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."