Posted in zen

Teachers and Monks

These days I tend to downplay the fact that I went through monk training.

I lead a Zen meditation group now and I certainly don’t want to use the fact that I went through monk training to promote that in any way. That would be inappropriate.

I was a monk school dropout. These days I’m just a lay teacher at my local non-sectarian Buddhist temple. And that’s just fine with me.

I went through monk training with an organization that doesn’t have a good reputation. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to be perceived as talking bad about someone. I don’t know if there’s anything *wrong* with that organization really. They didn’t try to take money from me or anything like that. I just really didn’t connect with their lineage at all and there were a few weird things going on that I felt I couldn’t ignore. I don’t want to go into details about that here, but I will answer any questions privately on the subject.

I’m careful to not mention the name of that organization. I just don’t connect with the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn and it seems like people in his lineage are often just repeating things in his teaching style. Which is fine. A lot of Buddhist teachers just repeat things from their teacher or just quote their teacher all the time. It’s not at all unusual. But it just wasn’t for me.

In early Buddhism things were probably different than they are now.

One would take the vows of a Novice, expressing the intent to walk the path of the Dharma, and then look for a teacher, probably studying with several different teachers to find the right one. That’s what Dogen did. That’s what Ikkyu did too.

I took these novice vows a few years ago. But, I did leave that organization. It wasn’t a good fit for me, especially at that time in my life.

These are the ten novice vows that I took:

The First Precept: I vow to support all living creatures, and refrain from killing.
The Second Precept: I vow to respect the property of others, and refrain from stealing.
The Third Precept: I vow to regard all beings with respect and dignity, and refrain from objectifying others.
The Fourth Precept: I vow to be truthful, and refrain from lying.
The Fifth Precept: I vow to maintain a clear mind and refrain from harming myself or others with intoxication.

The Sixth Precept: I vow to be kind and to encourage others, and to refrain from discouraging others including myself.
The Seventh Precept: I vow to be kind to others and refrain from being boastful and self-centered.
The Eighth Precept: I vow to be generous, to be grateful for what I have, and refrain from yearning for things that do not belong to me.
The Ninth Precept: I vow to promote harmony and refrain from acting in anger or hatred.
The Tenth Precept: I vow to affirm and uphold the three jewels (the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma).

Now, I think people are largely expected to stay in an organization or stay with a teacher. But I’d like to suggest that that wasn’t always the case. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think things used to be as rigid as they are now. Because students should have time to have the right teacher, if we’re going to have teachers at all. And having trouble finding the right teacher is, of course, no barrier to serious commitment to the path.

This is generally how I think of myself. As a Novice Monk, as a wanderer, as a cloud. Some say that if you don’t keep going, if you don’t take more vows etc., then you have to give those vows back or something. I respectfully disagree. Vows are a lifetime commitment, and they’re something you take for yourself. They aren’t something you take for an organization.

I’ve connected with a lot of teachers. I’ve studied with teachers on the internet and I’ve spent a little time on retreat with other teachers.

I read Dogen and Ikkyu all the time, but I can’t really call them my teachers (they’re dead).

There is a sad truth about Buddhism in the west that we don’t talk about much.

That truth is ambition.

One can very easily fall into a trap of ambition. “I want to wear cool robes.” “I want to join this or that awesome lineage.” or “I want to be a great Buddhist Master.”

And if you want a teacher to feed your ambition and tell you that you’ll become something great, you can find one. They are out there.

From what I’ve seen a really good teacher doesn’t promise you anything.

For the longest time I thought I should become a ‘GREAT Zen Master’. I read stories from Zen history about Bodhidharma, Huineng, Dogen, Huang Po, Xu Yun, Ikkyu, Basho, and many others. They are inspiring.

One of the teachers I’ve spent time with, Maezen, once told me, “Drop your attachment to outcome and let the Dharma unfold in your life by itself.”

Now I take that message to heart.

Maezen is my favorite Zen teacher that I’ve met. I’ve talked to other Zen teachers on the internet over the years, and I really think that’s no substitute for real life practice. She’s a traveling Zen teacher. I can’t really have a formal relationship with her unless I become a traveling Zen student. But, I can tell you this: I served as her Jisha (attendant) on a weekend Zen retreat here in Kansas City and I think I learned more about the path in those three days than I ever thought possible.

Now I lead a Zen meditation group, but I don’t think of myself as a teacher. I’m even teaching a class on the Diamond Sutra at the Rime Center and I’ll be teaching other classes in the future, but I’m still not sure I can think of myself as a teacher.

Now after all this time, I really wonder why I wanted so badly to be a teacher in the first place. I read about Buddhism every day. I don’t read much else, really. I spend more time in Buddhist temples than a lot of people. And I love to write about Buddhism. I really really enjoy it.

Maybe those are reasons why. Is getting credentials necessary in order to be able to write about Buddhism? I don’t think so. Jack Kerouac wrote about Buddhism. Alan Watts wrote about Buddhism too. Hell, even noted scholar D.T. Suzuki was not a Zen Master.

People sometimes expect me to be an authority figure because I write about Buddhism. I’m about as out as you can be. No one that knows me wonders what my spiritual beliefs are. I’m always carrying Buddhist books. I’m talking about the Dharma to anyone who is interested. Oh, and I have some Buddhist symbols permanently on my body. On my right arm I have a blue lotus, an OM, a Bodhisattva, and an endless knot. So, anyone that wants to talk about Buddhism knows that I’m someone who they can talk to about it before they even know my name. Is that why I got these tattoos or is it because tattoos are cool? Who knows.

I’m not an authority figure, not really. I’m as mired in suffering as everyone else. I’m confused and I make plenty of mistakes, probably more than my fair share.

I’m not a role model. I am full of flaws.
As Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anyone except my own confusion.”

The only thing I can really do when people ask me for advice is point to the mistakes I made. I can definitely tell you what I did that didn’t work out well. My regrets are numerous.

I’ve studied with several different organizations that give teachings online. We don’t have a Soto Zen community here in Kansas City and Soto Zen is what really speaks to me the most. It actually kind of bothers me. Wichita, KS has a Soto Zen temple. Cedar Rapids, IA has a Soto Zen Temple. Omaha, NE has a Soto Zen temple. But we don’t have one in Kansas City. We have a growing city, an amazing city, that’s becoming increasingly diverse. We’re a bigger city than Wichita. We should have a Soto Zen temple.

I haven’t had great results, but that’s okay. I’ve learned a lot. You can learn about Zen online, but I don’t think you can really learn to walk the path.

Sangha is important. Being with actual other Buddhists in real life is important.

I was practicing with the Rime Sangha here the whole time, but I wanted a Zen Sangha. Being able to go to the Rime Center has been a great benefit to me. I can’t express how much being part of that community has meant to me. It’s a wonderful community, but a lot of that Tibetan stuff doesn’t hold much meaning for me.

The Zen tradition is the one that really speaks to me.

I’ve learned a lot in studying by myself and in studying with teachers on the internet. I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience. I’ve been pretty thoroughly educated in Zen Buddhist history and theory. I actually learned a whole lot in studying with one of my teachers, Shi Da Dao on the internet. He gave me the Buddhist name that I use and gave me permission to teach in his lineage, the Empty Cloud Lineage of Xu Yun. He did this even though we never met in real life. I have trouble taking that seriously. Something about it definitely doesn’t feel real.

I have to acknowledge that education and practice aren’t the same thing. There are Buddhist colleges that train ministers, plenty of them. But that’s not the way we become Buddhist clergy (whatever that means). All training is on the job. I think we do a disservice to the Dharma if we make it about training to be a minister. It should be about awakening.

I’ve taken Bodhisattva Vows and done all sorts of other things.

I’ve written about Bodhisattva Vows before and Dharma Transmission as well. I gave certificates. I am a ‘certified Dharma teacher’. I’m a teacher in the Tibetan tradition as well. I was given the title ‘Gegan’ (teacher) by Urgyen Palden Gocha.

But, and this is important, Buddhism isn’t really something you learn. It’s something you do. My hero Ikkyu tore up his certifications when he got them because he didn’t take them seriously.

I think Vows are something you take for yourself and not for some other person or organization. I believe those have meaning no matter what.

Three things have traditionally been fundamental to Buddhist practice. One is practicing by yourself at home. The second is practicing with a community once in a while. The third is following an example, spending time with a teacher who has more experience than you.

I’m no one’s master. That is clear. I’m just a wandering cloud. A student on the path, just like all of the other Buddhists. Although I’m like the kind of student who’s studying all the time.

I won’t be your master.

But I’d love to be your spiritual friend.

Advertisements
Posted in ch'an, zen

Hsu Yun: Empty Cloud

 

“Set the time of sitting! Make it just as long as it takes one fragrant incense stick to burn down.

In that time we can thread the basic principles of Buddhism into a lovely string of pearls.”

~ Hsu Yun

Ch’an Master Hsu Yun lived to be 120. He lived from the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s and never traveled to the West—but many westerners traveled to the East to learn from him and his influence is felt here.

As a child, he saw monks performing a funeral service for his grandmother. Seeing these monks gave him inspiration; he started tracking down and reading sutras and he fell in love with the Dharma.

At the age of 19, he ran away from home to become a monk. This means he spent 100 years studying and practicing the Dharma full time—that’s longer than any teacher I can think of.

His teachings helped Ch’an Buddhism survive into the modern age. He is given credit for keeping Ch’an alive in a time when it could have easily fallen apart.

Hsu Yun’s philosophy is heavily characterized by three things.

One, he was a strong proponent of the Hua tou, or what’s this, method of meditation.

Two, he was known for giving the same amount of respect to layman as to monks. He said that laymen were as capable of attaining Enlightenment as monks. In some lineages of Buddhism, there are those that disagree, that think that monks are the only ones capable.

Three, he talked about Enlightenment. In many Buddhist traditions, discussing the actual experience of Enlightenment is frowned upon. Master Hsu Yun wanted to guide people to awakening to their Buddha Nature and he didn’t think there was a problem with talking about it in simple and direct ways.

He actually described his own experience of Enlightenment with two gathas:

“1 – A cup fell to the ground
With a sound clearly heard.
As space was pulverised,
The mad mind came to a stop.

2 – When the hand released its hold, the cup fell and was shattered,
‘Tis hard to talk when the family breaks up or someone dies.
Spring comes with fragrant flowers exuberating everywhere;
Mountains, rivers and the great earth are only the Tathagata.”

He didn’t talk about Enlightenment as something we have to achieve, however. Rather, he said that Enlightenment was something that was with us already, we just have to realize it.

From his Enlightenment at the age of 54 until his death, Xu Yun traveled around the countryside teaching sutras, transmitting the precepts, building temples, and starting seminaries for novices, Buddhist associations for laymen and free Buddhist schools for children.

In the 1930s, when he was in his 90s, Hsu Yun decided that spreading Ch’an to the West was a good idea. So, he asked his lay student Charles Luk, to translate as many Ch’an teachings into English as possible. (Charles Luk was very prolific in these translations and many of them are available online.)

A lot of the Japanese style, Zen, has come to the West. Quite a bit of the Korean style, Son, has come to the West as well, but very little of the original Ch’an Buddhism has come.

As a result of his long life and lack of scandals, Hsu Yun is revered in China and is slowly becoming known in the West.

He spent his life rebuilding temples across China and visiting other Buddhist teachers; it is thought that Chinese Buddhism might have died out without his century of work preserving it.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, a transmission of Chinese Buddhist teaching has spread from China out into the rest of the world.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, there are authentic Ch’an lineages that are growing and spreading.

8099cae5883cf0517c6ef77d0c702644

—————————————————————————————————————You can support independent Buddhist writing by joining a community of fellow learners/practitioners at  Patreon

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

Kensho: A Glimpse of Awakening

Kensho is something we talk about in the Zen tradition.

It represents the mystical experience, the experience of oneness, of seeing our true nature, emptiness, the absolute, whatever you want to call it.

Some lineages talk about it a lot and some talk about it a little. It’s important to not attach to these experiences. There are stories about people who thought they had attained Enlightenment and then made some bad decisions.

That’s why having a teacher is important, so the teacher can tell you, “Hey, slow down. Take it easy.” This is helpful if we’re attaching too much to these experiences. Or, at the very least, it is useful to find a supportive community. Finding a teacher isn’t always easy and for some of us it takes a very long time.

It’s been said that Kensho can be a big or small experience. In either case, it is an opening, a glimpse into Awakening. This is a temporary experience.

Dogen called it, “The dropping away of body and mind.”

Xu Yun said, “The mind came to a stop.”

Having had a Kensho experience doesn’t mean that one is fully Enlightened. It’s just a glimpse of the truth. Kensho has been compared to a psychedelic experience.

I didn’t really start having these experiences with any regularity until I started meditating every day. Some people say they never have them, even with really diligent practice.

The point is that we shouldn’t be attached to these experiences.

They are wondrous and can really help motivate us on the path, but if we think of them as special, we could have problems.

D.T. Suzuki also wrote in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:

“When the mind has been so trained as to be able to realize a state of perfect void in which there is not a trace of consciousness left, even the sense of being unconscious having departed; in other words, when all forms of mental activity are swept away clean from the field of consciousness, leaving the mind like the sky devoid of every speck of cloud, a mere broad expense of blue, Dhyana is said to have reached its perfection.”

Some people think of Kensho as the end of the path, but that’s a mistake.

Really, it’s the beginning. It does change you in a very real way. I’ve been fundamentally changed by every such experience I’ve had. I wouldn’t say I’ve had Satori, or a full Enlightenment experience, but it’s because of Kensho that I believe Satori is attainable. Once you’ve had a Kensho experience you can’t lie to yourself like you did before when you’ve had  a glimpse at the true nature of things.

In the Platform Sutra Huineng said:

“If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.”

Kensho is a state of letting go, releasing who you think you are and dwelling in your true self.

After this break in thoughts is over, one tends to still not cling to thoughts for a while.

When we engage both concentration and insight practices, these experiences can arise naturally. They’re especially common when we are on retreat.

Every time we enter this space of Awakening it’s a deep and profound experience.

Every time, we dwell in Enlightenment, we bring a little more of it back with us

 

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/kensho-a-glimpse-into-awakening/

Posted in tattooed buddha

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

There have always been spokespersons for spirituality.

These are the mystics who dwell in both worlds, traveling deeply on the spiritual path, but also bringing something back to share. These are shamans, yogis, and gurus who go beyond the culture to the Truth and bring some of the Truth back with them.

This was the case for thousands of years of human history, when spirituality was flexible, mystical and transcendent. This paradigm is probably not what it used to be in the modern world. But, I’m not writing this to criticize the state of religion today.

In any case, these mystics, these representatives of oneness served the purpose of helping others discover transcendence in this world, guide others in the spiritual life or, at least, demonstrate what the spiritual life could be. They set an example and actualize spiritual goals.

For an individual to walk this path, of course they would need to have seen something of ultimate reality themselves. They have to live the path—as I said dwelling in two worlds, the world of void and the world of form. The mystic has to have used the spiritual eye to see beyond the world of delusion, the world of separation, and penetrated the oneness that is fundamental to reality.

A vision of unity is important.

The mystic can’t make others change the way they look at things. The mystic can point the way to seeing beyond duality and unlocking our minds. The mystic can even give advice (if it’s asked for) and can certainly set an example. But no one can break out of the delusions of duality and see their true nature without putting forth their own sincere effort.

In tribal cultures it was easy to find a spiritual teacher. Mystics had a role in the community. They were isolated at times, but had an important role to play in a lot of the functions of society. Is this still true? No.

A seeker can have a hard time. A good spiritual teacher will hopefully present themselves as a guide instead of a master.

So, what are those of us who teach mystical truths to others?

I am not a teacher or a priest. I am an awakener.

Our purpose is to walk between the worlds of void and form and to help others do the same. I am dwelling in oneness and pulling others onto the path with me.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/when-the-student-is-ready-the-teacher-appears-hopefully/

Posted in ask a zen teacher, tattooed buddha

Where Do We Start?

Q: If someone is interested in learning about Zen and incorporating a Zen practice into their daily life, where do you recommend they start?

A: This is a great question.

Where to begin is something that I struggled with back when I started. I can suggest some steps to get you on your way.

1) Start practicing meditation.

Meditation is the core of Zen practice. Meditate daily if you can. Start with five minutes a day and gradually increase to 10 and then 15. Go up to 20 minutes if you want. Don’t let me hold you back.

We often tend to think we don’t have time to devote to meditation, but most of us do. We could cut down on a lot of the things we do and meditate instead. I don’t have to check my Facebook so much or watch so much Netflix. I can use some of that time for meditating instead.

It can be hard to force ourselves to sit down and meditate sometimes. But, it is important and there are a number of benefits to meditating regularly.

Meditation helps prepare our minds for contemplating spiritual truths. It is what truly opens the door to unleashing our Buddha nature. When we meditate, the delusion that stops you from recognizing our Buddha nature is—at least temporarily—cleared away. When we meditate, we pay attention to what’s really going on.

2. Practice being present.

A solid meditation practice helps with this. Often in life we are distracted, not living in the moment and missing our lives entirely. Learning to be present in the moment allows us to avoid getting brought by down worry and stress.

3. Do some reading.

A lot of great introductory material is out there. Look up Shunryu Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Philip Kapleau or Robert Aitken. Once you read through some introductory material, you can go into some deeper teachings like the Diamond Sutra and Platform Sutra.

4. Find a teacher or community.

This is the hardest for some people. It’s been said that it’s very very difficult to practice alone. Practicing with a community is like having a workout buddy. Being around someone else who has the same goals as us helps keep us on track. It doesn’t have to be a community with systems of authority (ie ‘Masters’). A simple community of equals who practice together often works really well too.

Practicing alone isn’t impossible, but it’s sort of like teaching yourself how to drive. Can you teach yourself how to drive without getting advice or watching other people do it? Sure you can, but that’s a more difficult way of doing things. Most areas in this country have Buddhist communities in them now (there are several here in Kansas City) so you should be able to find one. That said, if you can’t find a group, there are some online. If you’re interested in that, send me an email letting me know and I’ll show you where to go.

Now, our communities don’t necessarily have to be on the Zen path, as long as they’re on some similar path of transformation that’s fine. I practiced with pagans for a while and with Vajrayana Buddhists for a while too.

Our beliefs aren’t always the same necessarily, but some of our practices are, so that’s fine.