Announcement: Welcome Our Two New Novice Priests

ShenHai (James Kavajecz)


ShenYin (Yuri Reis)

The Order of Hsu Yun and Dharma Winds Zen Sangha / Zen Order of HsuYun are delighted to announce the ordination of ShenHai and ShenYin,

Deep Ocean and Profound Seal

They have received Novice Chan / Zen Priest Ordination in the Linji / Yunmen Z in Lineage of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun, ZBOHY-ZATMA

Through Dharma Winds Zen Sangha / Zen Order of HsuYun,

A Zen Priory of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu-Yun in Namur, Belgium

During a ceremony performed this month in Dharma Winds Zen Hermitage, Namur, Belgium

by YaoXin Shakya, Transmitted Priest and Co-Prior of the Zen Buddhist Order of HsuYun-ZATMA

As we approach the 20th anniversary of our humble zen order, I see more and more brothers and sisters on both branches of ZBOHY developing their sanghas and sharing the teachings of our Founders and Lineage. !

May they all study the way with Great Openness

Great Dedication!




Get Out! Get Out!


Karma Yoga: Get Out! Get Out!


By Fashi Lao Yue Xiang Shakya


Hézuò zhìhuì



Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”


The mind is covered with dust; the dust of the concerns of the world. The ego is attached to those concerns and has become a stumbling block to self and others.


My teacher once told me a story about her practice. She was a disciple in a Ch’an Temple, the only woman amongst a group of male disciples. Her teacher was both beloved and tough. During one of the times she was with him and her fellow disciples, her teacher began to holler at her, “Get out! Get out!” At first she thought he was kicking her out of the Temple, as though she was not worthy to be there but then it dawned on her he was telling her to wake-up. Get out! Get out! referred to her attachment to her ego. Instead of being annoyed with her, he was encouraging her to wake-up.


The story “Get out! Get out!” reminds me of what Christ said to Peter when Peter challenged Jesus who had just revealed he was going to suffer, die and rise again with strong wake-up words as well; Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”


When we merely focus on human concerns we are overcome by the dust in the mind; the dust of resentment, worry, greed, and the whole swamp of delusion. And when in this condition we are unable to see and hear the concerns of the Divine. Our ears are laced with the poison of self-concern and involvement with the disquiet and bottomless pit of human unease.

In both admonitions, Get Out! Get Out! And Get Behind Me Satan! An alarm is given, a warning that there is danger. Jesus makes it clear what the danger is when he says “those who want to be my disciples must deny themselves….” THAT is plain language to forget about the ego, about the disquieting and upsetting accuser, the hindering meddler.


Both these teachers instruct their disciples to get out. Another way to understand this rebuke is to stop whatever is blinding the Truth and to take actions that protect the clarity of the Truth; but we first have to know that the Truth is ever-present.

My teacher knew the Truth, which she endearingly called ‘The Boss’ and I have little doubt that Peter saw Jesus as the embodiment of the Truth on some level; that he knew that profiting from the world leads to the loss of his soul. He was, as many have described him, an impulsive man who was misguided by his desire to save Jesus. It is a common misdirection with spiritual insight and practice which rises in the shape of a desire to save others.


In the essay, Work: Karma Yoga by Ming Zhen, karma yoga, the union of action with the Divine rests parenthetically on one word, non-attachment. Peter’s misguided desire appears to be saturated with attachment for his teacher. His ambitious act towards his teacher is one of countless examples of attachment and entanglement with human concern.

In the same essay we learn karma yoga is the most difficult to practice and when we are negligent the consequences are quite severe as Jesus’ words exemplify. Calling Peter Satan was no small scolding and it shows that even a moment of human concern, even one that sounds genuinely consoling and caring of another person we may be subject to the ruthless effect of karma yoga. It is sobering and at the same a stern eye-opener.


 At each moment the (individual soul) is subject to innumerable influences which from all quarters of the universe pour upon him.”

—Sir John Woodroffe

We don’t know what all the influences were for Peter, but we do know he did not like Jesus’ announcement of his impending suffering and death. Ming Zhen never mentioned specifically the influences pouring on her life at the time but we can be sure that they fell into the category of human concern and attachment to the self.

The strict and stern reproach given by these teachers to these disciples speaks well of both the teacher and the disciple. The teacher was aware of something that at the time the disciple did not see and was able to strike a blow strong enough to stop the disciple from grave mistakes. Both Ming Zhen and Peter trusted their teacher and were strong enough to hear the sword of truth in the words spoken. Both the disciple and the teacher need to be willing to stay, no matter what arises which is no small task. It requires strength and commitment on both sides. If one side falters, it falls apart. The teacher is aware that the soul faces innumerable influences and tells the disciple over and over again and in myriad ways to Get Out! of attachment to the drenching that comes to all.

The mind needs to be trained and in order to train the disciple he needs to be willing to guard the mind. When the disciple sees the influences of the world pouring upon him and arising from within he needs to avoid getting involved with the things that cause emotional upset and a straying mind. The disciple needs to shift away from the troubled world of human concern and keep the eye of the mind on the Divine. This requires non-attachment to make such a shift.


The contents of mind, thoughts, images, perceptions, feelings, impulses are power and we must look after this power.

When the mind perceives an object it is transformed into the shape of that object. So the mind [that] thinks of the Divinity which it worships is at length, through continued devotion, transformed into the likeness of that Divinity.”

—Sir John Woodroffe


Icons and images of the Divinity which are perceived in the mind serve to help this transformation. It is akin to Ming Zhen’s suggestion to discover or create a personified force (the Divinity within) i.e., kuan yin as the guardian of the mind.

We have to be able to concentrate so thoroughly that we can hold an inner dialog with this personified force (the Divinity), and we have to possess enough faith and trust to obey the wisdom that is imparted to us. This is no place for superficial Zen men. This is a place for believers, for devotees.”

—Ming Zhen Shakya


Her edict amounts to the same edict as given in Proverbs.

So as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

— Proverbs 23:7

This pronouncement is a watch ward directing the disciple to contemplate what is in the mind and to clean it up when it is full of dusky involvement with worldliness. If the disciple is looking at a mirror of self-interest, whether it is worry about a loved one dying, so he will become….a self-involved, worried man.  Peter exemplifies this as he thought to save Jesus from dying making him into the savior.


We have to avoid the causes of turmoil, protect the mind from the distractions in the world which weaken our concentration and disconnect from the concerns of the world. This requires non-attachment. Each moment we detach we are free to discover the Divine, to look at and turn to the personified force i.e., kuan yin and not to the self-involved ego. The wise disciple knows the folly of worldly concern and disentangles himself, tout suite.

The disciple is not left adrift to flounder, but is given oodles of instruction. Jesus apparently gives an added correction immediately when he says, ““If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself….” Strong medicine.

Here is another….

  Set your minds on things above, (the Divine) not on earthly things (the transient).”

—Colossians 3:2 New Testament

When the disciple is able to see and hear these admonitions, he recognizes the words of these teachers, “Get out! Get Out!” “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world….” as real. In other words, the disciple, when instructed, makes the turn away from the mess in the mind and looks immediately to the Divine within.


To contact:


Humming Bird

Ask a Master: What is a Zen Retreat?

In a traditional Chinese monastery, a ChanQi (retreat) is a very big event that is known long in advance and may attract many practitioners from all over, relative to the reputation of the monastery and its leading master. The rules may vary and adapt to a special practice or another.


You see, a week of Chan practice isn’t exactly prepared as a week of Buddha Name chanting or Sutra Recitation. But what the priest or master leading the retreat is waiting from every single participant is

a total dedication to the practice for the time of the practice. A Retreat is not something you do to attend as social meeting or like we would do at a nice workshop… a retreat is a personal vow. A vow of utmost sincerity and dedication.


We are a reformed Chan/Zen Order, a sino-american Chan/Zen Order founded by Chan Master JydIn Shakya and Zen Teacher MingZhen Shakya. We adapt our practice to our own contexts. But at the root of our practice lies that same spirit of utmost sincerity and dedication to the practice. At the center of the practice is a vow.


A retreat is meeting a personal vow. it is a time for strong dedication to unveil our True Nature. A time to only cultivate a Chan/Zen Mind and act with utmost sincerity… a totality. A time of no separation.


Traditionally, a ChanQi is lead by three priests at least: a teaching priest, a JiaoYuan/Shusso (responsible for the monks attending the retreat) and a ritual/ceremony priest. Needless to say that in most of our Western retreats these roles are reduced to what is most needed functions. it is also done for seven days in a row. Nowadays, the name ChanQi or Sesshin or retreat is given at all most any length of intensive practice even half days of practice.


What is important is just that ‘intensive’ side of the practice. Make the vow to give your total body and Mind to the practice and to unveil your Buddha Nature. It is the place and time for it. It is a time and place to be intense.


You see, the base of our practice is the daily practice of establishing a solid foundation through daily liturgy and meditation, through discipline and studying. It could be called the Calm side of the practice. A practice of harmonising with our reality of householders.


But we also may need at certain times in our spiritual life, a chance to experience a time and place to develop more intensity, more dedication. That is what a retreat is good for. Again, it is something you vow to give yourself to, because you need it in your spiritual journey. A good thing would be to ask your Zen teacher or Zen Priest before thinking about engaging in one.


Bear also in mind that this intense practice can be practiced anywhere, in a formal Buddhist setting or in Nature, alone or in a large group. What allows you to accomplish the great vow is what is needed. This is also an essential part of our Linji/Rinzai Zen Heritage: recognizing what is need and then working towards it with utmost dedication and humility! Then, just do it!


See the time of the retreat, in a big Zen monastery, a room in your family summer house, a shed or a tent in any nearby forest park, as the time of the great fire. The time of the great burning of all the small impurities that resist to the daily practice you established. It is the great burning of the self. The Great Burning of the Huatou (jp.Wato). Huatou/Wato means before the word, before even thinking, before form… before difference… it is our True Root, our True Nature.


It is the existential question: Who? In every act, Who? Such a true question doesn’t need our small answers full of words. Our Zen Path is a Path of True Questions… not a Path of giving answers. A single question, taken seriously, intimately could change our entire life and turn our world view upside down. Who?


Some words of general advice for the time of Intensive practice

  1. Be simple, harmonise with what is
  2. Be Humble, know your limits and those of others
  3. Be Sincere, only use what is needed.
  4. Every act is the Way! From the first bell to the last of the day vow to realise your True Nature
  5. Give equal importance to Zen sitting and walking meditation.
  6. Balance indoor and outdoor practice.
  7. Eat little, sleep little.
  8. Allow Yezuo/Yazo (night sitting meditation outdoor or indoor) at will.
  9. Listen/see the teacher once a day ( or read the Master’s teachings).
  10. Constantly, give your Body and Mind to KuanYin (jp.Kannon) Bodhisattva and receive her grace.


A retreat is a time for attention. Sometimes the Linji/Rinzai masters are caricaturized with their sticks, shouting Katsu and give stick blows to their students. The roots of these practices was a calling for attention, here and now, Who? Who is reading this paper?


The Katsu shouting still exists in China today, our late Ming Zhen Shakya used to talk about the few time where she saw and heard master WeiYin Shakya shout a loud KAT! As she used to say, the literal sense of ‘kat’ was ‘attention’ in English. But the master seemed to use it in a way she understood as ‘cut all things’. That is what she heard when the master shouted: CUT!


So, remember that the retreat is precisely this, a time and place to manifest Who?

A time and place to manifest, in our actions, our existential VOW to CUT all roots of suffering!


Images: The Desert Stag by Jiaoyuan Qian Yue

NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:

Humming Bird

Announcement: Please Welcome Our New Dharma Teacher, Lao Di Zhi Shakya

Lao Di Zhi Shakya

The Order of Hsu Yun
A Single Thread Contemplative Order of Hsu Yun
are delighted to announce the ordination of Lao Di Zhi Shakya,
Old Earth Wisdom
She received full Zen priest ordination as a Dharma Teacher in the Linji/Yunmen Zen Lineage
of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun, Z​BOHY-ZATMA
Through A Single Thread Zen Sangha, Evanston, Illinois USA
A Zen Priory of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu-Yun
Lao Di Zhi Shakya has been practicing Zen for over thirty years.

Ask a Master? What is Chan Liturgy — The Simple Way is Our Way


Most members of our Hsu Yun Order practice in a private setting, a small local sangha around an ordained priest. That is our Way. It means that we root our daily liturgy and practice in our own local context.

Our Zen groups/hermitages aren’t temples and that means that it is only a place where a priest shares his or her humble daily practice.

On most occasions our chanting practice consists of the same daily liturgy. We might adapt it to special times of the year….adding a hymn to a bodhisattva, a passage of a sutra or a Zen master chant when needed which means that our humble liturgy comes from the common core of Zen liturgy.

It is important to note that our liturgy adapts and functions according to the practice needs.

There are elaborate liturgies for special ceremonies and rituals in our tradition, but I’ve seen priests try to perform a special ceremony when they were not comfortable with it or didn’t know enough. When this happens the original intent and function of the specific liturgy is hollow and full of the priest’s ego resulting in awkward worship.

Embracing our simple daily liturgy helps us keep their original intent of forgetting and transcending the ‘I, me, or mine’ in the process.

If something fancier, bigger, is wanted it may be better to attend a local temple. Traditional Chinese liturgy is wonderful but the daily version is may be too esoteric in nature for the daily liturgy. They are wonderful practices which I love to study with my students using the excellenttranslation of Ryugen Fischer (Shi Shen Long) a dharma grand, grandfather of mine in my Soto Zen Lineage.  But our founders advised us to use simple liturgies helping us to stay close to the basics of Mahayana Zen Buddhism. And staying close to simple things such as taking refuge, confession, taking vows, and the chanting the heart sutra is certainly something that most of us need more than the esoteric mantras as a daily practice.

A good example of such a simple and direct liturgy can be found in D.T. Suzuki’s widely known and freely available “Manual of Zen Buddhism.”

Our dear MingZhen Shakya liked that version, and it is one of the first books she pointed to me (with the basic book of our tradition “Empty Cloud”and her wonderful intermediate level Zen manual “The Seventh world of Chan”).

One has to understand that our Order is composed of Zen groups/hermitages centered on the shared daily practice of liturgy and meditation. It’s the shared daily practice of a Zen priest, nothing more, nothing less. That is what we practice, share and transmit. Nothing fancy, but complete in its own way but it helps the practitioner cultivate simplicity, humility and sincerity.

We make an effort to stay rooted in the common heart of our Sino-american Zen tradition which comes from our Zen Order’s unique history and legacy that allows us to embrace with a more open and warm regard other Zen traditions and their own unique history and legacy.


That being said, keep in mind that common rituals and ways are essential to every Zen group but don’t be afraid to adapt and simplify them to your own setting and life. Adaptability is part of the job of a Zen priest.

Chants, instruments and all the rest are wonderful tools, so use them with simplicity and sincerity. In this spirit, we use whatever is needed for the Dharma to be alive and nothing more!

Some good advice from an old zen teacher of mine is that what monks need for their practice should fit in a monk’s bag. Whats in there you might ask? Some sort of buddhist robe (kasa, rakasa, wakasa), a liturgy or Zen book of some sort, clappers and a hand bell, incense and maybe a wooden fish drum for the more elaborate practice. This is certainly all that is necessary. If you practice alone, do some sort of pilgrimage or lead a small Zen group/hermitage this is really the essential toolbox you should use and master.

About the use of instruments, i would recommend to keep things simple, be sincere and master the little things you do and share. Use mostly

wood instruments when chanting or calling to chant or meditation practice, don’t turn it into a music concert. Use the bell mostly as a call to true inner attention (beginnings of sitting or walking periods is a good example). When using the bell, forget about “you” and remember that the sound of the bell is the true sound of KuanYin/Kannon’s voice manifesting here and now! There is no place for “you” in Pure Attention!

Priests are not actors or performers doing a show. When a priest chants it is another way of giving all our selves to action, pure and free action.

So please remember, as our dear MingZhen Shakya used to say, Zen is Action! Liturgy!

The simple way is our Way.

May every being humbly realize his true nature!


NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:

Humming Bird


The Ox by Fashi Lao Yue

In the first yoga sutra of Patanjali we find a necessary instruction for the spiritual aspirant. It is simple and clear.

This is the beginning of instruction in yoga. Patanjali

That’s how it starts. And what is this beginning of yoga, it is to learn and practice a spiritual method to unite with the Godhead. And what is the description of the Godhead? It is the Reality that is in all things. In Christianity it is the mystic union. There are many, many takes on this instruction, but the basic teaching is to yoke or hook up our life every day in every moment to the Reality (the Source) of all things.

Unfortunately, this teaching is often taken to mean we hook up with the apparent world, the transitory, impermanent stuff of things in the hope of gaining a happy life. We mistake some thing as the aim rather than the True Source and Godhead of all things.

The first aim

Many years ago I was lucky enough to attend an ox parade in New England. There were teams of oxen yoked at the head. Each team had a trainer with a very small and narrow whip. For the most part, the trainer did not need to use the whip with the teams of oxen as they paraded around the track in an open field. When the trainer sensed his team wandering, he merely raised the whip in the air where the oxen could see it. These beautiful beasts were well-trained.

The training for the oxen requires the same virtues we need to hook up with the Godhead. The ox is a hard-nosed, strong powerful worker. Investigation, attention, willingness and effort are cultivations in training the Ox within. It requires patience and dedication to train the hard-nosed, strong, powerful workings of the Ox. These are the same cultivations for those who want to begin to train the mind to unite with the Godhead.


The very first instruction, however, also means to recognize what the aim of practice is. It is the instruction to unite with the Godhead, not to improve the self. The self that is concerned with what will I do, how will I look, what will I say, what can I get, will I like it, what will I wear, where will I live must be dropped. Each one of these concerns is a worry and a worry is a fear which is rooted in the poison of hate. These concerns are the voice of the self and suggest that the self is not interested in hooking up with the Godhead but hooking up with the things of the world. BUT….it is not to condemn the self as bad or good, or less bad now and getting better. No, that is not it. It is to train and practice with everyday entanglements by ascribing and returning to the aim of being hooked to the Source. When worry (fear) arises it suggests a need for training. That’s all. The training is to disclaim the self and to begin to recognize the Source of all things is not coming from the ego, but the underlying, ever-present, Reality of the Godhead.

Just as we are on borrowed time, we are living on borrowed creation. It may seem like an obvious reality, but it may be we have forgotten that we are not the Source of all things. Knowing that what we know is not of our making but an illumination of knowledge beyond our genetic codes and inherited past. In ordinary words, it means we do not claim credit or claim blame. We train the mind to be yoked to the Source over and over again.

The training is, at times, paradoxical. Just as one ox takes the training easily another ox may need more or less of something in order to take on the heavy wooden crosspiece. There are basic instructions which need to be consistent and constant but adjusted to the ox in hand. It requires strong determination and confidence in the training. These qualities are necessary because we tend to believe we have a choice in the matter. And to some extent we do. We can decide to live according to the ego which is often equated to a stampeding elephant or a wild monkey. Yes. We can let it all of our ego hang out. Or if we are lucky enough to get a glimpse of the Source, we can choose to find a spiritual practice that we have confidence in.

Ultimately, whichever choice is made, the consequences of the choice follow the law of cause and effect which means that the choice for the ego is not really a choice for freedom from suffering but freedom to be met with the consequences of the choice. It is true for the spiritual seeker as well. The spiritual choice also follows the law of cause and effect which is often misunderstood to be an ideal in the seeker’s mind rather than the Reality that underlies all things. The ideal is usually a conjured image of something the spiritual seeker imagines as being good, e.g., earthly happiness of getting what I like.

If we come to spiritual practice with an open mind, we begin to see that it is far beyond the material realm of the many and the one which is indescribable, immeasurable and awe-strikingly difficult. Not many, at one given time, seem to have the aim to unite with the Godhead. Most of us, if we are honest, want a good life.

Take any spiritual path and look for the highest aim and ask about it. Most, if not all, will exclaim the higher paths of union are not for the faint. It is full time and covers everything in life. There are no breaks. Two images come to mind to depict this ever active commitment, the first is the rubbing of sticks together to get a spark and eventually a flame and the other is the cutting of a throat of a lamb.

The first one is more familiar. We may have actually tried to get a spark without it happening. As many of us know getting a spark requires constant, consistent effort of rubbing the sticks together. If you set them down, that’s OK, but it means when you return to the rubbing you begin with cool sticks all over again.

The second image of a cutting the throat of a lamb comes from the Sufi tradition of a 40 day solitary retreat which is quite arduous. Before the retreatant is locked in a small room for the 40 days the student and teacher do a ritual of killing a lamb and then cooking it and giving the meat to the poor. The retreatant recognizes the lamb was slaughtered on their behalf and it puts a strong impetus to stay the course when things get tough. And things do get tough.

Vows in a small way do the same. Vows in a spiritual life or marriage are commitments to a full time life of following them. There are no breaks from the vow. The type of break referred to is similar to the likes of a vowed celibate priest. It would not be kosher for the priest to say to his superior that 5 days of the week he would be celibate and the other 2 days he would not be. This is not to suggest that there are spiritual police running after the spiritual seeker. No. That’s not it. But it is to have the mind with the aim clearly illuminated everyday….to know nothing is hidden from practice, nothing is hidden but everything is practice.  To know the Source in everything wherever you are doing whatever you are doing. And to pay attention to IT and not to the stampeding elephant mind or the wild monkey mind.

Whether you are young in the practice, meaning immature, which requires different practices than if you are an old hand, hard-nosed working oxen that is well-trained doesn’t matter when it comes to the aim. The training is different, but the Source is the same.

Zen training is flexible and recognizes what each spiritual seeker needs with the first instruction being all of training is leading to the yoke.

May all beings in all directions benefit from the merit of this practice.

Martha, Martha What is Charity? by Ming Zhen Shakya

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya


There is a problem, central to religious life, which the Bible, with exquisite brevity, states for us in Luke Chapter 10: verses 38-42:


Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said,

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about many things;

But only one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”


Clearly, these verses operate at several different instructional levels. There is the obvious one: The first and greatest need is God, and no other need takes priority over this one. Mary was serenely seated at the Nirvanic feet of God. She had what was truly important. But Martha, instead of fixing her attention on the Divine Presence or on her service to that Presence, squandered her attention on Samsaric illusions.

Zen Buddhists, especially, can understand the situation. We plan to sit in meditation and just as we get our incense lit and balance ourselves nicely on our cushions, we become anxious about the mailman. Will he be late again today? Or we realize that we can no longer put off making the decision: should we have rice or pasta for dinner tomorrow night? We try to focus our thoughts on the chant our mouths are uttering, but all we can think about is an encounter we’ve recently had with a rude store clerk. Yes, we understand Jesus’ admonition. Nobody gets “worried and bothered about many things” the way a Zen Buddhist does.

But these words of Jesus have deeper meanings. Our attention is immediately drawn to His intriguing choice of terms: He speaks of ‘one needful thing’ which is evidently composed of several ‘parts’. We need to think about this. And we need also consider the difficult problem which the event, itself, presents: When do we work to serve those who seek our help; and when do we retire, seemingly to ignore their needs, in order to study or meditate or attend to other things which we believe are, at that moment, more important? How do we resolve the conflict between satisfying spiritual or personal needs and doing those chores that civilized life requires us to do? In order to eat, food must be prepared. Somebody has to do the work.

And so we wonder… Why did Jesus refuse to ask Mary to help Martha? Is Martha some sort of second-class devotee? Is it perfectly all right to let her do all the ‘scut’ work while her sister Mary gracefully reclines at the Master’s feet? There seems to be something unjust in this refusal. After all, we reason, Mary will get up to come to the table to eat. She will be dining, too.

On the surface, the Bible would seem to contradict Zen teaching. “No work, no food,” is always our monastic dictum. Were this anyone but Jesus speaking, we’d quickly reply, “Hah! My master would’ve hit Mary with his stick and sent her scurrying to the kitchen.” But men of Zen do not lightly dismiss a Bodhisattva’s pronouncements. So we scratch our heads and maintain a discreet but darkened silence, waiting for the Buddha’s lightbulb to start shining in our brains.

While pondering several seemingly unrelated events recently, I accidentally switched on a light which I believe illuminates these other meanings.

Not too long ago I had invited two bachelor members of my congregation to my home for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m a terrible cook, so the inducement wasn’t the food… it was the viewing of two classic French films which were subtitled in English.

My VCR and TV are back in my bedroom which is a very small place. In the room, besides the incidental bed, are chests of drawers, file cabinets, bookcases, CD and tape player with their stacks of CDs and tapes and, of course, my whole computer mishmash including desk and printer, etc. etc. Most bathrooms have more available floor space. Add to this some opened butterfly chairs and two people in the room defines congestion. Three constitutes gridlock. But what the heck. Bachelors don’t require refined accommodations.

We planned to eat buffet style while we watched the films because, frankly, my kitchen table is also a small affair, suitable for assembling puzzles of less than five hundred pieces… and really all that it is used for.

At the appointed hour, one guest arrived. He had work to do later that evening and so, after an hour of waiting in vain for the other guest to show up, we began to eat and watch the films. Then the other guest called. He said that he was with his landlady, an older woman, who was sickly. She was from the Orient and didn’t speak much English, but he was fond of her, and since it was Thanksgiving and she was alone, he wanted to do something nice for her. Would it be all right if he brought her to dinner? I said no.

I told him that he could take all the food he wanted home to her, but that in my cramped bedroom I had no room for three guests .. not even if they insisted upon being stacked vertically. Further, since the lady was unfamiliar with English, she could hardly comprehend a French film with flashing English subtitles. To entertain her and him, I would have to go to another room and leave my present guest in the bedroom alone to watch the movie. And this I would not do. If he had given me advance notice, I might have made other arrangements. I said I was truly sorry but that I had a responsibility to my present guest. Though obviously annoyed, he said that he’d be along shortly, but he never came at all and in fact never even came to another congregation meeting.

I received some criticism for this decision. Many people thought I should have been more generous. But I felt comfortable with my refusal although, I admit, I wasn’t exactly sure of why I felt justified in refusing.

Months later a friend of mine called to discuss a problem she was having. Her mother-in-law belonged to a religious organization which performed charitable acts such as giving rides to disabled or infirmed persons. One such person, an elderly man who was a kidney dialysis patient, lived in my friend’s neighborhood, and her mother-in-law, after talking it over with her son and obtaining his approval, recruited my friend’s services in driving this patient to the clinic for his frequent dialysis treatments.

Initially, my friend had protested that the new task would prevent her from doing her own Girl Scout volunteer work, but her mother-in-law dismissed her protests by saying that the kidney patient’s need was far more important, a matter, after all, of life and death.

My friend acquiesced and tried to comply graciously, but the task soon became an intolerable burden. She had children, and on the days she drove this patient into town and waited several hours for his treatment to conclude, her husband took the children out for pizza. Everybody – except my friend – thoroughly appreciated the arrangement. She was profoundly resentful. “Even without my Girl Scout projects,” she said, “I still have housework to do, and nobody helps me with it. They go out for pizza and have a good time. I come home to do laundry and mop floors. And when I complain, I’m criticized and told to be more generous and charitable. I feel like Martha”, she cried. “They get the good part – the pleasure. I get the work.”

Suddenly Luke, Chapter 10, verses 38-42 began to reveal this other meaning. The problem wasn’t work versus idleness. And it was considerably more than sitting in meditation versus attending to life’s nagging chores. It was a problem and solution characteristic of the religious life, itself. Recalling that the Bhagavad Gita addressed this very problem, I went to my bookshelf and searched for the text.

I also remembered years ago when I worked and my children had to help me clean the house. While I mopped or polished, they’d constantly come and ask me to help them find this, or reach that, or sort this; and I’d have to stop what I was doing to go help them until, annoyed by the interruptions, I’d shout, “Don’t help me by asking me to help you!” This, in a way, was at the core of the problem posed in the Gospel of Luke.

My Thanksgiving Day guest wanted to do something nice for a woman; but what he wanted to do nice for her was to bring her to me and let me do something nice for her. He was right in wanting to help her. But he was wrong in trying to pressure me into helping him to help her. I had my own “helping” agenda to fulfill. He wanted to be good and kind. Fine. Then to the best of his ability he should have been so.

My friend’s mother-in-law volunteered to perform a kind and generous act. Fine. But what she did by way of being kind and generous was to “volunteer” my friend, to impress her into service, to embarrass her into acting charitably.

These two people had decided that their charitable agendas were more meritorious, more worthy of attention, than the agendas of others, that they had a right to induce another into spending his time and resources in order to fulfill theircommitments. And in making this determination they showed that they had become, in Buddhist terms, “attached” to their image as charitable and resourceful persons. In other words, what was important was that their projects succeed and, by extension, that their reputations for being generous and efficient remain intact.

In Chapter 3 of the Song of God, the Vedanta Society’s beautiful translation of the Bhagavad Gita, there is a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna in which we hear an echoing reference to that one necessary thing that exists in several parts. Arjuna asks Krishna, “Tell me one definite way of reaching the highest good.”

Krishna responds,

“I have already told you that in this world those who aspire may find enlightenment by two different paths. For the contemplative is the path of knowledge: for the active is the path of selfless action.”

And he goes on to explain this other path.

“The world is imprisoned in its own activity except when actions are performed as worship of God. Therefore you must perform every action sacramentally, and be free from all attachments to results… When a man has found delight and satisfaction and peace… he is independent of everybody and everything. Do your duty, always; but without attachment! This is how a man reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results. Your motive in working should be to set others, by your example, on the path of duty… It is better to do your own duty, however imperfectly, than to perform the duty of another person, however successfully.”

Martha invited Jesus into her home. She offered him a meal. Fine. But she should have performed her actions sacramentally, as an individual making an offering of her own individual labor, without worrying about the results, without demanding assistance.

Acting from love and performing our duty as we understand that duty… is having “the good part.” The one “needful” thing that Mary was doing was worshipping her Lord in her way. Had Martha performed her own service with as much love and attention and without anxiety or complaint, she would have done the same. The “good part” would also have been hers.

What, then, should we learn from these scriptures? We should learn never to sacrifice the Rare to the commonplace, never to work merely to enhance our public reputations and private bank accounts but instead, in our hearts, to offer our labor as service to the Divinity that exists in every man. If we perform our labor sacramentally, we will not lie or cheat or neglect to perform it well. And if we do not accomplish the results we sought, or if we fail to be paid, we will know that we, too, in serving God, received the good part which cannot be taken away from us.

And we also should learn never to press other people into fulfilling our charitable commitments or to let others press us into fulfilling theirs. But if we do freely undertake a charitable task, we should perform that task with loving attention, as if it were a religious ritual, a communion of our soul with God’s… which, in fact, it is.

Serving God with love and humility! This is duty. This, I think, is Christian Charity. This, I know, is Buddhist Dharma.

Humming Bird

To What….Do You Ascribe Things? by Fashi Lao Yue

Old Moon by Yao Xiang Shakya


When something goes your way, do you ascribe it to your skills….to luck….to good fortune? When something turns sour, do you ascribe it to your childhood….to misfortune….to bad luck?

In any situation we tend to ascribe things to a source which is often something about our small self or some aspect of the material realm. Once we find the culprit we make some vow. When we make an error, for example, we vow never to do it that way again. This approach is common and workable on the material level, but most spiritual seekers recognize it as coming from a dualistic, functional understanding of life. And it tends towards blaming and shaming either the self or the other when something goes awry or boasting and tooting one’s own horn when things go well. Neither of which is recommended on a spiritual path.

Spiritual practice is daily practice with pots and pans, sheets and pillows, toothpaste and brush, with traffic and travel, with making a mess and cleaning up, with getting up and sitting down, with walking and talking, with changing diapers and putting on a coat, with sweeping and mopping, with paying bills and mailing them, with eating and sleeping, with laughing and crying, with giving and receiving, with asking and responding….and on and on practice goes.

And what makes it spiritual? Knowing that nothing is left out of practice, that nothing in the world is without Buddha nature (God, Brahma, G-D, the source of all things, the god with no name and form). It is not a belief, it is a practice with all things knowing not to pick and choose, love and hate. Spiritual seekers know practice with full attention to each thing we meet is the Way; without letting our attitude be influenced by our ego which wants to stamp things with some measurement of quality, i.e., bad, poor, fair, good, better, great. It is to treat things, whatever they are, as coming from the whole (holy). Nothing is left out. Nothing is hidden.

It is simple but it requires effort and determination to pay attention. Many times when students came here to sit, they kicked and threw the meditation cushions around. When instructed not to do so, they often got angry or felt put out or argued. All their backtalk showed was they needed to train to give their full attention to everything that came into their life. To do so requires effort and determination.

When we ascribe things to the Way, we are more likely to give full attention to it, and to actualize the Way Seeking mind right where we are. We can call the practice love or emptiness, but what matters is not the name or form, but that we no longer ascribe things to the self or to the other.

In the case of kicking and throwing cushions, the student often ascribed things as a personal affront or unnecessary. Again all this backtalk showed was the student needed training to relinquish the mind that takes things personally or feels put upon or wants things their own way and not the Way of a spiritual seeker.

Practice requires we meet what comes into our life without the ascribed self that takes credit or gives blame.
The material world is a world of measuring between all the opposites; it is a split view of the world. When we split the world we remove heaven from earth or the other way round, earth from heaven.

Our third Chan patriarch, Seng Ts’an in his poem Faith in Mind says it clearly….

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
Everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

He goes on to say….

If you wish to see the truth,
Then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
Is the disease of the mind.

All his wisdom takes us back to practice. Practice without love or hate, without picking and choosing, knowing everything is Buddha (God, G-d, undying, without name and form). Give full attention to all the work of your life right where you are.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
Nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such erroneous views
Will disappear by themselves.

Nothing is hidden from practice.

The Heart, the Intellect & the Ass by Fashi Lao Yue



The Heart, The Intellect and the Ass


“Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!  Daniel Berrigan


Samuel Coleridge, poet, philosopher and theologian of the 18th c. discovered at a very early age his interior unfaithfulness which he came quickly to realize was and is a part of human nature.
“I sported infidel: but my infidel vanity never touched my heart.”
At some point in life, in everyone’s life there are times when we play with “infidelity” which I take to mean “unfaithfulness” in relation to some person, some thing, some creed or way of life. In fact we may give way to infidelity while doing daily tasks. To some degree there are two foes that arise in the sport of an infidel. (1) a shiny new thing and (2) boredom. Coupled together they are a powerful force that play head games of doubt and set the heart on fire for the shiny new thing capturing us in our own vanity.


Coleridge as a young man was set to be a theologian at university, when he suddenly without warning was struck with a burning desire to become a surgeon. Apparently, he “….became wild to be apprenticed to a surgeon.” Youth and adolescence is often a time when infidelity (going from one thing to another) is particularly active, but it is not only in the young that shiny new things and boredom challenge our faithfulness.


Recently, I was speaking to an old woman who was struggling to complete daily tasks when she suddenly without warning was struck with the notion of taking an online class. What struck me was her inability to recognize her infidelity to the moment and her inability to see her own limits. She was very much like a whimsical teen who wants to do something new in order to escape what is right in front of her. Adolescence and childhood are famous for limitless wishes. Coleridge admit that he was a dreamer. With such an admission if we realize it is a way to get to what Berrigan suggests….that is, put your faith in your ass and stay put with what you are doing right now.


At any age, and during even one day we may falter with thoughts of doubt, our heart may wilt where we lose interest in the thing that was at one time precious and promised a zest of life. We may start out with a full steam of interest only to run out of steam and veer off into lethargy, doubt which leads to a search for something new.


Our strength to be faithful even to the smallest task slumps when the task at hand threatens to be too hard, too much, and too onerous. Our thoughts pile up in multiple ideas of discontent and negative mantras of I can’t, I won’t, and I don’t want to.


Infidelity may arise in relation to a thing (person, belief, institution, ideal, profession) in our life, not just once but multiple times and in various guises of doubt. When it does arise, we more times than we might want to admit, play with it. We, like the young Coleridge, toy with being unfaithful. Drawn away by the newness, the beauty, the allure of a thing (all of which stem from our vanity) we, in vain, become faithless. We need to master this compulsion and obsession to wander off.  We, however may not have either the skills to master it or a master who might strike with a sword across of lustful wandering for something else than what we are doing right now. Coleridge was lucky. In his case his school master who had a reputation of a being harsh, believed in flogging as the best antidote to end Coleridge’s sporting with infidelity to leave theology and seek to apprentice with a surgeon.


I know, firsthand, the lure of a shiny new thing in my life as well as in my work with students.  I was as lucky as Coleridge. My late teacher was a harsh master who believed in cutting through any infidelity that might arise. I learned the skill of cutting off such nonsense of thinking the grass is greener on the other shore even when the other shore is a compelling daydream for something else, something new and something exciting that showed great promise. I learned fidelity is not a matter of the head, not a matter of the heart but a matter of the ass. I learned to stay put and to stay with it no matter what happened which led to knowing not to play with infidelity.

I may seem restless, but I am deeply at ease.

Branches tremble, but the roots are still. Rumi

Humming Bird


Reference: The Life of Samuel Coleridge Volume 1, by James Gillman



Be Resolute from the Beginning

Image Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

(Taken from commentary on the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai translated by William Scott Wilson)


Perhaps the most deceptively simple verse from the Hagakure is 1:41, quoted fully near the conclusion of the film, Ghost Dog:


There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.






Ideally, in Samurai or Zen culture, whenever a man has the authority to act and is required to make a decision – not a guess, but a decision – he considers both the positive and the negative consequences of his choice, and, weighing them, decides accordingly. He does his best to secure a good result, but he is not affected by the outcome or by the responses of others. In any case, he stands behind his decision. This is being resolved from the beginning.

Often, even in the simplest affairs of men, a person will take a course which he has not fully considered. Influenced, perhaps, by those who are conflicted by their own self-interests, he makes a choice, sanguine in the expectation of success. When a good result follows, those who influenced him will claim their share of the credit; but when a bad result follows, all the blame will be his, and the others will abandon him. He is confounded in either case. This is the perplexing aspect of irresolution.

How, then, does a man become “resolved from the beginning so as not to be perplexed.”? For the man who has already achieved the egoless state, indomitable resolve is a simple matter. But achieving that necessary selfless state is not so simple. Zen and the martial arts traditionally have been connected because a student in either discipline requires a master’s spiritual and psychological insights to guide him through the difficulties.

When a student begins training, regardless of his age, his new Code of Conduct requires that he develop a self-reliant character – with the specific goal of attaining the egoless state. He learns how to accept responsibility for his decisions and for his reactions to unexpected calamities. When the rain comes, he walks boldly through it, not seeking to mitigate its effects by running through the drops or hiding under eaves. He learns to recognize the true nature of praise and blame and to understand that both are meaningless. Whenever he allows them to have value, in either case, he will get soaked.

The student is taught to be constantly aware of his actions. He may not shift the burden of his errors onto others; but this discipline requires that he understand that it is his own nature that he must struggle against. It is not enough to stand up and admit to error; for what the outer man admits, the inner man may deny. It is in his own inner nature that a man unconsciously shifts the blame for his actions onto others. In his own unconscious mind, using psychological defensive tactics, he shapes that blame into a missile and then projects it into his environment onto some unlucky target. If left unchecked, such tactics will curtail his progress.

Although the Hagakure relates numerous anecdotes in which a leader’s egoless resolve is illustrated, the definitive text on the subject is a film made fifty years ago, Abandon Ship. No film, before or since, has come close to documenting the exigencies of egoless resolve in leadership. We’ll take a moment to discuss the film because, though long out of circulation, it is still an important work.

Ten years after he gave his transcendent, 1946 portrayal of Larry Darrell in Somerset Maugham’s, The Razor’s Edge, Tyron Power decided to make, at his own expense, Abandon Ship, a film about a disaster at sea. (The film was cheaply made, proving that throwing money at a project has no relationship whatsoever to the quality of its art. It was shot in black and white and, despite being about a disaster at sea, was filmed entirely in a studio in England.)

In The Razor’s Edge, Power had portrayed a man who sought spiritual liberation, the vaunted egoless state, and found it, finally, in India. Acclaimed for this role, he was disappointed to be cast subsequently in a series of swashbuckling films, popular at the time with movie audiences. Believing that a man of character, under any circumstances, could find within himself this selfless dedication to purpose, Power grasped the opportunity to portray a young lieutenant upon whom command had been suddenly thrust.

Abandon Ship’s reality-based plot details the events of the post WWII sinking of a cruise ship, The Crescent Star, which had carried 1076 passengers.

As the film opens, we see the ominous presence of a derelict mine floating in the Atlantic. It strikes the ship and detonates. There is a chaotic churning of the water, the screams of victims, and then the quiet bobbing of flotsam, a few gasping survivors, and a circling shark. The Crescent Star has required only seven minutes to sink.

Only one small boat, the Captain’s personal ship-to-shore row boat, meant to accommodate no more than nine people, remains to pick up survivors. Twenty-seven people and a large dog have crowded into it or are hanging onto a rope that circles the boat. The excessive weight makes the boat sit impossibly low in the water, and the sea laps over its gunwales.

The Captain, mortally wounded, gives command to young Lieutenant Holmes (played by Tyrone Power) with the order to save as many people as possible. Holmes accepts the command. When a nurse, with whom Holmes has a romantic relationship, confirms the Captain’s death; they lower his body over the side.

Holmes has never before commanded any kind of vessel. Instinctively he tries to reassure the passengers as he assesses the situation. The ship’s radioman is traumatized, and in his confusion gives the impression that he had sent an SOS signal to a ship some two hundred miles away. According to this information, rescue should take no more than seventy-two hours. Aside from floatation collars and life preservers, the little boat contains a pound of biscuits, some sugar and cream, a gallon of water; a flare gun and a small first-aid kit. Holmes orders the supplies to be rationed. He also orders the able-bodied men to take shifts in the water, hanging onto the rope which circles the boat.

Six of the passengers are critically injured. A woman whose upper arm had been badly cut during the explosion, has had a tournequet placed on it; but no one has thought to loosen it. After remaining tied for three hours, her arm is swollen and in the incipient stages of gangrene. As the nurse tends to her, the radioman regains his composure and reveals that no signal whatsoever had been given. They are fifteen hundred miles and weeks away from the nearest land.

Another critically wounded officer tells Holmes that they are so over weighted they cannot possibly make landfall. To reach land, they must row, and the boat is too low in the water. He advises Holmes to”evict” some of the passengers who are either feeble or critically injured and unlikely to survive. Holmes rejects the advice. The officer tells him that it is better to save half their lives than it is to lose them all. He stands and tells the others that the weakest of them must be cast adrift for the salvation of the others, and then he leaps overboard. His advice has obviously had no self-serving motive.

When the woman whose arm is now gangrenous wants more water, Holmes refuses, realizing that it is pointless to waste water on someone who is going to die anyway. His refusal is called “outrageous” and”heartless” by the passengers who mostly fail to appreciate the desperate position they are in. They persist in their demand that he”do something!” But having more than two dozen people and a seventy pound dog in a row boat does not give a man many options.

Their situation is made clearer by the presence of the dog. One man who has been in the water begs to be taken aboard in place of the dog. Holmes says no. The passengers object to his refusal; but Holmes is adamant: the man must stay in the water until his shift is over, and the dog will remain on board. One passenger, an officious retired general, demands that he explain such an inhumane decision, and Holmes replies simply, “We’re likely to be at sea for a long time. We can eat the dog.”

An approaching gale forces Holmes to reconsider the “eviction” action. Laden as it is, the little boat cannot withstand the fury of an Atlantic storm. The waves splash into the boat, and it is no longer possible to allow the men in the sea to hang onto the rope since they are dragging the boat even lower.

Aside from the woman with gangrene, a few passengers are sick from having swallowed petroleum or inhaled searing smoke. A few have broken bones. One, the dog’s owner, is too seasick to take his turn in the sea or even to bail. Against everyone’s objections, Holmes orders that they be given the floatation collars and “in God’s hands” to be cast adrift. The passengers call Holmes a cold blooded murderer and try to impose their “civilized” philosophy on him. They remind him that it is the responsibility of the strong to care for the weak. He counters that the extremity of their situation favors the strong who can row, since rowing and keeping the bow pointed into the waves is their only chance to keep from capsizing. No one supports him in this action. Only at gunpoint does the crew obey his order; but in the mutinous confusion, the dog jumps into the water and several able-bodied men fall overboard and are lost.

The gale is quickly worsening and Holmes orders the remaining passengers to row or bail; but one passenger who is armed with a knife, continues to object and irrationally insists that they go back and retrieve all the people in the water, clearly an impossibility. Frantic, he stabs Holmes in the chest. Holmes shoots him and he falls overboard. The boat’s occupancy is now down to fourteen.

Throughout the harrowing night of fierce wind, lightning, and huge waves that break over the boat, Holmes, despite his wound, continues to man the tiller and to direct the actions of the terrified passengers.

In the morning, with the sea calm again, the exhausted passengers are jubilant to see that they’ve all survived. Unanimously they credit Holmes with saving their lives, congratulating him profusely for having the courage and foresight to make his grim but necessary decision.

Of all people, it is the nurse – the woman he loves – who begins to second-guess him. Perhaps they would have made it with the others still aboard, who is to say? Perhaps the storm would have edged past them. Something else could have happened. Holmes says, “But the storm did happen. I did what was right.” She responds, “I don’t know what was right or wrong.” He sees even more clearly how alone a leader is. He also understands that his wound has so weakened him that he has become a liability, and he calmly accepts the same fate that he decreed for the others. He transfers his command to the radio operator and then drops himself overboard. A few passengers jump in after him and pull him back aboard. In another moment an ocean liner is seen on the horizon.

Now that rescue is imminent, the passengers begin to fear that their effusive praise has made them complicit; and one by one they recant their commendations, claiming that from the outset hey had vehemently opposed his action. As to whether or not he was right in doing what he did, that, they hasten to remind him, is for the courts to decide. Holmes has been as abandoned as his ship. When asked if he requires assistance to board the liner, he says, as stoically as a samurai warrior, “I can make it alone.”

A voice-over commentator discloses that once they were safely back in England, Holmes was tried for murder. (He was found guilty but in consideration of the circumstances, given only a six months’ sentence.)

The question of his guilt or innocence, while interesting, is not at issue here. It is his previously untested indomitable and selfless resolve that concerns us. Whether by talent or training, Holmes avoided the psychological traps that often ensnare those who strive to become enlightened.

The first trap that the Zen master or Samurai mentor eliminates is one that other teachers frequently encourage: displacement of aggression. In an unconscious shift, a person who is frustrated by his inability to strike back at an antagonist will release his anger by hitting or kicking a helpless individual, a wall, or punching bag. Instead of using a surrogate victim, the samurai student is taught to acknowledge his own inabilities; to consider the situation from all aspects – including his antagonist’s; to seek to resolve the conflict honorably; and to increase his martial arts’ training in order to meet the next challenge.

The second one is projection. In this trap, the student is guilty of some objectionable behavior… lying, perhaps. Instead of trying to understand why it was that he felt obliged to lie and to set the matter right, he internally and unconsciously shifts his guilt onto his Enemy Shadow archetype (see the link to Seventh World of Chan Buddhism – psychology section – available on our website). Once there, it is quickly projected onto someone else who is a likely target for the attack. The student, unaware of the dynamics of this shift, feels genuine contempt for the innocent scapegoat. “If there one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar.” The teacher, recognizing that all emotional displays indicate one form or another of projection, meets privately with the student and counsels him accordingly.

Rarely does a person comprehend that his contempt manifests unconsciously. In our Zen prison sangha, as we discussed these traps, one of the men suddenly realized why he despised a poor old man who couldn’t work and who was reduced to picking up discarded cigarette butts and smoking them. He called the man “a cockroach.” (It is the Shadow’s function to make a perceived enemy sub-human so that he may be destroyed with impunity. Usually we refer to our enemy as a creature that steals our food or fouls our den… “a rat, a snake, a skunk, a bitch, a roach,” etc. We never refer to him as a panda or a giraffe.) The man in our Zen sangha had been trying unsuccessfully for years to kick the truly dirty habit of chewing tobacco. He immediately understood why he hated the old man and had constantly referred to him in such disparaging terms. He felt so bad about shifting his own guilt onto him that he bought the old man a few packs of cigarettes.

The third mechanism the ego uses to defend itself is one of the most difficult to deal with: Reaction Formation. The mechanics of this trap are well concealed. Freud studied anti-vivisectionists (persons opposed to using animals for medical experimentation or surgical practice) and found that they were uncommonly cruel individuals. This peculiar shift is seen often in anti-abortion demonstrations in which some protesters are so motivated to end abortion in the name of the sacredness of human life that they approve of murdering the doctor and other medical personnel. When a Zen or martial art’s master encounters this kind of exaggerated “conviction” in a student, he generally has long, private talks with him – not the usual “darshan” (interview with the master called dokusan in Japanese) but gentle reflections in which he offers the points of view of the despised persons. The master’s aim is to get the student to see that he, too, shares some of the traits he so vehemently despises. He does not tell him “to use” his anger on the mat.

The fourth trap is regression. In this shift a person who is going through a difficult period in his life reverts to an age in which he was free of such problems. For example, a man who is entering middle-age and cannot face his increasing signs of physical deterioration, may suddenly turn to the martial arts as if he were a young man again. Usually, he harms himself trying to perform the various physical exercises in the dojo. The master recognizes his true motivation and, while welcoming him into the group, assigns him less strenuous exercises until he can gain the required ability. He talks to the man, accentuating the wisdom of maturity and gets him to look at his problems more objectively. He does not encourage him to believe that youth is a quality that can be had by associating with the young.

The fifth trap is repression. In this tactic, the person simply buries a grievous insult or injury so deep in his mind that he forgets it completely. He honestly cannot remember the incident. He may, however, in response to the repression, exhibit great disdain for something he associates with the subject. If, for example, a person had nearly drowned as a child at the beach, he may grow up completely forgetting the incident but being a radical proponent of saving the wetlands and prohibiting ocean-front development. Whenever a student demonstrates strong emotion, the Zen master suspects that he has fallen into a trap. With gentle private talks he can gauge the depth of the pit and try to help the student to extricate himself by remembering that long forgotten injury.

The sixth ego trap is rationalization. In this, the student simply invents a justifying cause for his contemptible behavior. He is open about his actions and may ever exaggerate them, but he excuses them automatically by casting blame upon others. For example, after hitting a child with his car, he may say, “If the kid had been properly supervised, he wouldn’t have been playing in the street ” or, “If John hadn’t called me on my cellphone, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off the road.” If he has been particularly brutal in a fight, he may claim that he taught his victim a lesson for having insulted his Master or his school, a claim that he invented but nevertheless believes.

The seventh trap is somatization: Guilt and fear easily transform into physical symptoms. The ego finds it easier to deal with a sick body that can quickly gain sympathetic attention than it does to deal with guilt that it prefers to hide. The martial arts’ master soon learns which students frequently attempt to excuse poor performance by claiming illness. If the student is young and believed by his parents, the master is not likely to succeed in counseling him.

The stoicism of the resolute samurai was also well depicted by Forest Witaker in Ghost Dog. Vowed to protect his master, he would not even defend himself when his master decided to kill him.

A leader must be as one-pointed in his determination to fulfill the duties of his commitments as he is prepared to accept their consequences. In order to do this, he must remain free of emotional projections. It was the belief that his only real enemy was the one he harbored within himself that enabled a samurai to commit Seppuka with such indifferent coldness.

Humming Bird

Ask a Master: What are the Most Important Sutras in Chan?



Photo Credit: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

Ask the Master

What are the most important sutras?


We are sometimes asked what are the most important sutras of our tradition? I often answer, which ones are not important? Everything teaches us.

Our roots come from Chinese Buddhism and our Chan tradition embraces all the sutras of the Mahayana, all the 84,000 practices of the Awakening Shakyamuni. All are the doors of the Dharma.

However, our Chan / Zen tradition, besides the essential Sutras, the Lotus Sutra, the Amitabhas Sutras, Nirvana, Avatamsaka and the wonderful  Shurangama, we study what I like to call the Three Sutras of the Heart.

What are these three Sutras so often united in Chinese Buddhism? These are of course the triptic so dear to all our practitioners: the Sutra of the Heart, the Sutra of the Diamond and the Sutra of the Platform of the Sixth Patriarch.

Our Order is very proud to celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of the Sixth Patriarch, the book of the founders of our Order (Master WeiMiao JyDin Shakya and MingZhen Shakya) which can be found here: Empty Cloud: The Teachings of Master XuYun  which was published in a special edition with the “Three Sutras.” It is a reference book for all our practitioners.

It was an honor that we had made the successor of the very Venerable WeiYin, abbot of NanHua Si at the time, and our first Chan master of Ming Zhen Shakya.

May the “Three Sutras” be three wonderful mirrors of our practice.


YaoXin Shi

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Humming Bird

How Do We Find the Field of Emptiness? Of Love?

Don’t Worry, We Are All One

By Fashi Lao Yue
For many years I have been aware of an underlying principle driving religious doctrines, a principle I never looked at with a clear eye. I imagine that I didn’t look at it because I was in some way satisfied with the two main components of the principle, the whip of encouragement and the place of exceptionalism. Let me explain.


My thoughts arise from a recognition that being off-kilter and out-of-step are two attributes used by religious teachers, both historically and presently, to determine the wayward among us (you and I, sinners, the ignorant) and to shape up and point towards a singular place on a path which is often described in exceptional language (the narrow gate, the Way, the Truth, the Mind of the great sage).

The list for both the whip and the place is extensive and well anchored in spiritual practices of all kinds. Spiritual practice, which may include encouragement and pointers out of the ditch are used to take the walls down not build up the separations and the divisions.

When, however I look at this principle with a clear eye both the whip of encouragement and the pointing to a path suggests that there is some special way, some special place where the wayward among us can find God. This approach has an implicit message of ….if…..then. If you do this special such and such, then you will find the special place which will lead you to find God. It is in many ways an approach that is supported by reason.

As I write this I find myself challenged by years and perhaps lifetimes of being instructed that this is how to find God. This instruction often comes in the form of giving up that which is labeled bad and relinquishing life to a small, narrow footpath on which to get to God. It is a bit like the yellow brick road in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Find the yellow bricked road, put on your special shoes and head off to the Emerald City. This approach can lead to self-flagellation and narrow thinking as well as a dividing up life making us all into judges.

There is no doubt sameness-and-difference is part of the human condition, making tolerance for difference and affinity for sameness into yet another division. It is a human attempt to continue doing the same old thing, using the whip of encouragement to shape up an acceptable image to make it to the place that is exceptional.

God is not anywhere else except right where we are, wherever we are and whatever shape or place karma shows up. Whether it is entangled in the brambles of the material world or robed in solitude on a mountain top.

God, the eternal existence of being is never apart from us. And God shows up as Jesus, the son of god, Shakyamuni as the mind of the great sage, Sri Ramakrishna as the avatar of God, Mohammed as a prophet….endless manifestations to awaken us. The pervasiveness of generosity is immeasurable. There is sameness and difference, but don’t see it as such.

If sameness and difference is what we look at, the tendency to whip and point continues to separate, divide, and worst of all exclude and exile.  This tendency if enacted and followed leads to ossification. Groups tend to want members to look and act like them and exclude and exile those that don’t. In some respects we might call it spiritual nationalism.

The problem is that this approach divides the world of creation into them and us and those who are right (those who look and agree with us) from those who are wrong (those who look different and don’t agree with us). Anytime right and wrong dominate, whether in the group or the individual, a tendency to hide and conceal increases. Odd shaped tumors form often manifested in acts of splitting, ridicule and arrogance. The tumors from whipping and shaping compounded by right and wrong increase the possibility of no growth. Creation bound in such a way has ossified and is gasping and is all but dead.

The ossification has become rigid in such a way, that growth, which comes in the form of change, is a threatening prospect. Form and measure, which are quite helpful and necessary, become lords of the house. And when form and measure rule, creativity and aliveness suffer. Separating-out becomes the axiom and anxiety about doing it right follows. It is an endless snake eating its own tail (ouroboros).

Creation (God), thankfully, cannot be killed. IT flourishes as the grass and mosses that make their breakthroughs in cement show us. There is no arrival-place of special and separate as these beings remind us. Life experience, whatever it might be, comes daily to awaken us to our true nature. (The emphasis on whatever it might be.) When we are encouraged to show up wherever we are, invited to do so, we begin to include whatever might be separated and excluded finding the whole (holy) life creation.

When we realize our oneness in the midst of sameness and difference we offer what we have been given back to the giver (God), we offer it back to life. We are the offering….the oblation….and we live beyond the wrong-doing and right-doing….in the field where when the soul lies down it is too full to talk about the world divided by ideas (Rumi).

Offer it to God, not to get anything at all, but to be an oblation, a sacrifice that is pleasing to life. IT no longer is you, hidden in the shadows of self-interest, but you, all of you is IT.  IT is lived beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing….in the field where the soul lays down and there is no you or me, where there is no anxiety, no separation, no right way or wrong way, no ossifications.

And so the question may be, how do we find this field? Wherever we are. We are standing in IT….no matter where we are….we are there, never separated from IT. When we know where we are, life (creation) beckons the soul to lie down beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing….where we are all one.

Humming Bird