Friday, December 25, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez--the end of 2009

Our schedule for the rest of the year: Tomorrow, Saturday the 26th, we will be sitting as usual--330pm, 711 Robinson, but next week, the 2nd day of 2010, we will not be sitting. I hope to see you all tomorrow, but if not, I hope you are all having a wonderful holidays, full of joy and reflection, and I hope that in the New Year we will all sit strong and live our lives mindfully.

Joshu Sasaki Roshi once told the story of Siddhartha’s birth--the baby born to a King who would one day become the Buddha--and in the telling he told about the prophesies and miracles that surrounded the birth of this very special baby. And when he was finished telling the story he giggled and said, “Well, of course, it didn’t happen like this.” He paused then, and a few seconds later added, “But let’s see what the story is telling us.” Then for at least an hour he talked about the very human and spiritual meanings that are the foundation of that story.

Every Christmas I remember what the Roshi said--“let’s see what the story is telling us”--and it has long helped me think about and consider the story of the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Our culture here along the U.S./Mexico border, as well as our so-called Western civilization, is saturated with the story. It’s part of the way we think because it’s part of our mythos (in the old sense of that word) and our language. As practitioners of Zen I believe it’s of no use to argue with the story, just as it’s of really no use to accept the story as fact. It’s best to simply listen to the story and to sit with its meaning--the birth of Jesus, his teaching, his death and resurrection. What does this mean to us? Individually and as a people? In Zen our only fundamentalism is sitting Zazen, the place where the gate swings open between the relative and absolute worlds.

I wish you all a Happy Holidays. And for the New Year, please join me in lighting a candle and a stick of incense for our friends and neighbors--indeed, our sisters and brothers--in Juárez. May the New Year bring them peace and justice.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso / Juarez (12/19/2009)

“The entire universe shines and preaches the Dharma.”
—the Chinese poet Wanshi

Join us tomorrow if you can: Saturday the 19th, 330pm, 711 Robinson. We'll be doing the same boogie-woogie. Funny how that doesn't change much and people still come. Last week we read aloud the FUKANZAZENGI by Dogen, recognized as the founder of the Soto Lineage of Zen. The text seems so transparent and simple on first reading, but as you read it and reread it you find yourself diving into a very deep pool.

Below is probably Dogen's most well-known quote. It's a foundation of Zen understanding--

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.
And while reading Dogen's biography on Wikipedia I found his death poem which he wrote a few days before he caught the boat to the other shore--

Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.

Entire body looks for nothing.

Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs.

I hope to see you, but if I don’t I wish you all a wonderful holidays. The Winter Solstice is only a few days away and the year will be changing anew. The older I get the more I find that these same forces pull at my heart. May the near year bring each of you peace, good health and spiritual well-being.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso Texas (12/12/2009)

It's good to be back on the zafu in El Paso. I should write a song. But I won't. We will be sitting this Saturday, December 12, at 330pm at 711 Robinson. The same old, the same old. El mismo, el mismo. I hope you can join us.

A few weeks back, during the Thanksgiving Weekend when I was coming home from one business trip, getting ready for another and enjoying my family all at the same time, I had wanted to put something on our blog about giving thanks relevant to what we do when we sit and stare at the wall and then study the dharma, either separately in our own homes or together as members of the Sangha in our Zendo with such great sun light. And so I remembered these two little bits of text that I'm pasting below. I am also pasting a couple of the recent magnificent photographs from the Hubble Telescope, that remarkable instrument wandering around in the great beyond and sending us messages about this vast universe in which we live. [See notes at the bottom of this post for captions for the photographs.] Thinking about this post, it simply occurred to me that those photographs help illustrate the two verses below, especially the first.

The first is "The Verse for Studying the Dharma" which is repeated in our strand of the Soto lineage before a dharma talk. I did not include this verse in the Both Sides / No Sides sutra sheets because we were short on space, and, besides, at the time I thought the language a bit extravagant for my tastes. However, the more I sit the more I come to realize the wisdom of the verse. We should truly give thanks for the opportunity to practice the Dharma.

The Verse for Studying the Dharma

The Dharma, incomparably profound and minutely subtle,
is rarely encountered in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas,
we can no hear it, listen to it, study and hold it,
may we understand the tatagatha’s true meaning.

The second verse is one of my favorite poems from the last century, one I've pasted in an email before, but I wanted to copy into the blog. It's Philip Whalen's whimsical "Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis." As I said in that email, the poem is one of my signposts for getting me to go sit on a zafu somewhere. I remember where I first read it--sitting on the floor in the stacks of the library at the University of Arizona. A long time ago. For me anyway, but not for these stars and galaxies in the vastness of where we live.

Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words,
Usually a pointless joke or a silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick
splashed picture--bug, leaf,
caricature of Teacher
on paper held together now by little more than ink
& their own strength brushed momentarily over it
Their world & several others since
Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it--
Cheered as it whizzed by--
& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars
Happy to have saved us all.



The first Hubble photograph I found at the New York Times website. Its caption reads: "The new Wide Field Camera 3 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, took this image of hot gas fleeing a dying star 3,800 light-years away in the Scorpius constellation. A so-called planetary nebula, it is also known as the Bug Nebula or the Butterfly Nebula. What resemble dainty butterfly wings are actually roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The star itself, once about five times as massive as the Sun, is some 400,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the hottest known in the galaxy. In what amounts to a kind of galactic recycling, the lost gas, enriched by elements like oxygen, nitrogen and carbon produced by the formerly massive star, will form the stuff for future stars."

The second Hubble photograph I found here. The caption for this one reads: "The Sombrero Galaxy - 28 million light years from Earth - was voted best picture taken by the Hubble telescope. The dimensions of the galaxy, officially called M104, are as spectacular as its appearance. It has 800 billion suns and is 50,000 light years across."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso Texas (11/21/2009)

Yes, we will be sitting this Saturday, 330pm, November 21, at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place neighborhood. Hope you can join us.



Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.

But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water.

The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching.

When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.

“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”

Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor from that day forward.


Since the November cold snap it’s been more and more difficult for John to find flowers for the altar in his neighborhood or in the arroyo, so he walked down to Albertson’s and bought a bunch of cut lilies, the three-bunches-for-$12 kind. He picked one for the altar, and the others he put in a tall vase on the dining room table. The lily he chose for the altar was beautiful--fully formed and open, a soft-russet spotted with dark specks and with white showing through, its creative parts fully exposed although of course no bees or hummingbirds are allowed inside the Zendo. While lighting the candle and seeing the lily I remembered the story the Buddha, his flower and his student. After serving tea, I placed the flower on the floor so we could see it easily. I rang the bell, we sipped our tea and enjoyed the flower in silence. Silence can be difficult but not always. Certainly not with the flower. After tea and the bell and the Four Great Vows, I blew out the candle, we thanked each other and we stacked the zabutons and the zafus. That’s been a few days now. The flower is probably dead.

By the way, scholars are not sure whether this story is true or not. The Wikipedia article suggests that it may be an invention of the Chinese Ch'an Buddhists. I don't really care. It's a good story.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso Texas (11/14/2009)

Yes, we will be sitting this Saturday, 330pm, November 14, at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place neighborhood. Hope you can join us.

Two books that have been recommended to me recently from Zensters I respect and listen to:

The first was BUDDHA'S MIND: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom (or here) by Ph.D. Rick Hanson. The recommendation came from Mike SoGozen LaTorra, abbot of the Zen Center of Las Cruces. Several folks in our Sangha and its suburbs are interested in the neurological and physiological responses to Zen practice, so here's an opportunity to dig a little deeper into that work. There are also a couple of videos available online dealing with similar material, and if you're interested, drop me a note.

The second is Philippe Coupey's ZEN: SIMPLY SITTING. Harvey SoDaiho Hilbert recommended this one in one of his daily commentaries: "It is a commentary on Master Dogen's Fukanzazengi [Universal Guide on the Correct Practice of Zazen]. I must say immediately, it is a wonderfully insightful and very practical volume. Sometimes, the best things are in the simplest formats. Direct, complete, simple."

Sit well, sit strong.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Zen Buddhism El Paso Texas (11/7/20090

Well, our blogspot is not showing up when I google, so for a while I will use the same title over and over again until we start getting some recognition in the digitized universe. Yes, we will be sitting tomorrow at 330pm at 711 Robinson. I look very much forward to it. I've been away for a couple of Saturdays and I certainly miss sitting with the Sangha and chanting and staring at the wall, the smoke of the incense rising and shifting with our breathing. The sermon of the incense, the sermon on the smoke.

This is a photograph of John Daido Loori Roshi (and here) who died October 9th at the age of 78. He received Dharma Transmission from both the Soto and Rinzai lineages, making him "one of three Western dharma-holders in both the Soto and Rinzai schools," according to scholar Richard Hughes. Loori is the founder of the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen. In terms of his understanding of Zen in America, he called himself "a radical conservative," an explanation that makes sense if you read his work. During my own studies for Jukai, I read both his THE HEART OF BEING: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism and THE EIGHT GATES OF ZEN: A Program of Zen Training. They are important books, and I recommend them highly.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


We'll be sitting Halloween Saturday. 330pm, 711 Robinson. Come join the silence. There's nothing to do. Just sit there and stare at the wall. Nothing to think about. What could be easier? I was talking to John Fortunato about a review of a comic book I read recently...about logic. Yes, logic. The book is LOGICOMIX: An Epic Search for Truth. In the page below the great logicians Bertrand Russell (the teacher) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (the student) are wandering around a wintry garden. The student is destroying the teacher's system of logic. Emptiness and form. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Zen Services Saturday, October 24

Come join us Saturday, October 24th, 330pm at 711 Robinson for Zazen and Zen Buddhist Services. We'll be there lighting incense and beating on the fish and ringing the bell. Below is another useful quotation from Zen Meditation in Plain English. I like this little book. I like going back to basics, starting all over from a beginner's mind. I find in Zen you don't need a lot of tools--a a zafu and zabuton, some instruction in sitting, a sangha to sit with, a few prayers that keep drilling into the mystery of who you are. /Bobby

What we find in the day-to-day practice of Zen is somehow ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. In the midst of the usual, we learn to pause, to make a difference in how we appreciate the great complex dance of cause and effect, and to enter into that dance more and more fully and caringly. We become better able to appreciate forms and the formless, the relative and the absolute, being still and still moving.
--Page 92, Zen Meditation in Plain English
by John Daishin Buksbazen

[Note: I like to have an image in the blogs and this one seemed right today. The photograph above is of my home altar with a childhood photo of my deceased brother. The little statue is Hotei. He's sitting down and practicing Zazen. ]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saturday 17th we will be sitting

(This wonderful photograph is from the website, Boulder, Colo)

Yes, we will be sitting Saturday, 330pm, 711 Robinson. Same old, same old. Ring the bell, chant the chants, ring the bell some more, sit and stare at the wall, walk the kinhin walk, sit and drink some tea, talk a little bit of the talk, ring the bell, go home. Nothing new, nothing special. In fact, an ordinary day at the sangha. You could do it at home...
But true Zen practice cannot be fully experienced in all its diversity and richness by just one person alone. Sooner or later it becomes important to join with a group of people who together form a community of practice. The community of practice comes out of each person’s determination to achieve some fundamental understanding of what this life really means, what this self really is.

If a Buddha is one who realizes and lives enlightenment, and sitting is the deepest expression of that realization and life, then community is nothing other than going deeper and deeper into that realization, and becoming more and more at one with that life.
—from Zen Meditation in Plain English
(the chapter on Community, or Sangha)
By John Daishin Buksbazen

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Daido Loori Roshi, 1931-2009

John Daido Loori Roshi passed away last Saturday. I read his two books The Heart of Being and The Eight Gates of Zen when I was preparing to receive Jukai, the Buddhist precepts. Both were important to me, and I recommend them highly. He was a pioneer in American Zen--one of the first Zen Roshis from the United States. He received transmission first in the Soto lineage and then later in the Rinzai lineage. He established the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskill Mountains in New York and the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen. He called himself "a radical conservative," according to the very good New York Times obit. And this from Harvey SoDaiho Hilbert's blog:
I met him once in California at the 800th birthday of Master Dogen. He walked with a slow deliberateness and slightly hunched back. There was a slight smile on his face and seeming twinkle in his eyes. He taught through himself: a manifest buddha. Yet, also, was challenging. His teaching was as historic masters, the kyosaku [the "encouragement" or "warning" stick] and a word or bell were always present.
As practitioners we all owe something to his practice and his work. I recommend following the various links to learn more about him and of course reading his books.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Zen Meditation in Plain English

Yes, we will be sitting this week, Saturday, 10/10, 3:30pm, at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place neighborhood near UTEP.

The last few weeks we've had newcomers come sit with us in Sangha. It's always a pleasure to introduce new folks to the art of sitting cross-legged (sometimes sitting on a chair) and staring at a wall. They've had questions of course--how to sit this way or that way and why do we do this or that. Like, why do we stare at the wall? Good question. Sitting is always a question, even as one evolves in her practice and the months become years and the years become more years. Etcetera. So I was glad to find this book at the Barnes & Noble: Zen Meditation in Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen. Nothing fancy, no bells and whistles. It's just a simple little how-to book which I find refreshing and fun. I bought the last copy, so I'll call the B&N to tell them they should order some more. Below, to make life a little bit easier, I'm pasting reviews of the book from Amazon and Publishers Weekly-- Review
The jolt of confidence you get when discussing a day's performance with a seasoned veteran can take any activity to a higher level. In his concise and informative Zen Meditation in Plain English, meditation veteran John Daishin Buksbazen gives detailed directions for each step of Zen-style meditation, from getting into the different postures and developing breath concentration, all the way up to intensive training periods. With only one short chapter on what the mind should be doing while "sitting" (as they say in Zen), his focus is on getting the fundamentals right. He also offers a rare introduction to the importance and mechanics of group practice and a well-selected "Frequently Asked Questions" section at the end. While Buksbazen repeatedly says that there is no substitute for a good teacher, until you find one, Zen Meditation in Plain English will do nicely. --Brian Bruya

From Publishers Weekly
Buksbazen, a psychotherapist who was ordained a Zen priest in 1968 and is affiliated with the Zen Center of Los Angeles, offers practical and down-to-earth advice about the specifics of Zen meditation. He begins by encouraging readers to get involved with meditation and not just read books about Buddhism: "After all, cookbooks are fun to read, but... they are most helpful to somebody who is actually involved in cooking." The bulk of this short primer is concerned with introducing the basics of zazen, or seated meditation: how to position the body, particularly the legs; how and when to breathe; what to think about. Helpful diagrams illustrate the full lotus, Burmese, kneeling (seiza) and other positions. Buksbazen even provides a "zazen checklist" to help beginners remember all of the steps involved in zazen, which as he notes is more difficult than it appears. What distinguishes this book from any number of Zen self-help books is its final section, which focuses on community. Arguing that "true Zen practice cannot be fully experienced in all its diversity and richness by just one person alone," Buksbazen builds a strong case for the powerful effect of being involved with a community of other practitioners. He follows this ideological argument with concrete information about group practice, including meditation retreats and other intensive training periods. In all, this is a fine introduction to Zen meditation practice, grounded in tradition yet adapted to contemporary life.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our New Blog

Hello. Welcome to the new blog for our sangha--Both Sides / No Sides: A Zen Community for El Paso and Juárez and the surrounding region on both sides of the border. We meet every Saturday at 3:30pm at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place neighborhood. (See the google map pasted below.) Many thanks to Sangha member John Fortunato for lending us a large room ("a clean, well-lighted place") in his home to serve as our Zendo. John also creates a nice flower arrangement for our altar each week.

Our lineage is traced through the Soto Tradition. We have no priest or abbot serving our Sangha now, but I organize and facilitate our services and events. I also serve as primary Ino. John Fortunato helps in all of these chores.

My name is Bobby Byrd. For a number of years I've been a student of, and received Jukai from, Harvey SoDaiho Hilbert Roshi of the Clear Mind School of Zen (and before that of the Zen Center of Las Cruces) . Our services include chanting the Three Refuges and the Heart Sutra in English, two 25 minute periods of Zazen (seated meditation) with Kinhin (walking meditation between). Afterward we chant the Heart Sutra in its Japanese (actually, Sino-Japanese) form, we have a short incense ceremony, serve tea and talk and we conclude by repeating The Four Great Vows. It's a nice time, and we invite all to come sit with us.

I like to see an image in a blognote, so here's a photograph of John Fortunato and me in the Zendo. When we first began sitting at 711 Robinson, usually it was just John and me. Now our Sangha has grown to 25 folks on our mailing list, of whom we'll have five to 10 people sitting with us each week. But there's a lot more room.

On this blog we'll make announcements about upcoming services and events, and I'll add information now and again that might prove helpful to your practice. We hope this blog can become a place of conversation about the practice of Zen Buddhism for El Paso and Juarez.

Soon we'll also have a FACEBOOK page which will upload the feeds from this blog. If you have questions, please write me at

The map is below.

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