Sunday, January 18, 2015

MLK's Shrinking Legacy

Many Americans will be enjoying tomorrow off for Martin Luther King Day. And well they should, for not only was Dr. King an advocate of civil rights, he was a champion of worker's right, too. In fact, the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, Dr. King delivered a speech to Memphis sanitation workers, encouraging them to fight for fair wages and benefits--a battle that is still occurring on a much broader scale in this country, as insurance premiums rise and workers are expected to contribute more every year.

This little-known fact demonstrates, to me at least, how full circle our nation has come in the past fifty-one years. Today, the labor movement in the United State, once thriving in the 1970s and '80s, is another glaring example of the diminution of the working class. As an advocate of organized labor and member of a union myself, I cannot help but be ashamed at how upset Dr. King would be about the systematic dismantling of two decades worth of progress in workers' rights. Not to mention the terrible racial plight this country still finds itself in.

On Fridays, many people wearily utter, "Thank God it's Friday." I smirk every time I hear this because a friend's reply always comes to my mind:
"Don't thank God. If he had it his way, we'd be working six days a week! Thank the unions."
Indeed. And thank you, Dr. King, for your bravery and commitment to actualizing the American Dream for all Americans--black, white, brown, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, male, female, transgender, hetero- and homosexual, rich, and poor.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Religion is just another thing to let go of

I don't consider Zen--or at least the Zen I practice--to be a religion. Religions entail beliefs and doctrines; I'm not interested in either of those. People argue, hurt, and sometimes kill one another over those issues.

Emptiness or impermanence can sometimes become arguing points for Buddhists, when they allow it calcify into a doctrine. But I don't view emptiness or impermanence as statements about reality as much injunctions to relinquish our attachment to things. In this light, it's not that things are empty; the Buddha is saying, "Empty yourself of your views about, and attachments to, things."

In other words, the Buddha taught impermanence because engaging life with impermanence in mind encourages us to let go and stop expecting unrealistic outcomes from reality.
Things change so let go of them. 
Buddhism can then be understood to be a series of instructions: Do 'this' and 'this' and see if it works.

Religion, on the other hand, insists; it declares. It circumscribes and reifies. So I don't see Zen as having anything to do with religion. My head hurts right now--that's real. I directly experience that.

The fire burning in the fireplace at my side is hot. There is no room for God or even Buddha in this moment. It is already complete by itself.

No one argues or kills one another over the experiences that haiku point to: frogs leaping, the smell of horse manure, the crunch of snow underfoot.

Religions dig their toes in the doctrinal sand and say, "Well, according to so-and-so....and anyone who believes differently is wrong!"

I've never been fond of belief systems. We chant the Heart Sutra at the end of our evening practice as a reminder--Don't get attached to anything.

Least of all Buddhism. Let go of God, let go of Buddha. Any ideas we hold onto become our masters.

My head still hurts. The fire blazes even hotter.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

(Insert Name Here) Does Not Exist - Dharma talk

This is the Original Mind Zen Sangha's 100th Dharma talk! Enjoy.

(Insert Name Here) Does Not Exist

The "I" is the greatest fictional character that ever existed because people believe that it exists. In this Dharma talk, I discuss the illusion that we call "I" and how not to take it so seriously.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Go Back the Way You Came - Dharma talk

Happy New Year! Here is a Dharma talk for your listening pleasure.

Go Back the Way You Came

Sri Ramana Maharshi, an awakened Hindu sage, uttered this title to a disciple as instruction for realizing one's original nature. In Zen, this practice of self-inquiry is called "Tracing Back the Radiance," and is central to the practice at Original Mind Zen Sangha.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No ONE Reaches Enlightenment - Dharma talk

It's been a while since I posted a Dharma talk. Here's my latest.

No ONE Reaches Enlightenment

Delusion is the belief that there is some "I" inside of our bodies that acts upon a world "out there." In order to wake up, we must shed this false notion of an "I," which is why it is impossible for any ONE to reach Enlightenment--Awakening is sloughing off of the "I" altogether.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Right after he woke up

My teacher told me a story about Zen Master Seung Sahn. Someone asked him if he had seen Little Buddha, the film about the Buddha's life before he reached Enlightenment. Seung Sahn said yes he had.

The student then asked him what he thought about it. Seung Sahn said that he enjoyed the film, but there was only one problem.

"What's that?" asked the student.

I'm paraphrasing: "The film only showed the Buddha's life before he woke up; it didn't show the 45 years of teaching after he woke up. That's the Buddha's true legacy."

Very sharp teaching from Seung Sahn. Most studies of the Buddha concentrate on his life prior to awakening, while Seung Sahn was drawing our attention back to the Buddha's most significant achievement--a lifetime of service teaching the Dharma. Now that aspect of the Buddha's life is truly impressive.

To make a bit of a detour, I have been thinking more and more lately about a period between the before and after--the days or weeks between his Enlightenment and when he began teaching.

Some versions of the story cast the god Brahma petitioning the Buddha to teacher, despite the Buddha's reluctance (Samyutta Nikaya 6.1). The Buddha hesitates to teach because,
"This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this/that conditionality and dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and if others would not understand me, that would be tiresome for me, troublesome for me."
What was the Buddha thinking during this period? I mean, really thinking. I don't subscribe to celestial beings and so I read this entirely allegorically, Brahma representing the Buddha's compassion for the world.

So what really happened during those days or weeks? As the sutta passage above conveys, he must have been conflicted, torn between whether to go off and live the rest of his days in seclusion like a forest sage or teach. For me, this represents a very human moment in the Buddha's life, one that is often overlooked. I am very interested in what this great man and teacher's life was like in this missing period of his life.

It would make a great fiction book, similar to Thich Nhat Hanh's Old Path White Clouds. Who knows, maybe I'll pen it someday.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Original Mind Zen Sangha Newsletter

Our editor has just finished the second newsletter for the Original Mind Zen Sangha. Click here to read and download.

Thanks Jonson and all who contributed.