Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Double Decker Dose of Doshim Dharma

"When the Studs Don't Match Up"

In this Dharma talk, I talk about how to practice when life doesn't match our expectations. When, to use a metaphor, we try to hang a picture on the wall but just can't find the stud. Instead, all that we are left with is frustration and a bunch of holes in the wall. That's when Zen practice is most beneficial--confronting our expectations and disappointments.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

"I Liked it Better in the Picture"

Life seldom meets our expectations. Pictures are often better than the real thing, due to our mental photoshopping as we build objects, events, and people into monolithic proportions that they cannot possibly meet. In this talk, I discuss how to deal with the tricks of the grasping mind.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Big Apples

Yesterday I took the train in to NYC for a mini Zen retreat with my Dharma brothers, Lawrence Do'an Grecco and Sergio Hyeonmin Prajna. The retreat was held at the Interdependence Project. It's been a while since I have sat for more than 25 minutes at a time, and my knees were a little stiff and creaky. But like riding a bike or swimming, I slid back into form easily enough.

In the afternoon, Lawrence and I performed a ceremony empowering Sergio as a Dharma Holder or apprentice teacher in the Five Mountain Zen Order. I am very happy for Sergio, and excited for his next step on the Dharma path.  Congratulations my friend, may you plant many Dharma seeds. Let the fruit grow!

From left to right: Me, Sergio, and Lawrence

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dharma talk - There is no end, my friend

Emptiness is bottomless. In every atom there is exists infinity of space and eternity of time. Our minds are endless, boundless sources of creativity and wisdom. For that reason, practice too is endless. We can never reach the end of it because wherever we are is new, fresh, utterly transformed by impermanence. The more we understand this, the less prone we are believe the myth that someday we will ever be "done," whether it be with Zen practice or cleaning the house.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Why is everything real?

My four-year-old son asked one of the most profound and yet absurd questions the other day. He said, "Why is everything real?"

Try answering that one! This wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill, why is the sky blue? questions. This one had meat to it.

So what do you say to that question, without confusing either yourself or the child?

It's a great question because it challenges us to inquire what exactly is this...this thing I call reality? Although I cannot place my finger on a conceptual response as to what makes an orange "real," I still have an intuitive understanding that an orange is real in a way that a unicorn isn't. Still, that doesn't quite hit the mark or help answer the question.

That's where Zen comes in handy. Directly pointing to the heart of the matter, Zen teaches us to eat the orange. No philosophical speculation about what constitutes reality, just a good hearty bite into the soft fruit.

Ahh, delicious!

Of course I couldn't just ring a bell, honk the car horn, or bite into an apple, for that wouldn't help my son at all.

I call this an absurd question because if we assume that the orange in front of us is not real, then that means something else is real. This naturally invites metaphysical speculation, heavenly realms, spiritual planes, souls, which to be perfectly honest, require a hell of a lot more faith to believe in than the orange in front of me. Direct experience doesn't require that we believe anything.

And yet that's what most people are in search of--something to believe in, an escape from this world and an entrance into a blissful oasis with angels and gods. But in Zen there is no Nirvana outside of this present moment, beyond the here-and-now.

This is it.

Just this: the click of the keyboard, the hum of my air conditioner, the hunger in my stomach. These may not be the answers we are looking for, for they are so ordinary that they are hidden in plain sight. I like to say that every sutra is pointing to our lives right here, right now.

As one great Zen Master once said, what did you think it was going to be like?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Daoism and Nothingness

While writing my last book, I stumbled upon an excellent study of the role of non-being in Daoism. It's called In Praise of Nothing: An Exploration of Daoist Fundamental Ontology by Ellen Marie Chen.

This is a magnificent book that explains the principle of Nothingness in Daoism. For those of you who have been reading my latest posts, Chen's title should come as no surprise; I relied heavily upon it to develop my own book, God Is Nothingness

In Praise of Nothing examines the fundamental ontological difference between Daoism and Western philosophy. While the latter stresses Beingness and substance, Daoism views Non-being or wu (Nothingness) as the fundamental basis of reality. The Daoist Nothingness is the groundless ground that allows for Being to occur. Form and matter are not the antithesis of Nothingness, but its very body; for they are the manifest expressions of the formless Absolute Nothingness.

We can see Nothingness as a forerunner for the emptiness (sunyata) so central to Zen, which makes perfect sense if we consider how influential Daoism was on the development of Ch'an.

All in all, Ellen Chen's book is a hidden gem of knowledge, offering a much-needed perspective on the ontology of formlessness in Daoism. I found it to be an invaluable resource. In conjunction with the work of Nishida Kitaro, founder of the "Kyoto School" and about whom I will be writing in my next post, Chen's study helped me enormously. I highly recommend reading it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dharma talk - How Big is Your Mind?

The smaller our sense of self is, the more claustrophobic our life is. The wider our personal diameter, the more compassion and wisdom is at our disposal. In this talk, I discuss how to loosen the membrane of the self in order to include all beings.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.