Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Blog

Hi there! Christmas, in case you haven't noticed, is just around the corner. Roxy, the carer, put up a little artificial tree on the window ledge and Jean spruced up a wreath on the front door. After all, it's a rare event when someone grows up to say "I and my father are one". All that time spent in the desert must have meant a lot of meditation although I don't know how much the Essenes did. So, lets celebrate his birthday. I hope you have a very happy Christmas and enjoy the things you like the best.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"Are you glad about being like this as a result of the surgery?" Some one asked me the other day...

I said I was glad of the insights but not of the limitations - thinking of how restricted my life was in terms of serving and spreading the Dharma. I remembered a talk of Genpo Roshis' about how a thimble cannot carry as much as a large container. The sudden removal of so much like walking and talking, I and we all take for granted, gives me a precious chance to be a thimbleful of purer Dharma rather than spreading bucketfuls of tainted Dharma all over the place. It is really the life I always wanted and that for which I was cut out for from the very beginning - a modern day thimble-sized anchorite. So I get on with feeding the cat and washing the dishes, have gratitude for carers who care, and to those who don't, for children (ditto) and the clear button pushing teishos of supermarket checkouts. There's less to protect such as self esteem and people thinking well of you. It's a step nearer being able to learn from a seven year old if they know more than I do (Joshu) which isn't difficult, especially these days. It is equally easy to know more than I do - and teaching an old man if he knows less than I do, which also isn't difficult. Only round here the old men are doing extremely well as farmers and church goers!

Above all I always feel gratitude to my teacher Genpo Roshi who always knew I was a thimble.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lost in Translation?

One passing thought right now is that in the free view (to use a currently very used word in the UK) beyond the broadbands (ditto) there is the common ground of Eastern and Western beliefs. Is Master Joshu's "Ordinary Mind is the Way" much different from the post daikensho Master Jesus popping up here and there, eating grilled fish on the beach with a friend or visiting friends and sharing meals or taking walks with them?

Thank God for meditation - it's about all I can do these days. I'm really grateful to Tammy (Myoho Sensei) for the tedious job of a) getting clear what I am trying to say and b) transcribing it and reading it back to me before it turns into a blog.

Another passing thought was how things get lost in translation, without a translator!

Student: Sensei, I'm really stuck on that koan you gave me about being compression
Me: Oh No! It was about compassion!

Or on my quoting the Buddhas' tip for relaxing to imagine precious ointment melting on your head and running down your shoulders and arms, the said meditator said "The ornament on my head doesn't seem to melt!"

So there is a funny side to all this, although it has it's dangers. Anyway, it's not so much what you say that matters - unless you are Master Joshu - it's who you really are.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whats Bugging Me?

What's bugging me? I really gave some thought to this question for I had been living with the distinct sense of un-ease lately.

Then, like Nessie, rising from the depths of Loch Ness, I realised what it was. Gee, it takes so long, without a teacher. Hiding away had been my attachment to the Vow (the bodhisattva vow which shapes our life as monks.) And which I thought I had let go of long ago, but that was only an idea. Letting go of it, Big Mind became compassion, infinate, boundless, all-inclusive.

Either way, my mother as a young woman in 1918 saw the Loch Ness monster while on the family outing from the Manse!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meditation, Boring, Boring.

Maezumi Roshi said to me a long time ago; "Meditation is so boring, boring." I was a very new student at the time and I found meditation riveting and very exciting. All those dramas and who was star of the show? well me of course. Like Dogen Zenji said many centuries ago:

"To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to be free from attachment to the body and mind of one's self and of others."

One thing we can bring as westerners to the practice of zen is the removal of obstacles deep in the self. When we are no longer attached to enlightenment or the peace of zazen we are just our ordinary selves.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Butts off the cushion!

Did anyone see the BBC Newsnight of 14/10/09? Scientists say we have only got 6 years left. We have all seen houses lit up like lanterns and some of us have seen cities from the air at night (Vegas stretched out like a diamond spiders web in the darkness of the desert.) Six years? SIX YEARS! Switching off lights and plugs is the easy bit - and we will soon get used to lots of changes in our lives. So we have to awaken in record time. Genpo Roshi gives live talks on Big Mind TV and Bernie Glassman Roshi is also a really useful helper in the work of awakened activism. Genpo Roshis' Big Heart, Big Mind offers a speed track to enlightenment. Bernie Glassman Roshi shows us how to put it in action in the world. After all, he's the guy who holds retreats at Auschwitz. It's no good talking about embracing the universe if we don't knuckle down and do what we can to care for it. By the way, the hand position in Zen meditation is called the cosmic mudra. For those whose deepest desire is to save the world, here's a great opportunity. So butts off the cushions - we have got work to do!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Don't Waste Your Time

Daido Roshi will soon be passing from this world, please pray for him. He is one of Maezumi Roshis' successors and is abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. I remember him as a big man with a huge heart who used all his talents to the full for the dharma.

Life and death really are of extreme importance, as we hear at the end of the day's meditation:
"Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of extreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Let us awaken, awaken, take heed. Do not squander your life."

Daido did not squander his life, in fact he used it in the best way possible.

Squandering is the grit in the shoe. (See yesterdays blog) So here's an ill-remembered poem from long ago. I have given it a new name:

"What's it all about Alfie?"

As when a child I laughed and wept,
Time crept.
Later as I grew,
Time flew.
Soon, as I go wondering on
Time will be gone.
Will God have saved
My soul by then?

Well, it's no good leaving it all up to God. It's up to us to go sit. Today in Lancashire, UK it's bucketing down and the sky is grey and heavy. Perfect sitting weather...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just Go and Sit!

It's not so much that it's difficult to practice (sitting meditation, or meditation in action) when alone or tired, it's more a question of self motivation. I have to wait until living without practice becomes unbearable. My teacher, Genpo Roshi, used to say "It is like having a piece of grit in your shoe. Eventually you have to do something about it." So the question becomes: what do you do? That's where the motivation for practice comes in.

Is it seeing the Buddha nature or divine nature of everything and everyone, including yourself? Is it seeing your own big mind or your own big heart or experiencing christ consciousness? Or is it manifested by just being a decent person getting on with their job, or enjoying a good time? Whatever your practice means to you, I think Henry James was onto a good thing when he said "Only relate".

I find that just sitting brings my life into full bloom, and I can really appreciate it.

You could make a bit of a timetable or let people know that you are going to sit on a particular day because human beings like to be with other people. It's much easier to meditate with the support of others. It's hard to be a hermit.

Easiest of all is to just go and sit!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anything Else But That!

The other day I talked about teabags. Yogi tea to the rescue again! A visitor asked me how to start meditating and referred her to the black chai box with its drawings of how to meditate on it.

She also asked "Why do I always not meditate even though I want to and know it will help me a lot?" That's not a new question for me either. Although I love meditation I often want to do almost anything else except that. It's a bit like parents, for whom their child is the most precious thing, wanting it to go to bed and be out of their way.

Anyway, for those embarking on their rocky road of zen (meditating and working with a real life accredited teacher) they will eventually come, maybe after a life time of practice, to a place where they just enjoy their life and don't feel guilty any more about it.

So no wonder we just keep going on with our ordinary human existence.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's amazing how our very, very earliest experiences still lay down the blueprint for the rest of our lives. Not only how we are, but how and why we practice. These very early experiences we as infants interpret as "I'm no good therefore he left me", "I am not worthy of her love because she doesn't keep me close to her / with me / comfort me. "

We have to find our own early traumas and see what our interpretations were. Meditation is a good place to do this. Maybe they were the best idea we could come up with at the time, but are they still relevant 15 to a 115 years later? "I only undo chains and untie knots" said Master Rinzai when asked how he taught his students. Viola!

There seems to be a right time for the waking up just like there's a time for fruit to be ripe. So we can be grateful for the set of circumstances which brought about our decision (karma). This makes us the sort of people we are and how we live our lives (in zen terms how Buddha Nature manifests through us.) It all comes together, a servant, a teacher, a dreamer, an organiser, a hermit, a leader, a philanthropist and on and on it goes. Our teacher sees at once what we are and the work is partly to help us accept who and what we are.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pandoras Box (The cause of all the trouble in the world)

It's the small self this I, me, my. What is this I, me and what is this "my" gnawing away like a mouse, or what is the relationship between the self and the Self?

My teacher Genpo Roshi used to talk often about the all-inclusive Big Mind and Big Heart.

Many people tell me how sad it is to see me now. But I see it as a wonderful opportunity to clarify and to practice however I can. Opposite my house is a small field with cows in it and beyond that is the village graveyard. It is the winner of the best kept churchyard award and a constant reminder of the shortness of this human life with all its opportunities. At the end of each day there is chanted in zen monasteries "Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance, time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Let us awaken, awaken, take heed! Do not squander your life."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Having No Agenda

Still in the spiritual department, I read a review on Mother Teresa's letters to her spiritual director in which it said she no longer believed in God from the moment she began working with the sick and dying. Some are called to have an agenda. Some are free of agenda and can act freely according to circumstances. In fact, Zen leads us to that freedom where we can forget about it all. Then we can just enjoy our lives and do what we like doing.

Those of you who liked the Clipper Tea blog may enjoy this anecdote. Maezumi Roshi was entertaining Tich Nat Hahn in true Japanese style. He offered him some tea while Tich Nat Hahn kept talking about the meaning of Zen. Roshi kept filling his cup. Eventually Tich Nat Hahn had to stop talking about Zen to ask "Why do you keep pouring me more and more tea?".

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Special Bells

I was banging away on the cat dish this morning with a fork. A carer immediately appeared and said;
"I know you are Buddhist, hope you don't mind me asking but is that a special bell that you are ringing like we ring at Angelus?"
"Oh" I said "it's a special bell for the cat, I suppose."

She was right in a way. It was a special bell. Apart from the cat, that bell saves the life of a mouse or a bird, and future generations or meals for others. And on it goes. Karma goes backwards too. Not to mention what goes into the cat food can. But is there really such a thing as Karma? (Cause and effect) A good question to ask yourself. "Firewood is not Ash," remarked Great Zen Master Dogen.

Later two Jehovas' Witnesses came to the door and gave me a copy of their magazine. "Is there anything we can help you with?" they asked "or anything you need?"

To have the courage and willingness to help a complete stranger would be so good, especially if we have no agenda.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hit Him with Your Wooden Spoon

Crashed to the floor this morning. Ouch! Just cracks, not broken - much as the villagers probably think of yours truely.

Reminds me of a Tshirt I once saw that bore the message "Only This". Gosh, imagine being someone under torture as we hear about all the time in the papers. No wonder people believe in their Gods.

Do you remember Master Dogens' Shakyamuni Buddha sitting on the cooking pot? "Hit him with your wooden spoon!" he adjured the cook.

Thats all for now, got to go feed the cat.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Have a Cup of Tea

Congrats to the Co-op for its' Fair Trade organic tea. I like my tea with a Yogi tea bag added with milk and sugar. It gives a taste of Nepal. Yogi tea also serves a smidgen of Yogi wisdom at the end of a string. My quotation would be; 'From the great Zen master Maezumi Roshi - "Appreciate your life".

Enjoy your tea!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The way to wake up.

I am now the recipient of so much kindness, instead of running myself ragged and fattening my ego with compassionate acts. Thank God for Christianity - the lower or no-er the church, the kinder the members seem. Compassion ain't an idea, it's really how it works usually. I know that I am hard work to my long suffering family but from my carers I hear it could be a lot worse.

The more heart there is the better. After all we are Shin (heart/mind or compassionate wisdom). If there are obstacles in our way (the earlier the better usually) work on them with a therapist. Speed bumps are one thing, but walls are another. I remember a Spike Milligan's cartoon-style self portrait carrying a nasty little black bag of depression.
Q: Why didn't he drop it?
A: Because he didn't know what was in it!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ordinary Mind is the Way.

26th July

"I have spent years trying to forget zen," - Genpo Roshi (not in a public talk). He said this years ago. I have watched his life go through so many stages, never sticking for too long anywhere.

I feel as though something is really lacking in my life if I don't sit for too long. I need a balance. I am on my way back to formal practice. I spent a long time stuck on Master Joshus' "Ordinary Mind is The Way" but I was far away from that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Sons' Wedding et Moi

On Saturday, went to Cy's wedding in London. At a victorian registry office with carved wood and stained glass. Afterwards, confetti in the rain. Fabulous evening reception, all fairy lights, muslim and champagne. Live music from classic to folk and jazz. Great to see all my family again. Fascintors bobbing about, all over the place. Oasis fans on the train plus beer. Thank you Michael for bowing out for when you did. What a talant that man had. Head and shoulders above the rest.

For myself the urgency of life and death (Called the Great Matter in Zen) gets stronger and stronger. This heart-mind which is me and everything else only deepens as my Home. I do wish people would stop blowing each other up because of differences in beliefs. We all need our faiths until we don't.

As a teacher once said " Don't ask me about life and death, I don't know"

Do you really know?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mid-day thoughts

(6:30 am) Its so easy to press a dharma button. As Joanna once said "And out comes a dharma talk", but i would rather look at whats happening in my life in case it rings any bells for you. Like bereavement it is so easy to talk of letting go, but its got to be gone through. I am lucky I haven't had to drop things. I woke up one day and began discovering bit by bit how much has gone. Now its like one of those cookery programs which give aspiring chefs a bag of random ingredients and ask "well what can you make out of this?"

(12:00pm) Anyway lets talk spirituality for a while. I am a Gen X and ex RC who deeply loves the christian mystics eg. Master Ekhardt whose sermon on poverty caused him to be burnt at the stake for his pains.

I think of Buddha Nature or Big Mind/Big Heart as God, just because I was raised a christian. The churches have all the capacity to go far beyond what they teach the lay people. To be controversial for a moment, Jesus must have suffered acute remorse at the time of his great death (dai-kensho) "I have shown them the wrong path"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Many thanks

Just want to say many thanks to my daughter Tammy (aka Myoho Sensei) of Zen River holland for helping with putting this blog together and all things I.T.

Sangha is Important

I am missing Zen people. The Sangha is a neccessary part of my life, to keep me feeling alive and to keep going on in my practice. As I get older, more and more is taken away from me. I really do miss the Sangha. I remember my teacher Genpo Roshi saying years ago that Sangha was the greatest of the Three Treasures. I see why from another perspective! It encourages silent resting in the silent resting of my daily life. There is hardly any contact with the market place these days.

I laugh a bit when Help the Aged plastic bags are put through my letterbox. I hope none of the aged put them over their heads!! Probably why I am blogging this.

If you are in a Sangha, keep up your practice. Its the most precious thing you've got.

Love, Genshin Sensei
In Lancashire UK