Thursday, July 29, 2010

Time Passes Quickly: Zen Buddhism in El Paso and Juarez

Yes, Saturday July 31, 3:30pm we'll be having our services at 711 Robinson. Also, the following week after services and during tea Approximately (4:45pm), we'll have a general Sangha meeting to discuss general concerns. Anything that can be done better or differently, what we need to do, times for services, how we can attract new members--all this basic stuff will be up for discussion. Please make plans to be there. Your input is valuable.
Han at Upaya

Every morning at a Soto Zen Monastery a practitioner beats on the han to call her colleagues to the zendo for services and zazen. Below are the words on a han in the Soto lineage.


Shou ji ji dai
Mu jou jin soku
Kou in oshimu beshi
Toki hitowo matazu

Great is the matter of Birth and death;
Life slips quickly by;
To waste time is a great shame;
Time waits for no one; 

Thanks to Brad Warner for the calligraphy and the translation. As he says, others use different translations. The point is always the same: You won't be here long.

Han at Tassajara

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Obon Sesshin

The Both Sides / No Sides Zen Buddhist Community of El Paso and Juarez will be having our services Saturday, July 17, at 711 Robinson in the Kern Place Neighborhood of El Paso. Our weekly schedule also includes Wednesday morning sits (no chanting, only sitting) at 6am to 7am. All are welcome. Below are my comments about the Obon sesshin which I attended in Las Cruces this last weekend.

Lifted from Ken Ireland's Spiritually Incorrect Blog

This last weekend I participated with nine others in the Obon Sesshin. Our host was Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi and the Order of Clear Mind Zen in Las Cruces. The Obon celebration in the heat of the summer is the time to feed the hungry ghosts. These beings reside in hell. They have tiny mouths and pencil thin necks perched like grotesque one-legged birds over huge ravenous bellies. The ghosts cannot stuff enough food and drink through those mouths and necks to ever fill those bellies hanging slack over their belts and starving for nourishment. To prepare for the Obon ceremony at the end of sesshin the cook (tenzo) bakes a small cake and cuts it into equal pieces. Each helping of cake is then gift wrapped for the ceremony and placed on the altar.

Before the final ceremony one of our Sangha members spoke to the rest of us. She is a recovering addict, and she understands deeply the nature of hungry ghosts. She indeed understands that she was, and is, a hungry ghost. She never could get enough drugs to satisfy her craving. She asked us to think about addiction and addicts and her own practice during the ceremony. So at the appropriate time, the bells rang and we took turns approaching the altar. Each of us bowed to the Buddha, took a package of cake, offered the cake to the Buddha and to the hungry ghosts, saying our own private prayers as we did so. The recovering addict did likewise but she crumpled her piece of cake into pieces inside the wrapping. She wanted to make sure the hungry ghosts could nibble at the food and swallow it. She wanted to save them, she wanted to save too herself and the rest of us. She wanted to save all sentient beings. We are all hungry ghosts in one way or another. After services, the pieces of cake are unwrapped and scattered in the desert.

I brought a package home. Monday morning, remembering all of this, I wondered what happened to my package. So much confusion and family stuff when I got home, I had forgotten it. But happily I found it in my car. Like my friend taught me I broke up the cake into thousands of small pieces and scattered them through my yard, feeding the hungry ghosts, praying for my family, the sangha, my friends, the people of Juárez, for all sentient beings. Of course, Zen is not magic, the hungry ghosts are not real beings, hell can only be found in our own delusions and so feeding the hungry ghosts is only an exercise, a way of remembering. The only way to feed the hungry ghosts is to take our practice out into our worlds—our families, our sangha, our places of work, our neighborhoods. This is our practice hall. Right now.

--Bobby, Kankin
Los Sesshinistas after the concluding ceremony
A flowering datura plant (jimson weed) in the early sunlight
that Reba Montera and I saw on our way back to sesshin 
after our morning sit in the city park.
Beware the datura. It's poisonous but beautiful.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Practice Is: Charlotte Joko Beck

Photo from an interview "Life is Not a Problem" 
with Amy Gross in Tricycle Review. 
I recommend the interview wholeheartedly.


Practice is about experiencing the truth of who we really are.
Practice is about being with our life as it is, not as we would like it to be.
Practice is about the clash between what we want and what is.
Practice is about the transformation of our unnecessary suffering.
Practice is about attending to, [and] experiencing, wherever we are stuck, whatever we’re holding, whatever blocks us from our true nature.
Practice is about turning away from constantly seeking comfort and from trying to avoid pain.
Practice ultimately deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence—the fear that I am not.
Practice is about willingly residing in whatever life presents to us.
Practice is about seeing through our belief systems; so even if they remain, they no longer run us.
Practice is about turning from a self-centered view to a life-centered view.
Practice is about learning to be happy, but we will never be happy until we truly experience our unhappiness.
Practice is about slowly increasing our awareness of who we are and how we relate to life.
Practice is about moving from a life of drama to a life of no drama.
Practice is about finally understanding the paradox that although everything is a mess, all is well.
Practice is about learning to say “Yes” to everything, even when we hate it.
Practice always comes back to just the willingness to be.

Note: These statements about practice I found in a little book JB Bryan gave me. I assume he published a small edition of the book, although he didn't add his imprint La Alameda Press. There's more where this comes from. The video is fun too, huh? We get to see how other people go about their business.