Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Buddhism: A Philosophy Based in Our Own Action.

Nishijima Sensei, my teacher's teacher and the founder of Dogen Sangha, makes a nice distinction about what Buddhism essentially is.

He says that it is a 'Philosophy of Action'. This means that, rather than its adherents being concerned with just believing in things (idealism) or explaining things in tangible empirical and quantifiable terms (materialism), they are required to actually 'do' it (Action). The 'doing it' bit is clarified in zazen, and it's the central aspect of Zen Buddhism.

A nice, positive aspect of Buddhism is that we can still believe in things (such as God) and practice it, so you get people whom may be adherents to a religion such as Christianity but who also practice zazen sincerely. Buddhism is generally not a religion which excludes on the basis of belief or lack of it, but it requires us to look at the nature of our beliefs and our selves via the Action of zazen when we are not restricted by, or limited by, our own values and beliefs.

In zazen, and particularly in extended 'sesshin' ( zazen retreats), we have the opportunity to explore the nature of Buddhist 'Action': All sorts of stuff might come up when we sit zazen... we will get bored and frustrated, we might feel all spacey and spiritual, and we'll likely have to deal with physical discomfort and all sorts of daydreams and fantasies; but we can just firmly sit through it all and learn very directly that we needn't be pushed around by what we think and feel.

We're actually already free to act despite what we think and feel with our body and mind and despite all our habitual reactions to our 'stuff', but we need to really practice this principle often and regularly to substantially realise it in our lives.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Meeting Next Week.

Hi Folks,

Two things:

Please bear in mind that there is no zazen in the Dock next Tuesday (6th of April). We'll be back there again the following Tuesday (the 13th) as usual.

Some time in the next month I'll be holding a one-day zazen retreat at my home zendo situated just outside of Boyle, Co Roscommon. It'll probably run from @ 10 am til 3pm or so on a Saturday or Sunday.

If you're interested in attending let me know by email: longriverzen(at)

More details about that event will follow. All that is certain about it at the moment is that it'll be free of charge.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Great Perfection.

Buddhist philosophy posits that everything is already perfect, everything is Buddha-nature and is totally complete in itself...

"Yeah, right!" you might say, and, fair enough, the world is an unapologetic shit hole at times.

When we adopt this notion of 'everything being perfect' idealistically, just as some silly limited idea in our head or whatever, then we can quickly see that it really isn't that useful, truthful or accurate: our lives are more than a bit sucky at times, and this often hurts. But that's not what this Buddhist idea of perfection is about at all: As with all Buddhist philosophy, we should examine this more fully from the perspective of our own practice of zazen.

In zazen we can see that we ourselves make 'good' and 'bad', 'holy' and 'ordinary', 'friend' and 'foe', that we tend towards 'this' and away from 'that' based on our experiences and values... we chop up the Perfection with our thoughts and wants and aversions and all that stuff from our lives. But we can see too that we can lessen this activity with practice and the right sort of effort.

In sitting upright and firmly we can let all that usual drama just come and go; we don't have to get involved, we can see it all as just the Perfection itself unfolding playfully if we don't get involved in the narrative of our lives as we usually do. In doing this the Perfection that already exists before we make things 'perfect' and 'imperfect' will start to become clearer.

Of course, we have to get up off the cushion and step back into the world of discriminating what's good and bad for ourselves and others and striving to do the right thing and make ends meet, but, if we have really expressed and experienced the Perfection, then maybe we can arise with the direct recognition that our often squalid, tiny little lives of frustration and confusion are an expression of something that we cannot limit in the ways that we generally tend to limit ourselves.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Time, Please!

In practicing Zazen we can enjoy an interesting perspective on time:

The past is just our own memory made in our own brains, and the future is just a thought made in our brains as well... in a sense we make our own 'time' in this way.

The present, the eternal present that never stops nor starts, is this moment where we can allow all thoughts of 'past', 'future' and 'present' to just come and go. Doing this is to BE Real-time and to understand Real-time/existence: Real-time is not how we imagine the 'past', 'present' or 'future' to be and so we can experience it in letting all our thoughts come forward and drop away... after a while of sitting thus we'll get into the groove of this Real-time and it will come to meet us and help us out.

We might like to think of the wise Buddhas of the past, or some Truth or Realisation that will come in the future... but the only Truth and the only Reality is this present time. This is the only time when we can really exist and act, or be true, or be realised... or just be deluded by all our thinking!

Master Dogen wrote about this in a Chapter of Shobogenzo called "Uji" ('Time-being').



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Right and Wrong.

In the Buddhist lineage I'm involved in there is currently some hot debate and dissent about the question of morality and what's 'right' and 'wrong' in Buddhism.

Thankfully, the Buddhist teaching on this is very practical and clear and was summed up in ancient times in these terms:

Not to commit wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,

Naturally purifies the mind;

This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Master Dogen, the Buddhist Master considered the founder of Soto Zen, particularly emphasised the first line about 'not committing wrongs' because, when we are not committing wrongs, things manifest as they are, we manifest as we are, and we are naturally right when we allow ourselves to be right.

Basically, the emphasis is not on lofty, moralistic ideals, or worrying about what other people are doing, or praising them or criticising them for being 'right' or 'wrong' as we perceive it. The emphasis here is actually on our very own conduct right here and now: We make real, manifest right and wrong just here and now with our own real actions of body, speech and mind... any 'right' and 'wrong' outside of this is just a thought in our heads, a judgement, a splitting up of the situation using our intellect.

This does not mean that we should not have views and opinions on events or situations, or that we should not make efforts to improve things for ourselves and others, *but*, from the perspective offered in Buddhism, we should clearly understand that our views and opinions are just our own views and opinions and not some objective truth.

It's easy to get intoxicated by our own views and opinions, and Buddhism recognises this:

If needs be, we should try not to do what we know to be wrong,
We should let good manifest as it is,
This clarifies our intention and our lives.

Nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes... please bear in mind that Buddhism is essentially not a philosophy/religion of lofty, abstract morals and sitting in judgement of others. It's about us. It's about our own personal actions/conduct right here-and-now. That's what we can change, that's what we can control.

Of course, the natural introspection of zazen, where we drop off all thoughts of 'good' and 'bad', is indispensable if we wish to understand and clarify our thoughts and intentions. It aligns us with our natural goodness that already exists before we think up 'good' and 'bad'.