What's the point...

Taigen Dan Leighton, in Buddhadharma, Spring 2017, p28

"As bodhisattvas, we aim not to achieve some exalted superhuman state of mind or being, but to integrate our experience of absolute reality with our everyday experience, and to express the ultimate right within our world and its problems."



Always learning

Every being I encounter today has something to teach me.

That's also true for every task, object, situation--everything.

My work is to keep my mind and heart calm enough to listen, and learn.


Meditation: being, not doing

Jon Kabat-Zinn, from Wherever You Go, There You Are

  "Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. Perhaps its value lies precisely in this. Maybe we all need to do one thing in our lives simply for its own sake.

  "But it would not quite be accurate to call meditation a 'doing.' It is more accurately described as a 'being.' When we understand that 'This is it,' it allows us to let go of the past and the future and wake up to what we are now, in this moment."


Becoming who we're meant to be

Norman Fischer, from Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up

   "Buddhism, along with many other religious traditions, speaks of the possibility of a lasting and truly satisfying happiness that can endure even when times are tough. Such happiness can't come from possessions or accomplishments, for these are transitory and will not suffice at the end of the day when life's questions and contingencies loom large. In the end, secure happiness comes only with the solid feeling we have when we know that we have become the person we were meant to be in this lifetime–that we have matured and used the life we have been given in the best way we could."


Enlightenment is wherever you are

Shunryu Suzuki, from a dharma talk in Not Always So

   "Zazen practice is a very subtle thing. When you practice zazen, you become aware of things you did not notice while you were working. Today I moved stones for a while, and I didn’t realize that my muscles were tired. But when I was calmly sitting zazen, I realized, “Oh! My muscles are in pretty bad condition.” I felt some pain in the various parts of my body. You might think you could practice zazen much better if you had no problem, but actually some problem is necessary. It doesn’t have to be a big one. Through the difficulty you have you can practice zazen. This is an especially meaningful point, which is why Dogen Zenji says, 'Practice and enlightenment are one.' Practice is something you do consciously, something you do with effort. There! Right there is enlightenment."



The right time for Zen

Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara, from Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life's Challenges

   "A Zen approach recognizes all the aspects of life, our ordinary daily life and our function in the world as householders, family members, parents, lovers, students, loners, as craftspeople, businesspeople, artists, and teachers. We can enter this path at any stage of life. In my community, young people under twenty are joining, as are new members well into their eighties. When the time is ripe, Zen is there for you. And it does not require giving up your responsibilities and commitments; rather, it teaches a way to enter into them fully."


Life, and real life

Shohaku Okumura, from The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, p62

   "We human beings have the ability to think of things not in front of us.

   "We create stories in our minds in which the hero or heroine is always us. We evaluate what happened in the past, we analyze our present conditions, and we anticipate what should happen in the future. This is an important ability. Because of it, we can create art, study history, and have visions of the future. Without it, we couldn't write or enjoy poems or movies. Almost all of human culture depends on seeing things not in front of our eyes.

   "This means almost all culture is fictitious. Our ability to create such fictions is the reality of our lives. We cannot live without it. But this ability leads to many problems. We have certain expectations of our stories. If things go as we expect, we feel like heavenly beings, but if not, we feel we're in hell. Often we desire more and more without experiencing satisfaction, like hungry ghosts.

   "It's important to see that it's not life that causes suffering but our expectation that life should be the way we want. We can't live without expectation, but if we can handle the feelings caused by the difference between our expectations and reality, that's liberation."


Forms and freedom

   When I first encountered the many and detailed forms taught at a Zen training center, they rubbed me the wrong way. As a labor activist, I have spent years working to free myself and others from arbitrary rules established by the powers that be. Now I sat staring at a wall trying to count my breaths, while bells and gongs and drums signaled exactly what we should be doing at exactly the right time. There were forms for bowing, chanting, eating, serving, entering the bath house — every one looking like more rules, more infringements on my freedom. Only the clear moral authority of my teacher and the compassionate support of more experienced students kept me coming back to the forms, trying to get them right.

   It was quite a while before the forms began to take on new meaning for me. As experience transformed them from lists of things to do into habits of muscle and mind, the forms promoted greater ease around the basic activity of zazen. I was no longer thinking about what to do next; instead, the form carried me to what was next. Rather than me doing the form, the form was now doing me. I had let go of “doing it right;” now I experienced my inevitable mistakes as just part of what was going on, rather than occasions for shame and self-reproach. Relieved of all the striving, all the guilt, I found space within the form simply to be, in that very place and time.

   It’s a whole new way to experience freedom — and an excellent foundation for my work in the ongoing struggle for justice and peace. That’s for another post… 


Opening thoughts

Welcome to the blog for the Del Ray Zen meditation group. We expect to post reflections by members of the group and guests, as well as quotations from Zen teachers and other writers of interest. In that spirit, we offer a passage by Shohaku Okumura, from his book The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo.

   The Buddha taught the path to freedom from desires, not the way to satisfy them.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches that bodhisattvas should transcend even the dichotomy
of samsara [the life of suffering] and nirvana [the end of suffering].

   Right now, right here, in whatever condition, whether hell or heaven, just keep
practicing steadily, led by the bodhisattva vows:

Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.

Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.

The buddha way is unsurpassable; I vow to realize it.