One True Teacher

“I have never said to my disciples that I am a true teacher. From the beginning I have said that the zazen each of us practices is the only true teacher.” Kosho UchiyamaBut what about the Buddha himself? Was he not a true teacher in Uchiyama’s estimation? No doubt some would call it sacrilege to answer in the negative. There exists a story in which the Buddha’s entire sermon consists of him holding up a flower. One of his disciples, Mahakasyapa, is the only one who “gets it” – conveying his understanding with a smile. Many Buddhists believe that something passed from the Buddha to Mahakasyapa in that moment. But might it be that Mahakasyapa merely conveyed to the Buddha that his own zazen (seated meditation) had taught him what the Buddha had already realized? Perhaps the Buddha merely led Mahakasyapa to his own true teacher – his zazen – and Mahakasyapa proved to be a student worthy of its teaching.
Let’s get our heads out of the clouds for just a moment, though, and consider some ver…

Faith and Faux Knowledge

We're experiencing a deficit of faith right now. Its lack corrodes our institutions, and erodes our social discourse. But whether you count yourself among the faithful, or the faithless, don’t assume that you know what I mean just yet.
This may well chafe some atheists who might be reading this, but you have faith as well. It’s just that, whereas a Christian places his or her faith in the existence of God, or the Resurrection of Christ, an atheist might place it in love, science, the potential goodness of humanity, or even the prospect that we’d all be a whole lot better off without religion! Yes, we all live our lives by placing faith in someone, or something. And when we find ourselves in general agreement with others regarding the metaphysical concepts in which we have faith, then we might begin to call ourselves members of a particular faith tradition.

So, where’s the deficit? How can I profess to such an expansive definition of faith even as I claim that its lack is so destr…

Wherever Mindfulness Finds You

Surely this spring will not be remembered as just any other spring. For just as the crocuses are teasing us with tender blossoms and their promise of new life, so it is that hardship and even death lurk just over the horizon. A global pandemic has already taken some of us, and it will take an unknown number more. Surely all can see that life will not be the same for quite some time, if ever.
How strange it is to lose that which we’ve taken so for granted! I now look back with fondness at the simple joy of sitting in a coffee shop on a weekend morning. And I lament that we were too busy to take my wife out for a nice meal on her birthday this past weekend, the last weekend we could have done so before the restaurants were ordered closed. I also just happened to visit the library earlier this week to renew my card, only to be told that they’d be closing the following day. How strange it is to say goodbye to one thing after another that all seemed so commonplace as to hardly be worth me…

Kalama Sutta to Jamesian Pragmatism, and Beyond

There were many itinerant teachers at the time of the Buddha, going village to village begging for alms, and providing teachings to those who would listen. Not surprisingly, they would often contradict each other, thus confusing the people and perhaps even causing them distress. After all, we don’t just want to be told pretty stories, we want to know what’s true. And so it was that the Kalamas of Kesaputta were hoping that the Buddha might ease their troubled minds:
[They] said to the Blessed One, "Lord, there are some brahmans and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other brahmans and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain an…

Real Stillness, Real Knowledge

Shunryu Suzuki summarized Buddhism in two words: “everything changes.” Indeed, Buddhism itself changes as it moves from country to country, culture to culture, and down through the ages. Our individual practice will continue to change and evolve as well. The passage of time and the changing of circumstances may well take our teachers from us, our practice communities, and perhaps even the meaningfulness of those practices that we once thought central to our path. We may find ourselves much like the storied hermit monks of long ago, with only our will and whatever truth we’ve come to realize to guide us through the dharmic landscape.

I’m not quite a hermit, but I do live in a small country town now, far away from anything one might consider overtly “Buddhist.” That’s probably just as well, though. I’m at a place in my practice where I believe very little, and practice communities seem all too often to fairly reek of belief. Meditating with a group of people can be a very powerfully gu…

Introducing: Heartland Contemplative

Greetings! On the heels of some life changes, my writing headed off in a slightly different direction – more intimate and expansive all at the same time. I could have continued posting these new offerings here on Crossing Nebraska (which I will continue to maintain and cultivate). However, given the abundance of variously flavored posts contained herein – spanning over five years now – it seemed more appropriate to start a new blog altogether.
Please check out my new Heartland Contemplative website. It will showcase both prose and poetry, as well as photographs mostly taken in the countryside surrounding my home. I’ll likely cross-pollinate the two blogs from time to time, but for now I’ll be concentrating on content for Heartland Contemplative. Also, you’ll be able to find out what I’m up to in a number of interconnected ways. Please check out the Heartland Contemplative presence on WordPressFacebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I appreciate it!
Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

The Stumbling Block of Enlightenment

As stated in my previous post on the subject, what Buddhists refer to as enlightenment is nothing other than a profound realization of the most fundamental truth regarding the emptiness of all things (sunyata in Sanskrit). Myriad other Buddhist teachings can be understood as various facets of this diamond-like truth. For example, it is emptiness that has us speaking in terms of dependent origination, interbeing, and the non-dual; and it is emptiness that has us speaking of the three marks of existence: the impermanence of all things, the lack of inherent selfhood of all things, and the unsatisfactory nature of all things. The last of these, by the way, is merely the first noble truth – the truth of suffering – viewed from a slightly different angle.

However, it is the second noble truth that points to the fundamental difficulty of human existence: our almost unrelenting tendency to overlay the infinite potential inherent in the emptiness of all things with our own finite and often do…