Friday, January 29, 2010

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez--Sitting January 23

Yes, folks, we'll be sitting tomorrow, January 30th, 330pm. I hope you can make it. And I hope you've enjoyed this day.

(AKA a two Ha! Morning)

This morning before my meditation--coffee in hand, a bit of snow on the ground--I was standing at the back window and listening to the finches and sparrows at the bird feeder. Also I was scanning through Zen Flesh, Zen Bones in search of a story I’ve been thinking about. I wanted to make a blog entry for our blogspot. That’s what I do on Thursday or Friday mornings. It’s my pleasure. I didn’t find the story. Instead I happened on the story which concludes the book, the story which answers in one way the question, What is Zen? It's a story about fishes. "Ha! That’s a cool story," I thought. "I’ll put that in the blog." I finished up my coffee and went to sit. I lit the candle and the incense and, in reciting the San Ge Rai Mon, the Three Refuges, I was startled awake by the first:
I take refuge in the Buddha—together with all beings, may I understand through my body this cosmic life leading to the incommensurate awakened mind.
"Ha! It's like the story of the fishes, now I see." Then I sat on my zafu and stared at the wall. The wall hadn’t changed a bit. So what is Zen? Here’s how the story about swimming with the fishes explains it—
Inayat Khan tells a Hindu story of a fish who went to a queen fish and asked: “I have always heard about the sea, but what is this sea? Where is it?

The queen fish explained: “You live, move, and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and without you, and you are made of the sea, and you will end in the sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being.”
--page 211, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Friday, January 22, 2010

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez--Sitting January 23

We'll be sitting tomorrow, Saturday the 23rd of January, 330pm, at 711 Robinson. Hope you can join us.

Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean (NASA)

Back in the day when I used to drive up from El Paso to the Las Cruces Zen Center to sit on my ass and stare at a wall for an hour, Harvey SoDaiho Hilbert used to talk about that damned koan with the monk atop a 100 foot pole. You sit on meditate and you study and you get to the top of the pole. But what's the next step? There are several like-minded stories in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones where, for example, the hero is hanging over a cliff for dear life. A hungry tiger is waiting for her if she climbs back to the top and she falls to her death if she lets go. She has to make a decision. Well, of course, the answer is to let go. But who, for God’s sake, wants to let go? You can understand the answer intellectually and speak or write it, but that’s not nearly enough. You really got to let go.

So I remembered all of this when I was reading Philippe Coupe's commentary on Dogen's Fukanzazengi in Simply Sitting. Coupey is talking about the two kinds of “faith”—the faith of the small mind that says if I do that then something good (or bad) will happen; and faith of the big mind, the universal mind, which arises out of the emptiness of the universe itself and simply allows for us to let go:
Not long ago there was an interesting news story about a sailor who was crossing the Pacific Ocean on a freighter. He was at the bow of the ship when he was overcome by a wave and thrown overboard. It was dark out and no one noticed that he had fallen into the sea. It wasn’t until nine hours later that his cabin-mate realized it and informed the captain. Nine hours is a long time. But the captain decided to go back to see if they could find him, or what was left of him…if he hadn’t been eaten by sharks! Miraculously, eighteen hours later, they found the sailor. He was floating on the waves, sleeping peacefully atop the swells. They woke him up with the foghorn. He opened his eyes and saw the boat. They threw him a ladder and he climbed onto the bridge.

“How did you do it?” asked the captain.

“Since I couldn’t get anywhere by swimming,” replied the sailor, who was, obviously in the middle of the ocean, “I decided there was nothing to do but float on my back and give myself over completely to the powers of the ocean.”
Also apropos, Harvey even kept a little plastic bathroom ducky on the altar for a while as an example of how to live the life. The duck floats, like the sailor in the Coupey story, atop the waves and, come rain or shine, gives herself over to the powers of the water. Of course I didn’t like that little ducky. It was too cute and, besides, I didn’t want to let go. But some time or another we got to let go. We have no other choice.

I hope you're well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez--Sitting January 16

Yes, folks, we'll be sitting and staring at the wall, same time, same station: 330 pm at 711 Robinson. Hope you can join us. In the meantime, last week during tea I read the following eulogy that Father Robert Kennedy read at the funeral services for Taizan Maezumi Roshi. I thought it something we could all think about as the Both Sides / No Sides Sangha begins our New Year. 

Maezumi Roshi and American Zen

Below the photo is the Afterword, or concluding story, in American Zen Bones: Maezumi Roshi Stories. The little book was put together by Philomene Long, a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and it's a collection of stories about interactions between Maezumi and his students, Philomene included. Coming to the U.S. in 1956, Maezumi is one of the three or four grandfathers of American Zen, greatly influencing our practice and, through his own teachings and the teachings of his Dharma successors, how we perceive Zen and its transmission from Japan to here. The obvious model for the little book is iconic Zen Flesh, Zen Bones compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. AZB is certainly not a replacement for that book. It's uneven and has a taste of self-service about it. That said, it's a fun book, with bunches of interesting stories about Maezumi, his teaching methods and his communication with students. If you're like me, it's a wonderful book to keep in your library in the bathroom, ready for the Head Librarian. But this last story, which served as the Afterword, was very interesting to me and worth the price of the book. If you talk with Zensters for any length of time, you'll hear discussions about what American Zen will look like. Maezumi's take on this subject is very interesting. But a word of caution--what does not change is Zazen. Zazen is the bedrock of our practice. Father Robert Kennedy (the author of this eulogy) recalls, "Maezumi Roshi was so adamant in his insistence that we sit well that he advised us not to sit at all if we were not attentive to form." And it's said that he carried the stick for a reason.

This [eulogy] was originally delivered as a tribute 
by Father Robert E. Kennedy, S.J., a Catholic priest and Zen master
at the funeral of Maezumi Roshi, August 27, 1995.

Distinguished guests and dear friends. It is my pleasure to relate to you my last and most memorable conversation with Maezumi Roshi here in Los Angeles.

Maezumi Roshi told me that Buddhism today differs fundamentally from the Buddhism of the time of Sakyamuni Buddha.

“Surely not fundamentally different,” I asked the Roshi.

“YES,” Maezumi answered, “fundamentally different.”

Maezumi Roshi said that Buddhism in Japan today with its strong ascetic emphasis was nowhere known in the time of Buddha.

More than that, Maezumi Roshi said that not only can Buddhism change fundamentally but it must change change fundamentally. In every century and every culture Buddhism must find new forms to teach the people standing out in front of them now. It is unthinkable to have a static Buddhism in a changing world. It is unthinkable for Buddhism to imitate old forms of teaching and living, no matter how precious those forms may be.

More than that, Buddhism must not only leave its old forms of expression, Buddhism must leave Buddhism itself in order to enter the Field of Blessings, the Field of Blessings that transcends every human insight and every religious civilization.

More than that, Maezumi Roshi said that Buddhism must be open to the non-Buddhist. Self-giving knows no boundaries, self-giving knows no end.

And then to my delight Maezumi personalized his teaching. He said how happy he was that I, a Catholic priest, came to Buddhism to study and to learn. And he said how happy he was that Glassman Roshi had prepared me to stay and teach.

For me this is the spirit of Buddhism: subtle and generous and open to the stranger. And for me this was Maezumi Roshi’s spirit--subtle and generous and open to the stranger.

More than that, Maezumi Roshi knew there was no stranger.

Maezumi Roshi, may I bid you farewell in a poem of your own language that you once said you appreciated and surely matches your spirit.

Kudakute mo
Kudakute mo ari
Miso no tsuki

Though it is broken and broken again
Still it is still there
The moon in the water

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez--Sitting in the New Year!

This Saturday, January 9, we'll be back in the zaddle, 330pm, 711 Robinson. Hope you can be there. Below is a bit of a commentary by monk Philippe Coupey in his book ZEN: SIMPLY SITTING. The book is a gathering of dharma talks about Dogen's Fukanzazengi, which is translated as "The Universal Guide on the Correct Practice of Zazen." Coupey discusses Dogen's little essay line by line. A good book. By the way, he quotes a poem by Cold Mountain, or Hanshan, a famous Chinese poet who lived in the caves of the mountain where he took his name. I love his poems, and I first ran into them in poet Gary Snyder's freer translations. Thus, I've typed the Snyder translation of the same Hanshan poem below the other. Enjoy.

And Happy New Year!

Dogen tells us that zazen is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Reality can’t be anywhere but here, right where you are. Reality isn’t yesterday or tomorrow. That’s illusion. Reality is a succession of heres and nows. Reality is what is. It is original nature.

Hanshan was a Chinese poet who practiced zazen in the 7th century. As is often the case in Buddhist history, he took his name from the mountain where he lived. Here is a poem by him about reality in which he talks about the mountain, the valley, himself, and, finally, the present moment:

Strange is the way that leads to Hanshan.
No ruts or hoof prints can be seen.
Valley winds into valley, peak rises above peak.
The grass sparkles with dew, and the pines whisper in the wind.
Don’t you understand?
Reality asks the shadows for directions.

--p55, Zen: Simply Sitting

And now the Snyder translation of the same poem. Except for the last two lines, the Snyder poem is clearly the better. The last two lines, however, makes me wonder if Snyder lost the point of the poem. It makes me want to look at other translations. I always wonder about translations, how simply a misplaced word can lead a person off in the other direction, huh?

The path to Han-shan's place is laughable,
A path, but no sign of cart or horse.
Converging gorges - hard to trace their twists
Jumbled cliffs - unbelievably rugged.
A thousand grasses bend with dew,
A hill of pines hums in the wind.
And now I've lost the shortcut home,
Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?