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Posted in buddhism, ch'an, zen

The Great Way

“The Great Way is Gateless,

Approached in a thousand ways.

Once past this checkpoint

You stride through the universe.”

 

This is the opening of the famous Zen text “The Gateless Gate”.

It sounds like weird hippie nonsense. A lot of old Zen sayings like this are a little hard to unpack because sometimes they seem so weird.

I think it’s worth a second look.

The Great Way is the path we’re on. The path inspired by the Buddha, the cultivating of awareness and compassion. Find your true nature and help others, that sums up the path.

When we say it’s gateless, we’re saying there’s nothing stopping you. It’s right there, like an open door. Your true nature is always with you. It’s never not present. The door is open. Spiritual teachers can point you to the door, but they don’t open it for you. It’s already open. The gate is gateless. We could say teachers are just selling water by the river.

“If you can’t find enlightenment here and now, where else do you expect to find it?” -Dogen

Your true nature is free and awake, you just have to notice that the gate is open.

It’s approached in a thousand ways because we all come to the path bringing different things with us. My difficulty on the path might be giving into temptation all the time or making excuses to not meditate. Yours might be a tendency to give into anger, or to compare yourself to others too much. We’re all a little different and we come to the path for different reasons, so it’s approached in a thousand ways.

But we’re all on the same path.

And once we enter the gate, freedom is on the other side. The freedom to put down our emotional baggage and our insecurities and our fixations. When we can put those down and truly see ourselves as we are, we can stride through the universe.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” -Rumi

What do we need to do? We need to set our intention. We need to decide we want to go through the gateless gate. That’s the beginning.

Posted in zen

What’s Zen?

There’s a famous four line description of the zen tradition that has come down to us. This list is attributed to Bodhidharma and it’s really supposed to be what sets the Zen tradition apart, what makes Zen different from the rest of Buddhism and what we can keep in mind as zen practitioners.

These four lines express what the zen tradition is and why it’s important.

A separate transmission outside the scriptures;

Not dependent on words and letters;

Direct pointing at the human mind;

Seeing one’s nature and becoming Buddha.

This sounds serious but maybe it’s hard to understand. So I’ll go down it line by line.

A separate transmission

This means our practice is in our lives. We aren’t simply studying sutras and talking about how great Buddhism is. We are actualizing the teachings in our lives. Hopefully we are also having a dedicated relationship with a teacher and/or a community that can help us on the path.

Not dependent on words and letters

Buddhist writing (and teaching) points in the direction of awakening, but ultimately these things should be viewed as maps and hints, not really as sacred texts. They are to be relied on only in as far as we’re trying to use them to point the way. Most writings have come out of someone else’s experience, an effort to describe the experience they’ve had on the path. These are useful and helpful. But the important point is awakening and we won’t come to that with intellectual understanding alone.

Direct pointing at the human mind

Our aim in this path is awakening, seeing our true nature. Making efforts to recognize our true nature is the beginning of the path. The fundamental nature of our being is awakening and what we’re trying to do is uncover that, not at some later time or in some later life…here and now. Be here now. All the teachings are meant to point us in the direction of our true nature.

Seeing one’s nature and becoming Buddha

Seeing one’s nature is recognizing your true self. Becoming Buddha is actualizing and embodying that. We don’t practice to get somewhere or attain something. We all have Buddha Nature. We have awakening already. We are practicing because that’s what Buddhas do. We are all Buddhas. We are dedicated to seeing our awakening and integrating it into our lives.

 

The Zen approach takes awakening as the path. As practitioners we strive to give ourselves to our training and follow the path that’s been laid out for us. Hopefully we can rely on teachers and/or communities and truly throw ourselves into the process of awakening.

That’s all there is.

 

 

Posted in buddhism, fountain city meditation, meditation

Meditation Encouragement

I’m here to provide encouragement because we could all use some.

The truth is that meditation is hard and you have to work at it. People that are trying to sell you things may try to convince you that it’s easy. It’s not. What’s easy is finding ways to avoid doing it. I think of it as like flossing. It’s something we know is good for us that we don’t really want to do.

Having a plan helps in a big way. So, if we say, “This is the time we meditate and we do it in this place,” that can be really helpful. If we can create a routine, that is best. Doing it in a group helps too. Although working with your mind is a solitary practice, we can start to feel like we have a team to encourage us and make sure we stay on track.

That matters. I started a weekly meditation group to encourage others, but the truth is I know that inviting other people to meditate with me is going to do a lot to motivate me to make sure I practice. It’s the best way to make sure I meditate regularly. I can’t make excuses in that situation.

Another thing. To me the path is about being real, about putting down your shit and learning how to be more genuine. That’s the place I come from in my teaching. You will find meditation teachers who don’t talk about real life and who talk in weird sing-songy voices That’s off putting to me. It seems weird. I’m totally willing to be authentic and open and I think that’s the thing that makes what I have to offer unique. Many other meditation teachers will create distance where there doesn’t need to be any.

 

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Posted in fountain city meditation, meditation

Challenging, But in a Good Way…

I told my partner Alicia my plan.

She said, “Meditation and a Dharma talk every week? Does that sound…?”
And I said, “Challenging, but in a good way.”

I decided to start a weekly meditation group.

I saw that there was something that I wish existed and I decided to try to create it.

I wanted to create a situation where people could feel really welcomed, where there wouldn’t be cliques of insiders and outsiders and where people could feel like they have a say in the direction of things. Not sure if I’ll achieve that, but that’s the idea.

So I’m going to lead meditation every week. I’m going to give the full instruction so beginners and experienced people will be able to come. And I’m going to give a dharma talk every week.

And if anyone else wants to come in and give a talk too, they’ll be welcome to. There are no ceilings here. Come sit with us. All are welcome.

Monday Night Zen

Heart of the Dove

4327 Troost. Kansas City, MO

7pm.

Every week.

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Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/danielscharpenburg

 

Posted in ch'an, zen

Face Whatever Appears

“Separate yourself from disturbance and face whatever appears before you.”

Hongzhi

 

Sometimes our being is described as like a mirror.

There are several conditions that a mirror can be in. A dirty mirror might reflect what’s in front of it in a distorted way. A broken mirror might be even worse.

But a mirror that is clear and clean is going to give you an accurate representation of whatever you put in front of it.

We often see the world in distorted ways. We’re like a dirty mirror. We don’t see things clearly, rather we see everything through the filter of that dirt. We might feel like a cracked or broken mirror if we’ve had some particularly awful traumas in our lives.

We come into every situation carrying disturbances with us. Sometimes that’s okay. If you’ve been struck by lightning it certainly makes sense to be wary of all storms.

But other times it gets in our way.

We’ve all been kicked in the heart and a bad relationship can haunt us forever, making it hard to let people get close to us, making it hard to trust and have an open heart.

Or in the workplace, if you’ve ever had a boss that you really trusted who let you down…well, you know what I’m talking about. That’ll make you look sideways a little at all employers for a while.

And a lot of the time we project our own things onto others. If we feel really guilty about some aspect of ourselves, selfishness for example, it’s really easy to project that on others and see everyone as selfish. Or look for any little clue that might make that argument.

So, with our practice, what we’re trying to is train our minds, so we can learn to see things as they really are. We may not be able to clean the mirror, really. But what we can do is remind ourselves that it’s dirty. In itself, that is a kind of success.

Posted in ch'an, zen

Sit Serenely

“The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection.”

“Here you can rest and become clean, pure, and lucid. Bright and penetrating, you can immediately, return, accord, and respond to deal with events. Everything is unhindered, clouds gracefully floating up to the peaks, the moonlight glitteringly flowing down mountain streams. The entire place is brightly illumined and spiritually transformed.”

“If you accord everywhere with thorough clarity and cut off sharp corners without dependence on doctrines, you can be called a complete person.”

-Hongzhi *

 

We are sitting quietly and doing nothing. That’s the practice.

It sounds like nothing, but there’s so much in the present moment. When we’re sitting it seems very boring a lot of the time. But if we learn how to really pay attention, then we can see things clearly.

We may tell ourselves, when we’re sitting with the practice…that nothing is happening. But there’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time, wonderful things, painful things, scary things, and beautiful things. There are always so many things happening. And it’s never boring. We have this idea in our heads these days that we have a sort of right to be entertained all the time, that we should never be bored, even for a second. There is so much we have created to help entertain and distract us that even a moment of dullness seems uncomfortable. That makes meditation practice scary, in a way. Sitting and doing nothing sounds like the boringest thing we could possibly do.

Not only am I listening to podcasts during my work day, I’m also listening to them in my car, on the way to my car, when I’m going for walks. Why? Because I want to be entertained.

But the truth is this: only boring people get bored. When we learn to pay attention, when we train in mindfulness, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. We don’t need distractions. We can listen and see and feel and think. These things are only boring if we are boring people. Let’s not be boring.

The world is transformed by our attention. Awareness makes everything bright and glittering. Even the bad parts of life can take on new meaning if we learn how to see them and be fully present with them.

It really is up to us how we see things. We can see our meditation practice as a boring chore that we don’t want to do. Or we can see it as entering the circle of wonder, training in awareness and clarity. The choice is ours.

Sharp corners are those things that stop us from seeing clearly; our emotional baggage, our neuroses and confusion…the things that cause us to close our hearts and build barriers between ourselves and our experience. If we can put down these things once in a while, then we can see the world clearly.

What’s a complete person?

It’s all based on how we feel, I think. When we are filled with delusion and our attention is fragmented…we feel incomplete. If we’re not paying attention it’s very easy for us to feel like we’re not good enough.

A complete person is just one who is aware, who sees the world and their place in it clearly. Pay attention and you’ll be complete.

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*quotes are taken from “Cultivating the Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, which you can get here:

Cultivating the Empty Field | amazon

Posted in mindfulness

Bringing the Mind Here

One of the things we’re trying to do in our meditation practice is to bring our minds here, into the present moment. To do this we have to get a handle on our wandering thoughts.

So often in life we aren’t present. We’re daydreaming or ruminating or fantasizing. These things aren’t bad, but we’re missing things in the here and now.

The Buddha said, “Stopping is awakening,” and he was talking about stopping the way our wandering thoughts drag us around. Bodhidharma said, “Put down the myriad entangling conditions; let not one thought arise.” This means put down your crap. Stop seeing the world through the lens of your selfishness. Stop getting carried away all the time by wandering thoughts. Assert control of your mind. If we can do that, then we can awaken to our true nature.

Posted in ch'an, zen

Zen and Zen Stories

What we call the Zen school is really a mix of a few different things.

It includes the original teaching of the Buddha, which I call First Turning Buddhism, and the spirit of Chinese culture at the time. What we call “Zen meditation” is a method for training the mind that is practiced in First Turning Buddhism and in what we call the Great Way, Mahayana Buddhism.

The original word is Dhyana, which means “concentration” or “quiet meditation”. So, when we talk about the Zen Tradition we’re really talking about “The Tradition That Practices Meditation”. But if we’re honest, a lot of traditions practice meditation, although that wasn’t the case when the Zen Tradition started. The Zen tradition is also sometimes called the Mind School, or the Prajna School, which I think might have been a cooler name. This is because the tradition is all about training the mind in order to engage our true selves.

But, while the tradition started out as a get-back-to-meditation, kind of bare bones approach…it’s slowly deviated from that, sometimes moving away from the it’s roots, as traditions often do. In plenty of Zen circles you won’t see anything resembling a bare bones approach.

 

Anyway,

The earliest Zen teachers really wanted to set Zen apart. There were a lot of Buddhist traditions in China at the time and some of them said the path to Enlightenment was very easy.

The truth is beyond words. It’s about practice and not study. That’s the important point that the Zen teachers were trying to emphasize. They thought too many people were into studying Buddhism and not very many were into actually practicing Buddhism.

Zen isn’t something you learn about, it isn’t something you study, and it isn’t something you are. It’s something you do.

That’s how Zen teachers started telling stories. Stories are words too, though. Obviously they are made up of words. The Zen stories are words that tell you how to go beyond words. Stories about people who were attached to words and had that attachment shattered. Kind of silly an circular, if we really think about it.

Stories are helpful because they can be used to illustrate a point. Sometimes the difference between a successful religion and one that struggles to find followers is based entirely on which religion has better stories. We love stories.

Here’s a story.

The Buddha stood at a place called Vulture Peak in front of a bunch of people. There were monks and nuns and also regular people like you and me. It’s said that there were a million people, but that seems far-fetched. It’s said that spirits and celestial beings were there too, but I don’t believe those are real.

People were expecting a teaching and the Buddha just stood there, not saying anything. Everyone was just sitting there waiting, looking around awkwardly. I’m imagining what it would be like to go to a concert and see the band just standing on stage not performing.

Then, the Buddha held up a pretty flower and twirled it, showing it to everyone.

So, still everyone was standing around awkwardly.

And one guy who they call Kasyapa the Elder just smiled.

 

That’s supposed to be the beginning of the tradition. They say Kasyapa was the first Zen teacher. They say the teachings were entrusted to him because he understood the truth that’s beyond words. There is as much truth in a pretty flower as there is in a teaching. Enlightenment is right here. It’s everywhere. That’s the message.

I once heard someone say, “Just because it’s made up doesn’t mean it’s less true.”

Kasyapa was a real person and was considered one of the best monks in the early sangha. The point of the story isn’t “this really happened” or maybe originally that was it’s purpose but we don’t have to pretend it really happened now. (no one wrote about this or, as far as we can tell, told this story until hundreds of years after the Buddha’s lifetime)

The point is it tells us something.

Talking about Buddhism is great. Learning about Buddhism is great too. But sometimes life is about paying attention and noticing little things. Sometimes it’s about looking at a pretty flower.

Stop and smell the roses. Don’t attach to words so much, even Buddhist words. The truth is right here.

That being said…now I wonder if people in the Zen Tradition are becoming too attached to stories, if they’re thinking of them as IMPORTANT rather than as useful teaching tools. I hope we don’t forget that the tradition came from teachers who wanted a simpler, back-to-basics approach to Buddhism.

Zen is full of stories like this, of some teacher pointing the way in a creative way. That’s really what sets Zen apart the most. The teachers are still pointing and we just have to look.

Posted in zen center

Zen Regrets

I lived in Lawrence, Kansas from 2001 to 2004.

It’s about an hour away. I lived there because I went to college at KU. Some people say college was the best time of their lives. That is not true for me. But that’s okay. The best time of my life is now.

It was during that period that I became really interested in Buddhism. I started doing a lot of reading and study and I quickly learned that Zen was my favorite.

I’m telling you all this to tell you that I didn’t go to the Kansas Zen Center. It would have been simple for me to do when I lived in a place with a Zen Center and I didn’t go. But one day I almost did. It was 2003 ( I think) and I learned about it and I went there. But I didn’t go in. There are a few reasons for this.

One is that it was a house. I saw it was a house and for some reason that bothered me. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one, it’s actually pretty common that people are scared off when Buddhist temples are in houses. I don’t know why, really. Maybe something about a house is less welcoming. Also, it didn’t have a clear sign, or at least I didn’t see one. I know it has a big clear sign now.  I told myself it might not be the right place and I’d be really embarrassed if I went to the door and it wasn’t. I had so much social anxiety. We tell ourselves nonsense sometimes, to avoid taking steps we know we should take.

Another reason is that I was really anxious. Going by myself to a place like that was too much for me. I’ve always had some anxiety problems, but those first few years after my mother’s death…whew they were bad. Being in an unfamiliar place, meeting people…scary. It would be some time before I’d come out of my shell enough to meet other Buddhists.

That sounds very silly to reflect on now, but if you’ve been around a spiritual community you know that people rarely go alone, at least the first time.

I didn’t have anyone to go with and that was a powerful excuse.

I’m emphasizing that because that’s an excuse a lot of people use and something communities are always going to struggle with probably.

How can we be so welcoming that people will be comfortable enough to come alone? I don’t have an answer fort hat.

Anyway, this is on my list of regrets. I should have gone in. I’ll never know how that would have played out. By the time I was ready, I didn’t live in a city with a Zen Center anymore, so I had to go somewhere else.

I met a lot of nice people at the Rime Buddhist Center. I even met my partner Alicia there. I’m building a life with her and that’s wonderful. I ran the Sunday School program for four years. I went through the Meditation Instructor Training Program. I even had the opportunity to teach a class there once (but only once). I got a lot out of my time there, so I could never regret it.

I made a lot of friends there, but maybe it was never really a good fit for me.

I don’t believe in magic and spirits. I don’t judge people that do, but that is simply not me. I’m not into offerings and I’m really not into visualization meditation either.

I tried to make the Rime Center fit for a long time. But ultimately a situation came where I didn’t feel welcome anymore. I wasn’t forced out but I was pushed just enough to make my days as the only zen guy at the Tibetan temple come to an end.

I don’t miss the Rime Center much but I do sort of wish my teaching efforts had the support and encouragement of some community in the city. And I think there is something to having a place to go and people to encourage you in your practice. I do wish I still had that.

But the truth is I’m a Zen Buddhist, not a Tibetan Buddhist. What I really want is to practice with people who are interested in the same teachings and teachers that I’m interested in.

This wasn’t hidden in the time that I went to the Rime Center. People knew I was a Zen Buddhist. Sometimes people would ask me really specific questions about Zen. Once in a while people from those days when I went to the Rime Center still do.

Sometimes people ask me what they should do if they live in Kansas City and they’re interested in Zen.

I don’t really have a good answer. I think the Kansas Zen Center is a good place, it’s just an hour away. I didn’t know until recently they have a group that meets at Unity Temple weekly. If you’re free Tuesday nights, I think it’s probably a good group. But that’s not the same as Kansas City having our own local center. It’s part of a community that’s an hour away, not here.

I think the Columbia Zen Center is probably a good place too. It’s 2 hours away.

But I wish I had a good answer.

Do you want to study and practice in the Zen tradition with me in Kansas City?

Send me a message and let me know. Maybe we can figure something out together.

 

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want to come meditate with me?

7/1/19: 7:30pm

Monday Night Meditation

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

Posted in buddhism

Buddhist Practice

We have a constructed image in our minds of who we are and what the world is. Buddhism is about being in the moment without the constructs. Dropping ego. Dropping the past and our thoughts about the future and engaging with the present moment.

Easier said than done. Our minds want to do anything but stay in this moment. Our practice involves learning to quiet our minds and penetrate through these layers of delusion. We are teaching our minds how to sit still.

We do this by following a set of principles: meditation, mindfulness, and virtue.

Anyone can do it. The path to awakening isn’t restricted to some lucky or noble few. It’s for everyone.

Our true nature is one with everything and the only reason we don’t see that is because we are in layers of delusion. When we meditate we clear some of that delusion. We have to dig ourselves out.

We train to realize our true nature. We investigate ourselves.

We just have to be present to perceive our true nature.

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