There are great champions of the Dharma, the bodhisattvas we venerate such as Bodhidharma, Nagarjuna, Dogen Zenji, Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Kannon and the Dali Lama, to mention just a few. We too have the stuff of great champions of the Dharma. The foundation of great practice-realization is the same for all of us.
To say one should “stay on their side of the net, getting our act together and accepting responsibility” is our path in a nutshell. Dogen wrote in Genjo Koan, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.” Practice begins on our side of the net. It begins by transformation of the self not the other.
We begin with ourselves, by investigating the nature of self, the nature of our own life. We study how it is to bring forth the Buddha Way within the unique context of our experience. Transformation can only begin when we take responsibility for our mind, thoughts, speech and action. We start where we are looking at what it is to live our life as it is, not an idea we have about how our life should be.
We start with the aspiration to be bodhisattvas. Then, entering into the Bodhisattva Way, we realize that we are the only ones who can actualize that vow. We accept the responsibility. We accept that our decision to practice the Dharma has the consequence that we must squarely face our life moment after moment.
Each hit of the ball, each response is practice-realization. Practice-realization is enacted as each moment of our life engages all of life. Even if we are unaware, those decisions reverberate in our life. Furthermore, our life is not just “our life”, it includes the life of all being. The life of each being is my life and my life is the life of each being. This is the profound, interconnected, vital pulse of all of reality arising simultaneously.
Our decision to enact practice-realization is accepting responsibility and making a vow. Our vow, while difficult and at times disconcerting to the small self, is taken joyously. We do not have to become burdened, but lightened by the joy of rejoining the vital quick of life. We become motivated and energized to see this practice realized in each wave as it rolls into the shore.
Billie Jean King continued, “All I had to do was get the ball over.” She is talking about the final points of her winning match against Bobbie Riggs. “Getting the ball over” is the culmination of all of her training and her life up to that point. Yet she is not focused on history, she is focused on just the moment of hitting the ball. Her focus is not intellectual; it is the completely surrendered body and mind. It is, to use Buddhist language, her Buddha-nature freed by her previous effort to come forth and respond appropriately to the moment.
Getting the ball over is the everyday activity of a Buddhist practitioner. Nothing special, just going to work, taking care of the baby, buying groceries. You might think practice-realization requires a special place for its enactment, but this is not so. Our practice-realization happens wherever we are. We don’t have to go or do anything special. We have to change our view of each moment from the small mind of selfishness to the larger mind of including everything.
When Billie Jean King hit her winning shot it was the culmination of all her effort up to that point. And that shot continues, as do all the shots, endlessly throughout time and space. Yet, it was just another ball hit over the net. It was the everyday activity of her life as a tennis professional and champion. This attention to each moment makes that moment successful. This is also true of practice.
Her activity and vow to win was the motivation she needed. This is also true for us. We are motivated by the Bodhisattva Vow to do our best to wake up. Each moment that we are able to respond with a bodhisattva’s mind; we bring ease to our self and others. In Buddhist practice this is realization; this is the winning point. It goes on endlessly as we strive to live each moment.
Her comment on the difficulties of following through with the match is “you have to finish. It’s so hard to finish anything in life.” We must stay put, available for whatever life hits to us. We are poised, not to pounce, but to respond as best we can. Our response, ability and willingness to bring our practice forward is the finish. This is the Bodhisattva’s Vow, the Champion’s Way.
Rev. Shinshu Roberts, Ocean Gate Zen Center
Inspired by the story of Never Disparaging in the Lotus Sutra, Greg Fain and Ben Gustin, while in retreat at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery, were inspired to write a song based on the story of Never Disparaging called “Our Hero.”
The first verse is “There’s a book called the Lotus Sutra, you really oughta know about. A holy book that has the power to remove all fear and doubt. And this book tells the story of a man who means the world to me, who could just as well be a woman if not for male hegemony. They call him the Bodhisattva Never Disparage, or the Bodhisattva Never Despise. And I’m makin’ it my life’s ambition to see the world through his pure eyes.” The chorus is: “I would never disparage you or keep you at arm’s length. Where you only see your weaknesses, I only see your strength. I would never despise you or put you down in any way. Because it’s clear to me, I can plainly see, you’ll be a buddha someday. I love you.”
Alan Senauke has recorded this song on his album “Everything is Broken: songs about things as they are,” released this year (http://www.clearviewproject.org/). He and Jon Stolle sang this song at the Ocean Gate Benefit Concert (April 13th) last night. Alan and Jon had graciously offered to help Ocean Gate by coming to Santa Cruz and giving a concert we called ”Bluegrass, Blues and Buddha.”
What is the lesson of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging? Never Disparaging was not always well received, but his practice was sincere and his heart big. He would just run up to people and say “I would never disparage you, because you are certain to attain Buddhahood.” To be honest, he was a little annoying and people were not always receptive to his message. Yet he never gave up. He would just back up out of harm’s way and repeat his affirmation. Sometimes people were quite adamant about their rejection of his message, but he never returned their anger with anger. He responded with patience and generosity.
The point is not that we should necessarily run up to people and tell them they are buddha, but that we should practice affirmation of self and others, patience and generosity. Dogen Zenji, the 13th century founder of Soto Zen, taught what he called practice-realization. This is all one word. Our practice, the things we do to cultivate our wisdom and compassion, and the motivation for that practice are the same thing. We are motivated by our buddha-ness, our true nature or our big mind. When this is our motivation, although we might miss the mark, we are engaged in wholesome affirming actions.
Never Disparaging was not always skillful in his enthusiasm for the Dharma, but his intention and effort were strong. Like Never Disparaging we want to cultivate a good will that helps us to affirm the effort of others. Later when Never Disparaging became enlightened, all those people wanted to be his student. He never reminded them of their previous animosity toward him, he just met them where they were and was happy to help them as best he could. This is the generous mind of a buddha at work.
Even when we make mistakes, or when someone is a problem for us, we should never forget our own and the other person’s inherent buddha-ness. When we do this, our mind will become a mind of equanimity and wisdom. Cultivating generosity and gratitude will always stand us in good stead. Never Disparaging is a heartening story of one man’s difficulties and how he persevered with his effort in practice.
We do not want to disparage ourselves or others, but to try to realize each other’s effort in this saha-world of being human: being foolish human beings. We are all groping around in the dark and we hope that other will help light our way, as we might light the way for others.
Join us for a Buddhist Bluegrass musical celebration and fundraiser for Ocean Gate on Friday, April 12, 7 p.m. at the Pacific Cultural Center. Donation: $15-$20. Cash or check only, please. 1307 Seabright Avenue. More info on our events calendar.
“Jon Sholle is one of the most under-rated guitarists on the planet!” Flatpicking Magazine
“Senauke’s ‘Wooden Man’…is one of the most satisfying old-time recordings to skid across my CD player in at least a year.” Pow-r Pickin Magazine
Jon Sholle has played and recorded with many artists including Bob Dylan, Melissa Manchester and Esther Phillips. Jon’s recording include “Catfish for Supper” and “Out of the Frying Pan.” Former editor of Sing Out, Alan Senauke has toured widely and his recording include “Wooden Man” and “Everything is Broken: Songs About Things As They Are.” The joy of their 50 years musical partnership and friendship comes through in their performance.
Both Jon and Alan are long time Buddhist practitioners; Alan is ordained in the Soto Zen lineage. Alan Senauke is the co-abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center, and author and activist. Alan is on of the people responsible for bring socially engaged Buddhism to the forefront as former director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and founder of the ClearView Project. He is author of The Bodhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines.”
Mallard spoke up first at an evening meeting and said, “When I’m traveling, I find it difficult to do zazen without the support from the community. As often as not, I end up not doing it.”
Raven said, “Sit with the stones.”
From Zen Master Raven by Robert Aitken Roshi
Mallard is voicing a common problem we have…it is difficult for us to do something without the support of the group. You can read this as a metaphor for whatever it is in your life that you don’t do because no one looking or helping you. There is nothing wrong with relying on the effort of others to support our practice, but what do we do when the others are not around? What do we do when others don’t meet our expectations? Our effort and vow is that we do this thing or meet this situation anyway.
We don’t always do what is skillful or helpful because it requires some effort on our part and no one will know one way or the other if we have done it.
This also goes the other way too. These are all the times we engage in our life in a wholesome way regardless of who knows. We do this because it feels right even if it takes some effort to make it happen.
Sit with the stones means that all of reality is watching and waiting for us to join in the dance of this life. Dancing means hearing the music of the rocks, and like the ‘stone women’ we get up and join in. Dancing means understanding all of life as a partner and seeing this partner. It is knowing our partners are the trees, stones, dolphins, air and humanity. When we can do this our effort is supported by the whole universe. Waiting…waiting for us to catch up. Can we come out and play? Can we learn the steps? Ask the stones.
Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This means that the cycle of days will grow longer and the nights shorter, beginning the renewal of the year to come. Of all the things that have happened in 2012, perhaps one of the most poignant and perplexing is the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. What does Buddhism say in response to this event?
In Buddhism there is no guarantee that we will go through life without suffering. The Buddha’s first Noble Truth is ‘in this world, there is suffering.’ Much of his teaching was about how we live in an imperfect world in such a way that we alleviate suffering for ourselves and others. Our practice is to be the antidote to suffering, by living a life of sanity, generosity and compassionate wisdom. When we take on this practice we are plopped down right in the middle of life, which can be messy. Our activity includes everything, even the parts we don’t like or find painful.
By deeply exploring the nature of our life as a force for good, we do make a difference. This is why it is so important to pay attention to how we respond to difficult situations in our daily life. Our practice and realized response is predicated upon the situations life offers. These events – pleasant and unpleasant – are the source of our wisdom and compassion. They are the activity of our life. Right now, in this time in our history, in this very moment, our task is to realize goodness, to the best of our ability. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed. But we must never lose faith that our actions make a difference.
This is why we are here. This is the activity of a buddha. May we all go forward and find generosity toward others and toward ourselves in the faith that we too can be a source of healing. In these difficult times we can each help by relating to each other with generosity. Generosity includes patience when times are hard or with people who do not share our views.
Jaku and I hope that each of you enjoys the holidays. I urge you to reflect upon the meaning of the darkest night transforming into the morning star.
Best wishes, Shinshu
Whole body like a mouth, hanging in space;
Not asking if the wind is east, west, south, or north,
For all others equally, it chatters wisdom;
Chin Ten Ton Ryan Chin Ten Ton.
The last line is meant to be the sound of a Wind Bell ringing. The quote is from Dogen’s Shobogenzo and he is quoting his Chinese master Tendo Nyojo.
Shinshu’s commentary: Ideally we are completely open and present like the ‘whole body hanging in space’. This space is the all of our experience and all of life experienced, right now. There is not separation between ourselves and our life and the life of others. Our total participation is like the bell that does not discriminate between the breeze’s direction. This willingness and ability to understand the world and our relationships as a sutra teaching us without discrimination, is the wind bell’s gift. When we understand all of life is a buddha’s life, then we respond to each situation with skillful means and wisdom. The sound may be ‘chin ten, ton ryan chin ten ton’, or it might be ‘yes, please’ or ‘no, I don’t think so.’ There is no right or wrong answer in the abstract, only the appropriate response to each moment. How do we understand this?
Shinshu’s comment: Even if you are not Buddhist there is much wisdom here. Dogen offers us a guide for how to approach our life in such a way that it benefits not just ourselves but others as well. That is the Buddha’s truth. How do we approach this endeavor or anything that is worth doing? We must practice. We must do it. Dogen teaches that this is how we engage our buddha mind. We cannot experience this truth without first making the vow or intention to work on our life and secondly, we must follow through with our actions.
Only if we make effort with our mind, heart and bodies will we find this truth. Dogen equates the mind with intellect, heart and wisdom. These are the elements we bring to our effort. We bring our discerning mind, we bring our sincere heart and we bring all the wisdom we already have. When we do this, we will find that we are able to approach our lives in such a way that we feel each moment is a moment of practice.
We look to those who have come before us and who have exhibited wisdom, sincerity, and heart. We see how their lives have benefited ourselves and others and we follow in their footsteps until we find our own expression of this truth.
It doesn’t matter if those ancestors were Buddhist, what matters is that they lived in such a way that we can look to them as exemplars of a beneficial life. Who are our ancestors? Some, for sure, are famous: Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Gandhi to name a few. Some are our fathers, mothers, sisters, co-workers and friends. By following the wisdom of people in the past and the present, we will go forth learning and practicing this great gift of beneficial action. That’s our effort: to full engage our mind and body in practice and to be guided by the wisdom of those who proceed us.
Ryokan stayed with us for a couple of days. A peaceful atmosphere filled our house, and everyone became harmonious. This atmosphere remained for some days even after he left. As soon as I started talking with him, I realized that my heart had become pure. He did not explain Zen or other Buddhist scriptures, nor did he encourage wholesome actions. He would burn firewood in the kitchen or sit in meditation in our living room. He did not talk about literature or ethics. He was indescribably relaxed. He taught others only by his presence.”
From a new book by by Kaz Tanahashi called “Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan. Ryokan, a Japanese Zen master, lived from 1756-1831.
When I read this excerpt from the book, I though how wonderful it is to just live our understanding without needing to prove anything to anyone about what we know. Neither does he feel the need to tell others anything about his opinions or understanding. He helped in the kitchen by stoking the wood stove, he meditated quietly without making a fuss. He did not try to impress anyone with his understanding of literature nor did he spout off about ethics. He just appeared as himself totally relaxed. Although it is not explicitly said, he must have also had a generous heart toward his hosts. If he had not, they would not have felt peace and Kera (who relates the story) would not have felt a pure heart. This is such a lesson for all of us about how to be skillfully present and integrated with life as it is. Nothing special and nothing extra. This is so difficult to do, yet Ryokan’s relaxed generous presence brought ease in the midst of the simplest of everyday activities.
Ocean Gate Zen Center celebrated the offering of food, incense and sweet tea to our ancestral hungry ghosts last night (Oct. 30th) during our annual Segaki Ceremony. In Japan this is a mid-summer ceremony associated with O-bon. O-bon honors the Buddha and the Segaki Ceremony is to call forth the family ancestors to offer peace and sustenance for whatever suffering may be occurring.
In the United States Buddhist community we have transplanted the Segaki ceremony onto Halloween or All Hallows Eve on Oct. 31st. Not surprisingly, the two ceremonies have a similar purpose: to bring peace to suffering spirits. All Hallows Eve seems to have taken the majority of its characteristics from an ancient Celtic celebration called the Samhain Festival.
At Samhain, ancestors are welcome into the human world again and places are set for them at the dinner table. In this very concrete way, offerings are made of food and good will. During this time children would go from door to door receiving gifts of food.
In 835 Pope Gregory moved the All Saints Day from May 13th to Nov. 1st on the Christian calendar. During All Saints Day church bells were rung to sooth the souls in purgatory. Cakes called Soul Cakes were baked and given to children who came door-to-door begging for them, perhaps reenacting the soul’s desire for redemption.
In all of these various events across cultures, we venerate those ancestors who precede us and wish them peace and salvation through offerings of food and comfort. During Ocean Gate’s Segaki Ceremony we begin by drawing pictures of hungry ghosts (Gakis, whose stomachs are bloated in starvation, but their necks are too small to receive nourishment.) and hang them on the walls. Then we call for the spirits with noise makers and chanting. Finally we offer them food, sweet tea, water, flowers and incense and chant for their well-being.
How fitting during this time of transition from Fall to Winter, when for many storms come and the light wanes, we acknowledge and bring forth the mental suffering that might lie in the shadows that come forth in the winter of our suffering. Winter can arrive at any time and our healing comes from bringing our difficulties into the light through our offerings of good will. It is this good will toward the self and others that enables us to find the courage needed for transformation. Let us remember this great truth of Buddha’s compassion as we go forth into the holidays.
On September 6th, I went to the ground breaking ceremony for Tempyozan Monastery near Lower Lake, CA. The Tempyozan Zendo Project is the culmination of a dream of Rev. Gengo Akiba, former representative of the Japanese Soto School of Japan and current Abbot of the Kojin-an Zendo in Oakland, CA. That’s him on the left in the picture.
In Japan, carpenters are building 5 traditional monastic buildings which will be disassembled, shipped to the United States and reassembled in the spring of 2013. Its completion will be a time of great excitement in both the Japanese and American Soto Zen communities. Rev. Akiba anticipates the monastery’s first training period sometime in 2015.
While it is true that this completed project will be a grand affair, it began as an idea, a dream and as we see in this picture a small mound of dirt in the center of four small saplings. This reminded me of the koan “The World Honored One Points to the Ground”, case 4 from The Book of Serenity. The story is simple. The Buddha was walking with his students. He stopped and pointed to the ground and said “This spot would be a good place to build a temple (or a monastery).” The God Indra, who was tagging along, stuck a blade of grass in the ground and declared, “The temple is built.” The Buddha smiled.
These are the daily occurrences of life, if we choose to recognize that each thing or being is a temple or a buddha. In the case of the Tempyozan Zendo there was a ceremony with incense, colorful robes and bells. In the case of our daily life, it is a breath taken or a hand gently extended. To recognize this truth of each moment is to plant that single blade of grass over and over again.
What makes this act of placing a blade of grass a temple is not the Buddha’s presence or that Indra chose that particular blade of grass. Rather, in that moment, Indra understood that nothing is lacking. When nothing is absent in our life we are always present for the sacred manifesting in the ordinary. When nothing is lacking, nothing is rejected. This is what is called Big Mind or making a temple from a blade of grass.
If we are confused about this matter, we might think that the Buddha was suggesting his students build a huge monument where he was pointing. The beauty of the koan is that Indra was able to meet the Buddha mind/heart to mind/heart and immediately insert a blade of grass in the ground. The Buddha smiled. In this moment the temple was built; the teachings transmitted; compassion and wisdom reaffirmed. We long for this kind of connect with our life. That connect is never absent, yet we have to make an effort to turn toward it, to re-member our true situation. This is the meaning of awakening and actualizing the ordinary in each moment as a refuge for ourselves and others.
Rev. Shinshu Roberts