Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dainin Katagiri Roshi vs Descartes

"I think; therefore, I am," [Dainin Katagiri] Roshi quoted Descartes's famous line. "I'm sure he knew, but forgot to mention," and here Roshi took a long pause, "I don't think; therefore, I'm not."


Recently re-reading Goldberg's book this particular paragraph struck me once again.

I don't know if Descartes did know or not, but I do feel that the second half of this equation is often missing in the common 'Western' understanding of the world. We claim our existence, claim our separateness from all else, but forget, or do not know, that we too are interconnected with everything, that we are also no-thing, we are part of the ongoing process of the universe.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Chan Master Dr John Crook (1930 - 2011)

The following has been posted on the WCF website today:

16th July 2011

It is with great sadness and sense of loss that we announce that Chan Master Dr John Crook has died suddenly at his home at Winterhead Hill Farm in Somerset, UK.

John was the first Western Dharma Heir of the late Chan Master Sheng-yen. He was the founding Teacher of the Western Chan Fellowship which is a lay Chan Buddhist community with members and associates in UK and Europe. He was a pioneer who brought great wisdom and creativity to the translation of Chinese Chan Buddhism into a Western context. Through the establishment of the WCF and the training of its leaders he has ensured that this work will continue.

Details of ceremonies will be announced on the WCF website when arrangements have been made


John is my teacher. His death is sudden and surprising news. When I saw John earlier this year he was physically and mentally very active and well. I read the latest New Chan Forum (43) yesterday, which he contributed to and edited, so I felt him and his teaching to be very near.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Path is Personal and Intimate

It is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself. In this spirit, you invest yourself in your practice, confident of your heritage, and train earnestly side by side with your sisters and brothers. It is this engagement that brings peace and realization.

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 12th of June 2011


I think Robert Aitken Roshi makes an important point here: "It is this engagement that brings peace and realization." Not some amazing 'spiritual experience', not meditating for hours on end, not cracking a particular Koan, not receiving a nice pat on the head from the teacher, not taking vows, not becoming a monastic... although of course all these things will bring about their own results.

It is the genuine hard work and engagement with something that has deep personal meaning that brings peace and realization.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Buddhism is not about "being in the present"

Let go of the past.
Let go of the future.
Let go of the present.
With a heart that is free
cross over to that shore
which is beyond suffering.

- Dhammapada Verse 348

People often have an idea that Buddhism is about "Being In The Present" or a variation on this. This verse reminds us that the present only exists in relation to the future and/or the past and cannot be separated from either.

Buddhism is not about "being in the present", it is the path that leads beyond these distinctions, to  that which is beyond suffering.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Way Things Are

One of the main pursuits of Buddhism is to bridge the gap between the way things appear and the way things are. That approach does not come just from a curiosity to investigate phenomena. It arises from the understanding that an incorrect perception of reality inevitably leads to suffering.

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 4th of May 2011


It's always good to be reminded of what the purpose of practice is and isn't. And to keep things simple.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

“This has nothing to do with me!”

When practising on retreat, isolate yourself. First, drop everything from the past and everything related to the future. Create an island of time that separates you from before and after these seven [retreat] days. Refrain from reading, writing, talking, and making phone calls. So far as the outside world is concerned, you did not exist before and you will not exist afterwards. You are living on a virgin island with no knowledge of anything outside. Unless you think like this, you will be dragging along a huge tail, carrying a lot of baggage, and it will be very painful. You will have come not to meditate but to indulge in false thinking. If any outside thoughts occur, tell yourself: “I was born on this virgin island. These outside thoughts have nothing to do with me.”

Second, isolate yourself from others. Within this island of time, create an island of space, which only you inhabit. There is only one person on your [meditation] cushion – you. Give your body to the cushion and your mind to the [meditation] method. If people walk by you or sit beside you, this has nothing to do with you. If someone behaves strangely, if someone runs in and does cartwheels, or if your back itches, you still respond the same way: “This has nothing to do with me!”

There is a saying, “Fundamentally there is nothing in the world to be concerned about, but people make trouble for themselves.” If the outside world does not influence your mind, nothing can disturb you. Third, isolate yourself from your previous thought and from your succeeding thought. Good or bad, do not be concerned with them. Just take the present thought and tie it to the meditation method – that is what’s most important [during the retreat]. The past is gone, the present is dying, and the future is not yet. Regrets, dissatisfactions, worries, expectations – these are all delusions; do not waste a second on them.

Master Sheng Yen, Attaining the Way: A Guide to the Practice of Chan Buddhism

Received via
The Daily Enlightenment's weekly Buddhist email newsletter 11 Nov 2010.


As always, Master Sheng Yen offers simple down-to-earth advice for deepening our practice whether we are on retreat or not. We love to get involved in things inside our mind, outside our mind (is anything?) in our life and in the lives of those around us. But really, does it have anything to do with us?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Master Sheng Yen 聖嚴法師

Dharma Drum Mountain have put together a wonderful resource of Master Sheng Yen's life and teachings at in Traditional Mandarin, Simplified Mandarin and English including:
  • About Master Sheng Yen
  • Publications
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Photos
  • Historic Items
  • Daily Wisdom
  • Links

There are many videos with English subtitles and publications available to read on the website or to download.

My deep gratitude to those who have put together this rich resource and to Master Sheng Yen for his lifetime's work


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What is True Freedom?

When I look for freedom today I find it not in fantasy or in dreams, but in my sitting practice. What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe. I don’t have to judge the trauma that arises in mind. I don’t have to get involved with the hundred narratives that might try to occupy my mind during the day. In not clinging to thoughts and ideas, wants and desires, hatreds and resentments, the bondages of my most negative thoughts and emotions have faded into a haze that still arises but no longer dominates my life. I have found freedom: it is the freedom of nonattachment, the freedom to not cling and to not resist. It is the freedom to allow myself to be with myself.

Ananda Baltrunas, "A Prison of Desire"

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 19th of December 2010


There seems to be vast plethora of people and websites around these days promising freedom in some form or another. These usually amount to e-books, on-line course, coaching and the like to help you leave your current job and become "free" by emulating the person or website offering the advice. Some of it could well be very valid and useful advice and guidance, getting out of an unpleasant job might well be a first step to gaining some clarity in life, writing about and sharing your skills with other in a helpful way is usually a good thing. Travelling to experience difference places and cultures is also usually a good thing.

However, as Ananda Baltrunas sets out very clearly, true freedom comes from not having to interfere or react to whatever arises in life. Leaving a job, becoming self-employed, earning a passive income on-line, travelling to different places - all of these still have in place the one key limitation of your freedom: you!

Find the freedom to be yourself without clinging or resisting though and it won't matter if you are employed, self-employed, unemployed, at home or abroad, you won't be a problem for yourself! That way, you can truly focus your energy on doing the work that you know matters most, whatever that might be.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Children are exemplars of the art of being

not teaching children to meditate
November 30th, 2010

How do you teach children to meditate?
I’m asked about this all the time. Please know that I speak only from my own perspective as a mother and a practitioner. Everyone has his or her own view. Here is mine.

Children don’t need to learn to meditate. Parents do. Children are immensely helped in all ways by living with one or more parents who practice meditation. One powerful way is that our children see us do it, regularly, like brushing our teeth and putting dirty clothes in the hamper.

This might sound like heresy coming from a Buddhist priest. After all, there are many well-meaning parents and programs that aim to teach children meditation. Young children are very curious and adaptable, and with clever instruction, they can be taught nearly anything. But my point is that children already practice single-minded attention and non-distracted awareness. You may not see it in their stillness, but in their activity: games, art, or outdoor exploration. (Engaging with your children in any of these activities is a form of group meditation.) We all have this capacity for single-minded focus within us. As adults, we practice to return to this state – the state where we can get lost, devotedly, in what we are doing, carefree and undisturbed.

My teacher sums it up quite clearly every time he reminds our sangha: “We don’t practice to cultivate our Buddha Nature. Our Buddha Nature is functioning perfectly. We practice because we are neurotic!” Not many children are yet neurotic, plagued by delusive thoughts, fears and feelings of alienation. This is what I mean when I wrote in Chapter 24 of Momma Zen: “Children are exemplars of the art of being.” The aim of all Buddhist practice is to return to our natural state of wide-eyed wonder and unselfconsciousness that we can observe in our children many times a day.

But I can’t get my child to pay attention to me.

A lot of conflicts arise because children persist in doing what we don’t want them to do. It seems like it’s hard to redirect or distract them. Isn’t it funny that the fact that our children are undistractedly doing what we don’t want them to do absolutely drives us crazy?! They don’t yet have problems concentrating! We more often have trouble loving and accepting them as they are, trusting that they are changing and growing all the time, and usually doing what they need to. If you are afraid, by the way, that your children are exposed to too much electronic media, then you need to take care of that directly, by limiting their access. I completely support that kind of clear-eyed discipline. Making that change can be very difficult, but it is indisputably wise.

As for attention, I have seen with my own eyes that the best way to receive attention is to cultivate my own, and give it.

How do we teach compassion?

The virtues of compassion and forgiveness aren’t instilled by discussion or imposition, but rather, they are revealed as our innate wisdom by our practice. When we ourselves have our own regular at-home practice we might realize that our children are already naturally compassionate and forgiving. They care about the world, and they don’t hold grudges. They care about small things – insects, rocks, animals – and they care about big things – the oceans, the Earth and the universe. Usually, they care far more than we do! Compassion and wisdom are the natural characteristics of our own nature, the nature we as adults reveal to ourselves through our own sitting practice. When we reveal them to ourselves, our actions reinforce them in our children, and they learn from us by seeing how we live.

But I want to give my child life skills that my parents didn’t give me.

None of this means there isn’t a way to help our growing children deal with their fears and anxieties. There is. But we deal with it as it appears. We cannot inoculate our children from life’s hardships. We can only give them our nonjudgmental company through the bumps. If you have specific questions about the methods I’ve used, please ask and I’ll write about them. Suffice it to say, helping anyone focus on his or her own breathing in a quiet room is just about the only thing I teach.

What about teaching mindfulness in schools and to treat ADHD?

Recent research documents the extraordinary therapeutic benefits of meditation, or so-called “mindfulness” practice in treating ADHD and other behavioral issues in our families and schools, but I leave that to the doctors and therapists to expound. If you have to deal with those realities, and many families these days do, you will be best advised by the experts, counselors and social scientists. I’m confident that the benefits of meditation in any setting or situation, wherever the need and urgency arises, are profound. What I’d like you to do first is prove it to yourself, over and over.

Shouldn’t I be giving my child a spiritual upbringing?

About the spiritual training of young, my view is a bit of the same. How you behave in your home is their spiritual upbringing. I think we have to be careful with all forms of ideological indoctrination, and that is what spiritual training is in children: the imposition of a set of abstract beliefs and ideals. Children will take these from of us, but I don’t think dogma serves anyone for long. After all, I was a very good Sunday School student, the star of my confirmation class, and yet I had my own spiritual crisis to resolve later in life. We all do.

I always remind myself that I’m not trying to raise a Buddhist child. I’m trying to raise a Buddhist mother, and it’s taking all my time! Not only my family, but also everyone everywhere will be served by my devoted discipline in my own training. Not because I’m self-important, but in recognition of the one true reality: no self. We are all interdependent, which means we are all one.

Do you ever worry that you’re not giving your child what she needs in the future?

Of course, all the time. When my daughter has her time of spiritual doubt and searching, I hope she remembers the warmhearted attention, quietude and acceptance of home. I can’t know for sure when that time might come, but that’s the best gift I can give her: a way home. As for when I will teach her to meditate, the answer is when she asks. The best way for you to share your practice with your children is the very way you share it with the world – by your steadfast, unconditional love and acceptance, and your selfless response to needs that arise. Simply put: by paying attention.

Not teaching your child to meditate may be your most effective meditation.

You might find these further tips and reminders helpful:

The Monastery of Mom & Dad
8 Ways to Raise a Mindful Child
10 Tips for a Mindful Home
15 Ways to Practice Compassion on the Way Home for Dinner

Reproduced in full from cherrio road by Karen Maezen Miller


I have read and re-read this post from Karen Maezen Miller's blog several times, and I am struck each time by the wisdom it offers. I have taken the liberty of reproducing it in full here as an acknowledgement of my gratitude and to share it further. I highly recommend Karen Maezen Miller's blog and books for her sharp wisdom and soft gentleness.

Economics as if People Mattered

While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is “The Middle Way” and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern—amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results.

For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the smallest possible effort, that is, with the smallest annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible input of toil. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity.

It would be highly uneconomic, for instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like the modern West, when a much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skillful draping of uncut material. It would be the height of folly to make material so that it should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to make anything ugly, shabby, or mean. What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human requirements. The ownership and the consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum means.

- E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (Excerpt, Full Article here.)


Received via The Daily Enlightenment's weekly Buddhist email newsletter 05 Jan 2011.