The Buddha Twirls A Flower

February 19, 2013

In the Flower Sermon, Shakyamuni Buddha passes something to his disciple, Mahakashyapa. According to the story, Shakyamuni is on the teaching seat surrounded by his disciples. But instead of giving the usual kind of lecture, he holds up a flower and gives it a twirl. His disciple, Mahakashyapa smiles. Whereupon the Buddha says, “I possess…

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What is the self?

February 10, 2013

“To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.” These first two sentences are probably the most widely quoted in Dogen’s GENJOKOAN, and perhaps in all of Dogen’s writings. It’s rewarding to read Dogen slowly and closely, word by word. You could spend months and…

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Dongshan is ill

January 10, 2013

Case 94 in the Book of Serenity is entitled Dongshan is Unwell. Here’s the case: Dongshan was unwell. A monk asked, “Your Reverence is unwell. Is there anyone who does not become ill?” Dongshan said, “There is.” The monk said, “Does the one who does not get ill take care of Your Reverence?” Dongshan said,…

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A Fish Story

December 1, 2012

Kuei-shan (Isan) (771-853) woke up one morning and was still in bed when his lead disciple Yang-shan (Kyozan) came in. Kuei-shan said, “I had a dream last night. Would you interpret it for me?” Yang-shan picked up a bowl of water and a towel and handed them to Kuei-shan. Then another disciple – Hsiang-yen (Kyogen)…

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October 22, 2012

When we sit down to do zazen, it gets quiet. And when it gets quiet we notice things. We stop talking, we stop moving, and the room gets quiet. We sit still and concentrate the mind. And then the show starts, because when we slow things down and it gets quiet, we notice things we…

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What about Nirvana?

September 2, 2012

According to a recent Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe God created human beings in pretty much their present form in one stroke at some point in the last 10,000 years. This is remarkable in the face of lots of data to the contrary and despite most schools teaching that human beings have evolved to…

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A different me

August 27, 2012

When you first start meditating, you meet a barrage of mental formations – thoughts, feelings, memories, and just random junk. If you have some faith and don’t give up, the formations that felt overwhelming start to feel less substantial. At first, you kind of take it for granted that the formations are you. You take…

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Working with Zen forms

August 18, 2012

In Zen we use the word “forms” referring to practice formalities – things we do together like bowing, posture, liturgy, or meal etiquette. We inherited these formalities from Japanese teachers who brought Zen to America in the 60’s and 70’s. At most Soto Zen practice places, they’ve been modified a bit, but there’s still a…

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Clouds and silver linings

August 7, 2012

I read recently about a technique called “Re-framing.” Re-framing is deliberately changing how you think about your circumstances, how you perceive conditions, and feeling happier about them as a result. One common example is the idea of re-framing a problem as an opportunity. Or a weakness as a strength. This sounded to me like a…

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Sand and rice

June 6, 2012

In Instructions to the Tenzo, Dogen recounts a conversation, a Dharma interview, between Dongshan (Tozan) and the tenzo, Xuefeng (Seppo). Dongshan asks: “When you are washing the rice, do you wash the sand and pick out the rice or do you wash the rice and pick out the sand?” Seppo answers “I wash and throw…

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What is it?

March 30, 2012

As a Zen priest, I took a vow to keep the lamp of Zen from going out. But what is the lamp of Zen? What lights the way? What is my deepest understanding of Zen practice? What’s personally most true and alive for me? These days, my Zen practice tends to focus on two questions:…

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Working with what's impossible

February 4, 2012

Zen practice has an important relationship with what’s impossible. As I noted in previous comments, one aspect of meeting what’s impossible is recognizing when a challenge arises in life that seems to be or actually is impossible and staying close to it without being or feeling defeated. Major events and transitions in life sometimes qualify…

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