Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Eat Your Lunch

Going out to lunch in Galveston this last Saturday I took along John Daido Loori’s little book Bringing the Sacred to Life. Its subject is how to consciously practice our liturgy in the Zendo, how to perform our daily practice in our homes and, simply, how to practice out in the world. How to make our daily practice sacred? One of the subjects is eating. It's something we do everyday, but usually we're not paying attention, we're not conscious of the activity of eating. We read a book, the newspaper, we talk to others (real or imaginary), we daydream, we make plans. According to Zen, if we are eating, then we should eat. The point is to be conscious during the process of eating. So here:

We take our food in a bowl. We call the bowl the Buddha’s bowl. Master Dogen said:

"The Buddha bowl is not an artifact, it neither arises nor perishes, neither comes nor goes, neither gains nor loses. It is not concerned with past, present or future. This bowl is called the miraculous bowl."

Miraculous because it’s used in a miraculous event, at a miraculous time, by a miraculous person. On this account, when a miraculous event is realized, there is a miraculous bowl. There is no need to search for the miraculous. We’re surrounded by it, interpenetrated by it. Our very life is a manifestation of that miraculousness. When we acknowledge that the food we eat comes from the efforts of all sentient beings, past and present, we immediately identify with that Great Net of Indra.

Of course, after reading this passage, I had to set down my book, give a prayer of thanksgiving and pay attention to my meal. Spicy caldo de pescado. It was delicious.

I hope to see you tomorrow night.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tea cups, Tuesday nights

Tuesday nights @ 7pm services and zazen seems to be working fine. Last week Susana, representing our Sangha during the incense ceremony and offering the tea, had to pour seven cups of tea. We only have nine sets of zafus and zabutons. And the interesting thing is that Susana and I were the only regulars. The usual suspects were working late, sick, traveling or caring for babies. The new folks (they sat strong, like champs) had come via a friend, word of mouth and the blog. One had come for a third time. My gosh, soon we’ll have to be buying new zafus and zabutons. I look forward to sitting with our Sangha this Tuesday.

But right now I’m in Galveston with my son Johnny. It’s a beautiful sunny day, the surf pounding against the Seawall. Last night, when we got here, I walked along the Seawall, the surf was at high tide, the roaring incessant sound of the waves, the moist wind coming off the Gulf. The seashore always attracts a wild and very diverse menagerie of people, and I’m so happy to be one of them. Our family has a lot of personal history in Galveston, which I won’t go into now, but the city feels like home in so many ways. So I’m glad to be here, although tomorrow we turn around and come back home. Our 3rd floor room has a tiny little balcony and that’s where I sat Zazen this morning. When it’s possible I like to drag my zafu and zabuton outside from time to time and sit. It makes me realize how important it is that the senses be engaged—actively passive—during zazen. It’s important to keep the eyes open during practice, to let in a little bit of light, not to focus on any object, but to simply have the sense of sight present in zazen. I have trouble with this. My eyelids begin to feel heavy and want to shut, and sometimes they do, but when I notice them shut, then I open them. The light is there. So is the sound of traffic on the Seawall, a gull screeching about its morning hunger, some children playing, a worker taking out the garbage and banging the dumpster door shut.

Sit strong and straight. Breathe easy.

Bobby, aka KanKin

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sangha Building

When Suzuki-roshi first came to Sokoji (San Francisco Zen Temple) people would be referred to him for direction. They would come with all kinds of questions, and wanted answers. He simply told them "I sit every morning at 5:45, you are welcome to join me." 
This is a response by David KoMyo Novotny, a disciple of Harvey Daiho Roshi, to one of Daiho's blog about "Sangha Building" that I am pasting below. This is my belief also--if we sit, then our sangha will grow. And so it seems our Tuesday night schedule seems to be working: 7pm, 4425 Byron at the Unitarian Community. We sit and more people come. We've been averaging six or seven. Sweet. Who knows if that will continue. Who knows if we'll need to buy more zabutons and zafus. But, one way or the other, we'll continue to sit. Ken McGuire Roshi has built us an altar which I need to pick up this week. The weather is changing from summer to winter. It's so nice. I hope you can make it some evening.
If I want to build a sangha, I do not look for Zen Buddhists or even Buddhists for that matter. That would be a big mistake as I would be likely to collect a motley crew of people with all sorts of ideas about Zen.

No. First, I wouldn’t look period. I would find a place and set a time, and then I would just sit. Second, I would welcome whoever came to sit with me.  The key is openness and keeping our eye on the ball: practice. I might post a flier or two.  I would ask my friends.  I would first and last, however, practice. People too often set out with ideas in mind. This is not the Zen way.  We do not chase ideas.  We practice zazen.
Training is important when we get past just sitting.  Instruction is important before and during our zazen.  We never get past just sitting.  Training in the forms is an issue for Zen Temples and Practice Centers.  Important, yes, but not essential. What is essential first is that we understand what we are doing and second, our limitations.  We are practicing zazen. Instruction on this practice is readily available and quite simple.  Its practice is difficult. We should be careful not to allow the fact that we do not have a sangha, room, or building to take us away from our practice. We always have a park or a tree or a sidewalk or some other public space we can just sit in. Kinhin can be practiced pretty much anywhere and at anytime.  And mindfulness practice becomes a deeply ingrained way of life.
Let the labels go.  Zen Buddhists?  Not necessarily.  People willing to sit down with us and take the backward step?  Yes! Compassionate hearts?  Yes!  Diligent hearts?  Yes!
It is the practice that is essential, nothing else.
NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: I was looking in my archives for a nice photograph for "sangha" and I found this one from a wonderful sesshin (August 2005) conducted at Daiho's Refuge a bit off the grid northeast of Cloudcroft, NM. Bonnie Hobbs and Reba Montera, the two ladies on the right, still practice with Clear Mind. Mike Gozen LaTorra, the man in the middle, is the Abbott and teacher at the Las Cruces Zen Center on Mesquite Avenue. The lady far left and the man on the right I don't remember their names. And, I am embarrassed to say, I don't remember the name of the lady, second from the left. She was a long time practitioner in Las Cruces--a yoga teacher and masseuse. That very weekend she massaged my back and the tension and pain slipped away like water. She's moved up to Santa Fe and we miss her. And if you can, help me out with her name. Egads. I am embarrassed.

But what this photograph also reminds me is that the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces is planning the Rohatsu Sesshin for the weekend of December 10. Rohatsu is the celebration of the Buddha's Enlightenment and, thus, it's the most important sesshin of the calendar year. And the most rigorous. Please look at your calendars and, if you can, plan to attend. More about this soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Genevieve Ramirez, the baby daughter of Ruby Finlen Ramirez and Sangha member Sebastian Ramirez did not need to learn to do the mindfulness dance. She does it perfectly. Congratulations to the whole family from all of us.