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Showing posts from February, 2009


Only the first step has to do with abstinence. The next eleven are much more difficult, and the hardest one so far was the 7th- to turn my character defects over to a higher power for removal.
Defects? Removal? I already posted about this. Leaving the Roshi out of it, I asked the Shuso if I could have the Zendo for Saturday morning. I filled him in on my "confession/refuge" ceremony, one I'd learned at Green Gulch, and he said it was fine, as long as I wasn't chanting in Pali or English or anything else that was hippy-yoga Zen or what he called "fluffy." This was fine. I didn't see it coming, but it didn't surprise me. My sponsor came over at 7am. The Shuso offered to help out, but I figured he just wanted to make sure the chants were correct, and this wasn't Zen business, but A.A business, and my relationship with my sponsor, who is a very sentimental, affectionate ,older man, would make him uncomfortable, so I said I was fine. I placed a zafu …

Eat, Sit, March

I found a chaplaincy program at Upaya Zen Center. You don’t have to be a priest to participate. It’s a two year certificate program that may substitute for a master’s degree. I’m giving it Chaplain Candidate School serious thought.

As I write this, I’m looking at 4 new books I just ordered on pedagogy. I also taught a wonderful class to upward bound high school students on Saturday, which was refreshing and inspiring. And then, I’m studying for the GRE, with hopes of pursuing an MFA in creative writing. It's all going well. It's good to fly kites on breezey days.

Making decisions from a good place is a new thing for me. It's a new exercise. It's actually a challenge! It's much easier to react to a perceived disaster, to "save" myself and thrive on resentment. It's harder to love your job, you life, but also plan for the future, while not making any big changes to quickly. And I'm thinking about a big commitment.

If I decide to become a chaplain, it …

Big Band Zazen

St. Aug's band was marching toward the temple while I sat zazen on Friday evening. If you've never been to New Orleans for MardiGrais, you've never seen New Orleans do something right. The efficiency of our police, our bands, and parade directors would make you wonder why we can't get anything else working around here. Perhaps most surprising is how quickly the streets are cleaned. The cleaning crew is its own parade.

I often think that New Orleans is a unique place to practice Zen. When it's not MardiGrais, it's still insane. From 3rd world traffic patterns to the raging bohemian current, any routine is challenged. This may also account for our low number sangha; people may be to drunk to sit zazen.

When I was drinking, I came to the temple anyway- mostly hungover. My teacher knew and I can remember him saying that it didn't matter, that to sit zazen was most important, and that I needed to come. I'm thankful he didn't push me away, as I credit my si…

Beings are Numberless

The Zen temple is on the 4th floor of an olive green building. Most people don’t know it’s there. The 1st floor is an art gallery, the 2nd is an advertising firm, and the 3rd is the temple’s storage, office, and resident space. The stairs wind upwards and leave most winded. It’s an urban space, the smallest building next to skyscrapers, the Mississippi river, and two doors down from a beautiful cathedral. Their bells chime every hour and lend to the ambiance of our temple. Whenever I’m leading, I try to harmonize, striking the gong, the metal, the han, or drum in between the ringing.

The central business district is not very “New Orleans.” It may be the only place in the city where people show up on time. It’s far from a neighborhood. The street is alive from 6:30 am until 6:00pm. Everything closes and it’s hard to find something to eat. Even the hotel bars are empty because the French quarter is so close. Most business people or convention people spend their nights there.

I shouldn'…

These are the days of our lives.

(Flying pig in the middle)

I hadn’t said a thing to Robert, not even hello when I saw my teacher talking with the shuso about the book I’m editing. It was a work day at the temple and I was tenzo again, and I really couldn’t get caught up in my recent feelings, and so I didn’t open my mouth, for fear of something escaping.

In a lot of ways, I felt like Judas. I went behind my teacher’s back and asked some questions I’m not brave enough to ask him. It felt wrong, felt too subjective, and I spoke about our temple as a whole. I didn’t say this is how I feel; I said this is how things are at our temple. There are always problems with I statements, but my issue is that “I” changes so rapidly.

Last week, I was sure I would never take ordination from Robert. I was so positive that he was not the teacher for me. I had plans to go west or to Japan, and it felt so good to dwell in certainty. Not so good, but euphoric, like I figured…

What is a true student?

I can fixate easily on Zen lineages. I find the histories and biographies of lineages and teachers fascinating. I’m not sure I would have this affinity if I was at a big temple, or a temple that has many branches, like Suzuki’s line.

I’m at a Deshimaru temple, whose teacher was Kodo Sawaki. And when I dig up our past, our history- my teacher’s history, I’m afraid of digging too deep. Skimming the surface would give anyone one pause.

After the Sino-Japanese war, which Sawaki fought in when he was 16, “The monks, taking Kodo Sawaki for a beggar-tramp (his clothes were but rags) and a madman (the bullet wound he had received in the mouth impaired his speech and made it difficult for him to speak), refused to listen to him.” Of course, they eventually let him in. And in his later years, he refused to take a seat as Roshi, becoming known as an unsui, a wandering, homeless monk.

Deshimaru’s story is even better. During world war two, floating on a Japanese destroyer on the coast of Indonesia,…

7th step work

After compiling a list of character defects, I am now bound to turn these over to my higher power for removal.

That’s complicated for a Zen Buddhist.

The simple part was identifying that as long as my higher power isn’t me, I’m nearer to conscious contact. And I do believe. I’m not sure what God looks like, but I think it’s manifested in the three treasures. When I think of God, I think of prostrations to all beings in the ten directions. When I feel conscious contact, it’s the opposite feeling of when I feel less than, feel damaged. I feel God when I feel loved out of the blue. Love has a lot to do with why I practice Zen. The ability to feel love has been a merit I hesitate to reveal, lest it vanish in my pursuit.

So there is an A.A prayer that doesn’t seem to work. And then I live in a temple and have a whole room that seems suitable for this task. But I guess I’m having a hard time in asking for something I don’t believe can happen. I can make the leap and believe in a “God” but t…

I am not this batch of mud.

Sho Myo.
Sho means “way of life,” and “the means of existence.” Right practice of the Way requires a regular, well-ordered, well-considered life and respect of duty…Concentrate on what you have to do with mushotoku mind, generous and altruistic.
-Deshimaru, on the eight fold path

The first job I ever had was cutting grass for an old Italian lady up the hill. I showed up once a week, headphones on, and sometimes I cut the grass and sometimes I cleaned out her basement. I remember cleaning her drainage ditches. At 11 years old, I made more money than I could spend on ice cream and movie rentals, so I spent some on Star Wars’ toys, models, and drawing supplies.

But I knew I only really needed the ice cream and the movie rentals. I bought the other stuff because I had no concept of saving. Save for what? The money was rolling in.
Eventually I quit. Ice cream and movies got boring. I just couldn’t think of anything to do with my money and I couldn’t think why anyo…
I was a puddle on my mat. Ki-Ki prattled on about lifted knee caps and relaxed faces in a ceaseless stream of directions for each pose. Bikram always feels like swimming laps in a hot tub, and every once in a while becoming stuck in the filter. Ki-Ki’s directions are always very Zen like, urging us to focus, be in the moment, but I was thinking about our temple’s 25th anniversary and my Roshi’s 76th birthday.

As I rode to my father’s house, I thought about Robert and whether or not he’s a true teacher. You know, whether or not he’s a “master.” It takes courage for me to think about these things because I’ve dedicated the last two years to this temple and this teacher. And the facts are not reassuring. Sometimes I feel like I’ve fallen into a rogue lineage.

Kodo Sawaki did not give Deshimaru dharma transmission. Maybe he died before he could, but I’ve heard that’s not entirely the case. Deshimaru was a bit rough and tumble. By all accounts, I know that he drank, smoked, and did his fair…