If Enlightenment is possible here and now and in this lifetime regardless of prior knowledge or practice, the question remains whether Enlightenment happens by grasping it or by letting it go. Zen Master Dogen, in speaking to his assembly during the celebration of the Enlightenment of the Buddha tells us that there are two causes and conditions for accomplishing the Buddha Way.
Approaching the varieties of religious expression and trying to make sense of them can be daunting to the casual observer. The World’s Religions are a peacock’s feathers display of color. There are differences in language, ceremony, and religious attire, as well as customs and histories making it all very confusing.
Many are familiar with the yin-yang symbol, but few of us know what it means or how it is applied to real life. In Zen Master Dogen’s time this symbol was taken for granted. Not just Dogen Zenji, but all of Japanese culture connects the solstice with the yin-yang energy that fluctuates depending on the time of year.
Is your head on fire? I’m guessing it is not. However, do you really want to end your suffering here and now? I’m guessing you do, but generally we don’t believe it can be done and we may end up settling for coping with suffering. Meanwhile, the happiness of the present moment continues to elude us.
Enlightenment is none other than recognizing the unity of opposites. However, this definition is totally intellectual, and doesn’t necessarily connect Enlightenment with anything real or concrete. Intellect needs to be connected with the physical body, with actually doing something in a particular way, through a proscribed form. Freedom is not found through intellectualizing Zen practice nor in thinking it can be found outside the forms that practice takes.
In the United States there is a cultural idea born in part by early commentators, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, on the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddhist Sutras that meditation is about control, that this control requires one’s own individual efforts alone, and one will eventually experience peace if practiced for long enough. These ideas are fine but can be misleading when taken out of context.
Sawaki Kodo Roshi, a 20th century Japanese Zen Master, talked about Zen as the “Study of loss.” What I like about this is how unappealing this sounds on the surface. In a culture that values unending growth and gain, who wants to study about loss? Kodo Roshi, in fact, says in Japanese, “Son wa toku, toku wa son” = “Loss is gain and gain is loss.”
Improvement or “transformation” modes of practice have their merit and may be viable for us in some ways and at some times. I genuinely respect these approaches. However, Soto Zen meditation is different from other schools of Buddhism, Hinduism and secular meditation in an important respect.
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking meditation is going to do something for them, make them calmer or happier. There has been loads of research on how meditation does that. But without adequate preparation it really just gets us in touch with our own misery. This is why I suggest asking not what your meditation practice can do for you, but what you can do for your meditation practice.
The contents of this lecture are difficult and challenging to many if not all of us. The point of this article is not to shame people for eating meat, nor to make people become vegan, but to offer encouragement to lessen meat consumption – even by one meal a week or month – and to draw awareness to the intimate connection between the humane treatment of animals and the humane treatment of human beings.
With the rise of recent hate crimes targeting the Asian American community I feel it necessary to share my love, appreciation and dedication to the people that have fed me spiritually for the last 30 years. American Zen is indebted to countless Japanese Americans, Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, Tibetan-Americans and Indian-Americans who have over the past two centuries brought with them the spiritual teachings from their lands of origin.
Refuge in the Buddha & Christ, Dharma & Divinity, Sangha & Church.
Wisdom taught, reality touched, community of nobility recognized.
All because of a thousand bites from a toothless dog.
A Robert Johnson crossroads dilemma, perhaps, has been reached or may soon come for many that could result in a slipping back into the reestablishment of our habitual definition of community as “us” and “them” or “it”. A definition fed by decades of illusionary support and planetary sustenance. Or it could lead onto an entirely different path. A path that is unknown and feels difficult and scary, but when done as a community may result in worldwide rewards. Like a flock of birds can we turn in mass in the direction of the “World of We”? Let’s take flight and gather in our common unity, hold on tightly, and lean into it time and time again.
Today, we see and hear the searing pain and anger of Black people, who have endured centuries of oppression in the United States and who, as a community, continue to suffer acts of violence and discrimination, including at the hands of law enforcement. We grieve the disproportionate number of people of color who have died of the coronavirus, and see that many people of color performing essential functions of society are undervalued and oppressed economically.
A prejudice mind is one that is experiencing fluctuations. It is the opposite of steady. When our mind is not steady, we know we are not seeing reality as it is. But this insight into our fluctuating mind only comes if we have a practice well established. Otherwise, we filter what we perceive through our confused senses as reality. We think what we are seeing is real, when in fact we are mistaking a distortion for reality.
Not every teaching the Buddha gave had universal application. Some of it was meant only for certain people, and in certain times. The Buddha was primarily concerned with helping others to wake up to the reality of suffering and in providing practitioners with the means to liberate themselves from suffering. All of the stories in the Pali Cannon were offered on specific occasions and at specific times and were in response to the needs of individuals or the community at that time.
I was struggling with the fact that altars in my mind always had crosses on them, not Buddhas. When I approached altars in church, it was a sacred event, and it was almost always to receive the Eucharist from a priest, and to say a prayer to Jesus. Would God punish me for getting this close to a Buddha statue and a Buddhist priest? When I look back on this event today, it’s a totally ridiculous question to me now, but at that moment my fears were real and stemmed from teachings about not worshiping idols.
The rocks, stones, pebbles and boulders found in the water are colorful and of all shapes and sizes. It’s like artwork made from the Universe.
The Bodhisattva vow, which many have taken when they received the 16 precepts, includes the vow to return again and again to this world until all beings attain Enlightenment. The underlying assumption is that Enlightenment, Nirvana and no rebirth is an aim of Buddhism. Zen Master Dogen’s phrase, “practice and Enlightenment are one” (修証一如), is a later development in Buddhism which merges the means with the ends. So, in one sense, concerning our self with rebirth is not necessary. However, even Zen Master Dogen talks about rebirth: “In ten thousand kalpas and thousands of lives, how many times are we born and how many times do we die? This cycle of lives is samsara [suffering], caused only by blind clinging to worldly affairs.”