Posted in videos, zen

Ikkyu: Wind and Rain, Snow and Moon (video)

This dharma talk was recorded in my home in Kansas City, Missouri on 1/11/18.


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Posted in anxiety, Patheos

Eclipsed Expectations

“Listen to the love letters sent by the wind and the rain; the snow and the moon.”

-Ikkyu

Kansas City.

Just on the edge of totality for the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

I still remember people going crazy over a partial solar eclipse in the area when I was a kid. There was so much media around that event back then, and that was only partial. This was to be a full eclipse, not experienced here for over 100 years.

People travel a long way to see total eclipses and we were lucky it was close to us. My research told me that my home and my work would get one minute of totality, when the moon passes directly in front of the sun. I wanted more than a minute, so I took the day off work. I went with my girlfriend to her brother’s house, about an hour away in Lathrop, Missouri. It was deep in the path of totality and we would experience the full eclipse for two and a half minutes instead of one.

Our plan was to go in the morning and just hang out for a few hours, watching things slowly get darker until 1:07pm, when the sun would be blotted out and we would be shrouded in darkness. I was excited for months about this plan.

Then something happened.

The weather.

On the Friday before the eclipse the weather forecast called for clouds and rain, everywhere in the area. We might not even be able to see the sun. And we’d probably be wet. Panic ensued. I wasn’t going to have the experience I wanted, I thought. It seemed so unfortunate. I looked to see if we could go somewhere else in the path of totality to have clear skies, but the nearest place with a clear sky in the forecast was actually 8 hours away. So we just had to wait and hope for the best.

This is a story about our worries and expectations.

I didn’t even know what would happen, but I was suffering, thinking about how my expectations wouldn’t be met, how I’d have to wait until 2024 (and travel far away) to have this opportunity again. I was thinking about how frustrated I’d feel. If we were really wet from rain or if the sun remained behind clouds, I would be sad.

That’s how expectations work.

When our expectations aren’t met we sometimes feel like we are being defeated. We get lost in the space between what we expect and what really happens. We are trapped in our expectations a lot of the time and they make us miserable. We tend to think about how we wish the world was instead of experiencing how it is. Part of what I’ve learned from meditation practice over the years is how to be here with what’s happening, instead of thinking about being somewhere else. Because being here now is all we can really do. We can decide how fully to experience our situation.

And, like me that day, we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that haven’t even happened. This is anxiety, something I’m very familiar with. Suffering because we’re waiting for bad things to happen instead of just being here.

It was cloudy and rainy when we headed for Lathrop, actually some land outside of the town of Lathrop, I think. The place we went is in the country. I live in Kansas City, far removed from such places. I didn’t even learn the difference between a gravel road and a dirt road until I was an adult. So, going to the country is like a little adventure for me every time, where things are quieter and there aren’t so many people around all the time.

It was only a little rainy, the vague drizzle that tends to come and go. As totality was approaching it stopped raining completely. But there were still lots of clouds in the sky. The sun only occasionally coming out from behind them. We had to keep looking up once in a while with our eclipse glasses, to see the moon slowly making it’s way across.

I focused my awareness to just be fully present, to not worry about what would or would not happen. I don’t mean to say that it was easy, but it was necessary. It would have been easy to ruin the experience for myself instead, just thinking about how things could have been different instead of dwelling in the moment.

Around 12:50 crickets started chirping. They thought night was approaching.

It slowly got darker and darker. When totality came, we couldn’t see the sun. It was behind clouds. So, I didn’t get to see any of those cool solar flares or anything. But it really does look like a 360 degree sunset. I saw the sky toward the horizon being that orangish pinkish color that you only see when the sun is going down.

And I saw day turn into night. Two and a half minutes of darkness in the middle of the day.

It was awe inspiring.

People in other places probably got a better view of the sun. But my expectations of wonder were met. I can’t express the feeling that rose in me as I saw this amazing cosmic event.

The world seemed to stop for those two and a half minutes.

Was it what I expected and wished for? No.

But how often is life that way?

This was an amazing experience, a transcendent gift from the natural world. The sun was blotted out from the sky and day turned into night. Ancient people were often terrified by eclipses. We just face them with wonder now. There is a lot of wonder in an eclipse and the truth is it surpassed my expectations.

 

*also published on Patheos.

Posted in zen

Ikkyu and the Bones of the Buddha Statue

Once, Ikkyu was staying in a temple. The night was cold and there were three wooden Buddhas in the temple, so he burned one Buddha to warm himself.

The priest in charge of the temple woke up and noticed something was going on, so he looked to see what Ikkyu was doing.

The Buddha statue was burning and Ikkyu was sitting there warming his hands over the fire.

The priest got angry. He said, “What are you doing? Are you a madman?—and I thought you to be a Buddhist monk, that’s why I allowed you to stay in the temple. This is profane.”

Ikkyu said, “But the Buddha within me was feeling very cold. So it was a question whether to sacrifice the living Buddha to the wooden one, or to sacrifice the wooden one to the living one. And I decided for life.”

The priest was so angry that he couldn’t listen. He said, “You are a madman. You simply get out of here! You have burned Buddha.”

So Ikkyu started to poke the burned Buddha with a stick. There were ashes; the Buddha was almost consumed by the fire.

The priest asked, “What are you doing?”

Ikkyu said, “I am trying to find the bones of Buddha.”

So the priest laughed and said, “You are either a fool or a madman. And you are absolutely mad! You cannot find bones there, because it is just a wooden Buddha.”

Ikkyu laughed. He said, “Then bring the other two. The night is still very cold. I haven’t burned the Buddha. I’ve burned a wooden statue. And you called me the crazy one.”

What can we take from this? Is it just a funny story? Maybe.

I think it represents iconoclasm.

The priest is, in a sense, worshiping this Buddha statue. We shouldn’t worship it. We shouldn’t worship anything, really, but we especially shouldn’t be attached to an icon.

When we give a statue of the Buddha that much respect, we are doing what the Buddha said not to do. He said that the Dharma is what really matters, not him.

Historically it seems that the Buddha rejected the Guru/disciple teaching method. He often said, “You should think for yourselves.” And I think that is important to remember.

After his death, many branches of Buddhism did adopt the Guru/disciple method. They would probably do well to read stories like this one.


 

 


 

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Posted in zen

The Samurai Who Became A Monk

The Fierce Zen of Suzuki Shosan.

The Samurai who became a monk.

“To learn to be always in a state of meditation means never to let your vital energy wane. You would never allow it to do so if it were certain that you were to die tomorrow.” ~ Suzuki Shosan

In Japan in the 1600s, a well known samurai retired at the age of 40 because he wanted to learn Zen.

He served under Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and it wasn’t until right after a decisive victory that he asked to be released from his samurai duties.

The Shogun allowed it.

He decided to live the life of a wandering monk. He traveled around Japan studying under different Zen masters. He spent a lot of time studying Zen history and he was really inspired by the stories about a certain iconoclastic Zen teacher from a couple centuries earlier named Ikkyu.

Although he spent a great deal of time studying with a teacher named Daigu Sochiko, he never received Dharma Transmission.

Suzuki Shosan declared himself Enlightened. And he didn’t even change his name to a Buddhist name.

Now, this might sounds scandalous: self-declared Enlightenment? Surely that couldn’t happen then or now!

Well, it did. It actually wasn’t all that rare at that time. Here in the West we sometimes think of Dharma Transmission as something really special. And it is, or it’s supposed to be.

But during Suzuki Shosan’s time the Zen community was very political. There was a thing going on that is sometimes called “Temple Transmission.”

That’s when someone is given Dharma Transmission, declared an Enlightened Master, for political or expedient reasons. It was one of the things that Shosan’s hero Ikkyu had condemned in the Zen establishment.

Example: Zen Master X needs someone to head a certain temple because the previous head of the temple has died or left. Zen Master X wants the head of the temple to have Dharma Transmission. So, he gives a student Dharma Transmission. Zen Master X didn’t wait until a student was Enlightened, he waited until he needed a student with Dharma Transmission around.

Not only that, but some temples were known to give Dharma Transmission for money, the same way diploma mills sell PhD s today. We don’t like to admit it, but this kind of thing happened. And it still happens.

The Dharma Transmission system is great. It has served us very well. But it’s not perfect. Because nothing that involves human beings can be perfect.

Not only that, but most Zen temples were, to a greater or lesser degree, connected to the Japanese government, which could be good sometimes and bad at other times.

Sometimes it seems like Zen history has two tracks.

Temple Zen is full of monks that live in monasteries and chant and meditate and memorize sutras all day.

Renegade Zen is full of people that challenged the establishment, that thought of things in new ways, that weren’t afraid to innovate.

The renegades: Dogen, Rinzai, Ikkyu, Huineng…these are the ones that we remember. There is an iconoclastic current at work here.

Anyway, Suzuki Shosan declared his own Enlightenment because he didn’t want to deal with politics.

At this time in Japan this happened sometimes. He was not unique. Although he didn’t bother with the temple system for certifying his Enlightenment, he also didn’t go around criticizing the temple system. I think that’s an important point.

Anyway, even though he wasn’t a “good” Zen Master, I still think his teaching can be useful to us.

He taught something that he called Nio Zen.

The Nio are those scary looking figures that stand outside of some Zen temples in Japan.

nio

They are supposed to be these demon guardians that protect the Dharma.

Shosan told his students to visualize the Nio in meditation, to help them channel energy and vitality. He believed that the fierceness of the Nio could help us conquer the three poisons.

He also told his students to be ready for death at any moment, as a way to strengthen present moment awareness. This, it is thought, was inspired by his career as a samurai.

But this is why I really like him:

There was a pretty popular view in Shosan’s time that to attain Enlightenment, one had to separate from the world. If not actually become a monk, at least spend a lot of time alone. Shosan didn’t believe that. He thought that the message of Enlightenment could and should be brought to everyone at all levels of society. If Buddha nature is our true nature, then anyone should be able to attain Enlightenment, from the most high level monk down to the lowly criminal. Although he lived the life of a monk, he specifically told people that they didn’t need to, that Enlightenment was already available right here in this moment.

Suzuki Shosan built 32 Zen temples, which is in itself and incredible achievement.

He was 76 years old when he died.

He left behind a book of teachings called “Parting the Grasses at the Foot of the Mountain.”

He wasn’t a ‘good’ Zen Master, but I like him. He was more worthy of the title than many people who receive it in the official way.

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Posted in diamond sutra, zen

Thus Should One Regard One’s Self

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bodhisattvaroad/2016/03/thus-should-one-regard-ones-self/

Ikkyu said,

“Like a vanishing dew, a passing apparition or sudden flash of lightning – already gone- thus should one regard one’s self.”

He was echoing the Diamond Sutra, which is a foundational Zen text. In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha says,

“All composed things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning. That is how to meditate on them, this is how to observe them.”

Ikkyu was taking that concept from the Diamond Sutra, that all things are like a flash of lightning, and reminding us that this applies to the self as well as all other things. It’s important to remember that we are impermanent and conditioned, just as much as everything else is.

I think we have an easy time learning, on the path, that all things are compounded and impermanent. But sometimes we make the mistake of not extending that all the way.

It’s easy to see that my car is a collection of parts. It has an engine and a battery and tires and a gas tank and many many other parts that combine to make a car. And over time parts will be replaced.

It’s easy to see that my car is a compounded thing, that it’s a collection of parts rather than being one thing. A lot of things had to come together to create my car. It’s also easy to see that my car is impermanent. Everyone knows that over time more and more parts wear out and sooner or later the car just isn’t worth fixing anymore. Eventually repairing the car becomes more expensive and difficult than buying a new car. This is because the car is impermanent.

Everything is compounded and impermanent.

And if we just pay attention, we can see this.

But what about us. What about you and I? That’s where we struggle.

We are compounded and impermanent too. Many different things came together to create YOU. Not only your parents, but also the environment you grew up in shaped both your personality and, in ways we may not fully understand, your physical body as well.

Even if we just focus on your mind, a lot goes in to who you are. You have your natural intelligence, your knowledge, your experiences that color the way you see things, your attention to detail, your emotional well-being, and many many other factors. All of these things come together to make you.

And everything about you changes over time.

There are probably plenty of things we hope will change about ourselves. And some things that we hope won’t. But the point is that all things are changing.

If we are just a collection of things, like parts of a car, then our self is less significant than we think it is.

So, what are the implications of this?

Well, feelings of greed and jealousy become insignificant if we aren’t so focused on ourselves. We have this tendency to think in terms of “I, Me, Mine” most of the time and that often doesn’t serve us well. I think everyone agrees that the world would be a better place with less selfishness. Recognizing ourselves as part of a context rather than thinking we are some separate independent being can go a long way toward fixing many of the problems in the world.

Because of selfishness we are greedy. Because of selfishness we are jealous of others and we tend to get upset if we don’t have everything that we think we deserve. Because of selfishness we take others for granted, which can greatly damage our relationships. Selfishness is at the root of many of our human problems.

A lot of our anger is motivated by selfishness as well. When we get mad or upset that things aren’t the way we want them to be, or that others aren’t behaving in the way we think they should.

 If we recognize others as ourselves then we are certainly less likely to harm them.

It can make us want to help them instead—and ultimately, helping others is really important in Buddhism.

When we recognize that we are everything, it can be easy to forgive everything—or at least accept everything.

Posted in iconoclasm, zen

Ikkyu: Crazy Cloud

“The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sitting meditation.” ~Ikkyu

Ikkyu was an eccentric iconoclastic Zen monk and poet in the 1400s. He’s viewed equally as a heretic and a saint. Sometimes in Zen teachings these things aren’t quite as widely separated as one would think.

Buddhism sometimes has a reputation as being free and individualistic. At least, that’s how many of us wish it was. Often, this is not the case. The truth is Buddhism can sometimes be as rigid as other spiritual paths.

Ikkyu Sojun was the embodiment of iconoclastic Buddhism. He was wild and free.

Raised in a Rinzai Zen monastery, he was an illegitimate son of the emperor of Japan—so his mother put him in the monastery to make sure his life was spared.

The Buddhism he learned was strict and had a rigid hierarchy. He learned a lot about how to do rituals in exactly a certain way, but he didn’t feel like he was learning about awakening.

So when he reached adulthood and they offered him the certificate of enlightenment that would allow him to become a fully ordained Zen Monk, he refused. He left the monastery instead.

He hadn’t given up on the Dharma. He thought that the monks he met were just acting spiritual and focusing on the hierarchy instead of the Dharma. Some believed that enlightenment could only be found by breathing in incense and sitting in silent meditation for hours at a time. Ikkyu disagreed. He believed enlightenment was with us already and we could realize it just as easily by spending our time with poor people and prostitutes as we could with monks. So that’s what he decided to do.

He rebelled against many of the monks and Zen teachers of his time who had become corrupted by politics are greed. He called out the practice of selling Enlightenment certificates.

His Zen wasn’t held down by needless structure and tradition.

It was about just this moment, real ultimate reality. Mystical truth, not religion.

That’s what he’s known for. But he did something else as well. He took Zen teaching to places that had no experience of it. Most of his contemporaries gave teachings only to monks. Ikkyu wasn’t like that. Not content to live in a monastery, he took Zen into the world.

His temple was the street.

And he taught people that monks would never teach. He taught Zen practice to prostitutes, artists, homeless people and alcoholics. He brought the Dharma to the misfits and radicals, those who were looked down on by society.

He became a wandering monk and was given the nickname ‘Crazy Cloud’.

The point of Ikkyu’s life story is that the ‘sacred’ is nothing more than ordinary life experienced with mindfulness. His view was non-dualistic. He traveled the country doing things that we don’t associate with monks. There are a lot of stories about him traveling the country, drinking sake, and sleeping with women. He was freedom-loving and he didn’t really care what the religious authorities of the time thought.

Instead of staying in monasteries like most monks, Ikkyu gave teachings in places monks didn’t usually go. He taught in the streets and in brothels. His students were hobos, criminals and prostitutes. A lot more of his students were laypeople than monks because he thought the Dharma was for everyone, so he wanted to make sure that it was completely available.

But, at the same time, he expected a lot from his students. His ways taught that having a regular meditation practice was important.

 His students were dedicated to Buddhist practice, but in the real world instead of in monasteries.

His teaching  was radical in its non-dualism. This version of Buddhism includes the entire world in its teaching, rather than being confined to sacred spaces. If all beings have Buddha nature, then enlightenment isn’t a matter of lifestyle, it’s a living experience. When his teachers tried to get him to stay in a monastery, he wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be in the world, working for the Dharma.

Is this bad? I think his story is a lesson. We shouldn’t be attached to what we think a good Buddhist should do and we certainly shouldn’t be attached to systems of authority. Good and bad are just labels. More than that, challenges to authority are important, especially religious forms of authority. Even if you think Ikkyu was wrong in his iconoclasm, it’s important that he was there to make the challenges.

Near the end of his life, a civil war caused many Zen temples to be destroyed. Ikkyu was a big advocate for rebuilding them. In old age his life’s mission was making sure that the religious structure that he had rebelled against would not be lost forever. In the end, Zen in Japan owes him a debt. He was an outsider who saved the teachings from destruction.

Ikkyu is a very important inspiration to me. It can be easy, on this path, to get caught up in dogma and ritual and really lose sight of what we’re trying to do. This path is about Enlightenment.

Nothing more or less than that.

Posted in tattooed buddha

When Buddhist Practice Becomes Routine

prayer wheel

Historically, there have been two forms of Buddhism.

Actually, there are a lot more than two, but I’m just going to talk about two here.

For simplicity I’m going to refer to them as Temple Buddhism and the Other Buddhism.

Temple Buddhism exists in temples—often simply among monks and laypeople that visit them. Temple Buddhism is centered around the temple, as the name suggests. It involves strict adherence to traditional forms, whether they seem helpful or not.

The Other Buddhism leaves the temple. The Other Buddhism involves going to the forest or going out into the street to take the Dharma to other places. It involves innovation. Often that innovation ends up leading to a new form of Temple Buddhism,which is different from the original.

Right after the Buddha’s death, the Sangha started organizing as monks in temples. And this worked out for a while. People venerated the Buddha. They chanted and did rituals in his name, spent time meditating and it was good.

But then there have been the renegades. I can point to a lot of examples.

Bodhidharma arrived in China and saw a Buddhism that was practiced in the temples there. He thought this Buddhism was lacking, so he went to live in a cave by himself. In Japan, Ikkyu left temple life to go teach the Dharma to prostitutes and alcoholics. And Dogen, thinking that the Buddhism in Japan wasn’t authentic enough, took the journey to China to try to find “real” Buddhism.

In Thailand Buddhadasa Bhikku left temple life to create a retreat center in the forest.

The Buddha himself went to live alone in the forest because he found the spirituality of his time to be lacking. That’s where Buddhism comes from.

We’ve lost a lot of this maverick spirituality in modern Buddhism. People are concerned with being attached to temples, practicing the exact way their teacher did, and not really thinking much outside the box. I’ve known plenty of Buddhist teachers who spend a lot of time just telling stories about their teachers, even doing an impression of their teacher’s accent (when it’s a foreign teacher). To me that’s really weird, but it’s very common.

Like religion in general, too often Buddhism can just become routine.

We perform rituals with no real meaning behind them. We just go through the motions, without really being serious about our practice. I can point to parallels in other religions, like the people who go to church and just sing beautiful hymns in monotone voices, without even thinking about the meaning or enjoying the spiritual practice.

It’s out of these kinds of issues that the Other Buddhism has repeatedly emerged. Because rebellion is what the Buddha did, it’s a natural part of Buddhism. That’s why there are such diverse lineages and practices. Change is an integral part of Buddhism.

To an extent I think we’ve lost sight of that in the modern world. People do have a tendency to think that things have to be a certain way because they always have been.

I often wonder, why.

 

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/buddhist-practice-in-a-rut/

Posted in tattooed buddha

The Teachings of Clouds

 

My two favorite historical Buddhist teachers called themselves clouds.

I wonder sometimes if that is significant. In many ways there were not similar, but they both inspire me a great deal.

What does it mean to call yourself a cloud?

A cloud is like a wayfarer—a traveler just passing through. A cloud doesn’t stay, but it can do a lot to make the sky look beautiful when it’s there. A cloud is soft, not hard. Indeed, it is so soft, you can’t grab hold of it at all.

But a cloud is also unstoppable. A cloud can get through any obstacle with no difficulty at all.

A cloud can take any shape. It can be whatever form it needs to be.

A cloud doesn’t get pulled this way and that by the circumstances of the world. It just goes on. A cloud is free. A cloud doesn’t want or need anything. And it doesn’t waste time comparing itself to other clouds.

I’m going to tell you about these two Buddhist teachers who called themselves clouds, but I’m going to go backwards, so I’ll start with Master Xu Yun.

The lineage that my teacher transmitted to me was the lineage of Xu Yun.

Xu Yun was a Ch’an Master in China and he lived for 120 years. He lived from 1840 until 1959. Just imagine the amount of history he witnessed in that time. He called himself Empty Cloud. He spent a lot of his long life restoring old temples in China that had been destroyed. That’s why he was a cloud. He traveled from place to place, spreading the Dharma and helping it have a more solid foundation. He gave teachings to many people.

It’s said that he received Dharma transmission in all five of the original Ch’an lineages—an achievement that is mostly unheard of.

So, that’s why he was a cloud. Why was he empty?

In this we should, I think, take empty to mean selfless. He wasn’t caught up in the trip of I-Me-Mine, that we all so easily fall into. He saw himself as part of an interconnected whole. That’s why he was able to dedicate 100 years of his life to rebuilding temples for other people.

Xu Yun is the inspiration behind my lineage. His tireless work throughout his long life is something that impresses me.

The other cloud I want to write about has nothing to do with my lineage. He, in fact, didn’t leave behind a lineage and he didn’t transmit the Dharma to anyone. He lived in Japan during the 1400s. His name was Ikkyu, and he called himself Crazy Cloud.

He was like a cloud, too. He traveled from place to place giving teachings and had a habit of going to places where other Zen teachers would never go. He taught in brothels and bars. He was often seen giving teachings to artists, musicians and homeless people.

This is why they called him crazy—a title he was more than happy to accept.

He wasn’t very comfortable in Zen temples with the other monks. He found them to be more political than spiritual, with different monks competing for the highest positions. And he didn’t see much point in staying there. He wanted to take the teachings out into the world, so everyone could learn, instead of just those who visited or stayed in temples.

His temple was the world.

In the history of Zen he’s often viewed as both a heretic and a saint. He was wild and free in a lot of ways and I think a lot of us wish we were wild and free. But, at the same time he was incredibly dedicated to spreading the Dharma and gave teachings at every opportunity.

So, those two people are my inspiration. Xu Yun is the spiritual founder of my lineage and Ikkyu is my personal hero.

I want to be a cloud too. Do you?

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/the-teachings-of-clouds/

Posted in tattooed buddha

Ikkyu: A Renegade Zen Master

buddha

(a version of this article appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

In the late 1300s in Japan a court noblewoman became pregnant.

The rumor is that she was pregnant with the illegitimate child of Emperor Go Komatsu. It’s unknown if this is really true, but what is known is this: she ran away from her home, raised him until he was five, and then placed him in a Rinzai Zen temple called Ankoku-Ji, where he was raised by monks and trained in that path.

This was how the renegade Zen Master and poet Ikkyu came into the world. His birth was marked by forbidden passion and love. And it affected him his whole life.

Ikkyu is my personal hero. Telling his story will explain why.

(Note: I am going to call him Ikkyu throughout this story to avoid confusion. Be aware that his name was Shuken until he studied under Zen Master Kaso and was given the name Ikkyu, which means ‘One Pause’)

At Ankoku-Ji, he received a detailed education in Chinese language, culture, art and poetry, in addition to deep studies in Buddhist practice and history.

It’s said that as a child he met many famous political and spiritual leaders of the day and in many debates and situations he outsmarted them. This is almost certainly a myth, but is the subject of many stories that are still told (and broadcast as cartoons for children) in Japan to this day. It reminds me of the story of Jesus talking to the temple priests as a child.

At the age of 13 he took residence at a temple called Kennin-Ji in Kyoto where he studied with a well known poet and monk named Botetsu. He practiced writing poetry and found that he was skilled at it.

But, he didn’t like Kennin-Ji. What he encountered there was a political atmosphere. These Zen monks were competing with each other for positions in the hierarchy. He saw monks being promoted for political and social reasons rather than because of deep realization. This made him feel discouraged.

This is something that happens in institutional Zen, even still today.

He stayed at Kennin-Ji for three years, but when he couldn’t take the political atmosphere anymore, he left.

He moved into a small temple at a place called Lake Biwa, and studied with another monk named Keno. He was Keno’s only student there. This one on one study probably profoundly affected Ikkyu’s future. Keno was a strong believer that the most important part of Zen practice is seated meditation, which was really not emphasized that much in the temples that Ikkyu had studied in previously.

After five years together, (Ikkyu is 21 at this point) Keno died. Ikkyu fell into a great sadness.

One night, he looked at Lake Biwa and seriously considered drowning himself. Instead, he went and found another teacher.

Ikkyu studied under a teacher named Kaso at a temple called Zenko-an. Kaso was a renegade Zen teacher himself, who preferred rigorous practice and koan study to the political nature of institutional Zen practice.

Ikkyu studied koans deeply under his teacher. In 1420, at the age of 26, while meditating in a boat on the lake, Ikkyu heard the sound of a crow cawing and he attained Enlightenment. All at once he was one with the crow, the lake, and everything else.

Kaso confirmed Ikkyu’s realization and made him a lineage holder, but it’s said that Ikkyu burned his certificate of Enlightenment because he believed such things were unnecessary.

When Kaso died, Ikkyu didn’t take over his temple. He left and became a wanderer instead. He wasn’t happy with living in a temple and simply giving Zen to other monks. He wanted to spread the Dharma—to take Zen out to places where people really needed it. It’s said that he gave teachings in places that other teachers would never go, like bars and whorehouses.

He was given the nickname Crazy Cloud. This was because his passion (for the Dharma and for life in general) was considered unusual and because he wandered from place to place like a cloud.

He spent his time in places around Kyoto and Osaka, making friends with people from all walks of life. Many Zen teachers spent a lot of time with nobility and kept away from the lowest members of society. Ikkyu befriended everyone.

He attracted many followers, including a lot of poets and artists. He also took many lovers and was not interested in celibacy. He believed Zen shouldn’t be separate from the passion of life. So, he enjoyed music, art, poetry and sexuality. He believed things like passion, free love and joy were virtues, not vices.

And he was excited about the Dharma, wanting to spread it far and wide. He wanted to make Buddhism available to everyone, not just to the wealthy or polite members of society.

In this way, he was more like some of the early Zen teachers in China. Originally the Dharma was open and wild and free. Ikkyu tried to take things back to that.

In his old age he had an open and passionate relationship with a blind singer named Lady Mori. He wrote numerous love poems for her.

After a civil war in the 1460s, Ikkyu was part of a campaign to rebuild Zen temples that were destroyed. In this way, he supported the institutions that he had rebelled against.

He reluctantly became abbot of a temple called Daitoku-Ji, which still exists today.

He lived to be 87 years old.

He didn’t give Dharma Transmission to anyone, so there is no Ikkyu lineage. He had concerns that if he created a lineage it would become corrupt soon after he was gone. He decided his teachings could live on without that potential for corruption.

So, I can’t be part of Ikkyu’s lineage, but he’s touched me more than any other Zen teacher. I like to think that across all this time and distance, I am connected to him.

He called his teaching Far Out Zen.

And that’s what I call mine.

 

 

Posted in diamond sutra

Diamond Sutra, chapter 29

Buddha continued:

“Studying this sutra and explaining it to others generates enormous merit.”

“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind arbitrary conception of forms or spiritual truths? It can only be done by keeping the mind tranquil and free from attachment to appearances.”

“This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this world:”

“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a cloud,
Or a flickering flame, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”

“This is how you should see all of existence.”

In the end, the Buddha tells us not to be attached to existence. I am reminded of a very similar quote by Zen Master Ikkyu: ‘Like vanishing dew,a passing apparition or the sudden flash of lightning — already gone –thus should one regard one’s self.’

Our self, our identity as independent beings, is hard to let go of. It’s something we have our whole lives. It is the source of all egotism and greed. We think of ourselves as separate from the world around us. But that’s not how anything in the world works. We didn’t come into the world. We came out of it. We are one with everything.