Posted in buddhism

Ongoing Lessons In My Own Delusion

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.

Daniel “Kelsang Dakpa” Scharpenburg.

Posted in zen

Zen Center?

Once in a while I get this wild idea.

I start to think I should start a Zen Center.

Well, that’s not the start of it. The start of it is wishing Kansas City had a Zen Center. Then that goes into wondering why Kansas City doesn’t have one. Then, that goes into wondering if I could do something about it.

I don’t think about this because I have an abundance of free time that I want to commit to it. I don’t think about this because I think I’m enormously qualified to run a spiritual community. That level of responsibility would be scary to me.

The main reason I start to get that idea is because Kansas City doesn’t have one and I think that’s weird.

Smaller cities have Zen Centers.

St. Louis, Columbia, Lawrence, Omaha, and Des Moines all have Zen Centers. I’ve been to some of them and they’re nice.

But why in these smaller cities and not here?

There are a handful of (really small) zen groups here, but there’s no center.

(I’m not talking about a temple. The difference between a Zen temple and a Zen center is that a temple is designed to primarily serve monks and nuns and a center is designed to serve regular people like you and me.)

And I wonder why we don’t have one?

We’re a growing city with a (surprisingly) spiritually diverse population.

 

Kansas City deserves a Zen Center.

That’s what I’m trying to say.

Can someone start one please?

 

 

 

Posted in fountain city meditation, podcast

On Community

I didn’t intend to start a community and I’m not sure if I have.

I created Fountain City Meditation as a project because I was inspired to serve others by providing meditation instruction and encouragement. People need a lot of encouragement in meditation practice, I think. And if I can reach people that aren’t being reached right now, that’s even better. I think many meditation communities might not be as focused on encouragement as they could be. People need a support system for their practice and to me THAT is the central role of a meditation/spiritual community.

I was teaching in a Buddhist community here in Kansas City for a while and then one day I wasn’t anymore. That’s not something to get into here except to say that my inspiration to help and encourage others didn’t just go away, so I spent time thinking about what I can do.

I have considered asking some of the other wonderful communities here in town if they’d be willing to bring me on as a teacher, to work together. But so far I haven’t asked. I have a fear of rejection, I think. Teaching in an established community would be pretty great though. Insecurity is a weird thing.

I recorded an episode of my podcast Scharpening the Mind with my friend Daniel Symes on the subject of community because I think it’s an interesting subject. You can listen to that podcast here:

Spiritual Community, with guest Daniel Symes

Is Fountain City Meditation a community?

I tried to create a situation where people come meditate with a minimum of baggage. We’re outside, so some of the intimidation of entering a new place isn’t there. Some people just come once, and some people come over and over. Some people come alone and some people bring friends. Many of the people that come just do the sitting practice and leave, without talking to anyone. I think that’s really great because I’m happy to welcome the most introverted among us. I think a lot of really shy people stay away from spiritual communities because they’re nervous about meeting new people. I know that when I first became interested in meditation practice, I had some issues around being reluctant to go meet people.

You don’t have to meet anyone to come to Fountain City Meditation.

Also, there’s no religion or ritual attached to what we’re doing.

I call it meditation without baggage. My hope is that people who are devoutly religious (of whatever kind) and people who don’t like religion could be equally comfortable coming to one of these events. I’m hoping that by doing outdoor events I can attract people who, for various reasons, don’t really want to go to temples or yoga studios or other traditional settings. Going inside an unfamiliar place can intimidate people too.

There’s no membership, I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t even ask for donations. The great thing about meeting in a public outdoor space is that it doesn’t cost me anything (there are downsides too, of course) so I don’t need to take donations. All I’m spending is my time.

That might not seem like a big deal, but I know some people stay away from communities because they feel guilty when donations are being accepted. I want to reach people that feel weird when they hear the word “donation”.

I wanted to create a situation where all the things that scare people off or make people reluctant aren’t present.

I’m not sure if I’m achieving that, but I do think there are people that are interested in meditation that aren’t being reached by traditional efforts.

 

If we’re a community, we’re a community full of non-joiners.

Non-joiners could use some encouragement too.

Is Fountain City Meditation a community? I think that’s not up to me.

It’s up to you. What do you think?

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want to come meditate with me? You can here:

Upcoming Events

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A while back I wrote an article for Patheos on the subject of Buddhist communities. You can see it here:

Close Knit Sanghas? | Patheos.com

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I created an all new website for Fountain City Meditation.

If it’s going to grow and be a community, it deserves it’s own website. This is still very much a work in progress, but have a look:

https://fountaincitymeditation.com/

and click here for my newsletter:

Newsletter

Posted in meditation, zen

Fountain City Meditation: Encourage Others

The world is a crazy place right now and I am scared.

Lots of people’s lives are turned upside down right now by current events and things are really hard to understand and hard to deal with.

This is a story I like to share.

A student went to Nakagawa Soen Roshi during a meditation retreat and said, “Master, I am feeling very discouraged. What should I do?”

And Roshi replied, “Encourage others.”

That story has meant a lot to me since I heard it. I think we’re best at encouraging others when we feel discouraged and it feels like there’s no hope.

I am discouraged. How can I encourage you?

Encouragement is central to this new project and I will not lose sight of that intent. I want to encourage you.

I teach online. I think if you’re reading this you know that. I reach people all over the world and it’s rewarding. I’m trying to figure out if I can serve my local community too.

Right now I’m envisioning “Fountain City Meditation” as a floating community, a group where we come together at different places and different times.

I want to provide opportunities for meditation practice and I want to encourage that practice. There are several meditation communities in town. I want to reach the people that aren’t feeling served by those communities. I know those people exist.

I used to belong to a Buddhist community as a very active member, I was around for years. I saw so many people come and go.  Some people would come once or twice and then go. But others would stay for months and years and then just be gone. I don’t know what the disappearing people needed. I just know they weren’t getting it. I want to reach people that feel like they don’t belong anywhere. I want to reach people that no one is reaching and I want to encourage them.

(if you want to know why I left, just ask. I want to share with others and I want others to feel comfortable sharing with me. There are real human issues in life and no one is perfect)

I also want to reach people that maybe don’t feel totally lost, but are interested in something a little different.

So, this is my invitation to you, if you’re in or around Kansas City. 

If you want a community where none of us pretend that we’re perfect or that we have it all together.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong in a Meditation Center or  Buddhist Temple.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only person in the meditation room who doesn’t know what’s going on.

If you really want a sense of community with your meditation group.

If you feel like you can’t meditate, or you’re not calm enough, or everyone will look at you like a fraud.

If you feel alone in a room full of people because no one in the community has reached out to you.

Come join. I want to encourage you.

Facebook Page

Fountain City Meditation

I don’t know how many events we’re going to have, or how often. A lot of that will depend on how much demand there is.

But I’m inspired to serve. I’m here to help.
What do you need?

 

How can I encourage you?

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Posted in zen

Dharma Winds

It feels like I’ve been an independent Dharma teacher for a long time.

I guess I haven’t really been independent because I’ve been teaching online at the Open Heart Project for a few years, but that feels like more of a guest teacher role to me.

Recently I was invited to join an international Buddhist community called the Dharma Winds Zen Sangha, which is a branch of the (not much) larger Order of Hsu Yun. This order is in the Chan (Chinese Zen) tradition and comes from the tradition of Hsu Yun and Han Shan, some of the same historical teachers that inspire me. I felt the need to mention that it’s international because I wanted to make it clear that they’re not here. I, at best, exist on the margins of the communities that are here in Kansas City.

And that’s okay.

I’m sort of a Zen hermit, largely practicing on my own and/or with the people in my household.

I’m still independent, really, but also part of something. I’m part of a tradition. It’s about recognition and connection. And although no one that practices in this tradition is close by, it’s still meaningful.

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I was welcomed into this international order and ordained as a Zen Priest. I’ll have to think long and hard about what it means to be a Zen Priest before I try to explain it in detail. This doesn’t really change anything other than making my relationship to Zen, as a practice and philosophy, more clear. To me it essentially means I’m committed to the path and I’m obligated to share teachings with anyone that asks. I have to meet the world with an open heart and to be as genuine as I can. Maybe we should all be trying to do that anyway. We say “priest” and not “monk” because I am in the world with everyone else living an ordinary life and that is not going to change. I’m not a monastic teacher, I’m a householder teacher. I have a family and a career. And I’m also trying to carry the teachings forward and pass them on whenever I can.

I was given the ordination name QianMing. This translates to “Supreme Clarity”. I’m not sure if I have great clarity. The clearest things to me are usually my own shortcomings. But maybe facing our imperfections honestly is the greatest clarity there is. I’m dedicated seeing myself clearly and sharing what I see with honesty and sincerity.

I believe in a Zen practice that includes all things. All beings that I meet are part of the path. So are the wind and the rain. We’re part of a connected whole. And this path isn’t about going away from the world. It’s not about retreating. It’s about being in the world fully and completely, manifesting authenticity and compassion.

So that’s what I’m trying to do.

I’m not going to try to build my own temple or anything like that.

But I am going to share the teachings with anyone that asks.

 

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thanks for taking the time to read this.

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Posted in lojong

Lojong Point 7: Guidelines of Mind Training

This point has to do with how we go further in our day to day life. This is connected to an understanding of how we can have better behavior in our relationships and in our lives in general.

 

39. All Activities Should Be Done With One Intention

The one intention is to cultivate bodhicitta, to have a sense of gentleness and kindness toward others. This is what the intention to walk the bodhisattva path is really all about. We can ask ourselves in any situation: “Is this helping or harming others?”

 

40. Correct All Wrongs With One Intention

We need to correct all the wrongs or bad circumstances that come up in our lives. If your practice is good when things are going well but falls off when things are hard, that isn’t good. Correcting all wrongs means overcoming our ignorance.

 

41. Two Activities: One At The Beginning, One At The End

Our lives should be founded in two things. One is the vow to put others before ourselves and the other is the cultivation of bodhicitta. We want to be fully committed to the practice and to stop blaming others for everything that happens all the time. Stop trying to make enemies out of the world.

 

42. Whichever Of The Two Occurs, Be Patient

Sometimes good things happen to us. Sometimes bad things happen to us. Whatever happens, we want to avoid letting our practice be swayed. We want to maintain patience, whether we are in a situation of great happiness or great suffering. This is called equanimity. The idea is to develop discipline in ourselves so that whether situations are good or bad we are able to be patient.

 

43. Observe These Two, Even At The Risk Of Your Life

You should maintain the vows you’ve taken. In this case it’s about the refuge and bodhisattva vows. But it can really apply to any vows or commitments you’ve taken. Take your commitments seriously.

 

44. Train In The Three Difficulties

The three difficulties relate to how we relate to our own weaknesses.

The first difficulty is realizing when we are being pulled around and controlled by our emotions.

The second difficulty is to manage our emotional baggage.

The third difficulty is to cut the continuity of our emotional baggage. That is, we don’t want things to spiral out of control, where we get madder and madder about something.

First it’s hard to recognize our neurotic emotional habits. Then it’s hard to overcome them. Then it’s hard to continue resisting their influence. When we practice lojong we are receiving transmission into the bodhisattva’s point of view. The idea is to transmit the dharma to yourself so that the way of the bodhisattva is constantly in your mind.

 

45. Take On The Three Principal Causes

Cause refers to the things that cause us to walk the path. The first cause is having a good teacher or example to follow. The second cause is being able to apply your focus to the dharma. The third cause is having a life that’s comfortable enough to practice and where the teachings are available.

To take the first cause is to realize how important it is to have an example to follow.

To take the second cause is to realize that you should have some control over your mind.

To take the third cause is to realize that we are fortunate to have this opportunity to practice.  Not only is human life more comfortable than any time in history, at least for everyone reading this, but also the teachings are more available. An overwhelming amount of dharmic material is available to you at any time with a simple search on the internet.

 

46. Pay Heed That The Three Never Wane

Don’t let devotion to your spiritual friends diminish over time. Having examples to follow and friends on the path is really important. Don’t let your positive attitude toward lojong practice diminish. Training our minds to be more compassionate and wise is the most important things we can do. Don’t let your conduct diminish. Behave in a way that is upright and helps others whenever you can.

 

47. Keep The Three Inseparable

Our practice of lojong should consist in practicing kindness with the body, speech, and mind.

 

48. Train Without Bias In All Areas.

Lojong practice includes all beings and all things. It’s important to include everyone. No one is left out.

 

49. Always Meditate On Whatever Provokes Resentment

Meditate on that which causes difficulty. If you don’t start with that, then when difficulties arise it will be more difficult to overcome them.

 

50. Don’t Be Swayed By External Circumstances

Circumstances in your life will change over time. But your practice should not depend on circumstances. Lojong is a mind training practice that we can do anywhere at any time.

 

51. This Time, Practice The Main Points

This time refers to right now. We have wasted much of our lives in not practicing. The three points are:

  1. The benefit of others is more important than yourself.
  2. Practicing the Buddha’s teachings is more important than study.
  3. Developing Bodhicitta is more important than any other practice.

 

52. Don’t Misinterpret

There are said to be six things we can misinterpret in our practice.

We can misinterpret patience by having great patience for everything but the dharma.

We can misinterpret yearning by yearning for material wealth instead of yearning to practice.

We can misinterpret excitement by getting excited about wealth and entertainment and not getting excited about practicing the dharma.

We can misinterpret compassion by only showing it to those who we think deserve it.

We can misinterpret priorities by working hard out of self interest but not working hard on our practice.

We can misinterpret joy by taking delight in the suffering of those we consider enemies and not taking joy in our practice.

 

53. Don’t Vacillate

Practice all the time. Don’t practice sometimes and take days off from practice at other times. Just concentrate on training the mind.

 

54. Train Wholeheartedly

Practice with all your heart. Train purely and with a single-minded focus.

 

55. Liberate Yourself By Examining And Analyzing

Look at your mind and pay attention to it. We learn so much just by perceiving our minds and where they take us.

 

56. Don’t Wallow In Self Pity

Don’t feel sorry for yourself because someone else has better circumstances with you. Just practice.

 

57. Don’t Be Jealous 

If someone else receives praise and you don’t, don’t let jealousy arise. It doesn’t help.

 

58. Don’t Be Frivolous

This one’s a bit hard to unpack. It’s tied to number 57. If someone succeeds and we are jealous, we shouldn’t pretend like their accomplishment wasn’t that special. We should congratulate them instead.

 

59. Don’t Expect Applause

Don’t expect to receive credit for even really important accomplishments. In fact, assume you won’t.

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That completes the 59 slogans. Thank you for taking this journey with me. These slogans are a method for transforming our lives into the path of the Bodhisattva. 

Posted in buddhism

On The Practice of Taking Refuge

Taking refuge is central to Buddhist teachings and practice. It’s referred to as “entering the gate”.

When we come to understand that taking refuge means that we are working on ourselves, then we understand that it’s a process of changing the directions of our lives. We work on ourselves by doing the practices that the Buddha taught to help us overcome the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion.

We call it “taking refuge” because it is an active practice. Refuge isn’t something that happens to us. It’s something we decide to do. We are actively dedicating ourselves to walk the path. We can’t have someone else walk it for us. It’s easy to study Buddhism and to debate minute aspects of Buddhist philosophy. When we take refuge we are resolving to walk the path with diligent effort. The Dharma is something we are learning about. But it’s also something we are becoming.

Central to taking refuge is seeing the direction our lives are heading in. Do we want to continue dwelling in delusion or do we want to take steps to see things as they really are, to dwell in our Buddha nature?

Posted in Uncategorized

My Life

Do you know that my life exploded last year?

People reading this probably know I spend a lot of time at the local Buddhist temple these days. People reading this might also be aware that my life changed a lot last year. What you may not realize is that these things are connected.

I fell apart last year. By the end of the summer my life had exploded and everything was destined to be different. I could have made a few different choices, of course. We can always make different choices.

I don’t want to go into too much detail because I think it is too soon and it would be, at the very least, very rude. I just want to let you know that I was married and I’m not anymore.

It didn’t explode like a roman candle. It was more of a slow burn like one of those snake fireworks that just spreads out over the ground burning a slow silent death.

What I learned is that a loveless marriage can breed madness. People stay in loveless marriages every day, I think. And loveless relationships too, really. Even when it’s really easy to leave people sometimes don’t. But when it’s hard, it’s really hard. It’s easy to say, “unhappy people should leave,” but of course life is rarely that simple.

Looking back, I am so incredibly different now. I made plenty of decisions that make me think “why did I do that?”

I feel like I died and I was reborn.

Then I had to grow again.

I struggled a great deal in those first few weeks. I did things I shouldn’t have done. I made plenty of mistakes. My entire life was different and I didn’t have a clue what to do. If not for my two wonderful children I might have given up. I might have become an alcoholic or something worse.

I started working out and that’s done a lot for me. My body feels better than it ever has and I have plenty of energy. I don’t want to gloss over that because it is important. There’s a free gym in my office and I make use of it. Physical fitness was never important to me before but it is now.

Mental and spiritual fitness are important too.

I also threw myself into spirituality. I’ve always been a dedicated Buddhist, as anyone reading this knows. I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about it and reading about it too. Not a lot of things inspire me. I don’t just practice Buddhism and study it.

I love it.

 

Historically most of my Buddhist practice has been done on my own.

After my life exploded that changed.

I was just a casual visitor to the Rime Center before, as many are. I would go once in a while, but that was it. (although I did lead the children’s group for a while).

After my life exploded I became a regular. I became one of those people that goes all the time. I’m like those people who go to church twice a week and have bible study.

I go to the Rime Center three times a week, every week. And even more every time I can.

I’ve spent countless hours writing about Buddhism (as everyone reading this knows) but actually putting it into practice, especially with other people, is something different. I’m so happy to have a supportive spiritual community. Being able to go there, to add visits to the Rime Center to my regular routine really helped my put myself back together.

My community saved me. I had to put myself back together and I used the programs at the Rime Center to do it.

Now I’ve found ways to give back.

I’m leading a Zen practice group every Monday night. We’re sitting in the traditional Soto Zen style, which is completely unavailable in Kansas City. Which is weird. There are Soto Zen temples in Wichita and Omaha and Cedar Rapids, but we don’t have one.

And I’ve been given the title ‘Gegan’ which means teacher. I’m teaching classes too. I’m going to teach a class on the Diamond Sutra (the best Sutra ever) in the Spring and then more classes going forward. I’m really excited to share the teachings.

Dogen said, “The life of a Zen Master is one continuous mistake.”

I won’t go around calling myself a Zen Master. But I think I know what he meant. My life has been one continuous mistake.

But I’m getting better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

Songs and Chants in Buddhism

chanting

“For as long as space endures. For as long as living beings remain.
May I too remain to eliminate the suffering of the world.” ~ Shantideva

Chants and songs are probably present in all religious traditions.

I can imagine shamanic teachers in prehistoric societies leading chants around a campfire.

Chanting and Buddhist temples are ubiquitous, right there alongside the incense, bowing, and weird clothes. I’ve found Buddhist communities where they don’t meditate. I’ve never found one where they don’t chant.

It’s present in all schools of Buddhism, as far as I know, to greater and lesser degrees; the contents of the chants vary a great deal.

We hear chants and songs in other religions and sometimes we see these things as pointless, especially in a Buddhist context. Buddhism, we think, is supposed to be different. In other religious traditions chants and songs are a form of worship. People express their devotion in song. Buddhism is non-theistic. The Buddha doesn’t save us or even transform us. He invites us to transform ourselves.

It’s not about worship, so if they aren’t songs of devotion, why would we chant?

Sometimes when people first become exposed to Buddhism they really aren’t interested in chanting. The chanting is a tool, I think. It helps us get ready for practice. It serves to provide a doorway out of our regular day-to-day life and into the mystical place of the temple.

The purpose is to get our minds ready for the teachings and to help us awaken. This awakening is not intellectual, but a change in how we experience and perceive. Think of mindful chanting as a tool for helping us wake up.

I submit that chanting is a part of Buddhism because it’s something human beings value in spirituality.

It’s a ritual and rituals motivate and inspire us. Rituals keep us on the path, even if they seem weird or make no sense. Rituals build community too. A big part of chanting and singing is that we’re doing it together.

There are several types of Buddhist chants. Some people do believe chants produce some kinds of magical effects. That discussion is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss here.

Sometimes we chant things in the original languages and sometimes we chant things in English, like quotes from texts such as the one I put at the beginning of this article.

Chanting in a language we don’t understand, I think, makes it feel important or sacred. Maybe it’s more ritualistic and special if we don’t really understand it. OM MANI PADME HUM sounds important to us, and I think all those Ms mean something to us. If we chanted THE JEWEL IN THE LOTUS instead I think it wouldn’t mean as much.

Chanting in English obviously reminds us of the intent behind what we’re doing. When we chant things like “May I too remain to dispel the misery of the world,” we are re-dedicating ourselves verbally and generating our intention. I think this does help. It reminds us that this is important and it unites us as a community when we are doing it together.

In some branches of Buddhism, like Pure Land and Nichiren, chanting is almost the entire practice. I don’t connect with chanting nearly well enough for that, but plenty of people certainly do.

Chanting is one of the things we do in Buddhist temple. The practice would probably feel strange without it. I think it serves a useful purpose. It gives us something to do together, as a community.

 

 

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: On Repentance

The Patriarch gave the following teaching:

Let’s purify our minds at all times, walk the path by our diligent effort, Awaken to our true nature, realize Enlightenment in our minds, and deliver ourselves by observing moral teachings.

There are five kinds of incense in the teachings.
The first is Sila Incense, which means that our minds are free from the taints of misdeeds: jealousy, avarice, anger, and hatred.

The second is Samadhi Incense, whiche means our minds aren’t disturbed in circumstances, whether positive or negative.

The third is Prajna Incense, which means our minds are free of impediments, that we look within for our true nature and refrain from doing evil deeds. That we treat others with respect.

The fourth is the Incense of Liberation, which means that our minds are in a free state, that we cling to nothing and don’t concern ourselves with duality.

The fifth is the Incense of Knowledge, which means we have learned about the Attainment of Liberation. When our minds don’t cling to duality then we attain this knowledge.

We should broaden our knowledge so we know our own minds, thoroughly understand the teachings of Buddhism, be kind to others, let go of the idea of ‘self’ and that of ‘being’ and realize that our true nature is oneness.
This fivefold incense burns within us.

Repeat what I say here:

‘May we, students, be always free from ignorance and delusion. We repent for all of our misdeeds committed because of ignorance and delusion. May we never commit such misdeeds again.

May we be free from the taints of arrogance and dishonesty. We repent for all of our arrogant and dishonest behavior.

May we be free from the taints of envy and jealousy. We repent for all jealous and envious behavior.

This is what we call formless repentance.

Having repented of our sins we will take the following four All-embracing Vows:
Living beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.

Confusions are countless, I vow to cut them all.
The Buddha’s teachings are limitless, I vow to penetrate them all.

The Buddha’s way is highest, I vow to achieve it.

These are called the Four Bodhisattva Vows. They are considered the fundamental vows of the Zen Buddhist path, expressing our resolution to attain Enlightenment in order to help all beings. These are chanted daily in Zen temples and are often chanted at the closing of different kinds of ceremonies.

With the aid of Right Views and Prajna the barriers raised by delusion can be broken. Then we can deliver ourselves by our own efforts to Enlightenment.

Now that we have taken these Four All-embracing vows, let me teach you the ‘Formless Threefold Guidance’:
We take Enlightenment as our guide, because it is the culmination of virtue and wisdom. We take the Dharma as our guide because it is the best way to get rid of desire and delusion. We take Purity as our guide because it is the noblest quality of beings.

These represent the Three Jewels.

The Buddha stands for Enlightenment
The Dharma stands for Devotion to the teachings
The Sangha stands for Purity.

Taking refuge in Enlightenment is the culmination of virtue and wisdom.
Taking refuge in Devotion to the teachings helps us become free of wrong views.
Taking refuge in Purity means that in any circumstance we are not contaminated by delusion.
Practicing the Threefold Guidance in this way really leads to taking refuge in our own Buddha nature.

Taking refuge in the Buddha within yourself doesn’t entail taking refuge in something outside ourselves.
Let us each take refuge in the Three Gems within our minds.