Monk In The World

To be a monk is to have time to practice for your transformation and healing. And after that to help with the transformation and healing of other people.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today, Consciously Be Compassionate







We should continually focus our mind on Great Compassion. But what is Great Compassion? It is relieving the pain and suffering of others and helping them. It is through helping others that we can experience 'true happiness'—a state of constant joy.

—Venerable Master Cheng Yen
Quote taken from the Dana Wiki website.

Bows,
Alan

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday in Advent

As we begin the season of Advent, I have decided to read again, Merton's Palace of Nowhere by James Finley. Merton was Finley's spiritual director at Our Lady of Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky the five or so years he was there. I read this book on a retreat many years ago.

I began this morning and was pleased to find the following quote, which speaks to my own personal spiritual journey in a lot of ways.

Any serious daily practice of interior prayer will give some taste of the following experience: You sit in prayer. On the surface there is nothing. Yet, as the noise of your next thought falls away, as you allow the silence to deepen around and within you, you discover that you are on the trackless waters on which Jesus bid Peter to walk in order to be united with him. To use the imagery of Saint John of the Cross, there is a path to walk with "no light except the one that burns in your heart." You set out to find him who calls you out of nothingness to union with himself. You set out knowing that you must find God, yet the first step leaves you lost. An inner wisdom tells you that "to reach him whom you do not know you must go by a way you do not know."

In all my "exploring", as one poet has put it, I have come to believe that the experience of this mystery we call "God" in the Christian tradition,  is the experience of intimacy. I have also come to believe that this same "God experience" is no different from what seems to be suggested in the Soto Zen tradition as waking up to the reality that we are one, not two, pointing, it seems to me, to this experience of intimacy.

There are those close to me who wonder if I believe in "God" because I practice zazen. The answer is yes. But the answer is also that my understanding of this mystery is simply different than their understanding.

So somewhere in my journey I had to make the decision  "to reach him whom you do not know you must go by a way you do not know."


My zazen has been that "way you do not know" and has allowed me to make an attempt to strip away a lot of conditioning about who "God" is , looking for the purest experience, the most naked experience of this "one, not two".

Advent is about anticipation. I am always excited about anticipation. So I will let "it", "him", "her" be what it will be and wait, taking the next breath, and waiting again.

Bows,
Alan

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Zazen

When it comes to the holidays and my Zazen, I let unfold that which unfolds and pay attention (most of the time). The house is now full of children and grandchildren (one outside the womb and the other in the womb). My zazen posture is completely different during this time.

True zazen is when we actualize our practice in all that we do. We hopefully come to the place where we can actualize the fundamental point in all that we do. This is what I think, anyway. I am still very new at this practice. I am not saying that sitting is not important. I am saying that if we put sitting in the right perspective we don't have to fight against the current of what is happening in our lives when we can't do proper zazen.

So what does that posture look like during the holidays:
Cooking a meal with attention
Changing a diaper with attention
Emptying the garbage every hour with attention
Holding this new precious life with attention

Well, you get the picture.

Ted Biringer, over at Flatbed Sutra says:

 From Bodhidharma, the traditional first Zen ancestor in China, to Thich Nhat Hanh, the contemporary Vietnamese Zen master and author, all the authentic masters agree, seeing true nature is the goal of Zen.


Is not paying attention to this one thing we are doing the path to seeeing the true nature? Is this not Zazen?


Well, I need to go practice, the baby is crying!


Bows,
Alan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Shovel, Dirt and a Root





A student was discussing with his teacher the Koan Mu. The student was told by the teacher, "Keep digging at it!" The student replied, "How can I keep digging at it if I don't know what the shovel looks like?"

The teacher responded, "The handle of the shovel is zazen, the blade is the question, "What is mu?" and the dirt, of course, is mu - but what is it really?"
Later the student read in a book the following quote, "You try to cut off the root of consciousness by sitting."




Digging, tossing dirt, cutting roots...when you cut something away from its life source what is left? You would think something would die. Then again, maybe what one is cutting is a root that has been grafted onto an original root and what the plant has become is a hybrid, not what it originally was. Then it would make sense to cut away from this root.


Truth is, there is too much thinking going here and not enough sitting. Maybe grace is not free. Maybe grace does cost something.


Bows to the teacher,


Alan





Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let Me (AGAIN) Respectfully Remind You!

One of my wife's students (15 year old boy) died last night after battling some kind of acute hematology event over the last three days. Again we are all reminded that death is no respecter of person, age, economic class, faith or any other discriminating factor that you can throw into the mix. My wife will have to return to school on Monday and face seventh, eighth and ninth graders, probably with a lot of questions. She teaches at a very conservative Christian School. There were a lot of prayers going up for this young boy over the last three or four days. I hope this becomes a growing experience for all concerned and not something that is just tucked away with a lot of hackneyed Christian phrases, burying the pain of loss in this situation.

We (as a family) have spent the last four weeks celebrating the new life of our first grandchild. This new life that we have will some day lose it's life, hopefully many, many, many years from now. But death will come to her, to her mother and to her father. Nothing is permanent. And of course to the one who is writing these words. None of us probably want to think about that! But it would seem to me it should be "thought" about! Does it seem morbid to contemplate the death of my granddaughter? I don't think so. I think it causes me to appreciate this very precious life that has be given in ways maybe I would not, although that seems hard to believe, considering how I feel as a new first time grandparent. But as time goes by I'm sure that it is possible to even take this grand parenting event for granted.
Let me respectfully remind you,
    life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by, 
    and opportunity is lost.
Let us awaken, 
    awaken.
Take heed, 
    do not squander your life.

So what do we end up awakening to? 
Well, I think one of the things we wake up to is the fact of impermanence! And that is growth.
I hope some of these kids can be reminded of that in this event they now have to experience. Not to the point of fear, even though this is fearful, especially for these young ones but to the point of "seeing" life more clearly!

I hope they have people who walk through this with them in a real way, feeling the pain, the anger, the fear, the doubt and all those other things that come with grief.

I hope someone will allow them to "live the questions" and not just provide the answers.

Life is "Just This"! This key stroke, this letter, this word, just this!

Pay Attention!  Wake Up!

bows,
Alan

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning TO Bend Into Life

I have been re-reading Opening the Hand of Thought , the Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice

Quoted in this book is Uchiyama Roshi's final poem, completed on the last day of his life:

JUST BOW

Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.

 Just bow to become one with Buddha and God. 

Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.

 Just bow to become one with all the myriad things. 

Just bow as life becomes life.

This speaks to me so profoundly! 
This is body/mind practice. This is being intimate with what is before you. This is actualizing the fundamental point with body/mind.
What would my day be like today if I put my right and left hands together, and just bowed to this one wonderful life I have?


Nine Bows to Uchiyama Roshi!!!!!

Alan

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Fundamental Point



When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly,
Dogen
Well, the truth is, she has been the "point" of everything this week and to hold her in your arms is to simply experience her form, her life, her sounds, her, completely, directly!

Gassho New Teacher

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wisdom


Practice is like Willie Nelson's guitar.
 Restringing life everyday allows this old skin sack to play the music it was intended play.

Bows,
Alan

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Simplicity and The Sacredness of Routine

Speaking of "routine", I normally post on Saturdays and Sundays here but because I am off this week spending time with my new granddaughter, I have been posting more.


As I have stated in earlier post, my wife and I came here this week to serve in whatever capacity was needed while these folks develop a practice with this new life, a routine, if you will, and of course, to bond with our new granddaughter.


It has been somewhat of a retreat experience for me and my wife. Don't get me wrong, it's busy! But the daily routines seem to offer a simplicity to life which allows one to feel the sacredness of it all.


I can't tell you the last time my wife and I spent a week just being in a regular daily routine around household chores. Lest I forget, it has not been the easiest thing for my wife. She has gotten up with the baby on occasions but otherwise, we have been here, doing what is needed. No bells, no whistles, no big attractions, no loud music, no super restaurants. Just this simple life, helping these two young people enter a new era in their lives.


The simplicity and routine (over-layed by the occasional complexity and chaos of a new born) has been another reminder to me about how life has so much to offer in it's nakedness. Just turn and be in your life in a simple way and see and taste that it is good, meaningful. This is not to deny all the possibilities of pain and suffering. But might this kind of living even have something to offer to those parts of our lives also?


The thread that has always run through my spiritual quilt has been "intimacy". And here again I recognize that thread in the midst of this week of simplicity and routine. And it is this "intimacy" that smells of the sacredness.


Deep Bows to Intimacy,


Alan


P.S.
Mother and Daughter still working on "routine", if you know what I mean.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Myriad Things



To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

The Genjo Koan
Dogen

To say that I know this personally and can actualize it's meaning in my life would be a lie. To say that I thought of this text as I was reflecting on my new experience as a grandfather would be the truth.

These thoughts came to me as I was sharing with a friend about my new experience as a grandfather.
As important as all the questions are, even more important is to live the answers.
 Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet said:
"Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
This experience may be my beginning to live my way into the answers.

And maybe you can live ALL the answers by simply doing what is right in front of you with great mindfulness, great compassion, integrity, love and a sincere desire to understand what is needed in this very moment that would benefit the other.

This has been the intention of my practice since arriving here on Saturday. Trying to do whatever is needed of me, trying not to pick and choose, to respond to whatever is given to me in the moment. What is presented in every moment is The Question. Responding with loving kindness and compassion is The Answer.

Do I do this perfectly? Of course not! But as I have written before, I perfectly intend to respond in the right way to what is needed.

The question and the answer is always right before us. The question is Just this. The answer is to respond to "Just this". And then to take the next breath.

My new Zazen.

Bows,

Alan

Monday, November 1, 2010

Relationship-Centered and Mindfulness

As some of you know, I am the chaplain for a private medical oncology practice. One of the messages we try to send to patients and their families is that we are a "relationship-centered practice". That is not a statement I take lightly. Being relationship-centered requires great effort. I don't know if the powers that be know that this statement about our practice is related to, if not the same as, the practice of "mindfulness".

Mindfulness requires that there be some form of practice that a person is involved in which teaches them the skill of staying center, being in the moment, being centered. Each person in our practice has the tool to practice this: The simple act of conscious breathing.

My wife and I are spending a week with the precious life pictured above. I am realizing how important "relationship-centered" is in this situation. I must practice mindfulness this week. I must be where I am and offer what is needed. This is the utmost relationship-centered kind of practice.

My life right now, this moment is JUST THIS. Of course it is always JUST THIS.

May her life go well and may I be mindful.

Trying to breath consciously,

Alan