29 December 2012


What a year!  As I recently told a friend, it's been really quite a good year for me.  Finances are stabilizing, I'm getting more exercise, the Center environment is vastly improved, I have an interesting dating life, my kids are good, work is fine, I have no complaints at all and lots to be grateful for.  In terms of practice, I can't say much except that I'm finding a greater degree of seamlessness about the whole thing.  In terms of feeling on my feet facing life head-on, I don't know that I've had a better year in quite some time.

Of course, all this could change tomorrow.  No time to rest in the past.  Onward.  Onward.

27 December 2012

Free Fallin'

It's hitting me more and more these days just how much of my life I've simply fallen into.  I suppose that's true for most of us.  Moves the parents made that put us in different schools, making the acquaintance of this person rather than that one, our place in the family birth order, our general level of academic or athletic aptitude, our dispositions and personalities – all these and more are so far beyond our control as to make the word, "choice," seem rather overblown.  To be sure, every moment presents a range of possibilities, some of which I will actualize.  But that range itself, the kinds of possibilities I take advantage of, and my ability to navigate them once entered into are for the most part not within my power to determine.

I'm thinking about this a lot these days as I find myself called upon once again to explain my entry into and continuing pursuit of Buddhist practice.

The truth of the matter is that I never actively went looking for Buddhism, or Zen.  A book of Buddhists texts was given to me to read as part of a team-taught course.  I began practicing at the Zen Center only after a friend moved back to Chicago and was herself looking for a place to practice.  I get no points for being on the cutting edge here. 

As far as the continuation of my practice goes, I'm not sure that there's a merit badge waiting for me on this one, either.  I'm not a natural at this, and it sometimes takes a great deal of effort to park it and settle down on the mat.  If I have had an ever-expanding job description around the Center, it's because I was given a job to do and did it reasonably well enough not to be fired from it.  Then another was added.  Ordaining was, for me and at bottom, a kind of standing offer to shoulder whatever other work needed doing to keep the practice alive, nothing more (or less).

Maybe that's the short answer I should just trot out: "I do this because I think it's worthwhile.  I don't know why I think it's worthwhile, and I don't know how I got here, but I do find it so, and, well, here I am.  I keep showing up because they haven't kicked me out yet." 

And in that, of course, my practice of Buddhism is no different from anyone's practice of anything else.  For is not that answer I just gave the answer any of us can give for whatever it is we happen to be involved in?  Do we all not find ourselves at pains to say (intelligently, and without mystification) something more than that?

It may not be the most satisfying answer, but it probably is the most accurate.

22 December 2012

A Yang Line is Added

In the classical Chinese representation of change that uses a series of full (yang) and broken (yin) lines, the winter solstice is pictured as six broken lines, the point of complete repose.  Today, a full line is added, as the sun begins its ascendency yet again.

I'm not one to get trippy with feng shui or mealy-minded with modern day renditions of ancient frames of reference.  I doubt I will ever consult a geomancer.  I do, though, understand the cycle of seasons, the hunkering-down of the wintertime and its movement toward the exuberance of summer.  I have watched my body-mind respond to the changes in light and temperature for enough years now to know that I, too, have my annual cycle of ebb and flow, of sloughing off and budding out.

Bring it on!  May I enter this new season wide open, unhindered, and non-reluctant.  And if there's flower and fruit, may I attend to that as well.  If there's but a flash and a fade, may I remember that all things are of limited lifespan, and it is not ours to set the length. 

18 December 2012

Between Endings and Beginnings

I'm finding myself these days very much between things, not quite here or there, not finished with the past entirely even as a new future or two is breaking.  When I don't feel like I'm in a steady state of vertigo, I find I am in wonder and awe at how uncannily seamless it all is all the same. 

The vertigo comes when  I think either end of the "betweeness" is somehow solid and I (as an equally solid object) am suspended unsupported over a wide chasm of nothingness.  But when I release that hold on past and present, on here and there, on this and that, and on me, it all becomes quite clear that all this, myself included, is nothing but this flux, this movement, this ceaseless, burgeoning, fascinating, intriguing whatever-the-heck-it-is.  And how wonderful that is!

The pain of an ending and the stimulation of a beginning are not mutually exclusive.  The fruits of my previous relationships are unquestionably (and in one present case I would add thankfully and happily) setting the stage for the new relationships.  For that matter, even the vertigo and the wonder find their place in this whole mess.

Yes, this day, like every day, is a good day.

09 December 2012

No Agenda

Here's one to chew on:
Jayata said, “I do not seek the Way, yet I am not confused. I do not pay obeisance to Buddha, yet I do not disregard Buddha either. I do not sit for long periods, yet I am not lazy. I do not limit my meals, yet I do not eat indiscriminately either. I am not contented, yet I am not greedy. When the mind does not seek anything, this is called the Way.”
Jayata's words were brought to my attention in teisho today.  I'm so glad to have heard them.

How many times have I kind of tossed an identity, an experience or something like that down the field and then spent untold amounts of energy and effort making it come to pass and feeling bad about myself when it didn't?  How many of us all construct identities – even "Buddhist" ones, for those of us who practice – and then think that fitting into them is the highest order of business?

Heck, just today I was catching up on some internet interests when it hit me: all these other traditions have priests and teachers that are founding centers, taking part in this that or the other thing, writing books, giving talks, etc., and here I am doing none of that.  I thought to myself, maybe I should set about accomplishing something, too!

But then I got a phone call from a friend and sangha member whose marriage came to its clear and definitive end over the weekend while I was in sesshin, and he wanted to talk.  So we went for a beer and a veggie burger.  He filled me in, we talked, we laughed, and then we went to get some of his grocery shopping done before he dropped me back off at home.

Without looking to make it so, I ended up being the priest and friend he needed me to be, despite any ideas I'd earlier entertained about what it meant to be a priest or a friend.  Funny how that happens.

To tell the truth, Dharma gates are opening wide everywhere all the time.  There is no end – literally no end – to them, and all I have to do is walk through them.  I cannot even begin to walk through the ones opening up in the present moment, let alone those that will open in the fullest expanse of time.  And here's the thing: all I need to do is keep moving, not looking for anything particular.  Whatever comes next is the only thing to attend to.  In the end, I may not have made much of myself, perhaps, but I will have done what was mine to do.   And who could possibly gainsay that?

02 December 2012

Not an Instant's Truce

So I guess there's been another established Zen teacher accused of sexual impropriety, and, as these things go, there's a buzz on the net and elsewhere.  Once again, (rhetorical?) questions to the effect of "How could someone who has practiced so long fall so low?" are popping up.

I don't get that kind of question.  At all.

When it comes to practice, you and I and everyone else are never ever anything but rank beginners.  Moreover – and this is very important – no one, not you, not me, not anyone else, is ever but a breath, a thought or an action away from doing something profoundly unskillful, deeply immoral, or catastrophically damaging.  Ever.

Thoreau remarked, "Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice."  Every instant can be a dharma-gate leading to great peace and joy.  Every instant can be a maelstrom that leads straight to depths of the most grotesque evils imaginable.  It may be that with practice one is increasingly unlikely to head quite so quickly in the directions indicated by greed, anger, and ignorance, but this doesn't mean that it is impossible to do so.  And since in this game a misstep can lead to kalpas of consequences with a lot of collateral damage, it's best to keep on guard and not bet on not slipping up.