is the absence of light)  Coldness can only be if hot exists… (as in coldness is the absence of heat)… and so goes the reasoning…Ying and yang…

Humans only exist when they can breathe Oxygen, eat food and go to the bathroom. We can not exist without the Universe. So, it follows, that our true nature is dependant on everything around us. It defines us. .. Yet, it goes both ways… We define the Universe, we define it. I talked about dancing in my previous post… This too is a dance.

So, humans are empty of independent nature and while understanding this can be very good and beneficial, fully realising it can set us free.

It may be seen how free will can only exist with fate. And how fate can only exist with free will. In Zen, both are said to be illusions, as these are concepts, products of conceptual thought. Concepts, no matter how clear, are always limited by their inherent parameters… they are models, and being such, can never match Truth.

This is not to say that conceptual thinking is ‘wrong’… it has it’s time and place, however, most of the time, conceptual thought binds us down.

Zen can be used to become free of the bounds of conceptual thought, to become more ‘free’. Zen is an action and not realized through reading and studying. Central to Zen is the practice of Zazen, which is sitting meditation. This is at the heart of Zen. I will talk about this in a future post.

Sit and do not attach to the thoughts arrising and see what remains hidden behind…that which was always there….

Dancing with the moon, magnets and zen.

Image

The moon has been an intimate partner of our Earth for billions of years, each dancing around the other, together traveling around the Sun. Gravity attracts all things together. It is the weakest of the four fundamental forces in nature. So weak, for example, that one of the other 3 forces, electromagnetism, can hold a fridge magnet on, well, your fridge, against the force of the gravity of the entire Earth. A little magnet triumphs over the entire world! Yet, somehow, gravity is like the tortoise and those cute alphabet magnets you bought are the hare…

Image

So, our moon dances with us, pulling on our water keeping surfers happy, and entrances us with it’s beauty. We travel around the sun, yet its path isn’t elliptical, its a wavy ellipse, and much more so for the moon. It’s dance is a salsa and ours a slow waltz, and yet, somehow, the dance is the same one.

Zen is like this. Zen is the dance. The Universe’s dance. Sometimes it is a slow dance, filled with hidden kisses, sometimes it is a fast dance, like a salsa, full of raw yet controlled passion, sometimes it is furious, like dancing on ice! Sometimes, it is ugly, like Steve Martin’s rhythm in the movie ‘The Jerk’. Sometimes it is breakdancing, very funky! Zen, like all Buddhism, is, as it is said, the raft, to cross the river to the shore of Awakened-ment. This dance, this raft, infinite in its forms, has a singular function. A single focused purpose.

We all have our own dance. Many people have long forgotten it. It’s deeply private and unique and finding our own dance, our own path, is the only way we can cross the river. Sure, we can learn from watching others dance! Oh the joy sometimes! Sometimes we learn from copying someones beautiful dance, yet, in the end, we always must come back to our own dance if we ever want to cross the river.

Let’s together learn to look inside ourselves and find that way, our own inner dance… It’s always with us, never has left, yet so sneaky to see and find… yet we all have times when we know it, feel it, live it and embrace it…. We have no doubt, no thought, when we are dancing our dance. Often, we then become aware of the dancing, and it is like looking in a mirror, and we trip and fall, and realise how difficult it is to stand back up and keep dancing…

Like all things, it takes practice. Practice and more practice.

Zen helps guide us to find our dance. It gives us a direct way to find our dance. Actually, Zen perhaps isn’t a dance at all.. It is a dance partner…the best dance partner in the Universe!

So, what is Zen?

So what exactly is Zen? The word ‘Zen’ has been used in popular culture in various contexts, sometimes relating to Buddhism, sometimes to other things. So what is it? Zen is simply a type of Buddhism. As in Christianity, there are different types, such as Catholicism and Protestant and Methodist , and in Buddhism, there are different types as well. Zen is one of these flavors. Zen Buddhism originates in Japan, coming over from China, where it is called Ch’an. A simple way of explaining Zen is with an apple. When asked what an apple tastes like, one form of Buddhism would explain how the apple’s existence is dependent on everything around it, like the tree it grew on, the soil the tree lives in, the air and insects around the tree… that its existence is dependent and not separate from the rest of the world.. that the apple tastes sweet and perhaps tart. Another form of Buddhism may explain that an apple is inherently empty, and thinking of the concept of an apple is inherently flawed and lacking.. An apple is, in fact, not an apple and its taste is interdependent on the Earth and your mouth. If you ask a Zen Master what an apple tastes like, he would eat it. Or, he may throw the apple at you! Zen, it is said, is beyond words. If you speak of it, you have killed it. So, with this in mind, I now will eat an apple and if you ask me how it tastes, I will throw the core at you!

a short autobiography

I was born in 1971 in the suburbs of New York City. I had a very free and nurturing childhood, with a strong spiritual influence from my family. Discipline was somewhat foreign to me, yet somehow I never did many things that could get me in trouble. I developed a deep love for the natural world during my youth, sparked by Great-uncle. He was always a quiet man, and I never got to know him in any deep way. He happened to live with and take care of my Great-grandmother, so when my family would visit her, which we did regularly, his presence was about. I remember being utterly fascinated with a little stuffed bird he had in the living room. I would stare into the bird’s eyes, just waiting for it to spring back into flight. I was mesmerized with its beauty. I would visualize what its life must have been like, the things it had seen, the adventures, the flights, the views… Its family… they were probably outside singing…. I fell deeply in love with that bird and its extended family, and then all of nature…

I spent my late teens finding my adult-self…with lots of adventures…and mis-adventures… I graduated high school and went on to college, majoring in Natural Resources Conservation.. I wanted to ‘Save the World!!’. I took 3 years to get my 2 year degree, getting high honors in the end, even though I flunked out spectacularly (0.00 gpa!)in the second year. The next 6 years I bounced around, attending 3 different colleges, with 5 different attempts, finally getting my 4-year degree in Environmental Science, 9 years after high school, with honors again amongst the dropping out.. It was in the middle of this time I found out about Buddhism. I was still searching for deep meaning in my life, and college, while fantastic for me, wasn’t providing me the answers I so badly desired. To be honest, I don’t recall exactly how I found out about Buddhism, but I think it was a simple as looking in a bookstore at books about spirituality, religion and the like and saw a book about the Buddha’s life. A biography… and the summary on the cover seemed to click for me… The Buddha was a human being, a man, who had everything.. He was a prince, with a Kingdom to be inherited, he had the best of food, clothes, jewellery, education…. Everything…He had a wife and child…. But he still had a deep longing in his heart.. he was not happy!! One day he saw a very old dying man and it made him think long and hard…. He decided to cut his princely hair, completely decorated with valuable jewels, and left home. His wife understood he had to go into the world and find what he sought, even though he knew he didn’t know what he was looking for! And, long story short… He figured ‘it’ out, became Enlightened and spent the next 50 years teaching The Way.

The story touched my heart. Although I was far from a prince, I could relate to his story, and so my journey into Buddhism began. Throughout my teenage years and into my 20’s I kept a journal, and I wrote and wrote and wrote! The things I wrote about seemed to mirror many of the things I starting discovering about Buddhism, so this fuelled my fire. I knew I was on to something special, intimate and full of love.

Since then, I have gotten married and started a family. I have moved from America to England, went back to college again and received my Masters in Radiation and Environmental Protection, with honors and this is where I am now. A Buddhist New Yorker living in England making sure people and the environment are safe when using x-rays and radioactive materials, with a wife who catches me when I fall and a son who, being just under 2 years old, already knows more about Zen than I do. The best teachers of the Way are the ones closest to you. I feel lucky, as the ones closest to me are wonderful, yet sometimes, some people who are close to you, are not so wonderful… yet it is still true that they are your best teachers of the Way. Sometimes we need strong medicine, and most medicines taste awful. This is why a Zen Master once said “A bad situation is a good situation”. The Universe is our friend, our ally, and always is filled with deep love. In this blog, I plan to talk about Buddhism, but also just about life, taking in other religions, other faiths, and lots of science. I will talk about my adventures over the years, and misadventures… and the Truth they yielded. The Way is about deep faith, and the Truth fuels this faith. Truth is everywhere, so faith is boundless.