In the last few months of 2021 two of my Buddhist teachers died. They were both over the age of 60, but they certainly could have had a few more decades in this world. Their deaths have affected me more than I imagined they would. I am mourning their passing. It was a shock that their deaths were so close in time.
Lama Chuck Stanford taught me in the Tibetan Rime tradition.
Venerable Wonji Dharma taught me in the Korean Zen tradition.
And they will go on. Both these teachers had already retired and trusted their legacies to others. Buddhism outlives teachers, even great ones that touch a lot of lives. We have to go on. I’m hopeful that seeing the ends of these lives that were so dedicated to spreading the Dharma can help us motivate ourselves. We can’t waste our lives. Our spiritual journey is important and needs to be something we focus on.
There’s a story that gets told about the death of the Buddha. It’s said that his cousin Ananda was at his side and had time to ask two final questions.
Ananda asked, “Do we have to follow all the rules that you set out?” And the Buddha replied, “Just follow the important ones. Don’t worry much about the minor ones.”
(Ananda forgot to ask which rules were the minor ones)
Then Ananda asked, “Who is going to lead us when you’re gone?”
And the Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”
It was up to his followers to figure out how to go on. And when our teachers pass it’s up to us to figure out how to go on too. We can get through losses like this. And we will go on.
As Aaron Burr says in ‘Hamilton’, ”Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. It takes and it takes.”
Since the passing of these great teachers I’ve started doing a daily recitation practice along with my meditation each morning. (I used to do a much shorter recitation)
Both of these teachers manifested great compassion, so a compassion prayer seems appropriate. If you feel so inclined, you can do this daily practice as well.
I used to really see myself as a secular Buddhist, so prayers like this felt off limits and unapproachable to me. That has all changed in the last couple of years. I’ve grown more and more comfortable with Buddhist devotional practices after going through the isolation of the pandemic and the passing of these teachers.
I’ve been focusing more and more on practices to open my heart and I’ve been studying more diverse teachings and practices.
Loss is tragic, but it can also inspire us.
How can I serve others? How can I help you?
These are big important questions.
Buddhism teaches us that loss is the nature of things. Many of us know that very deeply.
Loss is still hard. It’s up to us to figure out how to go on and to try to carry on the legacies of our teachers. They can still motivate and inspire us.
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I learned that Wonji Dharma (Paul Lynch) has passed away.
I wouldn’t call him my teacher because I was only with his organization, The Five Mountain Zen Order, for a short time. It was 2012 and 2013. I did take Novice Monk Vows from him, so maybe that’s why it feels serious to me. And to lose Wonji Dharma and my first teacher Lama Chuck Stanford in the same year feels really strange.
Wonji was a monk in the Korean Zen Tradition who trained with Master Seung Sahn and Master Ji Bong. He had a vision for online Buddhist communities way back in 2008. This was well before people started to believe such things could work on the internet. He had a vision and was an early adopter of the idea that people could take vows, study, and be trained as Dharma teachers on the internet.
I really learned that that kind of virtual community is not really for me. I need some kind of real life interaction for myself. BUT I am sure it works for many people and Wonji Dharma has left a mark on modern Buddhism. When he started teaching online it was controversial. Many people thought it couldn’t be done. It seems like it’s mainstream now, with organizations like Kwan Um, Shambhala, and Spirit Rock venturing into the web to teach the Dharma. It’s a new world. Many of the students who trained with him online run their own Zen Centers and temples now. Building a community is not an easy thing to do.
I know many people are sad at his loss and that his successors will do great things.
I think laziness is probably a universal human trait. It gets in the way of our confidence and strength.
Talking about our struggles and reflecting on them is how we overcome them. Laziness is a thing that gets in our way. It stops us from reaching our potential and achieving our goals. Sometimes laziness can almost be like poison and really ruin things for us. Most of the time it’s not that serious.
In Buddhism laziness is sometimes described as having three aspects. In his book “The Bodhisattva Handbook” the Dalai Lama describes the three aspects of laziness in this way:
1) Having no wish to do good
2) Being distracted by negative activities
3) Underestimating oneself and doubting one’s ability
I think that’s a pretty good list of things that get in our way. We may not think of all of these as laziness, but it can be helpful to think of them as similar. We often talk about how these can get in the way of our spiritual practice, but really they can get in the way of anything we’re trying to do.
Having no wish to do good.
This is when we know what the right thing is and we just don’t want to do it. We can think of anything. Eating vegetables, flossing, paying attention to our kids when we don’t really want to, paying attention to our work when we don’t really want to.
And we can think of spiritual things too, obviously. Doing our meditation practice. Being generous, showing compassion when it’s not easy. And many of the other things we do. This is the laziness of “I don’t feel like it.” It’s probably the main thing we think of when we think of laziness.
Being distracted by negative activities
I’ve seen this called “The laziness of busyness” and I don’t know if that works as well to explain as this version. That’s when I’m not doing the things I know I need to do because I’m distracted. I’m not eating vegetables because I’m too busy eating too many chips. I’m not paying attention to my kids because I’m arguing with strangers on Facebook. I’m lying to make myself look good instead of being genuine and telling the truth. I’m gossiping instead of focusing on my job at work. There are probably many of examples of this.
That’s not to say we can’t spend time eating chips or scrolling through Facebook, but just that we should be mindful of what we’re doing and what it’s taking us away from. “Negative activities” might seem like a heavy term to handle but the point is that we know when we’re indulging in things that aren’t great for us and others. If we’re honest about ourselves, we know. And if we’re keeping ourselves too busy with things that aren’t what we need to do, that can have a big impact on our quality of life.
Underestimating oneself and doubting one’s ability
This is the idea of “Can’t win, don’t try.” This is basically an excuse. It’s thinking that you can’t help everyone, so you may as well not try to help anyone. It’s thinking that your kids are going to be messed up no matter what you do, so you may as well not try your best to parent. It’s overall this thought that we all have sometimes. I’m not good enough. Sure, other people can be great parents, but not me. Sure, other people can be good at their jobs, but not me. Sure, other people can attain enlightenment, but not me. Sometimes we really believe these negative things about ourselves. Other times they’re an excuse to not take a certain action. I could try harder, but it probably won’t work anyway.
So, we’ve identified problems. What can we do?
For the first two kinds of laziness, a thing that helps is learning how to plan and prioritize. Sit down and write out a list of goals. Then remind yourself, in whatever way you need to, not to let things get in the way. Now, this is harder than it sounds. We are going to have to remind ourselves again and again and again. But the truth is just naming this problem takes away a lot of it’s power.
The third kind of laziness can be a little more tricky. We have to learn how to have compassion and kindness and grace for ourselves. For some people it’s a lot easier to show kindness to others than to ourselves. One thing we can also do is learn how to be mindful of our own intentions, to know when we’re making excuses. If I think I can’t be pitcher for the Royals that’s true. But if I think I can’t handle getting a little healthier so I can play tag with my kids without getting winded, I’m wrong. I can get healthier and get that energy. I just don’t want to so I make the excuse that I can’t. Think of your own examples, I bet you have plenty.
Buddhism teachings that we all have the seed of awakening within us, that every human being has goodness at our core. This can be a tough thing to grasp because we know ourselves. I know everything bad I’ve ever done. How can I be good at the core of my being? But I am. And you are too. This can be such a hard thing for us to wrestle with. But this is true for everyone. You get there by realizing you’re already there.
Hello. I’ve been doing most of my writing over at Medium.com lately. If you’ve been looking for writings from me, that’s where you can find a lot more. I’m sharing some links here with some previews of the writings I’ve done. Le me know what you think.
I think we’re all carrying weight based on our life experiences.
I carry some weight around the subject of death.
Back when I was in college in my early 20s it was unusual that my parents aren’t around. Now I’m in my 40s and it’s much less unusual. Lots of people my age don’t have parents anymore. Some people say college…Read more · 2 min read
It was back in 2017 when one of my teachers, Lama Chuck, retired from the Rime Center. I just called him one of my teachers but I don’t think he ever liked me very much.
When he retired he said something that didn’t mean anything to me then, but it’s jumping out at me now.
You see, his replacement Matt didn’t know if he should call himself a Lama or not, or so it seemed. And Chuck said publicly, in front of everyone, “This is what my teacher told me. If you’re doing the work of a Lama, you are a Lama. Running the Rime Center makes you a Lama.”
In that moment Matt became Lama Matt.
I’m not, however, writing about Matthew Rice and Chuck Stanford here. Maybe some time I will, but not now. I just wanted to write about that one quote.
“If you’re doing the work of a Lama, you are a Lama.”
Today, right now, that quote is enormously meaningful to me. Because you can reverse it. “If you’re not doing the work, then you’re not…”
Twenty years ago I first started exploring Buddhism. I started studying and practicing without the support of a community. I had given up the religion of my family and at first I was one of those irritating atheists that judges religious people. Then I found Buddhism.
And it just felt right to me.
I don’t know if I believe in karma or fate or past lives, although my view of such things have softened in recent years. I just know that when I started learning about Buddhism it felt like something that was already part of me, like I was supposed to find it.
And for 9 years I practiced it by myself. I’m not by nature a very social person. I don’t really have close friends. It’s hard for me to feel like I belong anywhere. So joining a community scared the shit out of me. The truth is I still don’t know how to fit into one. So, I read every book I could get my hands on and I spent a lot of time meditating.
Eleven years ago I joined the Rime Center. I thought some of the trappings of Tibetan Buddhism were silly and I really wanted to practice Zen Buddhism. But the truth is I didn’t know what I wanted. I realize that now. But at the time I definitely wished there was a Zen Temple in Kansas City (there wasn’t and still isn’t)
I became a part of that community. I enjoyed practicing Buddhism with others and I was glad to be there and feel like I was part of something. I started volunteering in the children’s program (called Dharma School) and I eventually ended up running it. I took Meditation Instructor Training classes. I took Refuge Vows and got a Buddhist name (Kelsang Dakpa). I also took Pratimoksha and Bodhisattva Vows.
Vows are serious things and shouldn’t be taken or given lightly. I may write about those vows at some point, but not right now.
I started writing about Buddhism too. Not presenting myself as an expert, just as a sincere practitioner. I like to write, it’s the reason I got an English Degree in college.
Ten years ago I connected with a Zen teacher that lived here. He found me because of my association with the Rime Center. And he convinced me that a person could become a Zen Monk without changing their life very much. (in that organization they use the title zen monk. In most organizations zen priest is used instead)
Now, a few things are at play here. One is a person wanted me to be his student, that felt nice, like getting chosen first in sports as a kid (which never happened to me)
Why did I want to be a Zen Monk? Just because I had read “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki, “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner, and “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts. I really think that’s it.
So I was convinced that 1) I could become this without changing my life much and 2) that I should do that. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure he would say he didn’t mean to convince me of either of those things.
So I went through Zen Monk training, such as it was. I took the vows to become a Monk in that tradition. It wasn’t an incredibly rigorous training and it was mostly online. But I can say that I learned a lot.
But some things about this organization and this teacher (which I won’t name here) didn’t feel quite right. And when he suddenly changed the rules on me, I knew it was time to leave. He said, “We’re going to start expecting monks to wear robes all the time” and I knew I would not do that. I didn’t really want to wear robes at all, let alone all the time.
So I left the organization. That rule was lifted really soon after I left, I think. But maybe things happen for a reason. There wasn’t much of a community to it anyway and during that period I had never quit going to the Rime Center. I don’t think that teacher is running a community now, but I could be wrong.
I still had this idea that he had planted in me though. I wanted to be a Zen Priest. I found some teachers on the internet that were willing and able (maybe even eager) to vouch for me.
The truth is I’m not doing the work of a Zen Priest, so I’m not one. I don’t have any students that are learning from me, I’m not doing Zen rituals for anyone, I’m not serving a Zen Community. And that’s what a Zen Priest does.
It’s the same with the word Dharma Teacher, which I’ve used at times to describe myself. I’m not doing the work of a Dharma Teacher. I have no students. I’m a Speaker and a Writer who is interested in Buddhism, but I’m not teaching anyone.
Lama Matt gave me the title “Gegan” which means Teacher in Tibetan. I felt incredibly honored when he gave me that title. It’s the word that gets applied to lay teachers. That is what I was when I was teaching at the Rime Center, a lay teacher. Although I certainly feel more connected to that title than Zen Priest, I can’t in good conscience use it. I’m not doing the work of a Gegan. That would be teaching Buddhism, which I’m interested in doing, but I’m not doing it. A teacher without students is not a teacher.
What work am I doing?
Occasionally I do teach meditation. I am doing the work of a Meditation Teacher, so I am a Meditation Teacher. I taught at a local library recently and not too long ago I taught at a store called Aquarius KC. I believe just about anyone can teach other people how to meditate. We tend to think there’s some great secret to it, but there’s not.
I’m also a Speaker and a Writer. I’m comfortable saying I am those things. I probably have more in common with Alan Watts than Thich Nhat Hanh, if I’m honest.
I’m trying to do the work of a Bodhisattva by studying, practicing, and cultivating virtue. I’m not going to say, “I’m a Bodhisattva” because that feels bigger than me. But I am an “Aspiring Bodhisattva”.
So that’s it.
I desperately wanted to be a Zen Priest for a little while. I have robes and everything. It’s weird and a little embarrassing to even look back on that now. I do an open awareness practice that is essentially the same as zazen, but I can’t call myself a Zen teacher or anything of the sort. Hell, I met some wise teachers like Dosho Port and Man Hae and this *really* should have confirmed for me that I am nowhere near being a Zen Teacher.
The truth about that is I trained with one teacher for a pretty short time, then I studied with some teachers on the internet. I wanted that to be more than it was. Emailing back and forth with a teacher isn’t really the same as training with them, no matter how much you do it and no matter how much they encourage you. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone that I said that. There are organizations out there that function on that premise. I see that in the modern world people are out there trying to have not only teachers, but also whole spiritual communities that exist online.
I don’t know how that works for anyone, I just know it does nothing for me.
I had a lot more training at the Rime Center, where I ran the youth program, went on dozens of retreats, sat with various teachers, and took many many classes.
I’m closer to a Rime Buddhist with some Zen influence than I am to a Zen Buddhist. And that’s very clear to me now. Maybe I just wanted to be cool and different from the Buddhists around me. I don’t know.
When a pandemic hit and I was struggling with all that uncertainty and isolation, it wasn’t zen teachings that helped me get through it. It was all those teachings I learned at the Rime Center.
Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva has turned out to be the guide to my life. I used to study these teachings while at the same time thinking I was somehow better than them, above them. I was so deluded.
I stopped going to the Rime Center three years ago. And when the pandemic started to lift I decided to go back. And it was just like going home again even though it’s in a new space.
I still want to teach people about Buddhism, but I’m not sure if that’s an opportunity that will ever present itself in my life again. I’m not doing the work of a Zen teacher or of a Gegan, at least not right now.
But I’ll keep doing the work of an aspiring Bodhisattva. Every day I’m trying to do good in the world, to be more mindful, and to help others. That’s what life is about and that’s what I want to do.
In the meantime, I’ve found a way to turn my career into something where I’m helping people that need help every single day as a Union Representative. I don’t want to make that sound like more than it is, but I’m trying hard to listen and to fight for people that need someone in their corner. To me that is the great Bodhisattva action of putting some good into the world. And I have a wife and four kids. And a garden full of Buddha statues in my backyard, because I’ve slowly grown more devotional in my practice. I never thought I’d grow more devotional but I have.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know I’m letting go of things that don’t serve me and don’t seem to be part of my journey.
October 4-11-18, 2020 | Zen Meditation is about seeing the truth by learning to be fully present in this moment. In this mini-course we are going to talk about awakening from the daydream of life, putting down our baggage, and transforming our suffering through present-moment awareness.
Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation teacher, writer, and podcaster. In his day job he’s a union labor activist. Daniel’s goal is to bring meditation practice and Buddhism to people in a practical way that they can apply to their everyday lives. He teaches in small gatherings and retreats.
Scharpenburg has been practicing Buddhism and meditating for more than twenty years, with many different teachers. He spent time teaching at the Open Heart Project and at the Rime Buddhist Center before becoming an independent teacher. He was appointed a lay dharma teacher by the International Chan Buddhism Institute and was named a Lineage Holder in the Lay Caodong Chan Tradition. He also received meditation teacher training from the Rime Buddhist Center and from the Anchor Meditation Center.
Daniel is a co-owner of the website The Tattooed Buddha. His work has appeared in the publications Lion’s Roar, Elephant Journal, Patheos,and The Mighty.
Beth Herzig is a true “citizen of the world,” having lived in 3 U.S. States, 9 different countries on 4 continents by the time she completed her B.A. degree in English at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. She now resides in Madison, MS with her two intelligent, beautiful daughters.
Besides being a small business owner and full-time mother, Beth has volunteered for many years with the Girl Scouts, where she is currently a Troop Leader and Service Unit Manager. She also volunteers her time and services generously to many other causes which are important to her.
Beth leads group meditations throughout the Jackson, MS, metro area and on-line. She is trained as a Meditation Leader in the Shamatha tradition. She completed Susan Piver’s Meditation Instructor Training (MIT), and has studied meditation and dharma practice with many renowned teachers, at Flowering Lotus and elsewhere. Beth has served on the Board of Directors of Flowering Lotus since 2017. She is currently Flowering Lotus’s Retreat Director, managing both residential and on-line meditation retreats throughout the year.