Archive | June 2013

Not Following Words

Master Dogen said, “Cease from the practice of intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backwards step that turns your light inward to illuminate yourself. Body and mind of themselves will drop away and your original face will be manifested. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay. Cease all movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no design on becoming a buddha. Zazen has nothing whatsoever to do with sitting or lying down. The zazen that I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss—the practice-realization of total accumulated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality.”

I’m not exactly certain what “practicing suchness” means, let alone how to practice it immediately and urgently. What I can relate to is the futility of words. They don’t change anything.

I’ve heard of meditation as a form of “bringing the mind home.” I understand that concept. It’s all about not seeking gratification out there somewhere. There is no “out there” anyhow. Any experience we have is simply our perception and interpretation of sensations.

Meditation is bringing awareness to our mental activities and letting them settle down like sand in a pond. Surface waves are drama. When the surface is calm, other can see their own reflections and behavior more clearly. The flipside is that, if you are too “blank,” people simply project their own weirdness onto you and their response to you is all about their feelings about themselves.

Regardless of response, the idea Dogen emphasizes is non-attachment to one’s own thought and feelings. We are not to be attached even to the idea of becoming a Buddha. It’s fine to have thoughts. We just don’t need to chase them down.


“What do we do to reconnect to the experience of our essential nature and qualities of being? How do we proceed? First, we work on the personality, softening the structures of the psyche that have been created by the ego. As we do that, we create “space” for essence to rise into our experience and awareness. Essence can be very subtle as it comes into our experience, so we must develop a new sensitivity to the subtle levels of being. To do this, we must become quiet and present to the moment, present to the now, present to the truth of whatever we are experiencing in the moment.” by Karen Malik, MA Date:  March – May 2006

When you get deep enough into consciousness, and the study thereof, everyone seems to be saying the same things with different words.

“Softening the structures of the psyche that have been created by ego” can be accomplished by psychotherapy, Zen, or anything that gets us questioning the nonsense ego feeds us.

“Creating space” is physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. We create space for others through forgiveness, decluttering, listening, etc. Emotional space is about not getting stuck in a small, claustrophobic, ego-bound position. Physical space is created by prioritizing our lives and eliminating objects that do not add value to it. Spiritual space is calmness, quietness, openness, and equanimity.

I became interested in silence, solitude, and listening as a Christian. It did not take many years to find out that American Christianity is among the noisiest of spiritualities. My spiritual depth diving led me to Eastern spiritualities. Many of the spiritual thinkers I found myself reading (i.e., Lao Tzu, Dainin Katagiri, Chogyam Trungpa, Shunryu Suzuki, the Buddha, etc.) were Asian. Their emphasis on harmony, simplicity, solitude, silence, humility, and oneness made sense of my ever-changing chaotic world. They gave me a bigger picture. Going to church gave me more words, which I value today only as a necessary yet wholly inadequate form of communication. Eastern thinkers gave me the motivation to seek silence for myself. They gave me the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual space to find things for myself. I am forever grateful to those who have had faith in my ability to think for myself, which doesn’t generally include Christian leaders, unfortunately.

Loving Each Turn

“It’s important to understand what is important to each of us. Expressed further, it is important to know what is most important. Once established, we need to engrave that in our bones, empower ourselves and take individual responsibility and not allow others to frame it for us. It is each of us completely. It is our mind, to its conclusion, within all the vicissitudes of life, all the disasters, all the mediocrities.” “Loving Each Turn” Senior’s Talk by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Osho Featured in Mountain Record Vol. 27.4, Summer 2009

It is easy to say what we think is most important to us, but our actions reveal the truth. I have competing values, such as compassion versus paying Sallie Mae back. I don’t want to be a deadbeat and obsessively pay my debts, but I can ignore panhandlers on street corners.

I try very hard not be a hypocrite. I’ve known too many to count, Christians that talk love and forgiveness, but will schism the church over a dispute regarding carpeting or break off a relationship with a left-leaning relative. Talk is cheap. Words are not magical, or even valuable, if not backed up with action.

The challenge is to be true to oneself, regardless of the flak one receives for it. Approval is for children and slaves. If you need someone else’s approval for anything whatsoever, you are in trouble. Be careful regarding debt because the borrower is servant to the lender.

Because I am in my forties, I feel like I need to get my act together. Life is too short to live according to others’ values. When facing midlife or some life-altering experience like cancer, priorities get pushed to the foreground. It’s not always a pretty picture.


Not Wavering

“Ango is translated as peaceful dwelling. It’s an invitation to dwell peacefully, anywhere, everywhere—in all circumstances. But that doesn’t just happen because we want it to. It doesn’t happen because we make a declaration of intent. It happens because every day we encounter the dharma and we bring our practice and our mind and our lives in accord—not with our ideas, but with what’s true and present in front of us. Looking around at our world, peaceful dwelling can seem elusive and difficult to find. Yet all this difficulty points to the fact that this practice is more important than ever.” Not Wavering Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
Blue Cliff Record, Case 98 Tianping Travels on Foot Featured in Mountain Record 27.4, Summer 2009

I have personally discovered that true stability cannot come from externals. Barry got cancer a few years ago and I thought he’d be dead by 2013. Nope, he’s still alive and kicking.

When I was growing up, I watched my brothers struggle to get and keep good-paying jobs. They’d get a good job and then the company would go belly-up. People were even saying, “Last one out of Michigan, turn out the lights.” I hurt myself in the Army, so I quickly realized I wasn’t going to make a living with my body like my brothers, who became industrial painters.

I got married to a factory worker. He made really good money, but there were times of extended lay-offs. When it hit me that he was getting Huntington’s, I knew I had to become capable of supporting myself. In 2004, I enrolled in business school. A few years later, the bottom fell out of Michigan’s economy.

The only job security you will ever have are the skills you bring to the table. Period. This was not the case when I was growing up. Loyalty was expected from workers and companies, in both directions. I still hear companies whining that young people are not loyal. Oh, boo hoo. These young people watched their parents and siblings have their retirement accounts gutted by corrupt managements. Loyalty is earned. Young people know they will be thrown under the bus in a heart beat for a better profit margin next quarter.

Any peace and security you may have come from within. Any external source of security you perceive is simply an illusion. Buddhism is about living in the real world, which is not always an appealing idea, but a mature one nonetheless.






Vow Living

“Well, if your vows are your own vows, if they truly reflect the deepest aspiration that you have for yourself and what it is that most fulfills you, then to live those vows is to thrive. And that operates within any vow. Truly, if you find profound pleasure in brushing your teeth three times a day, and then you vow to brush your teeth three times a day, and then you do brush your teeth three times a day, you’re having a good time. You are fulfilling yourself. Now, take a vow that has no edge, which deals with numberless beings, inexhaustible desires, and boundless dharmas. When you are living a vow that represents the deepest desire and motivation of your heart, you are formlessly fulfilled. The reality created by living that vow is not disturbed by any circumstances. There is no need to be concerned about the future—there is nothing it can present that will stand in your way. When the vow embraces all space and time and condition, there is no space, time or condition. There is just the living of that vow.” A Life Lived as a Vow, Posted on April 5, 2013, Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei

When it comes to doing something meaningful, even small steps make a huge difference. I got an MBA bit by bit by bit. It took four years and all of my original classmates were gone by the time I got it, but I have it now. I truly believe that you can accomplish pretty close to anything a little at a time.

Every single term, I would get the syllabus (or syllabi) and panic. OMG. How am I going to do everything? Then I would go home and work on something for ten minutes. No more than that. I would do a little every day. With the motivation being to make more than $10/hr, I would not stop. I know someone, for instance, that has worked at Wal-Mart for more than a decade and still does not make $10/hr. It happens. Survival is meaningful.

I need a vow. At one time, I thought about becoming a nun, but (seeing as I was already married) that was not to be. I could still be a Buddhist nun in a few years, I suppose. However, I have too many business skills and feel an obligation to society (not to mention Sallie Mae!) to use those skills for the benefit of all.

How do I make a promise to myself that I can hold myself to and take seriously under all circumstances? I guess that’s my next task.



A Life Lived as a Vow

“At times it seems like we’re allergic to ourselves. Do you ever want to literally leap out of your body, out of your skin, out of your mind? What is that? And where does that part that’s leaving want to go? How about taking that energy and allowing it to return to the source? Not chasing after the next moment, but truly coming to rest in the precision, the exactness, the vastness of this reflection of the moon in the water. All of us want to break free, to cut loose from the net, yet some of us return to sit amidst the ashes and the coals.” A Life Lived as a Vow, Posted on April 5, 2013, Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei

I feel like the part that’s leaving wants to go to someplace stimulating, seeking something new to experience. To me, that’s what boredom is: the feeling that there’s got to be more than this. It reminds me of the comic strip showing two robed and sitting monks. The older one says to the younger one, “Nothing comes next. This is it.” Such a statement is anathema to our pleasure-seeking culture.

What is “returning to the source”? I think it’s pure acceptance, the essence of Zen. Acceptance is just one step short of love. Acceptance is a primary ingredient of love, whether of a person, a moment, or your life in general. Acceptance is not looking for something additional. Is the moon in the water insufficient?

We cut ourselves loose from the net and then find ourselves unmoored. Our ultimate grounding is found within the present moment, no matter how painful. Pain is energy and can be used as a motivator to relieve our own suffering and that of others. That is the bodhisattva way of life.



Pity to Waste a Good Crisis

“We don’t have to pretend not to have our opinions. Mostly we would rather be rich than poor, but also, it isn’t usually terrible to have lost our money. We can have a life in between those rather uninteresting discoveries. In between is where humans always are–that’s what we have to welcome, a story with an uncertain ending. And this condition is interesting if you inhabit it; it’s alive. If I’m facing something that I don’t know how to do, the not knowing is what is true and the resources I have, deeply ignorant as I am, will have to be enough.” John Tarrant: Pity To Waste A Good Crisis JANUARY 13, 2012


Realism is not always pretty. I am sitting in a local coffee shop because my neighborhood’s power is out. What can I do? It aggravated my husband and so he wanted to come here. I could just sit at home and complain, but it’s not just about me. I can deal with change; he can’t.

I was sitting in my chair getting annoyed with the situation and picked up my book. It was on a chapter about compassion. Don’t you hate that? Sometimes I feel like “Can’t it just once be about me?” Narcissism. Grrrrrrrr. But, as long as he lives, it will never be about me. I will have years alone. There is no need to hurry that.

So I blog in the air-conditioned coffee shop. There are worse things, such as grasping for certainty and security.

Total Flux

I’m going to see a friend today. I don’t know what we’ll do. Part of that is because I don’t even know who I am anymore. Not that I care what we do, but she might think me weirder than usual.

I have little energy. I no longer get much energy from obsessions, which are my traditional source of energy. I have yet to plug into a new source of energy.

I feel very stable emotionally, immovable really. I don’t feel attached to anything. I feel like I have mourned so many present and future losses. I felt “cried out” years ago. I once read Pema Chodron write: you are the flagpole, emotions are the flag, and events are the wind. No matter how hard the wind whips the flag, the pole doesn’t go anywhere.

I’m not who I used to be and neither am I who I will be in a few years. I don’t know what she’ll think of this intermediate me. What I do know is that I cannot be the old me. The old me holds no interest for the current me.

I am in a place where drama is boring. I can’t get upset about problems people create for themselves. Life has real issues to deal with: disease, death, poverty, injustice, etc. No one needs to create situations that demand resolution. Life will do that. I learned long ago that I did not need to bring situations to a head; others are more than capable of putting themselves in no-win situations and the last thing I need is to get blamed for something I had zilch to do with. I will bend over backwards to help those who truly want and will appreciate my assistance, but I won’t lift a finger to help someone who is not serious about helping themselves.

Where is the Barrier?

Where Is the Barrier

 “Within adversity or injustice it is especially difficult to understand that if we want to get to the root of the suffering, we have to deal with both the creator and master of the suffering. It can be difficult when the problem seems so clearly located somewhere else. And, indeed, there may be a real problem. But if we want to get to the root of suffering, as Qinshan said, we have to bring out the master within that barrier. Because we’ll find that even when injustice has been rectified, even when inequality has turned to equality, the root of suffering persists. This is what the Buddha realized. This is the First Noble Truth, “Life is dukkha.””Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei Blue Cliff Record, Case 56 Quinshan’s One Arrowpoint Smashes Three Barriers Featured in Mountain Record 28.2, Winter 2009

What does this mean? It means that, even if equality and justice prevail, we will still suffer. That does not give us an excuse to do wrong for selfish purposes. Who wants that kind of karma coming back to kick their butt?

The suffering comes from the never-ending parade of wants. Have you ever tried to meditate? I’ve noticed that I’ll have an itch and, if I avoid scratching it long enough, it moves to another spot. Wants don’t end.

It doesn’t stop. Being the master and creator of suffering means, in my opinion, learning how not to scratch the itch of every desire. I’m not saying desire is bad. Desires can be used for the benefit of our fellow humans. I am talking about developing self-control and discernment regarding one’s desires. This is where Buddhism provides a foundation for discernment that American Christianity doesn’t.

Imagine that you do not fulfill a desire. Never fear: there’s another coming right around the corner. Becoming desire-free is not the goal. Knowing what satisfies and what doesn’t is. Desire isn’t the problem; attachment to our desires is.



In Transition

My weak sense of intuition is trying to tell me something, but I’m unsure what. I seem to have the theme of death. It’s horrible and morbid.

I’ve started reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It’s fascinating. It includes our current lifetime as a bardo. I never thought of that, but it makes sense. Our lives are so short and we are always in a state of transition of one kind or another. When I started to trying to get organized, I realized that, since I don’t plan on staying put in Michigan for many more years, there’s little point in trying to get folders all organized in a real cabinet.

Then Barry’s longest-running sponsor got a terminal diagnosis and was given a year to live. One of his previous sponsors died in a relapse. I don’t know how this will affect Barry.

I don’t initiate a lot of conversations. So the fact that everyone seems to be talking about various loved ones dying strikes me as odd. I usually don’t even join the conversations. I am just sitting off to the side wondering what is up.

When I look at news organizations online, what I see is people doing everything within their power to avoid change that is occurring, or pretending that it never actually occurred. Things change and planting one’s flag in the shifting sands of social change is a losing battle. It is really painful to watch.

I’ve noticed that I will feel really stuck right before change starts rushing at me. I’m feeling restless. I don’t know what anything means…