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Directed Effort vs. Relaxation in Meditation. Domyo – 2019-01-13
Domyo said: “For the last year or so at Bright Way, I’ve been emphasizing shikantaza as a practice of relaxation, letting go, doing nothing, and relinquishing any techniques. After discussions with many people, I’ve decided it’s probably best to present people with two paths to the calm, clear, still mind so important in Buddhism. One is a relaxation/letting go approach like shikantaza, but employing directed effort in meditation (and practice off the cushion) is also, of course, an entirely legitimate and valuable approach.”
On Sunday we discussed the differences between directed effort versus relaxation practice, and how to know which practice is right for you.
I Shouldn’t Feel Like This – A Practitioner’s Conundrum. Domyo – 2019-01-08
Buddhism teaches that you can change the nature of your experience by changing your own mind and behaviors – increasing the proportion of your life spent feeling calm, confident, positive,and compassionate. Sometimes, after many years of effort, we experience negative thoughts and emotions and find ourselves thinking, “I shouldn’t feel like this.” I discuss how to practice with this conundrum, and suggest that sometimes our internal experience can’t or shouldn’t be changed, but simply tolerated.
Two Buddhist Emotions Important for Our Practice Samvega and Prasada. Domyo – 2018-12-02
“Buddhism is full of fascinating and useful concepts that help us make sense of our experience and engage our lives more skillfully. This week, I encountered two concepts that were new to me, and I feel like I’ve been looking for them all my life!” – Domyo
Samvega and prasada are complex emotions the Buddha encouraged us to recognize and cultivate, and they really can’t be translated. About samvega, Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes, “It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range—at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that comes with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complicity, complacency, and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” Prasada is similarly complex, but could be translated as “clarity and serene confidence.”
Samvega is what inspires us to practice. It’s different than dukkha, which is dissatisfaction created by our own minds. Far from discouraging samvega, Buddhism embraces it, addresses it head on, and even encourages us to keep it alive. However, we need to balance samvega with prasada, a calm confidence in the path of practice that can free us from suffering. Join us for a conversation on these topics on Sunday. And to read more about samvega and prasada, read Thanissaro’s essay: Affirming the Truths of the Heart
The Ten Ox-herding Pictures: Descriptive Rather Than Prescriptive Stages of Practice. Domyo – 2018-11-04 PDF of the Pictures we Discussed
In Zen, for the most part, we get no clear course of training and few external affirmations of whether we are doing it right, progressing, or achieving anything. How can we maintain our focus and motivation in Buddhist practice? In essence, we are asked to patiently and diligently to apply ourselves to a demanding and repetitive practice, and… well, that’s it. Still – there are stages in Buddhist practice. It is not that no development or progress occurs, it’s just that it is usually subtle and intimately entwined with our lives. In Zen, we have a lovely visual teaching – Ten Oxherding Pictures – that illustrates our stages of practice when we’re not trying to go anywhere besides right here.
Soto Zen Buddhist Association Conference Report. Domyo – 2018-09-30
The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) is about 17 years old and, so far, a professional organization of Soto Zen priests (although there’s talk of expanding it in the future to include lay Zen teachers and sangha membership, and Domyo would like to see this). Last week Domyo attended the 8th biennial SZBA conference at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. For our Dharma Talk, Sunday 9/30, Domyo gave a report on the conference and the important things she’s taken away from it. There’s also a brief report in the online Buddhist magazine “Lion’s Roar” you can read: “Soto Zen priests discuss diversity and privilege at biennial gathering”. That article includes the text of an inspiring equity statement created by members of the SZBA and proclaimed during the meeting.
Vow and Intention. Shintai – 2018-09-23
As autumn approaches, we naturally turn inward and intensify our practice. Shintai offers a Dharma talk and leads a discussion about how we turn towards our deeper aspirations and sustain this effort over time in the form of vows of practice. We explored the usefulness of vows and how to formulate vows.
Buddhist Practice: Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions. Domyo – 2018-08-19
“Intrusive” thoughts and emotions arise repeatedly with enough intensity for them to be disturbing or distracting, even though they aren’t objectively relevant or helpful as they’re arising. In this talk Domyo describes how to use Buddhist practice – meditation and mindfulness – to reduce the intrusiveness of irrelevant or unhelpful thoughts and emotions by decreasing our identification with the content of our experience and increasing our identification with our natural, spacious awareness.
Zen Practices in Our Daily Lives. Fumyo – 2018-08-12
Dharma Teacher Fumyo talks on “Zen Practices in Our Daily Lives” also described as “Social Action Zen”, by Peter Matthiessen, and “Living a Life that Matters” by Bernie Glassman. He starts by describing why people come to Zen. In a fluid and cogent presentation, he includes portions of Dogen’s manual on Monastery Rules, Tenzo Kyokun, or Instructions to the Chief Cook.
The Value of Studying and Wrestling with Buddhist Teachings. Domyo – 2018-07-29
There are an almost overwhelming number of Buddhist teachings, and Zen emphasizes practice – particularly zazen and precepts – over what we know. Is it really necessary to study? Isn’t study just an intellectual exercise?
Ideally, no. It’s extremely valuable (necessary?) to be familiar with foundational Buddhist teachings so they can give structure to our lives – context, direction, and framing. However, we don’t just accept the teachings in a rote way. The lively, fruitful aspect of the teachings arises when we wrestle with them – when we reflect on our own personal, direct experience in the light of the teachings.
We ask, “What do the teachings say about this situation?” Then we wrestle: Do the teachings fit our experience? Do we understand the teachings? Do we resist them? Why? What do we think is true? When we find a place where the teachings and our experience meet, our understanding of the teachings is deepened and our life is truly informed by Buddhism. We can call this process “Dharma Reflection.”
Domyo talks about this process, and also about how to go about studying the Buddhist teachings so you have the basis for Dharma Reflection. (What teachings should you know, and where do you begin – or continue – your study?)
Summer Practice. Zen Teacher Shintai Dungay – 2018-07-22
Summer is often a time of outward activity, often including family get-togethers, vacations, and enjoying the outdoors. It can be a time when the discipline we bring to practice loosens a bit–we may not sit quite as often and some of the reminders of practice that we have included in our day get forgotten at times. The relaxation that occurs in summer can be quite useful. It’s a time to reflect and ask “What of my practice feels integrated? and “What could use a little support?” We explored the topic of the practice of summer this Sunday.
Dealing with Fear, Anger, and Hatred as a Buddhist. Domyo – 2018-07-01
Domyo highlights some of the most important teachings of our tradition regarding how to deal with fear, anger, and hatred – our own, or that of others. We discuss how our practice can relieve us of some of the weight and stress of our own negative emotions, and how that doesn’t in any way decrease our capacity to respond with wisdom, compassion, and skillfulness. In fact, our practice, ideally, prepares us for the best possible response – which does not mean accepting or allowing destructive behavior from others.
Expectations and Assumptions. Zen Teacher Jyoshin Clay – 2018-06-10
Jyoshin is a monk and teacher at Dharma Rain Zen Center, a Dharma sister of both Domyo and Shintai. She’s also a regular teacher at Wy’East Zen Center in Sandy, and served as our tenzo for our first sesshin last August.
Our Luminous Mind, our Buddha Nature. Zen Teacher Fumyo Mishaga – 2018-05-27
When we look deeply into our own existence, into who we really are, and into what is our relationship to all that is surrounds, we confront the reality of what we Buddhists express as our Buddha Nature. This essence, our true nature, that we share with all beings makes it possible to realize enlightenment, to become Buddhas.
Over the centuries, the experience of Buddha Nature has been expressed in different ways with various nuances. This Sunday, we explored some of those nuances of this life affirming belief and what it means to us personally and how it is manifested in our daily lives. Zen teacher Fumyo Mishaga is a Dharma brother of Domyo and Shintai, and has given a talk at Bright Way Zen before.
Greed: One Of The Three Poisons. Zen Teacher Shintai Dungay – 2018-05-13
This week’s Dharma talk will focus on the Buddhist teachings on greed, one of the three poisons or ways in which we create suffering for ourselves. Greed can show up in subtle and unexpected ways. We can be greedy for non-materials things like more time or more affection.
Greed, Hate, and Delusion: The Buddhist Teaching of the Three Poisons. Domyo – 2018-05-06
The Buddha taught that all harmful action and suffering arises from greed (or grasping), hate (or aversion), and/or delusion (or ignorance of the truth). However, instead of seeing human beings as tainted by these weaknesses or inclinations, Buddhism teaches that our experience is determined by our actions. As long as we recognize greed, hate, and delusion when they arise, we can choose to act based on non-greed, non-hate, and non-delusion instead. Domyo introduces this teaching and talks about how useful it is for navigating our own lives more skillfully, as well as how it could be a powerfully transformative teaching for whole societies.
What’s the Big Deal About Zazen? Domyo – 4-29-2018
Zen master Dogen wrote Bendowa in 1231 to introduce his Japanese students to Soto Zen. In a sense, then, it’s “Soto Zen in a nutshell.” Domyo introduces the text and the context in which it was written, and talks about how and why Dogen recommends zazen – seated meditation – above all other Buddhist practices. She also talks about how Soto Zen elevates zazen far above a mere method for achieving awakening to enactment of enlightenment itself.
Is this Spiritual Practice? Zen Teacher Shintai Dungay – 2018-04-22
At many stages of our practice, we ask ourselves, “Am I really practicing?” Sometimes it feels like nothing is really happening—-or there is the feeling that everyone else seems to know what what they are doing except you. This week, Shintai offers a Dharma Talk and leads the discussion about how we grapple with questions of what practice is and how we know if we are really practicing.
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and the Power of Compassion – Domyo – 2018-04-15
Avalokiteshvara is the archetypal bodhisattva of compassion, also called Guan Yin, Kannon, or Kanzeon. The many teachings and stories around Avalokiteshvara express the Buddhist view that compassion is a force unto itself – a reflection of interdependence and something that functions freely when we simply get ourselves out of the way. Rather than compassion being merely a feeling, something we create, or an ideal for personal conduct, we practice in order to tap into and more skillfully manifest the compassion that’s already inherent in the universe.
You Don’t Need to Improve or Get Anything to Fulfill the Buddha Way – Domyo – 2018-04-01
You don’t need to improve one iota, change anything about yourself, or obtain anything you don’t already have, in order to fulfill the Buddha Way and directly experience the ultimate goal of Zen. You don’t have to lose weight, overcome your anxiety or depression, deepen your compassion, end your addictions, or improve your relationships. You don’t have to understand Buddhism, master the art of meditation, or experience special insights. No need to perfect your morality, generosity, mindfulness, self-discipline, or become any more responsible or capable than you already are. Without a single improvement, without the addition of a single thing, this very moment you can awaken.
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Beyond Mindfulness: The Radical Practice of Unified Self – Domyo – 8-7-16
Domyo presents an alternative to mindfulness practice that she calls, for now, the “Radical Practice of Unified Self (or Presence).” She offers this because she believes the concept of mindfulness – at least the way it is typically understood – can limit our spiritual development. It can become a dualistic trap that causes us to reject much of what we are as human beings…
She also says, “Before I explain, I want to state that I think it is essential that we start our practice with mindfulness. We also benefit from returning to that practice again and again over the course of our days and lives. What I’m going to talk about here is how we move beyond mindfulness and avoid (or drag ourselves out of) the potential pitfalls of the practice. I discovered these pitfalls by falling into them, so, in part, this is a confession of my own struggles with mindfulness…”
Reconciling the Absolute and the Relative in Your Life – Domyo – 2015-02-15
Most of us experience the relative nature of our life more or less as default. This is the realm of duality: large and small, correct and incorrect, self and other. The relative is where we function, and this functioning requires discernment and attention to cause and effect. The absolute is the reality of our direct experience right here, right now, free of any conceptualization whatsoever. Experienced directly, everything is simply thus – inexplicably precious, luminous, and complete. Becoming personally intimate with the absolute nature of life is an essential step in our Zen practice. The absolute and relative are not just complex spiritual concepts. They are at the center of every pressing human question, from the personal to the global.
Keeping Vows And Resolutions – Domyo – 1-5-14
Whether our intention is to meditate more, get in shape, manage our time better, keep in touch with family, or be more generous, it is useful to clarify and state our intention in terms of a vow or resolution. But why is it vows or resolutions are so often forgotten or broken? What can we do to help ourselves maintain them? How can we carefully craft our vows so they are doable but still inspiring? How can a vow reflect our deepest aspiration, instead of being a thinly veiled rejection of part of ourselves?
Four Elements Of A Bodhisattva’s Social Relations – Domyo – 12-22-13
Dogen Zenji wrote “Four Elements of a Bodhisattva’s Social Relations” in 1243, but it is still very relevant today. A Bodhisattva is an “enlightening being” – one who continues to enlighten her or himself, and works to support others on their path to awakening. According to Dogen, a Bodhisattva does this through 1) free giving; 2) kind speech; 3) helpful conduct, and 4) cooperation.
Change Without Violence – Domyo – 12-15-13
How do we identify things we want to change in our lives and in ourselves without indulging in subtle rejection, which breaks the precept “do not kill”?
The Noble Eightfold Path – 11/10/2013
We don’t talk about the Eightfold Path very often in Zen, but Zen includes all the same elements – we just refer to them a little differently, or assume they are part of our practice. It can be useful to hear the Dharma phrased and described in different ways – sometimes something sinks in because we hear it for the first time in a new way. The Eightfold Noble Path: Right view/understanding/knowing, Right resolve/intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration
The Four Divine Abidings – 11/3/2013
The Four Divine Abidings, or the Four Immeasurables, are an ancient Buddhist teaching on peaceful and intimate relationship – with other beings, and with everything. They are loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), empathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha).
Inviting Our Ghosts to Be Present with Us – 10/27/2013
In the fall, Zen Buddhists celebrate the Segaki festival, or the festival of the hungry ghosts. “Ghosts” can be the persistent and troubling memories of people we have lost, but ghosts can also be unresolved karma of other kinds. It is very tempting to avoid or repress our ghosts, so during Segaki we consciously invite them to be present with us for a while. This allows us to remember and acknowledge them, learn from them, and maybe even take a step toward the resolution that will allow them to leave us in peace. (In this talk we read an article on Segaki aloud, written by Kyogen Carlson, which can be found here: http://dharma-rain.org/on-segaki/)
Bringing All of Our Selves Together
A “self” is way we manifest at particularly times, in particular situations. A self is always changing, but it does have some continuity in terms of tendencies, energies and habits of thought. Using this manner of speaking, you have lots of “selves:” a parental self, a child self, a politically righteous self, a sad, discouraged self, an angry self, a teacher self, a daydreamy self, a greedy self… We need all of our selves to participate in Zen practice. We may hope to exclude, reform or banish some of our selves, but it’s not going to work. Any self that we fight will only fight back, and prevent us from finding any peace in our practice. Instead, we need to gently and respectfully encourage each self to participate in practice. The more “selves” we get together on the cushion, the more energy and motivation we have for practice.
Stages of Practice When You’re Going Nowhere
With no clear course of training and no external affirmations of whether we are doing it right, progressing, or achieving anything, how can we maintain our focus and motivation in Zen practice? In Zen we are taught to give up petty ideas about attainment and to realize there is no place to go other than right here. In essence, we are asked to patiently and diligently apply ourselves to a demanding and repetitive practice, and… well, that’s it. There’s nobility in this kind of goalless patience and diligence, but how realistic is it to expect it from Zen practitioners who don’t have their black belts yet? After all, goallessness is a goal, not something that comes easily (unless you are actually just uninspired).
Not Needing to Have an Opinion
It’s rather amazing, but it possible to experience something without having to judge it, evaluate it, or form an opinion about it. Instead, you rest in don’t-know mind – leaving you more receptive and objective.