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Showing posts from 2012

Living With An Untamed Mind

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It was a half hour or so past midnight and those of us gathered in the meditation hall at Sanshin Zen Temple had just completed six days of sitting zazen from 4:10 in the morning until 9:00 in the evening and an even longer seventh day meant to commemorate the Buddha’s enlightenment upon seeing the morning star. An offering to the Buddha had been made; the Bodhisattva Vows and the Heart Sutra had been chanted; rohatsu sesshin thus came to a close. A few of our number retired immediately, more in need of sleep than anything else. The remainder, perhaps feeling more wired than tired, gratefully accepted the Okumura’s offer of a nightcap of warm sake and fellowship upstairs in their private quarters. This had been “sesshin without toys,” after all, sesshin in the very rigorous and austere Antaiji-style instituted by Shohaku Okumura’s teacher, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. Relaxing in a chair sipping sake and enjoying free-flowing conversation after a week of fourteen or more periods of zazen pe…

Have Yourself a Buddhist Little Christmas

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Alright all you Buddhists out there! By now you’ve weathered a good month and a half of what we commonly refer to as “the holiday season” – that period during which the cultural collective storms out of the starting gate the moment the Halloween decorations come down, gathers momentum as Thanksgiving approaches, hits its stride on that notorious shopping day known as Black Friday, and then continues at an all-out sprint until collapsing into a physically and emotionally exhausted, overeaten and hungover pile of debt-burdened human wreckage on New Year’s Day!

How does it feel so far? Are you going stir-crazy from hearing Christmas carols nearly everywhere you go? Is the ubiquitous presence of wasteful and distasteful lawn art finally starting to wear you down? Has workplace pressure to pony up for an offering of useless crap for the annual “white elephant” gift exchange put your principles of simplicity to the test? Okay, and how many times have you lamented to friends and family abou…

Universality and Ritual, Part 3 – A Defense of Ritual

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster

I step into the doorway of my meditation room, press my palms together and bow. Then, cupping my left hand with my right, I walk over to the altar against the opposite wall and bow once again before it. To the right, the candle and the incense burner sit ready to accept my respective offerings. To the left, one ceramic bowl half full of water reflects the dim light of the room, and another cradles a single heart-shaped piece of polished stone. In the middle, the Buddha statue resting on its wooden pedestal serenely oversees its domain. A shelf beneath the altar holds a book of matches, a box of incense, and various other bells and containers. I light the candle and extinguish the match with a quick wave of my ha…

Universality and Ritual, Part 2 – The Universality of Zazen

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster

My previous post briefly explored the natural dichotomy existing between these two words before moving on to consider what I refer to as the universality of stillness, of which I stated: “the experience of stillness and silence is universal, the truth to be found therein is universal, but just as soon as we begin to put that truth into words we fall into the realm of disagreement and argumentation.” One might hear echoes of the words of William James in such a statement. In one of his lectures transcribed in The Varieties of Religious Experience, James posits that “feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text into anot…

Universality and Ritual, Part 1 – The Universality of Stillness

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster
It would seem that these two words comprise a natural dichotomy. On the one hand we have something that applies to everyone regardless of position or place or circumstance, and on the other hand we have that which pertains to some initiated subgroup on the basis of mutual agreement, prescription, affiliation, or decree. Perhaps we can think of this dichotomy as another aspect of the dichotomy between ultimate and conventional truth, or between transformation and translation, for that matter. Nonetheless, I think we’re well-served holding loosely in mind our ideas related to this dichotomy. Yes, attachment to ritual can cause us to overlook that which is universal – missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. …

Stillness, Silence, Truth

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Stillness, silence, truth – just like the words to that Beatles song: “These are words that go together well, my Michelle.” Stillness, silence, truth – I knew the first two as a child and completely took the third for granted. After all, we need not have a word for air in order to breathe it deeply so that it may become us. Stillness, silence, truth – this was what I spoke of in Returning To The Source. The Buddha innately knew it as a child, and so did I. (And I suspect that you did, too.) No…, it is not so much a matter of knowing it as being it – stillness, silence, truth. It is what the Buddha returned to after a long and arduous search, and it is what I now return to (albeit, with varying degrees of clarity) each time I sit zazen – stillness, silence, truth.



“Zazen is the most venerable and only true teacher.”
This was the second of seven points of practice laid out by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in the last formal talk he gave as abbot of Antaiji monastery. Does it sound radical to you…