Sincerity is the Railway Track

“The Bodhisattva’s way is called “the single minded way,” or “one railway track thousands of miles long.” The railway track is always the same. If it were to become wider or narrower, it would be disastrous. Wherever you go, the railway track is always the same. That is the Bodhisattva’s way. This way is in each moment to express true nature and sincerity.

“We say railway track, but actually, there is no railway track. Sincerity is the railway track. It is a beginingless and endless track. There is no starting point, no goal, nothing at all to attain. Just to run on the track in our way. This is that nature of our Zen practice.

“But when you become curious about the railway track, danger is there. You should not see the railway track. If you look at the track you will become dizzy. Just appreciate the sights from the train. That is our way. Someone will take care of the track; Buddha will take care of it. There is no secret. Everyone already has the same nature as the railway track.”

Shunryu Suzuki roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, p. 54

This statement feels really reassuring in some way, in the heart. But the mind’s natural tendency is to question, to balk a little bit. Maybe we say, but how will anything get done? How would we have science, or art? How will we solve the climate crisis?

If we turn fully toward Buddha Dharma, some of this attitude has to be surrendered. And often enough, that can be a relief. We can seem to work through a lot of stuff internally, but often, the circumstances of our life simply dictate whether we turn left or right. We are just riding on the track, fully encountering and occupied with what shows up along the way. Considering that the whole universe can be seen as “one great pearl” or “10,000 miles of white jade,” we can potentially enact awakening in all instances. Which we don’t even need to do, because maybe it is awakening us.

I like Suzuki roshi’s explanation here. It is suffused with this attitude of cheerful patience that I think many of us aspire to rest more within. As perhaps we’ve noticed, it doesn’t always just spontaneously arise in all circumstances. A regular zazen practice, especially connected with other people sharing this intention to ride more smoothly on the tracks of Buddha Dharma, can simply provide context and circumstance for us to encounter the grace and intelligence that is already unfolding in our midst.

big_thumb_ff669cc8a3aff821b51f5d570bc1f4c9

Samadhi for Difficult Times

A message from ADZG teacher Taigen Dan Leighton

We are practicing in tumultuous times. Our zazen is the samadhi of all beings, to be present together with everyone, even in the middle of sadness and confusion. Tragic murders of black people by police keep happening again and again, recently the senseless and brutal killing of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and then the terrible killing of Dallas policemen. We are present with the fear felt by all beings, both black people and police. We recognize the powerful legacy of racism that pervades our society, and all our hearts, and goes back to our country’s foundations in slavery. Our practice gives us the power to face sadness and fear, not to give in to hatred, but to share kindness and support with all. We sit facing the wall not to keep people out, but as a window to see our connectedness, and to see ourselves in all others. I actively support the nonviolent Black Lives Matter movement as a way to honor all beings, and I encourage others to support dialogue and justice.

taigen blm portest

July Half Day Sit 7/9

Please join us for all or any part of our half day sit tomorrow.

(Meditation shown to grow brain cells and improve gut function!)

The schedule is as follows:

1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods. Donations are welcome.

Please wear comfortable clothing that is preferably in dark solid colors and that covers legs and shoulders. Make sure cell phones are turned off – please check that vibration also is turned off.

As usual, we will be at Dragonfly Yoga.  Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

April 9 Half Day Sit

Saturday, April 9th, we will have our monthly half-day sitting.
The schedule is as follows:

1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods. Donations are welcome.

Please wear comfortable clothing that is preferably in dark solid colors and that covers legs and shoulders. Make sure cell phones are turned off – please check that vibration also is turned off.

As usual, we will be at Dragonfly Yoga.  Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Breath and Precepts

Eihei Dogen on Breath from Eihei Koroku, vol. 5, case #390 (trans. Leighton/Okumura pg. 348-350)

In the zazen of patch-robed monks, first you should sit correctly with upright posture. Then regulate your breath and settle your mind. In the lesser vehicle originally there were two gateways, which were counting breaths and contemplating impurity. In the lesser vehicle, people used counting to regulate their breath.

However, the buddha ancestor’s engaging of the way always differed from the lesser vehicle. A Buddha ancestor said, “Even if you arouse the mind of a leprous wild fox, never practice the self-regulation of the two vehicles.” The two vehicles refer to such as the school of the four-part Vinaya and the Abhidharma Kosa school, which have spread in the world these days. In the Mahayana there is also a method for regulating breath, which is knowing that one breath is long, another breath is short. The breath reaches the tanden and comes up from the tanden. Although exhale and inhale differ, both of them occur depending on the tanden. Impermanence is easy to clarify, and regulating the mind is easy to accomplish.

My late teacher Tiantong said, “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long.”

My late teacher said it like that. Suppose someone were to ask Eihei, “Master, how do you regulate your breath?” I would simply say to him: Although it is not the great vehicle, it differs from the lesser vehicle. Although it is not the lesser vehicle, it differs from the great vehicle.

Suppose that person inquired again, “Ultimately, what is it?” I would say to him: Exhale and inhale are neither long nor short.

Someone asked Baizhang, “The Yogacarabhumi Shastra and the Jewel Necklace Sutra contain

the Mahayana precepts. Why don’t you practice according to them?” Baizhang said, “What I take as essential is not limited to the greater or lesser vehicles, and does not differ from the greater or lesser vehicles. I condense and combine the extensive scope [of regulations] to establish standards for appropriate conduct.”

Baizhang said it this way, but Eihei is certainly not like this. It is not the case that it is not limited to the great or small vehicles, or not different from the great or small vehicles. What is this small vehicle? The affairs of the donkey are not complete. What is this great vehicle? The affairs of the horse have already arrived. Not the extensive scope means the extremely great is the same as the small. Not condensed means the extremely small is the same as the great. I do not combine, but gallop over and drop away great and small. Already having accomplished this, how shall we go beyond?

After a pause Dogen said: When healthy and energetic we do zazen without falling asleep. When hungry we eat rice, and know we are fully satisfied.

We have spent a few weeks investigating the practice of taking and maintaining the 16 Bodhisattva precepts in the Soto Zen tradition. This is following on the heels of some our regulars having participated in jukai (receiving lay precepts/ordination) with our sister sangha up in Taos and their teacher, Ian Forsberg. I wished to go to our founding teacher in Japan, Eihei Dogen Zenji, to see what advice he had about the precepts. Some cursory research confirmed my impression that Dogen didn’t directly speak about the precepts all that much. He clearly outlined them and how to administer them in chapter 83 of the Shobogenzo, called simply “Jukai”. Beyond that, the references generally remain oblique.

1gg

Jukai at Hokokji

For instance, in this wide-ranging case from Dogen’s Eihei Koroku, he drops an interesting reference to the precepts, but he curiously couches it in a discussion about breathing – that in true Dogen fashion, is hardly just about “breathing”.

In the zazen of patch-robed monks, first you should sit correctly with upright posture. Then regulate your breath and settle your mind. In the lesser vehicle originally there were two gateways, which were counting breaths and contemplating impurity. In the lesser vehicle, people used counting to regulate their breath.

Dogen Zenji gives a succinct lucid summary of our zazen practice right off the bat. Then he leads us right into weeds and tangled branches. “Lesser Vehicle” (Hinayana) can mean different things. The Buddhism that established itself in East Asia some centuries after the historical Buddha’s physical lifetime referred to itself as the “Great Vehicle” (Mahayana) as opposed to the earlier, “lesser” iteration which (in a nutshell) emphasized cutting off worldly attachments with the hope of getting “enlightened” in order to get off the perceived cyclical wheel of existence, or at least get a better “rebirth” to make that more likely in future.

Mahayanists are defined by their emphasis on practicing for the benefit of all beings, realizing that the very idea of self and other is highly conditioned and subjective. In other words, everybody or nobody. Hinayana as a reference to a specific school of Buddhism is generally considered pejorative today. Instead the term Theravada (“the elders path”) is used. In Tibetan Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana can refer to stages of practice and their associated techniques or concepts. I think both qualities are implied in Dogen’s use.

However, the buddha ancestor’s engaging of the way always differed from the lesser vehicle. A Buddha ancestor said, “Even if you arouse the mind of a leprous wild fox, never practice the self-regulation of the two vehicles.” The two vehicles refer to such as the school of the four-part Vinaya and the Abhidharma Kosa school, which have spread in the world these days.

Dogen immediately begins to point (with some urgency) beyond this “two vehicle” model, and its associated distinctions or emphases. The school of the four part Vinaya can mean practitioners who are overly obsessed with following the complex and stringent rules of conduct laid out for ordained monastics during the historical Buddha’s time; a sort of fundamentalist position. The Abhidharma Kosa school might be thought of as practitioners overly concerned with theory and maps of consciousness. We can find correlates in our own place and time, and in more familiar traditions.

In the Mahayana there is also a method for regulating breath, which is knowing that one breath is long, another breath is short. The breath reaches the tanden and comes up from the tanden. Although exhale and inhale differ, both of them occur depending on the tanden. Impermanence is easy to clarify, and regulating the mind is easy to accomplish.

These instructions will be familiar to many students of Zen (which is technically a form of Mahayana Buddhism): concentrating the energy in the abdomen (tanden), and utilizing diaphragmatic breathing to cultivate settledness, confidence, and clarity of mind. But Dogen doesn’t let us settle in believing these “Great Vehicle” techniques superior to the “Lesser Vehicle” ones.

My late teacher Tiantong said, “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long.”

Dogen reaches for the words of his teacher, who handily dismantles this idea of refuge in a fixed idea of breath. Where does breath come from? Where does it go to? In this deeper sense, how can we call any individual breath long or short? Tiantong Rujing posits the breath as a readily available koan, a living gateway to the mystery of Buddha.However, Dogen does not stop even here. He’s not interested in setting up another authority for you, or another bottom line – even from his own master.

My late teacher said it like that. Suppose someone were to ask Eihei, “Master, how do you regulate your breath?” I would simply say to him: Although it is not the great vehicle, it differs from the lesser vehicle. Although it is not the lesser vehicle, it differs from the great vehicle. Suppose that person inquired again, “Ultimately, what is it?” I would say to him: Exhale and inhale are neither long nor short.

Here Dogen pulls it all together, and also takes it all a bit more apart. The lesser and greater vehicles are not the same, nor are they different. Don’t stick, he says. Well, should I concentrate on breath? Can I take refuge in that? Don’t stick, he says. Then he lays out some more fly paper.

Someone asked Baizhang, “The Yogacarabhumi Shastra and the Jewel Necklace Sutra contain the Mahayana precepts. Why don’t you practice according to them?” Baizhang said, “What I take as essential is not limited to the greater or lesser vehicles, and does not differ from the greater or lesser vehicles. I condense and combine the extensive scope [of regulations] to establish standards for appropriate conduct.”

This is the reference to the precepts. Basically, the student is asking the teacher, “this famous text authoritatively presents especially ennobling and liberating rules of conduct. Shouldn’t we just follow those? Won’t that do?” As with defining the breath or being subject to the differing schools, Dogen quotes this eminent ancestor who says, don’t stick. Use what works, in context. Importantly though, the example here isn’t just “do what you want.” Rather, this discussion is occurring among people who already have recognized the greatness of their traditions and ancestors, and fully taken refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This isn’t antinomianism. These are devoted people suggesting that we establish ourselves in practice, then use our common sense and not get stuck in dogma. But lest we get stuck even here

Baizhang said it this way, but Eihei is certainly not like this. It is not the case that it is not limited to the great or small vehicles, or not different from the great or small vehicles. What is this small vehicle? The affairs of the donkey are not complete. What is this great vehicle? The affairs of the horse have already arrived. Not the extensive scope means the extremely great is the same as the small. Not condensed means the extremely small is the same as the great. I do not combine, but gallop over and drop away great and small. Already having accomplished this, how shall we go beyond?

After a pause Dogen said: When healthy and energetic we do zazen without falling asleep. When hungry we eat rice, and know we are fully satisfied.

Of course, Dogen wants to liberate us even from this idea of liberation. I will let these final words stand on their own. I feel like they go straight to the place beyond words, galloping over and through them. I don’t know about you, but they just make me want to practice. I imagine this was precisely the point.

horse-leaping-300-1

 

 

 

Upcoming events at VDZS

Please join us next Monday, February 8th for a special visit and dharma talk with our friend Maia Duerr.  Maia is an anthropologist, writer, and longtime Zen practitioner. She is a student in the Soto Zen lineage of Suzuki Roshi, and has lived and practiced at the San Francisco Zen Center where she received jukai from Victoria Shosan Austin in 2008. She is currently preparing to receive entrustment as a lay Zen teacher from Shosan. In 2012, she received lay ordination from Roshi Joan Halifax as a lay Buddhist chaplain. Maia was the director of Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program from its inception in 2008 to 2014 and continues to serve on Upaya’s Engaged Buddhism faculty.

Zazen will begin as usual at 6:30pm, followed by a short service.  Maia’s talk will begin around 7:15pm, and there will be time for discussion after the lecture.

On Saturday, February 13th, we will have our monthly half-day sitting.
The half-day schedule is as follows:

1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods.

Both events will be held at Dragonfly Yoga.  Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Maintaining Our Dharma Position

8

I want to talk about maintaining our “Dharma Position,” a phrase from Dogen’s Genjokoan that we’ve touched on recently. What can this mean?

There can be numbers of ways to interpret it. In zazen, we practice just sitting still and settling. Dogen said that all Buddhas and ancestors discovered the importance of this, that zazen is the primary gate of ease and joy. In a simple, direct way, we already recognize that being still and actually being present with what arises there is occupying our position, and we see the need for this.

This simple practice can appear to lead us into tangled thickets. Some traditions including Zen can be interpreted to teach that somehow we have to defeat the idea of a separate self, that the goal is some kind of “merging with the infinite” and killing off the ego, or something like this. In some psychological circles, there is a threat described upon entering the wisdom road of a “pre/trans fallacy”; meaning, we can mistake reverting to a womb-like pre-consciousness for being nakedly present with what is. We can also mistake being “nakedly present with what is” with just being narcissistic or insensitive to the integrity of other creatures and the whole. We constantly find ourselves negotiating situations like this. How can we possibly “do” it all? In short, especially if we are here engaging in this practice, we realize we can’t.

In zazen, for a few minutes we release from (let’s call it) the “left-brain”’s compulsive need to adjust, fix, cope, judge, compare, strategize, and do. We draw back our projections; we turn around our light, and shine within. Our vow and our refuge prayer is the recognition that at all levels relatively speaking we are small, fallible, and fundamentally insecure. Zazen is our courageous expression of the vital basic goodness that keeps on flowering despite the vagaries and whims of our thoughts and moods, our perceived strength or weakness. It is in this way an “other power”, a devotional practice. It’s a kind of total prayer, beyond even our idea of what we think we need or want.

So Dharma Position can just be respectful presence. As Joe has been talking about recently, “emptiness” is the recognition of impermanence and inter-being; “suchness” is gently but actively occupying our own Dharma Position. What I want to touch on briefly is when we slip, and how we right ourselves, particularly interacting with others. This is often where it gets most tricky. People can sit a lot of zazen and still be pretty insensitive or unskillful in different ways. A capacity to sit still (or achieve in any realm) is no predictor of wisdom or functional compassion, and no measure with which to judge or be judged. And judgment itself can get us into trouble.

I have fallen in love with the term, “taking care of my side of the street.” Maybe this is a practical way to think about Dharma Position. A couple weeks ago, I got a couple of emails from someone who has come to zazen here and heard me share just a couple of times. We haven’t spoken; we don’t know each other. However, he informed me that for mine (and the sangha’s) benefit, he had a number of suggestions for me to incorporate not just into into my speech, but also my thoughts, my feelings, and even my personality in order for me to be by his estimation a Better Buddhist.

There are some problems here, and most of us can probably hazard theories as to what those are. While it’s not as if he didn’t potentially have something helpful to contribute, I think we can say he failed to take care of his side of the street; he didn’t maintain his position. How do I know this? Simply because it’s clear he’d spent considerable time and energy assessing my position, necessarily only from his position, and without asking any questions took it upon himself to fix me. I think every single human over the age of 5 can relate to this, having likely experienced both ends of this scenario. Haven’t we all tried to fix someone, or experienced an unwanted attempt at being fixed?

Now, we need to help each other. But maybe first, we call over and ask if help is desired. We see that if we sweep our sidewalk, and rake our drive, and clean our windows it becomes more possible for others to give rise to the idea that they might tidy up a bit as well. And if we have a car in the yard, and some chickens, well that’s good too.

Joe and I wear the most gear, we flap our gums the most, so we naturally end up with a bit of a target on our backs. In a monastery, people wear all these robes and shave their heads so personal eccentricity is minimized. Here, the robe wearers might look to some people like Futsacutsas of the Kaminstram (an old burlesque phrase): muckity mucks who know a thing or two, see. That periodically uncomfortable pressure is something that we have chosen for now to negotiate as a part of our own practice. That’s just our “karma.” With direction from my teacher, I see my own function as a robe-wearer to simply help make a place for zazen to be available – that’s the bottom line.

The robe wearers here are not scholars or experts. We aren’t psychologists or gurus. I am an artist with anarchistic leanings, Joe is a lefty Dead-head scientist, and we’re both just people who love Dogen’s presentation of zazen. Zazen is a simple practice. It’s not hard to create the space. We put out the cushions, we put up the picture of Suzuki roshi and light a candle to establish our direction, we assume our Dharma Positions, and everyone makes zazen available to everyone else. One person this way or that is not a deal breaker, me or anyone.

From a basic sort of standpoint, there’s really no problem anywhere in the whole universe. I am addressing this communication issue only because it is an expedient means to explore how we each can support zazen, and as such I feel real gratitude for it. If you are sitting here judging how me, Joe, or anyone else is sharing or expressing themselves (bowing, sitting, chanting, or speaking), the teachings are pretty clear that you are not actually supporting zazen. You are simply delaying entry into an appreciation of your own life. You are actually abandoning yourself.

Time spent judging others is pretty much wasted time; “scratching your left foot when your right foot is itching” was how my first Zen teacher used to put it. What we really want, in this room and maybe in this life, is to cultivate appreciation. Dogen described this appreciative mind of Zazen as three-fold: Joyful Heart-Mind, Parental Heart-Mind, and Magnanimous Heart-Mind. This doesn’t mean we lose our wits, or expect to gush love over everyone we meet. These both can be failures to maintain our position, to stay on our side of the street. Having healthy boundaries is maintaining our position and supporting zazen. Zazen mind is appreciation mind. Appreciation mind is a sober mind, focused on taking good care its side of the street, or say, its cushion.

We get so many opportunities to investigate ourselves practicing with other people, interacting with other people, and non-interacting with other people, as in zazen. I think a zazen-like approach to interacting with others is, first and foremost, to increase our capacity to accept ourselves. That actually could be the whole thing. If we accept ourselves completely, then we naturally will know when to avoid or extract ourselves from certain people or situations, how to interact with others, how to respect their boundaries and respect our own.

However, most of us have sustained some damage along the way, and whether through nature or nurture have some habitual tendencies that cause us to suffer unnecessarily, and to cause suffering. Circumstances can get complex, and things change. We struggle at times to accept ourselves, and others. So we need to be quite careful with each other and with ourselves, without being too precious. We need to risk a little, and we need to retreat a little, and develop a mental/emotional posture that can help us make those moves on time, with help from good friends who share this direction. We also continue to develop skills. I am working myself on doing three specific things, communication-wise: asking more questions, detaching from stories, and making simple requests.

I almost guarantee to the degree we are concerned with fixing other people, we are neglecting something in ourselves. That’s the trade off; personally, it can be quite a heavy price to pay. We can even drag people down with us, or be dragged down. Healthy families, communities, even cultures can dissolve because of the failure of individuals to maintain really quite simple, healthy boundaries. I feel good about our loose little community, because people are just being sincere and semi-consistent and supportive of each other. Integrity is being respected and supported; we get a taste of that here, and see what we can pay forward. I mostly only see people thankful for the chance to come to this relatively safe space and have a place to practice appreciation and non-judgment. I want this for you, and I want this for me. I feel really quite supported in my own practice inquiry, and request your ongoing support for the individuals that comprise the sangha, including (first and foremost) your own truest self.

 

Half Day Sit, Saturday, Jan. 9

Half Day Sit this Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 from 1-5 pm (see schedule below.) Location: Dragonfly Yoga.

The half-day schedule is as follows:
1:00-1:35 zazen
1:35-1:45 kinhin (walking)
1:45-2:20 zazen
2:20-2:30 kinhin
2:30-3:05 zazen
3:05-3:15 kinhin
3:15-3:50 zazen
3:50-4:00 kinhin
4:00-4:35 zazen
4:35 Service and closing

There is no fee, and you may enter or depart at any point, preferably during the kinhin periods.

 

A half day of sitting is a wonderful opportunity to put aside our daily concerns for a brief period and settle more deeply into the silent space of zazen (just sitting). Please wear loose fitting comfortable clothing, preferably in dark solid colors. Shoulders and legs should be covered. Watches are discouraged, and cell phones should be silent, preferably turned off and left outside the practice space with shoes, purses, and water bottles, etc. (there are cubbies and safe places for such things.)

It can seem daunting to sit a few periods if you only tend to sit more briefly, but with collective energy and the freedom to adjust your posture as needed, it is fully doable for just about anyone. The benefits are immediately felt.

 

Please be in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Join VDZS New Year’s Eve!

Chinatown-Chinese-New-Year-Celebration-2012-Garden-Bridge-dragon.jpg

Perhaps the usual parties and/or TV count down on the couch don’t seem so appealing this year. Come join us for zazen and a bit of chanting to ring in the New Year in peace and community.
We will have unbroken zazen from 9 pm to 11:45. People can come, go, stand or sit as required. From 11:45 to midnight we will recite the Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo, a prayer for peace. At 12, we will ring a bell 108 times to literally ring in the New Year.

Please join us. Everyone is welcome. It’s just sitting in silence – certainly people you know desire this too, so feel free to bring a friend.

Bring snacks or beverages to be shared following bells!

Location:
Dragonfly Yoga Studio
Albuquerque, NM