Friday, December 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello

enjoying a tea ceremony hosted by JB
Placitas, NM[1]

Dear All, 

I needed someway to get ready for the New Year on our blog, and I found a wonderful librito put out by my friends at the Three Stones Sitting Group (aka Ordinary Mind Group) in Albuquerque, NM. The little book has a number of statements about Zen practice collected from Joko's writings, like these below answering the question: What Is Practice? The TSS is informally organized in the tradition of Charlotte Joko Beck although their connection is more figurative than literal if that makes sense. They sit every Wednesday night. If you're in Albuquerque, please join them. It's a trip. 

Happy New Year to you all. May we all bea blessing to your communities. And I thank you for your continuing practice.
--Bobby Kankin Byrd

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, experiencing, wherever we are stuck, wherever 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 no one; not giving solidity to any belief system-just being.
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 always about returning to the true self.  
Practice is about fmally 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.

--Charlotte Joko Beck

[1] I took this photo using a 10-second time delay on my camera. JB, who had recently finished building his adobe teahouse in Placitas, had invited me to a cup of tea—and a remarkable introduction to his version of the tea ceremony. As he made and served me tea, he told me the history of the tea ceremony. It was quite a remarkable event. If you visit JB's page, you'll find other links to tea ceremony documents, plus a variety of other odds and ends.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A friend, the artist Linda Lynch, came by the other day and she shared with me this haiku.

Clear water
No front 
No back

Nice. And nice translation too. In Japan this is her most widely known poem:
morning glory!
the well bucket-entangled,
I ask for water

Which is the subject of the painting.  

Chiyo-Jo was a woman poet of 18th Century Japan. She lived the century after Basho but certainly welcomed the open heart of his poetics.  

Turns out that Linda, who lives in Columbus, NM, also sits and stares at a wall doing nothing. Studying self. Forgetting self. Whatever you want to call it. Shikantaza is a good word to call it, huh? You can see Linda's work here and see how Zen understanding and her work intertwine, especially with her expression of negative space. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Zen through the Side Door

Zen thru the Side Door

Those newcomers walked right by.
Polly yelled after them,
“There’re a bunch of side doors.
But this is the one we use.”

This little poem comes from an improvisational riff we had before services two Sundays ago. I had taped that note on the front door. We were expecting two new comers. Polly said that would be a nice name for a collection of poems, “Zen thru the Side Door.” We all laughed. The newcomers came, saw the sign, followed directions through the gate but then walked right pass the side door. Polly went after them and shouted “There’s a bunch of side doors. But this is the one we use.” Deb said, “Well, that’s sounds like a line in a poem.” “Oh, yes, it does!” Susan said. Thus our sangha’s collaborative poem.

I sent this story in our weekly newsletter and Susan followed up on it with two wonderful signs--one with Bodhidharma's fierce profile,  the other with with a bunch of side doors--which she framed and gifted to the sangha last Sunday. I'll photograph them and post soon.

By the way, this week we'll be back to our usual hours on Sunday (10am) and Tuesday (7pm). I apologize for having to cancel last night (Tuesday, 11/8)

--Bobby Kankin

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Seeing matter as emptiness. Huh?

This is a recent blog posting from my teacher Harvey Daiho Hilbert of the Order of Clear Mind Zen. I recommend wholeheartedly that you follow Daiho on his blog or write to him to be included on his email list. The photo of Daiho I found on the Upaya Website. Somebody took it during Daiho's Street Zen practice.--Bobby Kankin 

With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

“Seeing matter itself as emptiness produces great wisdom so one does not dwell in birth and death; seeing emptiness as equivalent to matter produces great compassion so one does not dwell in nirvana.”  Yun-feng

We should each study these words.  They arise from the teaching of the Wisdom sutras and yield much support to our practice.  All things come and go, why dwell in the coming and going, the seeking and the grasping?  Since the true nature of coming and going gives rise to things themselves, we open to hear their cries. Neither seeking or grasping, we exist as an open channel in the flow of the universe.  As an open channel, we experience the shore, the tides, the ebb and flow of all things.

As the meal chant concludes, “May we exist in muddy water with purity like a lotus.”

Be well.

Rev. Daiho Hilbert
On the web at Clear Mind Zen

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Zen & the Making of Art

Last month I read Stephen Batchelor’s Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Somewhere in there (he’s a writer and photographer, his wife is a photographer) he makes the statement that Zen is the only religion (he doesn’t like that word, I don’t like that word, but we use what we got) that emphasizes art as a means of practice. It was such a simple statement, I was startled. He was correct (see postscript), but I was surprised that I hadn’t made such a statement, it’s so obvious. In fact, as I thought about it, it was art that brought me to Zen—in particular the peculiar little poems that go deeper and deeper the more you know them, and also the wonderful ink drawings and calligraphy pieces where negative space is such a constant.

If you hang out around me, you’ll hear me say that Zen is the only spiritual practice that teaches that those tiny moments of understanding—looking at a flower, a person, the ocean, when the self seems to drop away—is understood as a spiritual experience. The experience of oneness. Many of us first see this connection between our experience and a spiritual experience in haiku or other poems from Zen.  Take for instance, Basho’s famous haiku:
The old pond.
Frog jump in.
Back when I was growing up (teens, 20s, etc) I read a lot of poems by those American “Dharma Bums” Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. They were both serious students of Zen. Gary studied in Japan at a monastery; Philip was a longtime student at the San Francisco Zen Center with Shunryu Suzuki and later Richard Baker. Here’s one of my favorites of Whalen’s poems, which I’m always finding a reason to quote. I was sitting on the floor of the University of Arizona library when I first read it, oh, something like 44 years ago:

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.

But I don’t want to talk about being a witness to art. I want to talk about making art as a way to practice Zen.
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.
This is what Dogen said, and this is what we do when we sit zazen. And this is what the Zen practice of art is all about.

One of my favorite all-time books is Betty EdwardsDrawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It’s a remarkable book. I used it a long time ago. I was interested in trying to figure out if the experience of being a visual artist is like the experience of being a poet. Besides, I was envious of visual artists. I wanted to be one too. Edwards uses all sorts of exercises to teach hoof-handed folks like me how to draw. The two exercises I remember the most are drawing upside down and drawing a portrait.

Edwards said that forgers always turn a signature upside down to copy it. Why? Because they don’t want to be confused by what a letter “means,” they want to see its shape. They want to see the letters as they really are, not what the “think” they are. I did upside down signatures and I did a couple of upside down drawings. I was amazed at the results. Her point was that the rational mind (“the left side of the brain” in her terminology) got in the way of seeing. We have to figure out ways to let that go.

The same thing holds true for portraits. Most people (non-artists) when they try to draw somebody’s portrait it comes out totally out of proportion and warped. The face is usually magnified and takes up the whole head. The eyes are near the top of the head and the forehead is shriveled down. But really, she says, if you look at a head rightly, you’ll see that the eyes are in the middle of the skull so what we think of as the face is a much smaller element of the whole skull.

I was so happy. Especially when she described the experience of doing art as a place where time and place get lost. Minutes and even hours can go by and we’re not sure of what’s happened during that time except we were drawing. Also our sense of everything around us is dropped away. What’s essential is the act of drawing.

This is what happens when I write poems. Or “play with them,” editing them down to this and that. People ask me what some poem means or why did I choose that word, but really, I’m not making decisions like that. I’m listening to the poem, playing with it until “I feel it’s right.”

I think everybody has this experience in one way or another if they do something with conscious intention. What we could call love. Maybe they are doing martial arts or gardening or cooking or making love or other forms of creative activity. It’s our job, as Zen practitioners, to bring this experience to all parts of our lives—washing the dishes, resolving a conflict with a friend or spouse, engaging in our community or walking in the desert. By concentrating, by paying attention to what we are doing, by studying the self. Again, to repeat Dogen:
To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe.
 So, when people not used to drawing or writing poems, try to do so, they let their “self” get in the way. When I teach poetry writing, I’m always inventing exercises to try to get people to get out of the way of their self. And I tell them, by the way, not to worry. No matter what you do, your real self will be there. Your own unique experience and your perceptions will not be lost. To this end I want to remind you of Joko Beck’s adaptation of the Four Noble Truths, what she calls the Four Principles of Practice:
Caught in the self-centered dream, only dukkha (suffering).
Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream.
Life as it is, the only teacher.
Being just this moment, compassion’s way.
Now think of these not so much as principles for deeper spiritual understanding, but think of them as a way to make art. And enjoy your practice.

Thank you.
Bobby Kankin Byrd
POSTSCRIPT: This was originally a dharma talk that I wrote up in July. I read a part of it on a Tuesday night, but went riffing off somewhere else. Also, I don't like to get into the never-ending discussion about Zen as a "religion." At least not here. I should say that I believe that some people would argue "that Zen is the only religion that emphasizes art as a means of practice." He's speaking of recognized world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Muslim. He's not speaking, for instance, of all sorts of indigenous religions or practices that include the making of art as central to their spiritual practice. Although they wouldn't make these categories. I think too that every religion has a sect in some nook and cranny where art-making is at the core of what's happening. The mystic Sufi poet Rumi and his Dervish brethren come immediately to mind. But generally I think Batchelor's statement is true. The making of art is a vital facet of Zen practice, although all practitioners of Zen are not necessarily artists in the narrow sense.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Wang Wei

When I was in college, I studied Japanese and Chinese Literature. My favorite for a year or so was Wang Wei, Chinese poet and painter in the 8th Century (Tang Dynasty). I often credit him and his cohorts--Li Po, Tu Fu, Cold Mountain, all the rest of those crazy Chinese poets and their Japanese brethren (Basho, Issa and that ilk) that came along later--with saving my life. They understood quite clearly that nothing is permanent, that everything was changing one moment to the next, including themselves. Here's a painting and two poems by Wang Wei.
--Bobby Kankin Byrd

A portrait of Fu Sheng by Wang Wei

Passing Hsiang-chi Temple

Oblivious, I pass Hsiang-chi Temple
walking on through mountain cloud,
an empty trail through ancient trees.
Deep in the mountains, a bell resounds.

The susurrus rivr flows among stones.
Sunlight streams through frozen pines.
In this still pool, in falling light
Zen overcomes the serpents of delusion.


When those red beans come in springtime,
Flushing on your southland branches,
Take home an armful, for my sake,
As a symbol of our love.
NOTE: "Passing Hsiang-chi Temple" from The Poetry of Zen translated by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton. "One-Hearted" copied and pasted from the Wikipedia page linked to above. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Time New Place

We've switched our services to my home--2709 Louisville.
We're between Piedras and Alabama. 
Our new times are as follows:
Sunday, 10am.
Tuesday, still 7pm.

Sundays @ 10am, which I assume will be our most attended services, will be in the living room of my house. Go through the gate on the side and then enter my house at the side door.

I am keeping our Tuesday night services @ 7pm because several of our regular Zentistas can only come then. For Tuesday night services, we will sit in my office. Again, go through the gate, but continue ahead to my office. The lights will be on, the tea will be hot. Lee, by the way, will be hosting neighborhood children in the house.

Remember: my cell number is 915-241-3140 if you have questions. If you want special instruction about zazen and Zen practice, please come early or call to see me.  

The Byrd House @ 2709 Louisville

The Side Gate: Come on in. 
Sundays, enter the house through the side door.
Tuesdays, come on back to the office.

Back Office. Come on in.
I'll keep the light on for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Last night the zafus were all in place

...but nobody came.

That happens of course. I’ve always promised myself that I would continue as usual. The zabutons and zafus were all arranged anyway, although I didn’t move the altar. It’s a two-person operation. So I sat for two long periods with a nice longish kinhin, doing the rinzai boogie to see how the faster pace felt on my old legs. The sitting was fine. I chanted the Maka Hanya Haramita. My voice loud in the big room. The bell. A lost grackle outside the door gave the dharma talk. I don’t speak grackle but I enjoyed the rhythms of what she had to say. The tea was delicious. I got to go home a little early. The moon rising from the east through those strings of clouds.

Still, I’m thinking that Tuesday nights are not the best time for folks who like to sit on zafus and do nothing. Attendance has been low since July. Three or four usually. Besides, there’s the $100 a month to the UUCEP. I’m thinking of moving our makings to my home. I have a nice but small office outback which we would have to share with my desk. Our sitting space would be organized among the helter-skelter, but I think we could manage five or six sitters pretty comfortable. We’d kinhin outside. Or we could move downtown to the Cinco Puntos office. Plenty of space at CPP.

My question to all: What would be a good time for you? I’m thinking Sunday 9am or 10am and also a morning sit on Wednesdays, 630am. Mondays don’t work for me for family reasons, and Tuesdays don’t seem to be working. Wednesday and Thursday nights are also possibilities. Likewise our old time of Saturday afternoons.

Finally, if you don’t want to receive these emails, that’s cool. Just tell me.

I hope you’re all well.

Bobby Kankin
915-241-3140 Cell
915-838-1625 Office

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor

At the end of his book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Stephen Batchelor speaks about a secular religion, a beliefless practice, although he understands the contradictory nature of the terms. For me it's a concept that rattles around in my head and heart in the mornings as I prepare to sit and stare at the wall. Settles there while I become quiet sitting on my zafu. I don't need to think about it then. I just need to breathe. It's afterward, that I can take up these questions. This morning, for instance, reading Dogen's Genjo-koan. The light of the moon reflected fully on a tiny drop of morning dew hanging from a blade of grass.  

Below are quotes from page 237 of Confession:

"The point is not to abandon all institutions and dogmas but to find a way to live with them more ironically, to appreciate them for what they are—the play of the human mind in its endless quest for connection and meaning—rather than timeless entities ruthlessly defended or forcibly imposed.
What is it in Gotama’s teaching that is distinctively his own? There are four elements of the Dharma that cannot be derived from the Indian culture of his time. These are
  1. The principle of “this conditionality, conditioned arising.”
  2. The process of the Four Noble Truths.
  3. The practice of mindful awareness.
  4. The power of self-reliance.

Sit well. Hold the sky up with the tip of your head.
Bobby Kankin

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Of Gods and Men

For years now I remember and think about the koan where the monk climbs to the top of the flagpole and he's asked, Well, what do you do now? Daiho Hilbert in his dharma talks always came back to that koan. And that same koan is told in a number of different ways throughout Buddhist and Zen literature. Sometimes, for instance, the monk is hanging on a branch of a flimsy bush at the edge of a cliff. He's holding onto to the branch for dear life. If he climbs back up to the top, a hungry lion is waiting for him. If he lets go, he dies. So what does he do? I recommend watching this French movie Of Gods and Men for a way to consider this koan. It's the best movie about the life of the spiritual practice I have ever watched. A community of Christian monks in contemporary Algeria are confronted with the Mujaheddin on one side, the corrupt government on the other.Their practice has carried them to the very top of the flagpole, to the edge of the precipice. What do they do?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Practice of the Eightfold Path is a creative act.

Below, like the title of this blogpost, are quotations from Stephen Batchelor's memoir The Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. I highly recommend the book. Batchelor is also a photographer. I found this one from his collection "Sospel's Shadows"-- Bobby Kankin

"Buddhism has become for me a philosophy of action and responsibility. It provides a framework of values, ideas, and practices that nurture my ability to create a path in life, to define myself as a person, to act, to take risks, to imagine things differently, to make art. The more I prize Gotama’s teachings free from the matrix of Indian religious thought in which they are entrenched and the more I come to understand how his own life unfolded in the context of his times, the more I discern a template for living that I can apply at this time in this increasingly secular and globalized world." —page 181, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Stephen Batchelor

"Nonetheless, old habits die hard. In my quest for the historic Buddha, I still keep catching myself in search of a perfect person: one how can do no wrong, whose every thought, word, and deed springs from infallible understanding. But Gotama cannot be perfect because he is not God. He did not exempt himself when he said that all hings are impermanent, suffering, unreliable, and contingent. He tried to respond as best he could to the situation at hand. When I try to imagine myself in his present moment, I hae to cancel everything I know abobut what happened to the centures that separate his time from my mine. He had no inkling of the worldwide spread of Buddhism that would occur after his death. In the fractious environment of his time, he did not know whether he, his community, or his teaching would survive even for another day." —page 186, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, Stephen Batchelor

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thanks, Mr. Li Po

Zazen on Ching-t'ing Mountain

The birds have vanished from the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

--Li Po (aka Li Bai, Li Bo, etc)
Chinese poet, 701-762

The poem is from the beautiful little book from Shambala Press entitled The Poetry of Zen selected and translated/adapted by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emptiness & Form

Dear All, sometimes for my Tuesday night dharma talks, I jot down notes and sometimes these even become whole pieces. Like an essay. I keep them on my computer but I never get around to sharing them. I have excuses. Oh well. That's not right. I'm a writer. So as time allows I'll add my dharma talks here when I have them fully developed. Thank you.
  --Bobby Kankin Byrd
 Rio Grande Gorge Enso (see note)

This dharma talk, in a different form, was given April 19, 2011
Here’s something the Buddha said: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.” If you’ve had the opportunity to practice at the Clear Mind Zen Temple, you’ll see this statement on a nice piece of embroidery hanging on the wall hanging next to the altar as you round the far corner during kinhin. It’s a nice flag for remembering yourself.
Tonight I want to talk about the two fundamental laws, the central paradox, or koan, through which we come to understand our true nature. These are one, the Law of the Relative, and two, the Law of the Absolute. These two laws are expressed in our very breath, our bodies, our mind. Right here, right now. We say it this way in the Heart Sutra—form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Zen uses silly stories and sutras to redirect our mind, to confuse us, to make us think differently, to make us set aside thinking. But these stories—the riddles, koans, sutras whatever—these should never be considered “the truth.” They only suggest the truth, point to the truth. Like the old Zen saying, they are like fingers pointing at the moon, but they are not the moon. If the sutras or the stories or the koans are the truth, then we would be bound to the law of the relative, to “the this and the that,” to the yes and the no. Truth would exist outside of us, over there. This is the dilemma of most Christian thinking, which tends to be very dualistic. Thus, the Bible becomes the word of God. A Zen practitioner would say, No, the Bible is not the word of God, but the Bible is full of good stories, sacred stories, through which we can study ourselves, gates through which we can perhaps experience our true nature.

So how do we make stories and commentary that point beyond the relative to the absolute, toward the inexpressible? No, that’s not right. Let me say it this way: how do we make stories and commentary that reveal the emptiness—the Absolute—in form? In that sandwich you’re having for lunch. In that broken down man who came up to you to ask for a dollar. In the breath that you take.

Many teachers talk about water, the way it flows downhill toward the sea, and then it evaporates and circles back again. Or the waves in the sea, each of which—when viewed up close—has an individual identity, but which quickly melts back down into the body of the sea. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi talked about his journey to Yosemite and witnessing the waterfall there. Each drop of water, as it tumbled down off that magnificent cliff, became a separate entity, just for a second, and then, when it hit the pool, it once again became one with the pool and the river below.
It’s important to note that in the metaphors that teachers and the sutras use, “emptiness” is not “nothing.” “Nothingness” is not “nothing.” These words simply don’t work, but they are what we have. We need to re-think our understanding of these words. Emptiness, the way it’s expressed in the Heart Sutra, has no boundaries, it contains everything. For some the word “God” might be useful here but only if you’re able to insure that you understand “God” not as something other than you. “God” or “Absolute” or “Emptiness” or whatever word you use—it must contain us all. It must contain everything. But without boundaries.  
So there’s the famous story about the two monks and the 6th Patriarch.
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not agree who was right. The Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng heard the two monks arguing back and forth, and he said, "It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your minds that move." "Oh," they said, and they were then able to sit there in peace.
The monks were arguing about yes and no, about the ying and the yang, about the right and the wrong. They believed in the words they were using. Flag. Wind. Me. You. These were their truths. The 6th Patriarch pointed to their mind—the wind and the flag are a function of our mind. Like the Buddha said, we create the world in our minds. So for us to experience the absolute, to experience our true nature, then we must redirect our gaze and discover our true nature. Our Buddha nature. This is the practice of Zazen. We let go of our boundaries and we experience our True Self, our True Nature—little drops of water falling into the great pool of emptiness.
Thank you. 
Bobby Kankin
Note: I took this photo on Lee's and my journey up to Taos, NM in mid-July, 2011. Just as the highway enters the gorge north of Española and then the little town of Velarde, we pulled over the side of the road to pee. I climbed up a little arroyo for privacy and there was this rock carrying the pictograph of circle. New Mexico can be magical like that. The cactus--here with its miraculous blossoms--was a gift from my daugther and her husband Ed for my 69th birthday. /bb

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poem by Ryokan

I was cleaning out my office at home. It's a mess. Books and CDs and lost ideas. It always takes me a long time because my mind wanders like a housefly. And I stop to visit with old books of poems. Like this poem I opened to in Between the Floating Mist (White Pine Press, 1992) by Ryokan and translated by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro. The poem brought me back to myself. Have a good weekend. Sit strong. --Bobby Kankin Byrd

The flower does not invite the butterfly
and the butterfly has no intention of visiting the flower.
But when the flowers bloom the butterfly comes
and when the butterfly comes the flowers bloom.
I don't know these others,
and they don't know me either,
but we are all followers of the way.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Evening Gatha & Everyday Life

Evening Gatha

Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken.
Take heed.
This night your days are diminished by one.
Do not squander your life.

My practice has resonated with the Evening Gatha since I heard the Ino at the Still Mind Zendo in New York City chant it with so much heart to conclude evening services. It’s a powerful reminder for strong practice, both for sitting on the zafu and for doing our daily tasks of life—whatever is in front of us to do. The next step. Breathing in and breathing out. Just being here, this is enough.

I found the nice Enso (“circle” in Japanese, symbolizing the Absolute) to illustrate the Gatha at the website of Converging Paths Meditation Center in Sandusky, Ohio. A bow to them and their practice.

I’m delighted to be home in the desert sunshine. I thank you all for your practice. I hope to see you soon.

—Bobby Kankin Byrd

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sitting Still Mind in NYC

Still Mind Zen Zendo @ 37 West 37th, 6th Floor, NYC

Many thanks to Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, Kathryn Soku Shin Masary, Mauricio Rosas and Polly Perez for stepping in for me the last two weeks. This next Tuesday the 24th we will not have services but come May 31, the day after Memorial Day, we’ll be back at our zafus sitting strong and quiet. I look forward to sitting with you all again. I thank you all for your practice.

Last night I sat with the Still Mind Zen Sangha. I enjoy going to different Zendos and visiting with different Sanghas and practitioners. Everything is different and everything is the same. Sort of anyway. The SMZ is a spacious Zendo up on the 6th floor on West 17th Street two blocks from Broadway. The Sangha members were happy to welcome me. And it turned out that one, Bruce Kennedy, is a business acquaintance. He gave me a big hug. I felt at home.

It was a cool wet night—it’s been raining here for two days—so the windows were open, the city sounds drifted up to give some music to our zazen and a breeze refreshed us. Their teachers are Janet Jiryu Abels and Gregory Hosho Abels in the White Plum Lineage of Maezumi, and their teacher is Roshi Robert Jinsen Kennedy—a Jesuit priest and psychoanalyst who received transmission from Bernie Glassman. Jinsen Kennedy is respected for his work in showing how Zen and Christian practice, if viewed rightly, are pieces of the same cloth.

Tuesday nights are their primary nights for sitting, and they filled the place up with 30 or wordless Zensters. They don’t bow as much as we do; they sit toward the center one time and the next time they face the wall; their kinhin is half Soto-slow, half Rinzai-fast; the chanting is sparser than ours and of course their translations are different. I just did everything that the lady to the right was doing. How hard is that? Since the two Abels were out of town, one of their primary students Marisa Cespedes gave the dharma talk.  She spoke about contentment—accepting your life as you are and being complete with who you are. The cornerstone of her talk was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s statement “Just being alive is enough.” Being right here is great good fortune. Breathing this breath and typing these words. There’s no other place to be, no other person to be. Later, going home on the subway (the N train to 42nd to change to the 1 train) I remembered talking to Mike Immo Dretsch about the practice of home zazen and hearing sounds—wife in the kitchen, a car going by, the neighbor’s dog barking—and not attaching meaning to those sounds. Simply letting them be sounds. If we attach meaning, then our mind follows off on a thought. The next step is to hear words—say, from a partner or a friend or an enemy even—simply for what they mean. Don’t attach the baggage of personality to hearing those words spoken to you.

When I left that evening it was 9pm and I realized that I was putting on my shoes about the same time our Sangha members at the UUCEP were taking off their shoes. That made me happy. From a note this morning I heard that my friend David Gallardo was there with his son Alejandro. David and I used to drive every Monday every to sit at the Las Cruces Zen Center. We became good friends, going back and forth. He and his family have since moved to Tacoma, WA. He had great El Paso stories about his growing up. I miss him.

Sunday morning I plan to sit with the Village Zendo and hear Enkyo O’Hara Roshi speak.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Both Sides No sides / The Calligraphy

It's beautiful, huh? Many thanks to Yubao Li, a man I've happily sat next to, cross-legged of course, staring at the wall at the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces.

Tomorrow, March 26th, we'll have Zazenkai 9am to 4pm at my house at 2709 Louisville. Please notify me if you expect to come for all or part of our day of practice. Cell is 915-251-241-3140. Below is a tentative schedule.

A bow to all who learn about our Zen community--Both Sides / No Sides--through our blog. Sit strong for all of us, sit strong for our planet.

--Bobby Kankin Byrd


9:00am to 9:30am—Opening Services, Tea Ceremony, Dharma Talk
9:30am to Noon—4 periods zazen with kinhin and short break between periods 2 and three
Noon to 1:30pm—Lunch, abbreviated Oryoki style, and after lunch break
1:30 to 2:00pm—Zazen, one period
2:00 to 3:00—Samu, or work meditation (Dokusan if requested)
3:00 to 4:00pm Zazen Two Periods
4:00 pm—Closing Ceremonies

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March & April Schedule

Weekly Schedule
Tuesdays 7pm @ 4425 Byron in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso (UUCEP). For more information call Bobby Kankin Byrd @ 915-241-3140 or write Services include chanting the Three Refuges and the Heart Sutra in English; two zazen (meditation) periods of 25 minutes each with Kinhin (walking meditation) between; chanting the traditional Sino-Japanese Heart Sutra; and concluding with tea and a short dharma talk.

March Zazenkai 
Saturday, March 26th, 9am to 4pm @ 2709 Louisville, the home of Bobby Kankin Byrd. Our Zazenkai will include services, zazen, a vegetarian lunch (served in modified Oryoki style), samu (work meditation) and a concluding service. Please call 915-241-3140 or write for reservations.

Hanamatsuri Sesshin
The Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces and Harvey Daiho Roshi will host Hanamatsuri Sesshin beginning Friday evening, April 8th and concluding Sunday, April 10th.  Hanamatsuri is the Buddhist Holiday  celebrating the Buddha’s birth. Reservations are required. Please email Harvey Daiho @

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The following five poems from Japan were translated by Kenneth Rexroth (see his beautiful book 100 Poems from the Japanese). I receive the Village Zendo Newsletter. A person who I assume is Nina K posted them this morning, having received them from another list operated by Larry Robinson of California, "who sends out poems almost daily." The poems found a place in my heart today, so I thought to share them. I wish you are all well. Peace and hope for the people of Japan. For us all.

I can no longer tell dream from reality.
Into what world shall I awake
from this bewildering dream?

                       — Akazome Emon

The fireflies' light
How easily it goes on
How easily it goes out again.

                       — Chine-Jo

The crying plovers
On darkening Narumi
Beach, grow closer, wing
To wing, as the moon declines
Behind the rising tide.

                       — Fujiwara No Sueyoshi

I loathe the seas of being
And not being
And long for the mountain
Of bliss untouched by
The changing tides.

                       —  Anonymous

If only the world
Would remain this way,
Some fishermen
Drawing a little rowboat
Up the riverbank.

                       — Minamoto No Sanetomo

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Path Has Its Own Intelligence

Accompanying a Teisho by Kubota Ji'un
Based on the 10 Ox-Herding Pictures by KAKUAN Zenji in the 12th Century)

The Zen-centered internet of late has been blasted with controversy swirling around a couple of men teachers, one dead, one alive, and their relationship with women students. So much so that the controversy slipped into the New York Times like dirty water overflowing the kitchen sink. Like the dishwasher forgot to turn the water off. Have you ever done that—left the water running? I have. Shit, I say. Then I clean up the mess.

Anyway, if you’re interested in that sort of stuff you can track it down at the and websites. It’s not fun, but it can be valuable. 

In Zen we are responsible for ourselves, but we practice for each other. Still, we are always surprised, myself included, that human beings continue to be human beings no matter how long they stare at the wall with their legs aching. Our stories tell us the fragile teacher/student relationship is fraught with incredible potential for following our path, but, on the flip side, terrible abuse if we are not paying attention. But Zen Buddhism does have the tools to turn the water off and to clean up the mess.

Zen is wise because it gives us no one tool—a rule, a punishment, a dictum, a judge and a jury—that will fit all occasions. We have our daily zazen, the precepts, and the Eight-Fold Noble Path. With these in our practice and heart, we must constantly be looking with fresh eyes. We must not rely on habit. Harvey Daiho wrote a piece on his blog and e-list about the turmoil. I wrote the following in response to his post and simply thinking about the confusion the controversy (aka scandal) caused in my own heart. 

Poet Gary Snyder’s Rinzai teacher used to tell him that Zen was sitting zazen and sweeping. Some people have larger places to sweep, others smaller. That’s okay, that’s the way it is. But, he said, just don’t do too much harm. For me that’s very good advice. We can’t live on the planet—in our neighborhoods and cities—without causing some harm, but we should be aware of our actions and be responsible for them. Karma is about cause and effect. We can see every day how harmful actions (an inappropriate sexual relationship, a gun fired in anger, yelling at a child) can ripple for years and years and even generations through communities—whether they be families, Zen communities or political communities.

So this is how I try to understand the precepts—sitting zazen and sweeping and not doing too much harm. I like to add to those dictums the rule of camping—always leave a campsite better than you found it. This helps me add a dimension of aesthetics and the imagination to my life. I have to make decisions about the place where I live—both in my home and my communities. I want my life, and the lives of those around me, to be natural and organic, like the perfect campsite, in tune as much as possible to the place where we live. This requires some sweeping. Not too much, but just enough. Of course, remembering not to do much damage. It’s a sweet little dance.

The Ox-Herding verses and pictures are a wonderful tool for practice. They grow on you like koans.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Women In Zen Practice Support Group

Judy Daishin Harmon and Bonnie Bussho Hobbs, April 2010

Women In Zen Practice Support Group
Thursdays 5:30-7pm
Kathryn Soko Shin's & Daiho's apartment
2190 Mars Ave, #6, Las Cruces 88012

This is a women's group that focuses primarily on supporting members' practice and building sangha. We sit first, then have a light supper while discussing practice-related issues. Fern Roshi attends and shares her wisdom every week. There are 9 women signed up for the group and we usually end up with between 5 and 7 on any given week at this point.

We also get outside mentoring from Daishin ( Judy Harmon ) who just sent us a book to consider called Women of Wisdom by Tsultrim Allione. It's about 6 Tibetan female mystics and their spiritual journeys, in addition to the author's own--

And, we are planning a trip to Deming, as a group, to visit Bussho when the weather gets nicer. She will present topics on Native American healing and how she integrates Zen practice into that approach in her work with a prison population of substance abusers.

Women from Both Sides/No Sides sangha are encouraged to attend as they are able. We would love to have any of our dharma cousins here as often as possible!

Let me know if you have any questions.

Kathryn Soku Shin

Monday, January 31, 2011

Gutei's Finger @ Byron Street up the hill in El Paso

Last week after services we talked about the koan "Gutei's Finger." I've always been fascinated by the story, having first read it sometime in the 60s. (What the hell? The guy cut off the monk's finger!) I came across the story in my first copy (I've had maybe six of the years) of Sensaki's and Reps' translation of Zen Flesh / Zen Bones. It's the fifth koan in their version of the Mumonkon, The Gateless Gate, used by Rinzai teachers to test their students. The book is a staple in bookstores, you can buy it on-line and it's even available free on-line with a little search. Of course, as a publisher, I suggest you follow the first or second path.

Now that I've spent time being with the story, I'm hearing reverberations of it in most everything I read. For instance,...

"This is the practice of dying to the self."
--Charlotte Joko Beck


Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. "I attained my finger-Zen," he said, "from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it." Then he passed away.

[Oh, it's Monday morning. I'll paste a recent commentary from my teacher Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, the founder of Clear Mind Zen. The commentary also rings with the understanding of Gutei's Finger. I recommend you follow Daiho's blog or write him directly and ask that he put you on his e-mailing list.]  

Master Dogen taught that to study the Way is to study the self.  This study is the act of burning away the construction we call self, allowing the pieces to fall away, and supporting what remains as that which was not born and that which will not die:  our true nature.  This is the universality of everything, the Great Breath, not one, not two, just this.

How do we “get there”?  Simple, we get out of our own way.  We realize we are already there, that there is no there, and that the desire to get there, the imagining of a there in the first place, is all part of the delusion.

We practice stillness.  This is the practice of just coming and going, the practice of breathing in and breathing out, the practice of practice itself:  zanmai o zanmai.  The Samadhi that is the king of Samadhi.

Does raw land allow our plants to grow or do we need to till and otherwise care for the field?  Do we need to weed and water?  Do we need to fertilize?  For our crop to be plentiful and strong, we need to do these things.  Just so, Zen.  We cannot expect to open the self to allow our True Nature to emerge without study.  Right understanding requires a plow, hands, fertilizer, water, sun, and a willingness to set about the work itself. 

Oh, not to forget, yes, we will be sitting this Tuesday night same time (7pm), same place (4425 Byron) doing the same old thing--sitting in the silence until the bell rings. Come join us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Thanks to artist Polly Perez for our new logo. Last Friday (the very last moment) in preparing for Zazenkai and the Jukai Ceremonies of Kathryn Soku Shin Masaryk and Mike Inmo Dretsch, I realized I needed some sort of image for their certificates. I wrote Polly around 10am, wondering if she could come up with something quick. She accepted the challenge. She works half-day on Fridays, so she spent some time thinking about it and in a little less than two hours that afternoon she had accomplished the above. I was delighted.

By the way, I put photographs from the Jukai ceremonies on our Facebook page, and I'll be writing something here about the ceremonies when I get the time. I hope you are all well, and I thank you for your practice.

--Bobby Kankin Byrd