Posted in Zen Buddhism

Transmission

Nearly five months ago, I became a Zen Master.

Or should I say a Zen “Master.” What, exactly, does that mean?  Have I now “mastered” Zen?  What does it mean to attain mastery over a body of knowledge?  And can a philosophy as rich and varied as Zen be ever fully comprehend by a single human brain?

I don’t think so.  Rather, I think of my new title more as a sign that I have received the respect of other teachers.  My teacher, himself a Zen Master by decree of his teacher, felt that I was ready to accept additional responsibility in teaching the Dharma.

Because with this title comes certain ethical obligations.  While there are no requirements per say, and no one supervising me any longer, there is an expectation that I will share what I have learned. I’m rather reclusive by nature, so this challenges me to step outside my comfort zone and put myself out into the world rather more than I might otherwise choose.

Here are some of the ways in which I’m going to do that. First, I’ll be starting a podcast, hopefully in February, to host a discussion with other women religious leaders. By sharing our stories of practice, challenge, and success, I hope to break the way for the generation of women coming up behind us. And men need to hear this, too, because like it or not, they’re going to need to make room for us. I hope we can all be wise and compassionate in the transition.

I’m also starting a local course to teach people how to teach meditation. I’m taking an inter-faith, at times secular, approach since Buddhism does not hold the monopoly on meditation. I’m doing this through my business, Open Door Yoga, and I am charging for it. Here’s why: first, I have expenses in the design, production, and teaching of the course. Second, people value what they pay for. (Trust me. When I offer a free event, no one shows up. The more I charge [within reason], the more people come.)

I plan to host half-day retreats about three times a year. We just had our first one for Bodhi Day, celebrating the Buddha’s Awakening, in early December.

I will continue to teach weekly in Claremont, CA and monthly in Riverside, CA, both for free. I will accept invitations to teach the Dharma whenever I am available, also for free. And I will continue to meet with students one-on-one, in person or via Zoom, when I am asked to do so.

So what is a Zen Master? Definitions.net says,

“Zen master is a somewhat vague English term that arose in the first half of the 20th century, sometimes used to refer to an individual who teaches Zen Buddhist meditation and practices, usually implying longtime study and subsequent authorization to teach and transmit the tradition themselves.”

Here’s my definition: an experienced Zen teacher who is of service to others. I hope to embody the highest and best in Buddhism and in myself. May all beings benefit.

Posted in Quote, Zen Buddhism

On Grief

One of my students lost a beloved pet two nights ago. She wrote me that she is taking refuge [in the Dharma], but she still misses her companion. She understands impermanence and yet remains effected by loss. 

I’ve always thought Buddhist priest Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) expressed this apparent disconnect best. He wrote this haiku on the occasion of the death of his daughter:

This world of dew
is a world of dew.
And yet…

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Best. Advice. Ever.

It was the fall of 1982. I was a college freshman, standing in line for one thing or another, back in the days before computers sped us all along. Next to me was a senior, dispensing wisdom and advice.

“Study,” he admonished us, “or don’t. But don’t study and wish you were doing something else, and don’t not study and feel guilty about it.”

At the time, this seemed like a pretty good idea to me. So, I implemented it right away. What I didn’t foresee was the profound impact it would have on my life.

This advice doesn’t just apply to studying. It applies to anything we feel we “should” be or “ought to” be doing. Either do it, or don’t do it. But don’t beat yourself up, either way. As a psychiatrist friend of mine likes to say, “Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself!”

Most days, I meditate. I like the idea of doing seated meditation every day. Some days, however, I make a different choice. Perhaps something else is calling for my attention, so my meditation practice gets shortened, takes a different form, or gets missed altogether. And that’s okay!

I consciously choose how I spend my time and don’t regret it after the fact. Do I sometimes wish I had done things differently? Sure. I learn from those experiences. But I don’t wallow in guilt or other unskillful emotions as a result.

I do “this,” or I do “that.” Whichever I choose, I put all of my attention to the task at hand. I don’t daydream about “that” while doing “this,” nor feel that I should be doing “this” while doing “that.” Pick one! I tell myself. Commit! By focusing fully, I’m more productive and have time for more of both “this” and “that.” Instead of trying to multitask (which psychologists report doesn’t work, by the way; our brains aren’t wired that way), I monofocus.

Nearly 35 years later, I don’t recall what else that senior had to say, what he looked like, or why we were all standing in “that good old Baylor line,” but I remember that one piece of advice. It’s served me well.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Saturday Satori

The other morning, I was lounging in bed, savoring that sweet spot between sleep and wakefulness. And then I heard my neighbor’s wind-chimes.

Time stopped.

The universe expanded.

There were no wind-chimes to produce the sound and no “me” to hear it.

We had merged into the sound, itself. There was nothing else. In that moment, only the sound remained.

The best way I can analogize it is to compare it to the visual effect Sam Raimi made famous, the “push-pull.” (He uses a dolly to move the camera rapidly toward a person or thing, while adjusting the lens so that the subject doesn’t get larger in frame. The net effect is that it appears that the background is moving away from the subject.) Although the experience wasn’t visual. It wasn’t auditory, either, although it was triggered by an auditory stimulus.

Then I realized that “I” had attained something – a moment of full peace – and my “self” came rushing back, ending the moment.

This is what Buddhists call a “kensho” moment, a taste of satori, a foreshadowing of nirvana. This has happened to me more times than I can count over the course of my life, usually when I’m being still. While it’s nice when it’s happening, the trick is not to get attached to it.

When I start grasping and clinging to the moment, when I start wanting it to happen again, I only push it farther away. More than that, I set myself up for disappointment, as no two moments are alike. The Buddha taught that the origin of our unhappiness is wanting things to be other than as they are. Therefore, I try to accept each meditation experience, each breath, each moment, as it comes.

Once I got over congratulating myself on having had this experience, my mind settled, creating space for something new. I had three or four more kensho moments, when my thinking mind fell away and the universe opened. Each lasted for an unknown amount of time, but no more than a few minutes, then dissolved when my thoughts returned.

And that’s okay, as I need my thinking mind to navigate this human existence in the world of form. Eventually, the thought came that it was time to get up and start the day. I used my thinking mind to cook breakfast. Ah…!

 

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Four Great Vows

One of the sanghas to which I belong recently became a California non-profit. As part of that process, we wrote our bylaws. And, like our parent organization, the Five Mountain Zen Order, we decided to include the Four Great Vows in those bylaws.

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 realize it.

Most of us, when reading or reciting these vows for the first time, are struck my the impossibility of actually keeping them. And that’s okay; some vows aren’t meant to be “kept” so much as “attempted.”

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that intention is the key to the spiritual life. I remember Khenpo Ugyen Wangchuk giving a teaching on this in 2013. It can be tricky, because it requires tremendous self-knowledge and honesty. “Oh, I meant well…” isn’t good enough. Mistakes are fine, provided they come from a sincere heart.  But we must be clear about the sincerity and strength of our intentions. If we enter the spiritual life half-heartedly, we’re deluding ourselves that anything will change.

We also need effort, but that flows naturally from powerful intention. Let’s use meditation as an example. I intend to meditate every day. But I still have to follow up my intention with the effort of sitting my butt on the cushion. If I can’t seem to make that happen, then my intention wasn’t strong or heart-felt enough. If my intention is deep enough, if it’s felt in my bones, if I can’t imagine a world where I’m not meditating every day, then I’ll exert the effort and get it done.

All of which means: we’re not off the hook on these vows! We have to try. We help sentient beings whenever we can, from catching and releasing a bug that came into the home, to giving a stranger directions. We look fearlessly at our own spiritual ignorance and attempt to illuminate the dark places through meditation. We read, study, attend Dharma talks, and question everything until learning takes place. And we watch how we keep our minds, moment to moment.

What’s the point, if the vows can’t be kept? First of all, it makes a difference to that stranger who was lost! But even more basically, it’s training in how to keep going, even in the face of impossibility. If we can look at the enormity the Four Great Vows and commit to undertaking them, how much easier is that daily meditation practice by comparison!

May all beings benefit.

Jabo Prajna Chop Small

A Fragment from My Morning Pages

The sun was shining when I first sat down, and how it’s already overcast. That’s okay. There’s a beauty in shadow just as there is in full sun. How I love life!

I was going to write, “How I love MY life,” but then I realized that “I” have nothing to do with this feeling. It’s not about me or mine. There’s no sense of possession here.

In fact, there’s no “I” to be experiencing it. It’s just the naked experience.

Life.

Love.

Ah…! Yes.