Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks; My Buddhist Prayer.

Thanksgiving is a complicated "holiday." Hear my prayer!

May we remember the indigenous and their stolen land. May we remember the 15th chapter of The Lotus Sutra, Emerging From the Ground, and take care of the soil from which our Bodhisattvas are born. May we stop splitting the dharma into doctrines and save all beings by including all beings. May we end racial and gender inequality. May we share the wealth of this planet equally. May we take up the vow of not killing, and stop killing trees, animals, the atmosphere, ourselves. May we remain non-violent, but not pacified. May we stop intoxicating ourselves and others and strive toward clear seeing. May we take refuge in the Buddha as the perfect teacher. May we take refuge in the dharma as the perfect teaching. May we take refuge in the sangha as the perfect life. May we have the courage to change the things we can, and the courage to question the things we think we can't. May we love, love, and love with equanimity and joy. May we show up, may we pay attention, may we tell the truth, may we be open to the causes and conditions of our suffering and our awakening. May we realize that it's not separate.

 May Samanthabadhra Bodhisattva clear our way of obstructions!

May Manjushri cut through our delusions!

May Avalokiteśvara bring us compassionate and appropriate response!

Here's a small photo list of what I'm thankful for:

Zazen in an old barn!

Bowing every morning to this spot.

Ground that gives and gives.

Mountains and water teaching Buddhadharma.

My mothers.

My fathers

My sisters!

My brothers

This crew and its open hearted meeting of mud, sweat, (blood!) and me.

A healthy body that can do ridiculous things.


Dharma sisters and brothers that plant, watch, water, and harvest together.


Making soil out of "trash."

Working with great farm elders.

Riding to San Francisco to sell vegetables

Dharma Sister, Ryusan "Flowing Mountain"

Bodhidharma faces in New Orleans

My Zen teachers

Sojourner Truth

Mahapajapati, founder of the complete sangha

Shakyamuni Butsu

Suzuki Roshi

And my partner, the wisdom mirror of my life.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the nourishment.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Selling Celibacy? I Don't Buy It.

Sometime, somewhere, Tenshin Reb Anderson said that those who stay home can practice the way, and those who leave home can practice the way, but we are all renunciates. I don't remember what he said we're suppose to renounce, but I'd say it's the view that anything we perceive is anything other than mind. The Lankavatara says:

"Mahamati, as for their attachment to codes, how do srota-apannas cease their attachment to codes? When they become adept at seeing the suffering where they might be reborn, they cease attachment. Attachment, Mahamati, refers to how foolish beings resolve to undertake ascetic practices for the sake of attaining greater bliss. Hence, they seek rebirth. But when they are not attached and [they] turn instead toward undertaking those practices and upholding those precepts that are free from projection and passion and that lead to the peerless realm of personal realization..."

"Attachment, Mahamati, refers to how foolish beings resolve to undertake ascetic practices for the sake of attaining greater bliss." brings me to the words celibacy and sublimation. This came up for me when I attended a Zen Center event, a discussion about relationships and intimacy with Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman and Zen Center's President, Ze Sho Susan O'Connell, and David Bullard, PhD. 

During this discussion, Robert Thurman stated that when he was a monastic practicing celibacy for three or four years, he experienced happiness, described a sublimation of sexual energy, mentioned that Daido Loori wasn't celibate but referred to himself as a Zen monk, and that Zen Center could be a real force for bringing back the celibate tradition to Soto Zen. 

Susan O'Connell kept it pretty simple; she said having non-celibate residents and married priests has ensured that men and women receive equal religious training. 

I told this to my Buddhist academic friend, and he said,  "HHDL is a strong supporter of equal education (and has recently awarded the first female Geshe degree), and he is not looking to end monastic celibacy." 

But it's 2013 and Geshe Kelsang Wangmo received this honor in 2011, the first geshe degree being awarded in 1101, so it took a little over 900 years for this to happen.  And a quick search  shows that Tibetan nunneries are not supported in the same way that male monastic communities are; they farm, work, and operate small business to sustain their life, while their male counter parts are largely supported by the lay sangha. 


 German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann inspires this thought; There's a strange request that our mothers remain virgins through immaculate conception. There's a strange expectation that human spirituality or Buddhist practice can and should some how transcend humanness. And that when a male becomes celibate he distances himself from women, and therefore distances himself from a patriarchal symbol of weakness (women).

Does that mean celibacy isn't a legitimate practice? Of course not- I know a few long term celibate Zen priests (voluntary in our tradition) who really benefit from the practice. I personally benefit from my sexual renunciations, which means being monogamous with my wife (although we weren't always monogamous, experimenting with bisexuality and poly-amory- a thorough exploration of our hetronormativity, and today we feel very queer together). I benefit from the renunciation of porn; but does this mean you will? No. I could never say what practices of renunciation would be good for you. 

I can say that I did spend one year as a celibate resident and it would be hard to parse out the causes and conditions of that year and explain why it wasn't beneficial for me. But I think it's rooted in my home leaving roots. I've written before about what it was like to be a military brat and to experience my parents separation and the sense of having two dads, two moms, two homes. I'm the one who was moving out before my high school graduation; I'm the one who didn't call home; my practice is calling home and remembering my family. It's far too easy for me to avoid it. 

It's easy to call the Soto Zen approach to celibacy an aberrant political issue from the Meji era. But Neither Monk Nor Layman points out that Zen monks were were having sex with women long before 1870. As a result, when a Roshi died, the mysterious children and women living at the temple would be left homeless. And more controversially was the pederast tradition of nanshoku - a an age-structured system of homosexuality among priests. Other "aberrant" traditions could include the Tibetan tradition of Yab-yum or Karmamudra or the history of songyum, "celibate" Lamas' secret consorts who appear as nothing more than a nun. 

Missteps abound whether celibate, poly-amorous, or monogamous. How could anyone offer a universal admonition? Kosho, a Zen teacher in Austin, Texas told me before I got married, that whether I chose a celibate or monogamous path, I would be choosing my own suffering. Liberation could only come from continual awareness of that path. 

Maybe this is why in the Soto Zen tradition we fall back on "Chop wood, carry water." To talk about the bliss of some practice is to insinuate its assurance of your bliss and happiness should you proceed in lock step. It's just not so. I sign off with the Blue Cliff Record's 3rd case's admonition: 

"One device, one object; one word, one phrase-the intent is that you'll have a place to enter; still this is gouging a wound in healthy flesh-it can become a nest or a den. The Great Function appears without abiding by fixed principles-the intent is that you'll realize there is something transcendental; it covers the sky and covers the earth, yet it cannot be grasped. This way will do, not this way will do too-this is too diffuse. This way won't do, not this way won't do either-this is too cut off. Without treading these two paths, what would be right? Please test; I cite this for you to see."

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Stone Woman Gives Birth

On Dosho's blog, I offered a verse from Dogen I hadn't really sat with. What could really mean? In our Dead Dogen Society study group, I fell behind most of the students as we proceeded and stayed with section 7 of the Mountains and Waters Sutra:

"A stone woman gives birth to a child at night" means that the moment when a barren woman gives birth to a child is called "night." There are male stones, female stones, and nonmale nonfemale stones. They are placed in the sky and in the earth and are called heavenly stones and earthly stones. These are explained in the ordinary world, but not many people actually know about it. You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child. At the moment of giving birth to a child, is the mother separate from the child? You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child. This is the actualization of giving birth in practice realization. 

*Kaz Tanahashi and Arnold Kotler translation, Moon in a Dewdrop, pg 99

 A woman responded, "I can tell you that I so disagree with this quote, " you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child." Talk about the infantilization of women!!!"

I said I was sorry, asked Dosho to step in, he said said no-way-Jose, so I responded that I'd I ask my teacher, Linda Ruth, but that didn't happen. There was no time for that this week, and I already gave her some other questions about 2 weeks ago, and we're turning those over. And I heard this resounding echo inside, "I'm on my own." 

Which is never true, but it is also true. Where my skin ends and another skin begins is a conventional designation, and it's true and not so true. After I googled for some commentaries on Mountains and Waters I felt even more on my own! I heard Gary Snyder and Mel Weitsman had commentaries, but I couldn't find them. Nothing popped out at me in our library, nothing on Google or Amazon. I'm surprised whole books haven't been written about this fascicle! 

Linda Ruth lead a Mountains and Waters sesshin this past summer. I didn't get to attend as I was in the fields harvesting and planting. This week, I didn't get a chance to catch the Ino for recordings of those talks, as I was in the fields harvesting and sowing cover crop. Harvesting like mad to make room for that cover crop and the rain that's coming. I did find in an old Mountain Record a commentary by Daido Loori. He says this verse is all about non-duality. "This inconceivability is the interdependent origination of the 10,000 things. All things are totally interdependent. They cannot exist without each other."

That's it!?

Monday, I baby sat Frank, a 3 year old resident of Green Gulch. We do calligraphy when we're not napping. I pick him up at his house after work and separating from his mom is really tough for him! As she was giving us a plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies he pulled her face close and reminded her what time she was going to pick him up. He reminded her 3 times, 6'o'clock, 6 o'clock, 6 o'clock. It seemed like a real world example of how the mother becomes the child. I remember my mother reminding me about curfew when I was a teenager. I'm certain this will switch for Frank when he's a teenager, and mom will be reminding him. 

Another real world example was this year's Coming of Age opening ceremony. In this ceremony parents circle around their children and address them like, "Emma, I remember when I first saw you..." and it usually ends in sobs. The kids, who are 12, are about to break out of this circle physically  and the parents lock arms to keep them in! The parents are crying and clinging; the kids are ready to break out. What is a child? What is a mother here? 

I think we might all be the barren woman; we are all no-self, and yet, from no-self a mother and child arise. The child is myriad things. The mother is myriad things. These myriad things do the actualization, come from enlightenment, not toward it, not the mother, not the child, but a simultaneous act of practice-realization, each part inseparable from the other part. 

Honestly, I'm in over my head here with this blog and the causes and effects of it. After some of the comments here and elsewhere, I was ready to quit a couple of days ago. Feeling a bit harangued about my lack of wisdom, I just apologize. I'm just a Zen student who likes to write, who writes to explore. I'm investigating words. The Lankavatara calls words naman-pada-vyanjana-kaya- traps for meaning. Words of a Bodhisattva are foot prints that lead to meaning. Once the meaning is grasped, the trap is useless, just extra. Writing the blog post feels good; looking back later, the "extra-ness" is painful.

 But I can't quit. I fear diligence may be one of the few things I've got going for me. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Practice Enlightenment: Right Speech, Writing, and Reddit.

"To practice the Way singleheartedly is, in itself, enlightenment. 
There is no gap between practice and enlightenment or zazen and daily life." -Dogen Zenji

 I was called into practice discussion with the Tanto, our temple's head of practice. I made a passing comment that we were all Buddhas through Dogen's practice enlightenment and a discussion pursued. The short of it was that it may be dangerous to think of one's self as a Buddha, but helpful to think of others as Buddha. An idea arose that maybe there is an element of actualization that comes with the term Buddha, and that a Buddha is a Buddha when the activity of practice enlightenment is pursued with unparalleled effort, when there is no other option to practice enlightenment.

Practice enlightenment is Dogen's jam. It's the underlying philosophy of liturgical reenactment. Remember being Catholic and the wine turned into blood? Well, this is a human sitting Zazen turning into Buddha. So what about after Zazen? Dogen covers that in his treaty that there is no separation between stillness and activity. However, Dogen says it well here:

"Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In buddha-dharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner's wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice."

Taigen Dan Leighton writes extensively about this practice enlightenment. I think he has whole books on it, though I can't find them right now. But he said this at Green Gulch, back 2003:

"In this sense of our expression as the expression of our practice realization, it is always going on, but that does not mean just passive acceptance of whatever is happening. We actually do have to express it to express it. This is the practice realization, and the Buddha, that you are expressing right now. How you are listening, how your back is; your posture as you sit there; your eyes closed or open–that is your expression right now. And actually it is up to us to express it. There is a responsibility to express our practice and our awakening and realization right now."

I still disagree with the Tanto. I think we are Buddhas, in delusion throughout delusion, not knowing if we are really Buddhas. Maybe it could be dangerous, but it also inspires responsibility and care. Saying we are Buddha isn't something I say after my head gets cut off and milk squirts to the sky or after I pick up an elephant and throw it at my deranged cousin; it something that comes up as I trudge through samsara and juggle samskaras (this is my new favorite word! It means impressions embedded in our consciousness!). It's definitely annoying to talk with enlightened beings if the premise is they've got something you don't. But what if we're all enlightened? And if not us, who? If not now, when? I think we may have unrealistic ideas of what enlightenment really is. And we may not want to extend it to all beings, like our Catholic family. But what if we did?

In the 2nd case of The Blue Cliff Record it says something like just to say the word Buddha is to drag it though the mud soaking wet. And when I think of Dogen Zenji and his daunting effort to assert this, and that, neither this nor that I'm inspired to write and speak more carefully and in terms of my experience.

This is not new; I'm hesitant to publish anything, and feel the sting of not quite so after each blog post or comment. I'm also mystified by reader reactions. On my last blog post I received contrasting feedback: One person accused me of taking the teacher's seat and writing glibly with Buddhist jargon; another said I needed to send my work into to Tricycle. I've received praise for posts I wrote in haste before work and snark for posts I worked on for weeks. Who knows? I'm feeling the winds of praise and blame. I'm thinking if you feel one the other is just coming over the mountain. Just sit still.

So I checked in with Thich Nhat Hanh's view on right speech. I didn't like what he had to say so I can't remember what he said. But I felt like if I took his approach I'd be playing The Perfect Soul in a sticky sweet born again kind of way. And I remembered what Kosho echoed to me: is it beneficial, is it timely, is it true, is it about anyone who is not in the room, and does it improve this silence?

I'd add: Does it improve this space, this conversation? What is my intention? Is there subtle violence in my words? Am I derailing a conversation? Am I over sharing? Ejun Roshi wants to know, am I praising self at the expense of others?

And then I feel quiet.

But conversation arises!

I'd like re-post two of my comments in the last week alone that I think are questionable examples of speech. I'm afraid they'll be out of context, but I'm positive they stand on their own poison of greed, hate, or delusion. I'm avowing these by putting them out there. I don't like them, feel a sting by them, but I don't want them just lurking out there while I write "nice" things on this blog. So.

I said to one fellow redditor:

"Well, then I really don't want to delve into your misunderstandings. If everything smells like shit, you can wash your face."

I said that?!?! One million bows. Thirty blows.

"Just shut up already."

Patience would be a nice practice here.  

Are these words of a Bodhisattva? I'm not sure. Now I remember Thich Nhat Hanh saying something about inspiring love and compassion with speech. This hardly occurred to me; I was thinking more like hitting them with a stick. 

Is getting hit with a verbal stick compassion? My favorite definition of compassion is letting people be free from what you think they are. Can I speak from there? 

I really do enjoy blogging and commenting and redditing with my internet Zen sangha. I often feel like this is a dream realm of sorts where our Sambogaykaya prana energy bodies named "ewk" or "Dalai Grandma" or "Nathan" or "Gocloudrunwater" are bouncing around, interacting, talking, even drinking tea together. I do it with a heart of exploration, that through writing I discover things, I approach my inmost request. If I ever seem to be taking the teacher's seat, please call me out. Taigen Dan Leighton also said on that day at Green Gulch, "This is not just passive expression. We do not just automatically have this practice-realization-expression. We have a responsibility."