The Dog Crap of Life

The dog crap of life. We all have to deal with it. This was  a tough week for me and while I was walking my dog (and cleaning up her crap) in the neighborhood it occurred to me that zazen functions as a bag for the dog crap of my life. Now, just before Thanksgiving I was rammed on the freeway during traffic by the car behind me when it failed to stop.

This accident caused me a lot of anxiety, not just because of the unexpected nature of being hit, but because the individual wasn't being very cooperative with the insurance companies about it. Long story short this was not going to be resolved any time very soon. I do not deal well with unresolved issues and they cause me lots of anxiety until the problem is solved.

So, I did what I could do to solve it and decided that because of the accident I would not be able to attend zazen at the center that Monday evening. Totally understandable. Yet, I watched as this anxiety began to creep around my stomach, heart, and then on up to my brain. The next day on Tuesday I began to think, "I'm too anxious to sit on Tuesday as well...".

The teachings of Soto Zen remind  us "Sit with what you have in your life", or "everyday life is the way". This all sounds great and I can see this when my life is going really well, but surely they are not talking about anxiety, car accidents, and the fear that comes from interdependence with people who make life more difficult. Everyday life is not that can it be the way?

I decided that I was going to sit with this problem, anxiety, and fear along with my sangha that very Tuesday. I didn't want to, but I wanted to see for my self if this was possible with all the dog crap of life all over my hands. It turns out whether i want to do something or not, is totally irrelevant to the functioning of my daily life. As I watched the anxiety move from my stomach, up to my chest, and eventually get caught in my throat I tried hard to effortlessly maintain the effort of "thinking non-thinking" as Dogen puts it in Fukanzazengi.

This physical sensation of anxiety kept flowing and I kept sitting. It occurred to me that this was not the same anxiety coming up over and over, but new anxiety from repeated thought patterns of the same fear. The fear of my interdependence with others is very frightening. We have to be interconnected to those that scare us, hurt us, threaten us, and all the other nasty bits because that is what it means to live in the world. We can't control other people's actions. We can be responsible for how we respond, what we can do, and the actions we take. That's all.

This is like picking up after my dog. The dog will never stop pooping as long as she is alive. I will never stop picking it up, as long as I'm alive. Zazen is the bag that I use to handle the "dog crap of life". Zazen keeps returning to what is directly in my life, my everyday life. As long as we are alive we will suffer in some way. Zen will not take that away. Even Shakyamuni Buddha had to endure the pain of sesshin, hunger, illness, and death. Why should I be any different? The practice of the Buddha-Dharma is to handle this suffering in life with a present, aware, and upright posture. This will NOT take away the mess from suffering, but it provides a great container to carry it to the trash.



Bodhi Day (Jodo-E)

Shakamuni Buddha, realizing the transience of life, and the inevitability of suffering at all
stages of our life decided to search for a way out. A way out of the suffering that comes
from sickness, old age, and death. As Buddha was a prince he had all that he needed
and more, yet suffering followed each step he took. Because abundance and the
satisfaction of bodily desire was not the way he naturally would look to the opposite
path. He practiced every type of asceticism, yoga, meditation technique, and starvation.
Deprivation of the body’s comfort was not the way out either.
Shakamuni was weak and tired. Seeing his condition, a young girl named Sujata was
passing by and offered Buddha a bowl of rice porridge. Regaining his strength
Shakamuni decided to give yet another try to finding the way out of our suffering. He
practiced sitting meditation under the Bodhi tree and vowed not to move from this spot
until he attained enlightenment.
The Buddha experienced severe self doubt, temptation to return to his life at the palace.
To be with his wife and son. To enjoy life’s comforts and forget this journey. He
experienced false enlightenments and offered deals with himself to end this sitting. I will
say from my experience we all go through this when we make the resolution to sit still.
Our instincts are to move away from physical pain and boredom. To fidget and fuss.
For Buddha when the morning star rose on December 8th he had found the answer to
dealing with life’s suffering. In looking for a way out of the suffering of life we create
more suffering. The Buddha saw the interdependence of all things and the emptiness of
an unchanging, independent self. Human beings create suffering from the 12 link chain
of causation, or dependent origination. This is essentially the realization that because of
this, so then there is this.
Ignorance to the 4 noble truths, 8-fold path, and the nature of the emptiness of all things
leads to the producing of karma, or action of body speech and mind. This habitual
energy in turn leeds to consciousnesses. Through the senses of Sight, sound, smell,
taste, touch, and mental formation we have the six sense objects that lead to our eyes
ears nose tongue body and mind.
The interplay of our senses and their objects determine our likes and dislikes that in turn
create craving for pleasurable experiences and distance from displeasurable
experiences. This all creates an understanding, or an experience of the false notion of
an independent me that exists apart from everything out there. From previous habit
energy, or karma we are born into the physical world and are subject to suffering old
age and death. This repeats and we have a wheel of samsara, or suffering that
continues to roll over and over and over.
Buddha found the way out of this by the direct experience of the emptiness of the self.
By understanding the existence of suffering, the cause, the elimination of desire and the
means to end it with the 8-fold path, being right action, speech, livelihood, effort,
meditation, view, intention, and concentration.
So what does Shakamuni’s enlightenment mean in our daily life. For each one of us
there is a true nature that manifests in our daily life. A Buddha’s activity is not limited to
meditation, chanting, and precepts. Enlightenment is found in feeding and caring for our
children. Changing diapers, cooking meals, doing the dishes. Cleaning up after our
messes and the messes of others. In understanding the interdependence of all life as a
limitless vast ocean of time and space. We are individual drops of water that exist briefly
and join with the infinitely large body of water that is Buddha. The very way out of
suffering is to understand that within our suffering we can find peace. There is no other
time or place that we can find peace. Acceptance of our life and circumstances is the
first step on walking in the footsteps of Buddha.
And I would like to add that this isn’t a 1 and done remedy. We have to continually
embrace the suffering of our lives moment by moment. It isn’t done until we are. We do
the dishes and put them away, only to take them out and dirty them again at the next
meal. Life’s work is never finished. The activity of acceptance is never finished.
Shakamuni Buddha continued to sit, practice, beg, and practice the very activity that he
found his peace in. He did not find peace and say oh, ok... I can go home now and
suffering is done.
My hope is that each one of us will manifest our Buddha nature in our very place. In our
very lives. That we will work to weave the peace we find in our life into the lives of
others. That we will see the interdependent nature of all life. If he falls so does he. If she
suffers, so does she. No one can be left behind. Each of us has a unique ability to help
ease the suffering of someone else. Something small can have a huge effect on
someones life. Because of that, so we have this.
All our lives have been transformed by one man sitting down under a tree and trying to
understand why it is all so hard.

O-higan The Other Shore

This is the time of year that O-higan is celebrated in the Soto-Zen school, as well as other Japanese Buddhist traditions. O-higan marks the equinoxes of Fall or Spring. These are the times of the year wear we have the optimum ability for change through practicing the six paramitas. Paramitas are perfections of practice in Buddhism and they are:

Dana Paramita- generosity of both material and spiritual offerings.

Sila Paramita- following the precepts of the Buddhas

Ksanti Paramita- patience and tolerance for that which we find difficult. 

Virya Paramita-  effort to sustain practice.

Dhyana Paramita- zazen practice

Prajna Paramita- wisdom of the harmony of relative and absolute truth. insight into emptiness. 

O-higan means "the other shore". This is in reference to the other shore of enlightenment as opposed to this shore of delusion. We can cross from the banks of delusion over the river of suffering into the other shore of enlightenment. It is often stated that enlightenment is in birth and death, or nirvana is where we stand right here and now in our everyday life. This concept has always confused me to some degree. Sure, I can believe that my everyday life is no other than my life of Buddhist practice, but surely this shore of suffering is different than the other shore of enlightenment. 

I believed that until I heard the words of Shumyo Kojima Sensei after zazen and morning service. He very plainly stated that this shore is that shore. When we are on THIS shore and cross over to the OTHER shore of enlightenment, Where is the other shore now? It is behind us on the other side. So, we travel across to the OTHER shore, but now where is the other shore? Back on the other side. 

It is a simple concept for me to see now. My grasping at the other shore and all my effort to cross to the shore of enlightenment is the very thing that puts the other shore on the other side. With the desire to cross I will constantly be moving along from shore to shore like a horse following a carrot. Practice and enlightenment are present right here on this shore and practice the expression of awakening. Limitless potential for awakening is on this shore. the more I struggle to reach the other shore, the farther the other shore becomes. It is like struggling against a current. When we are tired, we let it carry us to the ocean. 

That being said, I'm just a dumb novice. I am, however, very grateful to Shumyo Kojima Sensei for his guidance, generosity, and compassionate patience with us practicing at Zenshuji for


 Roku Jizo (6 Jizo) at Zenshuji temple. 

Roku Jizo (6 Jizo) at Zenshuji temple. 

Learning from samu

The other day I was working in the Zendo to repair our tan (platform for meditation).  One of the boards that was holding one together was loose and wasn't safe to sit on. I talked to my teacher and asked if we should lower the tan to just above floor level and was told it would be possible to do so. I went ahead and took out the wood from the shed and set about completely reorganizing the zendo.

It is really hot in our zendo and we don't have air conditioning, like many places here in Southern California, so sitting in our robes is sweaty, working is sweaty, and eating is sweaty. As I was moving all the tatami mats and platforms I was working up a sweat and felt like I was working hard and building a space to practice Dharma and I was so set on how great this was going to be and how proud of this work I will be. 

I would put the tatami over here, the narashimono (instruments for chanting) over there, I could put the rack for oryoki eating bowls over here, and everything will be so aesthetically pleasing. It will look so much better this way. 

When I was finished I called my teacher and told him when he arrives at the zendo to let me know what he thought. I knew how great it looked and figured he would be so excited to see how much work I had done and how great it looked in there. I guess I was expecting a type of pat on the back and a "great job"!

When Sensei called me I was pretty surprised. He told me he could tell how much work I had done and that he really appreciated my dedication and it had shown from the work that I had done. This was it, I thought here comes the praise!  "That being said... there are a couple of issues with how it is set up". He told me why things were set up the way they were and that tables were needed on the other side of the tan for eating, etc. 

I was a little disappointed. This wasn't the response I was hoping for. I had done such a great job and surely the way I did things was the best right?  

...And then it hit me. Sensei was teaching me something and I immediately felt embarrassed about how little my practice was working on me. I was doing all this work to get a prize. To get a great big "Well done"! I thought to myself all the work I did and we have to change things so what was the point of doing all that work. 

I'm such an arrogant fool. Praise for all the work we do in life means very little when we are on our death bed. I'm going to die and I don't get to take any of the praise for a job well done with me. I was doing all this for the wrong reason. "Why do the dishes if we are just going to die"? Because they need to be done and we are alive to do it. Well, how best should I do the dishes then?

I feel that from this situation I have been able to reflect on the fact that I don't know best. I am learning and that means following, not being the leader, not knowing/ being the best, and listening with all my being. Learning means taking what is given and using it to deepen my intention to practice.

This situation reminded me of what I was like as a child with regard to food. I was such a picky eater. It didn't matter what way the food was prepared, how much hard work and sacrifice when into cooking and selecting the ingredients. It didn't matter that all that we had in our home was being offered to me to sustain my life. I did not like vegetables. No matter how nutritious or important it was for me to eat this food I would only pick the parts I liked and hide, or threw away everything else. Essentially, this was what I was doing with the way that I was being shown in the zendo. I will take what I want and change everything else that I don't like, or that I think should be different. How arrogant of me.

I vow to renew my effort for practicing the Dharma and learning the way because I don't know best. I need my teacher's help.

Thank you Sensei!

先生 ほんとうに 心から ありがとうございます