Yorktown Zen http://yorktownzen.org/index.html Authentic Zen Practice in the Hudson Valley of New York Sun, 01 May 2022 15:57:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SitePad Listening to Reality http://yorktownzen.org/blog/listening-to-reality.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/listening-to-reality/#respond Sun, 01 May 2022 15:49:08 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/listening-to-reality.html


This week Tesshin Roshi continued exploring the Diamond Sutra.  The sutra contains a question-and-answer session between the historical Buddha and a senior monk named Subhuti.  Roshi noted that before the mondo began, Subhuti performed a number of rituals to show respect to the Buddha.  This includes walking around him and touching his feet.  Some of these practices are still observed in Asia today.  Another interesting practice from ancient times is how the teacher reciprocates respect back to the students.  In ancient India teachers would expose one of their shoulders.  As Buddhism traveled to colder climates over time, this tradition was preserved in how teachers wear their formal robes while teaching.  Specifically, the outer robe never covers one of the shoulders.  We can still see this today in the way Roshi wears his robes when delivering a Dharma talk.  It is said that this tradition conveys openness of the teacher to the truth of the Dharma.


Roshi next described how the sutra opens with Subhuti proclaiming that all Bodhisattvas are perfect and can be trusted in all things.  In other words, as they are already perfect and that they have nothing to prove with regards to their true nature.  He then asks the Buddha his opinion on that statement.  The Buddha responds that he totally agrees with this.  Subhuti then asks how is a perfect being supposed to live if they have nothing to prove?  The Buddha responds that the best thing to do is simply to listen.  


Just listen?  Sounds very simple.  Roshi asked the group, “Listen to what??”  Everything, of course.  When we sit Zazen we are listening to reality.  All the lessons of life can be learned by simply being present.  Can you listen to your body?  Can you listen to your mind?  Can you listen to others?  Can you listen to nature?  However, we are not talking about ‘hearing’ here – rather we are talking about being deeply present.  This is the purpose of our Zazen.  We want to stop controlling everything.  Can we simply listen to the ‘this and that’ of life and be with it?


This sounds simple, but it is a practice which never really ends.  This is why the practice of Zazen is endless.   This is why we vow to save every being.  We save others, we save ourselves, we saved the ‘unformed.’  Beings are numberless – we vow to save them all.  Saving them all is really putting aside a defined goal and dealing with everything as it arises.  There is no end, so there is no goal.  Our focus turns to what is right in front of us instead of some abstract goal.  We begin to listen!


Tesshin Roshi wrapped up the talk be reminding us that listening to the reality of all beings sounds simple, but it is infinitely deep and is the work of a lifetime.  This is why, regardless of any accomplishment we may find along the path; our work never really ends.  The path stretches out in front of us to infinity.

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Everyday Zen http://yorktownzen.org/blog/everyday-zen.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/everyday-zen/#respond Sun, 24 Apr 2022 15:11:18 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/everyday-zen.html
Everyday Zen


This week Tesshin Roshi began our discussion of the Diamond Sutra.  This Sutra was first written down in the 300’s CE.  It is one of the most popular of the eighteen short Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts.  It is said that this is the very Sutra which moved the Sixth Patriarch to become a Zen monk when he heard it being chanted.  Roshi mentioned that the Sanskrit word for this sutra is “Vajraccedika-sutra” or, in English, the “Diamond Cutter Sutra.”   Diamond cutting is to be understood as that thing which can cut through the toughest of substances.  This substance, of course, is our delusions.


Roshi noted that this sutra begins with a recounting of a typical day in Shakyamuni’s life.  This is strange – why would one of the earliest and most revered wisdom sutras focus on such a mundane subject?  Here Roshi was clear – you really only understand a person by observing their everyday activities.  It would appear that Zen emphasizes the everyday, but it is much more subtle than that.  Zen makes no distinction between what is commonly known as mundane and sacred.  This is because the only moment which is real is the moment right in front of you.  The past has already happened and the future is yet to happen.  This means that every moment is special and understanding how someone acts moment to moment serves as the best insight into that person’s values and judgements.  Roshi emphasized this by pointing out that how an individual lives their life is much more important than anything that person says or writes down.  As such, the Diamond Sutra gives us a deep insight into the Historical Buddha by describing his mundane everyday activities.


Roshi wrapped up by stating that he will spend the next few Dharma talks exploring the Diamond Sutra and explaining why it is considered the Sanskrit work closest in spirit to the philosophy of Zen

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Bodhisattva Vows http://yorktownzen.org/blog/bodhisattva-vows.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/bodhisattva-vows/#respond Sun, 17 Apr 2022 15:14:56 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/bodhisattva-vows.html


This week Roshi explained the Bodhisattva vows as we will begin chanting them as part of our service.  Why would it make sense for us to chant such outrageous vows in the first place? 


•Beings are numberless;  I vow to free them

•Delusions are inexhaustible;  I vow to end them

•Dharma gates are boundless;  I vow to enter them

•The buddha way is unsurpassable;  I vow to realize it


On the surface it appears that these vows are impossible to fulfill, so what purpose do they really serve?  Tesshin Roshi mentioned that these vows set us to really penetrate what is being said in the Heart Sutra.  The sutra states …


“No path, no wisdom and no gain.

No gain – thus Bodhisattvas live this Prajna Paramita”


One cannot have gain with these vows, they are clearly impossible.  What the vows do give, however, is a journey into deeper practice.  One aspires to perfection, even if it is not possible to achieve it.  We stop aiming for a specific goal to “complete” and instead vow to live a certain way for our entire life.  There is no “graduation” from our practice!


Roshi next moved on to explain the relationship between the four Bodhisattva vows and the Four Noble Truths.  The First Noble Truth is that life has suffering.  We can never get away from this fundamental fact of existence.  The first vow addresses this by having us realize this suffering and dedicating our life to the alleviation of suffering of all beings.


The Second Noble Truth is that the suffering in our existence has a concrete reason – namely our delusion about the true nature of reality.  This is a critical teaching in Buddhism.  Suffering is not caused by some supernatural force or as a punishment from a god due to misbehavior.  It is simple cause and effect.  The second vow reminds us that our delusions are endless, however, we will vow to transcend them all.


The Third Noble Truth states that because suffering has a cause it can be mitigated in this life right now.  As such we vow that although the teachings for the Dharma are boundless, we vow to master them all.  This is really the “good news” of Buddhism.  The ability to eliminate suffering is in our hands.  It is not easy, of course, but it is possible.


The Fourth Noble Truth tells us how to approach the task of eliminating our delusions through the Dharma.  It lays out the eight-fold path of living including …


Right view 

Right intention 

Right speech 

Right action

Right livelihood

Right effort 

Right mindfulness

Right concentration


So, in the Fourth Bodhisattva Vow we state that this path is absolutely impossible to get completely right, but we commit to do it anyway.


Roshi emphasized that chanting the Four Bodhisattva Vows serves to bring the Four Noble Truths into our lives and practice.  We chant it everyday as the Vows are endless, and the Truths are endless, and our practice, of course, is endless.


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The Three Bodies http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-bodies.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-bodies/#respond Sun, 10 Apr 2022 15:18:40 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-bodies.html
Peace with Ourselves


Tesshin Roshi continued our discussion this week of the Sixth Patriarch.  One thing to remember about Huineng is that he was illiterate.  This means that his Zen was not academic, but rather intuitive and experiential.  This flavor of Zen became known as the “Sothern School” in 8th century China.  The Sothern School believed that if a student was given the correct conditions, enlightenment could happen spontaneously.  This contrasts with the Northern School of Zen which believed that enlightenment could only be achieved by constant diligent practice – perhaps over many lifetimes.


Roshi next moved on to explain Huineng’s teaching of the “Three Bodies” or three ways of being in reality.  These three include …


•  Reward Body  

•  Dharma Body  

•  Transformational Body


The first “body” is the reward body.  This is the world of karma and cause and effect.  It is our relative world of going to work, paying bills, and raising a family.  Typically, it is from this state of being that we enter practice.  We notice that something is off or lacking and we seek a deeper understanding.  The next body is the dharma body.  It is in this state of being that we try to elevate ourselves.  It is in this state of being, for instance, that we contemplate and commit to the Bodhisattva vows.  The last body is the transformational body.  It is in this state that all differences fall away and we realize our true nature.


Huineng’s great insight was that these three states of being exist at the same instant.  We do not graduate from one state to another as we “mature” in practice.  One state is no better or different from any other state.    Here Roshi was clear – all three bodies are a single body.  Zen teachers commonly tap their own body with the teaching stick to drive this point home.  There is nothing outside to aspire to.  Yes, this means that “Nirvana is already here while washing the dishes!”  


All too often, we want to flee the noise of day-to-day life to find some type of solace in spiritual practice.  This is a delusion!  Reality is right here – it has never left us!  Roshi asked us to look out the window – can you see the entire universe?  Perhaps we cannot because there are clouds blocking our view.  Does that mean the universe has ceased to exist?  The clouds are our delusions, of course.  Roshi warned us that only we can clear these clouds from our consciousness.  Anyone who tells you the exact steps of how to do this is deluded themselves.  Only you can discover your own true nature.  This is why Zen teachers state that they have nothing to teach.  All Zen teachers can do is follow Huineng’s instruction to create the necessary preconditions to increase the chances that the student becomes instantly enlightened.  


Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that the preconditions for instant enlightenment come from many places.  It could be work, poetry, music – and of course Zazen.  The thing to remember, however, is that the journey is yours and yours only.  There is nothing or nobody outside of you which can do this critical work.  This is your practice!

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Things are not What They Seem http://yorktownzen.org/blog/things-are-not-what-they-seem.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/things-are-not-what-they-seem/#respond Sun, 03 Apr 2022 15:38:42 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/things-are-not-what-they-seem.html
Huineng Quote


This week Tesshin Roshi started an exploration of the Platform Sutra   This sutra is important in Zen Buddhism as it centers on the teachings of the sixth patriarch Huineng.  The term ‘platform’ refers to the stage which an honored teacher sits when expounding the Dharma. 


Roshi also took a moment to explain the term ‘patriarch’ to the group.  In Zen, lineage is crucial.  Even today, we trace the lineage of teachers all the way back to the historical Buddha 2500 years ago.  Zen pays special attention to a group of six teachers called the patriarchs. (i.e. founders or ancestors) who were active between the 6th to 7th century CE in China.   The first Zen patriarch was Bodhidharma who left India to bring Buddhism to China where the tradition continued to grow and flourish.  Each master would then choose their successor which propagated the lineage throughout time.  Huineng was the sixth of these founding masters of Zen.  After this period, multiple schools and lineages of Zen developed and diverged.  Roshi reminded us however that all of these Zen schools, including our own Soto school, trace their lineages back to these six founding masters.


Roshi next mentioned that the sixth patriarch was an illiterate peasant which is a quite uncommon background for a monk in early China.  However, Huineng was determined to learn the Dharma and become awakened.  Traditionally, someone aspiring to become a monk would arrive at a training center and knock on the door and announce their intentions.  The teacher would always reject the aspirant and tell them to go home and stop bothering the monks in the temple.  In the case of Huineng the insults were particularly cruel because of his background.  Many people would have given up and left, but not Huineng.  His passion was simply too strong to be distracted by insults no matter how bad they were.  The story is that he waited for three full days until the monks inside finally relented and opened the gates.  Roshi noted that this form of “hazing” persists to this day as training is a serious matter and should not be taken up as a whim.   


Even after allowing Huineng into the temple, the abbot did not think this poor peasant would amount to much.  Perhaps he is simply looking for a warm place to sleep and steady food?  Here Roshi noted that even the most advanced teacher still harbors delusions.  The abbot interviews Huineng with the express purpose of discouraging him from starting his training.  He throws every insult at the poor peasant including his lack of education, poverty, and even his racial background of being from the south of China.    After this tirade, Huineng calmly noted that the Dharma does not come from the north, south, east, or west.  It does not come from high or low.  The Dharma simply is.  The abbot was surprised to see such clarity coming from an illiterate!  However, teachers commonly look past the person in from of them – they try to experience someone’s level of understanding directly – and this poor and shabby nobody had talent.  The abbot was forced to admit Huineng but he also knew that the flames of prejudice in himself and the other monks would always be present.  He warned Huineng that he would not really be welcomed in the temple or fit in and that he would be assigned only the most menial jobs.   This part of the story should really give the group pause.  How enlightened are we today in our comfortable Zen centers?  How much delusion do we still harbor?  How would we react if a homeless person started expounding the Dharma on a subway train?  Would we listen? 


Tesshin Roshi stopped here and talked about the jobs in a temple.  Yes, there is the abbot.  The head cook is also traditionally a position of high honor.  But what about lowly jobs like cleaning the toilets?  Is there any value in such work?  Huineng was given these menial tasks to do.  In practice, the job itself does not matter.  What matters is how one approaches the work.  Can you clean the toilets or polish the floor with your full attention?  It is said that Zen is found right in that moment – even over a dirty toliet.  Roshi noted that at the end of the retreats, he always made it a point to personally clean the toilets after everyone left.  We should carefully consider why an honored teacher do such a thing!


After some time, the abbot of the temple got old and contemplated retiring.  Traditionally, he passes authority to his successor by handing over his robes and begging bowl.  In this case, the successor was to be determined by who could create a poem which best encapsulated the teachings.  A senior monk provided the following submission…


The body is the bodhi tree.

The mind is like a bright mirror’s stand.

At all times we must strive to polish it

and must not let dust collect.


Everyone thought this was a great poem including the abbot.  It was posted prominently in the temple.  It became very clear who was going to take up the robe and bowl and become the new abbot of the temple.  In time someone eventually read the poem to lowly Huineng.  He thought a bit and asked that the following be written and posted under the ‘winning’ poem.


Bodhi originally has no tree.

The bright mirror also has no stand.

Fundamentally there is not a single thing.

Where could dust arise?


The abbot was amazed that a “barbarian” could produce such clarity.  He invited Huineng to his personal quarters late one night and handed him the robes and bowls and made him the sixth patriarch.  However, he warned the new master that the monks still would not accept him due to his background and that he should leave the temple right away.  (Again, how sad is this!!)  Huineng followed directions and left the very next day.  The monks, after hearing what happened, set out to capture Huineng and recover the robes and bowl.  Most of the monks eventually give up, but one monk in particular was persistent and eventually caught up to the renegade master.  Here, however, the story takes a turn.  When the warrior monk catches up with Huineng and demands the robes and bowl, he happily hands them over – after all they are only “tokens” and not the actual Dharma.  At that instant the other monk realized that Huineng was the “real deal” and begged to become his student.


Roshi stopped here and asked the group to consider this story.  What is our expectation of a great teacher?  What is our expectation of a Zen student?  What is our impression of Zen itself?  Delusions are infinite and even the most accomplished among us are plagued by them.  Are you overly proud of your practice?  Do you think you are better than some poor homeless person?  We do not know where the Dharma will show up from!  Our entire lineage owes a debt of gratitude to an individual that most modern Zen students would cross the street to avoid.  We should consider this story carefully every day before making our judgments.

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Rituals and Patterns http://yorktownzen.org/blog/rituals-and-patterns.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/rituals-and-patterns/#respond Sun, 27 Mar 2022 15:51:41 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/rituals-and-patterns.html


Roshi used his talk this week to explore the value of adding ritual to our practice.  It seems that in today’s world everyone is dropping rituals as fast as possible as they appear to be repetitious, boring, and devoid of any spiritual value.  Why would goroshi suddenly start emphasizing this part of our practice?


Roshi noted that when we really consider things, our entire existence is really a story of ritual and repetition.  Consider nature.  Seasons come in cycles – winter, spring, summer, fall.  All biological life occurs in a pattern – birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death.  Our own personal lives also follow rituals and cycles.  Do you wake up every morning and prepare coffee, tea, and breakfast in the same way?  Do you take lunch at the same time?  Do you celebrate the same holidays year after year?  This is all part of the reoccurring rituals of a life.  Rituals and patterns are not devoid of meaning.  They have a certain deep power and wisdom as they provide structure and meaning to life.


Roshi also noted that many studies of very successful people clearly show that they use rituals to achieve superhuman feats.  An athlete will setup a specific training regimen to ensure that they consistent get stronger and faster.  A star student will have set rituals for studying and learning materials to ensure that they get the highest grades possible.  We should all consider the areas in which we have achieved the most and try to recognize the patterns of behavior we have established to “set ourselves up for success.”


So why is ritual so important in the spiritual realm.  It is for the same reason.  Ritual sets us up for success.  Ritual has the ability to turn a normal moment into something so much higher.  We sometimes forget this in our instant gratification self-centered culture.  Tesshin Rosh described some common rituals and cycles in our tradtion and why they are so important.  For instance, consider the three bows we do during a service.  At one level this is a physical activity and performing it gets us out of our head.  We are doing something instead of thinking so much.  However, there is deep symbolism in this act.  What we are trying to do is embody the sacredness of all buddhas, the dharma of ultimate reality, and the sangha in ourselves.  We are bowing to them, but also bowing to ourselves because it is all part of one absolute perfection.  


So, in thinking about your practice, you should think about what are the rituals and patterns you have or can add to your day to make you a better person.  We believe that everything is change, and this implies that our rituals and patterns can change as well.  We are in control of this.  If our intention is to improve then we can change our patterns for the better.

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Breaking Feedback Loops http://yorktownzen.org/blog/breaking-feedback-loops.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/breaking-feedback-loops/#respond Sat, 05 Mar 2022 23:36:14 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/breaking-feedback-loops.html
Break feedback Loop


Tesshin Roshi opened his talk this week by mentioning that he attended a clergy seminar describing a new version of the King James Bible under development.  This new version will include many new and updated illustrations and artwork.  Some of the most striking artwork centered on the concept of Hell.  This got Roshi thinking – what is the Buddhist conception of Hell?


Many of the Hell realms in traditional Buddhism reflect on things like the “Three Poisons” including greed, ignorance, and hate.  However, Roshi wanted to concentrate this week on a type of Hell caused by negative feedback loops.  He mentioned that this is a hell realm that he has personally combatted throughout his life.  This mental state is so destructive as it ends up consuming so much of our time.  We mull over perceived slights from other people.  We tear ourselves down for every small error we make.  We wonder over and over again if we are good enough.  In the meantime, as we go around and around with these thoughts, life ticks on without us!


Why do we fall into these loops?  Research in evolution points to the fact that these feedback loops may have offered us some protection in the distant past.  If we kept reminding ourselves that the sabretooth tiger is dangerous, our chances of being eaten was reduced.  Further fMRI research has shown that the most primitive limbic structures in the brain become active when we descend into these negative feedback mental states.  


However, we must ask, do we still need to do this in the modern world?  Is it still helpful?  Here Roshi was clear – it is not helpful!  Rather, these negative thoughts simply suck our life away with no positive gain!  So, how do we resist this unhealthy negative state?  Roshi mentioned that commonly these feedback loops arise automatically and unconsciously.  Could the solution to this problem be to simply “wake up” and be more present in our lives?  This is one of the central reasons we practice Zazen.  The discipline of sitting with ourselves is to become present in the moment and intentional with every moment of our life.  As we get better at this practice, we can gain control and prevent these feedback loops from taking root in our mind.  


Roshi wrapped up by reiterating that Zazen can allow us to get our life back by eliminating these feedback loops at their source.  Specifically, by being present in the moment and actively deciding what our minds will focus on.   

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Physics Finds Koans http://yorktownzen.org/blog/physics-finds-koans.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/physics-finds-koans/#respond Sun, 27 Feb 2022 16:05:24 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/physics-finds-koans.html
Physics Finds Koans


Tesshin Roshi used his talk this to explore how the insight of “uncertainty” from modern physics is similar to a message which Buddhism, and Zen in particular, has been conveying for thousands of years.  The theory, first proposed by Verner Heisenberg states that one cannot ever precisely measure something.  In other words, there are limits to how completely something can be understood.  A related effect to “Uncertainty” is called the “Observer Effect” and it teaches us that the mere fact of observing a thing changes that thing.  For instance, if you try to measure a cup of water with a thermometer, it will impart some heat to the system, thus affecting the temperature reported.  As such, it is impossible to know, in an absolute sense, what the “real” temperature actually is.  Lastly, Roshi mentioned that matter itself really cannot be broken up into particles or waves.  We normally think of light as waves of a certain frequency, but in many cases, it acts as a stream of particles.  Even stranger, our observation seems to control which mode light or matter behaves in.


Roshi then stopped and asked the group if any of this sounds familiar.  Of course, it does!  Zen has always been consistent that mind is one of the aggregates along with the form of our bodies and our sensations.  Our mind shapes our reality and now physics is saying the same thing.  It appears that the physical world is a huge koan!  What is the sound of one hand clapping?  What is the position and momentum of a particle … exactly?  What is your answer?  The more you try to measure and understand it cognitively the more it changes!  How do you respond to this?  


Roshi continued by asking the group if they get frustrated during Zazen?  He asked if we sit and constantly wonder how well the session is going?  Do we fear wasting our time because we are not “doing it right!”   Dogen Zenji states that every minute in Zazen is a moment closer to enlightenment.  What does this mean and how does it relate to Uncertainty described above?  Here, Rosi was clear – in Zazen all we are asked to do is observe the mind.  However, we know that the very act of observation changes the subject.  As such, Zazen changes us from the inside out!  This is what Dogen was getting at.  Observation changes reality.  Roshi called this the “shift in perspective” and it takes time for one to realize and appreciate it.


Roshi wrapped up by stating it is not enough to simply sit and observe you own mind.  It must be done in the presence of Sangha.  The group of fellow practitioners help and support your effort and carry you through the rough patches. 

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The Vow to Manifest http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-vow-to-manifest.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-vow-to-manifest/#respond Sun, 13 Feb 2022 16:27:23 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-vow-to-manifest.html


Tesshin Roshi continued our Jukai training this week by beginning a discussion on the Ten Grave Precepts.  To western ears this may sound a lot like the biblical Ten Commandments.  As such, Roshi wanted us to explore that topic and see if this was the case.


At first reading, there is some overlap between the Buddhist Precepts and the biblical commandments.  For instance, both begin with the injunction not to kill.  However, we must go a bit deeper to really understand the difference.  Roshi asked us to consider where the injunction not to kill comes from in both of these traditions.  In the biblical conception, the Israelites were wandering in the desert for forty years after fleeing Egypt.  It is important to understand this was done to ensure that nobody entering the promised land lived as a slave in Egypt.  The society had to be completely rebuilt from a slave-mentality to a freedom mentality.  The Ten Commandments, in this conception, forms the basis of the law of a free people.  It is how God wants a free and civilized people to behave.  It is commonly said that you can tell a lot about a culture from its laws – and if we really think about it, much of Western law centers on the core of the Ten Commandments.  Tesshin then remarked that the biblical commandments are not just simply laws and rules, but also craft the philosophy of belief in the West.  Specifically, it is very much an “outside to inside” approach.  Specifically, there are commandments and many associated laws which dictate behavior.  The thinking is that as a person follows and honors these laws it transforms them from a savage into a civilized person.  The law transforms the person from the outside.


What about Buddhism?  Here Roshi was clear – Buddhism takes a different approach.  First, he stated that each of the Ten Percepts can be understood at three different layers.  So, thinking about the injunction not to kill, the first layer is the literal understanding.  Do not kill means do not take any life.  In many Theravada traditions, this is taken to an extreme where monks will walk with whisk brooms to ensure that they do not step on insects.  The next level is to embrace the spirit of not killing.  This level is common in the Mahayana schools of Buddhism including Zen.  What is this spirit?  It is universal compassion.  We have compassion because we understand that every sentient being is exactly the same thing as us.  The symbol of compassion is Kannon Bodhisattva.  This is why Kannon is such an omnipresent symbol in Zen.  She reminds us about the spirit of compassion.


Tesshin Roshi then mentioned that compassion is a fine spirit, but then asked if this has anything to do with our mission in Zen which is to deeply understand the true ground of reality.  It could become so easy to say and act the correct words of compassion and use it to inflate the ego.  Here Roshi stated that at this level, not killing is not just a commitment to compassion, but the full embodiment of Zen enlightenment!  A metaphor of this would be like smelling bread baking.  The bread smell, like our actions of compassion, is not enlightenment itself, but an expression of it.  We act according to the percepts because acting this way invokes the presence of enlightenment in the world.  We create it moment by moment by our actions.  In a similar way, we invoke Kannon as she creates compassion in the world which in turn manifests enlightenment.  Roshi, stated that this is a more “inside to outside” approach.  We train our mind and by doing this the entire universe changes.


So, what does taking the Jukai vows actually mean?  Yes, at the surface we are making a commitment, but exactly to whom?  Are we committing to Buddha?  Are we committing to our teacher?  Are we committing to ourselves?  NO, NO, NO.  We are committing to Enlightenment itself and committing to every being in the universe that we will work to understand this suchness right in front of our nose and then share it with everyone throughout space and time forever.  This is the vow we take.  It is endless!


Roshi wrapped up by asking what is common to every Bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition.  The answer is that each of them has taken the vow to specifically embody realization and never stop until every being also manifests it.  As such Jukai can be considered our personal transformation into becoming a Bodhisattva.  This ceremony creates Bodhisattvas and ensures that the opportunity to manifest enlightenment is passed from generation to generation.  

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The Three Pure Precepts http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-pure-precepts.html http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-pure-precepts/#respond Sun, 23 Jan 2022 15:57:19 +0000 http://yorktownzen.org/blog/the-three-pure-precepts.html


This week Tesshin Roshi began instructions for our Jukai ceremony coming in the spring.  He began by discussing the Three Pure Precepts.  The first of these precepts is “Do No Evil.”  This sounds very simple.  It is unlikely that any student entering a zendo is contemplating which evil acts they will perform after Zazen!  However, we must stop and ask ourselves what is really meant by the word “evil.”  Roshi mentioned that in Buddhism evil is seen to be generated from the “Three Poisons” which include greed, ignorance, and hatred.


Roshi noted that to enter the first pure precept we are really committing to eliminate these poisons from our life.  The first step in this process is to realize that nobody is free of these poisons.  Believing that we are free them is a delusion which only leads to a cycle of evil in our lives.  The second thing to realize is that our work in combating the poisons never really ends.  We are all infected forever, but we continuously strive to remove them from our consciousness.  This is why the precept is a lifelong commitment.


Go Roshi next told us that the best way to enter this commitment is with the vow of not doing evil to ourselves.  We all come to practice with our own very specific “karmic package” of previous actions, thoughts, and decisions.  We must realize that our past does not bind us.  We always have the choice to let it go.  We can put down the baggage of the past and be kind to ourselves.  This is so essential to do if we are ever to extend the pledge of not doing evil to others.  Roshi reminded us that in taking up the precept we must examine our life and karma carefully.  Can we eliminate the poisons?  Can we eliminate greed?  Not just greed for material possessions, but greed for love, people, knowledge – even the Dharma!  Can we eliminate ignorance in our life?  This is seen as the ignorance of the great matter of life and death?  Are you too distracted with trivial things?  Lastly, can you eliminate hatred.  This includes hatred of people and ideas that you do not agree with.  We see so much hatred today and we see the karmic consequences of this hatred – yet we continue to hate.  Our commitment with taking up the precept is to break the cycle of this hatred.


The next percept is to “Do Good.”  Here Roshi was clear – it is not enough to simply eliminate the evil from our life.  This would simply leave us in a neutral or inert state.  We must be proactively good.  Now, being good is not always so simple and easy.  What does being “good” actually mean?  Buddhism gives us some hints however by laying out the Eight-Fold Path to guide our actions.  (Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.)   Again, Roshi recommended that we start with ourselves.  Doing good is being less cruel and critical of yourself.  Recognize your karma and work to improve it step by step.  There is magic in beginnings and this is one of the main powers of Jukai.  We are taking a stand to shift our karma.


The last of the pure precepts is to “Actualize Good For Others.”  Here the lens changes from personal to universal.  We must ask why are we here – what is our purpose?  This precept clearly tells us that we are here to save all beings and eliminate suffering.  It is important to remember that our actions come out of the realization that we are all the same “thing” and reducing suffering is an end in itself.  Because we are all connected every good action we do ripples throughout space and time and affects all beings.


The vow we will take in Jukai makes this commitment real and the center of our life’s mission.  It is not a minor thing we are about to undertake.  Roshi wrapped up by asking each of us to deeply contemplate the three core precepts and write how we will embody these vows in our life.

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