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