The Wondrous Art of Giving Which is Beyond Giving

Dana is giving. The paramita of dana is giving to help liberate others.

We cannot help but to be giving in this life. This is how the cosmos operates. All phenomena are dependently co-arising in the midst of this singular Bodhisattva vow from before time, with the sole aim of helping beings to grow, to awaken.

Dana is the Sanskrit word for giving. It is also one of the perfections (also called paramitas in Sanskrit). We don’t just practice giving in the Great Vehicle. We practice the perfection of giving, which is selfless giving, but it’s not just giving without a concern for self. You have to understand that this is not the ultimate giving yet.

The ultimate form of giving is giving that is completely at one with the spirit and means appropriate to Great Vehicle of liberation. Food, shelter, clothing, health–these are all important, but by themselves, they do not account for great giving beyond giving. For great giving beyond giving, we have to not only let go of the giver, the receiver, the gift, and the merit of giving, but we have to do all of this with a mind that is in tune with how such giving can help to bring a seed of enlightenment into the karmic storehouse of the recipient.

Great giving is difficult to do for most of us, but only because we carry so much “I” around with us. To not be able to truly give is great suffering and is normally rooted in emotional and intention-based karmic obstructions. Some, however, suffer instead from a form of mental confusion which may be biological in nature and which prevents the clarity needed to intentionally perform great giving, great generosity. These individuals suffer greatly because they suffer through no fault of their own intentions, at least not in this lifetime.

The Great Benevolent Giving of Buddhas is setting free the imprisoned among us, those who would follow the Pathless Path if not for some petty physical or material obstruction in their path (rather than some karmic emotional stance or set of stubborn views). These helpless beings require our first attention, because such beings are awaiting to be freed from karma they feel no connection with any longer in this life. I would like to propose that you are such a being needing liberation. I would also now like to propose that you may be the best liberator of that imprisoned being.

The liberational power of Great Giving is to give without thought of merit, for the sake of planting the seeds of liberation from karmic obstructions in self, and others around you. The best way to do this? Live each day as a gift to the awakening Buddha within you. Wise, liberating giving will naturally flow out of this way of living, and it will always be the most appropriate giving to the circumstance, carefully cultivated in each moment with the fully wholehearted adamantine vow of the Bodhisattva.

Photo Credit (top)

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Zazen 101: Form & Formless Intention

Dogen, taken from the cover art of Shobogenzo, by Nishijima and Cross, published by Doegn Sangha, and reproduced courtesy of Hokyo-ji Fukui prefecture..


Zazen is somewhat exacting in terms of form. It’s not easy to do full lotus with hands perched in the enlightenment mudra for 30, 45 minutes or an hour. And it’s also true that the physical posture alone with a certain focus on breathing does not equate to doing zazen. I’m going to make an argument in this post. That is that the intention of zazen, the Bodhisattva Vow, is formless, and as such makes zazen zazen. The form of it isn’t formless from the standpoint of reason, but the form of this special kind of intention is not really like other intentions. This intention alone among all intentions leads to the formless state of the Ultimate, because it originates from the formless, is informed by form, and yet is free of all form and all intention at the same time. This is because this intention of zazen, which is itself the Bodhisattva Vow, is itself an outgrowth of the Ultimate, which is conceptually born of the imaginary, informed by form in the guise of abstractions and words and gestures and texts and teachings used to formulate and construct it, and yet is free of all of those various forms, abstractions, and imaginings. In fact, the Ultimate alone has this unique property among all the feelings and other types of forms that go into experience. In fact, one could say that it is not truly experienceable in that regard, if we take form to be a crucial element of experience, because the Ultimate itself is not form or compounded in reality, but is an exalted and free state of mind wherein we relate towards the phenomena of sensory perception and mental formations, which together produce our experiences. In the language and spirit of the Sandhinirmocana Sutra and of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika, the Ultimate is alone the uncompounded in a cosmos of otherwise compounded things. The Ultimate, as the state of awareness that is self-aware and yet free of attachment and aversion and ignorance, is most fit to dispense with form, feelings, perceptions, all other mental states and all mental objects, and all experience, because it alone is free of them, uncontrolled by them, though it arises in the midst of and through them. You could say it is actually an Ultimate Mind which goes to the heart of not just the mind itself, but to the heart of all existence as illusory, dependently co-arisen and ultimately empty of self-importance.

The objects of awareness of this Ultimate Mind may be determined by karma, true enough, but the state itself is actually not, for it is ultimately a way of relating to phenomena, including objects of the mind and all other mental states. This is the realm of the Buddhas and of the profoundly advanced bodhisattvas which strive to become being-saving Buddhas, many of which may be saints or even lowly mortal practitioners just like you and I.

It is for the sake of reaching this place where all things become possible, this place of the uncompounded Ultimate which is free of all the formal elements used to climb up to it, that we undertake the practice of zazen, or “dhyana”, or concentration practice for those familiar with the Six Paramitas. This zazen is the mode and method of the Tathagatas throughout all space and time. This is the basic and fundamental vehicle of self-examination used to see beyond the construct of “Self” into the Ultimate, which is nothing to do with Self, because the Self is thus transcended.

It would be a mistake to assume that this spirit of zazen, which is just the Bodhisattva’s Vow to reconnect with the Ultimate and further bring it out into everyday experience, is the beginning and end on the the topic, however. We live in a world of form, of space and time, and therefore we need formal guide rails in getting our bodies into proper alignment and positioning, breathing, focus, etc. Dogen provides much of these for us in one of the fascicles of what later became his body of work entitled the Shobogenzo. The title of this particular fascicle is “Fukanzazengi”, which follows below (because you really ought to read it).

Practical meditation guidance by the founder of Soto Zen in Japan, Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), entitled “Fukanzazengi”:

Fukanzazengi (“Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen”)

The way is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entranceway, but you are still short of the vital path of emancipation.

Consider the Buddha: although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice?

Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. . Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize such, get to work on such right now.

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think “good” or “bad.” Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth together and lips shut. Always keep your eyes open and breathe softly through your nose.

Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking, “Not thinking -what kind of thinking is that?” Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.

The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the koan realized; traps and snares can never reach it. If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains. For you must know that the true dharma appears of it self, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the power of zazen.

In addition, triggering awakening with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and effecting realization with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout -these cannot be under-: stood by discriminative thinking; much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. They must represent conduct beyond seeing and hearing. Are they not a standard prior to knowledge and views?

This being the case, intelligence or lack of it is not an issue; make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward -is, after all, an everyday affair.

In general, in our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. While each lineage expresses its own style, they are all simply devoted to sitting, totally blocked in resolute stability. Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, they just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep, you stumble past what is directly in front of you.

You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain. You are taking care of the essential activity of the buddha-way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from a flintstone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning – emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.

Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way of direct pointing at the real. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort. Accord with the enlightenment of all the buddhas; succeed to the samadhi of all the ancestors. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a ‘ person’. The treasure store will open of it self, and you may enjoy it freely.

That’s Dogen on zazen. I look on him as the testy but wizened uncle of Zen who likes to defend Zen (really, Buddhism) against the classifiers and practitioners of “Zen”–and for good reason.

Buddhism isn’t just concerned for living human beings. It’s concerned about all beings, or you might say more pointedly, for all being. This includes animals, hell beings, human beings, alien beings somwhere (out there), and yes, even the dead (as in the peacefully resting in various heavens, as in those suffering in various hells, as in hungry ghosts roaming their old haunts). So, if you have questions, insights, or ordinary human comments to make, may I make a recommendation? That you just make your gesture for the sake of all beings in all times and directions who need to voice what you need to, but maybe unlike you, do not have the opportunity, or even the voice. Your sincere and wholehearted participation in your world (and this blog, which is part of your world) benefits all beings, always, whether you may know it or not.

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Meditation Corner: Zazen 101


This first zazen class installment will focus on the basics, but will be holistic from the start in containing all the fundamental elements of zazen. I leave to later installments, if there be any, to go into how to cultivate better zazen.

The Zazen Posture

First of all, it’s good to note at the start that zazen comes originally out of Yoga. Who knows where yoga originally came from, if anywhere else at all. That said, the Buddhist tradition has limited its concern primarily to certain types of yoga postures which directly relate to attaining enlightenment. The most typical zazen posture of traditional Japanese Soto Zen (my tradition) is classically speaking, full lotus posture with the hands employing the enlightenment mudra. Realistically and practically speaking, it is also any of the highest following postures that one can realistically adopt, with the intention of doing the most difficult before resorting to a less difficult posture one is medically advised to adopt. This includes the possibility of opting for a more completely relaxed position for the hands, as well, such as having them flat down on the thighs, for example–which is more common for seiza and seiza bench positions. There is a reason, however, for doing the most difficult posture one can do when pursuing the Great Way, which I will cover a little later in this post. Suffice it to say that doing something beyond your doctor’s orders or that stresses say a hand mudra from someone with advance shaking in the hands, would be advised against here, and by common sense. Moving on…

The Soto (and Rinzai) meditation of choice is zazen, because it is focused exclusively on enlightenment. This is not to say that the same people don’t also practice other forms of meditation not focused on enlightenment exclusively. They very often do. Just that Zazen is very particular in how it’s performed and the resulting state(s) achieved thereby.

The standard postures for Zazen:

  1. Full lotus
  2. Half lotus
  3. “Indian style” (and any comfortable variants)
  4. Seiza (sitting on the legs)
  5. Seiza bench (sitting on the legs with the help of a seiza bench)
  6. Chair
  7. Lying down flat on the back with hands to sides or just below the navel
  8. Lying on the side in the “Lion Posture”
  9. Standing
  10. Walking (often known in Japanese as kinhin) – slowly, deliberately, focused on the tan tien as with seated zazen–this application of zazen can apply to all kinds of work as well, such as washing the dishes

While any of these postures will work for doing zazen, the sitting postures are considered

Candid photo from a sesshin (all-day sitting)--from Flickr. (I am not affiliated with this Zen center, but I'm sure it's a fine one!)

the primary form of zazen because there is discomfort involved. The lying, standing and walking forms are thought of as secondary and the resort of those too fatigued to stay in a sitting posture any longer, not as a substitute for sitting zazen, per se. [Note in the photo to the left that there are several different postures being employed. Nobody is going to chastise you, generally, for asking for a chair or a bench or bringing your own. Just try not to get up during seated Zazen as this may in some cases create chaos and or a domino effect of sitters. The one acceptable exception: being tapped to go to meet with the teacher in dokusan, which we may cover in some future post.]

Anticipated Questions:

Why the primary emphasis on the most difficult posture one can achieve? Why not the least difficult?

I told you I’d get to this… The reason is two-fold:

  1. The more difficult the sitting posture of these one is able to achieve, the more likely the spine will be in ideal alignment for optimum results.
  2. The more difficult postures are difficult physically–ie., resulting in some discomfort gradually after prolonged use, and thus create the conditions for surpassing pain in a safe and non-debilitating manner. This is crucial for the inner mechanics of zazen to take effect.

Explanation of #2 above:

This “discomfort phase” of zazen is arguably where the focus passes a threshold barrier which will either result in

A) moving around and trying to “get more comfortable”

B) over-reacting and just quitting the posture prematurely and admitting defeat, or

C) some degree of sustained non-wriggling and non-adjusting of the posture which is much more likely, if executed with discipline of body and the proper focus of mind, to pass into whatever level of enlightenment that is just out of the practitioner’s reach, and which he or she is ready for / has prepared for via previous sittings up to this point.

In most cases, a total beginner can expect at most a very minor enlightenment experience (loosely termed “satori” in Japanese, or “kensho”) once this threshold has been sustained for 20-30 minutes and the practitioner’s mind is steadily focused by the end of session bell. It is precisely the difficulty in maintaining the posture traditionally in the Buddha’s time, as well as in our time, that is thought to allow for the true breaking forth of enlightenment into our consciousness. If it were too easy, we easily feel like falling asleep or daydreaming, or indulging ourselves in the pleasant feeling of sitting. First we are setting up a discipline for ourselves with correct spinal alignment, then we maintain it well beyond the initial comfort of the position, till the ego can feel it is losing its grip on control in the face of the will to continue for a specific purpose (psst: he means enlightenment!). At this point, the will to do this practice, coupled with a proper understanding of what the practice is for and how it works, will produce some degree of progress in terms of attaining some degree of enlightenment, of staking some claim, if you will, in unknown territory (well, unknown to the beginner). Prolonged meditation in this way will most likely yield a more sustained degree of temporary bliss, which is loosely called samadhi. For some,. constant meditation can prolong this bliss into hours, days, and even months and years. When one never leaves, this could be either good or bad. Good if he’s gone on to higher states. Bad if he’s clung to the bliss for its own sake and thus has stayed behind. Usually, it’s pretty tough to stay put. The nature of our body and mind tend to lead us on to higher states if we keep with meditation.

So the first jhana (and sometimes the only one for a great many zennists) is also quite naturally the first one encountered through Zazen. This just means a heightened level of concentration, which is producing a pleasant overall feeling. In reality, this is usually the first of many jhanas of classical Buddhist tradition (numbering eight according to the Buddha’s original recorded teachings).

Why do Zennists stop short at this first jhana? Well, this is a tangled area. One answer would be that many actually do not. Another answer would be that many do.

There is a tradition in Zen that holds that prolonged work in the first jhana naturally gives way to the others through the help of a personal teacher and through concentrating on higher attitudes that already correspond to what Theravada teachers might otherwise address in a more psycho-physical, even clinical fashion, and these other levels of practice are often alluded to and explicitly expounded upon by Hakuin and others within the Zen tradition’s written records–so they do exist for Zen, they just aren’t the point. The de-emphasis on the levels of the jhanas in Zen may be most safely attributed to this over-arching desire not to cling to desires–even for enlightenment itself. This is like keeping the training spikes attached to a tree until it is well into early adulthood for the tree’s own good. One the training spikes are taken away, the tree is left to its own karmic tendencies, which are rarely far from perfect. We human beings have karma or else we wouldn’t be here. The result is a very straight tree that can’t help but grow straight. In reality, trees naturally grow toward the rising sun whenever they can, spreading their leaves toward the rays, leading the tree itself over time to even compete with other trees for sunlight. Some trees however are blown over by strong winds while still young, especially wild trees which have no such guards placed upon them. Thus, if we don’t train a tree and correct its posture over time, it may fall over at some point and never grow up at all. We need discipline to progress, and not setting goals for ourselves to trip up on is part of Zen’s (especially Soto Zen).

This is somewhat similar to early Taoism’s simple prolonged meditation on natural surroundings. The idea is to not hold on greedily to a goal, but to resign oneself to daily meditation and practice for its own sake. However, unlike Taoism’s emphasis on nature and the natural, Zen keeps it’s garden well-pruned and clear of the desire towards selfish living. Monks traditionally shaved their heads more for the effect of shaving away the selfish views, than on preventing head lice outbreaks (which it probably also did nicely).

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi repeats Dogen’s admonition that “Zazen itself is enlightenment.” The goal is not to get hung up on goals, and yet pursue enlightenment diligently and tirelessly in practice nonetheless. I say that because the letting go of clinging to the personal goal of enlightenment could be taken too far via a tendency toward laziness if it loses sight of the fundamental burning need to attain enlightenment. In fact this is the argument behind Zen’s de-emphasis on “attaining” enlightenment. Some Zen centers for this reason have changed the Bodhisattva vow chanted in service from “attain” to “become”, to help keep at bay anything of the selfish seeking mode.

For more on this, see the “Focus” section of this post…

Back to postures…

For purposes of this installment, I will focus not on the placement of the legs (anyone can look up lotus posture on the internet), but rather on the spinal alignment that is common to most of these:

Spinal posture:

The point of showing this photo is in noting the erectness of the spine, neck and head--all in perfect spinal alignment, crucial to optimum effect in zazen. Another purpose is  that some of the grandeur of zazen can be seen just from the silhouette of this Bodhisattva's likeness. In perfect zazen, there is great selfless grandeur of spirit, the Bodhisattva's Vow in action.

The most simplistic metaphor for spinal erectness in sitting meditation is the best as a rule. And that is to imagine top of the crown of the head as having a string that connects painlessly to the skull itself and reaches to an undefined point far above. Like a marionette, the head and the spine must theoretically remain perfectly erect and straight and this would put the chin not raised and not lowered, but tucked in ever so slightly.

With relaxed shoulders, the hands ideally make the mudra of enlightenment, right fingers beneath those of the left hand, with both thumb tips lightly touching in an arch that may be said to look like an eye, or as if one is wielding a light saber that emanates from the navel. The elbows should stick out slightly to the sides in a relaxed way, just enough that one might be able to fit an egg in the bend of each elbow without breaking it.

The Body’s Activity in Zazen

Zazen breathing is rather simple to do, but difficult to maintain only due to the ability of the practitioner to stay focused. When breathing loses its relaxed and steady quality, it’s gentle and somewhat slow rhythm, you can be sure that the mind is lost, wandering in thoughts.

With the mind on the tan tien area of the navel, focus on your breathing as coming from the diaphragm itself. Beginners are often told to practice counting inhalations or exhalations to begin getting the hand of focusing the mind. Others may only need to become the breath, which is slightly more advanced. In all cases, zazen is to be done with eyes open in a relaxed gaze and with the eyes slightly out of focus, angled at a downward 45-degree angle (roughly–don’t stress too much on getting too exact on the angle of your slightly unfocused gaze!).

The Mental Focus of Zazen

The mind’s focus in zazen should really not be on any verbal or imagistic thought, and yet it shouldn’t just be merely blank with no background intention, either. The intention should always be present–to attain enlightenment, to break through the current barrier not for self, but for the sake of becoming a full, completely enlightened buddha for the sake of enlightening all lost sentient beings everywhere. This is actually pushing the envelope ever so slightly in Soto Zen, which is prone to gentleness rather than a sense of urgency. However, most of the Zen ancestors of note, including Soto ancestors, emphasized that practice and Zazen are extremely urgent matters that contribute to realization and progress in this lifetime. The Buddha Sakyamuni is my support on this as well, as he emphasizes this many times in many pre-Mahayana sutras , as well as throughout the Mahayana sutras.

This sense of urgency is actually the ultimate form of compassion as we take it up only for the sake of all beings, onl;y for the sake of others, and zazen undertaken with this intention is the ultimate expression of that ultimate form of compassion. This is no light matter, and it should not be a breezy afterthought to zazen. It is, rather, the cornerstone of quality zazen, to be fully realized at not only the beginning of each sitting, but throughout to and through the final bell, even through getting up and going about the next task. In reality, a master would never lose this joyful earnestness of all-encompassing compassionate intention of saving all beings, though they might become very  expert at being subtle with it in how they laugh, play, work and so on. Does that make sense?

Yasutani Roshi, early modern Japanese Zen monk.

Yasutani Roshi, a rather controversial iconoclast figure in Japan’s history for many reasons, explains, in the tradition of the Rinzai tradition of Zen (as opposed to the Soto), that an attitude of life or death seriousness absolutely must accompany zazen if substantial, genuine progress toward enlightenment (and thus contact with Big Mind) is to be made–in fact must, if the Bodhisattva’s vow is to be taken seriously at all. This is true for him when one sits down to do zazen, and when one is doing other activites like studying the Dharma. This is supported by the Buddha Sakyamuni in many sutras in pre-Mahayana literature, and therefore is to some degree indisputable.

The only thing left in the lurch is the question of “Am I getting hung up on my goal of enlightenment?” Over time, the ancestors of the Mahayana school thought it too often did. The fact that Soto Zen emphasizes instead longevity of approach should not be taken to mean a lack of seriousness. This is, however, how many have taken Soto’s “just sitting” approach to be. In my experience as a Soto practitioner in the US, I have noted how there is little if any laxness in the shikantaza (just sitting) philosophy in practice. While beginners are encouraged to become comfortable with zazen, most of the more acclaimed teachers do not teach laziness or lack of effort or lack of zeal in achieving progress, but rather a subtle avoidance of over-clinging to some impossible effort that is beyond one’s own abilities in reality.

In general, the Bodhisattva’s vow is structured in such a way as to strip away all the ambition from the effort toward enlightenment. This is not just a strategy to get what we want, however. If we don’t earnestly want to save all beings, no final enlightenment is ever possible. Part of the Zen package is that, unlike the hearers of Buddhas teachings in his day, we are focusing on the fuller, most complete higher intention of a Buddha now: saving all beings.

One final note before my concluding farewell: The Buddha Sakyamuni, as recounted in the sutras, was never not in a posture that lent itself to enlightenment. This is significant. When he sat, he sat in an upright posture. When he lay down, he did so in one of the enlightenment-friendly postures. I dare say he stretched and did yoga exercise in his spare personal moments between teaching, but you get the idea. He made his life an ongoing sesshin, you might say. And I implore you to consider attempting the same. Little by little, the way your life is now can be shaped like a bonsai tree until it conforms to the life you want to live, the goal you want to achieve (or better yet become). It takes commitment to become what one sees one must become to have done what needed to be done, as the sutras say. More importantly, it takes balance that leans on the side of solitude rather than over-socializing, especially at the outset and usually for a good while thereafter. A Buddha strides down from the mountaintop to give the teaching to the masses. Most of us lowly followers of the Way should keep our noses to the grindstone. This doesn’t mean shunning others on the path, or our loved ones, or even our responsibilities, if that they truly are. It just means not getting our heads mixed up with thinking and attitudes that do not tend toward the edification of and humble, steadfast, effort-based illumination of Big Mind.

So now we’ve covered the basics of posture, breath and mental focus (including something of the spirit and intention of attaining supreme enlightenment for the sake of saving all lost sentient beings). There is so much ground to be covered left that it could easily take eons to exhaust it. I will settle for about 4-5 more posts, however, assuming a good bit of comments along the way before I post additional posts. At this time, based on the interest expressed thus far, I’m not at all sure that there will be a post #2 in this series. It’s fine if people don’t have questions on this first post, I suppose, but I imagine that there should at least be comments of some sort, letting me know that the reading subscribers are reading and/or at least following along till they reach the “sweet spot” for themselves. That said, I invite you to engage with a very solemn and grand practice of Zen even while reading this humble and flawed little series of mine: let’s do whatever we do here for the sake of attaining supreme enlightenment for the sake of in turn enlightening all beings. I think if you attack this series in this vein, you will at least get something far greater out of it than you might have otherwise imagined.


Top post image credit

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Nirvana by Chariot

It’s truly difficult to write a good Dharma blog post. To say too much is to lose focus, yet the deluded mind wanders about its realms of familiarity looking for things to show off. So I’ll try to keep this focused on the original intent, to elucidate how there is a purpose and a method to practice. For this purpose I’ve cut away all kinds of other considerations on the use of power in intellectual history and a lot of other blah-blah-blah…instead I want to focus here on how and why perfecting the self is part of the process of transcending the self.

In the Rathavinita Sutra (which could be translated as “The Simile of the Relay Chariots”), Buddha Sakyamuni lays out the formula for why we perfect the self, along the lines of a simile of a chariot relay of a king (which here is a then-accessible simile for the self, or rather of what is at the root of the self) from one palace to another in a distant land. As one chariot is used and then left behind for a new one to reach a destination…

“So too, friend, the purification of virtue is for the sake of reaching the purification of mind; purification of the mind is for the sake of reaching perfection of view; purification of view is for the sake of reaching the purification by overcoming doubt [of the efficacy of the path of Buddhism]; purification by overcoming doubt is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path; purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of the way; purification by knowledge and vision of the way is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision [here we have the purified instruments of knowing and seeing, themselves–knowing directly, becoming a true ‘seer’]; purification by knowledge and vision is for the sake of reaching final Nibbana without clinging. It is for the sake of reaching final Nibbana without clinging that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One.”

To free oneself from the suffering of deluded seeing, we must learn to see clearly both the unfathomable depth of–and the true nature of–existence. This is what the path, and the jhanas, and all the other myriad complicated edifices of Buddhism are all aimed at making more visible to the practitioner. And when we can see as a Buddha, this we may call final and supreme enlightenment.

In reality, we don’t all take this direct sequence in order, and in Zen, we don’t normally focus on this except within the context of Dharma study and in reflection upon structuring our practice, but this is the combination that opens wide the locked door of samsara and reveals Nirvana, and for this reason, it merits our attention as Buddhists.

May this effort benefit all beings in all directions. _/|\_

[Image Credit]

Excerpt taken from the Majjhima Nikaya in the translation used here, published by Wisdom Publications, and also available at Amazon, as well as being freely available online at Access to Insight (dot) org.

Posted in Dharma, practice | Tagged | 2 Comments

Meditation Corner: UPDATE

Once there are are 30+ subscribers, I will release the 1st Meditation Corner class post on the blog. The open part of the blog will be almost strictly on Zazen meditation and is primarily aimed at beginners. This class will be open to all subscribers and with no limit. I will answer as many comments as seems practical given my time considerations.

From blog subscribers who express an interest and who have actively commented (no matter how briefly), I will select up to about 10 or so for the private password-protected Qi Gong class. My selection criteria is based on what I can ascertain about the intentions of the candidates in terms of their personal goals.

My reasoning for the screening process on the Qi Gong class:

After long consideration, I can’t let just anyone into the Qi Gong class… My intention with doing this class at all is primarily to empower those whom I feel are ready internally to give back to others and help transform the world, you might say. To say more on that would be to create unnecessary problems for everyone, so it is imperative I be somewhat careful in this matter.

Those subscribers who have expressed an interest and who are selected for the Qi Gong class are asked NOT to give out the password you receive. Doing so will invalidate the password and require a new one be given out, and possibly someone will be then eliminated to avoid further problems. Also, participation is not a license to teach others, even for free as I myself will be doing here.

So if you’re interested in either class, please remember that the Qi Gong is only open to those who’ve participated heavily in the Zazen class, and only subscribers will likely be able to view the Qi Gong class (if selected, that is). And again, I won’t post the first Zazen post until the subscribers reach 30 or more people.


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Join the Meditation Corner: New Blog Series



I will be attempting to conduct a class here (on a trial basis) via blog posts and post comments. It may not be for everyone. I am addressing my efforts to those who feel that they may benefit. I ask only for the same respect for myself and those who engage here that each participant would accord him or her self.

I will also be addressing these following topics via blog posts series:

1) Specifically “Zen” (Soto) Practice

2) Coping with Earth Changes

(according to a holistic approach I will be using, which draws from numerous other traditions outside Zen and Mahayana Buddhism that I have researched and still am researching…)

3) The meditation series already mentioned atop this post.\The meditatition series itself will be both partly on Zazen, as well as sometimes on a special variant of Qi Gong which has proven itself to me over long years of use, and which I have recently begun to intensify to deal with the unsettling elements of the Earth Changes environment. I may expand this at a later time, but for the purposes of practicality, I probably won’t.

Trial Basis

I may have to guage participation on the first series (on meditation, #3 in the list above) before attempting to carry out the other two series. I will tolerate all sincere, reasonable comments and interaction on this blog and on the series in question, but if I block a commenter for unkind and blatantly disrespectful behavior, I’m afraid that’s the last time they’ll be making an appearance on this blog via comments. I do this only to support the sincere, not to punish the offender…because the sincere should not be punished for making an effort.

At some point, I may accept donations on this blog to help me to continue through what would otherwise me time working for my livelihood. At no time will donations be mandatory for access to this blog or the series outlined above. All beings may partake at no cost, at will, if sincere. This will not change for as long as the series and this blog persist. At some point, however, I will, however, most likely require participants to subscribe in order to view the blog and thus to comment. This will not affect the no-cost policy. Nothing weird here, just trying to keep it real for the sincere. And as always, I will be keeping my personal details to a blank minimum. No identifying information about myself or others will be released or permitted on this blog unless the user wishes it to be released, and only according to my own discretion and best judgement.

Why Am I Doing This?

Because I feel that I should, especially now, try to give away what I know to those who will accept it. I also would look forward to learning something from participants in the process myself. I certainly welcome that.

Well that’s about it for now.

I humbly dedicate this merit to all beings. May they use it to work toward their own ultimate enlightenment as I seek to do, for the sake of all beings who need their help, and with no gaining idea.



Please subscribe to this blog via email (top right) to get sincere and hopefully helpful answers to your questions and share in a small community of like minded people trying to help the Earth and each other through a tough time.


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How an Elephant Stumbles?

(Photo Credit)


The following was originally a comment meant to be posted on the most recent editorial that attempts to justify some of the pieces recently approved for consumption on . Since access to all articles, including the one I was currently commenting upon, magically disappeared while clicking the “submit” button, along with a notice that I was no longer logged in, and that logging back in would suddenly require money upfront…I’ll post it here and let others decide what’s really happening…

Dear Waylon,

I just thoroughly read the Sheen pieces, and this one, (as I have read other articles on Elephant), and now I’d like to say this:

I think you should reconsider your editorial policy a bit further. What I see here is most definitely criticism along the lines of ordinary everyday unadulterated gossip. Sorry, but I fail to see anything beyond that impulse of any weight. Are we really “missing something” here as onlookers or are we the voices of reason here?…I think my eyes work fine.

Example from this very post:

“Get real, media, says Charlie Sheen, trying the slightly-too-convenient guilt trip tactic on paparazzi who take endless photos/do endless stories on losers like Sheen because we the American People find porn stars and coke and celeb eff-ups more fun than thinking about Afghanistan or real solutions to terrorism or poverty.

Would hold more water if Charlie himself had ever done anything with his money or fame to fight poverty or create peace himself.”

Is this really right speech?…For what it’s worth, and with Sheen’s apparent lack of focus and personal judgement fully taken into account, including the likely harm he has indeed done to his family and others, I think the wayward “bad-boy” actor has a point here we would all do well to ingest rather than spit out contemptuously upon registering the source: Why *does* the media (including a burgeoning “Buddhist journal”) choose to focus their energies on this stuff when wars (technically current or not in your understanding) are indeed still going on, and many other terrible events, as well, like AIDS, poverty, and great suffering of many other varieties, the likes of which Mr. Sheen dutifully (if somewhat hazily) points out?

Even more importantly and more relevant to such a well-funded, well-supported Buddhist journal such as the newly enthroned Elephant is this consideration:

How does criticizing individuals in itself (including celebrities) help anyone to better practice the Buddha Way, especially when the individuals in question have no policy-creating function that others are being harmed by? A president or say a magazine editor, I say, might be due for criticism for the good of others–but surely nasty commentary upon gossipy pieces like the Sheen story does not count as passable for genuine criticism. That goes for fallen religious leaders within Buddhism as well (here I directly note the also-recent Brad Warner piece)…this is not helpful and does indeed smack more of a typical gossip rag than a thorough consideration of the issues involved. It seems an attempt to shame the already shamed is, in fact, actually taking place here. As for the Brad Warner piece, it was smug and vitriolic and actually created the feeling of sympathy within me for the victim…of the article. Shouldn’t it have instead attempted to look at the damage done, or the lessons learned? Why wouldn’t an even-handed exercise in compassion for the actual victims’ suffering have been a more appropriate focus of your articles and of your editorial policy? This is indeed problematic, I believe, for any truly thinking Buddhist practitioner, and I don’t think supporting everything that comes out of the elephant’s mouth will in the end serve the readers or pass as “thinking”.

To reiterate, because I feel it coming…, the issue here is *not* that you’re somehow not covering “real” issues at all in your journal, but that you are justifying gossiping mentality by indulging in it while justifying it with a few cavalier words of (highly dubious) explanation and a rather carefree, self-righteous air.

UPDATE: At exactly 6:05pm Central Time,’s articles were viewable again. The main article this comment was meant for was an editorial:–write-about-celebrities/ . I will try to post a link on the replies forum there to this blog post in an effort to be heard, and then I’ll drop it there, most likely, having said what I needed to say here, instead.


UPDATE #2: As of 6:15pm Central time, I am, once again, no longer a registered user of the site rather mysteriously, after just having posted my reply on the above mentioned original post. This is me giving up…


Posted in Right Speech, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments