Teachings

The Heavy Lifting

January 27, 2012

I’d like to talk about a koan. A koan is a brief story or statement – usually a record of an interaction between Zen monks, Zen masters, or a Zen master and a disciple. Koans are usually called cases. They’ve been used in the Rinzai Zen tradition as teaching devices. The Chinese word – kung-an…

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Mistakes

December 17, 2011

In his book Joyously Through The Days, Zen teacher Les Kaye talks about the wish to become pure: “Humans have always dreamed of transforming themselves, of becoming ‘pure,’ of gaining freedom from the ‘impurities’ of the human condition.” This wish, this dream, is what draws some people to traditions and practices like Zen. Les Kaye’s…

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About Enlightenment

November 11, 2011

I always thought the Zen masters and the Zen poets, hermits, and wanderers I read about when I was young had some kind of unique knowledge, some unique power or insight that gave them a special edge. The nature of the edge wasn’t clear to me, but they seemed happier and freer than I was…

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My Avatar, My Self

October 9, 2011

Everything now has a life online, including Zen. For example, the website Second Life – a virtual world with something like a million active users – includes a virtual zendo. I was invited to give a Zen talk to the online sangha but with no experience in that kind of virtual environment I needed coaching.…

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Zen Teacher/Zen Student

August 30, 2011

Recently, I gave a talk at a Zen center about the long process I went through that led to my ordination as a Zen priest. Afterward, someone in the audience commented that in my talk I used the expression, “when I ordained as a priest,” and also the expression “when I was ordained as a…

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Save me

August 1, 2011

In 1992, a crowd of 25,000 gathered before a seven year old boy, each hoping for a personal blessing. In 2011, among an auditorium of 600 New Yorkers, I sat patiently waiting to hear what that boy – now a 26 year old religious leader – had to say about compassion and the nature of…

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Zen and poetry

July 22, 2011

Art and religion have always been close companions. My own Zen lineage comes through Japan where Zen and art seem nearly inseparable. I’m personally interested in the relationship between art and religion because I’ve been writing a lot – mostly poetry. This has gotten me thinking about how writing and Zen feel both similar and…

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The Zen of choosing brownies

July 10, 2011

Some classical Zen literature looks at first blush like highly idealized, unrealistic, or even preposterous teaching for life in a complex world. One example is “Faith in Mind,” a long poem attributed to Sozan, the Third Zen Patriarch. It’s a beautiful poem, and it’s filled with pointers like “do not pick or choose.” We’ve started…

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Shades of Doubt

June 22, 2011

Faith, doubt, and determination are three elements of Zen practice about which lots has been said. Most Zen practitioners tend to connect more with one of the three than with the others. For me, it’s doubt. At first, the idea of doubt as something essential in a spiritual practice seemed pretty odd. I equated doubt…

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Enter there.

May 6, 2011

Kyosho was a young monk who came to study with Zen Master Gensha. Kyosho said, “I’ve come to you seeking the truth. Please tell me, where can I start to get into Zen?” Gensha answered, “Kyosho, do you hear the sound of the mountain stream?” “Yes, Master. I hear it.” “Enter Zen from there,” Gensha…

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Non-thinking

April 1, 2011

There’s an important Zen story in The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, in Case 129: When Priest Yaoshan was sitting in meditation a monk asked, “What do you think about, sitting in steadfast composure?” Yaoshan said, “I think not thinking.” The monk said, “How do you think not thinking?” Yaoshan said, “Non-thinking.” The first…

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Non-thinking

April 1, 2011

There’s an important Zen story in The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, in Case 129: When Priest Yaoshan was sitting in meditation a monk asked, “What do you think about, sitting in steadfast composure?” Yaoshan said, “I think not thinking.” The monk said, “How do you think not thinking?” Yaoshan said, “Non-thinking.” The first…

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