Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dharma talk - Tathata


Zen cautions us about trusting language too much. The word "Tathata," which means "Suchness" or "Thusness," is about as close as language can get to approximating the highest Truth--because the word acknowledges its own limitations as a linguistic construct. In this talk, I discuss the role of Tathata in Zen practice, as well as its origins in Taoism, the mother tradition of Zen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Buddha Bus Strikes Back

This year has been a blur, and I don't mean that as an excuse. Last year I started a donation project to raise funds for the first ever Buddha Bus--a fully mobile Zen/meditation center. Since purchasing a property for a Zen center seems unlikely, if not downright impossible given New Jersey's property prices, I decided to undertake a project that is more manageable.

Enter the Buddha Bus.

For a fraction of the price of a traditional Zen center, the Buddha Bus offers a private meditation for my local sangha. The model sounds like this: gut the insides of a school bus, lay some flooring--preferably hardwood--and paint the inside and outside with Buddhist iconography. Along the length of the bus, run two rows of meditation cushions. At the rear, set the altar. In the ceiling, we could mount some RV-style air conditioners and heaters.

The bus could meet at parks, where people park, climb aboard, meditate for twenty minutes, listen to a Dharma talk, then hop back in their cars and drive home.

But I haven't done anything with the bus for almost a year. At the end of 2013, we raised $1000. I just recently got a donation, the first for 2014.

My plan for 2015 is to raise another $4000, raising our total to $5000, which should be enough to buy a used school bus. If you think this is a cool idea and would like to see it come to fruition, check out our donation site. Or pass the word along.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Fire That Heats Our Homes

My family is sitting by a roaring fire right now. The wood came from a friend of mine who was gracious enough to offer me some. Thank you, Brian. 

I really enjoy having a wood-burning fireplace; it makes me much more aware of the source of my home heat. I feel a deeper connection to this vital dimension of my life, since I have a little better understanding of where the wood came from. The tree feel in my friend's yard three seasons back. 

As I stoke the fire, I am reminded of how the wood was once trees, and how the web of conditions has led to a roaring fire in my hearth. It is very easy to forget how our lives are supported by so many factors beyond our sight. Flicking a switch for heat can be so automated, so habitual, that we forget about the vast hidden network of conditions that make our lives possible.

For instance, when we bought our house this summer, the sellers left us two stacks of firewood. That was very kind of them. I don't know where that wood came from, other than from the obvious answer--trees. But were the trees local? Did the sellers split the wood themselves? Were the trees cut from the small woods behind our house?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and yet I burn the wood and it keeps my family warm. 

We can't give true thanks unless we know what were are thankful for. If we just assume that paved roads appear for our convenience or that electricity somehow arrives for our use, then we are prone to overlook them. 

But they don't just appear. They are part of that dizzying, kaleidoscopic web of interconnections that keep us alive. So I type on a computer that I did not build, using a language I did not create, sitting next to a fire whose wood I did not cut down.

All around, I see my utter reliance on the world around me. How could I ever feel alone? It makes me want to return the favor. How may I help you? Maybe I'll see you at Zen practice tonight.

Best to you all. 

Photo: By Ryan Mahle from Sherman Oaks, CA, USA ( - image description page) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thank You - Dharma talk

If we could only learn to be grateful for our being--which is much larger than just our lives--then we would suffer much less. It's our ingratitude to existence that causes us to pick and choose, which ultimately leads us to reject this present moment because it doesn't suit our needs or expectations. Buddhism can be said to be a practice of cultivating gratitude to the entire web of existence that allows us to be.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why the Wall? - Dharma talk

Bodhidharma famously spent nine years facing a cave wall in meditation. In this Dharma talk, I discuss how Bodhidharma's "wall-gazing" legacy pertains to our lives today.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Don't Wear Your Friends

It's amazing how much animal-related products pervade the marketplace. It may not seem it from an omnivore's perspective, but from a vegetarian's point of view, America is clearly a meat-driven culture. Last night I was shopping online for a pair of non-leather work boots--I don't like wearing animals any more than I do eating them--and couldn't find any affordable ones.

Sure there are vegan ones, but they are usually 150% more than the high-end leather ones, and ship from the U.K., which entails international shipping rates. It's no exaggeration to say that being a vegetarian can be expensive, a fact that I can't help but see as ironic. After all, why should eating vegetables be more expensive than dead animals? Is leather so commonplace that it is cheaper than alternative materials? I'm afraid so.

It was an eye-opening experience about the ubiquity of the meat industry.

Many Buddhists are vegetarian, but unfortunately I can confidently say that far more aren't. This baffles me:
In a culture where being a vegetarian is so easy, why would people who vow to save all sentient beings continue to eat meat when they know that it causes so much suffering?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't Be a Buddhist - Dharma talk

Labels can be dangerous when we mistake them for reality. A subtle one that falls beneath the Buddhist radar is "Buddhist" itself, as in, "I am a Buddhist." In this talk, I caution us about identifying with any label, especially the one called "Buddhist."

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.