Steve is giving the talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center this Sunday Oct. 21st. I will share some details about how I came to practice and how practice has impacted my life. I have also been considering what we call “Human Consciousness” and the confusion that ensues when it is used in so many different contexts with so many different meaings, and how our real experience is experienced, but not through trying to wrap our consciousness around it! So I’m sure that will be in there too.  So come support Steve if you can. Sitting starts at 9am and the dharma talk is at 9:30am.  Check out the link above for location and directions.


For the Wednesday Night sitting group, we have decided to read a popular (in certain Zen circles) essay by Dogen, the Thirteenth Century Zen Master from Japan, titled the Genjokoan, (or in English: The Way of Everyday Life.)   It is a great text with with a lot of precise and poetic language that imparts a magical feeling.  It is a wonderful expression of his own penetrating insight, and was written for the general public (of 13th century Japan) as a means of encouraging them (and us) to realize enlightenment. It is only a few pages long, and with it we are reading a book that includes 3 commentaries: one by Shunryo Suzuzki Roshi, the primary founder of Zen in America; another by his teacher in Japan–Uchiyama Roshi; and an 18th Century Japanese Master–Nishiari Bokusan. (Book title: Dogen’s Genjokoan: Three Commentaries) Our plan is to recite the text and investigate the different sections by each commentator to provide us with context to understand our own experience, our own enlightenment, the very enlightenment at hand. So please join us!

In the fall, which lets go: the leaf or the tree?

Flitting and fluttering, when

One side shows, one side is hidden

Holding to one view freezes the freefall.

When the time is complete

Don’t worry which is which

Just let go into the next season.

A new season is upon us and with it we will begin a new topic for discussion. Having just finished Katagiri Roshi’s Book Each Moment is the Universe, we will have a group discussion in our next meeting to decide what material we want to investigate next. All ideas related to mediation or spirituality are welcome! In the past we have read books by authors such as Pema Chodron, Thich Naht Hanh, explored slogan cards, discussed poetry, investigated Zen koans. Scientific books on meditation or the intersection of the new physics and biology are an option. Books describing the technique(s) of meditation is another possibility.  So bring a favorite book, or better yet a book or topic area you have always wanted to explore but haven’t yet had the time. We’ll share our ideas and choose one that appeals to us all.

Katagiri Roshi

The Wednesday Night Group has begun a new book titled Each Moment is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time. It is a series of talks given by Katagiri Roshi, the well-known Zen Master who used to inhabit these parts and the source for the Zen Centers in Minnesota. The talks are not in any inherent order, and span the entire time of his teaching here (some too from talks he gave while at San Francisco Zen Center), so please join the group any Wednesday, you won’t feel as if you’ve missed much. In Buddhism, in general, there is the view that there are 72 or so independent moments in a single finger snap.  That makes for approximately 6,400,099,180 (give or take) independent separate moments in a given 24 hour day. According to Buddhism, in each one of these moments the entire universe from end to end—-from the quasars on one side to the quasars on the other, and all quadrillions of galaxies tetra-billions of light years apart—-arises and passes away completely.  This happens so fast that the mind cannot witness it (unless one has spent a lifetime isolated deep in a cave or forest in intensive meditation, which is how they came to this conclusion). Each moment is itself complete—-an entire moment unto itself, not dependent on the moment that came before or the one coming after. The only thing linking one moment to another is karma. It’s the cause and effect of the activity of the universe that strings it all together.  Otherwise one exhalation and inhalation of the cosmos might have been enough. It is the momentum of one’s incomplete activity that stitches the cosmos into the elaborate tapestry we see. If we completed everything we started, resolving all our karma, we would experience the void between cosmic breathes. This is nirvana, which means ‘to be blown out’ like a candle going out after burning up all of its fuel.

Now, the important thing is what does this mean for our actual lives? How does this knowledge help one decide between paper or plastic in the grocery store: either for carrying items home or for maximizing reward points? How can this knowledge help us ‘bring home the bacon (beans for the vegetarians)’? This book will answer these questions, and if not, at least spark discussion for all of us. Their are a number of implications, one being that Time and Being are the same experience. Our existence is not apart from time—-there is no before and after to our existence. My experience, your experience, each experience is complete and whole in itself without a before and after. Enlightenment is this light of awareness infusing our very experience, our very existence, without us thinking about it. The thinking about it is the mistake, the thinking is itself the separation that we feel. Our thinking always goes before and after the experience we are having right now. Without the thinking, there is just the light of awareness filling up all of space-time, expanding as far as you dare.

The slogan for this week is: Regard all dharmas as dreams. The sanskrit word dharma has multiple meanings. Literally it means Truth, the Teachings, or, originally, Natural Law. In Buddhism it takes on a broader meaning as the ‘ten thousand’ things (short for everything) or ‘phenomenon.’ The thinking goes that anything that manifests itself has some truth to it, so any thing is considered a lower case ‘truth’ (as opposed to capital T ‘Truth’). Thus any phenemena of any type–physical forms, sensory experiences, emotions, even elusive thoughts are little lower case truths. All of the changing phenomena about us exist for a brief period and then recede back into the empty state, or shunyata, the void. Shunyata is the pregnant state of emptiness that is wholly singular and complete, without qualities or characteristics of its own, from which all dharmas spring forth. Since the nature of ‘reality’ is impermanent–nothing stays together, remains composite, for that long–everything, all phenomenon, are elusive, illusive, transitory, and ephemeral. So this slogan is just a reminder of that fact. Although some things–such as the massive temple complexes in Egypt, or mountain ranges, or even celestial bodies–seem to last a really long time, and as such appear permanent compared to our vastly shorter spans of existence, they too do not last forever and are themselves in a state of constant flux.  In the grand scheme of eternity, they don’t exist all that long either. All phenomena arise like waves out of the sea of shunyata. Waves of different sizes and shapes all arise for a period and then fall back into their source. The wave is never different than the source. We, you and I, are never different than the source.  Whether currently manifesting as a form, a wave of certain size, strength and duration, or settled into the depths of our formless nature makes no real difference. The magical phenomena we experience everyday are just phantasms on a stage, alike in most every way as the images we encounter in our sleep. The primary difference is that at night we are in a subjective dream, while during the day we are making a collective dream with everyone else. Our perceptions, interpretations, illusions are overlaid on what is really happening. The unchanging source is, ultimately, the only thing that is, capital R, Real.  This doesn’t have to be “woo-woo.” When we recognize that “the changing appearances and ten thousand differences share one pattern” (as the Zen Master Hongzhi puts it) without changing them as they appear to us, we recognize their dream-like nature. Recognizing this dream-like nature we can awaken from our habitual reactions, lighten-up, and face ‘reality’ with playfulness and joy, just like a pleasant lucid night dream. When we are awake to this true nature, the world of the everyday expands and advances in a vivid display of delight.

On Wednesday the group randomly chose a card from the Lojong Deck, and (karmically!) it was the very first one which states: “First, train in the preliminaries.” The preliminaries are four reminders to put our awareness in the right attitude. They are:

  1. The good fortune of being born human: How rare not to be born an ant or fern but instead with an amazing chance for enlightenment.
  2. Reality of Death–it comes swiftly without warning.
  3. The Entrapment of karma: that no matter what you do, good or bad, just further entwines you in the web of karma, the law of cause and effect.
  4. The inevitably and intensity of suffering for all living beings, including oneself.

A little gloomy maybe for some, but these reminders promote a humble attitude with which to approach such teachings as the Buddhist affirmation of complete freedom. Complete perfect uncontrived enlightenment, say those who have achieved it, is freedom from suffering, karma, and even death.  So it is worth keeping these things in mind, or at least one of them at a time. As an exercise, choose one of these four to reflect on during the week. What an amazing opportunity to be human, better even than being born a god because the gods are having too good of a time, generally, to ponder enlightenment. Keeping death in mind produces an intensity of perception opposite that of our typical autopilot condition.  You don’t want to miss anything! Realization that even altruistic acts produce karma can spur one to practice. (In meditation (ideally), no karma is produced–old karma even gets burned up!) And the awareness of suffering, that no creatures can escape it, produces endless compassion for oneself and others.

Next week we will read Pema Chodron’s first chapter No Escape, No Problem in Start Where You Are.

Over the next weeks the meditation group will be using Lojong slogans to orient our practice.  Lojong slogans are a group of 59 pithy slogans (brief phrases) commonly used in Tibetan Buddhism as reminders to guide practice, especially daily practice.  An example of one is: “Don’t try to be the fastest.”  We will read from Pema Chodron’s book, Start Where You Are and utilize a deck of cards which she created to organize the slogans.  These slogans were utilized by her teacher, the well-known Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in his teachings designed for Westerners.  Trungpa is famous for  founding Shambhala Centers across America and Europe and Naropa University in Boulder, CO. He was one of the original teachers  bringing the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Start Where You Are are Chodron’s commentaries on the slogans, bringing them to life and explaining them to a Western audience. Please join us!