Tag Archives: Buddhist practice

Perfecting A Practice of Readiness

By: David Shi Shen-Xi

As we gain perfected readiness in understanding the core tenets of what we learn when studying many of the Buddhist principles, and begin to find them reflected in the lessons from our everyday experiences, our unconditioned conscious state will open up to a new beginning that drives the acquisition which helps us acquire an awareness of the wisdom they represent that shows us how the Universe reflects it’s reality all around us and how we relate to these individual expressions, and perhaps even allowing us to see the shadows also reflecting their unity with all other mutual relationships. During any explanation of Buddhist thought representing the beliefs of any specific Buddhist tradition, you will always hear of the important fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths as we have done from a pragmatic perspective so far. But in addition to these, there are other core principles that are teachings accepted by all traditions too. These are the principles of interdependent co-origination (or dependent origination), impermanence, no-self, and contingent-causality. There are others, but these are the core principles from which all others stem from. When I speak about the Zen teachings of the Chinese and Japanese masters as they speak about the nature of self and other, we can also find them discussing some or all of these core principles as well. Our legacy teachers speak about the enriching empowerment of nature, as well as the psycho-emotional self-help tools that can promote human flourishing. The study of history can bring the ancient Buddhist culture into contemporary perspective that all of us today can relate to, somewhat.

We need to be careful in how we study Buddhism, as in doing so we are really studying a REFLECTION of what the Buddha taught, not his actual thinking. While words are thoughts, we have to ask ourselves who’s thoughts. Just because a specific scripture is attributed to the Buddha, for example, they have become unverifiable from a historical perspective. That would be impossible as he is not here to explain away any misunderstanding we have of what we THINK truly represents his mind 2600 hundred years ago. In fact, the Buddha lived before Buddhism was ever developed into a philosophy and spiritual practice as seen through the eyes of an ancient Asian worldview, and now those views are challenged in order to reflect Western 21st century realities. Just like Jesus lived before Christianity was created into a unique theology. When we study Buddhism we must be keenly aware of what we are reading relative to how the subject or topic was most likely spoken of in the Buddha’s day. When we read a text in the Pali canon or other comparable source, if something said there by the Buddha could just as well have been said by a Jain or Brahman priest, then you put that aside as simply part of the broadly accepted worldview of the period. It’s not something unique to the Buddha’s dharma, you see. Although, the Buddha was like any of us and was no doubt influenced by the cultural expectations and moral structures of his time, they acted as the basis from which he sought ways to change things to reflect his awakened view point. We need to learn to apply “Buddhist math” in order to arrive at our own understanding of what it is we too believe that helps us make sense of this world we call home. By pursuing this process of math, specifically subtraction, we can start to separate out the generic cosmology and metaphysics of his time and space and use our days knowledge and technical tools including science to aid in a greater understanding of what it is he was teaching. And what remains standing can then be considered as what made the Buddha’s teaching so distinctive. This is also true when you study the precepts, as two human views are being confronted – the teachers and the students. Continue reading

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The Buddhist Precepts Drives Stability In Practice

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

We can look at the precepts in simple terms, their meaning can be considered broadly as encompassing the skills in positive communication that promotes social harmony, ethical and moral behavior that promotes human flourishing, respect for social justice that promotes how we awaken to our responsibility to cultural expectations that helps us to understand our “connectiveness” to all things, the importance for displaying civilized manners, and the critical characteristic that values stability in body-mind engagement in the world round us.

The whole meaning of these precepts are summed up in the Three Pure Precepts which, along with the 10 grave precepts, are undertaken to live a life of honor, duty and dedication that has the potential for us to awaken to the significant of our universal expressions. Living a life guided by these expectations will deliver us from the uncertainties and cares that are relevant to a life of suffering that are expressed in the Four Noble Truths. They demand no less than complete self-transformation. They embrace the whole life of those that have vowed to have them reflected in their actions, and are undertaken with a singular completeness.

One of the most significant of these vows is the vow of stability. This is the underlying meaning of the precept that honors the Three Jewels. Stability is the underpinnings of all that we undertake in a Buddhist practice. Stability is the richest ingredient in intentional thoughts and actions. Without a stable practice it is impossible to create a worldview by which we live and thrive. It is important too because of the limitations inherent in how and what we learn as we engage Buddhist thought, how we interact within our communities, and the vary nature of how a 21st century demands unnecessary emphasis on perfection. To bring stability into our practice implies a deep act of trust and the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with, provided we can devote ourselves to a contemplative life, enjoying a certain amount of silence, solitude, work that involves more then mental activity alone, respect for life-long-learning, and above all learning how to express compassion that is not just about emotional reaction to what is sad or unjust. A Buddhist practice that is void of social engagement does not challenge us to live a life under the guidance of the precepts. An exception to this many be a decision to live a life of a hermit perhaps.

Stability becomes difficult for a man whose “practice ideal” contains predominant notions of the extraordinary. You see, all of us as human expressions are just ordinary beings. Our ordinariness is one of our greatest blessings. The exterior monotony of regular everyday life activities often prevents us from exploring the richness of our interior contemplative potential. So we are challenged to build both an exterior personality and internal enrichment under the influence of our understanding of the precepts we vow to uphold, in order to achieve our awakened to how we are when we strip away extraordinary and unnecessary dispositions.

But for me, the vow of stability has been the belly of the whale, like a Jonas. I have always felt a great attraction to the life of solitude, which is in direct challenge with the importance of a social-self as an agent for change . It is an attraction I shall probably never entirely lose as I live a Buddhist practice as defined by my monastic vows. You might find too that your previous notions of what the spiritual means can not be completely irrelevant in how you approach your Buddhist practice driven by perceptual vows as you bring them into your developing new worldview. All this could move us toward our reality like being in the belly of a paradox. Our Buddhist practice, if it is to be a serious, stable and devoted one, will constantly reveal to us that it is also a life full of paradox. Our challenge in understanding and refining the language of the precepts we vow to undertake, must give recognition to that vary fact. You may not understand what I am talking about now, but as you gain experience as to what living by vows means, you will. Another awakened reality.

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A Homeless Practice

By: Xi-Ken Shi

The Buddhist say “homeless” to mean a monk (or in Japan a priest) using the word SHUKKE which literally means “out of the house”. It refers to a person who has supposedly left the householder’s life and the temptations and obligations of the secular world behind. Another phrase, “leaving the world,” means getting away from the imperfections of human behavior, particularly as reinforced by urban life. It does not mean distancing yourself from the natural world. For some it has meant living as mountain hermits or members of religious communities or living as a monk within one’s own community acting upon the responsibility of a social self. Enlarging the scale of the homeless world, the fifth-century poet Zhiang-yan said the proper hermit should “take the purple heavens to be his hut, the encircling sea to be his pond, roaring with laughter in his nakedness, walking along singing with his hair hanging down”. The early Tang poet Han-shan is taken as the very model of a recluse — his spacious home reaches to the end of the universe:

“I settled at Cold Mountain long ago, already it seems like years and years. Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams and linger watching things themselves. Men don’t get this far into the mountains, white clouds gather and billow. Thin grass does for a mattress, the blue sky makes a good quilt. Happy with a stone underhead let heaven and earth go about their changes.”

“Homeless” here means “being at home in the whole universe” another expression of unity.  In a similar way, self-determined people who have not lost the wholeness of their place can see their households and their regional mountains or woods as within the same sphere.

When I was in China I attended a ceremony at a shrine in the mountains not far from my monastery. The path through the jungle needed brushing, so rarely did people go there. I and my interpreter-monk went as helpers for three very old senior monks. We spent the morning cutting overgrowth back, sweeping the ground, opening and wiping the unpainted wood altar-structure and then placing some offerings of sweet potatoes and fruit (if my mind servers me correctly) on the shelf before the blank space that framed the mountain in front of the alter. No candles, no Buddha, just the mountain view. One of the old monks then faced the peak and made a direct perfunctory personal speech or prayer in a dialect that my interpreter could not translate. We than sat on the ground sweating and cut open a watermelon and drank some of the strong tea, while the old guys told stories of other days in the monastery and on this mountain when they were young. Tall, thick and glossy green trees arched over us, roaring with cicada. It was not trivial at the time and in my memory now. The domestic parallel is accomplished in each household with its photos of family, familiar objects in the home we live with all our lives, maybe a family pet to keep us company, as we sit around the table talking about old times. But for these three old men, it was this spot, this mountain and these trees. It was where they felt at home and together.

Then the literal “house” when seen as just another piece of the world, is itself impermanent and composite, a poor “homeless” thing in its own right. Houses are made up and heaped together, of wood, brick, cement, steel and other materials to make doors, windows, walls, floors, a roof, knobs from K-mart if you are poor, made up of the same world as you and me and mice.

Mountains are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient. At this moment, you cannot doubt the blue mountains walking.

Not only flower blossoms and clouds or monks or priests — but chisels, bent nails, wheelbarrows, and squeaky doors are all teaching the truth of the way things are. The conditions of true “homelessness” is the maturity of relying on nothing and responding to whatever turns up on the doorstep. Dogen encourages us with the words: “A mountain always practices in every place.”

Where is your house? Are you ready to have a “homeless practice” in order to find your mountain?

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Intimacy With The Spirit

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

In a wonderful Tibetan Buddhist story, a man tells his friend about an extraordinary spiritual teacher he has met. Although this friend is curious about this teacher, he is also somewhat skeptical, so he decides to seek out this holy man and put him to the test. After asking around, he discovers the master is living and teaching nearby, so the young man goes to see him and manages to obtain an audience with him. He defiantly walks before the teacher, and before he can catch himself, blurts out a challenge: “Show me God! Prove to me that he exists!”

The saintly master calmly extends his hand and, in a soothing, inviting tone, says, “Come with me.” The young person takes the teacher’s hand, in the Asian sign of friendship, and off they go to the neighborhood lake. As they reach the place, the teacher leads the man into the water and tells him to dive in. Then the master does something even stranger. He holds the mans head under the water. As the minutes pass, the man tries three times to come up, but the Lama holds his head firmly submerged. Finally, on his fourth attempt, the teacher lets him out of the water. The poor soul bursts out of the water, gasping for air. “What are you trying to do, kill me?” he yells at the saint. The holy man looks at him with infinite compassion and lovingly, patiently responds: “Forgive me if I caused you undue anxiety, but when your desire for God is as desperate as your desire for air, for your very breath, then you will find the source for Creation!”

This powerful story dramatically illustrates the importance of commitment in the spiritual life. No genuine progress is possible without it. Such a commitment expresses itself in the discipline of regular, daily spiritual practice that paves the way for breakthroughs, for the miracles of grace to happen.

Spiritual practice is the core of our transformation, and it requires what can be called the contemplative attitude, a disposition to life of mystical depth. Spiritual practice often means meditation and other forms of inner exploration. It can also mean prayer. Silence and solitude – the seeking of illumination and wisdom – are further parts of the contemplative experience, a process of our ultimate evolution, our unfolding to higher states of awareness. To understand how this process can unfold in our lives, we need to explore its elements.

This is what I hope we are doing here at OEB. Our personal experiences provides us an opportunity to gain knowledge. Application of knowledge, when done in the spirit of right intent, is wisdom. We live in a mutual causal world. Everything happens as an effect of another action. Either human or not. It started at the moment our Universe was created. We are here as a result of that original event. Everything we think or do is a continuation of that action. Even our deaths contribute to this Universal expression. It is up to us to discover the contemplative dimension of life and experience what it means to be human on a mission to understand the unity of all things.

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Reflecting The Buddha Within Us

By: David Astor, Sensei

When our practice has cultivated a deep sense of connectiveness with how we think and behave, we are positioned to understand the importance of experiencing each situation we encounter as being interpreted by our dispositions (how we are). It is therefore vital that we develop trains of thought that define our worldview in order to be ready when situations arise demanding our involvement and insight. This is why we study and train our body-mind in meditation. While we go through our daily routines we practice in order to be open for accepting whatever situation arises conditioned by universal realities. The reality of the human condition is such that we react from established conditional expectations, and not from nowhere.

When we observe Zen masters it is easy to consider that their responsive actions are spontaneous, but what we are really observing is a highly cultivated and mature set of dispositions that have been honed over decades of practice and keen observance of the world around them. Their training has been internalized and embodies the “Buddha within.” When it appears that someone’s actions seem to be spontaneous, we know from contemporary scientific research and controlled observation that genuine spontaneity is a result of dedicated training and internalized skillful means that is being reflected in their actions.

Each situation is unique and arises from its own historical causal-chain. There is no cookie cutter aspect to how we should engage with the world around us. This is the foundation to Buddhist ethics. Each situation should be considered and responded to situationally. My root teacher reflected on this reality and said, “As contingently arisen human beings, we have a specific biopsychosocial blueprint from which we must work, and effective engagement with our world arises from an acute recognition of how we are.” We can not escape this reality of what it means to be human. This is why it is vital for us to understand why we react the way we do, and refine our behavior to align with productive actions that promotes positive change. If we don’t learn this important lesson we will continually fall short of our intentional expectation. .

An authentic real-life Buddha is someone who values the reality of their causal Universe and applies these lessons in every day life situations that reflects a strong recognition of what the social-self is all about. This recognition values the connection of the self with other and fuels a life of altruistic positive engagement. When we become aware of how causality is interwoven throughout each situation we encounter, we begin to know what drives our daily success. This daily success arises from a routine of thoughtful preparedness. In order to achieve this state of being it is important to cultivate a practice of readiness, and this can be best achieved by using the elements in the “Buddhist toolbox.” We learn to develop dispositions for daily success. Like those Zen masters, we too can become relaxed as we engage the world around us as we trod our daily routines. When our normal disposition is calm and mindful we get things done without creating anxiety and unsatisfactoriness. Buddhism is all about subtraction, not addition. We work to subtract all those characteristics that work against liberation from suffering that we have adopted over a lifetime of adding on to what we think we want and need, to a life driven by a more simple way of engaging those around us. It is easy when we get our self out of the way. And when we achieve this state of practice, we reflect the Buddha within.

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The Nature Of Dana: Generosity In Action

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

The nature of dana, generosity or giving, relates directly to hearing and responding to one’s spiritual calling. In Master Dogen’s ‘Shobogenzo’, two chapters address dana in different ways. The first talk is entitled “Establishment of the Bodhi Mind” and was directed to the laity, and the second is called “Establishment of the Will to the Supreme” which Dogen addressed to the temple monks. These talks were given on the same day about six hours apart we are told, just after Dogen entered his new monastic home in the mountains.

The first instruction was given to the laity as a lesson on generosity of life as it is. He was imploring those who were donating money or labor to the temple, to continue to do so. An age old challenge that continues to haunt Buddhist teachers even today. A little time later, he offered a talk to the monastics in his newly established monastery, but this time focusing on impermanence, the absolutely fleeting nature of life. He beseeched the monastics to give their life away to others, to not get lost in zazen and the solitary practice of realizing themselves before taking care of all beings, including those he had addressed six hours earlier. These two teachings, different in perspective but focused on the same subject, takes dana as the act of contributing to the Sangha’s upkeep and highlights its place in a compassionate practice. The human emotion of compassion is developed when you give selflessly. Likewise, when one receives they are given an opportunity for experiencing feelings of compassion.

Dogen was a master strategist as well as a brilliant dharma teacher as his written works in our possession today reflects. His wonderful teaching reveals dana within a beautiful, circular path, flowing in both directions among the laity and the monastics. Utterly and forever different, each giving to the other. The recognition of the inter-being of self and other. The social-self in action. Through these two we create a wonderful interplay of dana, of exchange, of one hand supporting the other and the other supporting the first to the point that it is not clear which is giving and which is receiving. That is when we enter into the heart of ‘dana paramita,’ the perfection of selfless giving. The term ‘dana’ when used alone is referencing our actions toward upkeep of something we highly value. The term ‘dana paramita’ encompasses all acts of generosity, including those of supporting directly the transmission of the dharma. Continue reading

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Duty: The Selfless Practice

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

I can not help but wonder about the simple word “duty” and why we do not hear it used so often in our contemporary speech. It almost seems like an eighteen century word used in a more nobler time to refer to action of the highest perfection of human nature. Duty being a responsibility to a higher cause, or to the state perhaps. But I am looking at this word with new light as I also consider the importance of the vows we profess when we step onto the Buddhist path seriously. It almost seems to me that we shy away from considering our practice as a duty rather then a wish fulfilling need. Duty may tug away from our notion of freedom even. If we are working to achieve a state of selfless practice, are we not also, through the power of vows, acknowledging the existence of duty as a force of our obligation to serve others?

What creates the realization of the sense for duty in our practice that transforms itself away from mere obligation? Is our understanding of how to act in our practice not from duty but from expedience reflecting how we think we should act as Buddhists? Is our practice self-serving in some aspects? Those whom their practice binds through conscience rather than by traditional expectations are doing so out of moral authority, and is for them a sense of duty from which the dictates of conscience flows. The power of this dutiful commitment arises out of having made a vow driven by a personal obligation to discharge our notion of social justice even when it is not commanded by higher authority or religious expectation. The “just person” living their vows does what he should do because it is just, and because justice is essential to the very being of a Buddhist practice. When we come to understand deeply how duty arises from living our vows we come to awaken to the immediate source of the obligation to act in a certain way. These intentional virtuous actions are the highest state of excellence of human nature. No matter what spiritual path you are on. Virtue, a component of duty, alone provides the motivation that allows us to extend an altruistic hand that embraces everyone with equanimity. It is the motivation that recognizes the “social-self”. Without this awareness, we do not have a Buddhist practice.

Plato considered virtue as comprising justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom. But without justice, he considered the other three as having little merit. The foundation for that thought was because justice concerns the relation of man to his neighbor. It is the recognition of the value of interconnectiveness and the dependence we have for the importance of other. You see, when we consider temperance and courage we are isolating these human traits for the well being of the individual. That is why showing justice entails duty which is the obligations to act in a certain way for the welfare of others. If the good of no other individual is involved, it seems to me that a person has no duty to be temperate or courageous, even when he possesses these virtues. This is the lesson associated with understanding how we can be “alone with others”, as Stephen Batchelor describes it. Our taking vows is for the benefit of all others, without whom there would be no reason to practice the bodhisatta ideal. I’m teaching from a Mahayana perspective here. Let’s not forget that I am speaking about duty not to an individual person or belief, but from the moral imperative encompassing ourselves AND others alike; the human condition. Acting from this perspective of duty, our actions consists in the submission of the will to reason and in overcoming contrary inclinations or desires, even our personal preferences.

Duty then challenges us to a life of inquire. If we fail to seek the truth of how the dharma is presented to us as we live our vows, we have no chance to awaken to the nature of our Universal human expression. So to live well is to do our duty through our practice and to set aside all contrary desires and obligations that act as inhibitors to a Buddhist life. We are not Buddhist when we are being other things unaware of our vows. Our Buddhist character must be present in each of the other roles in life we have undertaken: spouse, sibling, child, teacher, business partner, and any of the other roles we come to represent. That is our duty as we live our vows. We should not be conflicted or torn by competing loyalties or obligations which pull us in opposite directions. When our various roles command contrary action, duty is weighed by our conscience. When we come to value the encompassing and corrective lessons woven throughout the elements of the Eightfold Path, and understand the principles of moral and ethical justice reflected in the Four Noble Truths, we will no longer experience the ordeal of conscience from conflicting duties when our ego is at rest. We can always find an honorable path for our actions to follow when our sense of duty becomes second nature.

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Refining The Practice Of Generosity

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

Compassion and generosity are two of the primary practice refinements in Mahayana Buddhist thought. It might be easy to see them as interchangeable when connecting with others. While there is a relationship between them, it is also helpful to examine them in the context of how each is approached when cultivating an aware practice. They are each a characteristic of our behavior when we begin to awaken from a self-centered world to one interconnected in a net of dependent relationships with all living things. While generosity is an element of the Six Perfections, compassion is not, and stands at the threshold of an awakened bodymind. In the Ch’an tradition, in all Mahayana Buddhist traditions in fact, an enlightened path is one that acknowledges that wisdom and compassion is essential if we are to experience full awakening to what Buddha nature is. Generosity is a necessary intentional action that is preparatory for wisdom and compassion to emerge into the light of our awakened bodymind.

We must come to understand that when acts of generosity are fully present in our everyday interactions with others, it is only then that the compassionate human emotion arises making further concerns for displaying generosity unnecessary. Our efforts of generosity are necessary only when we lack compassion for others that is the foundation of the ethical and moral precepts of the bodhisattva’s path. While genuine compassion might seem a natural element of a Buddhist practice, or what it means to be human really, it only emerges with great sincerity when we walk the cultivated path of awareness. Until that is achieved, the teachings and practices of generosity are available to help inaugurate a practice of wisdom and readiness. So the role of generosity is the first important element of refining a practice that moves us toward compassion that plants the seed capable of stripping away the filters that sees the self as separate and independent of all other universal expression. Generous and compassionate treatment of others may be the only path toward an awakened bodymind, and is why the dedicated practice of the Three Pure Precepts is the golden thread the must run thought every action we take in a world full of possible awakened moments when we are ready.

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The Enlightenment Trap

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

I always thought when I began my teaching practice that certain Buddhist principles were going to be harder than others to convey. Rebirth/reincarnation, impermanence and no-self, Dependent Origination, or even situational ethics were going to be tough especially from a Western contemporary perspective. But of all of these, and they are a close second, by far the hardest Buddhist concept to engage with the Sangha members has been that of enlightenment. I am not alone in this experience. My dharma brother, Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi, after years of teaching, makes a habit of not using the word enlightenment at all. Many Buddhist teachers I speak with, or read, also have reflected on this reality. So the obvious question is “Why?” The answer for me is simple because the English word enlightenment comes with a lot of baggage. While much of Buddhist thought can be classified as either philosophical or psychological, enlightenment falls in the human realm of the spiritual, even the mystical for some.

For those new to Buddhist study, meditation and enlightenment are linked often enough. The thinking is “Why meditate?”, “to become enlightened” they might say. So there it is, up front and center. Even when the teacher never talks about enlightenment when facilitating a meditation session. It is in the back of a practitioners mind if they are honest.

Our spiritual life is apart of the sweetness of a practice that can be transformative and deeply personal. When our meditation sessions move closer to serenity we experience moments of insight that might develop into feelings of bless at times, and that can create a need to grasp for more. It might also energize the notion that this insightful bless is close to what one might define as an awakened moment. The danger here is that we might be driven to want more. We become hooked on the experience and want to define it in terms that can be mystical. This misdirected feeling is a trap because it can be another act of grasping. When we cling or grasp after something, even for a spiritual experience, we fall back into samsara which is another form of unsatisfactoriness.

So what are these experiences we might encounter during meditation, and do they have anything to do with enlightenment? From my experience with working with others in various stages of refining a meditation practice, they need to be viewed from the mediator’s worldview. They can be examples of simple feelings of tranquility to a heightened state of ecstasy. In a positive sense they are earthquakes that can shake your practice awake. They can also manifest in an experience of total absence of thought which can feel like an out-of-body moment. In these moments you might experience a real connection with the universe where the notion of self disappears. You come out of this thinking “This is it, I have had an enlightened experience!” This is what we call a meditation-high that can be addicting if we get carried away by running away from reality. What I say to students is to be careful. Celebrate your meditation session’s progress, but also be concerned. You might just be moving closer to glimpses of the nature of the mind, and thus reality, but you might also be experiencing a trick-of-the-ego-mind too. Interestingly, the spiritual path is not about personal sensational feelings, but about experiencing what is real and not filtered through our personal preferences and dispositions. When that happens, what is real might seem different and new to us, but it has been “just like that” all along.

The main concern we should recognize in these unique experiences is that they can misdirect our focus during meditation away from the study of ourselves and how we are, which is the real purpose of mindful meditation. Any extraordinary or passionate feelings are just temporary experiences that mediators need to be aware of, and not fall for the trap of distracting us away from the real purpose of our zazen. We can adjust our expectations during meditation periods by first judging our mood, and set our techniques accordingly. Awareness off the cushion is brought to the cushion. If you grasp after repeating a moving experience it becomes a distraction around the current sitting experience that prevents it from arising again. Another one of those Buddhist paradoxes.

Another caution that wise mediators practice is not speaking with others about their meditation experiences to feely. While it is very tempting, consider your motives. Ask your self, “Why do I want to share this?” Live your experience don’t give words to it. Words will always fail you when it comes to expressing what a spiritual experience was like. It is important to share these experiences with your teacher, or an experienced intimate spiritual friend. Your teacher will/should know exactly what you are trying to express and know how to direct your continued meditation practice, both on and off the cushion. But others, not so much. Be silent and go back to the cushion. My experience is that when we talk about our experiences inappropriately we might just be transforming opportunity into an obstacle. My own teacher discouraged all of us monks not to speak after meditation, don’t share because it moves us away from the experience.

Here is the big reason for not speaking about our spiritual experiences: it is dangerous to our own personal development. Yep. When we speak about extraordinary events during meditation we just might identify them as awakened moments, or enlightenment, and start to believe it. Our ego-mind wants to convince us that it knows what is best, and sense we want to be enlightenment, it will make it happen. We might even convince our teacher (which is another dharma talk). And before we know it, we have groupies wanting to hear our enlightened mind. That is when things really start to get weird. Once this happens it is hard to pull back to any form of normality in our practice and we begin to try to catch lighting in a jar.

There is definitely a place for spiritual highs which is the same place for spiritual lows. When left alone our spiritual experiences will drive our practice forward in useful and productive ways towards our own human flourishing. They inspire us and left us up by teachings us we are on the right path. But, and this is a big but, they can also trap us in the swamp of unknowing. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.” When we learn the importance of giving up any idea of becoming enlightened, we might just discover it was there all along, just hiding in the wings of a mind in the clouds. A clear mind has no clouds. Then what happens you might ask? Just keep sitting is always the best answer.

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Learning The Lessons Of Silence

By: Mn. Dr. Brian Jin-Deng Kenna

“Last night I dreamed I was, temporarily, back at Gethsemani. I was dressed in a Buddhist monk’s habit, but with more black and red and gold, a “Zen habit,” in color more Tibetan than Zen… I met some women in the corridor, visitors and students of Asian religion, to whom I was explaining I was a kind of Zen monk and Gelugpa together, when I woke up.” 1    (pg. 107)

As I reflect on my own spiritual journey, one that started on a Christian path and moved to take a new direction at a fork in the road to my present path, I can see many similarities. My experience as an ordained minister and church leader has benefited and in ways shaped my experience as a Buddhist monastic. One of these ways has been in the lesson of silence.

Silence can be a scary thing for many people. Often times we try to fill our days with “noise.” Some people feel the need to fill silence with meaningless conversation, other with background noise from TV or radio.

But what if we embrace silence? What happens then? How can it impact and strengthen our spiritual lives? What is sacred silence and what are the requirements for it?

Well, to begin with we need to start with something else humans have trouble doing. Be Still! We need to stop with our busyness and take time to just Be Still. This is what is first required as the type of silence necessary for self and universal knowledge. It also becomes the purpose of silence to lay the foundation where one can awaken to the realities of the universe including self-knowledge. To become more open and in tune to the expressions the universe uses to show us glimpses of itself and ourselves. Silence apart from this and lacking an intimacy with the universe becomes nothing more than exercise to please and soothe ones ego.

This world we live in is very busy. I would venture to say that much of our communication between people is not done face to face anymore. We have text messages, and emails, and instant messages, as well as old fashioned phone calls and snail mail. We often try to fit these in when we have few moments between meeting, shuffling kids to sports or other events, cooking meals, shopping, etc, etc. The list becomes long and endless. After an amount of time of rushing about and communicating using these modern tech-tools we may begin to lose our ability to communicate in real and meaningful ways that only comes from body language added to our verbal expressions that is unique to what it means to be human. Our ability to personally connect may not be as strong as it once was. This tends to happen when we try to apply our fast food world mentality to the more complicated issues of life and the questions dealing with it.

In my business (work practice) we are often looking for ways to maximize output. We are always “watching the clock” and seeing where precious seconds can be gained. However problems occur when we try to apply this to our personal and spiritual lives. We cannot become efficiency experts in spirituality. We need to move more like a glacier. Slow and with purpose. My teacher Xi-Ken Shi often speaks of the benefits of spiritual retreats as a way to strengthen ones practice because it allows one to do so in a setting that allows us to withdraw into silence and come face to face with universe and ourselves. It is the opposite of what the busy-world teaches us. Instead of hurry up and wait, we need to take time to smell the proverbial roses.

Be Still and Embrace Silence. These two things seem simple in idea but become a real challenge to practice. With all the demands and pressures of life how can we live Be Still and Embrace Silence? Most of us are not living behind the walls of a monastery. Most of us have more on our plates on any given day then we have hours to deal with. But the reality is that many among us do achieve the silence necessary to begin to awaken to universal realities and the discovery of our self natures. Is it easy? Is it fast? Of course not, but what in life that truly means something is easy or comes quickly? It is a dedication to our practice. It is renewing that dedication on a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute basis. Breaking away from the fast food mentality to a sitting down for a 5 course mean mentality. Silence has much to tell us if we are truly ready to listen.

1 The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton by Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book 1975

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