Monday, June 29, 2015




No matter what priests, ministers, or prophets say, belief is an unclear idea in which vague assurance is placed. The notion is prevalent in religion, in philosophy, in logic, and in human gullibility. The Buddha may never have used the word “belief,” or its equivalent in whatever language he spoke, but according to an ancient record called the Kalama Sutta, he might have hinted about the subject.

Many people think that Siddhartha Gautama’s original teaching did not include concepts such as fate and reincarnation. Others maintain that he neither favored nor disapproved such ideas, and instead he suggested the concept of “not knowing.” You know, answering a question by professing ignorance.

This brings up the Kalama Sutta, a set of instructions supposedly proposed by Gautama for a method of investigation that is exempt from fanaticism, bigotry, dogmatism, and intolerance. Named the Buddha's "commission of free inquiry," it can be interpreted in a number of different ways, so you pays your money and you takes your choice.

In other words, you should think for yourself.

The story of Kalama Sutta tells that the Buddha was asked who to believe out of all the ascetics, sages, and self-proclaimed holy ones. People claimed they were confused by the many contradictions in what they heard.

Here is what the Buddha may have replied.

n  Do not believe anything based on rumor, gossip, or plain old scuttlebutt.

n   Do not believe in traditions merely because they are deep-rooted and may have been handed down for many generations and in many places.

n  Do not believe anything because people talk a lot about it.

n  Do not believe anything because you are shown the written testimony of someone.

n  Do not believe in what you have dreamed up, thinking that because it is extraordinary it must have been inspired by a god or other great being.

n  Do not believe anything merely because opinion is in its favor, or because the custom of many years inclines you to take it as true.

n  Do not believe anything merely on the authority of teachers or priests.

n  Do not accept any doctrine from reverence, but first try it as gold is tried by fire.

n  Do apply all of what I say to everything I say.

n  Remember, there is a sucker born every minute.

Monday, June 22, 2015



In modern Japan commemoration of the birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha forms an important emphasis on observed memorials. Interestingly, celebrations in remembrance of death are more significant than birth anniversaries.
In Japan Buddha's birthday is celebrated every year on 8 April. The occasion takes place four to six weeks in advance of that in most other East Asian countries because other countries follow a traditional lunar calendar in which the anniversary usually occurs in May or early June.

In Japan the Buddha birthday commemoration is called Busshō-e or Kanbutsu-e. The ceremony held at many temples features a small statue of Buddha in the form of a child. The figure is sprinkled with scented water or hydrangea tea in a temporary shrine decorated with flowers. An alternative name is Hana Matsuri, or Floral Festival, because the time of year corresponds to the custom of enjoying the blooming of cherry blossoms.

There are two additional annual holidays dedicated to remembering the Buddha, Nehan-e is observed on 15 February, when Shakyamuni is said to have passed into Nirvana. Jodo-e (also known as Rohatsu) falls on 8 December. It marks the anniversary of the time Buddha initially attained enlightenment after years of meditation.

New Year's Eve on 31 December is yet another Buddhist holiday when temple bells are rung 108 times.

In the United States celebration of Buddha's Birthday differs from community to community, depending on ethnicity and nationality. The Japanese celebration on 8 April has been observed in the San Francisco Area for decades.

In 1968 the first walk-around of Mt. Tamalpais to celebrate Buddha's birthday was conducted.

Starting in 1969 at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Hana-Matsuri, the flower festival, was celebrated each spring. Dressed in formal black robes, the roughly 70 monks and students formed a formal procession to the horse pasture with the leader ringing a small bell. A temporary stone altar was built under an oak tree in a field of green grass and wildflowers, and on it a small statue of a baby Buddha was placed in a metal basin. Then each person would approach the altar, ladle one bamboo dipperful of sweet green tea over the statue, bow, and walk to one side.

Rituals are also held in Japan for nearly all ancestors, who are considered Buddhas regardless of affiliation or actual behavior while living. These commemorative rites include bathing to purify karma, shaving the head to symbolize adhering to precepts, wearing a robe to represent holiness, holding a wake to recall their main life events, and the bestowing of a posthumous ordination name to mark their departure to join the realm of Nirvana.

The dead are memorialized on a daily and yearly basis as well, through personal ceremonies performed by family members. These include honoring of a Buddhist altar installed in a room of the home, regular visits to cemeteries by loved ones, and a range of neighborhood or village festivals.


February 15 is the day that Shakyamuni Buddha died near the town of Kushinagara. A big scroll depicting the Buddha entering Nirvana is hung in the temple and a ceremony expressing gratitude to the Buddha is performed.  A talk called the Yuikyogyo, the Last Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, is given.


January 26th is the birthday of Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen. On that date two ceremonies are held, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In the morning ceremony, a scroll with a painting of Dogen is hung in the lecture hall. A pail is placed in front of the painting containing hot water in which aloes or sandal wood have been boiled. Monks perform a special shomyo mantra that is similar to Gregorian chant.



Monday, June 15, 2015




A koan asks, When you can do nothing, what do you do?


          I’d like all of you to cup your hands in front of you. Now tell me what you have in your hands. What color is it? How heavy is it? What does it sound like?

          Nothing is hard to describe, isn’t it?

          This is a Zen group, and I am speaking in Zen terms, not philosophical terms. Such philosophers as Parmeides, Heidegger, and Sarte wrote about nothingness and my hat is off to them. But to them the question was, why is there something rather than nothing?

          If you say, “There is nothing,” then you have to acknowledge on observer. And if there is an observer, there is something.

          I can’t tell you what nothingness is. No one can. I can scatter words around, but words fall short. In fact, when it comes to nothingness, words are meaningless. We can talk about something, but not about nothing. Nothingness isn’t shaped like a gourd or a bicycle. It doesn’t taste like chicken. It isn’t green. Nothingness is what’s left when everything is taken away.

          You’ve been warned.

          “The time has come,” the walrus said, “to speak of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings.” In this talk I’ll be speaking of many things that are a lot less tangible than shoes and cabbages. Some may not seem to hang together, but don’t worry about that. If you grasp them intuitively, that’s great. Otherwise, let the words and the notions sink into your consciousness.

          Remember the mirror-wiping episode of Hui-neng and Shen-hsiu? Can anyone recall Hui-neng’s verse, or at least the gist of it?

There is no Bodhi-tree,

Neither is there a shining mirror.

Since there is nothing at all,

Where can dust collect?

          Meditate on that. If you care to, take it as a koan. But don’t pick it apart for hidden meanings. Don’t analyze the words. Don’t even visualize mirrors and dust.

There is no Bodhi-tree,

Neither is there a shining mirror.

Since there is nothing at all,

Where can dust collect?

          Think about it when you’re driving your car, when you’re painting a wall or baking a potato, before you go to sleep, when you wake up.

          See it. Grasp it. Sense it inside yourself. When you do that you’ll be on the way to understanding nothingness.

          Remember, from the first not a thing is.

          Who can describe what, in Zen, is called original mind? I’ll wait for an answer.

    *     *     *

          Original mind is one’s mind before it becomes cluttered with notions, ideas, rules, and regulations that are a part of living a human life. Original mind is simple and pure. By pure I don’t mean virginal. I mean squeaky clean.

          Are you with me so far?  Okay.

If original mind is pure, why is it necessary to wipe dust off? If original mind is pure, then dust-wiping, or rinsing with hot water, or scrubbing with a Brillo pad has no meaning.

          When you think of original mind, or your face before you were born, you perhaps imagine original mind as something you can visualize or describe.

          Are you still with me? Okay.

 If original mind is something like a book is something, then you can stand back, figuratively speaking, and look at it. Observe it. You are here, and a book, or original mind, is there. Right?

          Not right. Original mind doesn’t have shape or form. It’s not separate from you in place or in time. There’s no observer and observed. There’s no distinction or separation.

You are original mind, original mind is you.

          This is very important.

          Don’t mistake original mind, pure mind, true self—whatever you choose to call it—as something separate from you. If you expect to see an image of your pure, true self, you’ll be disappointed. Hui-neng rejected the notion of a clean mirror by declaring there is no mirror, no dust.

 Now make a big leap.

          This is nothingness.

          Nothingness is the doing away with all objectified qualities. By that I mean doing away with “I am this, that is that.” Nothingness a state of no-ness in which observer and observed are indistinguishable.

          From the first, not a thing is. When you understand this . . . . No, when you are altogether aware of the notion of “From the first not a thing is,” all logic and reason are wiped out. What’s left?

Nothing is left. This is nothingness.

          I’m almost finished, and I’ll wind this up with a dialogue between Shen-hui, one of Hui-neng’s followers, and a man named Chan-yen King. Their conversation went something like this:

          Chan-yen King asked, “When the mirror has nothing to illuminate, the illumination itself loses its meaning, doesn’t it?”

          Shen-hui said, “When I talk about illumination, this illumination is eternal and has no reference to the presence or absence of objects.”

          “Why then do you talk of illumination?”

          “I talk of illumination because the mind has in it wisdom, which illuminates the entire world-system.”

          “That being so, when is it attained?”

          “Just see into nothingness.”

          “Even if it is nothingness, it is seeing something.

          “Though it is seeing, it is not to be called something.”

          If it is not to be called something, how can there be the seeing?”

          “Seeing into nothingness. This is true seeing and eternal seeing.”


In conclusion,

There is no Bodhi-tree,

Neither is there a shining mirror.

Since there is nothing at all,

Where can dust collect?

          I hope I’ve offered you some thoughts about nothing.