Monday, December 30, 2013

Chapter from "Net-Neti Meditation"

Here is an excerpt from my most recent book, Neti-Neti Meditation: Transcendental Self-Inquiry.

This book and the entire Neti-Neti Meditation process operates under one basic assumption: you are not your personality, thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, body, sensations, perceptions, will, or anything else that you identify yourself as, such as your gender, sexual orientation, job, your role as a parent, child, or sibling.

To borrow from the Upanishads, “You are That,” the completely indescribable Absolute that defies all definitions and limitations. How’s that for good news?

To assign any label to your true nature, even the Absolute, is to invite confusion. You transcend all concepts; in fact, it’s safe to say that whatever you conceive yourself to be, you aren’t.
We suffer because, like the limitless sky confusing itself with the transient clouds, we misidentify ourselves as our thoughts, or emotions, or personalities; when in fact, we are none of those things.

We are the vast, empty awareness in which all of those things arise.

The same applies to all beings and all of existence—all of reality is an expression of markless consciousness, which is your true nature. In truth, there is no ‘I’; there is simply empty awareness, void of all characteristics and qualities.

In the most practical terms, we can say that as a human being you are the intersection of the realm of form or matter and the Absolute, which is nothing other than primordial consciousness. As humans, we have the unique opportunity to realize our own limitless awareness, as consciousness realizes itself through itself.

Most of the time we think of consciousness as the TV screen in our heads that leads or follows our bodies around; it is a personal and private experience. For instance, when I am in the car, I am not in the vegetable garden. This, however, is a very limited view.

In reality, consciousness is vast, empty, and limitless—what many sages call Awareness with a capital ‘A.’ This Awareness, unlike in the car and garden example above, transcends location in space or time. It is the empty space or Ground in which the entire universe arises, abides for a while, and then recedes back into.

You are the empty, formless Awareness that not only serves as the backdrop for all of your personal experiences, but as the very basis for the entire universe. Understood in this way, Awareness is not separate from the world of matter; it is the fecund, formless Ground from which all of reality originates. In a sense, we can think of form as dense consciousness.

Neti-Neti Meditation, also called Transcendental Self-Inquiry, peels back all of those layers that we ordinarily identify ourselves with, in order to reveal our true, numinous, boundless Mind (notice the capital M). This process is based upon the ancient Hindu and Buddhist technique, which means, “Not this, not that.” For as the 20th-century Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj taught, “In order to discover what you are, you must find out what you are not.”

That means investigating everything that you normally identify with as constituting yourself, and then negating or discarding them one by one. To use positive terms, that means recognizing that you are not limited to your thoughts, emotions, or body—that in fact, you transcend them all.
Naturally, the question arises, If I negate my thoughts and emotions and body, if I transcend my desires and personality, what am I? What remains after I’ve negated and transcended everything? Nothing?


The Buddha would remain silent. This is called his thunderous silence, not to be mistaken as implying anything, or even nothing. It expresses the great Nothing, or No-thing, because our true nature transcends THING-ness altogether. It is formless, limitless, empty Mind.
As best they can, sages avoid assigning words to the Absolute because it resists all categorization. It simply IS. The moment we try to pin it down into a conceptual category, we can safely say that It is NOT that.

This is the basis of Neti-Neti Meditation—negating all of the things that we falsely identify ourselves as, seeing that we transcend all of them, until only the Absolute Thusness remains.

If you are interested in reading more, Neti-Neti Meditation is available on Amazon. You can also visit my website for more information about the Neti-Neti process.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Black-Luster Friday

Black Friday epitomizes consumerism and greed, the modern manifestations of desire. It is a day of empty, hollow promises that all of our dreams can be fulfilled if we just buy enough stuff. Buddhism is very unique in its stark appraisal of desire's role in creating suffering. You cannot find a calendar day more opposite to Buddhist ideals than Black Friday. In this talk, I ponder the difficult question of how to practice Buddhism in a society saturated with toxic values such as rampant greed.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The False God Called Self

According to Buddhism, by definition we as human beings all worship the false god called the self. Everything we do is motivated by this un-examined assumption that there is some I, agent, subject, or experiencer behind our actions. Zen practice aims to uproot this false deity and reveal the true mystery of existence, one that can never be classified in terms of self, or even no-self.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Addition Through Subtraction

We normally think that if we only get more--objects, experiences, knowledge, friends, love--we will someday be happy. But this is completely backwards. True happiness is to realize that we already have everything we need. This means subtracting out all of the things that we falsely identify with, until we rediscover our true self. In this talk, I explain how the way to awakening is inward not outward, backwards not forwards, through subtraction not addition.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brand-Name Zen

My book Brand-Name Zen: The Commodification of Zen in the West is now in print. Hooray! It's available as a Kindle ebook and in hard copy from Createspace or directly from Amazon.

Below is a synopsis. I hope you enjoy.

Modern American Zen is in a deplorable state: Zen Masters are now pseudo-celebrities; Dharma Transmission has been co-opted as a branding technique; and worst of all, Zen has degenerated into a lifestyle identity whose primary aim is no longer Buddhahood, but rather the perpetuation of the Zen institution itself. Zen is more interested in establishing orthodoxy and orthopraxy than it is in helping people realize their Buddha Nature.

Western Zen has become just as consumer-driven and celebrity-obsessed as the rest of American culture. And the worst part is that no one in the Zen community even seems to notice. Or to care.

Brand-Name Zen takes a bold and daring look at the current decadence of modern Western Zen. It poses very important questions regarding the entire Western Zen institution, such as what is the true function of Dharma Transmission? How has zazen become the signature Zen “pose”? How have kōans been appropriated as a means to establish and maintain authoritarian power structures?

Brand-Name Zen offers an invaluable mirror for Western Zen to evaluate itself. It is a must read for any serious Zen student.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Purpose? We don't need no stinking purpose!

"What is the purpose of life?" has to be one of the most commonly asked questions in the world. The problem, as I explain in this talk, is that this question relegates the present moment to a means to and ends, implying that where we currently ARE is not nearly as important as where we are GOING. This dislocates us from our lives here and now.

Zen does not entertain such philosophical questions, for they are irrelevant to what is unfolding at the present moment. In Zen, whatever you are doing right now IS ALL THAT THERE IS.

Please enjoy and share.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Neti-Neti Meditation

I am starting a new venture, offering meditation instruction to wellness and integrative therapies programs and professionals in the NJ, NY, PA, and DE areas. The program is called Neti-Neti Meditation, named after the Vedic and Buddhist meditation technique of negating everything that is not us by realizing it is Neti-Neti (Sanskrit for "Not this, not that"). In contemplative practice, this is called apophasis or via negativa, named so because the approach reveals our true nature by eliminating all of the things that we aren't. 

This meditation can be enormously helpful in a secular capacity, too. By recognizing that they are not their bodies, thoughts, or emotions, people suffering from physical (and even emotional/psychological) pain can gain more freedom and decrease their suffering. This can be especially helpful for people who suffer from chronic pain, like patients undergoing painful surgery, rehabilitation, or treatments. For the less that they identify themselves as the 'owner' or 'experiencer,' the more they will realize that they are not the pain, nor is it 'theirs'--they are the Awareness in which all experiences arise and subside.

That means freedom.

That's who this project is designed to help.

I am very excited and just finished the website:

To accompany the site and the service, I wrote a brief handbook of sorts, which walks readers through the Neti-Neti process, step-by-step. The book, like the website and the process itself, is called Neti-Neti Meditation: Transcendence Through Negation. It's available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook (click here) or in other epub formats (click here).

May this project help relieve as much suffering as possible.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This is not a Stick

In addition to thinking that we lack something, the main reason we grasp at objects, experiences, and people, is because we think that they have what we are missing. But the great irony is that there are no THINGS there in the first place. In this Dharma talk, Doshim explains how reality precedes thinking, and therefore, THINGS only exist as imputations from the conceptual mind. So the reason we are never satisfied by objects is because there was never anyTHING there to satisfy us!

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Neti, Neti--Negating Duality

This is a continuation of last week's talk, "Neti, Neti." Here I elaborate on the process and explain how Neti, Neti's ultimate aim is to negate duality itself.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Neti, Neti

One of the greatest sages of the 20th century, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, taught that in order to know what you are, you need to learn what you're NOT. Neti, Neti, which translates as "Not this, Not that," is a ruthless form of systematic negation that reveals our true nature by eliminating all of the things we are NOT. "I am not my job, my emotions, my..." This ancient Upanishadic practice has long ties to Buddhism. In this Dharma talk, Doshim explains how we can incorporate Neti Neti into our Zen practice to reveal that which we truly are.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Breath, silence, breath, silence

Reading a book on Vedanta last week, I was surprised to read about a meditation technique that is so obvious, yet had never occurred to me. In contrast to Zen meditation where the meditator concentrates on or follows the breath, in this form the person focuses her attention on the space in between the breaths. 

Somehow I had never heard of this. Duh-uh!

What I find very interesting is that Buddhism emphasizes impermanence--the groundlessness of existence--whereas Vedanta stresses the permanence of the unchanging ground, Brahman. Immediately I wondered about the relationship between the traditions and the forms of meditation they exercise. Sure, in Zen we can begin by examining the breath as preparation for dwelling in empty awareness, but Zen tends to use the breath, the ever-changing cycle of breath, as a figurative mental anchor; Vedanta, on the other hand, returns to the stillness of the between-breath.

So I started concentrating on the space between breaths, and since I wasn't totally relaxed, my breath was still a bit elevated. The space felt uncomfortable, like I was holding my breath more than allowing a natural pause to arise between breaths. This felt like I was underwater or somehow denying myself oxygen, probably because in order to stop the next exhalation and stress the space, I would tense my diaphragm.  

Later though, when my respiration had calmed, I settled into the space. Marvelous! And yes, my awareness tended to stress the stillness of the breath more than its movement.

What interests me is the marriage of these two approaches, the attention to both the dynamic and the grounded aspects of breathing, of life and existence itself. The catch is that I wonder if I really noticed the pause before I tried this experiment. I have been meditating for years and yet I don't know if I've ever paid much attention to it! Like getting the answer to a riddle, we think, "Of course that's it!", I wonder if I had been aware of the space all along. Somehow I doubt it.

My gut instinct is that in order to concentrate on the entire breathing process in Zen meditation, it is probably most helpful to isolate the space to highlight what we may have been missing. Then, after some time, we can incorporate it alongside our breath meditation.

Stillness, breath, stillness, breath, an interdependent whole. Not one, but not two either.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Nothing to Gain

I'm sure we've all heard the Buddhist maxim regarding practice, "No gain," which roughly translates to: let go of all ideas of spiritual attainment. And while this is certainly good advice, and a solid perspective for practice, what about all of the subtle ways that our ordinary clinging mind tries to turn Buddhism into yet another ego project? I'm referring to the all too prevalent idea and assumption that pervades Zen centers, that "If I put in my time I will get the authority to do..." such and such. Or, "Who does this newcomer think she is? I've been here for five years..." "Maybe in a couple more months I'll be 'promoted' to chant leader--woohoo!"

These kinds of competitive and grasping tendencies are all motivated by two fallacies: that there is some "I" who is going to get "something." But in a truly empty universe, there is no "I" to get anything, or any "thing" to be gotten.

Please enjoy this Dharma talk.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Eye Cannot See Itself

In this talk, I discuss the futility of finding the "seeker," for as the title suggests, the mind cannot "find" itself. I draw upon the works of Wei Wu Wei and Thanissaro Bhikkhu to illustrate the impossibility of the subject becoming its own object.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Truth, Inc.

Contrary to popular Buddhist belief, Zen, or Buddhism in general, has not cornered the market on truth. There are many paths to awakening. In this talk, I discuss what this acknowledgement means for our identities as Buddhists, and more importantly, our practice.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Zongmi Ch'an

In this Dharma talk, I express my admiration for one of, in my opinion, the most important, yet least well known, Chan Masters in history. Guifeng Zongmi was the fifth patriarch in both the Heze school of Ch'an and the famous Huayen school of scholastic Chinese Buddhism. A fierce advocate of Buddha nature as the core of Buddhist practice, Zongmi is a continuous inspiration to me, and has had a huge impact on the direction of the Original Mind Zen Sangha where I teach. Many bows to the great Master, Guifeng Zongmi.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not Two, Not One

It's very easy to misunderstand Zen or Advaita Vedanta and think that they advocate some sort of Super Subject that is separate from the universe that it "knows." This is not the case; primordial Awareness is not separate from the world of form.

Zen Masters have carefully avoided this lopsided Super Subject interpretation of the non-dual Mind through the expression, "Not Two, Not One." In this talk, I use the analogy of a TV- or computer screen to illustrate the relationship between the Knower/Knowing and the Known.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartand.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Buddhas, what an eclectic bunch

There are so many contemplative paths out there, each expressing its own perspective on truth, that it's almost impossible not to get bewildered by the inevitable question, Which one of them is right? Whether you're studying Vedanta, Zen, Vajrayana, Sufism, it's easy to either get didactic--My homies have the (only) real teachings; everyone else is just fooling themselves--or confused. For how can all of these apparently disparate teachings be correct? Self or no self, soul or no soul, God(s) or no God(s)? The fact that few agree on some pretty central points can be very frustrating.

That is, if you attach to the words.

As a Zen Buddhist, I frequently look to the source of the word "Buddhism" as a reminder not to get attached to words. Buddhism, by definition (or according to my definition, at least), is the teachings and path of an Awakened One, not just the historical Buddha. I view my Zen ancestors--Chinul, Mazu, Zongmi, Seung Sahn--as Buddhas. Therefore, I see no reason to devalue the teachings of an Enlightened teacher, like say Sri Ramana Maharshi, just because his teachings don't jive with Shakyamuni Buddha's. After all, there are plenty of "Buddhist" teachers who don't agree with one another, or who advance some unorthodox teachings.

Buddhism, under this rubric, is the teaching and path of any Awakened being. Granted, I'm being very liberal in my use of the term, but I think that this perspective allows us to be nourished by any and all of the great contemplative traditions. Not in some smorgasbord kind of way where we feel obligated to acknowledge every Tom-Dick-and-Harry under the sun who claims to be Enlightened. But in a broad-minded way that looks beyond the words of the teachings to the heart of the Enlightened mind itself.

There is, according to all of these traditions--regardless of whether they actually agree on how to interpret it--one Truth. Since it obviously and unanimously transcends words, it serves to reason that it also transcends any attempt at systematization.

So I don't but much stock in words or concepts, at least in their ability to communicate or distill the Absolute. This in no way prohibits our using of them, as I am right now; it simply reminds us that the relative world, including language and how we organize information, is culture-bound.

The Absolute isn't.

This means that even though these great teachers don't agree on how to interpret the Absolute (soul, no-soul; God, no God), their experience of it can still be fundamentally the same. So there's no need to dismiss or reject the profound teachings from other traditions simply because their paradigm doesn't fit ours. That's like biting off our nose to spite our face.

Personally, I love Papaji's teaching, and fully view him as a spiritual ancestor in the same way as I do Nagarjuna or Bodhidharma. An heir of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Papaji was a magnificent teacher with an amazingly warm presence that you can literally feel when you read him. I find his satsangs (public teachings) enormously inspiring and nourishing. Personally, I could care less that he is technically considered an Advaita Vedanta teacher, or that uses the words "Self" or "God."

That's completely besides the point. His teachings not only speak to me as a student, but have greatly influenced how I teach Zen. Because in the end, as I suggested earlier, I am a student of all Buddhas, not just the orthodox, canonized one(s).

Sunday, September 15, 2013


For centuries, Zen Masters have shouted, "Katz!", to startle their students into Awakening. In this talk, Doshim discusses the how we can use Katz! to reawaken ourselves in our daily lives.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

No Pain, No Gain

"Nothing is free or has any value unless it is the product of labor." "If it isn't hard to achieve, it isn't worth it." These are the unstated beliefs underlying Western culture. And in respect to Buddha Nature and the contemplative path, they couldn't be any further away from the truth.

Waking up, as Doshim often teaches, is easy, as natural as waking up in the morning. It doesn't require any fierce labor or painful process. All it takes is awakening to your mind at this very moment; it's that simple.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Buddha's Smile

My favorite Buddha statues are those that depict Shakyamuni with a faint smile. No blank- or serious-faced effigy for me, I really appreciate the wry smile playing across my statues' faces, enticing us to awaken to the reality of Buddhahood. If you ask me, Buddhist practice tends to be way too serious anyway.

What is he smiling about? I often wonder as a admire his countenance. That sly grin suggests that he knows something we don't; or rather, something we do know but have somehow forgotten or lost sight of.

So what is this thing we have forgotten? Our true face as Buddhas.

This reflects the Mahayana teaching of Original Enlightenment, which states that all beings are already enlightened. They need not go anywhere or do anything, besides of course realizing this quintessential paradox of the human condition. Nescience, ignorance, or delusion, is not our original nature; they are adventitious, and thus need not cause us any worry or distress.

No teaching has influenced my life or practice as singularly as the principle of Buddha Nature. Far from some abstract idea, I see Buddha Nature as absolutely relevant and accessible at this very moment.

Who and what were essentially are is Buddha.

Zen Master Seung Sahn's envisioned Buddhist practice as a circle, where the beginning and end point overlap. We end where we began, changed, transformed, and yet fundamentally the same. For all we have done is awakened to our universal nature that was present from the very beginning!

For me, there is no more important teaching than this. It's the Buddhist Gospel, the Good Word of Enlightenment.

That's what the Buddha's smile says to me. Come on, guys. What's all the fuss? Why are you fooling yourselves into believing you are deluded? Just wake up and recognize the game you're playing. We both know what you're doing.

When we think of it this way, as a kind of cosmic game of hide and seek with ourselves (what is called lila in Hinduism), then we can't help but let out a full-bellied bellow of laughter.

Come to think of it, that would make a good koan: Why is the Buddha on the altar smiling?

The above photo is of the Buddha on my home altar.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Knock, Knock

Contemplative practice can often feel like a cosmic knock-knock joke as we seek to find ourselves. But how is that possible if we are the very thing we are seeking! In this talk Doshim tries to make sense of this Zen paradox by revealing that the search itself is rooted in the very dualism we are trying to transcend. 

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What's all the fuss?

If Buddha Nature or Enlightenment is our original mind, then why do we have to strive for it? Why all this struggle? These are perennial questions that have haunted contemplatives for centuries. In this talk, I address the issue with a counter question--why all the fuss? When you STOP everything--and I mean everything-- only your true nature will remain. That's your original face.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Expressing the Ordinary

Two men are painting outside of my house right now. I live in a suburban New Jersey community, very ordinary in every respect. At first, my wife and I were a little confused as to what the two men were doing. They began by setting up these tall thin-legged tables, which I couldn't help but think would make a great portable altar.

As they continued setting up, the "tables" evolved into easels. Then they laid out their paints, palettes, and brushes. How curious. How wonderful!

What could these artists possibly be interested painting in a boring residential town like mine? Well that's where an artist's eye differs from the ordinary person's. The artist, like the Zen Buddhist, sees the extraordinary in the ordinary.

From an artist's perspective, nothing is common; everything is an expression of the absolute marvel that is existence itself. These two artists are capturing the natural beauty of a house-lined suburban street, my neighbors' the sycamore, of the Stop sign and the streetlight.

There is often a nostalgia among Eastern-minded practitioners for a return to some natural, untouched, Edenic (mental) state and (physical) space. Perhaps it's the Taoist element in Zen. However, what I think this view fails to understand--sorry Lao Tzu--is that a human home is just as much of an expression of the Tao as a bird's nest.

Human achievements, whether they be the Taj Mahal or my Cape Cod home, are manifestations of the magnificent Absolute, too. That's what these artists are admiring. Even if they wouldn't put it that way, I think that's what their artistic calling is communicating at this moment.

Thanks guys for reminding me about the beauty of the ordinary.

Photo borrowed courtesy of Creative Commons Flickr user: Unitopia.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Practicing What?

If you read a modern book on Buddhism, you can't get more than a couple pages before you read the word "practice." The word is used so frequently in Buddhist conversations that it sometimes becomes a mere abstraction. So what is practice, this thing we hear so much talk about? What does it actually look like? In this talk, Doshim clarifies exactly what Zen practice looks like at the Original Mind Zen Sangha.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Myth of Zen

As a student and teacher of Zen, I find myself making a common mistake that many people do when referring to Zen--assuming that there is ONE kind of Zen. There isn't. One of the most powerful myths that exist about Zen Buddhism is that there is a normative standard, as if all Zen school and practitioners agree on one set of principles.

They don't.

Zen (including Seon and Chan) is a blanket term that is completely conventional, provisional, and conceptual. In other words, Zen itself is empty of having any sort of essence. Ironically, despite emptiness (sunyata) being such a central tenet of (many schools of) Buddhism, Zen Buddhists often subscribe to the myth that there one single entity called "Zen." Which as history would have it, in the West is more often not Japanese.

Actually, there is very little consensus about what Zen is. Despite Zen's etymological connection to the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning meditation, not all Zen schools emphasize meditation to the same degree. For example, zazen or seated meditation, represents the sommum bonum of practice for the Japanese Soto school; whereas in other sects, meditation may take a more peripheral role next to koan, hua-tou, chanting, or mindfulness practice.

My point is, there is no single Zen. Although it is very difficult to have a conversation about Zen if we constantly have to insert, "Well some Zen schools believe...," we need to be cognizant of assuming that we have the authentic Zen.

Western Zen--and this is based entirely on my personal experience, and thus is merely an opinion--tends to be elitist. Zen practitioners, subscribing to Bodhidharma's quasi-mythical maxim that Zen is beyond words (and thus connotatively reserved for the spiritual elite), like their Zen a certain way. Too much Mahayana Buddhist liturgy or study and Zen loses its bare-bones flavor. Too much chanting or bowing or reciting the Buddha's name and--gasp!--Zen "degenerates" into pan-Buddhism and is no longer "Zen," whatever that means. Not enough emphasis on form and Zen appears loosey-goosey.

For instance, Korean Seon is much more ecumenical than Japanese Zen. It has a much broader range of practices and doesn't subscribe to such a narrow self-definition of identity. The same applies for early Chan monks who practiced right beside students of Hua-yen and T'ien-T'ai because the idea that "I'm a Chan monk and therefore..." didn't exist then. It had not yet developed. Which suggests an important point:

Zen developed over centuries. It didn't appear fully formed in its current state. Contemporary Zen is the result of hundreds of years' worth of political, social, religious conditions and factors all playing off one another.

This is very humbling and informative. My concern as a Western Zen Buddhist teacher is how this impacts our practice and lives. Humans are prone to appropriating any idea and incorporating it into their identity, or sense of self. After a time, students may find themselves saying or thinking, "I'm a Zen Buddhist; therefore, I practice [such and such] exclusively."

Frankly, that's unnecessary. If we take out all of the superfluous verbiage from that statement, all we are left with is "practice"--whatever form that may take. For me, it's a constant return to the empty, clear awareness of "Don't know" mind. From there, we then ask, "How may I help you?" I won't presume to say that this is THE Zen practice, because it isn't. That's a huge assumption, arguably narrow-minded, elitist, and most importantly, not very helpful.

To avoid ending on a negative note, I'll conclude by paraphrasing one of my favorite instructions of Zen Master Seung Sahn: "Practice, practice, practice, for 10,000 years. Reach enlightenment and then save all sentient beings!"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zen: The Art of Doing Nothing

Many contemplative practices teach us techniques to help us concentrate, deal with unpleasant emotional states, or even induce an Awakening experience such as kensho. Not Zen. Zen points directly to the Mind; it's an unmediated path to your (and all beings') true nature. Since Enlightenment is our native, unconditioned state, we don't have to do anything to 'get' it. Instead, all we have to do is STOP obstructing ourselves. When we STOP everything, our true nature emerges naturally.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tons of audio Dharma

Here are three talks from the Original Mind Zen Sangha. The middle one, "The Way-Seeking Mind," is a unique treat, as it was delivered by a sangha member, Gary Cocciolillo, while I was out of town. Enjoy and share!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nine Silent Bombs

I consider myself a pretty informed person; I read the news and try to stay current on world events. So why is it that I have heard virtually NOTHING about the bombing at the Mahabodhi Buddhist temple at Bodh Gaya? The attack was, and still is, so surreal that I honestly Googled the event before I began typing this because I have seen no press coverage. The only place I found ANY mention is at an international Hindu website called Hindustantimes.

Before I proceed any further, let me clearly state that I am not one of those Buddhists who think that Buddhism is the be-all end-all of contemplative practice, nor that Buddhist shrines are somehow more sacred than those of Muslims, Christians or Jews. I don't feel the need to take a pilgrimage to India, China, or Korea. (Not that there's anything wrong with these past times; they just don't interest me.) With that said, come on! Nine freaking bombs detonate at the site of the Buddha's enlightenment and no one makes a peep! What the...?

Where is the international dialogue, if not outage, about this? Why isn't Rachel Maddow covering this? Olberman, O'Reilly, anyone?! Seriously, I don't care who reports the event, but there are 350 million Buddhists in the world, you would think that this terror attack was newsworthy. Please correct me if I am wrong, for this is one of those instances where I hope I am.

Now I'm not saying that none of these journalists mentioned the attack, for there's no way I could keep track of all of their shows. That's not my point. What I want to highlight is that there has been little if any mention of the bombing--even among the Western Buddhist community. And I find that particularly disturbing, especially the last part. It's as if Western Buddhists, in their attempt to be so liberally aloof, so "detached," refuse to speak out lest they be accused of being "attached," the most dreaded insult for a Buddhist. Mock interior dialogue with snarky, nasally tone: Since nowhere is more sacred than anywhere else, I won't talk about the bombing. Only "attached" people differentiate between where the Buddha reached enlightenment and anywhere else on Earth.

What pretension! This is called the sickness of emptiness. Buddhism is not about lofty indifference, being perpetually optimistic, or allowing yourself to become a human doormat. It's about being fully human, not some jolly caricature of a statue. That means recognizing the empty nature of horror, but experiencing horror as horror, too. It's about recognizing human suffering, awakening to ours and all being's true nature, and responding to the pain in the world with compassion, wisdom, and intelligence. The last part of which means condemning violence.

I'm sorry if I sound bitter because I'm not. I'm simply confounded by the media's (and perhaps the world's) utter indifference to the attack. Perhaps it has to do with the event's proximity to the incorrigible Buddhist violence in Myanmar? Or because only two monks were injured (two too many, in my opinion) and none killed? Or that we are so numb to religious warfare that this event doesn't warrant coverage in the public's eyes?

I honestly don't know.

But what I do know is that silence can be a very dangerous thing. There is a time to be quiet and listen, and there is also a time to speak. This, I feel, is one of those latter moments. Fill the air with voices, with honest, objective coverage of this tragedy; let the truth be known lest the ensuing silence be filled with more bloodshed and violence.

Feel free to comment below.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Don't Die for the Milky Way

Two new Dharma talks, both of which concentrate on the power of delusion in our lives.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

To the Buddha Bus I go

Opening a Zen Center is an enormous undertaking that includes every responsibility from raising donations to paying the mortgage/rent and insurance, to maintaining the property. Depending on whether you own the property, this might entail mowing the lawn, shoveling the sidewalk and driveway during the winter, patching a leaky roof, unclogging stubborn plumbing, and repairing/replacing the furnace and air conditioner units. Any homeowner can testify to the fact that owning property can be a major responsibility at the least, and a major hassle at the most. 

Which is why I have, what I think is, an ingenious alternative.* Why pay for or rent a permanent structure, what with all of its attached expenses, when you can find a much more reasonably priced, portable option?

Behold, The Buddha Bus, the first fully mobile Zen/meditation Center. Let me paint a picture for you. 

Imagine a school bus with all of the student seats removed; the floors resurfaced in hardwood; the metal walls and ceiling thinly insulated and covered with a light wood paneling; two RV air conditioners mounted in the roof. The altar will sit at the back wall, two aisles of meditation cushions running the length of the bus. If space permits, we can even add a small bathroom with a sink and toilet like the ones on an airplane. 

It will look something like this on the inside, minus the furniture. Although I think the wood-burning stove is super cool!

The outside will be painted with bright, vivid Buddhist iconography and the words "Buddha Bus" written in bold, inviting letters for all passersby to see. Nothing silly looking or psychedelic like a hippie bus, just bright enough to catch people's attention. 

To save money, I'm thinking that we can approach some college artists to see if they would be willing to complete the project for their art portfolio. For how cool would that look in a prospective artist's resume--a giant Buddha bus?! My local Zen group, the Original Mind Zen Sangha, meets in Princeton, where the University is obviously located, and ten minutes from The College of New Jersey and Rider University, and maybe 25 minutes from Rutgers University with its amazing art school, Mason Gross. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but those are some great artists to solicit for help.

The bus can meet anywhere that is public--in a park, a parking lot, you name it. All donations will go directly to the bus's fuel, maintenance, and insurance. Just in case you're wondering, we will meditate only while the bus is parked. When we are done, we will simply stack the mats and cushions, bungee strap them to hooks on the wall, and finally wrap the Buddha and altar items in towels and store them inside of the altar--a wooden trunk mounted to the floor.   

What's great about the idea is that it needn't replace or compete with an actual physical location. For instance, OMZS meets in Princeton on Sundays, and could continue to do so because the space allows me to conduct interviews with students, a vital dimension of Zen practice. We can use the bus several evenings during the work week when space is hard to rent.

For those skeptics out there who think the idea is too hokey, I honestly think that this project is in the original vision of the Buddha. Let's remember that Shakyamuni Buddha never owned or even slept in a temple, let alone a monastery. He walked everywhere with his retinue of monks and nuns. A converted Buddha Bus is about as close as we can get as homeowners in the 21st century to his spirit of detachment and renunciation. 

Storage will be a hurdle, for where can we park a vehicle of that size without disturbing neighbors or inviting vandals?

That aside, the single greatest challenge is going to be raising funds. Compared to the price tag attached to opening a Zen Center, The Buddha Bus is a very attainable project. I don't think that it will cost much more than $25,000. That figure includes padding for mechanical repairs and conversion fees, for while I can replace a house window or dishwasher, I am far from handy enough to do the work myself. 

If you are as excited about the proposal as I am and would like to see this vision come to life, please contribute! Even a couple of dollars will help. After all, the sum is not that much to raise, and well worth the investment to share the Dharma. 

*I cannot take any credit for this idea; it is entirely my father-in-law's. Thanks, Jack!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

You Don't Need Saving

Here are the last two weeks of Dharma talks from Original Mind Zen Sangha. The first, "Huayen Buddhism," was delivered by one of my students, Tom Inzan Gartland. You might recognize his voice from the podcast introductions.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


In my backyard, we have a beautiful Japanese maple standing about eight feet tall. We planted it three years ago and it is growing splendidly. My daughter even named it, "Snow Bo Briar Rose." Quite a name, huh?
My family is planning to move some time next year and we will miss her. The tree not my daughter; the latter is coming with us!

Last weekend as I was mowing the lawn, I noticed a Japanese maple seedling sprouting between the driveway slabs of concrete. It is red, has three leaves, and is so tiny that a misplaced footstep could kill it. Although it would be super cool if the seed had come from our tree, I'm pretty sure that the seedling must be the offspring of my neighbor's tree, which is much closer to our driveway. Not that it matters.

So yesterday I wet the brief wedge of soil where the maple was growing, and when it was fully saturated, I transplanted the two-inch tree into a pot. The goal, of course, is to nourish it and bring it along with us to our new house, where we will replant it.

Although there is something very appealing to my aesthetic sense about the symbolism of the act, I am far more impressed by the sheer vulnerability of the plant. I have grown marigolds from seeds before, but that is a small feat. A tree, on the other hand, is something to marvel at. Not because it's an accomplishment, but because a tree is so vividly alive, especially a beautiful maple.

The other day in one of my Dharma talks, I addressed the meaning of life. Nothing grates my nerves more than the question, "What is the meaning of life?"

I want to shout, "Life is!" Life does not serve anything beyond itself; life is a means unto itself. 

The seedling doesn't need a purpose beyond its own existence. I'm not just referring to life as the period between birth and death, I mean LIFE, the seamless instantiation of being which is embodied by life here and now. The Absolute manifested in this present moment.

Why should that be subservient to anything else?

In my opinion, people place way too much emphasis on events, as if life were a kind of grand storytelling, where we are all lead actors and God is the author of our own personal tale. They read omens in everyday events, as if the universe is trying to send them a personal message. "God was trying to tell me something. It couldn't have been a coincidence..."

But that's yet another idea to let go of. My life does not point to some greater meaning beyond itself; it is the meaning itself. That's what Zen is about waking up to. Just this moment, right here, right now, is complete unto itself.

Lacking nothing.

And as I gaze at that naked, vulnerable seedling, I am gripped by such an appreciation for both this (my) life and LIFE itself.

Thanks to Seonsanim Lynch and my family for helping me see that.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Samsara IS Nirvana

Check out these two Dharma talks. Download them if you'd like. More on the way.

Thanks to Tom Inzan Gartland for the introduction and sound engineering.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Half-and-Half Heart Sutra

Here are two Dharma talks from May.  Expect another double dose some time later this week. I hope you enjoy. May they serve the benefit of all beings.

Thanks to Tom Inzan Gartland for the introduction and sound engineering.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Desert Planet: Earth

Science fiction allows us to explore the human condition in ways that perhaps no other genre can. By imagining a world or reality beyond the scope or constraints of ordinary fiction, sci-fi weaves fabulous alternate realities that can serve as superb microscopes through which we can view our own world. Now let me admit early on that I am no sci-fi expert or even a connoisseur; my reading experience is limited to Philip K. Dick and a few of the staple classics.

Right now I am reading the masterpiece Dune by legendary Frank Herbert. I read it about 15 years ago and decided to make it my summer reading assignment for the Junior Honors class I'm teacher next year. Dune, most commonly known for David Lynch's 1984 film of mixed reviews, is commonly regarded as the greatest science fiction novel ever written, right up there with Frankenstein and the work of H.G. Wells and Ursula Le Guin.

The novel is about a desert planet named Arrakis exploited by feudal powers for its monopoly of a resource called spice which allows for interstellar space travel. Imagine Lawrence of Arabia in space. Sound familiar, a desert containing a valuable resource  over which powerful forces battle for control? Hmm...

What's magnificent about Dune is its depiction of ecological exploitation in a way that precedes James Cameron's Avatar by about 35 years. The novel illustrates the vast interconnected web of nature, what Buddhists call Indra's Net, in which every being and atom is part of a carefully balanced web. This should come as no surprise since Herbert adopted Zen Buddhism in adulthood.

What I think Dune deserves so much praise for, and warrants new study, is how and where it places humans inside of this web. Western religions and culture teach us that the world was created for Man; Buddhism does not accept this premise. Granted, Buddhism recognizes that being born as a human is a unique opportunity to realize Buddhahood, but this does not privilege humans above other species. If anything, it places more responsibility on our shoulders for the sheer fact that we are capable of wreaking so much more destruction than other species. This can be seen very clearly in Dune where feudal noble Houses war for control of oil...I mean spice. 

The other day in my classroom a student killed a harmless male mosquito perched on the wall well above arm's reach (only female mosquitoes bite). I was appalled at the sheer senselessness of the violence. The act bespoke of a violent elevation of humanity where humans rule the earth like monarchs, free to do as they please.

Science fiction offers us a unique lens to examine our lives, for the media of technology and science provide a safe distance to study the habits and patterns of contemporary life. Sci-fi is often regarded as being prophetic, in that it anticipates where humanity is headed, a fact I think is not nearly as important as its ability to examine the human condition as it exists today. By weaving an imaginary plot in the future, science fiction authors can reveal the human predicament now. 

To my (admittedly very limited) knowledge, no novel does this as poignantly or powerfully as Dune. For not only does it caution us about the danger of ecological disaster, it demonstrates how people get there--namely, by selfishly placing our own desires above the good of others, including plants and animals. If you haven't read Dune, I highly recommend it for your summer reading.

I have attached a brief video clip of an Italian boy who understands this fact very well. If only the rest of humanity could learn this too:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What are you waiting for?

Since we were young, we have been told that anything good is worth waiting for. This may apply to the world of business and bank accounts, but not to understanding who we are on the most fundamental level. Who we are--our Buddha Nature--is completely accessible right now. In fact, right NOW is the only time you can find it! Don't put off Awakening, don't wait!

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Diamond in Your Hand

Lately I have taken a short break from reading Buddhist literature and turned my attention to other nondual spiritual traditions, namely Vedanta and Taoism. I think that it's important to understand how these different systems understand and organize the Awakened mind.

I'm not so much interested in the fact that Vedanta's interpretation of the unified universe (as Brahman, the eternal Ground of Being that is the true nature of all phenomena) starkly contrasts with Buddhism's position that everything is empty of that very same essence.

This is because two more-immediate topics interest me: first, that Vedanta's Self or Atman is virtually identical to the One Mind or Buddha Nature of Zen Master's like Mazu and Huang Po. The Mind or Self is bare and infinite nondual awareness. This should come as no surprise since both Zen and Vedanta can arguably be understood as expressions of the same reality, REALITY.

The second facet that intrigued me was how these two systems understand the relative world, and more specifically, what an Awakened person looks like in each of the these traditions. The difference lies in how these two interpret identity and the world of differentiation that we live in every day, the world where you live in one house and I in another.

On one level Vedanta explains the world of multiplicity as sheer illusion, maya or ignorance. According to this perspective, the truth is that all reality is the infinite, eternal Brahman, so any appearance of change is illusory. Obviously, this approach does not place much value in living inside of maya. This undervaluing of the relative world has always been hard for me accept.

Zen, on the other hand, understands that everything is an expression of the Dharmadhatu, and thus everything has ultimate value. This is the Taoist element in Zen, a gift from Zen's Chinese ancestors.

It is only fair to acknowledge that not all forms of Vedanta dismiss the relative world. Two amazing Vedanta teachers that I highly encourage you to read are Papaji and his student Gangaji.

I stumbled upon Papaji while reading a book about modern Vedanta masters, and he blew my mind. Papaji is a great Zen Master. I honestly cannot praise his teachings enough. The way that I see it, he and Zen Master Seung Sahn could easily have been Dharma brothers! Papaji's style is warm, grandfatherly, and direct. In my opinion, he is second-to-none as an Enlightened being of the 20th century. (I know what you're thinking: what about Sri Ramana Maharshi? Papaji was his student!) Read anything you can by him; it's all great.

His student, and the person I planned to write this whole post about, is Gangaji. She is an American teacher based out of the West Coast. About a year ago my mother gave me a copy of Gangagi's The Diamond in Your Pocket. Totally consumed with my own Buddhist studies at the time, I put the book off to the side. I read it about a month ago and was amazed.

Earlier I mentioned that there are Vedanta teachers who emphasize life in this world. These Vedantists understand that the realm of form is illusory in the sense that form is not an absolute in and of itself, as most people unconsciously assume it to be, but rather Brahman is its true nature.  

This understanding emphasizes the need to awaken to our true nature, followed by a lifetime of service in this world. This is the Bodhisattva Vow and what appeals to me so much about Papaji and Gangaji's teaching.

The Diamond in Your Pocket is a true masterpiece; it's a veritable diamond in your hand. I seriously considered rereading right after I finished it; that has never happened to me before. There is so much practical wisdom in the book that you have to reread it to absorb it all, like Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind or Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. Please, if you haven't already, do yourself the favor and read these two amazing teachers.

Thanks Mom for giving me the book. Many bows.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dharma for two

Here are two of my more colorfully entitled Dharma talks.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Here are two of my latest Dharma talks. Honestly, for the life of me I thought that I had posted all of them, but somehow I keep getting backlogged and need to include two to catch up. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks Tom for your help with the intros and sound engineering. No Tom, no podcast. _/|\_

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Tao of Zen

The way that most people, myself included, usually explain Zen to beginners is to say that Zen is the child of an Indian Buddhist father and a Chinese Taoist mother. Ray Grigg, author of The Tao of Zen, would disagree. In this fascinating book, Grigg points out that there are two forms of Zen--Zen and Zen Buddhism. Most of the time we use the two terms what's the difference?

According to Grigg, if we examine classical Zen literature, we find two distinct traditions, one serious, stern, and world-transcending. This is Zen Buddhism, situated in the austere monastic halls. It is exemplified by bowing, chanting, and countless hours of seated meditation.

Then there's the playful, lighthearted, earthy Taoist-flavored Zen. This Zen is free-spirited, spontaneous, and world-embracing. This is expressed by the unencumbered nature of flowing water, and personified by the paradoxical dialogues of the ancient masters.

In my opinion, the first half of the book is a little heavy and sometimes didactic in illustrating this dichotomy, but it's well worth it. The second half is absolutely beautiful in its poetic depiction of Zen and Taoism. Lately, I have been reading about Advaita Vedanta, the nondual Hindu school which teaches that the differentiated world of samsara is an illusion; that the true reality is one unified Ground called Brahman. While this is metaphysically similar to the Tao, the unnameable reality that embraces and supports all phenomena, it is much closer to traditional (Pali) Buddhism in its implications, namely that it encourages world transcendence.

Taoism, on the other hand, and its Zen counterpart, is primarily concerned with living in the world of name and form, though not bound by it. This difference is what Grigg's book delineates.

I'm not a Zen scholar so I'm not in a position to critically evaluate his thesis. My main reason for reading The Tao of Zen was to learn more about Taoism and its influence on Zen. And while the books' treatment of this subject was more incidental than anything else, I was overwhelmingly pleased by what I learned about Taoism and Zen.

I highly encourage any student of Zen (Buddhism) to read it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How to be eaten by a tiger

Here's two of my latest Dharma talks, "How to be Eaten by a Tiger," delivered on 3/31/13. It's about authentic action.

And the question that every parent can relate to: "Are We There Yet?"

If you enjoy these talks, you can subscribe to the Original Mind podcast on iTunes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

We don't need no stinkin' mats!

My jaw dropped when I entered the Dharma room last Sunday. There were no meditation mats there. I quickly scanned the room, then did a double take as I tried to process the surprise.

Where were the mats?

This had never happened before. We usually have about fifteen maroon mats stacked in the corner of the room, but only two remained--odd ones out, a red one and a black one. Before I got excited or anxious, I decided I should search the other rooms in case someone had moved the mats.


This was...interesting. Zen groups usually rely on mats like a mechanic on tools. Ordinarily I wouldn't have given the situation much thought, but our sangha had just posted an event on Meetup and we were expecting up to eight visitors. 

What a way to make an impression, huh? "Hi, I'm Andre. Glad you decided to join us today. Let me show you to your place ON THE FLOOR." 

The bare, matless floor. 

As I explained it later, it felt like I had invited guests over for dinner but forgot to buy plates. 

So what should we do? I wondered as two of our regular members arrived and I explained the situation to them. 

In our Zen lineage, we stress correct situation, relationship, and function. 

Where are we? What's going on? What circumstances are unfolding around and inside us?

What's our role in this context? How can we help?

In reality, there was no problem. What I was facing was a disparity between reality and expectation. People expect mats at meditation centers, but mats have no more to do with Zen than a toothbrush and a crocodile.

Zen is completely portable, and should in no means be limited to the seated position, or worse--the mat. Meditation is wherever we presently are; it's how we engage our minds and lives right here right now.

So this case of the missing mats was a great opportunity for practice, for all of us to confront and see through our expectations about meditation, practice, Zen and Zen teachers. 

Upon the suggestion of one of our members, we improvised: we constructed little seats from pillows and meditation cushions (thanks Tom and Andrew). Maybe it's not a magnificent example of Zen spontaneity found in the dialogues of the classical masters, but it was a humbling lesson in correct situation, relationship, and function. 

What do we do when we arrive at the Zen center and the mats are gone?

We do our best with what we have--cushions, pillows, and chairs. In the words of my teacher, "It's all good."

And it is, if we can only get past our preferences, opinions, and ideas. If only we can get out of our own way and just function.

I still don't know if the mats will be there tomorrow, but that's okay. Surprises are not only great opportunities to learn and practice, but they starkly reveal the true nature of life--always changing, changing, changing. 

Above photo borrowed courtesy of Creative Commons flickr user: timsamoff.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Two for the price of one (free)

I got a little backlogged with my Dharma talks, so here are two at once. I hope you enjoy!

As always, thanks to Tom Inzan Gartland for the introduction and sound editing.

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!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Celebrating the Dharma

Yesterday, 2/23/13, the Original Mind Zen Sangha performed its first ever Precepts ceremony! It was a small, intimate celebration as two students took Precepts (see photo below), thus formally declaring their commitment to practicing the Dharma, and taking the first steps towards formal ordination in the Five Mountain Zen Order, of which OMZS is a member.

It was an honor to perform the rites, to walk in the footsteps and utter the words of our Dharma ancestors. During the ceremony, there was a moment when I was chanting "The Mantra Welcoming the Triple Gem" that I was truck by the complete timelessness of the ceremony. The declarations that we make to maintain the Buddhist Precepts transcend time; they--like all of our actions, words, and deeds--are pure expressions of our Buddha Nature.

I was filled with a solemn sense of gratitude and honor to be able to participate in such a sacred ceremony.

Thanks to my wife Jackie for all of her support as I walk this marvelous Dharma path; I couldn't do this without you.

And countless bows to all of our Dharma ancestors for delivering these teachings to us, especially to my teacher Zen Master Wonji Dharma. None of this would be possible without them.

 Hyonjeong, Doshim Dharma (me), and Chokyi Drayang.