Thursday, October 17, 2013

Zensters @ the El Paso Interfaith Alliance Prayer for Peace Service

Earlier in October El Paso/Juarez/El Paso Interfaith Alliance asked Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community to participate in their Prayer Service for Peace. Temple Mount Sinai, with Rabbi Larry Bach, hosted the event. Various traditions  participated, including a number of Christian congregations, Jewish, Muslim, Baiha'i, Native American and the Unitarian Universalist Community. The service was on a Tuesday night, our night for services, but our members wanted to attend. Happily, nine or ten from our community attended. Representatives from each community were asked to read a sacred text and a prayer that spoke to the ideals to peace in the world and in ourselves. Polly Shikan Perez and Bobby Kankin Byrd (me) were the readers, our Eno Dr. Rodrigo Ceballos rang bells to punctuate the beginning and end of each tradition's contribution (he also rang a Tibetan singing bell during lighting of candles, and the wonderful sound reverberated beautifully in the spacious temple ceiling), and our youngest member Johnny Hollandbyrd lit a candle. Polly suggested we read "The Three Refuges" for the text and the "Fueko" for our prayer. I rewrote each (embellished the Fueko some) to make them more accessible to a general audience. We had some old translations, but Polly and Rodrigo modified them and checked them. It was a nice event, well attended, and we were delighted to be included in the service.

Below are our contributions to the service.

●  ●  ●

Alliance Interfaith Prayer Service
Temple Mount Sinai, October 8, 2013

San-ki-rai-mon  / The Three Refuges

We take refuge in our true nature
Together with all beings;
May we understand through our bodies
This cosmic life leading
To the incommensurate awakened mind.
We take refuge in our sacred texts
Together with all beings;
May we embody the scriptures,
The great compassionate wisdom,
Vast as the ocean.
We take refuge in our communities
Together with all beings;
May we live with each other
The life of harmony,
Which is without attachment.

San-ki-rai-mon  / La Invocación de los tres refugios
Tomamos refugio en nuestra verdadera identidad natural
Juntos con todos los seres
Para entender a través de nuestros cuerpos
a esta vida cósmica que nos conduce
a la vida incomparablemente despierta
Tomamos refugio en nuestras escrituras sagradas,
Juntos con todos los seres
abrasaremos las escrituras
y la gran sabiduría de compasión
tan profunda como el mar
Tomamos refugio en nuestras comunidades sagradas
Juntos con todos los seres
Que viviremos juntos
una vida de armonía
Sin deseo y sin apego

Prayer for Peace

May our efforts to bring peace to our world honor all those beings—women and men, known and unknown—who gave their lives bringing abundant good to all of us and to the earth. May the merit of this gathering penetrate into each thing and all places so that we and every human being together can realize our true nature and the perfection of compassion and wisdom.

Oración por la Paz

Que nuestros esfuerzos para traer la paz a nuestro mundo sean con honor a todos los seres —hombres y mujeres, conocidos y desconocidos — que dieron sus vidas en hacer mucho bien en la tierra. Que el mérito de esta reunión se penetre en cada cosa y en todo lugar para que nosotros y todos juntos podramos realizar nuestra verdadera naturaleza y la perfección de la compasión y la sensatez.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What do you guys do over there?


Okay, guys, let’s open the doors and sit down in the midst of all the action—aka, the Universe. Our regular schedule rares back upm 6pm, Tuesday, June 4th. Rumor has it that Polly Shikan will be there—navigating the bows, bells, fish-drumming, chanting, kinhin and silence (so much to do)—before heading off to the Austin Zen Center. At the AZC Shikan will be Head Monk in charge of…oh, I don’t know what there is to be in charge of. Perhaps she will tell us. In celebration of our door-opening, I thought to offer again this little reminder of what will be happening.

What do you guys do over there?

Well, before the evening even begins,
We say hello to each other,
Maybe a bow here and there
To remind us what we’re here for.
Then we talk about this and that.
Before we know it, the Ino rings the bell.
A candle is burning.
More bells: we’re taking Refuge,
And then the Ino begins to beat on the fish.
Poor fish. Her job is to keep her eyes open.

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

What’s that all about?
The priest guy lights a stick of incense.
We sit and stare at a wall.
Twice we do this in silence.
Of course, the birds twitter, cars pass by,
A train rumbles by down at Five Points,
That's okay.
Our job is to pay attention.
Then comes all that foreign gibberish.
Form and emptiness all over again
But differently.
We have some tea.
We talk some, maybe laugh a little bit.
The bell rings some more and we bow to a metal statue.
Who is that Buddha guy supposed to be anyway?

May the merit of this penetrate into our hearts. 

Once an old man said, “It’s like looking into a mirror.
No, that not right.
I feel like I am looking into myself.”

Life and death are of supreme importance.
This night our days are diminished by one.
We together vow not to squander our lives.

The bell rings one more time.
Don’t forget to blow out the candle.
It’s over.

But it's not over.

Have we wasted another hour and a half?
Oh, I don’t think so.
“It’s like food,” a woman says,
All of us standing out there in the last bit of summer sunlight.
There’s a little bit of tea to finish
So we do that. Joyfully.

“Yeah, it’s like food.”

We say goodbye.
“See you next time.”

Sunday, 10am.
Tuesday, 6pm

I hope you're all well and your practice is strong.
I look forward very much to being at home again and sitting with the Sangha.
A bow to you all, and I think you for your continued practice.
Bobby Kankin

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Happened to Mother's Day?

My mother
Charlotte Stanage Byrd (1913-1997)
at Five Years Old in Memphis, TN

On Mother’s Day two weeks ago, I was alone in New York City without the women in my life. My mother is dead and Lee had returned home to El Paso with our grandson Little Eddie. Daughter, granddaughters, daughter-in-law, women friends, colleagues, students—everybody was elsewhere. It was a good day to think about mothers. And I was in luck. I went to the Village Zendo where Pat Enkyo O’Hara gave a remarkable teisho about Mother’s Day and about mothers and the practice of Zen. [You can listen to the whole Dharma Talk here, but I thought it would be nice to have the texts Enkyo Roshi refers to on our blog.] First she bemoaned that the celebration of Mother’s Day has become little more than another reason—like most of our Holidays—to spend more money and buy more crap. She said, in a little history lesson, that the origin of Mother’s Day in the United States can be found in Julia Ward Howe’s 1872 “Mother’s Day Proclamation” that followed the terrible carnage of the Civil War:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. 

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,

The great and general interests of peace.

—Julia Ward Howe

When President Woodrow Wilson, in his manly fashion, declared in 1924 Mother’s Day a National Holiday, he stripped the day of Howe’s intentions. Instead, he asked that people celebrating Mother’s Day fly an American flag and buy gifts for their mothers. So, instead of a day of peace, we have more jingoism and commercialism. Oh well. What’s new? Enkyo then read “Your Mother and My Mother are Friends” by the great Sufi poet Hafez.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

For your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse again tomorrow.
We'll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world -
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Your soul and my soul
Once sat together in the Beloved's womb
Playing footsie.

Your heart and my heart
Are very, very old

A remarkable poem. Hafez, of course, speaks from the Muslim Sufi tradition of the Lover seeking out the Beloved, the two becoming one. And then Enkyo Roshi spoke of the Prajna Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom, as the Mother of All Buddhas. Its essence is found in the Heart Sutra that we chant, like Zen practitioners around the world, at our services. Here I will insert the Village Zendo’s translation of the Heart Sutra. It’s from the Maezumi lineage which incorporates both the Soto and Rinzai traditions—

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, doing deep Prajña Paramita, 
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions 
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain. 
Oh Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness, 
Emptiness no other than form; 
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. 
Sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness are likewise like this. 
Oh Shariputra, all Dharmas are forms of emptiness: 
Not born, not destroyed; not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain. 
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, conception, discrimination, 
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, 
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness, no ignorance and no end to ignorance, 
No old age and death, no end to old age and death, 
No suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, 
No path, no wisdom and no gain. 
No gain and thus the Bodhisattva lives Prajña Paramita, 
With no hindrance in the mind. 
No hindrance, therefore no fear. 
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana. 
All past, present and future Buddhas live Prajña Paramita 
And therefore attain Añutara-Samyak-Sambodhi. 
Therefore know Prajña Paramita is the great mantra, 
The vivid mantra, the best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra 
It completely clears all pain. 
This is the truth not a lie. 
So set forth the Prajña Paramita mantra, 
Set forth this mantra and say: 
Gate Gate Paragate! Parasamgate! Bodhi Svaha! Prajna Heart Sutra!

It’s different from ours, no? But it’s the same. I’ve chanted theirs now several times, and I enjoy ours more. Probably because ours is now ingrained in my heart. I’m sure if one of their practitioners visited with us, they would feel the same, except vice versa.

All that said, I hope you listen to Enkyo Roshi’s talk about Mother’s Day. And, whenever you have the opportunity, visit other Zen Centers. It broadens and supports your practice. And I especially recommend you go and sit at the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces and hear my teacher Daiho Roshi’s Dharma talks. His understanding of the Dharma has long been elemental to my own practice.

A deep bow to you for your continued practice.
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Monday, February 4, 2013

Zen Candy

Sitting on a hillside
With a young oak
A leaf falls
On the sleeve of my robe

Incense does not
Become the smoke
Nor do I turn
Into a dragon

Surrounded by
The mountain sangha
I walk to the creek

And wash my face
With the stars

Great poem, huh? It’s by Daiggo Zenji, 6th generation Soto monk after Dogen. Starts out with the usual paraphernalia of a Japanese Zen poem. A monk is sitting on a hillside. A leaf falls on his robe. Yeah, yeah. Then it switches to echoing Dogen’s firewood and ashes and dragons, and then the “mountain sangha.” Oh wow, what a great image, thinking of the mountains as sangha. And then the monk strolls down to the creek. He bends down where the stars lay reflected in the black water and he washes his face. Sweet.

David Chadwick quotes it in Thank you & Okay: An American Zen Failure in Japan. He and his fictional but autobiographical buddy Norman translated it for us.

Chadwick (b. 1965) is a few years younger than me. Lee’s age. Zensters in the U.S., especially of our generation, sometimes have a romantic and stylized notion about what Japanese Zen is. We fell in love with Zen minimalist aesthetics, the bells chiming and the beating of the wide-eyed fish, and the chants. Especially the thumping rhythm of men chanting the Heart Sutra in Sino-Japanese. I remember a documentary in the 70s, a sort of “round-the-world in 60 minutes” of “enlightenment.” Most of it was hokey, but what I remember most was seeing Suzuki lead a column of monks into the zendo to sit zazen. Bells were ringing, the wooden clappers announced the this and the that. High church razzmatazz. Very cool.

“This is the real thing”—that was my thought back then.

Like these guys were angels dressed in black robes. Fairytale stuff. Not ordinary folks. So it’s good to read books that put the kibosh on a lot of that shine. David Chadwick’s memoir Thank You and Okay, which has been my Zen candy for the last few weeks, understands how to shovel up sufficient kibosh. But it didn’t diminish my practice. In fact, it nourished it. Especially home practice.

Chadwick’s book chronicles his time as an itinerant Zen immigrant to Japan—sometimes illegal, other times in a grayish limbo between legality and illegality. For my money, the Chadwick book sits right next to Janwillem van de Wettering’s memoir trilogy (yep, that’s right, the Dutch writer of mysteries) about his journey to Japan in the 1950s to search for the meaning of life on the Zen boat. (1)

Before going to Japan, Chadwick had the advantage of studying with Suzuki, Katigiri and Dick Baker, even learning some Japanese, so he was no innocent. He also had contacts in Japanese Zen and his imaginary friend Norman was waiting for him in Japan at the Hoko-ji Monastery where he spent much of his early stay staring at walls and sweeping the floor.

Van de Wettering had the disadvantages—and advantage—of the purely innocent. He was a dissatisfied young man who had read a little bit about Zen. Enlightenment sounded like a good answer. He was continually troubled by the memory of his kindergarten class in the late 30s. He had seen his Jewish friends led off by the SS. Why didn’t the good men of his community—men like his father—stop such an evil event? As soon as he could, he began traveling the world in search of adventures and answers. Finally, he decided to go search out a real live Zen roshi. Somebody who could give him answers. He landed in Kyoto, the capital of Zen, and told the taxi driver to take him to the nearest Zen monastery. When he first knocked at the temple door, the monks had tried in vain to shoo him away. None of the monks or the Roshi spoke English, and Van de Wettering didn’t speak Japanese. They simply didn’t want him there. He was too much of a bother.

Chadwick’s book documents his several years in Japan. For the reader’s sake, he doesn’t follow a chronological path, but bounced back and forth between his time at the Hoko-ji Monastery and his time spent on the outskirts of another monastery where he sits daily in the mornings. At Hoko-ji the emphasis is of course on practice and his interactions with the other monks, his teacher Katagiri. It’s a beautiful place. He also tries to live in the Japanese culture. He teaches English, lives with his wife-to-be Ellin, studies the koan Mu with Roshi, mixes in with his neighbors and the bureaucracies, and tries to lives a regular life. Toward the end of the book Ellin gives birth to their child.

Chadwick was like a wise-cracking, sophisticated exchange student; Van de Wettering was like a pagan gate-crasher. Both writers make for excellent reading about the life of Zen in Japan. Both are laugh out loud funny in places, wise in other places, and simply interesting in other places, especially if you’ve been practicing for a while. They demystify the process and the people while paying deep homage to the practice. Underlying both memoirs is the sense that there is something deeply profound and immensely worthwhile in Zen practice, but it’s not what you think it is. Afterzen, published 20 years after the first of the trilogy, documents Van de Wettering’s disappointment of, and separation from, Zen practice. That book was like the bell ringing. It reminded me that it’s our own practice we have to deal with. Our own walls to stare at.

Like Daiggo Zenji’s poem says, we walk down to the creek—any creek will do, any stream, ocean, whatever¬—and wash our face in the water. We do this by ourselves.



[1] Thanks to Brad Warner for mentioning van de Wettering in one of his blog posts. Otherwise I doubt I’d ever found him. Oddly, his books don’t come up in conversation. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year, Everybody

Happy New Year, Everybody! Our New Year at Both Sides / No Sides began with chanting from our newly modified sutra sheets and the Fusatsu Ceremony, a renewal of our Zen Buddhist vows. All of that was of course was punctuated by wall-staring and bell ringing and tea. During tea, I talked about "beginnings," using as texts a poem by Denise Levertov (thanks to Susan Feeney) and one of the Buddha's parables. These are below, with some found images to celebrate the imagination.
--Bobby Kankin Byrd

Doomed Star Eta Carinae 
Image Credit: J. Morse (Arizona State U.), K. Davidson (U. Minnesota) et al., WFPC2HSTNASA

By Denise Levertov

But we have only begun to love the earth. We have only begun to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope!—so much is in the bud.

How can desire fail?—we have only begun to imagine justice and mercy,
Only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.

Surely our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot drag, in the silt, all that is innocent!

Not yet, not yet—there is too much broken that must be mended,
Too much hurt that we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture, so much is in the bud.

Strawberries by Ginny McComb 
A Parable
from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cold, Snow and Zazen

When donning clothes [ordinary men] only understand that they are donning clothes; when eating they only understand that they are eating; in all activities they are deceived by appearances. Hence they use the sublime functioning of the mind every day but do not realize it; it’s right there before their eyes but they are not aware of it.
--Korean Zen teacher Chinule,via Stephen Batchelor’s Living with the Devil, page 104. 
Snow yesterday all day long. Maybe 4 inches at home. Cold and sunless. Last night it was supposed to go down to 24, and so we worried about freezing pipes and cold bodies. We remembered the terrible cold of a few years ago and so did our cold weather chores. This morning, waking up, I dreaded going out to the zendo to sit. It’s a stone building with only a wood stove (I didn't want to do that!) and a radiant heater, and it holds the cold. I decided to do my zazen inside. But as I got my zafu ready to sit inside, something in me pushed me outside to the zendo. It’s so beautiful and quiet out there with the snow blanketing the yard, the houses and the mountains. Seems the older I get and the more zazen I do, the more ready I am not to listen to the monkey mind which has so many excuses why I should take the easier way with my zazen. So I put on warm socks, warm pants and my hoodie and headed outside. I was glad I did. Although cold, the room felt comfortable and ready for me. I looked out the window to a beautiful sight of snow and light. I lit the candle and incense, rang the bells—so clear in the cold stone room, did my morning chants and sat 40 minutes of zazen. My little and very quiet radiant heater was just enough heat. As I chanted the Four Great Vows to end my little morning ceremony, I could feel the cold had entered my body. That was okay though. The birds were chattering outside, delighted to have some birdseed that I had poured into the feeder. Again I marveled at the morning light, filtered by the clouds as it lit up the snow on the trees and yard. Little bits of snow were still fluttering down from the sky. It was nothing without me. Simply nothing.