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Teacher’s Blog

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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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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Provocative Zen Teachers

Some Zen teachers are pussy cats, and some are tigers. Some are emphatic, some are ambiguous, some are dogmatic, and some eschew all dogma. Which Zen teachers are right? When you are still searching for a teacher to trust, this may feel like a very important question. You are probably drawn to a particular kind of teacher, but you may also have doubts and feel drawn to more than one kind. The teacher at your local Zen center, for example, may present himself as a spiritual friend who can help...

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Zen: Secular or Religious?

In this essay I want to discuss religious versus secular  – secular meaning not religious – in the context of Zen, with respect to how these things are subjectively experienced, and how they affect your spiritual practice. However, before I do that I have to define a couple terms. After all, language describes our experience, but if we don’t examine our language we can actually limit our awareness of our experience. To begin, let’s define spiritual as I just used...

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What’s the Good of Zen Teachers?

Why, in a tradition like Buddhism in which you are supposed to verify everything for yourself, is there such an emphasis on Teachers? In Zen our relationships to teachers are complex and multilayered. Relationships with teachers, whether brief and informal or long-term and committed, are every bit as complex, nuanced and varied as any of our human relationships. Every teacher-student relationship is different. Like our other relationships, they can be supportive, rewarding, instructive,...

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Why Meditate for Eight Hours a Day for Six Straight Days?

Periodically Zen Buddhists gather for sesshin, or 5-10 day silent meditation retreats. During sesshin participants follow a rigorous schedule from dawn until dusk that includes 5-10 hours a day of seated meditation (and sometimes more). Sesshin is a powerful tool for spiritual transformation. A little like a meditation marathon, sesshin requires enormous endurance. Experiences during sesshin include periods of bliss, boredom, profound stillness and peace, agitation, exquisite appreciation for...

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Zen “Forms” (Established Ways of Doing Things) and How They Can Be Liberating

In traditional Zen practice we have a lot of what we call “forms.” Forms are the physical ways we do things… they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, place our shoes outside the door, the way we chant and offer incense, show respect for one another, and cook communal meals. Our forms include our rituals and ceremonies, the titles and names we use, and the rules, procedures, conduct, traditions and paraphernalia we encounter in our particular religious practice. If you practice Zen...

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The Paradox of “Taking Refuge” in a Non-theistic Religion

When someone wishes to become a Buddhist, they “take refuge” in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, after passing through the “gateway of contrition.” Yet Buddhism is not a theistic religion, and the Buddha’s last teaching was “be a lamp unto yourself.” Who or what is providing refuge to a Buddhist, and to whom are we confessing our shortcomings? How are the acts of taking refuge and being contrite compatible with being “a lamp unto yourself”? Some people have no trouble summoning...

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