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Teacher’s Blog

From the Individual to the Global Scale: Greed, Hatred and Ignorance Cause Suffering

For millennia, spiritual traditions have recognized that greed, hatred, and ignorance cause suffering in the human heart. Now it’s time to recognize that greed, hatred, and ignorance inevitably cause suffering at whatever scale they manifest: individual, family, community, national, or global. For too long we have separated our values from our economic and political systems...

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Four Ways to Remain Open When We Witness Incredible Suffering

How do we remain open when we witness incredible suffering without being overwhelmed with despair? If we close ourselves off, we deactivate our conscience, hide out in denial and ignorance, reduce our sense of intimacy with all life, and let our heart atrophy. How do we walk the middle path that is neither denial nor despair? It's possible, although it's not easy...

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The Effort of Non-Effort (Meditation Is Not Something You Do)

I teach 8-10 new people to "do" Zen meditation every month. At times I feel kind of radical, but more and more I just want to tell them to sit still and do nothing at all. After 20 years of Zen practice, 14 years as Zen monk, and 5 years as a Zen teacher, I'm becoming deeply convinced that meditation is not something you do. Basically, just deliberately put yourself in the position of not doing anything, and the transformative and healing power of meditation takes care of itself.

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What Is Meant By Zen “Practice”?

If you have spent any time in a Zen community, or reading Zen books, you will have encountered the term “practice” countless times. Zen ancestors and teachers exhort us to practice diligently. Fellow practitioners talk to one another about their practice: “I have been practicing 20 years,” or “I just started practice.” I offer a definition of practice: Inquiry & behaviors to address & resolve one’s deepest questions, longings, & fears, to live the best possible human life.

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Why Your (Real) Happiness Benefits Others

When we practice real happiness, we wake up. We notice everything – and not just what we can see and hear in our immediate environment. We notice the state of the world, and the state of our heart. We recognize calls to respond, and then our best response naturally arises. We recognize what’s ours to do, and we’re free to do it because we’re not caught up in our own misery, or in pursuing conditional happiness.

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Questions Are More Important Than Answers

Everyone wants answers. We figure answers tell us how to live more happily. Answers let us fix things, while questions are simply problems to be solved with answers. Preferably answers come sooner than later because questions point to limitations in our understanding or ability, and they’re often associated with discomfort. I think this view of questions is unfortunate, because the process of arousing and engaging questions is where all growth and aliveness occurs. We directly encounter...

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Instructions for Zazen in Eight Verses – Explained

Sit in a balanced, stable position with your spine erect. Body and mind are one and posture is dynamic; proper sitting requires your full attention. Instructions for physical posture may seem uninteresting or elementary because we conceive of our minds and bodies being separate. To meditate, we figure all we need to do is to get our body into some relatively comfortable position, and then leave it there like a lump of clay while we engage some “meditative technique” with our minds. However,...

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How Physically Sitting Zazen Keeps the Precepts Perfectly

Parts in bold are from the text of the Bodhisattva Precepts; parts in italics explain how we keep a particular precept during the simple act of zazen. The Gateway of Contrition All my past and harmful karma, Born from beginningless greed, hate and delusion, Through body, speech, and mind, I now fully avow. A contrite heart is open to the dharma, and finds the gateway to the precepts clear and unobstructed.  Bearing this in mind, we should sit up straight in the presence of the buddha and make...

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Genjokoan #13: If Everything’s Okay, Why Do Anything?

[From the Genjokoan:] [The] Zen Master of Mt. Magu was waving a fan. A monk approached him and asked, “The nature of wind is ever present and permeates everywhere. Why are you waving a fan?” The master said, “You know only that the wind’s nature is ever present—you don’t know that it permeates everywhere.” The monk said, “How does wind permeate everywhere?” The master just continued waving the fan. The monk bowed deeply. The genuine experience of Buddha Dharma and the vital path that has been...

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Genjokoan #12: We Don’t Have to Be Other Than What We Are

 [From the Genjokoan:] When a fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the water. When a bird flies, no matter how high it flies, it cannot reach the end of the sky. When the bird’s need or the fish’s need is great, the range is large. When the need is small, the range is small. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole of space and vigorously acts in every place. However, if a bird departs from the sky, or a fish leaves the water, it immediately dies. We...

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Genjokoan #11: The Nature of Truth

 [From the Genjokoan:] When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated body and mind, one thinks one is already filled with it. When the Dharma fills body and mind, one thinks something is [still] lacking. For example, when we sail a boat into the ocean beyond sight of land and our eyes scan [the horizon in] the four directions, it simply looks like a circle. No other shape appears. This great ocean, however, is neither round nor square. It has inexhaustible characteristics. [To a fish] it looks...

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Genjokoan #10: The Individual Versus the Universal

 [From the Genjokoan:] When a person attains realization, it is like the moon’s reflection in water. The moon never becomes wet; the water is never disturbed. Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew on a blade of grass. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization, as a drop of dew does not obstruct the...

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