The Five Remembrances: Birth. Aging. Sickness. Death. Karma.

 

The body and mind are of the nature to grow old.

The body and mind are of the nature to get sick.

The body and mind are of the nature to die.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

My actions are my closest companions.

I am the beneficiary of my actions.

_____

 

My dear friends,

All over the world the Five Remembrances in some form or another are chanted on a daily basis. The daily chant is to remind us of the changing nature of all things. This teaching is not the highest teaching but it is a teaching that is available to all of us. It is an ever present condition of the form of existence.

Forms come into existence, appear for awhile and then vanish. That, my friends, is nothing new under the Sun. It is self-evident for those who will glance at what is going on for even just a moment.

We may fight against it, but it is a universal truth which concerns the body and mind. We share the same inevitable truth of it. No matter where we live, what gender, what species, what race…all the what’s of diversity. All of us face these Truths on some level.

In the Art Pieces 1: On Death…we were given a glance at the third remembrance, Death, from three different artists: a painter, a poet and a writer. We will now take a step backward in order to understand that one of Zen Buddhism’s charters is to help us remember our conditions in form, that is the body and mind.

It reminds us that the body and the mind are things and like all things, they suffer birth, time and death. This remembering is to help sober us to our condition and to know the body and mind suffer birth, time and death; to know all things suffer birth, time and death. That nothing stays still, nothing settles for good, for all time because the nature of things suffers birth, time and death.

For those of us hard-wired with the tendency for perfection, we may feel the heft and weight of this fact since we tend to fight to settle, to fix and perfect things continuously. With this tendency our suffering can and does reach monumental proportions.

To some extent we all suffer from the nature of things. To remember the condition of the body and mind is subject to birth, time and death and will disappear, makes this truth skin-deep personal. But we need to be reminded of our nature.

This Truth, my friends, is an initial step which we must understand in such a way that we see the suffering that comes from clinging to body and mind. The aspiration is that the reminder will help us see this truth and realize the consequences of not paying attention to it. This reminder is priceless.

Because, my friends, we are hard-headed and ignorant of Reality, we ignore this Truth and are taken by surprise by it again and again.

It is understandable.

Our body and mind look real. In fact, most forms look real. And what I mean by real is that which is immutable, without beginning or end, and is the ground of being. A new thing often fools us into thinking THIS NEW THING is IT. It isn’t.

The enlightened sages saw something beyond name and form and were not taken in by the look of name and form. No one is saying that forms do not look beautiful, or appealing, or alluring…certainly they do. And no one is saying that forms do not look ugly, or disquieting and repulsive…certainly they do. But as we all know “looks can be deceiving.” (Dividing the world of form is yet another spiritual milestone which needs to be seen through – but that is another Truth we must take up at another time.)

The five remembrances are remarkable recollections that remind us that all names and forms age, fall apart, and vanish. Forms return to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Now this may sound disheartening especially to those who cling to forms for solace and certainty. Those, however, who are sincere in their pursuit of spiritual Truth study these five remembrances within themselves.

When we are sincere in our spiritual practice we begin to see for ourselves the nature of form as unreliable. When we reckon with the nature of form we begin to stop taking disappointments and loss personally and study our disappointments and losses as a factor of our conditions and not as an assault.

When we are spiritually anchored we begin to see disappointments and losses and all things as things that come to remind us that relinquishment of attachment is the better part of valor.

We may stumble and sometimes even fall down in the vagaries of our embodied life but we do not give up. We get up. We face the tiger. We continue towards the summit.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Take Care of Your Mind by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

 

 

 

Dogen’s 6th Awareness:   Control Your Mind – Cultivate Meditation Concentration

Meditation:  engage in contemplation or reflection; taking charge of one’s mind

Concentration:  deep reflective thought; an inner seeing that transcends the intellect

 

Dogen’s Awarenesses – Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection are not commandments or rules to be memorized and slavishly followed. They are qualities to be lived not just something to think about or observe in other people.  These awarenesses are like seeds in our minds, when we water them with practice they can break through our ignorance, like seedlings breaking through the dirt to become plants.

 

So what Dogen intends, I think, is to bring all of these awareness’s directly into our daily life.

 

When I began my Buddhist practice I joined a Zen sangha.  A group of us met every Wednesday and Saturday to do sitting meditation for 40 minutes, followed by walking meditation for 10 minutes, followed by another 40 minutes of sitting meditation.  I was taught to sit still on a cushion and not scratch an ear or ankle, quiet my body and mind.  And for many years, cultivating spiritual practice…concentrating and meditating meant sitting on a cushion.  The problem was that when I got up from sitting and began to do things this spiritual practice did not go with me.

 

So…knowing that Dogen intends for us to bring spiritual practice…meditation concentration into our every action I ask ‘how do we do it?  how do we actually do it?’ It takes practice.

 

Quilt making is a practice for me; a spiritual practice of taking care of my mind and reflecting on spiritual teachings.

 

A couple of months ago, I finished a quilted chair covering and wanted to start something new.  I decided to use up everything in my cloth box and make a large quilted spread.  I was eager to begin because I knew when I got to the quilting part my mind would settle down into a contemplative, meditative state.  I wanted this calm practice.

 

AWARENESS OF THE HINDRANCES

What happened was that when I’d begin my sewing-work I found I was irritated Every day I became obsessed with trying to figure out if I had enough material. The design was complicated…I needed over 900 small squares not to mention needing yards of material for the frame. Every day I wanted to get to the quilting place…AND there was just so much to do.

Finally, I woke up and saw that what I was practicing wasn’t controlling my mind…I was practicing worry.

 

AWARENESS OF RELIEF

So now here is my practice…each day as I come to work on the to-be quilt I focus on turning my mind to the tasks at hand, not look to the future.  Will there be enough material for all the squares?  What should I use for a backing?  Do I need to get more thread?  I need more chalk markers…and on and on my mind goes.  My practice is slow, deliberate work to turn my thoughts away from what I want to do or judging the progress I am making or not making.  Now, when the irritation starts, I literally say to myself…drop the irritation.  Just drop it and focus on what I am doing now.  It is a practice of moment by moment awareness…to have no desire to want to be further along than I am…to be content with just cutting squares…not worrying about there being enough, just being with this task.

 

So, I have found how to meditate off the cushion.  It is to know that every moment is an opportunity for spiritual practice.  To really know this is to first see where my mind is at any moment and then turn away from my life-long habits of not paying attention…to multi-tasking…to thinking about the next day or next hour or next minute.

 

Once we see where our minds are…what do we turn them to?

 

When I get here, I turn my mind to reciting chants or a line from a chant I have memorized.  This is taking control away from the mind of irritated thoughts or the mind of worried thoughts and giving it something to do.  When I do this, I find concentration.  I am present with what is in front of me.

 

Dogen is encouraging us to take control of our minds all day long by watching the mind both on the cushion and off.

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Day 60 of 90: Work as Devotion      Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

Hello.
Today we reached the 60th day of this 90 day retreat and thought we’d share one of the 60 teachings offered during this 90 day retreat thus far.
The focus of the retreat is Work as Devotion which is a focus on karma or action.

 

 

Work as Devotion

Trouble with Likes, Dislikes and Indifference; Impact on Knowledge

 

Knowledge is not produced. Knowledge does not come through argument or debate. Argument and debate are changing forms. Knowledge is born from the unborn. It has no beginning and no end. Knowledge is sudden and unexpected.

An example may bring this truth into focus. At one point in history mankind did not fly and at another point in history mankind did fly. The knowledge of flight is NOT produced; it was always there; mankind discovered the knowledge of flight which began by watching and knowing the flight of birds.

What is so important about this truth of knowledge?

The unborn knowledge of the Truth, the Self, God, the Eternal Power of existence is always there. IT is and IT is discovered in a sudden and unexpected moment. IT can’t be gotten, like a thing or an object, but IT can be found.

What hides the Truth?

Our ignorance. We need to first recognize the Knowledge is always there. Everywhere. At every moment. We, you and me, ignore it and choose again and again to attach our attention to the imperishable things that proceed from the Truth but are not the knowledge of Truth.

Another example is the image of a quilt.

Here is an ancient proverb:

One may search and search but fail to reach; yet it comes to another unexpectedly.

If we want to discern the thread in the quilt, whose isness is thread through and through, we must know the quilt through and through by handling it with full attention and seeing IT as IT is.

 

 

One or two more words on this knowing. Knowing the essential existence is not the body, not the mind, not any thing that is compounded; we look for what is essential. What keeps us from seeing the essential our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. Instead of looking and being with what is, we turn to desire for what we want.

What must we do? Renounce our attachment to our likes, dislikes and indifference. THAT is renunciation.

OM

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Dogen’s Fifth Awareness: Unfailing Recollection

Unfailing: without error or fault; reliable or constant

Recollection: action of remembering something

Ah…but what are we to remember without error or fault? Our Social Security number? Our birth date?. Passwords? The last time we had a tetanus shot? All the state capitals? What the air pressure in our car tires should be?

I don’t think this is what Dogen had in mind. Our minds, or at least mine, are filled with memories. And as I get a little older, I notice that I can’t remember some things as well as I used to. Whole segments of experience have disappeared or cannot unfailingly be brought to the surface. I have memories of feelings, disappointments, happy times, sad times. I can remember people I like and people I dislike. I can remember foods I hate and foods I love. I can remember where I was on November 22, 1963.

But these aren’t the things Dogen is asking us to recollect…and not just recollect but unfailingly recollect.

Maybe he means for us to recollect his Eight Awarenesses: Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection, Cultivating Meditative Concentration, Cultivating Wisdom, Refraining From Vain Talk. Not just being able to list them, but recollect them in such a way that they become woven into our daily lives. Awarenesses that give us a reliable and constant compass – a direction when we become lost or confused by what comes rushing into our lives.

Maybe Dogen wants us to unfailingly remember we are, not our body we are not our mind.

Maybe Dogen wants us to remember to ask the question: Who am I? and keep asking until we deeply know.

To get on in the world we do need to remember our passwords…AND we also unfailingly recollect that “we are spiritual beings in human bodies” and turn our compass toward the eternal.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Work and the 4th Awareness of Dogen

As Freud said,

“Love and work..work and love..

what else is there really?”

He also was overwrought about death. “Why am I looking at Freud?” Because we are living in a heightened awareness of the loss of our work and the fear of a virus (now tagged as the “enemy’) as a  grim reaper stalking the world.

SCREECHING SOUND

 

Really?  WAIT A MINUTE. Freud must have been referring to the personality, those parts he labeled as the id, the ego and superego. Of course. THAT is what Freud was talking about when he talked about WORK and love as all there is. If you happen to agree with Freud, I refer to you to Peggy Lee’s song, Is That All There Is.  

Many believed him and many still do or at the very least are influenced by his elucidation of the “personality” of the 20th century man. The personality that swings on the oscillations of good and bad, like and dislike. The personality that craves and is never satisfied. And suffers much.

A person who comes out of two wars inevitably looks to the future for something better. The post-war babies and their children took up the banner: GO TO WORK YOUNG MAN. I say man because in those days (and even now) the banner was raised for a young man and women needed to go back to the kitchen as housewives and mothers.

But women, especially educated women heard the same message: GO TO WORK. But it wasn’t until the postwar 50’s and 60’s that Betty Friedan spoke about the Feminine Mystique. And what did that mean for women and work? It meant dragging the kitchen sink into the world of business work. But more precisely i offer the following.

In a nutshell:

Betty Friedan author of  “The Feminine Mystique”, the ground-breaking book that actually started the women’s movement, coined the term feminine mystique to refer to the unfulfilled feeling felt by educated housewives of  the 50s and 60s. Friedan believed that such women had lost their identity and sense of self to a life centered around husband, children, and home maintenance, and little else. The feminine mystique was a trap that had caught American women who were afraid to address the problem for fear of being perceived as “unfeminine”.

 

Don’t jump the gun here and think I am going to go on and on about women’s liberation or to state the obvious that the world is still a man’s world.  Well the world of work is a man’s world.  (i.e., a woman has not yet been a US president) but I am not going to go any further with the material world sufferings for all people.

NO. I am asking you to come along with me to look at WORK without the gender-identity mess. Just look at WORK as Dogen’s awareness of diligence with a twist upwards towards the higher Self. Yes. I am going to twist WORK upward away from the id, the ego, and super-ego as work needs to be realized beyond the pundits of the past. To offer a direction, a spiritual direction to Peggy Lee.

Let me go on.

If I remember correctly, Peter Drucker, the one-time guru of business management, wrote that work, that is, work in business is the “new” church where the young man would attain self-fulfillment. I have to say again, Really? Perhaps these ideas have made ministers and priests of every ilk see their work as a profession of self-fulfillment and not as a selfless service to the Truth of the Divine source. One must ask, who is then looking after the spiritual life of the world? Not the psychological life – the spiritual one.

Ah, but most of us have been raised and fed these ideas since childhood. Yes, that is true. Grow up. Get an education. Get a job. Make a lot of bucks. Ta Da. But this is not the road to freedom. We continuously forget the material world is the world of suffering.

Drucker, still considered a guru who changed the face of American business, changed the face of spiritual life all over the world. His ideal says, BE AN ASSET or often said as BE SOMEBODY, somebody important, rich, with power and influence.

Really? An asset? Raise your hands if you want to be an asset?

Drucker, an Austrian born American, set forth the ideals of business that included seeing the worker as an asset and not a liability. Do you think of yourself as an asset? Here’s a few definitions of the word ASSET.

 

a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality.

property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies.

 

And my favorite:

military equipment, such as planes, ships, communications and radar installations, employed or targeted in military operations.

 

It is not my intention here to go into the lengthy development of business in America but to point out what I consider salient ideas and concepts that have influenced how we view ourselves in relationship to work and how these ideas cause us to suffer, especially when work is being threatened by this pandemic. The roots of work are deep and cherished.

Now, ask yourself, do you measure your self in terms of usefulness, utility, a value-added being?

You probably do. And you probably measure yourself and others using these or some semblance of these ideas. Let me remind you in spiritual practice measuring disturbs the mind; comparisons lead you astray. But we need to forgive ourselves and others – we’ve been trained to be an asset. Useful. And this training is pretty long in being the goal of human life. If you’re not an asset – well, you’re a liability or a handicap or even a burden. Something perhaps to be discarded – pushed aside; tossed aside. Gotten rid of…

One has to ask if the world wars played a significant role in the exponential growth of business as a place to fulfill one’s life. Is it? Was it? I feel confident enough to say the wars did influence our need to seek something better – to rebuild a Europe that was decimated by the wars and yes, to replace the church with the office of self-fulfillment. After these wars people were weary and disappointed in what they believed to be God. The world was broken. But what people didn’t know is that the world is not the place to see and find and discover truth, a big T truth.

Let me pull these ideas together. Just to make them a bit crisper. Sharpen them up.

Freud’s influence on the structure of  “personality,” the internal world of the psyche felt work and love was all there was to life. Take a pause there. Take this idea and add Drucker’s postwar spangles about self-fulfillment at work as the new church and his coining the term knowledge-workers and try to consider yourself as immeasurable based on spiritual awareness. Pretty damn hard to get free of all that construction in your mind.

But there is some luck…and of course truth.

We are lucky to have outlived Freud’s poorly substantiated psychoanalysis. The pandemic’s collapse of the mercantile and governmental systems which highlights the uncertainty and impermanence of all that the world has built is a spiritual jackpot.  Really? YES! Really.

Fortunately, all of us can take the backward step towards the light of transcendence against the stream of measuring the personality and seeing utility as the temple. and self-fulfillment as the goal. We can get free of the personality…but I digress. This piece is about WORK.

So post-war America began to perceive women a bit different since they actually did work outside the home during those miserable war years. A taste of the grass makes a thief of the beast, as my mother would say. Women wanted to work and Betty Friedan began to beat that drum. Don’t get snookered by that feminine mystique ideal of being stuck at home. GO to Work. So women did go to work but took along the household of children with them.

And add to all this…Drucker’s success in business management and his heralding that WORK fulfills us and we are bound to be nuts when we are asked to shelter-in-place.

WHEW! No wonder so many are really uptight about being sheltered-at-home given a 14.7% unemployment rate which apparently exceeds the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

SO………….we are up against quite a few ideals here. WORK is essential; especially WORK where one makes a buck or two. Survival is an instinctual attribute of all life so we are going to feel threatened. Unless…and maybe until…we begin to see through these ideas of personality and work as fulfillment. You guessed it. The ideas rope the instinct and we are caught at the most primitive level.

Imagine the sound of scratching a spinning vinyl record as a way to cut off this path to frustration, depression, anxiety and misery. We have to stop spinning in our made-up personality, stop measuring ourselves according to a comparison as an asset or a utility and turn to a higher ground.

I offer two teachings to help us to do just that.

 

The first one is from a 21st century Chan priest and the second one is from a 12th century Chan monastic cook. See for yourself.

Here’s what the 21st century priest tells us.

From NOW in this body,

WORK is devotion –

resting on concentration and focus –

a steady hand – a focused eye –

a wise, loving mind –

As one puts together a sand mandala –

slow & careful, not looking to do anything –

not looking to finish anything – not looking to keep anything.

To give this offering in perfection of spirit.

Take the stitches out.

 

This 21st century priest points us to WORK as a devotion; not as an asset, or to become somebody. NO. WORK is devotion. Get up. And offer WORK with concentration and focus; without wanting any reward. Everything you do – all the actions of your life are devotion and this devotion includes what most of separate out as work.

How might you do that?

Diligently as the 12th century cook tells us. It is an unselfish prayer to the Supreme Self by whatever name you know. It is a chant to be chanted daily.

And here is what the 12th century monastic cook explains.

Altar Opening:
In gratitude I acknowledge all tenzos gone before me, after me, and with me now.

I request their help, offering incense to them and Buddha.

 

Pay full attention to all work,

the Way-Seeking Mind is actualized by rolling up your sleeves.

Attend to every aspect yourself so that it will naturally turn out well.

Put things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place

and those that would be most stable on a
low place onto a low place.

In this way stability is established.

Keep your mind on your

work and do not throw things around carelessly.

Do not lose even one grain of rice.

All ingredients are the same.

Do not let your attitude be influenced by the quality of
ingredients.

As Master Dogen asked the COOK from Ayuwang, “

What is practice?”

The COOK replied:

“There is nothing in the world hidden from it.”

May all beings benefit from the merits of this practice.

 

 

There is a Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” As I ponder this 1st quarter of the 21st century I see the truth in this pandemic. The world has come in upon us and we choose to see all that is going on as the Chinese say, a curse or an unspoken boon. For those who follow Freud, Drucker and Peggy Lee; it appears to be a curse. For those who see the Way, all that comes into our life is a boon. And this one is a jackpot.

 

Don’t give up. Keep going.

This is the top of the mystical peak.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue & Reverend Lao dizhi Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Lyrics to Is that all there is 

Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller. 1969 I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth. There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but when it was over, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?” Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world. We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes. We were so very much in love. Then one day, he went away. And I thought I’d die — but I didn’t. And when I didn’t I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

I know what you must be saying to yourselves. If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all? Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment. For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself, Is that all there is, is that all there is If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is

 

Quotes

Definitions

 

An Encouraging Word or Two

 

Happy Birthday & A Feast Day 

 

This past week we celebrated the day considered to be the birth day of Shakyamuni Buddha and the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic. Many celebrated and recognized Julian of Norwich as a Saint, someone who is wholly virtuous and the designated birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha, an awakened, transcendent being.

Both holy days are a way to recognize these figures as worthy of regard. To celebrate their spiritual vigor. To remember the work can be done by us.

*****

During a time when nations are teetering on collapse from within, these celebrations give us an opportunity to stop and consider there is more to life than meets the eye. More to life than the constant barrage of injustice that is happening in plain sight. More to life than suffering. As stated in Hamlet:

 

There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]

 

There are those among us from the past and present who have lived and do live remarkable spiritual lives that uplift us on our journey. They represent the ideals of spiritual practice for they are those among us who give everything in order to discover the Truth. They encourage us to do the same by being ordinary, real people who become extraordinary,  transcendent people of the Truth. It takes fearless courage and big-open-handed generosity.

As the shelter-in-place continues, we need to remember to look up to those of us who have given everything, their whole life to relieve suffering through a spiritual journey. Suffering, for both Shakyamuni and Julian of Norwich was the cause of their exquisite, spiritual lives. Both sought the Truth after a recognition of suffering in the world, in their own life. Each one set out on a journey – an interior journey to find the relief and remedy to the ever-present mash-up of the samsaric world.

There is no doubt that suffering in the world is in plain sight on many, many levels. Shakyamuni and Julian are an encouragement to each one of us – to see the force of suffering which is pervasive and evident, as a cause for us to set out, to begin and continue our journey for freedom from the unreliable, impermanent world. And to do it with fearless courage and big-hearted generosity. To vow, not to give up and when we do to return and keep going.

 

Hip Hip Hooray!

Hip Hip Hooray!

For Shakyamuni.

For Julian.

For you & me.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

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Quietude. Dogen’s 3rd Awareness

 

 

 

Quietude – a state of stillness; calmness, and quiet in a person or place

Really, quietude is not about noise or sound or silence. It’s not a drugged state either.

 

Some stories come to mind…

Noise

When I was a high school student and had difficulty falling asleep, I’d turn my clock radio on as I went to bed and listen to a baseball game.  Within minutes I would fall asleep.  The sound was a comfort.  Fast forwards several decades, we are living with noise as comfort all the time. Music is played in stores and elevators, and gas stations, and waiting rooms, and dentist offices.  Most people walk down the street wearing ear buds.  It seems that, collectively, we feel the need to be surrounded by noise of some sort.  There is even a TV commercial, I have no idea what product is being advertised, but a couple goes on a camping trip and can’t fall asleep because of the forest sounds.  They play street sounds on their phone and instantly go to sleep.  We have become used to being surrounded with noise.

Silence

Many years ago, I attended a silent Zen retreat.  After the retreat, on the car trip home, I remember commenting that I thought the retreat was very noisy, lots of talking…that people weren’t keeping the form of silence.  My car-mates totally disagreed.  They felt it was a particularly silent retreat.  This puzzled me.  I slowly began to realize that the noise I was hearing wasn’t from other people.  What I thought was talking was actually my mind.  My mind was where the noise was coming from…thoughts, memories, judgments, plans.  After the fact, I could see that the actual physical silence wasn’t a comfort for me. The noise that was making me so discomforted was in my mind!

Quietude

Late last August I was in an accident walking my dog and broke the neck of my femur.  It took a trip to an Immediate Care center and an ambulance to get me to one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the area.  It was about 7:00 p.m. when I was finally transferred to a hospital bed.  Every slight move of my leg brought excruciating pain.  Laying perfectly still brought relief.  Being perfectly still brought thoughts of deep breathing, remembering that I wasn’t my body, wishes for a miracle that the pain would go away and my leg immediately healed.  The pain was like a grey cloud hovering around me.

 

Early next morning Liz and I met with the surgeon.  He recommended putting three pins in the bone rather than a hip replacement.  We agreed and I was scheduled for surgery at noon.  Liz was able to come with me to the surgery prep area. I was hooked to the monitoring machines but had not yet been given any anesthetic. This is where I experienced quietude.  I didn’t know it at the time, but as I waited I just wanted to be still.  I told Liz not to ask me any questions.  I just lay still.  Liz watched the machine monitoring my vital signs…everything went down…breathing, blood pressure, and heart-rate.  In remembering back, I knew I was in some spiritual place.  I wasn’t afraid.  I could hear the sounds in the room and hallway.  I was aware and not aware.  I was not trying to meditate or do deep breathing.  I just went into a deep quietude…a place of no desire, a place of contentment.

It was not a place I willed myself into.  It just was quietude. Quietude is ever present. I went there.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

 

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

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See, Seek Not

Often in spiritual life we find seekers rather than seers. It comes out of our misunderstanding of Reality. Below there are two stories that show us when we seek, we get worn out and feel as though we are a ‘failure.’ When this happens we have fallen into the common mental formation of “measuring and comprehending.” I know this may be a surprise. Most of us have been trained to seek liberation rather than see it. It’s time to see it.

Seeking leads to all sorts of frustrations because it rests upon buried desires of getting something. Even when we are told there is nothing to get – the samskaras, those buried devils deep within our mental consciousness, surface like hungry ghosts wanting to achieve, taking up measures and holding tight to comprehension. 

All of this mental business of thinking and desire leads to suffering; as our dear Shakyamuni saw as a young man.  Life, the world of wanting, is suffering and the cause is desire. Simple. Clear. But overlooked again and again because we want to achieve – we want to be somebody who is successful. It is our human inclination.

We are like the young monk in the monastery who is asked by the Abbot, 

 

What are you up to sitting there in silence.” 

 

 “Becoming Buddha.”  The young monk responds.

 

At that answer, the Abbot picks up the infamous brick and begins to polish it leading the young monk to ask,

“What are you up to rubbing that brick?” 

Now here is the turning which we often overlook – the Abbot’s turning is a reflection of the monk’s response. That’s all he offers. A reflection of what the young monk is doing. 

He says, “I am polishing the brick into a mirror just as you are polishing the mind of the lower self into a Buddha.” 

 

AHEM! There it is. It’s a joke of the highest level. Reflect what the seeker is trying to achieve and he might stop his inclination to achieve. He might be able to see, rather than seek. Reflect on your mind and you might stop the inclination to achieve.

Really? 

Yes, really. 

The seer sees that he cannot do anything to achieve liberation. Nada. But wait. I now hear the cries and screams from all of us who have been doing, doing, doing what we call practice for years. Bowing, prostrating, sewing, chanting, contemplating, sitting, studying. 

 What about all of that? 

I say, “all well and good.” BUT…sorry, there is a but here….if you are seeking enlightenment, wanting to achieve success, measuring your progress, taking pride in your comprehensions, loving it when others think of you as mastering the Dharma, telling you how well you are doing – well, then you are like the young monk who seeks to become Buddha! 

God, help us. 

We need a change in mind, in our thoughts and thinking about practice. We need to know the primary cause and not our small secondary cause of effort. When we are given – yes, given sight to see it is not something we did – but a gift. There is no guarantee that if you do this and this and this and know that and that and that you’ll transcend samsara, the world of suffering. 

Transcendence is a gift. Not some method of polishing the self-ego to get it. No, it is transcendent, intuitive, beyond the smallness of mind and all the samskaras of mental formations. The mental formations are like clouds in the sky – they block the Light. In what our dear Chan Master Hongzhi called, the clear circle of brightness. What Rumi spoke of as the field beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing; that place where the Soul lies down too full to speak. 

So, if you have the inclination to practice measuring your progress, contemplating what you feel you comprehend and claim it in the category of success – you are seeking – not seeing. Seers see. When they see that they are putting their trust in the things of the world they turn the mind away. And they do this again and again and again until the mind stabilizes on what is real and what really matters. 

Measuring and comprehending are the Way of seekers, not the way of seers. Now we are ready for the two stories.

 

The first story.

The first one is about a team of Americans who traveled to Southeast Asia to study Buddhism in a remote area. Where huts were more holes than walls, where dogs roamed in packs and barked all night, where buildings lay half-finished. All things appeared to be in disrepair and decay including the Temple. When the main monk met with them they asked to see the Temple where they would practice and he responded in a rather perplexed way to their question. You see, they were standing in the Temple – in the midst of stacks of rotting supplies, half-built walls, torn and leaking cement bags, equipment and tools broken down by the heat and elements. 

The Americans were stunned but silent. As soon as they could get together in their team they decided to clean-up the place, organize and salvage what they could and build the Temple for the monk. Not surprisingly, the monk explained; 

“No. No. No. This is the Temple. This is it.” 

Again, confused, unclear the team could not imagine how he could say that the piles of rubble, the waste, the broken down equipment was the Temple. The team planned to build what they thought was a ‘proper’ Temple. They agreed to raise money. To fix what the monk saw as the Temple and they saw as a mess.

 

The second story.

A woman, a devotee, was out walking thinking about the day. About the buildings along the city street when she noticed that the awning along an old brick building was rotting away. It was once dark blue but now appeared to be thinning and faded. The once clear lettering was no longer readable. Part of the material was torn and no longer held its shape. It made the building look older and unkempt.

But as she looked at the building she suddenly noticed right above the drooping awning was another awning. She couldn’t tell if it had always had been there or that if it suddenly appeared. IT, the sudden appearing awning, was a bright turquoise and it had an inexplicable lustre like a glow circling around it. Although the woman could still see the worn-down, dark blue awning, it no longer appeared as important. 

 

 

 

 

 

May we, with all beings, realize the sudden appearance of the Clear Circle of Brightness. May we study these stories and see what we may see. May we study our life to see what we may see. Being grateful for everything.

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Heave To —- by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

Heave To

Dogen’s Second Awareness: Be Content

For those of us who have forgotten, the first of the eight awarenesses by Dogen is Have Few Desires. A short discourse on it can be found here. Before I launch into the second awareness to be content, I want to encourage us by pointing out our challenge. It may seem odd to think a challenge is an encouragement, but for the spiritual seeker challenges require us to be courageous. This hot spot event of the global epidemic challenges us to use our courage to be content.

In order to shed light on this awareness and bring clarity to it, I have taken the liberty to change Dogen’s wording to: HEAVE TO. I think you’ll understand as I tell my story and the story of Voss.

 

My Confession

I have little to no experience with boats and sailing. What I do know can be said in one sentence. The stern is the back of the boat and the bow is the front. That’s it.

I recently learned what HEAVE TO means while reading the The Adventuresome Voyages of Voss. If you know about sailing, you know what it means and how to do it. If you are like me, you don’t know the meaning and need a brief explanation. Here is a sketchy explanation.

Heave To

Heave-to is a sailing maneuver used to slow a boat down in heavy seas. It is done by adjusting the sails and dropping the ships anchor in a storm. This maneuver keeps the boat from traveling with the high winds. For if the boat goes with the wind, it can be sucked down by the force of the water and capsize. The winds, you see, move faster than a boat can move. To the inexperienced and ignorant, heaving-to seems counter intuitive and dangerous!

Heave To is the same as Be Content while in life-threatening winds.

The Story

It is allegedly a true story of two men in a retrofitted canoe on the open Pacific Ocean during high winds. To say the least, many of us feel we, too are in high winds in a retrofitted canoe in unknown waters. If so, it is time to heave-to! Now the story.

In 1901, in Victoria, Canada, a young journalist asked Voss an experienced sailor if it was possible to sail around the world in a small boat.

 

Not every captain would be able to do it. But, yes I can captain such a journey!

The journalist, I’ll call him the mate, offered to pay the captain $2,500 dollars and half the profits from a book he would write about the trip, if the captain took up the challenge. The mate, who had no sailing experience at all, saw the impending voyage as an exciting adventure with minimal danger. Turning his experience on the high seas circling the globe into a best seller was his motivation.

The captain purchased a 38 ft dugout canoe carved from a single tree which he skillfully turned into a vessel capable of sailing on the open ocean. There was plenty of work and preparation before they set sail. When the canoe was finished, it included a one-berth cabin, tiller and three masts. Very tight quarters.

Making the effort to sail around the world in this canoe brought many difficulties. Gales, storms, high winds and rough waves on the open sea can dangerous for all boats and are even more perilous in an ocean going canoe!!! But the captain, trusting his sailing and navigating skills enough knew that the venture had a possibility of succeeding.

The first few weeks the weather was calm. The mate, the journalist, entered into an easy routine with the captain, learning the skills required for living on a small boat: cooking, cleaning, raising and lowering sails, steering and doing night watches to keep the boat on course.

During this time the two men worked and lived on board as friends. The mate didn’t feel he was obeying orders, he was just learning the ropes of sailing. The captain did not feel the need to assert his authority because the mate was a willing learner.

They encountered rain, choppy seas and thunderstorms but nothing that proved dangerous. Until one afternoon, the captain noticed the darkening clouds and that the winds and waves were stronger and it started to rain. He knew a gale was almost on them.  

At this point, the roles of the two men, take a drastic change. The mate, never having been at sea in a gale, was terrified and feared for his life. He did not trust that this amiable man who taught him how to cook could manage a storm this dangerous. He lost confidence in the captain.

As the storm got closer and winds got stronger and the rain started, the captain had to yell over the wind to his mate.

 

You have to go to the stern of the boat and drop this anchor overboard. I will tie this rope around you, so if you get tossed out, I can pull you back. I’m going to steer the boat and set the sails. We are going to heave-to.”

 

Terrified, the mate let the captain tie a rope around him and fighting the wind struggled to the stern carrying the anchor. When he got there he saw a huge wave coming straight at him. In sheer panic he dropped the anchor in the boat and climbed up the nearest mast. The captain yelled again, louder.

 

“Climb down and drop the anchor overboard right now!

Shaken, the mate climbed down and threw the anchor overboard. Fighting the wind and rain he struggled back, frightened, angry, defensive ready to argue with the captain. The mate felt that dropping the anchor was wrong. The boat should be going with the wind, not stopping in the middle of it. Didn’t the captain know how big the waves were? The mate saw the size of the waves and knew he was going to be drowned.

As the storm raged, the captain knew the power of heaving-to. He knew from experience what actions he had to take, and what actions he had to order his mate take to make the boat, his mate and himself safe. And he took them.

Having done all he could do, and knowing the space was too small for disagreements, he welcomed his terrified, angry mate into a surprisingly dry and steady cabin. The rain and wind and rough waves hadn’t stopped, but dropping the anchor, slowed the boat and it was no longer fighting the wind and waves. The captain helped the mate untie the rope and dry off. He offered him a cup of coffee and a seat to ride the storm out.

The Twofold View

Notice how similar this story is to our being asked to drop everything and slow down. To withdraw from the stormy winds blowing this virus across the globe, to have a cup of coffee, to calm down, to trust that dropping everything will keep us safe.

That is the material realm safety.

This applies to our spiritual life as well. Drop every fear-mongering thought – heave-to right in the middle of what comes into your life. Face the challenge without fear; trust, be confident in spiritual fortitude to get up and keep going. Study the teachings in a disciplined way – be reasoned with knowledge of spiritual teachings, take action when required, offer devotion and praise in silence and meditation. Give like the captain who knew the fear of his novice mate.

The novice seaman thought he knew more than the captain and almost lost his life. Take to heart the teachings – heave to and have few desires; two of Dogen’s life jackets in the storm’s of life.

 

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

 

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

 

Featured Images: Lying a Hull

Who is in Charge?

Spiritual life is a battlefield. 

Over time, the battle worsens for the serious spiritual adept – threats along the path are more ominous. The path narrows. The dangers more perilous. Hazards multiply. The demons of ignorance, of lust, hate, self-doubt, of pride, power, envy, jealousy assemble against the spiritual adept. The climb to the summit appears out of reach. The world of ignorance becomes enticing. Practice weakens, pleasures arise and the adept believes he is more awake, more powerful, more knowledgeable than others. He claims to know – claims to be a leader – ignorance claims jurisdiction of the adept’s mind.

Assumes power over others. Asserts himself as important. Disguises himself as superior. Becomes the ranking official. The demons have vanquished the adept. He becomes unreachable. Smug. Certain. Above others. No longer able to hear or listen. Blows off the Truth. He becomes certain. Assured and out of control. Lost in ignorance.

The adept has become unreachable and unteachable. Hardship is his only hope. Thinking he is in charge is his worst enemy. Being a spiritual seeker is not a career, a hobby, a secondary interest – it is all and everything that matters. There is nothing else.

Often, we find ourselves playing tiddlywinks with spiritual teachings – not realizing that spiritual teachings are potent in a way nothing else is. There is no aim of winning, no aim of getting ahead or getting anything at all. There is nothing to get. Nothing to lay claim to as the “me” and “my” so insistently try to do.

It seems the odds are stacked against us – that one lifetime is not enough time to defend our spiritual life and destroy the battalions of ignorance, lust, pride, greed, envy, jealousy and the many hindrances that we seem to face again and again and again. The enemy of our own desire seems to be upon us before we are able to stop it and vanquish it in such a way that we are free.

But all is not lost.

The spiritual gods assemble in the form of hardship. The ignorance becomes anxiety, the lust, dry and empty, the hate requires more and more harshness and self-doubt is bolstered by sycophants and drugs. The demons relish their victories and amass their forces while the spiritual gods seek help.

Defeated, the spiritual gods confess they need a higher power and a return to order; a return to discipline and practice. They need the energy to slay the demons that have taken them over. They need a powerful weapon against ignorance in order to see how they have capitulated to the fleeting pleasures of impermanent things.

For those who want to reach the summit, there must be a willingness to renounce greed-of-attachment and hatred-of-aversion. And this requires heavy lifting – a thirst for the Boss, the One beyond understanding. The thirst is big – big in the way one fights for a breath when drowning. YES. That’s what it takes. A fight for the face of the True Self as one fights for life. The Divine Eternal – Godliness – THAT which never was born and never dies. THAT. Life offers each one of us a chance at liberation – to find union with THAT by whatever holy name.

We need weapons. Yes. Weapons. Those things or ways that give us an advantage over the demons of greed, hate and delusion. AND, we need training on how to find and use the weapons – from a Master. It is as simple as that.

Let us for a moment return to The Bow & Arrow. Please read it as spiritual instruction. It shows the action of a Master; one who trained with a master archer. Trained his mind in discipline and practiced.

Did you read it?

Spiritual life is demanding and we have to be willing to give it time to master. You may ask, “How is the tale of the Bow & Arrow an instruction for me in my spiritual life?”

Actually, I hope you do ask that question.

The basic answer is twofold: The Bow & Arrow exemplifies the use of a weapon and a weapon that requires commitment and discipline in order to master it. The weapon needs to strengthen the student in such a way that it is an advantage against the demons of ignorance, greed, hate & delusion. The weapon does not need to be deadly in a worldly sense; it does need to be able to destroy the sloth & torpor of disinterest which means it must be challenging to the sloth & torpor of ignorance. AND…it must be able to slay the resistance to giving up ignorance.

Choose your weapon wisely. The Master in The Bow & Arrow,  selected the Bow and Arrow and all that goes with it. He found a Master to hand down the ways of the bow & arrow. In order to learn, he had to commit himself first and foremast to the work. The commitment must be there.

Your weapon need not be a weapon such as a bow and arrow, but it must be challenging and greater than ignorance. It might be gardening, the tea ceremony, sewing, writing, spiritual study or one of any number of actions. Being father, a mother, training a dog, a marathon athlete and such. What is important is that the chosen weapon is able to call you to devotion – again and again and again. An action that requires discipline and training. In other words, it requires a willingness to become a disciple – a follower of the discipline.

In Zen Buddhism someone does not receive a diploma stating he or she is a master; it is much more difficult because one is a master through the difficult-to-understand process of working with a master.  One does not go to a seminary for four or six years and graduate receiving a diploma; no. In Zen, one lives the teachings and realizes THAT Truth spoken about above.  There are many means; nothing is left out of living the teachings.

In the The Bow & Arrow, the man placed the arrow of his life on the bow of teachings and shot at THAT truth which is not a single target downfield; but is the ever-present mysterious Truth of the Tathagatha.

The man in The Bow & Arrow trained in such a way that he is called a master – not a dilettante or a spiritual shopper but a master. It’s not a casual commitment.

 

With this under our belt let’s take a closer look at the The Bow & Arrow.

This man, at some point in time, chose the bow & arrow as his weapon that would teach him the Truth and from the looks of what he did on the field, it did indeed teach him in a way expressed in action. The spontaneity of his action is the hallmark, the gold standard of a master. The reason is simple – we all know how to deceive ourselves and others with robes, pretty words and high-fallutin’ teachings and all sorts of spiritual paraphernalia. Our intellect, after all, can be the ally of phony baloney spiritual rhetoric.

But what action exactly shows this gold standard? Very hard to understand and pinpoint. Not looking for a reward is one. Not giving a rat’s ass about opinions of others is another. Devotion to the weapon. Offering free all the teachings to those that are sincere.

Zen is full of stories of slaps, fly swatting, sudden claps, blowing out candles given in a sudden burst to awaken you. Zen Buddhism is not trying to be nice – which is a word that comes from the French, meaning stupid – Zen Buddhism is punchy, provocative, evocative, potent, powerful, forceful, fierce training because the foes of ignorance, greed, hate and delusion are mighty. We all need a weapon in which to cut away, strip, flay, slay ignorance.

Ignorance is quite powerful. Its power has kept us cycling through lifetimes of karma. We need a thing greater than it to slay it.  Loss, some great, terrible loss is at times needed for some to awaken.

The Archer who showed up on that field was a master who did not care whether the crowd liked what he did or not – he shot the arrow in such a way it pierced the desires of wanting a performance. He sent the arrow flying into the heavens of Truth.

A true Master is not someone who is nice, but is able to strip away the ignorance of how you or I want or wish things to go. A true Master exhibits a wholeness (holiness) that no longer cares about the opinions of others but is concentrated on the Eternal Mark, the impenetrable Mark of existence. THAT. True. Self.

I ask once more, what weapon have you chosen or will you choose to master in order to pierce ignorance; to tear off the veil and see who you really are?

 I know I have said this many times, but I must say it again – a teacher is essential – a holy teacher who is willing to not give a rat’s ass about your self-centered feelings and thoughts and who has the skill to pierce the veil of ignorance again and again until you are able to do it for yourself. 

What weapon are you willing to devote your concentration, your mind, your heart to?

 

Humming Bird

 

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Images by Fly

Cooped Up? A Good Time for the Eight Awarenesses – First of Eight

Have Few Desires

 

In late winter the sugar ants arrive, uninvited.  We first notice one or maybe two walking across our counter top, scouts checking, we are not sure just what they are checking.  Then, a few days later there are a few more boldly walking on spoons and cups waiting to be washed.  A dollop of jam left on a knife is soon covered with ants.  And when at night we are too tired to clean-up the kitchen, the morning reveals lines of marching ants…going back and forth with their booty.

The arrival of the ants is very much like the arrival of desire in our mind.  We notice a small desire…wanting more sunshine, fewer clouds, warmer weather.  These are scouts that lead to more and more desire…moving to a warmer climate, which means a new house (renting or buying) and then selling or renting the one we have and finding a moving company and giving away furniture or selling it.  On and on it goes.  Our desires swarm around things, forms, feelings, perceptions, impulses, memories, experiences, fears.  This is how we think…wanting and not wanting.  Our desires just like the ants keep coming.  And soon we are miserable.

Over the past few years we’ve tried many strategies with the ants. Most of them involved killing lots and lots of ants. The ant problem eventually gets solved with great sorrow and regret at killing so many ants, which really aren’t causing any harm.

This year, thinking about the arrival of ants and the arrival of desire in the mind we are working with a practice of simplicity and persistence.  With the ants, it is obvious:  put all food away, leave nothing on the counters.  Rinse off all silverware, dishes, cups, glasses.  Wipe the counters down every time food is prepared.  Do this all day, every day.  The ants can scout around but they won’t find anything to message home about.

Simplicity and persistence can also work with desire.  We can physically begin to simplify our life, so example:  put away everything we take out.  If what we take out doesn’t have a “home” clean out drawers and closets until there is a place to simply put away what we take out.  Do this all day every day.

With mental desires, a key is to simply catch it when it comes up…see it scouting around for other desires to latch onto.  To begin with maybe we won’t see the scout desires, we will only notice desires when they become swarms…entangled thoughts.  Persistent practice can help here…when you notice a desire filled thought,  just say “STOP” and move the mind away from the swarm.  It takes persistence to pay attention to what our mind is up to.  In fact, if we want to have few desires we must pay attention all the time…minute by minute, hour by hour.

 

PRACTICE

Memorize. Repeat. Practice.

 

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun

 

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

 

Study THIS – and Realize the Dharma Work.

 

These teachings are for your sake. Trees and weeds, tables and doors expound and exalt the Dharma for your sake. You, in turn, expound and exalt the Dharma for the sake of trees, weeds, tables and doors. This expounding and exalting is how Dharma work is. The work is not limited because Dharma work cannot be measured or comprehended. Measuring and comprehending disturb the mind. All things help you to cut off disordered and defiled thoughts and views coming from the measuring and comprehending. The Dharma work is infinitely numberless and universally performing. You might wonder what the characteristics of realization are and what are the causes of realization that lead to self-awakening and awakening others?  THe promise of cause and effect is inescapable. If you put your hand into a pot of boiling water, you burn your hand. The boiling water fulfills its Dharma. This is the nature of cause and effect. This nature is true of the mind. The teachings of realization promise and follow this law. If you put your mind on the non-essential, you will cycle endlessly in suffering and you will not be blessed with the characteristics of realization. The non-essentials are when you are given over to likes, dislikes and indifferences. Likes, dislikes and indifference are not essential causes of realization. If you put your mind on the essential, you will realize the Dharma work.