Personal “Ango”

By: Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse 将稳
In the early days of Buddhist monasticism, it was not uncommon to find monks
wandering all over the countryside teaching the dharma or visiting and studying at other
monasteries. But due to the climatic conditions of India (sub-tropic), there was a period
during the year referred to as the “rainy”, or monsoon season, usually June to
September. During the rainy season, monks would generally return to their home
monasteries because the weather made travel difficult and dangerous. Since travel was
restricted, monastics would often increase their meditation periods to deepen their
practice. In Japan this was known as “Ango”.
Zen Centres across North America participate in an Ango as a part of their regular
annual routine. But many people cannot, due to work or family circumstances, afford to
attend a 90 day retreat. However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot recognize and
participate in our own form of personal Ango retreat.
Let’s take an example of a practitioner who meditates 30 minutes a day for about four
days/ week. We could fashion our practice after the schedule found in many Chan
monasteries wherein meditation periods would slowly increase over the course of the
year until Ango is reached, and then decline afterwards. (See Holmes Welch. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism 1900-1950. pages 53-78.)
If we broke the year into general seasons (which we do!) we could follow this Ango
schedule:
1) during the “summer”, we might meditate in the morning for most days
2) in the “autumn” months, we would add another 30 minute evening meditation
3) the “winter” months (our Ango) would see us add a third meditation period to our day
– perhaps at noon, or we could extend the evening meditation
4) in the spring months, we would return to two sittings, morning and evening
5) then repeat the cycle starting with the summer.
Of course each person has to decide their own schedule; some may opt to do less than
three meditation periods/ day, while others may opt to do more. But no matter the schedule you choose for yourself, it would give you the chance to follow a schedule, increase your discipline, and deepen your practice, while at the same time, allowing you the flexibility to alter the schedule at will.
Happy meditating!

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A Buddhist Interfaith Wedding Ceremony

We have been ask several times if there is a Buddhist wedding ceremony for interfaith couples.  While each Buddhist tradition and school has their own rituals associated with marriage ceremonies, I have found that for a more Western style ritual where one individual is a Buddhist and the other not, there is very little to go on, so we improvise.  Another example of creative re-description.  I have posted the OEB’s interfaith wedding ceremony that honors the language of Buddhist thought with a style that would be familiar to those here in America, especially Christians.  This ceremony identifies a Priest and a second Priest/Clerigy or Senior Monk, but only one is necessary.  Also it is important that the celebrant/Priest meets the State requirements for performing a marriage ceremony.  We will gladly provide a digital copy of this ceremony upon request, or provide one of our Priests to perform a wedding if you live within the area of one of our Priories or Chapter Houses.  

INTERFAITH WEDDING CEREMONY

Opening and Altar Ritual:

1 Sangha is ask to stand
2 Procession in by priests followed by groom and best man
[Priest(s) performs a single bow in front of altar and turns to face Sangha]
3 Entrance by maid of honor and bridesmaids
4 Entrance by bride escorted by her father
5 Sangha may be seated
6 Priest performs formal bows then altar & purification ritual
[Priest turn to altar and performs three formal bows then goes behind altar and lights 3 sticks of incense and performs the incense ritual while silently reciting the refuges, then performs the salt offering, then takes the incense and walks around the bride and groom performing the purification ritual returning the incense to the altar. Priest now takes his place in front of couple.]

Announcement

Presiding Priest:

Buddhism is a path of transformation of one’s inner potential, it is a way of life. It is a path dedicated to serving others, helping them awaken to their potential. Marriage is the vehicle to practice serving others. It is a practice grounded in generosity, tolerance, love and empathy. Marriage is the equal commitment to the happiness of your partner’s wellbeing.

Love comes from and encompasses the bonds you are here today to publicly declare to one another, it is a core element of your human universal natures. Like the Christian notion of the soul, it is the spiritual spark, incompatible, indivisible and one that acts to bind those you are interconnected to: your family, your friends, those you hold dear that supports your own human flourishing, as well as the many consequential strangers that help us along the way.

I now ask for all those present to take a deep breath and put your hearts and minds in full awareness to this ceremony of taking the marriage vows, and look and listen with your whole being. In this way you can continue to fulfill your friendship and express your gratitude to (bride name) and (groom name) by making this ceremony sacred with the gift of your knowledge, attention and intentional positive thoughts directed toward them in a way that binds us all through this act of compassion.

Senior monk:

Nothing happens without cause. An old Asian saying goes, “Even the chance brushing of one’s sleeve against a stranger’s sleeve may be the cause of their future encounters.” The union of (bride) and (groom) is not accidental. Indeed, due to the law of karma, the inexorable unfolding of the truth of interdependence, is the inevitable consequence of all of the actions of their lives. They, from their very beginning, have been coming together to this sacred moment. Therefore, this union must never be broken, especially now that it is going to be formally declared with the purity of all of our minds, the action from all of our hearts, and witnessed before all beings know and unknown.

Wedding Service

Presiding Priest:

[Priest turns and bows to the altar and removes the herb dish from the altar then turns and steps toward the couple and performs a blessing by placing his hand on their heads in turn, and says a silent blessing of intention. He then flicks the herbs to the side of the bride and groom, then returns the dish back to the altar.]

 

[BINDING RITUAL: The priest steps forward and ask the couple to hold one right and one left hand together as he binds them together with a white silk cloth]

Love each other from this day forward and these will be the hands that you hold tomorrow, and the next day, and into the next decade. These are the hands that will work alongside yours as you build your life together, the hands that will touch you with love and tenderness through the years, and the hands that will comfort you like no others’ can. These are the hands that will hold you through grief, fear, and hardship. These are the hands that will hold your family together, and that will give you strength when you need it. These are the hands, that when wrinkled and spotted with age, will still be reaching for yours.

[The Priest removes the silk cloth and with it bows to bride lifting it up and then places it around the neck of groom while bowing]

Today you promise to dedicate yourselves completely to each other, with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty, you will work to help each other aware of the encompassing and corrective vows you are about to take.

(bride) and (groom), do you pledge to help each other to develop your hearts and minds, cultivating compassion, generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom as you age and undergo the various ups and downs of life and to transform them into the path of love, compassion, joy and equanimity?

“We Do”

Recognizing that the external conditions in life will not always be smooth and that internally your own minds and emotions will sometimes get stuck in negativity. Do you pledge to see all these circumstances as a challenge to help you grow, to open your hearts to accept yourselves, and each other and to generate compassion for others who are suffering? Do you pledge to avoid becoming narrow, closed or opinionated, and to help each other to see various sides of situations?

“We Do”

Understanding that just as we are a mystery to ourselves, others are also a mystery to us. Do you pledge to seek to understand yourselves, each other, and all living beings, to examine your own minds continually and to regard all the mysteries of life with curiosity and joy?

“We Do”

Do you pledge to preserve and enrich your affection for each other and to share it with all beings? To take the loving feelings you have for one another and your vision of each others’ potential and inner beauty as an example and, rather than turning inwards and becoming self absorbed, to radiate this love outwards to all beings?

“We Do”

When it comes time to part, do you pledge to look back at your time together with joy, joy that you met and shared what you have, and acceptance that we cannot hold on to anything forever?

“We Do”

Do you pledge to remember the disadvantages of ignorance, anger and clinging attachment, to apply antidotes when these arise in your minds, and to remember the kindness of all other beings and your connection to them? Do you pledge to work for the welfare of others, with all of your compassion, wisdom and skill?

“We Do”

Do you pledge to work to develop the wisdom understanding the relative functioning nature of things and the wisdom knowing their deeper way of existence, that they are empty of inherent existence? And to remember the laws of cause and effect?

“We Do”

Do you pledge day to day, to be patient with yourselves and others, knowing that change comes slowly and gradually and to seek inspiration from those that act as teachers and guides on your life’s journey?

“We Do”

Do you pledge to continuously strive to remember your own Universal natures, as well as the purposeful natures of all living beings? To maintain the awareness that all things are temporary, and to remain optimistic that you can achieve your greatest potential and lasting happiness together?

“We Do”

BLESSING OF THE RINGS

Presiding Priest:

[The priest and best man together approach the altar where the rings have been placed and the priest performs the ring blessing by lifting the ring dish high and says a silent blessing. He then turns to the best man who takes each ring and returns to his place next to the groom.]

It is now time to exchange rings. [The best man presents the rings to bride and groom as prompted by the Priest.]

(groom), please place the ring on (bride) left hand.
(bride), please place the ring on (groom) left hand.

Do you together accept the gifts of these rings as a reminder of the responsibility to remain aware that all things are temporary, but through diligence and optimism you can create a loving relationship with the utmost potential for lasting happiness?

“We Do”

May these rings continue to be blessed as the symbol of this loving unity.
These two lives are now to be joined in one unbroken circle in mutual interdependent social and intimate oneness that reflects another Universal reality.

Senior monk:

Wherever you go, may you always return to one another in your togetherness. May you find in each other the love and compassion for which all of us seek as refuge that acts to energize social harmony and wellbeing inherent to our human natures.

May you grow in understanding and in compassion. May the home, which you establish together, be such a place of sanctuary that many will find there a friend and compassionate guide.

May these rings act as shining symbols with a touch of the spirit and wonder of the nature of human love for all to see.

Closing Remarks and Blessing:

Presiding Priest:

Considering Buddhist thought, when we are joined in marriage we are connected heart to heart, mind to mind, body to body, nature to nature. Dear couple, give up your small selves and take loving refuge in each other. Take loving refuge in all things. This attitude in marriage becomes a living spiritual practice together.

Senior monk:

(bride) and (groom), do remember that your marriage is a sacred and blessed undertaking, being witnessed by your family, friends, and all beings. Do not forget what is happening right here and now. And feel the responsibility of this commitment called “marriage.” This practice, “Marriage Practice,” is your treasure throughout your lives together. When things go smoothly and joyously, practice joyously, practice loving mindfulness. When things are difficult and challenging, practice loving mindfulness. This loving mindfulness practice will always be with you and will guide you along this path we call life.

Presiding Priest:

Now witnessing that you have both agreed to marry, and declared your intentions publicly here today, according to the wisdom passed down to us throughout the ages, by the power vested in me through the wishes of (bride) and (groom), as well as the blessing of the connection of your spiritual friends, and by the rights and privileges ordained and invested in me through my sacred duty as a Priest (this phrase may very depending on ordained rank), I joyously pronounce you Husband and Wife, life companions throughout time and space. You may now seal this union with a kiss of loving kindness.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the newly married (first names and last name including any formal titles).

 

Procession out, bride & groom followed by the priest(s)

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Wedding Announcement

It is with great pleasure that I announce the wedding of Rev. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna to  Dien Ratcliff-Kenna in September on Long Island NY.  I had the  privilege to officiate this celebration. Yes, there is a long history of Zen Priests being allowed to marry that are not living a strict monastic life inside the walls of a monastery.

I extend my blessing and good wishes to your future together on this path we have chosen to walk.

Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor.

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Power Of A Still Mind

A00669B9-2FBD-4881-8FE3-A8084134ECFAPower

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Kawartha Lakes Meditation Group

Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse 将稳 is our Associate Cleric from  Ontario Canada and this is his meditation group.

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Faith vs. Great Doubt

By: Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor, Sensei

Our Buddhist practice is one of seeking – seeking the inner spirit and in wonder, which is gifted to us by our very human natures. It requires committed action, with determined intent to find a place of this wonder, that promotes our mental state at peace and in harmony with all that surrounds us in this marvelous universe. We are called to deeply examine our lives from a position that will lead us to ask deeply profound questions about how this body-mind of ours functions in relationship to our personal needs, but also how we live together with others. The Buddhist Precepts that are condensed from the Four Noble Truths, and reflected in the bodhisattva ideals, require and challenges us to seriously consider how we can live a life that manifests our unique universal expression, which is the manifestation of our source for harmony and happiness. We may be the only sentient beings that has this capacity for seeking a wider understanding of how we can awaken to this unique nature of ours that has the potential for us to become awakened beings. Because, as I see it, when we come to realize this capacity for developing the body-mind state of perfected wisdom and insight, we have stepped onto the path to awakening. But there is a challenge.

Master Dogen in Shinjingakudo (Realization of the Way through the Body and Mind), said, “The sun, moon, and stars as seen by humans and by devas are not the same, and the views of various beings differ widely.” But these views are nothing but thinking. If this is true, then all phenomena that fill our sense consciousness can be considered differently by different beings by how the mind processes the concepts inherent in what the senses present to it. Does this mean that everyone’s view is correct? Does it mean that everyone’s view is somehow wrong? Does it mean that there is no right or wrong, that it is all relative? Given this, how can we possibly live together in harmony if each of us adopts a different view of this world from how we perceive objects through our filters of dispositions and personal preferences?

We only need to look at the current news and the commentary giving varied views on cause and consequences to know that there is a lot of talk about moral/ethical values and the need to cultivate civilized behaviors based on the roles we play in our communities, government and politics, and in our educational and religious institutions. These ideas and notions are then going to find their way into the creation of policies that find their way too into the schoolroom that influences what is being taught, and how we understand things from contemporary scientific discoveries as well as our understanding of democratic values that shift as our cultural values shift. We find those in authority expounding on the right action necessary to address current day social challenges, and often with a convincing voice. I don’t doubt their convictions or sincerity (well some perhaps). However, we need only to wait for the briefest moment to hear a rebuttal, and another view expounding what is right and giving us the “real” correct value according to that worldview. We are being ask to have faith and trust that a given action is best for a specific situation. We only need to believe. These various claims to authority lead to arguments, hatred, and sometimes violence. All in the name of what is “right”. Continue reading

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Zen Teachings of Huang Po

                        By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna, OEB 长金

Huang-Po (d 850)

Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any atom of objectivity. It is void, omnipresent, silent, pure; it is glorious and mysterious peaceful joy — and that is all. Enter deeply into it by awakening to it yourself. That which is before you is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete. There is naught beside.

Even if you go through all the stages of a Bodhisattva’s progress toward Buddhahood, one by one; when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-Nature which has been with you all the time; and by all the foregoing stages you will have added to it nothing at all.

You will come to look upon all those eons of work and achievement as no better than unreal actions performed in a dream. That is why the Tathagata said, “I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment. Had there been anything attained, Dipamkara Buddha would not have made the prophecy concerning me.” He also said, “This Dharma is absolutely without distinctions, neither high nor low, and its name is “Bodhi.”

It is pure Mind, which is the source of everything and which, whether appearing as sentient beings or as Buddhas, as the rivers and mountains of the world which has form, as that which is formless, or as penetrating the whole universe absolutely without distinctions, there being no such entities as selfness and otherness.
This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awaken to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance. If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like the sun ascending through the void and illuminating the whole universe without hindrance or bounds. Continue reading

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Meditation: Mountain & Clouds Technique

                  By: Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse 将稳, OEB

When people hear the word “zen”, thoughts often come to mind of old Japanese bald-headed men sitting quietly in robes in dark monasteries and attaining the highest of enlightenment. And that can be zen, but very likely it is not the typical experience of ordinary North Americans.

North American zen is an adapted form, one that fits into the lifestyle of those typically born and raised in North America. I was born in 1960 so I can only speak about my experience, which is likely different from yours, even if you too are from Hamilton, Ontario!

It is highly unlikely however, that you live in a monastery and most likely you have to keep a job for income. So, you can’t spend 12 hours a day in meditation. Yet meditation is the major activity of zen. Therefore, I think it prudent to begin examining Zen from the perspective of meditation.

I’m not going to go on about the benefits of meditation. If you want to know, get on the net and look it up. You’ll find pages of very recent scientific studies of meditation and all of its benefits.

There are all kinds of meditation techniques – so many that it can be overwhelming. My advice when starting out is to look at several, try a few, and settle on a couple.

When beginning anything new, it must be relatively easy and inexpensive to implement. You don’t need to go out and buy all kinds of fancy-schmancy equipment or build a new meditation room on the house to start. Keep your costs low at first. All you need to start is a few moments of quiet throughout the week.

When you do find that time, sit down someplace and relax. Make sure you can sit so that your back is straight and your hips are slightly higher than your knees. A kitchen chair is perfect for this. Sit. Relax. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths. Then sit there for awhile until you’re done.

Many teachers will have you focus on your breath; watch how the abdomen or chest rises and falls with each breath in and each breath out. Some may have you listen to the sounds in the room around you. Still others may have you focus on an object such as a candle flame. All of these techniques are as good as any other. Try them and see if you like them.

For me however, what I’ve found works the best is what I call the Mountain and Clouds technique. This can be done any place because you only need your own mind! Sit down. Relax. Take a few deep, long, slow breaths in and out. When you’re ready to begin, do the following: Imagine a mountain with a high peak. The mountain is still and stable. See this in your mind. Picture the mountain. Now imagine clouds. In your mind you can picture the mountain, being stable and still as the clouds, gently roll by. They do not stop, they simply come and they go. They may surround the mountain and even sometimes obscure it, but they always pass along. Sometimes the clouds are light and wispy. Sometimes they are dark and filled with thunder and lightning. But whether wispy or stormy, the clouds come and the clouds go. The clouds don’t destroy the mountain or carry it away with them; the clouds come and the clouds go. The mountain remains. Continue reading

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Buddhism With Two Voices

By: Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor, Sensei

A truly historical thinking must also think its own historicity.”
H. G. Gadamer

The history of the Chinese Buddhist school know as Zen (Ch’an) was created precisely out of the need to “transmit the mind” of its masters in a language to make it intelligible and attractive to others serious in engaging the wisdom of the past history of Buddhist thought in writings that others new to Buddhism could understand. These new narratives functioned to help transmit the core canon and legacy teachings of the past into a language and style that was practical and useful to promote the continuation of Buddhism for a different culture (Chinese). New language and rhetoric was always necessary in order to convey the meaning of Buddhist thought and values from one culture to another. This happens each time as Buddhism moved throughout the East Asian societies.

Now that Buddhism in all it’s various forms has come to the West, the need to bring the language of the East along with it’s customs and styles of meaning to Western ears has been making the same journey of discovery in language transformation for the past few decades or more. A primary question may be, “How does this historical consciousness relate to the basic understanding of Zen and Buddhism in general for us in the 21st century?” Especially now that Buddhism has encountered a developed scientific and technological age, as well as an educated modern consumer of spiritual ideas rooted in past centuries of practice. This is a story of dissemination of the beginning of Buddhist practice in the ancient culture of the Buddha and continuing through Indian and Chinese patriarchies up to the current recipients here in the West.

Within this overarching historical framework, I would like to pick out the topic of karma to give an example of how words and meaning of it is in an active discussion and debate within various schools of thought here in the West, specially in America, relative to giving a fresh look and understanding which may differ from the ancient teachings.

It has become resoundingly clear for me as my Buddhist study deepens and my attention to contemporary scientific understanding and social concerns broadens, that Buddhist philosophical and social values can be viewed as very modern in how it emphasizes the core principles in pragmatic terms. Of course this depends on what and who I read. At the same time, however, there are aspects to Buddhist doctrine that remains in ancient-language-of-understanding as it comes down to us in a century that is dramatically different then in the time of the Buddha. I often regret that the core canon is still presented in many translations that I still struggle with in practical terms perhaps caused of my Western education and cultural limitations. Mutual causality, impermanence and the notion of no-self that substantiate modern notions of human psychology has a contemporary voice. Karma (rebirth and mystical planes of existence) is spoken of in an ancient voice because it has almost no counterpart in Western language to convey. So karma, for example, is still spoken of in words that comes from past centuries. This does not necessitate ignoring karma if we want to present Buddhism as being relevant for the modern age. But it does require a very serious interrogation of how it has been interwoven throughout Buddhist philosophy. Karma requires creative re-description in my estimation. In this way we may begin to find answers to the question, “How is understanding the laws of karma a help to us today?” Continue reading

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Concerto In Ego Minor

By: Rev. David Astor, OEB

[This piece was originally published in Buddhadharma magazine Winter 2012 issue in the First Thoughts section]

I was watching a documentary about the late pianist Glenn Gould, perhaps the greatest interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach of any generation, and was struck by how he seemed to disappear behind the work he was performing, especially when he played Bach. It was as if he removed his human form completely and let the music come through him. The transformation encompassed his entire body and you could tell his mind was in another space. His playing reminds me of the line in a Zen poem: “Barn’s burn down — now I can see the moon.”

The lesson I took away from watching this video is that, like Gould, who let his ego fall away so he became a conduit for the music, when I let my ego fall away, honed by my practice, I can connect with how I am conducting the activities of the moment and thereby maximize the karmic results for promoting good.

It seems that there are two aspects within each of us —the functional being who learns to master the technique required for excellence and the ego that wants to control the process and is hard to get out of the way. In other words, one part of me — the reservoir of knowledge, the muscle memory, and the overall life experience that influences how I act —is a conduit for energy. The other part is the self-centered egotist who wants to critique, take credit for his accomplishments, and accept the appreciation of others.

I tell my students that it is important to learn to get out of the way of what you are doing, and just let your practice shine through. This takes some perseverance and it’s not easy to do with a lot of grace in the beginning.

Consider the words by Shunryu Suzuki from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “When we do something with a quiet simple, clear mind, we have no notion or shadows, and our activity is strong and straightforward. But when we do something with a complicated mind, in relation to other things or people, or society, our activity becomes very complex.”

It takes a great deal of practice to be a “beginner”. A beginner’s mind means one has no agenda for any outcome. The energy that arises from a beginner’s mind flows from letting go of all the personal preferences, the attachments, and the distorted worldview we come to think is reality. When we learn to touch the spiritual element of our being, we bring happiness and harmony into a world full of awakened potential.

 

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