Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chop Wood, Carry Water

So it has been well over a month since my last post.  I moved and for a greater portion of that time I didn't have internet access.  I moved to a property owned by Ryumonji Zen Monastery.  Since my move, I have come to realize many great things about life.

Less is a luxury.  I don't have a whole lot where I live right now, and I love it.  I just have my "staples" and my practice (both Buddhism and martial arts).  I read, work out, practice, sit zazen, and write.  Nothing could be better to me.  I've also had a lot of time to work/practice on my calligraphy which is also nice.

I chop wood, carry wood and water.  It reminds me of the Zen proverb, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."  In a sense, I have come to appreciate this proverb.  Work is life, life is work.  When appreciated, both are beautiful.

I've also been reading a lot of Dogen's writings, which has inspired me to compose little poems.  I think that's a side-affect of reading Dogen, haha.

I will be posting more often now that I have the internet.  Hope you are all well, many blessings, in gassho.

Where I live:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fuel for the Fire

I was pondering the importance of ritual, ceremony, chants, etc.  My best idea is that it's to keep us on the path.  Kind of like adding tinder and fuel to a fire we have started, so that it wont extinguish itself.  This is also true of our sitting Zazen or meditation.

Why do we chant sutras and repeat things we have said over and over in front of our altar?  To remind us of our practice.  We are human and we get side-tracked, involved in worldly affairs and such that can often draw our attention away from The Way.

I don't think we do it out of dogmatic obligation.  When we want to delve into our spirituality and the practice of Buddhism, we do things such as rituals, chants, and meditation to keep a base.  The base can be seen as a foundation for living our lives or handling our affairs according to the Dharma.

My guess would be that it's the similar situation of people of other faiths going to church and the like.  They go to hear the pastor's, reverend's, or priest's words to keep in touch with their faith and remind themselves of the teachings.

When we can realize the meaning of what we do and why, it gives a deeper dimension to the practice.  So keep chanting, prostrating, and meditating to keep the course. :)


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Conformity of Form

Very often while studying Buddhism we hear two words, "FORM" and "EMPTINESS."  What exactly do these words mean?  I've had many conversations on the topic of Form and Emptiness.  It can be a heavy topic, because it is one that challenges much of how we have been taught for most of our lives.

I will attempt to do my best (from what I have found through my teachings and studies) to explain exactly what form and emptiness are, in hopes that it will enlighten others who may not exactly know what the two are (or are not).

Let's start with Form.  Form (like many other terms in Buddhism) has a double meaning.  Our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, sensations, and mind (namely the Five Aggregates and imagination or mind) create form.  It is how we function in the world.  As the Dhammapada and many sutras say, "With out thoughts, we make the world," or, "Our perception of the world is merely a manifestation of our minds."  This doesn't mean we create the world with our minds, it means our interpretations and imaginations create a biased reality by our senses and minds, which is not true reality.

Why is it not true reality? Because form is emptiness......let me explain. Form is a what our mind grasps to for the purpose of interpretation.  We create words, opinions, and ideas based on interpretations of form. 

In the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha tells us that because of our ignorance and biased ideas of words and ideas of forms, we develop a false reality.  In absolute reality, words and forms are empty.  Now emptiness is another confusing term.

Emptiness doesn't mean that things are unsubstantial, invalid, or without purpose.  Emptiness is another word for "that which is without form or self."  The tree has no self because it is part of the the dirt, sun, rain, and wind from which it grows.  Just as we are without self because of the many elements and ancestors which have come together to create us.

Also, form implies another thing.  We may see a pond as a nice piece of scenery or fishing-hole.  What of the fish?  The fish, tadpoles, frogs and dragonflies see that pond as home.  Just as you may see your house as home, termites see that as food, and so on.  So form is only implied by the mind.

The Buddha also says in the Lankavatara Sutra that when we can achieve the stage of imagelessness and egolessness, we will be emancipated.  Images and egos are nothing but implications of form.  So in absolute reality: style, language, perceptions, feelings, false-imaginations,  and things of the like are only empty and subject to the mind.

This is merely a brief description of the terms in mind, there of course, is much more to it, I pray this post has made sense and helped those to may not have previously understood.  Many Blessing and Gassho.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joy of Jukai

This past weekend I attended another Sesshin (meditation retreat) before my Jukai (Lay Ordination).  It was nice to see friends and of course meet new ones.  One of the highlights was the new practice at the monastery of traditional Oryoki meal serving in the Sodo (meditation hall).  We have always had Oryoki meals there before, but in the dining hall instead.  Sorry I don't have a picture, but it was pretty much exactly like this:

I was chosen to be a server for two of the meals which was a unique and cool experience as well.  I fell somewhat ill, so I was unable to sit in every single sitting, but I was able to get my "fill."

The highlight of the weekend, of course, was the Jukai Ceremony.
Setup before Ceremony

 I had been looking forward to this and taking the precepts pretty much all summer.  It was strange going in the procession I felt almost "naked" in a sense.
I was surprised how many people were there.  We had quite a handful there for Sesshin, but more and more people kept pouring in.  After taking the vows though, I felt a definite renewal of practice and purpose.  It was truly something I'll never forget.  The following pictures (and captions) may better describe what ensued. :
Formally asking for Ordination

Incense offering at one of the altars

Initial prostrations

Chanting the Heart Sutra

Receiving the Rakusu

Prostrations after The Vows

Bestowal of Lineage Papers

Shoken (the abbot) with Ordainees

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Taking Refuge

The word "refuge" may be easily misunderstood in the context of Buddhism.  The dictionary definition of "refuge" is usually as follows:
1. shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.: to take refuge from a storm.
2. a place of shelter, protection, or safety.
3. anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.

(from Dictionary.com

The term "refuge" in Buddhism is shorthand actually takes on a different meaning.  We are not looking to run away, hide, find immediate relief when we speak "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha."

What we really mean is: "I am one with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha."  Now, the term "one" can have a double meaning as well.  If we are ONE with the Triple Treasure, we do have protection within our mind, body, and spirit.  But taking refuge should not be seen, implied, or even imagined as an escape from reality or an immediate alleviation.

When we truly practice and have a deep faith within Buddhism, we are a part of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  We live it in our daily lives, instilling it into our bones and marrow.  We cannot be separated from it and it cannot be separated from us.

So remember the next time you recite the verse of the Triple Treasure, Triple Gem, (etc.), you are not escaping into them, your are affirming that you are one with them.  This will bring much more strength and meaning into the recitation alone.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I wasn't sure if I should post this on the 10th anniversary of the "9/ll attacks" or for Columbus Day.  So  I chose Columbus day.
If it weren't for ego, many things in history, including many atrocities wouldn't have happened.  Radical religious practitioners are no different.  Crusaders, Jihad, Conquistadors, they are all based on an attitude that of ego, that their religion is best.  And it always ends up in unnecessary deaths and disposal of innocent lives.
With that in mind, for Columbus Day, I leave you with this video.  But consider it has not only been Columbus and his time, but so many other "leaders" who have killed and harmed many innocent people in the sake of ego.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Code of Fighters and the Peaceful

The Shaolin Code is an ancient code of ethics taught to all Shaolin monks.  This code is great for a marital artist, but also great for a Buddhist.  With a little tweak of the words, it perfectly matches what every Buddhist should live by.  I'll give the original translation, then the "tweaked" version so you can see the connection for yourself.
Remain disciplined: uphold yourself ethically as a martial artist.
Courtesy and righteousness: serve the community and honor your family.
Respect your fellow students: be united and avoid conflicts.
Curb your desires and pursuit of bodily desires: preserve your proper spirit.
Train diligently and make it a habit: maintain your skills
Strive to develop spiritual tranquility: abstain from arguments and fights.
Coordinate in society: be conservative, cultured and gentle in your manners. 
Protect the weak and very young: use your martial skill for the good of humanity
Maintain the tradition: preserve this Chinese art and its Rules of Conducts. 

Now with a little adaptation to this code, here's how I believe it connects to Buddhism with only a little switch of the terms.
"Buddhist Version":
Remain disciplined: uphold yourself ethically as a Buddhist. (uphold the precepts)
Courtesy and Righteousness: Serve the community (Sangha and all beings) and honor your family (teachers/lineage)   
Respect your fellow students: be united and avoid conflicts (not much else needs to be changed here- learn from each other and keep an open mind)
Curb your desires and pursuit of bodily pleasures: preserve your proper spirit (again, not much needs changing here- keep the precepts and preserve your path of the Way)
Train diligently and make it a habit: maintain your skills (Continue your practice and meditation regularly, make it a part of you)
Strive to develop spiritual tranquility: abstain from arguments and fights. (Keep a tranquil mind and practice compassion)
Coordinate in society: be conservative, cultured and gentle in your manners. (Compassion again plays a major role here, also, teach people on their various levels)
Protect the weak and very young: use your martial skill for the good of humanity  (The practice is Buddhism is for all beings, we don't only practice for ourselves)
Maintain the tradition: preserve this Chinese art and its Rules of Conducts. (Teach those who do not know the Way and uphold its precepts diligently)


Monday, October 3, 2011

Alone in the World

One of the biggest difficulties I find while practicing is the dis-attachment from self.  I've always had a little problem with social anxiety. Even now as an (ever-aging) adult, the task of letting go of self is sometimes difficult.

I live my life as I choose, but perhaps it is "western-conditioning" that I still feel self-conscious about what I may wear or how I behave.

Dogen states that people will scoff and make fun of those who practice the Way of the Buddhas and Patriarchs for what they wear and what they do, but hold fast to the teachings of the Way, for those who make fun of you and scoff at your actions are the furthest from awakening.

Being in the west, many Buddhist customs such as dress and begging are not exactly accepted.  This is different from eastern cultures where this has been a part of society for at least 2,000 years. But the statement from Dogen even holds true until today in eastern cultures.  Many monks beg for alms in China, Japan, and others as the Buddha instructed during his time on earth.

So the only solution to this, I guess, is to ultimately let go of ego and self.  Dogen states that continuously that the benefits of studying and practicing the Way of the Buddhas and Patriarchs far out-weighs the benefits of conforming to the emotions and judgments of worldly people.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Relic Tour

This past Saturday, I attended the Maitreya Relic Tour.  I was kind of skeptical and wasn't sure what to expect.  All of the flyers and brochures just showed rocks and hair.  But when I watched the video which they had playing, something profound hit me.

When beings are enlightened and have deep compassion, during their cremation, they produce relics.  One of the Lama's relics was of his heart, and as the story goes, his whole heart was untouched by flames and his ashes were in the shape of various Bodhisattvas.
EVEN THE ORIGINAL BUDDHA'S RELICS WERE THERE!  I was moved to tears when I looked over them before I even realized what I was looking at.  So after viewing the video, I had to take another round of observing the relics.
Here are some pics:
Main Relic Table Display
Relics of Buddha's Disciples, including Ananda and Shariputra
Relics of Shakyamuni Buddha, himself!
Relics of other Lamas and Teachers
These relics are going to be placed in the heart of a 500 ft statue of Maitreya in northern India, where the Buddha passed away.  This was definitely a once-in-a-life opportunity and I am forever grateful.  If the tour comes by your way, I strongly recommend you attend.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind


Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki is a wonderfully insightful book into Zen practice.  Do not be fooled by the title, "...Beginner's Mind," for it's contents are for the experienced practitioner as well. 

The book was originally published forty-one years ago, and to this day is one of the essentials to any Zen library.  It's written from recordings of Suzuki Roshi's talks he gave to his students.  The grammatical style reflects this by rarely editing the structure of how he spoke, which gives you the feeling that Suzuki is talking right to you.  In fact, Shunryu Suzuki himself said, "Nice book, but I didn't write it."  It was actually edited by one of his long time students Trudy Dixon.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind talks about the essence of Zazen practice, the Zen mind, and other very insightful Zen/Buddhist matters.  I'm definitely not getting rid of this book, as I foresee myself referencing back to it many times in my practice.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I and many other Western practitioners have. 

Shunryu Suzuki
 Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971) was a Soto Zen priest from Japan who established the popular San Fransisco Zen Center in 1959, and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.  He stayed in America until his death, and is seen as one of the most influential people to bring Zen and Buddhism to the West.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From the Heart

The Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra is said to contain the essence of Truth realized by all Buddhas and Bodhisattva-Mahasatvas.  In it's message, it discusses the realization of emptiness, form, etc. As Soto practitioners, and I'm sure in other practices, we chant this every day.

Below are Japanese and English translations, as well as an accompanying video of the chant.  May this sutra help you along your path.

Maka Hannya Haramita ShingyoKan ji zai bo satsu. Gyo jin han-nya ha ra mi ta ji. Sho ken go on kai ku. Do is-sai ku yaku.
Sha ri shi. Shiki fu i ku. Ku fu i shiki. Shiki soku ze ku. Ku soku ze shiki. Ju so gyo shiki. Yaku bu nyo ze. Sha ri shi. Ze sho ho ku so. Fu sho fu metsu. Fu ku fu jo. Fu zo fu gen. Ze ko ku chu. Mu shiki mu ju so gyo shiki.
Mu gen ni bi zes shin ni. Mu shiki sho ko mi soku ho. Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai. Mu mu myo yaku mu mu myo jin. Nai shi mu ro shi. Yaku mu ro shi jin. Mu ku shu metsu do. Mu chi yaku mu toku. I mu sho toku ko.
Bo dai sat-ta e han-nya ha ra mi ta ko. Shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko. Mu u ku fu. On ri is-sai ten do mu so. Ku gyo ne han. San ze sho butsu. E han-nya ha ra mi ta ko. Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bo dai. Ko chi han-nya ha ra mi ta. Ze dai jin shu. Ze dai myo shu. Ze mu jo shu. Ze mu to do shu. No jo is-sai ku. Shin jitsu fu ko. Ko setsu han-nya ha ra mi ta shu. Soku setsu shu watsu. Gya tei, gya tei, ha ra gya tei. Hara so gya tei. Bo ji sowa ka. Han-nya Shin gyo.

Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra

Avalokiteshavara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty (ku) andthus relieved all suffering.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itselfform. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this. Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease. Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight… no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita, and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says:

"Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha."
(Text from International Zen Association)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flowing Water Never Goes Stale

"Flowing water never goes stale" is an old Chinese proverb.  This statement reflects many meanings.  The more we learn, the more we can advance.  We as humans change day to day, whether it be in mood or even on a cellular level.

The Buddha taught that we are not the person we were yesterday.  We learn, we grow, our body changes, our mind changes, etc.  Holding onto the past is attachment  to something that physically does not exist.  Ideas and attitudes are mere phenomena which hold no form. Attachment to ideas, attitudes, and expectations only creates more suffering.  When we don't get what want, what we think is right, what we think should happen, we get upset.  When something negative has happened in our past and we keep "going back" to it, that is also attachment.

The past is meant for reflection, not to be "lived-in."  It's already gone, forever.  We can definitely learn from the past, use those lessons in the present, and see what may manifest itself in the future.  A pond has many forms of algae and bacteria in it because it is stagnant. Our minds are very similar.  When we ponder and attach to things, we grow ideas and attachment, which to the mind are just as bad as bacteria and algae.  Keeping the mind fresh and moving within the moment is a way to avoid going stale and accumulating these "growths."

Even as a flowing stream encounters a rock or obstacle, it doesn't cease its movement.  Our minds and ourselves should act as such.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Than Just Compassion

The place I currently work at has me on a mixed schedule.  I often don't know when I'm supposed to show up for work, and sometimes (like the other day) I get up at 4 a.m. to show up at 5 a.m. (like my schedule says) and nobody is there.  So I go back home and receive a call informing me that I'm supposed to go in at 8.

This incident got me thinking as I sat in contemplation.  I was getting angry at my supervisors when I realized I should have compassion for them. Now the dictionary definition of compassion is: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.  Those who practice Buddhism know that "dictionary definitions" do not always pertain to the terms used in our practice. As such, I find that compassion has many more meanings.

To me, out of compassion comes sincerity, patience, acceptance, and unbiased love.  So practicing this compassion helped me accept the fact that even though I got up so early for work when I didn't need to, I was able to subdue my anger and frustration.

Dogen Zenji states that when we understand one aspect of practice, understanding of all other aspects will follow.  I believe compassion is a good example of this.  With reflection on what is causing our suffering, when we look at it with a compassionate mind, we are able to see the many sides of the cause of that suffering without bias.  We can accept, gain patience, and work out obstacles in a calm and more productive manner.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Inner-Peace and Happiness

A member of our Sangha asked a question which inspired me for this post.  "Do you think there is a difference between inner-peace and happiness?"

I believe there is a difference but they are definitely interconnected.  To me, happiness is an emotional response to conditions and events.  Inner-peace is a mindset (for lack of a better term) which allows us to accept conditions, whatever they may be, and can be the root for happiness.  The Buddha himself valued inner-peace above happiness.

With a clear mind and inner-peace we can accept suffering with less stress and figure out the root cause of it.  That lessening of stress inevitably leads to happiness.  Of course, we as humans aren't always happy.  We always have a desire for what "is best in our view."  Though through inner-peace, we can realize that we are able disregard what "is best in our view" by extinction of ego and desire.  Therefore, happiness ensues.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: Returning to Silence

Returning To Silence by Dainin Katagiri is a wonderful work for the beginner of Zen and the experienced alike.  It is somewhat of a guide book, one that can be referenced back to time and time again.

In this book, Katagiri Roshi gives many practical examples of applying Zen not only in sitting/Zazen/meditation, but also in our daily life.  Katagiri is of the Soto Zen tradition, so many of the practices lie around this.  But it is in no way any less beneficial to any Buddhist.  Consider it a handbook to the Buddhist mind if you will.

It covers everything from dualism, Zazen, poetry, art, life, and more.  I consider it invaluable addition to my library.  I highly recommend this book to beginners, those interested in what Zen is really about, and to the experienced Zen Buddhist.

I hope you give this book a chance.  It is jam-packed with wisdom and knowledge from an experienced Soto Zen priest.  Read a bio of Dainin Katagiri here.  My own teacher is in the lineage of his Dharma Transmission and is the honorary founder of Ryumonji Zen Monastery where I spend a lot of my learning time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Was Yoda a Zen Master?

I'm sure that I may not be the first to make this connection. Every time I hear the words of Yoda in a Star Wars film, I can connect them to some Buddhist or Taoist teaching.  Here are just a few:

“Do or do not... there is no try.”

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Luke: "What's in there?"  Yoda: "Only what you take with you.”

“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”

“Only the Dark Lord of the Sith knows of our weakness."

“Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned. Save you it can."

The "Dark Side" and "Sith/Vader" can represent Mara. The "Force" can represent the Tao. When I have these points in mind and read the quotes, I can see the correlation.  Just thought I'd share this little tid bit.  Enjoy the many lessons of Master Yoda. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eating Bitter

The phrase "Eating Bitter" is a term commonly used in China, particularly in practing Gung Fu or martial arts.  Its definition lies in the belief that through hard work and pain, success and strength are the result.  There is a Chinese proverb which states, "You cannot know sweetness until you have eaten bitterness."

Learning martial arts, especially in a traditional sense, is not easy.  The body and the mind are often pushed to limits which are quite uncomfortable.  The teacher may break you down to rebuild you into something new, and your body will be bruised, bleeding and sprained.  Through this we may know discipline and end up befriending it, learning from it, and using it in our daily life. Not unlike what the military does to us.

In Gung Fu and Taiji, the forms are meant to be "moving meditation," entering what is known by Buddhists as Samadhi. Samadhi is becoming one with the practice, focusing the entire mind on one thing.  This is not easy, but that's why it is a practice.  The martial arts, I understand, are not for everybody, but there are many lessons from the practice that can be applied to life.

We as people "eat bitter" often in our daily lives.  Our jobs may become intensely difficult, our home life may become stressful, and so forth.  We learn from suffering, and value the sweetness of the lesson.  Suffering brings enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Suffer Is To Practice

When I was taught that suffering and enlightenment are one in the same, it was hard for me to accept immediately.  I looked at it more deeply, over time realized how true it is.

Lotus Flowers
Everyone suffers daily.  To practice is how to handle the suffering, and work towards the end of that suffering.  I was listening to a Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, and he said, "Suffering is to enlightenment as mud is to the lotus flower.  Without suffering we cannot know enlightenment, without mud a lotus cannot bloom."  This makes sense why the lotus is such an icon and major symbol in Buddhism.

We can never truly stop suffering, it is a holy truth.  It's the manner in which we accept it and work with it that defines our practice.  From my own practice, much of my suffering stems from my desires and ego.  To each person it may be different in their practice.  This is also why enlightenment/Buddhism is a very personal experience and why the Buddha tells us to "Find our own light."

Having learned this personally, my practice has taken on more meaning.   To live is to suffer, to suffer is to practice, to practice is joy.  We are all enlightened beings and we all suffer. All we need is to practice with our lives to realize this and then we can know peace.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slow and Steady is the Way

In life, martial arts, Buddhism, anything, "slow and steady is the way."  This realization came to me from a friend teaching me the movements and philosophy of Taiji (Tai Chi).  He explained that the reason Taiji movements are so slow is to focus on the body movement and Qi (Chi) flow.  When you master the flow and movements in a slow manner, you can apply them in a martial aspect by speeding them up, making Taiji a very useful martial art and discipline.

Tranquility, Peace
But why not apply this so-called relaxed practice when practicing any martial art (i.e. Karate, Shaolin Kung Fu, Tang Soo Do, etc)?  This is what I have been doing for the past week or so. I have already felt a difference.  I feel the my movements are much more stable, form is held, and focus is totally centered.  Then when I speed up to "combat speed," my movements are much more accurate and powerful.

It doesn't stop at martial arts though.  What about meditating, or Buddhist practice?  We cannot rush enlightenment.  Our mind in meditation and practice is almost like our limbs when practicing martial arts.  The mind is a weapon but also a reservoir.  When we rush anything in life we feel exhausted, stressed, and incomplete.  But if we take things one breath at a time, focus on what we're doing, and don't rush for results, we very often will find the the outcome is much more rewarding and qualitative.

So I'd like to remind everybody (including myself), to breathe, center, and take things one step at a time.  Slow and steady truly is the Way.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Prayer and Zazen

It's commonly known among Buddhists that we don't worship a higher being.  For we are all a part of the universe and this is what the Buddha tells us.
I recently read a line from a great book titled "Returning to Silence" by Dainin Katagiri which opened my eyes to something.  Katagiri states:

"Though Buddhism doesn't seem to have prayer, it does have dhyana.
Dhyana means zazen (meditation), and dhyana is exactly the same as prayer."

How true is this? When we sit down and still our minds and hearts on the teaching of the Dharma, we are essentially asking for the truth from the Buddhas and the universe.  Katagiri Roshi goes on to say:

 "Buddhism is not a revealed religion [i.e. Christianity], but an awakened religion- it is awakening to the self or to the Truth."

So with that in mind, our mediation/sitting (whichever we prefer) is our own exploration into the universe and the Dharma.  Why do Buddhists meditate?  To reveal our minds to the Dharma and to reveal the Dharma to our minds.  With a compassionate heart and a still mind, we can see wit our "Buddha Eye."



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Practicing Without Ego

Why do we practice Buddhism?  To gain enlightenment, or find out the meaning of life?  The practice of Buddhism goes far beyond that.

What I mean by "practicing without ego" is to let go of any notion of ourselves. Our nature as humans is to expect rewards for our practices of compassion, devotion, and giving.  By expecting rewards, we are practicing with our ego and not the Dharma.  We always want something, which is why desire is described as a holy truth.  When we desire rewards or enlightenment, we only end up with more suffering because these are not given to us.

By practicing selflessly, and not being attached to the outcome, we can realize a feeling of liberation.  It's okay to feel good about helping others and devoting yourself, but in reality these feelings are truly empty.  Just practice and let go.  What comes along, comes along.  It's not always true that "what goes around, comes around."  Sometimes what goes around, never comes back.  Sometimes it comes back in a way opposite of what we wanted.  Want stems from desire, stemming from attatchment, stemming from ego (which leads to disappointment and suffering).

Do not expect anything, and let go of the ego.  
When you seek it, you cannot find it. -Zen proverb.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Return From the Monastery

In my previous post I had mentioned going on a retreat to a Zen monastery, specifically Ryumonji Zen Monastery.  I have recently returned home, with a whole sense of being.
I learned many things during my stay, (including but not limited to), things about myself, Zazen, and practice.  For lack of a better term, I found the "light" which I needed, not only for my practice, but also for myself.  The abbot was genuinely kind and compassionate.  Never before had I met a man who was so kind, understanding, and genuine.
Shoken/The Abbot (left) and myself (right)

So my returning marks the end of my hiatus from blogging, which I now plan to post more frequently.  Thanks to all of you who have been following me through my hiatus.

Here are a couple pictures of the monastery I took during my stay.   Gassho.
Ryumonji (left to right): Sodo/Sitting Hall, Hondo/Buddha Hall, Kuin/Dining and Dorms

View from courtyard

Entrance sign
Temple Bell

Friday, June 3, 2011

Maybe a Monk, Maybe Not

Ok, so I know in my last post I spoke about monastic life not being the way to go.  Well, with some discussions with loved ones and internal contemplation, that view may have changed.
In the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting a monastery for a couple of months, to see what it's like.
It definitely will not be easy.  Getting up at 4:30 am, meditating in 40 minute intervals four times a day, doing work, and constantly studying.  "Why am I doing this?," you may ask.
I need to make some serious changes in my life, and through inner contemplation, I feel this is very much needed.  Not a desire or want, just plain required.
So, (hoping they have Internet access), my future posts after June 15th may be form there.  If not, well, I will be back online after my stay.
Amituofo to all.
Ryumonji Zen Monastery

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Martial Arts, Buddhism, and Violence

Many associate martial artists with being violent.  This is so untrue.  True martial arts is a practice of self discipline and control.  As always, a true warrior can make a friend of an enemy.

So why would a peaceful Buddhist want to practice martial arts?  Well, there are a many factors.  Martial arts is a great way of teaching oneself self discipline, and training the mind.  When training the body, we also train the mind. Constantly focusing and being mindful of the body has many benefits not only in a martial aspect, but also of health.  The ultimate goal is achieving 'No-Mind."  Zen or mushin.

Martial arts, at an advanced level, incorporates the involvement of Qi or Ki.  The energy believed to be within us all, that also binds us all together.  Martial arts is an excellent way of focusing Qi (Chi), into various parts of the body for healing, balance, and strength. Being mindful of our bodies and our Qi gives us better communication with that "inner self," as well as others.

As far as action movies loaded with lots of violence, even involving martial arts, I'm not a fan.  Though I do collect rare Martial Arts movies from China and Japan, I tend to stick with the ones that have a good moral message or a message about training.

It is my hope that folks don't associate martial artists as violent people, (the ones who truly practic The Way), but rather as peaceful people who know when to act upon a situation when called for. Whether it be something as small as making a decision, or as important as saving your life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Martial Motivation

One of the best benefits I have gained from practicing martial arts is self motivation.  I'll be honest, in my early 20s, I hated working.  I called in all the time, didn't show up at all...you get the idea.

But since my martial training has become more serious in the last few years, I always find myself "testing myself, " to push through that laziness or lack of motivation.   And it really has paid off.  My current job is physically demanding.  Plus it's helping me with strength training, building muscle, and I'm secluded, so techniques can be practiced on my downtime. ;)

But why would practicing martial arts make you more self motivated?  Self Discipline. A true martial artist doesn't just practice when he's at the "dojo."  He tempers his mind and body daily, at every chance possible.  Whether it's against the rigors of daily life, the heavy bag, shadow boxing, or real confrontations (mental and physical).

The discipline of motivation doesn't only apply to work either.  It applies to the training itself, to the home, the family, anything really.  If one looks deep enough, virtually any activity can be used to train oneself, be it physically or mentally.  There are no waves without a wind.

The following video is of Shaolin monks training in a variety of techniques.  Enjoy.  Amituofo.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Post: Earth Hour

This post is by my wife who writes her own blog at Living In Iowa.

 I firmly believe that we all have a spiritual connection to the earth. When the Buddha sat under the bodi tree battling Mara to reach enlightenment, Mara asked him, “Who will be your witness?” The Buddha pointed to the earth and touched it and the earth shook. “The earth will be my witness,” he replied.
The earth is an integral and foundation part of our lives—without it, we are literally, nothing. A while back I was thinking about the impact I want to have on the earth. We have an almost automatic give and take relationship with the earth. Plants give oxygen that we take and breathe in. We breath out and give carbon dioxide that plants take and breathe in. Unfortunately, this original balance of give and take has been thrown out of kilter by or current industrialized society. While thinking about my impact on the earth during my lifetime, I realized that if I continue to live in the way I am, I will mostly certainly take far more from the earth than I give.

So, I decided it was time to make an attempt to restore the balance. There are sooooooo many things we can to do restore and rehabilitated the earth. What is most important is to start with your corner. How are you consuming products and energy? How can you reduce your consumption of goods and energy? How can you give back? 
I’ve figured out ways that I can give back in my neighborhood include gardening, composting, recycling, buying local foods, and utilizing bike trails. I also participated in earth hour this year. Earth Hour calls on individuals, businesses, communities and governments to commit to developing a habit that is a positive action for the planet. To celebrate that commitment with the people of the world, Earth Hour asks participants to switch off their lights and anything else plugged into an outlet (within reason) for one designated hour ever year.

This year Earth Hour was planned for March 26th at 8:30pm. My Earth Hour habit that I am committing myself to is "Killing my TV" or yanking out the cable and only using my TV set to watch DVD's. As of March 26th, my cable can take a hike, and so will I...OUTSIDE.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent for Rent

I'm not going to be contrasting or bashing other religions here, but the Catholic tradition of Lent is in progress right about this time. Giving up something for forty days.

So, giving up something which is not good for us, as well as spending time on "quiet reflection and contemplation".... don't we as Buddhists try to practice these same things everyday?  Well, nobody is perfect, we all have our vices, and if you were to be perfect, well...you'd be a Buddha.

Now, I respect the observation of Lent if you're going to give up something to totally rid your life of it (i.e. smoking, drinking, sexual misconduct, etc).  But many people I speak to often say, "I'm giving up chocolate" or "I'm giving up shopping" for forty days.  This kind of boggles me. Why only forty days?  Why wouldn't you want to give up a negative aspect of your life or character to get rid of it permanently?

Or better yet, practice "giving up" all year round from year to year?

 From Wiki:
"Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-2). He overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry. Jesus further said that his disciples should fast "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them" (Matthew 9:15), a reference to his Passion. Since, presumably, the Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians have traditionally fasted during the annual commemoration of his burial."

This passage reminds me very much of when Siddhartha  (The Buddha) was meditating under the Bodhi tree and being tempted by Mara.  And this biblical passage, I believe, is to teach those who faithfully follow Christ, to resist all things worldly, day to day, year to year.  As the passage from James 4:4 reads, "A friend of the world is an enemy to God."  (Speaking of all worldly things and desires).
So am I celebrating "Lent"?  Well, I try to everyday, resisting temptations and being mindful that the things I want may have consequences, and that everything is impermanent, so I don't really need anything at all.

In the end, why not use the time to better yourself, or better the world?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Many Manifestations of Kung Fu

I'm currently reading The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu, which I am enjoying throughly.  It gives a great background the the many forms of Kung Fu, or more respectively known as, quanfa, (q=ch, as in chanfa, art of the fist).  The book reminds me of a philosophy I once learned before.

Many people associate Kung Fu with high kicks, forms imitating animal behavior and two-finger handstands, though that's not at all what Kung Fu is about.  In fact, Kung Fu is almost a double standard.  When you tell people you "know Kung Fu" they will either ridicule you or think you can break bricks with your hands, though it's usually the former.

Many also associate Kung Fu with games like Mortal Kombat or Jackie Chan movies.  Though Jackie Chan is a master of Northern styles, there are over 1,000 styles of the art originating in China, differing from family traditions to regional traditions.  All of the forms of Quanfa have their origins from the Shaolin Monastery.

So, what really is Kung Fu?  Directly translated from Chinese, it means "perfection." Perfection of what? Perfection of you!  Kung Fu is more of a philosophy which derived from a martial art.

From your thoughts, your actions, to your relationships, Kung Fu is not just about punches, kicks, and back-flips.  It's a way of life, no different from the Japanese Bushido (Way of the Samurai).  Its philosophies derive from Buddhist and Taoist scriptures, and are in fact, very intertwined.

(And please don't assume all Buddhists or Taoists are martial artists and vise versa)

But why would a Buddhist or Taoist want to harm another through martial arts?  We don't want to.  Does a thorn from a rose not protect itself from those who want its blossom?  One of the laws of Shaolin monks is to NEVER kill.  We as humans can defend ourselves, but should never kill.  Martial arts are to be used to cease or subdue conflict, to bring peace.  The other reason of practicing the art is one of self preservation and self discipline.  Kung Fu is beneficial to health, longevity, cultivating Chi, and moral behavior.

Technically, you don't even have to be a martial artist to practice literal "Kung Fu."  Kung Fu can be in the writer, the painter, or the car mechanic.  It's ultimately about perfecting what you do and how you do it.  The martial artist, then, technically practices Quanfa, while utilizing the philosophy of Kung Fu.

So now you know the true meaning of Kung Fu/Gung Fu.  Below is a great interview with legendary Bruce Lee discussing some of these points:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Diamonds Are Forever

I have recently read the Diamond Sutra and it has taken my mind for a spin.  Not only does it discuss the Six Paramitas, but some other hefty stuff as well.

I'm gonna discuss the more hefty stuff in this post, like the arbitrary-ness of everything.  After reading this sutra, I don't even know if adjectives are relevant.  It expresses that everything is a phenomenon and that base-reality holds no ideals. Opinions and describing words or adjectives, are all arbitrary and based on Ego.

In absolute reality there is no ugly, no pretty, no bright, no dark. Everybody's opinion is different. These are all comparative words relating to the opinion of ego.

The Buddha tells us in The Diamond Sutra that all of these phenomena are merely expressions, and in absolute reality, these expressions are actually non-existent.  We, like all phenomena, are empty, and must realize this to cross to the other shore.

I believe this is the meaning of "being empty."  Disregarding ego and opinions. In doing so, we can truly see absolute reality. If we toss out bias and opinion, accept, and truly "empty our cup." This also gives rise to equanimity and loving everybody for who they are,  (which of course can be difficult sometimes).

It's not that we can't express our opinions, but we shouldn't hold onto them.  If we realize it's only phenomena and holds no substance, then we can see everything at its base, in absolute reality. Diamonds are the hardest and toughest substance, which have the ability to cut through any other substance.  We need to forge our minds in the way of a diamond to cut through illusion and that which is arbitrary, to view the universe and life in its true state; absolute.