Weekly Quotation

Finding the Time

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

cropped weed by driveway

To someone who is busy, taking time to view flowers is seen as waste of time. If you go and look, though, you think “Oh, how beautiful!” This is what it means to be abundant and supple. If you don’t have ‘waste’ in your life, your life will not be supple. …I see ‘waste’ and ‘cracks of space’ are very important. It’s important for the mind to work well. Children try to create abundance and suppleness. It is important to allow this. Our hearts will become a desert if we don’t have suppleness. Nature teachers that we need water to survive. Nature is like reading a sutra. Gyokko Sensei from Paula Arai’s book Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals.

Shinshu’s commentary: I hear this wisdom a lot at Ocean Gate Zen Center; I think we all understand the importance of stopping, creating space and gratitude. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to ‘find the time.’ Finding time and wasting time are sometimes lumped together as they are in this quotation. We want to find the time. As the time passes, we forget the time of taking time. This is unfortunate. If we just make time and stop our forward progress, we see what is right in front of us. When we are rushing to the car to get to work, we might stop, just for a second, and smell that cup of coffee we are carrying. Or we might feel the softness of our child’s hand. Or we may notice the beauty of a weed growing next to the driveway…or a flower. Just for a second. Just for a moment. In that moment, our heart becomes lighter; we are opened and more flexible. This is the sutra of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha ringing clearly in the morning air. Can we stop and hear it?

Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean —–
The one who has flung herself out of the grass,
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and own…
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do not know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

 By Mary Oliver, called “The Summer Day”

Commentary: First we engage in deep inquiry. What is this? Then we look at this particular being and investigate further. We can only answer this question in relationship to our life, as it is. This is not abstract. What is this grasshopper? This grasshopper. Clearly she does know how to pay attention. How often we do not credit ourselves with our own wisdom. What do you plan to do? In this moment and the next. With this life, this grounded presencing of you and everything? Oh, what a wild and precious life! In this moment. In this email. Connection. How wild and precious. How precious. How wild.

Thank-you. Please have a good week, Shinshu

Seeking What Is

Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s a quotation from a poem by Hakuin called The Song of Meditation. You can Google this and find the complete poem online.


Not knowing it is near, they seek it afar. What a pity! It is like one in the water who cries out for thirst; It is like the child of a rich house who has strayed away among the poor.

This poem refers to our essential nature, which is always present. It cannot be otherwise because the “it” is just reality which includes everything. This is Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is the simultaneous arising of everything which makes the world. When we are lost and seeking something called enlightenment, this is our true nature asking to be released from delusion or suffering. That true nature is, as Dogen said in Bussho (“Buddha-nature”), “all beings are Buddha-nature.” Since this is our true nature, how can we go looking for it outside of ourselves? Zen Master Jiju Kennett wrote a book called “Selling Water By the River: A Manual of Zen Training.” Her point was that the teachings were like selling a person what they already have. Yet, this is not the whole truth, because although we are looking for what we already are, we cannot find it without help. We are like the child who is already endowed with riches, who thinks themselves in poverty.


When this “thing” called enlightenment is attained, it is the realignment of our understanding about our place in this world. We go from thinking we are separate and fearful, to realizing that we are part of a large whole called “just this.” “Just this” is everyday life. Yet, knowing this does not necessarily mean that we will suddenly understand and actualize our situation. Morality, skillful means, wisdom, compassion, empathy and all the virtuous things we are, come from knowing our interconnected, interpenetrating state as Buddha-nature. Yet, when I tell you that, you will not necessarily  respond with those qualities. So, how do we find or realize our true nature? That’s a tough question we’d all like an answer to. Buddhism answers that we rely on the teachings, the teacher, and our spiritual community. This also takes the form of meditation (zazen), service and community. We must engage with the teachings in order to enact the teaching. We have to find a teacher and a community to work with and even then it may take  quite some time. So our effort has to be patient, yet steady. This is a very interactive process. It is also a personal process, because we are each different. It is a universal process because we are all one true nature.


I encourage you to find a teacher if you do not have one. Find a community and find a path. No matter what you decide to do, once you have found your place stick with it. Find your true home.


May you have a wonderful week, Shinshu

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment

HIkersA member of our sangha is getting ready to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. At their suggestion I read a book called “I Promise Not to Suffer” by Gail D. Storey. She and her husband (a hospice and palliative care doctor) hiked the trail from the most southern boundary of California to Canada. The book is about their experience. Last week I quoted Dogen’s question “Is there anything missing or not?” On Tuesday we discussed how we can both have difficulties and feel a deep connection (nothing missing) with this life. In that spirit I offer this quotation from Gail Storey’s book.


“I have a hunger to hike the whole trail” , Porter (Gail’s husband asked her), “It’s been growing in me for years, intensified by the work with people living their dying. But what keeps you going?” [Gail writes] For once I was at a loss for words. What wanted me out here? Not my body, it was falling apart. Not my thoughts, alternately confident and doubtful. Certainly not my emotions, unreliable in their swings from high to low. I wanted to be with Porter, yes, but even more, I felt inseparable now from the vast green and blue and white of the wilderness. I looked out on the lake, shimmering under the moon. I was as sturdy as the trees. I flowed over obstacles like water over rocks. I was as solid as the mountains, as clear as the sky. The wind blew through my heart. I was what knew the wind. What knew the world was here in me, pulsing in the trees, water, rocks, mountains, moon.


Dogen’s experience and Gail Storey’s experience are the direct actualization of buddha nature. We and all beings make the world, are the world, are essentially the same. She knew the true of this, at the moment, of her saying it. It didn’t change her tired body, or her confused mind. But, it did completely change her experience as a life lived. It is her life, living her life, with all beings: trees, water, rocks, mountains, moon and that of her husband Porter, the reader and everything seen and unseen. She carried this awakening mind even after she left the trail because her body was not strong enough to continue. In the midst of her suffering; she carries a deep connection. This family tie with life shifts the paradigm of how we think about our problems. This is one of the things we are trying to understand in Buddhist practice.


Best wishes, Shinshu

Authentic Zen, Ordinary Life

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

oxherding picture 5Zen teacher Daijaku Judith Kinst will lead a 6 week series of classes on Soto Zen practice and the foundational teachings that support and shape it. We will explore what is unique about the practice of zazen, and how Zen practice is expressed in our daily activities, in forms and rituals, in our relationship with others and in the world in which we live. We will cover basic teachings such as interdependence, Buddha Nature, self and no self, and the Bodhisattva path as well as the role of faith and fearless questioning.

Rev. Daijaku Judith Kinst Ph.D. was ordained a priest in 1988, is a teacher in the Soto Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki and is also a professor of Buddhism at the Institute of Buddhist Studies/Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley California. She has taught and led retreats in a variety of settings including Gampo Abbey with the Venerable Pema Chodron.  She is an experienced and down to earth teacher who able to make the teachings and practice of Soto Zen accessible and relevant to everyone.


Great Champions

Posted by on Sep 22, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Billie Jean

Great champions win by staying on their side of the net, getting their own act together and accepting responsibility. Every decision in life has a consequence, just like every ball I hit has a consequence. I was totally motivated. All I had to do was get the ball over the net. You have to finish. It’s so hard to finish anything in life. Billie Jean King

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





Bodhisattva Never Disparaging

Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Lotus Sutra assembly

At this time there was a Bodhisattva monk named Never Disparaging. Now, for what reason was he named Never Disparaging? This monk, whatever persons he happen to meet, would bow down to them and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I would never disparage you, because you are certain to attain Buddhahood!” The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 20 “The Bodhisattva Never Disparaging

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.

Bluegrass, Blues and Buddha

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment

concertposterhorzJoin 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 OutAlan 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.”

See Alan’s website at http://www.clearviewproject.org/ and Jon Sholle at http://www.jonsholle.com/

Sitting With the Stones

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

jap rock garden


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.


An Antidote to Suffering

Posted by on Dec 27, 2012 in Blog | 2 comments

plum blossoms

“Plum blossoms overcome the suffering cold Giving off pure fragrance.” Japanese poem





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

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