Is Being A Contemplative Buddhist, Being A Solitary Buddhist?

By: Rev. David Astor Sensei

We can meditate alone or with others.  When attending a Buddhist center we do so with others, and with others we listen to the Sensei delivering a dharma talk.  Even within a monastic community the monks generally sit along with others.  In fact sitting with others is an entirely different experience than when we sit by ourselves, it is often more intense.  A contemplative practice, however, is better done alone in solitude from my personal experience. A contemplative practice is not teaching us to be solitary, that would be absurd.  Even for those that have chosen to live a monastic community life, do so with others.  Those who wish to be solitary are, as a general rule, expressing their solitary character that is not how the Buddha expressed our human natures to be, especially for us that value engaging the dharma seriously.  We are, after all, social selves.  The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is about self and others.  Stephen  Batchelor (A contemporary Buddhist teacher and author) expressed it as “alone with others.”

There are many examples of individuals that can not stand to be alone.  It drives them crazy.  Our culture and social values provides ample opportunities to enable us to avoid our own company and be with others almost twenty four hours a day.   Even when we are in a room alone, we can turn on and tune in to so many modern devices that bring others into our room even if they are digitally represented.   Just noise can eliminate being alone, even if it is just in our minds.   Being truly alone is hard work in our contemporary 21st century world.   It is hard to imagine living a life without society, that would be almost impossible today even if we wanted to.  Those who claim they would like to live in solitude and are able to, are often those who depend most on others, even if they are not aware of this simple fact.  Their pretense of solitude is only a clear admission of their dependence, another type of illusion.  Even another example of suffering perhaps. 

Our communities enable us to care more easily for ourselves which gives us the capability to care for others.  This is an essential element of what makes us human as advanced sentient beings.  Yet, there is great value in taking the time to be alone, both physically and in a contemplative mind-state, in order to create the solitary-environment that can promote experiencing awakened moments.   Another aspect when considering the notion of solitude is that of interior solitude.  We retreat into our private space so we can activate this “inner observer” that is necessary for a contemplative practice.

An authentic contemplative is not one who simply withdraws from the world.  The act of social withdrawal from others can result in personal unsatisfactoriness and a sick kind of solitude without a useful and harmonious outcome.  A contemplative practitioner is called not to reject the nature of their human nature, but to transcend it using social interaction with others as a reminder that just living in the material world without “looking up” into silence is a life void of realizing a world that reflects back into our eyes the meaning of the wonder of its universal majesty.

An essential component of this interior solitude is that we practice rigorous self-honesty and not develop a self-centered sense of our importance by “doing” what we think is serious practice.  This is our ego talking.  We must remember that when we direct our mind toward universal suchness, we our at the same time encountering it as mystery.   By nature mystery is just that, a mystery, unknowing.  Another essential of this interior practice of solitude is the actualization in which we take responsibility for our own inner life.  We face its full mystery as is that of our own universal nature.  We take upon ourselves the barely comprehensible task of working our way through the unknowing aspect of our own mystery-ness and become aware of how we and the very Universe we work to comprehend is the reality beyond common knowing.  We accomplish this by losing all words and language to express it.  What is interesting is that there is nothing particularly special or spectacular about these glimpses of Dharma.  Don’t expect “the ultimate answers.”  The Universe will always remain a mystery in unfathomable ways. But we can learn to sense a connection that resolves into great doubt that works to sustain our contemplative practice to go further.  These become moments when we confront the solitary aspects of our contemplative practice, and by so doing, find we are not alone after all.
🙏🏼

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Voluntary Simplicity

By: David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei

Much of the time I speak about ways to consider and understand the practical aspects of Buddhist thought, and how to bring our practice alive in order to promote human flourishing. For you see, living the lessons of the Eightfold Path are real, it is not a theory to discuss and debate. The Four Noble Truths points directly, in practical and useful ways, to achieving a life full of meaning and wonder when we take the time to contemplate the joys available to us in this vast world we have a chance to become aware of more deeply. It is a way of letting go in order to be reconnected with what is important that will bring harmony and happiness into our lives. We let go in order to reconnect to what is real. It is easy for Buddhist teachers to stick to presenting the core Buddhist principals in our dharma talks. We often use legacy language to color our speech from the cushion to attract attention or make what we say more “authentic.” But you will rarely hear me use such approaches unless I talk directly about a historical topic or present a specific philosophical principle, or when I choose to speak with a “Zen voice.” But don’t misunderstand me, these are important methods of Buddhist teaching as well, and we should all have a grounded perspective of the specific Buddhist platform we have chosen to stand on and practice, but in the end, we must step on the stage of life and engage others in real-time. And it is this social engagement that I respectfully ask to be your guide and present to you my thoughts and personal experiences gained from my own developed world view that can act as pointers in order for you to find useful elements and tools for your own life-journey. This is a primary role of a Buddhist teacher, I think. So, I wish to share the importance I have learned in my own journey of keeping life simple. It calls for us to act with voluntary intent to live with deliberate thought, and to consume less. By taking this step, you will not only enhance your own life, but also the sustainability of our planet.  But stepping through this door is never easy. 

At the heart of the simple life is an emphasis on harmonious and purposeful living. There is no special virtue to the idea of voluntary simplicity; it is merely a somewhat awkward label. Still, it does acknowledge explicitly that simpler living integrates both inner and outer aspects of life into an organic and purposeful whole. To live more voluntarily is to live more deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully. In short, it is to live more consciously. We cannot be deliberate when we are distracted from life. We cannot be intentional when we are not paying attention. We cannot be purposeful when we are not being present. Therefore, to act in a voluntary manner is to be aware of ourselves as we move through life. This is why a meditation practice is so important to the inner life: to develop awareness and mindfulness. Words you often hear in relationship to Buddhist thought. This requires that we not only pay attention to the actions we take in the outer world, but also that we pay attention to the intent of these actions. To the extent that we do not notice both inner and outer aspects of our passage through life; then our voluntary, deliberate, and purposeful actions can be diminished. Continue reading

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Considering Buddhism As A World Religion

By: Rev. David Astor Sensei

As a world religion, how are we to consider the question, “Is Buddhism an atheistic philosophy?”  

When we consider a pragmatic view of the problems of society, we generally do so from an intellectual and philosophical mindset, especially in the beginning. It becomes an exercise on how to make the ideals of a particular situation real. This does not have to be different when we come to consider religious experience and thought. From a pragmatic perspective, we can use the thoughts on the subject from the pragmatists John Stuart Mill, William James, and Richard Rorty as a guide as we also bring our Buddhist thought and practice into the consideration.

Richard Rorty as a 20th century pragmatist considered describing religious thought in terms of:

1 Placing aside talk about Truth and Reason, our only responsibility, philosophically and morally, is to our fellow human beings, not some “sublime dimension of being” or “ the starry heavens.”

2 This responsibility is “to make our beliefs cohere with one another, and to our fellow humans to make them cohere with one another.”

3 We examine our beliefs by how they are “habits of actions,” not on whether they represent the world.

4 What emerges is a utilitarian ethics of belief, which treats a belief as a habit of action.

5 Place into the context of the philosophy of religion, a utilitarian philosophy of religion must “also treat being religious as a habit of action.” 1

Any useful and positive thoughts on what it means to be a “religious individual” does not need to be different from secular or pragmatic understanding of other aspects of human moral and ethical conduct that is essential in cultivating a civilized society. Any religious practice (or spiritual), Buddhist or other, owes much of its moral obligation and responsibility to all sentient beings, not by strict observance of doctrine, scriptures, or legacy beliefs, but to intentional actions honed by serious practice of core humanist principles as guideposts. For Buddhists, these guides are first to be found in the Four Noble Truths and practiced using the guides of the Eightfold Path of behavior that promotes human flourishing, and the higher reasoning perspective of the Six Perfections (Refinements.) Whether you consider this a religious endeavor or not is really not all that important. What counts are the lessons found in the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, do only good, do good for others. Which is Buddhism’s equivalent to the “Golden Rule”. Continue reading

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Trees Can Teach Us Dharma Too

This dharma talk was given on October 6, 2019 during an OEB meditation retreat organized by and for our Long Island, NY Sangha.  

By: Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei

A tree reflects the magnificence of the universe first of all by being a tree.  For in being what it is meant to be by causal forces, it is imitating a reality which it’s very nature is unique to it’s kind, but at the same time that which is not distinct from the essence of it’s unified nature either, and therefore a tree imitates the universe by being a tree.  

The more it is like itself, the more it is like everything we can come to know that is universe.  If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like what universal forces, through Dependent Origination’s effects, meant it to be through space and time at the very moment our senses recognize that it is in our sphere of reference.  

But there is something more.  No two trees are alike.  And their individuality is no imperfection.  On the contrary, the perfection of each natural form is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity as it’s form-contours is presented to us.  Yet, all trees have a unique tree-nature that link them to the net of existence that all other forms are also connected to.  In our sense driven body-mind we process the image of a tree to be separate from who we think we are, and thus we make differences real.  And we assign language to reinforce this distinction.  

When we do this we are being creators ourselves by causing the thought that any form we come to experience is separate and distinct from all other forms around us.  We see the trees but miss the forest.  We miss the opportunity to open our mind’s eye to walk the causal-chain of connections that links the individual to the unified view of how the universe really is.  In other words, we see individual nature of things but not the universal nature that is beyond our human need to make difference.  The principle of interconnectiveness and interdependence of all things can only be experienced when we move beyond the senses we use to process everyday events and sit in awareness perfecting our minds ability to imagine, without the use of language, realities on a universal scale.  The challenge, and our meditation and contemplative practice, is to imagine this net of existence from it’s individual elements to the one unified dimension we call “uncreated”.   Continue reading

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Race & Prejudicial Behavior

By: Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor

In the past few weeks we have been exposed once again to a national awareness, mostly on cable news channels and print media, on the state of the race issue in America as a result of intentional or unintentional speech by our nation’s leadership depending on ones point of view.  What complicates understanding of this current example in public speech is how do we process such overt emphases on racist that seems to have taken on a matter-of-fact behavior of a segment of society that goes beyond language we expect to hear in civilized society today.  

Buddhist and Christian traditions are rich with pragmatic philosophical/theological pyridines to guide our ethic and moral outlook relative to the nature of these critical social concerns.  It is, yet again, an example of an opportunity to apply situational ethics to moral behavior that reflects how a civilized society engages the common good in order to achieve progress away from the past that brought on so much suffering to those among us.  So I would like to share some thoughts that might give an idea on how, as a Buddhists, we might approach a discussion on the issues associated with this unfortunate phase in our current political dialogue. 

Siddhartha spoke in a very clear voice that can guide us through these very real, and very divisive, situations with lessons on our obligation as a social-self to act with astute and applied compassion that stems from a cultured sense of generosity. Keep in mind that this is another example of how the ideal meets the real.  Social issues are often messy things. 

Buddhist thought is often naturalist by its vary essence. And naturalists are champions of causal universal realities.  As such, we look for naturalistic accounts to help us understand “why” something expresses the way it does.  This allows us to plan and succeed through deferential action aimed at undoing what is unhealthy, destructive, and promoting discontent while promoting that which is instead healthy, harmonious and satisfying in the psycho-emotional sense.  The person who is bound by his racism is in need of help and intervention as much or more than the victim, as it is easier to tell a new story to oneself about a wrongdoing done to us than it is for a perpetrator to change his actions.  It is easier to think differently than to act differently.  It takes a deep understanding and appreciation for mutual causality to see this, because we are, in a liberal democratic society, “wired” today to feel strong disgust first and foremost at the individual of negative attitudes and actions before we feel the urge to make it better.  The feeling of disgust is protective of liberal democratic values because if we don’t feel this way, who will preserve the values?  However, it is not sufficient, and is far from sufficient, for anyone seeking to make the world qualitatively better just to feel disgust.  If one person is a racist we all have work to still do. It takes practice, but Buddhists (and especially the leadership both clerics and community leaders) living in their communities aim to develop a sense to stop the immediate repercussions of negative attitudes and actions, such as scolding someone’s racist remarks or standing in the way of an angry boyfriend ready to hit his girlfriend followed up immediately by the ethics of the Bodhisattva ideal; how do we reform this circumstances for the better?  As engaged Buddhist we value action.  Without action there is no substantial practice.   Continue reading

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A Pragmatic View Of Rebirth

By: David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei

The notion of rebirth is a tricky topic these days in the West. It depends on many factors and points of view. And from a Buddhist perspective too. What was perhaps once thought as a core principle is seriously being re-evaluated from a more contemporary pragmatic position. Even in some legacy traditions the reality of rebirth was never considered essential for understanding the Buddha’s core teaching of the Four Noble Truths. As a contemporary Western Ch’an(Zen) teacher, my understanding of rebirth has evolved over the years that I have encountered this topic in my study and research. When I teach about rebirth now, I ask people to consider what happens to the physical elements of the body after they die. I ask them, if we buried you in the ground with no preservatives and dug you up in a week, would we recognize you? Yes. If we dug you up in a year, would we recognize you? Maybe. If we dug you up in ten years, would we recognize you? No. So what happened to the elements that made up the body? They all dispersed and became other things.

If you die angry, what happens to that energy of anger?

Appreciating this, people begin to understand that on the physical level there is an endless chain of energy that passes through a series of changes. Then if you apply the same principle to our mental and emotional energy, you can also ask where does it goes. That energy is also not destroyed, though the energy that was “you” will transform.

Karma is a wonderfully exact force in our lives. If you die angry, what happens to that energy of anger? Where does it go? When you walk into a room where people have been angry, you can sense it—the energy is palpable. So is that the kind of energy you would like to pass on, to be picked up by other  lives? One can also look back at what energies have been passed down to you—perhaps by your family or the people who influenced you—and that helps you understand that energy doesn’t die but rather continues on in some form.

I don’t worry too much about questions like, “Am I going to remember that I was Queen Victoria or her servant?” People get caught up in that sort of approach to karma and rebirth, but it’s almost irrelevant. The continuity of the energy is what’s important. What do you want to pass on—suffering or happiness?

🙏🏼

©️ OEB 2019

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Spiritual Practice As A Path For Inner Change

By: David Shen-Xi Sensei

All over the world engaged individuals are actively living an intentional spiritual practice. In some areas of the world, dedicated monastic’s are living the spiritual life some in secret, while others are directly engaging their spiritual or religious beliefs for the selfless benefit of others. Spiritual practice assumes many forms. In my own Order, for example, we say that the world is our monastery, as we have taken vows to engage the dharma outside the walls of a traditional temple, yet live under a monastic rule. Many Buddhist and Christians monks and nuns rise at 3am every morning to begin their day. Trappist Christian monks are completely dedicated to the inner experience, pursued through community prayer in the chapel, and private contemplation in their monastic cells. Jewish contemplatives keep aware of their god on the Sabbath and daily acts of engagement in remembrance of and conversation with him. The Dalai Lama wakes every day between 3:30 and 4 am to meditate and perform his prostrations. Stephen Batchelor told me once that he often wakes at 4 am to meditate for two hours, exercise, eat breakfast, and then write for the next six hours on subjects that are awakened in his mind during those early morning periods of contemplation. It is not just those that have dedicated their lives to a full-time traditional practice that develop spiritual-based lives, but many lay people have also found ways to engage their beliefs and practice too. And in doing so, they have enriched not only their own quality of life, but those of others as well. But it does start with an awakening that you also can do this. It is not just Buddhist or Christian monks or nuns that have found this particular path of commitment. The common thread of all these diverse practices is the inner work that is slowly changing them from within. Each has embarked on the journey to the place of realization that promotes human flourishing. All are exploring who they really are beyond mere social identities and roles assigned by society, family, or even their faith. The vast majority of them will not give up the struggle but will press on until they are freed from within and set loose from this world of illusion. Set loose even from the need of a structured traditional platform, which only acts as a supporting frame until the spiritual structure is established. As for myself, I have been on this journey for a long time, in fits and starts. Constantly seeking the path even if it was not in the forefront of my consciousness. And after years of searching and study, I have found the answer I have been looking for, and have taken the step onto the path up the mountain, a mountain with many paths. And in the end, for me, it was a natural step, and an easy one at that. My Buddhist practice, and the various ministries I pursue, is as natural as breathing. You do not need to take vows to have a spiritual life, but you do need to have a clear vision of your inner landscape that awakens you to action. This is the task for each one of us. We are all challenged by the call to plunge into seeking the ultimate roots of our identity in the great mystery which is sometimes called “our true natures.”

The core of the spiritual life, the enduring substance of the journey, is the refinement of this inner landscape — humility, egolessness, selflessness — that occurs through spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is how we develop the wisdom that guides the inner self to confront the world and relate to others as well as nature. Spiritual practice is the cutting edge of radical interior change and the basis for profound self-knowledge to emerge in our lives, that results in a positive, useful and productive worldview.

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How Universal Realities Are To Be Experienced

By: David Shen-Xi Sensei

I often think how wonderful it would be to be one of those persons that truths are communicated directly to them with little effort without the means of symbols or words, but by their very nature. These types of truths, or what I prefer to call realities, often seem to me to be more like shadows that take a lot of time to study and consider in order to make manifest to an awakened mind. But for some, they seem to consider recognizing realities to be a simple process. This should be a warning to the rest of us to be cautious of those that give little considerations to what is real or not real. The Universe is a complex place to live in, not to mention the complexity of the very world around us. By taking the short route in the thinking process is putting us at risk in getting stuck in the weeds. A strong practice is working to guide us away from the swamp of clouded views.

In my teaching experience I often engage students that try to split hairs about all sorts of mysterious problems which do not concern us greatly, especially in the beginning of confronting Buddhist thought and the core principles. It is not our job to solve the bigger philosophical problems before we can clear away our mind’s filters that distort how we see the world around us in this very moment. We humans are so easily distracted we forget the questions which should really matter to us in our search for personal and social flourishing, but instead concentrate on what is mere curiosity and often a waste of time.

We should avoid the busy work of dividing up things of curiosity or interest trying to find the “right classification” in which to place them, and just open our mind to how the Dharma is speaking to us in each moment when we work to clear the mind of these unnecessary thoughts, and just listen in silence. Just sit in silence and really listen. All Universal expressions our interconnected and interdependent and have one voice for us if we can only practice to hear. Without this, understanding that helps to approach wisdom beyond wisdom is next to impossible. Until all things become one, it is tricky to deal with the two. In a way, it is about one act of vision, seeing with the mind’s eye through all kinds of individual forms so we can see the unity of all things. When that is possible, the clouds of illusion are lifted and we can experience the unity of realities that are shining all around us, in their individual forms. Not just things.

So I would say to those that want to expound on what truths are without the profound process of a dedicated practice to the study of dharma, not just from a Buddhist perspective or the metaphysical, hold your tongues you learned folks. I honor science greatly, but science alone is only good for answering the how and what, but not the why. Once we can integrate our disciplined practice with the study and validated experiences of the external realities will our inner life become simplified and richer in the deeper knowledge of knowing. This in turn will simplify our intentions in seeing Dharma beyond the use of language to gain understanding. We move away from the distractions of the intellectual process alone. We need more then just thinking we know realities, we must experience them, and thinking alone is not it. But there is also a danger here to be aware of. There is no worse enemy to our understanding of realities as they are revealed to us than the undisciplined affections of our own heart. Humans love to fall in love, and falling in love with the notion of Dharma is dangerous. It may lead to one of the most critical of delusions, and thus, suffering. We must learn to craft the skill of right reason. This is one of the critical skillful-means skills a student of Buddhism must learn. It is a skill that is encompassing and corrective in it’s very nature.

In our causal world where all things are subject to change, there is no such thing as “the perfect.” Perfecting, yes, but the notion of perfect suggests something is above change, no. We find no absolute perfection in this world, always realities are subject to change. So our guesses at the truth can never be more than light obscured by shadow. There is no reason why we should quarrel with learning or with any straightforward pursuit of knowledge. It is all good as far as it goes, but remember Dharma is about change. Realities are true until further understanding changes their parameters. We should approach learning and teaching about realities with a clear conscience that recognizes “how the Universe is” is ultimately beyond absolute knowing. Humans have limitations no matter how enriched our awareness is. 

How often the worldly pursuit of less important knowledge has brought man to ruin by distracting others from actual awakened understanding. The only educated man is one who has learned to abandon his own self-nature in order to awaken to Universal-nature. And that is not an easy process.

Remember, in the Universe everything changes, everything is connected, pay attention!

🙏🏼

©️OEB 2019

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Merging of Differences: A Single But Shared Experience

By: David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei

One of the most fundamental and central core Buddhist teaching is that of interdependence and interconnectiveness. They are the major threads that help weave the fabric for understanding the principle of Dependent Origination (mutual-causality). In the Mahayana Buddhist traditions we might also say Inter-dependent Origination. The other two additional treads for consideration would be the core principle of impermanence and anatman (nonself). The Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, uses the words “inter-being” to represent this connectiveness we share with all other Universal expressions. All methods aiming at our realization of an awakened bodymind has its origin in our understanding these Buddhist philosophical principles. This takes all our effort at skillful means to achieve the wisdom necessary to see both our independent-self, and our inter-shared-being that is what we call our Buddha nature. As we begin to merge how we see the world around us with what we see as difference, we also awaken to the reality that this Buddha nature is also Dharma. No making distinction.

We must, therefore, learn to see reality as merging these differences and unite them in a seamless fashion that makes their independent form vanish. It is then that we begin to see the “big picture”. Think of it like solving a picture puzzle. All the individual pieces are arrayed in front of us, and each has a different shape, no two are alike. That is the nature of a picture puzzle after all. But the true “nature” of the puzzle is when all the pieces are put together in order to give it meaning. When we fit the pieces together, all those next to the piece being merged fit the way they were meant to be. And when that happens, we no longer see the form of each piece. The form, while having its usefulness, comes into its own when it works with all the other pieces to create a functioning whole. This is what I mean when I say it is empty of form, or beyond form. Even better stated: empty of its individual forms. The individual pieces do not go away, but just become “one” with the puzzle. But for it to be a picture puzzle, the individual pieces have great value too. In other words, we need to see one reality in two ways, which is the origin of how Siddhartha came to realize difference and unity.

In Zen, when we use the terms “Buddha Nature” or “one mind” we are speaking about the oneness of the Universe. Or about the puzzle, not its peaces. But this one-mind is a collection of many different things, and yet the reality is that it is simply one. We awaken to seeing no distinction or separation within this one reality. We stop seeing the individual pieces of a puzzle, and only see the greater image it shows back to us. But you see, individuality does not disappear, either with each of us humans, or the pieces of the puzzle for that matter. It just means that we do not discriminate between individual form, which is also necessary for us to get through our day. 

A meaning of the puzzle does not exist outside it’s individual pieces. When understanding interconnectiveness and interdependence it is important to realize that we too are a combination of difference AND unity. So, from one perspective we are an individual self, and on the other hand, we are completely interdependent with all other phenomena for our very existence. As Buddhists we work to understand this contradiction by seeing it from both directions simultaneously as a single reality.

From the very beginning of our existence we experience aloneness, we must go through the birthing process alone. Yes, we have company and share the experience with our mother, but we do not know that yet. While it might “take a village” to raise a child, we live alone and must find out how to manage our connections with others in useful and productive ways, living a life is something that requires our own energy, focus, and determination. No one can do it for us. And when we die we are really alone too. But yet, we can never be completely alone either. There are two aspects of our lives: independence and interdepdendence. It is not a matter of separate aspects of our lives. Our whole life is individual and yet is completely dependent on others for our well being. When we do not learn the value of this lesson, we open ourselves up to much suffering. If we don’t understand and awaken to this reality, we become mentally and physically unhealthy. This is especially a problem in Western cultures, as we place much emphasis on individualism and the notion of a false sense of freedom.

There is a danger interwoven into the potential of a rigorous Zen practice. For some, they try to go beyond seeing the value of their individuality. They work to “become one with the Universe”, because they still have not seen that they have never been separated from it. There is nothing to subtract. Merging with differences and trying to achieve unity IS NOT IT. This is not enlightenment. When we see our individual self we are not enlightened. When we see we are united with all things, we are not enlightened either. Even when we have enlightened moments we must be cautions in understanding what is happening. An ordinary life (samsara) or a liberated life (nirvana) are not two separate realities. With form, or without form, living in delusion or being awakened, is not different as this is the teaching of emptiness. All of this is still thinking. We can not think our way to enlightenment. When we sit zazen we are both an individual and universal. The trick is not to let our egos tell us differently. When Dogen said, “Practice and enlightenment is one,” he is saying that our practice is our own and enlightenment is universal. There is no separation between my awakened state of mind and another’s, but my practice is my own. I can not practice for someone else. My practice is a very personal intentional action, which when done with a clear mind, is manifestation of how the Universe is. So zazen is the merging of difference and unity. When we sit and let go of all thought, we are expressing our own unity with all things. We use the experience of our meditation practice to inform us of how to act “off the cushion.” Meditation is the act in which we realize our universal unity as well as work to realize how we can promote our personal well being, and take both lessons into everyday life situations.  After all, that is what being human is all about.  

🙏🏼

©️OEB 2019

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Let The Botton Fall Out Of The Bucket

By: Rev. Jim Kearse, OEB

There is an old story that goes something like this: 

Chiyono was a worker in a convent. She wanted to gain enlightenment so she struggled hard, night and day, with her mind set only on the sight of liberation. All she practised, all she thought about, was to reach the source of mind before all thought. She struggled hard.

One night under a full moon, she went to get a bucket of water. On her way back she was watching the reflection of the moon on the water in the bucket. Suddenly the bottom of the bucket broke open. All of the water spilled out onto the ground and disappeared. The reflection of the moon was gone.

 Chiyono was suddenly enlightened. She wrote a poem to describe her experience:

This way and that way
I tried to keep the pail together
Hoping the weak bamboo
Would never break.
Suddenly the bottom fell out:
No more water:
No more moon in the water:
Emptiness in my hand!

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The story of Chiyono and her bucket is a good example of what we do frequently in daily life. The bucket is a representation of our mind and the reflection of the moon is a representation of what we imagine things to be like and what we imagine is the reflection in a bucket that we carry back and forth along the path of our life. When the bucket broke, this was Chiyono’s mind letting go of her pre-conceived ideas. Chiyono suddenly understood; we don’t need to hold on to our ideas, we simply need to observe what is actually around us in real life.

Just like Chiyono, when we strive to get something, we imagine what it must be like and we strive to achieve it. We make up the criteria and struggle to meet it. But since we’ve invented the end goal and made up what we think it should look like, we can never reach the goal because reality seldom matches our imagination! We spend our time looking at the reflection of the moon in the bucket rather than looking up at the real moon in the sky!

So we need to allow our bucket to break open, to allow our minds to simply let go of the ideas we are holding onto. We hold onto our ideas so tightly that we are blinded to anything else except our fabricated views of reality. Take a deep breath, calm down. Allow life to be what it is rather than what we want it to be.

©️ OEB 2019

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