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Teacher’s Blog

Genjokoan #9: The Nature of Life-and-Death

 [From the Genjokoan:] Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays in the position of ash, with its own before and after. As firewood never becomes firewood again after it has burned to ash, there is no return to living after a person dies....

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Genjokoan #8: The Paradox of Seeking, and Everything Is Moving

[From the Genjokoan:] When one first seeks the Dharma, one strays far from the boundary of the Dharma. When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, one is immediately an original person. If one riding in a boat watches the coast, one mistakenly perceives the coast as moving. If one watches the boat [in relation to the surface of the water], then one notices that the boat is moving. Similarly, when we perceive the body and mind in a confused way and grasp all things with a...

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Genjokoan #7: Learning the Self

[From the Genjokoan:] To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off. As Shohaku Okumura says in Realizing Genjokoan, the word translated as “to study” is narau, which means “to get accustomed to,” or “to become familiar with.” This isn’t intellectual study. To put it another way, “to become...

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Genjokoan #6: Our Experience of Absolute and Relative

[From the Genjokoan:] In seeing color and hearing sound with body and mind, although we perceive them intimately, [the perception] is not like reflections in a mirror or the moon in water. When one side is illuminated, the other is dark. Personally, I prefer the translation of the first sentence by Sojun Mel Weitsman and Kazuaki Tanahashi in the book Dogen’s Genjokoan: Three Commentaries (Counterpoint Press, 2012): “When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit...

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Genjokoan #5: What is the Nature of Awakening?

[From the Genjokoan:] Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas they don’t need to perceive they are buddhas; however, they are enlightened buddhas and they continue actualizing buddha. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Buddhas are awakened beings. We wonder what...

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Genjokoan #3: Mahayana Teachings and Dogen’s Take on the Great Matter

[From the Genjokoan:] When the ten thousand dharmas are without [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and no death. Since the Buddha Way by nature goes beyond [the dichotomy of] abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas. “When the ten thousand dharmas are without [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and...

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Genjokoan #2: The Basic Buddhist Teachings

[From the Genjokoan:] When all dharmas are the Buddha Dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. Okumura explains that the first sentence here refers to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha – basic Buddhism, in other words. To begin, then, let’s explore why the original Buddhist teachings are liberating. Essentially, they teach us that all things are impermanent, without an inherent, enduring self-nature, and therefore that no...

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The Power of Questions

Last Sunday we read chapter one, "Zazen as Inquiry," from Taigen Dan Leighton's Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry. Leighton writes: "What are we doing in zazen? Each of us have some question that somewhere back there was behind our wanting to engage in this Buddhist meditation. What question has led you to face the wall in zazen, what is this? There is a question that we each have to explore."

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The World Needs the Concept “Bodhisattva”

I hope that everyone who reads this will embrace the concept of a "bodhisattva" and share it widely, regardless of your interest in Buddhism, because I think it's what the world really needs. I've tried long and hard to come up with some way to translate the Buddhist term "bodhisattva" into something familiar, secular, and English, but I haven't had any luck. It takes whole sentences to describe what a bodhisattva is...

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Bursting the Mindfulness Bubble

A misguided practice of mindfulness can lead to an unfortunate restriction in my engagement with life - to the detriment of myself and others, particularly when it comes to social responsibility. It invites me to create a manageable mindfulness bubble around myself - reaching no further than my immediate surroundings, existing only this moment, and centered on my body...

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Zazen as Practicing Great Ease and Joy

Sometimes, when I find zazen challenging or dull, I engage it as a practice of trying to be completely joyful and at ease in this moment – just the way life is right now: in this body, with these aches, bad habits, and unfinished projects, in this moment’s confusing world that is so beautiful and terrible at the same time. This approach contrasts with practicing zazen in order to achieve joy and ease. When I’m meditating in order to obtain a result (such as relief from...

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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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The Experience of Less-Self

Excerpted with permission from Idiot’s Guides: Zen Living by Domyo Burk — As I mentioned earlier, you can’t recognize when you are living without the filter of your self-concept. The moment you think, “Ah, here I am, experiencing no-self,” the self-concept is obviously back. Still, you can learn to live with less-self, and this is definitely something you can appreciate and work on. Ironically, Zen practice can make experiencing less-self more difficult, at first. All of the Zen...

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Dispelling Illusion

Excerpted with permission from Idiot's Guides: Zen Living by Domyo Burk No matter how many things you recognize are not part of your self-essence, you can still persist in believ-ing you have one. After all, it just feels like you do. Even if you manage to let the mind settle in zazen, and refrain from identifying any of your thoughts and feelings as self, there’s you sitting zazen! Many Zen teachings and methods are aimed at getting you to drop this self illusion. One of...

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