Monday, June 02, 2014



----- June 2, 2014 -----

Question: How can I make my mind a blank? Even after meditating for several minutes I find myself thinking of something, and that’s annoying to me.

Answer: Mind-wanderings are common when you first start meditating. Don’t let them upset you, because the more you let them bother you, the more you acknowledge their existence. The untrained mind loves to play tricks, and petty distractions may go on for weeks or months. Do not dwell on what the mind is doing. To help blank out random thoughts you might think of a cloudless sky or a clean chalkboard.


Question: In practicing Zen, is there a danger of isolating myself from the world? Of becoming a closed shell?

Answer: Do you tend to judge people on the length of their hair, or on the way they dress? Do you see things as good or bad? Those are common signs of a closed shell. To dissolve the shell, first realize you are being judgmental and narrow. When you recognize what you do, meditate on it. Through meditation you will not only see yourself for what you are, you will gradually realize everything is what it is and has as much right to existence as you do yours.


Question: Who, or what, am I?

Answer: I cannot tell you who you are. I cannot even tell who I am. I could give a classical Zen response, such as “Pine tree in the garden.” But only you can truly answer the question of who you are. Answering the question takes time. Keep meditating to realize your face before you were born.


Question: Does a dog have Buddha-nature?

Answer: Ah, you have been reading Zen literature. Good for you. Your question is the classical koan of Master Joshu’s Mu. When a monk asked Joshu if a dog had Buddha-nature, Joshu answered, “Mu,” neither yes nor no. The monk was awakened.

My answer is, it does not matter if a dog has or does not have Buddha-nature. What matters is, do you have Buddha-nature.


Question: This has nothing to do with what you’ve said about meditation, but can you suggest some books or readings that will tell me more about Zen?

Answer: There are many such writings, probably too many. Rather than recommend specific titles of Zen or Buddhist publications, I would rather give you names of some of the better writers and translators and let you wend your way among them. The names include D.T. Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki, Masao Abe, Robert Aiken, Christmas Humphries, Nancy Wilson Ross, Stephen Bachelor, Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Linnssen, Eugene Herrigel, Thomas Cleary, Philip Kapleau,  and Heinrich Dumoulin.

Unfortunately, there are also many charlatans and quacks who are writing in the Zen field. You will have to learn to avoid them.


Question: What happens after a Zen person dies? Is there a place they go? Is there an afterlife?

Answer: If there is such a place, I have not been there to be able to report on it. Neither has anyone else.

Zen cannot conceive of an afterlife. To a Zen person, life is right now. It is this instant. All that matters is this instant, so one must make the very best of it.