Gendo Roshi in Live Stream Tonight

Enlightened Lawn Mower

Gendo Roshi will deliver a teisho via his live stream YouTube channel this evening at 7:15 PM.  The title of his talk is “How to the Mow the Lawn: Honoring Our Ango Commitments.”

This event constitutes Great Wave’s first attempt at live streaming and for that reason should be considered somewhat “experimental.”  Viewers are encouraged to use the live chat feature during the talk to ask questions.  Roshi will do his best to answer them.

If you cannot participate in the live stream, a recording will be available on YouTube.

Finding Time for Zazen

As most of you know, zazen or seated meditation (“sitting”) is the core of our practice.  Zazen helps us quiet the mind, temporarily reducing and sometimes eliminating the chatter of our various internal voices.  When they quiet down, we can objectively reflect on that which is actually present.  In that space, we have an opportunity to discover who, or what, we really are—as opposed to what all of that monkey-mind chatter tells us we are.

As wonderful as that opportunity is, however, we often struggle to find time for zazen.  We are not monks living in temples, supported by our local communities, with only our spiritual practice to attend to.  No, we have to work jobs, take care of families, homes, cars, pets, neighbors, and so on.  Most of the time, we think we are busier than we want to be.  Often, our internal voices tell us with convincing, work-a-day authority that we don’t have time for zazen.  Zazen, these voices seem to say, is yet another thing we have to add on top of a stack of many other things that is already too much to manage.  Sometimes it seems like we need a bigger warehouse so that we can forklift in thirty minutes of zazen.

We do have another voice, however, that speaks to us with a different message.  It says that zazen is not a thing added to all of the other things in our lives.  In fact, this other voice continues, life is not at all like a stack or a pile or a boxful of things that we have to somehow force into what is already a bulging life-space.  This other voice says that life is just living, moment by moment.  Each moment contains the same amount of living space and living time.  You cannot put more into it or take anything out of it.  It is what it is, so why not relax?

Of course, it’s very hard to believe that this voice is telling us the truth when the baby’s diaper needs changing at the same time that that pot of bean soup on the stove is boiling over and a long-awaited phone call has now to be answered.  But the difference between someone who sits and someone who doesn’t is that the one who sits isn’t anxious and hysterical about those dirty-diaper-soup-pot-and-phone-call-all-at-once moments of life.  That person instantly sees which thing—the diaper, the soup, or the phone—will be attended to first.  Which one do you suppose it is?  There is a right answer here.  But if you think of life as an ever-accumulating tsunami of things and tasks, you’ll just be guessing, trying to triage your way out of the impossible.  You also can’t just evade the question by saying it doesn’t matter.  So what are you going to do?

And to return to the central question, how will you find time for zazen while doing everything else you have to do?  Those who sit can see in an instant when they will do it.   How have they managed to figure this out?  How will you?

Gendo Roshi is Spiritual Director of Great Wave Zen Sangha.




On Master Dogen’s “Uji” (“The Time-Being”)

Gendo Roshi‘s talk on Eihei Dogen Zenji’s essay “Uji” or “The Time-Being” appears below.

“Uji,” composed in 1240, is one fascicle of master Dogen’s extended work, The Kana Shobogenzo or Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.  You may read a translation of “Uji” here.

Gendo Roshi encourages the submission of comments here or on Great Wave’s YouTube channel.

Dragon Howls and Tiger Roars

Eihei Dogen Zenji once said to his assembly:

A dragon howls in a dark cave; the whole universe quiets.  A tiger roars at the edge of a cliff; the cold valley becomes warm.  Kaa!”

Utagawa Yoshitsuya (1822-1866), Japanese.
Utagawa Yoshitsuya (1822-1866), Japanese.

This is what you have been hearing all along, even if you don’t realize it.  You hear it when the wind blows through the trees or when you set a spoon down on the table.  But to hear it right, you have to become a dragon or a tiger.

How do you do that?  How do you become a dragon or a tiger?  It’s all well and good to answer, “Let go!” or “Sit!” or “Practice zazen!”  But if you sit in zazen that is just the cave; if you let go, that is just the edge of a cliff.  Where is the dragon, where the tiger?  How do you hear the howl at the center of the universe, the roar beyond life and death?

Sometimes, as I take a step when walking in kinhin, I disappear.  But the stepping is still there.  Seated in zazen, the cushion is all by itself, but breathing still happens.  If you want to penetrate into this, you will have to be alone.  I do not mean that you need to be solitary.  To be alone means to apprise yourself of your immaculate nature.  To apprise yourself of your immaculate nature, leave off dragons and tigers entirely.  Do not make something up about sun-warmed valleys or the quiet of interstellar space. [avatar user=”roshi” size=”thumbnail” align=”right” link=””]Gendo Roshi is Spiritual Director of Great Wave Zen Sangha.[/avatar]

Just go on toward it and, without howling or roaring, tell me: what is the sound of your whole life?



Small Talk: Painting the Moon

Inky Moon

I think of painting as a matter of placing pigments of various kinds on paper or fabric.  Depending on the nature of the pigment, it reflects more or less light.  To paint a picture of the moon with black ink, you could paint a disk, but your picture would not look like the full moon; it would look like the new moon or the eclipsed moon, reflecting very little light.  So painting the moon with ink is really a matter of not painting it at all.  You paint the whole sky instead, except for one, small disk-shaped or crescent-shaped space.  To give over so much space to ink, is actually what makes the moon appear with such clarity to the viewer.  It is the moon, and not the sky, that becomes the object of attention.

Painting the moon with ink can be thought of as a metaphor for the core practice of zazen.  Whether sitting with koans or sitting shikantaza, your job is to seclude the mind from distracting, self-centered thoughts.  But just as you can’t reveal the moon without ink, you can’t reveal the secluded mind of realization without using the monkey-mind of samsara.  You could say that meditation is therefore an act of accepting your screeching, swinging monkey-mind in the same way that an artist accepts masses of black ink in order to reveal the bright, pure light of the moon.

In zazen, therefore, just notice, with perfect equipoise, the places where you stick—your wishful thinking, your regrets, your worries about the future, and so on.  If, as they arise, you give them all the space they want, then, even if they want the whole sky, your mind will no longer feel crowded—and all the demands that those thoughts have been making for your attention will disappear at once.  At the same time, the most beautiful and precious jewel of Mind will shine forth, and this light, like the real moon in the night sky, will guide you.

If you penetrate deeply into this, then you should be able to answer this question: With the ink of your life and the brush of Zen, how do you paint the moon on black paper?

(Create an account, log in, and leave a comment.)

Small Talk: Always Facing the World

Like the moon in its many phases, human beings, trees, mountains, asteroids, and amoebas are all subject to moment-by-moment creation and destruction.

Original caption from NASA: "S103-E-5037 ...
The full moon partially obscured by Earth’s atmosphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people who understand the law of impermanence understand the appearance of things created and destroyed.  But only Buddhas recognize the creation of the created and the creation of the destroyed.  Creation and destruction are entirely an appearance.  This coming and going of things in our lives can make us either miserable or delighted.  When we lose something we want or have to deal with something we dislike, we recognize our suffering right away.  When things are OK, or even better than OK, we recognize a sense of gratifying pleasure.  And although nothing has been lost or gained, and the situation itself has not caused our reaction, those who do not know how to look will derive only suffering from their self-clinging.  It is often thought that Zen meditation (zazen) will help one evade, or block out, the reality of change, or somehow cacoon impermanence in a silent numbness, but that is not the case.   We can’t avoid change any more than the moon can avoid going through its phases.

But the moon reveals more than just a series of phases.  If you’ve ever studied the moon, you know that, even though it continuously waxes and wanes, it is always the same side of the moon that faces Earth.   It is like this in meditation too.  We take a step back and look with a keen, non-reactive awareness at the reality we are living.  We directly and honestly face the world as squarely as we can, carefully and objectively observing the reality of change, and the unreality of our desires that would oppose it.  As the haze of unreality clears, we gradually discern a constancy that lies behind it all.  That constancy is beyond all knowing; it is beyond all desires.

In practicing zazen, therefore, you can discover the side of you that is always facing the world.  Then, even as you and the world turn and change, you will be ready for anything that comes.

Now I will tell you that, at the moment when the great master Nagyaharajuna transmitted the Dharma to Kanadaiba, he is said to have appeared as the full moon.  How do you understand this?  Is this full moon a “phase,” or is it the true “face” of Nagyaharajuna?  If you say “phase,” you have closed your eyes; if you say “face,” you are blind.  And if you know how to answer in an instant, how does that help you in your daily life?

%d bloggers like this: