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September 2015 DharmaByte-Giving


In Buddhism, giving, or generosity, is called dana, a Sanskrit term that probably has many more connotations than we have space to deal with. Here, I would like to discuss that category of giving that has sometimes been called "repaying our debt to Buddha."

Now, Buddha was an ordinary human being. Okay, perhaps not so ordinary as you or I. My point is, in Zen, we do not worship the historical figure as a deity, or imagine that he is somehow watching to see if we appreciate the teachings he codified and handed down to us through successive generations of followers. Much less do we fantasize that if we do not do something tangible to reflect our gratitude for buddha-dharma, that we should feel guilty, or fear retribution.

No, Zen is not a religion of paranoia, or prosperity, for that matter. We neither expect to profit from our practice, nor are we attempting to avoid suffering in Zen.

But Zen practice exists, when and where it exists at all, in the real world. It is as subject to economic realities as is any other entity that exists, whether as a natural object, sentient or insentient; or a corporate entity, such as a 501c3.

To understand this is to embrace Matsuoka Roshi's strange aphorism that "The Zen person has no problem following the sidewalks." This means, I think, that if you are following the way of Zen, you do not stop short at the apparent barriers thrown up by the machinations of humankind, such as corporate organization, or the sidewalks in your neighborhood. Sidewalks provide dependable, durable footing, and relative safety alongside streets and thoroughfares of a city. But of course, they are also usually impermeable, and contribute to runoff and resultant flooding during rainy weather. So each such invention represents a compromise.

August 2015 DharmaByte


Last month’s Dharma Byte was titled “REALIZING Beginner’s Mind – Father’s Day June 21, 2015,” and ended with Matsuoka Roshi’s admonition that we should not give up on zazen too soon. Continuing my infatuation with the gerund, a verb form that acts as a noun in implying ongoing, never-ending action, I would like to focus our attention on “training,” another word that we tend to use casually and perhaps take for granted, never examining its deeper implications in Zen.

The longer you train in Zen, the more you come to appreciate that Master Dogen pretty much said it all, and as well as any other great Master, including the Chinese and Shakyamuni Buddha himself. This is why I do not agree with one of our former Disciple’s teachers, whom she quoted as saying, when she mentioned Zen, “Oh, Zen – too much Dogen; not enough Buddha.” To me, they both, in fact all of the Ancestors, speak with one voice.

In Fukanzazengi: Universal Promotion for Zazen, the first tract that Dogen committed to writing upon his return from China, he says (from our STO Service Book, current Soto Shu consensus translation – emphasis mine):

If you wish to realize Buddha’s wisdom, you should begin training immediately. Forsaking all delusive relationships, setting everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right or wrong. Thus stopping the function of your mind, give up even the idea of becoming a buddha; not only in zazen, but in all your daily actions.

So training in Zen means training the mind, but in reverse: training it to stop doing what it usually does, including conceptualizing any end result of zazen, such as becoming a buddha, which we might ordinarily consider our highest level of aspiration. So we are, in effect, un-training our mind; reversing the effect of our years of ordinary training, resulting from conventional education and cultural memes and mores. This is why Zen takes so long to have its deeper effect. These habits of thinking and over-thinking are deeply ingrained in our psyche.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 12 August 2015 12:47)


July Dharma Byte: Realizing Beginner's Mind

REALIZING Beginner’s Mind – Father’s Day June 21, 2015

This month’s one-day retreat (J. zazenkai) was held Saturday the 20th from 9 to 3 as usual; please watch for these each month and plan to attend. The subject was “Beginner’s Mind — the Zen Approach to Working with Mind.” We also recognized Father’s Day in passing, but did not dwell upon it, and we touched upon the depressing news of the day, which gets ample coverage in the media. It certainly raises the question of the Zen mind, and how we can maintain sanity and calm in the face of insanity and chaos all around us.

As a simple answer to the challenge we often hear, questioning whether Zen Buddhists just passively accept the horrors of the world in their nondualistic, absolutist worldview, I tried to make the point that Buddhism is not passive but active, and that meditation is the most we can do, as Matsuoka Roshi often pointed out, to engage reality. So the resolution is actually that proposed by the founder, Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Ancestors of the lineage. Those people around the world who are committing atrocities are primarily proponents of world views that are diametrically opposed to that of Zen. The central problem is the reification of the self and its belief systems, and the logical extension of enforcing them on others in the world. This is, of course, in the misguided belief that they will bring about the kind of world that their religion or philosophy envisions as ideal.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 01 July 2015 10:45)

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