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Showing posts from March, 2012

Buddha Nature Part III

Last night was the last Buddha Nature class with Jiryu. It was a brave approach to eat the painted rice cake. We started the class like we did 6 weeks ago, by sitting together and offering our understanding of Buddha nature.
Arising from our silent posture, some said,:
What's not Buddha nature
To transcend our mundane experience
Put a log on the fire
I've got a bicycle, I've got a bicycle, and it's got a bell and basket, the bell goes ring a ding a ding ding, you can ride it if you want to, but I can't give it to you, because I borrowed it
True intimacy.
I said:
Breathing quietly with the Sangha.
I wish I said:
Breathing quietly with the Sangha Not breathing quietly with the Sangha
Jiryu pointed out, as we reviewed Dogen's Bussho, that reading Dogen is watching him write down a teaching from the ancestors, and hearing him say, well that's not true. Then seeing what he's written down and saying, well that's not true. It's this process of being stuck, get…

Broken Beautiful Brush Strokes

Above: My Rakusu- Bottom, 2008 NOZT-black, Top 2010 Austin Zen Center, dark blue
I have the day off to pursue calligraphy with Kaz Tanahashi. This guy is amazing! Witty as he is talented, when asked how he gets around so well, he said, "Every time I pee, I drink one whole glass of water."
I've known Kaz through his translation work on Dogen. His translations are my favorite. I had some compensation time building up here at Green Gulch and admitted to the crew head my gaining idea: one day during the Kaz workshop.
He is a very thorough teacher. The handout he provided has some very helpful links to some east Asian calligraphy sources and class is about learning a few kanji and the way they appear in traditional, semi-cursive, and cursive forms. He also details the brush techniques, stroke order, and even makes time for each student to come up and let him "hold your hand" while he moves you through the character. If you ever have the chance to work with Kaz, jump a…

Celibacy: Spiritual training or spiritual trend?

Ishwari and Kogen: Sleep in separate beds, Room #6, Cloud Hall. They love to cuddle, too.

I was having dinner with a friend and we were talking about a Zen teacher we both study with and he said, “Yup, he sure seemed like he really wanted to get enlightened, but then he decided he needed a partner.”
Please suspend your disbelief that someone thinks they can get enlightened. I want to look at celibacy here, so let’s pretend that enlightenment exists without a doubt and it can come in any form you want it to.
I paused, being married and all, and wanted to investigate how sex impacts practice. I don’t know if we can talk about celibacy without talking about renunciation, what that means for the world at large, what it means for Buddhists, what it means for Soto Zen Buddhists, American zen Buddhists, and maybe even what it looked like for the Buddha.
For now, let’s look at sex through the eyes of the Theravadan, which we (Soto Zen) call the first turning of the wheel of dharma.
A quick word…

"So what do you do for fun?"

I've heard this several times across the dinner table here at Green Gulch and I had to really let that sink in. What do I do for fun...
It seems at some point I did fun things- Jiu-jitsu, writing, Dungeons and Dragons, movies, video games, punk rock, go out dancing, go out-
Back then, Zen practice, running, reading- these were things I did, not for fun, but because I had a lot of time to do a lot of things.
But when I started teaching, my life was pared down. Pretty much everything except Zen practice was cut off. This wasn't hard and fast, but my compass always pointed to practice, as I think I was baring witness to great suffering in the inner city of New Orleans.
Inner city- what a term! Means so much, and seems so appropriate. My students were going without, their parents were a mess, one was shot, and in the witnessing I didn't feel quite valid in saying, "Hey, I'm suffering, too!" I was seeking the inner-city in the inner-city.
That edge is a scary one- w…

Baring Witness: Boundless Dharma Gates, Numberless Beings

Knots tied, knots untied, my teacher writes to me:
"Don't worry about the rope. Sometimes it is a snake. Just keep your heart and mind as open as you can, keep the schedule, keep your nose clean, and the Dharma that you are so surrounded with there soaks in gradually."
And at 5:15 AM , I heard the head teacher’s Jisha (personal assistant) walking behind me as I settled into my posture, glad to be breathing, stretching upward with the top of my head, and I thought Please, not today. But it was today and he whispered, not so gently, dokusan.
For those outside of formal Soto-zen practice, dokusan means one on one time with a teacher, usually in a little room, like a cave, except given the Zen aesthetic treatment; scroll on the wall, two or three alters, clean tatami mats, a teacher sitting and waiting, a place for you to do prostrations, a cushion for you take your seat. This varies, of course. There are sometimes bells to ring twice, sometimes three times, and sometimes not …

My Father

Master Sergeant Keith and Baby Brother Charlie Byrd
This morning I ate breakfast with Jiryu and his son Franky. Hot tomato drink, Tempe Cabbage, and brown rice cream; Franky ate his with salt and sesame seeds, I had sugar and milk.
Breakfast is silent during the practice period. Franky, at almost 2yrs old, has developed his own forms, which include a lot of forehead to forehead, big bright eyes, and a huge smile. As he fed his father little chunks of tempe and played, I saw some of my own father in Jiryu's shaved head, black clothing, salty look.
My Dad was very salty, but not with Zen temple gomasio, but salt from the sea, as he put in 21 years a Marine. I remember very early mornings when he would be shining in his cook whites, his mat black metal sergeant chevrons on his collar, and same playful demeanor, while holding something very heavy up- the tradition of the Marine Corps, the long work day ahead of him, his worry of being deployed or sent to float again.
I also remember flo…

Dharma Gates are Boundless, I Vow to Enter Them

In addition to keeping this blog, I also keep a composition note book (modgepodged with neat pictures). I’m 2 pages from filling my current note book. In one month at Green Gulch, I’ve written half of it full. During my 4 year teaching career, I filled a composition once a year. This means I’ve written more in one month than I did with 6 months in my old life. I don’t know what this points to, but it’s interesting, and I must admit, it feels just plain good.
It might have filled up so fast because I do about 4 things in the same notebook now: Chart my moods with a line graph, write a haiku everyday, confess ancient twisted karma, investigate kensho or satori (delusion?), and take copious amounts of cornell notes on what I am studying.
Please let me express my elation at having time and teachers for formal sutra study. It is slow and tedious work. For the last week, I’ve read the same three pages of the Lankavatara sutra and it’s not getting old. I pop out of bed at 3:50am so I can get…

Dragons Taking to the Water

With clouds and waterDragons take the zendoThere, they sing like whales.
I had this notion that maybe people would like to read about what it’s like to be neither lay person nor priest. Suzuki Roshi said it like this: “ I understand it this way: That you are not priests is an easy matter, but that you are not exactly laymen is more difficult.” With that, he’s speaking to the ordained and the lay-ordained, or the non-ordained, or the ordained wearing clown noses. He’s not the first to say it. In the ParinirvanaSutra, the Buddha addresses the fact that his disciples are not lay, not ordained.
So, there’s old time Zen priests here, beautiful purple Okesas, humble brown Okesas, even shiny mustard Okesas from Japan. There are also old time lay practioners with fraying lay robes and dark blue, bright blue, and dark green rakusu. There's even a lay practitioner who has receiveddharmaentrustment who wears a green Okesa. Some of them are married, some aren’t. And then there’s a steady flow …