Number 4: The Spirituality of Work

Work as Devotion

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.

What is there to worry about? Nothing at all. And yet, we find ourselves again and again caught in the grip of fretting, rubbing our hands together trying to figure out what to do.

The answer is given, but are we willing and able to follow it?

Let me remind you of the answer.

Roll up your sleeves, and give your attention to whatever shows up and the Way Seeking Mind is realized in the work.

We live in and by the pleasure of the Divine, Eternal power, called by many names. We are never apart from the existence of this power. But…we often think, believe and act as though we are a separate somebody with something to do…finish…keep.

We forget that our action, no matter what, is part of the bigger action. Let’s say that again. Our actions are part of the bigger action. What else would it be?

When you do anything, throw the trash out, make some coffee, sweep the floor, wash someone’s face, turndown the bed covers, go for a walk, look at the sky, contemplate, meditate…run, walk, eat, sleep…birth, aging, sickness, die…are part of the bigger action.

Roll up your sleeves doesn’t just apply to the activities you selected; pay full attention to all action with the mind of rolling up your sleeves. This is the Way.

Some things that hinder us. We tend to live in a world of labels. Labels lead to categories and classifications which lead to judgment and criticism. And this leads to separation.

Our tendency is to want to take charge – to control the world rather than practice with the mind and body. Many of us want to be right or perfect or better than or more comfortable or more something. But trying to measure the immeasurable, trying to comprehend the ineffable disturbs the mind.


Dharma work is infinitely numberless and universally performing.



So…what is all the dividing and measuring about? It is about the apparent world which does not last. When we get into this mindset, we are separated from the infinite and the universal.

All of these tendencies must be discarded. Practicing with mind and body is a practice that cannot be skipped since we think we are the body and we are the mind. This is what scares us. We know we will lose the body and many of us will lose our mind. We have mistaken ourselves as a body and mind which is as crazy as the man who mistook his hat for his wife. In essence, we do not know who and what we are.

Here’s a specific practice. Right there in the mind and body.

Concentrate and focus on, if you will, what happens to the mind and body when it likes something.

Concentrate and focus on, if you will, what happens to the mind and body when it does not like something.

And finally, watch what happens to the mind and body when it is indifferent.

Notice whether you are able to experience attachment and aversion with the things you like and dislike.

And remember…

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.

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:


Number 3. The Spiritual World of Work

Work as Devotion

War Horse - Chinese horse painting | Horse painting, War horse, Horses


Pay full attention to all action…

the Way Seeking Mind is actualized…

by rolling up your sleeves.

Any Act that Leads to Your Original Nature

 is Virtuous

Any Act That is Selfish, Self-Centered

is Not.

To pay full attention is to give from the position of kneeling down to whatever is in need right there, where we are. From the position of kneeling, we give in such a way that our giving is an offering of love from a docile and trained mind. The training here refers to giving to that which is the Source of our life.

To act unselfishly is to actualize the Way Seeking Mind.

These two quotes are often misunderstood when misused as goads to whip another or to whip oneself into shape. Goads and prods and whips are guilt-creating and shame-bashing by the unenlightened do-gooders of the world. These rich and powerful quotes are for you to contemplate and study and to examine your life actions, not the life actions of another.

What we must be willing to do is to discipline ourselves to be meek. We are to discipline ourselves in such a manner that we are able to keep our strength under control. In no way are we to use our inherent force to go after another being with a rod.

The origin of “meek” in English comes from the Old Norse mjukr, meaning “gentle,” though perhaps a fuller understanding comes from the Greek origin, praus, which is translated as “strength under control.” In ancient Greece, war horses were trained to be meek — strong and powerful yet under control and willing to submit …quote

In the most common rendition of the Cook’s Prayer (p.64) to pay full attention to all the work requires us to keep our strength under control. To concentrate and focus on what is at hand and not what another is doing.

We use our strength, which we have under control, to train in such a way that our selfishness dissipates and remains weakened to the point it no longer interferes with our actions. An image, useful to keep us contained, is to imagine ourselves giving from our knees.

Giving from our knees suggests a position of obedience and docility to the Source. The Source being that immutable, eternal, changeless beingness which is there from the very beginning. It is not some thing outside of us; it is our true original nature. If we pull all of this together, we begin to see that we need to train our wily, cunning, foxy, sly selfish nature to kneel down to that which is immutable, unchanging, eternal and get to work.


Now before we get a little deeper into this Buddhist prayer, when we hear the word work, we often associate it with some remuneration; in other words, we the selfish ego, tends to tally up some gain. We are motivated by that gain which is well-summarized in the sentiment: what is in it for me?

We need a motivation to pick up the training of meekness. An inspiration, incentive, a stimulus within ourselves to train the mind to be docile; to have our strength under control. No easy feat.

It requires our will. We use our will to make a choice. We need to use our will to turn inward towards our true original nature and to turn away from all the things that bog the mind down. In other words, those things that pull us into a swamp-mind.

There are three pointers in the prayer that help us train to be meek, like a war horse ever-trained and ready but exceptionally skilled at being able to control and focus our strength. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse knows the importance of meekness.

The three pointers here are:

  1. Give your full attention (devotion, care, responsive)
  2. The Way Seeking Mind is actualized  (strength under control, tamed)
  3. By Rolling Up Your Sleeves (performance, effort, enacting)

In short, it tells us when we give our full attention to any action, the Way Seeking Mind (Buddha Self Mind, the higher self) is present, involved, engaged and then is actualized by giving our mind and body to the action at hand. We turn and move as a well-trained war horse in battle.

This is a big deal. Simple. Clear. Giving full attention clicks us on to the path of the Way Seeking Mind, where the Higher Self is made real to us when we engage in the action at hand. The Higher Self is that which never dies; that which returns to the Source. Selfishness is the basis of our wanting something in it for ourselves.

What gets in the way, distracts us from rolling up our sleeves is an endless array of mental and physical hindrances. But here is a quote that gets to the bottom of our reluctance to roll up our sleeves and actualize the Way Seeking Mind.

A quote:

God does not give us what we want,

God does not cater to us in this way –

nor should we cater to ourselves or others in this way.

God wants us to stop being the center of desire –

making things just right for “me.”

When we drop this madness of seeking what we want,

 we have a chance to be devoted to God.

 We want our desires fulfilled, our likes and dislikes satisfied. We want to be catered to – we want to be the center of our desires; making things just right for “me.” All of this madness hinders our chances of being devoted to our spiritual path. Many of us use our spiritual path as another way to do, get, keep a just-right-comfort for “me.”

Study yourself as you meet what comes up in your day. We are all in this together. You are not being singled out.

Here is a small sample from earlier in the Covid 19 virus pandemic:

The day here began with a text message before 5 am, followed by a text message an hour later asking for help, followed by bags of groceries delivered to our front door, followed by two dogs going wild, barking and crying, followed by washing and cleaning all the food, sanitizing the packages and returning to silence after each event. Noticing the energy. Letting it pass. Washing all the food. Putting it a way. Hearing from MF’s brother in Australia, explaining to us the USA no longer is sending or delivering mail from Australia. Finding out the USA is no longer sending or delivering mail to 22 countries. Grateful for food and help. All this before 6:30 am.

These events are what asked us to give our full attention, to actualize the Way Seeking Mind by meeting what showed up – rolling up our sleeves is the way to forget the self, forget the I-ME-MINE likes and dislikes and find ourselves in reality.

To devote ourselves to what is at hand….

 Do not seek what you want,

Do not cater to yourself in this way –

nor should you cater to others in this way for gain.

Stop being the center of desire –

making things just right for “you.”

When you drop this madness of seeking what you want, you have a chance to be a devoted war horse in the Dharma.


To pay full attention is to give from the position of kneeling down to whatever is in need right there, where we are. From the position of kneeling, we give in such a way that our giving is an offering of love from a docile and trained mind. The training here refers to giving to that which is the Source of our life.


Don’t give up. Begin again and keep going. 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:

Image Credit: War Horse

Number 2: The Spiritual World of Work

Pilgrimage to the place of the wise is to escape the flame of separation. Underhill

I know. The quote may be difficult to understand. Read it again. Look carefully. With full attention. Where is this place of the wise? And what is the essence of going there?

I recently attended a class on ‘activity’ as devotion. The group was diverse in regards to stage of life and history and lifestyle. Each participant was given an opportunity to say something about their practice. The content of what was said remained specific to each person, and yet, the content was very much the same. There was a harmony that emerged quite naturally.

The underlying revelation was effort; making an effort to escape some tendency, some habit, to change in such a way to ease up something difficult or heavy in their life situation. In doing so, they each exhibited the willingness to attempt to purify some tendency that prevented them from living in the clear circle of brightness. Yet, there was a brightness there.

The language, the word-sets used may not be words such as the quote above, pilgrimage to the place of the wise, nevertheless, each person spoke about their daily trip of doing some activity. This trip-taking happens every day all over the world.

Much of the work, especially in the beginning, is with the material world of things and inner tendencies that we have fabricated into habits. Habits, those fabrications we rely on to remain stable; are what we need to examine.

We do things, work, stay busy as a way to feel safe. In the American culture, work is a central tenet. It is a “DO SOMETHING” commandment. If we are not doing something, we feel adrift, inconsequential, unappreciated, bored, depressed, a failure…oh you see what I mean. Being useless is a sin of the worst sort.

Action is not the spark of causing the flame of separation; our desire to get something for our selfish ego is. Desire to be rewarded in some way causes us to set-up separate identities of me, my, mine.

To escape the flame of separation we need to drop this imaginary identification that we all so very much believe is real, ever-lasting, and worth fighting to keep.

In order to understand how to escape, we need instruction on devotion. To begin to see our karma, our actions as devotion.

When we devote ourselves to a thing (people, place, thing, material world) we give without reward. It is without measure. Giving without measure requires courage. Courage to relinquish our identity as a separate being of some identity which carries a boat-load of constructed rights and privileges of I-ME-MINE.

When we act for the sake of the self, we act in a quid pro quo manner; in other words we want something to show for our actions. It’s the old adage, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

But the quote suggests we take a journey to escape this flame of separation of I-ME-MINE.

This practice, this yoga of life is a find-out-for-yourself; are these teachings worthwhile, spiritually valuable. Finding out is not by believing anything; but tasting the Truth yourself through experience.

If you live the other way-round, the way of the world of one hand washes the other, you live bound to the other, whether the other is a friend, a mate, a boss or whomever. There is a debt. There is disappointment. There is suffering. My dear late teacher would say, friendship requires you keep track of how many cards you got and how many cards you sent. She’d say that is not a ‘true friend.’ That’s some sort of deal.

So, let’s turn the instructions of how to escape the flame of separation. In other words, instructions to help us see and know that there is no separation between one and the other, no matter how many cards you may receive or how much you owed or paid.

The Tenzo’s Prayer, an old Zen Buddhist chant, will be the main instruction. Let’s look at it with a slow and careful attentive mind. We’ll start with the first line; the first instruction.

Pay full attention to all the work, the Way seeking mind is actualized by rolling up your sleeves. Dogen

It suggests we bring our full attention to all the work – in other words, to whatever comes our way – that is the work. Paying bills, caretaking another, getting dressed, fixing a meal, going for a walk, washing the body and on and on the endless activity comes and goes. Lending a hand fully to whatever shows up.

To give without measuring and without seeking a reward. The requirements are that we must be willing to help, to give, to offer what we have to offer as a devotion. This requirement rests upon paying full attention to what shows up.

Giving attention, our full attention to what shows up is devotion; it is, to give unconditionally. It requires that our full attention is given freely without any sense of self-gain. Pretty stiff requirements.

It is, however not to be a passive, falling apart door mat. Let me give another example from my late teacher. On this particular occasion she was ill and in bed. A phone call came in and her husband took the call and explained to the caller that Ming Zhen was ill and could not come to the phone. The caller ramped up her need insisting she must speak to her. Back and forth the caller and husband went and at such time he felt the need to tell Ming Zhen of the apparent needy caller who sounded distraught. Ming Zhen hearing the urgency of the caller got up out of bed to take the call. As the caller began to talk Ming Zhen heard in the background a clattering of dishes and silverware. On hearing the noise, she inquired of the ‘frantic’ caller of what she was doing as she began to talk to Ming Zhen. The caller explained that she was filling the dishwasher with dishes. On hearing this, Ming Zhen immediately hung up the phone.

Ming Zhen was willing to get up out of a sick bed and give her full attention to the caller. It did not require any reward or quid pro quo from the caller; but once Ming Zhen was told the caller was distracted by her selfish act of filling the dishwasher, she hung up and went back to her sick bed.

Consider this story in light of giving without reward, without gain. Giving one’s full attention to what shows up. What does to pay full attention mean? Contemplate it.

To pay full attention with all activities is the Way. We do not and cannot predict what that looks like. This is where we start.

Keep going. Don’t give up.


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:


The Spiritual World of Work


“Whatever human existence there is; whatever freedom, rights and duties the individual has, whatever meaning there is in individual life, all are determined by society according to the society’s objective need to survival. The individual in, other words, is not autonomous.

He is determined by society. He is free only in matters that do not matter. He has rights only because society concedes them.” Peter Drucker

Briefly, very briefly, Peter Drucker the 20th century guru of work and business, a man who was erudite and savvy, spiritual and business-like, gave work a new face. It was the face of man’s need for fulfillment. Work as a means to personal and yes, spiritual fulfilment became the sentiment of the worker.  It was to be the “new” religion of the world. To some extent it may have actualized into just that…except…yes, there is an exception. The world of work did not payoff for many and I question whether or not it paid-off in any meaningful way for the very rich.

Greed is the evidence. Greed begets more greed. If you are struggling financially, everything you earn goes towards basic survival, which includes digital connections as well as a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food in your belly of yourself and family.

Before we turn and take what might seem to be a backward step in regards to work, there is a but that carries with it a shift in terms of religious affiliation and spiritual fulfillment. There seems to be another area of life that portends to be, if not the ‘new´ religion, the growing one as we head towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century.

And that is ‘politics.’  More on this shift in another composition.

Drucker, in a talk he gave at Bennington College in 1943, which may have been a foretelling of our current situation, said, “…whatever freedom, rights and duties the individual has, whatever meaning there is in individual life, is determined by society’s…survival.” He goes on to say that the individual has “a will only if he wills what society needs” and then adds, … individual freedom is what does not disturb society.

Yet, there remains a “…trumpet voice upon the weak, the miserable and the downtrodden of all races, all creeds, and all sects, to stand on their own feet and be free…physical freedom, mental freedom and spiritual freedom…” Vivekananda

No matter how weakened this clarion is, it still is heard.

Freedom, as most of you know, is a central tenet of Zen Buddhism; not just Zen Buddhism, nay, I’d say all religions tout the need for at the very least, ‘religious freedom to practice their faith.’ But this societal freedom is being challenged by the continual rise in fundamentalism which claims to be the one and only right way. This claim might be able to stand, if and only if, it does not encroach on the rights of others to practice their faith. Oddly, the encroachment threats appear to be coming from the ‘new’ religion of politics. And it appears that if politics does not provide, taking up arms must be used.

Given the previous administration’s devotees and its final effort to gain power, by whatever means including violence, suggests that ‘freedom’ which includes ‘freedom of religious practice’ is at best being questioned and at worst being sentenced to a forceful death. Making-money and gaining-power are strident, vocal and clamorous allies.

So…I imagine those reading this rather stark beginning on the topic, The Spiritual World of Work, are wondering how these ideas from the past implicate seeing, studying and practicing our spiritual preference at work.

Here’s how.

The constant barrage of ‘breaking news’ of every sort distracts the mind.  The 24-hour cycle of bombardment of civil unrest, in both small and big ways, disturbs even the strongest amongst us. It is a tell; it betrays that many of us are more concerned about the material plane than the spiritual.  I recently heard the head of a monastery who has not voted for 50 years declare that ‘the elections’ were so potent that he could not help but form an opinion for and against a candidate. When the mind is distracted by the material world, it is unable to focus and concentrate. Focus and concentration are essential to the Way-Seeking mind.


Although Drucker’s work as self-fulfillment is waning, I am not taking here to revive work as religion, nor am I promising that work, just the right work for you is the road to self-fulfillment.

So, what is this all about?


What I am going to write about in one composition at a time, over a period of time, is a practice that will help those who are interested to see work as a spiritual practice. This includes all sorts of work. To be quite clear and honest, it does not promise any self-centered fulfillment. Just the opposite. It is to empty selfishness from having a grip on the mind.

The requirements are simple.

It requires that backward step I mentioned above which is to step back from the external, material world of work into the spiritual domain which is neither material or external. It is what Buddhism and many other traditions exclaim as without form, name, characteristics or function. It is a practice. “Yes! That is exactly right.” It is not believable. It is to be experienced in your individual life right where you are.

Drucker, interestingly repeats Kierkegaard’s understanding as seeing two planes; one material, the other spiritual. Two realms that we live in simultaneously whether we know it or not.

One of the requirements to know this – not believe it – but know it – is the backward step into the practice of karma. It is to do whatever is done with a spiritual attitude of giving and offering. It is a fearless approach. Requires everything to be given and offered over and over again without reward.

Yes. With nothing in it for “ME.” The “ME” that thinks and claims it is a separate self that deserves, strives and goes after the things in the material world for personal gain.  But say, I am getting ahead of myself. It is a practice of one step at a time. Just one step. No big flourishes. No grand sweeps. No bravado moments. Just one step at a time.

So, let’s go, shall we.

Let me begin with a quote.

It is pure arrogance to attempt to decide what is supposed to be part of our daily experience and what isn’t. Sufism

This is true for every day of our life. And yet, we get up thinking we do know and how we wish the day to go. It is arrogant to think we are in charge of what happens. Our arrogance causes suffering and takes many names and forms. After all, the world pervaded by Eternal Power is not the cause of suffering, our desire to lay claim to a thing is. We act as though we have all the power.

When we look to do, to finish, to get and to keep a thing we suffer because we are in delusion. The delusion is that we think and function as though we are the doer, finisher, getter and keeper.

Pause for just a moment and ask yourself if you are the power that put you together and keeps you together?

There is a Sufi saying, fiha ma fiha which captures the essence of our situation. It translates as it is what it is.  But when we don’t like what comes our way we suffer. But there is another Way. When we realize the Truth of It is what it is as being whatever comes our way, we have an opportunity to meet it with courage and big-open-handed generosity not with judgment and criticism. When we presuppose or wish the day to be a certain way, according to our plan in our head, we are bound to disappointment. Literally and figuratively, we bind our mind to the disappointment. And we do it habitually.

There is another Way. But for many it is too hard, too difficult, too much against all the habitual patterns built up in the mind over lifetimes. The mountain of habits is the wilderness where we must be willing to go. It is a choice. We must be willing to clear away our consistent patterns of getting angry, blaming a thing in the external world, judging and measuring and comparing what it is that is confronting us. This practice requires that we face what comes into our life as our life without complaint, but with a calm-abiding awareness within ourself. This requires a turn. A willingness to stop and clear away as though we are traveling into a wilderness.

Facing the work of our life as devotion is a practice that gives us an opportunity to relinquish our arrogance and to meet what comes as a fish swims in the vastness of the ocean or a bird flies in the expanse of the sky; not knowing what might show up we swim with the flow and fly with the wind.

With this short introduction to a series of compositions that will be posted over time,  I welcome any questions that might arise in your practice of the Dharma.

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:


In Memory of Qian Shen Shakya



Qian Shen Shakya (Rhonda Martinez) wife, mother, daughter, and sister; Zen teacher and mentor.



Qian Shen Shakya, wife of Sad Monk – Yao Feng Shakya who died in 2016. Known by many as Rhonda Martinez, died December 22nd 2018, about two years after her husband. It is said she died of a broken heart.

They lived their life together helping others. They lived according to this motto:

We are all one! One family, one world, one love! ”
-Sadmonk – Scott & Rhonda Martinez.”

Rhonda Lynn Martinez

Dec 16, 1954 – Dec 22, 2018

“I’m just a Dreamer

I dream my life away”


Both Scott and Rhonda were artists.  The following poem and art work is a small glimpse into Rhonda’s work.


So many roles I’ve Played

Sailing through the cosmic sea,

But I am not afraid

Again the darkness swallows me

So happy that I stayed

The cycle spins eternally,

Never will I fade,

Because I know

There’ll always be

In everything,

A part of me.


Artist Rhonda Martinez

May we, with all beings realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and gift.


The basic elements of life are not unlike the basic elements of Zen practice.  To become one with Zen is to uncover the fundamental truths of the universe.  This may at first glance seem a mystery, but with practice, the underlying truths that are reflected in the elemental building blocks of life will appear to the Zen student as familiar and comforting helpers along the way.

Take the water element, for example.  How are we like water in our practice?  We flow, ever-onwards, never stopping, always going, going, like the brook, falling over rocks and into pools, always a new turn in the stream.  Like water, the practitioner continues brightly, with confidence and purity onward, not clinging to the thought or sensation or dislike that arises, not lingering to give any of it purchase, saturated in, absorbed in this exact moment while not becoming attached to it.  Always flowing, bubbling on.

By stepping courageously into the next moment without bringing the idea or feeling with us, we enter the changefulness of flowing time and use time skillfully.  “Keep going,” says my teacher.  By not fundamentally taking up residence anywhere, we, like the water, keep moving on, ever-changing until we can go on beyond all the bubbling changeful going, going, going and reach the other shore.

I saw a play in the 90’s, “Pig Earth,” about peasant life in a small village in France.   I remember very little about the play but I do remember vividly that the set was comprised of dirt.  Loads and loads of dirt filled the stage.  The actors trudged through the dirt, worked hard to move the dirt and got very dirty.

Dirt is hard when dry, heavy when wet, very dense to plow or till or pull weeds from.  Older farmers are often stooped, limping and broken down from decades of effort to move dirt around, to plant the seeds and grow them well.  The earth they contend with every day is the element of solidity and stability.  We go into the earth as the ultimate protection from the fury of some elements and use earth to smother, extinguish others.

In Zen practice, we too go down into our own earthiness to steady ourselves in order to fully dwell in each moment and through time, even though the world around us or within us may be anything but stable.

We practice to move nimbly forward through the flowing changing quality of time while remaining planted in the dense unchanging quality of our awareness.  Our minds anchor us in presence like the dirt, just here, just here, just here.  This steadiness is an innate trusting in and acceptance of change that itself does not change.

Fire must be tended with care so as to not burn out of control…or dwindle to smoke and ash.  Our inner fires when left unattended can kindle old habits of passionate greed or hate that like grass fires burn quickly, spreading out of control in all directions, hot and destructive.  The sudden surge of heat signals that our anger, pride, our ambition or our sexual drive is raging out of control and will certainly burn somebody.

We learn to sit in the steadiness of the earth beneath us, staying calmly in the flow of the heat as it runs through the mind and body.  We practice seeing every impassioned thought and emotion and impulse steadily, not dwelling there, going on, going on, with confidence, cooling the flames by letting time flow by, refusing to be drawn closer to the flame.

We harness time and stabilize our attention so that our inner fire can be a source of energy for a steady, ethical, harmless practice to cultivate the mind that fundamentally does not dwell anywhere while dwelling fully, caring fully, for each moment in this precious, fragile life.

We need our fire to warm our hearts to the ultimate power and beauty of a practice that promises us eternal wellbeing, Ultimate Compassion, Absolute Truth.  Our steady flame of love for these great mysterious powerful possibilities and for the guides that direct our search, this love is the ultimate elemental friend.  It is a love we cultivate and a fire we tend with every insight, every act of kindness and generosity, every prayer and every opening we experience that tears away the veil of delusion, leaving us under the open sky, bathed in the brightest light.  Without this love, practice can be drudgery, tiring and replete with doubt.

Rumi, who often uses the elements in his writing, says it best.  In hundreds and hundreds of poems, he shows us how to fall in love with Mystery:

This world of two gardens, both so beautiful.

This world a street where a funeral is passing.

Let us rise together and leave this world,

As water goes bowing down itself to the sea.

From gardens to the gardener,

From grieving to a wedding feast.

We tremble like leaves about to let go.*

Humming Bird

Author: Lao Huo Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at:


*excerpt from “Leaves About to Let Go,” Rumi, Bridge to the Soul, trans. Coleman Barks, p. 32





I have for some time, viewed many of the essays sent in and finally thought possibly I would send something in that possibly may be of interest.  I am new to the Order in 2020 and  I am learning much from all of you who express your Hearts & Minds  through your writings.

Since I am new to this Order, I just realized I had better introduce myself.  I am Arakawa Mitsugi, reborn once again as “Lǎo xīn shàn Shakya”  (otherwise known as “ Old Heart Mountain” )  which I find most respectfully expressed in this Buddhist Order of Monastics.

Today, is the 15th of February 2021.  In two days, I begin my 63rd year in the Path of Martial Arts & Sciences, which I entered many years ago.  I have only been a Monk approximately 27 years.

Many of you within Hsu Yun Ch’an Yuen’s Martial Arts Dojo division may have vast knowledge in the Ancient Ways at which I follow for many years. Most modern-day Ryu of Budo, whether Japanese or Chinese Lay Disciplines have omitted many Spiritual

Practices of the various Zen & Yoga Sadhana Meditation Practices vital to actually encompasses the very foundation of Budo set by the Century ’s old Ancient Master’s.

You will have to forgive my using the term “ Master” as, for one, I do not believe in anyone being a Master; only those who are continuous ‘ Students of the Path’  and I mean no disrespect towards anyone who are looked upon as Master or Expert ).

I have studied, searched for and upon finding, researched all I have studied over the years.  I am a Practitioner of Buddhist Chinese Ch’uan Fa ( referred to as Kuntau ), Japanese Aikido  and  Tibetan Lama Pai Haaga; each of Ancient Buddhist Origin Transmission, with the exception of Japanese Aikido ( although Spiritual ).  I have additionally studied under Hindu Priest, as well as Yogi & Swami-Ji.

So in this, I believe I am well versed in many areas of Ancient Classical Traditions- however, again, I am NO Master of these Traditions and my overall knowledge rests only within these Transmissions.

The one area I am most fond of, have studied under the delightful Asian Teachers, were the stories that were awarded as they were just as much a part of our Spiritual development as were my “Combative Waza” Teachings.

Here is one of them.

                “The Master & His Young Disciple”

The Master Hoshi ( Monk ) asked his young Disciple student,  to run out and pick herbs for the afternoon’s meals. The young Monk was a “Yokasei,” ( a Novice ) that wanted to impress his Master.  He immediately left out of the Temple and went into the forest, and after some time, arrived at the Tang-Ji Mountain paths where herbs were plentiful.

As he began picking herbs and placing them in his cloth sack, he began to travel further up the

path where he sometimes would swim and bathein a shallow part of the mountain creek.

The young Monk did not realize that the Master had decided to follow him as he knew all too well the Young Monk, who was around the age of 8, was rather mischievous at times.

As the young Monk traveled the path further into the mountain-side, he came across the mountain creek and there, he saw a lone fish in the water at which he decided to catch.

When he caught the small fish, he then, tied a string around the fish and on the other end, tied a small stone.

Releasing the fish back into the creek, he began to laugh as he saw how difficult it was for the fish to swim.

After laughing at the struggling fish for several minutes he began to follow the path once again at which he saw a frog and immediately chased it catching it and again, wrapped a string around the frog’s body and tied another stone on the other end.

Releasing the frog, the young Monk began to laugh loudly as the frog began to struggle as he began leaping forward. After several minutes, the young Monk began to walk the path descending the mountain path and found a snake on the path.

Immediately the young Monk ran after it and catching it, began tying a string around its body with a stone at the other end of the string.  Of course, the snake had difficulty in wiggling away.

The Master had witnessed each of the three occurrences but said nothing each time.

That night, as the young Monk slept, the Master Hoshi, turned the young Monk over and tied a large stone to the Young Monk’s back.

Early the next morning at breakfast, the young Monk began to complain to the Master Hoshi that he was having difficulty walking around and even rising up as he fell on occasion.

The Master, then looking the young Monk in his eyes said . . .

“I had seen what you had done to the Fish, the Frog and the Snake, and as you thought it amusing in laughing as to each of their struggles; you’ve committed grave acts of cruelty to those who are defenseless.  Go to the mountain again and FREE each of them – THEN, I will free you. If you do not, you will suffer in your Heart and Mind for this suffering will become your Karma!”

The young Monk traveled up the Tang-Ji Mountain again only to find that each ;  the Fish,  the Frog, and the Snake, had each died.

The Young Monk began to weep in each case knowing he had caused suffering and returning to the Temple, he Shame- fully wept as he advised the Master Hoshi, what had happened .

As the young Monk wept in sorrow, the Master summoned the young Monk to sit on his lap where the Master Hoshi released him from his bondage and said . . .

” I see you are sorry in your heart for what you have done and I did to you, what you had done to them, the least of us. I did to you so that you should feel their suffering and will always remember throughout your lifetime, to never harm another again.  I love you just as if you are my son but most of all, God loves you as ‘ you are His son’ !

“Remember what happened here and let no man ever tell you, it is alright to Kill! “

I am not certain where this came from but I do know, there  are many areas of life I may consider “Necessary Evils” at which I have not and will not ever participate …taking a Life is one of them.

Blessing to all who read these words.

Humming Bird

Author: Lǎo xīn shàn Shakya

In Metta

“Old Heart Mountain”

A Single Thread Zen Contemplative - Order of Hsu Yun

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at:



The Subcaster

EM Cairn © 2017

It was a hard day – like most. The ground felt as though it was on an uphill incline no matter where he placed his old toes. The leather boots helped steady his frail legs and arthritic bones. Convinced he’d fall on his back without them, he kept the pair close by his bed for his night time trail walk to the cramped but utilitarian bathroom only a few feet away.

He laughed every morning when he read the imprint on his old dungarees – ‘Levi’s.’ The laugh came from his head where everything he ever knew or said was stored. ‘Levi’s.’ The word formed into a wry smile on his face which like a cover on an old Saratoga trunk held down all the funniness of life.

Funny words and descriptions were out-of-place, corrupted, exaggerated by advertisements.


Smacking his lips together after he said the whole word out loud, he felt satisfied.

His pants now draped over his hairless bones as he commented on the demise of everything. His knuckled fingers tightened around the beltless loops of his dungarees as he corrected his commentary. He needed to be accurate.

“Nothing new under the Sun. Just another day, another dollar. Of course, it wasn’t always a dollar. It is not a dollar now. The almighty dollar. No, sir. A dollar doesn’t work like it once did.” There was no immediate satisfaction. No rest from the popping of thought going on in his head. He liked ending his commentary with a certain propriety. The word sir was common amongst many other words – words like all the funny things in his mind that were in some old trunk somewhere underneath the pretense of something new was better and even worse, best.

There was no reason in particular for him to pull on his dungarees, but he did. It wasn’t just a habit. It was a form. Something he knew was both grace and gratitude. The night before he, like all the 32,851 days of putting the dungarees over his thin-skinned legs, emptied his pockets of whatever he collected on the route of his high-level moments of being alive. When he lived with a woman, a being who was unlike himself, he had more than one belt. The woman insisted he have more than one belt and when he would inquire of her why did he need more than one belt she’d tell him, ‘you never know when you might need it.’ This reply, if he let it, still puzzled him. When he lived with the woman, it always puzzled him. The inquiry would not last long – when he’d tell her with gestures of kindness that he had one waist and two legs and in reality, could only wear one pair of dungarees at any time which meant his need, if he succumbed to such a need, was for one belt. The woman not like him listened in a silent politeness up until the point when he in his generosity offered what for him was the denouement of the subject on the table – “I will never need more than one belt.”

At this point, the woman’s brow would shrink with rivulets of skin suggesting she was contemplating his conclusion of never needing more than one belt. In turn he listened in silence for her response. The woman usually squinted before she answered these exchanges and shrugged just before she’d tell him with a sweeping away voice. “You, sir, never know.” This broom-like moment left both of them silent and staring with adoration into each other’s eyes. Like a rug being pulled out from under them they landed together in not really knowing much in terms of reality. Knowing he couldn’t argue with the possibility of needing another belt – and she felt content in stating what she knew was the truth. There had been a few times when he would explain his need in terms of now by adding the word now and sometimes emphasized the word now with the word right.

“Right now, I don’t need more than one belt.”

The woman’s cheeks, which were hairless and rounded with soft skin, turned rosy giving her an advantage, pressed her plum-colored lips together in a smile that made her eyes dazzle replied,

There you have it, sir. You never know. Nothing stays the same.”

Over the years he learned to be like a slick yellow raincoat – those kind that make lots of crinkling noises when you put them on, the kind with a hood and if you like, matching slick yellow trousers. He let everything the woman said, especially when she smiled and issued forth with the triumphant sword of possibility, run off his back. He knew there was no response to possibilities and deep with him he cherished her resolve to hold to the position of possibility. In almost every way the woman was unlike him. They never let their differences interfere with equality.

Those were the years when he lived with a woman. There were times that he considered the possibility she was right but he tried not to get bogged down by the past. Like a wet dog he tried to shake off any ideas that bogged him down and most of the past came with a soggy force.

Right now, he lived in a Subcaster. It is a small 14 feet footprint which he sometimes counts as he makes his way during the night to empty his bladder. In the years he’s lived in the Subcaster, he has never been able to count up to 14 feet inside the trailer. Oh, he knows the 14 feet must mean the outside length but even so there is a disturbance that he is unable to get a number that matches the description. The disturbance is not a wonder for him, but the mismatch of what is written down compared to what is does disturb him. He feels cheated and it is like an itch on some part of his back he can no longer reach.

“Advertisement.” He says the word in syllables. “Ad – ver- tize – ment.”  He repeats it with a different inflection. “ad VERT-is-ment[1]” Smirking he says it yet another way – “ad – vert- is – ment.” The last one is his favorite and he admits to himself it is because it agrees with his view of the meaning. Meaning especially in regards to liability and not telling the truth. ‘For the life of me, I cannot find the 14 feet in this Subcaster.” Puckering his lips before he guffaws, he bows to the words and says to it. “I see. I see. You little scoundrel. I am not to expect any truth in anything that is under the rubric of ad -vert – is – ment. It is meant to fool me.” He bows again and this time grabs the top of his dungarees and slides them up to his knees then stands to pull them to his flat, sunken belly. Admitting the durability of both his legs and the dungarees he relinquishes any quarrel over the incongruity of the 14 feet. “After all,” he concedes, “my feet are not 12 inches long.” For a moment this disturbs him further since he must reckon that if that is the case that the Subcaster should count out beyond the 14 feet. But he is tired of the dialogue with what is true and drops it out of hand.

With both hands he rubs the sides of his cheeks checking for stubble. The bristle is a sparse and random shadow of former years making him the sole judge of whether to razor it off or not.  He decides for no particular reason, today is a day for a clean shave so he foregoes his denim shirt that hangs on a small plastic hook next to the tight concave space which is more like an upright locker than a bathroom. Tucks in his loose gray undershirt before he soaps up his hand. For years he has leaned in against the mirror so he can give himself a close, cut-free shave. Rinsing the razor for a final time he shakes it off and sets in on the bottom shelf of a wicker cabinet. With clean, warm fingers he checks for any stray whiskers he may have missed. Slips on his shirt and tucks the tails between his stretched-out undershirt and his beltless pants.

A murmur-unspoken comes to mind and he wonders how not having a belt might be the truth of his need in his discourse with the woman. How might it resolve the mystery of belts and need for one? For just a moment he wonders if not needing them might be the perfect answer. Before he slaps his thigh with the force of a by-golly triumph he feels a sharp pang of sadness. Never in all the years did he ever want to feel triumphant over the woman.  Once, however, the shirt is smoothed down from back to front between the dungaree cloth and his underwear and the pants are zipped and buttoned; he notices how they fall below his waist and rest unsettled on his hard-hip bones.

“Oh. Dear.” he says aloud in a mocking way. He finds he has nothing else to say. Nothing more to add. No discriminating comment or judgement. No follow-up.

Humming Bird

[1] (

Don’t be afraid to experience what shows up. It is your life.

Consider how you might understand the nature of what comes your way. Instead of reacting to what shows up, contemplate the nature of it. It is both teacher and kin.

The universe exists. You exist. We are from the same Source and share the same material and we are different.

Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego.

Meet the existence of whatever comes with devotion. The many things come to awaken you.

Whatever comes is given to you to see and know. Consider it carefully. With a longsuffering mind. Not with the habitual patterns of mind. With care. Slow and care-full. Whatever it is, it comes to liberate you as you meet it to liberate it.

It is often overlooked but it is in truth that all things share an imperceptible mutual assistance. It goes unnoticed because we are caught in some habit, some mindset, some mood that is self-involved.

Furthermore, we are stuck in the flame of separation. We think, believe and act as a separate being ignoring that we are kindred spirits that share a kindred heritage and share kindred experiences of existence. We all breathe the air.

At the beginning of the Cook’s Prayer there is an important recognition of this Truth. It is a Truth that helps us see for ourselves our work is not mine, not a thing to get, not something to finish and keep. It is a rare bird who can offer this part of the prayer with sincerity.

Here it is:

In gratitude I acknowledge all cooks (workers) gone before me, after me, and with me now. I request their help, offering incense to them and Buddha.

Our ancestors before us and after us and those all around us have struggled as we do to see the imperceptible mutual assistance of all things. The requirements to offer work as devotion are resting not only on concentration and focus but a grateful attitude. I can’t say it enough – gratitude is a rarity.

What makes gratitude a rarity is our expectations and desires of the selfish self who has been taught to expect something in return for a gift given. We are so self-centered that we think we deserve certain treatment and certain things from others. This attitude blocks gratitude. When gratitude is blocked, we act in all sorts of selfish ways.

It becomes difficult for us to act according to the following instructions:

Keep your mind on your work and do not throw things around carelessly.

We are careless in regards to what is given and what we offer. We think we deserve better or more or have a fit and think life is unfair. We feel cheated. All of this is self-centered.

We have forgotten the nature of karma. Our actions before have brought the result now. Our response now will bring the result later.

It requires courage and generosity to overcome the wounds done to the selfish ego. But it must be overcome in order to travel upward to the summit. It is easy to see that if the wound is cherished the mind is not able to stay on the work at hand and wants to get even or get some recompense or retaliate or blame. Careless offerings thrown together come from the overwhelmed, selfish ego not from the golden bird.

But all is not lost. Don’t get discouraged, if you are wounded. Selfish. Self-centered. Your ancestors suffered as you do. It is the human condition. And it can be overcome. It requires discipline and diligence and training.

Courage, encouragement and generosity are healing activities that move the mind to the golden bird. Move the mind to the offering of work as devotional acts again and again and again.

After all, everything comes from the One, and One comes from everything. You and I are not the Source but we can find the Source and find union with the Source.

It is like this line from a poem:

The sky, without a map, finds its way to your nose and becomes your breath.

This finding is always possible. Without a map the One comes and without a map everything returns to the One. It is our True nature to return to the One. We yearn for home. The whole world yearns for home. Each thing that comes into your life, comes to awaken you to the yearning for the One. That is the imperceptible mutual assistance that comes and comes and comes. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet it.

Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at:




Work as Devotion; It’s All About Attention 



May I Have Your Attention?

Getting off track and daydreaming or entering a scattered mind state seems like an epidemic. From screen watching news to sports to politics to ads of every stripe and color, we find our attention has been taken hostage leaving us superficially involved in just about…well…news and sports and politics and stuff to buy.

When I think about it, I wonder how much all the constant availability online has interfered with our ability to concentrate making work as devotion a Herculean prospect.

There is data out there suggesting multi-tasking is bad for the brain. But that data is just another part of the interference. We weigh and measure and sort until the cows come home, we are left scattered and live a life of mind-jumping from one online get-together to email-checking to video watching. On and on the interest on the eternal world of stuff and others drains our energy and at times makes us anxious, fretful and lost in the sound bites.

Sound bites!

A perfect description when we emphasize the bite.  Yes, it takes a chunk out of our attention bite-by-bite leaving us worn out. This situation is especially important for spiritual aspirants who want to concentrate, focus, meditate and reflect on interior world of the spirit.

I for one want to ply a practice that will organize the scatter, end the daydreaming and end the sound bites that are so distracting. I want to offer an ancient understanding of practice; to work as devotion. That’s it. In order to practice to work as devotion we have to be able to use our mental powers to choose to stop the sound biting bug and turn our inner power to concentration and unselfish acts of work.

Much of what I am going to say comes from a 90 day retreat last year on this very subject.

Let me start with a quote.

It is pure arrogance to attempt to decide what is supposed to be part of a retreat experience and what isn’t.

We just don’t know what will show up. I don’t know what is supposed to happen but I do know that this is true for every day of our life.

And yet, we get up thinking we do know and how we wish the day to go. It is arrogant to think we are in charge of what happens. Our arrogance causes suffering. After all, this world pervaded by the Eternal Power is not the cause of suffering, laying claim to a thing is the cause of sorrows. And it can be anything.

When we look to do, to finish, to get and to keep a thing we suffer because we are in delusion. The delusion that we think and function as though we are the doer, finisher, getter and keeper.

Pause for just a moment and ask yourself if you are the power that put you together (birth) and keeps you together (death).

There is a sufi saying fiha ma fiha which captures the essence of our situation. It translates into IT is what IT is.  Whatever comes our way we meet it with courage and big-open-handed generosity not with judgment and criticism. When we presuppose or wish the day to be a certain way, according to our plan in our head, we are bound to disappointment. Really. We bind our mind to suffering.

Facing the work of our life as devotion is a practice that gives us an opportunity to relinquish our arrogance and to meet what comes as a fish swims in the vastness of the ocean or a bird flies in the expanse of the sky; not knowing what might show up we swim with the flow and fly with the wind.

Here is a chant worth repeating on a daily basis. It is quite old, a 13th century encounter by Dogen with an old Chan cook, who was a monk. I offer it as a practice. To chant it every morning. To memorize it. To practice paying full attention to all the work you do. To work as devotion.

May all beings be free of suffering.


Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If you are interested in doing a silent retreat or for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at:


Ming Zhen Shakya speaks on….Expectations & Martin Buber


Ming Zhen Shakya speaks…On Expectations


by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY

What backsliding is to religious conversion, recidivism is to penal rehabilitation. Both represent failure, and Zen priests who have a prison ministry can be losers on both counts.

Often we are moved to tears when we give Precepts to a man who receives his certificate with such profound gratitude, with such pride that he has been accepted into Buddhist ranks, who vows with such sincerity to try with all his might to conform his conduct to the requirements of the Path, and who does not show up for another meeting. We never see him again. We might learn that he’s espoused another faith, which, frankly, is better than hearing that in the exercise of Buddhist ethics as he understood them he got himself tossed into solitary confinement.

The same inability to predict the future informs our cheery bon voyages when a prisoner is released. Good luck we say to him certain only that he’s going to need it.

And so we wonder if the man will stick with Zen or attach himself to another group, or if he will successfully re-enter civilian life or revert to the kind of behavior that got him incarcerated in the first place. We doubt that we have understood him at all – else we should not be so uncertain. We’re supposed to be spiritual physicians who diagnose illness and recommend whatever nostrums are necessary to effect cure; but often we don’t have a clue.

Not only in prison ministries does this doubt occur. In our civilian sanghas we are frequently surprised by the unwonted actions of a member we thought we thoroughly understood. We miss seeing his face at a meeting and when we inquire about his health or his whereabouts we’re told that he has joined another Buddhist group or even another religion – maybe even one of those that regard Buddhism as devil worship. Or else he sends his regrets that he cannot attend meetings on our scheduled evenings because he’s taking a course in Continuing Education in order to satisfy a curiosity he has always had about Eighteenth Century French literature. What was going on in his mind when he bowed so reverently to Guan Yin and chanted so joyfully? Was there a tip-off that we missed? A signal that we failed to see?

In his essay, What Is Man, Martin Buber, that indispensable thinker, gives us some direction, a hint of where to look. If we read the work for its academic or literary value, we’ll, of course, find it interesting; but without some specific ‘cases’ to which we can relate the information, we’re not likely to find it useful. It is true that Buber mostly speaks of “epochs” of man, periods of complacent belief and periods of penetrating inquiry; but the old alchemical rule nevertheless applies: “As it is in the macrocosm so it is in the microcosm.” The general, after all, sums particulars.

It never hurts to see a problem from a different perspective.

The conduct of two men associated with the prison sangha had puzzled me for a long time. It disturbed me that I couldn’t even begin to predict how they’d react to civilian life when they were released. They had left in their psychological wake a jumble of dots that I just couldn’t connect. Then I happened to remember Buber’s essay; and after re-reading it, the prisoners’ dots lined up to station themselves into a recognizable pattern.

Buber begins his discussion by reciting Immanuel Kant’s four-question formula for the “knowledge of the ultimate aims of human reason.”

“What can I know?” the answer to which Kant intends metaphysics and not epistemology to supply.

“What ought I to do?” which ethics will answer.

“What may I hope?” which religion presumes to solve.

“What is man?” The first three questions are essentially contained in this fourth.

In order to answer these questions, a man has to ask them first. He has to wonder, says Buber, about “his special place in the cosmos, his connection with destiny, his relation to the world of things, his understanding of his fellow men, his existence as a being that knows it must die, his attitude in all the ordinary and extraordinary encounters with which the mystery of his life is shot through.” It is the man who feels himself alone who is most disposed to engage in such self-reflection. This is the man who does not inhabit, who, Buber notes, “lives in the world as in an open field and at times does not even have four pegs with which to set up a tent.”

As we read, we understand that the man who has the security of a protective “philosophical” house appreciates its walls and roof and does not wish to blow them down with gusting questions. If he sees the horizon he is content to fantasize about what lies on the farther side of it. And if his fantasies begin to bore him and thus cease to satisfy, he may investigate that farther place to find new sources of comfortable illusion. He seeks only to gratify his ego’s superficial needs as he stays within the safe boundaries of his religious expectations. If he sees the stars he may regard them as sources of entertainment or, perhaps, as serving of some utilitarian purpose. But he does not marvel as the Psalmist marvels, “Lord, when I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?

As Buddhists we know that we must ask these questions and feel this overwhelming awe; for without having our lives “shot through” with these perforating inquiries, we inflate, our Buddhist ego-image swelling buoyantly into a complacent stratosphere. We become contented in our habituation, domesticated by the routines and appliances of religion – the wafting incense on our altars, the artful wall hangings and statues placed in the corners of our sanctuaries, the gestures, the vestments, the liturgy. We sit upon cushions in our meditation halls as if we are safely inside Plato’s Cave watching flickering shadows on the walls. We do not allow ourselves to wonder what dramas are unfolding outside that comfortable theatre, what else we might hope for, what more we ought to do, what knowledge of self lies behind the silhouetted images we study.

The man who does ponder the unknown declares his independence and in his own eccentric way becomes a free agent. He is not satisfied with firelight. He wants to see the Sun.

The two prisoners whose temperament I could not gauge both attended meetings of our medium-security prison sangha, but only one had taken Buddhist Precepts.

The one who officially became a Buddhist was intelligent, well groomed, polite, and faithful in attendance. His conduct in and out of chapel was uniformly good and owing to this exemplary behavior he had been granted parole and would be released as soon as a place opened for him at a halfway house. He very much wanted to join a Buddhist sangha when he was released and, because he had much affection for Vietnamese culture and was somewhat familiar with the language, I suggested that he join a Mahayana Vietnamese temple that had recently opened in our town. This news seemed heaven sent to him, and he asked me to inquire whether they would be averse to having an ex-con in their group. I didn’t see why they would be, but I visited them anyway and asked. They did not object and in fact, since they spoke very little English they looked forward to having a bilingual American there in their increasingly American congregation. They gave me a few brochures, a little Vietnamese dictionary, and their meditation schedule – they were open to the public three nights a week. He received this information with great joy. Future possibilities were becoming realities. He was particularly excited to learn that the temple “haven” was located just a few blocks away from a restaurant in which he had been promised a job.

Then, several weeks later, before a meeting someone told me a rumor that he planned to go to Buenos Aires as soon as his probation period was completed. After the meeting I asked him if he did, indeed, plan such a journey. “Yes,” he said, “as soon as my parole’s up, I’m going to Argentina.” I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I know some people who live there.”


“No, just some people I met once in Dallas. They send me a Christmas card every year.”

I was speechless. Finally I asked, “How are you planning to get there? You’ll need a passport and visas–”

“–I can get a passport after I complete parole.” He said this as if it were going to be a perfectly simple thing to do. Why would the State Department prevent him from leaving the U.S. and why would another country refuse to put out the welcome mat for a penniless American ex-convict.

“What about money? And how do you plan to get there?”

“My sister has a camper parked in her driveway. It won’t fit in the garage. She said it needed a little work, but if I fix it up I’m sure she’ll let me borrow it.”

Drive? This was bizarre. “Do you know where Argentina is?” The question was rhetorical. I was referring to the immense distance, one quarter of the earth’s surface east and one half of the earth’s surface south from where we were.

“It’s in South America.”

“There are a lot of countries between here and Argentina and every one will require a visa and a hefty fee to bring in a recreational vehicle, not to mention insurance. If you have an accident they won’t just let you leave, trusting you’ll come back for adjudication. They’ll want to see evidence of your ability to pay any debts you incur. You’ll also need money for gas and oil and food and car repairs and bridge tolls and ferry boats and all the rest.” “I’ll have money from my job delivering pizzas.”

Delivering pizzas? This was not quite the same as working in a restaurant. “Do you have a car?”

“No, my sister has a new Escort I’ll use. As soon as I finish at the half-way house, I’m moving in with her.”

“Isn’t your sister married… with kids?”

“Yes. I’ll bunk in the camper until I can afford my own place. I’ll be working six nights a week, maybe seven. It shouldn’t take me long.”

The Vietnamese meditation schedule suddenly became meaningless. To me, his entire life-plan became meaningless.

We walked out of the chapel and I recall standing in the sunlight squinting, stunned. I didn’t know what to make of his previously stated intentions and this new fantastic scheme.

In civilian sanghas we sometimes find the same aborted volition, the instantaneous switch from one goal to another. A plan, enthusiastically conceived, dies of neglect, a pitiable orphan. Projects designed to raise money – publishing a newsletter, selling homemade religious articles, construction of accommodations for guest members – are suddenly abandoned. Those who fathered the plan deny paternity and leave the residual responsibilities to others. Their generative abilities are needed elsewhere.

The other man who puzzled me only occasionally sat with our group. He was an American Indian of the Sioux Nation who had been in prison for more than half his life. Sentenced, at eighteen, to twenty years, he was now thirty-eight. He had applied repeatedly for parole but had always been denied – for while he was manageable enough not to warrant being sent to a maximum security prison, he was still considered sufficiently incorrigible to warrant early release into the civilian population.

To call his appearance “sloppy” would be to ‘condemn it with faint praise,’ to borrow Shakespeare’s line. He was a mess. His coarse long hair pushed the ‘unacceptably unkempt’ envelope that the prison staff itched to open. Several of his front teeth had been knocked out in one or more of his frequent fights; and although the prison dentistry service had given him a partial plate, he preferred not to wear it and risk its destruction. He kept it in a treasure box in his cell. Once, however, he did wear it to show me, and I could see that wild handsomeness that I think Emily Bronte imagined when she created Heathcliff – not as Olivier played him – a passive, effete and pensive gentleman who happened to find himself in unfashionable garments – but a kinetic, electric, brooding man whose thoughts, behind those darting eyes, no outsider could ever apprehend.

At one meeting he gave me an Indian Prisoner’s Rights manifesto he had drafted and asked if I would edit it; but it required no correction that I could see. He had acquired an education in prison; and he used it to lobby for official recognition of Native American religious forms of worship. His ceaseless agitations had paid off and down at the end of the prison yard, near one of the watchtowers, was a little sweat lodge he and other Indian men had finally been permitted to build. I was told that he functioned as a kind of shaman in the sweat rituals and that he “could really zone out” during the proceedings. He kept track of the sky and knew when Venus was the Morning Star and when the Evening. Information like this was the criterion by which he gauged all other data. Compared to this, of what significance could he possibly assign the news that half the buttons on his shirt were missing?

I remember asking the warden as he boarded the exit bus, “How do you think he’ll do on the outside?” And the warden answered, shaking his head, “He’ll get in a fight before he gets off that bus.”

We hope for the best about people who are practically strangers to us. It is the nature of our service. In most Zen congregations there is little social interaction between pastor and congregants. We have few bake sales, hymn-sings, pujas, boy scout troops, or other community activities; and Darshan (dokusan) is limited to a few minutes of discussion about meditation practices. Rarely does a teacher encounter students in those social occasions that reveal most about their personalities. Usually, then, we are left to gauge intelligence by the quality of questions asked in forums; to gauge fidelity by attendance; generosity by contributions to the collection box; cleanliness by the appearance of robes; and so on. In short, in the span of two hours per week, we are required to form opinions about a person’s character – perhaps even to write letters of recommendation – based upon such brief, structured encounters and flimsy evidence. In a prison setting, it is even more difficult to determine character. There are few after-service chats and, aside from snail-mail, no communication between meetings.

As I re-read Buber and thought about that strange jaunt to Argentina, I saw that what I was missing was that a man who is secure doesn’t have to wonder about his place in the universe. He has no anxiety. He is a believer, a creature of habit, a regulated dreamer, an accidental guest – a person who is sanguine about the future that, owing to the largesse of others, always seems rosy. He trusts that everything is going to work out so why worry?

But why is he so secure, so enthusiastic or so casual about unlikely schemes that he presents as realistic goals – schemes which might at first seem reasonable but will later evidence a grandiose or unacceptably presumptuous nature?

How does a man experience the Real? Buber says simply that man has a threefold living relation. “First, his relation to the world and to things; second his relation to men – both to individuals and to the many; and third, his relation to the mystery of being – which is dimly apparent through all this but infinitely transcends it… The Absolute or God.”

The person who is afflicted with worldly fantasy is mired in the first ‘living relation.’ No matter how his behavior seems to conform to society’s standards, he sees the material world through acquisitive eyes. He objectifies even himself as a created image, which he assumes that other people will also accept as substantive and genuine. He identifies with desirable objects; and he objectifies even people who become to him mere ways and means, tools to fulfill his needs and desires. We may see him in a prison or in a commercial workplace. He may go to church or to the Zen center every week. He may sit in meditation or bow his head in prayer, but what is he thinking? It is things – his garments, the incense, his breakfast, the weather.. and how these things affect him, or how he can alter or use these things to his advantage. We find his likeness in all forms of literature. He’s Williams’ Blanche DuBois who affects gentility while plying the skin trade, depending upon “the kindness of strangers” and, ultimately, the coerced hospitality of her sister. The only constant is the need to cling to the self-image of superior bearing. Perhaps he starts out innocently like Thurber’s Walter Mitty who seems outwardly to be quite happy performing such ordinary tasks as driving his wife to the beauty parlor; but what is he thinking? Only his body is behind the wheel of his sedan. The rest of him is at the controls of a dive bomber that is now engaged in desperate combat in the skies over Europe. He’s not a dutiful husband sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for his wife to be beautified, he’s a famous brain surgeon performing an operation that his colleagues lack the skill and courage even to attempt. Thurber let his short story end in one of these imaginative adventures; but if he had written another chapter to the story, Mitty might easily have sought the rewards of fantasy heroism in the real-life adorations of a co-worker or a lunchroom waitress. His wife and children – if he had any – would become strangers, creatures from that “other” world, the one that could not satisfy his fancy.

It is such self-absorption that evicts from consideration those who fulfill laborious obligation in order to give residence to vagrant dreams.

Yet, in a curious way, these fantasies often have a real-world, practical function. They provide leverage and set the stage for contrived conflicts that provide excuse for change. If we look hard enough we can find method in the schemes. Consider the possible manipulations in the proposed trip to Buenos Aires. The ex-prisoner would move in with his sister and it would take about 2.5 hours for her husband to express an intense desire to get him off the property. But there is a problem. No one wants to be known as the kind of person who would turn a brother out, especially one who is “trying to get his life together.” Prodigal Sons and Lost Sheep and Good Samaritans will be marched onto the front lawn like so many pink flamingos or plaster gnomes. Biblical precedents will picket the house. It will be the sister who must deal with categorical imperatives.

The request had been merely for the brother temporarily to occupy the camper- a request that seemed too simple to deny. But he will come into the house to eat; to shower, shave and use the toilet, to watch television, to talk on the phone; to do his laundry, and if it is too hot or too cold, he will come in to sleep on the couch. What will it cost her and her husband to eliminate this expensive invader of their privacy while retaining their reputations as decent people? He says he wants to take the camper on a long trip. Well, that will get rid of him. But wait! Their names are on the title – which means they’re responsible as owners of the vehicle. What if he doesn’t keep up the insurance? He wants to buy the vehicle from them and to pay it off in monthly payments. He offers to commit himself legally to pay; and with a great flourish will sign a promissory note which, as the saying goes, will be like a verbal contract – not worth the paper it’s written on.

But will he pay? It is no more likely that he will honor his debt than it is likely that anyone will ever examine the appropriateness of his need or his proposition. He wanted his sister’s camper and he found a way to get it. He invoked familial sentiment when he made the request; and that sense of security, of entitlement that is inherent in the request will obviate any sense of responsibility to pay. This is not mere cynicism. This is precisely the course that is followed by a person whose living relation is confined to things.

He is unable to empathize – to consider the negative effect his presence or his debt will have upon his sister – for that would be the second stage of “the threefold living relation.” Society will aid him in his self-absorbed goals. Always, the one who is asked to give is reminded more forcefully of the “duty” to be charitable than the one who desires to receive is ever reminded of the obligation to be self-supportive or to lessen his requirements.

In the world of things we find strange participation mystiques, the imbuing of an object with animate qualities with which the person then identifies and associates. Not only does the person believe that the quality of a thing magically adheres to the possessor who becomes unique or important in direct proportion to his evaluation of that symbol or object, but he must also advertise his identified allegiance to that magical element. Especially in prison we find men who have used their own flesh to commemorate an identity with and commitment to such other-worldly power: They are “illustrated men,” tattooed not with the usual salute to Mother, service motto, girl, flag or rose; but with serpents that entwine entire limbs; lightning bolts that discharge from an earlobe and strike the chest; birds of prey that seize a nipple in their talons; blood dripping daggers and swords; and, most incomprehensively, a variety of chains and barbed wires that encircle arms and necks. Allegiance to people can alter. Today’s benefactor is too often tomorrow’s adversary; but the eagle is an emblem of power that will never weaken. The blitzkrieg is forever.

To dismiss this as jailhouse machismo is to overlook those symbols of identity – the designer labels, the expensive cars, the “conspicuous consumption and honorific waste’ which characterize leisure class possessions. To whatever extent an owner invests these showy objects with his own identity, he, too, is an illustrated man.

It is not the goal of penal authorities to manufacture saints in prison. They do strive, however, to deliver men and women to the second stage of living relation: to establish a relationship to the world of men. This requires empathy – an ability to understand and accept The Golden Rule, an ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel his joy or sorrow, his comfort or pain, and then to act so as to alleviate his sorrow or to appreciate his joy. Empathy allows a man to see the world through the eyes of other men not merely to see his own reflection in their eyes.

We do find in prisons those who keep The Golden Rule – who treat others as they would have others treat them. Men do strive to better themselves, to become aware of what they do not know – and need to know – and to educate themselves accordingly, to form friendships that are not predicated upon survival but upon common interests, to find, as Buber said, their “special place in the cosmos” and “connection with destiny.” We even find men who attain the third category of “living relation,” who transcend the first two stages and establish “a relation to the mystery of being, to the Absolute or God.”

The Sioux Indian did not get into any fights on the bus. He went home to the northern plains to live. After he was out a month he called me to say that he was doing fine. Yeah… yeah… he had met a nice gal and was getting set to move into her trailer. He also got a job delivering building supplies and was saving up to put a down payment on a used pickup truck. But what was really important – what he was calling to tell me – was that he had gone to Wisconsin to see Miracle, the white buffalo heifer. He had actually seen her with his own eyes. Did I know that she was not an albino, an anomaly or some freakish creature – but was a testament to God’s inexplicable power to affect change, cleansing change, black to white change – a merciful and beautiful purity! – like the white lotus flower rising out of the muck!?

I said I knew and understood.

A few months later I heard from him for the second and last time. We talked a little about spiritual matters and I could still hear the wonder in his voice. “You’re doing well,” I said, “I can tell.” Then he casually stated every enlightened man’s credo. “I’m a king. I’ve got a good woman, a clean house, a steady job” and then, as a concession to the exigencies of commerce, a little pride of ownership crept into his voice and he added, “and a pickup truck that only needs paint.” 

90 Days of Silence

May we with all beings realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and gift.

Language helps us understand but it does not take us beyond the material realm. Those who want to go beyond words, must abandon them. Language is a scheme that creates the illusory world.  To rely fully on the material realm leads to bondage and suffering. Our work is to go beyond it. Language is used to point the Way but language in itself is not the Way. Language mimics form, name, quality and utility, but language, at some point, is abandoned.

Abandon desires that come from intention. All of them. Rest in the Self.  Not in the thoughts of the self-centered self. To look a certain way, To be called a certain name, To exhibit a certain quality or To do a useful act.   Bhagavad Gita

Language creates the appearance of the movie that plays and covers the face of our original nature. When this false appearance occurs, we call it me, mine, my form, my name, my qualities and my acts.

Language, however, also helps us to unravel our self-centered insistence to create the illusion through practice instructions. We practice until we no longer create the appearance and rest in our Beloved Divine Self.

We use language to STOP the chatter of self-identification in order to see through the illusion and see who and what we really are.

Let me offer a simple teaching from Dōgen, a 13th century Zen Master of the Soto School of Zen.

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay. Fukazazengi

Dogen offers an instruction that zazen is not merely sitting on a cushion, but a practice that asks us to give up our desire to understand, pursuing words…it is much more difficult than learning meditation.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when she enters the mountain. For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that, from the first, dullness and distraction are struck aside.

And finally, this practice is not limited to the practice of sitting alone.

What we use of language and intellectual thought is our inquiring mind. We inquire into the thoughts and hindrances in order to let them go; to recognize the Truth and then, realize IT. Our thoughts and inquiry are, at some point, finally seen through for what they are. We use language to see through the delusion as in a Hua T‘ou or the repetition of a mantra.

We study, ask questions and seek until the inquiring reaches a point that we transcend the material minded point-of-view and experience our true original nature. We no longer are bound by anything.

May all beings be free of suffering.


Humming Bird

Author: Fashi Lao Yue

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