Monday, March 10, 2014



Most of the points in this talk are based on material published in the four-volume series on Haiku, written by R.H. Blyth.


Zen has no doctrine, dogma, or sacred writings, so we can’t dissect articles of faith, as is done in many religions. We can’t produce new articles of belief, or interpret articles of conviction, to our own satisfaction.

          We have our own being, and we have our being’s relationship to all beings, and this is enough to deal with in one lifetime.

 However, we can speak of some principles of Zen that characterize its basic nature. I will talk about these features over several sessions, presenting them in no special sequence because life itself is not ordered in 1-2-3, or beginning-middle-end fashion.

          In discussing these Zen features there will be some overlap, some repetition, and some contradiction. But there won’t be any miracles or visions or revelations.


To start at the beginning with the first Zen principle: There is no beginning, no end.

          True life is not something that starts at birth and ends at death. That may be correct of an animal or a plant, but life is being, and being is. There is life in sunshine, in a breeze, in total silence.

          It goes on.

Life is like running water. Where is the beginning or the end of running water?

          According to popular religions, there was a beginning. That’s when God created heaven and earth, and all living things. Also, there will be an end. It God’s promise that he will terminate everything and bring a finish to life.

Well, the biblical end will not really be an end. It’s a hedge because, according to holy promises, certain dead folks will be whisked off to a better place for special treatment. That’s a speculative stunt known as the Rapture. To quote the bible: "we will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

In my wildest dreams I can’t conceive a place in the sky that is populated with a bunch of once-dead humans drifting around forever chanting hosannas.

But a place without birds, trees, or stones. How could that be better than what we have right here, right now?

It’s terribly confusing.

Do any of you want to plan your present, or your future, on promises?

We see the results of promises in the stock market and the political arena. And you know how iffy those areas are.


Which leads to another Zen principle: Yesterday is gone; tomorrow does not exist; only today is real.

Life is like running water. You can dip your toe into it once.  After that the toe may be the same toe but the water is different.

Life is not a promise. Life is not a different place in a different time. Life is right here, and it is right now. That is all, and that is enough.

Overall, life is an extraordinarily wonderful adventure, so it should be experienced wisely.


And here is another Zen principle: The realities of life are present in every day actions, objects, and emotions.

          We walk across a street; we talk with someone; we see a leaf lying on the ground; we drink a glass of water; we agree with someone and disagree with someone else; we feel happy or we feel melancholy; we are light-hearted on a sunny day, glum on a dismal day. These are normal actions and objects and feelings that we experience regularly.

          They are part of being alive.

          We don’t have to go to a church or a temple or to any other special place to have such experiences. We don’t have to set aside a certain day or a time of day and dress up to have such experiences. They are part of our normal, everyday life, and they come and go unavoidably, just like dawn and dusk come and go.

          We can’t permanently remove ourselves from such experiences through prayer, with drugs, or by hiding in a cave. Besides, to try to escape them would be to deprive ourselves of the fullness of living.

          These experiences are the realities of life, and individuals who attempt to dodge them by withdrawal or other artificial means become oddballs.

          To recognize the realities of life, and to perceive them for what they are, is part of true mind. True mind is that state in which all things—including you—are included.

As Popeye used to say, “I yam what I yam.” As Tennyson wrote in his poem Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.”

You are what you are, and you are a part of everything else.

So how do we deal with such realities as illness, aging, or death? These are the most extreme certainties, but they are no more important than a leaf lying on the ground. How do we deal with them?

This is the same question the Buddha examined more than 2000 years ago.

The Buddha learned to recognize life’s truths, whether other humans had labeled them good or bad. He perceived life’s realities for what they are, and he grasped how to act upon them instantly.

The Buddha was not a god or a present-day saint. He was a guy who realized in one lifetime what much of humanity cannot grasp in generations.

When we learn to perceive, we are Buddhas.


If the Buddha is not a god, then why do people worship him? There are different types of worship. When someone worships a god, they praise him or her, making offerings and asking for favors, believing that the god will hear their praise, receive their offerings, and answer their prayers.

Buddhists do not indulge in this kind of worship.

The other kind of worship is when we show respect to someone or something we admire. When a teacher walks into a room we stand up, when we meet a dignitary we shake hands, when the national anthem is played we salute. These are all gestures of respect and indicate our admiration for persons and things.

A statue of the Buddha with its hands rested gently in its lap and its smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. The flowers which fade and die, remind us of impermanence. When we bow, we express our gratitude to the Buddha for his teachings.

This is the nature of Buddhist worship.


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