Zen Charades

This is a Zen Teisho offered during March 6th, 2021 meditation retreat of Northern Lights Sangha held on Zoom. The subject matter of this Teisho is the relationship between meditation practice, koan practice and development of wisdom. It touches upon topics of communication in Zen, unreliability of conceptual constructs and some unique aspects of Zen training such as dokusan (private formal encounters with a Zen teacher.)

This Teisho continues and expands upon subject matter of the last month’s Teisho.

Zen Koans and Meditation

Zen Dharma talk from Northern Lights Sangha’s monthly One Day Meditation retreat. This talk was given on Zoom on February 6th, 2021.

The first part of the talk deals with the relationship between koans and Zen meditation practice and also the relationship between meditation practice and development of wisdom.

The second part of the talk deals with some of the pitfalls we frequently encounter in our Zen koan practice. The talk ends with brief description of different kinds of koans and unique characteristics of what makes something a good koan.

Returning to the Original Mind

Wishing everybody Happy New Year!

This is a Zoom recording of a Dharma Talk given on January 9th, 2021 during zazenka of Northern Lights Sangha in Ontario, Canada.

In this Dharma talk we discuss how returning to the Original Mind is the essence of Zen meditation practice. In the second part of the Dharma talk we look at five necessary conditions we need to cultivate in order to mature our Zen practice. Furthermore, four additional practices are recommended by Shakyamuni Buddha when faced by particular obstacles in meditation practice. Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings are from Chapter 4 of Udana, Meghiya Sutta found in Pali Canon.

A Donkey for the Zendo

We have online zazenkai coming up on Saturday December 5th. For more information visit https://northernlightssangha.wordpress.com/online/

If any of you are just starting out in your Zen practice and are interested in attending an online Introduction to Zen class, you can write to moonlitcranezendo@gmail.com so I can gauge any potential interest in organizing such a class.

For this week’s Dharma offering I am posting another excerpt from my book. In this short peace, our Zen practice makes an appearance in the guise of a donkey.

A Donkey for the Zendo

In the Near East there are many folk tales featuring Nasreddin. They say that he was a simple man. He was so simple that people could not tell if he was a wise man or a village idiot. One of the stories is about how he always walked between two towns leading a donkey. Since there was a border between these towns, at the crossing the border guards were convinced that he must be smuggling something. On the donkey’s back, Nasrudin had tied a pile of dried straw. No matter how thoroughly they searched the straw, the border guards could never find anything valuable. Because they never found any contraband they had to let him pass. Years later, one of the guards went to visit Nasreddin and asked him, “I am retired now, but I’m dying to know. All those years ago, what were you smuggling?” Nasreddin answered, “Donkeys.”

Zen students can be the same as these border guards. I too was that way. We are always looking for something special in our Zen practice. So we tend to miss the obvious. We miss that the essence is right here, not somewhere else. Buddha nature is just this nature. Buddha mind is just this mind. We always search for the truth in the straw. In our case, the straw is a tangle of thoughts and emotions. We don’t recognize the Mind that carries the whole world on its back.

Once we are familiar with the Mind, we cease our fascination with the straw. We become aware of clarity. We come to understand than we have never known anything but clarity even if we failed to recognize it. Even if we may feel we are apart, we accept that we originate in clarity and we inevitably return to clarity. The whole world arrives at our fingertips and nothing is missing.

All the suffering we create comes from not knowing this simplicity. The only appropriate response to our predicament is to laugh. We are abundantly rich, yet due to the nature of our ignorance we have become impoverished. We are free, yet we are afraid of that freedom. Zen meditation practice is staring at the ‘donkey’. We stare at the donkey until we can see nothing but the donkey. The donkey is our vast true self that we always ignore.

Sometimes I think that we should buy an old donkey for the zendo. I could grow carrots for it. People could come by and pet the donkey. If somebody came and asked for some Zen instructions, I would say, “Why don’t you go and pet the donkey?” I think everyone would enjoy practicing in that way.

In petting the donkey, Zen practice would become something beyond the abstract conceptual realities we create for ourselves. Zen students would be forced to ‘get out of their heads’ and understand with their hands. Touching the donkey would become an act of enlightenment. Finally we could appreciate the simplicity of Zen. Zen would become something tactile, something we could feel. In time, instead of imagining Zen practice to be remote, always just beyond our reach, it would become something close at hand. The Zen master would not be an imposing, stern or forbidding presence, but rather just another harmless donkey caretaker.

Moonlit Crane Zendo

I would like to thank everyone for their kind words and sympathy that was offered to me and my family. In difficult times like this it is easy to recognize that one’s Sangha is the true refuge.

I was asked frequently about my ‘unpublishable’ book. I called it ‘unpublishable’ because it is not really a book but rather a collection of thoughts that has managed to escape from the discipline of Zen practice. This is why this book is titled One Hundred and Eight Confessions. In lieu of the weekly Dharma talk, I have decided to share another selection.

Moonlit Crane Zendo

Not knowing what I was doing, some years ago I opened a zendo. Our zendo is just a small room in an old farmhouse on the edge of civilization where farming was always marginal. Today, the fields surrounding the house are overgrown and the forest is reclaiming them back. In a red plastic flower pot by the garden gate, sometimes a morning glory will bloom. Come springtime, the old, disused barn will be taken over by a pair of ravens and in the big hay field east of the house, cranes will come and dance.

It is pastoral and quiet here. The countryside around the zendo is sparsely populated. In this rural setting you will find hunters and fishermen, lumberjacks and cattle ranchers. They are largely oblivious to the presence of our zendo. We are hidden, while being in plain sight. Neighbors go about their lives, family and friends, work and church on Sundays. When we do come across each other, we always wave and smile.

Sometimes people do come and sit with me – two or three, four or five, never a crowd. When people come, it always feels different from when I meditate alone. When they arrive, they come carrying their burdens, and even though our zendo is very small, there is enough space for all of the guests to leave those burdens behind. In the silence of our zendo, it is easy to let go of unnecessary things. Returning home, they return unburdened. However soon enough, the spaciousness that was found in the zendo fades. The ashes of home-spun life weigh us down. We get entangled in the thicket of our days. Any possibility of practice is lost.

When I first opened the zendo, I did not know that zendos are places where we dump and leave behind our worries. The incense that burns there is the scent of relief. I did not know that the door to the zendo always remains hidden no matter how often one has walked through it in the past. As with our practice, this door has to be re-discovered day by day, week by week, season by season.