Saturday, March 30, 2013

Identity of the Relative and Absolute - Dharma talk

I delivered this Dharma talk at the Original Mind Zen Sangha's full-day retreat on 3/16/13. It's about Shitou's classic poem, "Identity of the Relative and Absolute." I hope you enjoy it; I had a lot of fun during this talk.

Special thanks to Tom Inzan Gartland for all of his hard work with the introduction and sound engineering. You rock, Tom!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ten Fingers, Ten Toes - Dharma Talk

Gratitude is seldom mentioned in Zen. In this talk, I discuss how being completely open and present to an experience, person, or event, can be the highest form of gratitude we can express.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Emptiness is Form

Here is a fascinating visual metaphor for the Heart Sutra's most profound teaching" "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."  It's called "Emptiness is Form," by media artist Scott Snibbe. It's less than two minutes long, but it can feel much longer. Stick with it; it's well worth the time. I especially like how "form" folds into itself as it surrenders to "emptiness."

Unfortunately, I can't embed the video so you'll have to click on the link above to view it. Enjoy and feel free to comment below with your thoughts. Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Bodhi Life

The Original Mind Zen Sangha ran its first retreat yesterday. Five students sat in attendance while fat snowflakes settled to the ground. It was my first time leading a retreat and it was awesome. It reaffirmed everything I already knew about my life--that I want to commit it to teaching and living the Dharma. If I could commit myself full-time to teaching Zen, I would in a heartbeat. The financial reality, however, is more complicated.

Eventually, I would like to make the leap into a full-time Zen teacher. Engaging students in interviews, in the koans passed down by our Zen ancestors, is a thrilling honor, one that I aspire to practice full time. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I'm committed to offering this to the world--to helping people realize that their lives are Bodhi trees and that they are Buddhas.

When I first started practicing Zen, attending my first retreats, I always felt restless. As if the entire world were passing me by. I suppose that's pretty common.

But yesterday, in the role of practice leader and teacher, I didn't feel any of that. Wherever we are, that's the most important place to be, even if it's in line at the grocery store or stuck in traffic. That's all there is--any other possibility is simply a mental object.

Wherever we are is the Bodhi tree.

A large part of a retreat, I'm convinced, is accepting the present moment in its entirety--the boredom, the fear and trepidation, restlessness and impatience, the discomfort, the peace and calm. All of it. We open ourselves to all of it.

When students engage a koan, I don't tell them to "sit with it," as I often hear Zen teachers instruct their students. Instead, I tell them to open themselves up to the koan. As Wittgenstein famously said, prior to language, there are no problems. The same can be said about thinking. It's our attachment to dualities that makes us suffer. So rather than push their way through a koan, which reduces it to an obstacle--where students pit themselves against the koan as an object, an approach that mirrors the adversarial way most people engage life--I encourage them to open themselves to the koan.

And soon the koan opens itself up to them.

Koans point to our original, pure nature. As such, they are not separate from us or our lives.

It's thrilling to watch a student engage this process of glimpsing their true nature. I hope to offer a full-day sit every eight weeks or so. If you're ever in the NJ area, feel free to join us; we'd love to have you!

Special thanks to my wife Jackie for supporting me in this practice. And to Ven. Wonji Dharma for all of his help and empowerment. The world is a much better place because of you both. Many bows.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

No time but now

It's daylight savings here in New Jersey, a day that requires more than a little mental gymnastics on my part twice per year. We moved the clocks forward an hour so I inevitably try to calculate how much sleep I got last night.

My daughter just sat down next to me, and trying her best to understand the concept of daylight savings, said, "It's not this time."

The clock read 8:09 AM and she was absolutely right: it's not this time.

Without turning this into a philosophical discussion, time is a tool, a unit of measurement without any empirical reality. It's the temporal equivalent of an inch. We can no more demonstrate a minute than we can an inch (for you smart alecs out there, we can only point to an inch of something like an inch of wood or carpet, but never an inch itself) because neither exist.

Time is a concept, and a very useful one at that--that is, when it's used properly. Time can help us plan, organize, and reflect. Come to think of it, the history of time (the concept) would make for a fascinating book, if it hasn't already been written. But I digress.

Time can be very helpful, provided we use it, and not the other way around. But the problem is that the latter is all too often the case. We are time slaves, chained to the imaginary concept. It's like The Matrix or The Terminator; we've been enslaved to the construct we have created. We try to "save" and "use" time like it was a physical commodity. Obviously we can't, and so we suffer.
Time has no substance, nothing we can take hold of. In fact, nothing does. That's emptiness, the Buddhist principle of insubstantiality of phenomena. 

The modern remedy to time obsession is the slogan, "Be here now." But even "now" is an idea that only gains meaning in comparison to the past and future. The present is just as much of an illusory construct as any other frame of reference, for the sheer fact that the present is ungraspable; it's always changing!

So where does this leave us? In the timeless realm of the Dharmadhatu. Nirvana. Or in Mahayana terms, the Bodhisattva realm of How may I help you?

"Hi, how are you today?" "What can I do for you?" "Do you want something to drink?"

All we can do is function.

Wake up, stay awake, and save all sentient beings. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Mirror on the Altar

The Buddha on my home altar
Here is a Dharma talk I delivered on 2/17/13; it's called "The Mirror on the Altar." It's about the function of the Buddha image in Zen practice. I hope you enjoy!