Thursday, November 1, 2012


Tuesday nights we now sit @ 6:30pm. To change the pace, we're taking turns bringing Zen stories to talk about. Since one of our Tuesday regulars is my 14-year-old grandson Johnny Hollandbyrd, we make sure the stories and the discussion is not too intellectual and esoteric. That’s a good exercise all by itself. So next week is Polly's turn. But this last Tuesday night (the night before Halloween) Susan started us with a story about Milarepa--perfectly suited for Halloween!
Once upon a time, a long time ago, and very far from here, a great Tibetan poet named Milarepa studied and meditated for decades. He traveled the countryside, teaching the practice of compassion and mercy to the villagers he met. He faced many hardships, difficulties, and sorrows, and transformed them into the path of his awakening.
Finally, it was time to return to the small hut he called home. He had carried its memory in his heart through all the years of his journey. Much to his surprise, upon entering he found it filled with enemies of every kind. Terrifying, horrifying, monstrous demons that would make most people run. But Milarepa was not most people.
Inhaling and exhaling slowly three times, he turned towards the demons, fully present and aware. He looked deeply into the eyes of each, bowing in respect, and said, "You are here in my home now. I honor you and open myself to what you have to teach me."
As soon as he uttered these words, all of the enemies save five disappeared. The ones that remained were grisly, raw, huge monsters. Milarepa bowed once more and began to sing a song to them, a sweet melody resonant with caring for the ways these beasts had suffered, and curiosity about what they needed and how he could help them. As the last notes left his lips, four of the demons disappeared into thin air. 
Now only one nasty creature was left, fangs dripping evil, nostrils flaming, opened jaws revealing a dark, foul black throat. Milarepa stepped closer to this huge demon, breathed deeply into his own belly, and said with quiet compassion, "I must understand your pain and what it is you need in order to be healed." Then he put his head in the mouth of the enemy.
In that instant, the demon disappeared and Milarepa was home at last.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Path Has Its Own Intelligence

I've been reading David Chadwick's Thank You and OK!, An American Zen Failure in Japan. Chadwick was a close student to Suzuki Roshi, and after his teacher's death, he wrote the wonderful biography Crooked Cucumber. Anyway, I came upon this wonderful quote which is for me a perfect description about what Zazen is about. An unusual description for sure, but one which ties together the history of our practice to the ongoing history of humanity. 

Hunter from the Lascaux Caves in Southern France

Sitting zazen for hours a day may seem like a lot of nothing when there’s so much to do, but it’s the Buddhist treasure hunt and the reason we still keep in this search is that the treasure is supposedly always right there waiting for us to find it. Suzuki, my old teacher, once said we find our treasure by watching and waiting. Gary Snyder, a teacher of the Buddhist hunters that prowl the Sierra Nevada in California, has suggested that hunting is one of the experiential origins of meditation. Indeed, throughout human history human hunters had to sit and wait motionless, even for days at a time. And Dutchananda, another sportsman on the track of this timeless snark, once pointed out that “marga” (aka “the Way,” “the Path”, in Sanskrit) is not a regular old trail or street, but is a word that originally meant the hunter’s path. The course is unknown is ahead of time to the hunter, who must sniff and look for signs and watch and wait. [Thank You and Okay, page 109-110]

This reminds me: In the 80s, I was just learning to sit and was reading, besides Zen books, all sorts of Native American books, especially about the Plains Indians. One day I was hiking in the Franklin Mountains along a creek bed. Even though the creek was dry, the rugged gash in the side of the mountain was lush with grasses, scrub oaks, all sorts of desert flowers and plants. It was easy to imagine a slow seep of water finding its way down through the cracked seams in the mountain. It was a perfect place to practice my new art of zazen. I found a nice place, bowed, straightened my back and began to sit. The breeze. The bird song. The crackle of twigs and leaves. My breath. I sat quiet for 20 minutes or so, and then I heard (or felt) a tweeting rustling in the leaves. I opened my eyes wider, and strutting quietly maybe five feet in front of me--almost close enough to touch--was a family of scaled quail The mother hen followed by six little ones. They marched right by me, paying me no nevermind. 

My best to you all.
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Sangha member Susan Feeny is starting the El Paso Roots of Change Study Group. As a steady Zen Buddhist practitioner, she's become inspired by the ideas and practical actions of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. ISEC is quite an organization. Just note its Advisory Board: Wendell Berry, Frijof Capra, Peter Matthiessen, Diana Rose, Jonathan Rose, Vandana Shiva, David Suzuki and Alice Waters. ISEC developed the outline for The Roots of Change Study Study Circles like the one Susan is developing. It's a program to help folks like Susan--like all of us--make change on the ground where we live. 

Susan, a retired high school art teacher and a long-time Zen practitioner. Her home zendo is Prajna Zendo outside Santa Fe. Just recently Susan took Jukai, taking the Buddhist Precepts and receiving her Buddhist name, Esho, Wisdom Flowering. It's an apt name, considering the project she has chosen for herself. Although Prajna Zendo is her home, she is a strong member of Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community, and a valued and steady presence in our zendo on Louisville Street.

Below is Susan's description of the El Paso Roots of Change Study Group, along with several clips from ISEC/Roots of Change films that Susan will be showing early on. You can follow the evolution of their group at their facebook page here.  

Join the El Paso Roots of Change Study Circle

Hardly a day goes by without news of accelerating ecological decline, increasing depression and anxiety, or the widening of inequality in tandem with concentration of corporate power. The present ecological, social, and economic crises are unprecedented. And yet, an equally unprecedented movement is surging from the grassroots. Across the world people are joining hands in the spirit of resistance & renewal. Millions are engaged in the urgent, though joyful and enriching process of renewing just & sustainable communities.

The process of building a better world starts by rethinking basic assumptions and exploring root causes. We’re started a Roots of Change Study Circle in the area. Please join us!


Roots of Change is a ground-breaking study circle program. The curriculum includes voices of the world’s leading political, economic and ecological thinkers. The readings explore the origins and workings of today’s globalized economy and promote discussion of the impacts of corporate globalization on communities around the world. The emphasis is on education for action: helping participants see the big picture, unearth root causes and identify strategic positive actions.


In collaboration with the Internationals Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), we are setting up a study circle in this area. Study circles usually meet once or twice a month to discuss readings and forge strategies for effective local action. The program promises to be enjoyable, educational and life-affirming. Why not join us?



an essay by Bobby Byrd
Cup of Coffee (Ink on Paper) by Harvey Daiho Hilbert, Roshi

I confess. For the last several years I've become Stephen Batchelor fan (the Buddhist writer, not the field hockey player). In Living with the Devil: A Buddhist Take on Good and Evil, he says this early on:
What is striking about the Buddhist approach is that rather than positing an immortal or transcendent self that is immune to the vicissitudes of the world, Buddha insisted that salvation lies in discarding such consoling fantasies and embracing instead the very stuff of life that will destroy you. (Page 10) 
I agree totally with that. But I can also listen to, and agree, with differing points of view. When I read the Batchelor quote, I remembered at the same time this wonderful little story in the 2nd volume of Soyu Matsuoka Roshi collection of teachings Moku-Rai:

Zen Master and Catholic Priest
An American Catholic priest, who had founded a Zen Center in Japan, visited the abbot of a large Zen Monastery. The priest had studied Zen in Japan for a number of years and was known for his diligence.
The abbot asked over tea: “Even though you are a Catholic priest you practice zazen. What do you feel, when you practice?” The priest replied: “I feel God all around me. I am guided by him and I am in his power.”
Without hesitation, the abbot said: “If you continually practice zazen, God will disappear.” The abbot’s statement perplexed the priest. He was concerned over the possible loss of his supervision. The priest in response said: “God won’t disappear. I will disappear.” The abbot replied: “Whether God or you disappear, it makes no difference.” (Page 70)
The stories seem to contradict each other. But zazen is a big tent with different ways to resolve the questions before you. Each of us is different, and so we sit zazen together in our zendo (so many “z’s” we have). We don’t ask for membership cards and affiliations when a person walks into our little zendo on Louisville Street. Atheists and agnostics, Catholics and Jews, Baptists and Republicans and Democrats—they’ve all walked through the door one time or another. Some stick around, others disappear, saying they will be back soon, smiles on their faces. Most times, they don’t. That’s okay. We keep sitting and staring at the wall.

Strange how Zen gets so many different people coming through the door. Why does that happen?

We use much of the paraphernalia of religion. We have an altar with flowers, a stick of incense is usually burning, a bronze statue of the Buddha is perched atop the altar like a god, we have our prayers and chants, and we do our dance steps. But we don’t worship a God. Our practice is dharma practice, the study of the dharma, the study of the self. In other words, What is this? Why must we suffer? It’s a good question. Buddha asked the same question. And then Dogen says, when you sit, the self disappears. Poof. Because it’s contingent, second to second, it’s constantly arising as something new and different.

If you believe in God, that’s cool. We want you to come and sit with us. Sitting zazen will be your study of God and God’s relation to you. God. No God. All this is only words. We have faith in the practice of zazen—shikantaza, just sitting—and the study of ourselves through zazen.

If God is your koan, go for it.
Sit down and shut up.
Like the rest of us.

The other night I had dinner with a friend at Kiki’s Mexican Food on Piedras. My friend is a nice guy. He has a temper. He knows it. He’s troubled, but, without trouble, there’s no story. I like stories. I tell him he needs to sit zazen more, but he doesn’t have time to sit more zazen. He has more important things to do. Important things always get in the way. That’s how we are.

We were splitting a small pitcher of beer, but we talked about coffee. Good coffee. Bad coffee. He told me a story about having breakfast at an I-HOP with his girlfriend and getting pissed at the waitress. She was serving bad coffee. It was stale and burnt. He told her so. He could feel the anger in his voice and in his throat. The waitress didn’t understand why he was angry with her. It wasn’t her fault. She only worked there. He seethed for a while, his girlfriend was embarrassed and sad, he realized he had made a fool of himself, and later he apologized to the waitress. But it still pissed him off. I laughed at my friend. After a while, he laughed at himself too. He had the chicken tacos. I had a black bean burrito. We shared some guacamole and finished our beer.

The next morning Lee and I were walking up the hill on Elm, our Tuesday morning walk (other days Lee walks with her good friend Martha). October mornings in El Paso are cool and beautiful, the sun rising up out of the distant east. Tuesdays is garbage day, and the trucks rumble up the streets like ravenous animals. Their job is to pick up the useless bits and pieces of our lives. They also carry away stories and daydreams. They stop in front of the houses and, with a huge mechanical hand, grab the garbage cans and empty them head over heels into their bellies. They make a huge racket. I like that noise. It keeps me awake. I try to pay attention to my walking, sometimes counting my breaths. My mind comes and goes. Thoughts arise.

Like “good coffee / bad coffee.”

Oh, yeah. That was fun, listening to my friend talking about the waitress and her bad coffee. Then I remembered something else—“There’s no place to spit.” It’s an old Soto Zen adage. I love it. It means that everything is sacred. You spit anywhere, you’re spitting on sacred ground. Ground made sacred by our attention to it.

But sometimes I need to spit.
Where am I going to spit if there’s nowhere to spit?
Zen is littered with paradox.
Like God and No God. Like self and no self.

That’s what I like about Zen. There’s always something to do. And there’s always something to pay attention to. That’s why there’s no place to spit. Because we are asked each moment to pay attention to what we are doing—internally and externally. Driving the car. Turning on the computer. Answering the phone. Watering the yard. Making love. Spitting and shitting. The same ball of wax. It’s the dharma. We are studying the self. Every day we teach ourselves this lesson—through the practice of zazen, through taking this understanding off the zafu and lugging it happily, like old Hotei , out into the world. We want to live a balanced life—avoiding evil, doing good and bringing about abundant good for all beings. Some days we do better than other days. Some days we tip the waitress. Some days we get pissed at the waitress, but we remember to leave a tip anyway. The bad coffee really wasn’t her fault. It takes a while to understand. And we always come home to sit on our zafus. That's how we practice our faith--with effort and doubt. We sit zazen in the big tent.

Here’s a poem/story I wrote last year. It’s about good coffee and bad coffee.

"The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences."
—Seng-T’san, the 3rd Chinese Patriarch  

I got a Zen friend eats a vegetarian breakfast at MacDonald’s sometimes. He likes the cheap coffee. He says, “Don’t be a snob, Bobby. What difference does it make?” And he gives me a wise Buddhist smile.

I tell my friend if I’m going to eat fast food, then I’m going to eat at some local place. Like the H&H Carwash over on Yandell. The Haddads own the place, Kenny and Maynard. 4th generation Lebanese Christian immigrants. Both right wingers, but they leave me alone.

I tell my friend that the 3rd Patriarch eats there too. He likes the spinning stools at the counter. He’s a vegetarian so he orders the chili relleno plate. Two rellenos, rice and beans. It’s way too much food of course. He wants just enough, so he takes his leftovers to the bum in the alley.

The bum’s name is Chuy, short for Jesus. Kenny doesn’t like the Chinaman feeding Chuy. It’s like attracting flies. Seng-T’san smiles at Kenny’s rant but he will do as he pleases. Chuy needs to eat. “Yeah, yeah,” Kenny says and walks away.

The rellenos are delicious as always. Likewise the refried beans and rice. A couple of tortillas de maiz. On the side a glass of water and a cup of coffee.

Seng-T’san is no dummy of course. Gloria the cook fries the rellenos and everything else in a little bit of lard. Oh well. He eats what’s set before him. Gloria is a tiny woman, a juarense and every morning she walks across the border to cook rellenos at the H&H. Sent-T’san smiles at Gloria, his hands in gassho.

Then he gives thanks to all the other many beings who have brought this food to his table. Even the pig who provided the lard. In his thanksgiving, he saves Artemisa the waitress for last. She’s his favorite and he knows he’s not supposed to have favorites. Artemisa has such a beautiful big smile.

She says “De nada” and “Quieres más?” She always pours extra coffee to keep his cup warm and makes sure everything is perfect. Then she leaves him alone while he eats. She likes gringos okay and a Chinaman is just another kind of gringo. He eats everything and always leaves a big tip.

The coffee was lousy but that’s okay.

—in memory of Artemisa Salinas (1932-2011)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Teaching Suzuki Roshi How to Swim

The Han at Tassajara
Here’s a story I lifted from David Chadwick’s Crooked Cucumber, the biography of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. The time was sometime in the late 1960s. Although Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind would not be published for a few years, Suzuki Roshi was well-known for his accomplishments--The San Francisco Zen Center, the Tassajara Monastery and his legions of students and admirers. He was coast-to-coast famous among the Cool. The King of Enlightenment. The Johnny Appleseed of Zen. But the day this story happened Suzuki Roshi was at Tassajara, and the place was zapped alive with students earnestly sitting Zazen, studying themselves and being good Zensters. They knew the Roshi was on the premises. He brought the place energy and th\at energy radiated through their practice. No telephones, no electricity. What else can you do but be alive? The mountain flowers were blooming. And the Sierra is always so beautiful.

I’ll tell the story my own way.

● ● ●

So one day Suzuki Roshi is walking down a path with a number of his senior students. They are chatting about this and that, telling stories, laughing, but always alert in the presence of their teacher. The path follows Tassajara Creek that wanders through the rocks and forest, and around a bend is a favorite swimming hole. Hot dog! The students strip down and jump in. The mountain water is cold and it swirls around them. Suzuki, though, never learned how to swim. He climbs up on a big rock overlooking the pool and sits down to watch the merriment. The students forget all about him. After a while, one of the students looks up. The Roshi isn’t there. Where’s the Roshi, he shouts. Then they see Suzuki—such a small man—struggling in the water, gasping for air. He’s drowning. They pull him to the bank, dry him off and warm him up with their clothes. What happened, they ask him? He had gotten up to move so he could see better and he had toppled head-first into the pool. They half-carry him back to his cottage. 

That evening Suzuki Roshi gives a dharma talk. He goes to his high seat in the practice hall. The students are all quiet. The Master is in the Hall. He tells this same story, how he tumbled head-first into the water. He is afraid of water, he said, and he doesn’t know how to swim. He was sure he was going to drown, so he fought desperately to stay alive. His lungs filled up with water. He couldn’t breathe. And, of course, as he realized later, he had done everything wrong. He should have relaxed and he would have floated to the surface. If it hadn’t been for his students, he would surely have died. 

Then he said that he was disappointed in his practice. He had decided to start from the beginning again and to sit zazen counting his breaths. He asked that his students do the same. And they all went back to their zazen, counting their breaths. 

● ● ●

I love this story. I’ve told it several times during my own dharma talks. It’s a very important story for me. For me the story speaks of Suzuki’s honesty, transparency and wisdom. It’s a good reminder for personal practice. I am always thinking that maybe I've achieved this or that in my practice. Patting myself on my back. I think I understand. I think I've “evolved” (whatever that means) and then something happens (something big, like almost drowning, or something small, like stubbing my toe or getting a speeding ticket in a school zone like I did today). Well, shit on all those voices in my head (the “me,” the false self, the “Mara,” whatever)—they’ve fooled me again.

Like the other night at exactly 2:47am. I had got up to pee. (Old men always seem to be pissing at about that time. Listen in the night. You can hear us. Legions of us old men off to pee in the darkness.) Done but not empty, I lay back down. But I couldn't get to sleep. I was thrashing away. Poor Lee. I woke her up with my ups and downs and roll-overs. You gotta understand. I'm an old-time political junkie, I've walked in marches and protests, I've always voted democrat, and just that evening Romney had hammered Obama in the debate. I hadn't even seen the debate. This was all second-hand news. I tried to ignore it. I was cool. I sat zazen, I paid attention to my breath, I celebrated my daughter-in-law's birthday. My worry was a mirage, puffs of smoke.

But sleep does its own thing to our minds. I had a dream. Anxiety set in between the bathroom and my bed.  Now Romney was going to become President. The Republicans were going to take over. Poets would be hung by the neck until dead!

All silly daydreams. Pure insanity. Craving at its most comical. What could I do anyway? Send money? Make telephone calls? It was the middle of the night. None of it mattered. None of it was real. But logic didn’t help. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned. I got up again to pee. But I didn’t need to pee. I needed to sleep. But I got up one more time.

Then I remembered Suzuki flailing at the water, gasping for breath. I remembered his dharma talk afterwards. Another gift from the dead roshi. Oh, yeah.

I went and sat zazen 10 minutes in the darkness. I lay back down next to Lee and started counting my breaths. I got to 10 and started again. I don’t think I got to 10 again. I slept until 6am, floating on the pool of sleep. The alarm bonged. Suzuki admonished, “Get up when the bell rings.” This morning I had to listen to the old dead man. He had given me another gift in the middle of the night. I got up, made the coffee for Lee and me, fed the cats and the birds and sat zazen. The morning was beautiful. Bird song. A train whistled and echoed through the mountain. Still a bit of moonlight from a waning moon.

Lucky me. I have my practice. I have these stories. I have Zazen.

And I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

—Bobby Kankin Byrd

Friday, September 28, 2012

Old Hotei Rings the Bell

Here’s an exercise we’ve done a couple of times on Tuesday nights after our zazen practice and tea has been served. We all put our cups of tea down (hot green tea again now that summer is sliding away into the wherever) and return to our full zazen posture, this time facing the center of the zendo. The Ino watches. When she feels that all of us are settled firmly into our zazen, she rings the big bell. We don’t bow, we don’t let our backs slump back, we simply keep on sitting. Shikantaza—just sitting. The bell rings and we listen closely to the ringing. We don’t want to attach any ideas, names or words onto the ringing. We just want to listen. We want our bodies—our ears, our mind, our skin—to absorb the vibrations of sound until finally it fades away into silence.

This practice is not easy. Well, that’s not true. It is easy. We just don’t let it be easy. Our mind wants to jump right in and give the exercise names, to think about it, daydream about it, analyze the experience, argue with the experiment. Whatever. Take me, for instance. (Okay, I will.) When I hear the bell, I want to bow and relax. It’s habit. Not to worry. Sometimes I just hear the bell. I just listen. Me and the bell. One experience. I can feel the vibration of sound in my ears. If you practice zazen long enough, you too will begin to hear truly the ringing of the bell, of simply being there with the ringing of the bell. You and the bell ringing become one. You are experiencing the dharma, you are awake to your Buddha nature.

Just like Dogen said.

When I first recommended this exercise, I thought I would follow the exercise by talking about that those two monks back in the day who were wasting their afternoon arguing about a flag.
One said: “The flag is moving.”
The other said: “The wind is moving.”
The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by.
He told them: “Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.”
The bell-ringing seemed like the perfect segue into the story about the flag and the wind. But it occurred to me during zazen practice to talk about Hotei (aka Budai) instead. Seems like I’m always looking for a reason to talk about goofy Hotei. He’s the fat hobo monk from the time of the T’ang dynasty, aka the “Happy Chinaman.” You see his image everywhere. Pier 1 sells little Hotei images by the boatload. He’s a bigger cliché than the word “zen.”
Hotei didn’t head up any monastery, and he didn’t have students. He just walked around the countryside and through city streets with a big sack hung over his shoulder. The sack was full of candies, fruits and sweet breads. Oh, Hotei made the kids happy. They would come running and he would give them little presents from his big sack. Then he would play and dance with them. It was like a little Zen street classroom wherever he went. 
If a Zen monk came along, he would stick out his begging bowl and say: “Give me a penny.” He was harsh with the Zen monks, and mostly they stayed away from him. 
Once an old Zen teacher, a roshi, came along. Hotei stuck his chubby hand in the old man’s face and said, “Give me a penny.” The old man looked at Hotei for a few minutes, then asked him, “What is Zen?” Hotei immediately dropped his sack, plopped nimbly to the ground and sat zazen. 
 “Ha!” the old roshi shouted. And then he asked, “How do you realize Zen?" 
Without a word, Hotei leaped to his feet, swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way. Happy little kids followed along behind him. 
No words, no ideas, only action. Like the bell ringing. Hotei understood the relationship between sitting zazen and realizing Zen out on the street. One feeds the other. He didn’t have to think about what the roshi asked him. He didn’t worry about why he was being asked this question. Was it a trick question? He knew in his essence, his Buddha nature, what was being asked. No words: yet, he answered without hesitation. He plopped to the ground and assumed the lotus posture, his hand folded in the cosmic mudra. He just sat. Shikantaza. Likewise he understood that his life—fully lived, embodying the Four Noble Truths, the Three Refuges, the whole kit and caboodle, being just that moment—is the realization of Zen. No words, but he answered the question. He jumped to his feet and went about his life.

Good for Hotei.

And good for the old Roshi, or whoever it was first wrote this story down. Words and stories have their uses. Our job is not to confuse the words and stories for the actual understanding and for the experience. Our job is to hear the story and learn to listen to the bell. When the time comes and the question is asked—“How do you realize Zen?”—we must understand fully. We must, without hesitation, jumping to our feet and go about our lives, fully present in the moment.

Just like the Sixth Patriarch who knew exactly what to say to the two monks who were sitting on a wall babbling on about nothing.
Life as it is, the only teacher. Being just this moment, compassion’s way.
Thank you for reading.
My best to you all.
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Teaching of the World Trade Center Destruction by Pat Enkyo Roshi

A Teisho by Enkyo Roshi given on September 16, 2001

Note from Bobby Kankin Byrd: Dear all, when I was in NYC in May, I attended when I could the Village Zendo. One day, when I was giving dana, I saw their Journal of the First 25 Years in the Voices and Images. It's a beautiful, wise and thoughtfully prepared document. I was especially moved by Enkyo Roshi's Teisho about 9/11. It is truly a wise commentary on that tragedy and all that we witness, experience andread about daily. I whole-heartedly recommend that you visit the Village Zendo site and to listen to teishos and study their work. They (individually and in groups) are involved in community work, the Zen Peacemakers Organization, the arts and simply being householders in their world. I admire what they do, and I especially admire Enkyo Roshi. She and her Sangha are a blessing to us all. [Postscript: I have copied this teisho from their website, and I will email Enkyo and the VZ with the link. I simply thought this was an appropriate reminder of this day, 9/11, and I hope they agree. BB]

It has been five days now since the attack that caused such devastation and suffering just a few blocks from here. We were not able to enter the building until yesterday, so we have been sitting and having council in the park and at my home. It is wonderful to be back in our Zendo this morning with such a big gathering. In times like this we realize how much we depend on a spiritual practice. And in our case, it’s a practice that tells us that there’s nothing to depend on. It’s a practice that does not tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. It does not tell us what to love and what to hate. Our practice forces us to have great courage, great daring. To participate in each moment, and to act appropriately in each moment — without a set of rules, a set of ideas, that will dictate our actions and our response to what’s around us. It’s a very daring and courageous act, to practice in this tradition, to directly face suffering, anger, and fear.

Remember the story of Kisagotami who ran crying and distraught to Shakyamuni Buddha, holding her dead baby boy, begging him to give her medicine to bring him back to life. The Buddha said that he did know of a medicine, but that she must find it herself. He told her to bring him a handful of mustard seed from a household where no one had died. She went to the first household, and they said: “Oh, we’ll bring you mustard seed. But — oh, no … grandfather died last year; we can’t give you the mustard seed.” And so, as you might imagine, Kisagotami went to every home in the village, asking for a mustard seed from a family which had not experienced death and suffering, and at each home she was told that someone in that household had died. Very, very slowly the wisdom of the teaching of the Buddha began to sink into her. Finally, she walked back and still holding the dead infant, said to the Buddha: “The teaching of the mustard seed is complete. I now see that all people face death and suffering.”

We grieve for those who were killed in our city, and for their loved ones — and we also grieve for all the people that are dying today all over the world. For the people who are dying in Africa of AIDS; the people who are starving to death in impoverished regions of the world. Today, at this very moment, there are babies that are dying of malnutrition, young children maimed by violence and greed. We must also be aware of that. And we must remember that this great earth that we sit on is in agony from the unskillful plundering of earth, air and water.

And so the teaching of the mustard seed reminds us of the dying and suffering that is going on all the time in this world. No one is untouched by these aspects of life. In another sutra, the Buddha is reported to have said that people come to Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, in three different ways. There are those who, upon hearing of a tragedy in the next village, realize the truth of suffering and death. And they vow to accomplish the way to raise their awakened mind. But that’s a very few number of people.

For most people it’s when someone in their own village is afflicted. Which is the case with us. This is our village.And, so, upon hearing about the suffering and death of so many people here, we can raise the Bodhi Mind — and realize that we must end our own suffering, and that of others, by seeking the truth within ourselves.

And the third group — the most hardheaded of the lot — must wait until the suffering touches them personally. Until it is they, themselves, who carry the illness or the loss of another. And only then can they truly realize The Way.

But does it really matter, as long as you see the way, whether or not you realize it because you have a diagnosis, or your loved one has a diagnosis? Or whether or not you realized it today, as we were chanting the names of many of those who died in the tragedy? Or whether it was when you heard about Bhopal, many years ago, that you realized that suffering is everywhere?

And what is that Bodhicitta? What is that Mind of Buddha that we raise? It’s the teaching of Prajna, of Great Wisdom, which excludes nothing. Which includes everything — the black smoke and the blue sky. Did you notice that the names of the perpetrators weren’t on the list? Oh, they didn’t die in the crash? Why were the names of the perpetrators not on the list? Did you notice that when the Ino gave the dedication, that he included the suffering of those who caused this event? Because nothing is left out. You cannot leave anything out.

And we can¹t leave out the anger and sadness we may be feeling right now. We must acknowledge our feelings, because not acknowledging them is what splits them off from our experience of consciousness and creates ideas of an Other¹ which embodies what we cannot acknowledge: the bad, the evil, the separate-from-me. This is what creates a great and horrible suffering in the world.

Maybe that doesn’t seem to make sense — and, yet, that is it. Of course it doesn’t make sense. What’s this about making sense? It’s a paradox — it’s a reality. We are, at once, a form that experiences emotions — fear, and anger and delusion. We experience desire, craving, hatred, aversion. But as long as we don’t solidify around these things — solidify by raising them up as truth, or repressing them as nonexistent, then we can be fresh and free in each moment, acknowledging and letting go in the flow of natural reactions. By not solidifying around our emotions, by not giving them a name and a rationale and an ideology, we refrain from creating Oisms¹ ¬ racism, nationalism, yes, even Buddhism. The Oisms¹ become our prisons.

There’s nowhere to stand — there’s no place to hold onto. And in that “no place to hold onto” is our complete and utter freedom. So we read these names of those who were lost on Tuesday, and then we sit — and for each one of us different things arise. And let’s say that rage arises. And we see it arise, and we just watch it — and it falls away. And fear arises, and we just look at it — and it falls away. And maybe it doesn’t fall away for weeks. And, yet, we know we have to continue to sit, and we have to continue to observe it — because, eventually, it will fall away. If we’re awake, and aware, and we haven’t started believing the story line. And that’s why we sit.

Trust it — the power of the practice. It changes us. And as Dogen Zenji tells us, even a single person sitting changes the world. As I look around the room, almost every other person I see has been involved in some kind of volunteer activity. And those of you who were not, please don’t fall into the ultimate kind of neurotic story about how you weren’t of help. You were of help, you are of help. By being present … by listening, by standing in the street. By looking in the eyes of someone who can’t look. By listening to someone who’s filled with rage and wants to kill. Simply to bear witness — to really listen to them. These are the acts of a Bodhisattva — to truly serve in that way. We have to drop our striving, desiring and clinging ego. Drop that for a moment and simply listen to what you don’t want to hear. Because nothing is excluded from our life. Everything that appears in our life is our life. This tragedy is our life. We are implicated and responsible. Because we’re here — because we’re interconnected with all of the people involved. With everyone who was involved. And only by owning that responsibility can we begin to make things change — to make a difference.

It is all connected. There’s this tragedy; there’s our own Buddha mind; there’s the reality of suffering in the world. There’s our rage; there’s our fear. All of it is within the one great bright pearl of the world.

Can we see that bright pearl in the midst of the soot, and the black smoke, and the choked feelings that we all feel for those that died? And realize there is nothing that is left out of this. And that our work is to be as spacious as we can be. To open our hearts as greatly as we can, and not deny our feelings or those of others around us. Do not deny them their experience — but see that as part of the great, precious, bright pearl of our lives.

This is our opportunity to practice deeply, in everything that we do. Soon enough, the television sets will start with their endless programming and commercials again, the Hudson will fill up with tour boats, and as Chijo very humorously said, after he had his rakusu and robe stolen yesterday, he knew that New York was getting back to normal again. Yeah, things will get back to normal. Will you? Will you?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Home Practice

Gassho from the ChocoBuda Blog

Recently our Sangha received a letter from an inmate in a Texas prison wanting guidance and books to support his practice on the inside. I wrote a letter introducing myself and asking to know more about his practice so we could help. I also outlined my daily practice for him and sent him the verses and prayers that I use in my home practice. Since I’ve put all this down on paper, I thought I would share it with the Sangha. My home practice has evolved over the years. I’m a poet so I’m always tinkering with the verses that I use. Perhaps the verses I use can be of service to you. Add to them, subtract from them—do what you want. The important thing, however is to sit zazen. I sit an hour a day. 30 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes before lunch, and 15 minutes before dinner. But I’ve been doing this for a long time. Schedule your own zazen so you can have a regular schedule. Find a private place in your house where you can sit. If you can only do 5 or 10 minutes, that’s cool, but do them. You’ll find yourself sitting longer as zazen becomes more natural and important to you. 

Daily Practice Prayers and Verses—Bobby Kankin Byrd
September, 2012

First thing, when rising from bed
Today, together with all beings, I wish to see the world clearly as it really is. I vow to live today mindfully, resolving all the many addictions in my heart, mind and body. I vow not to squander this day. 
Verses and Prayers said before my morning zazen
Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering.Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream.Each moment life as it is the only teacher. Being just this moment compassion’s way.  
I pray for the good health and spiritual well-being of my friends and family—especially… (I say aloud all the names of my family, those people I’m concerned about, and all the peoples of the world).
Then I say the Three Refuges— 
I take refuge in the BuddhaTogether with all beings;May I understand through our bodiesThis cosmic life leadingTo the incommensurate awakened mind.
I take refuge in the DharmaTogether with all beings;May I embody the scriptures,The great compassionate wisdom,Vast as the ocean.
I take refuge in the SanghaTogether with all beings;May I live with the SanghaThe life of harmony,Which is without attachment.
 After Zazen, I say the Four Great Vows—
Sentient beings are numberless: I vow to save them. My desires are inexhaustible: I vow to extinguish them. The dharmas are boundless: I vow to master them.The Buddha-Way is unattainable: I vow to attain it. 
Prayer for Meals
This food nourishes our lives and our practice,A gift from the universe, arriving at our tableFrom the efforts of all sentient beings past and present.We offer this meal to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,And to all life in every realm of existence.With this food we pray that all sentient beingsBe sufficiently nourished in their body, mind and spirit. 
Or a shorter form—
I give thanks for this food to all many beings who have brought it to my table. I vow to respond in kinds, especially to those in need, with wisdom and kindness.
And at the end of the day, before bed—
I give thanks for this day. I understand that as this day ends my life is diminished by one. I vow not to squander tomorrow. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Eight-fold Noble Path via Noah Levine

The Fourth of Buddha's Noble Truths are: Right understanding, Right thought, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration. These are the usual translations. 

Recently, at the request of Sangha member Rob Dowtin, I read Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries by Noah Levine. Levine, a second generation American Buddhist, grew up in terrible combat with all that is parental, authoritarian, American, Buddhist, spiritual, etcetera. Everything that was not him. And I think he probably through himself into the mix. He turned to the usual suspects. Punks. Drugs. Sex. Theft. He was dancing in the angry midst. But then he began to practice. I am very glad he did. And I am very glad I read the book, the third of three. Levine's work stresses a very utilitarian and pro-active embodiment of Buddhist practice, and in Against the Stream he bases his practice on Buddha's Metta Sutta, aka The Buddha's Words on Practicing Loving Kindness. 

In the back of the book Noah includes his own adaptations to many of the texts that we use in our practice. Here is his adaptation of the Eight-Fold Noble Path. 

1.      Understanding reality as it is
2.   Intentionally living in a wise and compassionate way
3.      Speaking what is true and useful
4.      Acting with non-violent, honest and sober integrity
5.      Earning a living in a wise and non-harming manner (see note below)
6.      Energetically training the heart/mind
7.      Mindfully bringing attention to each moment
8.      Concentrating attention on the impermanent unfolding of the present

NOTE: I changed number 5 which was: " Working in a wise and non-harming profession." I believe that there are professions that may seem harmful from the outside, but, when practiced wisely, can be very non-harming. 

--Bobby Kankin Byrd

Monday, July 16, 2012

James Joyce & the Village Zendo on Broadway

Thanks to the Village Zendo in New York City

When I was in New York City in May, I attended services several times at the Village Zendo on Broadway at the Prince Street subway exit. Twice I hear Pat Enkyo O'Hara Roshi  deliver a teisho. Another time one of her students. Other times I went by just to sit. I enjoy that place. The sangha is open-hearted, and it has developed a nice community spirit. The Sangha members are participants in a number of different communities--political activism, cultural, intellectual, literary, others--and they bring their interests to the Zendo. I liked that. I brought home with me a packet of materials from there, including their very fine brochure which outlines their practice in all of its spheres--and written by a number of the sangha members. You're welcome to come by and read it. 
--Bobby Kankin

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roshis Fern McGurie and Ken Hogaku McGuire

Roshis Fern and Ken Hogaku McGuire--They died two days apart, June 22 and 24, 2012

Ken Hogaku McGuire-roshi died of an apparent heart attack two days after his wife Fern McGuire-roshi died in almost the same manner. They were childhood sweethearts in Kansas and had been married 55 years. They studied together with Matsuoka-roshi, beginning in the 1960s. Ken Roshi, as he was called, was the teacher of my teacher, Harvey Daiho Hilbert. Like a koan it is—the sudden death of two teachers, husband and wife, inseparable. Together they had built and administered the Daibutsuji Zen Temple, first in Las Cruces, then in the mountains above Cloudcroft, NM. This is where I first encountered them. On the Sundays of our sesshins we’d have our final services in their zendo. It was a beautiful and quiet place. A few years ago, they retired and returned to their home in Las Cruces. Ken was a fine carpenter, specializing in ZenFurnishings. Fern was a householder, a mother. Their practice was a tributary of the deep stream of our own practice. And now their human presence is gone. Emptiness, the water disappearing into the earth. Seeds and flowers and fruit and death. So it’s no surprise. We are here. Right now. We vow not to squander our lives.  

On Friday, 29 June, there will be a memorial service for both Ken and Fern on Friday at 10:00 AM at the Getz Funeral Home in Las Cruces, NM. Afterwards the Clear Mind Zen Temple will host another service to honor Fern Roshi and Ken Roshi. Two monks who had practiced with Matsuoka along with the McGuires will be visiting to celebrate their old friend. If anyone in El Paso wants to attend, please contact me at 915-241-3140.

Sit strong. The path is everyday life. Nothing special.

—Bobby Kankin Byrd

Saturday, June 23, 2012

In Memory of Fern McGuire Roshi (1937-2012)

Dear All, 

Yesterday, Friday June 22 2012, I received this message from Ken Hogaku McGuire Roshi announcing the death of his beloved wife of 55 years Fern McGuire Roshi. She died on her birthday.--Bobby Kankin






My strongest memories of Fern Roshi was as Ino--the way she chanted the Heart Sutra, especially its introduction, and struck the big bell with such attention and passion. Once, at the Dharma Mountain Zendo in the mountains above Cloudcroft, she asked me to serve as Ino. She wanted to just sit for a change. But she was worried about the big bell. She took care to explain how it should be struck. I was honored. Fern was a quiet but stern lady, truly a farm-raised American citizen who understood the unity of all things. Practicing with her was always a special occasion. I was astonished when I heard from a friend that she suffered back and leg pain. I would never have guessed it. She was a role model for me and others. She knew what it was to practice the Dharma, and her very presence was a Teisho of utmost wisdom. 

Below is photograph taken on the day of my Shukke Tokudo Ceremony. Fern and Ken Roshis made the drive down from Las Cruces to be with me and with our Sangha.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Felicidades to Susan Feeny

I’m delighted to announce that our Sangha member Susan Feeny will be receiving Jukai-─taking the vows, the recognition of her practice-─from Sydney Musai Walter Roshi of the Prajna Zendo outside Santa Fe. To take the vows she must first sew her black rakusu, following the ancient pattern diagrammed above. She’s an artist. It will be a snap! The ceremony will probably be in September, although the date is not finalized. Susan will keep us posted.

Susan is a long-time practitioner of the Dharma, having studied with Genpo and others from the Maesumi Lineage. Since I’ve known her,she has regularly attended sesshins and events with us and the Order of Clear Mind Zen, but the bulk of her practice has been with other sanghas. She became attending our services when we were at the Unitarian Center, and she has been a regular ever since. She didn’t want to become a “member” of our Sangha. She just wanted to come sit with us. She loves sitting and practicing with others who are committed to the dharma. That was fine. We should be so lucky to have three or four more such “non-members” be such good members.

Susan is a steady presence in our Sangha. She adds by her quiet and steady presence, she adds with her thoughtful discussion, and she adds by her balanced nature. Once before services (we were still at the UU Community), I asked her if she could gather some flowers for the altar. The desert garden out front was filled with flowering Texas Ranger sage and desert willows. She did so with such delight, I asked if she would bring flowers on a regular basis. That’s been well over a year now, and when she’s in town, she never forgets the flowers. They are always beautiful and thoughtfully arranged.

I wish to congratulate Susan now for her decision and for her practice, and we look forward to celebrate her Jukai when she returns with her rakusu hanging around her neck. We’ll di the Both Sides / No Sides Sangha usual. A vegetarian potluck!

Friday, May 18, 2012


Last Sunday I attended services at the Village Zendo. In her teisho Pat Enkyo O’Hara Roshi talked about how we can help one another in our practice, how we can honor one another and practice compassion. She told a story that went something like this: an old monk lived in the mountains doing zazen, gardening and all the other chores of being alive. He had one student, a young man who had come to live with him. One morning, after zazen and breakfast, they were working in the garden. They saw two birds fighting over a frog. The frog was wounded and suffering, but the birds kept fighting. The old man did nothing. He just watched. The young man, anguished, turned to the old monk.

He asked, “Why does this have to happen?”

The monk said, “It happens only for you.”  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eating Dinner Alone in New York City

Glenn Powers prepared this veggie paella for a sangha potluck in February. Good stuff.

I’m in New York City for a month, lucky to have some time to read and write. The dilemma is that, without Lee here, I need to pay attention to all the food I eat. The responsibility is mine. Needless to say. I miss Lee. The habits of our 40 something years together. At home, although many times I cook, she's usually the cook, and I'm the cleaner-upper. Besides, the conversation is fun, the food delicious. All the ingredients of our lives together. A true well-seasoned feast. The practice here, though, is good, although monkish in a way. I remind myself each meal to give thanks for the food. I use the prayer that I've pasted below, and it reminds me that the food comes to my table through the lives and the hands of many beings. In fact, the more I understand it, I’m beginning to understand that it’s the whole universe collaborating to feed me. To feed each of us. And so I’m learning to give true heartfelt thanks. It’s taken 70 years.

A note on the prayer. It’s an adaptation of a meal prayer my friend Rob Dowtin sent me (see the second rendition). Rob found the prayer in one of Brad Warner’s books, so its probably a translation of something from his teacher Nishijima. Private practice is just that: private. And I'm always fiddling with words. So I reworked the prayer to fit my own understanding, sense of language and needs.
--Bobby Kankin

This food nourishes our lives and our practice,
A gift from the universe, arriving at our table
From the efforts of all sentient beings past and present.
We offer this meal to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,
And to all life in every realm of existence.
With this food we pray that all sentient beings
Be sufficiently nourished in their body, mind and spirit.

And the prayer from Rob via Brad.

This food comes from the efforts of all sentient beings past and present,
And is medicine for nourishment of our Practice.
We offer this meal of many virtues and tastes to the Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha, and to all life in every realm of existence.
May all sentient beings in the universe be sufficiently nourished.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Question for Old Joshu

Do the dead have Buddha Nature?

This question popped into my mind while we sat staring at the wall last night. I remembered it and then went back to wall staring. Later, remembering it, I thought it was a frivolous, silly question, but then I remembered Joshu's answer about the dog. Maybe it's not such a silly question. Mu. 

--Bobby Kankin

So I found the image above on The Empty Page blog managed by Steve Naegele. His description is more interesting than mine: 

The first character in the above painting is the character for “Mu.” the two character taken together are “Mu Shin” and refer to the empty  mind of Zen or sometimes Buddhism in general. This is a painting which hangs on my wall. I got it in San Francisco Chinatown one day about 15 years ago  while in a card/paper shop which I often visited/ I lfirst learned at that time that the shop would be closing and the old man there would write calligraphy for you for a price. I asked him to write MuShin which he did for $15.00 ($7.50 a character), but he obviously was not familiar with the Buddhist meaning and muttered aloud about whatever for someone would want the characters for “no heart.” He still wrote beautiful characters and I enjoy seeing this everyday.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just Sitting @ Both Sides No Sides (April 2012)

For a while now I’ve been tinkering with this blognote. I want to give persons interested in Zen practice in El Paso a taste of what we do here at the Both Sides / No Sides Zen Community.

I’m the leader of our community—Bobby Byrd, and my Dharma name is Kankin, which means Sutra Reader. Like so many dharma names, it comes from one of the chapters in Dogen’s Shobengenzo. Our practice is rooted in the lineage of Matsuoka Roshi, and it came to me through Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, the founder of the Order of Clear Mind Zen in Las Cruces, and from whom I received my dharma name. I hang a brown rakusu around my neck, which means I am a novice priest. Two years ago, April 3 2010, I received the rakusu during the Shukke Tokudo Ceremony. But I don’t like the word “priest”—it resonates with too many confusing memories of my growing up—so I don’t use it unless I have to. Like here. Also, I’m leery of the word “Zen” these days. It’s become a commercial word. All sorts of things are “Zen.” Like tea. Restaurants. Ice cream. I like better the phrase “dharma practice” which Stephen Batchelor uses in his writing. But we’d not get many google hits if we inserted Dharma Practice instead of Zen. In my life I am a poet (my blog is here), and my wife Lee and I are co-publishers of Cinco Puntos Press here in El Paso. We’ve lived here in the same house since 1978, and this year soon I will be 70 years old. As we said growing up in Memphis: “Holy shit!”

As of now, April 2012, the No Sides / Both Sides Zen Community conducts two services during the week—one, the Sunday services 10am; two, 7pm Tuesday night. Both are at 2709 Louisville in the Five Points Central area of El Paso. This is Lee’s and my home, the place where we’ve lived for 34 years. It’s just simpler to use our home. Other places didn’t work out. It’s free here, and we are not disrupting anybody else’s life. So we thank Lee for the opportunity to sit here. It’s a nice place. It’s homey but it opens up like one of those robo-toys into a nice place to practice together. Perhaps in the future we’ll find more formal digs. But for now we’re home.

The services usually take one hour and 30 minutes, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. Each is rooted in 40 to 50 minutes zazen practice, but we do chanting of sutras before and after zazen. I consider our sutras as tools for our practice (or as sangha member Susan Feeney called them, “instructions”). They are not religious doctrine, and you can pick and choose what, if any of the ritual, you want to participate in. Anthropologists are welcome. But we do ask that you practice zazen with us. That’s what we’re there for. And if you want instruction on how to sit, we have folks who can help. 

Tuesday nights we sit in the office that sits behind the house. To get to our Tuesday zendo, you go through the gate on the left of the house and follow the driveway back. It’s one of those old detached garages, 1923, river stone walls, rickety roof. Lee and I had it remodeled in the 1980s for my office. Our neighbor Arturo Alemán (now deceased) plastered the wall and lay in the red Mexican clay tile floor. Chuck Telehany framed the ceiling and windows. A fragile place really but it doesn’t feel fragile. It’s quiet. Like a cave almost. A comforting place with special ambiance. It has a special feeling for me, full with memoires, because this has been where I write and think and daydream and sit zazen for the last 30 years. Now it’s a pleasure to sit shikantaza there with my friends. We have a small altar built by Ken Hogaku Roshi, the teacher of Daiho Hilbert, with a beautiful brass Buddha in a teaching pose (also a gift from Ken Roshi and his wife Fern Roshi). Our Tuesday zendo is a quiet place in the evening, the bell resounding on the stone walls.

Tuesdays we are usually not too populated.  Three or four of us. Sometimes five. We are always welcoming newcomers, but Tuesdays nights are a difficult time for some. Unless there are newcomers, we have one forty minute sit so we can really settle into zazen. If newcomers do show up, we go back to the normal schedule: two 20 or 25 minute sits with a kinhin. We have our regular services—sutra chanting before and after our zazen, a tea service and I talk a little bit during tea. People ask questions. We talk about practice. When we’re done, we collect the cups, chant the Four Great Vows and blow out the candles. Recently we’ve been going down to Kiki’s for a late dinner. The vegetarian black bean burritos are a favorite. Maybe we share a pitcher of beer.

In early March only Loretta Lopez and I were sitting staring at the wall in silence. Like birds on a wire. During tea, Loretta and I talked about our own home practice. It was nice. Loretta is a double-dipper—Sundays she goes to St. Albans Episcopal down the street. She likes the music and the ritual there. And the Lenten Season—it was that time of year—is important to her. It was good to hear her talk about it. But Tuesdays she saves for zazen with us. Then the next Tuesday only Rob and Polly showed up. It was a beautiful spring night. After chanting the Heart Sutra we paraded outside in kinhin (walking meditation) and did our zazen on the wood deck. A few early spring bugs, but it was nice to be in the breeze and the neighborhood sounds (cars, dogs, kids, the grackles and mockingbirds—everybody getting reading for sleep) as the evening light faded into darkness. 

Sundays are different but the same. We usually have between six and eight Sangha members, sometimes more. We sit in the dining room of the house where we can easily accommodate up to 12. To enter the Sunday zendo, go through the gate on the left of the house, and enter the house through the kitchen, the first door on the right.

The dining room where we sit is surrounded by big old-fashioned windows, so the room is bright with sunlight. It takes some work to get the room ready.  Some folks come early to help. We move the table and chairs; we tote the cushions (aka zafus and zabutons) in from the office; likewise the bells, our Buddha, candle, and other paraphernalia; and we move the big altar (another gift from master Zen carpenter Ken Roshi McGuire) into place. Susan Feeney brings flowers for the altar. People come one by one, say hello and talk some. At 10am the Ino rings the bell and the room goes silent. It’s a magical feeling, that sudden silence in the bright light of day. Sangha members are standing in front of their cushions, their hands in gassho. I light the candle, silently we repeat the Prayer of Atonement, those of us with rakusus hang them round our necks, and we are all ready to practice. We chant the Three Refuges and the Heart Sutra in English.

We sit facing the sangha, not toward the wall. The windows can offer too much distraction. A wandering grandkid, a neighbor in need of sugar, and always the cats. Three of them wander around our house. Usually one or two decides to sit on the window sill and stare through the glass at the crazy humans sitting cross-legged and silent, doing nothing. Perhaps it may seem like home to them, these weird people so close to each other, but not talking. Not even looking at each other. So we settle into our practice—the two 25-minute periods of zazen with a kinhin in-between, the final sutras, the incense ceremony, the tea service and dharma talk. Instead of the solid quiet of the office, the house has creaks and moans, refrigerator sound, the neighborhood waking up to Sunday morning. We don’t notice those sounds until we sit zazen and experience our breath. Oh, the bits and pieces of noise are always a surprise. And then during kinhin, our walking meditation, the old oak floor boards groan and squeak as we slowly circumambulate the zendo (aka dining-room).

After services on Sunday we all pitch in to return the house to normal. The zafus and zabutons must be carted back to the office, the altar moved back into its hiding place, the dining room table returned to its place of honor under the ceiling fan, the chairs and all the other knickknacks put back so that Lee won’t even know, if I didn’t tell her, that we’ve had a huge crowd of peculiar zensters sitting zazen in her living room. Both the preparation for services and the cleaning up afterwards is a form of “samu,” work meditation. We work together, especially afterwards, easily and with a nice energy provided for us by zazen. We can feel the difference in our energy and alertness. It’s a pleasure.

Sitting zazen with Sangha members is very important to Dharma Practice (aka Zen Practice). We are mostly householders, we have jobs and families and responsibilities, and we don’t have many opportunities to experience long periods of intensive practice. It is, as the saying goes, what it is. Thus, our home practice and our practice with Sangha—sitting there and concentrating on our breath—giving to the universe, receiving from the universe, all of our senses present—are nourishment for each other.

Zazen is the study of self, and as we study the self, the self drops away. We come to experience ourselves as expressions of the absolute, and vice versa. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Oh, that’s what it means!

We are the membrane through which we experience what these words point to. We are the Gateless Gate.

But such useless words. Oh well.

Sit strong.
My best to you all.
Bobby Kankin Byrd

Monday, February 13, 2012

ZAIKE TOKUDO For Mike Inmo Dretsch

This Saturday (February 18th) Mike Inmo Dretsch will take the next step in his Dharma Practice--he will be ordained in the Zaike Tokudo Ceremony at the Wiregrass Zen Center in Headland, Alabama. Taiun Michael Elliston Roshi of the Silent Thunder Order will be officiating. The service schedule is detailed below in Mike Inmo's letter to me.

Several years ago Mike was in El Paso to do research at William Beaumont Medical Center and Fort Bliss. He was staying at the home of John Fortunato where our sangha was practicing at the time. Mike sat with us one Sunday and he immediately started walking down his own path of dharma practice and the study of self. For several years he studied with me personally through phone and Skype conversations, and he received the precepts at a Jukai Ceremony concluding a sesshin at the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces. His Buddhist name became Inmo. I chose Inmo because it's rhythm has a certain manliness about it, and, if you know Mike, he has the presence of an athlete. When I first met him he was concluding his active career as a martial artist (free-style), but he still trains students. "Inmo," literally, means "it," as in "That's it!" or "Do you get it?" But the way Dogen and other Zen teachers use the term, it has come to mean reality or truth. I thought it a perfect fit for Mike.

Later he and his wife Elizabeth honored me by asking me to serve as the priest in the celebration of their marriage. Mike Inmo, as part of his practice, began the Long Leaf Zen Center at their home in Enterprise, Alabama. On the way to their wedding celebration, it was my honor to sit with them one night and to offer a teisho. 

 Mike Inmo's 1st Rakusu: Jukai January 15, 2011

From the beginning Mike Inmo knew how to bow. This might sound strange and insignificant, but usually when a person first bows in a zendo during all the rigamarole of Zen services, the bow is accompanied with all sorts of personal baggage--hesitation, embarrassment, pride, whatever we come with. It's interesting to watch over the weeks, months and years as a person's bow evolves. But with Mike Inmo it was different. From the first, he bowed with presence and authority. At the time I said to him he came from Alabama to teach us how to bow. My feeling is that he learned to bow in his practice as a martial artist--respecting his opponent, respecting the act of fighting, respecting himself. He's strengthened this understanding as he continues to sit and stare at a wall and as he shares his understanding with others. I am proud and delighted that he's taking this next step.

May he be a blessing to his family, his community, his Sangha and to us all.

To send Inmo your congratulations, his email is Here's his announcement:

Mike Inmo Dretsch to receive Zaike Tokudo

Please mark on your calendar Saturday, February 18th. I will be going through a lay ordination ceremony called Zaike Tokudo.  Zaike Tokudo means "remaining at home and attaining the Way"  versus Shukke Tokudo which means "leaving home and attaining the Way."  With Shukke Tokudo leaves home... and you often see the monk shave his or her head. Luckily, I already do this :)

Zaike Tokudo symbolizes and reinforces a path in life devoted to practice. Zaike Tokudo is the penultimate ordination prior to ordination as a novice priest (the first initiate ceremony being Jukai). In essence, I will receive official status as a disciple of the Silent Thunder Order under the purview of Taiun Michael Elliston Roshi.

The day will start with a morning of sitting meditation (zazen) and liturgy. We will break for tea and prepare for the ceremony which will start at 1pm. All of this will be held at the Wiregrass Zen Center, 610 Mitchell Street, Headland, AL. A special thanks to Frederic Ji Ryu Lecut for hosting the event. Those of you that live closer to Enterprise where we practice can follow us from my house or meet us along the way. If you cant make it for the morning session, you can just attend the ceremony. After the ceremony we will have a potluck style luncheon. I will send out a sign up list for those that want to bring a vegetarian dish.

It would be a great if everyone could make it for the ceremony. For the last several years I have undergone mentorship (with Rev Bobby Kankin Byrd and Rev Harvey Daiho Hilbert out of Texas and New Mexico, and most recently with Taiun Michael Elliston Roshi from Atlanta Soto Zen Center/Silent Thunder Order), academic study (and sewing two rakasu's), and rigorous zazen/shikantanza from various cushions locally and at various locations (El Paso, TX; Las Cruces, NM; and Atlanta, GA).

For me, this ceremony is something I want to share with all of you, which I am very grateful for having crossed paths with, and without hesitation, consider my Sangha (community) and my family.  Without the Sangha, there is no refuge in the Three Jewels. For it is the Sangha that brings about abundant good. Similar to what they tell you in football games... there is no "I" in Sangha :)


Michael Inmo Dretsch
Experimental Psychologist/Soto Zen Buddhist