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October 2015 Dharma Byte


In the early days of my practice, whenever someone would discover my involvement or interest in Zen, which I was not eager to make known to any and all, they would commonly ask, "Have you been to Japan?" or a similar question. At first, I felt it a natural reaction, and a reasonable question to pose. But after giving it some thought, as we say (as if thought were some precious commodity not to be wasted on trivial matters), and in the light of the intervening emergence of the organization of Zen in the USA, with its complement of training centers, priests, and even a professional organization, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, it seems curiouser and curiouser, with apologies to Lewis Carroll.

The question begs the question, that if you have not gone to Japan, then your practice of Zen may itself be questionable. Or if you have gone to Japan, the follow-on question would be regarding where and when, and whether you were exposed to Zen there. Or if you were merely a tourist, your claiming to be "into Zen" would be subject to dismissal, as not being the real thing. It is as if Japan and Zen are joined at the hip.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 23 September 2015 10:08)


September 2015 DharmaByte-Giving


In Buddhism, giving, or generosity, is called dana, a Sanskrit term that probably has many more connotations than we have space to deal with. Here, I would like to discuss that category of giving that has sometimes been called "repaying our debt to Buddha."

Now, Buddha was an ordinary human being. Okay, perhaps not so ordinary as you or I. My point is, in Zen, we do not worship the historical figure as a deity, or imagine that he is somehow watching to see if we appreciate the teachings he codified and handed down to us through successive generations of followers. Much less do we fantasize that if we do not do something tangible to reflect our gratitude for buddha-dharma, that we should feel guilty, or fear retribution.

No, Zen is not a religion of paranoia, or prosperity, for that matter. We neither expect to profit from our practice, nor are we attempting to avoid suffering in Zen.

But Zen practice exists, when and where it exists at all, in the real world. It is as subject to economic realities as is any other entity that exists, whether as a natural object, sentient or insentient; or a corporate entity, such as a 501c3.

To understand this is to embrace Matsuoka Roshi's strange aphorism that "The Zen person has no problem following the sidewalks." This means, I think, that if you are following the way of Zen, you do not stop short at the apparent barriers thrown up by the machinations of humankind, such as corporate organization, or the sidewalks in your neighborhood. Sidewalks provide dependable, durable footing, and relative safety alongside streets and thoroughfares of a city. But of course, they are also usually impermeable, and contribute to runoff and resultant flooding during rainy weather. So each such invention represents a compromise.

August 2015 DharmaByte


Last month’s Dharma Byte was titled “REALIZING Beginner’s Mind – Father’s Day June 21, 2015,” and ended with Matsuoka Roshi’s admonition that we should not give up on zazen too soon. Continuing my infatuation with the gerund, a verb form that acts as a noun in implying ongoing, never-ending action, I would like to focus our attention on “training,” another word that we tend to use casually and perhaps take for granted, never examining its deeper implications in Zen.

The longer you train in Zen, the more you come to appreciate that Master Dogen pretty much said it all, and as well as any other great Master, including the Chinese and Shakyamuni Buddha himself. This is why I do not agree with one of our former Disciple’s teachers, whom she quoted as saying, when she mentioned Zen, “Oh, Zen – too much Dogen; not enough Buddha.” To me, they both, in fact all of the Ancestors, speak with one voice.

In Fukanzazengi: Universal Promotion for Zazen, the first tract that Dogen committed to writing upon his return from China, he says (from our STO Service Book, current Soto Shu consensus translation – emphasis mine):

If you wish to realize Buddha’s wisdom, you should begin training immediately. Forsaking all delusive relationships, setting everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right or wrong. Thus stopping the function of your mind, give up even the idea of becoming a buddha; not only in zazen, but in all your daily actions.

So training in Zen means training the mind, but in reverse: training it to stop doing what it usually does, including conceptualizing any end result of zazen, such as becoming a buddha, which we might ordinarily consider our highest level of aspiration. So we are, in effect, un-training our mind; reversing the effect of our years of ordinary training, resulting from conventional education and cultural memes and mores. This is why Zen takes so long to have its deeper effect. These habits of thinking and over-thinking are deeply ingrained in our psyche.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 12 August 2015 12:47)

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