When we contemplate the future, it may seem like we have only two options: dread, or hope. If we can’t summon hope, we may avoid thinking about the future at all in order to escape dread. Fortunately, the Buddhist Middle Way offers an alternative. Instead of getting stuck in dread or clinging desperately to hope, we refuse to get caught in either extreme. We can walk a dynamic path of practice, facing the future with eyes open while remaining responsive and free.
The gift of self – such as our time, attention, energy, enthusiasm, perspective, sympathy, and creativity brightens the lives of everyone around us. Although the self is “empty” of inherent, enduring self-essence, it is all we have to offer the world. Unfortunately, many of us are very inhibited when it comes to sharing ourselves. We fear rejection, judgment, disinterest, and embarrassment. We figure no one particularly appreciates or needs our contribution. Fortunately, we can make a practice of offering ourselves open-handedly, setting aside the need for affirmation as we do so.
Sesshin – a silent, residential, Zen meditation retreat involving a 24-hour communal schedule – is an extremely valuable way to deepen your Zen practice. I discuss why I strongly encourage you to participate in sesshin, but also why – if you can’t do so – it isn’t necessary. Then I talk about several of the benefits and Dharma lessons of sesshin. I have many more such benefits and lessons to share, but I’ll cover them in Celebration of Sesshin Part 2.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.