Posted in podcast, videos, zen

Zen Mind Workshop @Aquarius (video)

I had this opportunity to give this talk at Aquarius KC in their “Saturday Sages” series. Aquarius KC is a pagan/new age book store that has been in Kansas City for many years. People don’t realize it happens to be the best place to shop for malas and Buddha statues too, as far as I can tell. If you’re in KC, you should go there. Here’s their website: https://aquariuskc.com/

The video contains about half of the talk. The podcast linked below contains audio of the whole talk.

This talk was recorded on September 28th. Around 30 people were in attendance. If they invited me to give another talk there, I definitely would. It was a good experience.

 

click here for the audio version of the complete talk and discussion, including Q and A. The audience asked some great questions.

Zen Mind Workshop -Podcast episode

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Want to come meditate with me? I’m at HDKC Monday nights at 7pm. Meditation Practice, Support, and Encouragement. 4327 Troost, Kansas City, MO.

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

 

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Posted in meditation

Patience

Patience is something we can talk about a lot. It’s something we should be trying to cultivate because it’s very helpful, not just in our meditation practice, but in our day to day life too. We can always try to have more patience.

There are also different kinds of patience. My partner Alicia once described me as a really patient person and I don’t really see myself that way. That tells me a lot about this word and what it really means.

In some situations I have a lot of patience and in others I have very little. I have a whole lot of patience for dealing with people, especially kids. But when it comes to things like waiting in line, being stuck in traffic, waiting for an elevator, etc. I struggle to remain patient.

So we’re using this word to represent things that are sort of different. I have more patience for people than I do for circumstances. I think many people are the opposite but I don’t know for sure.

I want to suggest we can think of patience in a broad way. We’re talking about how we get through the storms of life. How we can go through our struggles and not fall apart. This is a broader way to think about patience. I want to suggest we can start thinking of patience in this broad way, rather than making it so narrow that it only includes waiting around for things that should have happened by now.

Impatience takes all of our attention, so cultivating patience is important. Meditation helps a lot with that. How? Because I’m making time to do something boring that I don’t really want to do. When we sit still and do nothing for a while, we are training in patience. We may think we’re just training in attention, but we’re training in patience too. So let’s sit.

 

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Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

Posted in meditation

Posture – How We Sit

I’m going to talk about how we sit. What we are doing with our body in meditation is just as important as what we’re doing with our mind.

If we can sit in the full lotus position, that is said to be the best. It’s sitting cross-legged with your left foot on your right thigh and your right foot on your left thigh. I have difficulty doing this position for any length of time, so I often do the half lotus, which is left foot on top of right thigh and right foot tucked underneath left knee. If we can sit in this way we will be stable and our feet won’t fall asleep. I should note that if you meditate in a chair instead of on a cushion, the best way to do this is with your legs firmly planted on the floor.

More important than what we do with our legs is what we do with our back. We need to keep our spine straight. When I used to teach kids I told them to pretend a string was tied to their head holding it up so they stayed sitting straight the whole time. I’ve always found that when I start to slouch I also start to daydream. A straight back helps prevent the mind wandering. We think of body and mind as separate sometimes, but they’re not. Also, slouching for a long time will probably cause some soreness.

Next we need a plan for what our hands are doing. If we don’t have a plan, we might fidget. I recommend what I call “the bowl”. Place your left hand on top of your right hand, with each finger lined up on the opposite with your thumbs gently touching, so an oval is created between the thumbs and the fingers. Some people call this “the cosmic mudra” and I think that’s too fancy. Your hands should be in your lap, with your thumbs near your belly button. If this position really doesn’t work for you, the other option I recommend is called “the relaxation mudra”. That is simply placing your hands on your knees.

A lot of discussion could be had about what we do with our eyes. I recommend an eyes open practice. Tilt your head downward at about a 45 degree angle and gently focus on a spot on the floor. We don’t want to stare intensely but just look and make sure we’re looking at something that’s not too interesting or distracting. I’ve always found that if my eyes are closed, I’m daydreaming, but I know many people do recommend a closed eyes practice.

Posture is of great importance because body and mind are intimately connected. We think there’s a separation and there’s not. Straightening our body leads to straightening the mind.


 

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

Posted in buddhism, zen

Virtue – Meditation – Wisdom

Our goal on this path is to live as genuinely as we can. We want to be real and unleash our full potential to see things clearly and to lessen the suffering of ourselves and others. We have within us incredible potential for wisdom and compassion and what we’re trying to do here is manifest that potential. We are enslaved by our baggage, delusion, and lack of clarity. This path is about learning to manage those things.

How do we do this?

The Zen tradition has something called the threefold study that we can think about here. The cultivation of virtue, meditation and wisdom. All Buddhist teachings contain these three categories, really.

The traditional way of cultivating virtue is in the five precepts. No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no false speech, no indulging in intoxicants. These are not commandments, I can’t stress that enough. It’s just been demonstrated that if you’re not going around killing people, you have an easier time settling your mind and developing clarity. Precepts also help us lessen our attachment to our ego. We are so pulled around by our desires and our aversions. Precepts are meant to help us resist our temptations some. We might try to think of precepts as a walking stick rather than as a chain. The nature and intent of the precepts is to help us maintain a life of harmony. If we have harmony with the world around us, we have a much easier time practicing. As a result of cultivating virtue, the mind has an easier time settling and focusing.

When we turn our awareness inward, we can start to develop deeper and deeper awareness. This is what meditation is all about. When we develop concentration and clarity, it gives us a chance to see our true nature, which is free of all this baggage and delusion. Our attention is scattered and fractured and meditation helps us to direct it where we need it to go.
When we learn how to focus, it gives our minds a chance to manifest our inherent clarity. This is wisdom. Wisdom means seeing the world as it actually is, without being clouded by our judgments and preconceived ideas and labels. These things filter our reality and we rarely get a clear picture of what’s happening. Wisdom is the great insight into how things really are: interdependent, dynamic, and full of wonder.

To cultivate virtue is to free ourselves from our fixations of attachment and aversion, love and hate. To cultivate meditation is to free ourselves from distractions. To cultivate wisdom is to stop obstructing our true nature. In this tradition we are practicing these three together as a way to awaken to our true nature.

 


 

Visit my YouTube Channel to hear Dharma Talks!

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

And go check out my Podcast Scharpening the Mind

 

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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if you want to support the work I’m doing, you can make a donation here:

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

 

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 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.