Monday, December 28, 2009

Do You Suffer?

I experience 'Dukkha' a lot. Dukkha is roughly translated as "suffering."

The head words from Wikipedia explain that Dukkha (Pāli दुक्ख; Sanskrit दुःख duḥkha; "uneasy", "unsteady, disquieted") is a term roughly corresponding to a number of English words including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration.

If I consider something as benign as "dissatisfaction" rather than the full raveges of "suffering", I live nearly entirely in dukkha. It's scores of times during a single day that I find "I can't get no ... sat-tis-fact-tion." (ref: Rolling Stones' discography).

I worry that I should be embarassed about writing this (a dukkha in itself). It feels like I am saying I am a poser Buddhist. I certainly am not someone who has it all together with a knowing, gentle smile, wearing lots of earth colors and black, drinking tea and meditating twice every day.

But if you find you suffer, or are dissatisfied, or occasionally bitch, or even bitch a lot about this or that. If you are anxious during the day; If you find you are pissed of because your significant other left the coffee can on the counter instead of putting it back in the cupboard; If you lose your temper when your kid asks you for the third time to watch a stupid cartoon with them when you need to balance your checkbook.... If you notice all these 'assalts' on your peace of mind as I do in the course of a day, then I think you are ripe, well suited, and could benifit from Buddhist practice.

I'm sure I could find many stories from the patri- and matri-archs of Buddhism that say if you think you've arrived, you are farther away than a rank beginner.

Do not fret about how you live your day. The worst poser is the one that feigns contentment. Embrace your suffering. Notice it. Let it be. Suffering is not the problem, it is the symptom.

I don't have exact words for the problem. Perhaps "problem" is too harsh a word. It may simply be the human condition. The animal with the frontal cortex that has afforded so much survival gets wrapped around the axle of picking and choosing (engaging in dis-satisfaction) quite naturally. It was quite appropriate (and still is) to be dis-satisfied to be in the company of approaching lions, or stampeding rhino's. We have evloved into a species that carries these life preserving concerns far beyond their beneficial ends.

The practice to improve this? Zazen (poorly translated as "meditation" but that's a whole 'nother blog entry). But do it with a little care. Do zazen only for the sake of zazen, not for improvement. Having "goals" messes quite dreadfully with the concept of dis-satisfaction. Do zazen as often as you can with no express need to exceed two doses of 30min each day, and you are a "Buddhist". In fact, while you do zazen you are the Buddha, you are all Buddha's, you are snap dab the whole universe realizing itself.

See you there....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Suffering not Fact

Buddhism is the investigation/observation of how we experience suffering. It is not the investigation of fact. The reality we hope to live directly within is not that of faultless perception. Faultless perception is, of course, impossible. Our biological instrument is not so well strung. The import of my previous post is really naught. Yes... brains and eyes and ears and touch and even conception are all faulty. Old news. Not important. The really interesting bit is how we engage judgment, picking and choosing, to turn what ever it is we are getting with these channels to the world into a moment of suffering. Actually, there is no hindrance even now. The reality we hope to live in is just that it is. Turn and look. There it is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Brain Chemistry

Imagine a large jar. In it, water. In the water a video camera, a cord, and a video monitor. Put red in the water, the camera sees things tainted red. Blue dye gives a blue picture. If the water is salty, it corrodes the cable and the signal gets all sporadic. Run a blender near the cable and it picks up the interference.

Our brains are not much different. Subject to the "dyes" of neurotransmitters in our brains and the chemicals we ingest (caffeine, alcohol, various food impacts). Stress can affect the transmissions. Activity (concepts, thoughts) in one part of the brain can affect the chemistry bathing another.

We use this tenuous system to "perceive reality". We really never have a chance of seeing it as it is. We can come to accept we are limited by this thought/sense system and that the real world is beyond direct perception, but I don't think we can ever perceive it as it is. Heck, because of the finite speed of light, at best we can perceive it as it was a few billionths of a second ago.

Trapped forever in this jail of faulty perception? We are the jail.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Next Step

Might as well smile.

Sun shines brightly.

The thousand things that make me "human" get in the way.

Other people seem to define me. Is that really me?

Turn and reflect. That's a shadow of a shadow.

The next step is completely free.

Who sees the unhindered Lauren, walking with the fist of thought relaxed and held open?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


How completely outside the realm of the zafu.
My accountant/wife hits me with the news this morning that we don't have in the bank what we thought we had as we go into the final stages of getting ready for a vacation, and then the IRS sends me a letter notifying us about errors in 2007 taxes, and this on the heels of my employer announcing a 10% reduction in workforce over the next few weeks. And I'm supposed to sit still on a cushion.... there must be something I should be doing.....
I wish I had a temple bell I could beat the hell out of right now...

Sunday, November 1, 2009


One of the most equivocal of precepts is the one about wine. It comes in a variety of flavors ranging from "Don't drink wine" to "Don't sell wine" to "Do take intoxicants" to "Don't engage in the intoxicant of delusion." I have been, and still am, and still am not a drinker. I have gone years with a daily or thrice weekly glass of wine or beer or whiskey of varying sizes (some glasses are larger than others).

I have been trying these days to open up to the precept of avoiding intoxicants. This doesn't work (for me) if it is approached as a rule. I did not say "I will not drink." I said "I will not drink, and yet I will not not-drink." I opened the tight hand of thought as best I could each time I found "drink" on my mind. This has changed my drinking. And I don't miss it much at all*. But there have been two difficulties.

Difficulty one is experiencing more of me more clearly. It appears that drinking was, in part, a sort of self medication to deaden this or that thought. To drop inhibitions. To inhibit fears and worries. To avoid things. To focus on things. With less drinking there is more 'authentic' me I have to deal with. It ain't always fun. I am often hung up on some pretty petty stuff, or having quite devilish fantasies. Such a ball of greed anger and ignorance I can be at times.

The second difficulty has been social. Being in situations where not drinking is taken as negative commentary on others there who are drinking. That sucks, but I found a way. A really great tasting non-alcholic beer called Buckler. It's imported by Heineken. To be far to the purist, it says it is less than 0.5% alcohol. So it's not perfectly alcohol free. But it tastes good, it helps me mix socially when that is important, and its close enough to water for my precept comfort.

So if you're a Buddhist and would like a cold one.
Grab a Buckler.
The beer that made Mahākāśyapa smile.

*I don't miss it 'cause, sometimes, I drink...(it's so tempting to put down amounts and time spans, but that's not the point. Some arbitrary goal is never the point. Every moment taken as is, is the point).

Thursday, October 29, 2009


What is real vs. our concept of reality.

Thursday, October 15, 2009



A difficult time
Just one more "next step" forward
I kinhin through life

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Cook Your Life

So I went down to TLZC (The Local Zen Center (which happens to be Austin Zen Center for me)) for "Buddha Flix", a.k.a. movie night (ref previous post), and as I suspected there were only decent people with no snobbish attitudes. That's not to say I don't think snobbish people can exist, only that my dread of them far exceeds their actual numbers in the world. So the path is set for visiting again for formal zazen and service. Hopefully my own self can stay out of my own way, and I can turn the wheel a bit in my life.

The movie we watched was "How to Cook Your Life." A little documentary style film about some of the thoughts and cooking classes of Ed Brown [Roshi] , who was a cook for a while at Tassajara (a famous, austere Zen retreat in California) and wrote a couple of their cookbooks. It was a very nice glimps at a well practiced Buddhist, temper and all. I particularly liked his characterization of the dings and scratches on the tea kettles and how they relate to we humans.

And for those who are tracking my very self absorbed decoding of my given Dharma name, it turns out I jumped to a hasty conclusion (small surprise!). Though 労連 is a recognized compound for Labor Union (or more casually, work group, as I like to characterize it), less common readings of the Kanji also yield Benevolence Bringing. So I guess I'm stuck with it. It doesn't count enough to do hard work, I've got to show a positive effect on the people around me. A good goal, and somewhat erie challenge. I often see that I don't give much of a damn on how my actions and words affect others even though I take pains to make sure I'm "right."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Benevolence, Pride & Fear

I learned yesterday that the intention for my Dharma name was Blazing Turtle Bringing Benevolence. I haven't gotten to the bottom of the mystery yet. I don't know if 労連 (which appears in most dictionaries as meaning Labor Union, but the Kanji can be more casually read as Work Group) is a compound that can *also* mean "Bringing Benevolence", or if two different characters meaning "Bringing Benevolence" that can also be pronounced "rou-ren" should have been used. I've sort of become fond of "Blazing Turtle Work Group" even though it lacks a certain Buddhist poesy. Bringing Benevolence seems to set an expectation higher than what I am comfortable with.

Fear & Pride (or do I mean Vanity?)
I've been contemplating visiting TLZC (the local Zen center) to sit. As I do this, I find I am overwhelmed by fear that I will get something wrong. I'll enter the Zendo with the wrong foot. I'll gassho instead of shashu. I'll go to pee at the start of kinhin instead of the end. I'll say Chodia Kesa no Ge outloud and with the "wrong" English translation instead of silently to myself. I will screw up, and the people of TLZC, the ones in the know around me, will sigh heavily and give me that look of "okay, I guess I'll have to take time out of my pefection to tell you what to do," and I will feel miserable.....and what is really ringin my bell is all of that is freaking fiction. Let me say that again...there is nothing in my actual experience with actual real live buddhists at Zen centers I have met that come even close to that sort of attitude.

Where the hell is that stuff coming from?

I'm not talking nervous here. I'm talking down right, can't take a next step fearful. I actually found some petty excuses bail on my plan and did not to go to TLZC this morning because I was dreading it, and anxious, and then I pulled the bow and shot the "second arrow" into myself and started getting on my on case for being anxious and for not doing what I should because I can't keep on not going and meeting real Buddhist people face to face because just being a digital Buddhist is not really "it" I mean all those cool old stories and koan are from real people talking to each other so there's no way I can even think of myself as a Buddhist if I don't get my ass down to temple, and pronto! {big breath after manic tirade}

Well, I know part of that is old old karma that I haven't worked with yet. What I'm trying to say is it's childhood shite but I hate how that sounds like it's someone else's responsibility. It's all mine now, but its tuff work as many of you certainly know.

A big part of it is also my pride and vanity. I really am too young a buddhist (not my *age*, but my time in buddhism) to be wearing a rakusu. I whipped that puppy out and did it the *real authenic* way with rags I sewed together. I didn't mumble special words while I stitched 'cause I was on a schedule. But I did it so quick 'cause I wanted to get a pretty famous Zen preist to do jukai for me. What a score that was, eh? Not your run of the mill, local Zazenkai guy who would probably make me wait and sit for a while before I did it. Not some place where I would have to "sew under" the guidance of someone. I was completely off teacher-grid and I got it anyway ha-ha "system" take that!

That's not the complete picture of my jukai experience, of course. Many of my sincere values are manifest in that ole rakusu. It was important to me that old times (e.g. Dogen) said a kesa should come from "rags" and, to the best of my ability, mine did. I think Buddhism should be poor, and "common." I am very glad I painted a picture of Buddha for my Jukai instead of buying one. I had to think alot about the dude and the meaning of bowing to a picture of him, in the process of painting, and I think that was valuable. And most of all, the support I recieved from my brothers and sisters in the digital dharma was extremely "real" and important to me.

But even though I thought I was keeping a tight watch on myself, I think now, in retrospect, I way over did the pride and fame bit by having my Jukai with Brad. He did his darndest to say no, but I insisted. My bad, of course, not his.

So I have a nice rakusu that I really think has some good vibes in it. But though I've proudly expounded Chodai Kesa no Ge, I really don't understand it, or believe it. I don't really experience "formless field of happiness" yet. I don't see myself as *devoutly* wearing the Tathagata's teachings. To tell the truth, I don't even know exactly what they are. I maybe know some of the basics, but not ALL of them. And I really don't understand my role in saving all living beings.

So maybe I'm projecting all this scorn onto TLZC because I think much of my Buddhist practice is a sham. That seems about right.

There's also this apparently sadistic side of Zen lore that scares the kid in me I think (resonance with childhood woes). I say 'apparently' cause maybe its really okay and its just my prejudice mis-interpreting. We've all heard of the stuff of students being told to put up with discomfort if they want to "get anywhere" with Buddhism. I was in the San Jose Kinokuniya bookstore the other day and picked up a recent book written by a Japanses dude who spent a few months in Eiheiji. The page I landed on was him telling of a new monk in there who had broken a leg as a kid and so was having trouble with full lotus. One of the head guys said he better tie his legs together in full lotus to get it right. Full lotus is the ONLY right way. That crap makes me mad, and scares me. Where's the compassion? Where's the spirit of gentle Ryokan (a hero of mine long before I new anything about Buddhism)? No wonder so many monks run off to hermitages to do their zazen. All that socio-political no pain no gain zen bullshit is absent when you're by yourself (unless you bring it with you in your head, like I often do).

So I've got a ton to work with here. My own crap...and the institutional zen crap.

I'll let myself engage TLZC a bit more slowly. Maybe join them for their Buddha-flix tonight. Less formal, less pressure (I put on myself), and I'll get to experience real people, more than likely being genuinely friendly and compasionate.

Bottom line...this is all mine. I rushed in too quick. I got tangled in pride. I will relax into a "turning step". With thanks to all you...the Sangha that supports me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Errors and Hindrance

Even something as simple as Chodai Kesa no Ge (previous post) has so much in it. It can be learned and repeated by rote. But I am uncomfortable with that. Plus, I love to muck around with Japanese. So, in looking more into the verse, I've found a couple errors in my previous post. The most frustrating is in the first line. For sure "da" is not in the same kanji as "ge", but I'm still not clear if the "tsu" in "datsu" is normal or 'sokuon'. That is, whether the proper way is "ge datsu fuku" or "ge daffuku." The later is what Nishijima Roshi recommends here. But other trusted sources say it's not sokuon. Still digging.

A friend noticed I haven't posted in a while. He's certainly right. I've find I've had so much going on, its not clear what is value added to the world to post on. I am returing again and again to the question of whether I "am" a buddhist. Sit often, but not twice a day, and certainly not for 30 min twice a day. I feel I should. I accept that I don't... almost.

I wear my rakusu and do the chant before sitting. I've taken the precepts and strive to uphold them. I've managed to not drink for a week now. Yet I read the books of any buddhist author and am certain I am no buddhist. I dont' sit enough, or well enough. I don't know enough ceremony. I haven't made it down to the local Soto Zazenkai since Brad was here in April. I've never had dokusan with a teacher. Yet I know all this minutea is not what "it" is. Yet I know I'm not doing it.

Quite a Sueng-esque knot. I "don't know" if I "don't know" well enough.

Sigh.... just babble. No clarity. I believe there is no hindrance, but surround myself with hindrance.

I don't post, cause I have nothing I'm proud of. Nothing to brag about. Nothing wise to expound. Just trying to sit better each time I sit. Trying to be goal-less.

What a mess... yet again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blazing Turtle Work Group

Just got my rakusu back from Brad, stamped and all.

My Dharma name is

I *think* the proper reading (using On reading instead of Kun) is Nen-kin Rou-ren, which roughly means blazing turtle work group.

When he was visiting, Brad had mused that he might assign Japanese monster names to his initiates (people that take jukai with him), and I had favored Gamera at the time, so that is the source for "blazing turtle." Of course there may be some more poetic tones in that. I'm not too sure. My first reaction is the firery anger/distrust I can express, and the hard shell.

I don't know quite what to make of rou-ren (work gang). It is, of course, a phonetic pun on my name, Lauren. The compound is recognized in some dictionaries as "labor union," but I don't like that concept much. I'm very much a right-to-work kind of guy. However, work gang has some meaning in the sense of a group of people striving to get something practical done.

Now I am setting about learning rakusu chant. There appear to be a few variations on the kanji used to express it, and, of course, some slight variations in the English translation. Here is the Nishijima kanji and translation. See further commentary by Nishijima Roshi here

Chodai Kesa no Ge

大 哉 解 脱 服

無 柤 福 田 衣

披 奉 如 來 教

廣 度 諸 衆 生

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I am struggling with "oughts" so much these days.

"You ought to sit", "You ought to open up to the moment", "You ought to accept"

The hand of thought can open in the moment, but I find myself starring at a fist and I strive to pry it open, because it "ought to be open."

This does not work.

I can clearly see myself as a mean, jealous, angry man, cussing at slow drivers, jealous of the attention my wife gets from her friends, dreaming of running away from it all to hide out in Japan somewhere, feeling like a spoiled child even as I write this tantrum when I know I "ought to be weighty and wise and crunchy and loving and reflective and cute and say nice things."

Barry, rename your blog "ought herding!"

I imagine there could be a pebble bounced off bamboo that would awaken me from this trap of knowing I ought not focus on all these oughts. Mirrors reflecting in mirrors - the tangled consideration.

Harry says Dogen thought there is no restriction in this murkiness.

There are hornets and there are kittens.

There are fools and there are sages.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

If you have a practice, kill it!

Lin Chi in the "yu-lu" recommends that if you meet a buddha, kill the buddha
(ref "The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi", Smahbahala, trans. by Burton Watson, pg 52)

I had a practice. I killed the practice the last two days. Now I'm ready to start the practice again.

Was this wise? Was this folly?

It has arisen and fallen. How can it be touched?

Black and white mouse nibble the branch.

This "thus" is just a berry.

How sweet.

How sweet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Cup of Tea

[Referring to Zen Flesh Zen Bones - Story 1. ]

When a guest comes to visit, with a full cup, is it kindness to serve them more?

Should you speculate that your guest's cup is full, or ask them if they would like more?

How long would you poor tea into a filled cup?

Should a guest tell a host that they must stop pouring?

If the cup has no bottom it will never be filled.

If the pot is truly empty it cannot pour tea.

"How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" - How do you show water to a fish?

Monday, July 6, 2009


Had to take refuge from all suffering in the house the other day. I was in my bed staring at the ceiling and got the distinct impression all this "I" was just thoughts churning in a mind. Like "I" was a swarm of angry bees.

I waited a few minutes, and one by one the bees left.

But something was still left behind, observing the lack of bees.

Then I got up, dove back in, and the swarm has started again.

What was that left behind? Sweet honey?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Once Upon a Time....

UPDATE April 2011 >> my little spybot shows a bunch of people are reading this old post now. What's the interest? I'd love to know. Drop me a email or a comment. 

Once upon a time there was [ ]. And now I must destroy [ ] a bit by saying that it was formless and yet lacking all formlessness. I will degrade [ ] a bit more, add bit more delusion to it, by saying it was an existence. So out of the formed, formlessness it all arises.

Though there was actually no heaven and earth in this existence, it was all a void of non-differentiation, we could say there was uppy stuff that was way away, and downy stuff that was near by.

And to more complety sickle o'er the perfection of this void with the pale cast of thought we can say there were vast expanses of water and land. And we can carve out blobs of this nothing, this [ ] and call the bits that don't run away from us plants, and the bits that do animals.

Though there was actually no brilliant sun, or calming moon, or splashing streams, or rumbling thunder, we can only say there was sun, moon, streams and thunder because there is no other way to do this.

And this void, this formlessness, did not, but did, have a thousand million eyes, and paws, and noses, and brains, and beating hearts. They arose and fell, like foam tipped waves on the ocean. Here and gone. Sometimes falling into each other, with bits being shat out, and sometimes just falling and blending back into the ground like melting ice cream.

There were in fact no buffalo or tigers or rhinoceroses or giant sloths or tyrannosaurus rexes, but that is how we name those bits of void these days. The names kill what they really were. Confine them to cages that don't express their full truth.

One pair of eyes with brain with limbs started being more populous, and being more populous, more reliably, because it happened to associate a high grunt with getting the hell out of there (what we now would call "danger") and a low grunt with staying put (i.e., "safety"), a yelp with "these berries are good" and a chatter with "tiger over there." This ugly bag of mostly water we can call hu-man took the void, took the formlessness, took the unlimited all, and started carving it up into concepts and names, and this took hold like wildfire amongst the hu-mans. The ones that could trade in this bastardization of the [ ] lived longer, and better, and had more offspring that could pick up on the "benefits" of this carving and hacking the nothingness into chunks of stuff.

Skipping several hundred thousands of not-really-existant years brings us to today. We have a way of life that is crowed with ideas and concepts and language and thoughts that allow us to manipulate very effectively this great void, this nothingness, this [ ], we are in, but we have much trouble seeing it for what it is.

Seung Sahn Soen-sa says "stop making bad and good", Shakespeare says "There is no bad nor good but thinking makes it so." These thoughts, these words this "intellect" is not it, not the [ ]. They are a limited description of parts of it. They lead to the illusion that [ ] is a composition of a bunch of individual things. I do not think that is what [ ] is.

[ ] is a continuous whole of undescribable reality. Our concepts are never adequate. With practice (zazen) we can learn to open our "old" eyes that were part of [ ], and let [ ] flood into our awareness without naming any bit of it, or put thoughts and concepts to it. We can learn to just flow with it again as [ ] is.

[ ] is like the horns of a snail. If we try to touch it with concepts and judgement and language, it shys away.

Of course the discourse above kills [ ] by striving to conceptualize its existance. My thesis requires that even my thesis must miss the mark. The following quoted sentence is a better description,

but not even the concept of empty quotes on a computer screen is close to [ ]. Perhaps you can find some of [ ] on your zafu?

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Not the Soup, It's the Croutons...No It's the Soup

I was pondering DNA the other day. There's been so much talk over the last few years about the wonder of DNA, and what the various codings mean, and how there're sections of DNA that seem to have no use, etc...

I was talking about something similar, some biological molecular activity, a few days later with my daughter, and we were noticing how people anthropomorphisize biological chemical action with phrases like "it seeks out the bactiria" or "the virus looks for an opening in the immune system" and so on, and how people rarely, if ever, describe what is really happening... which is molecules are randomly bumping around in cells and blood streams and stomaches and so on, and they just happen to hit another molecule just right so that there is a reaction of the sort described. Molecules have no "brains" or volition. There is no actual "seeking" or "looking" occuring.

Then following that, I was pondering DNA again and suddenly realized that DNA does nothing. That is to say, if you take a strand of DNA and put it on a table and wait, you will be waiting for many kalpa's and still nothing will happen. It's rather stupid to talk about DNA as if it itself was something.

DNA is pointless without a cell to be in. DNA does nothing unless it is suspended in the soup of the cell.

And by extension, of course, a cell does nothing unless it is in the community of a tissue, in an organism, in an enviroment, on a planet, in the universe.

Of course there is analogy here to this idea of "self." We can often be certain that we are distinct, stand alone entities that "are something" independet of everything else. But of course, we are not. Like DNA, strand us on a cold steel table by ourselves, and we do nothing, we are nothing, we quickly die.

I have to add to this my favorite fun fact that there are more than 10 to 100 trillion bacteria cells in and on the average human body which itself has only 1 trillion cells. This means that there are far more non-you cells (by count, not by mass, bacteria cells are very small) on/in your body than there are you-you cells. Do you really imagine you could survive without all those trillions of not-you?

You are indeed there, like DNA is there, but that is just identifying one particular bump on the blanket, one crouton in the soup. You have no function, purpose, identity, by yourself. It is the whole bowl of soup that is a "something". The only independent thing there is is the whole universe.

If only we crouton's could really live this way! If we could stop being "self" aware, and be more "all of it as it is flowing" aware. Just enjoy the local eddies in the soup bowl, rather than struggling to think you are not linked to them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So Bizzy [sic]

Way too busy these days to really write anything.
Running around Texas (well, Austin - Houston, Austin - Rockport) a bunch working with funeral and trying to gather and settle my dad-in-laws estate. Turns out, after 2 months+ of nursing a hurt wrist, my wife's gotta have hand surgery w/ 6 weeks+ recovery time. Still managing zazen most mornings and nights, and reading the dharma a bit here and there. Dropping occasional pithy comments on my freqented blogs. There are a million things I could write about if I had more time... thinking of my usual dharma friends often.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Finally back at the computer after days of running back and forth across Texas.

Peter, Tallis, Uku, Harry, Jordan, Barry, Jeremy, and "Just Zazen", thanks all for the well wishes.

There appears to be no "getting back to normal" after this event, just getting on.

I find in this odd aftermath of settling estates and planning funerals that I am wondering if I was kind enough to the guy while he lived, and seeing that the bell tolls for me too, I don't have a lot to say right now.

It seems so clear that when it's over, it's over, as simple as turning off a light when you leave the room.

Our existence props up so much; property ownership, pensions, credit cards, keys, bank accounts, tools, trailers, trash, friends, family, clothes, shoes, books, frying pans... and when we die, it's like the key post in a house being pulled out. The house heaves, sighs and collapses. The people left behind dig through the rubble, organize the remains, construct a final story, and move on.

Lasting influence? Maybe. But not "directed" influence, of course. We go. How other people remember us, interpret us does remain... but it is not 'us.' It is not the unique consciousness you sense about yourself.

There is no greatness or smallness.

Drops fall from the sky and land in the ocean.

It is all rain.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


My father in law passed away. I saw him struggling with ill health in a recovery hospital bed a week ago, dealing with DNR's and interpreting curative from palliative procedures. I saw 'him' in the hospice hospital on Friday, heaving for breath, essentially unconscious. And then Saturday, a well assembled collection of organic molecules was stone still in the hospice bed, with no spark of life. No one was gone, no one was here. The ice has melted and fallen back into the stream. Now begins a long process of legal and customeray affairs that is definitely certain there was someone unique there. But that was you and that was me. We arise, pop out a vagina, and muck about until we're tossed in the ground to feed the worms. What a comedy! Might as well just sit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Pain of Silence

I was terrible to someone I should not have been terrible to. A relationship I value. I may have busted it pretty bad. Time will tell. Jordan suggested to me that if I learn from it, its not such a big mistake. So this is some of my learnin'. I gave a good hard look at what was going through my mind, and I think it all had to do with silence.

In sync with this discovery is that I find I am quite unnerved by the lack of comments to my last blog entry. I had posted a bunch of "honest" stuff that left me feeling quite exposed...and there were no comments. I took it all down, and felt like I was re-nigging on the "honest scrap" deal I had been given....and there were no comments. So I rewrote it a bit, more optimistically...and there were no comments. For anyone who may be reading this, I do not mean to cast any blame with this. I am actually a bit embarassed by this. It is simply a fact.

This blog is, of course, also a relationship. The comments I get generally fulfill my friendship needs in my life. I'm not sure this is a good thing anymore, but it certainly is true. So when the comments stopped, I started feeling unhinged.

So when there are relationships I need, and they go silent, I get a little crazy. Why? There are probably many explanations I and a therapist could find. We could probably lay out some of the cause-effect that went on early in my life. More importantly, though, I think I will have to fully embrace this "weakness" to fall into the truth completely. I need to unfold some of the erroneous logic that must be knitted in my character that equates how others respond to me as a basis for feeling worth and comfort.

If I think that people don't care for me any more (whether my thoughts reflect the true situation is immaterial) why does this hurt? What is this thing, this self-worth, that is so important for we humans? What does Zen have to say about the value of our existence? Am I really *needed* here?

Looking at some of the Buddhist commentary I have read, I guess the best there is to say is that I just am. There is no value nor lack of value in this fact. How can I address this need I have to be valued, to care so much about whether people communicate with me?

This is, no doubt, a basic human issue, and the cause of much duhka in the world. I hope it is not the work of several kalpas, but that I can drop through the bottom of the bucket on this in the next few years.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carp Stone

[there never was anything here]
[was it a cat i saw]
A boulder blocks the way

I've tried blowing it up
pushing it to the side
digging under it to find its root
climbing over it to exceed its height
analyzing it to know its true nature
denying it is there to negate its impediment

It is still there
I can hear the bull bleating behind it

I'm waiting for a fish to swim by
and with a flick of its tail
it will be gone

"Here fishy fish"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Real Hell or Real Life

It all keeps getting thicker.

Years ago my wife suffered but survived an odd disease known as Guillain-Barre (gee-on bar-ay) soon after our daughter was born. I was frustrating cause it presents as so many other possibilities (simple fatigue) in its early stages. It nearly killed her. The biggest scar it left was the scare that there can be bizzare diseases that seem like nothing, but doctors diagonose wrong. Once you learn this lesson, it's impossible to forget.

Now she has a torn TFCC (a complete cartilage structure in the hand), some torn knee cartilage and an only rotator cuff tear hurting. The knee and wrist really didn't come from obviously traumatic events. So is this just rotten luck, or some bizzare cartilidge-falling-apart disease? We don't know. We press on. She has been at 20% for the last 4 weeks, and now facing wrist surgery, will probably be at 20% for another 4 or more.

On top of that her father in Houston (150 miles away) has suffered renal failure from too much NSAIDs taken for gout cause by chronic alcoholism which was overcome 20 years ago. He also suffers from BPE (and COPD) which caused a raging urinary tract infection which spread to his blood.

The guy lives recently widowed in a trailer park, set in his ways and would have died, unchallenged, in bed last week if my wife hadn't called EMS remotely (who did not take him in) and forced her cousin (living in the same trailer park) to take him to the doctor who did admit him. Now he faces 20+ days in hospital for dialysis waiting to see if his kidneys kick back on... and if not, then what?

We saw him this weekend, and he is just out of the game. He doesn't complain about the hospital. He doesn't worry about his "stuff." He just sits in bed, with gout paining his knees, not really eating, waiting for the next dialysis.

I'm being stretched in ways I never have, these days. Covering much work at home. Striving to encourage my wife in her pain, and fathom the needs and wants of an aging, hurting man.

It is a whole shitload of dharma. Just-is-ness that I find difficult to face. I am angry and put out that life can't be the protected normalcy I had a month ago when I was sewing my rakusu and dreaming of precepts from Brad.

What would the patriarchs do in all this? Again I find myself angry that the famous ones all left "home and family" and escaped hells like this. How do I take a next step as I struggle with shame over my sarcastic tone to wife who has asked me for help for the nth time today?

This is the real crucible. When things get so tangled they are unrecognizable, and 5 minutes of no immediate trouble is like a vacation of 2 weeks. When you can see your own faults and pettiness and anger parading out of you like a 4th of July parade. No pretense of "holy". Buddha just please let me not be a beast in the next moment.

Jump in the raging stream
Fly past rocks and over waterfalls
Fearful of the trip and splash and swirl?
Unfamiliar scenery flashing by to quick?
Who are you?
Look inside
to the deep stillness
of the whole dharma.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Picking and Choosing

When I think of all troubles and hardship I have actively sought to spare my daughter from, and succeeded, and avenues and opportunities for expression I have provided her, and praise I have given her, I think I have done a fine job as a parent.

When I think of all the advantages and expanding experiences I haven't provided for my daughter, and all the occasions when I squashed or stifled her free expression, and the times I was overly critical, I think I have done a very poor job as a parent.

What am I, good or bad?

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's All Right There

[I find I have nothing to say.
Dharma is lurking out there.
Enjoy it.]

Monday, April 27, 2009

E-Sangha's - Coins in the Donation Box

There has been much discussion on some more trafficked blogs about the value and perils of e-sanghas. I'm not trying to swallow the whole fish here [wink] , just provide a small comment on a complex issue.

While I don't live terribly far from a brick and mortar zendo. To participate fully in a zazen session or service, including some interaction with the fine folks there, would take several hours out of a schedule already packed with responsibilities. While I believe I should try and visit there occasionally, this little corner of the blogesphere has proven very useful to my practice, and I appreciate very much all of the Dharma friends who drop by with a kind or supportive, or even critical word from time to time.

It makes me think of the delightful pa-tunk a coin makes when you throw it in the donation box (saisen bako) at a Japanese temple. A little gift of just 10 yen or so helps keep the temple going. In the same way, a few words in a comment can help someone's practice keep going.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Was That?

Wow. What a week this has been. I feel drained physically and emotionally. I found zen this week to be an intensely psychological trial. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this. Perhaps I thought zen was a only "spritual" practice. But truely it is more a psychological practice as it deals with self-identity and reality so much.

Thursday morning (4/16) I drove out to Bastrop State park. It is a forest of pine trees that was some how cut off from the larger herd in a past ice age event. It is the only place to find pine in the Austin area. I needed a sprig for Jukai. I spent about an hour in park. Did some zazen under a 100ft tall tree, grabbed a couple sapling springs (with apologies) and high-tailed it to the airport. Met Brad there and drove him home.

We (wife, Brad and I) spent some time talking about Buddhist names. Apprently Brad has not done a Jukai in his lineage before, and so was a little unsure about what his naming tradition was going to be. We talked a bit about the punk tradition of a new second name al a "Johny Phlem" or "Brad Nosweat". He also explored giving my same name back, but assigning phonetically correct kanji to it to give it a new meaning. I got favorably stuck on Lauren Roach, which is more consinent using the Japanese pronunciation of "Rōren Rōchi." On the following day I did a bunch of kanji research and actually found a kanji set that had a nice message in it; something like "Bright Training, Trifling with Delusion" (朗練 弄癡). There were several other fun combo's for "Rōchi", including "smartweed spider" and "humble mountain monster". Ultimately none of these were it (more later).

Went to dinner at a very old and locally famous veggie restaurant called "Mothers" and then stopped by Cheapo Discs, a used CD place. My wife and I picked up too many good old albums. I also bought a copy of Godzilla v. Mothra on Brad's recommendation. Then, we came home.

Brad took to my schnauzer named Baker and started calling him Baker Roshi. A bit later we did Jukai in the dinning-room-now-zendo (pictures in previous blog). I was dressed very casual at first. Brad asked me to dress up a bit, so I put on some dressy jeans, button down shirt and a tie. The tie was in the way during prostrations. Brad wore his full robe regalia.

The ceremony was light hearted, but sincere. Brad has done just one Jukai before this (Nishijima Roshi wrote the rakusu and picked the name etc... but Brad did the ceremony) and has not memorized the liturgy, and has most of the words to say, so we were both working from print-outs. I had propped his sheets in a binder on a music stand near his chair, so it looked a bit formal. My wife, daughter, Baker roshi and Kiba the cat attended actually, as well as Harry, Peter, Jordan, Gwen, Jennie, Julie and Rosemary in token. A couple of times during the precepts description, my daughter asked questions to be sure what she could hold me too. I must admit, "don't become angery" and "don't discuss failures of buddhist priests and others" were a be nerve racking to commit to.

After Jukai we got in our civies and watched Godzilla. I think all of us had nodded off before it was over.

Next day (Friday) we spent most of the morning browsing CD stores downtown, including our famous Waterloo Records, and Antones. We got at the Austin Zen Center about 5:30. We did zazen, and Brad his talk (see his blog for more on that stuff). I felt quite awkward having a rakusu and not really knowing the formalities around it. Thanks, Jordon, for the advice on the chant etc... Got more from Chris at AZC. We got pizza with about 8 others in the gang there, after all was said and done.

I noticed throughout the trip that zazen in a group is much easier then at home. The time goes much quicker. I also noticed that there was a lot of "fame" stuff going on (both good and bad) and that messed with my head a bit. For the good, it was kinda cool, in effect, riding Brad's coat tails. I caught my ego strutin' a couple of times, and I think several people thought I was "someone" because I was traveling with Brad. The bad was that the spotlight was definitely on Brad for the most part. As the trip went on, I felt less and less significant. To the extent these were real feelings going on in me - it was painful. To the extent I was able to step back and observe this happening in my own head - it was intereting.

Next day we got up early to ride out to San Antonio Zen center. It was a very welcoming, small group. The Zendo is an old house by a creek that was actually raging from night-before rain. A good zazen, a good dharma talk, nice chit chat after. More ego involvement.

I'm running out of steam here so I'll defer the rest for another post.

A while back, someone commented they wanted to see a close up of the Buddha I painted for the ceremony. That's why he's up a the top, there. I thought I might work on him some more after Jukai, as there are a couple impossible aspects to the picture, but I've changed my mind. It's done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Time

No time to write something long. Here's a brief update.

Jukai happened. No Pics (pooh).
Had a great time visiting 3 Texas Zen Centers and 2 Book Signings with Brad.

More later?!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rakusu is complete! Jukai anticipated tomorrow.

I finally finished the darned thing. Not much to say. Just pics of the finished rakusu and the impromptu zendo I assembled in my dinning room. Note the cabinet with "tokens" from several well-wishers that are too far flung to attend in person (thanks Harry, Jordan, Peter, Gwen, Julie, Jennie and Rosemary).

The image of Buddha I did myself. I will work on it a bit more after the ceremony.

It has certainly an interesting journey to get to this point. Thanks to all who helped me get here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Attachements & Rakusu Progress & Dangerous Ideas

Things are different this morning re: my father-in-law. My wife checked in, and has decided to cajole him into seeing a doctor and *then* going down to pick him up. So as of today, things are still on course for Jukai etc....

Dangerous Ideas
When it looked like it was going to have to be called off, I was really upset about losing Jukai next week and maybe even my chance to visit w/ Brad. All of this upset was just an idea, but it really affected me. Definite duhka. My wife read my face, as wives do, and wanted to know what was up. I told her about my upset and she became miserable for me too. All this misery from something that wasn't here and wasn't now. Misery over the idea of not being able to do something. I could have acted better, I'm sure, but at least I saw this play out. Is it really always good to share ideas, even if they are "real?" If I had turned more to what was really before me, it was nothing. No pain and anguish. Just me standing with my wife in a room.

So, yeah, all that desire for things to go as I had been planning them was massive attachment, of the not-helpful sort. I also saw that pretty quick and was able to turn the internal storm a bit. I saw that I was faced with a stream of karma, of cause-effect, that was not matching my idea, so I better just face the new, real, reality and take a next step.

Rakusu Progress
My rakusu is coming along. Sewing the lines in the en is really the hardest part, I think. I'm nearly done, and so finally understanding the best way to finish off a thread and start a new one. So much balancing going on. Focus or distraction, long thread or short, fast motion or slow. Patience with crazy thread knots has been a challenge. And don't tell anyone, but I don't think I've said "I take refuge in the Buddha" with exactly every stitch. Pics follow. In the last one you can see the mid line stitches in the en. Learning the blind stitch took some research, but I finally got it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grief and Pain for Promised Joy?

I'm feeling a bit like Burn's "mousie".
My wife just got a call from her dad saying he's been very sick and hasn't eaten for a week and could she come down (Austin to Houston) and spend a couple days with him. The tone and circumstance and recent history make it feel like this may be his last legs, so we are driving to Houston tomorrow to bring him up for who knows what outcome and for how long.

Though I don't know what's really going to happen, I'm having to start planning contingencies for hosting Brad for his Texas Tour next week, and driving him to San Antonio and Houston and Dallas, and finding other accommodations for him for his Austin stay, and likely having to postpone my Jukai.

That shoe hasn't fallen, but I see it's shadow hanging over me.

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rakusu Progress

The top picture is from this morning. All tan and chou attahced. Just on seam left to finish on the left.
The bottom picture is an earlier shot (kinda outa focus) of the tan and chou joined in pairs.

I think I will have the main field of my rakusu finished tomorrow.

I'm probably only 1/3 done with the whole thing. So much to sew and so little time.

It sure ain't perfect, but it sure represents my practice...faultering steps along the way, not 100% beautiful, full of sincere mistakes, generally in the right direction. All very symbolic. To think I'll have to wear this around my neck for years to come!

I still haven't selected the cloth for the writing panel. I wonder if I should go for some pristine silk or cotton, or settle for a panel of old yellow pillow case, coffee dyed to beige.

Naked Sitting - Yikes

"Turn your head to the wall my darlings, while the gentlemen trot by. " [vague memory of "beyond the fringe" with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, et. al.]

So I was on a biz trip last week. Brought my zafu and got some good sitting done. Not as much as at home, but much more than the last trip I took. There was a handy configuration of mirrors in the sink area, so I decided to give my zazen posture a look-see. And, blush, blush, I did this au-natural. Thankfully the mirror did not break, and I was able to identify a big mistake in my sitting.

What I had thought was a straight spine, was really over-doing it. The above picture sort of demonstrates the same issue in a standing position. The left image is "natural" the right is forced. I have been pushing my chest out, and pooching my butt too far back. My posture looked sway-back. When I relaxed just a bit, to what felt on the inside like the beginning of a slouch, my back looked normal. It also turns out that the sway-back posture I had was exposing my left leg artery/nerve (?) to more constriction. With a more natural posture, my leg stays way more awake (I'm a half-lotus'er)

So I recommend at least one session of nude sitting with mirrors to everyone who has a habitual leg sleeping, or back strain after a while. Try different things like puffing out your chest, tilting your hips forward and back. See what actually straightens your spine and how it may differ from what feels like a straighter spine. Calibrate your sense to a the position of a natural relaxed, but still straight and upright spine. The "middle way" of sitting.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Intuitive Math

I observe in myself two types of math skills. I'll call them intuitive and cognitive. I can see either operate when doing simple sums or products. Other than that, cognitive seems to only be available to me.

My experience of intuitive math, particularly addition, is that I glance at the number and the answer appears to me as knowledge instantly. Trying to capture this in words is something like;

3,5 sums to 8.

It is an instant conclusion. There is no "thought" or consideration.

My experience of cognitive math is some reference to other information, some process pursued, lots of consideration. It feels more like;

3 plus 5 is 8. or 3 plus 5 equals 8.

Notice the objects appear (3 and 5), there is a process between them (plus) there is consideration of an outcome via a rule ("is" or "equals"). There is much consideration in this.

Why is this important to me? Because, as I said, there are circumstances where I seem to have a choice over which method I use to get my answer. I have literally been faced with addition I needed to do, found the intuitive method at play but getting nervous at the lack of "checking" and so switching to cognitive. And sometimes visa versa.

This speaks to me about the role of intuition in general. There can be, I believe, a way of responding to events that is direct and intuitive, instant and spontaneous and without reference to rules or relationships guidelines. Often I think our intuition always speaks first to us and then we try and "back it up" with a cognitive solution. A solution that has been thought out in reference to rules and guidelines. That is all well and good until there is a disjoint between our intuition and "the rules" method.

I experience a choice of intuitive or cognitive for sums. The rest of the time, I think I spend in consideration, idealism. I believe zazen will help me learn to choose living in intuition more frequently.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Okay Buckwheat"

Actually I don't think buckwheat is okay. I've been sitting on a Buckwheat Zafu for a year plus. I felt the non-resilience of buckwheat was responsible for my left leg consistently falling asleep. Not that the sleeping was that bad, but it was a distraction I get drawn to too much. Perhaps if I were a more centered sitter it would not be an issue, but I chose to try and alleviate it.

There will always be distractions in sitting. That is what the practice is about, in many ways. Noticing the distractions, learning how to let the distraction (the 'dissatisfaction') just be. To notice it but do nothing about it. We all must chose which distractions we address. It is possible to do zazen next to a highway, on a battle field, or while a surgeon drills open your skull, but not all of us could do zazen well in those conditions.

The one distraction that I think we must all tolerate for a minimum level of practice is the distraction of boredom. Some of my sitting is in the moment. Most of it is a struggle with how boring the whole thing is.

So, I emptied the buckwheat from my zafu. By the way a 1 gallon zafu appears to hold 12 gallons of buckwheat. I don't know how that works. There must be some sort of cosmic Dr. Who Tardis effect going on.

I took a bunch of kapok (cotton like plant fiber) from my zabuton and stuffed it in my zafu shell, and stuffed, and stuffed. I thought I would refill my zabuton with the buckwheat, but there was enough kapok left to give me a usable but think zabuton.

Based on one sit, the kapok is better. I think it will compress over time and I may have to rob by zabuton to empty, but we will see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tan and Cho

I've finally started putting thread to fabric for my rakusu. Tan and Cho (the large and small bits of the rakusu rice field) are coming together nicely. But, my rag is old jeans and I've only done the first joining seam on each. I dread the "turn over" when I have to do the exposed seam through 3 layers of denim.

I enjoy the practice of trying to get each stitch correct but then having to accept what occurs actually.

I achieved a very un-impressive goal-filled goal today. I actually have three home-sits in a row at 30min. Haven't done 3 30's since Septembers sesshin. Found I really did not like getting up to do it this morning. Resented this silly buddism practice I'm doing for cutting into snooze time and family time. Wondering if I'm really up for this....but sat anyway.

Kind of realised how shukke is relevent even if you don't leave your house.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fallen off the Bike

There been a lot of blogging in my circle of Dharma Bro's about zazen, bike riding and falling down. I often feel a pressure to right good news in my blog. Positive outlook stuff and successes. Coincident with this planning is a negative thing or failure I'm trying to hide, I think. A shame at not being "together."

We just bought a piece of land down by the coast. No water view, but 2 acres with oaks about a quarter mile from an unbelievably large Copano bay. Since my work was shutdown this week, I spent the last 4 days down there doing basic work on the small house/shack that's on the land.

Went down with full intention of lots of quite-seclusion meditation, working on my rakusu. Instead I spent most of the time working, only a single sort meditation event. I didn't work on my rakusu at all. I feel quite ashamed about all this. My friend Just Zazen (see blog list in sidebar) wrote recently about falling off his zazen 'bike' for 36 hours. My advice to him was to know it's okay and to take a next step. My internal critic is much harsher on me. A critic I should have "left by the stream" (see Uku's blog) years and years ago, but still carry around.

Strive for a next moment that is more in balance, but forget fairy tale Zen.

Sit for balance.

Shame is only useful on very rare ocassions.

It's okay.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jukai Koffee Bean

I'm still headed towards Jukai. Dependent on whether I have a rakusu prepared in time. Some of the pieces are cut. Today I took the yellow pillowcase and tried to dye it browner with cast-off coffee from Starbucks. While that seems to go against the advice of picking fabric without discrimination, to get the coffiee grounds my daughter and I had a little adventure that excuses the transgression, I think. We had to get some stuff for a party my wife and I were going to that night so I invited my daughter to hike with me down to the local grocery store to get it. My daughter hasn't wanted to do anything with me for the last month or so, so I was phyched that she took me up on this invitation to walk.

We were going to stop off at the stand-alone Starbucks that is on the way, but when I got to Randall's I remembered they had a Starbucks kiosk built in (lest it be to troubling for patrons to drive literally across the street to the stand-alone). On the way in, I stopped at the Starbucks kiosk and asked the Starbucks lady if she had any grounds to toss that I could have. She did. I told her we'd pick them up on the way out. We got our "fuzzy water" and baked beans and stopped by the kiosk again. She had prepared an 10lb bag of cast-offs bigger than a large bag of rice.

She nicely put the short bag of grounds into a longer, industrial sized trash bag to make it easier to carry. I tied the end of the long bag through our grocery bag with the 12 pack of canned water. The coffee and water just about balanced each other. I was an odd sight to suburbia, I'm sure. A large bag of brown whatever suspeded down my back with a box of water hanging from the front. My daughter carried the beans.

We reveled in how odd we looked to the world, and how nice it was that we took a 30 minute walk to do what could have been done in 5 by car.

So now the pillow case is dyed to an earthly beige. And even though that fact of not-accepting-what-it-was cuts contrary to Dogen's "instructions," the color it has carries the memory of our odd adventure. Which, of course, I prefer.

And Jukia itself will be an odd adventure if I pull it off.

Brad has said he will officiate, but has nothing to say about where and with whom. He will be here in April to do some booksigning and dharma talking gigs I worked out for him. I've only been to the local Zen center once, and don't have a strong relationship with them. I would feel a bit odd, just dropping in on their space for a Jukai.

I've been thinking that since my zazen is done at home, and since my wife and duaghter are my immediate sangha (or at least they don't object to my pursuit), my home is really the right place to do Jukai. It is, in effect, my temple.

I will ask my wife and daughter to attend. I might even invite a relative or two that I speak with some about my Buddhist inclinations. Maybe even my wife's best friend and her husband. We haven't talked much about Buddhism, but I'm sure my wife has talked about it with her friend (and so her husband), so they are probably mildly supportive.

I'll convert our dinning room into a temporary zendo; find a formalish chair, and I must have a small efigy of Buddha somewhere. Near to Austin is a patch of Loblolly pines, cut off from the main herd by some past ice age, if I remember the park sign correctly from 30+ years ago. I'll go there and get a pine sprig.

I would like some of my e-sangha friends to be there too (that's many of you reading this). I thought about video links and such but that level of technology seems too techy for the spirit of the event. What I'd like to offer instead is that if you'd like to "be present" a my Jukai, send me a little note in the mail with some thing to represent you. It could be a picture, a guitar pick, a scrap of fabric left over from your own rakusu... just something little. Kinda like those cool tokens from Monopoly (I always enjoyed being the shoe).

I will arange your note and "token" on a shelf in the room where the Jukai occurs.

This is all a bit of fantasy. I haven't finished my rakusu yet, so who knows. Brad may think the whole idea of a home jukai is too unorthodox even for him.

If you're interested in taking the plunge into this bit of unknown, my mailing address is

Lauren Crane
1401 Wesson Cove
Cedar Park, Texas 78613

If it reaches me by April 16th, and my rakusu is ready, your token will "witness" my Jukai.

Our friend Uku just got back from Japan where he was able to hang out with Nishijima Sensei and recieve Jukai from Peter. I find I expereince a little envyous of this. Maybe I should wait until I can afford another trip to Japan, and do Jukai as part of a Shizuoka retreat? But no. Trying to copy someone elses cool adventure never turns out right in the long run. This home-jukai idea is a bit of karma I've already set in motion. It fits my reality better. So that's where I'll put my focus. We'll see!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mu! (aka 'Wuf')

I asked my dog if he had Buddha Nature.

He licked his nose and sighed heavily.

Is there any question to this meaning?

Monday, March 2, 2009

-- [This Page Left Intentionally Blank] --

Seen today attributed to Basho

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.

Seek what they sought.

A very difficult lesson.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I Must Be Annoying

I sent the following question to Brad the other day,


I find it very hard to manage 2x30min meditation daily, though I am still working at it. Some days I succeed, others, I do not.

I definitely have a goal to achieve 2x30, but not specific goal in the meditation itself but to strive towards non-thinking "action actually" while I sit.

Is working towards it enough to be considered a "True Buddhist" or must it be achieved before one can "join the club?"

Now that I reflect on it, I'm embarrassed ... but only just a little.

As I've studied Buddhism over the last year I've found it unsettling. I don't know what the 'rules' are. I see lots of arguments about rules. There is lots of concern about good teachers and true teachers and the right kind of Buddhism.

I've been around for nearly 50 years now and this experience feels alot like highschool. I really was miserable in much of high school.

I can see those karmic waves still rebounding in my character now. A lot of fear and a lot of curiosity, and way too much seeking approval from external sources.

I want Brad to approve of what I understand about Buddhism. Ditto from Nishijima Sensei, and ditto from you who may happen to read this blog. And in that, is the point Brad strives to make in his books, you've got to take responsibility for your own path. I've never noticed before how much I do not take responsibility for my own path. I think 50% of the discussions I've had on blogs recently has been me trying to get approval for what I already believe rather than the exchange of ideas (the 'guise under which the conversation is structured).

Said the Oracle "You've already made your decision, Neo, now you're just trying to understand it." {or there abouts}.

I wonder how many aspects of Buddhism I've already made up my mind about and I'm waiting for someone else to tell me I'm right before I embrace it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rags to Rakusu

Well, I've decided to do Jukai. I'm not sure with whom, yet. But I am comfortable that it has relevance to me, particularly with regard to joining the sangha catholic. So step one in this direction is sewing a rakusu.

Taking the advice of Dogen seriously, I have decided to sew my rakusu from rags selected without discrimination. At first I thought I would go down to Goodwill and buy some cheap clothes to turn into rags. On second thought I realized there something non-ragish about clothes for sale that someone could actually use. So I choose to use real rags or clothes that could not, reasonably, be worn anymore.

My seed stock is a pair of jeans gone through in the ass. I would only be throwing them away. That exhausted the possibilities in the house. Inspired in part by the 10 types of rags Dogen described, I went on a rag hunt last Saturday for the remainder of my material. This was done by riding my bike slowly along the major avenue near my home, exploring the parking lots and school yards along the way for fabric that has truely been cast off as useless.

There is alot of plastic and paper in this world. If there were a practical way to make a rakusu from used plastic, that would be the way to go. I was surprised how difficult it was to find real fabric out there.

My first find was in a school yard; an old hoodie. Next was a terry-cloth towel near a car washing establishment. This brought some conflict to mind. The goal is to take rags without discrimination (just like we are supposed to accept people and life's events, I suppose), but, damn, terry-cloth will just look stupid on a rakusu. Oh well, I'll give it a try.

Over by the local dog boarding business I found a sock. Again, conflict about the sew-ability of that fabric type. Again, I'll accept it and give it a shot.

Along a long barded wire fence I found a cut tee-shirt sleeve, stained with a wonderful motely of rust. Some sort of iron batik that might be a very nice accent.

Finally I found an old pillow case in the open field behind the local grocery store. I really wondered about the story behind that. Did someone carry all their wordly possessions around in that for a while? Was it a booty bag from a robbery?

I've got enough to sew the rakusu except for the interface material and the white to right on. I may actually buy some new white silk for that. I'm not sure yet. Dogen seemed pretty clear about just using rags.

I've watched some of the TreeLeaf Zendo video's on Rakusu sewing, and gotten the Katagiri directions. I think I'll build the thing according to Katagiri's guide, in inches.

I'm a bit nervous about this rags direction. Every rakusu I've seen so far looks like it was store bought or made from new material. If I go through with the rags, my rakusu will look very odd. It doesn't quite seem consitent with Buddhist sensibility to have something so different from everyone elses. It's like wearing red into the zendo. It's just not done. But if everyone else had just followed Dogen's instructions, a raggy rakusu would look so odd.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Genjitsu no Okonai

I was fortunate to be able to exchange the following with Nishijima Sensei on his blog.
Some simple, but perhaps not 'easy' ideas. This is how I summarize from the lessons.

Perception (what comes in through the senses - 5 or 6)
is different from consideration (thinking, mulling over, cogitating)
and both are different from real action (or 'action actually').

When we are in real action, we enter into reality itself.
When we are considering real action, we are considering and so are not in real action.

In Zazen, can be an action of sitting (active) or an a session of percieving & consideration (sitting and mulling things over / thinking).
In Zazen we can have moments of real action.
The moments can increase in duration.
As our ANS becomes more balanced while sitting, our sitting becomes a real action.

Zazen is an essential way to practice balance for real action, but it is possible & good to extend this living in real action to our full life.

Here is the exchange.

Dear Nishijima Sensei,

I try to sit zazen 30min twice a day, but I rarely succeed. Often I skip. Often I sit for a shorter time.

Lately I am very angry about this. I believe Buddhism is in the sitting, not the idealistic thinking about the sitting. I am angry that it is so difficult for me to sit. I am angry that Buddhism is so hard.

I think, even though I am angry I must continue to practice sitting. Even if I skip. Even if I don't sit 30min.

I don't know what to ask about this, but do you have any advice?

Okage samma de,

4:16 AM, February 13, 2009

Dear Lauren San,

Thank you very much for your important reports.

First of all, please understand that to stop thinking does never mean stopping consciousness. Our consciousness is always very clear, but concentrating our consciousness to keep our posture regularly, we do not have any idea to think, or to perceive.

We are just concentrating our efforts to keep our porsture regularly.

Therefore in that situation we should make our efforts to keep our spine straight virtically, and enter into Action itself.

So we can think that leaving consideration and perception, we will enter into the sate of Action actually.

This is Zazen, and so I would like to ask you to practice Zazen everyday, to distinguish consideration, perception, and Action.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

9:50 PM, February 13, 2009

Dear Nishijima Sensei,

Thank you very much for your teaching regarding my post. It is a bit difficult for me, but I think I understand.

I would like to double check two things from your response.

First - You said "we will enter into the sate of Action actually." Is this almost the same as saying we will enter "reality itself?" Kono "Action actually" wa nihongo de, nan to imasu ka? I think this is a very important point and I would like to understand it more fully.

Second - Do you think we can be in "Action actually" doing other activities too, or only during zazen? My thought is zazen is the best way to practice experiencing reality itself, but it can extend beyond zazen into other activities in our life.

Thank You Again,
Lauren Crane

11:16 PM, February 14, 2009

Dear Lauren Crane San,

Thank you very much for your important questions, and I would like to answer your two questions one by one.

First - "We will enter into the sate of Action actually," means that we can enter into Real Action, which is different from action as idea, or action as perception.

That does not mean to enter into "reality itself" directly, because first we enter into Real Action, and it means that we enter into "reality itself".

"Action actually" wa nihongo dewa "Genjitsu no Okonai" to iimasu.

Yes, this point is very important. In Greco-Roman Civilization I think that action as idea, and action as perception are very clear, but Real Action is not so clear. But in the ancient India Gautama Buddha insists that the Real Action really exists at the present moment, and action as idea, or action as perception can never be Real Action at all.

Second - I think that our human life is just series of Real Action at the present moment, and so Real Action can never be limited only in Zazen. Therefore I would like to affirm your idea that Real Action should pervade throughout our human life totally.

3:06 PM, February 15, 2009

More detail on "Genjitsu no Okonai"

from Jim Breen's WWWJDIC

Genjitsu -->
現實 【げんじつ】 actuality
現 【げん】 manifestation
實 【じつ】 real

Okonai -->
行ない 【おこない】 (n) deed; act; action; conduct; behavior; behaviour; asceticism;

From Nelsons Japanese English Character Dictionary (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1997)
'N' is index number

現 N3645 - present, existing, actual
N1356 now 実 N1324 {apparent adopted simplification of kanji}
実 N1324 - truth, reality etc...

実 Compound under N3645 - actuality, reality

行 N5419 - Oko(nai) - act, action, deed, conduct, behavior, etc...

の 'no' is a particle. When placed between two nouns it indicates 'the possessive' and can be roughly translated as " 's" or "of". The first noun modifying the second.

Thus: Genjitsu no Okonai can be "Reality of Action" or real, manifested action (as compared to a conceptual action).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wee Angry Buddhist

[Apologies to Harry for riffing off his blog name]

Sometimes I get so sick of Buddhism.

I want to be a Buddhist -- oops, that might be desire or clinging. That's bad. Shouldn't do that.

I want to have an ongoing dialog with Teacher A. He's cool. I think I get what he says -- oops, Teacher A says he's not interested in being a teacher. Find someone local to talk to.
Crap, that's not what I want to do...

I should meditate 30 minutes twice a day. -- God that can be soooo f**king boring. I can't make even one day like that. I either blow of one session or stop early.
This sucks.....

Don't worry too much about meditating. Just sit as much as you can. Just be in the moment, in the moments that you can.
-- Well crap, no-one I know is recommending you can "be a buddhist" by just thinking about it. I've got to sit.

I want to do Jukai so I have that "your are a buddhist" merit badge to hand around my neck. --empty ceromonies are pointless.

I won't worrry about Jukai, I'll just be uninitiated. -- Careful, what's Buddhism without an identified Sangha. That's one of the jewels, you know.

I'll just walk away. Forget the last year. --You know your "will for the truth" will draw you back, and look at a the time you will have wasted throwing your fit.

It's all so FREAKING COMPLICATED. Every wish is questioned as desire. Everything to identify with is empty. Everyone you want to question slips a mirror in your face..."ask him." Every father figure want's no children. A thousand page essay is used to explain that the only reality is the here and now. I'm trying to squeeze in the door of a really cool club by just sitting on a cushion and I just can't make it. I want to provoke, plunder and plead. But all the cold sage of Buddhism says is "go sit."

Sorry for the chaos, I'm going to sit.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Austin Zen Center - Wining about Delusion.

I just went down to Austin Zen Center for the first time. I live on the outskirts of Austin and an obvious question is "why so late?" I've been mucking about with this Buddhism stuff for a year or so now, I'm glad I finally made it down to a local Soto group. The cool thing is that they now own a house that had been owned by Friends Meeting of Austin (Quakers), and I had attended that group when I was finishing up college at UT. I'm still on the books with them as a Quaker, and I guess that's fair enough. If Buddhism and Christianity have a cross over point, it's most probably at the Soto/Quaker border.

I was a little nervous but it all turned out well (who didn't see that coming?). I don't know why I stayed away for so long. I'm glad I went, and I plan to visit again. Maybe once a month or such, just to keep in touch with 3 dimensional sangha beings

{I put great stock in the virtual beings I interact with via this computer - It's the focus for a post of another day, but I really am not sure how to frame all of you out there that stop by from time to time. I know you are living, breathing people just like me, by I only get to experience you as words (ideas) on a screen... very strange}.

But what I saw down there that was really cool, really an eye opener for me, was in a small house across the street from the main building where they host their beginner's class on Saturday mornings. I has their library too, and some sort of resident someone (I'm no good with zen titles). In a little room where the run down the basics of sitting, I saw the precepts on the wall. It was a neat version that had the "negative" language in light blue larger font with a "positive" version in black between the blue lines. I thought, in itself, that was kinda cool. The traditional version preserved but a modern "positive" version presented as well.

But the cool thing was the wine precept. I've seen many translations of it, but all are about alcohol, or intoxicants, or something like that. This one said (for the old school large blue font, "negative" rendering)
"Do not sell the wine of delusion."
Finally, a take on that precept that make sense to me! I mean, it never quite jived as "Do not sell wine" or however its often presented. I mean of all the things you could do that are just a bad a wine, it didn't seem to really rank the top 10 of Buddhist practice. But as a poetic statement about the wine of delusion, it's really getting at something important. Don't go out 'there' and spin sweat tales of floating, or being one with all beings, or never having a worry again, or never needing to argue, or any of the other fluff that some interpreters say Zen offers.

Now, I don't know if there is any basis to this translation. The "will for the truth" detective in me is curious and will try to find some precedent for this interpretation, but even if it turns out this precept really is a warning against publicans*, it's 'accidentally' telling me something I think I was waiting to understand.


*Publicans - just in case you're not sure what I meant, is the title of someone who owns a pub... that is to say a seller of wines. It also happens to be a word from the old testament that means a person who collects taxes. There's probably an nice etymological story in that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Person A Seeks Jukai for Long Walks on the Beach.

Person A is thinking of Jukai.

Person A went tried to chat with Teacher X. Teacher X is kinda well known. Doing Jukai with Teacher X feels a bit like a nice feather in the cap. Unfortunately Teacher X is not that into Jukai. It's something that can be done if Person A really wants it. Just let him know. We can read through the cheat-sheet together while we do it.

Person A sends a message to Teacher Y. 'What do you think about Jukai,' he asks. Teacher Y has a bit more to say. It's not a magic key, but it does have some meaning. Particualry, it gives a link to the sangha and a focus to practice. It's a nice thing. But of course, Person A can practice zazen as much as he wants without Jukai.

Person A wonders...
  • A new name,
  • A cool robe,
  • A ceremony/rite of passage
  • From a famous teacher?
  • From a kind teacher?
  • From a local teacher?
  • Who's my sangha?
  • Can there be an e-sangha?
  • Why not just sit?
  • Why attach to jukai?
  • Why not commit to sitting by doing jukai?
  • Am I just playing at Buddhism or am I a Buddhist?
What can you tell Person A about Jukai? Is it worth doing? Do you have instructions for a rakusu?

Person A

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time Travel - No Lack of Motion

I'm not sure exactly what this has to do with Buddhism. In part, the goal of Buddhism is to experience/understand reality as it is.

I have a collection of thoughts I carry around in my back pocket that simply fascinate me about reality as it is. And like a ball of string, when I come across a thread of 'knowledge' or 'insight' I add it to the thought. Eventually some of these aggregates reach critical mass and I just have to talk about it. I think this is one of those, and it hooks with the previous phasor post on how our self-ish-ness informs sci-fi representations.

Time travel is an interesting concept. I will not be addressing the whole possibility of it, just one part. The part of where you are when you travel. Have you ever seen the old movie "Time Machine?" A guy had a cool sled with a big roulette-wheel looking thingy on it that would spin. There was a recent remake of the movie that included, I think, Jeremy Irons.

What I liked about that movie is that the machine had an extent of atmosphere around it that would travel with it. A bubble of sorts. The movie took into account geologic activity. When the hero went back in time sometimes he was surround by rock because a nearby erupting volcano covered there place where he was traveling through with lava. As accelerated time went on, we saw the rock erode away from rain etc... I always thought that was spot on.

Some of the sci-fi and sci-fact presentations of time travel represent time as fourth dimension, and posit the possibility of moving in that dimension while the other three remain fixed. That's fine. Keep your same position, just slip down the time axis to earlier or later. I'm cool with that. ...then I started thinking a bit more.

Nothing is still...ever. Of course relative to another object there can be stillness. But time travel presumes an absolute reference frame and in that respect nothing is ever still. Consideration of this stacks up pretty dramatically. Yes, you are sitting still in front a computer reading this (thank you). But...

  • The surface of the Earth moves something like 300 miles an hour (depending on your lattitude).
  • The Earth orbits around the Sun at something like 67,000 miles an hour.
  • The Sun orbits the center of the galaxy at around 490,000 miles an hour.
And now things get really fuzzy. Everyone seems to accept the universe is constantly expanding. I'm not sure if the concept of the "middle of the universe" is valid, but none the less, pick any reference point and our galaxys is zooming away from it at mind bogglingly large speeds.

The point being if you traveled even a few millseconds back in time keeping your current, absolute, position in space, the Earth, and certainly your postion on it, would be far gone. Most likely you would be in space. You most certainly would not be on the same cozy point of this mad pony ride we call Earth that you started from.

It seems that all sci-fi representations of time travel I have seen ignore this fact. They presume, that somehow, the laws of physics let you travel back in time but keep you tethered to your relative, madly changing, location.

There's a lot of relatavistic aspects of this thought experiment I could probably delve into, such as the effects of inertia, but I think the summary outcome is still the same. You might envision a way to slip up and down the time axis, but everything will have moved on (or not be there yet) when you arrive in a new time.