Teacher’s Blog

A Handy Chart for Understanding Absolute and Relative

Zen talks about absolute and relative alot – which each one is, how to wake up to the absolute, and how to reconcile and harmonize the two sides. Sometimes the discussion of relative and absolute can get pretty philosophical and abstract. To help ground and guide our conversation the other evening, I created a chart describing the relative (ji) and absolute (ri) dimensions of reality. Take a look, and see if some of the terms associated with ji and ri resonate with aspects of your own...

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Zazen: The Incredibly Difficult Practice of Not-Doing

Our practice of zazen is also known as shikantaza, a Japanese term that can be translated as “nothing but precisely sitting.” The whole point is to just sit there. Doing nothing. A practice of not-doing. This is so difficult for us, we can hardly even conceive of it. Instead, we imagine we are supposed to sit there meditating. We’re supposed to concentrate, or be aware of this moment, or something. Anything. Anything but really, really doing nothing. When I settle into my...

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Renewal in the Stillness and Silence of Meditation

It can be helpful to think of meditation as renewal time for our body-minds. The space of meditation, at least Zen meditation, involves a realignment of the self with the universe. Getting caught up in activity can invite us to assert the self against the world, especially when we care deeply about what we’re doing. We get busy trying to understand, maneuver, express, create, change, hurry, finish, resist, and come up with an effective plan. Our actions may even be fruitful, but...

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The Practice of “Not-Knowing:” Relief of Stress, Ground for Effective Action

What’s your response when I say, “The best way to respond to the great suffering in the world is with the practice of ‘not-knowing’?” Maybe you react to that statement with suspicion and aversion. Part of me does, because I care deeply about the suffering, destruction, and injustice in the world and want to do something about them. Responding with “not-knowing” sounds like retreating into complacency – doing nothing to change the world, and using the excuse like, “You can’t know what to...

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Five Ways to Make Your Work Spiritual Practice

These are five ways we can make our work into spiritual practice. They’re from the “Tenzokyokun,” or “Instructions to the [Head Monastery] Cook,” which was written by Zen master Dogen in 1237, following a long tradition of Zen “work practice.” In the essay, Dogen writes, “just working as tenzo is the incomparable practice of the Buddhas.” While it may seem like specific instructions for cook in a traditional Zen monastery isn’t relevant to...

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Deepening Your Zazen: When It’s Good Not to Be Satisfied

If you’re always satisfied with your zazen, you’re probably selling yourself short. If you’re never satisfied with your zazen, you may want to learn how to deepen it. Possibly the worst thing to do is ignore any dissatisfaction with your zazen because you think you’re not supposed to feel dissatisfied with it. It’s easy to come to this conclusion in Buddhism, where we’re taught that, essentially, dissatisfaction – dukkha – is a disease of the...

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Why Does God/Buddha Nature Let Bad Things Happen?

Humans have been struggling with this dilemma for ages: God is good - even synonymous with love - and all-powerful, so why does he continue to allow such suffering in the world? For a Zen Buddhist, this question is phrased like this: All being is Buddha-nature and this empty world is inherently precious and without defilement, but still the world is full of suffering. It feels as if there are two separate realities - and much of the time it seems they have nothing to do with each other. How do we integrate them? Is it possible?

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The Importance of Sangha Part 5 of 5 – Sangha As Service

Part 5 of the Importance of Sangha (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4): There are many, many more benefits of Sangha I could go into, but I’ll end this series of posts with how Sangha can become a practice of generosity and service to others. Let’s say you’ve been part of a Sangha for many years and your Zen or Buddhist practice is strong. You have a pretty good understanding of the Dharma, you can see your Dharma friends outside of Sangha events, and you’ve experienced a fair amount of...

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The Importance of Sangha Part 4

Some sangha relationships can be very difficult and challenging over the years, but exactly those relationships present the greatest opportunity for growth. We learn and change as a result of our friction with one another - like potatoes cleaning one another in a sink full of water, or rocks being polished in a tumbler. In our most uncomfortable relationships, we may also have the chance to recognize and resolve lifelong negative karma.

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The Importance of Sangha Part 3

Continuing with the importance of Sangha: It's very precious to form Dharma friendships! These can last a lifetime. At the same time, social interactions aren't always easy. Sangha also presents us with an opportunity to work through our social issues because we all commit to taking responsibility for ourselves, stop blaming others, and examine our reactions.

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Our Zazen Is the Most Profound Thing We Do

Doing - or allowing - zazen (that is, shikantaza, or "just sitting") directly challenges our normal, self-centered way of being. It asks us to be as alert and attentive as if our hair was on fire (!) even as we give up every single agenda, no matter how subtle. We let go of trying to improve ourselves, understand, feel more calm, gain insight, relax, everything. We even let go of "trying to be awake for each moment of our life" in a kind of greedy way. It's amazing how pervasive and subtle our agendas are... there's almost always one lurking below the surface if you look for it.

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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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