Yorktown Zen http://yorktownzen.com/index.html Authentic Zen Practice in the Hudson Valley of New York Sun, 20 Oct 2019 16:11:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SitePad The Four Steps of Meditation http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-four-steps-of-meditation.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-four-steps-of-meditation/#respond Sun, 20 Oct 2019 15:59:20 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-four-steps-of-meditation.html
The Four Steps Of Meditation

 

Tesshin used this week’s talk to discuss the four steps of mediation as described by the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.  This teacher comes out of the Vietnamese Zen tradition, but freely mixes in many other ideas such as Theravada Buddhism.   Thich Nhan Hanh is world renown for his clear and insightful teaching which are useful not just for his monks but for lay practitioners and common people around the world.  

 

The four step process can be summarized as …

1.Stopping

2.Calming

3.Resting

4.Healing

 

Stopping, according to Tesshin, means exactly what it sounds like – namely stopping your daily activities and preparing for meditation.  This is particularly hard for people living in the United States as we are taught that to get ahead we must work all the time and never slow down.  Tesshin recounted that even after his elderly mother had multiple strokes, she could not slow down and adjust.  She would wander around the house upset that she did not “know what she should be doing now.”  We hold so much of this “nervous habit energy,” but we really do not know how to switch it off.  Tesshin mentioned that in Zen temples, the monks are commonly busy, but there are defined periods where they must stop and meditate.  This is done on purpose.  If one is constantly moving, there is not time and space to reflect and catch up.  We see this in our meditation.  When we come to sit, our minds are still racing with the day’s issues and problems.  Many times, we simply forget to stop and the meditation time flies by with little result.  So the gateway to success in meditation and mindfulness is building the skill to simply STOP.

 

The next step is to calm down.  Tesshin emphasized that there is a difference between stopping and calming.  One can sit on a cushion and stop the mental locomotive, but still be tense.  In this situation, we are still bringing in the problems of the day, but it is carried in the body which, of course, affects the mind.  To calm down, we must really let go and detach from everything.  Letting go is not suppression – it is recognizing what we bring to the cushion and simply allowing it to float away from our consciousness.  (Don’t worry, it will still be there when you are done sitting!)  Tesshin recounted a famous story in Buddhism.  Out in the forests, certain tribes catch monkeys.  They catch them by building a basket with thin spaces between the slats or a small opening at the top of the basket.  Inside is a treat irresistible to monkeys.  The monkey puts its hand in and grasps the prize, but then it cannot get its closed fist out.  Now, the monkey could easily release the prize and get its hand out of the trap, but it is INVESTED in the reward.  The fascinating thing is that the monkey holds on, even as it sees the captors approaching.  Of course, WE are the monkey and the cage is our delusions and habit energy.  All we need to do is open our hand and we can escape our suffering.  We learn to open our hand by calming down.

 

Once we have stopped and calmed the body and mind, we can begin to actually rest.  The nervous energy starts to dissipate.  However resting is not a passive activity.  It must be actively sought out.  Tesshin related this REST to the rest God commanded in the Abrahamic traditions.  He pointed out that in the hierarchy of commandments, the Sabbath rest is even higher than the injunction not to kill!  Why would this be?  It is because all wisdom traditions understand that rest and contemplation are “intrinsic” to our humanity and having this humanity is key to creating a harmonious civilization.  Tesshin mused that perhaps modern society is so precarious because people have forgotten the simple exercise of stopping, calming, and resting.

 

The last step is healing.  Tesshin remarked that this is the result of the above steps.  The healing can be mental, physical, or both.  Tesshin likened this to an athlete.  After intense physical training, there is a recovery period where the muscles repair themselves and grow.  One cannot become faster or stronger without these recovery periods.  It is the same with everything we do.  In order to progress, there must be a period of recovery.  This recovery is generated by first stopping, calming the nervous habit energy, and then finally resting.  Tesshin reminded us that meditation is a great way to do this and encouraged everyone to add a few extra minutes each day to our Zazen practice.

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Hate Has No Place Here http://yorktownzen.com/blog/hate-has-no-place-here.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/hate-has-no-place-here/#respond Sun, 13 Oct 2019 16:32:24 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/hate-has-no-place-here.html
Hate Has No Place Here

 

Tesshin opened his talk this week by musing on the 2019 Nobel prize in medicine.  The award went to two doctors studying how the body can sense and adapt to different levels of oxygen in the blood.   At the core, this work reinforces the essential importance of breathing.  As we know, and Tesshin reminded us, breath is at the core of everything we do which is why it is the first teaching in our practice.  

 

Tesshin next continued with a discussion on plans for the Yorktown Interfaith Clergy to host the Thanksgiving message “Hate Has No Place Here.”  One would think that a message like this would be uncontroversial and expected from a group of clergy.   However, it appears that in today’s climate, even this message has many contentious interpretations.  One potential objection to this message is a “coded statement” for being against a “conservative” immigration policy.  It would appear that the term “hate” is a code word for “Immigration.”  Tesshin stopped here and reminded the group about how our mind creates a private narrative which prevents us from seeing the real world for what it is.  This prevents people of good will from having serious conversations because they are not communicating with each other, but rather with their own personal narratives.

 

So what does it really mean for hate to have no place here?  Tesshin started by pointing to a fact constantly reinforced in Zen – we are all the same thing – and because of this we MUST have compassion for everyone – even those we do not agree with.  As an example, Tesshin cited a case this week where Ellen Degeneres, a ‘progressive’ entertainment personality attended a sporting event with George Bush, a ‘conservative’ former president.  Ms. Degeneres was heavily criticized for this.  Her response was so simple and elegant that it is repeated below as she said it …

 

“… Here’s the thing,” she continued. “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. … But just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.

 

“When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do,” she said. “I mean be kind to everyone.” 

 

Tesshin stated that Ellen was asking us to be kind to everyone – not just who we like or agree with.  Is this simple and easy to do? – no!  Is there a limit?  Should we be kind to a mass murderer?  Well, Buddhism would say that we should always have compassion – even if we need to dispense punishments – it is all about motivation.  One can discipline without hate – one can resist and passionately disagree without hate.  THIS is what is meant by hate has no place here!

 

Tesshin next talked about a part of the Jewish scripture discoursed during the Yom Kippur holiday.  This day is part of the Jewish “high holidays” and is centered on atoning for one’s sins.  The story discussed is the parable of Cain and Able.  In the story Cain kills his brother out of envy and God punishes him by banishing him.   Tesshin pointed out that this marks the first murder of a man and is the origin of hate in mankind.  Cain asks, “am I my brother’s keeper?”  The parable is asking – must I have compassion for my fellow man?  Must I have compassion for the one who I totally disagree with?  Should Ms. Degeneres be seen with former president Bush?   Do we keep friends who we disagree with politically, are of a different race, or hold different religious beliefs?  This story reminding us NOT to act like Cain!

 

Tesshin wrapped up the talk by stating that this is where practice happens according to Buddhism.  It is easy to shun hate in the abstract, (e.g. save all sentient beings) but very hard in our day to day dealings with others.  “Hate has no place here!” is not an injunction to be numb to injustices.  It is also not a plan to “meekly agree with everyone” to avoid conflict.  It is an understanding that we are all of the same ‘thing’ and all want the same thing – namely the alleviation of suffering.  We must always remember this.  It is this commonality which drives universal compassion and which forms the core teaching of our practice.

 

Lastly, Tesshin wanted to encourage everyone to attend the Garden of Hope fall celebrations on Saturday, October 26th at 5pm.  Details are on our events page 

 

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One Finger Zen http://yorktownzen.com/blog/one-finger-zen.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/one-finger-zen/#respond Sun, 06 Oct 2019 17:24:30 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/one-finger-zen.html
One Finger Zen

 

Tesshin used this week’s talk to continue our study of “One Finger” Zen.  He touched on this topic earlier when teaching on the story of “Gutei’s Finger.”  This week, Tesshin continued the exploration of One Finger Zen by talking about Blue Cliff Record Case 19.  

 

This case is striking because it is a single verse…

“Chu Ti (Gutei), whenever he was asked a question, only raised a finger.” 

Not much to go on here at first blush, but Tesshin remarked that we could spend an entire week’s retreat plumbing its depths of this one sentence – such is the way with Koans!! 

 

In order to help the student, a Koan normally comes with a verse.  Below is the verse or commentary …

When a particle of dust is raised, it comprises the great earth.

When a flower blooms, the world springs forth.

But when dust is not yet raised, and a flower has not yet bloomed, how can it be seen?

Therefore, I say, it is like cutting a skein of thread: with one cut, it is all cut; or like dyeing a skein of thread: with one dyeing, all is dyed.

Now, if you cut off all complications, and bring forth your family treasure, then you comply everywhere with high and low, and there is no difference between front and back; each one will be fully manifest.

If you are not yet so, look at the lines below.

 

Tesshin next gave the context and commentary of this story.  Gutei was a monk practicing in 12th century China.  His original method of teaching came down from Bodhidharma who taught “non teaching.”  Basically in this style of teaching the master says nothing and allows the student to do almost all of the work of discovery.  Also, like Bodhidharma, Gutei would be known to sit in silent seclusion for long periods of time.  

 

There is a famous story where a nun whose name roughly translates to “reality” visits Gutei. (whoh!  if the student’s name is reality – we know something big is about to happen!!)  She first follows the forms when addressing a master.  She circles the master three times, however she fails to take off her rain gear.  As it was raining outside, she was completely drenched and we can image her dripping everywhere.  She then states, “If you will speak (e.g. teach the Dharma) I will take off my rain hat.”  Gutei says nothing – after all what is there for him to say?  Anything he says will only distort reality!  The nun repeats her query two more times.   Finally the nun gives up and turns to go.  At this, Gutei breaks his silence and says, “The hour is rather late: would you stay the night?”  The nun retorts, “If you speak, I will stay.”  At this Gutei resumed his silence and the nun left.  Now, our first reaction may be that the master was dismissive of the nun, but we know this is not the case as he invited her to eat and stay at the temple – a great honor!  

 

What happens next is interesting.  The master starts to consider the exchange.  He is charged to use “skillful means” to bring the Dharma to all who seek.  The nun is very close to full enlightenment.  The master followed the forms of Bodhidharma – but it did not work!  The nun left!  He failed!  He was obviously not skilled enough to teach an accomplished nun.  There must be more to learn about the Dharma.  Gutei decided he must leave the temple and find a more accomplished master to teach him what he does not know.  However, before he left he had a dream where spirits of the mountain (Zen temples are commonly on mountains protected by mountain spirits) came to Gutei and told him not to leave the temple, but a Bodhisattva would come to him and teach him what he lacked.

 

At this point, Tesshin paused and recounted that his master Ban Roshi had a very similar experience.  His master, Harada Roshi told Ban Roshi that the new abbot of Tetsugyuji temple would be a student who traveled from afar across the wide sea.  This student, of course, was Tesshin.  It would appear that the theme of spirit visiting during dreams to provide advice is common in Zen.  (Tesshin and his teacher’s backgrounds can be found here.)  

 

Tesshin then continued with Gutei’s story.  The newly arrived master (T’ien Lung) made the failure teaching the nun Gutei’s new koan.  One day, when working the Koan, the master simply raised his finger in response and BANG! Gutei got it and entered a deeper state of enlightenment.  From that point forward, he no longer reflected Bodhidharma, but the “One Finger Zen.”

 

So what are we to make of this story?  Tesshin remarked that originally Gutei taught Bodhidharma’s Zen.  Then T’ien Lung showed him something else and he started teaching One Finger Zen.  But who is Gutei and why does he not teach “Gutei’s Zen?”  What Gutei realized is that Zen is Zen and his ego does not need to create something new.  He simply echoes wisdom.  He is a messenger, not the message!  Adding to Zen destroys Zen!  Tesshin emphasized, sometimes we simply have to get out of the way so that the truth we have comes out clearly.  He reminded us every sentient being is already perfect and that we are already enlightened – we just need to discover it and then show it.  We do not need to CREATE it; we just need to see that it is already there.  For Gutei, it is the same – he does not need to create new teachings – he simply understood what was needed when. 

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The Five Questions http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-five-questions.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-five-questions/#respond Sun, 29 Sep 2019 19:15:54 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-five-questions.html
Five-Questions

 

Tesshin opened his talk by mentioning that in many spiritual traditions, the start of fall is a critical time of transformation.  For instance, in the Jewish faith it is considered the beginning of the year.  During the New Year services, the Shofar – or ram’s horn – is blown.  This blast serves as a reminder for the congregation to wake up and attend – something important is going on here!  What is that important thing?  It is one’s spiritual practice, of course.  We use these times of transition to move beyond our everyday concerns to something much more important.

 

Tesshin next asked – how should one reconnect to a spiritual practice?  To help in this process, he recounted five questions posed by Erza Bayda(Ezra Bayda received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck, and teaches and writes at the Zen Center of San Diego.)  

 

Question 1:  What Is going on right now?

This question challenges you to slow down and objectively understand your situation as it really is.  Not the internal story you tell yourself, but what is really going on.  Tesshin likened this to a sailor reading a navigational chart.  The chart is not like a GPS map – it is a tool to tell the sailor what is going on close to a given position.  How deep is the water?  Are there dangerous currents?  Is there a hidden reef?

 

Question 2:  Can my problems be “Welcomed” as part of my path?

It is commonly said in Buddhism that the adversary is the best teacher?  For instance, on many occasions the Dalai Lama has publicly thanked the Chinese – even though the Chinese government has worked so hard to destroy Tibetan culture.  Why would he do this – because only through the adversary can one practice true love.  It is easy to love a friend, but what about an enemy?

 

Question 3:  What is my most believed thought?

This practice really goes to the core of who you are?  What thoughts do you hold closest?  What beliefs make you who you are?  Tesshin exhorted us to challenge these closely held beliefs!  Are they really true?  Can they be proved?  What are my emotions around these thoughts?  If I did not have these beliefs, who would I become?  The idea here is that these closely held beliefs are really not the “real you.”  They are simply characteristics. 

 

Question 4:  What is this?

For us practicing Zen, this is the most critical question!  This is the question we take up when working Koans.  This is not an intellectual exercise.  We need to step beyond believing and non-believing.  Tesshin emphasized that one cannot think up an answer – living life “directly” in this exact moment is the only way to get at the solution to this question.  Of course, it is difficult to be mindful when life deals you “curve balls” because the mind wants to protect itself with defenses and narratives.   However, these stories carry the terrible price of delusion!  This is one of Buddhism’s key messages.

 

Question 5:  Can I just let this experience be?

Does every experience in our life need to be dealt with?  Must we grasp at good experiences all the time?  How many times have you focused on how to preserve a positive experience so hard, that you never actually experienced the thing itself?  In a similar vein, not ever negative situation needs to be actively fought against.  Sometime it is better to just let things work themselves out.  Not everything needs to be fixed.

 

Tesshin wrapped up by giving a short background on Ereza Bayda and providing the below link to the five questions.

 

https://www.lionsroar.com/5-questions-that-help-us-wake-up-july-2010/

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Everything is the Dharma http://yorktownzen.com/blog/everything-is-the-dharma.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/everything-is-the-dharma/#respond Sun, 22 Sep 2019 15:38:44 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/everything-is-the-dharma.html
Sacred-Mundane

 

Tesshin opened his talk this week asking the group whether being invited to see a movie with a friend is a pleasant experience or not.  What about following that up with a picnic in a park?  If you are a “glass half full” person, these events would great.  Imagine fun with friends, a great movie, and good food under a warm sun.  But if you are a “glass half empty” person, you would focus on a boring movie, potential conflicts with your friend, and ants and mosquitoes at the picnic!

 

Tesshin then asked, “What about Zen?”  We could think of robes, peace, perhaps even a deeper understanding of life.  We can also think of sore knees, boredom, and riddles which no sane person could ever solve!

 

The point to all of these musings is that BOTH perspectives are true and neither of them is true.  Everything we experience is in the Dharma.  (As an aside, Tesshin explains that by Dharma, we do not mean the Buddhist scriptures, but the entire phenomenal universe.)  The great food, the ants, the robes, and the sore knees are all part of it.  Great friends and worst enemies are also part of it.  Tesshin reminded us that the core of Zen practice is seeing the Dharma for what it is.  As such, the good, bad, and neutral are simply part of our practice.  They are all teachers and all have a message to impart to us as we proceed along this journey towards awakening.  

 

It is interesting to note that in most Zen retreats, there is always a work practice.  Work is not included in the retreat so that the temple gains a source of free labor.  Work is included because bringing the sacred to the mundane is a critical skill we must learn.  Tesshin recounts to us that the last thing he does at his temple after an intensive meditation retreat is washing the toilets!  Now he could get any student to do this disagreeable work, but he deeply understands that even washing away excrement is practice!  Do you see it?

 

So nothing is outside of life and reality.  Excrement is sacred.  Zen is excrement and Zen is sacred.  It is said in Zen that in the beginning life is simply chopping wood and carrying water (work).  Then one begins practice and everything becomes wondrous and sacred.  Finally, understanding and realization sets in and life again is chopping wood and carrying water – BUT EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!  Our challenge in practice is to deeply understand this and express it in our lives.

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Our Conditions http://yorktownzen.com/blog/our-conditions.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/our-conditions/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 16:38:51 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/our-conditions.html
Preconditions

 

Tesshin started this week’s talk by asking the group if there is such a thing as “Unconditional Love” or “Unconditional Happiness.”  He cautioned us to consider the ideal versus reality.  How does the reality of day to day life affect the bond between two people or one’s general disposition?  For instance, what is your feeling towards your partner after a long day at work?  Is this different than after a romantic dinner and a concert?  How is our general outlook during a vacation as opposed to the minute after a particularly uncomfortable meeting with our manager?  The message is that these feelings are never unconditional or permanent, but strongly affected by conditions.

 

If conditions are so important, does it not stand to reason that we need to put the correct conditions in place in order to foster things such as love and happiness.  Tesshin noted that this is one of the key messages in Buddhism – we are in control of the conditions which affect our lives.

 

Tesshin next related a story this past week.  As a bee-keeper, he is commonly called by friends who have “bee issues.”  This past week, a friend had a dead tree which had a hive inside.  The plan was for Tesshin to transfer the bees from the tree to a new bee box so that they could survive.  He took every precaution he could think of in order to ensure the bees settled into their new home.  However, two days later, the bee box was completely empty!  This got Tesshin thinking … did he consider every condition which would lead to a successful hive?  Was he ignorant of key issues?  For instance, perhaps the Queen died when he tried to remove the bees from the hive – this would cause the colony to scatter.  Perhaps the new location was too far from their chosen food source?  Perhaps the way he moved them was too traumatic.  The lesson here is that there could be many conditions which affect an outcome and even with great care there are always hidden conditions which need to be considered.  This is why life, relationships, and even the spiritual live are never really totally solved – there are always new conditions which must be considered.  It is always a work in progress.

 

Tesshin then emphasized that proper conditions must be setup for our practice.  This is why Buddhism has elements like a community (Sangha), teachers, and periods of intensive retreats.  These are nothing more than proven techniques to ensure that practice is strengthened.  Tesshin wrapped up by then asking us to consider what other proven techniques are available for us to eliminate suffering in ourselves and others.  He reminded us that only the individual is in control of ensuring that positive conditions are prevalent in life.

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Spiritual Oasis http://yorktownzen.com/blog/spiritual-oasis.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/spiritual-oasis/#respond Sun, 01 Sep 2019 15:34:29 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/spiritual-oasis.html
Oasis

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to recount an email he received from a close friend this past week.  The email took the form of an emotional tirade about all the things currently awry in the world.  The email enumerated a number of issues and tied them all back to an “anti-god” attitude in the country.  A few examples cited included …

  • Climate change assumes that god does not control the world and knows what is best for humanity
  • LBGT people openly defy god’s stated order and shows the delusion that humanity can control gender
  • Man’s view that he can understand “absolute truth” is the epitome of hubris

 

The writer cited these examples and others to show that we are close to the “end times” and that in the ongoing spiritual battle, it is clear that the devil is getting the upper hand.

 

Tesshin then pondered – how does a spiritual leader respond to thoughts like these?  He first suggested that this letter came from a person living in a “mono-culture” where everyone believes and reinforces the same thought over and over again.  Continuing on this thread, Tesshin compared these mono cultures to honey bees becoming ever more weaker because they are now only exposed to miles and miles of the exact same crop on huge industrial farms.  Tesshin mused that many people now retreat into spiritual and philosophical oasis’s where they are not challenged and everyone thinks alike.  

 

So is the spiritual oasis a bad thing?  Zen has the Sangha, after all.  Is this just another oasis where group think happens?  What is the difference between having a “safe space” and having a mono-culture where everyone thinks the same?   Tesshin recounted a parable from Dogen about walking through the mist at the top of a mountain.  Although it is not raining, one quickly becomes saturated without realizing it.  This parable warns us about collecting unintended influences which cloud our thinking.  Tesshin remarked that this is the big problem when depending too strongly on one’s spiritual oasis.

 

Many of the people in the Sangha immediately recoiled when Tesshin’s read the email, but we must wonder – is that reaction simply our “unintended influences?”  Are we just another inward looking mono-culture?  Being mindful means listening closely to what is being said and trying to understand it.  Zen clearly teaches that we are all the same “thing.”  All beings want to be happy and eliminate suffering.  Tesshin was clear that the writer was also concerned about all beings – it is just that his group took a different interpretation and thus radically different prescriptions.  However, it is this commonality in compassion where communications between groups and individuals can begin.  Our tradition, if it says nothing else, tells us to turn off the discriminating mind and to view everything as it actually is.  Tesshin reminded us that it is too easy to write off an entire group as ignorant and bigoted.  Communication and mutual understanding is the only way forward.  

 

So where to begin?   Compassion!  Tesshin suggested that he would start on the LBGT issue, as while the Old Testament is clear on these issues, it is also clear that god’s mercy is infinite.  His message to us, however, was clear.  While the spiritual sanctuary can be comforting and even nourishing, we must be careful that we do not become complacent and shut off from everyone else.  All sentient beings want to be happy and eliminate suffering – our vows are to meet every being on their own terms and do everything possible to eliminate their suffering and foster their happiness.  Not an easy task!

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Liberation Poetry http://yorktownzen.com/blog/liberation-poetry.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/liberation-poetry/#respond Sat, 27 Jul 2019 21:46:20 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/liberation-poetry.html
liberation

 

Tesshin opened this week’s talk relating a discourse Pope Benedict on world religions.  The Pope critiqued Buddhism as being far too nihilistic and depressing.  Is this fair?  If we look through the Buddhist literature, we will see many poems which on their surface look rather grim.  Below are just two examples.  What are we to make of this?

 

The birds have vanished down the sky.

Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,

until only the mountain remains.

–  Li Bai, an 8th century Chinese poet

 

I came once to sit on Cold Mountain

And lingered here for thirty years.

Yesterday I went to see relatives and friends;

Over half had gone to the Yellow Springs.

Bit by bit life fades like a guttering lamp,

Passes on like a river that never rests.

This morning I face my lonely shadow

And before I know it tears stream down.

 

Today I sat before the cliff,


Sat a long time till mists had cleared.


A single thread, the clear stream runs cold;


A thousand yards the green peaks lift their heads.

White clouds—the morning light is still;

Moonrise—the lamp of night drifts upward;

Body free from dust and stain,


What cares could trouble my mind?


 

The clear water sparkles like crystal,

You can see through it easily, right to the bottom.

My mind is free from every thought,

Nothing in the myriad realms can move it.

Since it cannot be wantonly roused,

Forever and forever it will stay unchanged.

When you have learned to know in this way

You will know there is no inside or out!

–  From Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the Tang Poet Han-shan

 

Tesshin contrasted the surface “gloominess” of Buddhism with the “good news” of western traditions.  We in the west also know impermanence.  Everyone dies after all – we all know this!  However, in the west, we are given the hope of perhaps going to a better place after death.  Buddhism does not offer this hope, so is the Pope correct in his criticism?

 

Tesshin asked how humanity could understand the entire universe.  We know so little.  In this regard, Buddhism is quite modest in its claims.  It states that the only thing we can know is Karma (cause and effect) and impermanence.  Any musings beyond these “laws” is speculation and will not emancipate you from suffering.  

 

Tesshin related a Tibetan meditation practice he participated in a few years ago to explain how focusing on impermanence can liberate.  The meditator is first invited to imagine a person they love, someone they hate, someone famous, and someone infamous.  The list can include anyone who has had a large impact on the meditator’s life.  The next step is to imagine one-by-one each person naked – not just removing clothes, but any adornment.  To be clear, imagining the person naked is not meant to excite, but to make the participant realize the intrinsic similarity of the group of imagined people.  We all have bodies, after all!   The next step is to remove “external attributes” including hair and skin.  Participants are instructed to do this slowly one person at a time.  At this point the body’s musculature is exposed in the imagination.  Again, participants are encouraged not to imagine pain and suffering or “gore” – rather that the skin, hair, and nails simply dissolve gently away.  At this point the bodies look even more similar as “external features” have been wiped away.  The meditators continue this exercise as they remove muscles and internal organs.  Eventually only skeletons are left in their imagination.  The participants are then invited to travel inside the bones – deeper and deeper.  At some point, inside the bone, we only see the atoms comprising the bones.  As we know, atoms are comprised mostly of empty space – and this is where the meditation takes us after hours of concentration – understanding that the people who have so much impact on life are mostly nothingness!!  At this point Tesshin stopped and asked the group to seriously consider this fact.  Not only are the people who impact us highly similar – they are similar in the fact that they are mostly nothingness!

 

Do you understand?  Do you understand the deep liberation which is gained by understanding this impermanence and emptiness?  It is not nihilism, but rather freedom from clinging and grasping.  Yes, we can love, but we are not destroyed when that ends.  Yes, we have pain and suffering, but this also is so very fleeting.  

 

This is what the Buddhist poets throughout history are trying to get us to see!  Yes, we sit on the “Cold Mountain,” of suffering but once you have understanding “You will know there is no inside or out.”  If the body is mostly nothingness then “[It is] free from dust and stain”  If you truly realize this then the “mind is free from every thought, Nothing in the myriad realms can move it.”  “What cares could trouble my mind?”
  Do you see it?  Can you imagine Han-shan jumping up and down to tell you the good news???  If you really understand this, you are liberated from suffering – nothing in the world can trouble you! You are free from clinging, free from grasping, free from suffering!  What could give greater hope!  Tesshin quipped this is why the Buddhist literature is so full of poetry!!

 

Tesshin wrapped up the talk by reminding us about the Day of Zen which will be held on the 24th of August.  Please see our events page for details and please be sure to email yorktownzen@gmail.com to RSVP so that we can make sure we have enough food and supplies.

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Pursuit of Happiness http://yorktownzen.com/blog/pursuit-of-happiness.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/pursuit-of-happiness/#respond Sun, 21 Jul 2019 15:16:21 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/pursuit-of-happiness.html
Pursuit of Happiness

 

Tesshin invited us this week to consider the phrase “Pursuit of Happiness.”  Happiness is a universal concept in human life, but we need to understand it is not guaranteed – it must be pursued.  So how would we pursue happiness?  Well, there is physical happiness.  Do we have enough to eat?  Do we have a nice house?  Do we have enough of the material things in life?  You may think that is to materialistic!  Well, what about “quality experiences?”  Have we taken a nice vacation?  Do we have a great spouse?  Is this the answer?

 

Tesshin next asked the group – what do all those definitions of happiness share?  They share the fact that they are conditional and impermanent!  They can come and go and if you tie your happiness to these fleeting things, your happiness can never last or be stable.  Think about it for a minute?  What happens if you lose your job and then lose your nice house?  Is your happiness destroyed forever?  What happens if your trip is cancelled at the last second due to an unforeseen event?  What happens if you are suddenly seriously injured and your body no longer works the way it once reliability did?  Does this mean you are no longer happy?

 

Tesshin next related an example of this.  He recounted that a friend of his was invited to a gala celebration of Armistice Day at Versailles.  Now who would not be happy at such an opportunity?  However, happiness was short lived – the tickets were $15,000!!!  Ugh, happiness dashed!  Later, they were awarded some spare tickets for free.  Happiness restored!  However, when they arrived it was 100 degrees and everyone was formally dressed!  Misery!  However, the small group had complete run of the palace – no throngs of tourists – Joy!!  However, the wife in the couple was wearing heels which made walking the grounds torture!  Swollen feet – grief!  “Great food / sweating in the heat / the wonder of the Hall of Mirrors / cobblestones in heels”  Back and forth and up and down – Do you see the game and do you realize how fleeting this happiness really is?  We need to base our pursuit on something firmer than pleasures based on impermanence.

 

This is the message of our practice.  It is not to deny pleasure – rather it is to understand that transient pleasure is a weak foundation to build lasting happiness on.  Our tradition is about gaining perspective and not grasping all the time for impermanent “trinkets.”  It is the same with adversity – it is fleeting – as such we need not sink into deep depression when the reversals come.  True happiness comes with understanding and avoiding this unbalanced desire, attachment, fear, and greed.  Permanent happiness comes with truly embracing how life works and accepting the flow of good with the bad.

 

Tesshin wrapped up by reminding everyone about some upcoming events.  First, Yorktown Zen is organizing our Summer 1 day retreat which is still currently set for August 31st.  Please email yorktownzen@gmail.com with RSVP.  Tesshin also wanted to let everyone know about a special retreat for women only being held from August 12th through the 18th.  Please contact info@northernwestchesterzen.org 

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Compassionate Activism http://yorktownzen.com/blog/compassionate-activism.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/compassionate-activism/#respond Sun, 14 Jul 2019 19:05:21 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/compassionate-activism.html
Compassionate_Activism

 

This week Tesshin posed a question, “What does it mean to be a member of a club?”  He next pointed out the membership is a uniquely human phenomena.   For instance, when a tree sprouts, it does not petition to join the local tree union – right?  The trees also do not split into warring groups based on species and location.  (Not withstanding a great song by the rock band Rush called “The Trees”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnC88xBPkkc)

 

So what groups are you a member of?  Who is in your clubs and who is out?  How important are the “insiders” to you?  How do the clubs you decide to join affect how you deal with others around you?   How do the groups you belong to affect how you think?  For most of us – people who look, think, or believe like us are more likely to be correct than ones that don’t.  A lot of our activism comes from the perspective of our “in crowd.”  Tesshin reminded us that we all belong to the “club” of sentient beings.  This simple fact should always be remembered when dealing with someone we consider an “outsider.”   

 

Next, Tesshin related a discussion he had the prior week with another Buddhist clergy member.  This person has become very active in social justice issues.  They are very concerned about inequality, systemic racism, and patriarchal privilege and wanted to know his opinion on these matters from a Zen perspective.  Tesshin understood that this person has decided to join certain groups and reject others.  While Tesshin agreed with many of the issues discussed, he worried that this clergy member was still separating themselves into specific assemblages and cutting themselves off from others. Tesshin reminded his colleague that to really make progress with these issues we need to hold two competing thoughts in their mind at the same time.  Yes, there are sociopaths.  Yes, there are racists and misogynists.  However, there are also enlightened beings.  Humanity is on a spectrum!  For example, we cannot say that Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama should be condemned because they are men and thus are part of the patriarchy!!    This would be incorrect and would help nobody.

 

Tesshin brought up this point because he wanted to remind us that all people belong to the club of sentient beings, and as such, deserve compassion.  To be clear, compassion does not mean people are not held accountable for their actions.  It does mean, however, that there is no such thing as a person so bad that they are not redeemable.   Giving up on someone is height of separation and dualism.  Again, our practice – at its core – is unity and alleviation of suffering.

 

Tesshin next warned us that these are not easy matters and there is not a simple “black and white” answer.  We must balance our desire to fix the world with our commitment to be compassionate.  A person who is totally sure they are correct and imbued with an unlimited desire to fix everything becomes a tyrant.  On the other hand, someone who intones the cliché of compassion without holding people accountable becomes detached and hypocritical.  In other words, their “Dharma is dead!”     

 

So what does it mean to you to be a member of the “Sentience Club?”  How much slack do we give our fellow imperfect beings?  These are the questions we are trying to solve in living our day to day life.  In our practice, we always start from the fact that down deep – everyone is perfect – they have simply forgotten that fact.  We also understand that because of the amnesia, we all suffer.  Activism, then, is reminding people by our actions that there is a better way for all beings.  It is never about anger, but rather wisdom.  This takes time, and sometimes humanity may regress, but patience and compassion is the only way.  Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that our work on the cushion helps us to realize and enhance our ability to balance compassion with activism.  

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