Archive for the ‘zen’ Category

The strawberry story

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

There’s a famous zen story that you may have heard before. It’s a very old story. I’ll put a woman in it instead of a man, just because.

A woman is running from a tiger that’s chasing her. She runs through the woods until she gets to the edge of a cliff. The tiger is still behind her, so she climbs down a vine. The tiger reaches the top of the cliff and paces back and forth, licking its chops. Midway down the cliff, hanging onto the vine, she sees another tiger below her, pacing back and forth, licking its chops. As she’s hanging there, two mice come out and start gnawing on the vine. She tries to shoo them away, but they won’t go.  (more…)

Killing the sangha

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

standoutI stopped going to the zendo after my last post, and my Thursday depressions instantly ceased. I felt better for the next few weeks than I had in many months.

It saddens and disappoints me that this sangha didn’t work out for me, but once the depression lifted, I realized that of course I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was intimidated in the beginning, and I never got through that. I’m sure my discomfort was evident to anyone who looked at me. It’s not anyone’s job, as far as I know, to help people who seem to be struggling; maybe that’s not the case in other sanghas. I would’ve liked it if someone had at least tried. These are not bad or insincere people by any means. No community is perfect, and I didn’t expect this one to be. We just never reached each other.

Though I could wish I had quit a bit sooner, I am glad I didn’t give up on them right away. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much effort to put into something. (more…)

The least of the Three Treasures

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

1118619_jewellery_boxWhen you become a Buddhist, you “take refuge” in the Three Treasures: the Buddha, which is the Buddha, of course, but also Buddha-nature that’s in all of us; the dharma, which means your responsibilities, the stuff you have to do; and the sangha, which is the community of people practicing with you. It’s the sangha I have trouble with.

The sangha at this zendo were never very warm and welcoming, which I found reassuring at first. I was nervous enough about the whole thing and it was good not to feel like I had 100 or so brand new best friends, like it’s a cult or something. I assumed that we’d get to know one another and I’d eventually find some friends there.

And when that didn’t happen, I thought maybe I needed to keep going for a while before they trusted me. Even in the first few months I saw how many people show up just a few times, then disappear. It’s a tough discipline and doesn’t necessarily show any results right away, maybe not for years.

I tried to be friendly, but something just wasn’t working. Apart from the core group who were almost always there, I found it hard to tell who was brand new and who was a regular. A lot of people there don’t speak English very well, and were even more shy than I am. And I’m never quite sure what I’m allowed to talk about.


A brief word about karma

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Couldn't think of a way to illustrate this. So here's a Canada goose.I’m feeling much better, thanks. I love it that I have a way to take care of myself that doesn’t involve taking drugs.

I wanted to say a few words about karma, because it is a concept that comes up in Buddhism that is misunderstood by almost everybody. The word “karma” only means action or doing. There’s no connotation of cause and effect or cosmic retribution involved. It exacts no judgment on the choices we make. My being raped was my karma, as it was his to be the rapist, and my father’s to be an asshole about it. There’s no karmic responsibility or punishment, no great bureaucracy of karma meting out rewards for good behavior, in this life or the next. Karma isn’t something to believe in; it’s just a descriptive word for action. (more…)

The fear of death

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Niagara Falls is shunyata.We all fear death. Most people don’t even allow themselves to think about it, it’s so awful, even though it’s the one thing we are all guaranteed (even taxes are optional, after all). It’s this huge, dark, unknown thing, toward which we begin hurtling as soon as we’re born. Some people strongly believe that there’s an afterlife, heaven or another lifetime, or just floating around in cosmic bliss, but it seems to me that this is simply a way to stave off the great fear. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, not really. Not, anyway, to my satisfaction. It’s occurred to me that even science will probably never be able to tell us what lies on the other side of that wall.

Some people think we should be using science and medicine to prolong our lives for thousands of years, even make us immortal. That hunger for more experience, more books, more food, is what the mind does, and when you’ve been taught your whole life that that craving, a big part of the sensation of being alive, is your real self, of course you’re terrified of letting it go. Especially when no one can really promise you that anything better will happen at the end than that you will simply go out like a candle.


How to do zazen

Monday, April 20th, 2009

There are lots of guides out there on how to do zazen. I check out a few every once in a while, looking for tips or just to remind myself of all the different elements, and remind myself that I’m not an expert. This one isn’t bad, and has clear photos, but it’s best if you have someone in person to show you the basics. A person could write a book on how to do zazen, but it’s really not complicated.


Monkeys mind

Friday, March 27th, 2009
Adorable. And just waiting for a chance to break your concentration.

Adorable. And just waiting for a chance to break your concentration.

A sesshin is usually seven straight days of zazen. We start at 4 am and go till 10 or 11 pm, sitting zazen, doing kinhin, chanting. This is an amazing experience, by the way, one I highly recommend. During a 7-day sesshin, we have dokusan, or one-on-one meetings with Roshi, every day, and Roshi gives a teisho every other day.

Sometimes during teisho, Roshi will refer to something someone said to him during dokusan. He doesn’t identify the person, just mentions that someone said such-and-such, and it made him think of something he wanted to say to all of us. The first time I heard this, instantly my mind started to scheme: What can I say during dokusan that will make him mention it during teisho?


Equal footing

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

footprint in sand

Here’s one of my favorite Zen stories. No idea where I read/heard this.

There was a prince in India who heard about the Buddha and decided to become his student. Though he wasn’t used to difficulties of any kind, he gamely did his best to do what all the other followers did, putting himself on an equal footing with them.

This prince had been so spoiled, he had never had to do anything for himself – even walk. From lack of use, the soles of his feet grew fine, golden hairs. And even though he was in agony, he still did kinhin (walking meditation) every day.

One day the Buddha walked by and saw him limping back and forth. As the prince walked, he left bloody footprints on the ground from his delicate, unused feet.

“Hey,” Buddha said. “Knock it off. You don’t have to kill yourself over this. Trying too hard is just as bad as not trying hard enough.”


Here’s another version that I just found:

A monk named Sona in the Sitavana Monastery at Rajagriha was so zealous in walking that his feet left a bloody trail. The Buddha asked him if his lute could be played well if the strings were too tight or too loose. Just so, excessive zeal may make the mind weary and one’s thoughts irritable and uncertain. He suggested to Sona that gradual progress led to self-mastery and happiness rather than anxiety.

Some possible benefits to doing zazen…

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
A mourning dove, taking a break.

A mourning dove, taking a break.

Back when I first started going to the zendo, I had a funny experience.

I got to the zendo a bit early, as usual, settled onto a cushion and began zazen. I sat for maybe fifteen minutes before the opening bell rang, and we got up to do the first round of kinhin, or walking meditation. We walk in kind of a long, skinny oval, threading our way through the ground floor of a building that’s about as narrow as a New York building can be.


Why Zen?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Photo by markg6Absurdbeats asked, why Zen over other forms of Buddhism?

This one’s easy. In the following, understand that I’m talking about Buddhism mainly as seen in the US.

There are two basic kinds of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada. Mahayana means “Greater Vehicle” and is meant for everybody, including monastic and regular people. Theravada used to be called Hinayana by the Mahayanists, only the Theravadists didn’t like that, because it means “Smaller Vehicle.” I don’t think they meant it as an insult; they only meant that Theravada Buddhism was a practice meant for monks, for people willing to shut themselves away in a monastery and not engage fully in human life, e.g.,  marriage, family, working, etc. And oh yeah, women couldn’t join.