When our country – or our global community – is broken, how do we practice? Faced with incomprehensible violence, injustice, lies, greed, and destruction, how do we cope, let alone respond in accord with our bodhisattva vows to help free all beings and end all delusions? Our first responses are usually anger, fear, judgment, and an effort to assign blame. Then may come a desire to check out – to ignore what’s happening because we feel powerless to do anything about it. I discuss how our Buddhist practice can help us remain open, strong, and responsive.
In the Lotus Sutra, thousands of the Buddha’s disciples line up, each requesting their own, personal prediction of buddhahood. What is this about? Shouldn’t advanced practitioners of the Buddha way be beyond any concern about themselves? I share the stories from the Lotus Sutra and discuss the teaching contained in them – namely, that we all have self-doubt, and that spiritual liberation is about transcending the self but only manifests through unique, individual sentient beings.
The annual Buddhist ceremony of “feeding the hungry ghosts,” or Sejiki, offers rich mythological imagery as a teaching. Metaphorically, a “ghost” is anything painful or difficult which continues to haunt the present although its causes lie in the past. Sejiki and its surrounding mythology encourages us to make peace with our ghosts: We acknowledge them, set appropriate boundaries, make an offering, and hope that, over time, the ghosts will be able to partake of some healing and liberating Dharma.
As I discussed in the last episode, if our zazen (seated meditation) practice is shikantaza, or just sitting, it can be difficult to remain wholehearted and attentive. I share nine more ways to enliven your zazen without employing methods that introduce dualism and struggle into your sitting. See Episode 184 for why this is important, and for my first five approaches.
When we sit zazen, it can be difficult to remain wholehearted and attentive. Because of the momentum of habit energy, we get wrapped up in thoughts about the past and future, or we fall asleep, fantasize, or brood in worry or negative judgements. Our meditative practice (zazen) gives us nothing to concentrate on, nothing to do, so how can we enliven our zazen? In this episode I’ll discuss how to avoid duality and struggle in our zazen, and why we want to do so. Then I’ll share five ways to enliven your zazen. In the next episode I’ll describe nine more approaches, so you’ll have a nice repertoire of methods and may end up with some ideas of your own.
Formal Zen koans are short stories or statements by past Chan/Zen masters which have been passed down through the generations for study and contemplation by Zen students. Each koan contains a Dharma teaching, and until you personally experience and digest that teaching, the koan remains a closed gate you need to pass through. On the other side of that gate is greater freedom, wisdom, and compassion. In this episode, I discuss “natural koans,” or Dharma gates that arise in our everyday lives, and how to work with them.
In this episode, I share with you questions and answers from my 2020 written interview for Eastern Horizon, a tri-annual magazine of the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (YBAM). There are some basic questions about Zen, and then some questions about what Buddhism has to offer with respect to understanding and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thought you might enjoy hearing a different kind of presentation, where I have kept my answers very succinct.
Bodhicitta can be translated as Way-Seeking Mind, or the Mind of Enlightenment. Bodhicitta is the part of us that recognizes and seeks truth and goodness, inspiring our spiritual search and motivating our practice. In a sense, bodhicitta is the part of us that is already awakened, because without it we wouldn’t recognize or seek truth and goodness in the first place. In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta is essential to the path and a cause for gratitude. It also can be seen as the primary source of redemption for humankind, even when it seems the world is dominated by greed, hate, and delusion.
When we can’t – or don’t want to – avoid facing challenges (our own or those of others), what does the Dharma offer us in terms of preventing anxiety, fear, overwhelm, burnout, depression, or despair? I talk about what is really means to stay calm, the value of staying calm, and some practices that can help us do this.
As human beings we have a self-narrative, and for most – if not all – of us, this narrative includes a sense of inadequacy. When we conceive of ourselves as a “small self against the world” we will always feel inadequate, and consequently our generosity is inhibited. Fortunately, we can rewrite our self-narrative to include our buddha-nature, because the “boundless self with the world” is a conduit for abundance. The world needs and wants what you have to offer.
It may seem strange for a Buddhist to suggest we declare war on anything, but I think it is the most natural and constructive way for us to shift into the mindset we need. In Buddhism, we wage war on the three poisons of greed, hate, and delusion, not on people. We wage war out of love for all beings. In wartime we come together for the common good. We sacrifice with dignity, and help one another summon all the strength and hope we can. We all contribute to the war effort, whether it is by serving on the frontlines, darning socks for those on the frontlines, or broadcasting messages to keep up morale.
The medicine of suchness is life-saving, because even the happiest and most fortunate human life inevitably contains suffering. And sometimes – in our personal lives or in the wider world – we face terrible things that arouse anxiety, depression, fear, despair, or rage. Our climate and ecological emergency is one such terrible thing, bringing us face to face with loss on a scale never before contemplated by human beings. Our Zen practice offers us suchness as a medicine that can alleviate our despair and help us access strength and gratitude.
This is the third installment of a story about my personal spiritual journey, covering my path to ordination as Zen monk and the next several years of junior training, including a time I call my “dark night of the soul” and my experience of a life-affirming phoenix rising from the ashes of my despair. Check out episodes 174 and 175 for the first and second parts of the story, which took me up to the point I left home to move into a Zen center. I’ll need a fourth episode to tell you about the remainder of my junior training, up to my transmission as a Zen priest and my decision to start my own Zen center.