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Zen in 20 Minutes a Day

Here is a Zen practice you can do in 20 minutes. First thing in the morning is considered best. Try setting your alarm 20 minutes earlier and see what opens up in your day when you begin it with this quick routine. If that doesn’t work for you (the kids, the dog, the job, etc.) then practice as you can. Any meditation is better than none.

There are five parts to the practice. The only difference from this short, daily version and the practice we do on Wednesday evenings at Open Door is that when we gather as a group, I give a dharma talk instead of the reading you do on your own.

  1. Bowing: A single bow, performed with mindfulness, humility, and gratitude, goes a long way toward purifying our karma.
  2. Chanting: Chanting focuses our energy and gets our cells oxygenated, preparing our minds and bodies for seated meditation.
  3. Sitting: Sitting meditation tames the mind and strengthens our focus.
  4. Reading: Reading Zen teachings sharpens our understanding.
  5. Reciting Vows: The Four Great Vows keep our intention clear.

Bowing Practice (1 minute):

If you are familiar with how to perform a full prostration, wonderful. If not, also wonderful. Just bow. The form is not as important as what’s in your heart. Take this moment to be grateful. For what? For everything! The dharma. The fact that the Buddha decided to teach. For every teacher in the lineage between the Buddha and you. For the fact that you have 20 minutes to practice. And anything else that comes to mind as you surrender your “Big I” in the bow.

Chanting (6 minutes):

Don’t know the Heart Sutra? Then just read it aloud, paying attention to the sound and rhythm of the words, along with your breath. The meaning will sink in over time.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, listen to this online recording from the Kwan Um School of Zen and follow along:

The Maha Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita

perceives that all five skandhas are empty

and is saved from all suffering and distress.



form does not differ from emptiness,

emptiness does not differ from form.

That which is form is emptiness,

that which is emptiness form.


The same is true of feelings,

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.



all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

they do not appear or disappear,

are not tainted or pure,

do not increase or decrease.


Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.


No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;

no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,

no object of mind;

no realm of eyes

and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.


No ignorance and also no extinction of it,

and so forth until no old age and death

and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,

no stopping, no path, no cognition,

also no attainment with nothing to attain.


The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita

and the mind is no hindrance;

without any hindrance no fears exist.

Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.


In the three worlds

all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita

and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.


Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita

is the great transcendent mantra

is the great bright mantra,

is the utmost mantra,

is the supreme mantra,

which is able to relieve all suffering

and is true, not false.

So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,

proclaim the mantra which says:


gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.

Sitting (10 minutes):

Now that you’ve purified some karma and gotten your breathing up, it’s time to sit. Find a comfortable and stable seat, and sit quietly for 10 minutes. Pay attention to your breathing. When your mind wanders – and it will! – gently return your attention to your breath. Don’t force it, and don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if thoughts come up. Notice that you’re thinking, and return again to the breath. That’s it. You can count your breaths up to ten and start over. Or you can ask yourself “What is this?” as you inhale and answer with “Don’t know” as you exhale.

Reading (2-3 minutes):

Read a short passage from a book of Zen teaching. I use “365 Zen,” edited by Jean Smith. You may prefer to read a book by one teacher, and read a few pages each day. There are a number of excellent books available at Open Door.

Reciting Vows (30 seconds):

The Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless; we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable; we vow to attain it.

Congratulations! You’re on your way to developing a strong practice. May all beings benefit!

~Rev. Jabo

Chop Small

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The Second Nobel Truth: Up Close and Personal

Two days ago, the Dean of Academics told me that the class I would normally be teaching starting tomorrow wasn’t going to be offered.  That left me with no work at that college for the next five weeks.

Yesterday, some of my students told me they were scheduled for that class, but there was no instructor listed.  I didn’t inquire.  I’d caught the Dean, who used to be my friend when she was still an instructor, in an apparent lie, and I didn’t feel like being confrontational.

Today, after proctoring my final exam, I found out that “my” next class has been given to a new hire.  Hm. Maybe they’re paying him less than me – after all, I’ve been there for nearly four years.  Maybe it’s yet another power struggle between the Dean and the Campus President; I almost lost a class before in a past round of their combat.

Regardless, I’m definitely experiencing some dhukka (suffering) today.  It’s interesting to take a step back and observe.  The Buddha taught that one of the causes of suffering is attachment or clinging.  Since nothing ever stays the same, even when things are going well, they eventually turn to shit.  (I’m pretty sure that some Zen Master put it exactly that way at least once.)

I really loved this job, loved my students, and even tolerated the commute.  I suppose, without noticing it, I got attached.  Now change has come, and I’m miserable!  Luckily, I have just enough awareness to realize that this, too, shall pass.


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A Conversation with My Dog

Sparky’s been barking a lot this morning, even by his standards.  So I took him aside, got him calmed down, and pet him.   I spoke to him in soothing tones, gently stroking the soft fur on his head.

“Look,” I said, “I know it’s got to be hard not to bark when you have dog-nature.  It’s a dog’s nature to bark.  But do you know what?  You have Buddha-nature, too.  And Buddhas very rarely bark.”

Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Woof!”

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No Winning, No Losing

Recently my dog Sparky and I were playing tug-of-war. He loves this game. I wanted him to enjoy himself and not feel that he was losing, so more than half the time I was letting him win. Then I noticed that he kept coming back for another round, win or lose.

That’s when it hit me: he has no concept of “win” or “lose.” Now, this is rare, even for dogs. I’ve lived with ten dogs in my life, including Sparky, and known countless more. Usually, if a dog doesn’t end up with the toy fairly often, he or she will lose interest in playing. Dogs are competitive by nature. Sparky is competitive with our other dog, Little Man, and doesn’t like to “lose” to him. He’s also competitive with our cat Ivy, and can’t stand it if she’s being petted and he isn’t. But when Sparky plays with me, he plays with me, not against me.

Isn’t that interesting…?

Does a dog have Buddha nature? WOOF!

Sparky during quieter times.  He's an American Eskimo Dog.
Sparky during quieter times. He's an American Eskimo Dog.
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Meditation: It’s Not What I Thought

Earlier this week, I tried mudita meditation.  It’s similar to metta meditation, except that instead of lovingkindness, the emphasis is on appreciation.  As with metta, one begins with the self.  Then the phrases are expressed toward loved ones, people we are neutral toward, difficult people, and finally all beings.

I like the progression of the phrases:

May I be appreciative and grateful.

May I be aware of beauty and joy.

May I be open to beauty and joy.

May I respond to beauty and joy with appreciation and gratitude.

The English teacher in me admires the circular construction.  The lawyer in me approves of the logical movement from each step to the next.  I found it a very pleasant meditation to do.

The primary thing I seem to be learning right now is that if I am to meditate daily, I have to open my definition of “meditation.”  It isn’t just zazen.  I don’t have to light incense, get out cushions, and sit for a prescribed period of time.  I simply have to be mindful.