Monday, February 19, 2018



We recently talked about quiet, the cessation of vocal chatter. Now I would like to consider stillness.

        There is a difference between quiet and stillness. Quiet is the pausing of idle talk. Stillness, in the meditative sense, is being totally aware, and totally open to life.

        But being aware without numbing the senses.

        If you are going to close down your senses, why not reject your itching leg, or your aching shoulder, or your chilly fingers, or your wandering mind?

        Why not really close down and become a vegetable? A lump of nothing.

        Nothingness is possible, but is it desirable? Nothingness is the state of being a nonentity, the state of nonexistence of anything.

        Is that what meditation is about . . . nothingness?

        By separating ourselves entirely from hearing or smelling we open the way to something else, and then we start asking ourselves is this good or not. In Zen terms that kind of thinking is called duality, which refers to fragmentation of the mind.

        Picking and choosing and weighing thoughts         will cause meditation to fall apart.

Zen practice should be about being free, not about examining and analyzing.

Stillness helps to settle the mind and the body, and encourages the recognition of an inclusive view. Stillness allows everything to be perceived undisturbed in its entirety.

As an example, if you wanted to really know the relationships that exist within a forest, would you get together a horde of people and walk around in the woods socializing and pestering every wild animal and every tree?

Or would you walk alone in stillness, observing plants and birds and bugs, and letting each be itself?

Hui-Neng, the ancient Chinese Zen patriarch, referred to the “target practice” view in meditation when he said, “If you do not think of the myriad things but always cause your thoughts to settle down, you will understand the teaching of the Buddha.”

Zen Master Koban Chino once held an archery class and set the target up on the top of a seaside cliff. When a student would make a shot, Kobun did not discuss their stance, or their aim, or their technique.

He smiled and remained still.

Then when one student shot an arrow that flew far wide of the target and sailed off into the ocean, Koban laughed and shouted, “BULLSEYE.”

A Zen writer declared,

“It is a bias of our culture that stillness is regarded as lazy, as being stuck in inaction, as a negative. It’s not. It’s an action, and a powerful one. What’s more, it can change your day, and in doing so change your life.”

When you find a stillness within yourself, it spreads to the rest of your body, and to your mind. It focuses you on what you’re doing right now, not on all you have to do and all that has happened.


Lao Tzu said, “Through the return to simple living comes control of desires. In control of desires, stillness is attained. In stillness the world is restored.”

Monday, February 05, 2018



I’m going to commence this Zen talk with something that starts out like the joke that begins, “A guy walks into a bar . . . .“

Three Zen masters were meditating in a cave.

A couple of hours passed and there came a sound from outside.

Another hour of silence followed, and the first master said, “Did you hear that goat?”

Another hour passed and the second master said, “That wasn't a goat. It was a cow.”

After another hour the third master said, “If you two are going to talk, I'm leaving.”

Listen up.

Do you hear anything?

Probably not, because the day is quiet.

But quiet is something some people don’t enjoy or are even aware of. Many individuals feel contented with noise, especially if that noise is vocal chatter. Verbal contamination can be as bothersome as smog or light pollution. You know, so much artificial light that persists after the sun sets that you can’t see the stars in the middle of the night.

Quiet is the essence not only of meditation but of Zen living

You may know of Jiddu Krishnamurti. He was groomed to be world head of the Theosophy organization, but he turned down the dubious honor to teach and to write about the purpose of life in general.

In one of his talks, Krishnamurti said:

        “Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence.”

        Have you ever been around someone who talks a lot? Not only talks a lot but is downright garrulous.

        As much as you might like such a person, have you ever had the impulse to shout, “PLEASE BE QUIET”?

        Once I was hiking in the Czech Republic with a small group of people. Among us were two women who babbled continuously, and I mean continuously. They talked while they were walking, they talked while they were eating.

        One afternoon we had a rest stop at a park that featured an old-fashioned wooden outhouse. One of the talkative women availed herself of the latrine, while the other woman stood just outside, waiting her turn. The two of them carried on a lively conversation through the closed door.

        That evening over dinner, between the soup and the salad, one of our outspoken members suddenly stood and in a loud voice said, “DO YOU TWO HAVE TO TALK ALL THE TIME?”

        The rest of us applauded inwardly.

Japan may be an industrial and technical giant, but in that country silence is often looked upon as a sign of perceptiveness, introspection, and self-cultivation. Japanese public speakers are often judged on their ability to keep silent, a technique that conveys a sense of trustworthiness.

All schools of Buddhism stress the importance of silent meditation as a tool to attain enlightenment and to teach that inner peace can only be achieved through stillness.

Accordingly, Zen wisdom can usually be grasped through silence. That is, a teacher does not need to speak because his or her stillness is able to convey messages that spoken words would not be able to transmit.

One day the Buddha took his followers to a quiet place for instruction. Everyone sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.

Without saying anything the Buddha twirled a small flower between his fingers.

        When the Buddha displayed the flower to each of the followers each was confused. But when the Buddha came to Mahakasyapa, the man smiled.

“What can be said, I have said to you,” the Buddha said, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakasyapa.”

        Bertrand Russell was a brilliant British scholar who reeived many honors. He was a philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate. He said, “A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy lives.”

        As long as I’m quoting so many sensible people, here is a childhood nursery rhyme.

        A wise old owl lived in an oak.

        The more he heard, the less he spoke.

        The less he spoke, the more he heard.

        Why can’t we be like that old bird?

Monday, January 22, 2018



Acorns on the ground.

Just yesterday, leaves were green.

    And that is the Way.

We talk about the Zen concept of living in the moment, about being aware of right now. Is that notion a limitation, a restriction? Does living now mean being stuck in the present, and nothing will ever be different?

        Not at all. Change is unavoidable.

The weather changes. Technology changes. Politics change. In a world of constant change, there is little we can be sure of.

        In a publishing company I once worked, the treasurer had a favorite saying. “There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and an IOU in petty cash from Jack.”

        Our lives change, and will eventually go away. But why fear the close of life?  Death is part of the cycle.

        Why fear gray hair? Or no hair at all? Why fear wrinkles?

We may disagree with something new and unforeseen, but more often than not we can do nothing other than become frustrated.

        Lao Tzu said, “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

We know things change, yet too often we do not want to let go of what is. Sometimes we actively try to prevent change. Sometimes such an effort can be praiseworthy, but it is usually futile.

Especially when it comes to politics.

That doesn’t mean we stagnate and do nothing, but it does mean we must realize what we are doing, and how it may end.

Ignoring change will not cause it to cease.

Change has always been happening. It is inevitable.

As you learn, your thoughts change. As your thoughts change, your beliefs and behaviors change.

We try to stave off something unpleasant. Everyone fights against ageing, but whether we like it or not, the cells of our bodies are different from day to day.

You may be able to delay the inevitable, but you cannot make it go away. You cannot deny the natural laws of the universe, or deceive nature.

You can, however, modify your behavior and your thinking.

Change is the truth of reality. When we cannot or will not accept this truth, we become frustrated.

However, everybody witnesses change. In Japanese there is a term for such a recognition. It is called mono no awar, which translates as the reality of impermanent things.

        Recognizing and accepting the fact of change is a step toward awakening.

Monday, December 04, 2017



The book Haiku Mind, by Patricia Donegan, presents a verse by Shusin Kateo that reads as follows:

        I kill an ant . . .

        And realize my three children

        Were watching.

        So what does that have anything to do with anything? Or in particular, with Zen?

        I will wait for your response.

        The author’s answer was that the haiku reflects the courage it takes to be honest with oneself. That it is a statement that reminds us to live moment to moment, and not cause harm to other beings.

        In not causing harm is to encourage peace within ourselves and within other beings.

        This can come about only if we are honest.

        To quote Patricia Donegan,

“Starting this very moment with whatever is happening and seeing it clearly . . . . no matter how embarrassing, how painful, how sad, no matter what. This is the human journey.”

        The human journey includes being honest with ourselves. To owning up to our mistakes without trying to sugar coat them or cover them up.

        It has to do with the quality of being authentic. With ourselves as well as with others.

        That is what Shakespeare meant when he wrote:

 “This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Monday, November 27, 2017



          Sutras are collections of the supposed talks and dialogues of Shakyamuni Buddha who lived some 2500 years ago. Most Buddhist schools have adopted certain sutras as their own authority, but not Zen. Zen isn’t associated with any sutra. Zen is a special transmission outside of sutras. It doesn’t depend on words or letters.

In Zen truth is grasped directly or else it isn’t grasped at all.

          The Christian Bible, The Jewish Talmud, and the Muslim Koran are books that gather together what are reputed to be the revelations of God. They’re known as holy books, sacred books associated with divine power. People venerate them and often make solemn declarations on them as confirmation of the honesty or truth of their declarations.

Consider. For the Christian Bible alone there are dozens upon dozens of versions. There are the King James, the Berkely, the English Revised, the New American, the American Standard, the New Revised Standard, and many more.

          Each version has been interpreted and edited at different times by different scholars and translators, which means each version differs in some way, large or small, from all the others. Which means that anything original has been fiddled around with so many times it has lost any meaning of its primary intent.

          Question. Can anyone tell me what a camel is?

Answer. A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.

Seriously, take with a pound of salt the words or revelations of anyone that have been interpreted time after time and recorded time after time by committee after committee, each member of which has his own selfish reason to make a mark in history. Any originality in the meaning of those word has long since been obscured in time and in the tinkering the words have undergone.

Neither Buddhism nor Zen has a so-called holy book. I do own a small volume I liberated from a nightstand of a hotel in Thailand. It’s somewhat analogous to the Gideon Bible found in most hotels in Christian countries, but it’s not called a bible. It’s titled simply The Teachings of Buddha.

It’s not a considered a sacred book. It isn’t a collection of holy writings. In Buddhist courts no one is required to swear on it to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Shakyamuni.

The book presents writings on the life of the Buddha such as The Fourfold Noble Truths, The Middle Way, and Human Nature. It makes no promises. It offers no guarantees.

Here are three quotes from The Teaching of Buddha:

1.     “Oh, my mind! If you could only learn that everything is non-substantial and transitory….”

2.     “Rely upon yourself: do not depend upon anyone else.”

3.    “Be the master of your own mind.”

I’m not saying written words are bad. Read sutras, or even the so-called holy books, but don’t take them for a body of rules or principles.

With that rambling introduction in mind, let’s consider one of the most significant personalities in Zen, and some of the concepts from his most momentous piece of teaching. I’m referring to Hui-Neng, the Sixth Chinese Patriarch, and his so-called Platform Sutra.

The word “platform” refers to the raised area where Hui-Neng sat when he delivered his talk to the people surrounding him.

To paraphrase Hui-Neng, if one realizes his or her original mind you have awakened. Awakening is known as no-thought. What is no-thought? It means even though you are totally aware you are not fixed to anything.

This is being free and unattached.

According to Hui-Neng, once you awaken to the notion of no-thought you have reached the status of the Buddha.

Reaching the status of the Buddha doesn’t mean becoming the spitting image of Siddhartha. Remember, there are no cookie cutters in Buddhism.

The Platform Sutra often uses the word “nature.” This isn’t Mother Nature, with its trees and bees but self-nature, original nature, Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature means everyone—and I say every thing—possesses the potential, the intrinsic spark, to be enlightened. Enlightened means realizing one’s own true self.

Zen deals with Buddha-nature.

Buddha-nature is indestructible.