Teacher’s Blog

Calling on the Power of Compassion

Many Buddhists throughout history have prayed to Kanzeon, the bodhisattva of compassion, for succor. That kind of prayer continues today. Kanzeon is also known as Avalokiteshvara, Kannon, and Guan Yin. Sometimes portrayed as male, sometimes as female, she’s hands-down the most popular of the Buddhist archetypal bodhisattvas. One of the standard Soto Zen daily chants is called the “Universal Gateway Chapter” (of the Lotus Sutra), which states: “If floating on a vast sea,...

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The Sangha Jewel: Community as a Medicine for Modern Ills

Over the last year, the Bright Way Zen community, our Sangha jewel, has grown significantly. This growth has not just been in terms of numbers (we now have 50 members), it’s been in terms of maturity, commitment, investment, and strength. More and more people consider Bright Way Zen to be their community – a group of people with whom they find social connection and support, a sense of being seen and appreciated, and a feeling of being needed. Belonging to a community can sometimes...

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You Can’t Walk the Path Without Help from Your Friends

Did you know admirable friendship is considered essential to walking the Buddhist path? The Buddha said “With regard to external factors, I don’t envision any other single factor like admirable friendship as doing so much for a monk in training,”[i] and this certainly applies to lay practitioners as well. What’s an admirable friend? About this the Buddha said: “The friend who is a helpmate, the friend in happiness and woe, the friend who gives good counsel, the friend who sympathizes...

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The Buddha’s Five Things to Consider Before Speaking

The Buddha taught there were five things to consider before speaking.[v] Is what you’re about to say: Factual and true Helpful, or beneficial Spoken with kindness and good-will (that is, hoping for the best for all involved) Endearing (that is, spoken gently, in a way the other person can hear) Timely (occasionally something true, helpful, and kind will not be endearing, or easy for someone to hear, in which case we think carefully about when to say it)   Will What We Say Be Helpful? In the...

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Right Speech: Refraining from Lying, Divisive or Abusive Speech, and Idle Chatter

The Buddha gave quite a number of teachings on right speech over the course of his 45-year teaching career. Clearly, he taught that paying attention to how you express yourself verbally was considered an essential part of practice. Obviously, our speech has an effect on other people, and unless we’re selfish or deluded, we care about that. On the positive side, our speech can convey love, and it can support or guide others in their own spiritual journey. Alternatively, our speech may trigger...

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Two Sides of Practice Part 3: When We Neglect Samadhi Power, and How the Two Sides are Complementary

What about neglecting samadhi power, and overemphasizing karma relationship? This is when we try to get free from our suffering, be a good and wholesome person, have harmonious relationships, and/or aspire to greater wisdom and compassion – and then we struggle in our efforts in same way we struggle with the rest of our ordinary tasks. Approaching things only from the relative perspective, we set goals or adopt ideals, work hard, notice when we’ve fallen short, devise another way, and try harder. Chances are good we also criticize ourselves, compare ourselves to others, and experience a mixture of frustration, pride, and shame. Caught up in the drama of the relative, we fail to see things from a larger perspective, and may succumb to arrogance, depression or despair.

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Two Sides of Practice Part 2: When We Neglect Karma Relationship

Two Sides of Practice, but Only One Reality I’ve heard people say karma relationship work is about the “relative world,” while samadhi power is about the absolute. There’s some truth in this statement, in the sense that relationships between beings and things are part of the relative aspect of reality. From the absolute perspective, there are no inherently-existing, separate beings and things that can be said to interact, and discriminations such as good and bad, right and wrong, don’t apply....

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Two Sides of Practice Part 1: Samadhi Power and Karma Relationship – Definitions

Buddhist practice can be seen as consisting of two parts, and both are essential. The first part is cultivating “samadhi power,” or our ability to perceive – or be awake to – the absolute aspect of reality. We do this through practices including meditation, mindfulness, and studying teachings such as impermanence and emptiness. The second part of our overall practice is working on “karma relationship,” or learning to live our daily lives in an enlightened way. We do this by working with our...

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Skillful Means: The Buddhist Teaching on How to Share Your Wisdom – Part 3

The Buddhist concept of “upaya,” expedient or skillful means, arose around the dawn of the common era – about 2,000 years ago. It emphasizes that even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share. The Lotus Sutra, written about 2000 years ago, describes six things to consider when we’re trying to get our message...

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Skillful Means: The Buddhist Teaching on How to Share Your Wisdom – Part 2

The Buddhist concept of “upaya,” expedient or skillful means, arose around the dawn of the common era – about 2,000 years ago. It emphasizes that even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share. The Lotus Sutra, written about 2000 years ago, describes six things to consider when we’re trying to get our message...

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Skillful Means: The Buddhist Teaching on How to Share Your Wisdom – Part 1

The Buddhist concept of “upaya,” expedient or skillful means, arose around the dawn of the common era – about 2,000 years ago. It emphasizes that even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share.

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The Middle Way Between Self-Centered and Do-Gooder

Most Zen teachers I know will readily admit to you that when they offer a teaching, it’s usually something that they need to remember as much as anyone. With that disclaimer, then, I can write this post without sounding like I’m criticizing everyone else for being self-centered while I’m so nobly free of self concern! The Buddhist path, from the beginning, has been called the Middle Way. What that means is we try to avoid extremes, which are generally paired and dualistic,...

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