Gratitude In Practice

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Shen-Jin Kenna 长金

Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude. This means that you practice continuously, without wasting a single day of your life, without using it for your own sake. Why is it so? Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.”  — Dogen (Kazuako Tanahashi, trans.)

Gratitude can be an antidote for the poisons of greed, jealousy, resentment, and grief.  When we are grateful we do not wish for more than we have, but accept and appreciate that which is already present in our lives.  We do not resent others for what they may have that we may not. We do not mourn over what is lost and gone, or perhaps never had in the first place. The desire for more can be all consuming but ultimately is a dead end road. We can always find one more thing to want. 

Acceptance and gratitude are feelings that can occur spontaneously, but they are also attitudes that can be cultivated.  The more space we make for them in our lives, the more we practice them, the less room there is for unsatisfactory thoughts to take hold and make themselves at home.

As sentient beings in this place and time can we be grateful for our lives?  That we live in a time and place where we can hear and study the dharma?  When we take time to meditate on gratefulness we begin to clear away the negative filters and move from a place of want to a place of appreciation for all that we DO have.  As the world seems to get faster and faster with each passing day it’s easy to overlook all that is there in front of us.  Can we be grateful for the earth that holds us up, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food that nourishes us?   Can we be grateful for the presence in our lives of people who love us, and people that we love?  Can we be grateful that, whatever ailments afflict us, we are still able to breathe and think and move?   Can we be grateful that, whatever financial reverses we may have suffered, we still have shelter, clothing, and food to eat?  Can we be grateful for our parents who gave us life and kept us alive through childhood, who fed and clothed us, who cared for us when we were ill?

Of course there will be times in your practice where negativity will arise. The “if only” and you can fill in the rest with a myriad of answers.  Or the “Yes…but….” Negative thoughts will happen, how we respond to them is what counts.  Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to the people around us.  We see that our lives are a small part being woven into the greater tapestry of the Universe.  When we let go of the endless desires, wants and worries of the drama that life throws at us we begin to feel liberated.  Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a more refined appreciation for the interdependent/interconnected nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Dogs Have Retired

By: Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse 将稳

I always knew it would happen one day. I just didn’t expect it when it did happen. My two little guard dogs, sisters, are nine years old and their hearing is faltering. They still fiercely guard the house against mail carriers, strange dogs across the street, and stray,  blowing plastic bags and leaves, but more and more, they sleep through such events. 


 They officially retired the other night when my wife came home, undetected, and walked into the room where the two sisters were sleeping, and woke them up. It happens to us all. After all, nine is pretty old for dogs. And so they take their place among the rest of us who are retired.

But life is about change. Change happens everywhere, all the time – including to us,  ourselves. We know that this is true, but still we cringe when we see the grey hair. Sometimes change is something that we have difficulty dealing with. But try as we may, we will not stop it.

As we get older, this is a fact that we simply reconcile with and so we stop trying to fix the world and people into place. We stop imagining that things are still an exact match to our memories of 20 years ago. We learn to be more fluid in our thinking and “go with the flow”. That way, it’s not so surprising when we find our childhood school replaced with condominiums.

It’s a practice.

Still, it would be nice to get out of bed in the morning and not to hurt for no reason in particular, just like it used to be!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Buddhist’s Thoughts On Gun Violence

By: Rev. Dr. Brian Chang-Jin Kenna 长金

We’re only 11 weeks into 2018, and there have already been 17 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to 1.5 shootings a week. The victims range from parents, children, friends, neighbors, police officers, managers, teachers –  Every death tears a hole in the intricate network of relationships that unites us.

Buddhism teaches the Three Pure Precepts. Do no harm, Do only good, Do good for others. From these we can cultivate a desire to protect those around us from harm and a willingness to make sacrifices to help even strangers. Cultivating and nurturing this love gives meaning to our short lives. Yet looking within ourselves, we also find our innate self-focus. This self-awareness is a sense that we exist apart from others. Rather than being a negative factor, it is this very self-focus that enables us to feel empathy because it is the basis for our common humanity. It is only because we experience suffering first hand that we generate the motivation to eliminate the suffering of others.
In contrast, many believe that human nature is malevolent, so we need to guard ourselves from others.  We invest in many defense systems ranging from security systems, door locks, firewalls, antivirus software, passwords, all the way to what some consider the ultimate protection – possessing guns.
There are many reasons why an individual would want to on a gun. Aside from protection as mentioned above other reasons could be hunting, target shooting, etc. For every perpetrator of gun violence there is another who uses theirs in a responsible manner. The “why” someone chooses to own a gun is not the issue, and if that is where the focus of gun debate lies then we will never solve the problem of gun violence.
Rather the focus needs to be on the “who” is purchasing and owning weapons and the type of weapons that are made available to the general public. In response to the Parkland shootings many have suggested arming teachers or putting armed police officers in every school. I’m not sure more guns is the correct solution. View Photos
As many have proposed, we need to increase expenditures for public mental health care so that the mentally ill receive appropriate treatment, supervision and care. It must be terrifying for someone who is delusional to be left to survive on the streets all alone.  Strict measures should be taken to ensure the mentally ill are unable to obtain guns.

Likewise, many want to point to the entertainment industry as a cause of violence today. Video games often get a bad rap. I’m not saying that video games per se cause violence. Many of us have played them and are well adjusted individuals. However if we do not educate and talk to our children and tv or video games or another external source becomes their main influence then our children may grow up thinking that aggression is an acceptable means of resolving problem. Violence breeds more violence; today’s killers may be tomorrow’s victims. According to the Buddha’s teaching about karma, actions always have related consequences. Murder is a misdeed because it harms others, not only those who lose their lives but the families of the murderer as well. There are no winners.

Still, many shootings in America are not committed by people who are mentally ill, but instead by people who are angry and restless, and who lack the ability to regulate their emotions. So what is the long-term solution? The Buddha taught that the only real medicine to cure the disease of harming others is by transforming our own minds. Through mindful meditation, we discover that the true source of our problems is not external enemies; instead, it is our own negative emotions and ignorance. Each of us needs to address the underlying malaise and discontent that give rise to our hatred, attachment, fear, and self-centeredness.

By cultivating generosity and compassion towards others we can find meaning and joy in life.  When we focus on the I we are inviting in suffering, however by focusing on others we can invite in happiness. The Bodhisattva ideal teaches of living our lives every day for others. This is not an ideal that Buddhism has cornered the market on, it can be found in may religions. Christianity teaches Do unto others as you have them do to you. When each of us learns to appreciate the critical importance of ethics and makes inner values like compassion and patience an integral part of our basic outlook on life, the effects will be far-reaching.

It is up to each of us as individuals to make these principles the rules we live by and thereby to fulfill our full potential as human beings. I think the students in Parkland are doing this by raising their collective voices and saying enough is enough. Interestingly enough the Dali Lama echoed these very sentiments in a tweet he sent even before the shooting in Parkland. His words are ones we should take to heart: “Although I am a Buddhist monk, I am skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Students Making A Difference

We support our students as they take up the role as agents-for-change to enhance the realities for social justice and human flourishing.  If you choose to support them as we have, their official website is 


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Living By Principle

By: Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse 将稳

It is important to understand that our practice is a three-part plan: i) stop doing harm (Live By Principles), ii) Do only good (engage the Four Truths) and, iii) Do good for others (Develop Your Character).

The Principles are something that needs to be personal in order to work to maximum advantage. Generally speaking, most people tend to adopt a list of five Principles (also known as Precepts, or Mindfulness Trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh) but there is also a set of eight and ten that one could use. The five are: avoid killing, avoid lying, avoid stealing, avoid sexual misconduct, and avoid taking intoxicants.

You may notice that they are phrased in the negative with the word “avoid” introducing each one. This makes sense since the first point of the three-part plan is “Stop Doing Harm”! Each one of these five life principles is like a line that you draw in the sand and refuse to cross. Because of this each has to be specific to you and the way you live your life, and so before you adapt these Life Principles, consider each one carefully and wholly, and then commit them to writing so that you can refer back to them and update them as your life changes.

The first of the five asks you to consider just what it means to avoid killing. Simplistically, it may mean that you don’t go around murdering people willy-nilly. But deeper thought may show a variety of facets to this principle. It could extend to animals as well, hence the idea of not killing indirectly, and many people become vegetarian or vegan as a support for this principle. But once the concept of indirect killing is taken into serious consideration, then your practice may expand even more; what products do your purchase that helps to support companies or organizations that destroy ecosystems, or cause serious harm to localized people in under-privileged countries, or aid in the extinction of entire species, or harm the oceans or the earth? The list goes on and on. So each person must decide for themself how they specifically, are going to engage this idea of not killing.

The same process can be followed for the second principle “avoid lying”. On the surface of course, this might be the simple admonition to tell the truth. But we know from our life experience that black-and-white ideas are rarely black-and-white, for example often a mistruth is told to protect feelings of others. We may also consider the indirect approach to lying as well such allowing others to believe something because facts have been omitted or not refuted when we know differently. We may also consider the habit of accepting things as truth without first verifying for ourselves the reality of it, so this may require us to suspend belief temporarily before we commit to a particular point-of-view. And what about our own thoughts? What do we believe about ourselves that isn’t necessarily true?

These complicated, indirect angles extend to the third principle “not stealing”. Once we get past the obvious idea of theft, how else might we be stealing? Do we knowingly take credit for ideas that are not ours (or allow others to believe that the idea originated with us)? Do we misdirect in order to achieve some sort of gain from others – to inflate our reputation for example? How else might we be gaining something due to someone or something else’s loss? Do we delight in the misfortune of others because it makes feel good about ourselves? Do we take advantage of others in any way?

Sexual misconduct causes all sorts of difficulties for us and others impacted by these acts. One might ask do I cause harm or hurt feelings by what I do or how I treat others? We know that many people in these modern times use sex as another outlet to hide from the pain in their lives so we even need to question the habit of casual hookups – are these causing harm?

Often sexual misconduct is the result of intoxication, the fifth principle. Intoxication isn’t just through drugs or alcohol, but extend to sex, gambling, eating, video games, movies, etc. Anything that can lead our thinking to a place where harm can be done is a form of intoxication. We might ask ourselves does this lead to harm in any way?

So we can see that consideration of these is complex and takes time. But it needs to be specific to you. Ultimately we ask, “What is the line I will not cross?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Old Man Zen


Leave a comment

February 28, 2018 · 6:25 pm

Dharma Heir Announcement

It is in great respect for our Buddhist tradition and our Order’s ability to march forward in the dharma, that I announce that I have chosen Brian Chang-Jin as the OEB’s Dharma Heir Apparent and my Dharma Heir. The Installation and Acknowledgement Ceremony will be conducted on Monday February 12th at 7pm in Long Island New York. A private service between Chang-Jin and myself was held before this public event as is traditional in my Ch’an lineage. We follow in the footsteps of our Great Buddhist Ancestors and ride on their shoulders as we proceed in confidence to the other shore.  Sva Ha

Rev. David Shen-Xi Astor Sensei



1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Step Back To “See” More

Some on the path might think the lighted doorway is “it”, and don’t awaken to the reality the path “goes beyond” the brightness of the illuminated door. The Ox also points to this reality. Put down all you think you know is enlightenment and keep a deeper practice. Step back to “see” more…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

OEB’s Social Outreach

Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse, an OEB Associate Cleric, speaking on World Religions Day in Lindsay Ontario, Canada.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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
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!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized