Teacher’s Blog

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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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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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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Do All Beings Have Buddha Nature? No.

In one of the most famous Zen koans, a monk asks Zen master Joshu whether a dog has buddha nature. According to Buddhist teachings, all beings have – or are – awakened nature. This may be interpreted as saying all beings have the potential to awaken to reality and liberate themselves and others from self-imposed suffering, or that all life wakes up to the truth eventually, so all beings will inevitably become buddhas. It’s a lovely vision in any case. Joshu answers the monk, “Mu.”...

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Am I Practicing Hard Enough?

If you think of yourself as having a Zen practice, you should regularly ask yourself this question. On the other hand, if the question stresses you out, you’re missing the point of Zen practice. I am coming to believe that the essence of Zen is learning to embrace paradox. This means learning to fully engage with life even when you encounter a situation where two apparently contradictory things are simultaneously true. In paradox, it’s not that one thing is sometimes true and the opposing thing is true at other times. It’s not that the situation looks a particular way from one vantage point, and looks another way from a different vantage point. In paradox, both things are fully true at exactly the same time. When you consider how hard you’re practicing, the paradox is this: You can always practice harder, and should, and Perfect, complete practice is always – and instantly – available to you this very moment. Let’s examine both sides of this paradox, and then how real practice is about fully actualizing both.

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Stages of Practice When You’re Going Nowhere

My 8-year-old nephew has been training in karate. Last time I talked to him about it, he expressed frustration. “I haven’t been there for the summer,” he said. “If I go back they’ll make me do all the same stuff over again.” He expressed interest in taking Taekwondo instead, because –according to a friend of his – there you get to do all kinds of neat kicks right off the bat, and you get to progress to higher belt levels more quickly....

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Enlightenment as Choice, Not Skill

You can choose to be enlightened this moment. Your enlightenment does not depend on any skill such as the ability to concentrate, the ability to stay in the present moment, or the ability to overcome your attachments. Perfect Zen meditation, or zazen, is the same thing as enlightenment. The reality of enlightenment can never be completely conveyed in words, but these point toward it: resting in the sufficiency of being. Letting go of the concern for self that leads us to ponder the past and...

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“Religious” Versus “Spiritual” Versus “Practicing Being Human”

Many people will say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” What does this really mean, and what significance do these concepts have in our world? When people describe themselves as “spiritual” they usually mean that they pay attention to aspects of life beyond our personal physical, emotional and mental concerns. By “spiritual” they refer to intangible things like meaning, universal truths, the nature of existence, or, literally, spirits and deities. When they say they are “not religious,” on the...

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Conundrum and Koan

If "koan" was a more widely used and understood word in English, I would have described this blog as "Essays on the Koan of Life." In Zen, a koan is a question, problem or situation that requires (sometimes demands) resolution, but cannot be resolved through reason. According to the Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, "a koan requires a leap to another level of comprehension." I like the understanding of conundrum as "a logical postulation that...

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