Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Buddha Nature II

Look to the right. Hell yeah! Now that's the Buddha Nature I've been looking for. Blue sparkles-check. Golden majesty exploding from heart-check. Super novas-quadruple check!

However, I've never seen anything as cosmic as this in my entire experience. Would I listen if someone told me they did? If I did see this, would I file it into enlightenment or delusion?

Oh, of course I'd file it. And that's what it would be: a neat folder full of boundless glory, stashed away for me to peak at. I'd label it too, "Sweet Buddha Nature Experience, 2090, 5:25 am, end of Rohatsu"

Don't ruin my file. Don't even touch it.

Class with Jiryu continues. What a seal breaker it's been! Many of us in the class have been practicing for years (9 years for me...) and this might be the first time in our Soto Zen experience someone has asked WHAT is Buddha Nature. I know it's my first time. What does a person say when you have to say something? With no place for a perfect soul to hide, I say (or quote):

"Water, vessel to vessel." But bring your own cup and water, extra if you have it.

"I don't know, who doesn't know, you have no expectations and "the Buddha eye" sees beyond seeing. This experience is beyond the realm of human thinking."

"Know 'no' Buddha. Know 'yes' Buddha."

And my teacher said it has nothing to do with me or you, with subject and object. Jiryu cautioned us to not make this "Buddha Nature" topic something to get, some object, despite our class studying "it."

All of the above quotes come from Dogen's fascicle Shobogenzo Bussho, or Buddha Nature. Anyone who has something to offer on that fascicle, please chime in! As I read Dogen, little page by little page, I feel like I'm on top of a house, reeling in white Christmas lights, finding knots, untying knots, accidently tying new knots, and all the while missing the bright warm twinkly lights I have right in my hands.

Exhausted, I retire to our practice of following the schedule, sitting up straight, doing 9 prostrations every morning, silently, like this:

I take refuge in Buddha
I take refuge in Dharma
I take refuge in Sangha
I practice softening
I practice letting go
I practice radical acceptance
I practice beginer's mind
I practice loving kindness
I practice secretly, working within

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Buddha Nature!

I'm taking a class on Buddha Nature with Jiryu, a long time resident and priest at Green Gulch.

Last night was the introduction, we all said our names and what we thought Buddha nature was. Scary!

I said, My name is Austin, and I think Buddha nature is open hearted, radical acceptance, which I regretted saying all night. Then I thought, I SHOULD have said, "Cultivating way seeking mind, letting go of way seeking mind." (Then they'd love me...reallllllllllly love me.)

My wonderful wife, Lulu, said "It's like a star, you can squint your eyes and try and see it, but never really know what it looks like, while all the time, it's right there."

What does everyone else think Buddha nature is?

Robes! Helpful or No?

Rm. 6, Cloud Hall. Photo by Lulu

I'm in the above photo, talking to my wife about robes, saying something like, yeah, I wanted these lay robes so bad, and guess what? They're a nightmare! I've got at least 6 layers: T-shirt, Juban, Kimono, Obi, Robe, Rakusu. And sometimes it's so cold in the Zendo, I add a layer of long johns.

The robes you see are at least 10 years old, and I think they belonged to Rev. Tokushi's, who handed them down to me about a year after she ordained. Or they could be Rev. Koji's; Lulu and I were handed both and I chose the lighter ones because I tend to run hot while Lulu runs cold. During my previous temple residency, back in 08, I wore a wonderful lay robe that looks more like an akido outfit, but it was very, very sturdy and didn't require a kimono, juban, and obi understory. I still have it. I wear it to evening meditation.

However, the very complicated robes I wear now are the norm for those who wear robes. I wear robes because: 1) It's nice to have your legs free underneath 2) I want to distinguish Zen practice from working out or lounging, so no hanuman knickers or goofy PJ pants for me 3) I feel benefit from the container they've become, while I'm wearing them and while everyone else is wearing them. And when you go to Tassajara for a practice period, it's required.

The first time I put this accoutrement (equipment;TRAPPINGS) I felt like a triple tortilla burrito. I was at Santa Cruz Zen Center for a sesshin, and I was the only lay person in robes. First scene in the horror show: Get on the tan and turn to face the wall. Everything was twisted around, as I didn't know the trick of pulling your robe to the front and hoisting it up a bit. Second scene in the horror show: my collar was pinning me down, having been drawn taught by my knees. Third scene in the horror show: while adjusting my zafu, my sleeve was caught under my butt and I couldn't pull it out without the zafu, so then I'd have to push it back under, and then my sleeve would get caught again, over and over, (you know, samsara). Fourth scene in the horror show: Sweat. I was sitting right in the sun.

There was no picture taken, but it would probably look like me hunched forward, my own hand up my butt, sweating.

Oh, and I tore a huge whole in the seat during Oryoki. (then I had to mend them! Perpetual care!)

That was two weeks ago. I've become more comfortable as I curtsy before sitting down, hold my right sleeve with my left hand, and remembering to untuck from the zafu so my head can press the sky. I keep wearing them because I feel committed to them and because I'm the guy who wants to ordain, which would mean adding knee length sleeves and an O'kesa. If I can't manage these robes, what hope do I have to be graceful and confident as I doshi some day? I also value them as another form to support the practice; I've got nothing to do but sit, chant, clean, and be mindful when I'm in my robes.

Please weigh in: Do you wear sitting robes? Do you think we're silly Zen nerds for wearing them? Let me have it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Warm and Safe in Green Dragon Temple

Lulu and I are settling in to our quarters, room 6, Cloud Hall. We're following the schedule, full swing, and the practice period students have just finished sitting tangaryo. I'm on the guest program crew and Lulu has started with the garden; I'll join the farm crew in April.

Zen teachers everywhere. Some give big huge deep hugs, others keep it humorous as we sit in the dining hall together- some have that stern practice period gaze. My own zen teacher is far away at his own temple, and I miss him. When I think of Kosho, I think of his directions: "Soften, let go, radically accept, open you're heart to who you really are." Difficult practice!

I also think of my first teacher, which I really struggled with, but that story is changing. Robert was kyosaku wielding, strong handed, famous for saying, "Don't bother me with that bull shit" when I asked him how his day was going, but I still have his directions, too: "Head presses the sky, knees press the earth...this is hishiryo."

And the sky is huge. Walking to the dining hall at 3:45am (this morning to write this post...breaking the schedule a little) I heard something in the trees and I thought, monk-eating-mountain-lion! Lions, rattle snakes, and plenty of hungry ghosts, here!

Boundless gratitude here. In 2008, I came here and threw the locks of my Jukai into the pond. I vowed to ordain here. I'm not sure that will happen-but here's news-Kosho said I'm offically training for ordination, though it will probably be at his zen center, surrounded by all my Dharma brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


What in the world was I doing with so many keys? I actually have no direct answer- I could only guess what those keys were for-and they all went in the trash.

I came to New Orleans in 2007, right after a 5 month winter in Alaska as a dog handler for an Iditarod musher. I went there to hermit out for a while, sitting a lot "zazen" and reading a lot of existential philosophy. I'm not sure what I was doing, but it was a visceral experience, bright with color, smarting with pain.

I thought I'd stay in New Orleans for a year. I leave tomorrow, 5 years later, with a wife, and with a new path.

Funny I'm off to live in a Zen center (again). When I first started sitting, about 9 years ago, I wanted nothing to do with robes, chants, anything "hokey-pokey." Now I want to do the hokey-pokey all the time!

Why? I think it worked. The bowing, the chanting, the posture all pointed at what I wasn't. It was like playing that electrified game, Operation. "I don't like this- Zap! I do like this-zap!"

And the fun never ends. Every day, in practice, deliciously seductive opportunities to do or not do come up. Someone says something mean. I want to say something mean. Sometimes I can observe, but most of the time I make mistakes. About 4 out of 5 times I make mistakes. Can't help myself.

And then there's the sitting which feels impervious to mistakes. We don't do or say anything as we slowly sway with the morning light creeping into our cold zendo. I watched someone take my rakusu by mistake and put it on her head, and I just watched while we chanted:

Great robe of liberation,
Field far beyond form and emptiness
Wearing the Tathaghatas teaching,
Saving all beings.