Blog

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.

 

========================================

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.

=============================================================

 

Posted in ch'an, zen

Addiction to Preferences

“The Great Way Is Not Difficult for Those Who Have No [Addiction to] Preferences” -Sengcan

Have you ever had the experience where someone says, “Where should we go eat?” and you say, “I don’t know, what do you want?” and you really mean it?

Sometimes this is a frustrating situation, one of the little things that really bothers couples. I want to apply that to “those who have no addiction to preferences”. Can we apply this sort of attitude to other areas of our lives? Can we reduce our preferences and stop having such strong opinions all the time? Or at least stop holding them so tightly? I think we can.

We cling tightly to our preferences, so much so that if something goes wrong, we obsess about it at times, instead of trying to work through whatever the problem is. We sometimes tend to think that if we got the right job, the right situation, or the right spouse…then we can finally be happy. Ironically, that kind of thinking can tend to stop us from being happy. It can stop us from taking opportunities and it can stop us from appreciating what we have.

When we’re self-obsessed, when we’re thinking too much and too often about the ways we wish our lives were different, that makes us unhappy. But we get caught up in those feelings. It’s really similar to feelings of “I’m not good enough.” We get so wrapped up in these things sometimes that we don’t even see them.

But, if we can learn to relax, to stop thinking about controlling things so much, then we can find a sense of ease. There is a lot of comfort in just relaxing and waiting to see what happens. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to improve our situation or better ourselves. Of course we should. But I wonder if, with practice, we can hold onto our preferences a little more loosely.

 

“When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised.”

When we pay attention to our preferences, we begin to realize that we’re trapped. We’re pulled around by these preferences, even when they don’t make sense to us. The mind distorts the way we see the world and keeps us obsessed with preferences and delusion. If we can bring some equanimity to the situation, then things can become more clear to us.

———————————————————————————-

* quotes are taken from “Trust in Mind” by Mu Soeng

============================

Want to come meditate with me?

Here’s your chance.

6/17/19: 7pm-8pm

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.

Facebook Event

Meetup

 

Posted in ch'an, zen

Your Mind is Moving

Huineng came upon two monks who were arguing. They were having a silly argument to try to prove how smart they were. They were watching a flag rippling in the wind.

The first monk said, “The flag is moving.”

The second monk said, “No, the wind is moving.”

Huineng saw them having this ridiculous debate and he said, “It’s your minds that are moving.”

We often don’t see things as clearly as Huineng. We are confused. Our neuroses and our baggage shape the way we perceive the world. We get distracted and have trouble being present in our lives. Because we don’t see things as they are and because we aren’t present in our lives, we suffer. We also suffer because we struggle to accept the realities of impermanence and change. Everything is always changing and there’s nothing to hold onto.

Our goal is to learn how to see, how to really see the world as it really is. Another goal is to learn how to be more real, more genuine and authentic in our lives. We’re trying to put down our delusions. We’re trying to turn our minds so that we can engage the world as our true selves. Our true nature is awakened and good. If we engage the world as our true selves, then we can see things as they really are. That’s when real change happens.

We don’t see reality as it is because we often come from a state of mind that I call I-Me-Mine. This state of mind mis-perceives the world because we don’t recognize that it’s all changing. We address all of this by turning our minds around. The way out is in.

The purpose of this path is to engage the world as our true selves and to see things as they really are.

The Chan Sect was created by two great historical figures; Bodhidharma and Huineng. Their teaching was essentially this: “Rid the mind of egotism! Free it of defiling thoughts!”

The path lies before us. We can awaken to our true selves.

Posted in meditation

Development and Acceptance

It’s a really good feeling sometimes when we think our meditation is working. If we’ve been struggling for a while and then we are suddenly able to stay with the breath or stay with our experience for several minutes, that can be a satisfying experience.

We spend so much time in the daydream, not being fully present that when we step into this moment it can be a shock to our system sometimes. And that can create it’s own problems. Once we have a moment of clarity, we might tend to cling to it. It can be very discouraging when some of our meditation sessions feel successful and others do not. It’s so hard to maintain a passive attitude sometimes.

What I want to encourage you to do is accept whatever your experience is in your meditation practice. This can be very challenging. We want to have feelings of satisfaction or frustration and just notice them, just be aware of them and be with them. If we attach a lot of significance to either experience, then our practice could suffer. We want to be with these feelings and not cling to the satisfaction but also not push away the frustration. The fact is that sometimes our sit will feel really successful and other times it will feel like a failure.

Your attention will improve over time. This is about training the mind. No one expects you to be great at this right away. No one is great at this right away. Our minds naturally wander and get lost. What we want to try to do is have a passive attitude so we aren’t really hard on ourselves when we get off track. We want to try to learn how to gently bring the mind back.

New meditators sometimes feel like their minds are just too crazy to meditate and that sort of misses the point. We’re not meditating because it’s easy to still the mind and be present. We’re meditating because it’s hard.

Hopefully with practice it gets a little easier to simply notice when our minds are wandering and to just bring them back to the present moment without getting caught up in it.

 

Posted in zen

Zen Center?

Once in a while I get this wild idea.

I start to think I should start a Zen Center.

Well, that’s not the start of it. The start of it is wishing Kansas City had a Zen Center. Then that goes into wondering why Kansas City doesn’t have one. Then, that goes into wondering if I could do something about it.

I don’t think about this because I have an abundance of free time that I want to commit to it. I don’t think about this because I think I’m enormously qualified to run a spiritual community. That level of responsibility would be scary to me.

The main reason I start to get that idea is because Kansas City doesn’t have one and I think that’s weird.

Smaller cities have Zen Centers.

St. Louis, Columbia, Lawrence, Omaha, and Des Moines all have Zen Centers. I’ve been to some of them and they’re nice.

But why in these smaller cities and not here?

There are a handful of (really small) zen groups here, but there’s no center.

(I’m not talking about a temple. The difference between a Zen temple and a Zen center is that a temple is designed to primarily serve monks and nuns and a center is designed to serve regular people like you and me.)

And I wonder why we don’t have one?

We’re a growing city with a (surprisingly) spiritually diverse population.

 

Kansas City deserves a Zen Center.

That’s what I’m trying to say.

Can someone start one please?

 

 

 

Posted in compassion

Handle With Care

“Gentleness indicates greater strength than harshness.”

-Han Shan Deqing

 I wonder if we can solve a lot of our problems by being nicer to each other.

 When I hear things like “People are too sensitive these days”

OR

“That guy got what he deserved” when someone experiences the consequences of bad decisions

 

I just wonder where the compassion is.

 Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. All of us are facing many challenges throughout our lives. This can be a tough thing to remember. Suffering is the norm in human life. It’s fundamental. It’s not our fault we suffer. Some of our problems are self-inflicted, certainly. But many of them aren’t.

We judge each other harshly. We look down on people who have made different decisions than we made.

We could all soften our tone with each other. We can all be gentle and in this way make our world a slightly better place.

 When someone is terminally ill, you often see a manifestation of kindness. We are generally pretty nice when we know someone is about to die. We respond to them with gentleness and compassion.

 Can we try to apply that the rest of the time?

The world needs more kindness, more compassion, more love.

Can we handle people with care?

I’m interested in trying. Are you?

===============================================

 

 

=============================

if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate

 

Posted in meditation

Timing and Meditation

Sometimes when people first come to meditation they’re in a hurry. People want to start seeing results from their practice right away. Of course, that’s not how any of this works but sometimes it is something people tend to expect.

This is like that old adage “A watched pot never boils.” If we spend a lot of time thinking about how results aren’t coming fast enough, we will never be satisfied.

Any amount of meditation is better than none. The goal should be to try to build up to regular meditation. I suggest 20 minutes per session, but that’s not something I adhere to strictly. We just need to ask ourselves questions about how much of our sit is devoted to getting settled. That can vary widely. Some people can sit and go straight into meditation, but for others it takes a few minutes.

I don’t really suggest sitting for hours and hours. I think a short meditation with some regularity is better than a rare 2 hour meditation. Ideally we should start with a short meditation and gradually increase the length to whatever we feel we have time for. I think 30-40 minutes is a really good length. We don’t want to be counterproductive, however. If scheduling longer meditations leads to making excuses and not meditating at all, that’s a problem. It would be better to have a very short meditation instead.

There’s not really a perfect time to meditate. When I first started I liked to do it early in the morning. Now I do it in the evening, shortly before bed. I think it varies for everyone, so you’ll need to find the time that works best for you.

================================================

if you love my work and want to support it, you can click here to make a donation:

donate