giving thanks

November 25th, 2011 § 0 comments

This caught my eye, and even though it’s not directly Buddhist, and even though up here in Canada where the harvest comes earlier and Thanksgiving is in October and the whole Christmas shopping season thing is more like a boiling frog than a lobster dropped in a pot — well, this caught my eye, so here you go.

Thanksgiving is a one of our better ideas. We, theoretically, reflect on how fortunate we are to have what we have. The day after Thanksgiving would be a great day to start thinking how we might start addressing wrongs perpetuated on anybody trampled in the process of putting together the comfort and security we are so thankful for. Instead, we’ve turned it into a symbolic date for acquiring shinier objects in anticipation of how we can best miss the point of our next major holiday. Perhaps worse, it infects Thanksgiving itself, turning the holiday into, effectively, a paean to culinary gluttony in preparation for commercial gluttony.

(From Squashed.)

Back at our Thanksgiving we had a ceremony at the Zen Centre, as we do every year, and it began with an informal sitting period in which everyone at some point made their way down to the kitchen, took a pencil and paper, and wrote down what they were thankful for. All of those papers went into a bowl, and later the bowl gets passed around the zendo, everyone pulls out a piece of paper, makes sure it’s not theirs, reads it carefully to themselves to make sure they understand what’s being said — that’s so important — and then reads the note aloud.

Some people write a tiny sentence. Some fill the page. Some write short poems. A lot of people are thankful for the Three Treasures, for the opportunity to practice, for the friends and family close to them. Some are thankful to have lived another year.

And with everyone reading someone else’s, we’re all thankful for everything each of us is thankful for.

yeah i do this sometimes

May 31st, 2011 § 0 comments

I am breaking my post drought by copying wholesale a quotation I found in Karen Maezen Miller’s blog. She posted it a couple years ago so I hope she won’t mind. I’m pretty sure Yuanwu won’t mind either.

“I often see those who are trying to study Buddhism just use their worldly intelligence to sift among the verbal teachings of the buddhas and ancestral teachers, trying to pick out especially wondrous sayings to use as conversation pieces to display their ability and understanding. This is not the correct view of the matter. You must abandon your worldly mentality and sit quietly with mind silent. Forget entangling causes and investigate with your whole being. When you are thoroughly clear then whatever you bring forth from your own inexhaustible treasure of priceless jewels is sure to be genuine and real.”

–Zen Letters: Teaching of Yuanwu (1063-1135)

I know it sucks

March 4th, 2011 § 0 comments

“I know it sucks, you have all these feelings and everything”

– Metafilter user Brandon Blatcher nicely expresses the First Noble Truth here.

From outside

February 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments

There’s always a regular stream of new members at the zen centre. I love seeing new people there, even though a lot of them don’t stick around following their trial membership. (I remember Sensei saying that 10% of workshop attendees come to a sitting after the workshop, and 10% of those go on to become centre members.)

I get a lot of energy from new people at the centre. There’s a couple of ways that that works. First, people new to sitting try hard, and that energy inspires me to work hard. And having someone new sitting near you encourages you to set a good example.

There’s one new member in particular who’s on my mind lately. She’s young and punk (both unusual) and quiet and I’m not sure some of the older* zen centre members really know how to respond. I can definitely sense a bit of discomfort, at least: a couple of members were commenting on her hand-painted leather jacket in the coatroom the other day and I found myself cringing, since she might’ve come through the door any moment.

There’s a lot of little weirdnesses when you start coming to the zen centre: chanting, prostrations, all the forms of coming and going from the zendo and taking private instruction and so on. But it’s harder still when you don’t see yourself in the faces of the people that seem to have this stuff down pat. The ego doesn’t want to let go right away and none of that helps!

I remember Brad Warner talking about the typical zen centre crowd vs. his punk background, and how Zen people “tend to be bookish intellectuals in pale-blue pullovers rather than ratty-haired guitarists in ripped-up jeans.” I don’t know if we’re quite all that, but the sentiment holds — Western Zen is a pretty middle-class thing, and it’s hard to imagine that she doesn’t feel surrounded by a bunch of squares.

I was plenty square when I first discovered Zen, but I still felt enough like an outsider — young and English-speaking — to take ten more years before I started a serious practice. I hope she sticks with it.

* I suppose I really mean “older-than-me” here — I think the middle-aged members would find it stranger than those in their golden years. Between Zen practice and life practice I think the oldest members have seen it all.