Showing posts from April, 2011

On Not Knowing, Part 1 of 3

I first learned of Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn’s “don’t know” teaching when I was studying with a monk by the name of Sungak Sunim. She loaned me a book entitled The Compass of Zen in which Seung Sahn says: “The most important thing you can do is to learn to keep a great question very strongly: ‘What am I?’ By keeping this question with great determination, what appears is only ‘don’t know’” (p. 10).
Not knowing is a state of being that we humans are not very comfortable with. We only have to reflect upon recent disasters to realize just how painful it can be. It’s difficult to return to anything resembling a state of normalcy when we don’t know whether a loved one is alive or dead, or when we don’t know when or if we’ll ever be able to go back home. Likewise, we intimately experience this ‘don’t know’ state of mind whenever we have to wait for the results of a medical test that might reveal a major health problem or sit tight as news of a layoff begins to ripple through our place of …

Bear Butte, the Vision Quest, and the Bodhisattva Vow

Bear Butte rises from the prairie northeast of the Black Hills like an island rising out of a great ocean. Even at 1,400 feet tall, though, most modern visitors to the Black Hills will miss it – lying as it does out of sight of most of the access roads, and not otherwise known as a “destination.” Native Americans didn’t miss it, though. For the Cheyenne and Sioux migrating out of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region, respectively, Bear Butte would have been their first glimpse of what the Black Hills had in store. Likewise the Mandan, in the course of their navigation of the Missouri River watershed, would have happened upon Bear Butte due to its close proximity to the Belle Fourche River (Odell, 1942).

Bear Butte has long been considered a spiritual place. The Sutaio, an early immigrant tribe related to the Cheyenne, are storied to have received their sacred Buffalo cap from the spirits dwelling inside a cave therein. The Sun Dance, as well, is thought by some to have originated…

Poetry and Zen, Part 3 of 3

Poetry doesn’t have to be good to save your life; it just has to be your own. This is a truth that I learned during my turbulent teen years – years during which the only thing keeping me from losing my mind, so to speak, was the fact that I was writing about it! Alright, perhaps I exaggerate just a little bit – we are talking about dreaded adolescence, after all – but it is true that poetry provided meaning for me at a time when I really needed it. You see, I fancied myself something of a rebel poet back then, skipping out of the classes that I didn’t like in order to steal my way down to the darkened high school auditorium – there to sit alone in the yawning silence, plumbing the depths of my being. Sure, I’d started reading about Eastern religions and philosophy by then, but I’d not yet begun to meditate. Poetry was my meditation, and it held me in good stead throughout those turbulent years. I strongly recommend it to anyone grappling with life-changing issues. And it doesn’t even…