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.